Wednesday 30 December 2009

Is it an ill wind?

The safari was out on the nature reserve at dawn in a bitingly brisk easterly wind; the thermometer told us it was 2°C but the windchill made it feel more like minus 2 and then some too! Ever hopeful that the recently reported presumed Otter (someone else – a none naturalist - has also reported a Beaver on site over the Christmas period…same animal…hmm v. interesting indeedy...) might put in an appearance we stood facing that wind for well over an hour, until the pain in the toes became unbearable and frost bite set in – there is a definite need for heaters in the wellies.
The last Otter recorded by a local naturalist at this site was in the pre-DDT days of the early 1950s, although there is a record on the National Biodiversity Network of one on 30th September 1970, via Liverpool Museum, but the recorder is unknown.
Most of the ice had melted due to the wind so the gulls were sat on the water facing away. No white wingers were evident. But as we were scanning them a group rose up off the small patch of remaining ice at the far end of the mere and started mobbing a raptor. Spinning the scope round and focusing quickly we got on a gorgeous ring tailed Hen Harrier – not a regular species at this site at all…probably would be many more if they were allowed to nest in peace on the hills we can see in the distance – is it possible to prosecute the unbelievably wealthy? – no point fining people who have several billion quid in the bank is it! Anyway after a couple of minutes floating around on its raised wings it got fed up of the attention the gulls were giving it and dipped behind the embankment out of sight, where it spooked the flock of about forty or so feral Barnacle Geese that normally reside in the nearby zoo.
We then gave the ducks a good seeing to; plenty of Teal on today, not far short of a thousand but no yankee Green Winged version unfortunately (bit of a misnomer that as ours have green ‘wings’ too, maybe they should be called Vertical Striped Teal as that is the easiest field mark to pick out). The one from the south side has been frozen off from its normal site so must be lurking somewhere…(Late edit - hybrid Eurasian x Green Winged Teal found in the afternoon) two male Pintails were a good find among the more usual Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Shovelers. Diving ducks were notable by there absence with only a handful each of Pochard and Tufted Duck and three female Goldeneyes. With so many other water bodies being frozen, or partially so, we would have expected to have seen more of these. (No Ring Necked Ducks either – hope the one up the road stays put for a few more days…please…pretty please!) (Late edit – it hasn’t - it’s b*ggered awf and reappeared further away - the rat!).
We were still working through the gulls, as they were coming and going all morning, when the ranger joined us. Another little flurry of panicky gull activity put us onto a Bittern which dropped in to the reedbed at the far end; we didn’t see where it came from - possibly the overflow area in the SE corner. A Kestrel hovered over the area where we had earlier seen the Hen Harrier and as we scoped that a little male Sparrowhawk shot through. High overhead there was a continual passage southwards of well over a thousand Pink Footed Geese, in several skeins, moving out from their roosting sites to feed, but no Whooper Swans, or Bewick’s for that matter which have been in the area recently after a few years absence. No way of picking out the Eurasian and Greenland White Fronts or the Tundra Bean Goose (rossicus type) that may or may not have been with them, all three ‘species’ (I use the term loosely) have been within a couple of miles of the site in the last few days.
The only decent gull was a nice big bruiser of a Great Black Back, not particularly noteworthy but then when I was the warden we certainly didn’t see them every day.
A Water Rail fluttered past the viewing platform, more dangly legs than effective wings, must have been too slippery on the ice to warrant its more normal scurrying locomotion.
After a good hour standing still the toes were now totally frozen beyond the point of discomfort and it was way past time to go to work so begrudgingly we had to leave without having a full wander about.
Later we got a call from the ranger that four Long Eared Owls were showing – we could have driven round to get these – and on his extended rounds he had also picked up a Woodcock, a Kingfisher followed by a cracking adult Mediterranean Gull sat on the frozen park lake...doh we didn’t look there on the way to the office!
A very chilly short shuffy Patch 2 over the seawall blimp at lunchtime revealed nothing more exciting than seventeen Redshanks on the beach and two Great Crested Grebes going north over the sea.
The only wildlife shot for you today is a fairly poor Derbyshire Blackbird, (for those that remember ‘Play School’ – it’s through the blurred window),

so you can also have a pic or two of Frank too; he’s looking rather forlorn probably because his earrings aren’t a matching pair or he doesn’t like the colour of the ball his Uncle Rob got him for Christmas.

