Friday 30 April 2010

♫ There’s nothing like a newt ♫

The Safari had a work related site visit in the warmth of the afternoon sun yesterday. The venue was our supposed snake pit…yet again no snakes…to find one we’re gonna be very lucky but you never know…
Plenty of snake scram about in the form of Frogs and Toads and our new amphibian pond is looking good. Hopefully we’ll be able to dig a couple more later in the year.
The butterflies gave us a right good show. We got our first Speckled Woods, Comma, stonkingly vivid male Orange Tip and a rather more sedately patterned Green Veined White.
A Chiffchaff sang in the distance while a Kestrel hovered over the next field. Continuing the raptor theme a Sparrowhawk circled lazily northwards on the afternoon’s thermals. Yes it was that warm - 20ÂșC and more in our sheltered spot.
Later we visited another recently excavated site with the Lancashire Amphibian Recorder and found not a lot. A few young Frogs from last year and plenty of tadpoles but only one Smooth Newt. Just as we were about to leave our Extreme Photographer called out that he had found a Great Crested Newt. We had just lamped that stretch of the bank and found a few folded leaves of Water Mint concealing eggs but totally missed the huge animal! An excellent find and superb reward for the efforts of all involved with the project…it has done exactly what it was designed to do!
Patch 1 this morning was a dire affair, definitely ‘residents only’ not a migrant to be heard anywhere not even in the Golden Triangle which if it doesn’t buck its ideas up soon will be demoted to the Silver Triangle and perhaps even down to the Bronze Triangle. The Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance. Pheewww. Best thing wasn’t a sighting, it was a sniffing..the smell of Poplar resin on the gentle morning breeze was lovely.
If patch 1 was bad patch 2 was worse – beyond dire! So much so that that the first thing to hit the notebook was a Lesser Black Backed Gull bathing in the surf as it dribbled on to the beach. 56 Oystercatchers were entered, that’s how bad it was; normally these are, embarrassingly, passed over. 50 of them were in a large flock on a sandbank to the south technically beyond the Patch 2 boundary. Excitement could hardly be contained when two Dunlin flew south while four Whimbrel went north a few feet above them…thrilling stuff…well it was today!
No time for a lunchtime visit.
Where to next? Hmm long weekend approaches, but there is the small matter of the garage doors to paint…let's pray the weather isn't condusive to painting.
In the meantime let us know if it was dire or not in your outback today.
PS the squares in the title are supposed to be musical quavers - they show on the blogger dashboard.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Owt about? Naahh no'much

The Safari’s jaunt through Patch 1 featured nice swirly cloud formations illuminated by the rising sun rather than wildlife! A gentle shower of rain as we were setting off gave us a little hope of a grounded something or other…nothing seen except for a Swallow weaving between the houses, been very few over the patch so far this spring, although we did manage three yesterday evening. Even the Golden Triangle was strangely silent. Walking through to the park it was obvious that not much was singing. We checked the concrete thingies, the pair of Herring Gulls and the Magpie were still there, wonder if they’re plastic like the Dorset Ospreys, but nothing resembling a vicar or a having a double bright supercilium. A single Chiffchaff was singing, have the others from yesterday moved on? It was the quietest morning for a while the showers certainly hadn’t dropped anything exciting like a Redstart and nothing was heard going overhead, maybe we are just that ½ mile too far inland. The return journey past the Golden Triangle was useless as the male Sparrowhawk had just blitzed through there in hunting mode a minute or so before us.
Similarly Patch 2 wasn’t over exciting either. We got there as a local birding legend, who we haven’t seen for ages, DP, was meeting up with regular sea-watcher MJ; he had been there for about half an hour and had already seen three Red Breasted Mergansers, an Eider and the seasons best tally of 15 Sandwich Terns. We ensconced ourselves in our usual viewing area while the others made use of the not so functional shelter and waited for the southerly breeze to bring the goodies to us. It didn’t! Best of our short morning’s watch were three Whimbrels ‘whickering’ as they went north. 20 Dunlin went south in a couple of flocks and we had an unknown number of Sandwich Terns, not as many as MJ had seen earlier, unknown as they were doing circles looking for fish. Another Eider flew past, one of those immature speckly males, that was about it…not a lot to get the blood rushing! We’ll probably find out that M & D had shed loads of stuff after we had to go to work…ahhh the joys of retirement.
Patch 2 at lunchtime was a strangle affair. There had been a fishing match over the tide that had just finished. The contestants didn’t seem to be enthusing about the amount they had caught, more like long faces bemoaning the fact they hadn’t caught much at all. They weren’t the only ones. A few Herring and Lesser Black backed Gull mooched around new the wall but other than those the sea was empty. We stuck the monotony for five more minutes and managed a hit; two Red Breasted Mergansers went south quite close in. That was enough we were about to call it a day when we spotted something that wasn’t quite right; a large bird high over the water a fair distance out. It just shouted follow me closely. It was on a straight course sort of shallowly diagonally away from us coming from the north and heading towards the North Wales coast. On it came not far in front of the haze, still ringing ‘alarm bells’ but we couldn’t get much on it. As it drew level it was obviously a raptor and a slight jink and stall once it was a little past us gave its identity away. An Osprey (161,83)!!! Now that will do very nicely thank you. But what it was doing cutting directly across the bay going the wrong way heaven only knows.
Where to next? After that, the pub to celebrate!
In the meantime let us know if there are celebrations to be enjoyed in your outback today.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Wanted ‘WW’ but got the wrong ‘W’ – serves us right for being greedy

