Sunday, 31 March 2013

Stealth-cam succeeds

The Safari put the stealth-can back out in the copse near the pond last night. there is a bit of a track alongside the brook and a gap in the hedge where a bridge crosses said brook into another field - we set up overlooking this more open area...what would the morning download reveal? And will this WiFi connection be able to cope with uploading it to blogger to show you?
It did work - but on the first one you'll have to be quick...
what is this - we=re pretty ssure of the ID but what do you think?
What's snuffing around in the copse? All is revealed at the end.
The piece-de-la-resistance

Lapwings were heard 'pewiting' this morning on the way down the hill to retrieve the stealth-cam but in the much less sunny conditions and being a little later than yesterday it wasn't as birdy although we did see the pair of Grey Partridges again but not the best of views, they're very skittish and take flight as soon as they see us which is invariably before we see them! A scan of the fields gave us another Roe Deer skulking back into the woods from one of the fields with a gas canon, didn't pick up pace when it went off only a couple of hundred yards from it!
Where to next? Back out into those fields.
In the meantime let us know what's been sneaking around in the dark in your outback.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

More tales from foreign parts

The Safari was woken ridiculously early by an unsettled Frank. It was just about light so we took him out but he wouldn't go far and turned himself into a belligerent depleted uranium anchor! Nothing for it but to take him back in. We didn't go back to bed like what he did but closed the door on him and headed back to the pond to retrieve the stealth-cam.
By-eck it was chilly and a smattering of fine snow had fallen.
That didn't put the birds off singing as sooner or later spring will arrive they need to on the ball and on top of their game. Curlews flew over towards the nearby moors their haunting song crystal clear in the cold air...we were glad to be out. A Skylark rose from the middle of the still unploughed field and we watched it ascend into the blue heavens giving it plenty of vocal welly as it went. Behind us in the 'A' trimmed hedge a Yellowhammer sang its simple 'Little bit of bread and no cheese' ditty. Someone had a good imagination to work that one out but they got it spot on. Tree Sparrows called unseen from the depths too. This is a 'real' farm with lots of the 'old-fashioned' farmland wildlife still on it - good choice for a break as we didn't know this when we booked. Two Grey Partridges ran down a 'tram-line' in front of us before scudding over the hedge into the next field.
One of the Tee Sparrows showed itself briefly while a Reed Bunting sang down by the pond half of which had frozen over. Three drake Mallards dropped in and overhead a small skein of Grey Lag Geese headed northwards. In the distance a woodpecker drummed...but which species?
In the courtyard of the cottages - converted byres and piggeries we think - the House Sparrows are double noisy chirruping from the depths of the centre-piece ornamental planting. 
All that before 06.30!
A bit of early sun between the clouds illuminated the horse thing quite nicely.
A check of stealth-cam only confirmed that it had snowed during the night...we try again tonight.
Anyone know if gas cannons actually frighten birds - they don't seem to here, well not crows anyway!
Another walk out with Frank a little later had him getting a bit warm - how - on a freezing cold day? And too cool down he found one of the last remaining patches of snow.
Which he promptly started to eat!

Still no sign of any summer migrants although a Meadow Pipit overhead was going northwards.
A drive round to the white horse itself gave us another nice close view of a pair of Grey Partridges sitting on the roadside verge.
The white horse isn't as good viewed close up.
The steps up to the top were scarily steep. so steep we found them harder than climbing Mt Kinabalu only 13 years ago which is only 4000m higher.

From the top we had a great view
And right across north Yorkshire to the Yorkshire Dales national Park which are still well covered in snow.
The hillside behind us looked absolutely bob-on for Adders but in the very brief scout around we didn't find one.
Where to next? Pub for some crackin locally brewed ale!
In the meantime let us know if your outback is getting any more summery.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Where in the world are we?

The Safari has ventured out of Safariland and are now ensconced in a very foreign country. One with a giant horse scratched into the hillside.
On route along motorways then A roads we counted just two Kestrels and one Buzzard which was almost at our destination. Before the Buzzard we'd spotted a raptor from the driving seat and shouted Buzzard but Wifey had a better view of it and exclaimed "'Kite' I can see its forked tail!". With all the sunshine early on in our journey it's strange that we saw a Red Kite before any Buzzards.Sadly dead Barn Owls on the side of our local motorway equaled the number of Kestrels.
At our digs we've not explored much but have seen a few House Sparrows, a couple of Blackbirds, a Blue Tit and a pair of Mute Swans on the farm pond. 
We'll sneak out with Frank later and set up the stealth-cam somewhere near the pond and see what's sneaking around in the dark.
Where to next? If only we knew - we've never been to this part of the world before.
In the meantime let us know what was seen in the wrong order in your outback.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Lock your doors and windows!

The Safari watched a skein of about 75 Pink Footed Geese flying north early doors this morning while out with Frank, bon-voyage our friends see you in September hope you have a good season.
Patch 2 wasn't up to much, no sign of anything summery at all, we checked the wall for Meadow Pipits and Wheatears without success. Out at sea only the regular fare of scoters, grebes and divers on were on offer. Migration was evidenced by a single Curlew going north.
Lunchtime was no better although a horrendously distant gull could have been a Glaucous Gull milling around with a few much darker slightly smaller immature Herring Gulls but really it was far too far away to call. Eventually it dropped on the sea amongst the scoters at the horizon and was lost from view.
After lunch we were out on the front at work taking some publicity pics when we saw two of our colleagues come out for a bit of a smoko - they stood in the wrong place but we couldn't really see what they were upto on the pics when they suddenly looked down from their papers. A Fox was walking inches past their knees! Mid-afternoon! And there we were stood motionless gawping at it incredulously camera in hand!
The Fox is either just out of shot to the left or hidden behind the wooden groyne left of the yellow salt bin!
On the way back to Base Camp we called in at our potential Grass Snake site but it's still way too cold. nothing was under any of our refugia although a couple of small Frogs were found under a small slab at the water's edge and close by 12 slumps of spawn were counted. Devoid of birds and Water Voles too.

