Monday 29 December 2008

Got it but not quite ready yet.

Yes...the safari successfully completed the river crossing again yesterday and at last we managed to film it. But the river wasn't as deep as the other day and the water only washed up over the bonnet. I think the hard frost has locked up much of the water in the hills and so there is less water coming down the river. I'll post the film when it has been downloaded off my co-pilot's camera which was cleverly strapped to the bullbar on the Land Rover.

Crossing the river to the other side takes you into another world of windy lanes with high hedges, small fields and scattered copses. We soon came across a Buzzard looking realy nice in the crisp light of a cold winter's day.

At a favoured site the only wildlife of note was a superb view of a Nuthatch probing the bark for food. As we watched it found a couple of white grubs in the crevices.

We left this site by the 4x4 track, patiently waiting for a group of ramblers coming down the steep track on the opposite hillside of the ford. To get up the steep, wet slope with a film of ice over the loose rocks we would need full throttle, so best to wait until everyone was safely out of the way. The Disco rattled up with no problems, there was even power to spare.

Travelling a few miles to another site we decided to search for Roe Deer. Leaving the track and quietly entering the dense wood we came across a fair sized flock of Long Tailed Tits with two tiny Goldcrests with them. Roe Deer have excellent hearing and moving through wood over crisply frozen frozen ground with plenty of fallen leaves and dead twigs demanded all our tracking skills. Eventually we came across a couple of deer. Despite our best efforts they had heard us coming but all all on the safari got good if fleeting views, sadly to short for photographs - might have to set a hide up in the warmer months! A few yards further on we came across a third which could well have been one of the original two.

It is still December but one small Hawthorn sapling sported a recently sprouted bright green leaf. There is a reasonable selectionof fungi in the wood and the tree composition appears to be changing. The colonising Silver Birch and Poplar (see pic above with the diagnostic diagonal lenticels in the bark- also the abundance of small trees and dense understorey despite the deer) are coming to the end of their lives and being blown over or rotting off and there are a lot of small Ash and Hawthorn waiting to take over the canopy space when it becomes available. In this area we found a very obliging Treecreeper which we watched going about its business for several minutes.

I'll ask Jack of Lancashire Nature (see blog links on right) to identify these fungi - he's pretty knowledgable where as I'm not).
Along the river we eventually saw a fly past Dipper.

At the car park the Rangers have set up a feeding station and whilst enjoying a welcome hot coffee we had stunning views of two Jays, two Nuthatches and assorted tits and finches a Robin and a Reed Bunting.

With some daylight left we headed west to the plains and a site for Short Eared Owl. Only a few minutes after parking the Land Rover one appeared quuartering a rough field about 100 yards away - brilliant in the low afternoon sun. We learnt from other people there that we had somewhat disappointingly only just missed a Barn Owl. Some of the other grazed fields around held good numbers of Curlew, Lapwing, and/or Pink Footed Geese. With time getting short it was time to head back to the warmth of the fireside...a super safari with a good mix of wildlife, off road driving and adventure...

Where to next? Not sure yet but there will be great wildlife to be seen where-ever it is.

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

Saturday 27 December 2008


Christmas isn't Chrismas without a Robin; unfortunatley there was no snow up in the hills to really set this little fella off Christmas card style.
Here he is in all his digitally zoomed blurredness.

A short safari this afternoon with Frank the mudhound took us to the hills. Very little around in the woods. A small flock of Long Tailed Tits, no more than a handful of Robins, a single and lonely Coal Tit, somewhere overhead a Buzzard peeooo-ed and on the lake there was a small flock of Mallard. Scanning the woods and Rhododendron scrub (see leaves behind Robin) from the valley track revealed no Roe Deer but a fine male Goosander flew over. That was about it. Lots and lots and lots of four footed bird scarers (as Fleetwood Birder - see blog links on right - calls them)

On the way back we decided to do the river crossing in the Land Rover as it hadn't rained too much recently. A successful passage but still deep in the hole; water slooshed over the bonnet and right up and over the windscreen - right foot hard down and keep the power on and hope the engine doesn't run out of air - and relief as we climb out - will the new vehicle get a snorkel?

Good job the safari is getting a new vehicle as the current tore off a piece of the plastic underbumper to the sound of horrible scrunching noises climbing out the far side as it caught on the front wheel.

We were set to film the crossing but the approach is quite rough and my cameraman's finger came off the record button so you don't get us actually reaching the river! Oops - will have try again.

Spot the difference!