It’s not your rugby ball, is it Frank? (note deer poo behind his ID tags)

"Sure ain't" says Frank but I suppose he'll get full use out of it once it's warm enough to get back in the sea.
Best wishes to one and all for 2010 – even if it isn’t that where you are.
Many thanks to those folks who have looked in on this drivel over the last year, I hope you’ve enjoyed the rubbish wot I have rote (I am, after all, a self-confessed literary genius you know)…more to come in 2010 no doubt with tales of allsorts of (mis)adventures wot the safari will be getting up to.
Many thanks too to my regular and not so regular commenters – all comments are gratefully received – if you’re out there we’d be thrilled to get to know you wherever you are.
Where to next? Patchwork probably (Collared Dove singing long before dawn on Patch 1 this morning), with a New Year’s Day safari somewhere a bit different coming up – will the hands be steady enough to hold the camera?
In the meantime let us know where you didn’t look for the goody in your outback today.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Patch 2 bonus

The safari was out on Patch 2 before work this morning and copped a gud 'un...a Great Northern Diver...always a good tick and sets one up nicely for the days graft. Good as it was it doesn't quiet match up to the drake Ring Necked Duck just up the road...and no chance to twitch it until ages yet...first for the Fylde..pray it sticks around. A, perhaps, even better report was of an over excited guy at the nature reserve the other day reporting a large mammal on the ice that can only have been an Otter - even allowing for the usual fisherman's tales of over-exaggeration what was described was far too big for an American Mink with to much of a tail...guess where the safari is going for first light tomorrow...
Later dudes...

Adventures in deepest darkest Derbyshire

Happy Christmas/mid-winter/summer fest to you all.
The safari has been out and about for a few days hols this festive season braving the Arctic conditions of the southern end of the Peak District National Park, about 100 miles SE from Base Camp.

The drive down took us through some beautiful perfect Christmas Card snowy woodland scenery to the south of Buxton – then we hit the fog and saw nothing. Lots of snow at Christmas – who would have believed it!
Arriving at our cottage we discovered that there was a bird feeder just a few feet from the sitting room window. Perfect for early morning photography apart from the slight shooting angle through a double glazed window. The usual suspects were there; Blue, Great and Coal Tits,

Robins and Dunnocksand we had an all too brief visit from a Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker.Resident thrushes included Blackbird and Song Thrush visiting with Mistle Thrush flying around along with Fieldfares from time to time.
Out on the adjoining field Frank had great games of rugby (just look at those ears!) and in the snow we could see where the local deer had been. The local herd of Norwegian Black Fallow Deer were very shy and we only got a brief and distant view of them across the fields. However they did pass through the garden and along the driveway during the dead of night,our hosts asked us to keep the gates closed if we came back late to stop them eating the garden! These droppings were found right outside the kitchen window on Boxing Day morning…hmmm, maybe they weren’t from those Fallow Deer but a different species of deer altogether…one of them is reputed to have a red nose perhaps…
As the sun came up later in the morning a Buzzard started to circle over the woods across the little valley and called a couple of times. I whistled the ‘ppeeeooo’ call several times and Frank and I had double impressive views of the Buzzard only about 25 feet (<10m) id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5420710401294190162" style="DISPLAY: block; MARGIN: 0px auto 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 300px; TEXT-ALIGN: center" alt="" src="" border="0">It looks nice and quiet but there were hundreds of people out walking off the previous day’s culinary excesses. While we were there we had the accompaniment of a pair of Ravens cronking loudly over the woodland. The woods themselves seemed devoid of birds until we veered off the main track a bit and flushed abut twenty Redwings. If they had any sense all other birds would be buzzing around the feeders in the village gardens rather than sitting out the freezing conditions up the hill. Frank once again managed to give himself mild hypothermia by hoovering up to much snow in to his stomach – dozy mutt – the sound of his teeth chattering was alarming from the back of the Land Rover, sounded like something mechanical was broken. Last ‘sighting’ of the trip was the sound of a Green Woodpecker yaffling in the adjacent woods as we were loading the Land Rover. Our journey back to Base Camp was supposed to be the scenic route over the moors and through the valleys past some superb National Nature Reserves but seriously dense freezing fog put paid to that plan. But once we’d almost left the moorland the fog lifted to reveal stunning snowy views across the hills. Only one thing for it – a return visit in the spring is needed. In the four days we were there we had thirty species of birds – pick of the bunch were the nightly Tawny Owl hooting competition (how many were there? – there seemed to be one hooting from every other tree – never heard anything quite like it – what a racket), a flock of Siskins, and a Woodcock over the garden early on Christmas morning on the way back from Franks 6.00am walk. No mammals except the aforementioned deer and a very fresh large Badger that was lying dead on the side of the road on the way home – what a shame.
Where to next? Back to the patches…
In the meantime let us know what you’ve been seeing in your festive outback

