Saturday 31 December 2011

Plan B failed so on to Plan C

The Safari went back to the nature reserve with the intention of bumping into the Otters again. We tried a different vantage point which we hoped would give a better view, or  at least a different perspective. They tend to hang about in the bay marked on the pic...but not today!

We were told we'd just missed the Iceland Gull but luckily we refound it a little later, we'd also missed an adult Mediterranean Gull :-( . Prior to refinding the Iceland Gull we picked out a dark and chunky 'argentatus' Herring Gull amongst the four dozen or so 'argenteus' birds. The gulls came and went throughout the morning with two adult Great Black Backed Gulls and a 1st winter marauding over the rest trying to find a weakened Teal or Wigeon
We noted a large number of Teal, later counted at 580 by MMcG with at least another 50 out sight from where he was sat. Wigeon too were in decent numbers for the site. We joined CR (his Iceland Gull pic here is an absolute cracker) in his favourite hide - aka Ice Station Zebra for its 'comforts' - and waited to see if the Otters would make a late appearance - they didn't! But we noticed a breakaway flock of Wigeon sailing out from the edge of the reeds towards us - one was an 1st winter Red Crested Pochard (207) Most unexpected and most welcome!!! But will it be there tomorrow or the day after before we go back to work?
C, M and PT got some shots off; PT's are likely to be brilliant with his new double mega 600mm lens. We were so taken aback at our find we forgot about the camera - will post some links when the pics appear.
Where to next? Well it all starts again in the morning...having narrowly beaten Monika two years running in our challenge she is up for revenge starting in the morning!
In the meantime after getting mud under the wheels yesterday we hope to able to do some of this during 2012...this is one of the 'Pay n play' sites we like to visit

The old 'leafer' does really well! We've tried that rock crawl and it's not easy and some of the crunches that come from underneath your feet are quite un-nerving - we destroyed a steering damper!

Happy New Year to all our readers wherever you are 
We hope 2012 brings you health, wealth and happiness - and plenty of wildlife to enjoy of course

Friday 30 December 2011

Rain rain and more rain but certainly better

The Safari braved the heavy rain and went to the nature reserve for a couple of hours. We had thought of a further flung safari to have a look for the  three year birds to the north, namely Smew, Glossy Ibis and Glaucous Gull but to be honest with the weather being so bad, having Frank with us, the fuel tank being quite low and our Extreme Photographer wimping out of co-piloting we couldn't muster the enthusiasm as we have probably got just enough of a nose in front of Monika in our year list challenge...with a day and a half left she could pull out a last dash finish and pip us at the post though.
The grass was a bit wet on the 'alternative' way in to the nature reserve and we went slip-slidin away; maybe asking the Rangers for permission to go that way might not have been the best of ideas given the very wet conditions...apologies for leaving the furrows ruts...:-(

Once out of the mire we settled into the West Planting hide with nothing much on view but at least we were sheltered from the heavy rain and it wasn't windy, in fact the water was flat calm for a very refreshing change. We scanned through the Teal - an American Green Winged Teal was found at one of the Southside sites we were at the day after we were there - don't you hate it when that happens!!!! None here today. We counted approximately 50 Wigeon with some hidden by the tops of the reeds and possibly more tucked in on our side out of sight.
Although the rain was very heavy the light was excellent and we enjoyed just appreciating the various ducks. Then DP joined us and said he'd just seen the Iceland Gull from the Bird Club hide but it had drifted out of sight. We informed him it hadn't come past us unless it had flown off behind us. He went back to the Bird club hide and we followed a few minutes later, catching sight of the best bird on the reserve as we went but we weren't sure if it would be visible from the hide; however no-one came out of the hide so we assumed they must have been able to see it so we joined them - and there it was in all it's white-winged northern glory.
A bit too distant for our camera and in the dull light the pics are pretty crappy but we're happy enough with them...for the time being - be very relieved if it stays for a few more days and we get a chance to see it as one of our target of 100 species for the nature reserve in 2012.

As we watched the Iceland Gull cruising gently round doing very little in particular - have they any 'mode' other than gentle? In the heavy rain, all the gulls seemed very settled with very few coming or going, the second best bird on the reserve climbed the bank almost to the hide window...

It came so close it was more than a frame filler but wouldn't quite stay stock-still enough for such a close portrait in the lousy light conditions.

The gull was still around and started to play with a bit of decaying aquatic vegetation for a few minutes
A Cetti's Warbler sang very briefly to our left.
With the flat calm conditions making viewing so good we chatted to DP about this season's Bittern sightings and then he asked if the Otters had been seen since early December - they hadn't - - - - - but within two minutes of the conversation a bit of a Teal flush and a splash had us looking up over to where we normally see them. Not a Sparrowhawk this time but an Otter!!! Well beggar us sideways with a bag of wet kippers!!! there were wait..was that a third?????? YES - - THREE!!!

You'll have to use your imagination a bit but there are deffo three in the video - also note how we got slightly distracted by two gulls flying over about half way through...nuff said.
Couldn't think of a better way of spending the penultimate day of the year, unless of course it was a Glaucous Gull and four Otters :-)
Very satisfied we called it a day and headed back to Base Camp for a butty and a celebratory brew.
As we left we had a call from our local radio station. Now we've gotta think of our lifetime 10 most 'important' songs as we're gonna be interviewed live 'Desert Island Discs' style on BBC Radio Lancashire next week...ooohhh err a favourite tunes list of 50 or more to whittle down and a lifetime of secrets to reveal...scary stuff.

Where to next? More of the same tomorrow please...
In the meantime let us know what would get the bag of wet kippers out in your  outback.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Tomorrow'd better be better!

