Wednesday, 27 April 2016

That wind's still a bit cruel

The Safari didn't get too much on Patch 2 this morning, our first double figure count, just - 10, of Sandwich Terns and only three Sanderlings took the top spots, yes it was that good! The sun was bright but the wind was fiercely cold and yet there was an orrible haze from only about a mile out. 
At lunchtime we were out again and there was even less out there because the tide had come in and flushed what few waders there are still hanging around off the beach. 
The view up the Prom was summery...but that wind!!! And yes that is a hailstorm between the pier and the tower.

Back in the garden we had a look in the sheltered areas for any solitary bees on the Dandelions, there weren't but there was a Red Tailed Bumble Bee. Dandelions are essential for early spring pollinators and other insects helping them get their season off to a flying start - Please do NOT DIG/HOE/SPRAY them - leave them alone!!!
After lunch we were out on site looking at siting some new eco-built bat boxes. If you're doing bat box schemes please consider using these hand crafted items designed and built by a local lass; they're a similar price to the 'market leader'.
Once our site meeting was over and suitable trees selected we had the opportunity to have a look at some newer trees that were planted only a few years ago. We also hoped there might be a bird or a butterfly about in the warm sunshine...but in that wind it was still cruel! There were some signs of spring but then again winter still had a firm grip on the place.
Red Dogwood stems
The ground flora isn't particularly spectacular here except when the Buttercups are out but there was some interest today with patches of Germander Speedwell scattered here and there under the still open canopy.

Of the trees the Silver Birches were the most advanced followed by the Rowans.
But only a few yards away there's no sign of life on the Teasels we didn't see any new rosettes.
So what about the 'Big Two', Oak and Ash? Are there any signs of life and if so from which? If the Oak is out before the Ash we shall have a splash; if the Ash is out before the Oak we shall have a soak - if you believe these old sayings!
Ash - no sign of life yet
 And what about the closest nearby Oak only a few feet away?
BINGO - Buds are opening - dry summer coming???
Many of the Oaks had been attacked by Oak Apple Gall Wasps, the hole shows that the inhabitants have left.
By now we'd realised there weren't any birds around other than the local House Sparrows and Starlings nicking about taking beakfuls of food to their nests in the roofs around the site and gulls going over. We saw no invertebrates at all. And then we heard the gulls start squawking and looking up, hopefully for an Osprey, to find a Sparrowhawk gliding low over the rooftops, probably a local bird rather than a migrant. This site is close to the coast and has a good open vista to the south so should be good for vis migging raptors and finding grounded passerines, maybe we should spend more early mornings here instead of thrashing the nature reserve at every opportunity.
To the east there are restricted views between the houses to the distant hills, the Yorkshire Dales National Park showing a dusting a snow...brrr, told you it was chilly out there.
We just had to get a gull in the pic didn't we!
Where to next? Back on Patch 2 in the morning, will it have improved?
In the meantime let us know who's defying the winter chills in your outback.

