Monday 31 January 2011

Distant duck delivers on damp, dreary, dismal day

The Safari has little to say today - sorry.
The Song Thrush was heard briefly from Base Camp as we set off for Patch 1 which was a relief cos by the time we walked round to the Golden Triangle it had stopped so we could easily have missed it. Magpies in Magpie Wood were moving about a bit too much; we got somewhere between 50 and 60 of them.
No time or light for an early Patch 2 safari but a cold miserable look out to see at lunchtime gave is a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers (104, P2 37) sitting way out in the distance with a couple of Herring Gulls.
A look through the gulls on the beach was thwarted by a yellow waterproof clad bait digger wandering all over the place and three street-urchins who looked like they should have been in school but were probably already 'excluded'. We had hoped to check out the Common Gulls for any that resemble a Franklin's Gull as was noted from a beach on the South-side recently, that one may have 'good' but very hard to tell from the one record shot. With all the disturbance there were few gulls about so no chance to look for this distinctive individual either which 'goes missing' from Seaforth for days at a time. 15 Redshanks and six Sanderlings hit the notebook before everything was flushed.
Where to next? With 24 species of birds in the local area we haven't seen yet this year we might try a little further afield at lunchtime tomorrow, otherwise it'll be mormal service from the Patches.
In the meantime let us know who's pretending to be what in your outback.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Big Garden Birdwatch II

The safari is sat here with a bottle of bally awful but expensive-ish, well more than £3.99, Spanish vino tinto. There seems to be a musical theme to blogs today and Wifey is warbling away on her karaoke which has a scoring feature and if she doesn't get at least 98/100 we're miffed, not that it happens often. The family has just left after my younger bro helped make a log store and cut a months worth of wood for Little Bertha, now the hands are hurting like hell and even the alcohol isn't takin the edge of the pin - tomorrow is gonna be a bad day...not just the pain but first thing tomorrow we learn how deep the cuts are in our department and how many of us run the risk of losing our jobs - could be a painful day all round.
(Little bro is an alcohol expert and reckons there are two types of red wine, duff stuff that tastes of vinegar and posh stuff that tastes of Ribena, nothing inbetween; Lager, he reckons is just cheap Champagne, indeed he could be right; some lagers eg Czech Bud are better than even the £100 a bottle stuff I've been lucky enough to sample a couple of times.)
But on a lighter note please read Moore Patcher, Mark's blog from today, an exceptionally moving piece of writing
Just to keep you all up to date the Peregrine was seen yesterday and we had great views of the Fox early doors too.
This morning we did our hour looking through the bedroom window for the Big Garden Birdwatch:-
Herring Gull 8 - bread thrown on the garage roof just before the start
Chaffinch 2
Blackbird 3
Goldfinch 2
Blue Tit 1
Great Tit 1
Collared Dove 1
Robin 1
Actually better than we expected but could have done with Greenfinch making an appearance.
Later we had a flock of seven or eight Long Tailed Tits in the garden and interestingly they ignored the feeders prefering instead the Wombleton's bread thrown on the floor - unusual, anyone elsee had records of LTT taking bread or even feeding on the ground?
A mooch round Patch 1 at lunchtime gave us a big female Peregrine on the ledge follwed by a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying south at height. The garden with all the feeders was quite lively with Blue and Great Tits and a few Goldfinches. A Lesser Black Backed Gull was on the school playing field - a Patch 1 tick no less. The Golden Triangle also produced a Patch 1 tick in the shape of a singing Dunnock.
That's about it for today Garden list now stands at 21 and Patch 1 has moved up to 30.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 for some goodies...hopefully.
In the meantime let us know what's on the ledges in your outback.

Saturday 29 January 2011

See a penny...

The Safari joined forces with the North Blackpool Pond Trail Project Officer (sorry - no website yet) this morning to lead the Big Garden Birdwatch count guided walk around Kincraig Lake. Nine people turned up and we saw a good selection of birds on a bright and frosty morning.
First of all we looked at the waterfowl on the lake which was mostly frozen. Immediately we saw a colour ringed Coot to report to KB. (White over black on the left leg, pink over BTO on the right). Counting the gulls gave us a Darvik ringed Common Gull; white ring - black letters JXC4.
The walk round the lake is only short but it took us over an hour to count all we saw. A Pochard asleep in the open water was a surprise and considering the numbers of people milling around 14 Teal was a pleasant surprise.
Sackfuls of common birds included splendid views of two Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
Back at the lake viewing area the light was superb for getting a few pics.

The birds are definitely used to people as this Heron was only a few feet away. But it didn't allow too close an approach as we snuck a little nearer it flew to a perch across the lake back-lit with a backdrop of reedheads -beautiful.

At the car park we spotted a dity old penny lying in the grass, picking it up we chanted the old adage:- See a penny pick it up and all the day you'll have good luck...well you never know.
Back at Base Camp we were processing the morning's pics when we decided to have a click on the Interweb - Holy Mackerel - - - three Waxwings not a mile from where we were sat, even Wifey joined us on this twitch for the tufty little fella, she likes tufty birds best of all. At first we couldn't find them, then we met up with MMcG who'd also heard the news. We then saw BS who we've not seen for a couple of too long years. We thought it was he who'd phoned them wasn't, he didn't know about them. The Waxwings (103) appeared after he'd walked of to work. Better pics than our last attempt but top see proper pics see MMcG's here.

Wasn't expecting to get out on safari this arvo and deffo wasn't expecting a year bird...thank you very much to that little penny!!!
Where to next? Wonder if we've used all the penny's luck up yet...
In the meantime let us know what old adages work in your outback.

Friday 28 January 2011

Dunlin numbers go through the roof.

