Saturday 31 August 2013

No lucky socks today, something else required

The Safari's day started badly with an lie in over over an hour and a half, not even Frank stirred early to wake us up. By the time we realised what the time was we decided not to go down to the coast as we had other things to get ready for. A family get together at one of the few pubs we take Frank in was a welcome treat but  they were serving 'Bowland Grouse' on their 'game' menu...might have to boycott the place in future although we did have a tasty Woodpigeon, a species which in autumn can be sustainably harvested without impacting any other species almost the complete opposite of Red Grouse, probably tastes better than them too.
Once back at Base Camp the TV went on to reveal the unusual season fare of awful dancing, singing and voting which is going to last for months. Shame they couldn't do some sort of X-factor for budding naturalists. 
To escape the early TV dross we tried going back to the local muddy pool and this time dogged perseverance paid off, no luck involved, and we soon saw one of the two Green Sandpipers (175) that have been seen there on and off for the best part of a week.
The light was fading quickly and the white underparts showed up crisply against the dark mud, much more 'Daz' white than the grey-white of the many juvenile Pied Wagtails flitting from dollop to dollop nearby. Also feeding there was a Snipe and several Teal. Overhead Swallows swooped low over the water.
So back to Base Camp we went (almost) happy to face the TV.
Where to next? It'll be another late start tomorrow although with no rain forecast overnight the mothy is out, hope it's not too windy.
In the meantime let us know what dogged perseverance provided in your outback.

Friday 30 August 2013

Lucky we wore the lucky socks again

The Safari headed for Patch 2 as soon as we were able this morning. The wind was increasing and the sea was chopping up.
There wasn't a lot happening, three individual Gannets moving north in the distance was the best. Only a few dark blobs indicated small flocks of Common Scoters flying around the horizon and half a dozen or so Sandwich Terns mooched about aimlessly just beyond the falling tide.
200 yards to our south at the first shelter MJ was also scoping the waves, we'd no idea how long he'd been there but he was still there when we had to go and start some 'proper' work...he'd be very much in play in a little later.
We got our brew and sat down at the puter to get the day underway. One of the first things we came across was that all our beaches have been passing the Bathing Water Directive tests, excellent news, our water must now be cleaner than at any time in the last 150 or more years! Long may that continue and we're sure it'll improve even more despite the best efforts of all those Sheep grazing the estuary saltmarsh whose tons of doo-doo washes off the marsh on high tides and drifts in the surf to be left on our sands when the tide ebbs; now we come to the crunch, which is more important to the the generic 'us'? High quality premium saltmarsh grazed lamb (and very tasty it is too) for the farmers or bathing water clean enough to keep the EU regulations at bay and before anyone starts calling the EU in this case they are very very right the sea should not be a dumping ground for our waste from whatever source and it should be as clean as is physically possible to get and the bar should be consistently raised every few years, it could be a very difficult balancing act to have both and we're not at all sure how it could be achieved.
Half an hour or so later our mobie rang - it was and excited MJ, well as excited as he ever gets...three Bottlenose Dolphins had just passed him about half a mile out. We grabbed the scope from the desk and still on the phone ran out and over the road to see one dolphin away to the north and now about a mile out - still a good sighting and those lucky socks proved their worth again. Hold your noses...
One of our favourite radio presenters was doing his programme from a nearby hotel, he used to work in a dolphinarium but freely admits the error of his ways, anyway last time he interviewed us was about National Whale and Dolphin Week so we txt the show and rather than speak to him we were invited to the Tower Ballroom to do a quick interview later in the afternoon.
Before then there was the matter of Patch 2 to attend to but it was really quiet out there!
We arrived at the refurbished ballroom which was looking very swish, not that we're all that into architecture.
We did our two minute interview so hopefully lots of people will be looking out for, and importantly reporting and dolphins etc they may see. There's still a lot of incredulity that there should be dolphins off our coast, to which the answer is why shouldn't there be or why hasn't there been in the recent past?
Where to next? We were hoping to put the mothy out tonight but the wind has picked up summat rotten so a change of plan will probably see us at Chat Alley  having a look at the early morning rising tide.
In the meantime let us know what's causing all the excitement in the shallows in your outback.

