Thursday, 27 April 2017

Still flippin Arctic

The Safari has been on a trip up north with our birding chums from the South-side. We'd agreed to meet in the reserve car-park but only minor traffic on a Sunday morning had us due to arrive a few minutes early so we bunked into the old quarry for a quick look.
It didn't take long to find one of the resident Ravens (134, YBC #113) sat in a tree-top.
A scan of the rock face opposite had us finding the nest with four well grown almost ready to fledge youngsters in it.
The female came in to give the nippers a feed, the nest site was high up at the far end of the quarry but even at that range we could see the red gape of the youngsters with our bins. but we missed the family moment with the camera only catching the female as she left.
There was a Peregrine on a ledge too but other than that just the multitude of raucous Jackdaws. We thought we heard a Little Owl call but a chat to a regular visitor told us there hadn't been any there for a number of years.
Joining up with the gang off we went into the reserve where almost immediately a Buzzard soared low overhead being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. Wee could see it had something dangling from its beak which turned out to be a mouse rather than a worm.
Down at the first hide the light was awful with horrendous glare coming off the water and wet mud making viewing and getting pics hard work, as  you can tell from this dreadful Moorhen pic.  
There were hundreds of Black Tailed Godwits many showing their glorious brick red summer plumage, and several Redshanks
Try as we might we couldn't find the two drake Garganeys that had been present in recent days but IH spotted a small wader drop in beyond the snoozing Redshanks. It turned out to be a Green Sandpiper (135, YBC #114). This was the best we could get at the range through the tops of a clump of reeds.
A womble down to the westernmost hides didn't give us much but we did hear a Green Woodpecker on the way, appropriately enough just beyond 'Green Woodpecker field' so called as we saw one there once in about 1981 and never since but we live in hope! A Bank Vole popped out from under a fallen tree trunk where people leave food for the birds for photo opportunities, we waited a few minutes with the camera aimed at the spot but it didn't reappear. Both the hides were very quite with no sign of either the Garganeys nor any Great White Egrets which we could have done with a pic of for our Year Bird Challenge - where were they, there's always a couple or three on the reserve these days?
Retracing our steps back to the the causeway hide we had distant views of a male Marsh Harrier (135) and were constantly serenaded by Willow Warblers, Reed Warblers and a couple of Cetti's Warblers.  
From the hide the water was pretty quiet but it was good to see a couple of Pochards out there, these seem to have been very scarce locally this winter. A Cormorant flew in to sit on 'Great Black Back Gull island' (not a lot dares venture on to there) 
while a Great Crested Grebe cruised round the back
The male Marsh Harrier (YBC #115) did several distant rounds over the extensive reedbed before landing in a dead tree to our left. It sat there for several minutes before lifting off and drifting over the mere in front of us.
Continuing onward towards the next hide as we passed through the wooded area a Marsh Tit (136, YBC #116) popped up on to a pile of cut logs where a handful of mealworms had been left. 
Not far away one of the many serenading Willow Warblers (YBC #117) was in song and visible too as it worked its way through the opening foliage
We passed a few Pheasants on the way, both males and females and they all looked splendiferous in the sunshine, what amazing patterns and colours they have, even the females, when you get such close views. Other folks were practically hand feeding them they are that used to people down this trail.
At the hide we were treated to exceptional views of two Otters playing, or at least they seemed to be we didn't see them eating anything. The show went on for about 10 minutes and throughly enjoyed by everyone in the hide despite the freezing Arctic wind that was blasting through the open windows. It was lovely being out in the sunshine...but in the wind - by eck was it cold!!!
What a show but tricky to get pics of as it was hard to second guess where they would pop up next. The Heron just outside the window was a far better subject, big, close and immobile! Just how we like our wildlife to be!
All too soon we'd run out of time. The others went off for a look at the coastal marshes but we had to head back to Base Camp after a very good if chilly day out on safari with the gang.
Where to next? Back to a very windy and chilly Patch 2 no doubt
In the meantime let us know who's popping up here there and everywhere in your outback.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Quick catch up with spring now springing