Where to next? A weekend full of safari-ing adventure to who knows where...stay tuned for more news from the wild outback.
in the meantime let us know if there's anything summery in your outback.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Dinner is served

The Safari saw nowt worth telling you about today. But checking the stealth-cam that was set up overlooking a pile of Frank's old bikkies and some left over peas n sweetcorn.
The Woodpigeon and the regular Magpies cam to finish off what was left behind by shhhh you know who...

Where to next? Patch 2 has to provise something more exciting soon, as soon as tomorrow please.
In the meantime let us know if spring is 'hotting' up in your outback

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


The Safari had three Mallards (Garden #25) go over Base Camp while out with Frank last night for an other to add to the very slowly growing garden list. A useful addition as they didn't make the garden list in 2011 or 12.
This morning we took a bizarre detour to work and headed north instead of south. We went to the top end of the North Blackpool Pond Trail to the lake and promptly twitched the pair of Gadwall (NBPT #49) there, also getting 10 Teal in the process and not a lot else although time was obviously pressing. One of the ringed Black Headed Gulls was sat out on the grass but again we stood no chance of getting near enough to read the ring...might have to take some bread and the scope one day and hope for the best.
Our detour had the distinct disadvantage of getting us stuck in the morning commute, made all the worse by the infinite number of road works going on at the moment. After a couple of minutes of chewing our back teeth down to the stumps we spotted a Blackbird feeding on the verge. We watched him pull ???from the grass, then a long skinny Earthworm. All the time he was hopping and listening a blob of soil was stick to the end of his Crocus yellow bill. He hopped up to the shrubbery and began to through leaf litter around with gay abandon before coming across another tasty morsel of ??? The blob of soil was still stuck to his lower mandible when the lights changed and we had to move on. We wondered if anyone else had noticed him going about his daily business in the bitter wind while probably getting lungfuls of fumes from the cars.
The next stop was by the park lake and there we saw the huddle of spinning Shovelers assisting each other to bring up plankton and/or algae to within reach of their sieve-like beaks. A Great Crested Grebe cruised by, dived and  came up moments later with a tiny sliver of silver - again we wondered if anyone else had noticed these little marvels of the natural world playing out only a few yards from their cosy warm cars and the sounds of Radio Wave/2/5 or whatever...
The next stop had us shocked. A piece of fence has rotted and there is no a gap allowing a short cut onto the field across the wide grass verge. This is one of the many places we got the local school children to plant 1,000,000 Crocus and Daffodil bulbs for the Millennium. Today the Crocuses are still there and doing their best to flower in the bleak sunless conditions when a moron just walked straight over the top of them not looking, well not caring probably, where he put his feet - what a selfish disrespectful attitude and sadly one that seems to be almost all pervasive through society at the moment - if it's in the way of the march of progress just walk all over it...after all 'it' doesn't really do anything does it?
Pulling into the car park at work a dog walker disturbed a Redshank on the back field - the tide was in so it was probably still too hungry to go to roost and thought it might try its luck for some worms. 
At Patch 2 we had nothing springy, no sign of that Sandwich Tern we sort of predicted/hoped for yesterday. Just a few hundred Common Scoters on a still choppy but far less so sea. A couple of Great Crested Grebes hung about with them while in the distance we saw two Red Throated Divers going north.
Lunchtime was worse and even colder and to add insult to frostbite we learned after lunch that a Sandwich Tern had indeed been seen this morning, about an hour after we'd had to leave the wall to go back into the office - cruel!
Our spirits were brightened by this piece of art displayed today as part of the Young Seasiders Art Competition - get down for a shuffy over the holidays  if you can there's some good stuff to be enjoyed.
Click to enlarge to read the text
There is hope for our planet and its wildlife after all - you tell em Yr5 - don't take no nonsense; you know its important to look after our world.
Our euphoria was short lived - on the way home a much more middle-class looking woman than the chavvy bloke earlier took  the same route through the Crocuses on her way home standing on several of the increasingly crushed purple flowers - all we could think was you ignorant disrespectful  'common species of domesticated ruminant'!
Where to next? Patch 2 has to change soon - doesn't it?
In the meantime let us know if there's a glimmer of hope in your outback - we truly hope so

Monday, 25 March 2013

They came, they saw, they didn't stay long!

The Safari heard the familiar honking of Canada Geese (Garden #24) going over whilst still in bed this morning. Always good to get a garden 'tick' before the alarm goes off!
Patch 2 wasn't too brilliant. The wind has dropped a bit but is still bitingly cold and keeping the sea chopped up quite roughly. We've no idea how many Common Scoters there might have been as we only got glimpses of partial flocks.
Half a dozen Red Throated Divers were seen, four going north, one south and one on the sea, all still in winter plumage. A pair of Eiders flew south too. A Great Crested Grebe was seen to land in the distance amongst a smallish group of scoters and was immediately lost in the waves. 
Best sighting of the day was of about 30 Golden Plovers that went past towards the estuary...about 10 minutes later they flew back from whence they came - obviously didn't like whatever it was they found down there!
At lunchtime another male Eider went south and that was about the only thing of any note.
Our best sighting might have been the Golden Plovers but the most interesting wildlife experience was provided by the Boss. He produced a nice Native Oyster from his pockets that he'd found on the beach yesterday when out with the family and dog. 
It's not big, being only about 8.5x8x3.5cm but it does seem very fresh with almost all the frillies undamaged and still quite sharp.

