Monday 30 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch Part IX

Some pictures from Bispham on Saturday with the stricken Riverdance in the distance. The top one is my best shot of one of the Herring Gulls as it was gliding overhead. I really wanted an eye-level shot but they wouldn't let me.

The penultimate watch. I was joined by 3 hopeful watchers on a warm and sunny lunchtime. The wind had died right down and conditions were improving. Absolutely nothing about for the whole hour. The usual gulls on the beach and a couple of Oystercatchers. Nothing out at sea at all.

Last chance tomorrow's hoping!!!!!!

All was not lost safariwise though. A sch
ool group was having a rare old time pond dipping at the Solaris Centre and managed to haul out a great many Sticklebacks including the mother and father of them all, some of the biggest Sticklebacks you'll ever see.

And, once home more House Sparrow treats in store; a fledgling was been fed freshly mashed sunflower hearts by its mother in the Silver Birch tree my brother-in-law kindly rescued from being blown over in last weeks storm - - well done to him.

Sunday 29 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch Part VIII

Another four hours watching a turbulent sea! Again not much about but at least the sun shone and there was a hint of warmth about after a very threatening start. Today I was joined by several fellow whale watchers, one had travelled from Skipton in Yorkshire, and I thought I was dedicated!

So what did we see? - - several Sandwich Terns milling about trying to fish, a couple of distant Gannets, a pair of Common Scoters flew south quite close in and two or three very distant Manx Shearwaters, a new species for the week.

The best thing about wildlife not the rare or exotic but the unexpected. When I got home there was a family of House Sparrows
These have become rarer than hen's teeth in the garden in recent years. A very welcome visitor to the feeders.

Penultimate watch tomorrow...12 noon to 1.00pm.

Saturday 28 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch Part VII

A change of scenery for today's watch. A couple of mile up the coast at Bispham. But the weather is still unfavourable. The wind dropped a bit and the sun even shone for a few minutes in a blue sky. It was still too windy for any chance of seeing the Porpoises and not windy enough to bring sea birds close in shore. The four hour watch produced the grand total of 2 Gannets, both distant, 2 Curlews, and either a Guillemot or a Razorbill whizzed past going north. Not a brilliant afternoons wildlife watching! The Gulls were the best - gliding past slowly at eye level on the updraught from the cliff. So close you could see the 'whites' of their eyes....better than that their coloured eye rings; red in the Lesser Black Backs, yellow in the Herring Gulls...check them out next time you get a close view of a gull.

Back to the Mirror Ball 3pm to 7pm report is not good again! Doh.....

Friday 27 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch Part VI

I must be bonkers. Back out for an other hour in the cold, wet and windy - - well at least today wasn't so windy. But still too choppy to be able to see our Porpoises. I did manage a very distant Gannet in the murk and a couple of closer Sandwich Terns. 3 Curlews passed by going south. There weren't so many Gulls on the beach this afternoon but they were joined by a few Oystercatchers. The gloom lifted briefly - long enough to be able to see Wales, but no Whales!

The pic above is my gleanings from the beach yesterday. They are (clockwise from the bottom right) Pod Razor, Rayed Trough Shell, Sea Heart, Common Otter Shell, Common Cockle, Edible Whelk (wrongly ID'd as Dog Whelk yesterday).

Onlt 10 hours left to suffer....starting at 3pm tomorrow 'til 7pm at Bispham Tram station...see you there!

Thursday 26 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch Part V

Ah the loneliness of a dedicated Whale and Dolphin watcher. Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiiian shirt? No...waterproof trousers and a winter hat were order of the day.

The tide
was much further out than yesterday and gave me the opportunity to have a look on the beach before starting the hour's watch. There was a huge wreck of Razor Shells and a fair amount of other sea life including large Dog Whelks, Cockles and Sea Urchin skeletons. There was also quite a lot of coal lying off the beach. This has been broken off the underwater coal seam which reaches the sea bed about a mile or so out to sea.
If I had my camera I could show you some pics.
Herring, Lesser Black Backed, and a few Black Headed Gulls were happily gleaning the tastiest morsels from this shellfish smorgesbord. The remains of a Swimming Crab was found on the slade (slipway) a victim of the gull's sharp eyes and sharper beak.