The Safari yet again has had only a few opportunities to get out this week and even when we have its been very much time constrained during the day. We've added Swallows to all our various patch lists now (P1 #33) P2 #45 & Garden #25) with the last one being over the garden this arvo while waiting for a delivery. A Willow Warbler (Garden #24) quietly sub-songing at the bottom of the garden at Base Camp before work yesterday was a bit of a bonus; the first here since 2012! There must have been a bit of an overnight arrival as there were two on Patch 1 too (P1 #32). Patch 2 yesterday gave us our first Manx Shearwaters (133) of the year when two sped northwards almost at the horizon, not entirely sure how we're going to get these on our Year Bird Challenge. The sea has been mostly very quiet.
We've been reminded to record some of the plants on Patch 1 but rarely taking the camera with us we have been having to rely on phone-pics. Nothing really outstanding...yet...
Cuckoo flower and Cowslip
Common Figwort
Ploughman's Spikenard - pick of the bunch as there's no others nearby
Sweet Vernal Grass - one of our favourite grasses, tastes like American Cream Soda you know. Quality phone-pic...NOT
 There's also several Yellow Meadow Ant mounds, a couple are about a foot high and two in diameter and must have some age about them.
We took the camera on Monty's walk this morning and came across several Speckled Wood butterflies, only of of which settled for a pic.
One of the smaller species of white butterfly was the first seen there this year but remained unidentified. We took the camera in the hope of coming across a Blackcap or a Willow Warbler or even a Greenfinch but there were two very shy singing males of the former and not a sniff of either of the latter. The only bird we could point the camera at was a Collared Dove sat atop the butchered remains of a formerly nice mature Ash tree in a roadside garden.
Back at Base Camp with having to wait in we had a look at what was on the cards from the Stealth Cams...Nothing of note again and still barely a cat - where are they??? The best is our female Blackbird with the little bit of leucistic mottling.
Where to next? A big day out on Safari up north tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's building mounds in your outback.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A much better day but only poor pics

The Safari went a few miles north to meet up with GB and JH for a mooch along the prom again.
The tide was well down and there were two ferries at anchor waiting for the tide to rise before they could get into Heysham dock, they have a 5.5m (18ft) draught, with our very long lens we couldn't get both of them in frame together.
In front of the ship and stretching to the left is the 'new' shingle island King's Scar which has arisen about a mile offshore since the dredging of our smaller port has stopped. Looks good for nesting sea/shore birds like Ringed Plovers and terns (hopefully to include Little Terns). It isn't totally covered by most high tides now but how much higher can it get? Maybe that's what the ancient village of S(h)ingleton Thorpe was built of that was a good way off the current coastline. The village was lost in a storm in the Middle Ages the residents surviving but becoming refugees  and given a plot of land to relocate too, now known as Singleton.
All the while during our walk we were listening to the exhaulting songs of Skylarks, we kept looking up waiting for a photo opportunity. At the same time a flock of about 50 waders was continually disturbed by a multitude of dog walkers as they tried to settle to roost as the tide rose.
Most were Dunlins and Sanderlings with a few Ringed Plovers thrown in for good measure. What a shame, these birds need to conserve their energy for their imminent long migrations to higher latitudes, not waste it every two minutes as yet another dog walker comes along. Maybe they should have headed out to the new island but even that gets over-run by jet-skiers if the sea is calm enough for them to get that far.
As the tide rose they were forced closer to the promenade.
Swallows were moving through both out to sea and behind us over the golf course all afternoon. Never in bog groups but by the time we got back to the car we must have had well over 50 and a small number of Sand Martins too.
Concentrating on the golf course we did eventually get a pic of a Skylark (YBC #112) both singing and on the ground although the latter was too far away.
Surely we'll get better pics than this before 31st December
There was a wagtail briefly on the mound too, which had a hint of White Wagtail about it but it disappeared over the back before we could get a proper look at it.
One of the reasons we went up that way was to look for Harbour Porpoises seeing ass how the sea was calm enough to spot them. We didn't manage to find any but did see a Grey Seal not too far offshore. We were very surprised to learn that it was the first local lad GB had ever seen here especially seeing as how he more or less grew up on this beach as a nipper - he did say it was far too polluted in those days to support creatures like the porpoises and seals.
Our pic but GB's processing
This morning we were out early with Monty when about 200 Pink Footed Geese flew over on their way to Iceland.  When we put them on the website we saw that Young Un AB had seen them over his house some 20 minutes earlier and then probably the same flock was counted at 230 at the coast we were at at the weekend.
This evening we took Monty round the new woodland where we found some Cuckoo Flowers blooming.
There are Oak leaves unfurling all over the place but we only saw one Ash tree with anything like open buds, some had a hint of green showing but most were still fast asleep. A drier summer coming up?
Not much on the sea at Patch 2 today in a time constrained lunchtime watch, just three Shelducks going south and a lone Sandwich Tern until we started trying to count the Cormorants lined up on the dry outer sandbanks. It was then we saw two flying out to sea, one was distinctly smaller and didn't look as black as the other, we'd like to say it was a Shag but it was just too fr away to be positive. In the end we didn't count the rest of the Cormorants.
Where to next? Little chance of doing any safari-ing tomorrow but there's always Friday.
In the meantime let us know been avoiding the limelight in your outback.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Spring continues to drag its heels

