Friday, 5 September 2008

Wet wet wet in north Lancs

The Met Office promised sunny spells with showers so the safari drove out to north Lancashire on the trail of Adders in the sunshine. The rain was torrential and the skies an unblemished steely grey so we adopted Plan B. Where does it not matter if it's raining - a wetland of course! A wetland with the chance of Otters is a bonus. We hiked through sodden woodland to the watersedge. On the way we came across a large party of mixed tits with plenty of Marsh Tits, a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest thrown in for good measure.
At the water there was little showing, the usual Mallards and Coots and skimming low over the water around a 100 Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. This young Moorhen pecked around the shallows in front of us.
We waited patiently for the Otters but no sign - we will be coming back - we haven't given up yet!
On the way back to the Land Rover there were a few surprises we didn't notice on the way in. We startled a young Red Deer stag with a pitiful set of antlers. He went haring across a field of bullocks sending them scattering in all directions. He gave us great views when he stopped to look back to see if he had out-distanced us.
Then we came across this lichen encrusted tree - a beautiful mix of shades and textures.

Finally rounding a corner we couldn't fail to notice this enormous fungus growing from the base of an Ash tree. I've no idea what it is perhaps someone could enlighten us. (Jack from Lancashire Nature might be our man - see blog links on right)
Leaving the wetland for a disused quarry we had a mooch around turning stones on a desperate hunt for Slow Worms. Desperate indeed as it was far too cold and wet for any lizards to be active. The surroundings are impressive - weird to think all that solid rock used to be a coral reef in a tropical sea, the fossils of the creatures that lived there are visible on the rock face. Old yes but far from fossilised is this patch of sn*t. It is a strange life form called Nostoc. when dry it resembles a cross between cardboard and a crisp. when wet - well judge for yourselves.
It is actually a colonial Cyanobacteria. "A what?" I can almost hear you ask. It's a type of Blue-green alga that gets its energy from sunlight by photosynthesis. They are present in all habitats; ocean, freshwater, bare rock and temporarily moistened rocks in deserts, inside lichens (see above) and even inside the fur of Sloths. They are closely related to the Stromatolites of 2.8 billion years ago (Stromatolites are still found alive and well today but only in Shark Bay, Western Australia and the Bahamas). The ancient Stromatolites were responsible producing the oxygen in the earth's atmosphere and so set off an evolutionary explosion of life. Nostoc doesn't look much but without it's ancestors we wouldn't be here today!
Getting wetter by the minute we returned to the wetland. A Grey Heron huddled against the weather. In a small copse a majestic Red Deer stag sheltered from the elements. What a set of antlers he had, probably over 6 feet (2m) across. Sadly he wouldn't leave the shelter of the trees for a photo. Breaks in the weather allowed birds of prey brief opportunities for a flight and we had a good selection, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, a gi-normous female Peregrine and a dashing Merlin pretending to be a Mistle Thrush. Icing on the cake was a spectacular fly past by an Osprey. Who says you won't see stunning wildlife in inclement weather!
Sorry about the quality of these shots...doh me and my camera aren't the best of friends at the moment. But this little Hoverfly (species?) is an absolute beaut. I apologise for the fuzziness; maybe I should wear my specs more!
With the weather improving, if only slightly, and the super Red Deer stag under our belts it was time to track down the other two species of deer. Before long we had seen a splendid Fallow Deer buck (not stags for this species), but again he was too well hidden in the trees for a photo. try as we might we couldn't find a Roe Deer, which should be the easiest of the three. This herd of hinds and young male Fallow Deer spent more time looking at us than we spent looking at them. There were eight in all. Superb and definitely worth the days soaking. And then we had a very young Spotted Flycatcher flitting about between a bush and the fence right next to us, which I didn't notice at first because I was too busy watching a Chiffchaff down to about 5 feet, so close my binoculars wouldn't focus on it.
At the end of the safari we crossed the field and noticed these two trees worthy of recording on the Ancient Tree Hunt (see link on right). The first is a Crab Apple of huge proportions, the second an Ash with a well formed root bole.

By the end of the day we had seen just shy of 60 species of birds, 5 mammals, zero reptiles - surprise surprise, 2 butterflies, 2 dragonflies, and don't forget the Nostoc! An excellent day's safari in atrocious conditions.

Where to next? Does more bad weather = more good wildlife? Wait and see.

In the meantime let us know what you have found in your outback.

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