Tuesday 30 April 2013

Almost summery sun at last

The Safari has nearly enjoyed a sunny day today...that wind is still a bit on the cruel side though.
This morning a Heron flew over while we were hanging out the washing out and when out with Frank a pair of Grey Lag Geese came overhead that might have been over Base Camp airspace.
Patch 2 was a dead loss, nothing was on or over the sea as we could see, this is the first day for many months that we didn't see a Common Scoter.
At lunchtime an errand gave us a poor excuse to leg across the moss to see if we could see the Crossbills that appeared a couple of days ago. Two birders were already in place but their faces soon told us they'd had no luck so far
We had a look round most of the other pine trees but they didn't have anything like as many cones as the ones by the pond the Crossers had been favouring. Three Ring Necked Parakeets, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sedge Warbler in the light vegetation round the pond, a Whitethroat, a male Blackcap, a silent  Chiffchaff all gave good views. Skylarks were singing in the distance and 3 Buzzards soared overhead. 
The warmth had brought out butterflies for fun including our first Comma of the year - gorgeous out there - oh to be able to stay out.
A slow stroll round Patch 1 with Frank before tea gave us an interesting calling Goldcrest, much harsher than their normal call which had us guessing for a little while til we got on the bird. This was followed by Magpie alarm calls and when we looked round we saw the male Sparrowhawk weaving through the trees carrying a prey item...the female was a few yards behind him calling loudly.

It's a rather special birthday today, might have to treat the Disco to a nice drink of fresh clean engine oil.

Where to next? It's that time of year when anything can happen so we wait with baited breath for anything to happen.
In the meantime let us know what didn't put in an appearance in your outback.

Monday 29 April 2013

To bee or not to bee

The Safari is very relieved after the sensible EU vote to curtail the use of three Neonicotinoid pesticides this afternoon and go someway to helping the beleaguered bee populations. We actually don't thisnk they wnt far enough and will be interesting to see if our more than useless Environment Secretary ignores the decision in favour of his big business chums anyway.
We'd have liked the ban to last for three years not two as the half life of these chemicals in the soil where they remain active is three years, six might have been better the way they have been used willy-nilly over the last few years! But that's the price of 'cheap' food.
What we don't want to see happen is a cocktail of even more deadly chemicals developed to replace these, or have these dumped on the developing world 'to improve their agricultural output'...no pollinators no output!
Lets hope some proper independent science can find a sensible way forward and the big agrochemical corporations can develop more specifically targeted pesticides. We've gone as organic as we dare but still eat a fair proportion of 'normally' produced food. We don't want the return of Potato Blight or Ergot in to our crops and we don't want to lose significant volumes to the hungry insect hordes, a happy medium has to be found to ensure security of supply without decimating the ecosystem on which we all depend, farmers and politicians included.

Continuing the bee theme a Tawney Mining Bee on our neighbours dry stone bank where the other (unknown) mining bee species lives, not sure if we've seen one here before, don't think so.

All pollinators have an important role to play so wiping them out in the name of short-term financial gain has got to be just a bit stupid.

General conditions in the gardens because we saw a Blackbird desperately clinging to the sunny seed feeder like a Blue Tit this evening - can't say we've ever seen that before!
After work we called in at the entrance to the big hotel where a Wood Warbler had been seen first thing this morning. MMcG and PT where stood their lenses pointing at the trees in the corner. Appareently it was singing and showing quite well until PT arrived - we're saying nowt!
We stood there having a bit of banter about PT's enormous carbon footprint but the warbler didn't warble.
We could stay all afternoon so had to leave it and come back later. We did just that and within a couple of minutes of standing under the same trees it fired up, living up to the lovely sibilatrix part of its scientific name. Wood Warbler (155, MMLNR #102), not exactly on the nature reserve but just within our recording area centred on the mere. PS got some good view as it hopped around the canopy singing sporadically, we just couldn't quite pick it up and only saw little flits here and there through the tree top twigs.
Patch 2 was poor, beyond poor even; best wasan unidentified very distant skua.
Where to next? More Patch 2 dreams tomorrow, the wind should have dropped so what will be revealed - still waiting for that Whimbrel to fly past too.
In the meantime let us know what's shivering and trembling while it sings in your outback

Sunday 28 April 2013

Where did the lovely sunsine go?

The Safari didn't do much safari-ing today. The plan to get up and out early was kiboshed by a horrible strong cold wind so we stayed snug and warm in bed!
After a hearty breakfast of a chunkily thick organic BLT - is it true organic tastes better than 'normal' or is it just psychosomatic? Certainly seems too! - we set off somewhat late to the nature reserve in persistent drizzle.
Nothing much was about, a few Blackcaps singing and Willow/Chiffs moving through the shrubs silently.
We had a look round and noted a huge amount of Himalayan Balsam germinating, nightnmare, that'll need blitzing and there's no Rangers on site anymore to do it - damned cuts! Stupid shame that all our money was given o the banks to bail them out.
We had a bit of a tidy up in our old cabin and got all nostalgic for a while in there...when is a promotion (more like a side-swipe actually) not a promotion.
A look through the drizzle over the mere gave us a plethora of hirundines with a good proportion of House Martins today and just one Swift
On of the Cetti's Warblers sang to our left and we watched two male Blackcaps desperately searching for insects in the dreadful conditions. The best sighting was a of a pair of Little Grebes, we'd heard the rippling trill a couple of times but seeing them rooting around in a little open pool deep in the reedbed was very interesting indeed - not sure when they last breed on site.
A pair of Mallards arrived in front of the hide and we filled our boots with portraits.

