Sunday, 30 September 2018

More twitching tales and a safari to the Southside

The Safari has been a bit pre-occupied tidying up and decluttering in advance of the Base Camp move to get out as often as we would have liked but when a couple of opportunities for a twitch came up we were able to take them.
We were a little disappointed to have dipped all the Leach's Petrels during the gales the week before last so when news of a flurry of late stragglers in the form of Grey Phalaropes turning up all over the country started to appear on social media it was inevitable one would appear not too far away. So when the news broke that one was showing well at Newton Marsh just this side of Preston off we went - we'd seen pics of others showing well on Twitter and F/B which more or less meant crawling into the camera lens! This one wasn't so obliging but at least it wasn't at the same range as the Semi Palmated Sandpiper we'd seen a couple of weeks previously. A great bird to see again, our last one being in 2010 and again superb scope views but just a little too distant for great pics.
A lovely little bird that just wouldn't keep still, frantically picking flies of the surface of the water or occasionally dipping its bill right under for some morsel or other. It spent most of it's time on the far side of the little island but when it flew further down the pool and in to a clump of rushes it  was time to say bye to the fair throng of local birders and head back to Base Camp for more tidying up. It brought our tally for the year to 180 and our Photo Year List Challenge up to 163, a great little 'bonus bird' that was never on the 'radar' - we're still being stuffed by the front runners who are now about 100 species ahead.
But that afternoon news broke of another lost waif, this time just down the road at Marton Mere. A couple of juvenile Black Terns had been reported for a couple of days until one had been re-identified as a juvenile White Winged Black Tern. Fortunately it was still present the following day and in the late afternoon we were able to nip down for an hour for a shuffy. It ranged widely about the mere often hugging the Yellow Water Lily beds on the far side and then disappearing for extended lengths of time when it was discovered to have settled on the lilies. Take your eye off it for a moment and it was lost, its seemingly languid flight being surprisingly fast. 
On the odd time it did come into range we snapped away but only really got one rubbishy pic that shows hints of the diagnostic white rump and the lack of  smudgy neck mark.
Another one well off the radar coming in at 181, PYLC #164, and the first we've seen anywhere in the world in this plumage and the first since the adult we found at the same place in the summer of '93.
It was being reported as being 'not quite right' and some observers say and posting pics of it drooping one of its wings when at rest but it did seem to be flying OK and picking plenty of invertebrates from the water surface. But right at the last of the light we managed this fuzzy pic when it settled on some reeds not too far in front of us.
It shows the left wing drooping while the right wings looks fine and also the left leg is held up and might not be quite as bright red as the right one. In lots of our distant out of focus and too fuzzy to show you shots you can see both legs dangling, whether they do that habitually using their feet as extra air brakes we don't know but it could also be a symptom of an unseen injury/illness. Whatever it might have been the bird was still there the following morning but we were unable to better our rubbishy pics and the following day there was no sign so we assume it was fit enough to continue on its migration.
Also passing overhead but slowing and not dropping on to the water were two fresh in from Iceland Whooper Swans, our first of the year here (MMLNR #81) - really can't believe we didn't see any in the early part of the year! And had we stayed but a few more minutes we would have seen an Otter too.
With summer giving way to autumn and the weather following suit there has been nothing of real note on Patch 1 or in the garden at Base Camp. Until one morning in the week when we heard the loud calls of an agitated Peregrine. Looking out of the bedroom window we could see two crows on its favourite ledge but looking closely they looked big and we thought we heard a Raven cronking. Grabbing the bins a proper look revealed they were indeed two Ravens and the Peregrine was sat above them on the comms masts giving it hell - really unhappy with them in its space.
We'll miss sights like this from the bedroom window when Base Camp gets moved but no doubt there'll be other equally awesome wildlife sights to be had at the new Base Camp- we just don't know what they'll be yet...or where!
And so to Friday when we picked up GB and CR early doors and set off to meet JG at Lunt Meadows down on our childhood birding grounds over on the south side of the Ribble. We arrived first and the short wait in the car park ave us a few Jays flying over to and fro to collect or bringing back Acorns to cache for the winter. Recently arrived Pink Footed Geese could be heard murmuring in conversation the distant fields and Lapwings called their wheezy calls from the wetland between us and the geese. A serene and peaceful morning but just half a dozen miles from one of Britain's busiest city centres.
Annoyingly we couldn't get a pic of any of the Jays for our challenge - becoming a bit of a bogey bird in that respect but while looking up at one flying by we saw a weird object high up in one of the Willow trees around the edge of the car park.
A something we don't recall ever seeing before which we've discovered is Mossy Willow Catkin Gall and now we know that we're quite certain we've never come across one before never having heard of them until now. They are probably a viral infection of a catkin (caused by agents unknown) and are often green rather than black as in this case.
