Saturday, 25 April 2015

Dogs, newts, ticks n dips

The Safari has a bit of a mixed bag for you today starting in the warm sunshine on Thursday morning when we tried to see if we could get some shots of the solitary bees in the works garden with the super-macro lens. For some reason they weren't playing out and we had to settle for some close-ups of the Red Tailed Bumble Bees instead. A Tree Bee was the first of the year here but it didn't stick around long enough for us to point the camera at it.
Late morning news broke of a trio of good passage migrant birds in the big park so that was lunchtime's visit to Patch 2 knocked on the head, we headed uptown instead. A fair crowd was present when we arrived and we learned that the female Pied Flycatcher was tricky - that was OK as we'd seen the male last weekend - the female Redstart had been seen on and off not 10 minutes ago and the Wood Warbler had only just been singing. With plenty of eyes ears, binoculars and cameras on the job this was going to be a quick and easy twitch, but no our lunchtime time ran out with a serious Redstart/Wood Warbler double dip and we didn't see the Pied Flycatcher either. Plenty of common birds where there to keep us on our toes but there was a total no-show from the Big Three.
Then we learned there was a male Whinchat over on the wetland but there was no chance of us being able to call in on the way back to work nor on the way back to Base Camp after work. The day wasn't going that well!
Thing's looked brighter (or actually darker) later as we had the first amphibian pond/newt survey of the season to join after tea. 
Starting the survey as the sun began to set we soon discovered how much our four-legged companions and their owners' ignorance/couldn't care lessiness can wreck important habitats.  They look so innocuous asleep on the mat by the fire don't they.
But once outside they turn into an ecological nightmare of disturbance and destruction...and there's so many of them, there's almost no escape!
Every accessible pond, even those 'out of bounds' to the public on private land was dogged, footprints everywhere, bankside vegetation on the 'easy' slopes worn away to sticky mud, water so turbid it looked solid in our torchlight, and no aquatic vegetation able to grow - it was almost like a nuclear holocaust out there.
Our favourite spot gave us a hit but it was a long way round our circuit before we found any more amphibians, in addition to the dogs lack of management had meant some previously suitable areas were now too reeded up - a double whammy. We were getting a little disappointed and despondent until we found one the ponds had been dredged out. That shouldn't have happened in the Great Crested Newt breeding season but it looked very recent., more despondency but thankfully it was short lived. Only a portion of the pond was affected and the unaffected half held more Great Crested Newts than Smooth Newts. A good result at last. But our excitement was short lived, the next pond, very close to the doggy brigade had been totally cleared out back to its clay base and was ultra turbid due to there being doggy access all round  now - what's that about only clearing a third of a pond in any one year and only in winter especially when you know there's Great Crests in the vicinity.
At our final pond we weren't too hopeful as it's not seen any management for at least 10 years and maybe nearer 20 and is extremely well vegetated, we hate the phrase 'over-grown'. But our fears were totally unfounded and although we could only access a tiny corner and this was the same place the doggies go in the water was clear and the Great Crested Newts were numerous. We've not seen the final tally yet as we weren't the scribe wit the data sheet on this occasion but for the whole evening we think Great Crests outnumbered Smooth Newts two to one - where are the Smoothies???
Why wasn't this one where it should have been when Alicia was with us, she's have loved to have seen one.
We had also hoped to have a heard the local Tawny Owl hooting while we were out but the world was a silent place. There weren't as many insects out as we would have thought seeing as how the temperature was quiet mild and there was no wind. Not a single bat was seen during the three and a half hours of darkness we were out which was a little disconcerting.
Yesterday we picked up BD reasonably early to have a bit of a safari round the low hills to the east, we had a couple of targets in mind the first and closest of which was why we didn't need a very early start. While out with Frank at 06.00 the sun was creeping over the eastern horizon to start another day of summer-like sunshine, however two hours later it had been replaced by low cloud and a cold wind which didn't bode well for our day out. Certainly it put paid to any chance finding the Common Lizards on the sandy bank that come out to bask when the morning sun rises above the houses on the right. It was like standing in a freezing wind tunnel down that track.
A brief Wheatear, a few House Sparrows, a lot of Pill Bugs and an unusual Springtail were the pick of the bunch.
We didn't stay long and drove off to our next site stopping to take a phone call telling us that at the time we'd driven past there was a Whinchat on the dunes and we later discovered the Scaup had been on the lake when we drove by.
Our next port of call was the freshwater marsh near the coast where we enjoyed great views of Sand Martins and Swallows skimming low over the water. A brick red summer plumaged Black Tailed Godwit did a display flight while Redshanks poked around in the shallows and Lapwings fed on the grassland. All very idyllic but none less usual waders and no Garganeys to keep us there we set off on the longest leg  of our safari to the conifer forest on the hill. We had hoped to go further but when on the big dip in the park we learned the road we needed to travel through the higher hills was closed for re-tarmacing so a speedy alternative had to be thunk up. So the Tree Pipit site it was - would they be in yet?
We arrived got out of the Land Rover waked a few yards and wished we'd put our coat on, brrrr it was chilly when the wind blew through a gap in the trees. Low mist smothered the scenery. It really didn't look promising but birds were singing; Chaffinches, Goldcrests, Coal Tits, Robins, Wrens, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs all making themselves heard and there were a few bumble bees at the Bilberry flowers so we were hopeful. But sadly no Tree Pipits parachuted their cheery song from the usual glade. The Spruce trees had a reasonable crop of cones but alas we found no sign of any Crossbills it can be hit and miss if there are any here from year to year and we've not heard of any being present for at least a couple of years. We did come across several Lesser Redpolls though (145).
From there we went to the steep wooded valley in the search for Redstarts. It was still winter in there, few leaves on the trees and the cold wind blowing through them made it feel far from the summer-like conditions of the last few days.
Bluebells were just beginning to open and we found this unusual plant which we are now pretty sure is the cotyledons of a seedling of an unknown plant.
Three Brown Hares were the first we've seen this year but excitement was pretty thin on the ground so we quickly moved to the next site a mile or so down the valley. The car park here was busy which is never a good sign for wildlife watchers but with only a young family with buckets and nets playing in the river by the car park and no-one else about things could have been worse.
BD thought he heard a Wood Warbler near the car park but we both listened intently and heard no more from it. Time to move on along the river bank enjoying these Wild Cherry trees in flower - we planted them in the mid-80s.
The woodland floor was awash of just opening Bluebells and Wood Anemones with masses of Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage in the wetter areas.
Through a gap in the bankside trees we spotted a Heron midstream wading up towards us. There can't have been much recent disturbance and we were fairly well hidden behind the branches so we watched as it stalked nearer catching small fish from time to time.
We stood stock still as it drew level with us on the far side of the river
What happened next was astonishing! It's bill darted into the water and it caught another fish - we both got the strike on camera. Nothing odd in that so far...but when we reviewed our pics - as you do with digital - we saw that it wasn't a fish it had caught but a mammal!
A small underwater mammal with a jet black back and white belly can only be a Water Shrew.