Where to next? Well back to the river crossing to see if we can lose the other half of the bumper. (Never realised there was that big rust hole hiding behind the plastic trim!)

In the meantime let us know what bits you have lost of your car in a river this Christmas holiday. Or is your Robin the same as ours. Everywhere us Brits have been we've called something vaguely reddish a you must have one somewhere.

Thursday 25 December 2008

A Christmas short

The safari had a short trip out today before turkey and all the trimmings. More a case of getting out of the way while dinner was being prepared.

We found ourselves at Marton Mere nature reserve again. Unfortunately there were more dogs out than wildlife and the numpties above spent ages encouraging their mutts to jump into the wildlife ponds. I just hope they hadn't been in any of the nearby ponds that are contaminated with the invasive alien plants Crassula and/or Azolla otherwise the sterling efforts of the Nature Watch group will have been to no avail as it is almost impossible to eradicate these plants once they have taken hold. 'Ignorance is bliss' - so this lot must be very happy!

Over the mere itself the light was grotty and these are the best I can do with Photo Editor. Plenty of Common Gulls were on the water. A couple of Goldeneyes and a smattering of Tufted Ducks and Pochard but we couldn't see the recently reported female Ferruginous Duck - or is it some type of Aythya hybrid, no-one seems quite sure yet.

Down in the scrub the Long Eared Owls were disappointingly absent too. However there were a few Blackbirds about and the odd Fieldfare. Roll on the January sales and I can bag a bargain in the dslr camera with a bit of a telephoto lens line rather than rely on this little compact.

With the weather going to be cooling down again the few remaining apples are a vital food supply for the thrushes on the reserve.

At the reserve gate this male Kestrel come in from the west and in the still air decided to hunt from a perch high in a Poplar tree.

That was all we had time for - a turkey was beckoning.

Where to next? The weekend looks go for a safari but in which direction will we be heading?

In the meantime let us know what have you been seeing in your outback. Has any one in the USA seen real live backwoods Turkeys?

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Possibly a safari tomorrow

Watch this space - there may be a safari tomorrow morning.

If not a very merry Christmas and a prosperous and peaceful New Year to you all.

Is any one out there from northern Iran? I always fancied a trip to the SE corner of the Caspian Sea at migration time...reckoned it could be a really good area to view visible raptor migration.

A correction and an apololgy

Further to my random facts..the best book never written wasn't penned by Mr Sanders and was entitled 'A Beginners Guide to British Bus Shelters'...Thanks to co-safarist Ian for putting me right..apologies to Al... my memory isn't what it used to be and the Ladies Slipper Orchid trip was about 20 years ago! Where does time go?

Where to next? A safari with an aquatic theme later today.

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

Sunday 21 December 2008

Exciting stuff

The safari went on the hunt for a new vehicle today. On the way down the motorway there were three Roe Deer grazing away in the field oblivious to the busy traffic on the carriageway only a few metres away.
The new car...looks nice...very this space.
And I still haven't done any Christmas shopping...ttime is getting seriously short now.
Where to next? The shops!!!!
In the meantime, holidays permitting, let us know what you have seen in your festive outback.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Six Random Facts about lil' ol' me.

Monika tagged me for the Six Random Facts meme. If you've never heard of a meme, you can learn what they are here. This blog normally focuses on nature and my puny attempts at photography. However, as I've become more engrossed in the blogging community, I always enjoy getting a glimpse of the person behind the blog, especially when from their content I can tell we have a lot in common. It lets you learn a little about the storyteller, instead of just always listening to the story. So, here we go....(if you recognise this Monika - thanks, I couldn't have put it better I plagiarised your blurb...copy and paste is such a wonderful concept!!)

Here are the rules to the Six Random Facts Meme:
1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog.
3) Write six random things about yourself.
4) Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5) Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6) Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So what are these weird and wonderful random facts?

1 - I have a deep, some might say unnatural, love of football (soccer). But I haven't been to see Blackpool this season as our beloved chairman has put the price of a match ticket up too much and so I'm protesting and skint.

Obviously I was at the winning day at the New Wembley Stadium when we beat Yeovil Town to gain promotion to the Championship....what a great day!!!!!