The Safari had family duties on Saturday and ended up on the South-side at a beach we used to frequent as a nipper but one we've not visited for many many years. We parked up in the against the developing dune at the side of the car park and with Wifey watched the Starlings and House Sparrows rummaging around in the vegetation for invertebrates and scraps. Behind us we heard some Linnets and above us Skylarks sang. As we waited for the rest of our party to arrive Wifey wondered why Monty's coat couldn't be iridescent like the Starlings' that would be something - an iridescent dog!
Once the others had arrived we set off on a dog walk along the back of the dunes seeing a Skylark sitting on the grass not 20 yards away and totally oblivious to the gang of lads knocking a football guessed it - no long-lensed camera today. 
At the furthest point we crossed the dunes and dropped down on to the beach where the tide was rising and had covered most of the 'Another Place' statues. There was time for a few quick phone pics though.
Which of the three is you favourite?
 Of course at the same time as throwing the ball for our brother's dog
A right little rapscallion - always full of beans!
We kept an eye out for anything that might be of interest on the strandline. It's always good to find a Mermaid' Purse, this one is from a Lesser Spotted Catshark; what's not so good is to see the balloon ribbons tangled up with the seaweed.
Further on we came across the remains of a long dead Great Black Backed Gull and then this much fresher Kittiwake
We don't think we can count dead things on our Year Bird Challenge, which is a pity because getting a pic of a live Kittiwake could prove tricky as we doubt we'll be visiting any of their nesting cliffs this season. Very occasionally they come close to shore along Patch 2 but it's far from guaranteed.
Back on the dunes we had another, even closer, encounter with a Skylark and then saw where the Linnets were hanging out, an easy full frame shot from the car in the right car parking space - no camera - dohhhhh!!!
Yesterday the rain came down for hours and once it had stopped off we went to the nature reserve once again full of hope something less ordinary would have been dropped by the rain. 
Once again trying to get pics of common birds such as the Blackcap at the Wetland and the Willow Warbler at the Viewing Platform proved impossible, both were too flitty and there are now just too many leaves leave a photographer frustrated...we're not the only either, it seems Monika is having the same problems on the west coast of America.
We both have the same target of 200 species recorded for the year and she was hoping to photograph 150 of them at a strike rate of 75%, so far she's almost reached her target of 150 species photographed and has an excellent strike rate of over 90% We might just get past 150 species photographed and probably won't  get to 200 species recorded. Currently our 111 out of 132 is a strike rate of 84%.
The scrub within the nature reserve was very quiet, where are the Whitethroats, Leser Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and the rest of the Willow Warblers and Blackcaps? It wasn't until we got to the scrape there was any excitement at all. One of the two recent Black Tailed Godwits (MMLNR #63) was there. The new scrape doing its thing attracting down waders to feed and rest that would previously just flown round had a quick look and moved on in a few minutes.
Continuing our walk we dropped in to the hide where MJ was already ensconced but hadn't seen a great deal. A few Sand Martins came by fairly close but we failed to get a shot off. In the distance a Kestrel hovered. One thing we did notice was individual male Reed Buntings flying in to the reeds coming in from the east and then working their way westwards through the tops of the reeds. We noted six but then recalled we'd seen at least a  couple others doing similar earlier in our walk but not thought anything of it - was it a bit of passage after the rain? 
A Rabbit came out to graze in front of the hide. If you 'click the pic' and look closely above its ears you'll see a few of gazillions of  tiny midges that are attracting the Sand Martins to the site.
Another flurry of Sand Martins held a few Swallows and then MJ picked out a House Martin (132, MMLNR #64) which swooped, dived, stalled and towered way away across the far side so no chance of an early pic of this species.
Then MJ's pager went off informing us of 10 Cattle Egrets, in a field of cows, not many miles away. Off he went but we couldn't follow as we had to help Wifey prepare for visitors later in the evening so off we went back towards the car. Best of the rest was a good view of a Chiffchaff while we had a brief chat with TS.
Where to next? Last day of the holiday so we'll be out somewhere on safari.
In the meantime let us know who's visiting more regularly in your outback.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Spring seems to have unsprung itself