The Safari thought about going down to Chat Alley for the high tide but the weather had other ideas. Hail stones rattled off the kitchen window and cold rain lashed horizontally across the garden. The wind had turned from the south west to a westerly - totally wrong for the place we like to view coming right at us rather than us being sheltered from the south westerly. We wimped out not particularly wanting to stand in the face of 30 - 40 mph gale for a few Kittiwakes, no doubt we'll learn there was something a tad more interesting out there and perhaps we should have been a little braver.
A very brief watch of the feeders gave us a nice finch trio of four Goldfinches, two female Chaffinches and two Greenfinches. Hopefully when Wifey gets her new pergola built for her Wisteria (will it flower again this year - and will the other one flower for the first time?) we can hang the feeders a bit nearer the window for closer pics, although it'll be over the pond and that might not be so good if waste food and droppings contaminate the water.
Wifey tried singing a few new songs on the karaoke machine and still got scores of between 94 and 100 for ones she's not done sung before but was to shy to be videoed for You Tube again. Then she set about the Christmas cards with a pair of pinking shears making next year's gift tags. We sat by listening and making sure Little Bertha was well supplied with logs and pumping out the heat to stave of the minging damp. Talking of logs we saw this and wondered if at that price it would be a good buy - looks like a revamped old model Husky to me - if it is will it be as good as the original or made of naff plastic parts which break on first or second use then you can't get replacement parts? Still it's only 80 quid and there's an ever increasing pile of logs needing cutting stashed in the garden.

There now follows a very quick review of what we thought of 2011 - an interesting year.
We only got one sighting of Barn Owl despite them having a pretty good year. Similarly we only saw one Kingfisher after they appear have been hit hard by last winter. And what happened to all the Jays only three sightings all year.
On the other hand we did somehow manage EIGHT lifers this year - a feat not achieved since our earliest twitching days a long time ago now. Two of those we self found and one was first for the county for which all our thanks go to Frank cos without a dog we wouldn't have been walking in the park at that time of the morning!
Our sister's wedding right down in the far south of the country gave us the only opportunity we've ever had of adding Cirl Bunting to our BI life list and now only Storm Petrel is left of the regular British Isles breeding species to tick off...will it fall n 2012?
The local orchids put on a good show with a new site for Bee Orchids which produced over 30 monster blooms and talking of monster blooms the Hybrid Marsh Orchid was a two foot tall stunner.
Fylde Amphibian & Reptile Group was formed with the subsequent successful search for Great Crested Newts with them turning up in several new sites albeit close to know existing sites, and a very exciting forthcoming project for 2012.
Back to the birds - somehow we managed to book an inland holiday the week of the 'best' autumn storm for a generation and missed a field guide's worth of cracking seabirds including a sackful of one of our 'most wanted' - Sabine's Gulls. But Wales did give us our only Red Kite and Crossbills of the year.
Cetaceans included record breaking numbers of Harbour Porpoises sightings in the first half of the year - after that the weather was too rough to be able to see them! But better was to come in the form of two sightings of Bottle Nosed Dolphins, first four then at least a dozen really close in - THE highlight of he year!!!
Then we found an suspected Iceland gull, later confirmed and eventually poorly photographed it yesterday - CR got a proper pic today
Totals are as follows
Year birds 206
Patch 1 - 71 including one lifer Iberian Chiffchaff
Patch 2 - 73 including one lifer Caspian Gull
Garden - 45
Nature reserve - 93 and somehow that didn't include Meadow Pipit!?! Target for next year must  be the ton!
The is the proviso that there are two full days left of 2011 so these totals may change depending on if we can get out on safari and if so where we go.
Where to next? Somewhere entertaining - if the weather allows...
In the meantime let us know how kind 2011 was or wasn't in your outback.
New Year's Resolution for you all to try - read your electricity and gas meters on 1st of every month to make sure you know how much you're using and then you'll be better able to get the best tariff without getting ripped off by the supply companies - actually you'll still be ripped off; just to a lesser amount...

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Kerry Katona & Stacey Solomon eat yer hearts out

The Safari took Frank for a mooch round a very windy nature reserve this arvo. With the wind so strong - AGAIN - not a lot appeared to be happening. Rather than go on the Viewing Platform we opted to bunk into the nearby hide for a bit of shelter and found another couple in there already with their scope set up. There were plenty of Teal on the water and in the distance a Buzzard played with a big flock of Feral Pigeons which were trying to feed in the field. Further in the distance a huge plume of several thousand gulls appearred over the trees then all the corvids and pigeons went up along with about 200 Lapwings. Suddenly the Teal were in the air too but we never did find the culprit, which was most likely a Peregrine. Two female Goldeneyes were the pick of the waterfowl as almost everything else bar the Coots was tucked away in the margins of the reedbeds out of the wind. Outside the hide window we could here a small flock of Long Tailed Tits - one of which was singing! Further to our right a Water Rail screamed.
Away at the far end of the mere we could see a sizable flock of gulls roosting so decided to wander down that way for a closer look.  On the way we were able to show the couple the Long Eared Owl which was sitting on its now usual twig with its back to the wind - not the best of views! We were joined in the hide by MMcG and as we perused the gulls we couldn't find anything any more out of the ordinary than a Herring Gull with an inordinate amount of white on the wing tip but which looked far to 'ordinarily' grey to be an 'argentatus'.
The sun tried to come out which really put the kibosh on the gulling so we gave up, as we left the hide another couple asked if the owls were showing so we obliged; this couple was a little luckier than the earlier birders as the owl decided to turn its head and open one eye for a quick squint at them.
MMcG went back the way he had come whilst we made up our minds to brave the exposure on the embankment and go round the other side for a better look at the gulls.
On the way we noticed these well grown Bluebells under the large Sycamore tree. But we didn't see or hear any thrushes on the windfall Apples as we passed.
 Our gulling session started with not much just a fair few Black Headed Gulls with a handful of attendant Pochards, whose numbers are  very low compared to not too many years ago, hopefully because of the mild winters and not a general decline in their Eurasian population.
We watched 400 or so small gulls come in from the north east, about half and half Black Heads to Common Gulls. The Common Gulls gave a bit of a scare as there were several 2nd winter birds noted  but only a single 1st winter bird - have they had a diabolical breeding season?
With no Mediterranean Gulls to get us over excited we moved on to the next hide but the water level is still far to high to allow the reeds to be cut in front of the little 'gull' hide, fortunately we couldn't see any gulls on the mere through the top of the reeds so we went to the next hide.
Here there were a few big gulls roosting and bathing. 
All of a sudden there was a big flush and several hundred Teal, at least a couple of dozen Wigeon along with hundreds of gulls. As luck would have it look what dropped right in front of us!!!
Whoopy - flippin - doo the Iceland Gull...or more gloatingly OUR Iceland Gull.

