Friday, 21 August 2015

Way down south to the Midlands

The Safari is taking you south today and we hope it's exciting as Alicia's adventures to the north, can't wait for her second installment, can you?
We met up with our best boy LCV down on his local patch at breakfast time. We dumped the Land Rover after a quick look at some gulls on the adjacent lake and headed off in his motor. With the gulls, nearly all Black Headed Gulls, there were loads of Great Crested Grebes and a single Little Grebe. Overhead we saw a couple of Swifts, would they be the last of the year? In the distance we heard a Green Woodpecker and a Nuthatch.
We had a few target species, a twitch to do and LCV had quality 'fillers' to add to the day's entertainment. We started at a heathland car park where a lovely tangled piece of Hawthorn had been laid down to make an improvised bird table. Beneath it a Grey Squirrel filled its face.
The food attracted several Blue, Great and Coal Tits, and then a Marsh Tit turned up. Chaffinches and Goldfinches were about and a female Chaffinch had a wash in a pothole puddle. It flew off and came back only when it came back it had turned into a juvenile Bullfinch!
We walked onto the heath and had a scan over the valley. Lots of Swallows hawked insects in the warm sunshine and a Kestrel swooped down to be lost below the tree-line. The target here was a long shot at this late stage of the season and being now hot and late in the morning it was going to be double impossible. On the point of, somewhat sensibly, giving up and moving on the ground wasn't as well vegetated as it first appeared and we were in an Adder hotspot, nothing else for it but to tip-toe through the rough scanning as we went and then LCV flushed a bird from almost under his feet - BINGO - a Woodlark, (175) our target species and carrying a huge caterpillar too. 
He also spotted a Brown Argus butterfly which we rarely see but dipped then he came across a very fresh Small Copper. We could only find Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers.
LCV then suggested we walk down the valley too the woods along the stream at the bottom where there was a chance of finding a Redstart.
There were more Swallows than we thought whizzing low over the Heather which wasn't quite in flower it needed another couple of days of sunshine to bring it fully out. At the bottom it was hot and there was no wind, not ideal birding conditions and it was indeed apparently birdless, not a peep was heard from our feathered friends. But we did spot a skipper butterfly which settled long enough for us to see it had extremely obvious 'dipped in ink' tips to its antennae but not long enough for us to point the camera at it. 99.9999999999% certain it was our very first Essex Skipper, having seen lots pics of them on WB's blog.
Wandering slowly back up the hill we saw a male and juvvy Stonechat. By now we were positively overdressed in our coat and it was time to move on to the next site, a woodland walk with another chance of Redstarts. On the walk in there were Goldcrests calling in the conifers and Long Tailed Tits flitting through the branches. The site is an Ancient Woodland and there are some cracking old trees scattered through the wood. Some of the dead trees are really impressive.
It was getting cloudier and darker now!
We've seen Redstarts in this old monster in the past but no such luck today.
The stream there is a known to have some of those invasive American Signal Crayfish lurking in its stony bed. Between us we must have turned over a hundred or more stones without any success at all.
Time for lunch which was taken at a nearby nature reserve with a boardwalk and viewing area over a bend in the river. It was a very pleasant spot with lots of  families enjoying the wild surroundings. There were 'games' for the young ones to have a go at including musical animals like this fish. 
Half drum half xylophone
A dank dark pool had one mother asking her child if there were any Crocodiles in the water, having seen the Red Eared Terrapin she perhaps should have asked if there were any Alligators in the depths; just like the Florida Everglades it was.
The boardwalk had a bench overlooking the river and it was there we dived into our butties. We weren't the only thing diving in! A Kingfisher (176) appeared with a fish and landed on a snag only a few yards away but it didn't stay long. Its nest was under an overhang on the far bank and it had a favourite perch just out of camera range. It came and  went and went and came all the time we were there, flying from perch to perch, from river to lake and back, diving for fish and diving to have a wash - simply brilliant if only the distance had been a little less and the light a lot better.
Banded, or perhaps Beautiful, Demoisels flitted over a little bay and a Common Tern flew over - it really was a lovely spot but butties finished it was time to move on to our next site and the 'big' twitch.
Were taken to a reservoir which seemed almost as big as the Irish Sea at Patch 2. Below us on the gravel were some Ringed Plovers, which LCV told us were very unusual here, Little Ringed Plover had nested on the gravel but we didn't see any of those. Two Dunlin suddenly became three but we didn't see the third fly in.
This is the smaller half of the reservoir, the other half is across the road which runs along a causeway
But it wasn't small stuff we'd come to see it something much much larger. LCV found our quarry fairly quickly even though only is head was sticking out of a creek. It came into full view after a couple of minutes. It was a long long long way off but it was still a Common Crane (177). His nibs found a Wheatear at that range too - wow!!!
It was so far away it was almost half way back to Base Camp
LCV had a plan though, there were hides much nearer and it had started spitting quite heavily with rain, so a drive round was in order. We stopped at a Little Owl site but our chauffeur wasn't sure exactly where to look for them, it was raining  heavily now so it was likely that any owls would be tucked away well down in their holes anyway.
We arrived a t the first hide, which overlooked another arm of the reservoir so the Crane couldn't be seen from there. Several birders were already scoping an Osprey (178) tucking into a huge fish in a dead tree over on the far bank, the fish was almost as long as the bird itself. Unfortunately the action was too far away through torrential rain to be able to get any pics. Greenshanks were probing the nearby mud and we saw a couple of Ruff and Dunlins.
One of the other birders asked our opinion on a distant gull.
The light was dreadfully poor but we came down on the side of Caspian Gull along with about half of the other birders, the other half were rooting for Yellow Legged Gull. What do you think?

