Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Otterly brilliant at Marton Mere

The Safari had a morning out in Stanley Park with CR and GB at the end of last week. The plan was to see if we could get a bird to feed from G's hand, lots of  the birds in the park are habituated to do this due to the huge numbers of lovely peope who bring seeds for them. We walked down to the northern part of the lake going behind the boathouse with the intention of perusing the gulls and other waterfowl on the way back. There was some activity just beyond the Council's compost yard with the first of the day's Ring Necked Parakeets on one of the feeders by the ditch.
Yet again it was a dull and gloomy winter's day so the pics aren't the best but they give you a good idea of what was going on.
At the parakeet's nesting tree there are a few feeders for the small birds and so G stood close to the bushes arm outstretched with a hand full of best sunny seeds - he stood motionless for ages without a sniff of a bird coming to take his offerings - - they were flying over his shoulder to get food from the feeders totally ignoring him. There were several Blue Tits
At least half a dozen Great Tits

and a couple of Robins. A loud squawk above us had us all lookin g to the tree-tops where we found these two having a stretch and preen.
behind us and unbeknown to us a couple of Mute Swans had cruised up to the water's edge in the expectation of tit-bits no doubt. They weren't un-noticed by Monty who very naughtily made a 10 yard dart for them nearly tearing our manky finger from our palm as it got trapped in the handle of his lead. The pain was excruciating and with a visit to the surgeon coming up it might be getting near time to have the useless digit lopped off but that'll have serious implications for safaris later this year  when/if it happens. The Monster also needs to learn that chasing swans is unacceptable behaviour as is chasing Grey Squirrels and soon before he seriously hurts us trying to keep hold of him.
No lead as we were in that much pain we were unable to hold it
We moved away from the swans to deflect Montty's attention and wandered further along the lakeside passing a few Shovelers cruising through the Azolla infested area, not sure if they eat it or not, if they do they're not eating it fast enough or there's not enough Shovelers on the lake yet!
At the Conservation Area end of the lake we saw the first Heron up in the trees on the island nest-site this year. It's only a few short weeks until their first eggs are laid.
Also up this end of the lake is another area where people have put out some feeders and so once again G tried his hand (literally) at hand feeding the birds. Again he stood and stood and stood but to no avail, they just wouldn't come down to his offering. It wasn't the fault of the sunny seeds as they were taking ones from the same bag we'd distributed around the tree stumps and other feeders, maybe the birds just didn't recognise G as he's not one of the regular hand feeding people? There were plenty of birds about including a couple of very quick Coal Tits.
Poor quality but it shows their distinctive white nape for the Photo Challenge
Blue Tit comes in at number 48 on our Challenge
With time pressing it was about turn and back for a quioock last look at the Ring Necked Parakeets where we found just one this time, enjoying a succulent grape, not that grape vines grow in the park.
We had hoped a Nuthatch and/or a Great Spotted Woodpecker would put in an appearance at one pf the feeding areas but the closest we got was just one Nuthatch calling unseen from high in the tree-tops near the boathouse. or was anything particularly photogenic among the waterfowl as we walked passed the southern part of the lake. Time for lunch!
A late afternoon Monty walk with Wifey saw us meeting GB in Fleetwood where we took a cold and very blustery stroll along the prom to the marine lake. After a brief glimpse last week G had much better views, if fact despite being Fleetwood born n bred and lurking round the marine lake often in his younger days his best ever views of the Red Breasted Mergansers that are often found on there in the winter. The weather was atrocious and so is our pic (PYLC #49) but at least we didn't get the biblical rain, thunder and lightening that was reported not far away to the south.
Hopefully to be bettered for the Challenge in future but they all count even at ISO 25600!
On Sunday evening news broke that a regular visitor had posted some superb footage - do videos have feet? - of not one, not two, but three Otters at Marton Mere; we can only surmise that it must be a female with a couple of cubs, excellent news!!! The footage looked remarkably similar to some we took a couple of weeks over seven years ago although WL's sighting was nearer - he was in the hide should have been in - the one we wanted to move to in our commentary - and no doubt his kit will be more up-to-date with better resolution.