It bathed briefly before paddling vigorously back in to the lee of the reeds where it was out of sight. Nothing for it but to brave the wind and go to the bench where exposure was a distinct possibility. Here we could just about see it through the tops of the violently waving reeds. We stuck it out a few more minutes hoping it would fly - it did and we managed to get off one very poor blurry shot...might have been better to have had the camera set to video mode.
What a brill afternoon! Woulda been briller if it had a been a Glaucous Gull cos we haven't had one yet this year...but we're not complaining too hard as far as we know this is the only Iceland Gull in the county...until someone tells us differently.
Finished the entries in the notebook with two Blackbirds and two fly-over Mistle Thrushes on an almost passerine-free day.
Where to next? There is the small matter - or not so small - of the Glaucous Gull up the coast a bit or we might be able to go Smew-and-Glossy Ibis-ing or maybe we'll be back on the nature reserve tomorrow - who knows.
In the meantime let us know who's gone to Iceland in your outback.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Southside spectacular

The Safari met up with an old friend we don't see to often and had a stomp round the salt and fresh water marshes. If you like geese here were plenty! As usual almost all were Pink Footed Geese but we did come across a few European White Fronted Geese but couldn't find the Tundra Bean Goose we were told about. Ducks included more Wigeon and Teal than you could shake a stick at along with a tidy smattering of Pintail, Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall. As for Black Tailed Godwits and Lapwings just how many can you fit on a lagoon or two?
Raptors were represented by a scrappy looking Buzzard, a Peregrine and a Merlin were perched up on distant posts out on the far edge of the marsh. At least three Marsh Harriers wafted around the outer fringes of the marsh too.
A Kestrel perched up on a trackside bush and for a change allowed a very close approach. Pity it was a grey, grey day but at least the torrential drizzle had finished.
At long last we found our own Great White Egret, nearly a hundred miles away but its long neck and egg yolk yellow bill could easily been seen. As we passed the scope to I it walked down the nearest gully and all he saw was its head poking out like a periscope. Plenty of Little Egrets out there as well but we didn't see any Grey Herons - another sign of the changing ornithological times.
Then it was off to the freshwater marshes a little way inland. The afternoon was a bit brighter and the geese obliged by flying across the breaking clouds.

Below is one of the many Marsh Harriers on site, it's not long since these birds were rare enough in summer now we're trippin over them in winter too.
We couldn't find any of the six Bewick's Swans that had been reported but there were 1720 Whooper Swans to work through.

We decided to wait for the Barn Owl to put in an appearance and we were glad we did when one of the four Marsh Harriers decided to chase a Pheasant, it lost it in the long grass but must have seen it again, or something else as on it next stall and stoop the ringtail Hen Harrier popped up (206).
Where to next? Still a few days left to perhaps add another species to the year's list and plenty of time to enjoy being out and about in the wilds of the Fylde or maybe a little bit further afield.
In the meantime let us know what's changed beyond ornithological recognition in your outback.

Monday 26 December 2011

He's bean!!!

The Safari enjoyed a cracking Christmas Day yesterday but without much in the way of wildlife. Our motorway trip to family on the South-side  gave us three Buzzards versus two Kestrels. Our late night venture forth with Frank saw a Christmas Peregrine roosting on the tower.
This morning we forewent breakfast and headed straight out to the moss in the anticipation that the Bean Geese were still present - they seem to be fairly settled but you never know. This is a species we've never seen in the Fylde before and only once in Lancashire and that sighting nearly 20 years ago! Fortunately they were (205)...our thanks go to those birders who have been giving detailed directions as we doubt if we'd have found the site otherwise.
Arriving on site we were somewhat relieved to see a very small flock of geese over in the corner of the field, so we didn't have to check through hundreds or even thousands of Pink Footed Geese to find them, just one of the six is a Pink Foot...isn't it great when birding's this easy!
The Mute Swans were only a few metres away on the other side of the ditch and totally disinterested in us. Also around were a few Skylarks including a little sub-song.

The pics don't do the birds justice, those orange legs were brighter than the satsuma's we left out for Santa and Reindeers! - Nicely marked tertials too...but shortly after this they turned and flew off right into the sun and we were  unable to follow them without risking losing our retinas.
As we were leaving to see if we could either track them down again or find a flock of White Fronted Geese we saw some birders approaching, minutes too late. It turned out to be some friends we've not seen for too many years! After quick Christmassy catch-up they went to see if the Bean Geese had just gone one or two fields further down the path and we drove off across the moss.
We couldn't find any geese at all. A drive down the bumpiest lane for miles still didn't give us a flock of geese. We did see a small flock of geese in flight in the distance which may or may not have been our quarry.

