Frank was utterly useless at finding wildlife on his first trip out as a safari guide. He did however find plenty of wet water, mud and dirt; most of which is now on the inside of the Land Rover. Annoyingly too, he is very hard to get a good photo of - he just won't keep still long enough.
His simple task was to sniff out the Preston Waxwings. Not too much to ask. So we followed his nose to the Rowan tree plantation and Waxwing magnet that is Stocks Road. Disappointingly there were none there so we headed in to town around the university campus...none there either...come on Frank you're letting the side down. Somewhat disheartened we travelled from the 'back to back' terraced houses of inner city Preston to the wilds of Lancashire's outback.
It was a long shot but with no leaves on the trees there could be a chance of picking up a tit flock with a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in attendance. This tree was riddled with Woodpecker holes of a variety of sizes. But it was still a very long shot. All we managed in a couple of hours trekking through the woods and through freezing streams were two Great Tits, two Blue Tits, a single Coal Tit and a Treecreeper - and I missed that one! Snow still lay on the ground and the woods were picture post card pretty . All we did find were a few nice bracket fungi and some interesting looking black fungi both growing on different Silver Birch trees.
We gave the Lesser 'Pecker a miss and headed off to a nearby conifer plantation in the hope of coming across some Crossbills. No chance - the woods were dead and with no cone crop there seems little chance of Crossbills here this winter; nothing was moving at all until we had almost returned to the Land Rover. Then out of nowhere we heard two Jays shrieking at each other.
Back to Stocks Road etc...still no Waxwings! The cold weather must have forced them to leave.
So it was off to a new site down by the river. The Ribble here is tidal and the tide was out so there was the chance of some wading birds on the exposed mudflats. None! A few Mallard were loafing about and we could hear Teal 'pleeping' further along the path. In the wooded are we came across another Jay and saw a second one at this site fly across the river from the far bank. There were Robins everywhere, seemingly one in every bush.
Looking over the end of the dock wall we came across the sighting of the day...A Salmon!...a large male with a well pronounced beak...almost a metre long...what a shame it was dead on the mud...a glorious fish. It seems strange to imagine that Brown Bears would probably been fishing in the shallows at what is now Avenham Park for this fish's ancestors only a thousand or so years ago, just like they do on the TV in Alaska now...not long ago really...can we have them back please! (no doubt they'd have been dodging the Beavers - which hopefully will be fully re-introduced into britain in the next few years if the current Scottish trial is a success).
Enough of the reminiscing; looking back up the river Preston looked almost pretty in the low afternoon sun with the reddish hues of light catching the limestone spire of St Walburga's church above the bullnose of the dock entrance.
Thanks to safari close up photographer, Raf, for the digi-binned shot of the Salmon's head.
A bit of human rather than natural history now. This dock was the largest single dock in Europe when it opened in the middle of the 19th Century and accounted for over 15% of Britain's trade.
The spire is the third highest in the UK at 94m and was designed by J.A Hanson (of the Hanson Cab fame - the very first specialist horsedrawn taxis). Opened in 1864 it houses the largest swinging bell in Britain at 1.5 tonnes. It is the tallest church steeple in the UK, Norwich and Salisbury are higher but they are both cathedrals and centuries older. It seems strange to design such a marvelous structure and not make it the biggest in the country particularly with the backing of all the Victorian finance and engineering skills available. Maybe a Catholic church wasn't allowed a taller spire than the Anglican cathedrals. And finally, working on this spire was the last job of ace steeplejack and TV personality, Fred Dibnah.
And why all this churchy stuff...well it was Sunday!
Where to next? Not sure yet, but it won't be to the ends of the earth because I just had to turn down the opportunity of a life time to go as a presenter on a show with the BBC Natural History Unit for 10 weeks next spring. Wow...can't believe I did that!!!!! I have very few regrets in life, I hope I haven't added another very very big one! Look out for the show next year - 'To the Ends of the Earth.' Right job - wrong time......nice to know I was in with a shout after the first interview round and screen test...mind you, I was always told by my mate, Pete, I had a good face for radio!!!
In the meantime let us know what you have found in your outback.