travel/country: John Dempsey; on country matters ...
PACKED tight like sardines, the waders huddled on the last remaining pieces of unsubmerged mud and weed.
Up to 5,000 were pushed to within a few feet of me by the incoming tide as I crouched, hardly daring to breathe, between Ainsdale and Birkdale.
OK, I had to sit motionless for an hour, as cramp kicked in, and little rivulets of seawater seeped through my old wellies, but it was worth it.
It was one of those fabulous calm winter mornings, the heat of the sun penetrating my coat, as the air filled with the chatter of the waders in front of me.
Grey plovers, bar-tailed godwits, dunlin, knot, oystercatchers, ringed plovers and redshanks were forced closer to me as roosting and feeding areas disappeared under the gentle swell.
What birds they are.
Most travel long distances to spend time with us, and, when seen closely like this, even their drab winter plumage is transformed into cryptic patterns of grey and white.
Grey plovers (my own personal favourite) breed in the high Arctic - our winterers come from the Russian breeding populations, which nest up on the tundra, but birds that breed in the arctic wastes of North America will spend winter months as far away as South America and Australia.
Such a gentle, mournful-looking bird in winter, it morphs into dazzling silver, grey and black plumage in a few months' time, always a sight for sore eyes when non-breeding birds choose to summer with us.
The loud piping flocks of black and white oystercatchers at this time of year may even hold a bird or two that will make it as far as the Pechora river in Russia to nest - although most of our birds will rear young in the UK or Iceland.
And the unassuming knot will travel far to the North to breed in Greenland and Arctic Canada.
It was astonishing to think of the journeys they will have to undertake in a few short weeks as I watched them dozing or shuffling about on one leg, the water rising to their knobbly knees.
Would some dog-owners still let their animals race into these flocks, sending them panicking into the air like clouds of smoke, if they knew the trials that lay ahead of these little birds?
I hope not.
BARRY MCCARTHY watched a chiff chaff at Marshside last Sunday - a winterer or early summer migrant?
CHRIS FELTON found the rare wild mistletoe on the East Lanes Road, Kirkby
DAVE BROOME noted 200-300 greenfinches in laurels by Wigan Pier, and over 200 pied wagtails roosting in Messner Street, Wigan.
GEORGE HANKIN saw a pair of sparrowhawks displaying over the Bluebell Estate, in Huyton.
JIM BRADY found 19 yellow coltsfoot in bud and flower last week in Prescot, and, at Whiston, found common daisy and dandelion in bloom, and a length of hawthorn hedge already in flower.
GRAHAM MCLAUGHLIN watched a blackcap feeding on ivy berries in his garden in New Brighton.
SAMUEL SHELDON watched no less than 17 magpies in Padgate, Warrington, recently as he enjoyed his breakfast - a post roosting congregation presumably
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Mournful-looking - grey plovers Picture: JOHN DEMPSEY