Shoulda used the wipers but could let go of the camera to flick the switch!!!
Getting back on the road - which isn't much better to be honest but doesn't have the puddles - we met up with SB coming the other way, they'd had a Merlin not long after we left them and then set off on what was likely to be a wild goose chase.
So what did Santa bring? Someone obviously thinks the food at base camp might be a little bland ;-)

 The left hand bottle rather worryingly has a warning to keep away from children and pets!
 We might need a few glugs of those sauces when we come to attempt these -

- the 'nasty surprise is tripe! Oh joy tripe filled white chocolate...can't hardly wait!!! Anyone care to drop by and have a taste??? Thought not.
Where to next? Looking forward to a Seasonal South-side Safari Extravaganza tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know how kind Santa has been in your outback.

Friday 23 December 2011

Twas the day before Christmas

The Safari was out at lunchtime, sneaking briefly into someone else's territory. Not a lot of time but a short walk along the side of the estuary but an interesting selection of birds seen never-the-less. A couple of Little Grebes were in one of the creeks and out on the marsh a male Goosander rubbed shoulders with a helluva lot of Wigeon. Waders included plenty of Curlews, many Redshanks, a quick fly round  of about 15 Snipe and a very unseasonal Common Sandpiper, although one has over-wintered here for  couple of winters now and this one didn't seem to have any problems finding worms in the mud.
And now for one of our favourite rants about over-cut hedgerows. Not a lot of winter shelter from the cold winds whipping up the river here anymore

Unnecessarily butchered along the footpath and woe betide anything that was out of line like the Elder that's been hacked to pieces. None of it was likely to be overhanging the path and how much damage to the grass in the pasture was any shading likely to cause? it's just too easy to butcher hedges with heavy machinery and little or no knowledge of the natural world - just so long as it looks 'tidy...well actually smashed up branches and see-through hedges aren't 'tidy!'...wish people would get that in their fat heads!!! There's gotta be a better way...
Rant over; we followed our walk with a fine lunch and a couple of pints were enjoyed by the fire side at one of the few pubs in the region that allows dogs in...that's another rant for another day...
On a far lighter note our toast this morning bears a striking resemblance to somewhere we hope to visit next year...can you guess where?

Where to next? Unlikely to be a safari tomorrow, but wherever you are we hope Santa is kind and brings you everything you wrote on the note to him you hid up the chimney earlier this month.
In the meantime let the feasting begin!!!

Mingin' weather - stayed in!

The Safari just couldn't be tempted to venture forth today. Wall to wall wet and miserable greyness had us staying indoors. We might have been tempted by the 'Tundra' Bean Geese but there was negative news of them by lunchtime although both Eurasian and Greenland White Fronted Geese had been seen in the area.
In the opposite direction another flock of Pink Footed Geese played host to the Todd's Canada Goose but again nice as one of those might be - it's only a sub-species so we can't add it to our total in our competition with Monika - the thought of peering through a rain soaked field of Pinkies from a steamed up Land Rover wasn't inspiring enough to motivate us. At the last count we had the slenderest of leads but Monika had the added incentive of an attempt at the County Record so by not going out hunting down the Beanies we may well be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory - but there' s still a couple of days birding left before midnight on the 31st.
A very quick round a small part of Patch 1 gave us two Mistle Thrushes flying over and some Dove's Foot Cranesbill in flower, an opening flower bud on one of our neighbour's Forsythia bush and in the Garden at Base Camp the Fuchsia bush has a solitary new flower bud.

We topped up the sunny seed feeder and almost as soon as our back was turned had a Blue Tit, a Chaffinch and a lone Greenfinch; but where are all the Goldfinches that we heard earlier chattering away before they left their roost in the big Holly Tree in one of the gardens a little way up the hill.
A very brief Christmas errand also gave us a Mistle Thrush singing loudly from the top of a tree in the cemetery.
Where to next? Wedding Anniversary tomorrow and a posh nosh out of town might just provide an opportunity for a short safari before we wade into a plate of steak n chips.
In the meantime let us know if the rain eventually stopped in your outback.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Going to roost

