Tuesday 31 July 2012

Two new to 'science'

The Safari saw the sea was almost flat calm this morning and could hardly wait to get the scope out. Unfortunately there wasn't much doing, a distant Grey Seal and a dozen Gannets was all we could muster.
At lunchtime we must have had the best part of a 100 whale and dolphin watching helpers most of them children too small to see over the wall. A/the Grey Seal was no much closer, only yards from the wall,  but playing hard to get by only popping up for seconds before disappearing beneath the tiny waves for long minutes at a time. Distantly we had about 150 Common Scoters but they too were hard to get the multitudes on to.
All the while Sandwich Terns mooched about some quite close in but these probably looked too much like 'seagulls' to be 'interesting', a few Common Terns were in the mix too.
We managed to wangle a pic of yesterday's dead Harbour Porpoise off AB's phone but the injury marks are inconclusive, the large square graze in front of the dorsal fin could have been made as the carcass rubbed on the sand as it washed in...always sad to see them like this though.

After the watch we had a quick lunch while the hordes descended on to the beach. This is jut some of them...

 And some more...we've never had to entertain so many before!
All those eyes nets were bound to find something interesting...and they did.
A nice but small Compass Jellyfish.

After hundreds of Brown Shrimps, several Common Prawns and a few Sand Gobies were identified the less numerous species came to light, tiny 'new born' Blennies, the smallest Green Shore Crabs you ever did see and a Lion's Mane Jellyfish.
And then the biggies appeared, first up a Chiton, apparently there were a fair number in one pot - never seen one before and told Monika a while ago we didn't get them on our shoreline = ooopps!!! Being an American hers was far larger than ours!
Which species? One for iSpot we think!
Then in one of the trays we saw a little white thing like a piece of white plastic but it was swimming. We're pretty sure it's an Isopod; another for iSpot!

This is how it swam round, like a folded upside-down paper dart, flicking out those paddle-like legs.
A fascinating day on the beach was topped by the discovery of Gammerid type shrimps, very similar to the freshwater shrimps that swim on their sides and not at all like the Brown Shrimps.
All this new stuff was due to the fact we were looking in a slightly different place along the wall, the tide had left runnels too deep for the small children to cross in our usual places - thanks very much Mr Tide you've played a blinder!
Where to next? More flat calm sea we hope.
In the meantime let us know what's waiting to be discovered in your outback.

Monday 30 July 2012

Ironic twist to National Whale and Dolphin Watch

The Safari wasn't looking forward to a Patch 2 session on the drive in as the sea was still too rough. We were right very little was out there. So little in fact that we didn't really relish going out for another blimp at lunchtime.
We had another helper at lunchtime,  LS from the Zoo's research department who is hoping to put together a cetacean watching team for our stretch of coast.
But minutes before we left to meet her news broke from LA the new Sand Dunes Project Officer, that on 'her' beach a couple of miles to our south there were report of two dead Grey Seals, a dead Harbour Porpoise and a dead baby whale of as yet unknown species.
Thoughts immediately turned to by-catch from the trawler that had been working the coast recently or another unseen one from jut over the horizon.
We saw very little on the lunchtime watch and couldn't see the carcasses from where we were stood. If we had have been able to we'd have nipped down after the watch.
Just before we were about to head off home the Fylde Coast Beachcare Project team turned up and kindly offered us a lift down - thanks very much girls much appreciated.
Half way down the beach was one of the Grey Seals, a female. No real clues as to cause of death, thankfully not shot and didn't look to have any mesh injuries from a net.

A good reason not to go near ill or injured seal you might find on the beach - those gnashers could do very serious damage!

Further down the beach near the river channel was the much bigger whale carcass.
Now we've seen it it's deffo a young male Minke Whale.
Looks like a propeller has taken it's face off - but was it dead already or not - impossible to tell without a PM which may be going to done, or at least samples taken as a vet from Liverpool University was on his way.

The severed ends of the jaw bones
Pectoral fin, or radius ulna and hand - just like yours and ours but a bit bigger!

Boy did it pong!
Back at Base Camp we went in to the garden to feed the fish and spotted these small dancing flies - not our usual one. A great little sideways dance with some really nifty hops thrown in - enjoy! And if you know what they are let us know.