Wednesday 23 December 2009

It’s all but gone now

The safari might have seen the last of the snow for this winter. We don’t get much here and 36 hours worth is probably gonna be our ration. But you never know could be some more in the new year – usually we get our biggest falls in March when the Sand Martins have just arrived from Africa! Shame we missed out on taking the Disco up country to have some 4 wheel fun. Seen some great pics of the lads out in the white stuff on the Land Rover forums – doh…don’t yer just hate having to go to work – we get proper snow so rarely it should be a public holiday!
A very slippery visit to Patch 1 early on was so bad we were wishing we had taken an ice axe with us (if we still had one that is) The steep paths through the park were treacherous underfoot and an ice axe arrest could easily have been needed!!! Even Frank with his 4x4-footed drive was struggling for grip at times, looking like your archetypal slithering-about-on-ice-with-legs-akimbo cartoon dog - poor thing. At least the Peregrine was still there on his roosting ledge. Thinking back to when I was a kid and how rare these birds were then, just a handful of pairs in the remotest parts of Scotland and a few odd pairs elsewhere…and now they are (or at least one is) a daily (from the) garden tick – how good is that – shame that some sections of the community still view them as horrendous pests and have to ‘dispose’ of them by any means – disgraceful!!! Not much else about, a Robin twittering in the light from the street-lamps was about yer lot.
A late visit to the sea-wall coincided with low tide, best part of a hundred Oystercatchers today feeding on the strandline seashells, of which there were plenty washed up. They were joined in their foraging by 30 Redshanks, and solitary Turnstone and Sanderling this morning. A small number of gulls were mooching in the runnels, Herrings and Commons with a handful of Black Heads. Out at sea a couple of dozen gulls, mainly Herrings with a couple of Great Black Backs, had found something interesting and were milling around with intent, but we couldn’t see anything obvious. They weren’t diving or settling on the sea so perhaps not a shoal of fish at the surface unless they were down just far enough to be out of range. What ever it was out there was certainly getting plenty of attention and more gulls were continually coming in from the shore to investigate what all the commotion was about.
Meanwhile the regular lunchtime trip out produce a real rarity…blistering sunshine, if only briefly, and nothing of any significance in the avian or mammalian lines.
Where to next? Surprise, surprise…safari, safari…
In the meantime let us know how much snow has melted in your outback.
A gratuitous Mediterranean Gull photo from Stanley Park earlier this year, fingers crossed there’ll be one for you on your patch this Christmas.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

It’s still here!

