It can be difficult to know how many birds of a given species are in a given area, it can also be very easy. There used to be several Long-eared Owls wintering in Blackpool at Marton Mere, they aren’t there now but if they moved roost a few hundred metres they might be undetected. Some shorebirds will only roost near where they feed though, so we can be confident there’s only one Purple Sandpiper in Blackpool.
Purple Sandpipers used to roost in small numbers on North Pier. They were thought to have dwindled away to none then several years ago I found two or three feeding around the old Maxwell’s Boating Pool on North Shore, which for several years has been a go kart track.
There has been a downward trend in the numbers of Purple Sandpipers returning to Blackpool over the last few years, interrupted by a spike of five or six birds one winter. A similar pattern occurred over a number of years at Heysham to the north west, there it was thought that their relatively direct escape flight meant they were getting picked off by Peregrines as they were easier to catch than the Turnstones they often associate with.
I hadn’t managed to catch up with the sole survivor this winter so yesterday with time to spare and year listing to spur me on I nipped down. The sea spray was flying extravagantly over the sea wall, so I stood at a sensible distance and took the header photograph of the star attraction with the more numerous Redshanks and Turnstones which are they staple species at this roost. Oystercatchers have also started using the site in recent years but they generally keep to themselves.
If you are local and interested in seeing this bird the images below will hopefully help. The first is a long range shot of the go kart track, which is directly below the Cabin tram stop and old lift, to show the area the birds usually favour. The second image is a cropped close-up. You can stand in the area where the people walking the dog are in the first image and view the birds without disturbing them; they are used to anglers being close by and some of the Turnstones actually hang around on the Prom itself for scraps.
It is something of a birding cliche to say that Purple Sandpipers don’t really look that ‘purpley’. It’s like Black-headed Gulls don’t have black heads, they have brown heads. In the book I reviewed on here yesterday Ian Carter pointed out that Americans and Britains not only can’t agree on the correct name for Gavia adamsii, but with White-billed Diver and Yellow-billed Loon they don’t know what colour it is. In a similar vein even though it’s apparently more of a summer plumage thing most people don’t think Purple Sandpipers are that colourful
A bit monochrome and understated, but charming in its own way and unique in the town. Get your self down and have a look whilst you still have chance.