Where to next? The wind seems to dropping and swinging round to the south so conditions at sea might be a bit better tomorrow. We'll be watching nearer to high tide and the high tides are getting higher which matches our 'research' in to Harbour Porpoise sightings better than the weekend's tides.
In the meantime let us know what's dancing on the Lily pads in your outback.

Sunday 29 July 2012

National Whale and Dolphin Watch - Day 3

The Safari looked out of the bedroom window to see that the tub of Runner Beans in the garden had blown over - not a good sign and Frank's muddy towel on the washing line was jumping about like a raver on speed. The wind hadn't died down during the night but got stronger.

We upped the layers to five before donning the waterproofs and heading out to our watch point.
We'd imagined car parking would be easy early on a Sunday morning - wrong! There hundreds of motor-homes and fishermen along the side of the road and we had to play a game of vehicular Chinese Puzzle before we could get the Land Rover close enough in case of rain.
Looking out to sea it was lumpier than badly made custard, this wasn't going to be easy.
Passing punters kept stopping for a chat invariably telling us we wouldn't see any whales or dolphins cos the water was either too cold or too dirty or both, only a handful said it was because there was no fish; which could be (partially) true. Obviously there must be some chance of seeing them; we wouldn't sit there like a lemon freezing our nads off for four hours if there wasn't, would we?
Three Turnstones perched nicely right in front of us on the wall but were flushed by a dog walker before we could point the camera at them. So we had to make do with this Herring Gull instead.

One punter reported a dead Harbour Porpoise a couple of months ago that we hadn't heard about, 300 yards up the road from were we were sat.
Our photographer friend from the  local paper came along and took his snaps while we were sat all on our tod like Billy No-mates, he shoulda come yesterday or Friday when we were surrounded by hundreds of volunteers!
It was still windy, so windy in fact that the string holding our banner up frayed and nearly had it roller-coastering down the road.
People continued to stop for a chat which being on our own seriously reduced the amount of time spent watching, not that there was much to watch. we were just thinking we'd not even seen a Gannet yet when one turned up in the field of view, one of only two seen in the whole four hours.
The Blue Mink fishing boat was out again but no cetacean joy for them today, not like last time we saw them from here. This picture was taken only inches from where we were sat today.

In the excitement we had to count the wind turbines we could see - exactly 100 of them. In the four hours we were there they will have produced enough electricity to keep Base Camp's lights on for somewhere around 200 or more years!

 The turbines weren't the only ones enjoying the breezy conditions.

With only a few minutes remaining an ominous looking squall appeared traveling swiftly towards us but would it reach us before the time bell rang?

At the bell our grand totals for the session were
Common Scoters - 8, 2 + 2 on the sea close in with four flying south in the distance
Gannets - 2, 1 + 1
Sandwich Terns - 6, 2 + 3 + 1 all going north
Cormorants - 2, 1 + 1
Common Tern -1 north
Manx Shearwater - 1 south very distant
Common Gull - 1, our first of the autumn.
We were glad to get back to Base Camp and a warming cuppa, and fortunately we beat the squall.
Where to next? Back to work in the morning and good old Patch 2 where we will be doing another hour's watch from 12 noon until 1pm under the Mirror Ball.
In the meantime let us know what the weather didn't allow you to see in your outback.

Saturday 28 July 2012

National Whale & Dolphin Watch - Day 2

The Safari and five volunteers were to be found sat on the cliffs at the bottom of the hill this morning. One of the volunteers had recently seen half a dozen what sounded suspiciously like Bottle Nosed Dolphins from the beach at St Anne's a little over a week ago; the same pod as we saw some weeks ago and were seen in the Lune Deeps about a fortnight ago?
Early news was that there had been a trio of Arctic Skuas where we had been watching from yesterday. As we arrived and started set up and get organised a heavy squall had us reaching for the waterproofs. The wind had picked up over night and conditions at sea were far from conducive for seeing any cetaceans.
Early on a lone Gannet went past at the horizon but after that there was very little of any interest at all - not selling this event very well, are we?
The tide ebbed and the temperature plummeted, by half way through the watch the wind was fierce and the cold numbing.
The volunteers went down on to the beach to have a look at a small shark we'd seen some blokes looking at  and have a bit of a play on the sand to warm up.