This female looks more like a juvenile male with the green showing through which may be why the  male abandoned 'her' sharpish when another female floated past.
On another bum note vegetation wise we were informed about the possible theft of some of our Bee Orchids.

We found three more rosettes after some searching but it begs the question who did this and if they know what to look for at this time of year then they really ought to know better - thieving rat bags!
Where to next? There's still some wind about so Patch2 could produce in the morning.
In the meantime let us know who's stealing what from your outback

Saturday 27 April 2013

A nice mixed bag today

The Safari was out before there was a 6 on the clock this morning. Frank woke us up horribly early so after he's been taken out and then given his breakfast we pointed the Land Rover at the nature reserve.
It was a tad on the frosty side, by eck it cooled our tootsies! A Grasshopper Warbler was heard in the distance from the rough grass extension to the nature reserve. It was pretty quiet, just a few Blackcaps, Blackbirds and plenty of Wrens, probably bird of the day and don't seem to have suffered too hard in the long winter.
A Shelduck appeared to have left the water as it flew low over our head half way along the path. One of our hoped for species piped up in the expected place, Lesser Whitethroat (154, MMLNR  #101). From the reed bed we heard several Reed Warblers and a couple of Sedge Warblers singing in the the rising mist as the sun edged over the eastern horizon.
The Barn Owl was peering out of his box but as we were about to get a picture the first dog walker of the morning decided he need to chat to us.
Not a good morning to be a Short Tailed Field Vole...having survived the ravages of the Barn Owl now the Kestrel was awake  and looking for breakfast.
 Even gave us the once over! Hopefully it assessed us as being a bit on the big side for breakfast.
 The sun's rays rose over the embankment and illuminated the nature reserve in a glorious crisp light.
 The Mute Swans no doubt welcomed the warmth as it reached them.
Four Cetti's Warblers were entered in the notebook and we stood a good while not seeing any Pied Flycatchers but all the time we were there Swallows buzzed us really close, over thee water there were about 50 of them and possibly twice that many Sand Martins and just a single Swift.
After a good couple of hours our tummy was telling us it was time for a brew and a couple of slices of toast. On the way back we spoke to a birder/photographer who had just taken a superb pic of a Grasshopper Warbler singing in the open, he said there were three down there, one of which we'd had and we had another at the far end just after the Barn Owl fiasco.
Wifey allowed us to go out again mid morning. Traffic was diabolical so we opted to park up at a different place and walk a bit further to the nature rerserve. Turned out to be a good move. 
In the woods all the usual woodland birds were in good voice and someone had put food on a log in there but it was a bit busy with families for the birds to stop for more than a smash and grab raid.
The gulls that lurk on the roofs in the zoo alerted us to a raptor...Osprey?...no 'just' a Buzzard but very low and would have made a good subject for the lens had we not been under the trees.
We had a look under the usual refugia and were reported with our first Toad of the year...WHAT? - at the end of April...on a month or more late!!!
Under the next one was a Smooth Newt
And an adult Great Crested Newt...nice to see these back in their 'normal' place but will we find some different individuals next time.
 The next one had a little baby from last year.
We do have a licence to handle these rare animals.
The Cowslips were impressive too.
We didn't come across anything else of real note as we sat on the sheltered bench enjoying the now warm sun. We were waiting for the gulls to pick out another raptor which they failed to do, only finding us a couple of Herons and not flinching when the Kestrel flew over.
A couple of Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells also enjoyed the warm conditions while Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers and a male Blackcap picked insects from the outer branches of the adjacent Willow tree - a lovely way to spend...don't actually know how long we sat there, well over an hour.
The resident male Mute Swan, a different one from the ones above at the far end of the lake, wasn't at all happy about the Canada Geese and Grey Lag Geese intruding into his territory.
Working in the garden in the afternoon with Wifey didn't produce anything new, the garden is still on the cold and wintery side but we did plant up some flowers ready for the invasion of the bugs.
Where to next? We might get down to the nature reserve again tomorrow, could be early again...
In the meantime let us know who rules the roost in your outback.