To us the bill looked a bit too long and thin and dull for an adult Yellow Legged. Others liked the look of the long dingy greeny-yellow legs, full high 'Dolly Parton' breast and dark beady eye. Their companions weren't convinced. Fight views weren't very informative at the long range. Showing the pics to our friends at the Nature Reserve they were unanimous with Yellow Legged Gull, MMcG having just returned from the south of France where he had seen a good many Yellow Legged Gulls.
It wasn't a long walk to the other hide but it was a wet one! We passed another impressive dead tree.
A Peacock butterfly braved the rain flitting around under the umbrella of low branches. Out of the woods we came upon a shallow bay with five Ruff. And there on the far side of the creek was the Crane.
A couple of Yellow Wagtails flitted around the sheep and on the short grass there were loads of Pied Wagtails and a/the Wheatear. We had a wander upstream aways looking for Mandarins LCV had seen on a previous visit, but we couldn't find any ducks of any description.
All too soon our day was up and we had to head back to Base Camp after a superb day out even if it was a little damp. Many thanks to LCV for chauffeuring us around and having a good laugh all day. we'll have to do it again at some of his other winter sites.
Yesterday we had a mystery moth on the front window at work - answers on a post card please.
A meeting at lunchtime gave us the info that three Garganeys were at the Nature Reserve. After the meeting we had a trundle down there and had a bit of wait but our patience was rewarded with good if a little distant views. Garganey (MMLNR #92) a good addition to our Patchwork Challenge list, one we were hoping would have been on the list already and were beginning to run out of time for.
Today we spotted a nice Hoverfly enjoying a sunny interlude in the work's garden before we headed off to meet another family group on the beach. CR should be able to ID it for us, he's pretty good at them.
We met the kids at the beach up by the pier where they found tons of Brown Shrimps, a few Common Prawns, some Blennies and a couple of  Sand Gobies. Whizzing around in the pots were several tiny Speckled Sea Lice.
One of the youngsters told us about a giant jellyfish on the beach - we had to investigate and he was only too willing to show us his find. It was disappointingly small in the end...a baby Barrel Jellyfish.
Another family returned from under the pier with a pot full of goodies and when we looked in to see what they'd found  - the jackpot that's what! Another Idotea linearis and this time it was going to be photo-able.
 A bit of wrangling using a Cockle Shell saw it moved to an empty tray.
All good stuff! Isn't wildlife brill!
Where to next? Might have a very early pre-dog walker wander round the Nature Reserve in the morning.
In the meantime let us know who's prancing around on the longest legs in town in your outback.

1 comment:

cliff said...

I think you've seen more wildlife in a couple of trips out there than I've seen in all of August, some cracking sightings.

Your hoverfly, with the Batman marking on the thorax, is Myathropa florea.