Monday, 25 April 2016

It might not feel like it but spring is springing

The Safari was out fairly early on Sunday morning arriving at the wetland at about 06.30. As ever at this time of year we were hopeful of a slightly more out of the ordinary migrant bird or two but during the night the wind had turned cold with a lot of north in it so we weren't too hopeful. But you never know and if you don't get out you won't see nowt!
Wrens and the regular Cetti's Warbler sang loudly but there was nothing that we'd hoped for sitting up on the old hedge-line. Up the track we passed the place where the Grasshopper Warbler had been singing earlier in the week but it had now gone quiet or moved on. There is an isolated Hawthorn bush a little further on and this had a small bird sat atop it which darted to the next copse as we approached. Once there it sang its scratchy little ditty giving it away as a Whitethroat (143, MMLNR #92). They've been in a couple of days now but this one was the first we'd connected with. They are pretty consistent in their arrival time our earliest in the last 10 years is 16th April and this one was our latest. No chance of a pic as he was far too flighty. 
Nearby Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs all told spring was here even if it didn't feel like it in the freezing wind. Down towards the scrape we came across a Blackcap showing well but very flitty in the outer twigs of a bush but wouldn't stay still for a pic, also in the bush but deeper and as yet unseen a Lesser Whitethroat started to rattle. We got tantalising glimpses but nothing that would get us to lift the camera so on we went to the scrape.
Four Lapwings and four Shelducks were there which was good to see. The Shelducks in particular seem to have taken a liking to the new scrape, maybe next year we/they should think about making a nesting cavity for them on the island. The Lapwings too might nest if the flat top of the island was scraped clear of vegetation but that could be a bit more difficult to achieve unless a decent sized machine could be got over there. along the water's edge the Common Sandpiper was still bobbing away as it had been the previous day. It was then we heard the Grasshopper Warbler and made the decision to try to get a pic. With a bit of listening from here and listening from there we managed to track it down to a small patch of Brambles but couldn't see it. For the best part of the next half an hour it remained doggedly hidden and we were at the point of giving up on it. A small bird flew from an adjacent bush to one further away and that was our trigger to give up to go to see what that turned out to be a second Grasshopper Warbler and was giving  it plenty of wing shivering and tail wiggling while the first bird still sang from his thicket. A second bird arrived in the bush which we got the briefest view of and a 'tack' which seemed to be a Garden Warbler but we never saw or heard it again so it remains a mystery.
The Grasshopper Warbler left the bush to go to another smaller one at which point the male joined it from his Bramble patch - now we had two Grasshopper Warblers buzzing around displaying in one small bush and after about another 20 minutes we still had no pics but had enjoyed some superb sights of the pair interacting.
We walked up to the bridge seeing a good number of Sand Martins (Please, please pleeease make use of our specially built holes) and a few Swallows hawing insects over the water but there weren't, or we didn't pick out, any House Martins.
Wandering slowly back the way we came we heard the Lesser Whitethroat again and had good but brief views of the, or another, Blackcap. A pair of Blackcaps were mooching about in the dazzlingly flowers of the Blackthorn thicket by the new hide when behind us another Whitethroat fired up and this one was obligingly staying still although a long way back in the scrub.
We met up with LR on his way in, he had nothing exciting to report before heading off with one of his dog walking friends while we headed back to the car and the warm. Passing the big Raspberry thicket we heard this Grasshopper Warbler reeling from its usual spot so it has stuck and it looks like we'll have at least tow pairs this season. We had another scan of the rough grassland for anything beginning with W but they weren't there.
Instead of following the track to the car we cut across the now just about dry enough wetland to have a peek in the ponds. For most if them the margins were still too wet to get near enough to without wellies which is a good sign for our Great Crested Newts, lets hope the ponds hold water most of the summer for them.
This is the time of year that gets hay fever sufferers worried, and for good reason -  we saw the first flowerheads of grass of the year today, the beautiful and aptly named Meadow Foxtail. Always like to see this species, it's another that tells you that despite the weather spring really is here.
After lunch we had a family visit involving the motorway. Outbound Kestrels 0 - 0 Buzzards in rather grotty weather. Homeward bound Kestrels 2 - 0 Buzzards - in better weather, it's not often we don't see even a Buzzard on a post on this route now.
A quick safari round the Community Orchard area and the  lake at the top end of the North Blackpool POnd Trail with colleagues to help with risk assessments for kiddies events later in the summer gave us the usual spring delights of Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff along with a loud Song Thrush and a cheeky Grey Squirrel too. It was warm out of the wind but we didn't see any butterflies and only a few Bumble Bees.
Where to next? We'll try to get a look at Patch 2 tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's letting you know spring has sprung in your outback.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

