Friday, 31 July 2009

UFO revealed

The safari spotted an article in the local rag regarding Saturday night's 'orange glow'. Apparently it was a chinese lantern set off to celebrate someone's forthcoming round the world trip.
However, it does not explain the other strange lights in the sky recently one of which was going against the wind, was travelling slowly compared to conventional aircraft, had no navigation lights and suddenly took off to great height.
Nor does it explain Warren's sighting 250 miles south of here...who knows what is up there...and why do they only come out at night?
Did you see the revelations from the Russian navy's secret archives of flying things zooming from out of the depths of Lake Baikal...too much vodka on a boring posting or something real and bizarre?
No pictures of home grown frisbees on this one...sorry
Where to next? Probably not infinity and beyond...
In the meantime let us know what's been flying around unidentified in your outback.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Big bad blue tits?

A while ago the safari promised you some interesting bird behaviour. Well it has happened; I’ve got it on camera at long last. Had to wait until the nice person responsible refilled the feeder in question and then remember to take the camera. A bit tricky bit of photography as the feeder is under the trees, the morning light was dull, the birds are shy and have many ‘lookouts’ and you can’t really get close so the pics aren’t top quality but you’ll get the gist. Might try driving the Land Rover up close and using it as a hide to see if I can get closer. Nearly as tricky as a big bird trying to get its beak through a small hole on a wobbly feeder.

" it...I've got a toe hold...I'm in!!!!" you can almost hear Johnny Morris doing the voices...showin my age now!
"Got it!"
"Where's the best bits?"
Don’t know about you but this is the first I’ve come across Magpies acting like Blue Tits at feeders and I've seen alot of feeders and a lot off Magpies. Wonder if they'll be able to pass their new found skill on like Blue Tits did when they learned how to peck the tops of milk bottles left on the doorsteps...showing my age again!
They are getting pretty adept at it now. I’m sure the person filling the feeder was hoping for the smaller, prettier, birds to be attracted but this small copse of trees is called Magpie Wood (only by me) for good reason – at least 30 roost here every night, double that or more in winter. The chances of smaller birds getting a look in at the free food are slim to remote!
The Bumble Bees were just becoming active and still drowsy. I thought I’d captured the middle-leg-waving ‘you’re pissing me off so I’ll sting you if you come any closer’ behaviour but I totally missed it even with the camera on continuous shooting mode.However, on downloading the photos I noticed the Louse on the Bee’s shoulder. Scaled up it would be the size of a Guinea Pig, or something, similar on a person – not the sort of parasite I’d fancy carrying around all day.
Where to next? National Marine Week draws ever closer.
In the meantime let us know what’s hanging off your nuts in your outback.

Monday, 27 July 2009

NWDW - the final challenge

Well the final day dawns and I have forgotten to let you know of the best sightings for yesterday. A flock of seven Crossbills flew over Frank and myself on our early morning walk. A patch first for me and the red males looked fine and dandy in the moorning light. Later, after the Watch Frank and I were back in the park when we saw a Fox and ...a UFO! There have been several sightings of unexplained lights in the sky behaving unlike 'ordinary' aircraft.
The fine weather encouraged me to get the moth trap out. But the forecasters got it wrong and I leapt out of bed with a start to the sound of rain rattling on the windows. The trap was sodden but no drowned moths...more of them later.
So on with the watch. The weather had deteriorated as per usual and it was freezing. Very poor for the end of July.
There was nothing really to report, managed to get one of the Junior Rangers on to a couple of Sandwich Terns roosting on the beach before the tide came in. A distant Gannet and a small flock of even more distant Common Scoters was about the lot.

Apparently the best place to be is out to the south of the river at Formby Point. Only a few miles away but loads of seabirds.
We had to console ourselves by whatching the holiday makers trying to enjoy themselves on the Bunji-slingA cavalcade of Mods came by on their scooters, there were so many of them they took over five minutes to pass. The heady scent of 2-stroke fumes lingered over the prom for a good while after they had gone even with the strong onshore wind!
Good to see The stig is versatile, able to ride two wheels as well as four.
After all this excitement there was more to come. The Red arrows flew in from the north to refuel at the local airport as they often do...they even do this in formation. Then WOW a, by our standards at least, very large and dramatic tornado.