Unusual groove at the hinge end - wonder what made that.
Always something new to learn with this wildlife game, all us in the know need to do our utmost to get the youngsters to leave their tellies and Xboxes for five minutes every day and get outside to find out about the wonders in the real world around them. Have a look here - says it all really.
Perhaps then the nightmares that Warren and the River Ouse are suffering won't happen because the kids will understand the value of what they are thinking about destroying and chose a more sustainable alternative.
Sorry to depress you in these miserable weather conditions but hey ho it is on its way - Sandwich Tern at Bardsey Island today not that far from Patch 2 as the tern flies.
Where to next? More windy Patch 2 and little else unfortunately.
in the meantime let us know if there's anything looming on spring's horizon in your outback.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Still a tad on the breezy side

The Safari did manage to get out to do the Winter Thrushes Survey, a little later than anticipated but we were waiting to see if there was any improvement in the weather - there wasn't, the wind was still howling and freezing cold. So we wrapped up warm and headed out to  our 1km square wondering if we'd actually see anything. A couple of Fieldfares (NBPT #47), a couple of Redwings  and a Mistle Thrush graced the very over-grazed horse field, a little later we saw an RSPCA van with an officer making notes sat inside. In the far distance a pair of Mute Swans (NBPT #48) sat on the pond by our vis migging spot at the railway bridge.
On  our survey route birds of any description were hard to come by let alone thrushes and many of our usual thrush 'hotspots' were birdless. In the end we counted just 17 Blackbirds and one Song Thrush.
At the half way point we broke off and had a wander over to the lake where we found nine Teal, a couple of Herons and not a lot else. The flock about 50 Black Headed Gulls held three ringed birds two ringed on the left leg, the other on the right but they were 'just' BTO type rings not Darviks so we couldn't get near enough to be able to read them. Further round a Sparrowhawk was perched in twigs overhanging the lake causing a a  bit of consternation to the local Woodpigeons.
After sawing up another bag of wood we took Wifey and frank for a quick sprint round the big Park. Again the wind was a cruel icy blast. And again the smaller birds were keeping themselves well hidden. On the lake a good sized flock of gulls were enjoying the huge volumes of bread being thrown at them. Unfortunately the  light and the wind were in the wrong direction for getting decent shots and this one of a splashy landing Black Headed Gull was the only one worth showing you, it's the only one of the sequence that you can actually see the bird's head.

Frank approached one of the farmyard type geese a bit too closely for its liking and it shooed him off with some fierce hissing.

Where to next? Back to Patch 2 to see if anything has been blown in, not the gales have been onshore!
In the meantime let us know who's hissingly angry in your outback

Saturday, 23 March 2013

One out - all out!

The Safari (somewhat sadly) avoided the cetacean survey from Birkenhead to Belfast with fellow naturalist Ed Drewitt, we were looking forward to working with him but have now learned that the ferries are running over two hours late due to the horrendous conditions out at sea so we've probably had a bit of a lucky escape.
Today absolutely nothing approached the fully filled feeder. We had the offer of nipping round the corner to CR's place to photograph the two Reed Buntings that graced his bird table...we had to decline cos we've totally run out of cut wood for Little Bertha and a garage full of bagged wood needed the attention of a saw! Eventually just before it started going dark a Magpie dropped in briefly, the only bird we saw in the garden all day.
Later this evening is Earth Hour when we will be turning the lights off for one hour. We've already had an extremely tasty vegetarian meal...and of course we are being warmed on this most awful of 'spring' nights by wood that would have otherwise gone to landfill.
If you can see it keep your eye on this iconic landmark.
 It might look like this
But a pull on this...yes it is the real Blackpool Illuminations Switch-on switch as pulled by mega-celebs like Jane Mansfield (1959, within days of our birth) and local horse Red Rum which we used to watch training on the beach while doing one of earlier jobs...and even Jeremy Clarkson!

And it should look like this.
If  you look out of the window between 8.30 and 9.30 tonight and can't see it, when you normally can, all is well and good!
Where to next? hopefully the wind will have dropped enough and the last of this morning's snow melted to be able to do our Winter Thrushes Survey and then maybe somewhere else...not been to Chat Alley for a while.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Wind up

The Safari didn't get much safari-ing done today, it waas a bot on the breezy side and the morning gave us horizontal snow.
The weather also put a major kibosh on our proposed weekend activity. We were supposed to be doing a ferry based cetacean survey for MARINElife from Birkenhead (Liverpool) to Belfast, but being team leader we had to make the decision to cancel it - not a difficult decision to make when we saw the sea at lunchtime.
On the sea a good sized flock of Common Scoters numbering perhaps as many as 1500 - 1750 in the air together was quite a spectacle. Unfortunately they were just too far away in the poor visibility to be able to pick out anything more unusual.
The only other sighting of note was a Grey Seal close in behind the gentle surf a few hundred yards to our south. 
Today is World Water Day - just seen on the news that some areas of the country are getting far too much of a good thing. Never-the-less do your bit to save on the water you use, easy really just have a think about how and where you're using most water and then try to cut out the waste.
In a similar vein tomorrow is Earth Hour. Around the world at 8.30pm all manner of people, businesses and organisations will be turning off their lights to draw attention to climate change - keep your eyes on Blackpool Tower if you can see it from where you are.
Where to next? Not at all sure what the weekend will bring - we don't think we'll be able to get our Winter Thrushes Survey in tomorrow as an alternative to our cetacean survey.
In the meantime let us know if it was safe to go out into your outback today

Thursday, 21 March 2013

A bit of beach work today

The Safari met up with Year 3 on the beach this morning. Some of them despite being born and bred in town had never been on the beach before! Time to get them activated and learning about the fantastic wildlife that can be found there. 
The recent run of easterly winds have kept the waves at bay and at first glance there didn't seem to be many shells to be found. We asked then to find long shells, round shells, little shells, big shells, pointy shells and colourful shells; the children were eagle-eyed and soon had buckets full of goodies. Pod Razors and Rayed Trough Shells were the most numerous followed by Edible Mussels, Edible Cockles and Prickly Cockles. Many of the Mussels had Barnacles growing on them, one had an enormous Barnacle attached to it, sadly it was a bit bashed and incomplete.

