Sunday, 31 January 2010

A light in the black

The safari says you can't beat a bit of Rainbow. On Frank's pre-dawn walk there was the first hint of light in the early morning sky. The days are drawing out and spriing is getting a little bit nearer.
This fat fella was nowhere to be seen yesterday when the Big Garden Bird Watch was in full swing. But can you see a line of white on the top of the fence? Yes we had another smattering of snow overnight.
Pic is a bit hazy due to dirt and reflection through the kitchen window. Well it is winter and our window cleaner is probably living it up on the Costas!
A posh pub lunch in the countryside with some good mates was followed by a gentle stroll up the valley. We were hoping to get a few new ones for the year and had a comprehensive target list to take us well over 100. But we ended up clinging to Frank as there were sheep everywhere - he'll get himself shot one day if we're not careful! So we didn't see a single bird all the way up the hill apart from a Kestrel and the Pheasants which haven't been stopped any lead yet.
At the top the stream had a wacky ice formation sat right in the middle of the flow.
The way down was even more bird-less and negative thoughts of no new ticks started to creep to the fore. Stuck on 99...nooooo. When all was just about lost with only a few more minutes walk back to our cars (no Land Rover today) we caught a flash of movement over the stream...Dipper; the 100 is up...phew! Then it was joined by another. The last bit of the walk goes past a bit of a conifer plantation and we think we heard a Tawny Owl. After a few pathetic attempts at hooting and it answered back...(101). Job done.
Plenty more out there in the local area for the rest of the winter, including the lifer, but we might have to wait until the next high tides to go for that one.
A hundred in the bag after only one month but what of the whole year? The 'easy, should be able to get without too much trouble and we'll be miffed if we don't reach' target is 175. Then there is the should reach with a bit of luck 190 and finally need some twiching and some luck target of 200. Wonder where we'll end up?
Where to next? Back to the patches I expect.
In the meantime let us know if there are targets in your outback.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Small garden birdwatch

The safari spent a frustrating hour participating in what our American cousin's call 'citizen science'. Gotta be done though - tens of thousands of people recording at the same time yields exceptional coverage and lots of work for the statisticians.
Base camp's garden 'includes' somewhat cheekily the Pear tree over the fence on the left, the evergreen bush and small tree on the right of the garage as well as the tree whose outer twigs you can see by the water tower. Still a small garden but with a bit more habbo and as long as the same patch is counted year after year matters little. I don't think anyone else nearby participates. The people who used to live in the big white house had feeders but the new occupants have disposed of them..not cut their trees down ...yet. Behind our back fence is an access road so we don't back on to other gardens which makes the access/egress to the garden less attractive to wildlife. Further to the right almost all the gardens have lost their trees they had only five years ago. Not only that the massive car park surounding the office complex further still to the right have removed almost all their big trees which where the biggest in the area, their small bushes have gone too, habitat destruction on a (locally) collosal scale - reason??? Your guess is as good as mine - sticky goo falling on the cars in the summer probably or some other nonsense.

So what did we get. The wind was in the wrong direction for the gulls, as they came in to land on the garage roof for the bread they could see me lurking in the bedroom window...and it put the there's a thing! A Black Headed Gull had a brave attempt but didn't qouite touch down so wasn't counted. A full adult Herring Gull was more persistant and got a beak full of the doughy stuff.
A pair of Mistle Thrushes perching in the big Sycamore (top right) was a god tick. Greenfinches and Goldfinches are regular visitors but today only passed overhead at height...swines. A Starling laso landed in the Sycamore, then surprisingly a second one whizzed past the window and had a quick look in our Swift box...might need to put a sign up Swifts only! Starlings Keep Out..but that would be a bit unfair as Starlings are having a bit of a bad time of it as a breeding species at the mo.
Owt else? Oh yes two each of Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch. Plenty of Magpies, Collared Doves and Blackbirds buzzing around the gardens in the top of the pic but they couldn't be tempted on to our estate.
Where to next? A safari to the wilds of the east tomorrow - will we get that 100th species for January? There are only a couple of target species which may or may not be nailed.
In the meantime let us know what's been counted by citzen scientists in your outback.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Vague ramblings on no theme at all

The safari today has been sat at the puter typing minutes - a dire job but someone's gotta do it. I really wish I could read my own scrawl.
On the way home from said minutes the Starling flock was throwing incredible shapes over North Pier I scrabbled the camera out of the bag but was thwarted in photographic attempts by the traffic lights stopping us at the most in opportune moments, ie behind signs, fences, buses etc. By the time we got to a more open vista the lights sequence had us constantly on the move and the scary raptor had gone!
From yesterday's trip to the big smoke - aka Liverpool - home of the best football team in the world that will never win anything Everton and the best skyline in the world even including Dubai, Manhattan and Chicago! no new ticks - too dark on the return train journey to see any Grey Partridges or Barn Owls in the fields along side the track so still on 99 for the year.
Had a quick look at the sea wall at lunchtime but freezing cold wind combined with horizontal snow meant it was the quickest five minutes of my life and nothing had to be something good to keep me out there and there was b*gger all. My colleague from the other office had another Harbour Porpoise yesterday (you really can go off some people - sorry S) when we were living it up with government ministers...very disappointed in the nosh provided by a 5* hotel/conference centre though...copious but so poor your daren't have seconds.
Fox on Frank's last walk tonight I saw it he didn't smell it...ner ner ne ner ner!
RSPB's Big Garden Bird watch is tomorrow - large quantities of bread will be thrown on the garage roof, mouldy old sunflower hearts are in the feeder and a couple of soft apples will be on offer for the feathered throngs...not.
For those wanting to see a proper bird I haven't got any new photos but have a look at JD's first pic on this post...a stonker - pure feathered gold even if it is mostly white.
Where to next? Off to buy a new scope for the safari, nothing fancy I haven't traded the Land Rover in but better than none at all.
In the meantime let us know what's big in your garden outback.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Wind and a wind up.