2 - Monika's blue hair (in her six random facts blog) inspired me to tell you about my horse riding escapades. There are none - me and horses do not mix I'm terrified of the beasts they are huge, bite and kick, and make huge amounts of mess which take ages to muck out. And another thing how do you do the up and down thing when trotting if you have no natural rhythm. But I used to help out at my local Riding for the Disabled club and there is a photo but believe me - no-one is ever going to see it. No amount of 'oh go on' ing is going to get me to change my mind and publish it on the web; and no my hair was not blue!
3 - I have a couple of regrets in life.....1) I refused to see The Police at the height of their early success and popularity because tickets were 75p, not the usual 50p to watch a gig. I saw plenty of other bands...some famous (Annie Lennox and The Tourists)...some past their best (Nazareth)...some bad (Haircut 100)...and Hi Tension - a brilliant Jazz Funk combo that no-one else seems to have ever heard of.
2) I used to get home so late I met the bird ringers (banders) going out. How I wish now I'd given my bed a miss and gone with them to learn this fascinating skill.
4 - I'm not the world's luckiest international traveller. first trip abroad my plane to Israel was delayed and I got to Tel Aviv too late to get my connection to Haifa. So I had to spend over half my money for the four month trip on a taxi. When I got to Haifa everywhere was closed and I spent my first ever night out of the UK sleeping in a bus stop.
My first trip to Australia was blighted by the idiot known as Bin Bag Laden - I was supposed to fly out of the UK on the day after his dough brained chums hit the two towers. No chance..and I'm telling you if I'd have missed out on that trip I'd have personally hunted him down and burnt his bushy beard off with a blow it is he owes me a weeks holiday in Aus as compensation...don't suppose I'll ever get it and I hope this outburst hasn't got me a Fatwah.
5 - I really like Brussels Sprouts...really.
Indeed I like almost all food...i rarely eat anything else?!?!
6 - I can pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch the longest place name in the UK and one of the longest in the world (58 letters in English only 51 in Welsh) but why would I want to.
7 - Never was one for rules!
My favourite unwritten book is 'A Field Guide to British Bus Shelters' by A Saunders. An idea conceived on a trip to see the Ladies Slipper Orchids in ??????? (top secret...and a bit of trespassing involved). Al was not a naturalist!
Passing this meme on my six tags are....tbc and a picture or two to be added later....No; not the Riding for the Disabled one.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Short but sweet

This morning's safari was about the shortest ever, fortunately we got back to the Land Rover before the heavens opened.
There was little around but this sulphury yellow fungus was spotted growing on a rotting Willow stump. I've no idea what species it is but the top picture taken from above is a more accurate colour, in the other pics the flash has made the fungus look more golden than it was in life.

These apples haven't been eaten yet and will be an important source of food if the weather turns cold again. The reason they are still on the tree is because trunk is surrounded by dense Brambles keeping them safe from human pilferers.
The Gulls on the mere were twitchy; a Cormorant fishing underwater kept coming up for breath in between them giving them the heeby-jeebies. All the usual gull suspects were there, again Black Headed and Herring were the most numerous followed by Commons. There was just one of both Lesser and Greater Black Backs.
Where to next? Christmas shopping is now getting urgent - only a week left but there may be a chance of a new and much fancier Land Rover, so the next safari might be a long time coming but travelling in a little more style and comfort.
In the meantime let us know what you have found in your outback.
Monika at Orca Watcher (see blog links on right) has challenged me to come up with 6 random facts about myself...hmmmm - thinking cap is on...random facts tomorrow.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Morning 0 - 1 Afternoon

This morning the safari set off for he coast on the off chance that there may be some (or a) Harbour Porpoises about as one (perhaps two) was seen a little to the south a couple of days ago. The sea was choppy and you wouldn't want it any rougher to stand a chance of seeing that little black fin, but worse than choppy was a sea mist with visibility down to no more than half a mile. We have seen them nearer than this but it doesn't help having most of the sea out of sight.
All we could muster was the usual gulls, plenty of Black Headed and Herring Gulls, a few Common Gulls and only two Lesser Black Backs, although many of he latter will have migrated south by now.
The old boating pool held a decent wader roost of about 200 Redshanks and 61 Turnstones. A Grey Wagtail flew in but landed out of sight. There is a colour ringing scheme on this species - see Heysham Bird Observatory blog on right for details.
A fly over Pied Wagtail and a solitary Meadow Pipit were all the cliffs could manage.
Later in the afternoon the safari managed a trip to the superb Marton Mere nature reserve. We arrived just as the sun was going down and the reeds on the far bank were glowing. There were reports of 6 Long Eared Owls, apparently not showing particularly well, a Peregrine Falcon and a Buzzard. We set up in position with some friends and waited to see if the Bittern was going to put in appearance. Conditions were perfect but the bird was a no show!
A Sparrowhawk came belting out of the bushes and veered past us at the last minute before swooping unannounced into the Feeding Station. A few small flocks of Starlings made their way to the coast but none decided to roost at the reserve, maybe that's why the Bittern didn't show; we have seen them trying to catch Starlings as they dive into the reed bed to roost.

