Friday, 27 June 2014

National Insect Week and our last day at the zoo

The Safari had a couple of quick looks at Patch 2 today but there was nothing out there, didn't even see a Grey Seal today although another observer at the top end of town had a couple of Harbour Porpoises and a Grey Seal...we were obviously in the wrong place at the right time!
A flying visit to the nature reserve to meet CB and see how he was getting on with his CES ringing scheme this morning had him pointing out a very small but very colourful 'true' bug.
Which turned out to be the Mirid Bug (Grypocoris (Lophyromiris) stysi) a species not recorded in Lancashire before, well according to the NBN anyway. Also there were a few Meadow Browns, our first of the year and a Brown Hawker dragonfly also our first of the year. A Cetti's Warbler sang all the while we were there. Most of the other common warblers were in song too but no Willow Warblers were heard and he hasn't caught any this season either.
Mid-afternoon saw us back with the team at the Education Department at the Zoo to do our last session with them for National Insect Week. Poor weather meant there were far fewer punters around today but that didn't stop the guys collaring, = enthusing, passers-by to hunt for bugs and beasties.
Plenty of Pillbugs again and loads of slugs of several species but star of the show was a Devil's Coach Horse Beetle - not seen one for years.
One of the Education team had an eye for the tiny wee things and soon had us straining our eyes at an Owl Midge, not a Nettle Tap Moth as originally thought (Thanks to CR for the re-ID)
Even smaller was this little chap but what on earth is it?
Those extremely clever iSpotters came up with Tachypeza, a Dance Fly. Doesn't even have an English Wiki page! Guess hat - no Fylde records and barely any Lancashire records either, oh surprise surprise!
Where to next? Hopefully the mothy will be out at least once over the weekend.
In the meantime let us know what's almost too small to ID in your outback.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Addicted to wildlife