Any Porpoises Storm Petrels anything

Better luck tomorrow? I doubt it as the weatherman says its still going to be a raging south westerly with rain...I'll give it a go all the same.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch Part IV

Nowt doin'.

Another hour spent watching a cruel sea. A strong south westerly again today. So the sea was too rough to have any chance of seeing our Porpoises.

Not even many birds today just a flock of 17 Black Tailed Godwits going south and two Curlews also going south. That's all! Still no Storm Petrels.

Better luck tomorrow?

Tuesday 24 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch Part III

I don't bl**dy beleeeeve it! Yesterday there was a Storm Petrel at Fleetwood, only 5 miles up the road.

Great conditions today; flat sea so no ripples, grey sky so no shadows - no Porpoises either though. Which begs the question; if they aren't in my patch of sea where are they?

So what did the intrepid watchers see? A very distant Grey Seal, 2 Sandwich Terns, a Gannet, a Great Crested
Grebe which dived and came up with a fish right in front of us, 10 Common Scoters going north, probably the same 10 as yesterday, and 4 Curlews - - not a lot in the hour's watch!

Better luck tomorrow? The weather is supposed to deteriorate....oh no....

Below is a photo of just about all you get to see of a Porpoise. I took this photo from a moving boat out of St David's in Pembrokeshire.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin taken by Phil Ashman 9th May 2006 at South Prom.

Monday 23 June 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch - Part II

How different can two consecutive days be? A much better day than yesterday for being on the prom, only a stiff breeze and some blistering sunshine! But the sea is still too rough to see our Porpoises. The hour's watch revealed a grand total of three very distant Gannets, two distant flocks of Common Scoters (10 & 7) sat on the water and a fly past Cormorant, not even a Sandwich Tern today. Better luck tomorrow I hope.

Sunday 22 June 2008

If this is global warming I want my money back!

Blackpool's wildlife showed its Human side this morning at the start of Totally Transport bus and tram event. A young(ish) groom-to-be was cling-filmed stark naked to the Mirror Ball. Ah the joys of stag parties. As alluded to in the title it wasn't a warm day and the anemometer on the Solaris Centre's roof was showing gusts of over 70mph and an average speed of 40mph (storm force 9 to almost hurricane force 12!) . He ended up in the First Aid room suffering from hypothermia - in June!

I had a couple of brief escapes from my duties to peer over the sea wall for the elusive Storm Petrels - guess what? Yep - they're still eluding me! In fact, apart from a solitary Lesser Black backed Gull I saw no wildlife what-so-ever.

The sea was worth watching though. Absolutely tumultuous. Waves of about 10 - 22 feet high over the beach and at least double that out on the open sea towards the horizon. Spray and cobs of foam as big as car washing sponges were flying across the promenade. Last time we had a blow like this someone parked their boat on the beach. No chance of any Porpoises today and still forecast very windy tomorrow. Ah another chance to look for Storm Petrels - yes I'm get obsessed with the little fellas - I'm determined to see one this summer.

Where to next? 1pm - 2pm at the Mirror ball, National Whale and Dolphin Watch (aka Petrel Watch)

Saturday 21 June 2008

Flamin' June

Well the National Whale and Dolphin Watch week started. At the appointed hour I was at the Mirror Ball on Blackpool's south promenade ready to fend off the hordes of eager whale watchers. No such luck! It was more like flamin' March than flamin' June. Freezing cold, bucketing rain and less than 1000 yards visibility - a long four hours lay ahead.

A few hardy fishermen already had bait in the water as the tide was rising. They were out in this weather for fun! At least I had the excuse I was there for science.

A safari conjures up images of tropical heat, dry dusty tracks and big game. Nothing could be further from this idyll. Nonetheless 'big game' there was; a Grey Seal was 'bottling' less than a hundred yards out. Things looked promising; the sea was flat calm, the rain clouds cast no shadows so any Harbour Porpoises would be easy to pick up. They are the main target off Blackpool; although I have seen Bottle-nosed Dolphin (1) and Minke Whale (2) from where I was stood in the last couple of years.

