Thursday 31 January 2013

Lost time

The Safari was miffed again by numpties that had already disturbed the strandline, bait diggers and dog walkers both being on the beach not long after first light...dohhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Out to see visibility was poor and not made any easier by the copious amounts of salt spray left on the lens from yesterday.
At lunchtime we had little time but the tide was still coming over the wall even though it was an hour later than yesterday so we didn't bother as we didn't fancy another soaking through to the bone.
The Peregrine was roosting on the tower last night when we took Frank round and was there again tonight.
Where to next? Third time lucky on Patch 2?
In the meantime let us know what conspired against seeing anything in your outback.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Be careful what you wish for

The Safari quotes the following paragraph of yesterday’s missive “So we’re not getting any opportunities to have a butcher’s for any odd-balls like ‘argentatus’ Herring Gulls and Yellow Legged Gulls. Absence makes the heart grow paranoid!!!”

Last night the wind picked up into a real hooley. And guess what, yes you guessed it the strandline was full of washed up shells and these were being picked through by a few thousand gulls...ohhh it was heaven, there just had to be something worth finding in that lot!
We did find something worthy of further investigation almost straight away. An argenteus’ Herring Gull sporting a large dark Darvik ring. It was a little too distant to read but was walking along the strandline towards us. The darned thing was taking its time stopping to pick up beakfuls of broken shells, so we shifted position, leaving our  regular watch point (almost unheard of) and walked about 100 yards northward along the wall from where we were  able to get a good view of the ring until the bird walked into the water! A few minutes later it walked back onto the sand and we could now easily read WA5Y, more than likely to be a Walney Island  bird, where there is a breeding colony of Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, not to mention the odd hybrid.
The rest of the gulls were spread out in a long line behind it and we started to work slowly towards us from the far end with the scope. Nothing so far...then the worst happened. A huge flock flew into view from out of sight round the bend in the wall meaning disturbance. Sure enough a dog soon appeared. Not too worry the all settled down and now there were more to work through and the dog was going away from us...all good!
After our statement yesterday we decided to go and get the camera from the office, it only takes a couple of minutes to nip across the road and back, so as to take some pictures of the Larid hordes for you...big mistake. We got caught at the Zebra Crossing and had to wait for...a van and a couple of cars which included a Bentley and an Aston Martin – if we sold Base Camp we couldn’t afford either of those even if they were the ‘basic’ models - who said there’s no money around!!!
Horror of horrors when we got back – the gulls had all but gone due to a different dog walker and her mutt right in the middle of where the birds had been feeding. Soooo frustrating...and by now we’d used up all our time and couldn’t have a look at the sea which could have been good as we’d only been back in the office a for minutes when an email popped up saying there were at least 19 Little Gulls lingering off North Shore.

A tiny proportion of those that were there a few minutes earlier
Where'd all the rest go?
And they're off!
Wonder why
Thanks a million...NOT!!!
Someone's having fun - it certainly wasn't us!
The wind continued to pick up through the morning with guts to 50, then 55 than 65mph. By lunchtime, a good hour before high tide the sea was being whipped over the wall and heavy spray was lashing against the office windows. Foolishly we braved it but were always going to be on a loser as we were soaked to the bone before we’d even crossed the road and it was difficult to stand up.
We did get to the wall but there was just nowhere where there wasn’t any waves coming over so we bottled it but not before we’d seen two Kittiwakes sail over the Mirror Ball – not often they come that close!!!
Standing by the radiators for half an hour was next in an attempt to dry out.
Where to next? Still pretty gusty forecast overnight  and into tomorrow so there should be more shellfish wrecked up and the chance of something out to sea but will we be dogged off or take the plunge and ignore the gulls and concentrate on the horizon???
In the meantime let us know how breezy it was in your outback.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

No excitement in, on or over the waves

The Safari was a little disappointed after yesterday’s gull-fest we could hardly wait to get to the wall this morning. A soon as it was light enough we grabbed the scope and made the 100 yard dash to the wall. No need to have rushed. The stiff breeze we’d driven to work in an hour earlier had dropped significantly and a mist had come down severely hampering visibility over the sea. Drat drat and double chance of any Fulmars today.
We had to content ourselves with checking the beach – well you never know if a Bar Tailed Godwit, Grey Plover or other exotica might just be have a rest on our hallowed sands.
Needless to say they weren’t! There were, however, a more than normal number of Sanderlings so in the absence of anything else to look at we set about counting them and reached a reasonable 158 before they were flushed by something unseen, certainly nothing hominid or canine was out there and we didn’t notice any birds of prey but they all scattered  pretty sharpish. Many of them flew up the beach into runnels out of our line of sight so we had to make do with the 158 we got to and put a ‘+’ for a totally unknown number of others.
Not too many Oystercatchers remained uncounted as they poked around the receding tide which was leaving plenty of goodies on the strand lines for them to rummage through – but where were the gulls? Hardly a one about and the huge numbers that sat on the sand banks to the north of our viewing point last winter have been seriously noticeable by their absence this winter. So we’re not getting any opportunities to have a butcher’s for any odd-balls likeargentatus’ Herring Gulls and Yellow Legged Gulls. Absence makes the heart grow paranoid!!!
Rain stopped play at lunchtime :-(
Yesterday our boss brought in an impressive shell his daughter had found on the beach just over our southern boundary at the weekend. A real whopper of a Native Oyster.

