Saturday, 3 November 2018

Listening for a ping

The Safari had a trip out with CR to Martin Mere WWT last Wednesday. Luckily some of the recent invasion of Bearded Tits (we just can't get the hang  of calling them by their 'new' but more accurate proper name Bearded Reedlings yet) had made it there and they became our principal quarry for the day. News on the street was that they were frequenting the 'new' Reedbed Walk - we saw 'new' as it's been open a few years now but we've never been that way before. So we stepped through the door of the Harrier Hide and headed clockwise round the trail. We soon came across a small group of birders staking  out a grit tray placed in the reedbed by the wardens to attract the Bearded Tits, they need grit in the autumn when their diet changes from insects to seeds. A quick chat revealed they'd been stood there since the reserve opened and hadn't had a sniff of any Bearded Tits so far. A Cetti's Warbler sang briefly in the distance so we went off that way on our exploratory walk.
We came across a Heron hunting for voles on the track which didn't see us until we raised our cameras and then was off. Twice more this happened until it realised hunting on a major thoroughfare might not be such a good idea after all and it flopped lazily into the adjacent reeds.
The path was fairly quiet but looks really good for seeing Reed and Sedge Warblers and a whole host of dragonflies and other invertebrates through the summer months. The outside of the path is mostly wet srub rather than reedbed and it was from here we heard a couple more Cetti's Warblers. Our best sighting was just after the 'inner' path we were on rejoins the 'outer' walk, a Woodcock got up from close by and arced round behind us giving us superb views of this rarely seen in broad daylight species.
Past the cattle shed we saw some other birders coming towards us. They told us they'd just had a glimpse of a Bearded Tit and heard some 'pinging' a little way back describing the precise area to us.
we got there and waited around for several minutes but heard and saw nothing. Giving it up as a bad job we left to re-enter the 'main' reserve and went up into the United Utilities Hide. From there we could see the new pool that has been excavated recenly and the re-profiled ditches - it all looks very good but there were no birds taking advantage of this new improved habitat, indeed all the action was well away in the distance on the Mere.
Nothing for it but to check out the Reedbed Walk again going back in the opposite direction, anti-clockwise. A birder was a few yards along the track but hadn't seen or heard anything when we caught up with him. No sooner had we chatted and he'd walked off no more than half a dozen steps a Bearded Tit called and flew across the path right in front of him! Bingo!!! And better still it landed in the smallest clump of reeds you could imaging...and promptly went to ground never to be seen again, it must have been mooching around on the ground underneath the mat of fallen vegetation, there was no way it could have been hopping around the reed stems without being seen.
A couple of minutes later we heard more pinging this time from ditch to the right and then one then another birds flew over the track and path to the reedbed to our left. More hanging around gave us more pinging and a couple more flight views but in the brisk wing there was only ever going to be a remote chance they'd stop and perch up in view on the higher parts of the reed stems for a pic. Great to get even such brief glimpses though and this is now the third site in Lancashire where we've seen them; they only breed at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve and are very infrequent anywhere else.
Realising it was now lunchtime we headed back to the car to pick up our bags of butties, passing a chorus of trumpeting Common Cranes from the 'Collection' (= zoo) area, if only we could have a flock or two living wild on our marshes. We then wandered up to the far end of the reserve to the Ron Barker Hide to sit and munch them while enjoying a view over 800 acres of lowland Lancashire's best wilderness, although wilderness it's not as it's fenced, drained, pumped, there's no native large mammals apart from the 'proxy' Longhorn Cattle (mini Aurochs) that we like to see but it is far wilder and wildlife filled than the surrounding intensive agricultural lands. We really do need something similar and similarly sized our side of the Ribble and preferably another one too on the north side of the Wyre - if only we could win big enough on the Lottery to buy a couple of farms.
After disturbing a Heron as we walked along the Reedbed Walk it was good to see one hunting for voles from here, patience, good hearing and/or good eyesight to see minute movements of the grass, and a stealthy approach still didn't get this chap any lunch - glad our sandwiches were easier to find otherwise we'd have gone hungry too!
The large number of Teal at the back of the left hand marsh flushed when a Marsh Harrier drifted over them. It came down the causeway towards us
and then swung round to the left and away behind the hide and out of view. A few minutes later it reappeared to our right this time bringing an entourage of Jackdaws with it.
The reserve is noted for its educational feeding of the wildfowl giving the public a chance to get really close views of the waterfowl as they mop up the grain offered right outside the hide windows. The wildlife is canny and knows when these feeds take place and the Whooper Swans start to arrive in their family groups after feeding the rest of the day on the surrounding farmland.
The whooping calls of the Whooper Swans and the whistles of the Wigeon give a really wild soundscape to the (apparent) wilderness landscape, just beautiful!
As the time for the feed grew near more birds started to pass through to take up their place at the 'table' so we left the hide to go to join them. A quick stop at the Kingfisher Hide on the way didn't give us any photo opportunities of the Tree Sparrows at the feeders but we did giggle at the large Brown Rat sat in the middle of the caged feeder, caged presumably to keep him and maybe any lurking Grey Squirrels off the birds' food.
From our various view points around the reserve throughout the morning we'd not noticed any agricultural activity in the neighbouring fields so we were happy to find this caterpillar tracked tractor through a gap in the trees. Our obsession for tractors is becoming a bit too serious!!!
A serious piece of kit!
Now it was time to get comfy in the Discovery Hide and wait for the main event. There was plenty of subjects to point the lens at, almost too many! No - you can't have too much wildlife to point a lens or bins at especially after news that over 60% of vertebrate life in our planet has been lost (lost is a polite way of saying destroyed by man) since we left primary school - absolutely shocking and lord only knows what's happening to the invertebrates although the few long-term studies there are are showing they are in trouble too. We seriously need to connect ourselves back to the natural world for nothing less than our own survival! 
Here's a selection of what was about
Grey Lag Geese flocks kept coming and going
Including a flock containing a distinctive white winged bird
Waders aren't a group you'd normally expect to see at a duck feeding event but there were a couple of Black Tailed Godwits about
And a Lapwing too
We didn't see the Lapwing pick up anything, just good to see one so close you could almost touch it, look at that plumage - gorgeous! not so sure about the godwits, they were finding morsels in between the stones but we couldn't see if  it was hidden seed or animal prey being taken.
The third wader species, the Ruffs, were definitely picking up lost grain, you really wouldn't expect a wader to be eating vegetable matter at all but they obviously do. There's about 60 of them on the reserve and most of them came in when the grain was strewn around by the warden.
Compared to the others this one was very small not much bigger than a Dunlin
A typically sized male
As the time draws near tensions begin to build
C'mon if you think you're 'ard 'nuff
Not only the Ruff were feeling the strain, both Mallards and Pintail were feeling the pressure too.
Less dramatic than the Mallards just a bit of push n shove
In general though most of the birds were being patient.
Female Pintail
Drake Pintail
Drake Pochard
Female Pochard
Pochard with a nasal saddle for identifying it as an individual and following is life history
Pale blue. L. DD - we'll report it and let you know where he's been
Drake Teal trying to find a sneaky way in
Maybe a way in here?

