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Nature column: Get out more

John Dempsey takes a tern for the better and finds a common porpoise at Otterspool

Published on September 30th 2009.

Nature column: Get out more

ARRGH! The sea she be a cruel mistress, as any good pirate knows, but at this time of year she can play host to dramatic visitors as seabirds appear offshore again in numbers.

Gannets – striking large Persil-white birds with black wingtips, which plunge like arrows into the waves for fish - can be seen now as they patrol Liverpool Bay for food.

Although they don’t breed in our region, an expert and well-travelled fisherman like the gannet will think nothing of cruising up from South Wales, or down from Scottish breeding colonies to find food over the summer months.

Manx shearwaters, which should start turning up soon too, happily perform the same long-distance forays into the bay as they look for sustenance for their young in distant nest burrows.

High tide is the best time to look for these birds (check tide times online, and wrap up warm), and while they maybe a considerable distance offshore, good views can usually be obtained through a decent pair of binoculars or even a telescope.

New Brighton, Hilbre Island and Formby Point are all great places for a spot of seawatching, but you need patience.

The latter site also has the drawback of vicious sand blows if the wind is strong enough – not for the faint-hearted. Although consolation can be found in the ice cream vans.

On the other hand, conditions can be ideal, but you can still end up scanning an empty bay, while on another day, large numbers of seabirds can be seen fishing offshore.

I guess that’s the appeal of seawatching – you never know what you’re going to get – a bit like fishing really.

The first terns of summer are starting to appear in Liverpool Bay now. In the coming weeks common terns will return to their breeding rafts at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve at Seaforth, but can be found just about anywhere along the coast, and often follow the Mersey ferry as it crosses the river.

The similar-ish Arctic tern will be passing our coastline over the next few weeks as it heads north to breed – this bird is nothing short of amazing. It nests in the northern hemisphere up to Iceland but, come the winter, it heads south like the swallow – but keeps on going past Africa to spend our darker months fishing in Antarctic oceans. What a wanderer!

Larger sandwich terns fish the bay too. Their yellow-tipped black dagger bills are ideal for catching prey in the shallows, but you may encounter them roosting on our shore at low tide.

Don’t get too close – the last thing hard-working fishermen, like these birds, need is to be disturbed when they’re taking a siesta.


Swallows – the flying emblems of summer have been trickling through in small numbers for the last week or two, but should increase from now on, and you are likely to encounter them just about anywhere as they speeds north.

Comma butterfly – a gorgeous butterfly, with rich orangey-brown, raggedy-edged wings and a distinctive white “comma” mark on the underwing. The first flight of the year of commas happens in spring, and these lovely insects can be found in parks and gardens on sunny days.

Harbour porpoise – seen in the Mersey off Otterspool last week, porpoises often swim into the river as the waters warm up. You may get lucky and see one offshore anywhere from Otterspool up to Ainsdale, breaking the surface behind the surf.

raiman says..“ What about the filthy pigoeons soiling everywhere and the dangerous gulls at the peir head.They should be poisoned to keep the streets clean.tourist wont like it to be bombed by filthy diseased gulls.

Professor Chucklebutty says..“ I recently heard about loan sharks trying to trick some old birds out of their nest eggs. It would be helpful if Mr Makepiece could do a feature on them so we know what to look out for.

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