Friday 31 December 2010

Bonus safari but still no Smew

The Safari was out well before dawn again this morning and straight away we were into Robins. They were singing and 'tic'ing in the light from the street lamps - 13 in all we counted. several Blackbirds 'clacked' as they awoke from their slumbers and there were at least 40 Magpies in the roost but they were very skittish being half awake and almost alert at this time of the morning.
Near Magpie Wood the path drops down a bit of a hill and as we walk by we can see in to the bottom garden over their wall - they have every conceivable type of bird food on offer, we'll have to have a wander past during daylight hours and see what they have visiting, Base Camp is 'remote' from habitat but being on the new estate this garden makes Base Camp look well connected.
After a quick cuppa we were 'allowed' to go and twitch the Smew again provided we picked some things on the way back. It's along time since we set off on a twitch while it was still dark, in fact it was barely light when we arrived at the river. First up we had a Heron and best (or second or third best) bird in the book - a Moorhen.
Goldeneyes were all along the river with top counts of three males and eight females. The nearest we got to the Smew was another sawbill, a Goosander. We counted everything that moved, five drake and two duck Mallards were all that were on the water until four Canada Geese landed. A pair of Grey Lag Geese flew over as did four Cormorants.
We gave it a good hour before having a quick look on the still frozen wetland reserve next door. Here we did get a year tick, mammal number 15 - three Roe Deers, we thought we'd somehow managed to dip these for 2010!
They skipped across the access road right in front of a 'Pedestrian Crossing' sign and went up the bank opposite. Then they started walking along the top of the bank towards us. Despite the poor light they were at least getting closer. When the weren't looking at us we dropped to our knees in front of a fence post and waited, hardly daring to breath. If they continued on along the top of the bank they would end up a frame filling 20 yards away. They didn't get that far - two idiots with three dogs running everywhere through the closed nature reserve flushed them with only a few yards to go...plonkers...then they had the audacity to ask if I'd seen the deer...wish we'd had the audacity to shoot them point blank between the eyes and not with the camera!
After the 'Pies' bridge graffiti the other day we spotted this on one of the motorway bridge piers.

It wasn't me - honest...not that brave or stupid to wade/swim/float/sail/paddle across that wide, deep and fast moving bit of the river.
Before our chores we just had time to drop in on the goose flock which holds the 'Tundra' Bean Geese and the Eurasian White Fronted Geese. En route two Buzzards were spotted in roadside fields and a flock of about 300 Pink Footed Geese flew over us.
We bumped in to PS putting seed out for 'his' Tree Sparrows down the lane but the geeese weren't in the field on the far side of the railway line.
At lunchtime we had another full Patch 1 walk, the first in daylight for ages and on opening the front door we heard a Dunnock singing at full welly from the end of our street. The multi-feeder garden held nothing, at least Base Camp had had a couple of Greenfinches during the morning.
On the patch we got a minimum of ten Blackbirds, a few dog walkers in the park were keeping stuff moving around. Two Wrens gave a cat a severe scolding. A small flock of tits gave up a Coal Tit, nice! The a Sparrowhawk whazzed through the treetops scattering Woodpigeons and Collared Doves in all directions. At the top of the park a Mistle Thrush was perched in a dead Elm and was soon joined by its mate. The thrush theme continued with a Song Thrush at the Golden Triangle. This was after passing 'Feeder Heaven' which was again devoid of birds. The ledges were devoid of Peregrines too.
All in all not a bad day out on safari.
This brings our grand totals for 2010 to:-
British Isles - 192 (max distance from Base Camp, terrestrial 125 mile drive our weeek in Wales, sea voyage 150 miles two Fleetwood to Larne Cetacean surveys)
World - BI + Florida 237 but have we beaten Monika with that total? Fla sightings exclude European introduced species and American forms of European species already seen.
The Patches - on foot, 102
Mammals - 15, more Bottle Nosed Dolphins than Roe Deer and somehow missing Red Squirrel, Fallow Deer and American Mink.
Where to next? That just leaves 2011 to look forward to and all the new lists start in just a few hours time!
In the meantime best wishes and a happy, safe and healthy New Year to all our readers where-ever you are.