Nothing for it but to pick up CR on Monday morning and high tail it round there. Monday morning was like most mornings so far this year a dull grey gloomy affair with the serious threat of rain in the air. We got to the Feeding Station just in time to escape a sharp shower and while we waited for it to pass over we enjoyed the alien show, Pheasants (PYLC #50) and Grey Squirrels along with a small number of native birds including three Dunnocks and at least one Coal Tit.
Still up at ISO Ridiculous
Once the shower had passed we set off to view the lake and almost as soon as we'd arrived at the Bittern watching area' C spotted an Otter about half way across at our end of the mere - result!. A couple of hasty snaps were taken before we scampered to the Dragonfly Den Hide hoping it would swim that way as it has done in the past.
From the hide the animal was still distant and didn't come any closer but did give superb views as it fished for the best part of half an hour.
It has a fish in this pic but the resolution isn't good enough to be able to tell which species, it's not an Eel that's all we can say
Trying to catch it leaping just before its head hit the water proved impossible - or just  unlucky
Similarly it was double tricky trying to second guess where it would come up out of the water and then would it be facing the front?
An absolutely fabulous half hour - Marton Mere has to be the best site to see Otters in the daytime in the whole of the north of England at the moment, if you've never seen one or want to see one again get yourselves down there ASAP.

Where to next? We've got a date with some ouls if they're willing to show themsleves