A bitter wind picked up

The Safari was at work this morning at an event about cleaning and greening the town led by our local MP Gorden Marsden (Lab). We weren't able to stop for the full time due to a prior engagement with Wifey so unfortunately we had to miss the plenary and questions sessions. We've arranged to email a short set of bullet points to him early next week and have some ideas jotted down prompted by his speech to the full house. Good to see so many people interested in greening our town - just hope that doesn't mean 'tidying up' as that all too often means destroying the important biodiversity we have, better would be to cleverly link the green areas by managing but not tidying.
Once Wifey was organised we were able to have a couple of hours at the nature reserve. We had a good scour round the wetlands to see if there were any Whinchats about - not today sadly! Moving on it was quiet apart from Wrens, well it always is mid-afternoon. 
A very battered Small Tortoiseshell wouldn't stay still for a pic in the warm sunshine. 
As soon as we were in the reserve we heard a Lesser Whitethroat (142, MMLNR #90) rattling away in the scrub to our left. We heard another a hundred yards further on as we walked down to the new hide. A Reed Warbler chattered away deep in the reeds in the bright sunshine. The same sunshine spectacularly illuminated several Water Dock plants on the edge of the recently dredged pool.
A gull flush alerted us to a Buzzard soaring high above them down at the far end of the mere. The pool was bow playing host to a family of Grey Lag Geese.
Moseying on we met MB and his mate with whom we had a shuffy round for the Bee Orchid rosettes finding only one small one to show them. 
We parted company after being told they'd heard two Grasshopper Warblers down at the embankment. We were going that way but stopped at the scrape to find a Common Sandpiper (MMLNR #91).
We soon heard one of the Grasshopper Warblers at the embankment and were joined by BD and between us had a good listen to see if we could see where it was singing from but it wouldn't come out of deep cover in the now strengthening and chilly wind. The reed bed behind us held a Sedge Warbler and a couple of Reed Warblers but the Cetti's Warblers were noticeably quiet today. A Sparrowhawk drifted north.
At the hide we didn't see too much but the scrape provided eight Mallards, seven Teal, two pairs of Shovelers and three Shelducks, the Common Sandpiper was still working the water's edge too. 
Time was no pressing as Wifey was ready to be picked up so it was back to the car passing the Snake's Head Fritillary meadow on the way. There was only one! We think the Rabbits may have nibbled the flowers of the others. There were plenty of Cowslips and there's going to be a fine show of Meadow Cranesbills and Agrimony.
We didn't stop at the Feeding Station, there's no food there now until next autumn. A little further on BD spotted a Weasel which we missed, not seen one for far too long now! Above it the first/another Lesser Whitethroat sang but by eck that wind was cutting like a knife now totally nullifying the sunshine.
A last look at the wetland didn't give  us anything, we're still waiting for our first common Whitethroat of the year.
Where to next? We could well be back out there early, before breakfast.
In the meantime let us know who's too fluffy for their own good in your outback.

Friday, 22 April 2016

On pond duty today

The Safari was out on Patch 2 as usual this morning. Not a great deal to report, a pair of Eiders and half a dozen Sandwich Terns roosting on the buoy and twice that many flying around here and there was about the sum of it until four Red Breasted Mergansers can by and then perhaps even more odd was a single drake Shoveler, where'd he come from.
At lunchtime we had another look this time seeing a huge flock of Knot wheeling around the outer estuary not in the typical tight formations but more of a loose aggregation. The sea held three bottling Grey Seals but no cetaceans today. 
After work we had a look at the pond down at the back of the allotments.
It was easier to get in than we expected, the Brambles haven't grown that much yet but there is a new fence and gate which fortunately wasn't locked. A quick scout round didn't give us any Frogs, Toads or tadpoles.
A fluke spot was a diving newt so we looked harder and found another but we were not able to identify either of them but they were probably both Smooth Newts
By the little island we flushed a largish insect which we think may well have been a teneral Large Red Damselfly but we didn't get a good enough look at it before it vanished between the Typha stems.
Also hidden unseen at the bottom of the stems a Moorhen darted off its nest leaving two chicks and at least two still unhatched eggs behind.
All the while we were there a Blackbird kept a beady eye on what we were up to.
There were no sign of any snakes nor Water Voles, we thought we might have seen some feeding lawns or latrines. We think we'll have to go back next week and have another check.
Where to next? At work tomorrow morning but we'll hit the nature reserve just after lunchtime.
In the meantime let us know who's keeping a beady eye on who in your outback.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Another mammal-tastic day and some scales for balance