That was about it not a Cetacean in sight. But right at the death there in the semi distance bobbing about in the waves was a Grey least it was a mammal. Back home it took a couple of hours to overcome the mild exposure from sitting out for over four hours. even with gloves on my fingers were blue.

Back to the moths. A Canary Shouldered Thorn was trying to hide in at the bottom of the trap...not very effectively.Scalloped Oaks are always welcome but not particularly frequent.
The pale form of Common Rustic is far less numerous than the brown/brick coloured morphs.
A new species for the garden in the form of a Dotted Clay...four of them in fact.
A teneral Blue Tailed Damselfly was caught in the kitchen window in an attempt to escape the worst of the weather after thinking it was safe to emerge in yesterday's sunshine.
Where to next, when I've thawed out? National Marine Week starts at the weekend so lots of beachy things to report on I hope.
In the meantime let us know what you've not seen in your watery outback.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

National Whale and Dolphin Watch - day 8

At last some decent weather. 20 degrees plus, just a hint of wind and hardly a ripple on the sea. plenty of people helping look for our elusive target. Nothing - not a sniff...Didn't help when at high tide a couple of jet-skiers started wazzin around not far away and a tug boat brought in a rig to do some work on the site of the Riverdance shipwreck. all this marine activity probably put paid to any hope of seeing anything interesting. Out on the horizon there was absolutely nothing moving. So quiet was it that a single Cormorant hit the note book along with a fly by flock of Dunlin and a handful of Oystercatchers.
The fishermen spread all along the promenade caught nothing but seaweed and plastic bags.

The hills in the distance are the Lake District fells - so clear today you can almost see the sheep. Can't really believe it..a post with pics of rigs and boats not a wildlifey thing in sight. What will tomorrow bring...more good spotting conditions and something to spot would be nice.

In the meantime let us know how little you're seeing in your outback.
PS - no rain the moth trap might well be set up at long last.

Friday, 24 July 2009

National Whale and Dolphin watch - day 7

A sunny day today and plenty of helpers. But still too windy. some of the other watchers around the UK have been getting some good stuff, Orcas, Humpbacks, several Minke Whales...all good stuff, but nothing as yet off our five miles of coastline. Belated news this afternoon of two Harbour Porpoises just up the coasdt during the hot spell. Well that was the last time the sea was calm enough to be able spot them.
Anything to report - just three Sandwich Terns, hardly going to get our blood racing.
Better luck tomorrow I hope. The wind is set to drop a little for our four hour afternoon marathon watch - let's hope so.
In the meantime let us know which Cetaceans haven't been seen in your outback.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

National Whale and Dolphin Watch - day 6

Decidedly awful again. There is now a stiff south westerly but thankfully no rain today so I have started to dry out a bit in the breeze.

The heavy chop on the water would have made it almost impossible to see any Cetaceans if there were any to see. What's worse I got accosted by the talkative nutter - you know - the one you really hope doesn't sit next to you when they get on your bus. Hours he talked drivel at me - full family history - the works...

Very little to report, a couple of Sandwich Terns out in the bay, day six and these are the week's first...where are they all? A distant Common Scoter turned in to a female Eider as it drew nearer and best of all a fine male Kestrel. Being at the top of the cliff has its advantages - one being the only spray we got covered with was at the very top of the tide, the other was we were looking down on this splendid bird and got an excellent view of him from a somewhat unusual angle. But alas no pics again today.
Back at Base Camp I spotted a Potter Wasp wrangling a small green caterpillar ready to cart it underslung like a torpedo back to its far the best sighting of the day. Dashed in to get the camera...dashed out...gone!...shucks.
Forecast is still to be windy tomorrow; but ever hopefull we'll soldier on!
In the meantime let us know what's not being seen in your outback.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