Thursday 30 December 2010

It was just Smew far

The Safari didn't twitch the Preston Smew today but chose instead to have a fullish day on the nature reserve, and by eck are we glad we did!
There was a weird mist over much of the frozen mere more or less all day and the cloud never parted to reveal the sun but as it wasn't windy it was very pleasant to be out and about.
Bunking in to the first hide we met up with a crew from the Chorley Natural History Society on a day out. After a bit of friendly chat one of the ladies noticed a Bittern on the ice right at the edge of the reedbed, an excellent start to the day.
shortly afterwards what was almost definitely a second Bittern flew over the reeds in front of us, this one had much more gingery secondary coverts.
Several trawls through the gulls gave us nothing heart stopping, a single adult Lesser Black Back was top of the tree. talking of tree-tops there was no sign of the four Waxwings we dipped yesterday afternoon
A good selection of waterfowl included a drake Pintail, pretty scarce here, along with two drake Gadwall and a count of exactly 100 Wigeon. Teal were numerous again with about the same as yesterday, 500 or so.
Like Wigeon there were more Shoveler today, 29, but no increase on the two drake Goldeneyes. For some reason we didn't count the Tufted Ducks or Pochards, which was naughty, still no sign of the Ring Necked Duck - it's deffo gone AWOL. 73 Mallards (including the white 'domestic' one) and 64 Coot hit the notebook, as did a poor showing of only two Water Rails.
A couple of curcuits gave us just one Sparrowhawk, the Buzzard that looks like a giant Ring Ouzel and a pair of Kestrels in the raptor line. Passerines were represented by a plethora of Blackbirds, a couple of Mistle Thrushes, and singles of Redwing and Song Thrush, near the bridge a Cetti's Warbler shouted a bit of sub-song while behind him on the wires eventually the flock of 250ish Linnets appeared - where had they been hiding all day?
The Feeding Station gave us stonking views of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, at least two others were seen too, with a supporting cast of more Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits than you could shake a stick at, five Tree Sparrows.
Whilst grilling the gulls from the other side we heard, but couldn't locate, a Curlew going over westwards. Also wadery was a fly-over Woodcock flushed from somewhere by something and 41 Lapwings were in the fields to the east, as was only one Stock Dove today.
We took three parties round to see the Long Eared Owls, getting three on the first two visits and then finding the 'missing' three on the final visit as well as getting a better pic than yesterday.
A splendid day in the field...and now back to that Bittern...oh boy did it perform!!!

Where to next? Might, if we're good, be able to sqeeze in a fast blast down the mototrway to the Smew early tomorrow morning.
In the meantime let us know what was performing the tricks in your outback.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

A twitch too far?

The Safari got out and about for a few hours today. First stop was in the neighbouring town at a crackin little, or not so little, brownfield site harbours a Willow Tit. As we drew up and parked the Land Rover three birders were coming up the track towards us. We asked them if they'd seen it - no they hadn't...One of them was the local lad, Tony, who had just refilled the feeder and he accompanied us to the patch of bushes the feeder, singular, is located in. We waited a few minutes - nothing, then he left and fortuitously a minuter or so later the Willow Tit (192) appeared as if by magic. Here's a pic of THE feeder, the bird was just too quick for us even with the camera set to 1000 frames a second!Elsewhere around the site we had a Skylark fly over and a Woodcock. A Jay made some shrieking noises at Frank while a Song Thrush narrowly avoided the lens. Another wait at the feeder gave us a female Bullfinch and the Willow Tit again. The bird is blinged with a ring and the silver wing panel showed really well, didn't hear it do the sneezy little call though.

As we were leaving we had a flock of 15 Redwings briefly land in the top of a tall tree before quickly moving off to the south. The site is, we believe, ear-marked for development, what a shame - it should be developed in to a super little nature reserve. Looks really good for Long Eared Owls too and a moth trap in the warmer months could be fun.Next we cut across town to the river, and site of a brilliant 'new' wetland reserve which is under construction, or at least the A bird we dipped earlier in the year up north. The river had great big chunks off ice floating down it - some about a foot thick! But no sign of the Smew, although we did get a few Fieldfares, three Mallards and a male Goldeneye flying upstream.

Fishermen must be hardy creatures, come to think of it we were hardier in the old days when we did a lot of winter fishing on the River Wensum.Then it was back up the motorway to 'our' nature reserve. Once again we had a Skylark go over. The fields to the east held a huge number of Pink Footed Geese, but were the Tundra Bean Geese and White Fronted Geese, seen here-abouts recently, with them? We left the with a chap who had come over from the place we don't mention by name on the South-side to show him the Long Eared Owls, on the way the geese were seen in the distance but were then disturbed, WOW what a sight several thousand in the air - the sound of their calls was awesome. On the electricity wires was a flock of about 250 Linnets, didn't get a chance to count them properly and a Kestrel overhead was the first raptor of the day. Three Stock Doves landed on the wooded pylon near the Linnets.

Yet again the Long Eared Owls, three of them today, managed to stay too well hidden to be able to get a decent pic.
Around the rest of the reserve we had five Tree Sparrows at the Feeding Station with a very bright Great Spotted Woodpecker, one of at least three. On the water/ice there was no sign of the recent Ring Necked Duck, dunno how long it has been missing but there were two male Goldeneyes, 65 Wigeon, 18 Shoveler and about 500 Teal. A lengthy trawl through the gulls revealed nothing over-exciting, not even a ringed bird. Eventually most of them flushed and left the site when a Buzzard came in and landed close to the patch of open water - gereat to see these large raptors on the site, they were just about unheard of 20 years ago when we started working there.
Two minor downers - we missed a Bittern by a few minutes and we didn't see or even hear any Water Rails, perhaps we should have gone round to the hide on the far side. we did hear a Cetti's Warbler calling briefly though.
A really nice day out.
Where to next? We have a pass out again tomorrow so another stab at the Smew will be on the cards.
In the meantime let us know what's sitting on the ice floes in your outback.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Garage gulls

The Safari doesn't know the collective noun for gulls but a squabble of gulls could be good.

No proper safari-ing in the mizzle today, to be honest we were too lazy to go out, so we stuck some left overs on the garage roof and waited in the back bedroom for the rucous to begin - it didn't take long.
First down were a few Black Headed Gulls.

Mostly adults but this first winter bird was bold enough to tackle the turkey carcass on it's own.

It wasn't long before the bigger boys came down to investigate. A nice first winter Herring Gull strode purposefully towards the goodies.

This third winter Herring Gull also has its eye on what's on offer.
Then we spotted this interesting Herring Gull, but what exactly is it?
Plenty of white on the primaries, looks dark on the mantle, possible adult argentatus?
But looking at this pic the mantle looks paler than the 3rd win HG in front and the adult BHG behind, so the 'real' tone could be anything really.
The underside of P10 looks to be all white a long way up. Not sure if its an argenteus from north-west of their range or a bona-fide Scandinavian argentatus; we don't think it was dark enough or large enough, any pointers anyone. Couldn't get the wanted open winged shot unfortunately.
Below is a more typical adult argenteus for comparison, with the 1st winter behind in the first pic.

Where to next? A proper safari tomorrow, there's three year ticks within range and only a couple of days to knock em off.
In the meantime let us know what's giving you ID dilemas in your outback.

Monday 27 December 2010

A thaw, a thaw, my kingdom for a thaw

The Safari hit Patch 1 in heavy snow early this morning, my it was coming down thick and fast, but the thermometer was showing a positive above freezing temperature - just. no sign of the Peregrine on its ledge - it was there on Christmas Day. This morning we saw a Woodcock sitting forlornly in the middle of the small grassy area, then another doing the same in the middle of the rough field. Leaving the rough field through the back of the 'Butterfly Zone' we flushed one from under the trees and back on the small field our original one was still there, we kept our distance but it moved off and we saw another or we think it was a different bird so deffo three and possibly four - a sad site record. Even with a thaw the ground is frozen that deep and the worms will be well below that so still well out of reach. A Song Thrush was an unseasonal sighting there too.
Back at Base Camp we did an hour's bedroom window birding which was productive starting with a flock of 20 or so Fieldfares moving south as soon as we opened the curtains. A Goldcrest appeared briefly in Wifey's Christmas gift from a few years ago, her Bird Cherry tree; within a few minutes a Lapwing flew over heading towards the coast - another excellent but sobering record. Three Blackbirds, a minimum of three Chaffinches, single Goldfinch and a Robin completed the list, other than the gulls which were unable to land on the table today do to the stiff breeze being from slightly the wrong direction.
Went to Ma n Da's yesterday for a family day - crikey theren't not far away on the South-side but they've had three times as much snow as us and of a totally different consistency too. On the way we always pass under this bridge which reminds us of a fellow blogger, don't know the lad but always read his pie related posts with succulent interest. Not sure if the pies in the pic are a 'pop' group or a reference to the sweet or savoury filled delicious parcels of goodness.

Whatever the reason someone risked life and limb and used a good few gallons of paint to make their statement. Best bit of graffiti we know of.
Where to next? Hopefully be able to get out on a 'proper' safari tomorrow.

In the meantime today is the day we decant that Sloe Gin we made in the autumn...wonder what it'll be like...

Late Edit...Five Greenfinches on the feeder this arvo and a very fast Sparrowhawk - unfortunately for him there were no birds in the garden at the time.

The hooch is ready and fierce - now on sale to NASA at 25 bucks a gallon...Mars here we come!!!

Sunday 26 December 2010

New bird for B/T list

The Safari was washing up...again, when a new bird landed on the bird table. This Black Headed Gull was the only one of several, a Common Gull and a couple of Herring Gulls that tried to get a beakful of beef fat. Also seen recently a Coal Tit and several Chaffinches, a Wren visited today too .

With gulls in mind we now have the know-how to string a few good-uns in the near furture.

Where to next? Normal service will be resumed fairly shortly.
In the meantime let us know what's been able to live off the fat of the land in your outback.

Friday 24 December 2010

The Safari and Wifey had a very pleasant afternoon stroll along the estuary this arvo. Cold but bright and sunny. As we pulled up in the car park a Buzzard was getting grief from two Carrion Crows over the river and was gone before the camera could be activated. Immediately we noticed that there were thrushes everywhere, mainly Blackbirds and Fieldfares but also quite a few Redwings and Song Thrushes as well, numbering many hundreds altogether.
Sadly they like the estuary birds were being flushed from pillar to post by the multitude of doggers out with their hounds, people throwing balls well out on the marshes flushing Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Lapwing, and a flock of around 250 Skylarks was continually kept on the move, really disheartening, why can't the flipping doggers stay on the paths; we managed it just fine but still disturbed too many of the thrushes and just one Robin. At one point the Skylarks had just settled down for the umteenth time when a little raptor whizzed over flushed them and had a bit of a chase - Merlin? such luck they are all on Hesketh Out Marsh, a male Sparrowhawk chancing his arm - he missed this time but as the flock gets hungrier and more tired we reckon he'll get a meal. Couldn't see any Lapland Buntings in the flock, even though it was nearly as cold as Lapland, we're still as cold as Chicago perhaps a little colder! The safri was always taught that central continental locations were

Difficult to get shots of the wary thrushes, should have done that yesterday on the reserve where there was much less disturbance, In the end we scored, just about, the light wasn't too good and the birds were at full range.

We took some pics of a handsome mutt for next year's NW Labrador Rescue calendar - d'yer think his modelling skills are up to to the job?

Have a great Christmas/winter festival where-ever you are...hope you have a cracker...ho ho ho pun very definitely intended as usual.
Where to next? Little chance of a safari tomorrow...been cooking the scram all day reckon the electricity has cost more than the turkey!
In the meantime let us know who's disturbed or disturbing in your outback,

Thursday 23 December 2010

Managed an hour or two

The Safari was hoping for a late lie in but after taking Frank round a very quiet patch 1 we had to go and get a load of pre cut and pre split wood, so we ened up at the yard still in the pitch black. Many thanks to PM and his team for helping keep us warm this winter - this little lot should last a week or two.

And there's more...

Lovely stuff, the inside of the Land Rover has a warm pleasntly rustic woody scent to it now - far better than those plastic pine tree air freshener things people hang from their rear view mirrors. why do they asy that 'rear view mirror'? You're hardly likely to use a mirror to look forwards are you?
We put more seed out and a few more apples then had a look at the pond - looks like our Coot needs his shield and eye repainting in the spring - if he ever thaws out.
The waterfall is a dodder-culture worthy of an Swedish ice hotel!
Then we had a call from CR saying he'd been on the nature reserve and there were over 1000 Fieldfares! Click on his website cos his Fieldfare pics are likely to be an order of magnitude better than quite good. While we were chatting a Kestrel and a Mistle Thrush flew over - he'll have to call more often the birdings good at base Camp when he's on the phone!
We were about to set off anyway as the Rangers had told us the Ring Necked Duck had reappeared, assuming it is the same one as last January. So without further ado we loaded the dog and optics in to the Land Rover and set sail...
Wow the place was seething with Fieldfares and Blackbirds, wouldn't like to say how many of each but certainly more Fieldfares than we've ever seen in one place before!
Looking east down the frozen mere... From the little hide we had a look at the gulls but there was nowt special so we had a look at the Ring Necked Duck - took a couple of pics, all rubish and the best one, full side on showing white shoulder stripe and peaked crown was the worst of the lot! Plenty of Wigeon and Shoveler and a lot of Teal were on the small patch of unfrozen water. A Buzzard came in and was mobbed by a stunningly bright male Kestrel, while a Sparrowhawk eyed up its options from the cover of a distant Willow tree.
Five Whooper Swans dropped in for a while, their trumpeting being louder than the calls of the several hunded Pink Footed Geese in the thawed field just to the east of the reserve. While we were surveying the scene a Cetti's Warbler began calling to our left - what on earth do they find to eat in the frozen reedbeds, and if they can why didn't they colonise years ago - have they undergone some sort of cold temperature adaptation mutation?
With cold setting in the fingers and toes we called it a day and walked back keeping an eye ion thee far reede bed in case a Bittern should pop out - it/they didn't. Nor did we see any one the many Water Rails (15+ seen today) (one of which caught and ate a Wren yesterday! - needs must when the Devil drives eh), none of the many Woodcock on site showed either but there was no way we were going off piste to try to see them, dfar better to let them lie up and conserve their energy. We did see a well fed Fox able along the edge of the reed bed, it looked to be aiming for the ducks but they weren't at all bothered by it and it ignored them and slunk in to the reeds.
All in all a very pleasant couple of hours, could have done with more time but fingers and toes might have put in formal complaints! Unlikely to be out tomorrow so where-ever you are have a marvelous winter festival...bring on the summer solstice!
Where to next? Wedding anniversary tomorrow followed by a full day's EATING.
In the meantime let us know what's put in a reappearance in your outback.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Any warmer yet? Or should that be any less cold.

The Safari wasn’t risking counting the Magpies in Magpie Wood this morning as the pavement was just way, way too slippery to be able to look up and count rather than look down and watch where we were putting our feet. It’s scarily icy where the snow has been flattened down by the passage of many feet. And it’s still colder here than Chicago, which shouldn’t really happen!
In the park Frank shot off like greased lightning, to run full tilt like that with no ball to chase he musta seen or smelt a Fox, but we didn’t see anything.
A Blackbird went over in the darkness and several minutes later so did a Redwing – the first we’ve heard for a while.
Again we had to wait for it to get light enough to nip out to Patch 2. The tide was on the rise and washed in some small areas of freezing sea-slush. Doesn’t look much does it but we won’t be going for a paddle this week that’s for sure, or should that be foreshore? Perhaps not the most exciting pics we’ll ever show you.

In the distance was a Cormorant feeding mêlée, again stretched out in a long thin line about ¾ to a mile offshore. Difficult to say how many there were, but probably getting up towards triple figures. Three Red Throated Divers were out that way too. The usual Great Black Backed Gulls were milling around on the off-chance of a free meal.
Five Ringed Plovers flew past us heading south and we heard the call of a Grey Plover coming from the northern ‘alternative’ patch.
Away to the south the numbers of Oystercatchers were impressive, impossible to count from Patch 2 but there were two enormous flocks of them on the beach this morning.
On the way back from taking the sea ice pics we saw a small bird land in the middle of the promenade and start pecking around in the snow. We were very exposed and worried we’d disturb it but managed to scope it to see it was a Rock Pipit, couldn’t make out what it was pecking at as there didn’t seem to be anything there other than snow, maybe it was just having a ‘drink’. We edged a few feet nearer and then were able to take advantage of a bit of cover and sneak up a bit more to try to get in range for the little camera...made it...nice light over the shoulder, bird still sitting out on the snow...gently eased hand in to pocket...drew camera out ever so slowly...turned camera on...held our breath while we raised the camera...flushed the bird...drat, drat and double drat!!!
No Patch 2 visit at lunchtime – Christmas got in the way. Bah humbug...
Where to next? If we get anywhere other than a thawing and consequently muddy Patch 1 in the dark in the next 5 days we’ll be pleasantly surprised.
In the meantime let us know if there is sea ice floating around on your patch.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

You know it’s cold when...

The Safari counted 39 Magpies still asleep in Magpie Wood this morning. There being no other news from patch 1 we’ll go straight to Patch 2 and the beautiful blood red dawn, missed the eclipse due to cloud though. Looking out over the sea wall the tide was on the rise and had already covered the beach. Temperatures overnight the last couple of nights have been down below minus 10 and just beyond Patch 2’s southern boundary the sea has started to freeze. There were a couple of slushy patches probably of over an acre each gently rocking on the light swell.
Our dodgy gull wasn’t present today, very few were on the patch, but there were good numbers just out of range beyond the slush. Also there was a huge black morass of uncountable oystercatchers being pushed up the sandbank by the rising tide; a very conservative guestimate would be well over 1000. Also present in large numbers were Cormorants with a constant stream of reasonable sized flocks coming in from the open sea to roost in the estuary. SD had recently made a count of about 800 in the shipping lane to the north of us on his cetacean ferry survey; there were certainly plenty about today. Looking to the north we could see a lot more fishing in the hazy distance with several Great Black Backed Gulls in attendance. Wouldn’t like to say how many we had but somewhere between two and three hundred wouldn’t be far short of the mark.
Also seen were two Red Throated Divers, a few scattered small flocks of Common Scoters, nothing like last weeks numbers, and best of the session a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers flew south at close range.
At lunchtime the blimp over the wall was severely curtailed by the need for Christmas shopping. We spent a total of five minutes in the shop and almost an hour getting to and from it – it’s only two miles from the office...this traffic nightmare is becoming, well, a - for want of a better expression - NIGHTMARE!!! Some people are driving over cautiously on the well gritted roads – you can’t skid if you’re only doing 0.0000001 mph!!! We had a minor sideways ‘incident’ on an icy side street ample warning that not even 4WD is totally safe, just put a bit too much right boot down at the wrong time and whayyy-hayyy that was fun!
We had hoped that yesterday’s gull would be about again but it wasn’t. From our usual vantage point we saw the Bar Tailed Godwit again but there were very few gulls on the beach. Looking away down to the south the beach there was full to busting with Oystercatchers and gulls, we shudder to think how many Oystercatchers there might have been, at least a couple of thousand. Once again we moved our second vantage point and once again wondered if this might not be a better patch to watch (nice vagaries of the English language there – why isn’t it patch to wa-tch or potch to wotch rather than patch to wotch?) This viewing point is (currently) better for beachy stuff than our normal watch point. The six ringed plovers were still there as was the Grey Plover. A handful of Sanderlings scampered around a solitary Dunlin, we didn’t count the Oystercatchers or Redshanks but two Turnstones were noted.
As for the gulls; plenty of Black Heads and Commons but very few larger gulls, a Lesser Black Back was way down at the far end and as we were leaving a Great Black Back came in off the sea and landed not too far away from us – my those things are brutes close up.
Far too dull for photos today.
A trawl through the interweb revealed the following joint coldest records going back to January 1973 for Blackpool, equalled in the early hours of yesterday morning; minus 11ºC on 13th & 28 Jan ’79 and 15th Jan ‘82 – not come across any -12s yet, hottest was 34 ºC on 3rd July 1976.
Where to next? Back to those dang shops...
In the meantime let us know if there’s somewhere else you should incorporate in to your patch.

Monday 20 December 2010

Thought we were in luck

The Safari has nothing to report from a very cold Patch 1 a full 2 ½ hours before sunrise, but as we left for work we heard a Blackbird singing somewhere in the distance. Only a couple of days now til the nights start drawing out, not much chance of the weather warming up significantly though.
We managed a short spell on Patch 2 and although light it was still a stupid -7ºC. The tide was just about full and there were only a couple of hundred gulls sat about on the gentle swell to look through. At any distance there was only grey mist.
So we set about the gulls. Nothing out of the ordinary until we got to the last dozen or so when we found four Herring Gulls sat close together. One of them was just a little different. So much so that we decided it would be worth while contacting a local expert with a bit of a description. Not that we could get much of a description as the bird was more or less facing us jsut taking it easy resting on the water. A pic might have helped but the camera was too cold and it wasn’t cooperating at all.

Size - as Herring Gull.
Bill - pale lemony yellow with dark gonyeal spot and above on upper mandible, some red on lower mandible – probably indicating a fourth winter rather than full adult - pale tip looked quite heavy but not as pronounced as Great Black Backed Gull.
Eye - dark brown but too far to see eye ring colour, easy to see the pale eye of adjacent similarly aged Herring Gull
Head - lightly streaked couldn't see how far down the back of the head it reached but upper breast was unstreaked so unlikely to have a hooded appearance
Mantle - bit of a weird light this morning but it looked almost if not the same shade of silvery grey as nearby Herring Gulls, certainly not as pale as an Iceland or Glaucous Gull.
Primaries – which were the first thing we noticed that made it stand out very clearly from the others - dark silvery grey, darker grey than mantle but much paler than the typical black of the Herring Gulls. The tips were/appeared silvery white rather than pure white. Tips of a normal size ie more grey showing than white.
The bird was only seen resting on the sea so no leg colour was visible
We doubted very much if this was a leucistic bird, the ones we’ve seen over the years (several) looked more like duff Iceland or Glaucous Gulls.
However, our resident expert came back with this link from only yesterday! which shows a very similar bird, maybe slightly paler and with no head streaking but those primaries are just what we saw. We’re now happy to call it a leucistic Herring Gull, any thoughts of something good and transatlantic being well and truly put to rest. Sadly not one of these from Monika (fourth pic down with less head markigs and more black on bill including the upper mandible - unless one turns up this week not too far away. An interesting bird none-the-less so keep your eyes peeled.
At lunchtime the tide was just dropping off the seawall and exposing the beach. looking south was useless in the bright sunlight and there wasn’t anything on the tiny bit of beach in front of us so we broke the habit of a lifetime and walked 100 yards to the north to look along that section of beach with the light coming obver our shoulder...maybe we should do it more often. There were a hundred or more gulls mostly Black Headed and Commons, but the waders were interesting too. Almost the first bird we saw was a Bar Tailed Godwit and we soon found another – two in a day – double wow! A Grey Plover tip-toed around with six Ringed Plovers. A couple of Dunlins were seen with the dozen or so but increasing all the time Sanderlings. Six Turnstones turned over seaweed on the wall while a few uncounted Redshanks and Oystercatchers scoured the beach and tideline.
Checking the larger gulls we found an adult Lesser Black Back but no amount of grilling the Herring Gulls exposed our ‘mystery’ bird, had it been there we would have found it in the excellent conditions.
Where to next? Back for another look for it tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what the mystery bird was in your outback.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Useless supermarket

The Safari as expected didn't get further than the/a shop today. What a naff place, full of dweebs over-loading their trolleys with mostly pointless rubbish and that includes us! Worse was to come - after being overcharged to the tune of 20 quid once outside we noticed the major disaster - WOT NO ROWAN TREES!!! This must be the only berry tree free supermarket car park in the world - consequently not a sniff of a Waxwing.
A Tundra Bean Goose was with about 500 Pink Footed Geese in a roadside field less than a mile further on too...isn't hindsight a marvelous thing, by the time we'd turned the puter on it had already turned dark, will we be able to get there though the traffic after work tomorrow?
Where to next? Off to mope!
In the meantime let us know what's in the trolleys in your outback
No pic of any Waxwings today - shoulda gone to Leighton Moss - but you're probably bored witless by them now! So have something summery to brighten these cold dark days up with.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Come on snow - do your worst!

The Safari was woken terribly early by Frank this morning - perhaps Frank knew how much snow there was out there, he loves the stuff. Here's Magpie Wood before 06.00 hrs this morning.
Yep the numptie eats the snow - so much of it he gets his tummy chilled and it makes him shiver - silly boy!
Just seconds after this pic was taken he got wind of a Fox and chased it half way round the estate - silly boy!
Back at Base Camp we had a real rarity - 2 Starlings! Three Blackbirds and a Robin feasted on apples and scattered sunny seeds, The feeder was largely birdless although a Goldfinch and a Greenfinch (just singles of both) were heard. Bird of the morning was a fly over lone Pink Footed Goose. later about 50 flew over whilst yet more wood was being sawn. Not a single Blue or Great Tit today.
Around lunchtime we had an impromptu bin-less visit to Chat Alley. not often it looks like this!

On the way we had about 100 Pink Footed Geese going east over the town centre. Once on site we noticed several small flocks of 'finches' going north and a lone Lapwing. Eventually about 30 Skylarks went past at shoulder height, this time going south.
We didn't go quite as far as Pipit Slab but we did get a couple of Meadow Pipits followed by two then a third Pied Wagtail.
There were plenty, probably approaching 100, Redshanks on the beach following the ebbing tide. A couple of Sanderlings and Turnstones were seen too.
But what made these footprints on the ornamental rock face?
Looking north from the southern end of Chat Alley.

Looking north from just past the top of the last pic.

Looking south from near the southern end of Chat Alley
Did we see any chats? Yes, a Robin was looking cold in the scrat of a garden there.
You might be used to 2 1/2 metres of snow and are wondering what all this fuss is about -well, this 2 1/2 inches is a heavy fall for us! And when we go out before 20.00 hrs and the car's thermometer is telling us it's - 6C outside that's just mind-numbingly cold and going to fall even further overnight. We can't find the record low for Blackpool but we doubt if we've ever had -10C which may happen tonight or tomorrow night.
What do we like about the snow?
1. The chaos it causes
2. The crunch of fresh snow underfoot
3. Frank going doo-lally-tap like a demented puppy - he loves the stuff
4. The gull's plumage showing crisp against the grey sea and leaden sky
5. The burning sensation on warm thighs as a cold gust of wind goes through thin trousers - not too often though!!!
What do we dislike about the snow?
1. Dirty slush
2. Everyone else's footprints
3. Morons deliberately throwing snowballs over the seawall to make the gulls and waders fly
4. De-icing the car for the umpteenth time
5. the scary fact that our wildlife has to spend the long cold nights out there.
Where to next? Might just get a short safari in tomorrow but it is the day of the ultimate shop-athon for next week's mega chompfest, so unless there are Waxwings in the supermarket car park we might not see much at all.
In the meantime let us know who the morons are in your outback