It was really thick and chunky, forcing the scales down to 175 grammes. Qustion is where did it come from? Is it truly native and died offshore fairly reccently? Was it harvested by a local trawler and eaten then dumped? Was it trawled from much further afield and dumped locally? Has it been washed down the river, or a different river from somewhere inland? How long has it been floating around in the sea - the fragile frilly bits are slightly worn but some are still quite sharp. was it dumped from a passing freighter coming in to Liverpool from who knows where on earth...Questions, questions, questions.
Here's another pic from our green-laning trip on Sunday
And the angel of the Ford came down and said unto us "tha'll nay be crossin the river ere t'day me boys"
There is supposed to be a gravel island in the middle of the river which marks a bend in the ford - it's somewhere under the rough water bottom centre. The guide books say don't attempt to cross if you can't see the island.
Where to next? Better seaward visibility please...
In the meantime let us know what's causing all the mystery in your outback

Monday 28 January 2013

Trundling around up hill and down dale

The Safari took a day off wildlife safari-ing yesterday after we'd had a txt from a friend we've not seen for a while suggested a day out in the Land Rovers exploring around the eastern side of the old county of Westmorland. We don't often get the chance of a full day out with Wifey and Frank so butties were made, nibbles packed and a flask of hot coffee brewed before we drove up the motorway to the rendezvous point. The drive to the motorway from base Camp was a frustrating affair with almost empty roads but everybody in front of us was a flamin slow-coach! Gaww we get ssoooooo miffed with them, one 'aud' geezer was doing 35 in a 60 zone but there was just no way to get past him.
By the time we'd got to the meeting point we'd chewed the hell out of back teeth, practically ground them down to stumps…then we discovered that our laeader for the day's CB radio wasn't working so we'd be driving 'in communicado' so to (not) speak.
Anyway three Land Rovers set off a little further north up the motorway before turning east and into the hill, country, rather than mountains to the west.
We soon left the tarmac and trundled along narrow farm tracks between high hedges. Fortunately all the snow that fell on Saturday had melted in the abrupt overnight upturn in temperatures otherwise most of our route would have been impassable.
All the tracks we drove are unsurfaced roads, aka green lanes, and are covered by all the usual rules of the road so vehicles must be taxed and tested, seat belts worn, even though this could be a hindrance at times, etc etc – just ‘normal’ roads but without any tarmac.
Up hill and down dale we wandered enjoying the scenery and having a butty stop here and there and let the dogs out for a play. 
Due to the rapid snow melt all of the fords we had hoped to cross were rendered impassible by the flood water.
At Rutter Falls the torrent was hard on the ears and even though the bridge is about 150 yards from the falls the sprat got on the camera...a place we've never heard of before and only 50 miles from Base Camp in a straight line. Having said that we passed through several little villages and hamlets we've never heard of either.
There wasn't much wildlife around Kestrels were beaten by Buzzards 2:1 for the day and the fields were mostly empty apart from Jackdaws and Carrion Crows and Woodpigeons. Here and there Blackbirds flew out of the hedgerows but in general it was pretty quiet. They was a cold howling wind blowing in sharp hail showers which would have kept most wildlife sheltering in cover.
Widely scattered fields had sizeable flocks of Starlings which may be part of the huge nightly murmuration which roosts at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. 
Best wildlife sighting of the day was a Brown Hare crouched down by the side of the track which ambled away in a considered manner, no chance of getting that close to one on foot!
Noticable was the amount of old trees in fields, along hedgerows and the roadsides and the general lack of new plantings/regeneration, the fields too look very green considering it's mid winter and we would hazarrd a guess that most of them will be devoid of any wildflowers. It's terribly sad to think that although England's land might look green and pleasant and the wider landscape is very beautiful large swathes of it are becoming biodiversity deserts - actually there is probably more biodiversity in an average desert!
Doing more than 30 would have had your head through the sunroof!!! 
Now they want you to slow down to 40!!!
No chance

No chance again!

