Monday, 30 March 2009

Wheels still turning...

But not the Land Rover's just yet.
The safari headed out north on a beautiful sunny spring morning after a frosty dawn. Quarry today - reptiles at a quarry. Before that quarry we stopped of at another one where we came across three Peregrine Falcons. This one was the easiest to photograph but was still a long way off, why didn't I walk up to the fence for a closer shot. One was an enormous female. Luckily they don't seem to unduly worry the Jackdaws they share the cliff face with. Probably the Jackdaws gain some measure of protection from their ferocious neighbours.
A Chiffchaff 'chiff-chaffed' from the bushes behind us.

Moving on to our main quarry the sun was shining and in the shelter it was very warm - ideal conditions for our reptilian quarry hopefully coming out of hibernation to take advantage of the sunny conditions.

Amazingly all this was dug out by hand and taken away on horse and cart. A whole mountain moved by muscle power alone. They left this last boulder behind - wonder why?

Probably couldn't find a cart big enough to put it in!

Wild Strawberries were poking through the gravel - we will be back in July....mmmmmm love those tiny little taste bombs.

This is Dogs Mercury, the dog bit means it is useless as in Dogwood, can't burn it or make anything out of it; Dog Rose has only a faint scent, no idea what the mercury bit is.
A Buzzard found a thermal and started soaring in tight circles.

Then another one joined in.

Then another.
Eventually there were blue is that sky? Watching the Buzzards gain height until they were out of sight then a couple of them dropped and started sky dancing was a privilege.

Dog Violets were starting to bloom on the woodland floor. This is the larval food plant for several species of endangered Fritillary butterflies. A large grant for coppicing the woodland has been secured for this area - let's hope it goes a good way to reviving the fortunes of these stunning butterflies.

A glorious but reptile free day still a glad to be alive sort of a day. Just sitting in the sun looking out to sea. A couple of flocks of Oystercatchers and Shelducks flew past the headland where two fishermen were catching small flatfish, probably Dabs or Flounders. A Grey Seal boobed about on the gentle swell in the distance.

Where to next? Anywhere - the Land Rover will be back in action...whooooppppeeeyyyy doooo.
In the meantime what have you found or not found in your glorious outback.

Friday, 27 March 2009


Alls well that ends well in safari-land. The Disco has been given a clean bill of health. Many, many thanks to all out there who had fingers etc crossed for us. The relief is palpable!
A snorkel will be ordered and fitted soon so that kind of worry/panic/terror won't happen again. Some chunky rock sliders too so as we don't get caught out by unseen boulders either.
Hopefully there won't be any more of this kind of m'larky.

On a lighter note a during a short walk with the Frankster this arvo we found about half a dozen or so little clusters of Bee Orchids in the usual spot not far from Base Camp so it looks like there will be a decent show of them in ten weeks time.
Where to next? Somewhere soon - not sure where yet.
In the meantime let us know what lucky escapes you have during your outback adventures.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Scuttled - The wheels come off the safari

The green-lane safari at the weekend promised much; a quiet run through Lancashire's sunny spring outback to investigate a lane we've not used before. News was that it was either impassable due to a wash-out where a stream crosses it or it was passable with care. The plan was to walk it, with Frank on the look out for moorland birds such as Curlews, Lapwings and Skylarks in the fields.
Deciding to take the scenic short-cut rather than the faster but boring motorway our first lane was the Wyre ford.
On reaching the river we got out and had a recce. The water level was down about a foot (30cm) on normal. We had a look at the position of the sand banks from the footbridge above - all appeared fine...get back in the Land Rover select low box...bit of a splash...but coming out of the 'hole' to the shallows...ooohhhhh nnnooooooo - we didn't make it on to Kingfisher Island. Stuck! and a soon as you stop in water into the vehicle it comes...

A bad decision, 10 seconds of rash stupidity and disaster struck. Now the safari is facing the prospect of having to fit a new engine and a potential £1000+ repair bill. Fingers crossed it stalled before hydraulic lock occured.

Always but always test the depth by walking in and using a stick - or like us suffer the consequences. I know that! Its not as if you're going to be eaten by Crocodiles in the semi-wilds of Lancashire, just didn't fancy getting a little bit wet and went for it, after all the water was well down and we've never had any problems before. Or fit a snorkel...I can feel a stable door being closed behind that bolting horse.
Fortunately the safari was able to call on the aid of a very good friend...International Rescue!

Hope the interior dries out before it starts to smell/rot.

In the end what did we see...very little. A Curlew flew along the river overhead, as did a Grey Wagtail. That was about it!

