Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Our bird photography challenge trundles along nicely

The Safari has been out n about on the look out for more species for our Photo Year List Challenge and we've not done too badly. So far we've had little luck along Chat Alley and out to sea where we walk Monty most mornings, there's always a couple of Pied Wagtails and a few Meadow Pipits kicking about but in the dull conditions and mostly seeing the Pied Wagtails on the pats or sat on the fence we've not been bothered to try to photograph them, not had the camera with us most days due to the dreary grey conditions. A day of sunshine midweek changed that and we did take the camera with us. Bizarrely it wasn't the Pied Wagtails or Meadow Pipits that hit the SD card but a Sparrowhawk that the gulls alerted us to with their raucous alarm calls. It came almost directly overhead flying out to sea. We very seldom see Sparrowhawks along here, in fact we can't remember the last time we did see one - where was it going...and why? Not as good as previous years' PYLC pics but it's on the list at number 51.
Later that morning we met up with GB and went to join the weekly North Blackpool Pond Trail volunteer group - something we should try to do more often. When we arrived we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and after several minutes neck craning saw it fly off round the corner and out of sight.
Our project for the day was to remove a couple of fallen trees and make some habitat piles with the cut brash, unfortunately the chain saw was misbehaving and refused to start to we could only remove some of the thinner upper (now lower) branches. All the while the Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming and seen a few times which broke our concentration on the task in hand. Eventually all in the group were able to watch a pair of woodpeckers chasing each other round the tree-tops above our work place. 52 now on our list.
Some of the gardens backing on to the work site had feeders up and there was as constant procession of Blue and Great Tits around us as well as a few Blackbirds and Collared Doves. The new challenge rules about no birds on feeders, wires, TV aerials etc meant Collared Doves might prove a bit tricky but before too long we found one snoozing in a tree.
A little obscured but at least it's not on a feeder/wire/fence, so number 53 it is.
Our next safari was over to Marton Mere on a very dull day. There was nothing much doing and it was so cold we were inclined to keep our hands in our pockets most of the time anyway. We had a quick look for any Otters from Dragonfly Den hide - none and then a quick look for anything of note from the Fylde Bird Club hide - not a lot so we kept moving. Just beyond the bridge we spotted a Buzzard getting some grief from another bird which we assumed to be a Carrion Crow or  Rook but looking properly we saw it was a falcon and then using the bins discovered it was a Peregrine and there wasn't just one Buzzard as it landed in the bushes at the end of the dyke next to a second. We failed to get a pic of the Peregrine doing its mobbing and it soon lost interest once the Buzzard had landed and we can't add the Buzzard pic to our challenge list as the species are supposed to be identifiable not just a few blurry pixels.
By now the gloomy day was drawing to an even gloomier close but the reserve still had a little more to give. The Barn Owl had come to the doorway of its box. Uncountable for the challenge, due to it being in a box, but great to see all the same. We hoped it would come out and give us a fly around but by the time it was far to dark for pics and time to get back to Base Camp it hadn't.
The following day we were back at Marton Mere a little earlier this time and the weather wasn't quite so gloomy. Despite the gloom it has been rather mild for mid-January but we were still a little surprised to find these Blackthorn flowers out so early in the year.
Walking south along the embankment we heard the bugling sound of Whooper Swans to our left, over the fields quite a long way back were two Whooper Swans also heading south. By the time we got round to the Fylde Bird Club hide two swans were in the fields we'd just past but zooming in on them showed them to be two Mute Swans not the Whooper Swans doubling back and landing.
The hide was busy with birders waiting for the Water Rail to show, it apparently had been pretty good at playing 'dodge the cameras' and when it did show all to briefly we understood why - look no pics! 
Then someone called out that the Barn Owl was sitting out at the door of its box, before we could pan the lens that way it took flight. It did a couple of quick circuits of the island before going off over the rough fields and golf course where it was mostly out of view only giving the briefest of views when it appeared between distant trees.
All was not lost however, as within a few minutes it came our way and began to hunt over the rough ground below the embankment.
Did a few more circuits of the island but always going away when it was nearest.
Eventually it did get a bit nearer
and was flying towards us
Great to see and pleased it's on the challenge list, at number 54.
We left the hide and wandered round that way in the hope of getting closer pics, the car was parked over there too, but before we got there the owl had done a bunk over the golf course and was nowhere to be seen by the time we reached the embankment again. A bit disappointing as it was still reasonably light, light enough for us to get a 'different' shot of the Collared Doves at the cottage, could have done with the blue skies of the previous Collared Dove pic but hey-ho at least it's not 'just a sitting still pic' this time.
We had no luck spotting the local Little Owl - we never do - but almost back at the car we spotted this shy Sparrowhawk lurking in the back of the hedge.