The Safari was surprised to open the door to a smattering of snow this morning, not enough to completely cover the cars but certainly enough to notice. It was very quite, just a Robin was twittering in the distance. We did hear something very unusual though, the wind must have been in the right direction as we heard a Lion roaring; we’re assuming it was still within the confines of the zoo and not somewhere closer!!!
Patch 1 was very quiet; even the Song Thrush was silent (gone?). As usual we counted the Magpies but they were beginning to rouse themselves and were a bit on the wary side and moving about; we tentatively got somewhere between 30 and 40. We did hear something we don’t ever recall hearing before, a Magpie singing a lovely, but very quiet, musical thrush-like song; we’ve heard something similar from Jays a few times over the years, a species we come across far, far less frequently than Magpies. Had a look/listen on Xeno-canto and no-one has added a recording of this song to that great site.
We got out on to Patch 2 just as the sun was rising over the rooftops. The sea was flat calm and visibility perfect...shame there wasn’t much out there! We were hoping for a Harbour Porpoise or two but only got ten Great Crested Grebes instead. A couple of distant Red Throated Divers was an improvement on yesterday but Common Scoter numbers were well down with no more than 50 being seen other than a few small flocks flying around the horizon. Cormorants were streaming out to sea in huge, but uncounted, numbers from their roost on the sand bars at the mouth of the river.
On the beach the receding tide hadn’t attracted many gulls but there were a few waders. The flock of 27 Sanderlings also held double yesterday’s total of Dunlins, a massive four; we won’t be on Patch 2 tomorrow to see if they’ve doubled again, to eight!
A handful each of Oystercatcher and Redshank completed the wader interest although we did enjoy a ‘frame filling’ view of all four species of wader in the scope at the same time.
Once again the beach to the south of Patch 2 was smothered in gulls and Oystercatchers.
A more or less empty beach was waiting for us on a cold but bright and sunny lunchtime visit. A cursory look at the gulls didn’t produce anything earth-shattering. The outfall pipe had ten Turnstones pecking about on it and a similar number of Redshanks where wadding around in the pool at the side looking for tasty morsels.
Out at sea not much was doing...or was it? Something strangle was going on. Here and there we noticed huge splashes, at first we thought they might be something to do with the Cormorants knocking about but when we watched more intently we saw that these splashes we much bigger than the Cormorants themselves and far bigger than any splash made by the Cormorant’s pitter-patter take off. Not only that but the Cormorants appeared to be attracted to the splashing, as did several gulls. Unfortunately at no time did we see what made the splashes although just once we thought we might have seen an animal briefly surface facing us but we didn’t see it again and couldn’t be 100% positive. What did we witness? A shoal of fish being attacked from beneath by larger fish, or a shoal of fish being attacked from below by one or more marine mammals? We can’t think what sort of fish would be large enough to make splashes that big but might have expected at least a small portion of a cetacean’s body to have broken the surface especially if it had been a large animal like a Bottle Nosed Dolphin, although on our last cetacean survey ferry trip the Bottle Nosed Dolphins we watched attacking the bait balls didn’t come to the surface. If it was smaller dolphins, such as Common Dolphin, we’d have expected these to have been seen breaching if they were actively feeding, the single one videoed off Fleetwood jetty a few years ago was feeding actively and breached often. We’ve never noticed the Harbour Porpoises making this amount of disturbance to the water surface; they’re normally quite slinky in their movements. No sign of a seal’s nose either.
To give you an idea of how big these watery goings-on were they were about the size of a Cormorant’s wingspan, so approaching a couple of metres long, and reaching about a metre high.
After work it was light enough to try to twitch the Ring Necked Duck. On our way along the Prom we spotted a mass of gulls a few hundred yards offshore. Luckily we were near a place where we could pull in and have a good look. About 70 Cormorants were also there when we looked through the bins but no sign of anything mammalian. A few Eiders were also on the sea but not connected to the feeding frenzy.
Moving along to the Dog Walking Nature Park it was mayhem with loose dogs everywhere, loud owners yelling at deaf mutts and a guy in the car park playing Pink flamin Floyd - never one of our favourites - at full decibels. Guess what? Yep - no RND, just a few Pochards on the 'quiet' pool and bathing gulls on the other - the shallow pool in the middle of the site had a small flock of Tufted Ducks on it swimming around trying to find the furthest point from the marauding mutts. We could have wandered round to the big pool at the back of the tip but we left them to their mayhem.
On the way in we'd seen a large flock of geese in two fields by the side of the main road and the second flock was by a place we could legitimately pull in. A good scan through them revealed they were all Pink Footed Geese, no sign of the Red Breasted Goose that had been seen here recently.
To get to the other flock we had to drive on and do a 'U'ey to get to another lay-by on the opposite side of the road, we could have gone straight back to Base Camp, but we're glad we didn't. Working our way through this flock right at the back was a Greenland White Fronted Goose (102). What a shame at it wasn't at the roadside edge of the flock.

You'll have to use your imagination with the pic.
Where to next? The Big Garden Bird Watch tomorrow at home and at Kincraig Rd Ecological Area. No Sunday safari this weekend due to family stuff and wood cutting.
In the meantime let us know what’s been making a splash in your outback.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Decent wader saves the day