National Whale and Dolphin Watch – day 5

Back to normal – cold wet and windy! Squally, heavy showers, no visibility to speak of at times – I must be mad spending my dinner hour staring out to sea in those conditions. Anything out there today? Not really. The highlight was a Sea Slater, the marine/littoral equivalent of a Woodlouse, which was spotted by a hardy young boy who had rather optomistically come out to help look for Cetaceans. In fact the only things seen out over the sea wall were a flock of 16 Dunlins belting south and a humongously distant Gannet showing ‘washing powder’ dazzlingly white against the leaden grey clouds on the horizon. That was it! Apart from a handful of Gulls of course.
Forgot to mention the worst sighting yesterday was a yellow helium filled balloon floating out to sea on the wind – another Turtle killer will be drifting around in the currents by now.
Not only that, the Hedgehog we found when taking Frank for his final constitutional last night was found killed on the road this morning. That’s two in three days within 20m of each other. Both, I’m sure, could have been avoided as they were in an area of traffic calming speed humps and were naturally drivers need to go slow. I think we have a murderer in our midst. Evil sh*ts!!!
Where to next? Yet more NDWD tomorrow, only a four hour watch to endure, sorry - enjoy! You might even get a picture or two, there again if its rattling down with rain again you might not.
In the meantime let us know if there are any cetaceans are lurking in your outback.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

National Whale and Dolphin Watch – day 4

Conditions were much better today…sort of. Persistent heavy drizzle meant wet optics, but a light offshore breeze meant no waves and the thick cloud meant no shadows; perfect viewing conditions; but the thick low cloud also reduced visibility to less than 1000 metres at times. All this means that any chance of a Storm Petrel has been well and truly scuppered!
A Grey Seal gave us the run(swim) around. It would pop up briefly then disappear for ages before reappearing miles away from its original location. We lost it for a good while, apparently it had come very close inshore because some anglers fishing a little way along the prom said they’d "almost been able to shake flippers with it!" There was a second one a long way to the south, about half way to Formby!
No sign of any Cetaceans or anything else for that matter, apart from three House Martins whizzing up and down along the face of the sea wall.
Is it just me or have these flying mini Orcas been in very short supply this summer.
Sorry no pics again today – if you want to see excellent Cetacean shots check out Monika’s blog, not from the UK though, more’s the pity.
Where to next? More NDWD tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what Cetaceans are lurking in your outback.

Monday, 20 July 2009

National Whale and Dolphin Watch – day 3

A short lunch time watch today. Very little to report and far too windy to have any chance of seeing our Porpoises. The six Common Scoters are sat on the same patch of sea that they were yesterday morning but there is no sign of Neil the Seal, perhaps the large numbers of kite surfers racing through the surf has frightened him off.
A big bonus was two Little Gulls winging their way south not too far behind the surf. Other stuff included on the horizon distant single Manx Shearwater and a couple of Gannets.

More news tomorrow. If the wind keeps up a Storm Petrel please.
PS. the Yanks sent up a space shuttle from Florida the other day so wet and windy weather is very likely next week too. Summer what summer?
In the meantime let us know what’s frightening off the wildlife in your outback.

National Whale and Dolphin Watch – day 2

Yesterday’s best sighting was a Land Rover Discovery 3 with a very sleek and snazzy snorkel fitted, must be new on the market; not seen one before. That’s how good the wildlife watching was!
Today the weather was a little more promising with a lighter wind and the sea much calmer although still a little too choppy to see any Porpoises well.

But we ended up staring fruitlessly at an empty sea in the pouring rain. Eventually the rain stopped and people started to wander about and ask the usual questions; "surely it’s too cold for Dolphins", or the other favourite, " isn’t the water too dirty?" Neither are true with Bottle-nosed Dolphins being found in the, much colder than here, Moray Firth in NE Scotland and our water is cleaner now than it has been for the best part of 150 years. The persistent over-fishing might be more likely the reason we don’t see so many but the position of Blackpool right at the innermost point of Liverpool Bay doesn’t help much either and our very shallow water will keep out most of the larger species which would be longer than the water is deep!
A small flock of Common Scoters bobbed about in the middle distance to break the monotony.
Later in the morning we were joined by the youngsters from a Wildlife Watch group from out of town and they were lucky enough to see a Grey Seal bottling just behind the surf only a few yards away from some boys playing in the waves. Maybe the water wasn’t as cold as it looked. A distant flock of Common Scoters flew south along the horizon as did a Gannet and that was about it in the four hour watch! Thrilling…not.
The group then went rock pooling on the beach. Great fun as pots were filled with Brown Shrimps and the tiniest juvenile Green Shore Crabs I’ve ever seen, the smallest no more than a millimetre across. A juvenile Blennie looked like a miniscule Flying Fish with its overly large pectoral fins sticking out sideways. Further out on the beach we found a few Compass Jellyfish with their lovely rich brown markings.
Back home it was time to venture out to pastures new and see if there were any Salmon leaping at the falls about an hour’s drive north. But when we got there the roar of water immediately told us that the river was far too high.