Friday 26 April 2013

The ton is up but not with a self found

The Safari started the day with two males and a female Eider going north well out on Patch 2. A couple of Manx Shearwaters went south and a bout ten Sandwich Terns fished in the distance, the early morning sun glinting of the small fish they were catching even though they were well over a mile out!
The wind was brisk today and the waves were high making seeing anything on the sea awkward but we did find a nice summer plumaged Red Throated Diver fairly close in, same one as the last two days?
Half a dozen Sanderlings sped by low over the water and a couple of Gannets cruised past not too far out. Three Common Scoters were being bounced around on the choppy waves.
Not as exciting as the recently but not bad for ten minutes. 
At lunchtime the wind had strengthened and cooled and the tide was being whipped over the wall in places but luckily not in our watching place. It was a different kettle of fish altogether and there must have been some fish out there. Manx Shearwaters arced through the troughs and cavorted with the waves in good numbers, at least 50 with more found on the water. At least 25 Kittiwakes were out there too. Ignoring the melee and heading south were three adult and two 1st summer Little Gulls, we always enjoy these pico-larids.
A pair of Red Breasted Mergansers flew north in the distance and beyond them in the haze there were a few Gannets dipping up and down on the horizon, a 1st summer Gannet eclipsed them by being so close as not to fit comfortably in our field of view!
A very enjoyable watch and one we could have stayed out for a lot longer enjoying the feeding scene with the Manxies and Kittiwakes swirling around.
Next it was off to our ever hopeful site to check refugia and listen for 'plops'. No Grass Snakes, no Great Crested Newts and no Water Voles...come on guys where are you? In fact there wasn't much of anything in the now chilly conditions; a Red Tailed Bumble Bee, a Small Tortoiseshell, a couple of Blackbirds and just two Frogs that's all...disappointing but given the conditions not altogether unexpected, a warbler of some species or other would have been nice...or a chat!
Earlier in the day we'd been told of a pair of Pied Flycatchers at the nature reserve and hoped they'd stick around until we'd got back to Base Camp and taken Frank out. New came in that the male hadn't been seen since the first sighting...not good. 
A txt confirmed the female was still there but not showing particularly well or often...oohh err. Off we went and soon after parking up heard a Whitethroat and then a distant Grasshopper Warbler.
At the prescribed place a Cetti's Warbler sang loudly moments after a visiting birder who'd never heard one had to meet his family.
Then a flit was seen and the female Pied Flycatcher (153, MMLNR #100) came in to view but frustrating stayed on the edge of cover and although was obviously enjoying the last rays of sunshine, shelter from the biting wind and consequent insect activity.
As we turned to leave a Swift wafted overhead.
Where to next? Might try to get out there earlyish tomorrow morning.
In the meantime let us know if the ton's up in your outback.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Patch 2 Mega!

The Safari is enjoying a real purple patch at the moment, we just seem to be stumbling across good birds - how long can it last?
The day started pretty well with the male Peregrine on the tower, it was there briefly last night but must have returned. It has a primary missing on one wing so should be easily recognised if seen anywhere else locally.
We had to drop Wifey's car off at the garage and taking it there saw the beautiful patch of Lesser Celandine near the railway bridge on the way. After leaving it at the garage we were walking down to the tram when spotted a small patch of Sweet Vernal Grass flower spikes. Spring is starting to get going at last.
Patch 2 gave us perfect viewing conditions, a grey sky, no wind giving a flat calm sea and a comfotable temperature. Shame we were late in to work and could only give it a few minutes...but they turned out to be a good few minutes. 
Two Razorbills were first in the notebook, sitting together not too far out, then a Guillemot was found, later we'd find another three. 12 Golden Plovers flew south, just about the only birds in the air today. The only other waas a male Eider also going south.
Away in the distance we were looking at a small flock of Common Scoters bobbing about on the very light swell when a Harbour Porpoise rolled a few hundred yards beyond them. It didn't stick around long, we only saw it three times, and while scanning we found a Grey Seal.
The scoter flock numbered nine and as we scanned past them we came across a Red Throated Diver but nearby was a dark bird we didn't get on properly before it dived. We kept the scope on the spot and after what seemed like an age a Black Guillemot (153, P2 #59) popped in to view...in bob on full summer plumage too...result!!! A really scarce bird here, far rarer than the porpoises! We've only seen one winter plumaged one from here before - well happy!!!
Three Sandwich Terns finshed the entries in the notebook.
By lunchtime the weather had turned for the worst and it was raining heavily. We had checked the garden briefly for falling passerines but none were found - where's our Redstart or Whinchat, they're everywhere else.
Over on the sea all we could find in the now very poor visibility was a pair of Sandwich Terns the male of which courtship the female whilst she was sat on the sea...and that was it - poor after the heaven of the morning watch.
Dropping Wifey off at work and picking her up at close of play gave us two new species on our North Blackpool Pond Trail list, nothing special but Willow Warbler (53) and Swallow (54) needed to be added sooner rather than later.
All the excitement of today was sadly tempered by the our return to Base Camp past the Lesser Celandine which had been mowed off - soooo disappointing especially as we're desperately trying to get the powers that be to understand that we need bees and butterflies and they need the wildflowers!
Where to next? Can we keep up our run of unbelievable success? A check of the snake zone tomorrow, a Great Crested Newt would be a good find, a Water Vole would have us in raptures but if we actually found a Grass Snake you'll be able to hear the squeals of joy down at Maroo! Wonder if Aussie Glen has had any more sightings of the Numbat he saw last week, his first on his home turf.
In the meantime let us know how purple the patch is in your outback.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Do they know which way they should be going?

The Safari's wildlife-ing day started before we go out of bed this morning, we heard an unknown number of Pink Footed Geese passing overhead a few minutes before the alarm went off. Whilst listening for any more we heard a Blackcap (Garden #29) sing from not far away, certainly sounded closer than the Golden Triangle.
Conditions over Patch 2 were pretty good, windy but not too windy, good light and clear visibility and not too cold.