The Safari has little to report form Patch 1 other than the now usual Song Thrush was singing from deep within the Golden Triangle, we’ve just about given up on the second one. No Peregrine on the ledge this morning, musta taken one look at Cliff yesterday and decided to keep well out of the way of his long lens.
In the park the only thing making itself known in the darkness was an early rising Collared Dove.
Arriving at work we think we may just have missed a Patch 2 mega...what looked suspiciously like a small heron was flying inland as we got out of the Land Rover, unfortunately it was still pitch black and the bird was by now well over 100 yards away...Little Egret?
We had to wait a while for it to get light before going out on Patch 2 proper; yesterday’s pleasant sunshine being replaced by thick cloud this morning. After yesterday’s successes and superb conditions we were looking forward to being able to give it a good hour today. Once at the wall it was obvious that the conditions weren’t so conducive to standing still and concentrating for long. A chilly offshore breeze and lack of sun meant it was flippin cold on the ‘ole kidleys’. The wind direction did ensure the sea was fairly calm though.
First job was to scope the water’s edge and check out the masses of gulls down there. As soon as we were in focus we had a Dunlin, a Patch 2 year tick (35). Panning to the right towards the outfall pipe another wader was seen, a Bar Tailed Godwit (101, 36) (now tied with January’s total for last year), always a welcome find on this stretch of beach. Things were looking up and not a mutt in sight! Now for the gulls...well we scanned left then we scanned right...and left again...and back to the right...over to the north side of the pipe...NOTHING!!! Well not nothing, but nothing out of the ordinary, not even anything that looked vaguely like an ‘argentatusHerring Gull. Best were a couple of Lesser Black Backs (none seen yesterday BTW) and a couple of Great Black Backs. There were very few Black Headed Gulls this morning but shed loads of Commons.
The Dunlin had disappeared but a small flock of no more than twenty Sanderlings were way down the south end of the Patch and it could well have been with them. A few Redshanks were scattered along the water’s edge and a few more near the pipe and in the runnel by the wall but by the time we’d resolved to count them a bait digger, complete with furry friend, had appeared and flushed everything.
Across the patch boundary to the south it was Oystercatcher City; at least a couple of thousand feeding across the wide expanse of beach, and probably an even greater number of gulls, all too far away to count or work through properly. Further down still was a mass of roosting Cormorants with others joining them from the sea all the time, impossible to guess the numbers but easily triple figures.
Out at sea the calm conditions enabled the Common Scoters to be seen and there were more than we’ve seen for a while, uncounted as still a bit choppy but somewhere in the order of 400 to 500 and still more flying around out towards the horizon. Plenty of Cormorants out there too, but no feeding activity. Today was the first day for a while we didn’t see any Red Throated Divers what so ever, although a massive total of three Great Crested Grebes made it into the note book.
The cold was beginning to strike through to our bones and a hot brew become irresistible cutting short what we had hoped would be a much longer session.
By lunchtime it was still cold, grey and generally pretty dismal, it is still midwinter so what do we expect?!
Mostly the beach was a birdless desert. The Sanderlings were counted this time, 47, and the Dunlin was still with them. A few LWH Gulls were down by the outfall pipe and scattered around the shore line but there wasn’t anything exceptional amongst them. The Lesser Black Back Gull numbers had halved, to one. About 50 Black Headed Gulls were sleeping in a shallow runnel, no Meds or Franklin's Gulls with them as usual.
Looking north to our subsidiary patch there was even less about. Out at sea nothing much was happening either, it seemed like our birding had just fizzled out into the greyness.
Still no Red Throated Divers and still not a sniff of any marine mammals!
On the way home we spotted the Peregrine, from a distance, whilst waiting in a queue of traffic. It was on its ledge enjoying a bit of late afternoon sunshime out of the biting easterly breeze.
Where to next? More of the same and maybe an early finish tomorrow arvo for having to work on Saturday morning - and the Ring Necked Duck has reappeared not too far away...
In the meantime let us know if its grey and dismal in your outback.

Note to anyone local – There will be a ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ at Kincraig Road Ecological Area & Lake aka Bispham Marsh this Saturday 10.00 – 11.00 See you there. Hope you’ll all have done your hour’s watch at home before then.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Lovely morning

The Safari was yanked out of bed a good half an hour too early by a very demanding Frank. Did he need his dump early? No; he was over excited at the thought of sniffing out the Fox again and practically raced up the hill to the park. We quickly passed the Peregrine still asleep on its ledge, there were a few thrush silhouettes on the field where we play footy in the evening but it was too dark to tell if they were all Blackbirds or not. One tiny one was almost definitely a Robin.
The park was far to dark for anything to be active at that unearthly hour although the Mistle Thrush across the road somewhere on the golf course was singing. No Foxes were found despite all the sniffing, Frank not the safari! On the way back we counted the Magpies, 66 of them, but the lighting on them wasn’t good and there could have been several more. The number of thrushes poking about for worms had increased to nine, at least one was a Song Thrush the others ‘probably’ Blackbirds. The top Song Thrush wasn’t heard again this morning but the bottom one was in full song.
Going back a few hours, before our fitful sleep was rudely disturbed, last night we watched ‘Pool throw away a good two goal advantage and be denied a penalty early in the second half only to give away three goals late in the second points again! This run of defeats is beginning to get worrying, hence the fitful sleep. They still need another 15 points from the remaining 15 games. After the match Frank was viciously attacked by the menace that is Blue; we hadn’t realised he was in his garden until we heard the snarling and yapping and saw his gnashing white teeth flashing from under a bush...if we’d have know he was out we’d have had the camera ready on video mode.
We were able to get in a pre-work Patch 2 safari on a very pleasant morning, no cloud and the sun was still below the horizon so the light was good, it was mild and more or less windless, conditions couldn’t have been much better.
There were a lot of gulls in the pool along side the outfall pipe and many others stretched across the beach. Unfortunately two dogs were running amok just to the north. We had a look at those by the pipe and found a Grey Plover (98) with them. Then the dogs arrived and everything flushed before we could get a count of the numerous Redshanks and Oystercatchers and have a look at the Turnstones working through the Mussels on the pipe itself...blummin marvellous!!! Need a surface-to-dog missile launcher – think it’s called an AK 47; or is that a surface to Rhino/Elephant missile launcher?
However, all was not lost, the dogs and imbecile of an owner were going southwards and eventually the birds settled down on the water’s edge to the north of the pipe and were nicely spaced to work through. As they waded up the beach with the slowly rising tide a fine crisply plumaged adult gull appearing a shade or two darker than the others caught our eye. Now was it a trick of the light or deffo a darker shade of grey? Fortunately the sun still wasn’t fully up and grey tones were more or less ‘real’. A typical adult Herring Gull walked past as did a Common Gull giving us an accurate confirmation of the mantle colour, eventually the bird walked out of the water on to the beach and we could see leg colour too, our first Yellow Legged Gull (99) of the year.
We ran out of time and weren’t able to continue through the gulls for that elusive Caspian or have a proper look at the flat calm sea, which was annoying as conditions were so good. A very quick scan gave us only a distant flock of four Red Throated Divers in flight. It was one of those mornings when we really could have done with being able to stay out for a couple of hours or more...flamin work!!!
At lunchtime we had an errand to run and decided to nip over the moss to the Ring Necked Parakeets in the nearby cemetery. It was like a mini twitch with a couple of the local lads already there staking them out. Not that they are difficult, that high pitched screech gives away their whereabouts immediately. We got a best count of seven although eight had been seen a few minutes earlier (100). Most were asleep or dozing high in the treetops effectively out of range of our lens.

We missed an opportunity of flight shots when one fluttered about a bit then moved trees. Talking of the trees someone has had a go at doing a bit of tree surgery on a some of the larger Poplars...not wanting to sound too critical (but we will anyway) they should have read the Beginners Book of Branch Pruning (or How Not To Hack At Trees) before firing up the chainsaw.

On the way back to the office we stopped at the site of a recent Short Eared Owl sighting but in the few minutes we had to spare it didn’t show, wasn’t really expecting it to, just being hopeful. They have been a bit thin on the ground locally this winter. This fact was evidenced by the hordes of birders there, also refugees from their place of work, desperate for that all important year tick...and they’re not even in competition with Monika! Perhaps they think their club year list challenge is more important than that.
In one of the fields right on a sharpish corner was a herd of Whooper Swans, right out in the open, easy to work through and easy to see if any were blinged with Darvik rings. Sadly we didn’t have time to stop and check for any Bewick’s - that flamin work again!!! - this being the same flock as we watched a week or so ago there probably were – the other birders had stopped and were looking through them.
Back at the office as we pulled into the car park a Pied Wagtail fluttered out of the way of our wheels and its 'big brother', a Magpie, hopped about on the far side of the garden, two additions to the Patch 2 list. We love it when we’re doing school’s work and the little ones say they’ve seen baby Magpies (= Pied Wagtails) on the school playground or field. Well you have to admit they do look sort of similar all black and white and long tailed and all. (P2; 33)

A look at what’s been about over the last few days back to the weekend shows that in the local area and on the South-side marshes just over the river (a short flight to the ‘correct’ side of the river) there are a total of 34 species of birds which we could add to the year list, well 33 if you don’t count the Red Breasted Goose, or do we go to see it as a ‘banker’ in case it gets accepted at a later date? Two are lifers. Most will be picked up in due course over the next few months, tricky beasts in January/February like Blackcaps won’t cause any problems come late April, others like the rarer geese and Waxwings might not make the list at all unless Lady Luck has a large part to play. If we could cross our fingers we would!
Where to next? More patch nonsense and maybe even the opportunity of a much longer look at Patch 2 – weather permitting naturally.
In the meantime let us know if anything’s blinged in your outback.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Somewhere out there...

The Safari lost Frank to the Fox this morning, he was happily plodding along when all of a oneness his nose pointed skywards and he was off in to hyper-drive, for a dog whose top speed is normally slow lumber he raced past a couple of whippets, a greyhound and then the Cheetah. Then we spent ten minutes trying to find the numpty in the dark. Order was restored when the other early morning dog walkers appeared with Frank in tow, apparently he was ‘found looking lost’...naughty dog.
Back on the birding trail we failed to count the Magpies but did get the ‘bottom’ Song Thrush and the Peregrine on its ledge in the increasingly wet rain.
No Patch 2 early morning visit due to the bad weather but the smell as we opened the door of the Land Rover at the work’s car park was overpowering. There was some discussion amongst our colleagues that the smell was either leaking gas or blocked drains but a quick shuffy across the road revealed the true cause of the awful stench... huge numbers of rotting dead shells and starfish. A lot of gulls were on the beach and somewhere out there there could well be a Caspian Gull, one was on the beach on the South-side over the high tide at the weekend...just a matter of re-finding it...easy peasy...providing the heavy rain lets up and we get a lunchtime safari in...And it’s crossed the river of course.
Half way through the morning a clamouring riot of gulls out over the garden was heard, we left the office to have a look a what the commotion was all about...a Heron (P2 29) was sat on a neighbouring rooftop and getting a good deal of grief from the seriously unhappy gulls. A quick peek at Google Earth revealed a pond in the garden.

At lunchtime the weather had improved a little, at least it wasn’t raining but it was still quite blowy. Looking to the south there was bright sunshine bouncing of the water and wet sand near the wall making it very uncomfortable to count the 175 or so Oystercatchers and 50+ Redshanks with a few Turnstones thrown in for good measure. In front of there wasn’t much beach left as the tide was rising and what there was had a four legged bird scarer racing about after a ball. Out at sea nothing much was happening; a flotilla of three Great Crested Grebes and a couple of nearby Red Throated Divers was about it. But it all changed once the sea had hit the bottom of the wall. At that point there was a sudden flurry of activity. For some reason there seemed to be an increase in the size of the Common Scoter flocks sitting on the water, auks appeared as if from nowhere and those near enough to identify were all Guillemots. A flock of nine Red Throated Divers flew north at range followed loosely by three more. Unlike yesterday there was hardly a Cormorant to be seen but one of them was a Shag (97, 30), was it in the feeding frenzy yesterday and we didn’t pick it out? Not only that yesterday despite the large numbers of Cormorants seen very few were sporting their spring white thigh patches, today most of them were. Very strange this bird watching malarkey!
No excitement in the gulls today, even the Little Gulls had made themselves scarce unless we just couldn’t see them in the bad viewing conditions to the south.
A lovely rainbow foretold of the rain to come and it come leathered it down and sent us scampering back indoors.
Where to next? More of the same...
In the meantime let us know what’s got you scampering in your outback

Monday 24 January 2011

Another stunning wildlife spectacular.

