Saturday, 24 November 2018

Plenty of birds as the weather cools down

The Safari was able to get down to the pier to watch the Starlings last Sunday. When we arrived the tide was already touching the end of the pier but that meant it was still way down the beach. There had already been a big arrival of Starlings and they were trying to relax on the beach.The big black slick is somewhere approaching 10000 birds, hard to get anything like an accurate count or even estimation.
Unfortunately when the tide is this far down they are very vulnerable to disturbance by every numptie that comes along, some like the dog walkers just don't see them and blunder aimlessly with their can't possibly do any wrong/harm 'fur babies' (who came up with that dreadful expression?), photographers with very poor field skills who got too close and then this twerp who kept running at them 'to make them fly' while he filmed them on his mobile.
All this nonsense meant they'd wasted a lot of energy flying around avoiding the next disturbance and ended up doing very little flying round in any form of formation before going under the pier to roost.
The sunset was getting better all the while and we took a few arty pics of the pier, not that it's one of the most picturesque piers in the country.
 The last few Starlings from the beach went to roost
As it got darker a couple more large flocks arrived but went straight under the desk to sleep.
Our last snap of the evening was of the famous Blackpool Tower in almost darkness with the 'Strictly Come Dancing' flag flying from the pole (not that you can tell from this awful pic) for those that are interested in that sort of 'distraction' entertainment.
During the week we've had a couple of trips to Warton Bank on the salt marsh to unsuccessfully look for the two Hen Harriers that have been criss-crossing the river for the last couple of weeks or so. Apart from Little Egrets there hasn't been much to see close up down there. Plenty of waders and ducks further out towards the river but well out of range for our lens. On our first visit we had a very distant Marsh Harrier and our visit today gave us a Great White Egret, a brief Merlin and a Buzzard surveying the marsh from the loftiest vantage point around, the top of one of the airfield's navigation lights. Small birds were almost non-existent apart from a few Chaffinches and a couple of Skylarks triliip-ing overhead.
Probably  our most unusual sighting of the week was a huge bumble bee that bounced off the side of our head shortly after sunrise on one of  Monty's first dog walk of the day. It was still fairly dark and the temperature couldn't have been more than 5C, not the most obvious conditions you'd expect a bee to be flying around in. It all happened so quickly we were unable to get an ID as to which species of bee it was but it did fly off strongly after its collision with our rather thick head!
Yesterday CR took us on an all day safari up to RSPB Leighton Moss. Spirits and optimism were high as we hit the trail north in blistering sunshine...but only a mile after joining the motorway our spirits dampened somewhat as low cloud and gloom spread coastwards from the east obliterating the lovely sunshine.
With recent news of a drake American Wigeon at the coastal pools we aimed that way first. But as soon as we opened the hide door there was the question "Have you come for the wigeon?" "yes" "ah, it's flown way out over the marsh about two hours ago and not been seen since". Never mind there's always plenty on offer here.
Most obvious was the Great White Egret fishing in the near corner of the pool. Looking more closely in that direction we saw that it was with a small flotilla of Goosanders, four females and two males.
A wader waded in front of it, a Greenshank, looking particularly tiny next to the giant sized egret.
And then we got the three Gs together, Great White Egret, Greenshank and Goosander, unfortunately we couldn't get a shot of all three together when the Goosander had its head out of the water.
After a while the egret took flight and moved closer to us, flopping in to the shallow water with a pose reminiscent of Daniel, the Karate Kid and his famous Crane Kick...against which there is (allegedly) no defence; you have all seen the film, right???