The shark turned out to be a Dusky Smooth-hound and just look at the colour of that sky.
We tried a few gull in flight pics as they drifted by on the wind.
By the end of the four hour session we were glad to pack up and get back to Base Camp for a warm up. The curse of the NWDW continues!
After some lunch we were hoping to head up north a little way to twitch the Spoonbill but there was negative news from AB...not surprising as we've just found out it;'s relocated to the South-side...the infernal thing!!!
Where to next? More of the same tomorrow, this time at Little Bispham by the boat angling club building from 09.00 to 13.00. We need the wind to drop!!!!!
In the meantime let us know if you're having better luck in your outback.

Friday 27 July 2012

National Whale and Dolphin Watch - Day1

The Safari and Young Un AB set up the scopes, deck chairs and all important banner just before 09.00 as the group of volunteer watchers from a nearby college got themselves organised in to watching left and watching right teams.
With the sun over our shoulder and a light easterly breeze conditions were good and we were all hopeful of some sightings.

Sandwich Terns blogged about fishing like little white darts not far in front of us as the tide ebbed. AB called out what he was picking up, a couple of Gannets, a Manx Shearwater more terns, including some Common Terns.
But cloud cover appeared and the wind changed to in our faces picked up and brought with it a serious chill...crikey it went cold.
A shout went up and we got on to a Grey Seal...only to discover minutes later that it was a turtle murdering novelty Helium balloon looking for all the world like a seal's head.
A Grey Seal was seen but what a nightmare it was! It played hard to get,  every time someone got on to it and shouted it dropped below the waves for ages. Eventually we managed to get one of the volunteers on to it...took some doing!!!
The wind continued to increase and the cold became numbing at times as sightings of everything dwindled to almost nothing.
Where to next? Day 2 tomorrow...hope it's a bit better. Gynn Square 09.00 to 13.00 all welcome - wrap up warm!
In the meantime let us know how many marine mammals were giving you the slip in your outback.

Thursday 26 July 2012

A hedgerow rant - already???

The Safari was up and down the motorway the other day and saw mile upon mile of mid-summer hedgerow tidying, 99% of  it unnecessary for road safety or any obvious agricultural benefit. so why do it - what on earth is the purpose? If there were any flowers in the spring there sure ain't gonna be no berries for the autumn and not a lot of shelter if we get spells of severe cold again. And we wonder why some of our farmland birds aren't doing to well!
Not only that in our 200 mile trip in glorious hot and humid summery conditions we didn't need to squirty dead bugs off the windscreen - where are they??? No wonder there's trouble with some most farmland birds.
We traveled through some prime dairy country and got the impression that even in these frugal times  more of us should be drinking organic milk and pay the small premium at the till because the cost of silage and fodder maize fed milk is extremely high on the environment, but of course if you don't care about the environment, and the food-chains therein, keep buying the cheaper stuff. Must be better for the cows too.
One day we'll break one of those chains that is one we're connected too - then we'll know it! We're already tempting fate with the use of neonictinoids on crop seeds resulting in the poisoning of beneficial pollinating insects weeks or months later - surely that's not clever...apparently the French and Germans have banned their use.
One of our neighbours removed a long swathe of (non-native) Campanula plants from the bottom of her fence - it was in full flower and looking lovely and full of bees and other insects so why do it? Because it looks slightly straggly? No all you can see is a thin strip of bare soil and the gaps at the bottom of the fence panels - hardly aesthetic...and of course the bees are now gone.
The local Privet flower purge continues unabated - why is it so necessary to remove the lovely white flowers from this otherwise fairly boring boring shrub, and  of course no flowers means no berries later in the year.
Best stop now before we find something else to rant about!
...Today...Now we really do have something serious to rant about...we had a hand malfunction and dropped our SD card with all today's and all the family pics from Tuesdday in to a pot of Strawberry Yoghurt and now it;s asking to be formatted...AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH. What's worse is it worked fine after a little bit of a wipe on the t-shirt and we didn't take advantage and download everything to the laptop's hard-drive.
So no pic of that stinky but interesting fish skeleton with a similar skull to the one we found the other day and no pic of the complete Bean-like Telin which is a rare find for us.
Where to next? National Whale and Dolphin Watch weekend starts tomorrow and we'll be watching with a group of eager volunteers.
In the meantime let us know what's gone horribly wrong in your outback

Some saved pictures from the dead card - we had to format it in the end :-(


Wednesday 25 July 2012

The beach doth beckon

The Safari managed a couple of pics at the river yesterday afternoon. Three Mute Swans drifted serenely past while a Moorhen skulked furtively in the vegetation across on the far side.

