Monday, 3 November 2008

All muxed ip!

Today's safari was just a short afternoon trip out to Marton Mere nature reserve on the east side of Blackpool. There were a few plants flowering that really shouldn't be. These Dandelions are supposed to be spring flowering. If they come up in your lawn or flowerbeds leave them, don't 'weed' them out they are a superb source of nectar for bees and butterflies emerging from hibernation after the winter. Dandelions are so called because their leaves (bottom right of the right hand flower) look like lion's teeth - French for teeth = dents (the dan bit) French for of = de, the French for lion = lion teeth of the lion; 'nuff said! The French don't call it by this name but refer to its involuntary diuretic qualities! Wet-the-bed.
We also came across the grass Yorkshire Fog, a summer flowering grass.

We also found Timothy, another summer flowering grass - sorry about the earthquake if you live in Mere View or have you started to slide in to the bed of the old Marton Mere.

Ox-eye Daisy is another spring in to summer flowering plant. So called because the flowers are so much bigger than the daisy found in lawns and other short grassy places.

During the recent pond construction this chunk of Bog Oak was excavated from the peat. It is from a tree - not necessarily an Oak, possibly an Elm - that fell in to the swamp about 4 - 5,000 years ago.

Below is Field Maple. This small tree turns the most beautiful pure yellow in the autumn. This one is not quite there yet.

Some of the fencing rails at the side of the path have been up for about 15 years and are beginning to weather nicely; some have even started to become habitats in their own right. This particular one is providing a handy hold for this yellow Lichen.

Moving round the reserve there is evidence that there was actually some decent weather this year. The Apple Trees and Dog Rose bushes are covered in fruit; not indicating a hard winter to come but a warm spell when the bees could get out and pollinate last May. Below are the Rose hips. At school they used to be crushed to make itching powder, something that is probably seriously frowned upon in today's risk adverse, no fun world.

The Apples are a huge food supply during the winter for the birds and mammals on the reserve. Thousands of them get blown off the trees as windfall. These are eaten by Foxes and small mammals which can't climb into the trees. However, many are picked off the trees by people, there are tracks leading to every Apple Tree off the path. This is really stealing from the wildlife. The birds prefer to feed on Apples still on the trees as they have a better view to see if any predators are approaching. They have to last the wildlife until the insects start emerging next April! If you want apples buy them from the shops - don't steal them from the wildlife that needs them to survive the winter!
One of the species reliant on them is the migratory thrush the Redwing. There were a few about today along with Blackbirds.

Silver Birch trees stand out amongst their companions at this time of year. To the left is an Oak and to the right is an Ash. In amongst this stand of young trees was a small flock of Long Tailed Tits. Despite scouring the nearby bushes we could not find the Long Eared Owls. They are becoming something of a bogey bird for the safari.

Hogweed was another summer flowing plant still going strong. Gorse too is still flowering. Although 'they' do say that kissing goes out of fashion when the Gorse stops flowering! On warm sunny days the yellow flowers smell strongly of coconuts; but don't get your nose too close - its very prickly.

At one of the hides the water looked to be terribly polluted. Fortunately this isn't an oil spill from an engine but natural oil from decaying plants in the reedbed. A Chiffchaff briefly darted around the edge of the reeds

The reserve's feeding station was very busy with a good mix of birds and a lone Rabbit. The birds included Chaffinches, Great Tits, Blue Tits and a single Coal Tit.

As dusk began to fall we moved round to look over the water. a good selection of birds included the reserve's first Goldeneyes of the season. Little Grebes, a good flock of Gadwall and a solitary lost Pink footed Goose, flying over calling plaintively, were the highlights as we watched these Grey Lag Geese climb the grassy bank in front of the hide. In the fields to the east a huge flock of Starlings was gathering and eventually moved in to the reed bed to roost and was joined by others all the while. In the end we guestimated 89,000 had come in to the reserve to roost. Despite all that 'meat on the wing' there was only one Sparrowhawk that didn't hang around and a single Kestrel that was more interested in mice, beetles or worms. So we didn't get the awesome sweeping cloud formations of synchronised 'escaping being the unlucky one' flights!

Just before it got fully dark we moved on to the embankment hoping for a Barn Owl to show. They usually come out at that point when it is too dark for us humans to be able to see colour. Sadly it didn't appear, or perhaps we were a few minutes too early. We did have good views of a fine male Stonechat in the last of the light.
Making our way back to the Land Rover we were still hoping for a sighting of either the Long Eared Owl or the Barn Owl or even a Bittern flying over the reedbed towards the Starlings and a night time feast but we were unlucky. The sunset, however, was worth the trip out on its own!
Not a bad haul for a short, afternoon only, safari.

Where to next? That Ross's Goose is still flitting around Lancashire, and then there's the bogey Long Eared Owls, and I learned today that a Cetti's Warbler has turned up at Marton Mere so there's loads to go at.
In the meantime let us know what you have found in your 'outback'.

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