Well you don't see that often! A look at the NBN map back at Base Camp revealed that Water Shrew hasn't been recorded in this 10km square. Hopefully they're not now extinct in said 10km square. We'll be relating tales beginning "Did we tell you of the time we saw..." for the next 50 years after witnessing that little episode of life and death.
We wandered a bit further along listening to Song Thrushes and Nuthatches and generally enjoying the woodland and riverscape for a few hundred yards more in the hope of a Dipper but only found a ringed Grey Wagtail, no colour rings so probably not from Heysham up the coast aways.
Back at the car park BD once again heard the Wood Warbler (146) and after a few minutes so did we but we couldn't see it amongst the opening buds on the thicker canopy here.
Another longer drive to us to our next port of call where we had three target species. Looking from the narrow road bridge and our walk along the river didn't give us either a Dipper or a Kingfisher although at the top end of the walk we did see a lovely Dipper's nest tucked in on the iron work of the huge bridge. We waited around but no adults came and we were unable to tell if it was active or not. Our third target was potentially more difficult as they may not have arrived in yet. From the car park we walked downstream and soon heard Blackcaps and a Song Thrush singing, but there coming from low in the shrubbery was a fainter more scratchy Blackcap-like song, it can only have been a Garden Warbler. What happened next almost beats the Heron/Water Shrew sighting. A small bird flew across the track but just before it took off we got a glimpse of that big dark eye, Garden Warbler (147). A Blackcap followed and we played cat and mouse with two cameras and two birds trying to get BD on to it properly as it was a lifer for him. Eventually one of the two birds flew across the Dipper and Kingfisher-less river and landed in an overhanging Willow in full view. Fortunately it was the Garden Warbler and we enjoyed the best views we've had of this species in 50 years bird watching as it pulled caterpillars and other invertebrates from the twigs for a good five minutes - just simply superb! We got a new plant tick too, one we must surely have overlooked in the past - the tiny Moschatel
The Primroses were gorgeous too.
It was a short drive up the hill to the hidden valley, our last site of the day, where although there was the possibility of Green Woodpecker and Cuckoo birds weren't the main target here. Running short of time a bit of a route march was needed but on the way we heard another Wood Warbler. We soon reached the appointed place and had a look round for our quarry. Bingo!!!
Always nice to find a Slow Worm and this was the only one today so we were lucky. There's a good little bank for Common Lizards higher up the valley, it was little too chilly but as BD hadn't been to the site before we risked the time and went the quarter of a mile further on to show him more of the area.
There was no more excitement on the way back apart from a low flying Buzzard which a little later we thought had gone high up over the hill top only to put our bins on it to find we were actually looking at a Raven...we saw the Buzzard going away low down over the tree tops but again raising our bins that was another Raven...dohhh!
Earlier when quizzed by BD if there were any Dippers here we said the stream was too narrow, barely a couple of yards wide and mostly very shallow, for it to be of any interest to them and we couldn't recall ever seeing one here. Almost at the point where the path leaves the river bank and heads up hill DB spotted a movement in the river - a flippin Dipper! (148) Shows you what we know!!!
Dipper - not on a rock for once
As BD took the final photos of the day a Whimbrel flew over calling going to the local roost at the top of the hill and its congener a couple of Curlews flew round the valley doing their bat-like display flight and singing their haunting bubbling song a fitting end to a great day out. So the weather wasn't great given the last few days of blistering sunshine but it didn''t rain until we got back to Base Camp and a superb day's safari-ing was enjoyed by all.
We've had the stealth-cam out in the garden since last weekend but all we can report is a plethora of night-time cats and daytime Woodpigeons apart from occasional visits by our local Blackbirds.
Where to next? It's the weekend and guess what it cold wet and windy, but there'll be some wildlife to be seen we're sure about that.
In the meantime let us know who's putting on an ornithological show in your outback.

1 comment:

Ian Doyle said...

Nice post, love the title. Some nice photos there. I've yet to discover my first slow worm, great creatures.