The safari has not been out so much – too much to do…Patch 1 last night held the Peregrine again but he wasn’t there at 06.30 this morning. Plenty of birdsong in the mild conditions. Patch 2 this morning was a grey dead loss. Windy, for the first time in ages and a choppy sea with sea mist seriously reducing the visibility. Little to report other than our Great Crested Grebe has been reunited with its two chums and a fourth one was sat in the waves a few hundred yards away. A dozen or so Common Scoters were all we could find. Poor!
Last night we attended a meeting of the NW 4x4 Response group. A voluntary organisation whose aim is to use their vehicles capabilities to assist the authorities when requested and do other good turns for those in distress. For example in the recent harsh weather one member has been using his Land Rover to deliver Meals on Wheels to the elderly and infirm as the regular delivery vans and drivers were struggling on the ice-bound streets.
The meeting was at a country pub and there was a good chance of spotting a Barn Owl along the lanes. None seen!
One topic of conversation was the vitriolic denunciation of 4x4 users in the countryside on climbing and mountain biking forum – to the point where some members of that forum were seriously considering blocking a legal road track (a BOAT - Byway open to all Traffic). Now I am the first to admit that no one hobby is perfect and there are countryside users in all interest groups who have their mavericks and down right irresponsible contingent – but vandalising the Queen’s Highway because of a few (alleged) numpties in 4x4s is not the answer. But neither is tarmacing every unsurfaced byway in the land. Recent legislation closed 98% of the green lanes to motorised traffic – the irony is that many of these are farm tracks and continue to be used by tractors and other farm vehicles, some rarely see a rambler, but we as 4x4 drivers are still denied them. In fact the Ramblers Association (our biggest critics and not only of 4x4’s but mountain bikes etc etc as well) (Thought about refusing to put the link in, but in the interests of fairness I have) themselves had a mass trespass in 1932 to put their point that people should have access to open countryside, that it was not just for the rich, upper classes or elite – six of them were eventually jailed for their part in the protest. My, seemingly, minor disability prevents me from walking far (bonkers that, as it’s my hands that are bad), I can barely ride a bike now, am not confident on a horse – if I could still hold the reins and my climbing days are long since past but I can still drive, so why do some people want to stop me enjoying the great British countryside – I’m not about to go ripping it up I just want to get away from the tarmac bound hordes enjoy some solitude, have a picnic, challenge and practice my driving skills (although I also go to Pay and Play quarries to further this aim) and see some wildlife too – a vehicle makes a good hide. But what about all the able bodied Land Rover drivers should they not be able to enjoy those tracks too. However if I was more disabled, in the leg or heart department for instance, I could use one of these Trampers perfectly legally on Public Footpaths What's the difference, it's still a motorised vehicle? If you think walkers don’t damage the countryside then think again as you can see some of the hikers tracks up to the summits in the Lake District NP from my mates’ new place 10 miles and more away.
What about all those CO2 emissions? Well many of my 5000 miles a year are fuelled by recycled cooking oil and what about the thousands of ramblers who head out of the towns and cities at the weekend, they don't walk to the hills do they?
Rant over head is well and truly above the parapet – hard hat and flak jacket donned…Look out…here come the repliesssssssssss…
Where to next? More patch work – on foot, if Frank is up to it, he’s pulled a muscle playing with his rugby ball. Out of town all day indoor meeting tomorrow - wonder if we'll get anything from the train window.
In the meantime let us know who’s been trashing your outback (allegedly).

Look no ramblers! Not even a boot print. Don't get me wrong I'm not against rambling I walked up hill and down dale conquering most of the Lake District's and Yorkshire dales highest peaks, it's bigots and the unfairness of it all I object to.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Patchy patch news

The safari was on Patch 1 for nearly an hour before going south of the river yesterday and very spring like it was too with birdsong issuing from every bush, or so it seemed. In fact the first bird heard, as we closed the front door and ventured in to the brightening light of dawn, was a Blackbird, tuning up rather than singing properly but still the first of the year. The Peregrine was still asleep on his ledge high on the water tower, while below him Robins twittered all around. In the park proper there were more Robins, at least nine chuntering away. A Song Thrush sang from the copse area, several Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves were giving it plenty of welly too. It almost sounded like spring.
This morning we were our more normal hour earlier and it was back to the usual quiet, with no Peregrine either, although with a cold easterly breeze it could have been round the other side.
Patch 2 before work had 53 Redshanks and very little else, a flurry of Cormorants passed by, all going south, not counted but certainly more than ten. A single Great Crested Grebe seems to have lost it’s two mates from last week; and where are all the Common Scoters this winter? No more than two dozen were seen in a small raft way off shore. Very, very slow and in the perfect conditions somewhat disappointing. Well actually more than ‘somewhat’, ‘definitely’ disappointing, not even a Sanderling on the beach!
Lunchtime on Patch 2 was no better, worse even! ‘Only’ three bait diggers this arvo, barely a gull in sight and the Redshank had dropped to 32 but in recompense there was a grand total of two Turnstones on the outfall pipe. Big wow! And still no Sanderlings! Conditions out a sea were even better than this morning absolutely silky flat calm and totally shadow-less – not a sea mammal to be seen and hardly a bird either. All was not lost however. You will note that we have been seeing enough Cormorants to be bothered to report them; well, a way down the beach to the south there were between 110 and 125 sitting on an island sandbank looking all Jurassic and all. All jumbled up, wings out obscuring each other and a long way off, so difficult to get an accurate count. Never seen this sort of number concentrated on our stretch of beach before – normally you would expect numbers like this to be roosting at the north end of the Fylde on the Wyre Light off Fleetwood. A scaly backed gull on the outfall pipe with a very pale face, bit of a shawl and eye smudge and very dark primaries looked reasonable for a 1st winter Yellow Legged Gull but at that range in poor light without a photo we’re never going to be brave enough to claim it, but it’s out there for someone else to try to connect with if they so desire.
News came from a colleague from another office watching the same patch of sea just before we got out – he’d had a Harbour Porpoise…bob on low tide too…unusual as most sightings along this coast are made around the high tide (paper in prep) although today’s low tide wasn’t actually that low, not far off the highest a low tide can get if you get my drift. Strangely the Cormorants weren’t there when he was, he only reported about ten. When we were there the tide had just started rising so the sand bank wouldn’t have been there much longer and while he was there the sand bank would have been part of the beach and not an island so probably much less inviting (i.e. safe) to the Cormorants, it just shows how ephemeral some of these sightings can be.
Where to next? Only patch stuff this week I’m afraid
In the meantime let us know what’s turned up in huge numbers in your outback.
No pics again today – far too grey and gloomy - sorry

