Wednesday 31 July 2013

Under valued or not valued at all fullstop?

The Safari has a couple of odds n sods for you from yesterday. While sat out in the garden at Base Camp waiting to go to see the doc we has a Holly Blue flutter by and what looked like a Green Veined White too.
But it was Frank's last venture outside before bed time that gave us the 'sighting' of the day; we heard the shrill calls of a Dunlin (Garden #34) flying overhead in the darkness while we were stood at the front door.
Today we were unable to get an early morning look at Patch 2 and conditions weren't too bad after he wind had dropped overnight, we were pretty peeved to say the least. Further up the coast SMcC was doing a four hour NWDW and we had hoped to be able to nip up and join her for a short while but everything conspired against us today and we weren't able to. We did get txts sating she'd had a Harbour Porpoise and a Grey Seal followed later by another Harbopur Porpoise and later almost at the end of her session two more feeding together, four Harbour Porpoises in one watch is impressive for this coast! 
We got out for our hour at lunchtime but were joined by no volunteers today. Our notebook stayed empty until we too found a Grey Seal and it was a while more before we found a distant flock of about 80 Common Scoters bobbing on the swell, several other flocks in flight were seen taking us to about 150. An adult Gannet cruised past in the haze but an immature stayed to fish for some time. It circled round very low over the water before sliding in at a very acute angle, the fish must have been almost at the surface. Nearby a dark blog kept appearing and diappearing it took a while but eventually gave itself up as another Grey Seal.
A few small flocks of Dunlin whizzed past as did two Sandwich Terns and that was about the sum total of our hour's watch although there were good numbers of gulls on the beach today for the first time this season - best not tell the 'authorities'! having said that if a Bottle Nosed Dolphin weighs 300x what a Herring Gull does then it must do 300x the amount of you know what, so will the 'authorities' be wanting to ban the dolphins too? And then there's all those fish the dolphins are eating they must be sh*tting in our bathing water as well - yuk yuk and double yuk; time for a ban on fish in the sea too?
Whilst on the subject of bans here's lovely pic of a somewhat scarce caterpillar in our neck of the woods this year. A rugby jersey wearing Cinnabar moth caterpillar chomping away on the ridiculously poisonous and consequently loathed Ragwort. Sometimes we think we'd get less hostile comments from the passer's-by if we grew Cannabis rather than this fantastic wildlife attractor. It's absolutely buzzing at the mo with all manner of invertebrates.
We know it is a good looking plant very attractive to wildlife and we recognise that it's poisonous to horses and other livestock but there's not many of them in our work's garden and it's not going to be cut for hay. We can understand the fear it probably brought in times gone by when heavy horses were the mainstay of agriculture but now it's mainly 'only' (prepare to get shot down in flames - sorry ST) pets at risk. Very expensive pets yes but not essential working animals which were fed on hay. We often drive past the horsey areas and see Ragwort in the paddocks where, to our ecological eye, it does no harm, the horses eat round it, but is a sign of poor paddock management including over grazing and/or over-stocking resulting in poaching and providing bare ground on which the seeds can germinate. A tight sward meadow with little bare ground is a hostile place for Ragwort to get established hence it's rarity in good quality hay meadows.
Which brings us on to another rant topic - wildflowers in general and the current woeful ignorance by almost all of the public about them and the corresponding wanton vandalism to them by gardeners, landscape technicians, highway verge mowing people etc etc. For almost every wildflower there is something that looks similar in the garden centre or nursery and yet we have to pay good money for those when we could have the real thing for free - why? If you do go the the garden centre spend time watching which plants the insects are visiting and choose those, the chances are the others are sterile and offer no pollen or nectar to hungry bees, butterddflies etc.
We think that the disconnection from wildflowers is nothing to do with their beauty, or even perceived lack of it, but the fact we haven't put our hand in our pocket to pay for them. We haven't given them a monetary value therefore they are totally valueless. A chap near Base Camp has planted Primulas and Marguerites around the base of one of our new street trees and the mowing team happily avoid them, we can almost guarantee that if we did the same with cowslips and Ox-eye Daisies they'd be mown or sprayed within days! Might try it next year and out a stopwatch to them.
Another case in point is a grass verge near the hosp[ital, or two actually. One was festooned with Rough (or Autumn) Hawkbit last week and the other smaller area was a sea of yellow Bird's Foot Trefoil and blue Self Heal, both absolutely beautiful and no doubt crawling with bees, butterflies, hoverflies etc and neither more than two or three inches long, the hawkbit area you could walk through but the other was a steep bank no-one ever sets foot on. We drove past the other evening and both had been wantonly vandalised by the mowing machine scalped to the bone dry roots - why? In the name of 'tidiness' that's why!!! A total waste of time, money and more importantly biodiversity!
Now if very similar looking but useless biologically plants had been bought and time and money spent on preparing the ground and planting them a foot apart with lots of bare soil around them it would be called a flower-bed and would be lovingly tended at excessive cost in £££ and (wo)manpower, but because the wild plants are 'free' and don't grow in straight lines AND have the audacity to grow through/amongst the grass (all hail to the grass!!!) they've  somehow become worse than worthless and still need £££ and lots of manpower to get rid of them when really they could easily be kept and enjoyed, not just be the other humans but a multitude of pollinators we're supposed to be enlightened enough to want to protect and encourage these days, indeed we NEED to do that - not much sign of that on the scalped greenery here though.
Rant over...
Where to next? Another short hours NWDW tomorrow lunchime then we'll be on the beach with a gang of youngsters celebrating National Marine Week even though we're not part of the Wildlife Trusts - they are our chums though.
In the meantime let us know who's been let lose with the poer tools in your outback - and that's another thing all this power assisted stuff makes the destruction all too easy. If lawns/hedges/trees etc had to be 'kept in check' with a hand tool much more would survive...what is it about the must keep in check? It's hardly going to go for our throats is maybe if we still had big Brown Bears (if only - sigh) they just might once in a while.
PS that load odf twaddle was our 1500th blogpost - if you've read every word well done and God help you, hope you 'enjoy' the next 1500.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Not the best of news

