Thursday 31 March 2011

Where'd that wind come from?

The Safari went out on to Patch 1 this morning in heavy drizzle driven by a strong but warm southerly wind - quiet unpleasant despite it being mild, although we haven't had much rain recently. Last night we had a Goldcrest singing in the park and today we were determined to count the Robins - four in the park and two more in the Golden Triangle. Single Song Thrushes were singing at each site too and the local Blackbirds continue to be deafening. The Rangers had read somewhere in a national newspaper that Blackbirds had suffered a serious decline - dunno what the full article was about...not flippin Magpies again we hope - but a quick look at the BTO trends figures shows a continuous and statistically significant increase over the last 15 years after a decline from the sixties, so where this journo got his information from is a mystery. A Toad was in more or less the same place as the Hedgehog was yesterday and will be recorded on the new FARG website in due course.

Two Waxwings reappeared in the office grounds good to get them on the Patch before they disappear, if there were nine a few days ago where are the other seven? Can't be far away if the two are part of the same flock. Back at Base Camp a Great Tit was seen carrying nest material in to our House Sparrow terrace - they have nested in there before, as have Blue Tits but we doubt if any House Sparrows have ever even seen it!

Then it was off to the neature reserve for a bit of botanising. The Cowslips are always a welcome sight but we were after different quarry.

Snake's Head Fritillaries are what we were after - OK so they aren't native but they are beginning to put on a good show, there were about 150 open flower spikes today with more to come.

whilst photographing the plants a Willow Warbler (138, 72) sang quietly from the nearby bushes. A couple of hours looking from the southern side of the reserve gave us a nice Little Grebe that would come quite close enough to be snapped unlike these fine drake Shovelers.

It was hard to tell which raptor was most at ease in the strong wind, the stonking male Kestrel hovering over the island attained 7 seconds without moving his wings, some going in the gusty conditions and his head never wavered, or the pair of Buzzards playing swooping and rolling over the fields to the east.

At the Feeding Station we watched a Woodpigeon pretend to be a parrot as it hovered and slithered and contorted into a position where it could reach the food.

Once it had eaten all it could reach it swapped to the other table and did the whole performance again. This time showing his versitility by doing it the 'other way round'.

A female Great Spotted Woodpecker arrived for a few moments allowing us to rattle off a few pics of which this one was by far the best as the pesky thing wouldn't keep still.

Where to next? Might be gone a for a while.

In the meantime let us know what's snaffling all the scram in your outback

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Coulda Drowned!

The Safari went for a walk on the beach last night with Wifey and Frank. We saw a strip of washed up shells and went to investigate. Almost immediately we found a Native Oyster then another and then some more. Its hard to tell if they are recent or old, ie sub-fossil, even though they are only small. The one on the far right is probably recent as it still shows its ridges but the one right of centre could be quite old as these have been worn off. We are interested in them as many years ago there was a commercial fishery for them but that had been all but fished out by about the early to mid 1800s. The Oysters eaten after that were ‘imported’ from Anglesey off the Welsh coast, apparently so many were eaten that the discarded shells were ‘a public nuisance’ on the beach. Hence the need to know whether or not the washed up shells are from this time or indicate a small population still hanging on out at sea. If we do have a small population then that would be good news as it would help towards the declaration of a Marine Conservation Zone offshore. We have to say though that these look a bit small for eating unless the punters in those days were being ripped off... Then we realised that the tide was racing up a runnel behind us...ooohhhh errrrr and we had to wade/stumble gingerly bare foot through the slippiest slimiest fine silt imaginable. Not surprisingly the Redshanks liked it, their footprints were everywhere. One thing we now know is that if we’re going on the beach more often we’ll have to harden our feet up. They have become far too soft and sensitive for walking over the pebbles after being caged up in boots all through the long winter. OK we could wear wellies but that’s not the same as feeling the warm sand between your toes is it? The fine silt is due to the offshore winds, when the tide comes in it is calm and the suspended solids get a chance to settle out, normally the waves keep them in least it is only silt now, not too long ago it would have been something far more unpleasant with the contents of thousands of toilets being flushed straight into the sea – and people swam in it in their millions in the resort’s heyday – yuk yuk and double yuk...thankfully our beach is now cleaner than its been for at least 100 years.

A call into the supermarket on the way back to Base Camp saw us and Frank stay in the car while Wifey nipped in for the provisions. We saw a small male Sparrowhawk fly over with a bulging crop, a opportunist migrant or a local that knows where the Starlings hang out? The shop is only 100 yards from the coast. The Starlings were unimpressed by its presence and for a minute or so their alarm calls drowned out the traffic noise on the nearby busy main road. Also of note was a 2CY Herring Gull flying as though it was having a fit or couldn’t get its left wing to work properly and its legs were dangling limply too; never seen anything flying like that that before. The house opposite the car park had a Starling’s nest under the eaves as we saw one dive under them and not come out.

This morning on Patch 1 we attempted to count the Robins but got side tracked by a Woodcock, would have been nice if it was roding but we only saw it flying around Woodpigeon Wood then again a minute or so later when it dropped into the bottom of the Butterfly Zone. Wonder if they have a ‘genetic memory’ that brings them to this site as it was quite a sizeable dense damp woodland/shrubbery when it was the Council’s tree nursery before it was built on. Our Robin count was further hampered due to the deafening assault on our ears by the local Blackbirds – there are plenty! All we could manage was a measly two Robins – must try harder! We hoped we’d see the Woodcock roding on our return through the Butterfly Zone but didn’t – no sign of it, however it looked like someone had put a large rock right in the middle of the track – it was still dark, just after 06.00, Frank sniffed, the rock snuffled back at him – our first Hedgehog of the year and good to see this one at least has survived the coldest winter for over 100 years.Patch 2 was grey and duff and only gave us two Red Throated Divers of any note. Later whilst out teaching a group of children about erosion, deposition and the risk of flooding in the rain we spotted a crackin’ male Wheatear on the sea wall.

After lunch we spent a bit of time looking at the shells on the beach and the eagle eyed children soon found, amongst a multitude of other species and nice pieces of Ice Age Limestone and Granite, these two whoppers, an Iceland Cyprine and a, much larger than last night's, Native Oyster.

The children are going to study the former under a magniying glass and let us know how old it is - we're guessing somewhere around 75 years.

A fisherman had thrown away some Lugworms - what a waste, but it was an opportunity to have a close look at these extremely important animals that much of the lower beach ecology depends on.

Despite the cool persistant drizzle a good day was had by all.

We were hoping to go botanising but that same cool persistant drizzle put us off - might try tomorrow.

Where to next? A day off but with a fair few chores to do so perhaps just the nature reserve which could be good.

In the meantime let us know what's woken from hibernation in your outback

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Well we mist it (them) yesterday alright

The Safari is a bit disillusioned with yesterday’s thick mist. As we were sat in the office looking out of the window barely able to see the garden wall a few miles up the coast a couple of Ospreys were noted – did they fly past above our low cloud? Once again we took advantage of the longer evenings and took Frank down to the estuary...he loves it there. We do a bit of a walk there-turn round-and walk back job and at our end point a few larger wading birds were not too far out on the mudflats. A quick shuffy with the bins got us half a dozen Black Tailed Godwits (136), can’t believe it’s the end of March and we’d not had these already. Concentrating on the godwits we didn’t spot the Ringed Plover until we were sifting through the photos back at Base Camp. Not much else doing on the river, a few Shelducks, two Curlews flew round our heads giving Wifey excellent views when we whistled their call to them and a pair of Teal were disturbed off the marsh by one of the multitude of dogs that are taken out there well away from the path. Later that night Blue was out and in fine snarling form launching his attacks on frank from the gaps between the bushes along his garden wall. His owner, a lovely lady, said “he won’t bite”, as we put our hand out towards him – WRONG!!! Instead of sniffing the back of our hand he grabbed it HARD, fortunately taking more glove than skin, and gave it a good old chomp and a severe shaking – OWWWW that’ll teach us!!! We had a quality bruise when we got up.

This morning the Patch 1 dawn chorus didn’t seem quite as loud as yesterday, maybe the still cold air amplified the sound more, but it was still impressive. We stopped in the Butterfly Zone and closed our eyes for a minute or two (or did we just fall asleep on our feet) and stood and listened – truly wonderful – but still no Chiffchaffs! We did get the impression that there are more Robins than we first thought so a count will have to be done.

Patch 2 was very gloomy, almost as bad as yesterday but we did give it the benefit of the doubt and are glad we did. Visibility was poor and it was darker than yesterday, but on the edge of our focusable vision we saw three Common Scoters which were joined from beneath by about a dozen more, do they hunt in packs or spread out underwater as individuals, which ever it is they all broke the surface together – perhaps those shells take some herding and running down? A pair of Herring Gulls bathed close enough for a good inspection of their primary patterns, the male having much more white in the wing tip than the female – is this a regular occurrence? We can feel a photo survey of the town’s chimney pot nesting gulls coming on....anyone with a camera and thick skin is welcome to help out...”No Officer I wasn’t taking photos into the bedroom windows – honest...”

Just as we were thinking about calling it a day three geese flew by going south, a big pale one, a Canada Goose, very unusual here and Patch 2 tick number 45; the other two became three as another caught them up, dark bellied Brent Geese (137, 46)! Weird as at Hilbre Island yesterday there was a Canada Goose with their pale bellied Brent Geese but at least we’ve now got our annual sighting of this species for the patch.