Sunday, 24 January 2010

A drippy dippy day

The safari had mixed fortunes on a tick and twitchathon south of the river today. A wet day with wet optics, a wet dog and wet clothes...not overly pleasant but at least it wasn't windy or too cold.
So what were the targets and what did we (not) get. First tick of the day was an easy drive by Little Egret (91) but the hoped for Great White Egret seems to have done a bunk. We whizzed past the marsh and called in to look for the Red Crested Pochard, we weren't sure where to look on the large marine lake but no sign. A lot of Coot all sat in the middle well out of the way a KB's snatching hands. Going further down the coast we hit the Twite, or rather didn't - no sign of the little Twites! Frank found a football and the kicking/chasing there-of put up a few Meadow Pipits (92) and several Skylarks (93). Later he 'found' two Snipe but not the hoped (longed) for Jack Snipe.
Back to the marsh were a very nice young man told us that the Bittern was showing well about ten minutes walk up the road. Worth seeing a Bittern out in the open anytime so off we went. Got it! Stalking about in knee high grass - weird or what but worth the walk. Also out there was a stonking male Hen Harrier (94). It's ages since we've seen a full blown male. There would be more if 'others' up river from here didn't stamp on their eggs or set Ferrets on their chick (allegedly of course) - oh sorry those chicks were killed by truly wild Weasels...
A female Kestrel sat on a nearby post but we didn't see any of the multitude of Short Eared Owls. A Merlin (95) had a right go at a Starling it had separated at the flock but a Crow and a Black Headed Gull came to the rescue mobbing the raptor so much that it had no chance of catching its lunch. Things aren't going to badly. A quick check at the hide got us two Little Grebes (96) but nothing else. News there was that the Red Crested Pochard was present yesterday so we went to the exact location and dipped! No sign of it nor any of the Tufted Ducks it was associating with.
Time to move stop Curlew Lane, famed for it's flock of Corn Buntings and being on the title sequence of a 1980s BBC show called Watching with was loosely based on birding. No Corn Buntings, but the easy to get Rooks (97) were ticked off. No Grey Partridges either...doh, have to come back in spring.
Next on the agenda the Peter Scott duck zoo that is Martin Mere WWT - larger but nowhere near as good as somewhere with a similar name nearer home. What a lot of Whooper Swans but we learned as we left that we had misssed the two Bewick's Swans by only a few minutes - sounds like they flew off while we were parking the car. The car park was chocka - I used to come here on my bike many years ago (mid 1970s) and bunk in at the far corner, you had to be careful not to be seen by the wardens as there were so few people in the reserve then. There is a massive steel gate there now. Plenty of Ruff (98) were pecking about in the margins. Below are some rough pictures of them taken in the rainy murk.
Pintail are always a joy.
A monster of a Peregrine sat out the rain on a post - she could have swallowed our male from the water tower whole, (he was back up there last night). Not a lot else out of the ordinary on the water. A quick look at the feeders got us a whole heap of Tree Sparrows (99) but the reported Tawny Owl wasn't showing.
Enough was enough and time to move on. Where to? We stopped at my cousin's equestrian centre for a brew but she'd gone abroad skiing - alright for some AND it's her fault we have Frank, so he didn't get the chance to meet his 'cousins'. After leaving the horses behind we FORGOT to call in at the new RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh reserve where there were supposed to be a flock of Bewick's Swans...doh. So was there time to see if the four Smew were still on the river Ribble?...No - it was getting dark by now. What about fluking a Goosander as we crossed back over the bridge to our side? No - too much traffic...Needed fuel so we dropped in to Preston Docks to fill up. Lots and lots and lots of gulls in the dock. A good scan with the bins found what looked very like a 1st winter/moulting into 1st summer Mediterranean Gull right over the other side. A long way off and horrid light, not only that it was partially obscured by an adult Herring Gull. Nothing for it but to set the scope up. As we were pulling out the legs of the tripod a young family came and stood next to me and promptly emptied a whole loaf of bread over the side...result; 2500 gulls in the air...IDIOTS!!!...No chance of relocating it in the ensuing melee...
So the day ended one tick short of the target...I'll let you know what the final year target is next week - but we are about half way there.
Where to next? Back to the Patches.
In the meantime let us know what you missed in your outback today.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Over dressed

