Friday, 31 March 2017

Of fires, glyphosate and the annual dandelion cull

The Safari watched plumes of smoke rising from four fires over the Forest of Bowland (supposed Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) as we drove back to Base Camp along the motorway last Saturday. The grouse shooting crew were burning the heather and everything in and under it sleepily coming out of hibernation in late March. Hedgehogs, Adders, Common Lizards, a multitude of invertebrates and any seeds lying on or near the surface get incinerated so as a few rich folk can kill lots of one species of wildlife. The following day we were having a mooch up the northern prom with Monty, GB and JH, looking across to the hills the fires were still burning and a fug of brown smoke hung in a narrow cloud across many square miles of lowland northern Lancashire at about 2000 feet up. Anyone else deliberately producing this amount of coloured smoke would have have the Law crashing down on them like a ton of bricks, but not this lot - one rule for us, no rules for the mega-rich. Anyone else causing that amount of damage to protected habitats in this time of year would also no doubt have to answer for their deeds, bit oh no not this lot! It's time to ban the ecological disaster, nay ecocide, that is driven grouse shooting and start the process to a much more diverse upland landscape one with more than a lot of Heather (isn't it an understorey woodland shrub anyway?) artificially maintained over-populations of Red Grouse, a few Meadow Pipits and not a lot else! Burning really shouldn't be allowed after Christmas!!! If at all, if the ground conditions are too wet to allow mechanical cutting then it's likely too wet to be burned, being peaty, tough, let the Heather grow and anything else that might like to grow up on those fellsides.
The other thing we noticed was a narrow browning strip along the edges of the grass verges and around the base of tree, lamp-posts and sign-posts - ahh the glyphosate gangs have been out in force. No longer having the manpower to look after the roadside verges properly all and sundry are reaching for the weedkiller. Frank used to get really ill when this stuff was sprayed and strangely Monty required the vets for an upset stomach last week, apparently a stomach infection from something he ate...or was it a reaction to the freshly sprayed weedkiller? Anything that creeps, crawls or slithers over the treated areas like worms, slugs, snails, beetles etc will pick a little up, anyhting that eats lots of those things like Blackbirds that we regularly see in the early morning foraging on the verges will be accumulating a dose but to what effect???
And then it was a sunny Sunday afternoon, Mother's Day duties done by all and sundry it was time to kill those Dandelions, by three O'clock the air was positively humming with the sound of lawnmowers all taking the heads off the newly opened Dandelion flowers, what chance do the bees and other early season pollinators have, when we're so quick to remove one of their most important sources of food? Who said all grass must be totally green 1/4 inch high and devoid of any other plant? Wouldn't it be great if TV adverts told us to look after and encourage our Dandelions instead of vilifying them as something that must be sprayed, pulled or burned - what actual harm do they do and there really isn;t much that looks better than a huge roadside swathe of them - yes they look far better than feral Daffodils and are far more useful too, the Daffs are cheery but there's just so many in the wrong place. But the Dandelions have no 'value' as they weren't bought and no-one spent any effort planting them so therefore they must worthless! What a pity we can't appreciate the Dandelions for what they are and if we want yellow plants along our outer suburbs and rural roads why can't we have Primroses and Cowslips - of native provenance of course. Close to Base camp there is a short strip of verge that is currently a superb picture, a joy to the eyes, glowing golden yellow with a mass of Lesser Celandine, no doubt someone will complain the grass there isn't green enough and it'll get sprayed off.
Rant over.
Later that afternoon we had a thrilling but maybe unwelcome to the garden at Base Camp, come to eye up the chance of a bit of a feast. Heron (Garden #21).
The gulls alerted us to his presence, going Billy Bonkers overhead, but he wasn't fussed by them at all. fortunately Monty didn't get a sight nor sniff of him otherwise all Hell might have broken loose!
During the week we've been able to get out and have a look at Patch 2. Not a great lot happening when we've been looking but others who have been able to look longer have seen some good stuff and good numbers of the more normal fare. A flock Of Jackdaws (P2 #33) going north and one of 11 Grey Plovers (P2 #34) going south were good additions to the year list here. The following day we saw a Grey Seal dozing well over half a mile out.
Looking at the photos we took we noticed that it had received a bad gash to its throat, probably from a rival bull in a fight over one of them's harem.