At lunchtime it was still very grey but despite the low cloud we could feel the warmth from the sun. The light was pretty good to and we had no trouble identifying 10 or more auks fishing some distance out as Razorbills. From the way the gulls were behaving there must have been quite a shoal of Sprats or other small fish. They were plunge diving along a narrow strip at about half a mile long. The Razorbills were rather more successful bringing up fish for a bit of courtship feeding or pair bonding. There was a good bit if bill tapping going on too.

A fisherman tending a long net kept the beach bird free but further down we counted 41 Oystercatchers. This net thing seems to become more popular and we resent people coming on to ‘our’ beach to take ‘our’ fish – how very dare they, the thieving ratbags can’t they leave anything alone!

Another advert for an event for your diaries –

On Friday 15th April the Sand Dunes Project Officer is holding a training event to learn about the scarce Vernal Mining Bee, Colletes cunicularius, which can be found on Lytham St Anne’s Nature Reserve. Listed in the Red Data Books, this species is confined to sand-dunes in northwest England and a few places in Wales. Nicked from Phil Smith over on the South-side – ‘About the same size as a Honey Bee, but stockier and dark-brown, it is a “solitary” bee which forms loose colonies, tunnelling into south-facing dune slopes and busily collecting pollen, mainly from willow catkins’.

Dr Carl Clee from Liverpool Museum’s Entomology Dept has been invited to lead the day...Meet at the reserve’s Information Centre on Clifton Drive at 10.00am...see you there... Where to next? On the beach for part of the day tomorrow perhaps followed by a bit of botanising. In the meantime let us know what’s been lurking in the corner of your outback.

Monday 28 March 2011

What’s mist is mystery.

The Safari took advantage of the change to British Summer Time yesterday evening and headed back out to Chat Alley for the high tide in the hope of catching up with a Harbour Porpoise or two. No such luck the wind had swung round 180┬║ and was coming off the sea making it choppy, the day’s warmth meant there was a thick low hazy mist not far off shore and we were looking directly into the sun. Still we gave the best part of an hour with only a very close Meadow Pipit for our efforts...and no camera!!! Nothing out to at all. However we did see a fish of about a foot long leap clean out of the water. Speaking to one of the fishermen there have been several Whiting caught in the last week or so which probably explains the increase in Harbour Porpoise sightings, from the little information on the web about the diet of UK porpoises it seems that Whiting is one of their most preferred prey items This morning, back in the pre-dawn darkness, there was a thick mist and a grass frost. Best of all was the loudest and fullest dawn chorus we’ve heard for a long time which included two Song Thrushes, one in the Golden Triangle and the other in the Butterfly Zone, but still no Chiffchaffs which shows how isolated this small patch of habitat is and consequently how weird that last week’s male Pheasant should find it. Talking of butterflies we had the Butterfly Zone’s first Small Tortoiseshell of the year yesterday arvo and on the way back to Base Camp got spotted by CR. No Patch 2 early morning safari today...too much fog; visibility was down to about 100 yards. By lunchtime the sun had burnt off much of the mist although there was still no horizon and visibility was far from good. The tide was well out but the beach mostly empty. 18 Turnstones footled along the outfall pipe with a single Redshank there too. 30 Oystercatchers fed in-between the resting gulls to the south but with the bright sun looking that way wasn’t fun. Out on the sea two Grey Seals were pick of the thin bunch, one distant and one close in but away to the south. Also very distant, on the edge of visibility, was a small flock of Common Scoters and three Red Breasted Mergansers. Nearer were three Great Crested Grebes, two displaying the third trying to muscle in on the action. A Cormorant came to the surface and swallowed something sizeable judging by the bulge in its throat and like yesterday we saw a fish of about a foot long jump out of the water and land with a splash. If it was a Whiting sadly there didn’t appear to be a Harbour Porpoise within ten miles. With time pushing on and it getting towards the end of the March and the year’s first quarter how are we progressing towards our target of 200 species of birds by the year end? Saturday’s Sandwich Terns were the 135th species to hit the pages of the notebook this year leaving 65 still required for the 200. A quick shuffy through the field guide to check what’s still available suggested we won’t quite make it unless we get lucky or win the Lottery to be able to do a bit of twitching, or afford a at least couple of further flung safaris...coulda really done with that Lesser Spotted Woodpecker last weekend! But we have the family trip right down to the Devon/ Cornwall border area coming soon followed by a safari with our birding compadr├ęs we were with at Moore somewhere northwards to look forward to so we may just sneak it. Patch 1 and Patch 2 are currently neck and neck with 42 & 44 respectively, the garden has 25, which acre for acre isn’t bad at all compared to the patches particularly the several square miles of Patch 2, and at the small but perfectly formed nature reserve we have 71. We haven’t kept a Chat Alley list but might wade back through the pages of scrawl to see what we come up with. Where to next? More of the same with hopefully less mist. In the meantime let us know what’s got you all misty eyed in your outback and enjoy this sequence of yesterday’s Great Black Backed Gull taking flight.