The safari went out with big Frank onto Patch 1 this morning clad in a multitude of thick warm layers and waterproofs after having seen spots of rain in the puddles on the garage roof. Too many clothes!…phew it was warm…on returning, before 07.00hrs, a look at the thermometer told us it was a midge’s doo-dah short of 8°C…sweatin’ cobs we were. Shorts and a t-shirt would have been sufficient.
Was there anything to report? – Just a couple of singing Robins and a singing Song Thrush in the park.
Now there’s a thing, yesterday we received the UK Phrenology Network’s newsletter and noticed that the average date of the first Song Thrushes heard singing has changed from 19th March to 17th February. That’s 30 days earlier than a decade ago! Other wildlife showing signs of being significantly earlier in its life history now compared to 2001 include:-
British native tress coming into leaf – two weeks;
Our grass is growing a week and a half earlier;
Migrant birds are arriving a little under a week earlier;
Common resident birds breeding activity is a week advanced;
The first flowering of the suite of familiar plants is a week and a half earlier;
Frogs are breeding a week and a half earlier too;
Similarly hibernating insects are emerging a week and half earlier;
Spring butterflies are now on the wing two weeks earlier.
In addition to these national observations the natural history of Blackpool has also shown some significant signs of climate change. In the early 1990s several species of dragonflies and butterflies were unheard of in Blackpool. Now Emperor, Migrant Hawker, Broad Bodied Chaser, 4-Spotted Chaser and Black Tailed Skimmer are regularly seen. Butterflies new to town in the same period include Large Skipper, Small Skipper, Peacock, Speckled Wood and Gatekeeper, the numbers of Orange Tips have also increased prodigiously. As for other invertebrates such as moths, beetles, dipterans etc I’m sure the same would show if we had more comprehensive information. In that time there has more development, less habitat, more habitat fragmentation and deterioration so it’s unlikely that the habitats are more suitable for these species. Creatures we have lost from town include Skylark, Grey Partridge and Brown Hare are down to negative changes in their habitat rather than any climate related effect.
Aafter our recent short cold spell the sceptics are desperately trying to convince us that climate change isn’t happening – just look at the natural world will you – it doesn’t tell lies – it responds to actual events on long term timescales – something is DEFINITELY happening – if you opened your eyes you’d see it as plain as the nose on yer faces…stop whining and do something…oh you won’t - you want to sell more oil…
By bizarre coincidence a scan through the letters in the local paper this arvo saw a rant by ‘Disguised Agenda of Blackpool’ rabbiting on about the fact that climate change is an evangelistic doctrine, nothing more than a conspiracy to advance the cause of socialism(?). Apparently it is a plot to ‘herd us into universal socialism’ by redistributing even more of our wealth to the ‘begging bowls of developing countries’ in the third world…heard it all now!
Politics over; there was little on Patch 2 this morning eight bait diggers today, two Turnstones, 39 Redshanks and lo-and-behold we ACTUALLY counted the Oystercatchers – a grand total of 61, hardly an earth-shattering figure. The tide was out and it was so grey and gloomy that we could only just see the sea so no news from there at all.
We were fortunate that we had a site visit this morning and afterwards were able to nip down to the nature reserve for a few minutes to, hopefully, nail the two (Eurasian) White Fronted Geese that were seen there yesterday. On arriving we spotted MJ on the embankment – a good sign, if they were about he would be on to them…but as we approached the little bridge two things were evident, a) no geese sounds coming from the fields and b) much worse - a bloke and a dog by the dyke. Speaking to MJ he told us that the bloke had got there about half an hour ago and flushed 2-3000 Pink Footed Geese ( ± 2 White Fronts) off the field and MJ himself had only just arrived and didn’t get a chance to grill through them. Nightmare!!! As a minor bonus one of the Cetti’s Warblers was heard in the reeds in front of us, but as ever didn’t show itself. A drake Pintail was a good find by MJ. There was a large number of Teal but no sign of any with a vertical white stripe.
Patch 2 at lunchtime was a total grey-out, a thick low sea mist engulfed just about everything. With visibility down to around 600 yards the only birds of note were two Great Crested Grebes, where was the third?
Where to next? Interesting times at the weekend with a safari further afield.
In the meantime let us know what’s looming in the mist in your outback – anyone got any Gorillas?
Apologies again for the lack of photos – once again to grey to bother the camera.
Just heard from my mate that his hydro-electric barrel is about to be prototyped. Gonna be a great innovation when it goes in to production…look out for one on a river or stream near you. Apparently a Swedish newspaper (back to them again) has already run an article on it and its still only a hypothetical cyber thing…any of our Swedish readers see the article?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Almost sunny

The safari noticed a pale blue sky through the office window late this morning, the first time there hasn’t gloomy low misty cloud for yonks!
In the pre-dawn early morning though there was nothing doing on Patch 1, still far too dark for any activity of note. Neither the Fox nor the Peregrine were seen today, the Mistle Thrush was singing though.
A quick, cold look at Patch 2 before work saw the remains of the Harbour Porpoise had been washed a little way along the beach by the tides and it still had its pair of Great Black Backed Gulls in attendance – wonder how long it take them to finish it and how fat will they be when they have.
Very little else out there, just a few of the usual suspects, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Sanderlings. About fifty or so Black Headed Gulls were sat together in a pool but as ever there were no Mediterranean Gulls hiding in their midst…one day…
The visibility out at sea was poor and with the tide being out poor was also a long way off – consequently we had the grand total of one Common Scoter…yes it was THAT good!!!
At lunchtime the sun meant the light was pretty horrid and there was still a misty haze out towards the horizon. The incoming tide pushing against the breeze had the sea chopped up more than in recent days with plenty of white horses. However, there was more out there than earlier. The number of Cormorants seems to be increasing with birds going this way and that while several others were sat on the water. In the middle distance a Great Northern Diver (90) flew south high over the waves; it’s always good to see these big beasts but, sadly, we don’t often get the chance to see them close up. Nice as Great Northern Divers are it was the much more numerous Red Throated Divers that stole the show. They, like the Cormorants, seemed to be everywhere. At three different times during the watch we had three in the air together, along with odd singles here and there. How many does that make altogether? More than nine, four? Your guess is as good as mine they were moving about all over the shop, somewhere in-between ‘probably’. The three Great Crested Grebes sat amongst the white horses surrounded by Cormorants. Two small rafts of Common Scoters were also out there, numbering only about three dozen birds all told. All in all an interesting half hour.
Where to next? Realistically it can only be more of the same.
In the meantime let us know what’s zooming hither and thither in your outback.
Apologies for the lack of pictures today – gory or otherwise.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Wanted…but not like this.