The Safari was out pre-06.00 on Patch 1 this morning…ooohh that’s just too early. A Wood Warbler seen yesterday at my original local patch, Little Crosby woods, was enough to get us out of bed early to check the park and surrounding areas. Not a sniff, well there was never going to be was there. The much larger and far more wooded Stanley Park is our local hotspot for this enigmatic but increasingly scarce species. There weren’t even any Willow Warblers singing this morning, nor Blackcaps…how strange. Even stranger the year’s tally of Chiffchaffs on Patch 1 went from an unbelievably low two to an almost uncountable FIVE i.e. there were three this morning. One in a garden just off the main road, one in the Golden Triangle and one in the rough before the park...late for late arrivals by this species standards. We had a ‘proper’ count of singing Wrens and got six in the park and one in the Golden Triangle. Only one Robin was heard in the park today as well as a single Chaffinch but there was another singing in one of the posh houses’ gardens across the way by the golf course (which could be really good for Wheatears n stuff but we never, never check, to be honest we don’t know if anyone ever checks it – probably not as there is precious little reported from there)
Yesterday evening the kids were going absolutely bananas in the park – climbing high in to the trees to rip whole branches off – it sounded like a herd of elephants were feeding in there! This morning among the carnage of broken branches we discovered a tree of about four inches (10cm) diameter had been totally torn from the ground – just how mindless are these brain-dead gimps? Tomorrow we are supposed to be putting up a Bat Box Scheme in there but at the moment I doubt if they’ll last 24 hours. It also doesn’t bode well for doing any tree planting later in the year to replace the lost Elms.
Back to the birding – we had a look on the water tower to see if the Peregrine was around – it wasn’t – it then occurred to us that the grassland surrounding the tower often has a few Blackbirds kicking about on it and there have been numerous Ring Ouzels this week…what if??????? So we checked it out, no Rouzels on the slopes and unfortunately there is nowhere to view the grassy top of the covered reservoir from. But there on one of the line of concrete block thingies was a small ‘something interesting’. Distant but distinctly interesting. Had a look from a few angles viewing through fences and thickets but couldn’t get much on it with Wifey’s little bins that we now use in the morning. Eventually we went in to a part of the housing estate rarely visited by outsiders other than burglars and Pikeys and looked from the front driveways of the very posh houses which face the res. We could feel the curtains being twitched behind us as we twitched the distant dot…a female Wheatear (WT#82 and 68th species recorded on the Patch altogther)…ohh that it had been a Whinchat! It sat there for ages ignoring a pair of raucous Herring Gulls a couple of concrete thingies away, a sleepy Woodpigeon and the usual gaggle of Magpies. A Patch 1 tick – that doesn’t happen too often – must remember to check this area out more often…
Out on the sea at Patch 2 several squadrons of Gannets passed by and a flock of nine Arctic Terns went the wrong way, south. Just two Sandwich Terns were all we could muster this morning. A Razorbill was seen to have altitude sickness flying about 10m above the waves or 9.95m higher than normal.
Three Eiders winged northwards. Not a bad half hour but still no cetaceans!
The lunchtime shift on the falling tide produced nothing of note other than a single distant Eider.
Where to next? More checking of the concrete thingies we think.
In the meantime let us know if there has been anything sitting on those concrete thingies in your outback.

Monday 26 April 2010

Tale of the unexpected.

The Safari is back on dry land and hitting the Patches. Patch 1 didn’t live up to expectations after a weekend of immense migrant movement locally. Any migrants that might have been there had moved on! Our Coal Tit had moved trees, probably saw the tree-fellers ‘X’ and decided it might not be that safe to nest in that one. Not a peep from any Blackcaps or Willow Warblers but a Chiffchaff was new in an very welcome at long last. The male Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance. On the subject of Sparrowhawks leaving the nature reserve yesterday we had a ‘Goshawk’ probably the most mis-identified bird in the world; a large female Sparrowhawk it was really, no rounded corners to the tail, the ‘hand’ was ‘normal’ and just not quite bulky enough even for a small male Goshawk. Meanwhile back in the park two Chaffinches attempting to out-sing each other were perhaps new in. In the deepest reaches of their usual thicket our Long Tailed Tits were keeping themselves busy.
The Golden Triangle was uncharacteristically quiet with only Dunnock, Wren, Robin and Greenfinch singing, while a Blackbird clucked away softly from the dense Brambles.
Patch 2 was in tip-top form. The tide was on the rise and there was a brisk westerly breeze, nothing too fierce and it was warm enough to do without a hat... that makes a refreshing change…Plenty of white horses and a good bit of chop and swell made spotting anything on the sea tricky, but we soon found a couple of Guillemots riding the waves. Out of a trough just behind them not far past the low water mark a summer plumaged Black Throated Diver (159,80) took to the air and headed south. If only we’d have seen it on the water we would have probably been able to get a bit of a digiscoped record pic as it was just within range! An excellent sighting, only the Safari’s third ever! One that certainly wasn’t on the ‘expected’ list, not on the ‘hoped for’ list either, possibly not even on the ‘in yer wildest dreams’ list. The sea then started to produce the goods as three Arctic Terns (160,81) dipped and weaved their way north. A Gannet sailed past reasonably close in, as did a Kittiwake. Two large flocks of Kittiwakes went south, about 100 birds in total. There was a distinct north/south divide this morning. Seven more Arctic Terns went north, while two others went south with four Sandwich Terns. Nine Common Scoters went south, watching them we picked up a solitary Manx Shearwater shot through the troughs going the other way. We had a few more Gannets some going north, some going south, they didn’t seem to be able to make their minds up but we didn’t notice them searching for fish.
All in all a cracking 30 minutes worth, wish we coulda stayed out longer! Will find out what we missed ‘cos as we were leaving MJ was just walking up to the viewing shelter. (Later edit - MJ had a pale phase Arctic Skua- - maybe tomorrow...)
If early-doors was good then lunchtime was an anticlimax! Six Eiders, a male, four 1st year speckly males and a female went north over the beach and a Gannet sailed south in the middle distance. Ten more minutes watching gave us no reward so it was back to the desk.
Where to next? More patchy stuff but the winds have gone ‘wrong’ for terrestrial migrants but the sea could continue be good on the rising tide.
In the meantime let us know what the most mis-identified things are in your outback.