 As well as shells there were quite a few Sea Gooseberries found but all were dead and we couldn't show the eager faces the pulsating jelly mass with its flickering lights as its cilia catch the light.
Then one of the children pointed out a worm cast from a Lugworm but that wasn't quite as good as the next child who found a live worm we've never seen before! As soon as we got back to the office we sent the pic to our eminent marine biologist DB who reckons it's a species of Bristleworm, probably this one.
Another bristly find was a rather badly damaged Bristle Star. Several large bits of Sea Potato were found, they are so fragile it's rare to find unbroken ones. The only crab that was found alive was a tiny Green Shore Crab, the only dead crab was just three legs of a much larger individual. A large Gammerid shrimp was discovered in the bucket of shells, probably snuck out of a shell, only one of the children found a Brown Shrimp and that was a small one.
No look at patch 2 today.
Back at Base Camp we'd had the Stealth-cam out today and it captured these Magpies enjoying Frank's old kibbles.

Where to next? There's a bit of a wind picking up but its blowing offshore so might not bring anything our way, but as always with wildlife you just never know.
In the meantime let us know if you're going to get snow in your outback.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Packham 'em in

The Safari went to see Mr Packham last night and he was pretty good, nearly as exciting and fun to listen to as someone else you know ;-) Can't imagine why the Beeb took him on rather than us all those years ago, the silly sausages!
Won't tell you what he was harping on about in case you're going. His closing sentiment was the most important aspect of the evening - where are all the youngsters in the countryside?  Up to all of us to encourage, cajole, bribe them in to getting out enjoying, learning and caring about our brilliant wildlife.
A nice morning on Patch 2 gave us the usual 1000 or so Common Scoters, three Razorbills sat together close in and two distant adult Gannets winging their way northwards. A Grey Seal bottled just behind the light surf away to our left, only our second of the year. 
Best was a white sided duck - bingo a Scaup! But no it drifted broadside to let us know it was a drake Tufted Duck (P2 #50 - target is 90).
The sea was beginning to rough up by lunchtime and we didn't have  a lot of time to spare so didn't see anything to add to our notebook.
Spring is beginning to happen slowly but surely the signs are revealing themselves, but probably not this weekend as howling gales and snow are forecast.
Where to next? Got a group of children exploring the beach tomorrow morning so we might have some inter-tidal wildlife to show you.
In the meantime let us know if spring is still trying to spring in your outback.

Monday, 18 March 2013

A trickle for starters

The Safari got out on to a very clear Patch 2 and  would have had a good look a the multitude of Common Scoters if they weren't so far away. Most of them were just little black pixels in the distance, with very few close enough in for proper scrutiny.
Above the ducks were a few tiny little bouncing things...some came calling overhead to reveal themselves as Meadow Pipits (P2 #48) and one came straight in from miles out and became a Pied Wagtail. others of its like had been heard earlier.
Behind us somewhere on the prom we could heard a couple or more Linnets (P2 #49). 
Also on the sea were three Great Crested Grebes and nothing else.
No other news from today and there wont be an update tomorrow as we are off to the northern wildernesses with Wifey to listen to the rantings and ravings of a certain former presenter of the Really Wild show. We applied to go on that show nearly thirty years ago but never got an interview - can't think why! Flamin BBC!!!
Where to next? More scoter scrutiny but without much a change in the wind direction we're not overly hopeful of finding anything different but you never know.
In the meantime let us know if any little brown jobs have been bouncing over your outback.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Any one want some semi-professional path standers

The Safari headed off full of hope down the motorway for an hour and a half to meet up with our mates from our former haunts for our annual exploration of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker-land. We went straight to the the Lesser Pecker zone and saw a couple of photographers standing waiting. We joined them and stood on the path and waited. A nice flock of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls fed on the ground from what was probably fallen Alder seed. Some of the male Siskins were as bright as Canaries! Great Spotted Woodpeckers were about and we heard Green Woodpeckers several times. Buzzards soared overhead all day but the only Kestrel we saw was on the drive down. A Sparrowhawk was seen by some of us completing the raptorage for the day.
We waited until we needed to move to warm up, snow had been trying to fall as we left Base Camp. Moving to the feeding station we watched numerous Reed Buntings and the usual Blue and Great Tits but no sign of the wanted Willow Tits at all.

 On the lakes Canada Geese were too vocal! As were several Little Grebes.
Although this one had its mouthful of fish
then promptly dived and came up with another!
Not as impressive as the Great Crested Grebe that swallowed a Frog. Our collective binoculars couldn't find the Smew but a Kingfisher (122) was seen very briefly as it dashed past the hide - we only heard the shrill 'peeee' but hey-ho they all count.
A young Cormorant gave some ID puzzles, we think that gular angle is just about wide enough for it to be a 'sinensis' type.