There was good selection of waterfowl on the mere; something spooked about 200 Teal from the shelter of the reedbeds but scanning through them diligently revealed no American Green Winged Teal. There is one not far away at Marshside RSPB reserve on the other side of the river.

The temperature started to drop once the sun had set and the grass underfoot became crispy with frost. A chilly mist rose over the water. The photo below is an attempt to capture the ethereal essence of the evening.
The rangers have recently put up a new Barn Owl box and we hung around in the cold to see if any were about without success. While we were waiting a Peregrine Falcon flew overhead and then low across the fields nearby. We also heard a Little Owl 'peeeoooo-ing' in the distance, a few Snipe left the reserve for their nocturnal feeding areas in the fields and a lone Lapwing 'chewit-ed' in the darkness.
We left in the pitch black with ice starting to form on the windscreen of the Land Rover.
Where to next? Still need to catch up with those Waxwings; but there is an awful lot of Christmas shopping that needs attending to too.
In the meantime let us know what you have found in your tropical paradise or snowy waste or even windswept temperate area.

Monday 8 December 2008

More wildlife training for Frank needed - urgently!

Frank was utterly useless at finding wildlife on his first trip out as a safari guide. He did however find plenty of wet water, mud and dirt; most of which is now on the inside of the Land Rover. Annoyingly too, he is very hard to get a good photo of - he just won't keep still long enough.

His simple task was to sniff out the Preston Waxwings. Not too much to ask. So we followed his nose to the Rowan tree plantation and Waxwing magnet that is Stocks Road. Disappointingly there were none there so we headed in to town around the university campus...none there either...come on Frank you're letting the side down. Somewhat disheartened we travelled from the 'back to back' terraced houses of inner city Preston to the wilds of Lancashire's outback.

It was a long shot but with no leaves on the trees there could be a chance of picking up a tit flock with a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in attendance. This tree was riddled with Woodpecker holes of a variety of sizes. But it was still a very long shot. All we managed in a couple of hours trekking through the woods and through freezing streams were two Great Tits, two Blue Tits, a single Coal Tit and a Treecreeper - and I missed that one! Snow still lay on the ground and the woods were picture post card pretty . All we did find were a few nice bracket fungi and some interesting looking black fungi both growing on different Silver Birch trees.

We gave the Lesser 'Pecker a miss and headed off to a nearby conifer plantation in the hope of coming across some Crossbills. No chance - the woods were dead and with no cone crop there seems little chance of Crossbills here this winter; nothing was moving at all until we had almost returned to the Land Rover. Then out of nowhere we heard two Jays shrieking at each other.

Back to Stocks Road etc...still no Waxwings! The cold weather must have forced them to leave.

So it was off to a new site down by the river. The Ribble here is tidal and the tide was out so there was the chance of some wading birds on the exposed mudflats. None! A few Mallard were loafing about and we could hear Teal 'pleeping' further along the path. In the wooded are we came across another Jay and saw a second one at this site fly across the river from the far bank. There were Robins everywhere, seemingly one in every bush.

Looking over the end of the dock wall we came across the sighting of the day...A Salmon!...a large male with a well pronounced beak...almost a metre long...what a shame it was dead on the mud...a glorious fish. It seems strange to imagine that Brown Bears would probably been fishing in the shallows at what is now Avenham Park for this fish's ancestors only a thousand or so years ago, just like they do on the TV in Alaska now...not long ago really...can we have them back please! (no doubt they'd have been dodging the Beavers - which hopefully will be fully re-introduced into britain in the next few years if the current Scottish trial is a success).

Enough of the reminiscing; looking back up the river Preston looked almost pretty in the low afternoon sun with the reddish hues of light catching the limestone spire of St Walburga's church above the bullnose of the dock entrance.

Thanks to safari close up photographer, Raf, for the digi-binned shot of the Salmon's head.

A bit of human rather than natural history now. This dock was the largest single dock in Europe when it opened in the middle of the 19th Century and accounted for over 15% of Britain's trade.

