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Breath of fresh air

In a new column for Liverpool Confidential, John Dempsey answers the call of nature

Published on February 27th 2009.


Breath of fresh air

THE days are starting to stretch out now and the grey winter landscape is finally beginning to change.

After the freezing winter we’ve just had, it’s easy to be a tad sceptical about global warming, but tell that to the first returning avocets, which arrived at Martin Mere this week.

There were at least ten at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Reserve, near Burscough, by Wednesday, unmistakable black and white birds with upturned bills – the symbol of the RSPB and also one of the commonest car window stickers you’re likely to see – so no excuse for not being able to recognise one.

The avocet was practically unknown in the North West less than a decade ago, but now breeds on Wirral at Inner Marsh Farm and just outside of Southport at Marshside (and of course, at Martin Mere).

Warming climate and a burgeoning population on the east coast means this elegant, if noisy wader, is rapidly spreading north.

It’ll be a week or two before they settle down and begin courtship and the breeding cycle, but they’re worth a look if you get the chance.

Other birds are on the move too – the first little gulls are beginning to come into Liverpool Bay – Crosby Marina is the place to go to see these beauties.

They’re probably more reliable from next month with numbers peaking

towards the end of March, especially around the small boating lake at the north end of the marina.

These delicate birds dance over the water picking off midge larvae from the surface…they have black underwings, but their small size and aerial agility gives them away too.Peregrines are currently putting on a good display on the waterfront around the Three Graces, but they can be encountered just about anywhere – I watched a stunner powering above Old Hall Street last week, putting the fear of God into the feral pigeons, before it zoomed off up Leeds Street.

And wagtails are starting to pass through, with pipits and all the rest of those glorious summer migrants not far behind them.

Good numbers of pied wagtails were on the Wirral shore in the week, but if you don’t fancy crossing the water, a quick check around FACT and Bold Street after work may reveal the remnants of the winter roost still coming in for a doze in the evening in the small trees and rooftops.

If lurking around at dusk down there doesn’t appeal, simply lift your head to the city daytime skies from now, to enjoy the yodelling of the Herring and lesser black backed gulls that nest on suitable flat rooftops, one of the wildest sounds there is in Liverpool’s natural world…

Look out for...

Coltsfoot....One of our first wild
flowers to bloom, the coltsfoot is a dazzling yellow dandelion like plant
that can be found on rough ground just about anywhere.

It gets its name from the shape of its leaves, and in recent years has been flowering as early as January. This winter put paid to all that early
blooming malarkey, but it should be showing anyday now. The flowers are about the size of a ten pence piece in diameter and the plant has grey scaly stems – a welcome sight after the
colder months.

Bumblebees.... As soon as it warms
up a bit, the first hummers are out,
bumblebees the most likely species to take to the wing.

The first has a black and orange jersey, with a white backside, while the larger red tailed bumblebee is all black with
a red bum.The first you see are often

queens prospecting for a new nesting site.

Mistle Thrush.... Still singing away from the tops of the city’s skyscrapers, they are one of the first birds to nest each year – the loud football rattle flight call of adults give them away now in Liverpool as males search for food for youngsters.You can bump into them anywhere, from Sefton Park up to Bootle, but they do like the odd tall tree.

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