The safari issues a warning to the squeamish…don’t look down if you are of nervous disposition or not too happy with gory stuff.
Patch 1 early doors gave us a fleeting glimpse of the Fox again. They’re like buses – don’t see one for ages then two come along one after the other! Mistle Thrush singing at the bottom of the hill and a Robin doing likewise in the light from the street lamps round the corner. No Peregrine this morning but the wind was in the wrong direction.
Patch 2 was more interesting a quick scan revealed a good number of Sanderlings straight out but scanning round before we started to count them revealed a couple of Great Black Backed Gulls laying in to something fairly substantial. It looked white from where we were standing, possibly a large fish. Moving closer to get a better angle it was obviously black and white and we could see black fins – now thoughts were of Harbour Porpoise. Back to the office for the camera. Once approaching it on the beach it was definitely a Porpoise but not much of one. Just the remains of the head and upper chest with a blob of sand covered innards hanging out. Attacked by Orcas or a Great White Shark or cut out of a fishing net? Not sure; we’ll probably never know.
The pictures aren’t pretty.

Birds on the beach included a tasty flock of 12 Ringed Plovers and over 40 Redshanks. There were a lot of Oystercatchers but not counted and we totally forgot about the little Sanderlings…shame on us. Five Cormorants stood on the outfall pipe drying their wings, which is unusual, although you’d think the structure would be perfect for them. Never any Purple Sandpipers there either, unfortunately.
One of our business tenants reported a Heron in the gardens here at work which is a first, apparently it was seen off by a pair of aggrieved Jackdaws (they are not particularly regular in the garden), followed by a mob of Black Headed Gulls, why is there never a Mediterranean Gull with them looking for worms on our lawn?
Nothing out on Patch 2 at lunchtime on the rising tide apart from three Great Crested Grebes and about 50 Common Scoters in two flocks.
Where to next? All we can muster this week is more of the same.
In the meantime let us know what’s been left for dead in your outback.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Industrial wildlife harvesting/exploiting

The safari has no news from Patch 1 this morning but at Base Camp late last night there was a Slug, not sure which species – the green speckly one, feeding on one of the apples put out for the Blackbirds during the hard weather. A quick check on the thermometer told us it was 6.7°C. So we are back to the normal topsy-turvy temperatures – that is the normal maximum for a January day around these parts. (Since the thaw we have heard of two reports of Frogs out and about too.)
Back to this morning’s very gloomy and therefore brief patch 2 visit. At first glance there seemed to be more bait diggers out collecting Lugworms than there were birds. Eight of them, with a couple of dogs for good measure, spread out over half a mile or so of beach. Those new siphon things they use to suck the worms out of their burrows are so much easier and more effective than the old fashioned digging with a narrow spade so consequently the harvest is far bigger. Is it sustainable? That is the big question, when you venture down to the low water mark there is plenty of worm activity to be seen all along the beach. But it is a big disturbance with large areas of beach devoid of birds. We could only get partial counts of at least 40 Sanderlings and over 80 Oystercatchers. Just when we were getting up to decent figures someone would come along and flush the lot…annoying. Very few gulls on the beach today, a Great Black Back sitting on the crest of a sandbank and another sat out at sea just behind the surf – if you could call it that; the tiny wavelets were struggling to reach the beach it was that calm. Out in the middle distance was a small flock of Common Scoters, no more than a dozen or so. The flat sea and grey murky conditions would have made spotting the black rolling back of a Harbour Porpoise or the head of a bottling Grey Seal very easy to see – but there weren’t any.
Later the safari escaped the confines of the desk and had some site visits to do up the north end of town. We called in along the prom to have a quick look at the rising tide. A flotilla of a dozen Eiders (85) were soon bagged, all but one were males, as were three Great Crested Grebes. A diver at the limit of the scope out in the swell couldn’t be clinched…wonder if the recent Black Throated Diver still around? (This is one of the two [three?] mentioned in yesterday’s post which may have done a bunk from the Fylde area.)
The big surprise was a small passerine which bounced over the sea wall and landed on the opposite side of the road. Tricky to get the scope on it at an angle through the Land Rover’s windscreen but blow me down - a Snow Bunting (86), that’ll do very nicely…We like surprises. Before we turned on the engine to leave a small flock of Dunlin (87) whizzed past low over the water.
With fuel running low it was time to get the passport stamped and shimmy over the border to fill up at the nearest petrol station – no biodiesel in these cold conditions, it goes too waxy. After that we decided to have a sneaky look at the nearby ‘goose fields’. Nothing there just blank green grass. So we turned by the farm to head back towards the prom and the afternoon’s site visits and immediately spotted a lone Whooper Swan (88) in one of the horse paddocks…a very worthwhile detour.

Chatting to the local Posty he told us that it had been there since the weekend and although it appeared to be grazing normally he thought it was probably ill or injured. It certainly made no attempt to fly when he walked up to the fence no more than 50 metres from it, although it did whoop a bit.
High tailing it back down south we stopped off at the far southern end of Patch 2 where we hit lucky again. In the distance a few Black Headed Gulls sat out the high tide and with them was a female duck, running down the prom in the last few minutes of lunchtime to get a better view revealed it was a Pintail (89)…having a great session now! A male Red Breasted Merganser was fishing in the shallows, showing very nicely. But still no marine mammals…
Where to next? More patch news probably.
In the meantime let us know what was surprising and unexpected that you found in your outback. Nothing quite like this I hope!