Right enough getting down to the riverside we saw the water was torrenting through the falls.

The first bird we saw was a Dipper,

sorry about the pic quality it was pretty dark in the gorge, but this is my very first attempt at this species. Apart from a very brief Grey Wagtail, Dippers were the only birds we saw, four in total, probably a family. On the cantilevered walkway under the road bridge we came across a very interesting scat from a Mustelid, looked too much for a Stoat but no obvious fish scales so probably not Otter or American Mink, hmm Polecat? Pine Marten?? Whatever did it it had a few small stones in it – residue from the stomach contents of its prey? On the drive back down the motorway a dead animal on the hard shoulder looked very Polecatty unfortunately it is impossible to do a U-ey on the motorway to go back and check it out.
The wild flowers were nice with Hemp Agrimony just coming in to flower,

along with some Monkey Flower and Meadowsweet,

whose leaves smell like the pink Calamine Lotion when bruised.
This part of the rapids is known for its peculiar holes in the rock where hard pebbles have been washed around and around by the torrent wearing away the softer limestone.

Some of the holes go right through the rock!

Ever daring our Extreme Photographer is trying to get a shot looking UP through the hole!
The rock formations are impressive with spring water flowing from cracks all over the place.

A large old Oak tree can be seen growing precariously out of a crack in the strata. Worryingly this plastic bag was caught in the base of the tree by flood water. It is about 10 feet (3m) above the level of the river, that’s a lot of water!!!

Nearby the roadside verges were full of wildflowers. Not sure what species this Allium is as it’s not something I’ve seen for a long time.

Hardheads are common everywhere and a favourite of bees and butterflies, like Hogweed which is being visited by a Hoverfly for its nectar.

Never noticed those pink sticky up things on the flowers before, obviously wiping the face of nectaring insects with pollen – fascinating and another new thing learnt.

Where to next? More NDWD tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what is in the pools in your outback.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

National Whale and Dolphin Watch - Day 1

The safari took off to the sea side to start the annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Not a good start - the wind was up and the sea was rough. Looks like we were going to be flogging a dead (sea)horse (Not a Dead Sea Horse - ahh the Dead Sea; I have swum in it and can confirm it is as salty as they say). Worryingly I had been told of a dead Porpoise being washed up last week and other reports of it, or some more, one of which may have been a dead sheep? More of the sheep later - I may have found it. But dead Porpoises are not good news especially just before the national watch as we don't have many to start with.
The sea was rough, the Isle of Man boat went out and I could see the waves breaking high over the bow. Then I noticed a sailing yacht leaving Fleetwood...hardy souls, or should that be foolhardy. They were being tossed about like...well like a boat in a storm; which is exactly what they were. Ended up having great fun tacking up and down the coast with the spinaker flying.

As it turned out it was diabolical, thoughts of exposure entered my head with the knowledge that I was going to be stood there for four hours. A brief but very distant Gannet broke the monotony. Hardly a soul was about; a, because it was still quite early b, the weather was [suger lumps] and c, with the tide in there was nowhere for the dog walkers (aka bird scarers) to go...more on that later too. Eventually a man came past and had a word; apparently he was waiting for tractor training as part of his boat club duties..which he eventually got.

