Monday 29 September 2008

Swimming in Greece?

A far flung safari to report on this time. A trip to the lovely island of Rhodes. The swimming bit in the title was great with tepid calm water and a multitude of fish - all of which seem to like bread even more than Stanley Park ducks. Sadly, I do not know the names of any of them so if there is a reader out there who can suggest a good field guide to the fish of the Mediterranean the safari would be very grateful. Med fish aren't as bright as those from tropical reefs but there are some subtle beauts down there.

The first creature of note was this lovely Preying Mantis who posed very nicely for her picture.

After seeing the Red Backed Shrike family in Poland it was rather sad to find this youngster covered in ants dead on the road.

However some of it's siblings were alive and kicking and eating the rather large Hornets that were flying around all over the place.

I'm not sure if they were migrants or a resident family that nested somewhere nearby but this was the only male I saw all week and boy was he wary, he wouldn't let me anywhere near him for a better shot. I saw him for a few minutes on just one morning's walk.

The cliffs at the end of the bay had a selection of fossils including several of these perfectly preserved Scallops.

The sunset before the big storm was a picture - the storm itself was a humdinger, the first rain for five months apparently.

Other highlights included single Cory's and Yelkouan Shearwaters out at sea, four Eleanora's Falcons together in off the sea, 2 Long Legged Buzzards and a very obliging Kingfisher. I only managed to track down three species of lizard, Starred Agama, Anatolian Rock Lizard (juveniles have stunningly blue tails) and Levant Skink.

Amongst the insects the stars were Humming Bird Hawk-moths, and Long Tailed Blue, Oriental Meadow Brown and Southern Swallowtail butterflies. The former wave their long tails like pretend antennae and with the eye-spots look like the head, I've never noticed them do this before and not realised that the tails could be deliberately moved. Cunning eh?

Where to next? Could be anywhere! There are high tides and strong winds coming this week....not Stormies this time but Leach's Petrels......tiny, but enigmatic, ocean wanderers.

In the meantime let us know what you have found in your outback.

Sunday 28 September 2008

Last of the summer sunshine?

Two safaris today!

First up was a not too early trip to the seaside. With a north by northwesterly wind there wasn't much about, it would probably have been better yesterday with the gentle southerly that was blowing. All we found was a Grey Wagtail, at least three Wheatears and a Meadow Pipit. Out to sea the only birds seen were two Gannets and a small number of very distant Common Scoters. As the tide came in and the fishermen began to arrive a roost of just over fifty each of Redshanks and Turnstones developed on the wall of the old boating lake. The central pool of this mass of concrete has become a mini salt marsh with grasses and huge patch of Sea Aster which would have been beautiful a couple of weeks ago when in full flower. I had some photos for this section of the blog but managed to inadvertently format the memory card in the camera - - what a numpty!!!!

I hope today's fishermen are tidier than last night's - the prom was a disgrace of discarded line, bait packets, beer cans (empty) and food wrappers - take it home with you please!

Later on with blue skies and balmy temperatures the safari headed the Land Rover northwards up the motorway. The idea was to scout around and see if we could find any Adders basking in the afternoon sunshine. We thought it might be their last chance to get nice and warm and ready for feeding before the weather cools down and it's hibernation time again. We had a good poke around in a favoured area but the Sunday sunshine had brought out ramblers and dog walkers by the thousand so finding somewhere quiet and undisturbed was proving to be difficult. After about an hour we gave up; all we had seen were a few Common Darter dragonflies and a couple of washed out Speckled Wood butterflies. There was no sign of any snakes, not even a Common Lizard so the Land Rover was pointed in the direction of the Otters.

As soon as we were ensconced in the hide by the reedbed a Water Rail showed very well but all too briefly. In the distance a Marsh Harrier snoozed in a bush. Not much was happening but we were there for the waiting game. Two Stoats dashed across the mud right in front of us (right family - wrong species!), their black tipped tails showing they weren't Weasels.

The Marsh Harrier eventually took to the wing and had a short spin round the reedbed before disappearing off over the hill opposite. Later it or a different one was putting the terrors on the local ducks before plunge diving into the reedbed and flushing a Snipe and two Reed Buntings. As the afternoon turned to evening we were treated to a very nice sunset, the colours reflecting beautifully in the water of the lake. The temperature dropped and four Little Egrets came in to roost, but by the time darkness had fallen they had been joined by about another 25 or so making a scene more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than north Lancashire - how times are a-changing.

By now it was too dark to see and the Otters still hadn't appeared so reluctantly it was time to leave.
Was this really the last of the summer sun?

On the way back to the Land Rover a Tawny Owl was heard hooting in the distance and just before we reached the tarmac we flushed what sounded to be 3 or 4 Deer (probably Red Deer) from the reeds just to the side of the path, they crashed through the reeds away from us with much more noise that you normally associate with Deer.

Where to next? You'll have to wait and see - could be anywhere.

In the meantime let us know what you have found in your outback.

Sunday 14 September 2008

These aren't in my outback - unfortunately

The safari has been unable to get out and about this week so there's some reminiscing about far flung tours today.

