Winter and Spring
Trip Start Jan 05, 2012
126Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Suitably energised we returned to the hotel and drove to the Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Mere Sands Wood.
One of Britain's more elusive bird species, the Bittern, is a regular winterer here
There's plenty more to see at Mere Sands Woods though and after a chat with the lady in the visitor centre and her very nice dog we walked the 50 yards to the Lancaster Hide where Water Rails are often sighted. We had to wait almost a minute before we saw one of these equally notoriously skulking water birds and got some photos that were better than those from Marshside earlier in the year.
At the nearby feeding station there were lots of Reed Buntings and Robins (the latter possibly arriving migrants because they weren't acting agressively towards each other which is normal when they are on territories) and we found some Tree Sparrows which meant that we had our new bird for the week. :)
There is a walking trail all the way around the reserve with several hides and a couple of alternative routes and extensions allowing for a walk of nearly three miles if all options are explored
Bitterns have plumage that has evolved to give them excellent camoflage in their normal habitat, reed beds and it can be very difficult to spot one if it remains stationary, even at the edge of reeds. They typically move slowly and stealthily whilst hunting fish and other aquatic creatures. This bird wasn't bothering with stealth, however. It was out in the open amongst some floating vegetation. It was quite a distance from the hide but with the aid of our telescopes we were soon getting pretty good views. When I think of Bitterns I normally think of their warm brown colours and when I actually see them - seldom more than a couple of times a year, I am always surprised by how much black there is - especially a coal-black streak on the crown of their heads. A handsome and enigmatic bird.
We stayed to watch it for perhaps 30 minutes, during which time it was in view almost continuously and often out in the sunshine which had started to be a more frequent feature of the days weather.
One reason for coming to Southport was to see my mum for Mother's Day (or Mother's Weekend as it seems to be increasingly described) so after completing the circuit of the reserve and not finding any of the Red Squirrels that also live there, we called her. No reply meant that she was out doing her weekly shop so we decided to drop in at the RSPB Marshside reserve where returning Avocets have been reported for almost three weeks.
The Avocet, an elegant black and white wading bird with an upturned bill and blue legs is the bird used for the logo of the Royal Society for the Protection of birds. It became extinct as a breeding species in the UK in the mid 19th century and was absent until World War II when the creation of coastal defense areas in East Anglia provided excellent nesting and feeding habitat. Since then due to strong conservation measures Avocets have gone from strength to strength and earlier this century they made an appearance on the Merseyside coast and now breed at Marshide in increasing numbers
There is a very comfortable and well equipped hide at Marshside which overlooks an area favoured by Avocets so at this time of year binoculars are not really necessary because they often feed in the shallows just below the hide's windows. We saw our first pair before we'd even reached the hide and Julie got some lovely shots made all the better by the bright sunshine. We found a few distant Ruffs, still in their winter plumage and plenty of other species that are regular on the reserve but spotted that someone had seen a Great White Egret on Crossens Out Marsh earlier in the day, so we walked across the road and down the edge of the sea wall until we found a large egret some distance away. There was a surprising (for March, anyway) amount of heat haze which made viewing quite difficult and the bird had a much darker bill than we were expecting, which suggests that it was an immature rather than an adult but we're fairly certain that we found the right one.
After having a chat with some visiting birders from Lincolnshire we went to pick my mum up and took her for a meal at the "4 Corners", a new buffet restaurant on Wesley St. It was ok. The food was mostly quite good although they were beginning to wind down to the evening hiatus between the day time and night time openings, which meant that quite a few dishes were unavailable despite there being 90 minutes to go
There was something important to do so by 16:55 we were scuttling back to the car because it was almost time for the England vs. Ireland 6 Nations match, the final game of the tournament and at the start of the day at least, one in which it was possible for England to lift the trophy, although that was entirely dependent upon Wales losing against France and England wining by a huge margin. As it happened Wales won to achieve another Grand Slam so the England/ireland game was for 2nd place and for England at least to restore a little pride after a defeat in Dublin in 2011.
The match was a St. Patrick's Day special with a fairly evenly matched first half during which Ireland started to look a bit wobbly against the English forwards and a second half that could almost be described as a rout in which the Irish pack seemed to have no answer to the challenges set by the English. Although we were having superb weather there was heavy rain in London which perhaps excused a larger than usual number of handling errors by both sides but it was definitely entertaining, at least if you were an English fan.
We said farewell to my mum after the match and returned to the hotel to get ready for a night out
There was more rain in the weather forecast but it was still dry when we left the hotel so we decided to start off with the long walk to The Inn Beer Shop, mentioned in this blog the last time we visited Southport, which is at the far end of Lord Street from the Royal Clifton.
We like the tables at the far end of the pub, where it widens out a little but they were all taken so we bought our beers and were lucky to get a table as two other customers were leaving. This place is popular on Saturday nights. Looking around I noticed a sign high on a wall that jogged my memory and caused a few things to slot into place. "The Original Lancashire Hero Peter Bardsley. Off Sales Proprieter" it said. I was hoping to provide a potted history here but it seems that there's a Wikipedia page devoted to Mr Bardsley that is still missing.
Legendary Lancashire Heroes was (still is?) an off licence (liquor store/bottle shop) that opened in Southport when I was in my very early twenties, just after Queen Victoria died. It was innovative, shunning the unlikable cans of McEwans Export and Tartan Bitter (and the increasingly popular and disgusting Foster's) for real beers imported from around the world. The real ale movement was just getting into its swing and me and my mates would not have been seen dead drinking lager but this place introduced us to all kinds of delights. It wasn't cheap - unsurprising given that the emphasis was on quality and choice so bulk buying was not an option - but we were happy to part with a few of our hard earned pennies most weeks to get some bottles of previously unheard of brews from around the world. So the fairly recently opened Inn Beer Shop is a logical progression from this. It's like a beer bookshop or a lager library. It somehow manages to be unpretentious but you do feel that you're buying into something a bit different and exclusive. Select an obscure beer from somewhere on the planet and you might get a special glass that will make you look like an expert, so it's a bluffer's paradise too.
If you find yourself in Southport then I urge you to give the place a try. Prices are fair and like an off licence there are price labels on all the bottles - you pay a bit extra to have it opened and poured on the premises or you can take it away with you for home consumption. Sitting in the narrow and unusual bar with almost exclusively early sixties music playing quietly in the background seems the way to do it to me though. If you do pay a visit, leave me a comment to tell me what you think.
As we were downing our first pint the rain started, causing a waterfall over the edge of the canopy outside the door. These canopies are a feature of the seaward (shopping) side of Lord Street and contribute to its unusual ambience. The rain was enough to encourage us to stop for a second with Julie sticking to cider and me moving on from Bateman's Spring Breeze, with its promises of blessing from the fertility goddess to an almost unpronounceable but equally delicious German beer.
As it was St. Patrick's Day we decided to finish it off in O'Leary's Irish Bar, tucked away on tiny Cable Street. We're not really into plastic "Irish" bars but this one is not bad at all. It's normally friendly and lively and tonight was no exception. There were even Irish people in there. There was also a live band playing nothing but Irish tunes who helped to make the place even more cheerful. 10 minues walk from the Inn Beer Shop and a world away. Try them both.