First bird seen was a distant Great Black Backed Gull but the second was much better a much closer dark phase Arctic Skua (151 P2 #57). trouble is it was going south. Over the next few minutes we had three Manx Shearwaters, two north one south, five Kittiwakes all north, two Razorbills, south, three Common Scoters, south, a Red Throated Diver, south, and a couple of Sandwich Terns, south...do they know it's spring and they should be going the other way? Surprise of the day, and what a big one it was, also flew past southwards, a Great Northern Diver (152, P2 #58) even closer in than the Arctic Skua at the beginning of our watch. They aren't annual off Patch 2, almost but not quite, and we can't guarantee getting one on our P2 list in any given year, we often have to twitch one somewhere off patch.
One of the fishermen came over for a chat, he hadn't seen the Harbour Porpoises yesterday but to be fair he'd have probably needed bins. But we got the impression he and his mates aren't too keen on our Grey Seals...always something else to blame for the lack of fish other than the fact his bait wasn't presented correctly or the offshore trawlers have swept the sea clean of fish. Must be some around as he did say that Dover Sole, Mullet and a few Bass have been caught recently.
With all that excitement at breakfast time we could hardly wait for lunchtime to come round.
As always lunchtime did come round and we saw two distant Gannets for starters, guess which way they were going. Two Little Gulls followed a few minutes later a lot closer in and two more were further out after a few more minutes.  A horizon distant Red Throated Diver went south...what was it about today...what are we getting weather-wise tomorrow????? But we did see another (same?) going the 'proper' way and a third in full summ plum sat on the sea very close in but difficult to enjoy because of the large waves.
In the middle distance a swirl of feeding Manx Sheawaters appeared somewhere between 30 and 50 of them with about two dozen Kittiwakes all adults bar one first summer bird.
Common Scoter numbers were up on this morning, two south!, six distant SE and six close by on the sea to our right. A couple of auk sps went south...must be really awful ooop noorfff! And a properly identified but infinitely closer Razorbill went - yes you guessed it...
A pair of Eiders, flying south just below the wall completed our watch.
Back at Base Camp Frank took us to Patch 1 where little was happening on a cool evening but we did find Meadow Foxtail in flower at last.
Where to next? Can't hardly wait to get back there in the morning - anything could be out there...Whimbrel would be good or even hearing one from our pit before the alarm goes off might be nice.
In the meantime let us know what was going the wrong way in your outback

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Not a bad day to be out

The Safari endured a cool wind off the sea this morning but there was some interest to keep us motivated.
The general theme for this morning was southerly movement. Three Manx Shearwaters arced gracefully past and three single Gannets cruised by. A lone Razorbill was identified but we had a few other unidentified auks. Two distant Kittiwakes and several Sandwich Terns kept us searching and we picked up a couple of Arctic Terns in the near middle distance. Close by a pair of Eiders whizzed past and we found a Red Throated Diver which was difficult to get on due to the waves and swell. 
We went in for our brew quite happy with that but wondered what MJ and the others had seen from their watch point a few hundred yards further down but at the time of tapping this rubbish out on the keyboard they hadn't posted on the Bird Club's website.
At lunchtime the tide had dropped a fair bit but there wasn't much on the beach. Out at sea it was a different story. We scanned the empty horizon until we came across a cluster of swirling Manx Shearwaters, difficult to count but we got at least eight, could have been twice as many. They were at a bait-ball with some Kittiwakes and what were probably Sandwich Terns. no Arctic Skua though. We then noticed a dark spot in the waves directly in front of them - a Grey Seal. First we've seen for a week or so. A very close Kittiwake was then seen and a pair of Eiders flew past, a little later we saw another more distant pair which may or may not have been the same two.
Two adult Little Gulls then went past in the middle distance away to the Grey Seal's left and in front of them we thought we saw another seal much closer in, we watched and waited for it to reappear but when it did it wasn't a seal but two Harbour Porpoises which then showed several times just behind the surf - excellent!
Shame about the dead one that was reported washed up at the weekend somewhere near Chat Alley.
A few more diving Sandwich Terns made up the rest of the rather enjoyable and warm(ish) watch. The sun was nice but the wind was still on the chilly side and we required gloves and our woolly hat, the elderly chap that walked past us without his shirt on obviously thought differently - first naked torso  of the year! 
Where to next? More of the same tomorrow would be nice but could we have that Arctic Skua now please.
In the meantime let us know who thinks its warm enough in your outback.

Monday 22 April 2013

Three quarters there

The Safari got something right at last. A big bait ball to the north of Patch 2 attracted a few Little Gulls, three of four Kittiwakes but best was around 50 Manx Shearwaters (150, P2 #56) wheeling around bring up the 150, 75% of our expected target for this year.
Will we get the remaining 50 species? Who cares we'll see what we see and enjoy it all!
A late twitch for a Wood Warbler was unsuccessful, perhaps 1/4 of an hour too late.
Where to next? Gonna stick out neck out and say we'll get an Arctic Skua tomorrow on Patch 2.
In the meantime let us know if your outback is on target.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Spilt shifts miss the goodies