It was a glorious day with warm sunshine and light winds and no appreciable recent rain meant dry footpaths too. However looking at the first pool into the harsh morning light wasn't so good. But it did highlight all the spiders' gossamer trails lain across the rushes over night. The pic doesn't really do the scene justice, there were hundreds of them draped across the fronds shimmering in the gentle breeze when the light caught them.
Turning round to view the pool behind us the light was much better. Here we could see the vivid colours of the Lapwings, rue the eclipse plumage of the Teal and pick out the nuances of the speckley Ruffs.
All looking sup-duper in the bright light. 
Something disturbed the Pink Footed Geese from the fields and all of a sudden their quiet conversation became louder and more intense as the flock took to the air - what a sight, about a thousand of them, but more than a sight what a sound as they wheeled round splitting in to sub-flocks and going off in different directions - truly wonderful.
Just a few of them, couldn't fit the whole flock in the frame
Wandering on we had a look at the next pool but it was quiet there, just a handful of Mallards and a couple of snoozing Teal. The main attraction here, often very showy Short Eared Owls and Stonechats haven't arrived for the winter yet and there was no sign of any Roe Deer either, the vegetation is still a bit too summery for them to able to be easily seen yet. GB got cracking views of what sounds like a pristine Small Copper butterfly and we caught a glimpse of a Weasel darting between clumps of reeds below the hide - no amount of 'pishing' would entice it to break cover unfortunately. Far easier to photograph were these showy and stationary mushrooms sitting among the grass at the side of the steps up to the screen.
One we ought to know the name of but honestly can't remember it just now
As we were moving on to the next screen we heard the call of a Spotted Redshank and swinging round quickly and scanning with the bins caught sight of a small wader dropping on to one of the pools we viewed earlier. As luck would have it, or rather ill-luck, it was located on the one looking into the sun and was very flighty and we didn't manage a pic before it was up and away. We watched it go high to the north but it swung round and came back, we didn't see where it landed but hoped it was on the well lit pool, a long look there didn't find it and when it called again the sound came from the same place as before. We were able to get just a couple of pics of it as went up and away again this time never to be seen again.
Spotted Redshank (182, PYLC #165)
And with that so were we - back to the cars for a bite to eat. At the car park it was all go with the Jays again with no less than eight being seen in quick succession heading northwards towards the favoured Oak trees. Yet again we failed to get the camera on to any of them - bogey birds indeed!
Butties scoffed it was time to hit the road to another Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve Mere Sands Wood to see what we could find there.
At the first hide there was a good selection of waterfowl, all now in their eclipse plumage now. But scanning around we noticed a goose on the spit showing a lot of white and closer inspection showed there to be four Egyptian Geese (183, PYLC #166) snoozing away up there.
The fourth one is out of frame mostly concealed behind a clump of vegetation to the left of the left-hand bird.
With not a lot happening and no sign of any Kingfishers around this part of the reserve, and none mentioned by other visitors, we moved on.
The light at the hide in the bottom  corner was much better, once again showing the Lapwings off superbly.
A drake Shoveler swan into view, of all the eclipse ducks these are probably the 'best' looking but that big orange eye gives them a worried look.
Again no Kingfishers for us and similarly so at the next hide, where other birders were already waiting for one to turn up and use the strategically placed perches. No such luck for us but one of the brders pointed out a Green Sandpiper he'd seen earlier when it came back out onto the open. We were pleased to get better pics of this seldom seen (by us) bird in much better light and far far closer than on our last visit here. We snapped away with gay abandon as they say.
Is the dark blob by its feet a dead vole???
Nearby a pair of Teal dozed the afternoon away.
On the way to the next hide there's  an open viewing platform overlooking a smaller pool, here we stopped in the hope of seeing some dragonflies whizzing around in the afternoon warmth but instead our attention was taken by a shoal of fish right below us. Lookin closely at them it would appear that the dorsal and ventral fins are just about level with each other and the one eating a leaf from a water plant seems to have an overhanging top lip these features would make at least some of them Roach.
A few were a little bigger than the rest maybe approaching 6-7 inches (15 - 18cm) long.
The keen ex-fisherman's eyes of GB picked out the striped back of a rather larger Perch lurking below the shoal, although the Roach weren't that bothered about its presence.
As we approached the last hide we told of lots of Migrant Hawkers at which info CR sped off passing a lovely cluster of Fly Agaric mushrooms (or are they toadstools?) in various stages of openness.
Once inside the hide we did see some Migrant Hawker dragonflies as well as at least one Brown Hawker and a couple of unidentified but probably Blue Tailed Damselfies
With a lot of luck one of the Migrant Hawkers settled in a hover in an open patch in the reeds long enough for us to get our best ever pic of a dragonfly in flight by a long way - still not perfect but we're well chuffed with it.
They rarely settled and when they did this was  often a 'good' view
A quality end to a perfect day on safari with great mates...but still no Jays submitted to the SD card despite several sightings and lots heard squawking  - getting beyond a joke now...

Where to next? Another further flung safari beckons.

In the meantime lets us know who's not allowing themselves to be photographed in your outback.

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