Yes – the safari woke up to yet more snow. A fresh, but small, overnight fall had obliterated all last night’s footprints and frozen slush. Out on Patch 1 the Peregrine was still sat up there on the tower – beginning to think it might be plastic although it would take someone some considerable effort to put a plazzy one where it sits and why would they take it down during the day? Frank went bonkers in the park following the footsteps/scent wafts of the local Foxes who had been fairly active after the snow judging by the number of trails they had left behind. We didn’t see any this morning but a Robin started singing and a Blackbird clackered away in some of the denser bushes. Other than that all was incredibly still and silent in the white glow of night. One the way back an early rising spectral Sparrowhawk weaved its way over the gardens, between the houses and across the road at supersonic speed, probably hoping to flush a sleepy, cold, hungry and slow Blackbird, Robin or other somesuch unlucky victim.
Patch 2 at dawn was another matter, had to wait half an hour after getting to work for it to get light enough to warrant nipping over the road. It was busy on the beach. A runnel under the seawall had attracted over a hundred gulls, mostly Herrings but a tidy number of Commons too and just a handful of Black Heads. A brute of a Great Black Back kept an eye on the proceedings from the ‘higher’ vantage point of the crest of nearby sandbank. We were giving the gulls a good going over, one Herring Gull stood out as being more advanced in its moult with a pristine white head, but no more unusual than that. Whilst we were in the grip of gull fever a Rock Pipit was noticed to land briefly on the Bladderwrack at the base of the wall before moving of south down the beach, and a Ringed Plover was spotted too. There has been a Ring Billed Gull away down at the bottom end of the south side so always a possibility, but before we could work our way through the whole flock a barking dog appeared from one of the sets of steps close by and flushed the lot…brilliant…NOT!
They moved down to the pool over by the outfall pipe where they settled down enough to be given our full attention once more. Nothing doing. Sanderlings however were doing a lot; exactly forty of them zazzed about the lower part of the beach on their clockwork legs picking up this that and the other they seem to find down there – what it is exactly is anyone’s guess – maybe they do actually eat sand there doesn’t seem to be much else in the small particle line when you take a close look. Three Turnstones were in the vicinity of the pipe and we didn’t take too much notice of the Redshanks idly clocking a meagre six or seven.
Out at sea a pair of Common Scoters looked like they had had a pre-Christmas bust up sitting facing opposite directions about 25 yards apart fairly close in. What we took to be an adult Shag came briefly into the field of view, landed on the water and promptly dived never to reappear. It did look slight and slim beaked but at distance and with nothing about for size comparison…hmm – another one that got away? – Shag’s aren’t regular along this stretch of coast although a handful have turned up on some of the local marine lakes in the bay after the heavy weather a few weeks ago, they appear to be all juveniles rather than adults though. We missed the best sighting of the morning; young AD came out for a few minutes and spotted a massive flash of lightning over the Liverpool area. By way of thrilling natural phenomena we were lucky enough to spot a fine shooting star over Patch 1 yesterday morning.
More thrilling was the Patch 2 lunchtime visit. Little doing bird-wise but dark snow storms dotted the horizon.

The usual ubiquitous Common Scoters were bobbing about and a few gulls careened over the swells. One of the snow/hail storms rattled through at a rate of knots stinging the face and making watching a painful experience. Once it had passed and full concentration resumed we got the sighting of the day - a distant pale phase Arctic Skua going north low over the waves – certainly not one we would have put a bet on earlier in the day! Soaked by another sleety downpour and no more birds it was time to retreat indoors for a celebratory brew.
Only one more day at work and the local Patches then it’s Christmas and hopefully the safari will be reporting exciting stuff.
Where to next? Plastic Peregrine spotting probably.
In the meantime let us know what the snow has dumped in your outback.

Monday 21 December 2009

Landed with a fluffy thud.

The safari was out as usual on Patch 1 with Frank this morning in the drizzle and true to form the Peregrine was still up there on his favourite roosting ledge; easily viewable in the glow from the street-lamps. Nothing but silence from the park proper;
no inkling of what was to follow…Snow - and lots of it.