The Safari’s pre-dawn Patch 1 visit produced little apart from the ‘lower’ of the two singing Song Thrushes, hope the ‘higher up the hill’ one hasn’t moved on. No Peregrines this morning.
No Patch 2 early morning visit but as we left Base Camp there was definitely more than the first rays of dawn in the eastern sky.
Patch 2 came up trumps at lunchtime though. We didn’t think we were going to be able to get out but fortunately we did. The tide was already well up and a few Redshanks could be heard wittering away while they roosted only feet away on the other side of the wall. We didn’t lean over for a count as that would have disturbed them. Several Black Headed Gulls hovered above the waves close to the wall and occasionally plunge-dived coming up with what looked like they have been Pipefish...didn’t know we got them along our coast but we didn’t have out bins and the gulls were too close to scope so we couldn’t really tell. (Editors note – a quick check here reveals Pipefish could well occur along our coast – something else to look for on our seashore safaris). A few Little Gulls were still about, they were very active dipping and darting in to the swell away towards the river mouth, perhaps seven or more in total.
Not a great lot else was happening to the south, a few Red Throated Divers were on the move here and there, small flocks of Common Scoters bounced around on the choppy sea and a couple of unidentified auks sped past. Best of all was a Great Crested Grebe going south in the distance accompanied by another smaller grebe, Slavonian perhaps – they were along way out.
Then looking to the right, northwards, we saw a Common Gull accompanied by a first winter Kittiwake, following them they led us to another Cormorant feeding frenzy. First we spotted a mass of wheeling gulls then noticed the black shapes in the water. What a lot there were easily 50 to start with. As we watched there was diving going on here there and everywhere, once again the Cormorants were strung out in a long narrow line several hundred yards long. More were joining all the time, flocks of between 10 and 20 arriving every few minutes, mostly from the south. Then a large flock of over 50 came in and a few minutes later a second flock of similar size – there were hundreds of them, one or two sporting their fresh white thigh patches, but not a single Shag was noted. The wheeling gulls were mostly Herring and Common Gulls and contrary to recent frenzies we’ve seen we only saw a single Great Black Backed Gull. At least six adult Kittiwakes were in the throng but with all the activity going on it was hard to keep track of them all. The Little Gulls didn’t appear.
There were a few Razorbills being attracted to the activity and checking them out as they came in we found a three Guillemots (96; P2 28), one of which over-shot the masses and landed quite close in giving good views.
Sadly there was no sign of any cetaceans; a couple of Bottle Nosed Dolphins would have gone down a treat; but no joy! Would have been great to get out on a boat with a video camera – it was a real wildlife spectacular and we wished we could have stayed out longer and enjoyed it for a few more minutes.
Our evening game of footy gave us a single Peregrine.
Remember the gull wing conundrum? Well we now have an answer from Mr Hans Larsson rather abnormal 'normal' 'argenteus' Herring Gull which is what we thought all along but were nowhere near certain. After it being on Bird Forum for 10 days with 325 views and counting and no responses we thought we'd better ask a real expert. Now Wifey has an invite to go photographing Baltic Gulls (L.f.fuscus) next time she's over in Stockholm!

Where to next? Better on Patch 1 and at least more of the same on Patch 2 hopefully.
In the meantime let us know what’s worth getting in frenzy over in your outback.

Sunday 23 January 2011

No twitchin just birdin

The Safari would like to get out early but there's no chance of that cos we have to rustle up these for all day sustenance before heading out. Double yum.

Suitably fortified we headed for our meeting with a group setting up a community farm for the local youngsters and anyone else who's interested..they are lucky to more than likely have Great Crested Newts on their patch which they are happy about as they can educate their visitors about them and the other amphibians that live on site. Just across the road from their field was a flock of 236 Pink Footed Geese and one Mistle Thrush. Another 180 or so looked like they were going to join them but as they started to drop something or someone put them off and they veered away.
Then it was over the river to the bay where the tide was a high one and on the way in. On the road in, going by the unenviable name of Green Dicks Lane, we spotted another flock of Pink Footed Geese, more this time possible over 500.
A concerted scan through them revealed nothing untoward. Their yapping calls got Frank excited thinking they were another dog or two and he let out a huge WOOOOF through the open window. This had the geese on high alert all heads up...nice one Frank all the better to check for an orange bill or a white blase...nothing! A Meadow Pipit (92) called as it flew over, as did three Whooper Swans. In the corner of the field five Fieldfares fed along side a number of Starlings and one Redwing...or was it the missing Dusky Thrush...nahhhh we're just not that lucky.
A few hundred yards later we were looking across the bay. The tide was racing in and the birds were becoming nicely concentrated. Loads of gulls, lots of Shelducks, a 'million' Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Dunlin and Curlews.
Somewhere in there there's a goody. Nothing for it but to give the gulls a good grilling...and...gotcha...
After working the flock from the far left right there in front of us was a crackin adult Mediterranean Gull (93) bird in the book!!! There's sometimes a Yellow Legged Gull at this site but not today, or if there was we didn't see it. We did see a pillard in a microlight (red wings with white trailing edge G-MYVD) buzz the flock and put them all to flight what a tossweed...looked like he dropped to about 50 feet to get 'a good view of them' circled round when they were all in the air and then climbed and went off...oh for a surface to air missile launcher!!!!!!!!!
With the birds now scattered and the the tide just about up we moved round the corner a couple of miles deeper in to the bay. as we got in the Land Rover a flock of about 30 Twite/Linnets flew past when we weren't really watching and certainly not concentrating - if only we'd stayed out another two minutes.
More of the same but even greater numbers, a real wildlife spectacle, the salt marsh was totally covered and the waders, and waterfowl were all afloat waiting for it to drop again. Mallard, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, and yet more Shelduck and Oystercatchers. Pink Feet and 26 Whooper Swans were out there too rubbing shoulders with more marine species like the Great Crested Grebes. A flock of Skylarks worked the edge of the tide as it dropped. As we watched them they were obviously gleaning loads to eat but we couldn't tell what it was they were picking up. A Rock Pipit (94) made itself known as it flew by but we didn't pick it up.
Out in the shallows away to our left a Great Black Backed Gull ripped the innards out of dead sheep. Away out the other way a helpful birder pointed out a large Peregrine sat on the grass taking in the view. A look over the lakes gave us nothing, they were empty probably disturbed by the Sunday hordes.
In the car park this unusual bird was pecking around at food left by those self same hordes...d'yer think we can tick it?
Off inland to have a look for some farmland birds. The easiest place to get them is a feeding station along one of the narrow country lanes. food was there and hence no birds, or at least very few. A flock of a dozen Chaffinches dropped on to the hedge had a look and thought sh*t no food!!!
In the trees at the far end of the track sat a mixed flock of birds, a Mistle Thrush, a Fieldfare and a few more Chaffinches but right there in the middle was a smart bright yellow male Yellowhammer (95). A Sparrowhawk came by and flushed them and that was that, time to make tracks...keeping an eye out over the fields and hedgerows though. Talking of hedgrerows someone has been very heavy handed with the flail since the bad weather thawed...mile upon mile of hedge butchery...if there's one invention we could put back in the box it would be the tractor mounted flail rather than the atom bomb!
Once home we decided to do a bit of wood cutting seeing as how it was still daylight but then the hands started throbbing summat rotten...they're gonna be bad tomorrow and all because of a short drive out.
We could have broken the 100 today with a bit more luck and a bit more seed at the feeding station.
Where to next? More patchy stuff for the rest of the week, could be good as the tides a nice for Patch 2 at lunchtime.
In the meantime let us know what's got you twitchy in your outback.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Still a bit dank

The Safari wasn't able to climb the hill to Patch 1 this morning after a whole night of freezing fog the footpath was like Eddy the Eagle's runway!!!
By lunchtime it had thawed out and was light, which makes a refreshing change, so we had another attempt, successful this time. There was still a fine thin mist everywhere that at any moment could turn back in to the dreaded fog.
Two Peregrines were on the tower, one enjoying a bite to eat. In the park we heard but didn't see a Great Spotted Woodpecker as well as the constant coo-ing from both Woodpigeons and Collared Doves, although there wasn't actually that much bird activity.
We did see our first Daffodils of the 'spring' said very advisedly!!!

A few yards further on a piece of unusually orange 'litter' in the shrubbery by the road caught our attention and delving under he bushes it turned out to be this rather colourful fungus, Honey Fungus? We're about as good with fungi as we are with seaweeds.

A male Sparrowhawk half heartedly chased a Woodpigeon it had flushed, adding another species to the Patch 1 list (27; = Patch 2). A little later a female dived in to tree where several Woodpigeons were hanging out, they left in a clatter of wings while she sat on the same branch smugly preening but didn't stay long enough for us to get the camera activated. Moments later we saw the male chase the female through the trees of the Butterfly Zone, looks like there may well be another nesting attempt this season.
Not a lot else was seen, 12 Magpies were still hanging around Magpie Wood and a Dunnock sang from the Golden Triangle.
Where to next? Off to cross everything that 'Pool beat Sunderland and our other result predictions all go in 'Pool's favour. Should be able to do a bit of safari-ing tomorrow but to where is undecided as yet...depends very much on the visibility biut we can't allow Monika to get too far ahead.
In the meantime let us know if you've been able to see owt in your outback.

Friday 21 January 2011

Vision restored - sort of...

The Safari reluctantly opened the front door at 06.00 this morning but was instantly relieved to be able to across the fog!!!
A slight breeze had picked up over night and banished the pea soup to the annals of history. Not only that it was bringing luscious smells of steak pies and Bourbon biscuits cooking from the bakeries not far away.
Although the moon was full and bright early morning activity hadn’t yet begun. The Peregrine was still on the ledge though and we counted 51 Magpies as we passed the edge of Magpie Wood.
Once in the park Frank’s nose pointed skywards and his little legs moved up a gear – there was the strong pong of Fox in the air and he wanted to find it...we didn’t get sight nor sound of it in the end.
Away to the north, over towards the golf course, and a few hundred yards off patch we heard a Mistle Thrush singing.
On the return leg one of the Song Thrushes was singing at the Golden Triangle, we could still hear it as we got back round to Base Camp.
With the sun inching over the eastern horizon we got out onto a chilly Patch 2 before work. It was still misty over the beach and visibility was poor, there was no chance of seeing anything at sea as a low fog had enveloped the sea itself. Looking south in to the runnel the runs at the base of the seawall there were a lot of Redshanks, we counted approximately 100, the nearest ones were too close to the wall for to be seen in the scope and we didn’t have our bins. About 10 Turnstones were with them too.
With few gulls on this stretch of beach we walked the 20 yards north to scan the other bit of the patch. Wow it was crawling with gulls but not a lot else. A thorough, or at least as thorough as the mist would permit, search through them gave us nothing a Ring Billed Gull too much to ask for? Wouldn’t say no to a Mediterranean Gull lurking amongst the many Black Heads either, got to be something decent with them soon.
A large flock of Oystercatchers flew north a height and about two dozen Sanderlings dropped in at the tide’s edge, we started to count them but two crazy dogs came rushing around chasing the birds their owner was miles away in the distance oblivious to the mayhem his mutts were causing...that put an end to the session as everything was flushed.
Back in the work’s garden a Dunnock sang from the shrubbery away across the green. Will have to have a wander round the gardens and take a look at the feeders Joe Public puts out; should get Greenfinch and House Sparrow on the Patch 2 list if we do. We did and we did...a male House Sparrow and a male Greenfinch were sat within a few inches of each other in the White Poplar bush in the far corner. Whilst waiting for the microwave to go ping at lunchtime we looked out of the window at the gardens and had a bonus bird, a Song Thrush was hopping around the bottom of the Tamarisk bushes catching worms, not a species we see particularly frequently in the work’s garden. These three species bring our Patch 2 total to 27.
In the afternoon we had the good fortune to be invited to a site visit at Magpie Wood and the Golden Triangle looking at its future 'management'. Its good to see it in daylight and under blue skies to boot. We count the Magpies as we walk down the road to the left of the lamp-post.

They are in the tops of the right hand trees in the furthest left clump and the taller ones to the right of the house with the solid brick wall, basically the left hand half of the wood.

This next pic is looking from the opposite direction, you can see that the copse is in a bit of a dip in the ground, its actually quite a steep drop of about 6- 8 feet (2 - 2.5m).

The Golden Triangle is just a few scattered scratty Willow trees and a thick understory of Bramble and Willowherb, the sort of place well meaning Residents Associations want to 'tidy up', however it's far better left as it is...impenetrable!!! Keep the b*ggers OUT.

We collected Frank from his doggy-sitters and as we were loading him in to the back of the car a large female Sparrowhawk flew over upsetting a sizeable flock of Starlings. A few minutes later as we approached the turning for Base Camp a small male nippedover the road in front of us and away between the houses.