The Grey Seal hardly moved for two hours, but stopped bottling and started fishing; surfacing every so often with an audible snort. A few Sandwich Terns moved along the coast but I only saw one of them dive for a fish. One later came past with a fish in its beak, trying to catch up with the missus to show her what a brilliant fisherman he is. They are named after the town in Kent not the snack! There was a little southerly passage of Curlews, in groups of 2, 6, 5, 7, 10 and 2, = 32 altogether. A young Gannet had a two or three dives from no great height, but a little later on a dazzling white adult came to the same patch of sea and gave a good display of what Gannets do best - diving from height! getting as high as about 50 feet this one plunged leaving a plume of spray about 4 feet high - it did this four times - spectacular.

After a comfort stop at half time the watch resumed. A second Grey Seal was off the beach at the sand dunes. (Potential venue for a future safari as there are some superb wildflowers at this time if year). Now three further Gannets appeared, again in roughly the same area and started diving. Still no sign of any Porpoises though. About 30 Knot in a tight flock shot past a full speed and a Great Black Backed Gull dunked in for a quick wash. He was huge. His black back contrasting strongly against the grey murk, his white chest as broad as a heavy weight boxer's and a beak like Erik the Viking's axe with attitude to ma
tch. Shame about the baby pink legs really.

A group of about 10 Common Scoters went north in the distance and my best count of Sandwich Terns was 9 together and after the tide had turned a few of them were close enough to see the little yellow spot at the end of their bill.

So four hours was up and the nearest I had got to a cetacean was either the Grey Seals, which at least are marine mammals, or the House Martins which were flying up and down in the lee of the sea wall - well they do look like mini flying Killer Whales!

Between them the fishermen had caught a Flounder, a Dab and a Bass. The latter was going home for tea - and not as a guest! They hadn't seen the seal but as soon as I pointed it out they blamed it for their lack of success. Ah Humans - always quick to point the finger somewhere else.

Even if I had a camera there wouldn't have been any pictures with this post as my hands were too cold to get the lid of my flask and the weather that murky there's not much point in a totally grey photo.

Where to next? Easy this time - back at the Mirror Ball for an hours watching on Monday lunchtime - see you there?

Thursday 19 June 2008

Surfs up!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Wildlife Adventure Safaris

A late start at work, a rising tide and a strong wind blowing a right old hooley in midsummer equals only one thing – Storm Petrels. So a stint down by the North Shore Boating Pool was called for. Humming “They’ll be coming round the boating pool when they come….they’ll be coming round the boating pool when they come…they’ll be…” (Well, I’ve seen a few Leach’s Petrels doing that) I made my way to a sheltered cliff top vantage point, passing the fossils of all manner of marine creatures embedded in the ‘decorative’ water-worn limestone. It’s a pity this was ever removed from some now precious limestone pavement but things were different in times past. Even the cliffs themselves are a shadow of their former selves. Old photos on Blackpool4Me show the cliffs in their natural state without the concrete apron. What plants and animals were to be found there is anyone’s guess now. Soft cliff is a very rare habitat in Lancashire, as they have always been ‘strengthened’ with sea defences and not left to their own natural devices. Clever these Victorians and Edwardians! Hmm.

In the distance the wind turbines off Barrow were spinning like mad. More of these please but only in the right area. No point having ‘environmentally friendly’ energy if it destroys the environment! On a day like today just one of these giants produces enough juice to power my house for a year every 2 hours!

Finding a sheltered spot was proving difficult, the Thrift was blowing about that much it looked like it was going to torn from its roots. Finally found a place where I wasn’t staring in to the teeth of the gale. First bird past was a Common Gull. Unusual, as they are the least common at this time of the year. The supporting cast of Black Headed, Herring and Lesser Black BackedGulls soon put in their appearance. (That’s more species than the whole of Australia!). Even from my high vantage point the larger gulls were disappearing in the troughs between the waves so picking up a bird no bigger than a crisp packet in that expanse of sea was going to be tricky.

It was mesmerising sitting there watching the shadows of the clouds scudding over the churning sea. I was finding it hard to concentrate being buffeted by the wind and my hair was trying to escape to Yorkshire! At least the sun was warm on my back. There weren’t many birds about just a few of the local Herring Gulls riding the up-draughts from the cliffs.

