Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Invasion of the rhizome snatchers - updated

The safari went to see more digging by the Environment Agency at Marton Mere nature reserve today. Wow...what a lot of work, new islands, vistas opened up through the reeds in front of the hides, feeding channels for the Bitterns, sneaky hideaways for nesting waterfowl; how good is this going to be in the coming season!
All this digging has broken up literally tons of reed rhizomes eagerly feasted upon by our resident Canada Geese. There are, or at least have recently been, some apparently genuine North American Canada Geese in amongst the Pink Footed Geese on the fields to the north. The Bean Geese, both races, taiga and tundra (or are they full species?), are far more interesting.

Cracking looking birds as Canada Geese are I can't muster up much enthusiasm for them - sorry - nor do I find the feral Grey Lag Geese any more exciting; although the truly wild flocks just over the border in Scotland are fine and dandy.

From inspection of the top picture this male (cob) Mute Swan has murder on his mind. That low hunched posture with wings half flexed means someone is going to get some serious trouble. Probably the Canada Goose at the other end of the frame.

Introductions are a nightmare but re - introductions are are a bizarre thing, thousands of pounds are being spent on Beavers yet there is now talk of remote contaception for the Wild Boar in the southern parts of the country, once indigenous but not very pretty.
I once spent a night alone in a remote mountain bothy in the Highlands of Scotland with only the moon and wind for company, a thin peat and dry heather twig fire flickered miserably in the hearth...all that was missing was the howl of a Wolf pack in the nearby woods - what chance of these impressive animals being re - introduced...none, probably...sad to say!
Forgot to mention that we also had two Long Eared Owls on the nature reserve, the very easy one and a much more tricky one. Managed to get a group of visiting birders on to them, only to find out back at the office that 8 had been seen that morning! And because it was lunch time and we had to get back we drove past Lawson's field which was full of gulls without stopping...one of which was a Mediterranean Gull...I must be loing my touch; I can usually smell 'em!

Where to next? Still a couple of days calm and Porpoises are about before the windy weather returns. Who knows what the wind will blow in, and there was a Waxwing recently in a nearby garden...doh...is the safari not going to have the chance to find any of these 'common' birds (this winter at least) before they disappear back to continental Europe.

In the meantime let us know what's missing from your outback.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Doh the best laid plans...

Every one has a dark side and the safari's, as a commited environmentalist, is motorsport. This weekend the North West Stages Rally is in town doing time trials along stretches of the prom as well as other venues. What a catastophe...I'm stuck at work and all the action will have finished by the time I knock off. See this link for all the news.
Back to more 'natural' news...there is only one week left of the February Great Garden Bird Count. Base Camp is not doing too badly but we could do with some more additions to the list. Every morning I can hear Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush in the dawn chorus, they're close but just not quite spotable from the curtilage of my property. Common Gulls are horrendously numerous on the football field a few hundred metres away but I've not seen one flying over yet, indeed they very rarely do. This morning a small flock of Long Tailed Tits was agonisingly close but didn't venture in. I notice that other web sites are starting to record Meadow Pipits on the move again so that is a morning possible...what will the next addition to the list be?
Where to next? A brief trip to the south side tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what do you think the next addition to your near outback list will be.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Some good, some not so good

A selection of safari photos from the weekend.

First up a gang of hibernating Garden Snails holed up in a very old looking Hawthorn tree.

Late winter/early spring is the time Gorse starts to flower most prolifically, although some flowers can be found at any time of year hence the expression 'Kissing goes out of fashion when the Gorse stops flowering! '

This patch of Snowdrops not far from Base Camp is stunning, better than the pitiful tiny patches in some more natural woodlands - are these planted or natural - don't know but they are within a very old orchard.

Dunnocks are not often seen far from cover. This one was many yards from the nearest bush fossicking around in some rather sloppy mud.

Found 'em - a couple of Bee Orchids - have to wait until the first week of June to see them in flower though...patience is a virtue.

Another one with only two leaves so far.

Song Thrush - will they ever become common again?

Now for something I never knew! Not that I know much about marine life. This bundle of Whelks eggs came as a bit of a surprise. I saw them but didn't realise they were actually stuck to the sack. Normally they are seen in small tennis ball sized clumps rolling around on the beach. I didn't know that they stuck their eggs to a substrate...and in the absence of Kelp fronds a fibreglass sack will do just fine...you learn something new every day!

This Redshank wasn't for being photographed - it was too nervous to get just quite close enough and wouldn't keep still, better luck next time!