The Safari hasn't connected with anymore dolphins but we have had several reports of dead Harbour Porpoises being washed up. Theories abound as to the cause; but from the few pictures we've seen there doesn't seem to any evidence of violence from the Bottle Nosed Dolphins nor net marks from being caught in a trawler's nets. According to one of our favourite websites there's only one trawler working the area at the moment and any victims from it would be unlikely to drift our way - it's all a mystery and just shows how little we actually know about these animals, their movements and interactions with other species. Getting hold of a fresh carcass for a post-mortem might throw some illuminating light on the situation.
A wander on the beach with Wifey and Frank the other evening had us looking for shells. Not many about but we did come across this Striped Venus. The 'rings' aren't quite like tree rings but a small animal like this can live for a dozen or so years.
We had the Young Uns help us de-Stickleback the work's pond again and we got more out than ever before. Not only that a member of the public joined us with his children and saw Another Goldfish - - arrrrrggggghhhhhhhhhhhh. That could be the reason there wasn't much other life in the pond, a few front swimming waterboatmen and a diving beetle sp, possible the same individual as this one. As well as removing fish they also did a bit of gardening. We've not seen many ladybirds this year so when JS found three together it was something of a bonus especially as the smallest of them was an 11-Spot Ladybird. OK so they're common and widespread but this was the first record for Blackpool.
You can see why there were three ladybirds on that particular plant, there's lots of Blackfly aphids top left of  the picture.
They also came across a tiny plant while weeding. Our Deptford Pink has reappeared. There are only a handful of sites where this plant occurs north of the Severn - Humber line. As such it's a Schedule 8 species and a UK BAP priority species - nice to have it and we've no idea where it came from; probably has always been in the seed bank!
 Other news is a bit more disturbing...we were at the docs again today about our hands and he took one look, took a sharp intake of breath and got his red pen out - never a good sign! operation coming up before Christmas. Will it help, yes but not a lot and possibly not for long, the last op on this hand was only two years ago.
Still it's better than losing the function in the finger and affecting the rest of what remains of my hand. Another op is likely to be necessary on my other hand once this one has recovered, might even require the removal of another digit - ohhh errr...might not be long before we can no longer pick out nose - this is getting seriously serious!!!
Where to next? A quick look at Patch 2 first thing and a short Whale and Dolphin Watch at lunchtime, maybe elsewhere if we get time.
In the meantime let us know what's dangerously ephemeral in your outback.