 Beyond him there was a flock of eight Tufted Ducks (P2 #35) but again looking at the pic we discovered there was a Teal (P2 #36) lurking in the flock. We spent so long looking to check the Teal was a Teal we failed to notice the four Scaup a little further out...dohhhh.
Can you spot the little dabbler?
High tides at lunchtime had us itching to get to the tiny saltmarsh at lunchtime, we were able to take a long lunch-break and meet up with AB to see if any Jack Snipe were pushed out of the vegetation by the rising waters.As the water flooded the marsh the larger birds were soon forced to move several Little Egrets came past us. This one has unusual markings.
A single Ringed Plover flew past too.
The water rose higher and began to flush Snipe out, we had seven in all and then four Jack Snipes (121)
Not the best pic!
We watched one land in the dunes and AB set off to see if he could find it with us close behind. Unfortunately he was looking the wrong way when it flushed from almost under his foot on a tiny sandy track.
After work we took Monty to the cliffs and a short sharp shower dropped a Wheatear. We'd not taken the camera the two previous evenings and seen two Wheatears both nights. This time we had the camera but until the shower hadn't seen a single bird other than the local gulls. Prior to the shower it had been lovely and sunny but the thick cloud had us bumping up the ISO on the camera - AGAIN!!!
Still not all that good but 1000x better than our other one for our Year Bird Challenge
Yesterday we had a day off. We booked it when we got the tide tables last October, the highest tide of the spring which means a good chance of spotting Water Pipits down on the nearby marshes. The high tide wasn't until early afternoon so we went to the nature reserve for an hour on the way. As soon as we got there we saw a few Sand Martins (122, MMLNR #51) hawing insects high over the far end in the gloom.
A Water Rail shot across the gap in the reeds in front of the hide but didn't reappear and a Cetti's Warbler teased us by doing the same many times. but only really showing once and that wasn't the best if views.
A Woodpigeon came down for a drink and performed much better.
And then we had a stroke of luck, the Cetti's Warbler sang really loudly and closer this time - it was in a bush well up the bank to the side of the hide.
We weren't going to better that in the dull conditions - still want that pic in the sunshine, greedy we know! - so off we went to the marsh via a flooded field to check if the recent Green Sandpipers were still there, they weren't, the flood was devoid of life apart from a Pied Wagtail and a Mallard.
At the marshes we met PE and then JS who'd pulled up behind us at the flood. They'd been looking for the Cattle Egrets, very likely the same six we saw on the South-side a couple of weeks ago. We'd not bothered going the few extra miles to see them this time.
At the marshes PE was kind enough to let us have a look through his scope at a couple of Avocets (123) which soon became six when four more flew in from the outer estuary. Far too far for a pic though.
The tide rose slowly and we were treated to Redshanks, Shelducks, a white duck with a yellow bill that looked like a Cattle Egret when rummaging around in the creeks. Heavy showers sent us scurrying in and out of cover as the tide rose inexorably higher and higher. A Peregrine appeared on a gate post miles out towards the river mouth. Also out that way were about two dozen Whooper Swans and a multitude of Little Egrets. What with Cattle Egrets, Avocets and all these Little Egrets it's getting like the Carmargue out there - without the sunshine obviously!
The rising water flushed a Jack Snipe that dropped in only a little nearer to us and a large flock of about three dozen normal Snipe flew round over head for a while.
The Peregrine was sat on the gate for ages but the only other raptors were singles of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard that took an interest in something unseen in a creek. No harriers of any description today.
Once the tide was right up excitement at the thought of lots of pipits grew and then dissipated as there weren't that many about and they didn't really come close to us, apart from a single Meadow Pipit.
A commotion amongst the gulls had us looking what all the fuss was about. One of them had caught a mammal flooded out by the water. It looked like a Mole but our pics aren't that good.
Too big for a vole
Sadly no pics of the underside, if not Mole could it be a Water Shrew??? But those feet do look Mole-like big.
In the last of our news a heavy rain shower this morning dropped a Wheatear (P2 #37) onto the picnic tables outside the cafe at work.
We were working outside most of the day in lovely spring conditions but the gulls didn't alert us to anything out of the ordinary going over. But back at Base Camp after work we saw a Tawny Mining Bee on a neighbour's wall, the first record for here, although only a few hundred yards away CR reported 'lots' on his Plum tree that afternoon.
Where to next? A weekend of good weather is promised but we might only be able to get out on Sunday afternoon after family duties.
In the meantime let us know who's showing well in your outback.

No comments: