Tuesday 31 January 2012

A nothing much appnin sort of a day

The Safari’s early morning venture forth from the front door still has no hint of daylight in the eastern sky. A Blackbird was first bird heard today with the usual Robins here and there. At Magpie Wood the light (or lack of it) was again poor and we could only see 38 and some uncounted Woodpigeons. As we tried to count the Magpies we heard the Peregrine calling but again it was out of sight ‘round the back’ of the tower.
The only Song Thrush heard this morning was the one at the entrance to the park.
The morning Patch 2 safari was a gloomy mizzly affair, in fact it was so gloomy that we didn’t get out until about a couple of hours after our normal pre-cuppa boot-up-the-puter time. We couldn’t see far through the gloom and only found a few Common Scoters and nine Great Crested Grebes. There was little on the beach either just a few gulls and Oystercatchers with a handful of Redshanks and two Turnstones.
The mist hadn’t lifted by lunchtime and there was only about the same to report from the beach and sea.
By way of something different to regale you with a Great Black Backed Gull and a Carrion Crow were taking it in turns to rip strips of flesh of the remains of a large fish. Looked as though it was either an ex Cod or Salmon. Nothing for it but to grab the wellies and camera and get onto the beach to investigate!
And on the beach there was plenty more to investigate once the fish had been identified as a probably a Salmon by the look of those teeth on the tongue.

Confirmation may well come from our marine biologist friend and/or her fisherman hubby tomorrow.
A bundle of seaweed was wrapped around what looked (and felt) like engineering swarf but also had a Mermaids Purse – the egg case of the Small Spotted Cat Shark – attached. The opening on the left-hand side bears witness to the successful hatching of the baby fish.

Nearby a Carrion Crow investigated likely looking items as it patrolled the sands. 

Further along the beach was another runnel with a few Redshanks and gulls probing about but surrounded by resting Oystercatchers – a fine photo opportunity we thought. As we approached they kept flushing a little further down the beach always just out of range. However we did notice some smaller waders on the far edge of the runnel and in the bad light at first assumed them to be Sanderlings but as we got closer it became evident they were six Dunlin (111) and were so engrossed in feeding that they allowed a quite close approach. Despite our proximity to them and small items were being swallowed at a rate of knots we couldn’t make out what it was they were feeding on....perhaps we should have taken the bins as well as the camera.

On the walk back to the office another Patch 2 tick (#39) was added to the tally when we heard a Curlew calling from out of the grey.
So not a very promising day turned out to be far more interesting than we first imagined...proving if you look long or hard enough you’ll always find something worth looking at.
A quick Big Garden Bird Watch update now :- our hour’s watch was easily eclipsed by former RSPB Conservation Director Mark Avery who had more Goldfinches than we had birds in total. His ‘unusual’ visitor was a female Brambling while ours was the Coal Tit. (Bet he didn’t have real exotica like Herring Gulls either!). All this pales into insignificance when compared to our friend’s youngest daughter’s watch. She’s only eight and sat there diligently watching their tiny back yard in the depths of inner-‘city’ Blackpool for just one single solitary bird...but what was it?...dunno yet her dad had forgotten to fetch her completed sheet in to work.
Finally a reminder that Thursday (we have to present a talk on the coastal wildlife tomorrow night so might not be here) is World WetlandsDay and we hope to be organising a survey  of a small wetland not far away with the aim of recording the presence of Water Voles there – can’t see them disappearing over the winter and it would be nice to actually see one rather than relying on latrines and nibbled vegetation to prove their presence...you never know...just how long is it since we last heard that diagnostic ‘ploppp’ – 25 – 30 years; more???!!!  Talking of coastal wildlife if anyone reading this rubbish is booked on the Shoresearch event with LB this weekend we’ll see you there.
Where to next? More of the chilly gloomy same probably.
In the meantime let us know who's got teeth on their tongue in your outback.

