Thursday, 14 September 2017

The morning after the storm and an unexpected phalarope

Storm Aileen arrived overnight with west north westerly winds in excess of 70mph and at this time of year that can only mean one thing - Leach's petrels.

With high tide at the ungodly (and dark) hour of 4:45 and sunrise two hours later at 6:45, I decided that  with a high tide visit obviously out of the question, the next best thing I could do today would be get to New Brighton on the north Wirral coast for dawn. At first light petrels which have sheltered in the Mersey overnight can often be seen leaving the river and I was pretty confident that I would see a few today. Moreover I also knew that there had been a couple of grey phalaropes hanging around Fort Perch Rock for a couple of days and having already seen over 35 petrels on Monday at Hilbre, it was the phalaropes which really drew me to New Brighton.

I arrived at New Brighton at 6:55 and almost immediately picked out a couple of obligatory Leach's petrels for the day list and decided to now concentrate on finding the phalaropes. What a merry dance they lead me! First of all one flew and landed in front of a friend allowing him to fire off some great photos before disappearing minutes before I reached the spot. Then I was standing in the sea watching shelter while two other birders described a phalarope in flight which I failed to get on to. Finally I spotted two birders on the beach photographing what turned out to be a phalarope, but again by the time I got there the bird had gone.

By this time it was nearly low tide, but the petrels just kept on coming, and now they were flying incredibly close, right along the tideline and sometimes across the beach. On one such flyby, I was concentrating so much on trying to get a photo of the petrel that I completely failed to notice that it was flying directly over a grey phalarope, and I only realised that the phalarope was there when I looked at the photo nearly two hours later! And I still hadn't seen a phalarope!

Just stunning views today of Leach's petrel, with several birds flying 3m or less from us, right along the tideline and occasionally weaving in and out of the admiring birders on the beach. One of the great birding experiences of my life!

The phantom phalarope! How could I have not noticed this in the field! Mr. Observant! When I took this photo I'd been looking for grey phalarope for nearly four hours and had all but given up any hope of seeing one and I completely failed to notice this bird until I looked at the photo two hours later.

Here comes another!

Try focusing on that!

At last somebody pointed out a grey phalarope and boy it was worth the wait. What a stunning bird! An adult with a yellow base to the bill.

This has to be one of the most attractive winter plumage grey phalaropes I've ever seen, and the amount of yellow at the base of the bill is very extensive, unusually so I would say.

The seawatching shelter at New Brighton.

New Brighton lighthouse and Fort Perch Rock.

An exhilarating day with huge skies, a great day to be on the coast.

Later this afternoon I called in at Frodsham with Ray for a look at a juvenile red-necked phalarope, my second phalarope species of the day and my third in five days following a Wilson's at Alston Wetlands on Saturday.


  1. Really good post accompanied by some stonking shots!
    The one of the photographer with the Leaches flying past, was my good self by the way!
    So it was you that sent me the same image!!
    I too am originally from St Helens (Thatto Heath) left in early 60s!
    catch up soon!!

  2. Thanks Paul. I hope that you don't mind me including the photo on my blog!


Popular Posts