Sunday 25 April 2010

The result of the 'seafari'

The Safari took to the high seas over the weekend on a mission to count cetaceans as a volunteer for the research charity Marinelife.
We parked the Land Rover at the dock where our ship was taking on its cargo of trucks.

Our watch position was second window from the right on the bridge, as you are looking at the above pic. The far right one is actually outside.
We had a little table for our paperwork.The view from the bridge before sailing - its about 50 feet (17m) above the water.

Not far out of port yours truly spotted the first cetacean of the voyage, a Harbour Porpoise. The ship sailed after the tide and we learned later that earlier, over the tide, land based birders had been watching two together closer to shore...
We passed the local windfarm which was lost in a haze. Another is being built to the port side of the ship. As you can see conditions at sea were pretty good, not sure what it would be like in one of our raging westerlies.
We soon had a Grey Seal and were knocking off the more common gulls and other seabirds - Razorbill, Guillimot and Sandwich Tern all fell quickly. A string of terns were almost definitely Arctics but in the haze not quite clinchable.
Further out we got to the Kittiwake zone where we found one being harrassed half-heartedly by a Great Skua (151).
Most obivious was the amount of passerine passage we were seeing, Pied Wagtail nearly landed on the boat. Swallows featured strongly and we had a Sand Martin with a House Martin (152) travelling together.
Gannets passed the bow regularly but you don't really relise how fast the the boat and birds are moving, by the time the camera has been grabbed and switched on most of the birds had long gone.
And large birds like Gannets are still along way down.This is 'pic' of the bunch.
There seemed to be zones in which certain species were found. After passing the Isle of Man my Team Leader said he had a Harbour Porpoise around here and lo and behold it was still there three months later!
Fulmars (153) then started to feature, we struggled to get on the first two or three but then we couldn't really miss them.
Manx Shearwaters were numerous - the Safari really likes these fragile but tough as old boots ocean wanderers - they look so small close up.
We saw a blob in the far distance, well over a mile away, dead ahead. As we closed on it it was seen to be another Grey Seal, which didn't get out of the way and almost got run over. Hard as nails these seals, taking on thousands of tons of steel.
Getting in to the Irish coast we saw two Feral Pigeons - a race? - and nearer the shore but still well out to sea the weirdest sighting, a Stock Dove. Approaching the harbour we had the first of several Shags (154), in the mouth of the harbour Black Guillimots (155) dodged the manoevering ship. A quick scan round the harbour gave us two Common Terns (156).
So we didn't break the bank but we did get two cetacean sightings. A friend and work colleague is on the May survey and might well do better if the conditions are good...Basking Sharks could be on the menu by then.
Our return journey was over night and the survey didn't start until 5.00am. When we got on the bridge it was pouring down with rain and still dark. With only one hour to go before docking all we got were gulls coming out of their roost sites. On the sandbanks approaching the dock there were alot of Oystercatchers and a few Eiders.
Home sweet home...still in the damp dark...
Leaving the port we should have headed in to Fleetwood were Whinchat, Ring Ouzels, Redstart, Cuckoo and Yellow Wagtails were all seen within an hour or so of first light. Insttead we went home for a good kip...shattered...
In the afternoon we hit the nature reserve and finally caught up with Grasshopper Warblers (157) - we can hear them still, three of them we heard, but others had heard and seen five. Not far from one of the Groppers a Lesser Whitethroat (158) sang a couple of times.
From one of the hides we spotted this snall Pike.Easier to see in this pic...
The Cetti's Warblers gave us the run aroundbut we did get a brief view of a male and perhaps a hint that there might well be females about too. We heard at least two others. How many Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs are on site? The song from them all was really uplifting this afternoon. More Whitethroats and a few Sedge Warblers were fresh in. A light shower dropped some hirundines including five House Martins and a small number of Swifts.
The 1cy Mediterranean Gull was still present, we've changed the nomenclature on this opne as it can't still be winter its now far too late in the season but he bird hasn't really moulted in to any summer plumage yet.
So some good stuff over the weekend and eight year ticks to progress our 'race' with Monika . Most of the easy ones are now bagged although there are still a few to go, then we're in to the more specific 'have to travel deliberately to see' or the odd fluked ones to bring the total towards 200 by the end of the year.
Where to next? Arctic Terns on Patch 2 please, and a Ring Ouzel on the garden at work if I may be so bold.

Friday 23 April 2010

Mission impossible…

The safari had a poor Patch 1 walk this morning with just two Blackcaps and a single Willow Warbler which didn’t reveal itself until we had almost left. Highlight of the morning was we actually saw both the male and female Sparrowhawks.
Just to disappoint local raptor man, Craig, the Peregrine was nowhere to be seen and we couldn’t possibly hazard a guess as to when its next visit might be.
Patch 2 was useless, the long walk giving us only a solitary Guillemot and two Sandwich Terns.
A morning trip out to our local ‘snake’ site started out far too cold. We turned over plastic sheets, wooden boards, sheets of tin had a poke about in and around umpteen likely looking ‘snake pits’ to no avail. Several Frogs and Toads were found but no Newts (or snakes). This Frog is one of the largest any of the 'hunters' have seen in recent years and beautifully marked it is too. You can even see its Tympanum (eardrum) really clearly just behind the eye.Looking further afield we came across two more specimens of the ground beetle Carabus nemoralis, as seen for the first time(?) in the Fylde last week, one looked like a female bloated with eggs. A scale perfect Small Tortoiseshell basked in the weak sunshine trying desperately to warm up. A couple of fellow Bloggers, including Dean, have been photographing Banded Snails on their travels. As this site is quite good for them we searched some unbleached specimens out so here goes - - they are all Cepaea nemoralis, the Black Lipped Banded Snail we were unable to find any of the extremely similar species Cepaea hortensis, the White Lipped Banded Snail.
Adapted from Wiki - Apart from the band at the lip of the shell, these snails are highly polymorphic in their shell colour and banding. The background colour of the shell can sometimes be so pale as to be almost white; it is more usually yellow, pink, or chestnut but can be dark brown when the bands are difficult to see, and the shells can be with or without dark bandings. The bands vary in intensity of colour, in width and in total number, from zero up to a total of six. Normally there are 0,1,3,5 or 6. These polymorphisms have been highly studied as part research in heredity and evolution. They are thought to act as camouflage to avoid predation from, for example, the Song Thrush, but also have implications for the body heat of the animal: darker shells heat up more quickly, with consequences for rates of metabolism and loss of moisture (crucial in snail locomotion). In particular, snails with dark brown appear to preferentially be found in dark woodlands, whilst snails with light yellow shells and thin banding are more commonly found in grassland.
So here we go...far left brown 5 banded, brown 1 banded, yellow 5 banded, pink 1 banded
Left - yellow(showing a bit of pink in the upper whorls) 5 banded, middle - yellow 5 banded, right- yellow 5 banded
Close up of a yellow 0 banded form.
Close up of a yellow 5 banded form.
Banded Snail lesson over...for thee time being. If you come across a thrushes anvil use the bits of shell to determine the ratio of the different forms the thrush is predating. Then have a mooch about and find your own - are the proportions the same or is the thrush predating one form in preference to the others, is this the most common or is ity the one that stands out in the environment the most?
A bit of a weird sighting was of two owls we accidentally flushed which flew over the main road and out of sight...Long Eared Owls???...oohh errrr...
A short look over the sea at lunchtime was pointless as it was TOTALLY DEVOID of living creatures on or above the surface, if anything was beneath the surface (unlikely) it was off our radar.
A short stop on the way home from work at the no messing easy tick Treecreeper nest site gave us nothing, no Treecreepers so no tick.
Once we were home it was time to take Frank back for a leisurely evening stroll around the nature reserve where there have been sightings of four year birds today! Four, yes FOUR Barn Owls were seen flying together at dawn, Lesser Whitethroat was singing at 8.00am (heard over my mobile phone), a few House Martins were reported to have flown through and a Grasshopper Warbler was singing near one of the hides mid morning, and there then were goodies like Wood Sandpiper, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel and Yellow Wagtail not too far away which could easily have bobbed in for an evening wash and brush-up . At least one must fall, surely! Two Cetti's Warblers and a few fly through Swallows accompanied by three Swifts were the best of a quite stroll...doohhh, might have been better going to Patch 1.
Where to next? Will the Safari be more akin to Cap’n Ahab, Cap’n Pugwash (the somewhat suggestive names of his crew are an urban myth!) or Cap’n Nemo on our cetacean survey tomorrow?
In the meantime let us know what succeeded in avoiding your radar in your outback today.

Thursday 22 April 2010

30 mins = 1 hour

The Safari had a change from taking Frank to play rugby on Patch 1 - we went to the nature reserve instead. How hot was it??? Felt like the tropics walking down the track with the sun on our backs and the sight of a pair of Black Swans flying over against the azure blue sky made it seem like we were in WA. On the reserve there were rakes of Chiffchaff, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers, but we were after stuff that was more recently arrived. Gotcha - a Whitethroat (148) doing its dancing song flight from the tip of a Dog Rose bush. Walking a bit further round the path and spotting MJ on a bench in the distance we decided to meet up with him as he may have had some inside information. At the back of the island a Sedge Warbler (149) belted out its erratic song/medley/tuneless warble. things were going swimmingly! We joined MJ on the bench and he told us tales of this morning's 'twitch' to the local cemetery for two Ring Ouzels followed by a bad dip on the Common Crane that was on the marshes to the south of us the day yesterday. All the time we were listening for our quarry for the evening, Grasshopper Warbler, although neither of us can hear them particularly well these days, so one could easily have been reeling away unnoticed not too far away. anyway we didn't hear any buut MJ did recount his story of how to miss an Ashy Headed Wagtail - a great find in Lancashire at the other end of the motorway from us. We decided to give the Gropper a go in another spot a little further down and as we moved along a sizable flock of hirundines dropped in. Now the Safari needs House Martin still and scanning hard we found...a Swift! (150).
So that's 150 up, just 25 to go for our 'expected' total but a scary 50 more to find for the 'lucky' total. With yesterday's seabirds our 'on foot' list has reached 80, no idea what the final tally will be on this one.
Later dudes...

He’s back!

This morning’s safari was the usual traipse up the hill, down past the Golden Triangle, through the park and back. Nothing exceptional of note. Singing Blackcaps and Willow Warblers were heard but not seen. The Coal Tit was singing once again after yesterday’s absence. We copped for a Chaffinch, first for a while, singing from the top of one of the Ash trees. There are a few self-seeded Ash trees in the park and just one planted Oak tree. The Ash are far more advanced than the Oak which, if the old adage is correct, suggests we will have another wet summer…dooohhhhhh.
A Grey Squirrel scampered about in the dead and dying twigs of one of the few remaining Elm trees. Once again our Long Tailed Tits were heard doing whatever it is they do deep in their Bramble thicket.
Walking past Magpie Wood, which is bursting in to leaf, we got a glimpse of a bird on the water tower in more or less the same spot the Peregrine used to sit on but on the big ledge rather than the thin ledge. The foliage obscured the view and we had had a Feral Pigeon sat up there earlier in the week so we didn’t think too much more about it. But once we had got past the trees and in to the open the bird could easily be identified as a Peregrine. We had taken Wifey’s mini-bins today and examining it through those revealed it to be the male having his breakfast. Great stuff; but where has he been? We took some pics with the happy-snappy but although the light was excellent the distance was just too far for it even on full digital zoom.