Whichever subspecies it is it gave a nice reflection and the iridescent bronze on its back was gorgeous in the flat afternoon light.
While we were watching the Cormorant and waiting for the non-existent Bittern this Robin became bird of the day when it almost landed on AB's head - looked as if it might and if we'd had mealworms probably would have done.
Back in the Lesser Pecker zone the dedicated group of semi-professional path standers put in another half hour or more's tree watching but again all to no avail; even the site's regular Tawny Owl wasn't giving itself up today.
So there our have it - a great day out but barely a bird to be seen and all our target species kept themselves doubly well hidden! The Robin was easily beaten as Bird of the day when almost back at Base Camp just before we left the motorway we saw a Barn Owl hunting the hedgerows a few hundred yards from the road.
Once back at Base Camp we learned that a Scaup had been seen on the canal only a few hundred yards from where we'd been...not the luckiest of days.
Where to next? Back to the Common Scoters of Patch 2.
In the meantime let us know if you had more luck in your outback today.
Of some 'good' news we finally completed our set of the Handbook of the Birds of the Western Palearctic with an Ebay purchase of volume 7...only 36 years after we paid £20 for Volume 1 - a small fortune in those days when beer in the student union bar was 14p a pint!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Feeling defeatist

The  Safari got a total of 4 Buzzards v a single Kestrel on our motorway trip. Nothing else other than lots of Pheasants and lots and lots of Woodpigeons. The Lesser Scaup had relocated a dozen miles of so further east overnight and was 'out of range although we didn't learn about the movement until very late in the day anyway.
Once back at Base Camp after our family day out we went to the nature reserve to see if we could fin the Short Eared Owl that's been hanging around there for a couple of days - we've not had a lot of luck with this species so far this year!
The reserve didn't give us much but we were there only about an hour and at least half that was spent chatting to other birders on the walk to the gate. A very quick glance at the NE scrub gave us just one of the Long Eared Owls but we really didn't look too hard. At the embankment we hung around for as long as we dared but didn't get the Short Eared Owl only seeing a pair of Kestrels on the barn and a flock of about 65 Fieldfares heading NW at dusk.
Earlier in the day we'd been told of a gang of scrotes with dogs going through the reedbed and trying to get on to the island. Not good! When we were there the wet fields Extension to the reserve was inundated by a gaggle of youths off the neighbouring houses that should never have been built and then another youth was seen in front of the Fylde Bird Club hide and disappearing behind the reeds and into the woods - looking for somewhere to camp? Total nightmare and the silly-season is still a fortnight away...could be a long long summer. PL showed us a pic he'd just taken of an 'office' scene in the scrub, bizarrely there's a few swivel office chairs and a cabinet that someone (or more likely more than one someone) has been using for things amounting to up-to-no-good.
All this on top of a fair bit of environmental bad news about bees and neonicotinoid pesticides, not the best reforms of the CAP and vested interests trying to sneak barbaric Fox hunting back in through the vilifying of this almost innocuous animal. Around the world money is speaking far louder than Elephants, Rhinoceroses, Dolphins, Tigers and many more species with only slight victories for a handful of shark species and Manta Rays. Maybe the sea-level needs to rise about a foot or more in a matter of days and this spring's Oil Seed Rape crop totally fails for lack of pollinators only something as dramatic as those will make the 'establishment' sit up and take notice.
Not feeling very environmentally positive at the moment, hopefully tomorrow's jaunt with our mates will provide some light relief and put us in a better frame of mind....but if the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker doesn't show reach for your flak jacket and hard hat.
Where to next? More from Moore this time tomorrow?
in the meantime let us know some positive news from your outback.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Flights of fancy

The Safari has little for you today. No Patch 2 visit early on due to heavy rain.
At lunchtime the weather had bucked up a fair bit and there was even a bit of sunshine trying its best to get through the clouds. We scanned a few times before we saw a huge wisp of waders comiing out of the river mouth. A real spectacle we don't often see from our viewpoint on the wall. Probably a mixture of Knot  and Dunlin but there could well have been a good number of other species in there too.
Our next spectacle was possibly further away. A multitude of Common Scoters took to flight well out towards the horizon and they just kept coming and coming, many hundreds of them. We couldn't see anything other than Common Scoters in the flock and only saw two Red Throated Divers that were any different.
Other news is a bit more dramatic. This morning we were supposed to be at a meeting at a nature reserve at the other end of the motorway but on Wednesday arvo we had a call from one of our big boss's secretary's asking us to be in for a phone call from him this morning so we didn't go to the meeting...DISASTER as a Lesser Scaup turned up there while we would have been chewing the environmental fat...better be still there tomorrow just before lunchtime when we'll be passing on our way to a family bash, or even Sunday morning when we'll be passing on our way to a different nature reserve and a big meet with our birding mates (one of whom is a right ole Weasel) for our annual Lesser Spotted Woodpecker pilgrimage.
Where to next? Think we've just given the game away!
In the meantime let us know what requires an annual pilgrimage in your outback.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Safari had a good half hour on Patch 2 this morning before we had to go and attend to our chores/appointments. 
The sea was a bit calmer than it has been of late but most of the Common Scoters were a long way out, in excess of 2000 of them by the looks of it, now they were more countable. We tried to find yesterday's small flock of Scaup that had been seen an hour or so after we'd left. No success but we did find a male Wigeon (P2 #47) with the scoters. Beyond the first line of scoters a flock of 13, mainly male, Eiders chased about. Two others flew south together and we also had two singles going north.
A Red Throated Diver was seen flying north at great range.
These Common Scoters were at least 3/4 mile away taken with the 2.2x extender lens.