By the way that water was very very cold, and I'm alot wetter than I would have been doing the stick depth test.

Where to next? Nowhere! via the scrap yard and the dog-house. What a numpty!

In the meantime let us know what (near) disasters have befallen you in your outback and please, please, please, cross your fingers, legs, toes, eyes, buttocks, etc for us that the engine is undamaged although the prognosis isn't good.

Frank was suitably unimpressed.

Bizarrely at work on Monday I discovered that my Disco cup had developed a crack right through the bonnet. I've had this cup for years...spooky or what ...hope its not an omen

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

More frogs than you can shake a stick at!

The safari took Frank the Flabrador (actually he's beginning to lose weight on his diet of turnip - poor lad he's a dog for Pete's sake!) on his morning constitutional to the local park. What a lot of Frogs! The top pond was full of the slippery little fellas. They were a bit mobile ducking under the Duckweed and popping back up again somewhere else - impossible to count but well over a hundred. How many can you find?

Not much else in the park; pick of the bunch was a speeding Sparrowhawk.
Where to next? Tried the sea briefly but only 55 Common Scoters to report, although a chat with a couple of passers#by revealed they have seen one of my favourite critters recently - a Sea Slater (photo opportunity?) - better luck and hopefully more time tomorrow.
In the meantime le us know what amphibians are going bonkers in your outback.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Scuppered - The safari goes down the drain!

Ah - the best laid plans! We were hoping to join a green-laning jaunt around the few remaining unsurfaced tracks in north Lancashire.
Sadly it was not to be a broken drain put paid to all thoughts of Land Rover trips out except to the recycling centre (tip) with a heavy trailer load of rubble and mud.
To see what we missed got to looked like a good day out although one of the participants said Snape Rake Lane might be too tough for an unmodified Disco...the safari's old one did it easy peasy with its only modification being mud terrain tyres and a little armour plating underneath - just go slow and let the car do the work and put the power on gently when needed and you should be OK. See The safari has also done the River Wyre crossing in the old Disco and was hoping to Christen the new one with this ford this weekend.
Despite the sawing through very hard comcrete and the digging out of very wet, smelly, heavy clay the spring sunshine meant the wildlife came to us. The first Blackcap of the year was singing away in the little patch of rough scrub at the end of the next street up the hill, and two Goldcrests flitted around the trees at the bottom of the garden here at Base Camp. Overhead there were signs that visible migration was taking place. At various times three Pied Wagtails and two Grey Wagtails flew over with a single Meadow Pipit and Lesser Redpoll thrown in for good measure. There ws probably more but as most of the morning was taken up by cutting concrete the noise of the saw drowned out all but the loudest yelled instructions so obviously we weren't going to hear the calls of over-flying migrants. A few times we heard the gulls start squawking in a great commotion but from our restricted vantage point we couldn't tell if there were any raptors going over that had upset them. (Where did that Red Kite that was reported end up?)
However the sunshine did bring other rewards as it was warm for the time of year. we managed our first Peacock butterfly and White Tailed Bumble Bees of the season.
Mid afternoon we got a call from the Rangers in the park. They said they were watching something unusual. What could it be? Not the, there were birders behind them watching that. Ah, so whatever it was was on or over the lake! An Osprey fishing?...No...a Little Egret in amongst the Grey Heron nesting colony on the island?...No...What then?...A bat!!! At 3.30 in the afternoon a bat was flying over the lake. There had been a large hatch of midges earlier in the day and this bat was taking full advantage.
Finally a little later we had a brief visit with Frank to the local pond which was seething with frogs, well over a hundred of them. What a lot of spawn...buckets of the stuff..amazing.
Can you see 'em?

You can now!

And finally finally a couple of pics from todays short afternoon site visits.

A rather large ant's nest.
With these tiny wee flowers - help please I can't remember what they are. My plant ID skills are sadly waning from not enough practice.

Spen Dyke - this is the last unculverted section of the river/stream/dyke that used to reach the sea that gave our town its name.

The history of Blackpool can be charted from as early as 1769 with about 28 dwellings stretched along the coastal beach. By the mid 1800’s the town was developing around the Layton-Warbreck areas and a sewerage system was in place which discharged through open dykes into the main outlet to the sea known as Spen Dyke.
This historical open watercourse, providing natural drainage to the sea, was originally known as “Le Pull” or “The Poole”. Its North Westerly course ran through the Marton Moss peat lands which discoloured the water making it known as “The Black Poole”. So now you know!