We then hit the lonely walk down the empty road to our new Patch 2 watch point. The concreting machine that looks as if it’s straight of a War Of The Worlds film set was being fired up, what a weird and wonderful thing it is.
As we were watching the lads setting up the surveying equipment and calibrating he monster a flock of 45 Pink Footed Geese flew over the beach. Scoping them quickly we couldn’t tell if the 'Tundra' Bean Goose was with them – there has been/still is one kicking with about 300 late lingering Pink Footed Geese at the ‘Place We Don’t Mention By Name’ on the South-side. Not that we would ever be able to pick one out in flight from a flock of its congeners anyway.
Much warmer today and no wind at all, the work’s turbines were motionless indeed it was summer by any other name. The lack of wind made scanning the sea a joy, flat calm with good light, shame there was nowt out there! Six Cormorants flew past, followed a few minutes later by two Whimbrel. Scanning hard we picked out two distant Grey Seals, one straight out the other a good way to the south. Four Shelducks flew north, direction of the day, while two more were sat bathing on the sea just behind the breakers off the dunes to our left. ‘Visible’ migration consisted of an ‘alba’ Wagtail and a Meadow Pipit being heard but not seen overhead. A Razorbill dived not too far out in front of us…not a bad half hour but could have been better – where are the terns?
One Sandwich Tern appeared at lunchtime and one of the Grey Seals was still knocking about but had moved quite a way towards us, sadly still too far off for a pic.
More worrying was the number of Lugworms being stripped out of the beach again, three guys = 15 gallons of worms, then there were two blokes peeling Mussels off the outfall pipe too – it’s a flippin free-for-all on the biodiversity down there at the moment. They don’t look like the sort of chaps you’d want to argue the toss with either.
The big machine was in full flight…

Where to next? Is there a snake in the grass?
In the meantime let us know what you wouldn’t be able to identify in your outback.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Where there’s a wind there’s a way

The safari’s late night jaunt looking for Newts was ill-fated. The wind was freezing. Before it went dark enough to go newting we headed over the nature reserve to see if we couldn’t steal a march on Monika as we are both on 147 species for the year: We both have the same target of ‘expected’ and ‘hoped for’ to attain by 31st December - it’s neck and neck, nip and tuck etc etc…Our visit to the reserve didn’t produce any of the following, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, House Martin or Barn Owl all of which had been reported in the last couple of days or so…oh we could have crept into an good lead with that lot. The cold north-easterly wind kept most things quiet and skulking. A Cetti’s Warbler was the exception, certainly skulking in the middle of a Blackthorn thicket but far from quiet!
Around 250 to 300 Swallows and Sand Martins hawked low over the water but no sign of the House Martins which the rangers had seen over the mere earlier in the day. A Shelduck came in from the fields to the east and settled on the water – really bonny birds these and never numerous visitors to the reserve. A good few years ago a pair attempted to nest under the rocks of the ornamental waterfall and pool in the Tiger enclosure at the nearby zoo…they were unsuccessful – let’s just say they didn’t reach the egg laying stage of the reproductive season.
As dusk fell we set off to look at the ponds. With torches burning a shaft of light through the surface we peered in to the depths, nothing moving at all in the first pond, nor the second. This cold snap seems to have sent everything back to the bottom. The third pond was the one we had had reports of good populations of newts in recently so when the beams from our lamps hit the water we had high expectations…nothing obvious…a thorough search gave us two lethargic Frogs, we had been beaten by the weather!
This morning’s Patch 1 walk was dominated by Willow Warblers, three singing and quite a lot of non-calling flitting about. A very loud Song Thrush sang from the Golden Triangle easily beating the Blackcap in the volume stakes. Once again we saw the male Sparrowhawk, this time in hunting mode weaving between the trees at speed about half an inch off the ground. Our Coal Tit wasn’t heard today, gone? But there were three Great Tits singing away. Again the Long Tailed Tits were heard being busy in their Bramble thicket. We spent a few minutes listening for yesterday’s Garden Warbler but heard nothing.
Patch 2 before work was as cold and windy as yesterday but worth the suffering. No new species but a nice selection in the twenty minutes we were able to spend out there, would have been half an hour but it takes a good five minutes to walk down to where we can cross the works. Red Throated Divers were moving, two then two more then a single all going north straight into the wind. In fact everything we saw was going that way. Several unidentified Auks went past in the distance, of those close enough to identify we had four Razorbills and a single Guillemot, oh what would we give for Puffin and a Black Guillemot; both are rare visitors to this stretch of coast. A male Common Scoter broke the rules by flying west out to sea. Six Eiders, five males and a female continued the northward march just over the distant tide line. A Great Crested Grebe was found bobbing about in the chop. Way out in the haze we saw two tiny white dots, they plunged like Gannets but were obviously terns, too far away in the haze to identify, three more followed, then another two and a single…possibly Arctic Terns, will have to see if PM has had any moving in the Bay off Heysham; they must be due soon!
Lunchtime…hmmm, the wind had dropped but so had the birds. All that walk for a Sandwich Tern and two Cormorants! Useless!
No midnight safari tonight as Wifey is back from her business trip to London - the Big Cheese in the Big washing, cooking, cleaning to be done!!!
Where to next? Still looking forward to finding something on both Patches as always.
In the meantime let us know how cold the wind was in your outback today.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

It's an ill wind...