The spire is the third highest in the UK at 94m and was designed by J.A Hanson (of the Hanson Cab fame - the very first specialist horsedrawn taxis). Opened in 1864 it houses the largest swinging bell in Britain at 1.5 tonnes. It is the tallest church steeple in the UK, Norwich and Salisbury are higher but they are both cathedrals and centuries older. It seems strange to design such a marvelous structure and not make it the biggest in the country particularly with the backing of all the Victorian finance and engineering skills available. Maybe a Catholic church wasn't allowed a taller spire than the Anglican cathedrals. And finally, working on this spire was the last job of ace steeplejack and TV personality, Fred Dibnah.

And why all this churchy stuff...well it was Sunday!

Where to next? Not sure yet, but it won't be to the ends of the earth because I just had to turn down the opportunity of a life time to go as a presenter on a show with the BBC Natural History Unit for 10 weeks next spring. Wow...can't believe I did that!!!!! I have very few regrets in life, I hope I haven't added another very very big one! Look out for the show next year - 'To the Ends of the Earth.' Right job - wrong time......nice to know I was in with a shout after the first interview round and screen test...mind you, I was always told by my mate, Pete, I had a good face for radio!!!

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

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Winter's here but where is all the wildlife?

A cold, cold start for the safari today. The ice crystals on the bonnet (hood) and windscreen almost look like someone has been up all night producing a superb leafy paint effect.

Overnight there had been hail rattling on the windows at Base camp but once down the hill and looking over the bay it was obvious that many places had had a fall of snow. This is the Coniston Range of the Lake District looking north from the Promenade. The Welsh hills to the south were similarly snow covered but unphotographable due to the sun, haze and extra distance.

A very quick scan of the rising tide at lunch time revealed very little. Just a few Gulls and small flocks of very distant Common Scoters out on the horizon.

Where to next? The time is nigh for a trip to see the Waxwings. Hope they haven't munched all the berries and moved on.

In the meantime what have you seen in your frozen waste or tropical paradise? Let us know.

Monday 1 December 2008

Frankie goes to Holyoake

The safari set off in thick fog this Saturday morning. The post could have been called 'Yorkshire Fog and Lancashire fog'. Yorkshire Fog is an attractive summer flowering grass that is still flowering, as a weed, in my neighbours garden. Lancashire fog was the weather conditions it was a real 'pea-souper' with visibility down the hill less than a hundred yards. The frozen ice crystals just seems a little unusual on the green flowers of this species of grass.
Just to prove it is actually flowers here are some dead stems with a fresh flowering shoot as evidence.
A safari in to the countryside was called for to enjoy the surreal ethereal surroundings.

The hoare frost had covered all the vegetation like an early Christmas card. And the thick fog was having an effect on new safari guide, Frank. I don't think his eyes were giving him much information as he was quite nervy.

But it was pretty much white-out conditions. That is a person with a large dog appearing in the murk about 30 yards away!

With little to see we had to use our ears to find the wildlife. There were flocks of Pink Footed Geese going over, or maybe the same flock going round in circles, and it was nice to hear the clear whistles of some Wigeon over head. A solitary Redshank 'teuu teuu-uu'ed trying to find some friends in the mist.
Along the track a Wren clung to a tree trunk like a Treecreeper and scolded Frank as we walked by. what a racket by something so tiny at something so much bigger! All of a sudden it started to rain?, but it wasn't rain - it was icicles being knocked of the twigs at the top of a huge Willow tree by a very ungainly and unsure of what it was trying to do Moorhen. It was at least 40 feet up. Had it too been flying around in the fog. I've seen them climbing about in low waterside bushes before but in over 45 years of watching Moorhens I've never seen one that high off the ground and if it needed to hide in cover there was plenty along the edge of the stream, which incidentally wasn't frozen. So it remains a mystery as to why it was up there struggling about in the tiniest twigs so far off the ground. But isn't that the exciting thing about venturing out on safari. You just don't know what you are going to find - it could be something completely new, or something completely ordinary doing something completely new. Like 'they' say - you live and learn.
As it happens today (Monday) after two days of sub-zero temperatures many of the ponds and lakes have started to freeze. After mentioning the Moorhen story to the Rangers I got a call a couple of hours later telling me they were watching 5 Moorhens at the top of some medium sized trees at an ornamental pond near the nature reserve. It seems here that disturbance was the reason; with the pond frozen the only safe place from predators was up!
Where to next? The safari still has an eye on those Waxwings. The numbers seem to be building up, we just hope the berries last until we have a chance to go and get a look at these Scandinavian invaders.
In the meantime let us know what you have found in your frozen or tropical outback.
Why Frankie goes to Holyoake not Hollywood - well, as you might have already guessed, Holyoake is the name of the area we took the safari to. Crickey...literery genius or what!