More interesting were the demoiselles which fluttered up and down the far bank. With no bins with us we’d never be able to tell. Then m’laddo spotted one settle on some reeds just beyond midstream and probably out of range, it wasn’t a large river, more of a decent sized stream but still the best part of 20 yards or more wide. The Moorhen bobbed past it and it flushed but returned to settle on the same reed...promising! We wound the lens up to full volume but just as we were trying to find the right reed in the viewfinder another demoiselle fluttered past with our in hot pursuit. Fortunately he returned to his favoured look-out perch and we were ready...click click click...got him. Not the best photo of a Banded Demoiselle  you’ll ever see (it's actually on the reeds you can see beyond the swan's tail) but at least a confirmation as to which of the two species it was. 

Today we had a look over the wall at a very gloomy Patch 2, so gloomy we could barely see the sea across the wide expanse of beach. We did manage a Grey Seal and a flock of Dunlin flew past him and landed on the beach for a count – 24. Three Turnstones were first heard then seen flying from the wall to the outfall pipe. However, easily the best sighting of the short session was of a flock of 12 Black Tailed Godwits (179, P2 #76) (didn't realise it was a year bird!!! - What? Not seen before so far this year - how odd, or how not written down - which???) flying south towards the estuary. Not a species often seen passing this stretch of beach.
After a quick cuppa it was back on to the beach with another group of children eager to explore what the tide might have brought in. A dead Dab and broken piece of Sea Potato were at our feet as we did the obligatory safety demonstration. Once that was over the nets were handed out, trays filled with clean water and off they went to see what they could find.
Quality finds included:-
A very nicely marked Striped Venus Shell which we really should have got a pic of.
Another juvenile Blenny of the same size as Monday’s.
Seven Elegant Anemones including a rather impressive large specimen – really need that underwater camera! And a large Beadlet Anemone waiting for the tide to come back in
Hoards of Brown Shrimps, but try as we might we couldn’t find a Common Prawn today.
Several pairs of Green Shore Crabs and plenty of tiny juveniles.

A couple of Necklace Shells covered with Hedgehog Hydroids.
Many Common Periwinkles, don’t know if Rough Periwinkles are present here but we haven’t come across one yet.
With almost the last sweep of the net we flukily swiped out this tiny sea slug, is it Onchidoris bilamellata again or some other species?

Our marine biologist friend DB appeared with her dog and stayed with us for a while before meandering further down the beach. Later she returned with this rather dapper Hermit Crab tucked in to his/her Necklace Shell.

She also told us of a Smooth Hound her dog had sniffed out and she’d stashed for us to go and find – find we did and believe us when we say it didn’t take much sniffing!!! 

Nearby was a small cluster of Squid eggs, about the size of a tennis ball; don’t know how we’d missed these early not seeing them and not standing on them as there were plenty of children netting in this area, probably couldn’t see them due to all the fine silt they had stirred up.

Yet another great day exploring the beach – every day is different as you just never know what the tide is going to bring up.
Where to next? More of the same tomorrow but on a different stretch of beach and one we’re not so familiar with so who knows what the nets will encounter.
In the meantime let us know what’s being trawled for in your outback.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Ruby Tuesday

The Safari reckons you can't beat a bit of the 'Stones.
Moffs were good this morning too...here's the pick of a fairly full trap

Grey Dagger

Two of the little beauties
First Old Lady in Base Camp's garden
Same one
Riband Wave
Ruby (Tuesday) Tiger
Same one
Knot Grass - another little cracker
Smoky Wainscot
The Flame
Same one
Any one any good with Ladybirds - Anno?

Went down to see m'laddo again today...Buzzards total in 200 miles 3 - Kestrels 1
Different world over the river beyond the south-side
Drizzle all day in safari-land apparently.
Where to next? Got some pics today just in case we struggle tomoz.
In the meantime let us know if the heat is on in your outback.
And how's m'laddo? Thankfully coming on leaps and bounds but still a bit of a way to go yet