Tag Archives: seabirds

What else Seaforth is good for

Breeding adult Little Gull Larus minutus in flight

Bye-bye, Little one: how great are Seaforth’s chances of survival? (Original by Photo Nature – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

Seaforth Nature Reserve isn’t owned by the Wildlife Trust who manage it. In fact, it’s not owned by anyone with a wildlife interest or mandate at all: it’s owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. This can cause problems.

The building of a large warehouse on the reserve – if I remember rightly, on the very scrub which hosted at least one vagrant North American sparrow, plus various other passerines of note, in the few years prior – struck many as a travesty, but at least there was still most of the reserve left. Besides, it even added to the vast incongruity of Seaforth’s existence, which shouts out at you from virtually every side. Restricted access due to counter-terrorism measures? Maybe that’s not all bad, particularly for its floral and faunal inhabitants.

In 2011, the MDHC’s parent company Peel Ports announced plans for a £500m deep-water dock development. If sanctioned, it was to double the Port of Liverpool’s container handling capacity – and obliterate the nature reserve. While the plans have since morphed a bit, work has been underway for a while. Never mind the illustrious history of great finds (more species-rich per unit area than the Scillies, Steve Youngonce pointed out – impressive, even if you could claim the same for your garden birdbath); never mind populations and European designations; never mind the country’s top site for Little Gulls. You could make it up, but why bother? They do it for you for real.

Introducing the following piece in such gloomy circumstances may make it seem like an in memoriam. It was by no means intended as such: I started it to give background to a nostalgic, pre-warehouse perspective of selected teen incidents taped together after I exhilarated myself writing the Roseate Tern articles. However, the story of Seaforth’s threatened existence highlights all too well the threat faced by far too much of our wildlife, both globally and in little old Britain. All I can do on reading the latest news from home is to grit my teeth and scream “let’s celebrate and enjoy the reserve while it’s still there!” To me, what’s below illustrates some of the best things that still exist (albeit in ever-reducing form) at Seaforth. Well, they did last time I checked…

  1. Sunny evenings. While this may be the preserve of anywhere not permanently covered by clouds or man-made structures, I think Seaforth does it rather well. A distant Avocet grazing low-tide marsh in May (back in the days before Avocets started turning up in everyone’s duck-ponds). The golden glow of the disappearing sun outlining a plucky Little Ringed Plover on a miniature wetland of a pool, an identikit wader known as a Ruff, a small coot that you’ve turned into this morning’s Temminck’s Stint. Pink mackerel sky. The massive orb, in fiery red you rarely see elsewhere, setting over a disused watchpoint.
  1. The translucent wing-tips of Arctic Terns way, way overhead.

    Today's post is all about seabirds. Again. (Arctic Tern - Andreas Trepte - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

    Today’s post is all about seabirds. Again. (Andreas Trepte – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

  1. Mad dashes.

a.) They tell you a Blackpoll Warbler has come over from America. Pedal frantically to reserve. Warbler feeds, calls and seemingly thinks about singing, looking spiffy in black, white and buff.

b.) Up the coast at Marshside, you hear of a Marsh Sandpiper at Seaforth. Take next train to Waterloo, pedal frantically. Said sandpiper seen from afar.

  1. Mistle thrushes on the rich, wet turf.
  1. You forming part of a group of three standing around a bush. A bush, in fact, with a bird in it. A bush with a bird suspected to be a Blyth’s Reed Warbler in it. When bird flies, repeat process at next bush. It is eventually decided it’s just a bush with a Reed Warbler in it. Bushes left in peace.
  1. Massive starling flocks. Never Spotless, but filmed at least once by Bill Oddie’s camera crew – a right occasion.

    Murmuration of starlings over Brighton

                                   A bit like this                                   (Andreas-photography, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

  1. Being spooked by dive-bombing terns. If ever you want a red rag for terns, bike helmets seem to do a good job.

    Arctic tern dive-bombs photographer

    No pain, no gain for photographer Michał Sacharewicz

  1. Dragonflies you’ve never heard of – but that come in handy when you start watching dragonflies.
  1. The bricks and bushes turning up a Firecrest and a Black Redstart. Did I tell you the Port built a warehouse over it?

Yes, one can mitigate – but one can never truly replace.

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Gale Force Tern – part II

On this particular occasion, the weather was cheerfully fresh but the skies were slating over. Two or three people had come and gone since I had arrived (within twenty minutes of the end of school, as usual), but at 4.30 they were now decidedly elsewhere. I remained – largely because I was happy, but, with the wind intensifying, also because of a Roseate Tern. The graceful seabird had been sighted earlier in the day, and as I’d never seen one before I decided to hang on in the hope that this one would be kind and turn up again for me.

The wind got stronger, then stronger still, so that it began to feel as though Hide A was doing its own bit of hanging on. The hide overlooks a large freshwater pool with tern rafts and mini inlets; a bank of brush, trees and lumps of bright green grass on the far side (home to a fox family) seemed distant. The waves whipped deliciously. The salt from the saline lagoon and Irish Sea in the west stung my lips. The heavens opened. Nothing had turned up by five, but maybe I would wait till the rain eased off to save myself a soaking.

The heavens decided to do “opened” with style. The houses nearest the Freeport, cheerily colourful and tantalisingly visible as they were, remained far away. There was thunder, quite possibly lightning – I can’t remember. The world was a storm.

Last week I’d seen a Little Tern from the Wirral over the hide in the bluest July skies, the sun on my skin. While the contrast with today was great, I cherished both the past experience and the present. Ensconced in the hide, I felt secure yet exhilarated.

The terns on the scrape steeled their feathers, battened down the hatches of their minds and set their faces like flint. Some movement occurred; immature Common Gulls came and went moodily. I noticed the appearance of a candidate for the role of Roseate Tern. The bill was dark – but sometimes Arctic and even Common looked that dark. It did look a little longer, though, and the bird perhaps even as elegant as a grumpy tern in a gale can look. The tail streamers seemed to extend further than a Common’s, but not by much, or even by further than wishful thinking might allow. Was it paler than those terns over there at a different angle to me? The legs stayed teasingly out of view from any position I cared to take, though perhaps they should have been visible if they were Roseate-length. Was it? Wasn’t it?

The tern briefly leapt into the arms of the wind before re-settling, leaving me none the wiser. The storm kept raging. After 45 minutes or so I started home.

The rain – the rain… it was absolutely torrential. The port road contains some quirky but not excessively large dips: in one of these, water stood easily over 2 feet deep. Even away from the middle, my pedals sheared along the surface as I ploughed through the mini-lake like a wildebeest up to its chest in Serengeti river, or maybe a strongman in a truck-pulling contest. I was drenched long before I reached home.

Having dried off, I settled down to a late meal and heard little old Crosby mentioned on the national weather – due to an extreme rainfall event, apparently. I could certainly vouch for that. I spent a few minutes feeling heroic, which only served to augment a generally very positive mood. The tern went onto my life list. It was downgraded to a question mark a few years later, but I’ve still never seen a genuine Roseate in a better light.

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