Back at Base Camp we watched nothing happening on the feeders so put the stealth-cam up and let that do the watching while we got on with what we had to do.
Whilst faffing around upstairs we happened to glance out of the window to see a Lesser Black Backed Gull (Garden #27).
Much later we looked at the stealth-cam only to find it hadn't seen a thing! But when Wifey arrived back home and we were putting the kettle on four Goldfinches and two Greenfinches turned up for a quick snack before going to roost.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 but it might well be raining too heavily to get out - hope not - certainly too cloudy tonight to be able to see the comet.
In the meantime let us know what's at the limits of photographic range in your outback.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

It could be starting...

The Safari headed out in slightly milder conditions this morning. The water out to sea was still choppy making viewing and counting the Common Scoters and we could only find about 500.
Nothing else of note was seen until three Curlews flew past on their way to more northerly breeding grounds.
At lunchtime conditions were about the same but the sun was bright to the south so looking that way was out of the question. Right out on the horizon we saw an adult Gannet wheeling around dazzlingly white in the distance. It soon flipped over to the wrong side of the horizon but it is a start!
Back at Base Camp our tea time walk gave us our first Daisies of the year, things are on the up!
Where to next? Not sure tomorrow as we've a day off but are tied to Base Camp for most of the day waiting for tradesmen.
In the meantime let us know if you've spotted the comet in the night sky in your outback yet.
LATE EDIT:- Almost forgot we've got six blobs of Frog spawn in the pond - hope (i) it doesn't get frozen and if it survives that (ii) the fish don't eat it - which they will unfortunately.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Just how chilly can it get?

The Safari went to work in weird conditions today - snow was falling from a clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight!
We went out onto Patch 2 and instantly felt the wind chill, the breeze carving its way mercilessly through our fleeces and jackets.
The sea was well chopped up making counting the Common Scoters tricky - we guesstimated about a thousand but there were probably more further out.
No sign of the Surf Scoter or any Velvet Scoters but a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers (121, 46) were a bit of a Patch 2 sigh of relief.
The cold and fierce wind put paid to anything else at lunchtime, we scan for ten minutes before we couldn't see through our watering eyes.
Mid afternoon we were asked to nip out and take some publicity photos...don't be fooled by that blue sky!

Where to next?  A warmer and less breezy Patch 2 we hope.
In the meantime let us know how low the chill factor got in your outback

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A bit o wind

The Safari might have named this post 'A bitter wind' as it was precisely that, strong and bitter more like mid winter than the beginnings of spring. 
We went to the estuary as planned for the high tide and arrived just on the ebb. We found somewhere out of the wind and set up the scope and started to 'work' the marshes. Hoping we'd bump into the Hen Harrier sooner rather than later we quickly found a Buzzard flying upriver. But that was it for big raptors. Enjoying the large number of Little Egrets and Shelducks, checking anything white for Avocets which we didn't find; the family of Whooper Swans still out there were obviously too big and too white. No Great White Egrets or Spoonbills either :-(
The only other raptors we saw were a male and a female Kestrel. The female skimmed the marsh grasses as if trying to flush the Skylarks or Starlings like a Merlin but was uninterested when it did. The male opted for a different strategy perching on a post despite the wind and dropping onto small prey items, probably invertebrates.
A Skylark sang a couple of times and we heard are first Lapwing 'song'of the year but it was bone crunchlingly cold out there. 
Still some Pink Footed Geese hanging around on the far side of the river and lots of Wigeon, Redshanks and Curlews on ourside.
With no Hen Harrier joy we decided to mpve on to the nature reserve. Mistake...if it was cold on the marsh the hide was like a fridge with a howling gale racing through it.
We didn't see much and nothing out of the ordinary but to be fair we didn't try too hard and only looked from the one hide other than having a few minutes in the Land Rover in the corner checking  over the small number of small gulls, all were Black Headed Gulls apart from a handful of Common Gulls.
We did count over 30 Shovelers, more may well have been sheltering deeper in the reeds as that's were the majority were. A single Goldeneye, five male and three female Gadwall, one of the females had weed or string caught round a foot and wasn't at all happy about it but every time she took to the air to try to shake it off she drew some unwelcome attention from the gulls.
After the nature reserve we went to a farmland site nearby where the Fylde Bird Club have a small feeding station. It looked seedless on arrival but that was because the wind had blown the seed off the 'table'. Tree Sparrows were the intended quarry but when we arrived there were only a pair of Dunnocks on the seed.

We waited a good while for a Robin to appear. Getting worried we'd miss the Tree Sparrows like we'd missed the Hen Harrier earlier we almost left too soon.
Phew, about a dozen turned up (120).

Aren't they bonny...and they shouldn't be so scarce. Have you asked your MEP to support sensible and wildlife friendly CAP reforms this week, if not please do, the more of us who badger them the more they'll realise people out there care about the future of our wildlife. Get typing there's only two days left!
Where to next? A freezing Patch 2 probably.
In the meantime let us know if you see the comet over your outback

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Some winter thrushes are still about