The Safari did get to the nature reserve for a couple of hours this arvo but not before taking Frank around Patch 1 which was quite productive. A flock of at least 13 Long Tailed Tits made their way past us as we arrived and a Coal Tit sang heartily from a low open perch - no camera!!! with another nearby in with several Blue Tits and a  pair of Great Tits.
Under the trees at the bottom of the park we saw a clump of well grown Bluebells, about 3" (75mm) tall.
A Grey Squirrel bounced around on the grass near the footy field, thankfully Frank neither spotted nor smelt it otherwise he'd have been off like a shot ploughing a furrow through the muddy saturated ground to get to it.
Seven Blackbirds were counted along with three Robins and on the way back to base camp we heard a Woodpigeon singing from the Golden Triangle.
Arriving at the nature reserve the first bird seen on the drive in was a Mistle Thrush. Then, after parking the Land Rover and going into the first hide another 'unusual' entry for the notebook in the form of three Lapwings roosting on the bund opposite.
There was enough noise from the blustery wind to drown out all man-made noise pollution and for a pleasant and refreshing change all we could hear were the pleeping of Teal, the squawking of Black Headed Gulls and the gentle lapping of the waves.
The reedbeds to either side of the hide each held a Wren this arvo but strangely no Cetti's Warblers. A flock of thrushes landed in the top of the big Sycamore tree away over the far side of the mere, the scope gave us a count of 11 Fieldfares.
Clinging to a bush on the island we spotted a fine female Kestrel while over to our left a Buzzard cruised the fields. A visiting birder told us he'd seen some swans in the far corner of those fields, two Mute Swans and two Bewick's far we've only had Whooper Swans in the area this winter but we went to check them out and sure enough two Bewick's Swans they excellent find!
We had hoped for lots of gulls to work through in the 'expectation' of finding the Iceland Gull but there were only a few Black Heads and Common Gulls all afternoon. One of the Black Heads showed a small patch of oil on it's belly from the recent spill - hope it's not going to be too serious - it could have a very deleterious effect on the hundreds of Common Scoters along the coast.
Wildfowl included two female Goldeneyes, could have been a third later unless they had split up, about 450 Teal with xxx??? more still tucked away in the reeds - no Green Winged Teal seen despite concerted checking - 28 Wigeon was our best count then we heard some more whistling unseen from another part of the reserve, 35 Shoveler is getting better, hopefully there'll be triple figures in the new year. The 135 Canada Geese and solitary white Grey Lag Goose could do with being eaten this week! Where's all these wildfowlers when you need them? Not that they should be shooting anywhere near the reserve of course!
Whilst waiting for the no-show of the Iceland Gull or even the Herring Gulls, so few seen - where were they? -  we heard the Cetti's Warbler fire up a few short snatches of song  and hearda Snipe flying round but couldn't pick it up. A male Kestrel and several Sparrowhawk sightings completed the day's raptors.
Best bird of the day was the lone Great Black Backed Gull that came in for a wash and brush up for about half an hour before leaving to the coast.
But best sightings were all the birds going to roost, flocks of varying sizes of Woodpigeons, Pied Wagtails, Goldfinches, Long Tailed Tits and several thousand pier-bound Starlings as well as lone Reed Buntings dropping in from on high all passed us as the day drew to a close.
So no Iceland Gull, Bittern or Otter but it was still very good to get out in the fresh air for the afternoon.
Took the camera this arvo but couldn't find anything to point it at so you'll have to make do with this old one...taken on horse dung but the same species - Yellow Dung Fly - was out in numbers in the afternoon sunshine enjoying the freshly laid dog's eggs (there was a bin specifically for that stuff not 20 yards away!!! Make us MAD.

Where to next? More of the same tomorrow unless there is something a bit different elsewhere to tempt us into a (slightly) more distant safari.
In the meantime let us know what's coming home to roost in your outback

Three Christmas wishes

The Safari's first Christmas wish came about when we learned of yet more sickening Bird of Prey persecution is still being discovered adding to the RSPB's list of known incidents

If you haven't signed the petition to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland and their recently introduced law of Vicarious Liability we would urge you to do so (UK rsisdents only) - it's easy and only takes a minute or two of your time. If the RSPB has a million members surely the petition can get well over the 100,000 required.

Our second wish is that lots of you dash over to Amazon and download our work of literature onto those new Kindle devices you're children have all asked Santa for. Please help make it a best seller, it won't make the Safari rich but it might go some way to protecting and conserving some very endangered species such as Numbats, Woylies, Chuddichs, Quendas and Red Tailed Black Cockatoos whose world populations number in the low thousands; low hundreds in some cases!
You are more than welcome to nick the pic and put on your Facebook page (other social networking sites are available)...who knows, if we get enough sales we might be tempted to write a sequel...already got the beginnings of an idea featuring a species currently very topical...

Our third wish is that all the safari's readers have a fantastic Christmas/winter solstice festival whatever you call this season in your part of the world. peace and goodwill to you all...even raptor poisoners - let's hope the see the error of their ways...SOON!!!

Where to next? Looks like Wifey will allow us a bit of a safari this arvo so we might be back later - there's that Iceland Gull to be found (why couldn't it have been a Glaucous Gull not had one of those this year?) and the Rangers  just phoned to tell us that they saw the Otter at the nature reserve yesterday.
In the meantime if you haven't already please sign the  petition....there's no time like the present although it would seen the perpetrators are still living in the Victorian past!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

A seaful of scoters

The Safari hit the sea wall as soon as it was light enough, and dry enough, this morning. The tide was dropping but hadn’t reached the bottom of the wall so there was no beach. A quick scan north and south gave us numerous Common Scoters in flight, just small flockettes but plenty of them and mostly at a range. However, much closer in at not far beyond the low water mark there was a huge long thin line of them, difficult to count in the choppy conditions but well over 200 in all probability. We looked hard and hopefully at them but couldn’t find anything other than Common Scoters. After a few minutes the tide had left the beach uncovered beyond our southern boundary and there was a veritable gull-fest sadly just all a bit too distant, especially in light of CB’s observation of a white winger ‘round the corner’ in the Ribble yesterday.
As we checked through the gulls as best we could we picked up a bird in flight going out of the river and into the grey gloom over the sea – our first impression was that it was something a little different as it had broad rounded wings. We watched it continue out to sea at a steady speed and height. By the time it was probably about two miles out it turned north, parallel to the coast, maintain its height and speed. In the dreadful light we hoped it would drop below the horizon and we could get something on it as it contrasted against the sea but no it just kept on going without so much as a glide until it turned north west out to sea again and was lost to view in the oncoming rain...but what was it?...Who a guess maybe a Marsh Harrier but there again may be not...and if it was what was it doing out there and where was it going – 70 miles to the Isle of Man or just a daytrip and a look-see round the bay? Whilst concentrating on that mystery bird we noticed yet more distant scoters on the move and picked up a single Red Throated Diver going south. We wisely decided to give up as the first spots of what turned into a very heavy shower landed.
No gull-fest on the beach at lunchtime, hardly any at all and certainly nothing pulse-quickening amongst them. Best of the bunch was a flock of 50 Sanderlings and a Dunlin. A dozen Redshanks and two Turnstones were easily outnumbered by an uncounted 100+ Oystercatchers.
At sea almost all the Common Scoters had drifted/flown out of view and there was nothing else out there.