The Safari was out on the seawall early doors but it was all bit of an anticlimax. There was very little about, best by a mile were the seven Sandwich Terns sat on the new green buoy. We had no opportunities to get out in the garden during the morning, we're on the hunt for solitary bees on the Dandelions and/or any other plants as they begin to flower. It would appear that we have no Viper's Bugloss coming up this year which is a shame as it's great for the bumble bees.
At lunchtime the tide was in, the Sandwich Terns were still on the buoy and at first glance it didn't seem like there was much about. But we persevered and found three Grey Seals and a Harbour Porpoise so deffo worth sticking it out for a few more minutes. We gave it a bit longer, really only in the hope of getting another look at the Harbour Porpoise which had done their usual sudden disappearing act, and picked up a couple of birds in the distance3 coming towards us across the bay. It took an age for them to get close enough to ID and they were still directly face on. We had an inkling of what they were but had to wait til they turned broadside and headed up the coast before we could confirm they were a couple of Whimbrel (P2 #62) as we predicted. Is it just us or are Bar Tailed Godwits in short supply this season, don't think anyone round these parts is seeing many?
In the afternoon we had another class from the local school to do their science investigation of our pond and of course have a bash with the nets. We set everything out for them and had a little look to see what we could see in the pond. There was the flippin Goldfish that some bright spark had put in was swimming up and down seemingly unconcerned by our presence. Cautiously we grabbed one of the nets and gently put it in the water well ahead of it and it did us a favour by almost swimming straight into it, just a little swish and it was in with no escape!
It's now been relocated to the pond at Base Camp where it won't be the biggest fish in a much smaller pond. At last this ecological nightmare with its huge mouth and appetite is gone from our wildlife pond. Hopefully there'll be much more pond life and much better variety for the kids to explore later in the summer.
In other scaly news we had a very excited txt from our Extreme Photographer the other evening telling us to check our emails.
What we found was a couple of pics of a creature he'd found at one of his work sites. Just basking in the sun and as docile as you like! He told us he only had his phone to hand being at work.
A real beaut, the biggest he's ever seen he says. All he needs now is one swimming across the wild pond in his garden!
Shame we don't have any left round these  parts - - or do we???
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow but no school groups
In the meantime let us know who's the slipperiest character in your outback.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