Monday 30 January 2012

Weird or wot

The Safari stepped out onto a chilly world this morning. Carefully noting the Robins for a change we counted eight on our shortened version of Patch 1; when oh when will it be dry enough to get round the whole of the patch - a coupla three more good frosts should dry it up a bit! Surprisingly the Golden Triangle’s Song Thrush was more of a Silent Thrush than a Song Thrush today but another (was it him?) was singing further away across the nearby offices’ car-park. The now usual one was in full song and extremely loud from behind the houses at the entrance to the park. An unknown number of Magpies were roosting in Magpie Wood, the light was awful and it was difficult to see them. No sleepy Peregrines were seen this morning; the wind coming from the east probably had them round the other side of the tower.
Back at Base Camp an unseen Blackbird was giving it plenty from a neighbouring garden and further down the hill, somewhere towards CR’s place, a Mistle Thrush was in song too – a three thrush morning at last! Also at last was a singing but unseen Dunnock (P1 #24) in a garden on the other side of the main road – a long time coming for a Patch 1 year tick!

 Pre Patch 2 sunrise through the oblong window
At Patch 2 the tide was well out but there was little on the beach. The gulls were checked but no ‘odd-balls’ were found. A few Oystercatchers fed on tide-line shells and we counted eight Knots down by the outfall pipe which was more or less devoid of birds as we could see one of the Mussel pickers working there. But on closer inspection ‘he’ turned out to be one of the weirdest sights we’ve seen on the beach in a long time if ever – a young lady immaculately dressed for work on a Monday morning – what we thought was a yellow hi –vis jacket was the low early morning sun catching her bright white coat and her wellies were high heeled full length boots – not the attire you’d expect to find someone wearing 500 yards down the beach  in subzero temperatures at daybreak.
A few uncounted Redshanks an ‘normal’ gulls worked their way through the nearest runnel which sported a rather snazzy looking delta – a perfect example of the real thing in miniature – any geography teachers out are welcome to the original pic if they so wish.

The gull pics were playing with the settings on the new camera- they were along way off even for a 30x 720mm equivalent lens!
A peculiar yellowy haze hung over the sea making the visibility poor. Common Scoters were well down in number and we could only find a single Great Crested Grebe and two Red Throated Divers. A few Cormorants fished just off shore but really we were hoping for a mammal, either a Grey Seal or a Harbour Porpoise (or something else!) in the flat calm conditions.
We didn’t see any mammals at lunchtime either, excluding hominids and canids that is, but the Common Scoters were back with a vengeance, over 1000 of them! A good count of 15 Great Crested Grebes easily outnumbered just three Red Throated Divers. Three distant gulls coming towards us from way out to sea, in sort of a line astern formation, turned out to be an 1st winter Herring Gull, an adult Common Gull and – YES - a 1st winter Little Gull (110, P2 #36). As they neared the coast the most interesting of the three turned and headed north soon disappearing in to the haze while the far commoner two came in and landed on the beach a few hundred yards to our right :-(  
Our mystery fungus has been identified by those clever iSpot people as a Velvet Shank – another ‘first’ for the Fylde!
As for lists of new stuff we found this . How many species are on your ‘everything except bacteria’ list??? We’re off to do some counting...might be gone a while...
Where to next? More of the same but we don't want to be moaning about the visibility again
In the meantime let us know who's looking decidedly out of place in your outback.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Northwards for a tick-fest

The safari doesn't mean the type of tick we got covered in along the nature trail we tried one morning in Florida a couple of years ago - thankfully...they were flippin 'orrible!
We started at the furthest north point of our day's safari where on the pool we had a Little Grebe (100), not much else there though so we set off for a look at the creeks. Unfortunately a geek with two dogs was on the marsh and there was absolutely nothing to be seen! The disappointed walk back to the Land Rover gave us a Teal, Redshank and Wigeon in the roadside creek but there was no sign of the Spotted Redshank that is regularly seen here. before we loaded up we had another look on the pool and were glad we did as there was a second Little Grebe but better was a male Goosander (101) at the back of the lake posed nicely an adjacent Shelduck.
Working our way southwards with the rising tide we stopped at the field by the car park and soon picked out the family of European White fronted Geese (102). Although a bit distant they were a little spooky when dog walkers, cyclists etc went past but stayed put for some record shots - more and better from our Extreme Photographer in due course -