Sunday 28 July 2013

National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2013 - Day 2

The Safari woke up to torrential rain and the whale watcher's nightmare a strong onshore wind.
Thankfully by the allotted time the rain had drifted over but the wind was still a bit too strong.
Again we were joined by several enthusiastic volunteers but enthusiasm wasn't converted into sightings. Several false alarms were raised by floating blobs of dark seaweed at various ranges. Very few birds were about but one of the very first we saw was a Gannet that we didn't get yesterday. A flock of six Golden Plovers was nice but seven Mallards flying by at some height was just plain weird, they were also seen a little later at Patch 2 - would be a good bird for our list down there, will they fly back tomorrow morning?
A fisherman was out yesterday in his boat just a couple of miles offshore a little to the north of our watchpoint and told us he had at least six Harbour Porpoises and a dozen Bottle Nosed Dolphins round his boat at different times around the high they were still around but we were at the wrong end of the coast.
We were very hopeful for the high tide today which was just about the end of our watch. By the time the tide was full the wind and sea state had dropped making viewing much better than earlier but we had a no-show :-(
A decent sized Sea Bass was caught by a fisherman in front of us which was taken home by another for a delicious fresh out of the sea dinner.
Our only photo today is from a newcomer to wildlife photography - our sister-in-law JF with her hot Blackbird panting away in her garden.
Where to next? Patch 2 beckons, butterflies if its warm and a whale and dolphin watch for about an hour at lunchtime - join us if you can.
In the meantime let us know what's hot in your outback.

Saturday 27 July 2013

National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2013 - Day 1

The Safari put the moth trap out last night and got a respectable haul this morning, for Base Camp at least.
Excluding escapes of which there were a few we had almost 100 moths of 24 species although about half were Water Veneers all of which were dead! Apparently they don't fare well in the trap - you don't say!
They could well be breeding, wingless females, on the Elodea canadensis in our pond.
We had a few unIDs which we could do with a little help with to take us over 25 species -  anyone know/confirm IDs?
Very small c5-6mm

Pretty sure this one is Double Striped Pug
Probably Grey Pug?
No idea!
We do know these two, Common Rustics at the palest end of their colour/pattern spectrum.
 Yellow Shell is a belter, if only butterflies were that well coloured
and as for Acleris forsskaleana - what a gorgeously golden little beauty.
Moths done and for the most part dusted we headed to the coast for the first of our NWDW events. A good turn-out awaited us no doubt due to the recent off the end of the pier sightings of the Bottle Nosed Dolphins all week. We didn't think there'd been any sightings yesterday but one couple said they'd seen them off Central Pier.
Today was a little different, the tide started to rise and the wind picked up and swung round a full 180 degrees. Very little was about and it took a while to find so much as a tern and a couple of Cormorants. As the tide reached the wall a Grey Seal appeared from nowhere, apparently they are the second scarcest seal in the world. It hung around for the rest of the watch.
16 Grey Lag Geese came in from the north and landed on the sea about a mile and a half out - strange before heading off back northwards and reappearing an hour later to fly in to the estuary.
More weird was a bloke, 80 if he was a day, clad in a wet suit walked past and through the locked gate and in to the sea. He swam past the seal but we were very worried for him when a speeding jet-ski whooshed past probably without seeing him in the chop - coulda been nasty!
Sadly the Bottle Nosed Dolphins didn't show. We also learned that four Minke Whales had been seen last Saturday away to the south. An 'independent' group of spotters were a few yards further don the wall and we had to go to chat to them. They told us they'd been watching the dolphins at the town centre during the week and also been amazed to see the Minke Whales near the Lennox Rig. It appears we missed them by not much more than half an hour on Wednesday lunchtime; perhaps we'd spent too much time looking the other way watching the dolphins. They described them lunge feeding with a large portion of their bodies rising out of the water, similar to what we saw one do a few years ago...ooohhhh jealous but very chuffed for them.
Where to next? Day 2 of course, at a different location...probably no moths tonight, torrential rain forecast - can we have some thunder too please.
In the meantime let us know what snuck out of your outback while you weren't' looking

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Late but worth the wait

The Safari hasn't been able to take any pics for you today, much as we would have liked to as were able to watch the Bottle Nosed Dolphins for the best part of an hour - spectacular. Again we got a maximum count of seven but we think there could well have been more. One we didn't see yesterday was a well grown juvenile, anyone else see that one?
Instead of gratuitous dolphin pics we've got a selection from our Extreme Photographer from some of our recent safaris.
4-spotted Chaser
Barn Owl at dusk
Brown Hawker
Common Blue
Hovering Hoverfly
Large Yellow Underwing
Marsh Tit
Mating Azure Damselflies
Mating Muscidae flies
Female Reed Bunting
Small Tortoiseshell
Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary
Very wet Blue Tit
White Letter Hairstreak
A variety of cameras an lenses in use here.
Where to next? Will we get a fourth day of Bottle Nosed Dolphins - hope so and we hope they'll be close enough to get some never know your luck in a raffle. Wonder how big the fish shoal they are chasing is, is it big enough to sustain them for a few more weeks? Best time from two hours before high tide onwards.
In the meantime let us know what's been doing its utmost to avoid the lens in your outback.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