Sunday 27 March 2011

The wonder stuff

The Safari watched The Wonders of the Universe programme last night and got to wondering...dangerous stuff!!!

If there are an estimated 100 billion stars in our Milky Way if only one in a thousand have planets (and it could be more than that the are they are finding them these days) and of those only one in thousand have planets suitable to support life that still leaves 100,000 living planets in our galaxy. The there are an estimated (how do they estimate numbers like these?) 200 billion other galaxies like ours...making 20 million billion other planets with life (2 x 10p16!!! - if the Safari's maths is right) When you get numbers this big chances are we are not alone...and then there's the 'other' universes...well there is no proof or disproof ours is the only one!
Back to reality a bit sharpish we think!
We wonder with all that other life out there why we need scumsh*tes that sit on the bench and chuck their litter down the cliff when a perfectly good bin is only a few paces away.

It was back to Chat Alley almost as early as the ringers get up! Very quiet for the most part, we expected a bit more in the way of passage and with a flat calm sea mammals were always on the cards. An 'alba' Wagtail went over which wasn't the precursor to the migration floodgates. Looking out to sea at regular intervals gave us nothing at all until a loose flock of five Sandwich Terns (135)went past. none migrants were represented by two House Sparrows in a small flock of Starlings. 51 Redshanks fed along the edge of a runnel while 14 Eiders, mostly males, loafed quietly on the gentle swell a couple of hundred yards offshore. Later two more males flew north. A Grey Seal very briefly broke the mammal's duck - not far out near the Eiders it bobbed up bottled for a minute or so and promptly disappeared never to be seen again unless it was the same one we saw at the end of the safari a mile or more to the south after about 10 minutes concentrated scanning that one too popped up close in shore - how do they sneak about so well? Three Sanderlings came and joined the Redshanks which by now were far more spread out as the dropping tide revealed more feeding opportunities. Out at sea two Red Throated Divers headed north the second about quarter of a mile behind the other. The call of a Turnstone had us looking down over the wall to see one fly past over the beach to join some of the Redshanks. We were out so early it was only on the return leg that we saw our first jogger and Meadow Pipit but had already been accosted twice by the dog wardens on their publicity drive. Another wagtail, this time definitely a Pied Wagtail flew past and then we spotted a Meadow Pipit on the wall with another different bird half hidden behind it - a Wheatear which obligingly flew over onto the cliffs. A couple more Meadow Pipits were recorded and then a third doing some song flights. Off shore a pair of Great Crested Grebes displayed to each other and later we were to find a second pair. Then it was time to look at some gulls...for a change??? This one is a first winter moulting in to first summer ie 2CY Herring Gull. With a tail and rump pattern like that it's never going to be an American Herring Gull.

a duuf shot of an adult Lesser Black Backed Gull.
Then we went down on the beach and got close to this monster.
After yesterday's first ever pic of a Great Black Backed Gull and only a duff one at that we thought we'd try harder and we're quite pleased with the results of which these two are the pick of about twenty decent shots.

Maybe we shouldn't have cropped off the reflection - might try it again later and show you tomorrow.

Here is the wall from the beach, earlier we'd kicked a small stone through one of those drainage ports and accidentally flushed 10 Turnstones, oops sorry guyus!

Not sure what the species of green seaweed is but the black rock the wall is built of is basalt.

Probably quarried from the now World Heritage Site, the Giant's Causway in Northern Ireland - we'll check for you.

Then the most wonderous thing happened, as we left the promeade and headed to the Land Rover we came across a female Pheasant...well never in our wildest dreams did we think we get this species on our Chat Alley list...

For those in the geographical know that is the Savoy Hotel in the background - where had that flown in from crossing a mile or more of inner city concrete?

Lastly we watched and lisstened to the gulls back at Base Camp hoping they'd find a raptor or two going over, they didn't but they did find Base Camp's first Heron of the year, which was followed by the first (belated) Dunnock. Later we watched a pair of Long Tailed Tits collecting cobwebs from around the garage windows which was nice.

These three Herring Gulls are different individuals from the office roof roost. Look closely at the wingtip patterns.

This pair were displaying/pair bonding very high up hence the rather duff shots but the bigger male has very pale wingtips in comparison to hhis much more normal mate.

Where to next? Back to the patches

In the meantime let us know what you're wondering about in your outback