Where to next? Wherever the wind blows I guess.
In the meantime let us know what you haev learned about your outback this week.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The safari went a short walk out east this arvo. Ater struggling in the morning to add another species to the Great February Back Garden Count - and there's been a Raven kicking about that could well have been visible from the garden - an almost mild and very pleasant afternoon promised much...and produced the goods...nothing special but good to be out and about if only a few hundred yards from Base Camp. A massive patch of Snowdrops looked stunning, nearby a Goldcrest hovered about underneath Bramble leaves in the style of a Pallas's Warbler. But lacking the pale rump and fancy head stripes it was 'only' a Goldcrest. A Song Thrush gave a few blasts of 'Did he do it? did he do it? did he do it? He did, he did, he did!' Very nice to hear this increasingly scarce song...they used to be so common; what have we done to the environment to lose something so familiar only a few short years ago? Happily there was a second a little further on.
A few minutes down the track the muddy gate to the horse paddock provided rich pickings, a solitary Dunnock and a flock of about 25 Goldfinches. In with the Goldfinches were a few Greenfinches. They were interested in a very muddy patch by a puddle but it was impossible to tell what they were after...there didn't seem to be anything there but as soon as I had moved away they flew straight back.
Suddenly they exploded from the ground in all directions plunging deep in to the adjacent bushes...a Sparrowhawk came through only inches off the ground and would have left Lewis Hamilton standing it was motoring that fast.
Not much further on a Kestrel was swooping about the edge of the housing estate much more sedately.
The return journey was quieter but a few House Sparrows twittered in their usual excited way in the bushes at the side of the track. It's a real shame we don't get these enigmatic little chaps at Base Camp.
Last job before hitting the tarmac was to hunt for the winter rosettes of Bee Orchids, and within a few minutes two had been located. More time for a thorough search would probably have revealed several more...nice to find in February though and if I hadn't lost the cable that attaches the camera to the computer you might have seen some photos...musta left it at work.
Where to next? Chance of a short safari to somewhere or other tomorrow...no work...day off...SORTED!!!
In the meantime let us know what isn't in your environment anymore.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Oh deer!

The safari had a forced trip out of town for a meeting this morning necessitating a trip down the motorway. Half way down the motorway is a field which regularly holds a small herd of Roe Deer. This morning didn't disappoint - there were three - brilliant - grazing away quietly only a few yards from the racing morning traffic. Need to work out how to get there for an early morning stake out with the camera without causing a major pile-up disaster on the motorway.

On the way back the safari called in for a very brief visit at Marton Mere. The Environment Agency were on site with a digger making a channel along the edge of the reedbeds for Bitterns to feed along. As the digger dropped the contents of the bucket a pair of Stonechats immediately hopped out off their reedy perches and into the slop on the hunt for grubs. They had a friend, a Grey Heron; it was following the digger just out of range of the bucket hoping that a Frog or Eel might just be dug up.

Where to next? Who knows what's going to be where in the next few days...if the gods are smiling that White Tailed Sea Eagle in southern Scotland will make a move a little further south.

In the meantime let us know if there are any 'barn doors' in your outback.

Monday, 9 February 2009

A desolate beach

Just a quick note from yesterday's safari down on the beach. There are big tides this week so big high tides = low low tides and a long walk out to the surf. Plan was to try to get some shots of the waders feeding in the runnels by getting between them and the sea with the afternoon light behind me. It would have worked had there been any waders on that part of the beach. Heavy snow showers didn't help much either.
I managed to flush the Herring Gull. It had a friend and they were perched together on a large rock sticking out of the sand all lovey-dovey but I had to get that one step closer...
The Sanderling were nice. I always think they are an under-rated bird, understated in winter and stunning in summer. There were about 30 of them scampering along the surf-line but really difficult to got a shot off, they're so quick, those little legs really twinkle, I ended up lying on a pool of cold water behind the rock the Herring Gulls were on. I was well waterproofed, thankfully.
The sea produced the goods today...on the south side of the river a Harbour Porpoise and a ack load of seabirds including a Black Necked Grebe - on 'our' side plenty of Little Gulls over the tide. Hearing the news the safari dashed out at lunchtime and got on a tasty first winter bird. Always nice to see these smallest of all the gulls. A Grey Seal bobbed about in the middle distance. But the best was still to come...three male Eiders flew by, nice...then oh boy a special sighting - a one off - three dark bellied Brent Geese...WOW we don't get these down on the Ribble all that often at all.
Where to next? It's got to be back to the seaside, there's still cetaceans out there!
In the meantime let us know what goodies you've found in your outback.

The US Great february Bird Count - UK style

Frank the slobberador was up late this morning and for the first time midweek it was actually light on his morning walk. We saw the Fox doing the last of his mooch about before retiring for the day - I say 'we' advisedly - actually Frank missed it with BOTH eyes and nose!
On returning home I was hanging the laundry out and there was a sudden commotion of feral Pigeons flying round and a squawking of Herring Gulls. Nice one guys! They alerted me to a small male Peregrine Falcon half-heartedly soaring over the water tower in the cold dawn light before heading off seawards. Bonus unexpected garden fly-over!
Now the rules state you can only have sight ticks - so how am I going to get Redwings when all I expect to 'see' of them is the 'sseeeeppp' as they fly over at night and most mornings I have heard a Mistle Thrush singing not far away but will I get to see it from the garden before the month is out?
Those pesky feral Pigeons are a nightmare! I'm not sure if someone has a bone-fide loft of if they are just feathered 'rats' that live on the roof of a neighbour's house. Either way they are a right royal nuisance. One of them is 'scout' pigeon and as soon as I put anything on our bird table he seems to be flying round, spots it and goes back to tell his 30 or so mates who then descend on the bird table like Vultures at a carcass on the Serengeti. So as often as not the bird table is sadly bare. Fortunately they don't like to drop right into the garden so seed can be scattered amongst the flowerbeds and shrubs for the 'nicer', 'better mannered' species.
Where to next? Who knows...where the wind blows us I guess.
In the meantime let us know what have you fluked in you garden outback.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Found it at last!