River is about a metre above normal and as fast as a train

Made it through this one

Ford left or bridge right?
Snacks on the go - yummmm
Sure the tracks weren't that scary
Rutter Falls in full spate

Reflections in the bonnet

Rescuing escaped sheep

The Safari strategically placed to prevent a breakout

Any field will do, the road at the bottom of the hill as a main 70mph highway - not the place for lost sheep
Birkett Common lane

Birkett Common with the pointed peak of Wild Boar Fell in the distance - not much chance of seeing one of those round these parts for a very very long time sadly
A really grand day out and many thanks to Wifey for being Official Photographer, some of the pics are a bit blurry being taken at an angle through the windscreen.
Today was a wild and windy affair and the wind had shaken things up a bit.
We put the scope on the wall eye to the eyepiece and wallop, a big very white gull with two adult and a 2nd winter Herring Gull, far too close in size to the Herrings to be another Mediterranean Gull, 2nd winter Iceland Gull? All too soon they were gone in a deep trough. Too far away by a few hundred yards and too brief a view to be able to clinch an ID.
The gull-fest continued with at least 100 Common Gulls all going south and in between them in dribs and drabs were 14 Kittiwakes. Two Little Gulls (99, P2 #36) about 500 yards apart were icing on the gull cake but it was an auk that brought up the ton for the year - a Razorbill (100, P2 #37), in from the north and landed on the turbulent sea not to be seen again.
A brief visit at lunchtime gave us the unusual, for the time of year, sighting of two 1st winter Gannets (101, P2 #101). Nothing else came past apart from a few Common Scoters and the wind made it feel colder than the proper cold of last week so we abandoned ship on a bit of a crest of a wave.
A nip up to the shop gave us a near miss - a Great Tit on the side of the railway bridge was off Patch 2 by a hundred yards or so - a really rare bird on the  patch!
Where to next? Will the wind bring anything else within reach tomorrow - Fulmar? Somehow didn't see one from Patch 2 last year.
In the meantime let us know who's not crossing the rivers in your outback.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Schlumping through the slush

The Safari has been busy surveying today. First up was our fortnightly BTO Winter Thrushes survey where we had no fewer than five Mistle Thrushes only days after they were announced as disappearing rapidly from our gardens.
The snow was thawing rapidly as we left Base Camp and it was slippery and going to be cold on the toes. we closed the door an immediately spotted a Coal Tit in our neighbours Cherry trees.
The rest of the survey was undertaken searching high and low for thrushes, they were few and far between even Blackbirds today. A Meadow Pipit went over and we watched a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers having a game of hide and seek round the trunk of a large tree in the Community Orchard. A Redwing was found just beyond the half way mark. 
On the way back we stopped to have a close look at the Goldfinch flock but the only odd one out was a Greenfinch.
As soon as we'd finished that survey it was off to the other end of the North Blackpool Pond Trail to join the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch event there.
Several familiar faces turned up and we the slush was even slushier, the paths being underwater in places, blimey snow is actually a lorra lorra lorra water.
Still plenty of ice on the lake with 55 Teal roosting quietly under the overhanging trees.

In the open water a male Tufted Duck mooched about with the 44 Mallards. behind them sunning itself on the edge of the reeds was the first of our Herons.
A couple of over-sized homemade fat-balls attracted a Coal Tit and a Blue Tit and there were a few Great Tits along the path.
Finches were few and far between until we came across a flock of eight Goldfinches feeding on Alder seeds.
Although we were surveying birds it didn't stop us enjoying the other wildlife around the lake which included this fluorescent fungi, we think they could be Velvet Shank.

The morning ended with a few Black Headed Gulls standing on the ice bringing the species total to 22 and our NBPT year tally to 38.
After a quick lunch we threw some bread on the garage roof and filled the sunny seed feeder and scattered more on the ground under our shrubbery.
It was a while before any birds turned up and we were getting worried we'd have a nil to send in to the RSPB.
A Blue Tit snuck in for a sunny seed then the floodgates opened...well almost. Collared Doves and Greenfinches appeared along with a very skulky Blackbird and Robin.
It took a slight change in the wind to enable the gulls to get down on to the garage roof but two Black Headed Gulls down encouraged no fewer than a squabble of eight Herring Gulls to drop down...and that was the end of half a loaf!
A Woodpigeon flew down and we watching it gobbling up sunny seeds for fun but then a movement under the Crab Apple tree caught our eye - Base Camp's first Dunnock (18) of the year...nice to see it/them back.
Where to next? Excitement guaranteed tomorrow as we head northwards into the hill country for a very refreshing change.
In the meantime let us know how many tally marks made the notebook in your outback.