The big boys don't want to get left out either
The Shelducks hung back a while but once the gates opened and the warden and his wheelbarrow appeared in the came!
The warden gives his spiel and throws the grain and in come the ducks en masse
It's a spectacle indeed and well worth seeing, if you haven't seen it - do!!! 
Some Coots were eager to get in on the act too
The Whooper Swans were now too near to fit in the frame!
As they spend quite a lot of time on land as opposed to the almost always swimming so you never see their legs Pochards they are more conventionally marked with  coloured Darvik rings
Left leg (= female - we think) Orange Black letters XJP
And them the only Goldeneye on the reserve put in an appearance, a female.
A quality safari and many thanks to CR for the driving.

The following day we went to our own Marton Mere where the only thing of note we could find was a lone Starling feeding along the edge of main track. A bit strange as we rarely see Starlings on the ground here, ill, injured??? Soon to be Sparrowhawk food????? Looked alright to us though.
Yet another stunningly beautiful bird when seen close up like the ducks above
We went again yesterday, this time with GB, and again still no Bearded Tits in what must be the largest reedbed in Lancashire without any at the mo. Not much about apart from two Coal Tits at the Feeding Station which took some counting! A Great Spotted Woodpecker put on a good show in the south west corner of the mere but really it was the insects that stole the show so late in the year with a Speckled Wood butterfly near the Fylde Bird Club Hide, a Common Darter dragonfly at the Viewing Platform with hoards of Harlequin Ladybirds there too, mostly attacking GB - they really seemed to like him!
We went back in the afternoon to look for any owls that might be about and another listen for the tell-tale pings of any Bearded Tits but the weather turned nasty and we got soaked in a heavy hail storm - so no owls then!

Where to next? More ping listening at Marton Mere and then some further flung safaris to the east and perhaps the north too

In the meantime let us know who's pinging in your outback

1 comment:

Conehead54 said...

Some cracking shots! Particularly like the Ruff shots + the unusual one of the two drake Pintail facing each other off! Sounds like a great day!