Thursday, 17 August 2017

A couple of grand days on the beach

The Safari has been entertaining a lot of children on the beach this last couple of days. And what a cracking couple of days they've been! They've found some superb creatures (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't call them critters - yuk yuk and double yuk). There were several fairly large Green Shore Crabs brought out of the pools. This chap has lost both his pincers so we're  not sure if he'll survive his next moult as he'll be unable to feed - we know he's a he from looking at his underside.
At the edge of a pool on the beach right at the bottom of the slipway was a rather battered Common Sand Star. At first we thought it was dead but after a few children had handled it its finger tips began to curl up and it started to extend its tube feet so we reckon it was probably relieved to get back in the water of one of our buckets.
We always hope to find a loose Beadlet Anemone and this one was a big one. It's taken a long time (= years!) to find one that would sting us with enough of its tens of thousands of microscopic nematocysts to hold its one weight by stinging us.
Stung we were but it's OK as the stingers are so tiny they can only grip the very outermost dead skin cells so we were never going to be able to feel anything, not even so much a s a little tickle.  
Even better was to come, as the children were busy with Common Prawns, Brown Shrimps, little Blennies and a shed load of tiny Green Shore Crabs we had a walk along the not very impressive strandline looking for seaweed with Mermaids' Purses. We didn't find any but did find this striking little shell...
So what is it? Well that's the rub we didn't know, we've not seen one like it before. It's similar to the very rare Grey Top Shell - well it's very rare on our beach we've only found one in the all the years we've been doing this type of event.  
We had to wait until we got back to Base Camp and browse through some field guides that we learnt it was a Painted Top Shell and there aren't too many local records for them...No wonder we've not seen one before. It's been washed and is in our collection tub now!
With a bit of a thunderstorm and some horrendous rain last night we were worried that today's event would be called off but the rain gave up early and the sun came out to give a cracking day in the end.
That was the cue for the one of the biggest turnouts we've ever had...we were bombed!
A great afternoon followed. Lots of everything but strangely lots of very small juvenile starfish of hich we only saw a couple yesterday. 
Some of the parents were very persistent when it came to getting the biggest crab or a tricky fish, our friend in the first pic was caught again. One young mum's persistence paid off with a little bit of help from her friend when she netted this absolute dobber of a Five Bearded Rockling, it's nearly a foot long, the ones we usually catch struggle to two inches!
Second best 'catch of the day' came right at the end of the session when a shrimp fel out of a pice of Hornwrack - not a normal Brown Shrimp but one like a freshwater Gammerid shrimp, Gammarus salinus, not a species we find very often at all.
And so ended two very enjoyable afternoons with some real quality finds - isn't our beach just splendidly brilliant!
Sadly those were the last children's events we'll do after 35 years, we've done hundreds over the years and enjoyed every single one and almost all the children have enjoyed them too...all we ask is that they've remembered something they saw, learnt something new and told their friends who weren't there how much fun it was.
Where to next? Helping our local MP sort out some winners for his environmental awards tomorrow but probably no chance of getting out in to the environment.
In the meantime let us know who's found the biggest dobber in your outback.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sandwiches on the beach

The Safari was hoping that the early morning low tides would permit a roost of Sandwich Terns providing there hadn't been too much doggy or fisherman disturbance before we got out. We took the bins and big lens to work and fortunately there was a roost well down on the beach and better still it was directly in front of us and there was no sign of any forthcoming disturbance. So that was it, the wellies went on and we set off down the steps onto the beach. To make sure we didn't disturb them and get in the best position for the pretty rubbish light - we were still on ISO Stupid - we headed off to their left well in front of them with the intention of walking back towards them slowly and stopping every few yards so that they got used to our movements. If we got a hint they were getting fidgety then we could walk back up the beach a bit away from them until they settled down, thankfully we didn't need to do that. Once as close as we dared we took a few pics
and then moved in a few more yards one step at a time
The black sticky-up things in the sand are the tops of Mason Worms whose silk and shell fragment cases get washed up by the trillion after rough weather. 
The did flush in the end but thanmkfully we weren't the culprit, a young Herring Gull had decoded to join their number but they spooked, perhaps because they'd not long since been out at sea dodging the attentions of several Arctic Skuas and the gull looked similar to those persistent thieves.