Loads of Frogspawn at Lawson's Wetland. You can see the scale from my colleagues very natty welly-bobs! But this is a trifling amount compared to our local pond at Base Camp. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was seen here too. I hope they have a much better summer this year than the last few years - they certainly need it.

Where to next? If the gentle breezes continue the sea has to be worth a look.

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

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Never mind Summer - Spring is nearly here.

A late start at work today allowed an safari adventure in to the garden at Base Camp, somewhere I haven't been during daylight hours for some time.
On the pretext of going out to prune the roses I had to pass the pond and there in the thickest part of the vegetation were two blobs of Frog spawn.
In previous years I have heard the Frogs croaking during the night but not so far this year. I do hope our rather large fish, Golden Orfe, don't eat all the tadpoles - they normally do!
I hope to be replacing this imported variegated variety of an unknown exotic alien species of Water Dropwort with the native and locally scarce Tubular Water Dropwort grown from seeds collected from nearby wild ponds.
Down at the bottom of the garden I found this Lesser Celendine with just one open flower - several buds about to burst though. This is a very common plant in the UK's woodlands and one of the first to flower in the spring; very obviously related to the more familiar Buttercups of later in the year.

Judging by the glare from the yellow petals and the bleaching of the Primrose's primrose colour on a recent post I think I will be investing in a UV filter before too long.

Yes - I pruned the roses! I also had a good hours squint at the sea as the high tide rose...very disappointing, about a dozen Common Scoters a good way offshore, the usual gulls tazzing up and down the coast and a distant Kittiwake. At least that was half first of the year.

Where to next? Maybe a 4x4 adventure safari in to the wilderness of distant and exotic Yorkshire at the weekend...collapsed drain repairs permitting.

In the meantime let us know if spring has sprung in your outback yet.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Summer's here???

Reports today of two (or possibly one mobile) Willow Warblers singing away as if it were May!
Stunning sunset and moon-rise this evening when out with Frank onthe beach..but sadly didn't have the camera with me.

Where to next? Still looking promising out to sea.
In the meantime let us know what is looking promising in your outback.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

A little bit of fieldcraft needed.(now updated with pics)

The safari was on a mission today to see if we could pin down the 'motorway' Roe Deer for a photo opportunity at some time in the future. A check of the relevant Ordnance Survey sheet revealed some Public Footpaths not too far from the area the deer frequent. A Google Earth scan of the patch was useful too. So we loaded up the Land Rover and headed off east.
Down a little lane, turn in to a smaller, narrower lane we came to a dead end - turn round, park up and disembark. Exploring the footpaths was relatively easy as they were well marked but certainly not well used, except by heavy farm machinery, more like rivers of mud than footpaths.
The area in question is 'improved' open pasture with low 'over-trimmed' hedges and as such there was little wildlife to be seen. We followed the footpath to a bridge over the motorway and scanned from this elevated vantage point. A flock of about 50 Woodpigeons was feeding in the adjacent field with a few Lapwings there too. Being late in the day we didn't expect to see the Roe Deer we were just trying to suss out which field(s) they are seen in when driving past along the motorway and then trying to work out if we could find somewhere to stake them out for an early morning photo-shoot next time. But there they were, or at least two of them were there, relaxing in the bottom of a hedge just lying there quietly chewing the cud. far too distant to get any photos but sussed out they definitely were...Sorted! Serious fieldcraft will be needed to get close enough for a photo, but given decent conditions we should be able to manage it.
A Buzzard in perched in a nearby tree was a bonus. Walking back along the mud filled ruts we had another two Buzzards high overhead. They never used to be in this area.

Exploring the local footpaths further we came to a narrow valley woodland, the first Primroses of the year were duly photographed. Midday during March is not the best time for woodland activity and apart from the odd Robin all was still. The vegetation is just beginning to show although there was plenty of Ramsomes (Wild Garlic) quite well advanced. Going to be smelly down there in a couple of weeks!

It's surprising what can be missed going out but found coming back. On our return journey back to the Land Rover at the very beginning of the wood we had walked right past some superb specimens of Horses Hoof Fungus on the bole of a tree. Looking higher up we found an even bigger and better one with Ivy growing right through it - how unusual is that!

That's the beauty of looking at wildlife - You really never know what you are going to find next.

Time to head back to the coast and a brief stop on the cold wildly windy marshes. To our surprise there were six or perhaps seven Little Egrets right by the trackside but as we parked the Land Rover they flew off round the corner out of sight. Following on foot we caught up with them but again they were very skittish and flushed as soon as they spotted us despite our best efforts at concealment. They kept annoyingly just out of range...these digiscopers have it easy!! A female Kestrel hovered on the updraft from the seawall and a Meadow Pipit called overhead but the marshes were quiet with only small groups of Curlew, Mallard and a couple of pairs of Shelducks out there.