A young Gannet drifted by, unusual to see this species so close in, only a few hundred yards off shore, just behind the surf. Then another Common Gull. The wind is getting stronger, I’m fifty feet up the cliff and getting soaked by the spray from the crashing waves. A Great Black Backed Gull powers by, impervious to the storm. Things are looking up as two Turnstones dash past. Normally they would be roosting in the shelter provided by the boating pool; but this is being used as a race track and the disturbance has forced the wading birds to find somewhere else – I hope they have found an alternative sheltered spot as there is precious little shelter elsewhere along the Promenade.

Magic – a Fulmar not a hundred yards out. I very rarely see these ocean wanderers and then only as distant dots on the horizon. Not a wing beat, just dipping from side to side using the wind – absolutely effortless! Then another! Two Fulmars to one Gannet – that never happens!

No sign of any Storm Petrels. That’s the trouble with wildlife – you just can’t guarantee anything – better luck next time. But it was much better to be out in the wilds (and boy was it wild!) than to be sat indoors watching daytime TV.

I hope this storm blows itself out before next week's National Whale and Dolphin Watch.

Where to next?

Wednesday 18 June 2008

A 'walkabout' in the park 15th June 08

Today's safari was more of an afternoon stroll in the local park with the specific intention of getting to grips with as many butterflies as possible.The site is only a short walk from Base Camp and is in two parts, a typical suburban park and an adjacent rough field. The bottom end of the field has a very thin cover of vegetation on some old levelled limestone hardcore. Here is a reasonable selection of wildflowers including Common Catsear, Rough Hawkbit and Birds Foot Trefoil. The latter is important as the food plant of the caterpillars of the Common Blue butterfly. Within a few minutes I had seen a female, much browner than the bright blue males. Moving along the hedgerow there were a few Speckled Woods and my first Meadow Brown of the year. The main part of the field itself has few flowers but several different species of grass. My favourite is Sweet Vernal Grass, just going over now but still tasting very strongly of American Cream Soda. An area of Hard Rush holds a small colony of Meadow Grasshoppers which were chirping away in the warm afternoon sunshine - stridulating is the technical term. Very pleasant whatever you call it.

Getting to the top of the field there is a small stand of trees, not big enough to call a wood but certainly a copse. On the edge of this were a couple of
Large Skippers. At only an inch across this name could be construed as a misnomer but they are fractionally bigger than Small Skippers (which aren't out yet). These little devils are fearless and will defend their patch of grass against their own kind as well as seeing off much bigger butterflies. They get the name Skipper 'cos they skip across the top of the grass stems at breakneck speed and despite being bright golden orange can be hard to follow they zip about that fast.

A couple of
Large Whites graced the big bramble thicket but the more mobile species of butterflies, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells, were noticeable by their absence. A few more Speckled Woods knocked around the upper branches of the trees. A Holly Blue was flitting about above them. In general a high flying blue butterfly near trees and bushes is a Holly Blue and a low flying blue butterfly in a short wildflower meadow will be a Common Blue. True around Lancashire and Lakeland but we get in to difficulties down south where there are several other blue species to sort out.
A superb stand-alone specimen of Tufted Hair Grass with its silvery flowerheads waving in the breeze is a real 'beaut'.

Within the park itself there are two rather green and festering ponds. Green and festering - yes, lifeless - no. Several pairs of
Azure Damselflies were flying about in tandem, pond skaters tazzed across the Duckweed and there are plenty of snails. A small boy pointed out a tiny Frog.

Lifting a large piece of broken fence post revealed a very large
Toad lurking beneath.

Heading off home after a very pleasant mooch around the park there were more surprises to come. First a female
House Sparrow was in our neighbours front garden. You might not think this much of a surprise but they are as rare as hen's teeth on our side of the road and despite huge quantities of bird seed being put out at Base Camp they only show up in the garden about once a year. One of the houses, at the end of our street, where they bred has had the soffits and facias replaced and the poor Sparrows can't get in anymore. Very sad, but the guy's house was falling apart so you can't really blame him. But then a Swift just appeared in front of me. it did a quick tour of the district and whoosh - straight into a gap between the same chap's new soffits and facias - it barely slowed down; just seemed to disappear in to the fabric of the eaves. A couple of seconds later it was out off hunting again - - brilliant. a fantastic end to very pleasant afternoon's 'walkabout'.

Where to next?

The National Whale and Dolphin Watch organised by the Sea Watch Foundation runs from the 21st June to 1st July from a variety of sites in Blackpool. See details on the Solaris Centre's website.