Most of these aren't my pictures and I hope the photographer doesn't mind me using them...So what is it?

This little creature is one of the rarest mammals on the planet, there are fewer of them than there are Giant Pandas. It is about the size of a squirrel and eats termites in the sclerophyll forests of Western Australia. It is a Numbat. Possibly my favouritest animal on the planet despite the fact I've never seen one in the wild.

Why are they so rare? Introduced predators especially Foxes and domestic Cats have had a huge effect but probably more-so has been habitat destruction.

Above is a Termite mound that has been attacked by the little chaps. They are one of Australia's few smaller diurnal mammals and spend the night curled up together in a fallen hollow log.

The marsupial below is a Woylie another extremely endangered creature with a population measured in hundreds. Again introduced predators and habitat loss are the main culprits but disease and or parasites may also be a contributing factor. I have several pictures of these animals but all are useless to show as they are very, very fast and all you get is a brown blur when the bag gets opened. Why are they being caught? There is a major study going on in the WA forests and the Woylies are being tagged to find out how far they travel, how long they live and bloods and ticks are taken for analysis. I am very pleased to have helped in a very tiny way with this project.

Sneaking about in the shed is a Bandicoot - originator of a host of computer games. I'm not sure of the exact species (Western Bandicoot springs to mind - someone correct me if I'm wrong please). These are still relatively common in some areas and their nocturnal activities are usually accompanied by a lot of loud snuffling sounds.

And finally to good old Western Grey Kangaroos captured on my mate's 'stealth cam'. Again these can be very shy creatures and I have only one photograph and that of a distant animal just before it vanished in to thick cover. In other parts of Australia they can be quite tame and invade parks , gardens and golf courses etc, but not here.

If you are in WA or even if not to help protect one of the rarest (and cutest) creatures on earth why not join Project Numbat

Where to next? The safari has a foreign trip coming up soon. What will we have to report from that?

In the meantime let us know what you have seen in your outback, does anyone have Numbats?

Sunday 7 September 2008

Going batty for bats.

No pictures for this safari report - far too dark last night for the camera.
The safari helped our local bat expert with his event in Stanley Park, Blackpool. The weather again wasn't too promising, it was very windy. But the wind was warm and the showers held off. The bat man had been down to his favourite viewing area by the bridges over the lake and seen a few clusters of midges before starting his presentation.
So after the slide show we set off with bat detectors set to 45 kHz and within a few minutes had registered our first contact only a few yards from the Visitor Centre. More hits were heard as we made our way to the bridge and once Over the water in the shelter between the trees it was bat city! The detectors were going crazy.
Looking up towards a brighter patch of sky between the tree tops we had a remarkable aerial show from several bats. All of them were Pipistrelles. Then returning to the car park in the lee of the cafe building we had our best contact of the evening. Looking through the light from the cafe we could see another bat this time only a foot or so above our heads - it came back for a couple of passes - brilliant.
Everyone went home happy. One young girl said..."I like bats now. I'm not frightened of them anymore" Excellent news no one needs to be frightened of bats it's a shame Hollywood gives such endearing creatures a bad reputation.
Where to next? Somewhere good that's for sure.
In the meantime let us know what you have found in your outback!

Friday 5 September 2008

Wet wet wet in north Lancs

The Met Office promised sunny spells with showers so the safari drove out to north Lancashire on the trail of Adders in the sunshine. The rain was torrential and the skies an unblemished steely grey so we adopted Plan B. Where does it not matter if it's raining - a wetland of course! A wetland with the chance of Otters is a bonus. We hiked through sodden woodland to the watersedge. On the way we came across a large party of mixed tits with plenty of Marsh Tits, a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest thrown in for good measure.
At the water there was little showing, the usual Mallards and Coots and skimming low over the water around a 100 Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. This young Moorhen pecked around the shallows in front of us.
We waited patiently for the Otters but no sign - we will be coming back - we haven't given up yet!
On the way back to the Land Rover there were a few surprises we didn't notice on the way in. We startled a young Red Deer stag with a pitiful set of antlers. He went haring across a field of bullocks sending them scattering in all directions. He gave us great views when he stopped to look back to see if he had out-distanced us.
Then we came across this lichen encrusted tree - a beautiful mix of shades and textures.