We very much doubt if we’ll get a white Christmas this year as the forecast for the weekend is giving temperatures into the low double figures and well above average for the time of year. For Christmas Day our daily minimum is forecast to be a mind bendingly globally warmed 6.5ºC above the long term average –well over that 4ºC ‘limit’ that everyone seems to be scared of doing anything about, and Boxing day is forecast to be even warmer. It’s all a bit academic though as this year’s warmth is only cancelling out last year’s ridiculously cold spell. All will be revealed in 2030 when the figures for the current trio of decades, 2001 – 2030, can be compared with those from 1961 – 1990 & 1971 - which time if it has happened it’ll be far too late to stop it!

Where to next? Hols so anything could happen in the next coupla days...
In the meantime let us know what was where it perhaps shouldn't have been in your outback.
Not quite stop press but we just had a call from AB who was at the nature reserve watching 'our' Iceland Gull - confirmed at where does it hang out the rest of the time and is it going to a regular bather/loafer on the mere?

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The Safari was dog sitting today and had to have a day off work which worked out nicely as we got the last of our Christmas shopping and wrapping done give or take a few little bits n bobs. it also gave us the opportunity to twitch the Long Tailed Duck (204) that was released after being picked up exhausted by a wildfowler's dog. It spent quite some time feeding, or at least diving - don't know if it actually found anything in the boating lake but has a damaged wing so probably isn't going anywhere soon.
The grainy pictures show what a grey and miserable day it was and the bird itself is quite wary - well you would be if a dirty great hound had grabbed you in its jaws.

 Pick of the bunch but still a 'going away' shot.

Also present were two female Goldeneyes and five Red Breasted Mergansers or at least there were five until CR pointed his long lens at them when three of them decided they were camera shy and flew off over the dunes to the sea.
With no real chance of a better pic of the Long Tailed Duck we took Frank for a mooch on the beach, as you can see it's a lot more shingly than our regular haunts a little to the south. We wander hither and thither across the various strandlines looking for whatever took our fancy. One thing we did note was there was a massive amount of plastic litter tangled up in the seaweed and 'free-floating' than there ever is on our beach - must be the way the currents run that dump it far better if it wasn't thrown in the sea in the first place!!! Its everywhere and impossible to avoid in any wide angle view as in the pic of Kelp below - to Frank's right is one of the many onion/carrot bags we saw. Good piece of Kelp though - washed up from ??? in the recent storms. There is annoying raindrop on the lens from the very short light shower by the look of the pics.
Two young girls and their dad were doing a bit of beach-combing too, looking for shells - an excellent way to spend an afternoon with the kids even if the wind was a bit braw!!! We found a few small Native Oysters, all pretty old and worn, one was almost worn through and was translucent - this one was the youngest that we found and still has it's patterns and ridges quite well defined so was probably alive at sea until not long ago - don't really know how fast they wear down but we'd guess this one hasn't been dead more than five years possibly a lot less...could be horribly wrong though. There must be a small population still out there somewhere.
The tide line after storms is often a productive place to find dead birds and possibly one with a ring on but not today. We found the wings of an Oystercatcher and this bit of gull - gotta be Herring or Lesser Black Back - but which?
This is the dingy view across a chilly and desolate Morecambe Bay - circled, or more precisely ellipsed is Heysham nuclear power station home of the Heysham Bird Observatory .
Plenty of Oystercatchers were out on the mudflats along with a few Redshanks and were heard but didn't see Turnstones. With the cold wind we were feeling rather neche and didn't spend a lot of time checking over the beach. We were hoping we might bump in to a flock of Snow Buntings, not that any have been reported recently but with the weather over the last few days one never knows! There weren't any :-( so we've probably missed them for this year.
A last look at the Long Tailed Duck on the boating lake gave us a Little Grebe tucked tight under the far bank and well away from the radio controlled luxury cruiser yacht that was whizzing around and had flushed the last of the Red Breasted Mergansers and the Goldeneyes on to the larger lake. It would seem that the Long Tailed Duck can't fly; at first we couldn't find it and thought it might have flown off with the others but then we spotted it in the farthest corner well away from the disturbance.
Where to next? Back to work in the morning and hopefully Patch 2 will produce something interesting on our last visit of the year.
In the meantime let us know what a gundog has slobbered all over in your outback.

