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

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