This morning the Safari’s Patch 1 walk was cold, cold, cold; where has that bitter wind sprung up from? Ah, yes of course; the Safari is on a ferry at the weekend!
However, the increasing overnight headwind had dropped some migrants. The Golden Triangle held both Blackcap and Willow Warbler along with the usual residents. No chance of a count of Woodpigeons today as they were just too flighty, whizzing here, there and everywhere. There was a Heron in each of the two ponds, not often we see them in the smaller, more enclosed, top pond. Again we heard Willow Warblers and a Blackcap singing and our Coal Tit seems to have stuck in the large conifers, one of which has a large white tree fellers ‘X’ on it for next autumn…oohh errr. The Long Tailed Tits were busy in their favoured Bramble thicket – heard but not seen. On the other side of the path we noticed three ‘Phyllosc’ warblers flitting about together high up on the outer twigs of a budding Sycamore tree. We tried whistling the Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff whistles but got no response from the birds – they just kept on pecking at the buds. Due to the lack of Chiffchaffs on the Patch this spring and the recent surge in the numbers of Willow Warblers we assume they were the latter but without bins to have a look at the primary projection and total lack of sound from them unIDd they will stay. A little further down the track a Dunnock sparred vocally with a ‘Sylvia’ warbler. Not another Blackcap and not the (more) expected Whitethroat but an early Garden Warbler (145), a brilliant find on the Patch although there was one singing in almost the same place last year. It is, perhaps, this season’s first for the Fylde – will have to check the Bird Club’s sightings later. This is possibly/probably Britain’s most inappropriately named bird – has anyone ever seen one in a garden – ever? Anyone got any other contenders? Wheatear – doesn’t eat wheat, has no ‘obvious’ ears, perhaps. We know it is a corruption of something vaguely vulgar but the current name is a little incongruous don’t you think?
Patch 2 also produced a year tick a couple of hours later. We were scanning the sea and found three Gannets going north a long, long way offshore when two largish brown birds whipped through the field of view much nearer in. Spinning the scope round we got on to them, two Whimbrel (146), darting low between the waves on their northward journey. Also out there this morning was a Red Throated Diver, still not in summer plumage, a trio of Auks went north in the middle distance while a Razorbill and Guillemot travelled together not far offshore. Two Sandwich Terns also passed close by but the half dozen white dots in the far distance dipping and dancing couldn’t be identified were probably Kittiwakes and not Arctic Terns.
Lunchtime was another cold affair with the wind whipping up the back of the jacket making life a tad uncomfortable. The tide was on the rise and being pushed back by the wind so it was double choppy. Nothing much out there, a couple of distant Gannets and some speedy Auks. Then we saw four distant black dots rise out of a wave trough to the south and disappear. Eventually they passed in front of us and turned out to be a group of Manx Shearwaters (147), they promptly disappeared back in to the chop never to be seen again.
Where to next? Newts tonight, perhaps even a Great Crest to be found
In the meantime let us know if it’s all started to move in your outback now.

Monday 19 April 2010

Well and truly sealed.

The Safari’s early morning outing to Patch 1 was a fairly quiet affair. It was cold and cloudy so no chance of a volcanic sunrise today. The birds were disappointing, just a few Wrens and Dunnocks singing away. Even the Golden Triangle was subdued. In the park we managed a fairly good count of the mostly static Woodpigeons and got 17 of them, with four more in the Golden Triangle on the way back, so probably still in excess of two dozen knocking about. A Blackcap piped up and was immediately answered by another. The Coal Tit was still singing from the patch of large conifers by the pond but there was no sign of any Willow Warblers. Like we said, it was quiet. The chunky female Sparrowhawk flew over Magpie Wood causing the resident Carrion Crows a bit of consternation.
Back at base camp a Mistle Thrush started to sing and from the volume it wasn’t too far away. Not heard one of those for a couple of weeks now.
No early morning Patch 2 watch this morning but at dinner time we got across the fences and had a few minutes looking at a mirror calm but empty sea. Empty that is except for a couple of Grey Seals, one was close but not quite close enough to digiscope even if we had have taken the camera with us. A more determined scan we discovered THREE MORE across the mouth of the estuary – a total of five! More mammals than birds!!! Tomorrow the tide will be more favourable so we hope one or more is still hanging around and comes a bit closer and in to digiscoping range.
The evening Patch 1 walk produced the elusive Willow Warbler, although we were rather hoping for a Lesser Whitethroat in the old hedgerow.
Where to next? More patchy stuff tomorrow, might get further afield on Tuesday evening.
In the meantime let us know if there are more mammals than birds in your outback.
Enjoy these highlights from yesterday’s safari…and some other important our first view out of the new Jimmy Armfield Stand

Hopeful and excited fans...

Our banner is passed over the crowd...

Kick off...

Hope this Notts Forest fan being ejected at the start of the match wasn't Forest the Bear's brother...

Important stuff over (actually "football isn't a matter of life or death - it's far more important than that"...Bill Shankley - if you don't know who he is 'Google' him) - back to the routine and mundane wildlifey stuff... Ash trees are in flower.
So are the Willow trees...
Three of the five Hebrew Characters from the moth trap..
2 Clouded Drabs from the trap, a fresh one and one that looks like its been through the wars - do they have a hibernating late brood? Must look it up...
A thankfully calm queen Wasp...
Some of the Smooth Newts found beneath a pile of old slates...
Oh no here come the gulls...The Safari hopes if you click on them they will enlarge for you...
From left to right...1st win Med...1st win Black Head
As above but in preening mode apart from the rather snooty Black Head...for 1st win at this toime of year you could read 2cy...
That itch just gets deeper...
Note teh size difference between the Med and the Common...
And the head shape...
The difference in head shape is still apparent in this shot where the heads are at different angles to the viewer from the pic above...
1st win Med...1st win Common...1st win Common Common...
The Safari's first Common Sandpiper of the year...front view... Side view left...Side view left on the Bird Club's pile of stones...
Here's a pic of Frank flaked out on the roadside after a particularly inarduous safari - what's he going to be like when the going gets tough?...

