Trip reports

Pilling/Cockersands

Male merlin perched on mossy hummock, Shetland Isles

Sunday, 20 February 2011

At 10.30am on a gloomy Sunday morning, ten of us met at Lane Ends Pilling, in anticipation of seeing the many birds - especially the wading birds that frequent this southern corner of Morecambe Bay during the late winter. The prospect of a high tide in excess of ten metres held much promise, although at first it was hard to imagine that soon, the huge vista of salt marsh that lay before us would soon be under water. The goose-like shapes of many shelduck dotted the marsh while a couple of cormorant stood on the still far distant mudflats.
By 11.00am the tide was clearly starting to rise and water was slowly oozing through the many gullies. On a rapidly shrinking mud-bank we could make out two shapes - not birds but a couple brown hares. The hares, now marooned, eventually swam for the nearest patch of dry land. The spectacle of these hapless animals, now bedraggled and sodden, hauling themselves ashore was a strange sight. The water was now rising rapidly, and so was the bird count - some large mixed flocks of knot and dunlin - up to three hundred birds in one flock. Grey plover flew low over the water along with many dapperly plumaged oystercatchers. Telescopes were focused on half a dozen red-breasted merganser that were out on the open water; as they were constantly diving these birds were difficult to track. A merlin was seen above the coastal embankment, but for some unknown reason this bird chose not to take advantage of the many potential meals that were now available- it just flew off and was out of sight. Another raptor, this time buzzard was perching on a distant farm gate, he too flew off only to return a few minutes later.
It was now midday and the salt marsh was fully submerged, the wading birds had by now sought refuge at their high tide roosts elsewhere along the coast. It was about this time that a skein of twenty or so pink-footed geese flew overhead, followed at a lower height by three whooper swans. No doubt both of these species would soon be leaving us for their breeding grounds in the high arctic. Before we had lunch and moved on, a small party of wildfowl could be made out as they bobbed about on the sea; they were pintail and teal - no more than a dozen birds in all.
After lunch we travelled north to Cockersands to take a circular walk along the sea wall and returning via the adjacent farmland. Near the remains of Cockersands Abbey we saw another merlin - the second of the day; he flew at hedge level and then out of view behind a derelict farm building near the Abbey.
Out on the Lune estuary we could make out more red-breasted merganser and shelduck, it was pleasing to see a group of golden plover as they flew in `v` formation over the Cockersands lighthouse. The tide had by now past its height and below the sea wall cryptically plumaged turnstones in the company of a few dunlin were rummaging amongst the pebbles and seaweed.
Looking inland, we heard the bell-like calls of teal, these diminutive birds were on a small flooded area and appeared to be engaging in some courtship ritual as they twirled around on the water. On the final part of our walk, we had a glimpse of a sparrowhawk (like the other raptors that we had seen, he too flew off out of sight), a large party of passerines that were perched in a hawthorn bush (we had some debate as to whether these were either linnets or chaffinches or a mixture of both), several skylarks, and last of all, before we returned home, many brown hares that were boxing and chasing one another, but these mammals, unlike their kin at Lane Ends were bone dry!
Michael Gardner