The Safari is surely addicted to wildlife we've had so many great sightings and experiences this week that haven't satiated us but left us wanting more!
What haven't we been up to? We really have had it all! And we think we've seen just about every cub, beaver, brownie and rainbow north of the river in the last couple of weeks - hectic...and noisy...times!!!
So what have we been upto, well it all started with a new development in the works garden a new bug hotel started by the our engineering 51st cubs and beavers and will be added too by other cub and brownie packs overt he next few weeks and then family groups in the summer holidays - gonna be good!
There's a turf roof planned and it can be lifted to slide more storeys in from below. The wild garden it is is looking good at the moment an absolute riot of colour provided you can see past your prejudice against Thistles, Willowherbs and Ragwort.
The following day we joined friends in the Education Dept at the Zoo to help them with their National Insect Week events. It was a bit quiet but a Speckled Wood butterfly kept us compamy. One of the participants found a Marsh Snipe Fly, not recorded in our area before. The tiniest of flies turned out to be a Bark Fly 
and one of the zoo girls found the tiniest leafhopper which was eventually identified as Potato Leafhopper - one other record for the Fylde from the far east of the area...not bad for a first attempt! 
Later, in the evening we were on the beach with brownies and rainbows. All manner of the usual things were found and even a few of the tricky Sand Gobies were netted. What got most attention was a cannibal crab. Normally when Green Shore Crabs are put together they either pair up or have a tussle and then the smaller ones hide away. Not this time - the big one pictured hunted down his bucket-mate and promptly severed a pincer and proceeded to chow down on the soggy end, once he'd eaten that he was off on the hunt again - a rather unpleasant character!
A fair few tiny fry, no more than hatchlings we caught, more by luck than judgement but what will they grow into - hmmm another wildlife mystery that'll need to be solved. A couple of tiny Blennies were caught but nothing approaching the size of the one our Extreme Photographer found was seen.
Yesterday the works cuomputers and phones were down all morning, all very frustrating and after a few hours of pottering around non-digitally we were getting a wee bit frustrated so as it was near lunchtime we said to hell with it to the boss grabbed the scope and went over to Patch 2...tuened out to be a good move.
A couple of cursory scans saw us locate a couple of Grey Seals including one sitting teasingly a few yards further out than the fishermen could cast.
Out in the distance nothing much was happening, conditions were good and we could pick out a few Herring Gulls sitting on the wave and swell-less water a long way off.
While half looking at one of these gulls a large dark shape appeared behind it, a reasonable way beyond it maybe another 500 yards or more, low to the water with a sticky up bit at one end, we saw it a couple of times at first and passed it off as a piece of driftwood...but it kept disappearing and popping up further to the south...surely if it was drift wood it would be drifting north on the tide and being pushed that way by the SE breeze too, not going against tide and wind??? We decided to study it much more intently when it reappeared, bearing in mind it couldn't hide behind waves orr swell like driftwood can because today there weren't any.
We looked hard in the most likely area for it to pop up again but instead caught a bit of a large splash right in the bottom of the scope's field of view. Spinning the scope round we caught half a dozen Bottle Nosed Dolphins porpoising southwards at breakneck speed...nice but we doubted what we'd seen earlier was a dolphin, something much bigger Basking Shark or Minke Whale and due to the long dark back the latter would be a more obvious choice than the former.
Anyway the search for the mystery beast was abandoned when the fishermen called out 'dolphins!!!'; 'Yes' we replied 'over there' we pointed the way the six had sped; 'No - there' they pointed north were there were more and another group further north still. We had a good three quarters of an hour watching at least another ten animals come slowly past us in small groups, the closest was just at the low water mark right in front of us. 
No chance  of any pics unfortunately but we did manage to get several passers-by on to them and was joined by DC for while too.
While watching them get further away and far more sporadic in their appearances to the the south we found a third Grey Seal...not a bad escape from the fruitless desk, well chuffed!!!!!
Then in the evening we had another brownie pack, they were supposed to be going rockpooling but most weren't shod correctly for the beach so we had an  impromptu pond dip and mini-beast safari instead. well worth it. The pond is a bit of a dead loss as the idiot(s) who put in the Goldfish/Koi Carp have totally screwed up the ecology...none native super-predator - nightmare. There's still too many 3-Spined Sticklebacks too but numbers are well down on last year. Sadly we didn't catch the goldfish but a male Stickleback was a great find for the girls.
After a good old dip it was time to hunt down some terrestrial invertebrates. One of the girls said she's seen some caterpillars earlier - news to us we'd not noticed wonder we'd have been looking down, she was looking up. A few White butterfly sp caterpillars had been feeding on Wall Mustard and were now beginning to pupate on the windows at the end of our building - great find!
This one was still wriggling from time to time possibly adding more silk to its web
The nearly enjoyed holding the Pillbugs, there were a few squeals of horror rather than delight at first, wussy parents have a lot to answer for!
Near the door to the building a shrub has a Blackbird's nest in it and a couple of lucky girls were stood quietly just in the right place to see the male come back with a beakful of worms and feed his brood, at least two chicks they said, what a marvelous experience for them to have witnessed.
Today the dolphins didn't show but we were back at the zoo again, this time with a much bigger crowd to entertain.
Not an insect but this Toad was a nice find under a pile of windfall logs.

A Red Admiral held territory behind us and saw off a rival returning to his regular basking spot but was obviously warm enoughas he wouldn't open his wings.

A Click Beetle was an animal we've not seen for a while
 and keen eyes picked out a Ground Beetle
but watch what happened next

So there you have it a brilliant few days of safari-ing with sightings of animals from  five ton (possible) whale down to almost microscopically small but still fun (and perhaps more important in the bigger scheme of things) Springtails.
Yes we're definitely addicted to wildlife and can you blame us with so much wonderous stuff around - and we've barely mentioned any plants!
Where to next? more Patch 2 and back to the zoo for another National Insect week session.
In the meantime let us know who's eating who in your outback.
Oh and by the way we now think we have a new favourite animal, the poor Giraffes have been usurped by the gorgeous looking Mara, half rodent half deer with a Coyote's colouration, at first
But then these stole the show - not cute but certainly charismatic and boy do they look powerful when they rear up on their hind legs, shoulders Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of.
Must get some better pics and really must try to go to see them in their natural habitat in South America, a stunning animal.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Funny sort of a day