Sorry - no pics today as I have mislaid my camera - or someone has removed it surreptitiously - anyway I can't find it so no pics for a while.

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Blackpool adventure 26th May 2008

26th May 2008

This week’s Safari took us to Blackpool’s wild outback.

We started at the newly created Lawson’s Road Wetland. A superb new area created for wildlife. A ferocious cold wind was blowing and there was not much about. Hardy Sedge Warblers and a Reed Bunting were singing. In the ponds we found a few Water Boatmen and other creepy crawlies. These ponds will be much better when the planting matures and develops. The grasslands surrounding the ponds was looking good with plenty of Buttercups swaying in the breeze and the lovely blue-green leaves of Marsh Foxtail grass on the bare mud around the pond edges.

Moving along to Marton Mere the wind seemed to be getting stronger. Well over 100 Swifts were congregating at the west end, their screaming calls only just heard on the wind. Warblers were hard to see but despite the weather still singing away from the shelter of deep cover. Within a few yards we had heard Blackcap, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff and a solitary Chaffinch.

A visit to one of the hides was made all the more interesting as a Wren was feeding young in the nest right above our heads and seemed totally unperturbed by our presence, sitting on the windowsill just a couple of feet from us.

Outside a Song Thrush was singing hard. Further along the path we listened to the rattle of a Lesser Whitethroat coming from the depths of a thick bank of shrubs.

The next hide we visited was right on the waters edge and peering out of the window the water below was crystal clear. A huge shoal of Toad tadpoles was doing a circuit in front of the hide looking for all the world like a herd of Wildebeest crossing the Serengeti; seemingly oblivious to the three Perch cruising the margins. Above their heads we watched a pair of Reed Warblers collecting nesting materials. Further along the breeding cycle was a Blue Tit collecting large juicy caterpillars for its nest full of chicks. It tore open dead stems of reed to reach the caterpillars hidden inside. A Little Grebe trilled from the far side of the reed bed. In the distance a pair of Mute Swans sailed across the mere with their brood of nine cygnets.

The sky was still full of Swifts and House Martins, with a few Swallows amongst them. Persistent observation paid off and we found the single Sand Martin in the flock. In the distance a Buzzard hung on the wind over the fields searching the ground for prey.

A wildflower meadow was bright with colour, yellow from the semi-parasitic Yellow Rattle, gold from three species of Buttercups, and the blue of Forget-me–nots.

We retraced our steps and visited the Feeding Station and were rewarded with excellent views of a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the feeders. From there we wandered across the grassland towards the ancient hedgerows. A molehill was juddering beside the track. We stood motionless and waited patiently but the Mole beneath didn’t show itself.

As the weather warmed up butterflies started to appear. We had good views of two Speckled Woods and a splendid Holly Blue was seen sipping nectar from a Buttercup. Blue Tailed and Common Blue damselflies also appeared as the sun srarted to shine.

In the hedgerows several House Sparrows were busy looking for food for their hungry nestlings. A white butterfly wouldn’t settle to allow identification. A look under a sheet of wood revealed a couple of small Toads and a startled Short Tailed Vole. A Sparrowhawk soared overhead.

The safari moved on to another site to the north of the town. In the reed bed there were a singing Sedge Warbler and a Whitethroat, neither brave enough to show themselves in the strong wind. A striking male Pied Wagtail collected insects from the margins of a drying pond.

Further on amongst the Calamine Lotion scented Meadowsweet a newly emerged Small Copper butterfly was dazzling. A few Swallows darted between the ponds.

We conducted an unsuccessful search for Bee Orchids. A large area of their sensitive habitat had been damaged by a quad bike during the winter’s wet weather.

Later that evening the Safari set off again, this time to a site near Blackpool Zoo. A look in the ponds revealed several Water Scorpions and a few stick insect-like Water Measurers. A bundle of Tubifex Worms was seen in the muddy shallows. A single toad was found, outnumbered by a good many tiny Frogs. 3-Spined Sticklebacks were seen the stream, the males showing their bright red chests at this time of year.

In the darkness a Coot sat tight on her nest as we passed quickly by so as not to disturb her. Two Tawny Owls hooted a duet in the trees above our heads.