Up at the top level of the car park we set the scope up on the top of the sea wall and scanned - lots and lots and lots of Shelducks and nearly as many Curlews. Quite a few Pink Footed Geese were out there too and working through them we eventually found the six pale bellied Brent Geese (103) a long way off. Nearer but still distant were two Ravens (104). it took some time to find a Little Egret (105) normally easy to find here. No passerines or raptors here either.
Next stop was the farmland feeding station which was devoid of birds at first, perhaps because it hadn't long been topped up. A long wait eventually gave us a good count of 42 Tree Sparrows (106). There were plenty of Chaffinches but little else until we spotted a cracking male Yellowhammer (107) in a distant tree.

 Eventually it snuck its way along the hedge before dropping onto the seed.

Traveling a mile or so down the lane we parked up at the field the Quail sing from in the summer and found a Little Owl that turned out to be an interesting lump of wood! A herd of Whooper Swans were across the field in front of us and as we watched them the best sighting of the day happened, the ring tail Hen Harrier (108) floated past! Superb views of the first raptor of the day and one of the rarest though it needn't be - a Kestrel was the second an only other raptor of the day a few minutes later. The last house in the village had the harrier as a garden tick!
Then we had a few minutes at the second farmland feeding station were there were plenty of Chaffinches. Our Extreme Photographer found the first Corn Buntings (109) of the year which were joined by a male and female Yellowhammer.
With the light awful we gave up on the farmland and headed for the coast. The target was the long staying Black Redstart but it didn't show, nor did the local flock of Twite. On the ferry slipway several Turnstones poked round on the rocks only feet from some kids throwing stones in the river. In the river but out of range, were two male and a female Eiders.
The 'sands' held more Oystercatchers than you could shake a muddy stick at along with a decent flock of Knot and several Redshanks. With the chilly wind we didn't give the multitude of gulls any serious time.
Not a bad few hours on a dull winter's Sunday afternoon with only a few dips.
Where to next? Cold weather on the move with lightish offshore winds could become interesting during next week both on land and at sea.
In the meantime let us know if repellant was needed for all the ticks in your outback.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Garden bird counting

The Safari didn't get in from the party until the wee small hours but Frank had us up not too long afterwards and then it was time to do our hour's count for the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch. Two Herring Gulls were very quick off the mark on the bread we threw on the garage roof and almost disappeared before the timer started.
The notebook filled slowly until an entry was written in in capitals - Coal Tit...year bird #99! Goldfinch and Magpie were near misses and a Sparrowhawk sat in the  big tree at the top of the hill but didn't come anywhere near Base Camp today.
A quick breakfast was wolfed down and then it was off to the furthest reaches of the North Blackpool Pond Trail for more  counting. A frosty start meant there was a thin crust of  ice on the lake but the sun gave us some nice photo ops.
The only Common Gull amongst the 30 or so Black Heads.
Great Crested Grebe, from this pic there are two on the lake as the one scoped and counted wasn't as far advanced in its moult as this one.
 The regular Heron comes to a chap who feeds it bacon rind apparently.

 "You get my good side?"

 Drake Mallard
 Drake Mallard x ???
 Any suggestions
A couple of Primroses were found in flower and there will be an excellent show of wildflowers later in the year provided the path edges don't get mown at the wrong time.

Where to next? Might be back later, if not we have a safari planned for tomorrow to try to regain a decent lead over Monika.
In the meantime let us know what saved the day on your big outback count.

