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Yankee Doodle Ducky

Having a day off between two work days at Focalpoint, and given that the forecast was so good, I felt a short trip out coming on! So pack-up made and fuel tank filled I set out on the hours journey to Hesketh Out Marsh north of Southport on the Lancashire coast.

Arriving at the car park at the end of the rough track I found a dozen or so cars already there, a far cry from the old days here where I was often the only birder present. I headed up to the viewpoint left of the car park to view the first pool and noted that the tide was coming in, a good sign for later perhaps?! From here a small flock of Eurasian Wigeon was evident, many tucked up roosting in the grass and hard to see properly. Also here were lots of Mallard and a few Teal. Wader interest was provided by a smart Greenshank, a few Black-tailed Godwits and several Redshank. Lots of Little Egrets frequented the pools and were especially tetchy with each other, spending as much time squabbling as feeding, and being quite vocal about it. In contrast their larger cousins, a couple of Grey Herons, quietly skulked in bank-side cover waiting for the incoming tide to flush out prey such as voles and mice. Hundreds of distant Pink-footed Geese made their presence known by calling as they occasionally took to the air and moved about the distant marsh edge in arrow-shaped skeins. Walking further left I checked out the string of saltmarsh pools and added Gadwall to the list. More unusual were two Red-breasted Mergansers feeding in the final pool as well as four Avocets feeding together on the edge of the same pool. On this furthest pool a much bigger flock of Wigeon were roosting in the vegetation, hard to see but as one raised its head I could see the distinctive pattern of a drake American Wigeon, the bird that had drawn me to this destination. But as soon as I had the scope on the bird the whole flock spooked and took to the air and my bird was lost.

I walked back to the other birders present to tell them that the bird was present but now missing and joined a friend to start to search for it again. He managed to find a grey-headed female bird that looked a good candidate for a female American Wigeon that had been reported from here, but it’s such a hard ID that it remained a probable rather than a definite ID. Seeing that the incoming tide had brought more birds onto the pools I headed again down to the final pool to rescan the flock which had held the drake before. I was joined by 10 other birders and soon I was happy to announce that I had re-found the bird. I then directed all present onto the bird and eventually everyone had excellent views of the stunning drake American Wigeon swimming 100m offshore in the warm sunshine. A small flock of Dunlin did a fly-past as my last species of the day before I said farewell to the other birders and headed home with a nice yeartick under my belt, and with the satisfaction of searching and finding it for myself amongst the 500-700 Eurasian Wigeon on the marsh.

I wholeheartedly recommend this fledgling reserve, it can only go from strength to strength. It isn’t the easiest place to find, but when you find it, it easily fits into an itinerary on a visit to nearby Marshside RSPB or Martin Mere WWT.

Little Egrets

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