The Safari had a day off work yesterday and was out early on a cold blustery morning. The wind direction was totally wrong for migrants to fall but we left Base Camp off full of hope as birders always do.
The now usual Cetti's Warbler was heard as we parked up at the gate to the wetland and seconds later the Blackcap in the boundary hedge fired up too. Other than those two regulars it was quiet, very quiet! We met up with old friend LR and set off to see what we could see.
We listened along the way for any hint of Grasshopper Warblers but there was nothing to be heard. 
Down at the viewing platform the water was almost devoid of life, the male Mute Swan driving anything away that came too close to his mate on their nest in the reeds. Close by behind us were a Wren and a Chiffchaff and a something doing an unidentified song. It sounded reminiscent of a Wood Warbler but wasn't quite right but we never really got onto anything to confirm the identity of the singer. Every time we thought we had a Wren popped up - do Wrens sometimes forget their whole song and just concentrate on the trill at the end? But it didn't sound quite right for that either...a mystery!
The scrub and developing woods were also very quiet save for the occasional burst of song from the odd Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Blackcap. The Blackcaps were infuriatingly hard to spot and we're beginning to think we might have to wait until the autumn when they're feeding on berries to get our pic for our Year Bird Challenge. Getting a pic  of the local Willow Warblers might be even trickier as they don't feed on berries. The seem very thin on the ground this year, lets hope there's more to come but they have been declining very rapidly in recent years. So far they've not been for singing from exposed perches preferring to stay deep in the shelter of the the densest bushes and who can blame them in the wintry conditions we're currently 'enjoying'.
On a more positive note LR managed to find two Bee Orchid rosettes only minutes after complaining and us agreeing that we'd both looked and looked and not having see many were convinced none were going to show this season.
Down at the scrape we hoped the two Little Ringed Plovers that were reported the previous evening would still be around - they weren't. There were just a few Teal a couple of Shovelers, two male Gadwall and a coupla three Moorhens. above them and which may have come out of a reedbed roost were at least 50 Sand Martins and we just about managed a pic, one out of c150 shots for our Year Bird Challenge, (YBC #107)
The ubiquitous Cetti's Warblers blasted out their explosive song and there was THE single Reed Warbler too, actually there's probably two on site now but we only heard this one. Further on along the embankment we saw that at least one of the Sand Martins was in fact a Swallow (YBC #108). It was well out over the water and wouldn't come towards us above the tree tops in the distance only doing so once it had turned to redo it's feeding loop. There was a bit of blue sky by now but don't be fooled it wasn't any warmer.
At the bridge LR double back retracing his steps while we continued on the circuit towards the car. We stopped in the hide briefly to see very little, the recent Little Gull was nowhere to be seen, like all the other good stuff then, so we pushed on keen to get back to the car to try another site. EP was coming the other way and told us that news had broken of a drake Garganey at the site we intended to visit next - nice one. Hopefully the earlier reported Little Ringed Plovers would still be there too.
It didn't take too long to get there and as soon as we pulled up we spotted a Common Sandpiper (130, YBC #109) on the mud on the other side of the creek through the fence. Dropping the window we poked the camera out and fired away, and then the phone rang - a work number so probably needing answering, but at least we'd got the Common Sandpiper on our Year Bird Challenge.
As we were on the phone we could see a few birds on the little stony island out in the creek. A Lapwing catching the sun its plumage looking resplendent in the now bright sunshine.
And a sleepy Black Tailed Godwit also looking resplendent in its summer garb.
Also while we were on the phone another birder turned up and within seconds of  putting his scope up had found the Garganey (131, YBC #110). Once our call was over he kindly let us have a look through his scope. It was a long way off, right on the very edge of the lens' range and didn't wake up all the time we were there.
The Black Tailed Godwit did wake up in the end but we missed it having a good old stretch.
We haven't mentioned the Little Ringed Plovers as they'd done a bunk. After that we had an errand to run before lunch but were able to stop at another site on the estuary but the tide was already very high and almost right up to the wall. Only a small bit of the mudflats were still uncovered but the water was rising fast. A quick scan gave us just a few Oystercatchers but then a second longer more intense scan gave us what we wanted, just three Knot (YBC #111) out of the thousands that were probably there half an hour earlier but had already gone to roost on higher ground.
The light was seriously against us and the tide was seriously against their short little legs. They soon ran out of time and had to fly.
Here's a tight crop of the left-hand bird.
That was that for safari-ing yesterday but we did try the very same again this morning with even less success and a lot more rain. We got trapped in one of the hides by a spell of heavy rain and were able to watch a pair of Little Grebes fishing. The rain dropped a bucket load of Sand Martins and we tried to better our duff shot from yesterday.

Again this is the best of c100 much worse shots - don't think it's any better than yesterday's effort. Really need some decent sunshine to do these speedy little beauties justice. Getting a bit closer wouldn't go a miss either.
Where to next? Being a glutton for punishment we'll probably try the same again tomorrow. We have a terrible fear that spring will happen once we're back at work and snowed under at our desk.
In the meantime let us know who's braving the cold in your outback