The Safari was woken early by Frank as usual but when we took him out it was very windy and the wind had a bit of chill about it, far from cold but certainly not balmy like it has been. Once he'd had his brekkie it was time to check the moth trap. You guessed it it was fairly empty. Only eight moths and half of those where Heart & Darts and a quarter were a new species for the year Dark Arches with another Clouded Border and a largish micro we needed help with.
 The micro turned out to new for the garden, Epiblema rosaecolana.
Not the world's best pic!
The female House Sparrow was seen briefly on the mealworm feeder but a gang of Starlings appeared and flushed it before we could grab the camera.
Not a lot else happened all day, the sun was warm but the wind was a right royal pain. A couple of Speckled Woods came through as did a Small Tortoiseshell.
Best finfd of the day was while we were having a brew outside when a Ruby Tailed Wasp landed right next to us, one our fave creatures. It flew off after a second or two but careful watching of the sun drenched garage wall had us relocate it again...jsut knew it would turn up there.
What a beauty!
While watching the Ruby Tail we spotted the solitary bee sneaking into the hole in the neighbourr's gate post again, might have to stake that one out.
Another walk with Frank gave us our first 2-spot Ladybird of the year. We wouldn't have seen it had we not stopped to look at a small solitary bee working away on a Hebe bush, tiny it was only about 3mm long.
Another dodgy pic - dunno what was up with us today
The return walk had us looking up at the tower to see a bird sat on the Peregrine's ledge but it didn't look very Peregriny, yesterday it was a Woodpigeon but this one looked a bit Kestrely wwhich would have been the first seen round these parts this year. By the time we'd got speed of the wind Frank back to Base Camp and grabbed the scope the bird had flown.
Last night had us watching a different kind of wasp, this one was collecting wood for a nest somewhere - oooh errr where???
Where to next? Mothy is out again and then we have a bit of a family day.
In the meantime let us know if the faves came out to play in your outback.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Fish on a Friday

The Safari actually went fishing yesterday, not today. After the recent excitement of Brownies and then the tiny tots seeing the little dark fish we decided to do something about getting an ID for them. Little did we know what lay ahead.
We arranged to meet our Extreme Photographer at lunchtime and armed with a white tub and a pair of nets each we hit the beach. 
The fish we were after were in the big runnel that drains the base of the wall so slowly we walked up that nets posed. Every so often we'd stop and place a tight cordon of nets tightly round a stone and gently lift it. We got a few Brown Shrimps and several Green Shore Crabs, some in 'berry' holding onto their eggs, but the Sand Gobies were always either too quick for us seeing a slight gap between the nets or finding a gap beneath them.
Eventually we saw one of the little black fish and with our coordinated effort it was easily captured, teamwork paid dividends.

But what is it? With full length dorsal and ventral fins and a dark belly it certainly isn't the Smelt we thought they might have been!
In the water we could plainly see some feelers on its snout so that got us to thinking Rockling.
But which one, apparently there are several in British waters. A count of the feelers, barbels to give them their correct name,  gave us Five Bearded Rockling.
Continuing our wander up the runnel we soon caught a few more, one was incredibly pale compared to the others and turned out to be a different species,
How many barbels can you see? That's right, three on the top jaw and one beneath the bottom jaw equals four so it's a Four Bearded Rockling
Two fish lifers in less than 50 yards!
We went past the big rocks on the 'corner' which is beyond where we allow the children to work so we were more or less entering new territory for us when our Extreme Photographer called us over, quickly but quietly he said. He spotted a large fish tucked in out of the main current between two small rocks.
It was very placid and just about swum into our waiting nets of its own accord....compared to the Rocklings it was a real whopper!
A Blenny, aka Shanny, a good catch; we see them regularly but not this big although bigger ones can be found in the pools higher up the wall where for elf n safety reasons we rarely allow anyone on our events to climb up to.
The word 'cute' is one we really dislike and try to avoid using at all costs but for these little fish we'll make an exception - they do look extremely cute.
And yes of course we caught a Sand Goby too. Here's a pic with four species of fish in it from just 50 yards of our brilliant beach...and an egg laden Common Prawn getting in on the act too.
Today we had a day off work due to Wifey going off gallivanting with her sister for the weekend so we had to stay home alone at Base Camp with Frank. while she got ready and waited for her lift we watched the fairly busy feeders. A single juvenile Starling appeared to check the mealworm situation, none out so it didn't stay long. Goldfinches were in and out regularly and then mid-morning we saw our first juvenile of the year followed by a second about half an hour later.
A manky looking Blue Tit dashed in grab a sunny seed and dashed out again to eat it deep in the shrubbery out of sight and while we were seeing if we could see where he went we saw a pale brown bird flash through...hmmm. And there it was sitting in the open on the spar connecting the two pergolas, a female House Sparrow (Garden #33). It must be mid-June, the only time they turn up in the garden for their annual visit. It didn't stay long.
But it did return a short while later. There must be a bit of a water shortage locally as it came in and warily inspected our ornamental plastic waterfall
Taken through kitchen window
before taking the plunge