Scanning across the fields with a high power torch we picked up the eye-shine of a Fox. Within the wood our bat detectors were put to good use picking up the ultrasonic calls of Pipistrelle, Brown Long Eared, Daubenton’s and Noctule bats.

Where to next?

Sunday 15 June 2008

Bat Night in Blackpool 14th June 2008

Stanley Park Visitor Centre was the venue for a talk about Britain's bats by local bat expert David MacLean. After the talk the bat detectors were turned on and tuned to 50kHz in anticipation of finding some Pipistrelles. The bat detector is a simple piece of kit that turns the high pitched echo-location calls bats use to find their way around and catch their insect prey into sound we humans can hear.

Despite the cool temperatures and stiff breeze the bats were active and the detectors started picking up their calls almost immediately. Above our heads in a gap between the trees two Pipistrelles vied with a Swift for airspace and a chance to catch the midges. Judging by the number of 'feeding raspberries' we heard the bats were doing OK. As the bat approaches its target the number of calls it emits increases rapidly so that bat has a high definition sound 'picture' of its next meal. The result on the bat detector is a rather comically rude rasp!

We moved down to the island between the two bridges over the lake and again were treated to exceptional views of bats hawking insects just below the tree tops. Every now and then the detectors' volume increased as a bat flew low over our heads. The bats showed up very well against the light late evening sky.

From there we stood on the first bridge aiming the detectors down the channel. This was fantastic. The channel was sheltered from the wind and was full of midges, we could see them in the beams from our torches. The detectors were going 'off the scale'. This was the best bat night at Stanley Park ever. All the bats rcorded were Pipistrelles, if we'd have spent longer there is a good chance we would have recorded Daubenton's Bat as well.

Where to next?

The National Whale and Dolphin Watch organised by the Sea Watch Foundation runs from the 21st June to 1st July from a variety of sites in Blackpool. See details on the Solaris Centre's website.

North Lancashire 31st May 2008

An early start saw us at Warton Crag Quarry before 8 O'clock. arriving at the car park and opening the Land Rover's doors we staight away heard the yik yik yik of the Peregrine Falcon. A quick scan of the cliff face revealed the female resting on a ledge close to the nest. A view through the telescope revealed two fluufy white chicks, technically known as eyas'. Totally unphased by their illustrious neighbours the large Jackdaw colony 'chacked' its way through its daily routine, perhaps enjoying the safety of having such a powerful predator in their midst. A Little Owl called from the right hand side of the cliff face but we were unable to locate it.
The morning was warming up and we had sightings of Common Blue and Green Veined White butterflies and a really bright Speckled Yellow moth. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs sang from the bushes.
On the verge of the car park was a single specimen of Early Purple Orchid.

The next site visited was Woodwell. In the well itself Greater Spearwort was in flower. A Chiffchaff was heard singing and a Nuthatch called from the woods. The information board at the start of the path declared that some of the Small Leaved Lime trees were actually older than Stonehenge! There was the strong scent of Wild Garlic under the canopy of the woods. A fallen log had an impressive collection of unknown species of bracket fungus (any ideas anyone). A pair of Large Red Damselflies were in tandem by the well.

Back at the Land Rover a very hopeful and daring Robin hopped under the open door waiting for crumbs to be thrown from our breakfast. As (s)he was pecking at her titbits a Green Woodpecker was heard 'yaffling' in the distance.

We then moved from the woods down to the estuary. whilst we were manoevering the Land Rover in to a suitable car parking space (it doesn't fit under the low bridge) a Kingfisher flew right over the bonnet.
The estuary was more like southern Europe than north Lancashire. 3 Spoonbills, 2 Little Egrets and several Avocets graced the pools. 2 huge Ravens were out on the marsh. back along the track to the car park Sedge and Willow Warblers were watched taking food to hungry nestlings.

Our nest stop was the RSPB reserve, Leighton Moss. Here the feeding station was a little quieter than usual but still amnaged to give us fantastic close up views of a pair of Bullfinches and 3 Grey Squirrels, one of which had sussed the squirrel proofing on the bird table and was happily sat with a fine male Chaffinch munching the
sunflower seeds..