The Safari got to the nature reserve a couple of minutes after six this morning armed with our lucky socks! As soon as we opened the door to let Frank out a Cetti's Warbler piped up, a tally of the known areas they occur in suggests seven singing males this season :-) In the same small patch of reeds Sedge Warbler (142, MMLNR #92*) started to sing its manic song, within seconds a Reed Warbler (143, 93) sang too. Things were looking springy at last. More of each were heard too. We walked along the embankment and boy was it cool in the breeze but the promised early rain was nowhere in sight. Behind us a pair of Little Grebes called, will they nest here this year? Deffo nesting here is the pair of Mute Swans, the female sitting on a huge pile of vegetation gave the game away. A little further down we could see the Barn Owl (MMLNR # 94) sitting in the doorway of his box. Looking down the length of the mere gave us a surprise Pink Footed Goose on the water which later joined the 27 Grey Lag Geese feeding in the fields to the east.
Three Oystercatchers flew over calling loudly and we counted three sitting Lapwings in said fields, but no Wheatears :-( Two Stock Doves held their usual position on the barn roof. Frank had got as far as he was prepared to go so we turned round to go back to have a look from the FBC hide. Not far along we thought we heard a Grasshopper Warbler, walking a little further ears wide open we did definitely hear it (144, 95) but couldn't find it in the dense vegetation below the embankment, a bird  moved in the general area but was a male Reed Bunting.
A check from the hide didn't give us a Common Sandpiper but a large number of mixed hirundines dropped in.
Back at Base Camp a chunky organic bacon butty was devoid with gusto - delish!
As soon as the washing up was done we went back out this time without Frank. Before we reached the nature reserve the rain started.
We did a slow full curcuit and spent a long time in the NW hide looking down the length of the mere as the rain hammered down. 
Chiffchaffs were heard and a Willow Warbler pottered about low in the Brambles in front of us and to the right a Whitethroat (145, 96) sang just once but wasn't seen.
Gadwall numbered eight in the end and we found 10 Teal. 85 or so Coot included only one we could see sitting. Shovelers were hidden at first but showed themselves to be eight males and three females.
The pair of Kestrels were on the barn and a Buzzard.
Eventually we found a Common Sandpiper (146, 97) leaving to the SE and heard the ringing 'teu teu teu' of an unseen Greenshank (147, 98) not a bad bird for the reserve. 
Walking slowly round in the rain didn't give us much except for a few more Willow Warblers and a huge flock of hirundines. 
Reaching the hide we learned that the Redstart we'd expected to find on the other side was in front of the hide earlier! Several Willow Warblers hunted for insects in the reedbed as did a flycatching Blackcap and a Sedge Warbler stayed fairly well hidden.
MJ told us that the Greenshank had been on the scrape for about seven minutes and that there was a single Swift (148, 99) amongst the massed ranks of Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins.
Getting cold and hungry with no let up in the rain we wandered slowly back to the Land Rover without finding much else of note.
Back at Base Camp the sun came out and news quickly broke of another Redstart, a female, on the north side - the one we couldn't find and more impressive a Wood Warbler, very very irregular here; perhaps we left too early.
In the four hours we were there the camera was only brought out from under the coat once...to photograph a Lesser Black Backed Gull - it was only when we downloaded the pics back at Base Camp we spotted that it was ringed but it was a bit too far to be able to read the numbers.

Where to next? What will Patch 2 provide? Manx Shearwaters and other seabirds or something overhead to get us vis migging
In the meantime let us know if you left your outback too early

* CR spotted a counting error in that we hadn't given our Arctic Tern a tally number for the nature reserve but all the birds and all the arithmetic has been checked and double checked and the numbers given for the nature reserve are correct...not that we're counting ;-)

Saturday 20 April 2013

Patch 1 mega!

The Safari woke up to a frosty dawn but fortunately the sun was strong enough to blitz it off quite quickly and it turned in to a very nice day. We didn't get out until late afternoon after our Extreme Photographer had come round to do a bit of a five minute job which lasted a good couple of hours - nothing's ever straight forward at Base Camp! 
After the last screw had been tightened we had a brew and then picked up our cameras and walked round to Patch 1. The warmth had brought out a good many bees and we saw a couple of  Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. 
A Chiffchaff was seen in the Butterfly Zone where the Elms are flowering but many more seemed to have died of Dutch Elm Disease so we hope that the White Letter Hairstreaks are OK...seriously need to sort out the planting of some disease resistant Elms next season if we can.
At the pond we spent a fair few minutes waiting for the Pond Skaters to come within range, our Extreme Photographer even managed to get a pic of a Water Measurer too, pretty impressive!
Very heavy crop - a little too far away at their nearest
Above the pond a Coal Tit was singing and at the upper pond we failed to see any Frogs or Toads but there were some there making waves beneath the Duckweed and they'd been busy judging by the huge amount of spawn in the middle of the pond - buckets of the stuff. A pair of Wrens collected nest material from the edge of the pond.
We wondered round the gardens without seeing anything else of enough interest to point the lenses at so we hit the rough field where another Small Tortoiseshell caught our attention. After blasting of a few pics of that we wandered down to the mounds and gravelly area at the bottom of the hill. It's a very very late spring as the vegetation hasn't got going at all, even the Coltsfoot is only just coming into flower here! But we're glad we did come down this far as our Extreme Photographer caught a fleeting glimpse of something red that he didn't think was a Robin that flitted along the scratty bit of hedge in the corner of the field. We put our bins up in the general direction he was pointing and got a bird by fluke right in the middle of the field of view in perfect focus! He was right it deffo wasn't a Robin...a crackin male Redstart (141). Not the first to have been seen here, but there haven't been many and this was first either of us have seen here.
We didn't get a chance to get the camera up before it did another flit and the drivel below is all we could manage.
After yesterday's dip we're triple chuffed to have one on our local patch that we aren't able to get too all that often these days.
Sadly our Extreme Photographer's computer has thrown a wobbly so we might not see his results for some time.
Where to next? Should be able to get a few hours at the nature reserve tomorrow, maybe early doors.
In the meantime let us know what multi-coloured beauties graced your outback

