A laughing matter


Birdwatching is such a laugh. Standing for 4-5 hours in the rain (which occasionally turned to sleet just to show how cold it was) and a biting wind is our idea of fun.  I blame that Findlay Wilde for having a birthday and luring us all there with the promise (richly fulfilled) of cake.

Just a couple of kids eating cake. Photo: Heather Wilde
Just a couple of kids eating cake. Photo: Heather Wilde

But to celebrate Findlay’s birthday, the RSPB had what we used to call a ‘showing people birds’ event coinciding with a high spring tide and a rugby-free weekend. It was, of course, the lure of the chocolate cake that really did it, but a few birds would be good too.

I’d never been to Parkgate on the Dee Estuary before, I’d hardly ever been to The Wirral really (it isn’t on the way to anywhere after all – that is rather the essence of a peninsula).

We gathered by the side of the road and looked west. Behind us there were pubs (excellent!), fish and chip shops (excellent!) and an ice-cream parlour (excellent! – but not quite catching the mood of the day). In front of us, there were the wide expanses of the Dee Estuary with Flint and Wales on the far shore. Sometimes we could see Wales (when it was about to rain) and sometimes we couldn’t (when it was raining).

There were birds about – aren’t there always? There were Little Egrets and Teal, Oystercatchers and Lapwings, and a few of those irritating and generally quite unpleasant Linnets too. But the best bird, honorary bird, was probably the very large Brown Rat, which already looked like a semi-drowned rat, but he (or she) may have thought the same about us, as the rain was pretty well incessant.

There were not many ‘ordinary people’ passing by, and most that did, were hunched against the wind and just looked at us as if we were a bit bonkers – it was hard to disagree with them, really.

But a growing band of birders assembled and spent more time chatting than looking for birds. We did see a distant Great White Egret amongst the Little Egrets and a Peregrine perched on a post out in the marsh.

We offered to show a passing couple the Peregrine through the telescope. The man looked, and didn’t look impressed. The woman didn’t look as she said she’d seen one before. Crikey! I once had a really delicious steak and that made me think I’d like another one, one day. Then there was that distant glass of Rioja that made me think that one day I’d have another one. I put ‘seeing a Peregrine’ right into the category of ‘I’d like to do that again’ when I saw my first. Still, I’m clearly a bit odd and this woman had drunk deeply enough of the pleasure of Peregrines without wanting to take another sip.  Maybe she goes through life with no repetition, no deviation and perhaps no hesitation. I’m sure you can all make your own list of things that seemed interesting enough the first time you tried them to give them another go – but not Peregrine viewing for this woman.

Most of the people gathered around were birders, and most seemed to be friends of Findlay (and Harley, Heather and Nigel Wilde too).  There were some of the ‘Sodden 570’ and so we were well-accustomed to getting wet together.

Ringtail Hen Harrier. Photo: Heather Wilde
Ringtail Hen Harrier. Photo: Heather Wilde

As high tide approached, the sleety rain (and rainy sleet) subsided and it was just very cold, rather than very wet and very cold.  The incoming tide pushed the waders out of their feeding grounds and also concentrated the small mammals in the remaining areas of grass.  Three ringtail Hen Harriers passed by heading up the estuary – it was good to see them and wonder where they might have been raised and where they might try to nest.  Considering the amount of time I have spent talking to Findlay about Hen Harriers, it seemed odd that these were the first we had seen together.

The estuary was now as full as it was going to be and not quite as full as it had to be to deliver the most spectacular show when small mammals are running and swimming for their lives as the water rises and they flee to escape drowning and the threat from gulls and raptors above them.  But the semi-drowned Brown Rat made another appearance and ran the gauntlet of a flock of Black-headed Gulls that dived at it. I wonder what they would have done had they caught it?

It was a good morning spent with the lovely Wilde family and a bunch of birders, some of whom I knew, some of whom knew me and some of whom were on Twitter. The chips were good, and the chocolate cake was excellent, and the birds were good, and the weather was bad but we had a laugh.

And I saw the Laughing Gull at New Brighton marine lake at the beginning of the day – another laugher!


You should now ‘like’ this blog and go and read Findlay’s blog too – we seem to be having something called a blog-off!


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11 Replies to “A laughing matter”

  1. It was great to see everybody and to see hen harriers with them as quite a few had never seen one before, or not seen one for years. I don’t think the screaming lady thought much to your honorary brown rat bird though. Don’t forget it all happens again at the end of March if anyone wants to see the Parkgate high tide and hen harriers.

    1. Great report of a great day, despite the weather Mark. Good to meet so many people I know, and also a few people from that Twitter thing.
      The ‘Sodden 570′; rather like that. Has a ring to it.
      Of rings …… the ringtail was a true highlight.

  2. Ah, the Dee is fabulous, and lots of the Wirral is great too. Great heathland at Thurstaston, with amazing views across the estuary. Long may it be protected!

  3. You could be charitable and cut the peregrine lady some slack.

    Perhaps ‘I’ve seen one before’ is a euphemism for ‘Are you mad? It’s bad enough being out in this without having to stop to look at a distant grey smudge through a steamy telescope and get the sleet/rain down the back of my neck’ Which is perhaps what she really wanted to say.

    Speaking for myself, being out in ‘challenging’ weather is great fun. It was the prospect of guaranteed mountain hare, snow bunting and ptarmigan that had me at 3000′ in the hard-packed snow on a Perthshire hill on Saturday. None of the above was actually seen and I’m sure the skin on the side of my face that the biting wind took off will grow back in time, but it was a brilliant day nonetheless.

    Red kite in the sunshine helped.

    Have I heard the expression ‘Aren’t Birds Brilliant?’ before.

    1. “‘Are you mad?”

      Yes. I often thought that of myself, as I rode from Flint to Prestatyn and back, in the gale that always blows off Liverpool Bay on a Sunday morning, for no better reason to try and do it faster than the last time. It would always take 63 minutes, give or take, as I knew it would. Repetitious activity, whether birding or biking must seem pointless to people who don’t have this form of OCD. I wonder if the Unimpressed Wirral Woman had her customary bowl of nails for breakfast, like they do.

      Nice view of Flint and Halkyn Mountain in the pic. Are the potted shrimp sellers still there? I would go back for those, or Ness gardens, but not cake.

  4. Good to see you again Mark – We weren’t among the sodden 570 but were equally sodden at the Dunsop Bridge event, are you always this ‘lucky’ with the weather?
    A blog-off – i like that, but for the sake of fairness have commented on both blogs
    A great day and hen harriers too, although I only saw two of the three
    Glad you made the detour to the giggly gull

  5. Sounds like a lot of fun, we had a work party on the reserve on Sunday, it rained then sleet came along with high winds, we were all freezing. However at the end of the day when it was time to go home no one mentioned the weather, just that we all felt good about what we had achieved and that we had all made the habitat a little bit better. People that care about our wildlife are a great bunch, proud to know there are thousands out there that feel the same as our little group.

  6. Hey Mark was a thoroughly wet windy day as it is every day off from work I get!! Great to meet you and share the day with Fin and family

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