Thursday 29 August 2013

The Safari has been doing some mothing over the Bank Holiday and has had some species new for Base Camp. We really liked this large and chunky Broad Bordered Yellow Underwing.
A Copper Underwing wasn't able to be identified to species. We couldn't get it to show its underwing and we didn't have the equipment to be able to knock it out for some manipulation.
A tiny little moth doing a handstand turned out  to be a Honesuckle Moth once we'd rummaged out the magnifying glass.
All moths are beautiful but some like this Willow Beauty are more beautiful than others to coin a phrase.
You never want to find too many of these in the depths of the trap lurking under the egg-boxes, thankfully this was the only one. might be different at the weekend! Care required!!!
Far less malevolent are the Green Bottles Lucilia sp that came to gather the early morning rays as the sun poked over the top of the fence.
Our Extreme Photographer came round a couple of times and we spent some time with the cameras at Patch 1. The sun had brought out a great selection of invertebrates.
Common Darters spent time resting up surveying their domain for leafy vantage points.
We liked the way the light caught he wings and shows how they are shaped using the veins to provide the structure for their superb aerodynamics.
The plan was to find some butterflies but were soon side-tracked by other possibly more interesting stuff .
We've sort of got fed-upish of the standard portrait shots and spent some time trying to get something a little more different from different angles or lighting conditions or unusual settings/behaviours etc etc. Having the time to search out these objectives helps, soon we'll probably be back on birds and it'll be a case of point press and hope one or two shots are in focus.
There were loads of Common Meadow Grasshoppers about and  we got loads of shots of them in the grass but then we spied two together playing follow the leader, there were two more deeper in the vegetation and it's a shame we came across this little flurry of activity at the end of our session, had we more time we might have even treated you to some video to see what happened next.
 The bees were good value too
Butterflies did provide some lively entertainment in the warm sun and we spent a lot of energy chasing them around trying to get those slightly different to normal shots - hope you think we managed it.
A typical 'record' shot but there's no eyes!
 Another 'standard' shot but at least the eyes are visible and in focus in this one.
We have loads of pics of Common Blues on their food plant but this one on a Rose hip is a little out of the ordinary.
 Nice light making a Small Copper appear almost translucent.
A bit of tongue action on this one.
And the ubiquitous record wings open shot
 Underwing of a Speckled Wood sat on ripening Blackberries.
 This is how it's done, get down where the action is.
More art followed in the form of vegetation shots
A birthday trip to see some friends at the pub didn't give us too many photo opportunities unless you like lots of pics of  glasses of beer from full through half drunk to empty. we did see a Brimstone butterfly fluttering sown the lane near their home which we don't get round here (yet - although we are working on that one).
Our only pic was  trial pic of a flock of very distant Black Tailed Godwits out on a sandbank in the rapidly filling estuary.
So there you have a short break in a few pics, hope you enjoyed them.
No chance of a Patch 2 look this morning as we were dipping a couple of Green Sandpipers, just like we'd done last night! Patch 2 at lunchtime didn't give us anything of note.
Where to next? More mothing at the weekend but before then we're hoping some Patch 2 action.
In the meantime let us know what's providing diversionary interest in your outback.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Glad we wore our lucky socks

