Thursday, 26 January 2017

Where's the sun?

The Safari has been itching to get out all week. We haven't had much joy since our last blog but have seen a few bits n bobs and added some more species to our Photo Challenge. 
Last weekend we had a family trip to the South-side and stopped off for an hour or so on the way to see if we could find some Red Squirrels. The reserve was heaving with Saturday afternoon escapees from the dreaded shops, which was good to see we suppose but it meant the car park was full to busting and we ended up down by the beach well away from the squirrel-laden trees. We ended up spending all our time in the fixed dunes and long defunct Asparagus fields. These are now grazed by sheep at various times of the year to improve their floral diversity. There were no sheep present but the fence-lines held a few Lesser Black Backed Gulls (67) which we just abut managed to get a pic of in the dreadfully dull conditions.
Here's the Safari and ur little helper trying to get a decent shot of the above gull.
We had hoped to get pics of several more common species that are found there but we just didn't see any of them. A Mistle Thrush (68) sang in the far distance it's tuneful melody brightening up a dull day.
The following day again we were thwarted by dull, dreary, dismal overcast conditions and despite taking Monty to a birdy hotspot failed to find anything more exciting than a distant Blackbird. So yet another 'banker' shot was fired off, we're sure we'll be able to improve on these duff pics as the year goes on. Once back at home we saw news that there was a flock of about 2000 Pink Footed Geese nearby, indeed we had seen a small portion of them on our drive by to Base Camp, with them was a single White Fronted Goose. It was getting dark but we went out anyway. The geese were spread out over several fields and many were obscured behind hedgerows and brows of the slight rises in the fields, we saw plenty of the Pink Feet but couldn't find the White Front. Another 'banker' pic was added to our Photo Challenge.
Monday dawned bright and sunny, the cold red light of dawn shining through the front door's window but by the time we left for work the sun was gone for the rest of the day to be replaced by thick fog for much of the morning.
Similarly on Tuesday morning we saw the sun only too briefly. We had the opportunity to look at some work that's been done in the big park so got there in the chilly first light of dawn. A drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker was the first bird we heard. The sun eased slowly through then over the trees to the east then promptly went behind a cloud for the rest of the day. We hoped it would illuminate the woodland floor but it didn't get anywhere near. The following are the best we could get.
Song Thrush
Long Tailed tits - not often you see them on the ground
Coal Tit - in almost nocturnal conditions 
and sporting an unreadable ring (band for our American readers)
Great Tit
All the while several Grey Squirrels visited the various feeders generous members of the public keep topped up every day.
Behind us on the lake a pair of Gadwall (69) appeared but were in far too much shade to bother pointing the camera at. Across on the island there was a Heron poking around with a stick on one of the nests getting it ready for the forthcoming breeding season. With the light getting worse rather than better we headed off to the other side of the bridges to look at the gulls coming in from their roost for a bathe. You never know a Mediterranean Gull might just be with them - there wasn't. But on the way we passed under a pair of Nuthatches (70) high in the tops of the tall trees.
The rail where the gulls haul out also attracts a few Cormorants. One had the white head of an older bird but hadn't developed the white thigh patches of the breeding plumage.
With the sun gone and not coming back out it was time to head to the office. After lunch we had another site visit to make, this time to the nature reserve in advance of a meeting there. We were also able to join our Extreme Photographer who was up from Pembrokeshire for a few days, he hadn't brought  his camera though being mostly on family duties.
We had a good wander round, can't believe it's well into the third week of January and this was our first visit of the year. Unfortunately the light was still totally duff and drizzle was beginning to fill the air which all meant the camera was left in its bag. Still there were plenty of birds to be found despite an earlier visit from the Police dredging the lake for a potential dead body! This had frightened off most of the waterfowl except the Coots of which we counted at least 300, a good count for here. Before we'd even got the bins out of the car and locked it behind us we'd added Cetti's Warbler (71) to our year list when one its song blasted out from the nearby reedbed.
From the window of the first hide we watched a wisp of eight Snipe (72) fly round through the murk and the ar*e end of a Water Rail (73) disappear into the edge of the reeds below our vantage point. A few Teal were on the scrape but as ever there were no males with a vertical white line. We have seen a couple of Green Winged Teals there over the years and there's often more than one in the county most winters so we're always checking for them...maybe one day!
Gulls came and went, mostly Herring and Black Headed but there was no sign of the local Iceland Gull.
Moving on we ended up at the feeding station for a while, plenty of common birds but nothing out of the ordinary. Best of the bunch were three female Pheasants, for whatever reason we took a few snaps of them with our phone, it was that dark, bear in mind it wasn't much after mid afternoon, that the flash went off.

Continuing round two Woodcocks (74) came out of the scrub to our right as the gloom glowered deeper and a small flock of eight Linnets (75) stopped briefly in the tallest Poplar tree before moving on to their nighttime roost.
Our Extreme Photographer had to go back to his van while we went round to complete the circuit. We stopped for a quick look for the Long Eared Owl but there was no sign. No sign either of the Barn Owl at the big barn. Rumour has it that the Little Owls are still about over there despite being seen so infrequently by the birders in recent years.
We waited for the Starlings to come in off the field where they'd been feeding with at least 60 Fieldfares. Unfortunately they came in in small flocks each of which did no more than a couple of minutes murmurating before they dropped into the reeds to spend the night. About 500 came in all told. Three Cetti's Warblers sang along the embankment and Water Rails squealed in the distance as darkness fell.
We were office-bound on Wednesday and with absolute cruelty the sun shone brightly all day. A quick look over the wall at the dropping tide didn't give us much so we didn't stay long, back on the work's garden there was a Redshank - how bizarre, a real rarity here especially in the middle of the day when there's hordes of dog walkers around and when there was beach showing after the tide.
Buoyed up by our success we did a full round of the garden hoping for more exotica but could only come up with our usual Starling singing away on his usual sign-post.
On the way back to Base Camp we had a quick stop in the park but again the sun was dropping quickly. We managed a few shots to replace the dire grainy shots from the previous morning.
Great Tit
Robin at sunset
and then spotted a Great Crested Grebe (76) cruising towards the bridges, great stuff we were heading back to the car that way and could well intercept it. We did and by now it was very close but was also in the shadow of the bridge.
Great Crested Grebe - Photo Challenge bird #51
...There really is no need to add these duff pics of common species but the Challenge has become sort of addictive.
No news from a bitingly cold, dull and windy day today.
Where to next? We have a cunning plan for tomorrow providing there's a bit of sunshine.
In the meantime let us know who's the grainiest in your outback.

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