Finally rounding a corner we couldn't fail to notice this enormous fungus growing from the base of an Ash tree. I've no idea what it is perhaps someone could enlighten us. (Jack from Lancashire Nature might be our man - see blog links on right)
Leaving the wetland for a disused quarry we had a mooch around turning stones on a desperate hunt for Slow Worms. Desperate indeed as it was far too cold and wet for any lizards to be active. The surroundings are impressive - weird to think all that solid rock used to be a coral reef in a tropical sea, the fossils of the creatures that lived there are visible on the rock face. Old yes but far from fossilised is this patch of sn*t. It is a strange life form called Nostoc. when dry it resembles a cross between cardboard and a crisp. when wet - well judge for yourselves.
It is actually a colonial Cyanobacteria. "A what?" I can almost hear you ask. It's a type of Blue-green alga that gets its energy from sunlight by photosynthesis. They are present in all habitats; ocean, freshwater, bare rock and temporarily moistened rocks in deserts, inside lichens (see above) and even inside the fur of Sloths. They are closely related to the Stromatolites of 2.8 billion years ago (Stromatolites are still found alive and well today but only in Shark Bay, Western Australia and the Bahamas). The ancient Stromatolites were responsible producing the oxygen in the earth's atmosphere and so set off an evolutionary explosion of life. Nostoc doesn't look much but without it's ancestors we wouldn't be here today!
Getting wetter by the minute we returned to the wetland. A Grey Heron huddled against the weather. In a small copse a majestic Red Deer stag sheltered from the elements. What a set of antlers he had, probably over 6 feet (2m) across. Sadly he wouldn't leave the shelter of the trees for a photo. Breaks in the weather allowed birds of prey brief opportunities for a flight and we had a good selection, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, a gi-normous female Peregrine and a dashing Merlin pretending to be a Mistle Thrush. Icing on the cake was a spectacular fly past by an Osprey. Who says you won't see stunning wildlife in inclement weather!
Sorry about the quality of these shots...doh me and my camera aren't the best of friends at the moment. But this little Hoverfly (species?) is an absolute beaut. I apologise for the fuzziness; maybe I should wear my specs more!
With the weather improving, if only slightly, and the super Red Deer stag under our belts it was time to track down the other two species of deer. Before long we had seen a splendid Fallow Deer buck (not stags for this species), but again he was too well hidden in the trees for a photo. try as we might we couldn't find a Roe Deer, which should be the easiest of the three. This herd of hinds and young male Fallow Deer spent more time looking at us than we spent looking at them. There were eight in all. Superb and definitely worth the days soaking. And then we had a very young Spotted Flycatcher flitting about between a bush and the fence right next to us, which I didn't notice at first because I was too busy watching a Chiffchaff down to about 5 feet, so close my binoculars wouldn't focus on it.
At the end of the safari we crossed the field and noticed these two trees worthy of recording on the Ancient Tree Hunt (see link on right). The first is a Crab Apple of huge proportions, the second an Ash with a well formed root bole.

By the end of the day we had seen just shy of 60 species of birds, 5 mammals, zero reptiles - surprise surprise, 2 butterflies, 2 dragonflies, and don't forget the Nostoc! An excellent day's safari in atrocious conditions.

Where to next? Does more bad weather = more good wildlife? Wait and see.

In the meantime let us know what you have found in your outback.

Monday 1 September 2008

A RANT on behalf of 4x4 drivers

Hi all - a totally different tack today.

This is more for anyone visiting the blog from the driving links in my profile than the wildlifers.

I have been reading in the mags about the antics of some (and by the sound of it more than a tiny minortiy!) 4x4 drivers deliberately and wantonly leaving bona fide Green Lanes to have 'fun' off piste. How selfish and irresponsible is that.

We have already lost too many drivable lanes to the pressure from the 'antis' and you are giving them depleted uranium ammunition to get us banned out of the countryside numpties! Especially when much of the 'damage' to the lanes is caused by legitimate farm traffic but still gets blamed on us.

I remember many years ago (eeehhh when oi worr a lad) I worked on the Garburn Pass between Troutbeck and Kentmere making it usable and safe for vehicles. Whilst there we had a party of off road bikers pass by, none of them, riders nor machines, were under 60. Now that lane is closed..why?...we want it back...along with all the others that have been used by wheeled traffic in the past. Just because 4 cylinders have replaced 4 legs shouldn't mean access is stoppped. That's discrimination....Should I have written this before the CROW Act?

So I say to those who want to get muddy, "Go to a pay and play" site and test your skill and machine to their limits OR stay ON the green lanes. If you think the 'p n p' sites aren't challenging enough think again, there's enough demanding terrain provided at all of them to keep my mate's 6x6 Volvo (aka The Moose) interested and that will go much further than any tricked up Defender/HiLux/Pajero (can you trick up a Pajero?)

And another thing.....I am (slightly) disabled but not enough to hire one of those quads they let you take on Public Footpaths but I can drive my car but I'm no longer allowed to leave the tarmac and explore. Has any one seen the track up Hellvellyn made by boots? I bet you can see it from space! I have slept at the summit shelter there in the past but now struggle to get up more than the lower slopes of Loughrigg Fell. So why can't I enjoy 'remote' countryside, I don't want to go charging off here there and everywhere, I'm quite willing to join a group to help repair any 'alleged' damage and my car has a tiny carbon footprint.

Gotta go now and pick up Disco from garage - new shocks fitted, unfortunately not enough pennies in the piggy bank to go for a lift, extra armour plating, etc etc but the car is only ever as good as the driver and I'm afraid I think my bottle goes a bit too early.

Anyone fancy a mass trespass a la the Ramblers?

Rant over...normal service will be resumed forthwith...see you at the trespass!