The Safari had a marine safari yesterday on the ferry ship Stena Mersey from Birkenhead to Belfast doing a MARINElife survey. We had a few 'hopes' and to bring them closer we'd worn our lucky 'Wolfy' socks. Even before the survey proper had started we were watching a Harbour Porpoise in the river while the boat was maneuvering away from the dock! 
We had a  short wait in the river while the Star Harmony  was piloted in, all 59,000 tons of her had come from Algeria carrying who knows what
Terns from the local nature reserve kept our survey sheet ticking over and had attracted the attention of an Arctic Skua. Apologies for duff pics ferry windows aren't the cleanest nor angled conveniently for wildlife photography.
Similar pics were taken of Manx Shearwaters
until we got a better one.
Gannets regularly crossed our path too.
Not far in to our voyage we had a small number of Little Gulls but once out in to the more open sea things quietened down a bit. It was very choppy in the brisk headwind making finding any of the local Harbour Porpoises very tricky indeed, indeed we didn't! Nor did we see the three Bottle Nosed Dolphins that have been hanging round the coast for a couple of days now.
We were about to grab a coffee for team-mate OM after we passed the Isle of Man when things picked up. The wind dropped and the sea was suddenly filled with  easy to see Harbour Porpoises; so many that for a while were rushed off our feet totally underestimating large rafts of Guillemots as we struggled to keep up with the Harbour Porpoise sightings until these were out-done by three Common Dolphins! These in turn were out-done by an Ocean Sunfish flopping along in front of us...ohh the lucky socks were working big-time!!! Not to be out-done by a mere fish the birds decided to lap to the fore when a Swallow flew in front of the bow followed by a Sand Martin, we then realised that it would now be easy to pick up any Storm Petrels which might be lurking with ranks of Manx Shearwaters and Guillemots. A Great Skua (173 - first year bird for a while) sat nonchalantly watching us pass on the very still sea and then we saw our hoped for lifer. A tiny black dot in the distance surrounded by much larger Manx Shearwaters was indeed a Storm Petrel (174) - at long last! Thank you lucky socks; we have now seen every regularly breeding species of bird in the British Isles...happy days!
Harbour Porpoises continued to be seen and in the end we had recorded nearly 40 of them. Approaching Belfast large numbers of terns were seen again and they had also attracted the attentions of more Arctic Skuas.
In the harbour beyond the dock 31 Harbour (= Common) Seals were hauled out on the seaweed stewn rocks.
Also in the dock was the wind farm building ship/rig the Pacific Orca which we've watched at work on the horizon from Patch 2. Looks like it's loading up for another trip out to the windfarms.
We slept on board for the return journey and weren't able to an early morning session before docking as it was still too dark as we approached Birkenhead. 
Much more details on our sightings will be on the MARINElife website in the near future.
On the way back to Base Camp we have to pass the home of the Gods.
All great stuff, looking forward to our next survey whenever that may be. We have the small matter of yet another hand operation coming up in the next three weeks which will curtail safaring for a few weeks...we'll see how it's holding up next year before we commit to anything away from home.
Our Extreme Photographer called round on his way back from somewhere at lunchtime and we took Frank to Patch 1 for a mooch - turned out to be a good decision, lots of inverts were about in the warm sunshine. Here's a selection of what we found.
A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours in the sunshine, proving the wildlife on your doorstep is just as exciting and interesting as a sea full of cetaceans and other wonderful stuff.
Where to next? Not sure what might be happening tomorrow might be a chance to have a look at a reserve a little further away or buy curtains - yikes hope not!
In the meantime let us know what creeping and crawling around your outback.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Trying to count the uncountable

The Safari had a good old watch over Patch 2 this morning. Not a ripple, superb visibility but nothing of note to see.
On the beach however there were a lot of distant and uncountable Sanderlings, a few of the nearer ones were Dunlin. Yesterday MJ and Young Un AB had counted about 1000! That was before they'd been further down the road and found a Green Sandpiper which they let us know about a few minutes too late to be able to twitch it...darned house renovations It's about time we had another year bird in our challenge with Monika - she's moved in to a new home recently so that's probably slowed her down a bit.
Another look at Patch 2 on the rising tide didn't produce the goods either just a Grey Seal away in the distance and a few blogging, but not fishing, Sandwich Terns.
We had a group of  youngsters on their pond dipping and invertebrate hunt this arvo and as we were getting the kit out of the store we noticed a large number of Starlings on the green obvious to the punters mooching around finding their tables in the sun for a bite of lunch.
There's about 3-400 in the pic and this was less than half of them!. We quietly walked a bit further on down the patch to try to get nmore of them in but a Sparrowhawk whizzed in in an attack and put them all to flight. All the diners saw the them whoosh in to the air and ball up but none of them spotted the Sparrowhawk.
An ant's nest was producing winged adults and this had attracted a split-off group of Starlings.
You can just make out an ant in the beak of the nearest one.
The little ones found a nice selection of beasties including this rather large queen bee, we think it's a Cuckoo Bee sp due to the smokey wings...those clever iSpotters will no doubt know.
The abdomen was white but stripy and well pointed.
Where to next? With news this arvo of a couple of Bottle Nosed Dolphins just over the river on the South-side seen while we were with the kids...that'd be why the phone was going bananas in the pocket!...we deffo be having a good look at Patch 2 early on but we've no chance at lunchtime.
In the meantime let us know what's been uncountable in your outback today.