Monday 19 December 2011

All day deluge

The Safari managed an unusual double yesterday. After seeing the Fox at the nature reserve we then saw one at the Golden Triangle whilst out with Frank on our late night constitutional. it's not often we see two of these in different locations in one day! No Peregrines could be seen roosting on the tower though.
This morning we didn’t get far on Patch 1 as we did a swift about turn and successfully dodged the rain.
Once it was light enough we got out onto Patch 2. The tide was low and there were many hundreds of gulls on the beach taking advantage of the morsels left in the strandline. Probably somewhere in the region of 2500 stretched out in front of us along the water’s edge. Also out there were about 200 Oystercatchers, guesstimated rather than counted with any degree of concentration, similarly there were about 50 Sanderlings and a couple of dozen Redshanks. The reason for the lack of commitment to the waders was all down to the large numbers of gulls, no time for waders when there were that many gulls to peruse.
Peruse we did and eventually found two ‘argentatus’ type Herring Gulls and a cracking adult Yellow Legged Gull.
All the while we were stood there the rain became heavier and heavier until we were forced to abandon our gullathon. What a good decision that turned out to be as it continued to rain heavily for the rest of the day.
No chance of seeing anything out at sea as we couldn’t see out to sea! By lunchtime there had been no improvement, worse if we dashed out to do a bit of Christmas shopping and got absolutely soaking wet dodging multitudes of slow old people who seemed to have the perfect knack of getting in the way just because we were short of time. And if people can’t drive in the wet don’t go out in the rain!!! Crikey a total traffic nightmare cos of a few puddles, alright some of them were bigger and deeper than normal but there’s no need to drive like you’re waiting for Noah’s Ark to come hurtling round the next corner – sheeeezzzz – we got back to the office totally fraught – almost chewed our back teeth right down to the roots!!!
There was no news of the Long Tailed Duck but we wouldn’t have had time to get that far north even though we were  over half way there.
Where to next? Day off tomorrow so who knows.
In the meantime let us know if Noah was spotted in your outback

Sunday 18 December 2011

No reward for cold fingers and toes - not true really

The Safari was dragged round Patch 1 this morning by an enthusiastic Frank, We hadn't anticipated going that far but it seemed as though he was on a sniffing mission and just had to get there. We're glad he did as one the way we watched the male Peregrine drift lazily southwards over the school grounds upsetting the numerous local Feral Pigeons as it went, good to hear what sounded like a good number of House Sparrows in the school's roadside bushes - no doubt the Works Dept will be along now we've mentioned those and floor them next week. At the park we counted a dozen Blackbirds and heard a Goldcrest, possibly two but we couldn't see it/them in the depths of a tall conifer tree. On our return trip a Peregrine was enjoying sitting in the sun as it peeked above the houses and a little later back at base camp whilst enjoying our traditional Sunday morning bacon butty a Sparrowhawk took over where the Peregrine had left off and upset all the local Feral Pigeons.
Before we could go out safari-ing we had the inconvenient matter of a very flat tyre to attend to. Mysteriously the little black cap was missing. 300 or so presses of the footpump later we were on our way to the nature reserve enjoying the sunshine but not the cold wind.
After several trial runs we eventually we counted 47 Wigeon, at least 400 very mobile Teal, 22 Gadwall - a very good count for the site - 18 Shovelers, at least 25 Pochard and a single female Goldeneye. All the Tufted Ducks must be on the nearby park lake, where there are 50 - 60, as we could only find three - surely there must have been more than that! Didn't count the Mallards, weren't many visible for much of the time but as dusk fell quite a few emerged from the depths of the reedbeds, or the Coots. A Pair of Moorhens showed nicely in the sunshine in front of one of the hides. Also here we heard a Cetti's Warbler blasting away.
Gull numbers were very low and only two Great Black Backs, on at different times, were of note.
A flight of nine Snipe was good for recent years but then we were told of a flock of about 130 earlier in the week! At dusk more Snipe were heard leaving the cover of the reedbeds but remained unseen.
As ever we went up to the top end of the reserve to wait for the Bittern/Otter combo. Just as we got towards the bench we disturbed a Kestrel tucking into a vole on one of the fence posts, it took off taking its dinner with it. A Great Tit acted like a flycatcher catching Winter Gnats in the last of the afternoon's warm sunrays. From somewhere to our left a Water Rail squealed and a Cetti's Warbler sang with a second bird heard 'chipping' nearby. A Fieldfare flew out of the scrub and got half way across the mere before turning back - apparently there were about two dozen feeding on windfall Apples on the other side but we didn't go Long Eared Owl  bothering today so get get round that side.
The Kestrel came back and sat in a Poplar tree behind us silhouetted against a darkening sky - we didn't see the small flock of Starlings heading to their roost on the pier as we pressed the shutter!

Our attempt at sneaking a little closer for a more frame filling shot failed miserably as it saw us coming and was off.
The we saw two swans winging in, one larger than the other, something made us look at was a Black Swan! We're not going to include it on our list but it is a species we've not seen this year or at the nature reserve ever. What a fine looking bird in flight with its white primaries and secondaries and when it landed its bright red bill was obvious at long range - a little stonker even if the resident pair of Mute Swans weren't too happy with it being on their lake.
Also unhappy were the 150 or so Canada Geese and what had upset them you ask...a Fox was prowling around on the island and in true 'duck decoy' fashion they were following its every move. After a while the Fox settled down and put its nose under its tail but within a few minutes was scampering around trying to catch a vole it must have heard scuttling around in the grass behind it.
A single Pink Footed Goose that came out of the reedbed as dusk fell, probably a shooting or recent weather casualty.
The last entry in the notebook was two Little Owls sat out on the barn roof picked out by the eagle eye of PE.
A Woodcock as we were loading Frank into the Land Rover was the last bird seen in the darkness but failed to get written in the book.
While we were on site we got a call about a Long Tailed Duck which was on a boating lake a few miles up the road but decided to stay put and wait for the Bittern/Otter - neither showed and the duck would have been an addition to our year list competition with Monika; maybe it'll stick around a couple of days and we'll have a chance to catch upon with it...apparently it was picked up by a wildfowler's dog obviously unwell, he then put it in box and released it on the boating lake.
Where to next? Patch 2 should have a good bit of beach to cast a beady scope over in the morning.
In the meantime let us know what's been put in a box in your outback