We succeeded in getting just one BiF shot off.
Yesterday morning we had an early morning wander round Patch 1 finding a couple of Sparrowhawks with perhaps more in the trees as there was a good bit of flying around going on and a lot of squawking to be heard. Also around the rough field's hedgerows were a Willow Warbler and a nearby Lesser Whitethroat while in the park proper there was a calling Goldcrest and a singing Coal Tit along with several 'tic'ing Robins, sounding very autumnal.
This morning we took Monty to the nature reserve with the hope of some pics for our Year Bird Challenge. At last we had a decent morning with good sunshine and for once this summer no wind!
Straight out of the car and through the gate we got a glimpse of the Blackcap that has been infuriatingly noisy but invisible all summer. Eventually it stopped out in the open long enough to fire of a few pics and once downloaded back at Base Camp a couple of them were even in focus. At long last after walking past this particular bird since early April we've finally got Blackcap (YBC #143) on our tally.
The rest of our walk was fairly quiet apart from an unseen Redshank (MMLNR #74) circling round before sounding like it headed off to the coast south west-wards until we got to the Elderberry bushes by the cabins where there was some activity around the not so many ripe berries. Mostly Blackbirds and Whitethroats but there were a couple of Song Thrushes too. A family of Magpies stopped briefly in the Rowan tree next door to pluck a few berries but maybe there weren't many ripe ones although they all looked the same to us as the soon moved on cackling away as they do.
More Whitethroats were seen on the way to the first hide. probably the most numerous bird of the day. A late Swift flew over with a few Swallows following in its wake a minute or so later. We kept an eye on the reedbed in case the Bittern should decide to take a flight but no such luck. Sneaking up to the viewing screen next to the hide we peered cautiously through the slats hoping the Bittern might be in the reeds fringing the pool - needless to say it wasn't but there was a Reed Warbler that deigned to show itself properly.
By now it was late enough for the charge of the dog brigade to be in full flow and it just became so frustrating as we'd see something in the scrub only for either it or us to be disturbed by a dog wandering unleashed off piste. Monty still wants to meet and greet as he's still only a pup (one year old next weekend) so trying to get him to keep still so we can focus either bins or camera on a no empty bush is hard with the constant passage of other mutts. It's a nightmare and ruins the experience of being at one with nature on a reserve. We saw a snippet of Lesser Whitethroat but were dogged off before we could raise the camera. Luckily there was another back at the Elderberry bush by the cabins - it just wouldn't show its face but another 'at laster', Lesser Whitethroat (TBC #144).
Back at Base Camp after lunch the warm sun brought out a Mint Moth, a species we've not seen here for a couple of years.
Phone pic
Monty's evening walk back to Patch 1 had us hearing the Sparrowhawks squawking again but little else until we spotted a couple of fungi on a long felled tree. No idea what they are but they're nice all the same.
All good stuff on a wildlife filled weekend and we got lots of family duties in too.
Where to next? Pond dipping and bug hunting with family centre group at work tomorrow but will we be too excited and busy to take any pics of their most interesting finds?
In the meantime let us know who's eventually given themselves up in your outback.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Murphy's Law hits hard