More of the same but we aint complaining

The Safari woke up to dark clouds this morning then the rain came down in buckets and there was a rumble of thunder...just the disappointing one. We believe others have had proper humdingers of storms - wish we had, luv it!
Anyway the rain hadn't eased by the time we got to work so no chance of a early Patch 2 look. An hour or so later we got news of two dead Harbour Porpoises seen on the beach yesterday evening so we put on our wellies and went onto the beach to see if we could find the carcasses, an adult and a two foot long calf.
We were eager to get out at lunchtime and once again it was quiet. Not a lot was happening, just a few Sandwich and Common Terns blogging about. A Grey Seal was pretty close in right at the limits of our lens.
Again we were about to leave and had just one more scan - a very successful scan at that. A splash suggested something large - too right - more Bottle Nosed Dolphins and coming our way. Not only that they were coming in a lot closer than yesterday. We shouted 'DOLPHINS' and attracted the attention of a few young lads who had a spectacular few minutes - between us we counted at least seven the closest only as far away as the end of the pipe. A young family turned up and saw the tail end of them as they moved further south - brilliant...three days on the trot tomorrow???
One of our fishermen friends had turned up and soon caught a Lesser Weaver - a nasty little chap that lurks under the sand and has a poisonous spine to catch the unwary bare foot - owwww. The antidote is to keep the affected part in as hot as water as you can stand for as long as possible to 'cook' the toxin. Wise to keep your feet covered when paddling in the shallows...broken glass from the numpties and lost fishing hooks (we picked one up yesterday close to where Frank was wandering)  add to the hazards.
Sadly these fish are 'persona non grata' to the gentle environment loving fishermen and it was left to die on the wall after being unhooked - a sad end to a remarkable if slightly dangerous little creature.
Before we went home we did a 1/4 hour walk round the grounds for a Big Butterfly Count - it wasn't quite sunny but certainly warm enough. 
Got more than we perhaps expected; six Small Whites, four Meadow Browns, three Small Tortoiseshells and a Gatekeeper, don't think we've had one of those at work before. Secretly we were hoping for a Grayling which we've had only once before drifting in from the dunes a mile or so away. 
Phone cam
Some kind soul  has sown a few seeds of annual wildflowers in the top corner by the gate - thank you very much whoever you are.
Where to next? More of the same tomorrow would be nice.
In the meantime let us know what might be flitting around unseen in your outback.
Really need to change our header pic soon...

Monday 22 July 2013

Keep looking cos you just never know

The Safari almost broke the 20 minute barrier on the bike this morning, 22 seconds over which could explained by faffing around with the stop watch for ten seconds at either end of  our ride. A late update again today as it's another balmy evening here in sunny Blackpool, now late evening and it's still 24C - gorgeous, a proper summer at last and we've been on the beach for an hour or more with Wifey and Frank to let him have a cooling swim!
A dash across to Patch 2 to cool off as much as anything wasn't overly productive just a couple of Gannets away in the haze. 
We got a call from the front desk about a brown speckly bird stuck in the Exhibition Hall could we come out and deal with it. Turned out to be a juvenile Blackbird enjoying the view from the heights rafters. We ingeniously decided to get a slice of bread from the cafe and break it up but by the time we'd asked the girls fro a slice the bird had dropped down and was staring at the open door. Cautiously we approached and it hopped out none the worse for its look around our new displays - hope it liked  them and found them informative.
A txt from Young Un AB told us of a Little Tern that went past not too long after we'd left...what was his expression? 'Grip don't dip' - the absolute swine!!!
At lunchtime we set off scope in hand for Patch 2 once more. Again it was pretty dead just a Common Tern carrying a fish back to base at the docks deep in the estuary. The tide was in and we noticed our first juvenile Black Headed Gulls of the season. They were picking flies out of the bits of seaweed trapped against the seawall by the back-wash.
Look at this individual's bill it's a little over-long on the upper mandible compared to the one above
With nothing much happening we were about to go after taking a few gull pics but for some unknown reason decided not to go back in but scam a few more minutes out in the cooling breeze.
Boy are we glad we did - we got our 'Grip-back' on Young Un AB. We scanned the horizon where absolutely nothing had been happening when we saw a dark shape and a splash  a bit bigger than the occasional rolling wave. Concentrating harder we saw the sickle fins and dark backs of two Bottle Nosed Dolphins swimming synchronously. There was at least one more animal with them and perhaps as many as another three! No one was about as we watched them speed southwards. Eventually a family walked by and we called them over for a look, the father got them, he struggled at first looking down the scope but the loud 'YES' suggested he'd seen them! We'll take your Little Tern and raise you 3 Bottle Nosed Dolphins - get in!!! Good advert for the up-coming National Whale and Dolphin Watch.
More wacky wildlife adventure was about to unfurl. One of our colleagues had a Green Veined White butterfly sat on her shoulder and daren't move (thought it was a terrifying moth). we gently gathered it up and took it to our office. The plan was to let it settle on the keyboard of our puter and get the 'shot' but it was still too lively and on release did settle on the keyboard for about a milli-second before heading to the window.

