Sunday, 30 April 2017

Warbletastic - and not before time

The Safari has again had a few short nips over to the sea wall and Patch 2.  The other morning we were fortunate enough to see two Linnets out the back at work. We say fortunate when in reality they are now very scarce here after being a regular breeder until the Gorse hedge got too severely hacked in our absence one year. They were seen just after a heavy shower so were probably migrants from who knows where and were feeding voraciously on Dandelion seeds. We raced down the corridor to grab the camera as they were only a few feet from the window but as is always the way they annoyingly had done a flit by the time we got back and were not seen again. Now fueled up and with brighter weather after the shower they were keen to get on their way.
By lunchtime conditions had deteriorated a bit. Looking out to sea it was as hazy as hell, focusing the scope was only possible to about 3/4 of a mile and a very cold north westerly wind was getting stronger by the minute chopping up the sea something rotten.
In the distancee to our left we could see a string of terns making their way towards us. We had to wait a while for them to reach us and in the meantime enjoyed good views of a small number of Manx Shearwaters going past and a flock of 18 Kittiwakes. just beyond the green buoy, so just about focus-on-able in the haze. Not entirely sure how we're going to get these two species on our Year Bird Photo Challenge list as even as close as that they are going to be no more tha ntwo or three pixels even with the 600mm lens.
The terns eventually turned up and the great majority of them were Sandwich Terns but interspersed where at least a dozen Arctic Terns (138, P2 #47) too. We watched them as they passed hugging the troughs to keep their slight bodies out of the head wind as much as possible.Only a couple of thousand miles to go chaps if your off to the high Arctic.
After work we met up with GB and had a mooch round the nature park near his that is also known as a dog toilet. Here we used our new Swazza bins and the first bird ever to be to be seen through them was a fine and dandy male Wheatear, nice one! Over the fenced off grassy areas Skylarks sang with gusto filling the air with their exultations. Walking down to the riverbank where the tide was well up and almost fully covering the marsh we heard then saw a Whimbrel (139, YBC #118) that had been close to the side and heard us coming. There were a couple more and one was almost obliging!
A few Swallows and Sand Martins tazzed upstream as we wandered round chatting but with the plethora of dogs running about there wasn't much bird life to be seen. From one of the pools we heard the whinneying call of a Little Grebe but didn't have a look at the other nor a proper listen at the reedbed although there was a Reed Bunting flitting around there and at least a couple of Reed Warblers singing.
With time up we headed back to the car.
Yesterday we were at the nature reserve at 06.30 and probably and hour too late. It wasn't at all bad but an hour earlier we'd have missed the dog walkers. As soon as we got through the gate at the wetland we heard a new bird for the year, a Sedge Warbler (140, MMLNR #65), it was hunkered down low in the vegetation and wouldn't show properly for a pic. A few yards further on and we heard another new bird, a Grasshopper Warbler (141, MMLNR #66) amazingly we could see it perched up almost in the open a long way off but as soon as we raised the camera for what was ever only going to be a poor record shot it flew.
It is a Grasshopper Warbler - honest
Once on the path to the nature reserve another new bird was first heard then sen when a Whitethroat  (142, MMLNR #67) started singing its scratchy tuneless ditty from the back of bush and then launched into its song flight. We'll get a pic of that when it lands we though - no it did what its old colloquial name of Nettlecreeper describes and landed in thick low vegetation never to come out again.
On we went mostly to the tune of an almost uncountable multitude if Blackcaps, it wasn't that long ago they were scarce here - not any more! Numerous they are but elusive too and we only saw one briefly so we still haven't got a pic for our Year Bird Challenge. At one point we almost got another pic of a Cetti's Warbler when one exploded int o song inches from our ear from a hawthorn bush on the 'inland' side of the path well away from the lake's edge. It showed rather well in the outer twigs and we'll probably have to wait a long time to get better views of one in our new bins. You've guessed it though, as soon as we swapped bins for camera it was off!
More Whitethroats scratched, Blackcaps fluted, Willow Warblers warbled and Chiffchaffs chiffed (and chaffed) but all from deep cover and we couldn't get the camera on any of them. In the reedbed it was obvious there were many more newly arrived Reed Warblers and some Sedge Warblers too.
At the scrape we met LR coming the other way and as we chatted a Common Sandpiper (MMLNR #68) came in to view. And then we heard a Grasshopper Warbler fire up from the island opposite us.
He went off for his breakfast and we continued round to the embankment where we heard another Grasshopper Warbler close by then another further away - four singing males great stuff! We walked as far as the bridge passing yet more loud Cetti's Warblers and more Reed Warblers and another Whitethroat was over on the island.
Turning back at the bridge and retracing our steps we now saw two Grasshopper Warblers close together at the top end of the embankment while the more distant one in the ditch and the one on the island were still reeling away at each other, a pair perhaps? 
Continuing round pastt the scrape we hoped to see the recently spotted Bullfinches in the scrub which is burtsing in to flower, no chance - are they even still here but it really does look good for them. A Lesser Whitethroat (143, MMLNR #69) rattled away from the far side of the scrub.
By now we were being plagued by dog walkers, most allowing their mutts to run around unleashed. We saw a couple more Whitethroats and in good light going back towards the car we stopped to get a pic but each time Monty was disturbed from his very 'good sit and wait' by yet another unleashed dog coming up to him and him moving and yanking our arm...very very frustrating. The adjacent caravan site needs to be a dog-free site and the Public Footpath running through the reserve needs to be moved to outside the fence, there's a perfectly suitable surfaced path going in the same destination only a few yards to the north. We don't mind dogs, well well-behaved ones at least; it's the arrogant twatty owners we don't like!
Almost out of the reserve we watched a small passage of Swallows and Sand Martins and with them was our first Swift (144, MMLNR #70) of the year. We couldn't follow it in the camera as yet another dog came passed making Monty pull at our arm. At the same time about 30 Black Tailed Godwits came in from the east and circled around a couple of times, we think they landed on the scrape but couldn't be totally sure.
Frustrated we wandered a little further and came across another Lesser Whitethroat rattling away unseen deep in the scrub.Not keeping hidden in the scrub was one of the Sedge Warblers (YBC #119) we passed on the way in and it was still showing very well in the Raspberry thicket. We stopped and snapped away.
Beautiful little thing shame it's song can't quite  be described as beautiful too!
A little further on at the edge of the wetlands we heard the Grasshopper Warbler (YBC #120) again. Again we could see it and tried to sneak round to get a clearer view. As we walked through the grass we disturbed a second from almost under our feet, Another pair perhaps? The male continued to reel away as we moved round. It was more or less in the same twigs as it was first thing. All of a sudden two weird things happened. The camera refused to find a focus point, battery was dying and for the first time ever outside Monty started barking and jumping up at our back - bonkers what was all that about? Anyway we only managed a couple of shots before the battery totally died and Monty's antics flushed the bird and this was easily the best shot we got.
A good morning out on safari but a frustrating one too.
Where to next? Strong easterly winds at this time of year mean Black Terns but we've got family duties so we hope some will stick around locally over the  holiday weekend.
In the meantime let us know who's reeling away in your outback

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.