When we left for work there was a bit of a snow shower but by the time the short journey was over it was nearly two inches (5cm) thick and still coming down strong, you could feel it under the wheels of the Land Rover. We got a call from a colleague who normally rides in on his motorbike who was unable to get in so we set of in the Disco to fetch him – an hour later we arrived back at work, only been a mile or so down the road and back - total gridlock chaos! Buses and vans were struggling to get over the railway bridges and kept sliding back down causing traffic backlogs.

Once we got past the gridlock we got stuck behind the most over-cautious driver doing about no miles an hour, what a numpty – its only snow for cryin’ out loud, makes driving a little trickier but hardly impossible! This is what I think to your driving…
Travel nightmare – still it will all be gone by tonight.
We got a report from wifey that Frank went out and got so excited by the snow his tiny Labrador mind decided he should eat as much of it as he possibly could – he ended up with a touch of hypothermia and very loud chattering teeth – dozy dog!
This snowman was probably the first built in our grounds since 1996.
The safari was out on Patch 2 briefly at lunchtime where a very hardy fisherman was casting his line in to the rising tide. About 30 – 40 Common Scoters, in two flocks, bounced reasonably close in on the choppy sea, nothing else moving around at all further out in the distance. Most unexpected was a patch tick – 12 Lapwings flew past going south towards the estuary, very welcome.
Another snow shower moved in giving spectacular views over the sea and along the prom…worth getting cold, wet feet for. This gull photo might just squeeze in to my exhibition I have booked for next summer.
Where to next? Back to Patch 1 more than likely
In the meantime let us know how deep the snow is in your outback.

Sunday 20 December 2009

The safari nipped down to nature reserve for a couple of hours this arvo - cold - cold - cold but very little snow and what there was was melting.
We met up with the ranger and the volunteers who were fettling up the feeding station for he Christmas holidays. Four deceased Woodmice were found trapped in one of thee seed hoppers but we couldn't work out how they had managed to get in - an unsolved mystery. After the work was completed and before Frank ate all the seed - greedy dog! we settled down to watch the proceedings from the hide. First up was a Robin and then there were three...sorry about pic quality; dark outside and right on limit of lens, too dark for digiscoping, excuses, excuses.
Reed Buntings were a nice addition to the list which included the usual feeder fare, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, etc.
Set the camera on lots of shots a second and these are the pick of the best after much photomessing; choose your fave.

Out on the water/ice there were about 1500 gulls to work through, a hundred or so close up and the others mostly sat on the thin ice down the other end. The first bunch revealed nowt special - two species in this pic - don't you dare find a third!

But in the couple of minutes it took to drive down to the next hide a brisk wind had picked up and the waves disintegrated the ice causing the gulls to fall through and so they left in droves - by the time we got set up again most had left...damn! A small patch of ice was left in the middle of the mere so we nipped in to the small middle hide, which I placed many years ago deliberately to view the gulls from, but the reed in front hadn't been cut yet so viewing was awkward but we didn't find anything exceptional unfortunately.

Over two hundred and fifty Teal were checked for the American Green Winged variety to no avail, more where hiding from the elements in the reeds. No sign of the exotics ie Cetti's Warblers (despite some attempts at 'song-whistles') and Bitterns and we didn't go round to check out the four Long Eared Owls on site today.

Where to next? Off to check Patch 1 for our Peregrine in a mo.

In the meantime let us know what you didn't opt to go and see in your outback this arvo.

Top predators

The safari was out in the pre dawn smattering of snow this morning and we had the top (local) avian predator, the Peregrine Falcon sat a little way round the tower from where we saw him last night - obviously the wind had changed and he'd had to shimmy along the ledge to get out of the draught. beneath him snuffling around in the middle of the road was our local mammalian predator/scavenger, a Fox, not see none for a while but great to know they're still about.
Had a browse through a couple of our earlier posts and noticed that the numpty that writes this rubbish forgot to put the pic of the Indo Pacific Dolphin here it is.