Where to next? Weekend Willow Tit/Waxwings perhaps and we have a work site visit to a new site not far away on Sunday morning.

In the meantime let us know if the fog has lifted in your outback

Thursday 20 January 2011

Thwarted in no uncertain terms

The Safari woke up this morning to a thick blanket of freezing fog. The thermometer was showing a return to the pre Christmas chill at - 5ÂșC – marvellous!!!
The pavements were like a skating rink, even Frank’s four hairy paws were sliding about beneath him. We slithered around Patch 1 as quickly as we could, a few Robins twittered but not as many as on recent safaris. A count of the roosting Magpies came to 41.
The full moon was shiny brightly through the fog in the dark depths of the park casting an eerie light and weird shadows around the place, rather beautiful and serene.
Returning past Magpie Wood the fog had lifted and we could see that the Peregrine hadn’t moved since we saw it up there while we were playing footy yesterday tea-time. Within a few minutes the fog had come down thick again and we could no longer see the tower never mind the Peregrine sat near the top of it.
No chance of any Little Gulls, or anything else for that matter, being seen at Patch 2 because from the office window we couldn’t see Patch 2! Our count of either six or 12 Little Gulls yesterday was easily beaten by JP who had over 30. Bizarrely ace sea-watcher BM over on the South-side at the same time didn’t see any at all so they must have been very local to us this side of the river! JP also had two Harbour Porpoises later in the afternoon a little further up the coast past the town centre. Botanists/ecologists have you got your copy of his very excellent field guide yet?
Reports also came in of Waxwings being about in several places in town over the last couple of here’s hoping...
Even by lunchtime there was no sign that the fog was going to lift but we were still determined to get out and have a look to see if anything could be seen. Visibility was less than 100 yards perhaps less than 50 at times.

We had a chat to a fisherman who was packing up as the tide was now dropping he’d had nothing but lost a Dab and told us that the dead fish we’d spotted on the beach yesterday were Flounders. He also mentioned that one of his friends saw a seal yesterday (The Safari’s note - probably a Grey Seal). After talking to him we decided to take a pic looking down the slade towards the beach to show you just how bad conditions were for sea watching, couldn’t even see the sea! The bottom of this slade is where we found and filmed the Sea Mouse yesterday.

Looking at the fisherman’s mess he or that which his colleagues had left behind we noticed a small clump of seaweed that had got caught on the line and been reeled in, it was a piece of Sea Oak, a grand name for a rather small slender seaweed.

On closer inspection we saw that towards the end of the frond there was another seaweed growing epiphytically on it...absolutely no idea what this one might be but we don’t think it is Polysiphonia lanosa which tends to be found on Knotted Wrack...any seaweed experts out there in Blogland???

A wander along the wall to see if anything was visible resulted in us coming across a roost of Redshank, 10 went past us, then going down the first set of steps we saw another nine roosting in the gloom whilst photographing them we had another 11 go past out of the cloud one of which was one of the nine, 29 altogether if our maths is right.

With visibility getting no better we called it a day...with our back leaning on the wall we took a pic of our offices behind the Mirror Ball, you can just about see the building.

Where to next? Won’t matter if the fog doesn’t lift - wont be able to see anything no matter where we safari to.
In the meantime let us know how thick the fog is in your outback.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Great gulls but the ‘wrong’ ones

The Safari and Frank bumped into Blue again last night who had managed to get ‘out’ and was as ferocious as a whole pack of African Hunting Dogs! Sadly he took us by surprise and we were unable to get a pic or clip of video for you. Crikey he’s feisty.
No Peregrine on the ledge last night and we didn’t get round to Patch 1 this morning, taking Wifey off to the airport for her Scandinavian trip instead – betcha she’s forgotten to take her camera and won’t be able to get us any Stockholm waterfront gull pics.
At Patch 2 were once again able to get out before work and have a ten minute shuffy – oh to be able to get a full hour or two in...Conditions were good with reasonable light and little wind giving a flatish sea. The initial scan gave us nothing out of the ordinary a few Cormorants were fishing in a narrow strip and a few gulls wheeled about above them. It was then we noticed something was afoot! Most of the gulls were Lesser Black Backs which have been the least numerous of the regular five species (Black Headed, Common, Herring, Lesser Black Back and Great Black Back for none-UK readers) in the area in recent weeks. Then a stream of more Cormorants started to arrive and subsequently the gull activity increased. Half a dozen Great Black Backs joined the throng.
Beyond the activity a flock of 11 Red Throated Divers flew high to the south, with two more and two more again a little later, there were also several scattered about on the water, at least 20 in all. Two speeding distant white dots were auks of one species or the other, another was closer in but still unidentifiable, after a little while a fourth gave itself up as a Razorbill.
Whilst watching the growing feeding frenzy, (still more Cormorants were arriving mostly from out to sea to the north-west [if they only fly a foot above the waves how do they see the others sat in the water feeding and know where to go?], up to at least 50 now), a flock of about 45 Pink Footed Geese flew low over the water through the scope’s field of view much closer in, looking up we saw there was another slightly larger flock higher up above them which we had missed, so over a 100 in all.
Back at the fishing zone a Kittiwake caught our attention then a smaller gull too. A Little Gull (91), we weren’t expecting that! But wait; there were more coming from the south and briefly joining in but not stopping, we had at least six as they wheeled around, some alighting on the water where they were lost in the wavelets. Eventually they moved on. Later a similar number (re)appeared, were they the same ones which had gone round in a loop or new ones coming up from the south? If they were new ones we’d had at least a dozen. So seven species of gulls before nine o’clock in the morning - Nice one but no Mediterraneans or Slaty Backs unless some or all of the Lesser Black Backs were but they were too far way to tell...yeah right!!!
By lunchtime the tide was on the ebb and the line of Cormorants had drifted a little further out, there were fewer of them too. Two of the Little Gulls were still out there until they too drifted in to the haze and were lost to view. Not a lot else happening, some of the Red Throated Divers were still about including one quite close in. Common Scoter numbers were so low we almost didn’t mention them! Once the beach had started to show gulls began to arrive from their roost to the south of us but by then it was time to go back inside and put our nose back on the grindstone – work deffo is the bane of the gulling classes.
Going back to the Slaty Backed Gull and whether it is genuine or 'just' a hybrid, here's a couple of possibilities:-
In this scenario one of the grand parents is a Vega Gull (for example), making one parent a hybrid which then back-crosses according to its 'type.