It's not long ago I zoomed off to Anglesey in north Wales to twitch one of these for my life list - who would have thought within a few short years they'd be as common as muck on the local patches.
Time to point the Land Rover back to Base Camp for a warming cup of tea and plan the 'assault' on the Roe Deer.

Where to next? back to work and strong winds forecast for the week so probably only a quick peek over the sea wall, maybe some Little Gulls or Kittiwakes passing; who knows?

In the meantime let us know what you plan to capture in your outback.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A little cracker!

The safari took off back to Stanley Park, not for gulls on the lake this time but for a rather unexpected visitor - a Firecrest. We have seen these beautiful little birds in the past locally. A few years ago now there were two at Marton Mere nature reserve.
Today's was nowhere to be seen when we arrived but was definitely in the area as it been put out on the rare bird pagers as being seen an hour or so earlier. A small crowd had gathered and we scanned the likely bushes and trees. A couple of Coal Tits were amongst the visitors to the feeding station, along with the more usual Blue and Great Tits. A Treecreeper 'moused' its way up the trunk of a large Willow tree.
Then on of the very experienced local birders picked up the Firecrest's call from the top of a group of tall conifers, a flit in the uppermost branches - a Goldcrest. this flew overhead into another conifer to be followed shortly afterwards by another - this one was the Firecrest and despite it being hidden for much of the time we got short but decent views. After a few minutes it descended to the Brambles down at eye-level and we got stunning views but again only short ones as it darted in and out of cover. What a cracking little bird, those bronzy shoulders and stripey face are just stunning.
In the bag - excellent!
Where to next? The safari could be mobile for a trip further afield over the weekend.
In the meantime let us know what unexpected treasures have you seen in your outback recently.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

News from Woylie-land

Here's a snippet from the project I had a very, very small part in a couple of years ago. Those poor Woylies having blood taken from their tails in the name of science!
Hope the guys down under find out what it is with the population crash and can find a solution before it's too late.
I had a thought earlier today that they could undergo population cycles of boom and bust like Lemmings or Voles but on a much longer timescale so it hasn't really been noticed before. Perhaps linked to some kind of disease. And now with habitat loss, population fragmentation and introduced feral predators the odds are stacked against the little cuties.
Fingers crossed they're gonna be OK - would hate read we lost them forever in a few years time.
Where to next? Weather unpromising tomorrow so probably only a quick safari to check out the sea.
In the meantime let us know who is doing what to save the enangered wildlife in your outback.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Some pics from the weekend's safari

There were signs of spring all around on this weekend's safari.
Blackthorn was starting to flower.

These are Alder catkins, one of last year's 'cones' can be seen bottom centre.

Diffferent catkins - these are from a Willow tree, we didn't check which species.

Even the Hawthorn was beginning to come into leaf. a tad early methinks, March always seems to throw a cold frosty or even snowy week at us which damages or even kills soft new growth like this. I have regularly seen Sand Martins at the end of the month fresh in from sunny Africa huddled together on a wire in a snow storm - probably wishing they'd stayed in Africa another week or so!

Every morning now the local gardens and parks are alive with birdsong, the five coo 'song' of the Woodpigeon is very evident as they are numerous in the vicinity of Base camp.

A pair of Stonechats are always nice to see - they will be off to their breeding territories inland before too long. This is the male, the female was camera shy.

Long Tailed Tits are one of the safari's favourite birds, really tiny, nothing more than a ball of feathers on a stick! But full of character and always none-stop so it was nice to fluke this photo and fortunately its in focus too.

Out on the water at Marton Mere nature reserve the numbers of Great Crested Grebes are building up, here are a winter and summer plumaged pair(?)

As with the Woodpigeons the luscious song of the Blackbird fills the dawn air. They are even more numerous then the former and beat them hands down in the musical stakes, one of the best songs in Britain, if not the best although there may be a lot of votes for the 'bubbling of Curlews over the moorlands.

On a totally different tack, the safari's Land Rover now has its wellington boots fitted, gone are the wussy road tyres in their place are the set of mud terrains from Discovery1. This weekend could see a visit to a quarry for a bit of off road driving practice, mud and fun at a place we've not tried before...looks to be some tricky bits to conquer...
Where to next? Strong south westerly winds are forecast and could be promising off the prom.
In the meantime let us know what's singing its heart out in your outbacks dawn chorus.