Friday, 17 December 2010

High tide duck fest

The Safari set off once again into the cold dark darkness of Patch 1 with the trusty, trusty not rusty, bins round our neck in the vain hope that the mystery silhouette would be present and easy to identify.
On the way it was evident that the forecast overnight snow hadn’t arrived. We did get a tiny bit late last night but that had somehow managed to melt away even though the overnight temperature was barely above freezing. We could see two Peregrines roosting close together on separate ledges, only one was there late last night so the other must have joined it in the wee small hours from elsewhere. A minute or so later a Fox dashed across the green a hundred yards in front of us.
Passing by Magpie Wood there were a lot of Magpies to count, we did three passes and got a best count of 79 – our record count ever and there were probably more deeper in to the gloom we couldn’t see. Is the ton possible?
As for the silhouette – not a sniff; the only thing we found was a loose ‘flock’ or ‘aggregation’ of five Woodpigeons roosting sort of together deep in one tree. Has whatever it was gone or will all be revealed tomorrow?
The snow arrived as we were leaving for work, early today as we had an appointment with the Tree Officer who gave us a Land Rover full of wood to keep Little Bertha fed over the holiday period – many thanks P. And many thanks to the Elm Bark Beetle and associated fungus for providing all the dead trees. Fortunately in town we now plant more trees each year than are lost to DED or wind damage, we’ll just have to wait a while for them to reach full size.
The Patch 2 safari early doors was a cold windy vigil. We had to wait the best part of an hour for it to get light enough to be able to see anything before venturing out, fortunately the sun had come out by then and it had stopped snowing.
It was high tide although a rather low neap one and with the northerly wind pushing against it the sea was quite rough. A few small flocks of Common Scoters were scattered about and small strings of Cormorants flew from the mouth of the estuary out to sea. A number of Common Gulls passed close by all heading into the wind. Somewhat bizarrely the horizon was lost in a shimmer of ‘heat’ haze – weird or what; maybe it was cold haze! Out there we saw the odd Common Scoter whizzing this way and that low over the waves and a few Great Black Backed Gulls careening around. Closer in a black and white bird briefly showed on the water, another Great Black Backed Gull but then in a trough just behind it was another, only this time the black and white pattern was a little different – a male Eider – nice! Concentrating on this to see if it had any friends two birds flew south through the field of view, one was yet another Common Scoter but the other was something different altogether...a female or immature male Long Tailed Duck (191, 102). Whoopy-double-do, an excellent bonus bird and fair reward for cold patch perseverance – we just knew there was a ‘goody’ out there to be had sooner or later. Now can we have another good one please? This is the first Long Tailed Duck we’ve seen for a long, long time, so long in fact that we can’t actually remember the last one we had, one on the nature reserve at the end of the nineties or was it the early noughties perhaps...jeez was it that long ago?
A quick nip over the road at lunchtime gave us very little; both adult Great Black Backed Gull and Lesser Black Backed Gull were stood on the beach and we saw two Turnstones on the outfall pipe. Not a lot else but a few gulls were making hay on the shellfish being washed up. As it wasn’t too uncomfortable out we shot back in to the office donned our wellies, gabbed a plassy bag and went back down on to the beach shell hunting. The mission was to try to find some of the small shells and make up a montage like we’d done with the larger ones last week.
It was soon evident there was plenty to look at – what a brilliant beach we have!
Look at the size of those Common Starfish!

The Brittle Star (Amphiura filiformis?) is still alive and was returned to safety after his photo-shoot. Putting him back among the debris at the base of the outflow pipe we came across this large Prickly Cockle and these bits of an Edible Crab – a Patch 2 tick! Looks like the claw is too big to go with the carapace so there are two individuals here.

We soon filled our bag and went back to scald our collection so that it wont reek of dead things in the office on Monday morning. On the way back we found this live Common Starfish lurking in a bit of a rockpool. Nice tubefeet there boyo.

Fortunately we saw this chaps legs before the shell got dunked in the hot water. A Hermit Crab out of a whelk shell is like a fish out of water.

That's a fierce set of spike-laden claws!

Following the numbers we have 1. Common Otter Shell, never found a complete one before, 2. Thin Tellins(?) (Angulus tenuis rather than Baltic Tellin Macoma balthica), 3. Banded Wedge Shells, Common Scoter food, 4. Large Necklace Shell, 5. Rayed Trough Shell showing the ‘predation hole’ made by a Necklace Shell, 6. Curved Razor Shell, another Patch 2 tick!, 7. Striped Venus Shells, 8. Tower Shell, 9. Dog Whelk(?) and a small Edible Whelk(?), 10. Common Cockle, 11. White Piddock, these are so fragile it’s rare to find a complete specimen, 12, Blunt Gaper, a third beach Patch 2 tick and a Lifer too – whoo-hoo what a day!
If anyone can shed like on the tellin and whelk IDs we’d be grateful.
Here are some close ups.

White Piddock.

Whelks of 'not sure' species.

Necklace Shell drill hole in a Rayed Trough Shell.

Blunt Gaper compared to Common Otter Shell, having not seen one before we didn't realise how small they were in comparison to the Otters.

The Banded Wedge Shells, lovely purple interiors when fresh.

We even managed a pic of a bird - a Redshank!

It had a little friend too - a Turnstone. Actually the Turnstone wasn't that friendly cos it tried to land on the Redshank's head!

And then the Grey Plover - a little distant but hey we got it!

Where to next? Not sure how to follow that little run of success but it is the weekend so we might get a short safari in somewhere.
In the meantime let us know if your outback played a blinder today.
Just had a quick run round Patch 1 and guess what - we think we know what the silhouette is...a Carrion flippin Crow!!! Two were seen easily in the bright snowy conditions and out on the end of the solved we'd say. One Peregrine on the usual ledge too.


Colin Bushell said...

A thoroughly enjoyable and educational read Dave. Great post!


Craig said...

Hi always i enjoyed your post.
This afternoon i took wifey to hopefully see the starling roost on the reserve, im no good at guessing flock numbers but i reckon no more than 400, i was hoping for at least another zero on the end of that number.
A buzzard was perched again close to the owl box.

best wishes,

weather said...

weather maps from Global Forecast System

cliff said...

Terrific stuff Dave - I very much enjoyed reading that, & well done on your new ticks!
Your ID charts will add some real interest to my trips to the beach collecting shells with the grandkids, again a bigger version of your montage would be useful for elsewhere. I have a book with a small selection of shells & the larger of your Whelks looks very similar the "Buccinum undatum - Common or Edible Whelk or Buckie" shown therein.

Re the LT Duck - didn't you twitch the one on the Canal at Conder Green 2 years back?


Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Thanks for the positive responses chaps - we aim to please but probably miss quite a lot!
The larger whelk probably is Edible whelk but will check with our local expert in the wee. Full size pic for your 'other place'will be winging its way too yuo shortly Cliff. No I didn't twitch the LTD on the canal - didn't know about it, its all very isolated down at South Shore you know...



Kathryn said...

Hi Dave those are great pictures specially of the starfishes..
They are a red whelk (the larger one- this doesnt have the cross striatons that you would expect to see on an edible whelk so well spotted and the small on is a dog whelk - much thicker and has a deep groove next to the opening called the siphonal groove.
Well done on the blunt gaper thats a lovely one. Brill. Weve been seeing some frozen octopi jellies to and lots of young mussels died of in the frost.
lovely pictures

Amila Kanchana said...

Interesting marine life! I've seen similarity critters over here except the star fish.