North Lancashire Coast 27th January 2019

It was an eight o'clock start for a group of about 27 of us and the weather was clear with bright winter sunshine and gusting wind that was forecast to strengthen during the day. The forecast was right, the wind did get stronger, much stronger and seemed to strengthen as we neared our first stop, Knott End.

There was much bustle on the coach as we wrapped up in layers of hats, jumpers, scarves, gloves, coats, overcoats, over trousers….have you got the picture? Off the coach, we fought against the wind, bodies bent at what seemed a 45 degree angle as we battled our way across the car park, one step forward two steps back. It was difficult to imagine how any birds could survive in such conditions let alone fly. Even that seemed an academic question as there did not seem that many, if any birds present. Those of us fortunate to get a sighting struggled to hold binoculars still enough against the buffeting wind to make a successful identification.
BUT.…finding respite in the lee of some tall buildings the birds started to reveal themselves, and the struggle and effort was well rewarded. Redshank, Curlew and Turnstones were all hunkered down finding what shelter they could whilst a lone Eider Duck was fighting the tide in the mouth of the River Wyre. A Pied Wagtail was busy searching for food and close by a flock of 25 to 30 Twite took advantage of the lee of the Esplanade to avoid the worst of the wind. Normally a shy and flighty bird it is rarely still enough or close enough to get a good sighting, but because of the conditions we were able to see them close to as they perched on the esplanade seeking what shelter and warmth they could from the winter sun.

Back on the coach and for our next stop we were off to Pilling Lane End, however
before we got there from the comfort of our coach seats with their high vantage over the the low lying wet fields we had excellent views of a large group of mixed waders feeding on the grassland. Golden Plover, Lapwings, Dunlin, Curlews,and Black Tailed Godwits were present in large numbers, and whilst I am not good at bird counts it is safe to say the group numbered thousands making it a real spectacle. It was a sight that under lied the importance of this area for over-wintering.

Mute and Whooper Swans, Fieldfares, Little Egrets, Starlings and Jackdaws were all present whilst Mallard, Tufted Ducks, Little Grebes and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were seen on one of the freshwater drains and adjacent pools. Glasson Basin Marina was our next stop, fed by water from the mouth of the River Lune, a large expanse of sheltered water populated by Tufted Ducks, Coots, Mute Swans a flotilla of Goosanders and one of the ducks I always love to see 5 Goldeneye in two groups.


Back on the coach again and on to Hest Bank, just north of Morecombe, a long shoreline location and wide low views across the bay to Grange and good pathway ideal for watching the incoming tide and the constant, restless movement of groups of waders busy feeding on the edge of advancing tide. The winter sun was still brilliant in the cloudless sky but there was no letup in the gusting wind. As can be seen from the photograph the keenest observer soon spotted a sheltered perch upon which to absorb the warmth of the sun and was soon accompanied by the rest of the flock. A rare sight indeed. The speed that the tide races in across the bay is easy to underestimate and comes as a surprise to witness. We watched as Pintail Ducks, Curlew, Knot and Oystercatchers all moved closer on the advancing tide and suddenly a lone Kestrel hovered above us, fighting the wind as he hunted his way along the shoreline.

We left Hest Bank at 3.15pm as the sun was beginning to dip lower towards the horizon and on to our final location of the day, the Heysham Nuclear Power Station, well remembered by those on our last group visit for the reception we received from the two well-armed police guards who thought us sufficiently suspicious to challenge us. No armed reception this time but an equally memorable visit for the exceptional views of the large numbers of seabirds sheltering along the rocks along the shoreline. The mix of the light of the low winter sunshine, the shapes, colours and form of the birds, the seaweed covered rocks and the constant movement of the sea crashing against the rocks made for a sight to be remembered. Large numbers of Oystercatchers, Knot, Wigeon and Curlews crowded close together for safety and shelter. Amongst them and difficult to pick out was a small group of 3 or 4 Bar-tailed Godwits whilst in the background and further out to sea, Cormorants and Lesser Black-backed Gulls made up the scene.

It was 4.45pm and the sun had dipped below the horizon as we made our way back to the coach for our journey home, in the distance, over the town flocks of starlings were gathering and merging before settling to roost. A fitting last sighting of the day.

All the day trips run by the group provide enjoyable days birding and for me this is one that will stand out amongst them in my memory for many reasons, the locations, the quality of sightings, the weather and of course being able to share the day with others with similar interest.


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