Bet you're flaked out after wading through that lot! I know I am so I'm off to enjoy a plate of well herbed roasted veggies, mediterranean stylwe of course with a few lamb kebebs thrown in for good measure...later dudes...

Sunday 18 April 2010

The late bird didn't get the worm

The Safari had a late start this morning but a reasonable excuse. The moth trap did indeed get its 2010 debut last night, and after a traipse around Patch 1 the contents had to scrutinised.
Patch 1 wasn't too bad, high enough to be above the distant thick mist and mild. We saw the Fox there last night for the first time in ages. A Blackcap and three Willow Warblers seem to have stuck on the Patch as does the Coal Tit which was singing away like billy-oh again. towards the end of the walk we disturbed the male Sparrowhawk having his breakfast but there wasn't much left to identify the victim.
Another fine sunrise today.
Back at Base Camp after a very tasty bacon and mushroom butty the moth trap was emptied - not that that took long, a grand total of just two Clouded Drabs and five Hebrew Characters! Worker Common Wasps were seen at Base Camp for the first time this year this morning too.
Our safari this morning took us a few miles east to look for Slow Worms. A tiny population and a very long shot but conditions were good, warming up but not too sunny so basking was going to be likely. A pile of slabs by the track looked a good place to try. no luck but plenty of yearling Smooth Newts an adult and some Toads . Lots of inverts hiding under there as well. There is a tidy colony of Sand Martins, two Little Ringed Plovers flew over. A Jay called from the nearby wooded gardens. We also had a singing Goldcrest there along with Blackcap, Willow Warblers and a Chiffchaff. Our raptor score keeping ended Kestrels 2: Buzzards 2.
As the sun came out the butterflies started to become active with good numbers of Small Tortoiseshells and a few Peacocks. A lethargic queen Wasp sp was found sheltering, with a couple of dead ones that hadn't survived the winter, under the bark of a fallen tree. queen Red Tailed, White Tailed and Buff Tailed Bumble Bees were also active. We found our first Tawny Backed Bee too.
A pair of Reed Buntings graced a small pond, where we also found a couple of Toads and a Frog and a few Sticklebacks sped around the pool. Walking around the area we were accompanied by the constant bang of shotguns at the local clay shoot - at one stage we were peppered with clay bits and dust shot from them.
Unfortunately no Slow Worms...
Our second site was a bit of derelict old site on the edge of town. Not a great lot there but lods of Jays. Great stuff our Extreme Photographer found a Bee Fly, like the ground beetle the other day there are no records of this species in our area on the National Biodiversity Network. That doesn't mean to say they aren't here it's just that no-one has added the records to the national database.
time to head back west and see if anything new had turned up at the nature reserve. Oh goody it had. Arriving at the hide one of the regulars told us he may have seen a Caspian Gull yesterday and was awaiting some confirmation. Too good an opportunity to pass over with lots of large white headed gulls on the scrape to grill. The bird he saw wasn't present but our first Common Sandpiper (143) of the year was and right close to the hide on the mud the local Bird Club had recently had scraped up. Two Swallows then four flew straight through, we also had a small flock of five Sand Martins.
Checking through the gulls we found the 1st winter Mediterranean Gull again, which sat conveniently with a Common Gull and Black Headed Gull on the plank in front of the hide.
still a nice selection of waterfowl with two pairs of Teal, a pair of Shovelers and another male, a lone male Gadwall along with three pairs of Great Crested Grebes. Four Oystercathers flew round noisily. Talking of noisy we didn't go round the far side to get the freshly in Whitethroats and Grasshopper Warbler...too much gulling to do. In the end we had to leave before the Caspo? reappeared - if it did in the end.
The sunshine again brought out several Small Tortoiseshells, which are definitely having a better year than of late, and some Peacocks, no other species yet though.
Where to next? Patches, patches, patches and possibly an evening trip to the moors for Ring Ouzels and Redstarts amongst others...that would be a boon.
In the meantime let us know how you got on today in your outback, did your dodgy gull turn up?
Just before we go we'll tell you that checking our year's records we discovered that we have somehow neglected Canada Goose from the list...weird or what...(144). Anyone seen any of those other ferals, Ruddy Ducks, lately.
Sorry lack of laptop means no pics today, should be able to do em tomorrow.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Zilch Alley 0 : Pipit Slab 1