By mid-afternoon the sun has moved round and the feeders are far too dark for pics but she was back for a beakful of sunny seeds too, excellent stuff - will she bring the family??? Does beg the question how long has she been coming that we've not known about because we're at work for much of the day.
In other news a Speckled Wood flitted through, our first of the year at Base Camp.
Where to next? Mothy is out, hopefully it won't be too windy overnight.
In the meantime let us know who's hiding under the rocks in your outback

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Great day yesterday lots of good stuff found

The Safari has had a very interesting couple of days. Yesterday we played host to nearly fifty small tots  on the beach, for most of them it was a completely new experience never having been taken there by their parents before.
A fantastic time was had making sand castles, finding shells and, the bit we were involved with, scouring the rockpools with nets.
They found some fantastic stuff and had a little help from our marine biologist friend DB who was walking her dogs and found some Dead Mean's Fingers sponge and a small Octopus Jellyfish to look at.
She also managed to get one of the fishermen to part with a Lugworm he'd collected for bait.
Lots of Brown Shrimps were caught but strangely no Common Prawns. The third group had to try somewhere a little further afield due to all the water in the pools being stirred up by their classmates and they were lucky enough to find a baby Dab.
While our heads were down looking in the water behind us a strange phenomenon was playing out, there was steam rising from the sand down near the water's edge, a great swathe of smoke in a narrow band along the beach - weird or what?
Within a few short minutes a thick mist had grown up and visibility across the beach was severely reduced. That wasn't going to stop us having fun though and the cry went up that another little Dab had been netted. On inspection it was a different type of flatfish altogether, one of the species of  Sole, no bigger than a finger nail.
By now lunchtime was approaching and it was time to gather the children together when one of the teachers came out of the mist from collecting shells with her group further down the beach holding two Whelk shells, one for the children to hold to their ears and listen to the sea the other had a rather large Hermit Crab in it, what a great find!
Crossing the road back to the office there was no sign of the mist just blistering sunshine yet visibility on the beach was no more than 50 yards by now - weird or what!
The kids had had a marvelous time and seen all manner of new things and yet again they found something we've not seen before despite going out there regularly over the last 10 years - just shows you see and ye shall find and if you don't look you deffo won't see that's for sure!
We were shattered in the afternoon but luckily were able to have an early finish to go and visit a couple of birders we've not seen for too many years. By a bit of a round abut way we'd arranged to meet them at their offices where they have a nature group and wanted some advice about insects and small mammal viewing. 
Well we got there, and met a different DB, who along with a colleague showed us one of the best none 'nature reserve' wildlife sites we've seen for years - simply awesome...mostly due to the fact that it is out of bounds and the office workers don't use it. Why ever not we thought - there were (Northern?) Marsh Orchids growing next to the bonnets of their cars in the car park!!!
We pottered around the large site enjoying the tranquility and the Narrow Bordered 5-Spot Burnet Moths that were emerging and nectaring all over the Creeping Thistles, there'll be even more next week when the majority of the thistles open.
The site also has a few ponds well away from the workers that are assumed to have Great Crested Newts, so we suggested putting down some refugia, they should attact small mammals like Short Tailed Field Voles too, we saw a Buzzard and a Kestrel hunting and the word  is that a Barn Owl is regularly seen too.
At the entrance to the buildings from the car park there is a large ornamental pond with huge Koi Carp in it, the margins however were full of damselflies and yet more Marsh Orchids.
OK so this was good but then we spotted something far more unusual...and checking the Lancashire Flora this is a new tetrad for it - Greater Spearwort - wow!
A Mallard was seen on Patch 2 this morning a real rarity here (P2 #61)
Right time for some footy...
Where to next? Got something even wetter for you tomorrow from today
In the meantime let us know who's been hiding very well in your outback.