Friday 27 January 2012


The Safari has been overtaken by Monika in our, now annual, Year List Challenge ;-(  We had a quick look through last weeks sightings in the local area and discovered there where 23 species we've not seen this year, plus a couple of others we know are in the area but haven't been seen/reported and then there's the Glaucous Gulls on the South-side we were so close to but so far away from last weekend....Maybe we should get out more!
52 Magpies in Magpie Wood was as good as it got today on Patch 1 and Patch 2 at high tide was an over the wall wash out.
Managed to get some pics of the underside of the little fungus growing out of the Gorse stem in between rain storms this morning - lo and behold it has a little stalk and isn't a bracket as we thought.
Current thinking from iSpot is either Velvet Shank or Plums and Custard. Don't think it's the latter but our knowledge of fungi is minimal to say the least.
Where to next? Big x0th birthday party for a mate of ours tonight so will we be compos mentis enough to do the Big Garden Bird Count at Base Camp in the morning. Even if we don't manage that we're booked to help out with the same at the North Blackpool Pond Trail later in the morning.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Wot a lot of knot we got

The Safari was reading Dean’s escapades last night which included his first Frog of the year. He’s in the middle of the country and at high altitude so his success prompted us to head out to the garden to see if any were hopping around the edge of the pond – it was absolutely lashing it down so we didn’t get past the threshold of the back door!
Our routine was back to normal this morning, even if our coat was still sopping wet from taking Frank out not long after the ill-fated Frog hunt, and on leaving Base Camp in the cold (10C in the rain last night - 2C with frost settling on the grass at 06.00) pre-dawn we immediately heard the Song Thrush’s song being carried from the Golden Triangle on the gentle but chilly morning breeze.
Round the corner one of the Peregrines was still pushing out the zeds (zees for any American readers) on its ledge There were Robins aplenty singing from all points (must make a proper effort to count them soon) and a couple of Blackbirds were approaching full song.
Visibility on Patch 2 was excellent for a change. Out on the horizon there was a beautiful rainbow and we wrangled the little camera from our soggy pocket...it pulled a focussing hissy-fit so no pics for you to enjoy :-(  not sure what went wrong but it didn’t seem to want to focus on ‘infinity’, or more likely didn’t ‘know’ what distance the object we were pointing it at was. Beneath the rainbow we reckon there were between 1000 – 1250 Common Scoters and a single Red Throated Diver were seen.
The sea was still a bit too lumpy to be able to pick out any Harbour Porpoises; we’d hoped to get one for the mammal year list before we came across the much more numerous, and far easier to spot, Grey Squirrel but it wasn’t to be as we saw one of the latter in the big park on Monday.
On the beach we noted three Knot feeding with the Oystercatchers at the side of the outfall pipe. Something made us look over to the other side of the pipe and we saw a fair few more. We started counting at the left-hand end of the flock and got to the mid 80s when something spooked them and far more than we were expecting got up and flew – at a guess over 500 all together...a good sized flock. A few Sanderlings were with them and as they all flew southwards past us the Sanderlings dropped on to the beach in front of us but the Knot kept going well past our southern border.
A scan through the 100 or so gulls kicking about didn’t give us anything out of the ordinary.
The wind had swung round and strengthened by lunchtime and now was coming at us off the sea bringing heavy wintery squalls. There was a plethora of white horses and some big rollers out towards the horizon. Out there too was a large swarm of diving gulls indicating a big bait ball but once again the sea conditions were such that we were never going to be able to see any cetaceans that might have been in attendance.
Several Red Throated Divers were seen, the most for a while, one was pretty close in but prolonged observation was impossible as it spent most of the time frustratingly hidden in the troughs.
Nothing of note was found with the vigorously bobbing Common Scoters and as a particularly large and dark squall sped towards us ominously whipping up the sea as it approached we turned and fled just reaching the office door before the heavens opened.
On the way home the light was phenomenal between the squalls with vibrant colours etched against the dark foreboding sky not seen it so crisp for a long time - shame we couldn't get  any wildlifey shots.
Taken through the rain/hail splattered windscreen - not whilst driving, we'd pulled over!
Where to next? More of the chilly same with even more wind...for a change...NOT..we want calm; we want calm!!!
In the meantime let us know what's hopping out of hibernation in your outback.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Better but not really any good