The Safari was eager to get out with CR this morning and had most of our gear ready last night butties were in the fridge, the camera's spare battery was charged, all we had to do first thing was make up a flask. And then about an hour before lift off Wifey calls out Monty's eye is bad and he needs the vet asap, who of course don't open until about 09.00 in other words 40 minutes after lift off. So we had to let CR know we'd be on a shortened day and our original plan to visit the big reserve to the north would have to change. 
We got Monty to the vets and were seen quickly. He'd been playing rough with a ball on a string yesterday and taken a serious whack to his eye which had gone orrible over night. Fortunately he's suffered no lasting damage but if he were a boxer he'd have a huge black eye. Once out of the vets we gave him a bit of a run on his favourite field before taking him to Wifey for a day of convalescing in her office. We saw nothing of note on the field.
Once Monty was ensconced we were free for the rest of the day so called CR and we set off to the reserve to the east just down the motorway with thoughts of Hobbys in our head on this supposedly sunniest day of the week by a mile. Unfortunately the weather hadn't read the forecasts and there were some seriously large black clouds around - the camera was still set on ISO Nearly Stupid!
We set off along the river which was birdless, the families of Goosanders having moved on it would seem. The woodland walk was similarly quiet but once we reached the first hide we were told there'd not long been a juvenile Cuckoo showing on the island in front of us - that'd do nicely! Nothing for it but to sit it out and hope it didn't take too long to reappear. 
Best of the rest were several Mallards.
A few Cormorants
And of course being a wetland there's always a Heron
The purple spikes are Purple Loosestrife which was in flower all over the reserve, beautiful. Not so beautiful is the bright green stuff the Heron is standing in - it's the very invasive New Zealand Pygmy Weed, Crassula helmsii, and it's all over the reserve and has smothered the muddy margins of the islands and lakesides several inches deep which has had a very negative effect on the wading birds using the site; very few have bred and passage birds have no mud to feed in. It's almost impossible to eradicate too. Behind the Heron is a small Willow bush and this too has become a little invasive now covering a large proportion of the island (and hiding the Cuckoo) when just a few years ago it was bare ground with only sparse short vegetation - it seriously needs some Wild Goats or Wild Boar or even something bigger to browse it down and grub up the roots if there is to be any chance of waders nesting there next season - otherwise it'll be a Willow forest full of warblers and nesting Herons when the trees become tall enough.
After a good wait and no Cuckoo we moved on to the next hide passing volunteers tearing into another invasive plant, Himalayan Balsam, they've got their work cut out as there's loads of it and some huge patches scattered around the reserve. Best at the hide were a couple of Goldfinches, a churring Whitethroat and a Reed Bunting. With not a lot about we continued to the next pool passing a couple of Peacock butterflies on the way.
The sun that was forecast did its best to make an appearance and when it did it was quite pleasantly warm and that brought out a Kestrel which a mass of chittering Sand Martins alerted to and a more distant Buzzard soared over the woods on the river bluff. In the pool a family of Great Crested Grebes swam around with the large well grown youngsters still making baby noises begging for fish. Brown Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies and a few damselflies took to the wing in the warmth. Maybe the Hobbys would come out too.
Walking back towards the 'Cuckoo hide' we nearly trod on some cuckoo food in the form of a Woolly Bear caterpillar, the irritating hairs being no problem to a hairy caterpillar specialist bird that the Cuckoo is.
Sadly the Cuckoo didn't show up to scoff it but we did try to get some pics of the Sand Martins while we waited for it not to show. From about two dozen shots half of which were birdless - too slow with the shutter finger - only these two poor ones were anything like.
Then C began to feel a bit rough so we had to call it a day and head back up the motorway but not before having a calamity with the car park payment machine which somehow decided to take our cash for the wrong car so we had to pay twice!
Back at Base Camp we had a brew then went to collect Monty to give him another run. We took him back to his favourite field where this time we saw a few butterflies including several Meadow Browns and a few Gatekeepers. Our best sighting wasn't a butterfly but an Ectemnius wasp sat on a hunk of ancient Bog Oak but we couldn't get a pic with our phone.
Once he'd had a good play we drove back down the prom where we saw the giant to mile long  overflow pipe was being installed so we  stopped for a nosey. It was then we got a txt from DB saying a pod of (probably) Bottlenose Dolphins had been seen at lunchtime...dohhhh bl**dy typical - the week after National Whale & Dolphin Watch and on a day off too - you couldn't write it but perhaps Murphy did!!!
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow but will those Bottlenose Dolphins turn up again.
In the meantime let us know who's law needs breaking in your outback

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Well that filled our wellies