In the next scenario the original hybridisation was in the great grand parents generation so one of the four grandparents is a hybrid.

Certainly if the latter is the case would we ever know? There would probably only be the tiniest feature that wasn't 'quite right'. So can you tick it or not, assuming you've actually seen it of course? Perhaps none of them are full species yet and we've caught them in the act of differentiation with only Great Black Backed Gull making the 'leap'...well almost; apparently it's still a Herring Gull that has evolved a slightly different, but unique enough, mate selection which has caused it to become 'almost' a full species in its own right. All of which means we're back to the sixties when there were just 'Herring' Gulls and Great Black Backed Gulls and the easy to pick out but technically no different Lesser Black need to waste our time hunting for those Yellow Legged or Caspian Gulls which may or probably may not be lurking in amongst the thousands of Herring Gulls on the beach (no need to check for 'argentatus' characters either...phewww).

Enough genetic nonsense - on with this arvo's news. We did a beach survey looking for Native Oysters, giving ourselves one hour to search the various strandlines. But before we even reached the car park we'd seen this Oyster Mushroom growing in the Raised Garden.

Once on the beach we did find our quarry, actually we didn't; we got chatting to an elderly couple who were out for a stroll, the gentleman had a passing interest in fishing and beach life. He got separated from his wife who'd gone on ahead and as he hurried on to catch her up he called out he'd found what we were looking for...well done that man as it turned out to be the only one seen during the session.

Other stuff on the beach included five of these rather impressive jellyfish, not sure of their ID at the moment, they could be Octopus Jellies but seemed a lot more solid and 'formed' than those we saw a few weeks ago. The second one looks like someone or something has tried to turn it inside out.

Seaweeds included this Spiral Wrack.

Knotted Wrack

The same but in close up

We think this is 'ordinary' Bladder Wrack with the pairs of bladders, must do more sea weed swotting.
There were a few Sea Hearts, the shells of hairy Sea Urchins. Most were damaged as they are very delicate but this one was complete and still had some of the hairs.

Last and by no means least was this still alive Sea Mouse. Look at the colours of those hairs!
It was so much alive that we took a short bit of video complete with running commentary...

Where to next? More of the same without the walk on the beach...oh that means those bally gulls again we hear you sigh...

In the meantime let us know what's hybridised with what in your outback

Tuesday 18 January 2011


The Safari was out last night on the late constitutional when it happened!
At the top of the hill lives a little dog with a lot of attitude, more than enough attitude for one so small. He’s called Blue, think of him as a cross between Denis the Menace’s Gnasher and Cato from the Pink Panther. Blue’s garden is raised above the pavement so he always has height advantage despite his small stature, he appears barking stridently from between the bushes looking down on any dogs passing by, all teeth and voice, then he shoots round to the next gap in the bushes and does the same.

Blue is 15 years old and still game on for a fight! Some dogs are terrified by these sudden outbursts but Frank has sort of got used to it and barks his deep gruff bark back at Blue. When they both reach the gate Blue is standing on tippy-toes looking through the bars and his teeth are at the same height as Frank’s nose – well what a hullaballoo – enough to wake the dead. You’d think Frank would be frightened but every time we walk past at night he’s looking for Blue, expecting him to appear from between the bushes and if he doesn’t Frank has a definite look of disappointment on his face cos his friend wasn’t out to play, as if to say “where was he?”. If Blue gets out, or falls off the wall in his excitement, he’s all over Frank snapping and yapping acting like a Pit Bull on steroids, Frank just turns his rump to the onslaught then sits down as if to say “OK OK I can hear give over...”.The little fella really is a character. If we can get a bit of video we will cos it’s quite amusing.
All this commotion is over in less than a minute but even in that short time the nearby curtains are twitching. We walk hurriedly on and have a look for the Peregrine, yes it was there last night, this morning too. Exactly 50 Magpies were counted this morning.
The title of today's missive refers to Obsessive Compulsive (Disorder) Gulling but on our early morning Patch 2, yes we got out first thing due to the lack of cloud making it much lighter earlier, there was a distinct lack of gulls to obsessively and compulsively look through. The tide was on the rise and had already covered the beach so there were only a few gulls loafing around close to the wall. Out at sea we had rafts of three and five Great Black Backs and another three flying around. A white dot whanged past in the distance, an auk sp. Six Red Throated Divers were scattered around and a pair and a single Great Crested Grebes floated around in between the loafing gulls. A flock somewhere in the region of 70 Sanderlings (P2 #22) shot past probably going to roost over the tide in the estuary. Another birder/naturalist had seen a couple of Harbour Porpoises from the other end of town yesterday but none were showing down on the Patch this morning.
Work commitments sadly prevented a low tide gull fest this lunchtime but we have a mission to complete for some offshore conservation tomorrow so we should be able to have a few minutes trawl through the gulls on the beach. Yep we’re desperate to connect with a Caspo, although we’d certainly be happy enough with a Med or a Yellow Legged Gull...any time soon would do.
Came across this mDNA genetic analysis of the LWHG complex via the Slaty Backed Gull discussion. What a crackin read – took me back 30 something years to my days as an Ecology undergraduate when we briefly looked at evolutionary ecology and speciation; back then there was only one species of ‘Herring Gull’ between here and the moon – how wrong those old field guides were. Took a while to remember (via Google, naturally!) what the difference between allopatry and sympatry is. Notice in the article there is no reference to Thayers, California or Yellow Footed Gulls so where do they fit in to the overall scheme of things...And now Great Black Backed Gull is just a big dark Herring Gull - whatever next? - In the world of LWHGs who knows!!!
Where to next? Just told ya!
In the meantime let us know where the gull fest is in your outback, unless you’re in Australia of course as you only have three to choose from.