The Safari was on the cliffs before 06.00 this morning, not quite fully light. we had a good snort of the morning air but still can't smell any Icelandic sulphur on the breeze, not that there was much wind at all the sea was like a mirror. It'll stay like that until I set foot on the gangplank of the ferry we are doing the Cetacean survery from next weekend. We can guarantee that by 10.00 next Saturday a howling south westerly will have picked up out of nowhere and last about 24 hours!
Not much to report from the walk, this fine, clear, windless weather is nigh on useless for dropping migrants. A meagre dribble of Meadow Pipits totalled only 11 seen during the whole walk. There were more as in the haze above us we could only pick out calling birds and there were probably more flying with those. An impressive 5,000+ Knot flew south low over the glassy surface of the sea. Along with the Meadow Pipits we only heard two 'alba' Wagtails, it was a very quiet morning.
The tide was well out but only three Redshanks were seen. The distinctive calls of Sandwich Terns could be heard over the distant water line. Two were involved in a game of chase.
A low flying blob turned in to a striking male Eider and as if out of nowhere three more joined him. Still we were keeping an eye on the rocks of Zilch Alley, hoping for a Ring Ouzel, Redstart or at least a Meadow Pipit but absolutely nothing - totally devoid of birds, not even the local Starlings had ventured over the edge yet. On the cliff top the Starlings were poking around on the grassy areas and one, sat on fence, made a fantastic impression of a Buzzard - is this the same bird we heard at Base Camp last week? If not where are they going to learn this call?
We reached the end of our cliff top walk and had one last scan to the north, a Great Crested Grebe was sat with two small birds. On more detailed examination they were discovered to be a pair of Teal, the same ones as yesterday? After a couple of minutes, during which time a flockette of four Linnets flew over, they made their way out of the water and on to the beach. Best thing so far this morning was the intense colour of the rising sun when we could see it between the houses.
Time to have a look at Pipit Slab. A cursory scan and nothing as usual, but walking down the slade a few yards brought the far end of the slab in to view AND SOME MOVEMENT - at long last! Not a Meadow Pipit but a stonkingly bright 'Greenland' Wheatear - YES!!! he was scuttling about on the slab look for, and finding, bugs hidden in the cracks between the stones and hiding in the few weeds that are poking out here and there. Unfortunately for you it was still too dark and he was too livevly to be able to get a photo but he was a crackin' big bright fella. Also on Pipit Slab were a pair of House Sparrows and a Herring Gull flew over with a mass of seaweed in its bill, someone is going to have a noisy few weeks ahead of them.
The honking of Canada Geese made us turn round and look to the south. Three of them looked inccongruous sat in a runnel way out on the beach. Half way in to our return journey we found another two sat far out on the beach.
The rest of the return jouney was even queiter than the outward walk, the dribble of Meadow Pipits had dwindled to a trickle, we heard another 'alba' Wagtail and four Goldfinches flew overhead. That was it. Not many gulls on the beach and scanning the sea revealed nothing else out there. You could say it was a bit disappointing but with the Wheatear on Pipit Slab it was far from that.
Our Extreme Photographer has been out on a Common Lizard quest along the dunes to the south and from the text messages it would appear that he has been rather successful - hope there's some good pics for you later.
A mid morning spell looking for raptors and any other vis mig from the garden at Base Camp was totally fruitless.
Where to next? Footy beckons imminently...
In the meantime let us know if you have had any success in your outback today.
This just shows you how different our coast can be within a few miles - PM quotes fog and frost; even before sun up no more than 15 miles to the south it was warm (7C) and only a light haze at about 50 feet above the cliffs

Friday 16 April 2010

MEGA...if only!

The Safari has just had our first Glaucous Winged Gull!!! What a pity it was here and not on Patch 2.
Still waiting for our first Orca...

Later dudes

I’ve got to break free…

The Safari had a modicum of success this morning out on Patch 1. A little later than we normally are but arriving at the Golden Triangle we heard the beautifully summery descending scale of a Willow Warbler. Then another sang from the far end of this excellent scrap of scrub. About time too; but will they stick?
Joy of joys, we heard yet another in the park so a decent bit of an overnight fall – must have come up against that plume of volcanic ash! Not much else to report in there although a miracle happened, two Meadow Pipits flew over! The female Sparrowhawk was making a lot of noise and we followed her through the trees as she made her way to what could be a potential nest site in a lone tall conifer, must remember to take the bins and give said tree the once over.
With a little help from Freddie Mercury (you can’t beat a bit of Queen) we managed to get on to the sea wall, right down at the farthest end. The light was good, the sea mirror calm however nichts was out there. A horribly distant Grey Seal way to the south was about the only thing to be seen. We gave up after a few minutes but as we turned to go back to the Land Rover a Tree Pipit (142) went north low overhead. Can go on the big list but not on the walking list.
Back at work there was more evidence of a fall of Willow Warblers with one singing in the bushes at the southern end of the gardens. Four Linnets in the gardens were possibly migrants too.
We were successful in finding a nearer walkable gap in the Colditz-like defences at lunchtime. And pretty chuffed about it too. We reached the seawall put the scope up and immediately two dabbling ducks flew past, unusual on the sea; were they the same pair of Garganeys that flew past Rossall the other day. Fortunately they landed, a little distant and into the light but grillable and identifiable. Not Garganey, but the golden triangle on the rear end of the male meant they were a pair of the much commoner Teal (75). Not bad for a bonus walking tick and makes up for not being able to 'WT' the earlier Tree Pipit! Little else to make it worthwhile getting the notebook from the pocket.
Here are some pics from yesterday's 'snake' safari...a refugia with an old Short tailed Field Vole's nest under it.A new mossy nest, we actually saw the Vole but it was too quick for us and disappeared down its escape tunnel.The scrape itself is a bit bare at the moment and might need a bit of help with revegetating.Under one of the pieces of broken old drain pipe we found this rather large ground beetle, unsure as to its specific ID at the moment, used to have a copy of Chinnery but it disintergrated through use and we haven't got round to replacing it yet! So answers on a post card please. Despite it being quite bronzy on the abdomen we don't think it is the Copperhead.
In the last pic it's sinking its jaws in to our Extreme Photographer's finger! As mentioned in yesterday's dispatches we had our first Toad of the year.
And finally, this afternoon the work's gardener discovered an abundance of Ladybirds - there were well over a hundred scattered about in the little garden area he was working in, all 7-spot Ladybirds
Where to next? Footy tomorrow, hoping for a win to keep the Seasiders in with shout at reaching the play-offs and we’ll deffo be shouting abuse at Forest the Bear’s brother!
In the meantime let us know if anything has fallen in your outback.
Late update - the beetle is the common and widely distributed across the northern hemisphere - Carabus nemoralis. Is widespread distribution doesn't include the Fylde according to the National Biodiversity Network.
Also Blackcap singing on Patch 1 at last and a Swallow went through.