Also got an old fashioned slide of one almost sat on my feet (rather than one 10 feet away) which I might be able to post, technology allowing - and yes they are fully wild, free-swimming animals not in a giant fish tank!

Briefest of updates over - the safari is off to a snowy nature reserve to grill some gulls roosting on the ice...fingers crossed for a goody or two.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Anyone lost a...

The safari was out in the sub-zeros at lunch time today with a frozen trip out to Patch 1 with Frank and his rugby ball. Nothing much doing but the sound of House Sparrows emanating from Chavland was noticeable even against the wind would love a flock of these to visit Base Camp on a regular basis. A couple of Collared Doves flew over the field and, of course, the ubiquitous Magpies clattered about the trees. Good to get out in daylight. Then later, at teatime, we were out again and who should we see up on the water tower...yep the Peregrine is back from where-ever it disappeared to.
Although it was dark and heavy rain had set in the temperature had reached a giddy 5.5C - so night-time was warmer than day time. A 'normal' night-time minimum temperature in Blackpool is 2.25C so anything warmer than 4.5C could be regarded as 'officially' high. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. still as I said earlier today a 4C rise is probably likely now in the next generation or I'm off to trade up the biodiesel Disco for a 5.0l Supercharged Rangie Sport...will someone upgrade my salary to match please!
Where to next? Look out for a local safari tomorrow might be something sort of northern or eastern to be discovered.
In the meantime let us know what's sweating in your outback
Didn't take camera today...sorry.

Climate chaos

The safai got up this morning and noted a temperature of almost -5C showing on the Base Camp weather station. That's pretty chilly for us here on the NW coast.
A few hundred miles away in Copenhagen world leaders have just thrashed out a deal worth begger all probably. The poor nations and island states (the ones with most to lose) wanted temperatures to reach no more than 1.5C above historic values. The west wanted 2C, the deal looks like 3C is more likely, which means if actions are properly taken then 4C is probable. Just think the amount of our money they spent propping up a failed banking system which was full of opur money anyway could have been spent on some serious mitigation and research work. 200 bankers got £5 million bonuses (simple maths = £1 billion, a serious amount of cash). But never mind that what happens at the end of the biggest climate summit - Britain is plunged in to an Arctic winter giving plenty of ammunition to the usual sceptics - that's the trouble with Britain we have a lot of weather and no climate. What they have forgotten is that we used to have winters like this all the time not as one off days like now. I have pictures in my photo album (for younger readers it's like flikr but a real paper book with real paper pictures in it) of snow in Norfolk up to the top of the road signs, and pack ice floating off Formby Point with a two foot high ice cliffs where the freezing tide has gently lapped in - sights like this are probably a thing of the past.
Topped the bird feeder up but nothing has arrived yet - probably all in Fylde Coast Wildlife's garden over the road (he had a Grey wagtail on his pond the other day not seen one of those at the Base Camp pond for years) or Fleetwood Birder's garden not too far away. Warren do you hire out Moorhens, Siskins, Greater Peckers etc?
Where to next? Out in to the garden (won't flush anything! - didn't) to chop this weeks supply of logs then it's off to Bloomfield Road to watch the Seasiders thrash the living daylights out of the (almost) invincible West Brom - actually I'll be happy with a boring 0 - 0 draw and the point but 2 - 0 for us would be very welcome. Late update Match Postponed due to frozen pitch.
In the meantime let us know what is, or isn't visiting the feeders in your freezing, or otherwise, outback.
Got a rant about methane coming you can't wait!
Sorry no pics today not able to find said photo albums from yesteryear - been stashed away somewhere. Had a look for em - found the albums but wanted pictures missing probably fallen out with several others over the years - sorry.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Oh no! More empty sea staring