Looks like it's desperate to get at that Ragwort!
Where to next? More of the same but who knows what is going to come our way - that's the wonder of wildlifing!
In the meantime let us know what turned up out of the blue in your outback

Sunday 21 July 2013

Dumping on the butters

The Safari was eager to empty the moth trap this morning. Could have waited, everyone else is getting huge numbers we struggled to see any within until we started lifting the egg boxes. In the end we found 10 moths not the 100+ we would have liked :-( However a couple of them were new for the garden. 
Notocelia cynosbatella
Dorsal view
Single Dotted Wave
 But what's this in the pot?

Oegoconia sp (probably quadripuncta due to our NW location)
Later in the day we found this Narrow Winged Pug sitting comfortably on the laundry hanging on the washing line.
Still none the wiser with this Ermine, they are ever so tricky
Also in the trap were a number of front swimming Water Boatmen and half a dozen Mystacides longicornis caddisflies. And another, a stunner but what is it?
This Mayfly was a somewhat bizarre inhabitant of the trap although deceased - did we squish it by accident? From our pond, and if not whose?
Other beauts in the garden this morning were a Meadow Brown and a juvenile House Sparrow, very nice to see both at Base Camp as neither are regular visitors.
We took Frank to the beach as the tide dropped unfortunately we didn't take our bins due the the fact we knew we'd be paddling. Conditions were perfect for looking for cetaceans.
Frank enjoyed his swim and we were seriously tempted too!
Mid afternoon we were able to get to Patch 1 to look for butterflies for a couple of hours but it wasn't really sunny enough for the White Letter Hairstreaks. Bit windy too at tree-top height.
We did two quarter hour Big Butterfly Counts getting 47 and 42 individuals including a possible WLH on the second.
1st Gatekeeper of the year
Small Skippers were easily the most numerous species today
And most of them had only one thing on their minds - making more Small Skippers.
Sadly all this butterfly joy was tempered by the fact that the path strimming gang had been down - hurray access is easier and in shorts nettle free - but they dumped all their cuttings on the best butterfly patch in the town! The sad fact is that those told to tidy don't see habuitat they see long grass as 'waste-ground' and essential butterfly wildflowers as 'weeds'...something seriously needs to be done about basic wildlife and habitat ID and ecological interactions, probably starting in Primary School. The standard of general ignorance is overwhelming. Another crew did something similar a couple of years ago burying most of the Birds Foot Trefoil on site under mountains of prunings which despite our repeated asking never got removed and now we have so very few Common Blues although last summer wont have helped matters.
One of several piles
 We spent a fair amount of time getting sweaty in the process and so becoming Clegg bait - jeez those things are the epitome of evil!

We managed to get the worst of the offending material out of harm's way. Email to someone in the morning!
There's a lot of dying Elms too, this young sucker looked fit an well two weeks ago.
It wasn't all butterflies as this nice hoverfly shows...anyone know what it is? Must put hand in pocket and get the hovers book - ohhh no not another book!!!
On the way back to Base Camp we saw that the peregrine was on the tower and as we were looking a car pulled up to ask what we were looking at. It was a friend and former colleague so we gave him a few minutes with our bins while Large and Small Whites fluttered around the now recovered White Clover field.

All in all a mixed day but some good stuff was found - isn't it always!
Where to next? The Big Butterfly Count website to enter our results.
In the meantime let us know who's dumping the wrong thing in the wrong place for no good reason in your outback.