We've been busy

The Safari has been out n about quite a bit already this week. But before we tell you about our adventures Wifey managed to identify a Song Thrush singing close to Base Camp the other evening taking her list to 82.
Monday morning was a tad blowey and flippin cold but we got out on the wall to see an Arctic Skua and several Gannets with Manx Shearwater (138, P2 #58). Also going through were a few Swallows (P2 #59). At lunchtime a Sparrowhawk (P2 #60) floated over the garden being chased by the local gulls.
There aren't so many Cowslips in our nature garden this spring, but those we do have are now in flower.
In the afternoon we had a school group out exploring the pond as one of their seasonal studies. Not much happening in there yet but they did see the nightmare that is the giant Goldfish...couldn't catch it though, more's the pity!
Ramshorn Snail
3-spined Stickleback
We had a quick evening safari to the nature reserve with our Best Boy LCV who'd made the trip up from the Midlands for a day's birding in the Fylde with us. He'd stopped off on the way up at our teenage patch to see this beauty - no chance of it being there when we were hanging around as the lakes hadn't been dug then it was just potato and barley fields. 
Drake Smew
It was quiet out on the nature reserve apart from the Cetti's Warblers and three much quieter Grasshopper Warblers. We had hoped to show him the Long Eared Owls but they are now long gone unfortunately.
On Tuesday morning we hit the road to the point stopping at the marine lake first. The sun was good and bright.
Reflection of the training lifeboat
 There were loads of Turnstones some turning into their stunning summer colours.
Did you spot the Dunlin?
The main interest on the lake are the Red Breasted Mergansers, sadly today ensconced over on the far side.
Down at the point we had a Harbour Porpoise almost immediately while looking for sea birds. Most of the action was much closer, right down on the beach beneath our feet.
Dunlin and Ringed Plovers
Dunlin and Ringed Plover
Dunlin among the pebbles
Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling
Ringed Plover
The amount of doggy disturbance here is horrendous the birds don't get a chance to settle for more than two or three minutes before the next mutt comes along, all they do is waste their energy before the tide drops enough for them to start feeding again. Not good when they've got huge distances across seas and oceans to fly. So much so we had to have a 'chat' to one lucky dog owner. LCV didn't know where to put himself; it was like 'Dad's being soooo embarrassing!!!' We weren't rude to the chap just put our point about the amount of unnecessary disturbance firmly but politely. To be fair he hadn't even thought about it only saying he had noticed the birds keep flying away and was genuinely interested in where they would be migrating too once he knew they did - - hopefully he'll tell his doggy walking friends why the birds shouldn't be disturbed.
An all too typical and frequent view
We were getting so frustrated and wound up at the point we had to leave and set off north over the river. We ended up at the creeks where there were plenty of Shelducks.
The tide filled the creeks forcing the Redshanks on to the grassy banks of the saltmarsh. It didn't take long to find the Spotted Redshank who is looking rather fine and dandy now, if a little far away.
A bit of commotion from the mixed bag of waders, ducks and gulls had us looking up to find an Osprey (139) circling overhead being mobbed by a Buzzard. After missing so many this season it was a relief to find our own.
Well chuffed!
A Greenshank emerged from the serried ranks of Redshanks too.
On the pool by the road all there was of particular note was a Common Sandpiper. But the tern nest boxes have been laid out and the sheep are creating a mosaic of short and long vegetation by nibbling the choice species and leaving those they don't like.
From there we went a little way back down the coast to look at the mouth of the estuary. Here we soon heard then saw a couple of Whimbrel (140). The stars of the show weren't the Whimbrel but the Wheatears and the huge flocks of Linnets and Golden Plovers in the fields.
Stunners - worth their weight in gold and more!
 The Brown Hares were still about in numbers too.
Once we'd exhausted the possibilities here we headed back to the nature reserve.  We walked in from the east end passing under a kettle of four Buzzards stacked in a tight thermal. The lower-most one was persistently hanging in the wind as ably as a Kestrel.
This is our regular bird - easily told by the pin-prick in its right wing
The reason for their interest in this small spot might well have been the heart, liver and lungs someone had weirdly deposited just inside the gate - generous (although in a bit of a bizarre place) or poisoned???
Continuing our curcuit we met dome of the volunteers and had a chat. whilst chin wagging we had a Swallow (MMLNR #89) and a House Martin (141, MMLNR #90) go over. And then it was back to Base Camp for a well earned ginormous steak pie with lashings of homemade onion gravy.
Today we added Grey Plover (P2 #61) missed a couple of Harbour Porpoises, three Mediterranean Gulls and another Goosander. We did see a Grey Seal and later a distant large cetacean that can only really have been a Bottlenose Dolphin.
All good stuff and all the better for the company of LCV.
Today's pics have been a mix of ours and his, proper camera, phone, camera-scoped and phone-scoped - can you tell who's is which?
Where to next? More school pondy stuff tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's turned up in your outback at long last.