The Safari went out a little later than usual on our Winter Thrushes survey and found no Blackbirds in first bit of woodland, two feeding near the scratty hedge in the horse field, then only three Blackbirds at the Community Orchard there have been a lot more in recent weeks, but a Chaffinch was singing there.
On to the survey route and we could her a Song Thrush singing behind us - great sound.
Our survey gave us two more singing Song Thrushes, one had a nearby skulking partner(?). Our Blackbird total came to 24 and a handful of Starlings hit the scoreboard too.
We broke off our 'square' to visit the lake a couple of hundred yards or so out of bounds. Two Grey Lag Geese (45) were added to our NBPT list and a Great Crested Grebe slumbered quietly while a 1st winter Cormorant somehow clung to the thinnest of snags with its size 17 feet. 
A check of the Black Headed Gulls resting on the rail didn't give us any ringed birds, one was there last week, plain BTO type though not a Darvik.
Very few Mallards were on the lake and there seemed to be only one pair of Coot. Small birds were absent too.
Moving round to another viewpoint of the 'wild side' of the lake we counted nine Teal and then found a 10th well away from the others. A scan for the Pochards revealed they had left but a pair of Shovelers (NBPT #46) tucked well into edge of the reeds could be interesting if they stick around...hope so. 
Nothing much was added on the route back but we did stop in the wildflower zone and counted 24 Bee Orchid rosettes along the southern edge of the 'plateau'. A scan for Snipe in the almost permanent puddle/pond against the railway line only gave us a rather dapper Pied Wagtail.
Watching the garden, rather than actually doing any of the gardening we'd planned to do - darned rain -  gave us the regular fare, two (or a pair?) Chaffinches, 10 Goldfinches, nine Greenfinches including a 1st year bird sporting a ring which we unsuccessfully tried to read with the scope, a Wren, Blackbirds, Woodpigeons and pair of Great Tits came and went a few times. Although we hear Dunnocks singing close by every morning we've still only seen the one in the garden this year, the one that snuck in right at the death on our RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch survey.
The two new birds for the North Blackpool Pond Trail takes the tally there to one higher than Patch 2, neck and neck! Also neck and neck and even closer, tied, is our year list challenge with Monika; we're both on 119 and there's all to play for with the spring migration on its way although if there is any it's going to come to a full stop for the next few days as winter is going to hit back hard. Always feel so sorry for the Sand Martins that have only days earlier crossed the Sahara Desert to end up huddled together hungry and freezing cold on a fence wire in a snow storm at the nature reserve. Wonder if our lottery bid would run to a state of the art custom built nesting bank for them - anyone out there got any successful designs?
Where to next? Might try the estuary tomorrow morning. The  high spring tide probably isn't high enough and will be fighting against a wind trying to push it back out to sea and we'll probably get there a bit too late when it's already on the ebb but you never know. Interestingly an Otter was seen at the nature reserve yesterday, the first for ages maybe a year, so we'll probably end up there for an hour or so too.
In the meantime let us know if the migrants are arriving in your outback yet.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Not a Roman nose in sight

The Safari got out onto Patch 2 as soon as the rain had stopped again today – didn’t fancy an early morning soaking and the visibility would have been even more U/S than it was. . A good number of Common Scoters were all lined up nicely broadside for a change and weren’t too far out today. Just as well most of the scoters were close in, about 5-600 of them with more black dots in the not too distant mist. The tide had just turned and the stiff offshore breeze had the water chopped up a bit so the birds were bouncing around a bit making studying them a little bit more difficult than it could have been.
We did a few scans of them and although the yellow noses of the males stood out well against the grey of the sea but there was no sign of any with a rather larger bill.
Two Red Throated Divers sat close together as did two Great Crested Grebes, a Razorbill dropped in amongst the closest of the scoters giving good views and a drake Eider flew past before disappearing into the all-to-near mist. 
A medium sized passerine flew south well out to sea, Skylark/Song Thrush? type thingy far too far for an ID though.
At lunchtime the tide had dropped and the birds drifted out with it making them on the limits of visibility. Only the usual Common Scoters in the scoter flock but at least we upped the Great Crested Grebe count to a huge three.
What will happen next week is that the Surf Scoter will be so far offshore and only just identifiable with the cheapo Chinese scope now that we've returned the proper-job one back to Base Camp!
Where to next? Early morning Winter Thrushes Survey tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what very successfully avoiding you, aided and abetted by the weather, in your outback

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

No such luck

The Safari left the house as usual with Frank only to see a light mist swirling around in the light from the street lamps on the cold easterly wind. It didn’t bode well for our Patch 2 search later. Driving to work our fears were realised as we could barely see across the beach for low mist and the tops of our popular land marks, the Tower and the Big One could not be seen. Searching for an aquatic needle in a watery haystack wasn’t going to be easy.
Grabbing the scope we got onto the wall forsaking our normal position for one by the more or less useless 'designer' shelters as we tried to glean a bit of shelter in the lee on the nearest one for the tripod – yes the proper-job scope does actually have a tripod!
As we scanned it was evident that we weren’t going to be successful, the light was worse than atrocious, the mist was down over the sea only yards beyond the water’s edge and the few Common Scoters we could see were well out and just indefinable black dots...absolutely no chance of finding our American quarry under those conditions.
Two Razorbills were closer in but we still couldn’t see much detail on them, but that reminded us we forgot to mention the Guillemot we saw out there yesterday.
Nothing of note was on the ever expanding beach.
By the time lunchtime came round we were hoping the mist would have lifted but no such luck if anything it had drifted in with the tide. The scoters had drifted in too but were still far enough out to be shrouded in the mist, only just about able to tell males from females on all but the nearest birds.
A solitary Great Crested Grebe was the only other species seen other than the regular gulls and a couple of fly past Oystercatchers.
Not the best of safaris!
Where to next? Only one shot at the Yankee tomorrow got an out-of-the-office-but-still-indoors event at lunchtime but there may be some news from that part of the world.
In the meantime have you signed the petition to help protect the raptors in your out back. For a description of what it’s all about see here.  Two and half thousand signatures is good but there's a long way to go...let's make this one count!
LATE UPDATE - our friend DW who we met up with yesterday sent us us pics of his Land Rover adventures but also included a couple of pics of a mustelid he'd picked up dead last spring on the side of the road and instead of letting it rot there he picked it up and had it stuffed by a local taxidermist. We weren't sure what exactly what it was so we sent it to the Lancashire Mammal Group who forwarded it to the curator of mammals at Liverpool Museum and the answer came back as a Polecat, not a Ferret/Polecat hybrid...archives are being checked but it could well be the first 'recent' record for Lancashire!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Still springy still surfless