The rest of the reserve was also fairly quiet, which is typical for mid day at this time of year. But we couldn't fault the show the 5 Marsh Harriers put on for us, gently wafting their elegant way over the reed beds. Making our way down to the Tim Jackson hide we had a couple of brief sightings of Bearded Tits as they shot overhead to and from nest sites. Looking out from the hide we saw a magnificent set of antlers looking like a giant hat stand, but as the reed is so tall we didn't see the owner. However we did connect with two of his younger brothers lurking under the bushes. A the same time a Kingfisher, perhaps the same one as earlier, gave a masterclass in diving from height. It was difficult to watch the nearby patrolling Emperor Dragonfly for fear of missing the Kingfisher's next dive. we were able to make a younsters day by showing him a lifer - Reed Bunting - how times have changed now that the under 10's are seeing Marsh Harriers before 'common place' birds like the Reed Bunting, good luck to him - may his life list grow ever longer!
The walk back to the Public Hide gave us more and better views of the Bearded Tits.

The Public Hide was very quiet, a few Tufted Ducks and Pochards and the ubiquitous Coots, but little else. A Great Black backed Gull broke the tranquil scene sending the few nesting Black Headed Gulls into a state of raucous panic as it popped in for a snack - on their chicks! We waited patiently hoping that we might fluke a sighting of the Otter but fluked a brief flight view of a Bittern instead.
A Red Deer hind made her way out of the woods and across the fields to the reed bed in the distance.

All in all a great day with over 75 species of birds and good views of Red Deer.

Where to next?

Saturday 14 June 2008

Bowland Foothills 5th May 08

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Wildlife Adventure Safaris

Safari Report 5th May 2008

This safari took us to the western slopes of the Forest of Bowland. It was a warm but muggy cloudy morning. Spring was in the air. For the first time this year the trees looked green rather than brown. Stepping out along the track birdsong was filling the air, particularly the loud fluty tones of a Mistle Thrush high in the canopy up on the valley side. A Nuthatch called repeatedly.

By the riverside is a particularly splendid Alder tree, which has been entered on to the Ancient Tree Hunt data base.

Following the river the woods were

alive with birdsong, although the new leaves were making spotting the singers a little difficult. The path meanders along the valley floor and we cut up a side path to climb the hillside. There the bracken is dense but the recent reduction of the numbers of sheep grazing has allowed the regeneration of a fair amount of Birch saplings. In this area we heard the rustle of dead bracken above us and looking up saw a fine Roe deer buck. He was

staring straight at us. The wind was not in our favour, nor were the scrunchy dead leaves underfoot. We had an excellent view of his face adorned by a decent pair of antlers. We watched for a minute or so before he bolted in to a thicket nearby. There he barked like a ferocious large dog and we could hear him thrashing around.

Moving on we rejoined the main footpath through the woods. The birds were still singing all around. I was hoping to be able to point out the trill of a Wood Warbler as there had been several on migration along the Fylde coast during the previous week. If they had reached their breeding grounds unfortunately they weren’t singing.

We did, however, get brilliant views of singing Blackcap, Garden Warbler and a Yellowhammer. Green Woodpecker was heard in the distance and a Skylark sung above us most of the morning.

Despite the warmth it was not sunny and there weren’t many insects about. Two Peacocks and one unidentified White were the only butterflies seen. Two Bright Silver Line moths were disturbed from the bracken covered hillside. In amongst the bracken plenty of Dog Violets were in flower.

Retracing our steps we came across our Roebuck again. With the wind more favourable we got superb views as he cantered across the fellside. Three Buzzards circled lazily over our heads as we watched him. We also came across one of his marking posts.

Chaffinches, Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs accompanied us along with our superb songster the Mistle Thrush. A Cuckoo was heard by other visitors but not by us. Back by the river a pair of Nuthatches very obligingly investigated a potential nesting hole only a few feet a

bove our heads.

Before returning to base we had a brief quick look for the Kingfisher at a regular haunt be it wasn’t to be found. In its place was a nesting Dipper which secretly approached its brood by diving under water, something I’ve never seen before.

Passing through one of the local villages, being Bank Holiday

, it was too busy to stop

and admire the 300+ year old Oak tree standing by the roadside. It was also disappointing that there was too much water in the river to be able to do the 4x4 ford to end the day.

In the lanes not far from Base Camp was a beautiful male Kestrel sitting on the top of a telegraph pole watching for mice, voles or maybe just a tasty worm.

Where to next?