The Safari was excused a Patch 1 visit this morning as Wifey took Frank out so no news from there other than we could hear the Golden Triangle’s Song Thrush singing away while we were deciding whether to lie in bed for a few more minutes or get up n at em.
Visibility was a far better than yesterday at Patch 2, or more specifically we could see further. In fact the visibility wasn’t that good as there was a bit of a weird shimmery ‘heat’ haze in the distance which wasn’t good for having a good check of the distant Common Scoters for anything out of the ordinary. Closer in there wasn’t anything to set the pulse racing with the few Common Scoters sitting behind the surf.
On the beach the patch let us down a bit – there were a few gulls and a couple of dozen Oystercatchers feeding in the runnels and along the water’s edge as the tide rose. A Redshank and three Turnstones poked around in the seaweed at the base of the wall and a handful of Sanderlings scurried around the edges of the incoming waves in their own inimical style. But it was over our southern border and out of accurate counting distance where the bulk of the action was. Several hundred gulls included a few Great Black Backs, a couple of Lesser Black Backs – the start of the return passage? – and a rather darker than normal Common Gull – from somewhere to the east?.
Oystercatchers were scattered everywhere on the wide expanse of beach with many hundreds more in a long black line along the water’s edge, conservatively 2500 of them. Sanderlings too were numerous with 130 counted before they took flight and flocked up. A good number remained on the beach and we’d guess at somewhere in the region of 200-250 altogether.
A trip along the corridor from the office to the brew-room was rewarded by not only a hot cuppa but through the windows a Magpie (P2 No 36) was seen flying over the garden which landed on a neighbouring roof joining three Black Headed Gulls, one of which was in just about full sum. plum. Magpies aren’t necessarily easy at Patch 2.
The lunchtime safari wasn’t up to much either. The shimmering haze was worse and now started at the near-middle distance making anything beyond that far out look as though it was related to Wobbly Bob from Wobblesville, Arizona.
Close in a similar number of Common Scoters bobbed about on the swell, close enough to be able to tell there was nothing special with them other than a single Great Crested Grebe.
With nothing much happening we gave up after about ten minutes.
This shrub makes up half the front hedge at work, the other half being Tamarisk. No idea what it is other than it has little pinky-purple flowers that the Bumble Bees love...we do know it should be in bud yet!

Round the back is our Gorse hedge which gets excessively and badly pruned by people trying to get at the windows to clean them - pruned too hard for the local Linnets to nest safely  in those spiny branches. A severed trunk has this unknown fungus growing out of it - dunno how long it's been there but not noticed it until this arvo...any suggestions...it's about an inch (25mm) side to side maybe a tad more.

Where to next? Gotta get better soon...hasn’t it?
In the meantime let us know what’s wobbling in your outback.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Solid wall of grey

The Safari heard two Song Thrushes on Patch 1 this morning along with a Blackbird which was more tuning up than singing properly. 39 Magpies were all that could be seem in the awful light although we had caused a little disturbance as we walked passed beneath them so there could have easily been a few more. No sign of the Peregrines today – round the back?
Patch 2 was a dingy grey wash out with the last remnant of beach being covered as we got to the wall flushing numerous mixed gulls, 52 Oystercatchers and a Knot. Visibility out to sea was reduced by the thick low cloud to about 500 yards. Consequently only a few Common Scoters were seen and those only in silhouetted shapes against the gentle swell – what might have been out there had we been able to see it???
By the time lunch came round and we were able to get out again conditions were worse – the drizzle was heavier but still not quite rain.
Now even the scoters had abandoned us, in our extremely restricted viewing area there was absolutely nothing to be seen
We consoled our woe at not finding any wildlife to look at by taking some arty shots of the conditions and the Mirror Ball...why?...Because it’s there! Blackpool’s answer to the Statue of Liberty as SP put it recently.