Meanwhile jst to the right of all this Kung Fu action a Kingfisher had been sitting motionless and probably unimpressed by all the flappy antics on a nearby post just up the bank from the water's edge. Always a little too distant as it skipped from post to post occasionally, never really coming in to effective range in the poor light but great so see all the same. Prolonged views too, normally when we see them here it's all too brief a sighting but this morning it was present all the time we were there. brilliant! It did a bit of diving but we didn't see it bring any fish back to its perch.
Although we love to see thee Great White Egrets and are still aware of their 'rarity status' - couldn't believe how excited folk got about them over at Spurn last month, we still have a soft spot for the now extremely common and seen all over the coast Little Egrets, long gone are the days of a trip to the southern half of France to see these chaps. We watched it deftly picking out what appeared to be shrimps rather than Sticklebacks today (a lucky pic to confirm would have been good but it swallowed them too quickly for us to get a snap!) from the murky water, made all the more murkier by its habit of using those big yellow feet to stir up the mud and flush out any prey items.
Someone in the hide noticed that a Snipe had wandered out from a concealed position just below us and was having a bit of preen at the water's edge.
Looks like its about to apply its lippy!
After a good bout of feather re-positioning it climbed the bank and strutted off to find some lunch.
As it got further away the Goosanders came closer, or at least the females did. But again they were preoccupied hunting fish and rarely put their heads up for long. As with the Little Egret it was difficult to tell what they were catching, whatever it was it was small fry as they'd swallowed it below the surface just briefly raising their bill from the water to lick their lips.
At long last we got a head-up pic. The lady sat next to us pointed out that the hook on the end of the bill is much larger in the males than the females. That's not something we've ever noticed before but a good look through the bins confirmed it, the males did indeed have a much larger hook, perhaps as much as half as big again. We'll look out for that again next time we come across a mixed flock of Goosanders.
The supporting cast included a large flock of Lapwings, some Black Tailed Godwits, with a few Redshanks, and single Dunlin and Spotted Redshank thrown in for good measure.
Time to have a look at the rest of the reserve. News was that the two nearest pools were frozen and there was little to be seen there but returnees were reporting occasional sightings of Bearded Tits on the new grit trays down that way so we decided to give it a go. On the way we passed a chap waiting by a tree stump he'd baited up with a small handful of seeds. It was lively with Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and a despicable Marsh Tit that darted in and darted out on a smash and grab raid for the tastiest morsel on offer. We were always far to slow with the camera to get him but we did get a quick snap of the young Brown Rat cheekily nipping out every so often to mop up the spillage from above.
A very rumbustuous Robin was doing its best to keep everyone else away from the handouts including this Dunnock that got a serious duffing up if it got too close to the food, so much so we didn't actually see it grab anything to eat while it was hanging around the margins of the action. even when food was offered a bit nearer to it .
Nuthatches are either a bit tougher or a bit quicker than Dunnocks or maybe both as this one didn't have any Robin problems when it came for a refill or three.
Further on the reedbeds were silent and the grit trays empty, absolutely not a sniff of a Bearded Tit and very little else apart from a Moorhen or two at both hides. Yep everything was frozen out there.
Time to move on again, we had a quick look from Lillian's Hide with again not a lot happening so off we went to the Causeway passing something we saw out of the corner of our eye that we don't see around the Fylde, the soils are 'wrong'; the shiny red, but toxic, berries of Black Bryony, a straggly climbing plant. In the green months it has attractive heart shaped shiny leaves.
The pool at the Causeway was mostly frozen with the selection of waterfowl concentrated in the open water to our left. No Bitterns or Otters to be seen, any Otters would probably have fallen through the thin ice! Work on the roof of the Lower hide was well underway and we could hear the buzz of saws from our location well across the pool, a large fire was burning too but we were still considering going that way to have a shuffy for the Great Grey Shrike that's been frequenting the fields just outside the reserve, and then we saw a shooting party roll up in said fields - no chance of the shrike sticking around with all that Pheasant blasting going on. Bl**dy psychopaths! Although the shrike's not that much better, brutal b*ggers they are but at least they're brutal to survive rather than for fun.
Retracing our steps we popped in to Lillian's Hide again where another gorgeous Snipe was probing around in the now thawed mud just below us. 
No mandibular gymnastics this time
Little smashers aren't they!
With the light winds we thought that a Marsh Harrier or two must have been in the air by know but as far as we knew none had so far been seen by anyone all day - until we mentioned that and within five minutes one appeared far away across the reedbed but only briefly, not sure if anyone else in the hide got on to it despite us calling out directions.
Time to move on again so a quick stop at the feeding station where by eckk was it gloomy! These Chaffinch pics were more of an experiment than anything else.  We whacked the ISO up to a ludicrous 16000 but looking at the pics we might have been better going up another notch or two to freeze the action. The camera only actually goes up another two notches.

Not as bad and blotchy as we feared and certainly fine for illustrating blog posts.
Experiment over we had another look at the marsh pools where one small flock of Wigeon had been flushed off the marsh on to the back of the pool by a male Marsh Harrier, our third of the day after passing the second a few minutes earlier on the drive from the reserve to the pools.
We've had a good look and there's no American Wigeon in the pic
The Kingfisher was still around and did come a little nearer but in the gloom we just had a good look at it through the bins and didn't point the camera at it again.
With the light fading rapidly C had the idea of heading home via Over Wyre to see if we could find any owls, particularly any Short Eared Owls. As we approached the half way there  mark drizzle started and started to get heavier and become proper good old fashioned wet English rain and that put the kibosh on any owls coming out. Straight back to Base Camp it was then.
Yet another cracking day out on safari and once again thanks to C for doing the driving.

This morning broke with hazy sunshine and we set off for Marton Mere only minutes after sun rise with Monty. It felt like we'd beaten the birds getting out of bed, it was so quiet we thought they all must have been having a well earned weekend lie-in.
The best bit was the new viewing channel the Ranger and volunteers had cut through the reedbed at Dragonfly Den. There was a Moorhen feeding and a Heron flew in for a bit of a stalk. Good stuff, all we need now is the Bittern to do the same, or should that be one of the three Bitterns...
Not much from the Fylde Bird Club hide s owe moved on but perhaps we should have been more patient cos when we were half way along the embankment only a few minutes later we heard a Coot commotion and a good scan with the bins showed an Otter swimming straight across the middle of the mere towards the Heron Hide. Far to far away for a pic but we took a blast's worth anyway. One day we'll get a decent close up pic of one at the mere.
A handful of Fieldfares was best of the rest.

Where to next? More safaris next week, one we have planned away down to the furthest southeast corner of Safari-land, weather permitting. 

In the meantime let us know who's practicing their Kung Fu moves in your outback.

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