Monday, 18 January 2010

To tick or not to tick…

The safari is in a bit of a quandary; but more of that in a mo.
Patch 1 saw us tick Fox (3) for the mammal year list as it sauntered across the main road and into our street late last night. I spotted it but, thankfully, Frank didn’t otherwise we would have been down the hill at an uncontrollable gallop. This morning the Peregrine was back on its favoured roosting ledge. I’m fairly sure it has ‘probably’ been there all the time it was ‘missing’ but with the wind in the ‘other’ direction it was out of sight round the back – if a circular tower can have a back and a front. But then that’s probability for you. Was the probable American Bittern actually one? Until it is ‘definitely’ seen again, it is just that, ‘probable’; an extremely experienced observer’s judgement call on a not-quite-clinchable view in the gloom of dusk can’t be ruled out; if you don’t shout you don’t get! No-one would have been out looking and checking yesterday if he’d have kept shhtum and the opportunity to see a decidedly mega bird definitely lost. As for yesterday’s probable Yellow Legged Gull we noticed on the Fylde Bird Club sightings page for yesterday that it had been upgraded from my ‘probable’ to a definite. This morning we had an email chat with the very informative CB (of the Fylde’s recent, and only, Caspian Gull fame), after that chat and a good look at the range of variation of adults on Google Images it’s now a case of it was one– sod it it’s now ticked and added to the list. JS had already ticked it. Yellow Legged Gull (84)…I have to say I was already pretty convinced yesterday, sort of 95%+ but not quite 100% if you get my drift. Well it makes up for knocking off the tame Barnacle Geese, a much wilder (‘probably’ wild) candidate flew over the nature reserve yesterday but we didn’t check through the skein of Pink Footed Geese it was hiding in; that’ll teach us – won’t it!!!. A trawl through last week’s sightings on the FBC page revealed a massive 38 species in the Fylde not yet seen by the safari this year, but we have only been to four sites. On that list there is one lifer (must get down to the marshes to tick that one off one day!), two (three?) may have moved on, there is one I know of not listed and one is the Patch 2 bogey bird so we ‘probably’ won’t get that one, but all the others should be gettable at some time during the year.
Patch 2 produced the goods this morning with 30 Redshank, exactly, before they were rudely flushed by the yappiest mutt I’ve ever heard on the beach. They were in a runnel up by the seawall, nothing exceptional in that per se – but further away, on the water’s edge at the low tide mark was a record count, for the safari at least, of 164 Sanderlings…that’ll do nicely thank you. No chance to get out for the lunchtime high tide unfortunately…bye bye Little Gulls
Where to next? Only more Patch news for the rest of the week I’m afraid.
In the meantime let us know what the probability is of seeing stuff in your outback.
No pics today – far too gloomy and ‘probably’ nowt out there to point the camera at anyway – gloomy in fact that strangers in town wouldn't have believed us if we told hem there was a 500 foot tall iconic tower in the middle of town!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Eager anticipation

This is, apparently, the safari's 300th posts - what a lot of rubbish wot I have rit. But this morning Frank had a little lie in and we got to Patch 1 just at the break of day. It was mild, warm by recent standards and the birds were taking full advantage. The song was beautiful, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, plenty of Robins, Woodpigeons and Collared Doves and the more raucous Carrion Crows all tuning up for spring now the immediate necessity of finding food has waned somewhat.
But Patch 1 wasn't our prime target for the day...the small matter of a probable American Bittern at the nature reserve takes priority over Blackbirds and Collared Doves. So without further ado and armed with flask and butties off we went as soon as physically possible. No news of the target from the rangers on arrival but 'normal' Bitterns had been seen already. We settled in to the hide and soon had a Sparrowhawk (78) fly past. On the ice a large flock of 320 Black Tailed Godwits (79) roosted, probably a site record and others flying over without landing too. Over the fields to the east we picked out a Stock Dove (80) on the power lines and another on the deck below. A couple of guys didn't believe us as we only had our bins but with the aid of his scope one of them confirmed the ID and was somewhat incredulous that we had managed the ID at that range with just a pair of bins. However we owned up to having seen it fly in and bank round. Kudos lost...integrity intact!
Also in the fields was a flock of between 80 and 100 Linnets (81). whilst watching those and unsuccessfully trying to count them accurately a Buzzard (82) came in from a long way off and joined another in a good old soaring competition.
In between times we moved from hide to hide looking for this that and the other. Cetti's Warblers and Water Rails were noted at various places, at least three of the former and double figures of the latter. But still no sign of any Bitterns for us. We didn't look at the four Long Eared Owls on site, but there had been a Short Eared Owl seen recently, which would be nice as they've become quite scarce brief passage migrants at this site.
Later we were back in the Bird Club hide with some lads from the Midlands and chatting to them discovered that one of them had already had four owl species today. Right at the death, when they were just about to leave he got the fifth, the Short Eared Owl (83) put in a spectacular appearance over the reedbed opposite us. Whilst enjoying that we had fly pasts from a pair of Kestrels and no less than three Bitterns, but no American Bitterns unfortunately. Was it a definite sighting, did it clear out last night, which was clear and fairly windless, or is it still on site...???
As we chatted to the regulars about the day's events we had four Woodcocks leave the bushes adjacent to us. So what was the best bird of the day? The almost clinched Yellow Legged Gull of course, which annoying moved off just as the camera was raised to the scope, while we were whizzing to the next hide all the gulls were flushed by something unknown and it couldn't be relocated...arrrggghhh.
Enjoy part of the Black Tailed Godwit flock with a Great Black Backed Gull behind them.
Where to next? Back to the Patches.
In the meantime let us know what you couldn't find in your outback.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Lightning never stikes twice...or does it???

Well!!! The safari wasn't expecting the news that we received this way...not in a million years!!!
Now a 'probable' is as good as a definite if it's been put out over the pager, web etc, AND I have just seen the red star on Bird Forum so it's gotta be a very very good 'probable; particularly as I know the guys who saw it.
What is it? Another one of these of course, when it is nailed down. OMG
Where to next? Well we know where we are going tomorrow...and it could be early.