Friday 19 April 2013

Hedgehogs n stuff

The Safari now knows loads more about Hedgehogs than we ever thought we would when we set off for school at 9.00am this morning! 17 species, they can live upto 7 or more years and we can't wait to see the designs Yr 4 have come up with for their hedgehog houses they are going to secrete about the school's grounds. What great fun we had and at the very end of the day we were 'invited' to take part in the last of their Science Week experiments - could the excessive weight a world famous naturalist stand in a tray of eggs without breaking them???? Trousers were rolled up, shoes taken off and plenty of newspaper spread on the floor...big fanfare...big intake of breath...yes it can...just...one egg was slightly cracked at the pointy end...phew!!!
Once our shoes were put back on and our duties to Yr 4 ended we went to the nature reserve which is only round the corner. As soon as we got through the gate, a different way in today, we saw the regular flock of House Sparrows (MMLNR #90) that live in the dense Blackthorn thicket there.
Dawdling down the hill we saw a few Small Tortoishells and big bumble bees. 
By the main gate the Ash tree flowers were open at last.
A Chiffchaff called and then we heard a Blackcap (138, 91) singing but we couldn't locate it in the depths of a Bramble thicket.
We ambled round to the Viewing Platform where MJ was already ensconced but he hadn't seen much. From the reeds to our right a Cetti's Warbler did its best to deafen us. We saw plenty more bees and butterflies and at one stage had three Peacocks in the air together. We're not sure how many Small Tortoiseshells we saw, probably about 10 or so

A constant activity of Phylloscopus warblers went past us, most taking advantage of the warm sun and shelter form the still cold wing on the Willow bush beside us, there must have been plenty of insect activity up there amongst the flowers. but they also spent much time in the reed bed in front of us.

Some in the Willow bush opted for the flycatcher type approach and we could hear the click as their bills snapped shut on the hapless flies while others used the stop and search tactic.
It was lovely out there and it even smelt like spring at last.
Within a few minutes of getting back to Base Camp we got a call from AB about a Redstart at the same site as the Yellow Wagtails a couple of days ago. We jumped in Wifey's car and drove the threee or so miles to find a group of birders already searching the same field as we were watching the wagtails in. No sign of the Redstart, it had been seen for some time but there was a Redshank and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers (139) probing the remains of the muddy flood.
Handheld phone-digiscoped - must try harder and learn the none-auto settings  
Still no sign of the Redstart but one of our friends put us on to the stonking male Whinchat (140) that was at the far end of the field...wot little beauts they are!
And then a Barn Owl floated over the fields away in the further distance and all the while we were there Skylark song filled the air...all to soon it was time to head back to Base Camp and a big plateful of Wifey's yummy home made curry.
Where to next? Not much chance of any safri-ing until late afternoon tomorrow, we thought we'd have one more Winter thrushes Survey to do but last weekend was the close of it until next September.
In the meantime let is know what's too colourful for its own good in your outback

Thursday 18 April 2013

A mixed bag today

The Safari didn't go on the beach with the little tots today, they very wisely baled out due to the horrendous that left us a bit of time to peer through the scope. A good decision as the first bird we saw was a Fulmar (137, P2 #55). A few Gannets went through as did a pair of Eiders. A handful of Sandwich Terns were also, like everything else, going south.
Not much was happening at lunchtime which was disappointing but we were able to go to the nature reserve for an hour before our evening meeting. We arrived to hear a Goldcrest (MMLNR #89) and close by a Willow Warbler. Sitting on the bench in the sun was very pleasant; a Cetti's Warbler sang as we scanned the mere. Seven Great Crested Grebes we found.
The wind was from the west - could you guess?
Dive dive dive
We couldn't find our quarry species and became convinced it had done one but then there it was right in front of us - where had that come from?
Arctic Tern on the mere, our first for at least 20 years!!! Not the best pics but hey-how we're happy enough with them...we actually seen far more Ospreys at the nature reserve than this species.

The last pic shows it picking something off the surface. A closer inspection of some of the more duff pics (could they be any worse?) showed it had a very full and bulging crop so there must be something down there.
At the side of one of the hides there is a bit of a wildflower meadow and the Snakes Head Fritillaries are just beginning to open...beautiful...OK they aren't native up this far north but we're very glad we planted them all those years ago.

A good day really and the sun shone warmly in the end.
Many thanks to the volunteer who we 'caught' building a thorny barrier to keep the scrotes out of the Feeding Station too. Nice one ML you're a star.
Where to next? We're in school all day tomorrow learning how much Yr 4 know about Hedgehogs so anything could happen.
In the meantime let us know what's swooping elegantly over your outback.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Winter returns but a flash of yellow brightens the day