The safari has not been able to get out properly for a couple of days now but we have just sent in our CV to become a cetacean surveyor for Marine-Life sat up on the bridge of the local ferry boat. So more hours staring at the empty greyness that is the northern Irish Sea like wot we did yesterday morning on Patch 2 are guaranteed. The tide was in so no beach activity to keep us amused. There was nothing noteworthy out to sea at all, just an empty, cold, grey void. During our survey work we probably won’t get views of cetaceans like this we had of an Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) a few years ago which, as you might gather from the name, we didn’t see in the Irish Sea but at Shark Bay, Western Australia…you never know though, off the Isle of Man or the west coast of Scotland sightings like this might be had. My favourite, Rissole’s Dolphin (deliberate, vaguely amusing, mistake there so don’t write in), can be quite numerous in that area at certain times of the year. Also possible are Basking Sharks, Minke Whales but most likely are Harbour Porpoises and both species of seals, good seabirds are very likely with the route passing close to a large Gannet colony and seabird cliffs.
The first full Patch 1 visit was undertaken yesterday evening; the first since Frank’s op. The vicious attack on the young girl has made it an unnerving eerie place during the hours of darkness – not that we’re frightened of the dark –just the fruit-cakes lurking in it! No sign of the Peregrine on the tower and nothing doing in the park; all we managed in there was a Woodpigeon fast asleep on the end of a slim twig silhouetted by the nearby streetlights.
Some snow is forecast…oooohhh two flakes or three? Already a half hearted attempt at a flurry or two this lunchtime. Might get some wintery scenes like these, brrrrr. Snow Buntings on the dunes/beach next week?

Where to next? Patch 1 in the dark again probably, full or partial walk – not sure yet depends on the time available. Must get out again soon – all this Christmas shopping is playing havoc with the safari – wouldn’t mind but we seem to be spending a small fortune but wifey’s ‘Santa sack’ doesn’t seem to be getting any fuller, we obviously need more low cost/large volume stuff to balance the high cost/low volume stuff already in there! Does anyone else have a severe problem with sellotape? I seem to go through miles of the stuff, mostly stuck to myself rather than on the roughly wrapped gifts.
In the meantime let us know what’s giving you the wrap-around in your outback.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

A very grey day today

The safari set out on Patch 1 in the darkness to the wistful tune of a Robin this morning. Round the corner another was singing, has there been a bit of pre-cold weather movement. It’s time to get on the patch proper particularly if it freezes up a bit later in the week. The advantage with hard frost is that Frank does come back soaking wet and needing drying off when we’re trying to get ready for work. So fingers crossed for some frost and the first full Patch 1 walk for a goodly while. Meanwhile we have written our first tentative enquiry to the water board about putting up a nest box for the Peregrine and received a tentatively positive response – so things are looking good. We have been on the internet and found a cracking box similarly sited on a very narrow ledge – on a power station in Australia. The only down side is that our Peregrine hasn’t been seen since the last time we saw him before the fog a few days ago…looks like he’s got himself lost! Please come back – we’ve got more letters to write.
Patch 2 was a gloomy affair this morning in the half light of dawn even though it was well after 8.30 when we eventually got out onto the sea wall. A male Eider was riding the gentle swell not too far out and two Great Crested Grebes fished beyond the low water mark. One was still sporting a fair bit of summer plumage. Nothing else of note in the good conditions. Later, at lunchtime, the conditions were even better, the flattest of lights, no waves, barely a swell, a light northerly wind but distinctly few birds and no mammals. A handful of Common Scoters bobbed about in small groups here and there and a flock of around 150 Pink Footed Geese winged south a good way out in the distance. The beach, however, was much livelier. Two Ringed Plovers tipped forwards closely investigating the sand at their feet, two Redshank waded about in a runnel, best of all were 28 Sanderlings scattered along the receding tide line. Judging by the lack of footprints the jogger that appeared in the distance was the first person on the beach after the tide. As he drew nearer the Sanderlings flocked closer together, eventually as he approached even closer they tighter and started to leg it down the beach in front of him looking like a mad bunch of clockwork toys having a race along the sand before they took to the air and flew off round the corner and out of sight. At close range in good light their plumage is a marvel of intricate beauty. Half a dozen Oystercatchers were all we could muster and where were the gulls – nothing close enough to give a good grilling, the few that were down the beach to the south were just silhouettes in the distance. Bumped into an old friend yesterday who has just been to Svalbard and seen rakes of good stuff, no Polar Bears but the Beluga probably made up for that. He told me he uploads his photos to Birdguides and I should take a look – well I did and spotted his Kittiwake from a trip to Yorkshire a few years ago with definitely un-black legs – as he say, anyone got any ideas? – Over to you North Americans…are they red enough for one of yours?
I’ve been bold enough to post a couple of DB’s spics he took several years ago on the nature reserve – great shots of a very difficult subject to find/observe/shoot – so don’t you dare nick ‘em!