The Safari wasn't liking the fog at all this morning which meant that searching for the Surf Scoter was impossible. We could only just about see across the beach and the low tide was quite high today if that makes sense. The beach held a modicum of interest with eight Sanderlings and a single Ringed Plover.
Mid morning an old friend, well he's a lot younger than us but we haven't seen him for many years, popped in for a visit. We chewed the fat for a while before havong a look at each others Land Rovers, his is far snazzier than our knackered old Disco...a new model Freelander - very swish! Anyway walking back he spotted a movement in the shrubbery and then we both heard the chittering of a Wren (P2 #45), a hard bird to get at work, only saw one last year although we missed one that the Young Un's saw.
Nearby the first Coltsfoot flowers of the spring were growing in the first flower bed.

Lunchtime on the wall wasn't much better than the early session. The fog had lifted to become a hazy mist but the real bug-bear if we can call it that was the sun again - arrrghhh far too bright! And again the huge majority of the scoters were to the impossible-to-look-into south.
Then we had a bit of a surprise - a Swallow was seen along the North Blackpool Pond Trail by the Project Officer - early as you like, hope it survives any cold spells that might lurking on the horizon, plenty of midge-like flies enjoying the sunshine this arvo for it though.
Where to next? More searching sewarching searching and associated stuff in dare we saw cloudy conditions...ooohh errr might not have really wanted to say that!
In the meantime let us how spring is coming along in your outback.

Monday, 4 March 2013

No surf dude but all wasn't lost

The  Safari wasn't going to look for the weekend's Surf Scoter with the usual cheapo Chinese scope; no, we brought the full monty HD/ED Japanese proper job from Base Camp for today's sessions. Pity the weather didn't think of upgrading too.
It wasn't too bad but visibility wasn't good beyond middle distance and the breeze had chopped up the water and there were plenty of white horses. Unfortunately the tide was out and the majority of the scoters were well out as well. We couldn't find anything of note apart from about 700 or so Common Scoters and half  dozen Great Crested Grebes.
All was not lost though, looking further down the beach past our relatively birdless stretch the southern beach was crammed with birds. While looking through the multitude of assembled Oystercatchers and gulls three Grey Plovers (118, 43) flew through and within seconds of them whizzing by the scope settled on three larger longer billed waders, Bar Tailed Godwits (119, 44)...can't be bad!
At lunchtime it was a case of not wanting the warm spring mad is that! Everything to the south was far too hazy and bright to be able to distinguish anything but silhouettes and that's were almost all the scoters were and the sea was a lot calmer! Very few were to the north of us and those that were were illuminated perfectly if still a little distant. Shame we didn't have the larger number to work through.
The day had a last surprise for us. Wifey got home later than expected and we were making her a brew when she said she had some milk in the car. We went out and saw a Grey Wagtail heading east low over Base Camp (garden #22).
No pics today, we've been so busy we've not had a chance to notice anything around us other than the two sessions for the Surf Scoter, only the fourth in Lancashire since 1882 you know.
Where to next? We have a feeling the proper job scope will be taken to work again tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what gave you the unexpected saving bonus in your outback.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Unforced labour

The Safari had a day off from wildlife safari-ing and met up with three other members of the BEAT NatureWatch group to do some practical conservation work...with real spades n stuff!
We braved very pleasant early spring sunshine and excessive Brambles to remove a huge clump of non-native bamboo and about 50 tree saplings that had been planted in the nature area for reptiles and amphibians by well meaning but unfortunately ill-advised members of the public.
The bamboo was taken to the zoo where it will be enjoyed by a selection of animals including their gorgeous Red Pandas. The trees will be trans-located to new homes in various locations along the North Blackpool Pond Trail.
Also at this site is our tiny population of Water Voles. we had a bit of a quick survey along the bank rather than getting in to the water. We found a few burrows and this latrine which we think the droppings are as indicated in the pic - any help anyone? The Rat(?) droppings were a little longer, thicker and more pointy. They were drier and well out of the water so they could have been the same colour in the beginning.
We found a lovely patch of moss on an old log.

Nearby another log was full of Jelly Ear Fungus - formerly known as the (now unPC) Jew's Ear Fungus.
Lovely purple hue to them today but as hard as iron to the touch, not the normal wibbly-wobbly jelly texture
While we were photographing this the others were rummaging around near the water's edge lifting up all manner of litter/fly tipping/ logs etc and found this little chap.

Smooth Newt - not stalking a worm as it appears to be
Turning a slab we also found five Frogs lurking beneath...not long now buntil the first spawn appears.
After we'd left the zoo we had to take the kit back to the nature reserve so we had a quick look in the Feeding Station while we were there.
Some fun with the Pheasants in the feeders that have sadly been trashed by drunken teenage ar*ewipes - what on earth do they get out of numptyness like that?
Mind you don't get yer head stuck down there!
 A Woodpigeon only gave one photo opportunity, it flew when it heard the camera shutter.
Time to get back to Base Camp but outside the hide we spotted more signs of spring in the form of some nice Hazel catkins.

Back at Base Camp Frank was looking cute with one of Wifey's shoes but his bad leg is still giving him gyp after his puppy-like leaping around the other day. he's had a couple of quiet days so hopefully it'll be better soon.
Where to next? There's a Surf Scoter to be re-found on Patch 2 - apparently no sign of it today...
In the meantime let us know who's been well meaning but got it all horribly wrong in your outback.