The Safari was thwarted in our  attempt to have an afternoon at the nature reserve and the scattered blustery showers will have dropped something interesting for sure.
We checked the Bird Club website at a little after 5.00pm to find that there had indeed been some migrants dropped. The best of which weren't on the nature reserve they'd missed it by about half a mile and ended up in a field of cattle.
At first we couldn't find them, the cattle that is not the birds, they were sheltering round a corner out of site behind a thick hedge in a dip.
Scanning the field, especially the drying muddy wallow, we soon found plenty of Meadow Pipits and  a few Pied Wagtails with a good handful of White Wagtails thrown in for good measure.
It was a rural idyll, muddy cattle grazing in a windswept field with Swallows swooping round them and wagtails flitting from under their hooves and noses. If the wind hadn't been so strong we'd have heard the tearing of the grass and smelt their warm 'homely' smell and all the while a Skylark tried its best to sing over the increasing gale.
Then we spotted one - how on earth can they hide? The flitting around under one of the cows was one of the reported three Yellow Wagtails (136). It took a while to find a second and we didn't get to three!
What little stunners! It's such a shame we have to twitch them round these parts these days, a sad proof that there's something horribly wrong in our local countryside.
Where to next? well that wind is certainly picking up, Little Gulls and a Kittiwake, or more terns on the nature reserve tomorrow - we won't be there to see whatever turns up but we will be looking at Patch 2.
In the meantime let us know what's really too bright for your outback.

Extreme woodland

The Safari hasn't been able to get out today so instead enjoy some our Extreme Photographer's exploits in a woodland not far from here.

Shame about the shadow of the twig in this one
If you behave he might let us have some of the other species he photographed there.
Where to next? There's a bit  of a hooley on the way, wonder if it'll bring anything in range of the scope at Patch2 and if so will we be able to stand up to look for it.
In the meantime let us know what's messing with old leaves in your outback

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Wind didn't produce much

The Safari had hoped the wind would have produced a lot more than it did. looking over the wall it was immediately obvious that it was very hazy out there.
We put the scope up anyway - as you do - and the first birds seen was a party of five Arctic Terns (135, P2 #54).
Four Eiders flew south, a female escorted by three males and flock after flock of Knot went past southwards again, numbering at least 1000, but nothing else, couldn't even find any Common Scoters this morning!
All a bit dire really.
Made all the more dire with news from the nature reserve that there were four Arctic Terns there, a far from regular occurrence, and there was a Velvet Scoter further up the coast - still you can't have it all  in this birding game, you really do get what you're given.
If we thought the morning session was poor the lunchtime session was far worse; the sun was making the haze even harder to see into, focusing the scope was difficult it was that bad. After a few scans we added a Sandwich Tern and a couple of Common Scoters to the day's list and gave up...
Our evening walk with Frank didn't gwet us far, our hands were playing up with the changeable weather and if he feels it in his rheumaticy shoulder like we do it's hardly surprising he wasn't up for going far. Still it was nice to be out in the sunshine and we enjoyed watching and listening to the Greenfinch doing its liquid song from its circular song flight. A large White Tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus leucorum flew by, things are starting to warm up at long last.
In fact looking at our records we've had our earliest Arctic Terns and House Martins of the last few years.
A call from our Extreme Photograper had him telling us he'd had a good day in the woods with his camera, so there maybe some interesting stuff to show you tomorrow.
Where to next? A half day off tomorrow so we'll probably be on the nature reserve in the rain hoping something else of note has been dropped in.
In the meantime let us know what's put in an earlier than expected appearance given the long cold winter in your outback.

Monday 15 April 2013

We were never going to be able to keep the momentum up

The Safari took Frank out as usual early doors and as soon as we rounded the corner onto the main road we heard a Goldcrest in the neighbours garden shrubbery. The first of a few today.
We were late in to work due to tradesmen arriving much later than they said, they'd got caught in the morning traffic jams we were about to get diverted by. Our circuitous route through town had us pulling up a t a junction and waiting for the traffic lights, it was warm and for the first time this year the Land Rover's windows were down - above the noise of the traffic we heard another Goldcrest but couldn't pick it out in the vegetation - well we did have to keep one eye on the lights! Being late into work we went straight to our desk and perhaps we should have had a slow walk round the gardens, no morning blimp at Patch 2 either.
we did get out there for a short session at lunchtime but there was little doing and it was very hazy. A single Great Crested Grebe would have been the best/only bird if we hadn't have spotted the flock of 11 Eiders sat about 250 yards beyong it. They took some counting in the choppy conditions and we might not have actually got the correct figure!
Taking Frank out for his tea-time walk, very mild - no hat, no gloves and rolled up sleeves! -  gave us another Goldcrest, this time in the trees at the end of our street which are the sad remains of the original hedge that ran along the 'old' road alongside the long gone farm.
He nearly got to Patch 1 but mis-behaved so we turned him round. At Magpie Wood he stopped for a sniff, scratch and roll about and seven Swallows flew past quite low, soon followed by a Red Tailed Bumble Bee, our first of the year.
A Song Thrush scuttered from the Golden Triangle into the ornamental shrubs at the roadside and although we kept an eye looking skywards as we walked down the hill no Ospreys materialised in the distance.
Where to next? Could be a bit of a blow tomorrow which mihght well bring some interst to Patch 2, let's hope so.
In the meantime lets know what seemed to be everywhere you turned in your outback.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Almost didn't go out in the rain