After driving down the slade and back up again he and his mate are now a fully fledged boat-launcher-with-a-tractor-ers.
As the tide dropped and the beach was starting to be revealed a nice flock of Turnstones dropped in just a little too distant for a good pic.
They didn't stay long, with the beach growing by the minute the dog walkers started to appear en-masse and their pooches soon began stalking/chasing this flock and it left probably to be disturbed somewhere else.
A pair of Great Black Backed Gulls were having fun on the wind - putting the wind up all the other gulls on the beach. No we weren't having an earthquake at the time!
Look at the beak/axe on that.
A few Lesser Black Backed Gulls came to see what goodies the receding tide had left behind. Some of them had recently fledged youngsters in tow. One of them was ringed with a Darvik ring but infuratingly it would omly stand still when it was up to its knees in water. When it did eventually rest on a sand bank guess what...yep..a dog almost immediately rushed at it and it did one in to the distance. The ring was black with yellow/dirty white lettering I think W(or N)L2Y but I could be miles out!

Note the smokey grey mantle of the Lessers compared to the black of the Greater pictured earlier.
I noticed a bloke and his girlfriend taking pictures of something just off the sea wall. Ever the curious one I just had to go and investigate. A long dead and strangely headless Grey Seal...what a smell...wish I hadn't prodded it with my boot! The blubber was breaking up in to a fringe of rotting strips...could this be the wool from the 'sheep'?
In the first picture you might be able to make out some lost fishing line but I'm pretty sure the carcass pre-dates that as it still has a fairly fresh lugworm bait on the hook. Happen a fisherman hooked in to it whilst reeling his tackle back in.
Seals have big claws!
But only little tails.
That was it, just another slightly less distant Gannet to report. Wind is forecast to remain strong and Pete over at Heysham Bird Observatory (see blog links on right) reckons we could be in for some Storm Petrels tomorrow or Monday - - ohh I hope so!!!
Watch over domestic duties beckon..the first is to take Frank out for his walk and so we set off with the camera in to the Butterfly Zone...(Warren prepare to eat yer heart out!) Nothing like a bit of friendly rivalry; and that was nothing like friendly rivalry. So Warren no offence mate but you have been getting some mighty fine butterfly pics recently. Edit- just had a thought about your snail dilema...your tap water might have a snail unfriendly additive in it and your rain water will be calcium carbonate therefore no snails.
The field is wet with all the recent downpours and Frank being a Labrador was quick to take full advantage of any puddle no matter how shallow. Look at that flying jowlly cheek on the right and those quality ears.

But the sun was shining and we soon tallied up over 50 Meadow Browns and about 25 Small Skippers. The latter are beginning to fade now, looking washed out and pale compared to their flashy orange/coppery bronze of last week. A small number of Large Whites were lazily flitting about the field. The second brood of Common Blues has also hatched in the last day or so.
But in the copse is where the real action is. Speckled Woods are appearing again although this individual looks like its been around for a long, long time, don't think I've ever seen such a faded and battered specimen before. We did see a couple of Holly Blues too.
Commas are always nice to see, big, bright and brash.

A rather large bee, looks like a White Tailed Bumble Bee, caught my eye resting, or cooled, high in the canopy of an Elm tree, somewhat unusual. Now here's the fluke. As I was getting a few shots off a little pale, bronzy butterfly flew past it and seemed to land in the leaves nearby. OOHHH interesting...and I had no binoculars. But I did manage to pick it out with my naked eye hanging underneath a lucky was that!

AND at long last I got the picture I've been waiting for
Not brilliant so far but full size its fine by me! Just a shame that the twig is obscuring the white 'W' but you can just about make out the 'eye' and the tiny tail...will I better this pic this season?
Where to next? More NDWD news for you tomorrow and we have a group of kiddies coming to do some rock pooling once the tide has fallen. An interesting post coming up!
In the meantime let us know what's swimming about unseen in your outback.
BTW the TV programme I had to turn down has appeared. Wildest Dreams (BBC1 Wednesday 7.00pm) it is called and will probably be at If only I was 30 years younger, footloose and fancy free - well mortgage and pension free. Will be interesting to see who the contestants are and how they get on?...I woulda won it...yeah right!