Wednesday 14 October 2009

Wirral Seal Tour

A few weeks ago I ignored the hatred of the M6 motorway and headed to the Wirral area for a look around the birding sites recommended to me by a friend. They showed real promise, and I vowed to go again, only this time I would have a personal tour guide!

Steve Seal is one of the best and most dedicated bird photographers I have had the pleasure of meeting. Always enthusiastic, knowledgeable and entertaining, he's about as good as it gets for someone to show you the best spots for bird photography, how to work them and what to look out for.

Arriving at Meols, I parked up, a little earlier than the arranged meeting time, but it's a small price to pay when avoiding the traffic on that hateful road. After a quick look over at the waders on the beach, I was forced to take shelter in the car when a squally shower rolled in from the sea.

Fortunately I didn't have too long to wait, and Steve (and Chris) kindly brought the sunshine with him. Walking around the front we spotted some redshank (well, I say "some" but truthfully there were hundreds!), turnstones, little egrets, curlews, various gulls, knots, grey plovers, sanderlings, dunlins and a fair few carrot-beaks too (oystercatchers).

Just along the coast from here is a spot called Leasowe, and it can be reached simply by walking along the sea defences, but we drove around the back roads and parked near the lighthouse. The sloping concrete defences allow access to the beach, but it was a treacherous walk as in the early morning gloom, the surface hadn't had chance to dry out and was like sheet ice!

Down near the seaweed line, crouched down, I managed to get some shots of redshanks, oystercatchers and curlew, as these had ventured fairly close. Looks like a fine spot to get shots of waders though, and perhaps a fold-out stool might be wise next time, to make it a tad more comfortable when waiting for the birds to approach.

Hopping a bit further down the coast again, we arrived at a beach area, near a golf course. Steve and Chris were somewhat surprised in their car when a buzzard flew alongside it, showing off exactly how large these birds are! From here, Steve and I headed out on to the sands, to the immense flocks of waders, some feeding and others snoozing in the early sunshine.

Approaching them was a crouched, scurry and stop affair, but with a bit more practise, I'm sure I'd have gotten closer than I managed. The size of the flocks was amazing though. Thousands of birds, like a blanket across the sand. Black-tailed godwits, knots, grey plovers, sanderlings, dunlins and closer to the water's edge, a black sea of oystercatchers. Spoilt for choice, though the flip side is that it is rather tricky to get shots of individual birds.

The northern corner of the Wirral is a place called New Brighton, and the beach areas are good spots to photograph flocks of sanderling, especially as they're usually fewer in number so getting individuals is easier. Being a Saturday though, much of the beach was disturbed by families and their pets, enjoying late season sunshine.

However, along the beach Steve located a suitable flock, and we set about getting some pics. It was rather a game of cat and mouse, as the tide pushed the birds towards us, only for them to change location when they were spooked by something. With the sunshine behind, I can see this place being a great spot, and Steve's pics from sunnier days are more proof of this!

Also at New Brighton is a pool that attracts all manner of sea birds during the winter months, so I shall be keeping an eye out for this, to add perhaps some new species to my photo collection.

Ending the day, we headed to Parkgate for the raptors, hoping to get as close a view of the local barn owl as Steve had managed during the week, but alas, the owl decided to keep its distance. Got a record shot as it carried off a vole perhaps, but the light was fading quickly and shots became more and more noisy.

Also around were kestrels, a pair of hen harriers, a short-eared owl and a peregrine, though all were really too far away for my equipment.

With a high tide forecast for this weekend though, I may well be heading back again for another go. Fingers crossed the clouds keep away this time though!

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