In the meantime let us know if there are any megas lurking furtively in your outback.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Bizarre behaviour

The safari was browsing the blogosphere and reading Birds2Blog was intrigued by the pictures of the Stonechats doing rather well feeding on what looked to be Sticklebacks in a pond! Delving further into Blogland took us to BR’s original post. What superb photographs of such strange behaviour…unique behaviour? What makes it more intriguing is how many Great Diving Beetle larvae are in that pond? I don’t know where the pictures were taken and so don’t know how big the pond is but there must be a large population of them for it to be worthwhile for the Stonechats to actively hunt them. What is more surprising is that if the larvae are coming to the surface, and so within beak reach, they must be needing oxygen. If they need oxygen they must be fairly active, I would have expected that with the freezing conditions the water in the pond would only be just above 0°C and invertebrates would be torpid. It would seem not, and if they are actively hunting what is their prey? Are they sneaking up on torpid creatures and taking advantage or are other things whizzing around making a mockery of us thinking they are ‘cold blooded’? The world record carp was caught in sub-zero temperatures last week so even they are moving around when they are ‘supposed’ to be a warm weather fish. (Nearly as big as the world record Cormorant!) Maybe there’s a lot more to this poikilothermy than meets the eye. Yes I know polar fish and inverts have ‘anti-freeze’ in their blood but they have evolved in a cold environment – our diving beetles normally don’t experience these sorts of temperatures for extended periods.
The safari can’t match this in terms of unique behaviour or photography (which was beyond stunning to say the least). But before we read of this we had witnessed a Turnstone feeding on something (perhaps) unusual on one of the slades leading down off the seawall on to the beach. The tide was coming in and the beach was already covered, the bird was feeding at the top level of the highest tides. At first we thought it was feeding on small worms it was finding but the concrete is covered in the tiniest film of fine seaweed so we probably would have noticed worms when we were doing our rockpooling sessions. No, what it was feeding on was the seaweed itself. I’m not sure what the species is. Must look up in BWP what proportion of a Turnstone’s diet vegetation normally makes up. Obviously they can feed at high tide when their main animal food is unavailable…clever things – almost as clever as Stonechats!
Where to next? They may be a lull in proceedings for a couple or three days as the safari has lots of indoor commitments coming up, we’ll update you with Patch 1 news if there is any.
In the meantime let us know what’s been eating bizarre things in your outback.
No photo's today but then what's the point of looking at my feeble efforts when yuo have seen those uber-brilliant Stonechat pics.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Even worse than yesterday…almost

The safari has nothing to report today from the slipperiest Patch 1 ever! After yesterday’s minor thaw there was the usual overnight freeze and the hill was like…well you all remember Eddie the Eagle don’t you!!! In the Park proper we descended the slope by slithering gingerly from tree to tree clinging on to them for dear life to stop before sliding down to the next and repeating the whole ungainly performance again…good job it was dark and there was no-one else about…Torvil and Dean don’t have anything to worry about; a figure skater I am not, and I won’t be doing a trial for any of Monika’s hockey teams either! Back on terra firma now with no broken bones…not sure how…lucky I guess.
Patch 2 at dawn was a dead loss. More snow had started to fall (could really do without it as the novelty has worn extremely thin now) reducing visibility to less than a thousand yards. Sea was again perfect for spotting stuff but there was absolutely nowt to spot, if there was it was too far away hidden from view in the grey-out…bloomin’ marvellous.
At lunchtime there was a slight improvement. The tide had just started to drop off the beach and hungry beaks were scavenging the tide line. 46 Sanderlings is a reasonable score and two Grey Plovers a welcome surprise. Two Redshank and a Ringed Plover simply wasn’t good enough. Yet again we didn’t properly count the two dozen or so Oystercatchers and there was nothing to get the juices flowing in the gulls, a single Great Black Back being the pick of the bunch. Way, way down the beach fifteen Cormorants had hauled out on the sand and were standing with their wings outstretched indicating a lack of disturbance from the maddening hordes.
Inspired by others, like Boulmer Birder, the safari has started an on foot birding year list which basically will only include Patch 1 and Patch 2 ticks – I know I go to work in the Land Rover but I do walk over the road to the patch. Sightings from all other areas will not count unless seen walking from Base Camp or work eg to the corner shop. I have added both patches together ‘cos neither is very big – OK the sea area is huge but we only ever stand in one place to view it, unless we need to leg it to get better views of dodgy waders as happen recently. Updated tallies will be given at the end of every month. Species seen whilst on foot on the patches may have already been listed for the year elsewhere but will count as a patch tick, eg this arvo’s Grey Plovers.
Where to next? Patches only I'm afraid for the foreseeable.
In the meantime let us know what's not occuring in your outback.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Almost nothing to report

The safari has endured two bitterly cold and therefore fairly short sessions on Patch 2 today. The first, at dawn (or 8.30am which ever was earlier), produced a feeding frenzy of Cormorants. In the middle distance there must have been a shoal of fish at the surface as we could see many gulls wheeling around and diving in a concentrated area. There were Cormorants streaming in towards them from all directions, at least a dozen of them. Checking out the rest of the sea there were singletons scattered about on the surface, one of which, when checked more carefully, was a Red Throated Diver (77).
Later, at lunchtime the wind was if anything a bit stronger and made it feel even colder. The tide had dropped but the beach was more or less empty save a few Oystercatchers and a smattering of gulls. Nothing out of the ordinary amongst them as per usual…again! One day…(dreams of Slaty Backed, Caspian and/or Smithsonian Gulls – or would that be a nightmare having to pick one out, correctly identify it and get the record accepted…doh; just give us a straight forward adult Ring Billed Gull then!)
Highlight of the watch, if it can be called that, was a female/1st winter male type Goldeneye shooting past southwards. Still plenty of Cormorants about but no sign of the melee of gulls to indicate the whereabouts of the fish shoal.
On the way out of the office for the Patch 2 watch we noticed a thrush on the rapidly thawing garden at work. Only just in close-focus range for the scope but revealed as a Fieldfare, a good work's garden tick and obviously a cold weather refugee. This inspired a closer inspection of the grounds where we found lurking furtively amongst the hundred or so Starlings, a Song Thrush and a Redwing. Eventually these two moved in to the same patch of snow free grass as the Fieldfare and we had a view of them lined up one behind the other in a sort of real life thrush field guide picture - now why was the camera still in the desk draw? In the far corner of the garden was a Blackbird and in the middle of the field a well camouflaged Pied Wagtail. Nothing outstanding, but a good selection for ‘dog walker city’ and the three scarcer thrushes a testament to the current harsh conditions. (Song Thrush should not need to be classed as scarce! But then that’s why it is International Biodiversity Year) Wonder where that Blackbird was from, hatched in the perimeter hedge or the slopes of the Urals?
Where to next? More of the same I’m afraid, just the Patches this week.
In the meantime let us know what’s unexpectedly moved in to your outback this week (and don’t say Woodcock!)
Just in case you haven’t seen one yet here’s another Fieldfare pic from our Extreme Photographer taken at the nature reserve this weekend – everyone and his uncle seems to be snapping them at the moment – and why not as long as they aren’t being disturbed ‘cos they are definitely quite photogenic.
Did you know that every time he gets that camera out the sun goes in?