The Safari had a well attended weekend of National Whale and Dolphin Watches and the Moth and Bat Night at the nature reserve drew a good crowd too. Sadly the weather wasn't good for dolphin spotting with the sea far too rough for observing cetaceans - but you have to try! It was pretty much a birdless desert out there too. Sunday proved to be the best day for birds with a Kestrel going south well out to sea and a little later a Great Skua was seen giving some terns a bit of trouble way out towards the windfarms before giving up on them and heading deep into the bay round the corner and out of sight.
Maybe next year they'll pick a week when the weather is warm sunny and calm!
The moth and bat night we helped out with was disappointing for bats, one flew past quite early on while it was still very light and that tempted us to take the group for a wander up the fields and hedgerows where we've seen loads in the past but we couldn't find any at all - the detectors remained worryingly silent. On the walk back we had two sightings of either one or two Pipistrelles which fortunately everyone in the group managed to see. We kept the detectors on while we turned our attentions to the moths but there were no other sounds to be heard from either of them.
The moths were a little slow starting but after a short while the identifiers were kept busy with a nice selection and fortunately we weren't over-run with a huge number of Large Yellow Underwings. Lesser Broad Bordered Yellow Underwing and Least Yellow Underwing also found the nets..A Gothic was new for us as was a Fen Wainscot. Ruby Tiger, Marbled Beauty and Brown China Mark were pick of the rest with a supporting cast of bright yellow Brimstones, dull brown Common Rustics, Flame Shoulders, Mother of Pearls, pumpkin seed shaped Dingy Footmen and a Common Plume. The Silver Ys attracted to the lamp were much smaller than the one we'd found earlier while pegging out the laundry at Base Camp.
A Yellow Orphion wasp was an exotic looking visitor to the trap.
We were very fortunate to see a Barn Owl fly over the group but they all missed it as they were bent down  concentrating on the moths around the light.
We didn't get a chance to do much wildlife-ing yesterday or today but did manage a Sparrowhawk with a youngster on Patch 1 while out with Monty and a Holly Blue at another site while walking him. Is it just us or are there not so many Holly Blues around this year? The following day we were out on Patch 1 with Monty when the heavens opened and boy did they open it was like the first day of the monsoons. The downpour lasted about ten minutes by which time we'd got under cover of the bigger trees but there was still so much water coming down that it ran off our coat drenched our trousers andd filled up our wellies almost to the brim resulting in a rather squelchy walk back to Base Camp - and Monty? He loved it, ran round like a mad thing and got as wet as a soggy doggy possibly can.
Remember the Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars we didn't weed out last week - sadly we have to tell you they are no more, victims of the tidy-brigade without so much as a by your leave - - and you wonder why there's no butterflies anymore. Fuming we are!!!
Where to next? A welcome day off tomorrow and a trip out planned with CR
In the meantime let us know who's flying over un-noticed in your outback.

Friday, 4 August 2017

St Swithin has a lot to answer for

The Safari has been out and about looking for wildlife but we haven't had many opportunities to take any pics. Mostly we've been participating in this year's National Whale and Dolphin Watch but the weather his been a severe hindrance. Spotting blubber when the waves are crashing in pushed by a strong sou'westerly, not to mention the horrendously heavy rain showers all down to St Swithin and his very wobbly Jet Stream this summer. The week got off to a rocky start when just before our first watch a juvenile Harbour Porpoise had to be rescued off the beach to the south of us. Fortunately we haven't heard anything more of it so it would seem there was a positive outcome. But that's about as close as we've got to seeing cetaceans although a couple of Grey Seals have been spotted on our watches.
The south westerly winds are usually good for seabirds along our coast but it seems they've all got stuck off the far west of Cornwall! All we have to show for our many hours of peering down the scope out to sea is a few Gannets a handful of Manx Shearwaters and small numbers of Sandwich Terns passing by...The biggy must be coming on the next watch - Certainly hope so...and if the 'biggy' is a diminutive Storm Petrel we'll be well happy!
Early morning and ready to go - before the crowds turned up
A Peregrine (P2 #56) gave a good show right over our heads as we were finishing one of the watches.
In other news we've tried to count as many butterflies as possible for the Big Butterfly Count and hope you have too. We haven't seen many mostly due to being in the best places too early in the morning or too late in the evening while out with Monty. During the day we've been sat out our desk or stood on the Prom both butterfly-free zones. The work's garden has been a bit too exposed to the wind so we've only seen a couple of Small Whites there. All a bit annoyingly disappointing. 
However while doing a bit of weeding in the new garden we had to cut the work short when we came across these beauties. Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars enjoying a bit of sunshine on their Nettle leaf.
Back over on Patch 1 excitement has been provided by the first Kestrel (P1 #40) of the drifting over the school field while out with Monty on his pre-breakfast walk and then later that evening a small flock of House Martins (P1 #41) bombing up and down the end of our street, but sadly not coming close enough to get themselves on the Garden list too.
This evening we're helping out at a moth and bat night and lo and behold we found a Silver Y hiding on the washing line, the first macro-moth in the garden this year we've not had the chance to any trapping so far all we've seen a few micros and those have mostly been Light Brown Apple Moths.
Where to next? We'll let you know how we get on with the moths and the last of the National Whale and Dolphin Watches for this year. 
In the meantime let us know who's hiding extremely well in your outback