In the meantime let us know who's putting on the aquatic show in your outback

Thursday, 10 January 2019

At last a sunny day

The Safari has eventually got round to downloading and processing a few more pics of the recent Snow Buntings for you to enjoy. Not sure if anyone has been to look for them since but it seems we might have been the last person to see them,; no we didn't flush them when we left they were still happily feeding away on the lower strandline when we walked off.
Yesterday we were blessed with blistering sunshine as CR drove in to the car park at the marsh hides at Leighton Moss. Stuffing a variety of snacks in to our pocket we set off eagerly down the track wondering what the sunshine would bring through the day.
At the Snow Buntings we hadn't had any lens issues but today the darned thing wouldn't auto-focus for love nor money so we had to flip the switch to scary ie manual! A Redshank was feeding close in blow the hide and we tried to get a shot of swimming, a good 'different' 'pose' for the challenge but failed miserably. C pointed out a Greenshank along way left and this time we had a little more success.
But that was about it of note, there were few birds on the pools and almost all of those were to our left looking right in to the low sun so little more than silhouettes and we ran the risk of burning out our retinas in the glare of the sun. Without further ado we decided to abandon going down to the Eric Morecambe hide and head for the main reserve tout suite.
A mid-week day and still quite early but the car park was already bursting at the seams - there's just too many of those retired folk with time on their hands...oh hang on a mo!!!
Our second big decision of the day was to forego the delights of Lillian's hide and go directly on the long march to Lower Hide and beyond to try to find the very elusive Great Grey Shrike. On the way we called in very briefly at a 'standing room only' Causeway hide, there's got to be a case to be made for a second similarly large (or even larger) hide to be built along the causeway.
Through the gate there was the usual Robins waiting to mug passers-by of their bird seed. We had half a bag of sunny seeds in our pocket but we managed to sneak by without incident. We did get a couple of birders on to Marsh Tit that was hanging around some seed placed on the arm of a bench.
Further on we came across a Jay feeding like a thrush right out in the open in the field adjacent to the reserve, not often you see them so far from cover. Fortunately it wasn't too bothered by us stopping on the path and lifting the camera, still on manual focus...result - one we didn't get for our challenge last year.
By now those snacks in our pockets were making their presence felt and a good scan of the field along with a chat with one of the volunteer wardens who'd been looking for an hour showed there was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike so off to the hide we went. Pretty full in there - not too many years ago you could have that hide almost to yourself all day long, not as many people on the reserve full stop and most of those didn't make the long trek round there.
Most obvious were a small group of Teal haled out on the wet margin of the pool, then one of our already ensconced compatriots pointed out three sleeping Snipe fairly well concealed a little nearer.
After a few minutes a fourth, previously unseen, Snipe was spotted waking up and beginning to move around by someone down the line to our left. A Jack Snipe had been there all the time mostly obscured by its larger cousins. For the next half hour or more we enjoyed our best views of this secretive species we've ever had here - only really bettered by the views we've had at the fabulous Canal Scrape hide at Spurn.
Now you'd better have some ordinary Snipe pics for comparison, for those not familiar with the two species Jack Snipe are smaller, shorter legged, shorter billed and have a different head pattern.
And this is where our idea of a YouTube channel for The Safari fell flat on its face. Rule One - know your equipment!!! We thought we'd have a little go at filming it bob bob bobbing along only to find we didn't have a clue how to set the video rolling on our camera - what a numpty - - any one know a decent film crew?
Worse was to happen there was an Otter fishing half way across the pool while the Jack Snipe was still in view and then a Great White Egret flew across the back of the pool and landed in a dead tree.
Would have made a great bit of footage even if the Otter was a bit distant as it did catch two small Eels while we were watching it. We didn't take a pic of it as it was too distant and spending a lot of time under water so second guessing where it would come up with the camera on manual focus was a no-no. No pic but brilliant to watch for ages.
In the hide we were recognised by one of our readers, thank you very much for saying hello.
Time was now moving on so so did we, back to thee track to look for the Great Grey Shrike again passing on the way the pile of sunny seeds we'd put out earlier. They'd done the trick, a couple of Marsh Tits were taking advantage of the freebies.
The new rules for the challenge mean no ringed birds (or at least no birds' legs with rings in the pic) and certainly no posts so we cleverly hid a stash of seeds at the bottom of the tree but in the intervening time the sun had moved round and our stash was now in the shade.
Job done - no ring and no post
As we walked along the track birders coming back were regaling us with tales of negative news of the shrike and as we neared the end of the trail another birder did the same so we cut our losses and turned tail aiming for the Grisedale Hide running the gauntlet of a myriad of Winter Gnats on the way, the 'warm' sunshine must have brought them out for the afternoon, time to breath through your teeth!
 Can't remember a visit when we've not looked in at Lillian's Hide before - ever!
The afternoon light at Grisedale Hide was lovely with reflection from the reeds casting a golden hue over the proceedings.
A Little Egret fishing caught our attention and we waited for it to come into some open water to see if we could get some reflection pics.
The egret's favoured way of fishing by shaking a leg to stir out prey doesn't make for the best reflections unlike the Heron above which stood motionless but had grassy bits in the way of its reflection.
Of the supporting cast of  ducks the Wigeon were the nearest and most photogenic, even if they spent most of their time with  their head under water.

And when they emerged they gave the weed they'd just dragged up a real good shake to get rid of any bits of mud and debris.
After only seeing one Marsh Harrier all day, a very brief fly-over view along the causeway we really hoped one would appear in the last half hour we had on site so the pressure was on! Would one come out or not? We had expected the lovely sunshine would have had them on the wing all day but it was proving to be a rather raptor free zone so far.
While we waited a couple of Carrion Crows flew past, good to get that 'different' shot for the challenge and good to know that for some inexplicable but very welcome reason the auto-focus had decided to work again.
We hoped a couple of distant Ravens would come closer and do some of their impressive barrel-rolling display but after a few minutes they went their separate ways never really coming any nearer. A couple of Buzzards got up out of the distant woods and started soaring around and calling, as this activity the cue for the Marsh Harriers to wake up?
Yes it was, distant at first.
And then nearer
And nearer again.
And nearer still.
And finally...not quite overhead
And all that fun and games meant time was now up so we hit the trail back to the car and thence on to Base Camp passing a Barn Owl on the way, a good end to a great day in the sunshine.
Once again many thanks to CR for doing the driving.

Where to next? Not sure yet and it'll no doubt depend on the weather.

In the meantime let us know who's left to the last minute to put in an appearance in your outback