Monday, 11 January 2010

International Year of Biodiversity 2010

The safari is sure you are aware that today saw the launch of the UN Year of Biodiversity in Berlin, Germany. The slogan is Biodiversity is Life: Biodiversity is OUR Life – certainly is mine! But not in the same meaning as the UN slogan maker-upers.
I think they are referring to the fact that if we don’t (and we currently aren’t) look after the biodiversity on this planet then as a species we are stuffed. We aren’t separate or aloof from all those ‘lesser’ creatures we are part of the same ecosystem and if we keep breaking important links in the chain one of them could be the one our future on this planet depends on – then we’ll be up the usual somewhat smelly creek without our paddles.
I read somewhere recently that globally bees provide a pollination service worth an estimated several TRILLION dollars (how many noughts is that?) for FREE. So OK lets get rid of the bees, nasty buzzy stinging things that they are, and give all those failed bankers who got monstrous bonuses (“I lost almost all your money so you’d better give me a huge reward on top of my already massive pay for not losing every penny; you numbnuts” – and we did!) a pollinating brush each, send them to the four corners of the globe (if a globe can have corners) and tell ‘em to earn their money and get pollinating. After all it is the quest for more and more and even more money that is at the root of the decline in biodiversity.
Will there be more biodiversity by Jan 2011? Somehow I doubt it!

But we can’t go anywhere else – OK one or two people have been to the Moon but no way can 7 billion of us get up there to escape down here – crackin pic by Extreme Photographer, Raf.By way of Biodiversity enjoy some more of his pics. I really like the tiny vermiculations under the sail of the male Mandarins – never noticed that until I saw these photos.
A similar shot of Long Tailed Tits at the feeder to the photo I took last week – just shows what a lens the size of a bucket can achieve in comparison to a ‘happy snappy’. Yesterday’s Brambling, Robin and Fieldfare – done justice this time
A portrait of a Stanley Park Grey Lag Goose and a swim-by Pochard. Ain’t Biodiversity great! And that’s only seven species out of the millions – get pollinating you *ankers!

Patch 1 was too slippery to contemplate this morning as rain had fallen overnight and frozen on the old snow creating something approaching a ski-jump ramp of the hill – not pleasant!
Patch 2 at lunchtime was devoid of life – very little on the beach, even less out at sea. Perfect conditions for marine mammal spotting – just about flat calm and totally shadowless but there were none to spot – a waste of ideal conditions - shame.
So no new year ticks today.
Where to next? Can only be Patches 1 and 2 this week. Remote possibility of another night-time Land Rover outing later in the week.
In the meantime let us know what should have been seen in our outback but had the audacity not to show.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

There and back and there and back again and again

The safari had a venture out to the nature reserve again, for a change. Key target...a female Brambling - a very scarce visitor to these parts and extremely tickable. Before we set off we made our baggin up for the day. My brother's job takes him all over the world on sustainable development projects from one of those jollies he sent the Safari a tin of Zebra pate for Christmas. How disappointed was I when I opened it - it wasn't stripey at all...mighty tasty though.
Arriving at the Mere we went straight to the feeding station, plonked our butts and settled down to watcvh the show. A cold three quarters of an hour later and no Brambling so time to move on. Down to the other end to peruse the small bit of open water and its sack of gulls.
Opening the door to the hide the good folk inside put us on to a Bittern showing brilliantly on the far bank. We had walked down with a family who were quite new to birding and had never seen a Bittern - I called them back as they hadn't come in to the hide and the got their lifer. We got a couple of shots off but the best one was kiboshed by Frank fratting around pulling on his lead - the bird was stock still, in the open AND had the sun on it...doh - dagnabit, dang dog!!!!
There was nothing out of the ordinary in the gulls...after an hours checking it was getting cold and time to go back to the feeding station again. No Brambling again but this nice Fieldfare was battering seven shades of sh*te out of the remaining apples.
Lots of cold minutes later and still no Brambling so time to move back to the gulls again.
Not long after we got to the hide something flushed them off the ice - one fell to the ground stone dead - a victim of the cold.
An hour or so later the Crows and Coots had started breaking the carcass open - starting with the eyes, the Coots being the instigators of the butchery.
Ducks were well down in number just a few individuals of the usual species resting up conserving vital energy. Gadwall are one of my faves - really delicately marked.

Shoveler are always nice.
Once again we were getting cold so it was time to have another walk up to the feeding station. MJ was in there and within a few minutes piped up - "there it is!" Excellente - female Brambling (75) on the year list - what a beauty!
Extreme Photographer, Raf, was out with us in the 'Moose' and has taken an SD card full of pics of the Brambling and other good stuff - pics on here later.
The Moose dwarfs the Disco!
Arty pic of Blackpool Tower over the bonnet of the Disco.
We left the mere and set off for Granny's Bay - who Granny was we've no idea. It was a mistake as we didn't check the tide-tables and when we got there we couldn't see the sea it was that far out. The waders were that far out as well - well out of range of the bins and no scope today. The only tick we got here was Shelduck (76). If they had been 3 feet further away we'd have struggled to identify them!!!
Where to next? Back to the Patches.
In the meantime let us know what's dropped out of the sky in your outback.