The Safari took Frank out at 06.30 in  (yes he treated us to a lie in today, must be Sunday!) and as soon as he was back in his bed with his early morning chew we snuck out in a strong but very mild southerly wind, the temperature was 'already' 12.5C making it the warmest dawn for a long long time. It didn't feel that warm in the wind and there was heavy drizzle in the air.
We went over the hill to Chat Alley thinking the overnight rain might have dropped a few bits n bobs and there would be some vis mig going on too! Wrong!!!
A quick scan of the park by our car parking spot only gave us a couple of Blackbirds and a singing Dunnock, so just local birds and nothing out of the ordinary. The walk acroass to Chat Alley didn't give us any overhead Meadow Pipits or 'alba' Wagtails so we were beginning to think we were in for a dead loss.
A Chiffchaff in thee little ornamental gardens at the top of the cliff raised our spirits but they soon waned the further we walked without seeing or hearing anything else of note. At the Go-kart track an 'alba' Wagtail was heard but then found and discovered to be a 'normal' Pied Wagtail. Without the scope we didn't look out to sea much as the tide was well out and the sea a long way off but one time we did we caught sight of an odd looking duck flying south well offshore...well we thought and stared and stared and thought but couldn't tell what it could be until it banked...a Gadwall; never seen one of those out to sea before!
Bits of litter blowing in the wind looked like flitting birds but sadly weren't. A few Meadow Pipits started to be heard but only in ones and twos, hardly floodgates worth, and eventually we found a striking male Wheatear (130) on the rocks at the bottom of the grassy cliffs...nice one, the morning's target species found...now where there going to be any other chats about, a nice Stonechat or perhaps a Black Redstart, or any of the others would do....No, nothing more was found and we turned round and dropped down to the lower walk at Pipit Slab.
We came across another male Wheatear but it could have been the same one back tracking southwards a bit so we didn't add a tally strike in the notebook. Then we heard a Redshank calling above us, looking up it appeared to glide over the fence at the top of the cliff and land on the grass beyond...never seen one up there before so that would have been interesting to confirm had it done so when we were up there only a few minutes earlier.
A Meadow Pipit was watched as it sang briefly doing a bit a parachute display flight, they would probably be able to nest here if the area wasn't so badly disturbed by dogs and children running mock on the slope, as would Wheatears perhaps.
Not a single hirundine was seen and we only heard a couple more Meadow Pipits and another 'alba' Wagtail
A more thorough look round the park gave us at least one Goldcrest which was nice.
Back at Base Camp crumpets were made for breakfast while the rain hammered down - it looked set in for the rest of the day. Whilst chomping our crumpets and having a slurp of tea in the bedroom we stared out of the window at the grey skies and falling rain and noticed a movement in the pond below us. A Frog was peering out from the water's surface and seemed to have its legs stuck on backwards! We got the scope and tried digi-phone-scoping. Not the best result but not bad considering its at a sharp angle through a very dirty double glazed window with bad hand shake holding the phone. A pair of Frogs in amplexus...should be some more spawn tomorrow to replace the previous dollop that has been frozen.

We even tried a bit of digi-phone-videoing - the performers didn't really perform.

Also in the garden was the first Dunnock since the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch beck at the end of January although we have heard them nearby daily for weeks - just not seen one in the garden, and a pair of Blackbirds are building in our small clump of Ivy growing up the garage wall. Not seen today were the Great Tits who are building in the nest box, they should be cosy this season cos we've ut out a load of combings from a heavily moulting Frank.
We were thinking of not going out in the rain when it eased a bit so we loaded frank into the Land Rover and went to the nature reserve. We parked by the bridge hoping there might be a Wheatear and White Wagtail or two on the ploughed field. We had a quick look while Frank was still sniffing around but only saw a lot of Woodpigeons, a few Lapwings and seven Grey Lag Geese, the only small birds were several Linnets. Frank was still sniffing when the rain started to come down heavy, we watched a dark curtain of it lash across the field and decided to head for the shelter of the nearest hide.
Our mate MMcG was already in there and as we looked out we saw that the rain had dropped a fair few Sand Martins, but were there any other hirundines to be found, we picked up a swift that looked a bit chunky and got MMcG on to it, almost in unison we said to each other "it's got a white belly!" The task was on now to check iwhat we'd seen was actually what we'd seen and what we'd seen wasn't an aberrant Common Swift because both of us had our suspicions as to what it actually was. It stayed high and quite distant but once it came lower against the darker background of the trees in the distance it was clear we'd found the nature reserve's first, Fylde's second, and Lancashire's 8th or 9th Alpine Swift (131, MMLNR #83) and a GB & I Lifer for us...well chuffed!!!
Crackin pic here (and a few others equally good) from MMcG, the white/pale chin looks so obvious in a still photo but was almost impossible to see in flight!
We stayed on the bird while MMcG got the news out. It flew off away to the NE before any of the other birders had had a chance to get down but fortunately it didn't go ourt of sight and came back. It stayed for abuot an hour and a half and several people were able to get down for a look at it.
Also on site were several Swallows (132, 84) and an Willow Warbler (133, 85) sang to our right above the Cetti's Warbler's head.
An American Mink scuttled along the face of the island intently watched by a Coot and a pair of Magpies. Would much rather have seen last night's Otter than that foreign intruder.
It was a while before we had searched through enough Swallows and Sand Martins to find a House Martin (134, 86).
Best of the rest was a Peacock butterfly and a Bumble Bee sp.
All in all a rather good day, and following on from last Sunday's Red Kite what will we find next Sunday...after all these things happen in threes don't they?
In the meantime let us know what the rain dropped in in your outback.