Saturday 17 December 2011

The weather outside is frightful

The Safari has always had a more than a passing interest in astronomy, beginning of the universe, quantum mechanics (not that we understand any of that!) etc and was interested is this recent observation The thing is we're not sure why they had to look for the black hole in the very centre of the galaxy. We know for a fact it's passed by Base Camp some time this year and swallowed up a variety of objects namely a hoover nozzle, a travel Buddha (including cosy travel case - reckon he's more powerful than St Christopher) and a hand carved nativity scene Baby Jesus (Never noticed Herod's henchmen lurking in the spare room - possibly because there never were any henchmen - well he had henchmen by the hundred but the 'incident' probably never happened). All objects were present and correct this time last year but now are compressed to an infinitesimally small but super massive blob of stuff thousands of light years away - suppose we'll never see em again!
Duff day today didn't get on safari, didn't really get light all day and those showers were best avoided. Tried to go Christmas shopping this arvo but didn't see anything worth wrapping, so much expensive tat and so few affordable items of real quality.
Where to next? Two year birds out of range and 'NO Franks Allowed' to the north and two to the south also 'NO Franks Allowed'; still those elusive Bean Geese out there somewhere...we'll probably end up at the nature reserve for the afternoon tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what the passing black hole swallowed from your outback

Friday 16 December 2011

More weather woes

The Safari opened the door to a real wintery scene this morning; a thin layer of snow coated the world outside. It hadn’t stopped the local Robins from singing nor the Blackbirds from clucking.
We didn’t go far choosing to dash back to base camp for a warming cuppa.
The dawn never really broke so we left the scope in the draw and headed out onto the beach with just the camera – and a big plaggy bag for any coal we might come across. In the gardens we spotted a real rarity...a Wren and then a second - yeah hey patch tick #73.
As we crossed the road we noticed a dark blob right on top of the Mirror Ball, with cold fingers we fumbled the camera out from under our jacket but it was playing up and wouldn’t turn on and when it did the lens wouldn’t zoom – darn it big style!!! The blob was a Carrion Crow which was ‘hitching a ride’ on the rotating sculpture. It sat there for two or three minutes while we cussed at the camera, as soon as the camera’s malfunction was over come and video mode chosen –’ve guessed it – the flamin bird flew...AAAARRGGGHHH possibly a photo/video opportunity of a lifetime lost...really hope this is a temporary malfunction as we could really do without having to dash out and get a new camera...been looking at  this one  but Wifey probably needs new jewellery more than we need a new camera
On the beach the tide had moved round a lot of the flotsam and jetsam on the strandline from yesterday and interesting finds proved harder to come by although we did pick up about 20lbs (10kg) of coal, or about two weeks worth of burning – great when it’s free. Much of it had been washed into the gap at the bottom of the steps along with hundreds of Pod Razors

Musta been cold as there was snow lying on the beach - you'd have thought the salt would have melted it straight away.

Eventually we came across an only slightly damaged male Masked Crab, check out the length of those chelipeds! 

There were shed loads of Common Sand Stars in the lowest ‘rockpools’ many were still alive but sadly they will probably succumb to the cold over the next few days as they will be unable to crawl back beyond the low water mark where the water temperature is more constant and a little warmer, currently 11° C  

Snow showers continued intermittently all morning some of them heavy but it didn’t stick so no chance for Frank to play with a snowman...yet! No we didn’t make the cake, not that artistic...but we did try to get some arty-farty shots of the Mirror Ball with The Big One behind...could have done with a bit of sun rather than thick dark clouds.
No lunchtime safari as we had a site visit in the north of town to look at a site which is going to become a brand new woodland.
Due to being prompted by Stu the other day we stopped on the way at the memorial to the Policemen who lost their lives attempting a sea recue a few years go, 28 years ago to be precise. The sea is a dangerous place when it’s rough and yet people still play chicken with the waves or let their dogs run loose and at risk of being washed in despite all the warning notices. Even on lovely calm summer days the beach can be a dangerous place as the tide comes in behind you very quickly and cuts you off if you aren’t keeping a close eye on what’s happening around you; some of the gullies are deep enough to be over head height!.

Thankfully the snow and rain had stopped and it turned in to a bright and sunny afternoon – just right for a traipse round a soggy field.
The plans look good with a nice mix of tree and shrub species and with it being so close to the coast it should pull in some interesting migrants as it matures. The site already has a few little copses but they seem to attract little other than the local Goldfinches and House Sparrows, there is a reasonable population of the latter (for the 21st C at least). Over the years we’ve seen a handful of grounded Meadow Pipits there but nothing to set the pulse racing. The majority of the existing trees on site are Blackthorn bushes – hence the sparrow roost – and Alders, both native and Italian (don’t know why they were chosen), which are currently showing their catkins. 

While we were there a medium sized slender winged raptor flew over the site heading inland, it was a bit too far away and we had no bins with us – at a guess Short Eared Owl would be top of the list of possible suspects.
A wet walk across the low-lying central section revealed our wellies have a hole to let the water out if it should go over the top – soggy freezing cold feet...not pleasant...but we did come across this piece of wood, practically tripped over it hidden in the grass,  which we assume is an ancient piece of Bog Oak, probably not oak at all but that’s what it gets called generically. The area probably hasn’t been wooded with large trees for many centuries. This one is about a foot in diameter and far thicker than any in the current plantations.

On the drive back to the office we had a txt from AB who was still there saying a male Kestrel had put in an appearance.
Where to next? Alas more Christmas shopping rather than safari-ing is likely.
In the meantime let us know how white it got in your outback.
How's this for a bit of fun - a Frank and snowman cake brilliantly made by a good friend of ours - too good to eat?