Where to next? Better weather but a still calm sea please...even calmer would do nicely if we could just have a bit of visibility as well...no chance of seeing the Northern Lights tonight :-(
In the meantime let us know if your outback’s local landmark has got lost in the mist

Monday 23 January 2012

Not bad for a Monday

The Safari started out on Patch 1 with a pre-dawn count of 61 Magpies waiting for dawn in the upper branches of Magpie Wood. Round the corner the two Peregrines seen last night were still sat on their ledges. Only one of the possible three Song Thrushes was heard, the Golden Triangle bird being heard from Base Camp as we left. Plenty of Robins were singing but the Blackbirds weren’t, they were too busy feeding on the roadside verges...and where are the Mistle Thrushes – plenty about but shouldn’t we have heard them singing on the patch by now?
At Patch 2 the tide was at the wall so no beachy stuff to report. Out to sea, as the sun crept above the roof-tops behind us, the Common Scoters numbered around the 500 mark and were quite active. As we scanned we gave an inward silent shout of YES – GET IN and corresponding punch in the air as a male Velvet Scoter shot through the field of view nice and close in. We locked onto it like a surface to air missile and followed it for a few minutes as it headed north then north west as was lost in the swell. Excellent stuff – EASILY our best sighting of this species on the west coast – Crippling even! And only bettered by a flock(!) Of them at Spurn yonks ago.According to the 'Birds of Lancashire' there are approaching 30,000 Common Scoters out there but unknown numbers of Velvets, perhaps as few as fifty to a hundred, to give some indication for the reason for our excitement.
The only other (minor) excitement was caused by a male Eider going north.
The big question was could the lunchtime safari match up the high standard. It didn’t, plenty of Common Scoters still very close to the wall giving excellent views – if only the waves weren’t so big! (Can we have a Surf Scoter please - but having just said that we daren't claim one now!!!) Only two other species were noted, two Red Throated Divers flying northwards in perfect synchronisation and a Guillemot going the other way a long way out.
The sun had a bit of heat in it today, we could feel it through our woolly hat! If it’s supposed to insulative shouldn’t it keep environmental heat out as well as metabolic heat in? – So much for ‘Thinsulate’ – maybe that’s why we get cold ears when the wind blows...
Talking of wind we have just received some consultation documents for the proposed new wind farm extension offshore.- copies are available to view at work – But are wind farms good or bad for the environment – a report out recently suggested over 6 MILLION birds had been killed by turbines in Spain alone – hardly environmentally friendly! But what is the effect of offshore wind energy? It’s impossible to know if migrating birds collide with them as the carcasses will probably never be found. This new scheme could impact on the scoters, Whooper Swans, Pink Footed Geese and other species that use the coast as a fly-way all of those the UK has an international responsibility for as we harbour very significant proportions of their populations.
Beneath the waves there is the obvious but temporary construction noise but how loud is the operational noise and at what frequencies and how far does it travel and how does it compare to the ‘natural’ background noise? We’ve tried to find this info but never had any success – has anyone got any ideas where such info might reside?
There maybe benefits to the benthic habitat with the rocks put down to prevent scour providing habitat for new species – but these could have a negative effect on the existing community by either being predators or increasing the competition. One of the proposals is for fewer larger (7MW) turbines – these would have less effect on the sea bed community being fewer in number and more spread out so any negative effect from the new community around the anti-scour piles of rocks  at the foot of each turbine would only be localised leaving far greater areas unaffected.
One good thing is that boats are excluded from the footprint so that there will be no disturbance or damage from fishing vessels and the area could become an extensive nursery area for many species of fish.


A trip to the big park after work in the late afternoon sunshine gave us a nice selection of waterfowl and woodland birds but no Nuthatch or Treecreeper for the year. 
Coot - couldn't see any of KB's colour rings
  Pink Footed Goose

 Sleeping Tufted Ducks

The alarm calls of the smaller birds had us looking up expecting a Sparrowhawk but we were surprised to see this Kestrel glide through the trees and land; obviously looking down...perhaps for mice attracted to spilt bird-seed?

Not sure what the flower is. Anyone?

Renewable energy seems to be the only bit of the environment that our ‘Greenest Government Ever’ appears to understand – or do they all have shares in it????? – to the rest of us their only greeness is their naivety about the natural environment...what colour is ‘blatant disregard’?
Where to next? More of the same please but with some Little Gulls thrown in...
In the meantime let us know how renewable your environment is