Good job Stoats aren’t as big as dogs cos they’d be bringing down cart-horses – savage little characters they are; the safari hasn’t bumped into one for a long time now, unfortunately, as they always brighten an otherwise grey day.
Where to next? Back on Patch 1 – watch this space for news of more than enough Robins, a Wren or two and the odd Blackbird…may be even a Dunnock thrown in for good measure.
In the meantime let us know whether or not you’ve been able to get into your outback recently and if so what is the big deal there.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Merely visiting

The safari had a very nice afternoon stroll around Marton Mere this arvo. On arriving and getting out of the Land Rover we could hear Whooper Swans calling. But these would have to wait. The matter of Cetti's Warblers needed sorting first, as did a small flock of gulls sitting, or more accurately falling through, the patch of thin ice. Nothing worth reporting in the gulls though. As luck would have it we could see the Whoopers, a family party of ma, pa and their four kids, in the distance close to one of the hides, they'd save until later in the afternoon. Meanwhile the Cetti's were notable by their somewhat unusual silence. With nothing doing on the Cetti's front it was time to check out the Long Eared Owls. On the way we had a quick look for Jack Snipe but only managed to nearly tread on an ordinary Snipe even though we had just scanned the area thoroughly! Glad we had the ranger with us because they weren't easy and not on the same branches as last year. Can you see it?
This one any better? Not a lot I think.
Hardly going to trouble Bird Guides Photo of the Week page are they?
With three Long eared Owls in the bag the Whoopers were now about to fall. But they had other ideas, the swines had moved from right in front of the hide to over by the scrape.
Seventeen Gadwall graced the mere a good tally for this species which bred here for the first time this summer.
Other ducks included a very tidy 60 Wigeon, three dozen Shovelers, and a good score of Teal, but no Green Wingers amongst them as far as we could tell. Pochard numbers seemed pretty low as did Tufted Duck which we neglected to check through in case of a Ring Necked Duck or a dodgy hybrid. a lone female Goldeneye was joined by three others at dusk. At the death whilst waiting for a chance of Barn Owl another 50 odd Whooper Swans came in overhead but 20 0r so split off and landed in the adjacent fields.
The Cetti's gave us a right run around. One was almost beneath the hide window but would it show, then a Wren darted out; have we been making an elementary mistake? Another(?) Cetti's piped up calling from an island of reeds in front of the hide but we hadn't noticed a bird fly across the little gap to it. Then out of nowhere we saw one do exactly that! So deffo two but again would they show for a photo - no chance.
We wandered around the far side to check over the reed bed for Bitterns and fluked a short snatvh of Cetti's song from a few yards west of the West Planting Hide. A disappointing day for gulls - none on the mere to grill. No Bitterns put in appearance either despite it being a perfect evening for one to pop up.
The sunset wasn't too spectacular but did light up the farmhouse windows looking like the house was ablaze inside. The tower didn't look too bad either

Did we see the Barny? Did we heck, no Little Owl this evening either, not sure if he's been seen on the barns recently. The sound of wildfowl settling down for the night of flighting off to feed during the hours of darkness was a beautiful end to the day.
Where to next? Back to Patch 1 tomorrow - will the Peregrine be there, missed him these last few days.
In the meantime let us know which duck is which in your outback.