The garden at Base Camp has been very poor for birds this year, there's been so much destruction ie tidying up in neighbouring gardens that there is no longer any connecting habitat corridors between us and any other decent habitat. Add to that the people across the road have had all their dense Privet hedges reduced by more than a half so now the cheerful chirruping of the House Sparrows is no more and the sound of silence in the street is deafening. It doesn't take much to locally lose a species and if the other houses with dense hedges decide to do the same this whole small colony of House Sparrows will be gone forever. It desn't take much to cause the local extinction of a species that's already in critical decline!
It was with some surprise that we saw two female Chaffinches lurking around in our Crab Apple tree weighing up the best way to get on to the feeders. They are only the eighth species to visit the garden so far this year and in a normal week we usually get little flocks of Goldfinches regularly coming to the feeders, this year we've seen just one individual once! We seriously fear a big fat zero on this weekend's Big Garden Bird Count.
Chaffinch becomes number 55 on our challenge list - can't believe Barn Owl beat it on to the list!
We've been keeping our eye on the tides and the weather. Yesterday both came together, a dropping tide in the mid-afternoon and sunshine so it was off to the prom to see if we could get a pic of the wintering Purple Sandpiper. We arrived just as the tide was dropping off the bottom of the wall so had to wait a few minutes before being able to get on to the beach. We did spy the Purple Sandpiper already feeding on the low apron of the old boating pool wall as the tide left it.
This part of the wall was still in shade and we hoped the sandpiper would move round to the sunny side before too long so off we went to get there first and wait. But to get their meant a long wait for the tide to drop much further as there is a deep gully that needed to be crossed. but patience paid off , as did the long walk down the beach across the gully at its shallowest point - still half way up our wellies - and back up the beach. The Purple Sandpiper had indeed moved round to feed in the sunshine.
Now we have a dilemma! The seawall is man-made and man made things aren't allowed in the challenge, see above no wires, feeders, TV aerials etc etc so we can't count it. This bird only ever seems to be found on this part of the seawall and getting a flight shot of it flying over the beach would be nigh on impossible as it just hops off its roosting place on top of the wall as soon as the tide uncovers its feeding areas at the base of the wall so do we put it in our challenge album and ask for an adjucication - can you tell the substrate/background is man-made and if not does that make it 'allowable'??? We've been cheeky and bunged it in at number 56 but might have to do some deleting - we'll have to wait and see what the verdict from others in the challenge is.
This morning early doors we enjoyed good views of Venus and Jupiter, unlike the 'Blood Moon' eclipse which we only caught the tail end of through thick freezing fog and then a Fox crossed our path, oh ny was Monty over-excited or what!!!  We made him sit and watch while it went about its business on its way home from a night's foraging, he could barely contain himself. Once it was safely out of sight in the thicket of the Golden Triangle we let him go and have a sniff where it had been, so eager was he that we were very nearly face-planted in the frosted grass.
With the tide being full at lunchtine and a decent day in prospect we'd arranged to pick up CR, GB and JH and have an hour or so down on the marshes at Warton looking for the Hen Harriers that have been seen regularly and look for anything else that might be flushed off the marsh on the rising tide., particularly any Water Pipits, Jack  Snipe or Water Rails. It was a big tide, 10 metres, but without a wind it was only going to fill all the creeks and not cover much of the inner marsh. As it happened it didn't matter as the marsh was annoyingly cloaked in thick freezing fog, only minutes earlier we'd felt the warmth of bright sunshine on our face through the car windscreen. but as we neared the estuary the fog came in. Visibility when we parked up was no more than 50 - 75 yards and didn't get any better for the hour or more that we were there, in fact it got worse from time to time.
That said we could hear birds calling in the murk, Curlew, Redshank, Teal, Mallard, Pink Footed Geese, and occasionally a Skylark but we didn't see any of them until we reached the far end of the track where there was a small pool with a few Teal on it.
Did it matter that we dipped the Hen Harrier and supporting cast, no not really as had we not gone we wouldn't have seen this once in a lifetime display of fog n frost crystals across the marsh... it was simply serene and beautiful, who can complain at that?
Shame we did n't have thee right lens with us to do the ice crystals justice but to be fair we were expecting bigger and more distant things to point our lens at.
One of those bigger and supposedly more distant things were three Black Tailed Godwits that flew out of the cloud and landed at the edge of the pool with the Teal on it less than 40 metres away.  The visibility was so poor we could barely see them with the naked eye but they hot the challenge list at a very 'different' 57.
Straight out of the camera - 125 feet (40m) away, bit of a crop and minimal sharpen but nowt else
Slightly more tarted up
After an hour or so and conditions not improving we decided to call it a day.

Where to next? More North Blackpool Pond Trail woodcutting and woodpecker watching and a trip to the quacks about some high blood pressure - what kind of life do we have that leads to high blood pressure??????? Better safe than dead though.

In the meantime let us know who's lurking in the murk in your outback - and spare a thoughht for other GB down in Aus who's been eduring temperatures up to 45°C this week - not nice for him or his rescued animals.

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