Snow! What did you think?

Before we set off a Sparrowhawk flew over Base Camp and flushed a flock of Goldfinches from a nearby garden - a bonus two species for my 'US' February Back Yard Bird Count bringing the total to 18 species.

Todays safari was more of a trip out to see what all the fuss is about. We in Blackpool have been led to believe there have been some falls of snow about. Not here! so a trip out east to the alledged snowy wastes was planned. we just about found some although looking out further east Longridge Fell and, in the distance, Pendle Hill look to have more than a dusting. The western face of the Bowland fells is extremely disappointing.
There was very little wildlife about. The sky was empty and the woods mostly silent except for the melancholy twittering of the odd Robin and the occassional burst of song from a Coal Tit.
Frank the Flabrador was happy enough skating around on what little thin ice there was. He's getting good a finding Foxes and cats but not much else.

We finished the safari at another site where the Rangers maintain a feeding station at the car park. A good selection of birds were here, Blue, Great and Coal Tits and some frustratingly camera shy Long Tailed Tits. Great Spotted Woodpecker visited briefly and there were a few Chaffinches about, a Blackbird hopped around the floor beneath the feeders mopping up any spills but otherwise it was fairly quiet. This Nuthatch was the only bird to stay still long enough to get a reasonable snap of, for which I am very grateful - a fine specimen.
Where to next? There's still a good chance of Porpoises off the prom during the coming week, so fingers crossed.

In the meantime let us know what you have found in your (not so) snowy waste outback.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Oh - its a beaut!

Gotcha! Many thanks to the Rangers for the news he was back in the park. What a handsome brute, massive compared to the neighbouring Black Headed Gulls - could probably swallow one whole.
Shame it was sat right in the sun but whose bothered - Fylde tick in the bag.

This Mediterranean Gull was perched on the rail a few feet away; what a shame they weren't sat together the juxtaposition of north and south would have been interesting.

Great looking birds, well it will be in a few weeks when it attains its full summer plumage - stunning, best bird in the book. Not sure where it was ringed, possibly Holland or perhaps the Czech Republic. Could be anywhere really.

The safari also learnt later that there were 3, or more, Harbour Porpoises off the Prom in the afternoon. What a pity the lure of the desk was so strong today, it would have been nice to be out watching cetaceans and seabirds in the snow storms. Work really should be banned!

Where to next? The conditions are perfect for cetaceans - off shore winds keep the waves down and the thick grey cloud keeps shadows at bay.

Let us know what the best tick in your outback has been recently.
A note to my visitor from Kota Kinabalu - I wish I could get back there...totally brilliant time we had.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A bad dip!

The safari was given the tip off of a Glaucous Gull on the local park lake this afternoon. Apparently it had been there since early morning and I was incomunicado working away in the garden. Eventually we saddled up Frank and high-tailed it to the park. This is a toughy, during my 15 years on the reserve I never saw one, never even got near one! In fact it is not even on my 'Fylde' list - this was a 'must see' bird.
Why is it when you're in a hurry you get a shed loads of dweebs.? We had to stop for fuel...dweeb taking ages to put a tenner of fuel in his Mitsusuchi dweebmobile and took even longer to pay, dweeb doing 20mph when 30 was easily achievable...guess what... they managed to get to within 100 yards of the traffic lights and every one turned to red...GET A MOVE ON DWEEBS... some of us have got places to go; birds to tick...Sheeewhizz they drive me mad!!!
Once at the park lake there were very few larger gulls. Two Mediterranean Gulls had also been seen but a very thorough check of the many Black Headed Gulls did not reveal them. there were a few Common Gulls each checked very hopefully for Ring Billed Gull...guess what... yep, they were all Commons.
Quite a few duck were present including at least 65 Shoveler, a single drake Teal, a couple of dozen or so Pochard, and few Tufted Ducks; three Great Crested Grebes getting in to summer plumage were nice.
The trees and bushes produced very little; best was a small flock of Long Tailed Tits.
Where to next? Back to the park tomorrow morning to see if the 'Glauc' drops in for a wash and brush up after leaving its roost. Hope to get you a photo; touch wood, fingers etc crossed. Then a trip to the 'Porpoise Coast' - if I can get away from the desk.
In the meantime let us know what your worst dip has been. Boy have I had a few on the Fylde Montague's Harrier, Temminck's Stint and the almost - to me at least - invisible Storm Petrel amongst others.