Thursday 28 November 2013

Knew we shoulda stuck it out longer

The Safari arrived at work far too early this morning – it was still dark! We had to wait a while before it was light enough to venture out on to Patch 2.
The bags of rubbish from the beach clean yesterday hadn’t been collected and proved there was a bit more than we thought including the rusty remains of a Barnacle encrusted motorbike, don’t recall seeing that before but it can hardly have floated in recently!

The sea was like a mirror with just a little swell and with the good early morning light over our shoulder viewing conditions were about as good as they get. Due to the late start we didn’t have much time but soon found at least 25 Great Crested Grebes and what appeared to be a smaller grebe just beyond our telescope’s range of resolution. Common Scoters were everywhere as they always are when the sea is calm enough to see them. 
Four Red Throated Divers made their way on to the page and we found the nose of a distant Grey Seal about half way to the horizon.
By lunchtime the wind had picked up and the sea was a little choppy. Now spotting the scoters was trickier and we found far few Great Crested Grebes. The Grey Seal however had drifted much closer. A check through the few gulls on the beach gave us nothing unusual other than there the proportion of Black Headed Gulls was higher than expected, none bore any of KB’s bling though.  
Once we were back in the office we had a look at the bird club’s website only to find that if we’d stayed out a little longer this morning we may well have seen a couple of Harbour Porpoises and a Velvet Scoter...dohhhh that hurts!
Then we got an email...we really get upset by the level of general ignorance from passers-by when they tell us they've seen Sea-lions when really they've seen seals unless they've been to the zoo - why is so difficult for them? But hey it really does look like a number of Sea-lions have been seen today...cameras never lie do they!
After work we joined CR at the Starling roost again for a little while. Mid afternoon it looked as though we'd get a sunset backdrop to the action but thick cloud rolled over the horizon and it wasn't to be.
With the tide still on the rise  but when sand is exposed the Starlings like to drop down on to the beach. Why??? There can't be anything for them to eat down there and if there was it would perhaps be too salty to be good for them.
They lift up at regular intervals have another swirl around before dropping back down - having a rest???
All the while more flocks were coming in from feeding in the fields out east over our heads - here's a small part of one such flock.
How many do you reckon are in the pic - we haven't counted them
They did throw a few shapes but nothing spectacular - needed a predator really to bunch them up more.
With it being quite dark tonight they went in to roost quite early and we turned the cameras off, put the lens caps on and started walking back to our cars - it was then a male Peregrine flew over our heads...perfect timing NOT!
Where to next? More Patch 2 in the morning might be a bit windier than today.
In the meantime let us know who's lazing around on the sands in your outback.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Good be be on the sands again

The Safari hasn't been on the beach for a while but today we had a clean up organised. A team from the local water company joined some of our colleagues from other offices and a couple of locals who had kindly volunteered. All that was needed was was some litter to collect - wouldn't it be brill if that many eagle-eyed volunteers weren't able to find any! 
We are lucky along this stretch of beach that there isn't a bad area for litter but one item found early on brought home why this work is so important and why some items should really be removed from sale.
It looks like a Razorbill with the very dark wings, there are white secondary tips too when we pulled the wing open, no rings on those rather yellowy legs either.
It would be so easy to ban the sale of these things, can't believe they haven't been the number of wildlife fatalities, farm animal casualties and fires they cause.
While we were out there on a lower strand-line we saw more bits of Edible Crab than we've seen altogether here in the last five years or so, we even managed to find a complete top carapace for our collection of mariney bits n bobs we keep to show the school groups that aren't able to get on to the beach.
We worked our way down to the start of the dunes where we saw a couple of Pied Wagtails but not the Snow Buntings which were seen by a birding group deeper in the dunes while we were on the beach...they saw six, so another bird has appeared as there were definitely only five on Sunday.
Better, for us at least, than the buntings was the Peregrine (P2 #77) that shot low over the sand flushing gulls, Feral Pigeons and Starlings as it went. Don't think we're going to get anywhere near our Patch 2 target of 90 species, no Collared Doves, no House Martins, no Skylarks, not even any of the swans - how'd that happen!
We left the beach in a rush to get to our next appointment at the local 6th Form College to deliver a presentation on local marine issues of all things to their Eco Action group! Don't think we've ever done a presentation in sand covered wellies before, never mind a marine presentation. Lots of young women in the group we didn't do a comparative head count with the boys but there appeared to be more of them - good to see but from their responses to the questions we asked most of them didn't seem to get out much to view the local wildlife.
Where to next? Back on to Patch 2 for more seawatching tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what's floating around causing mayhem in your outback.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

The Devil might wear Prada but birders wear green

The Safari has worn a green jacket for more years than we care to mention, it’s almost Henry Ford-like ‘you can have any colour you want as long as it’s green!’  
Nice pic to whet your appetite before the diatribe starts - or should that be dia-tripe! But please do try to read all the way to the bottom.
You’ll recall we went to the NW Bird Watching Festival last weekend and a great day out it was too. We went on the Saturday for logistical doggy reasons and wasn’t too unduly worried about the demographic of the visitors that day, From our experiences over the years as a nature reserve warden and wildlife ranger we’ve learned that Saturday is generally a quieter day than Sunday in wildlifey type environments although it was busy on the Saturday while we were there; by the time we got there mid-morning we had to park at the far end of the large overflow car-park. We’d hazard a guess that many people do ‘normal’ stuff on Saturday and save Sunday for a ‘going out’ day.
The crowd on Saturday was mostly green (or a camouflage variation) jacketed men many of whom were older than us. Beards? Now this is were it gets tricky – we told ourselves to get some general crowd pics from inside and outside so we could more accurately evaluate the stereotypes we’re about to bandy about but somehow forgot and that is going to have an impact on this coming weekend’s mega-safari! But at an honest guess we’d say that the proportion of beards on site was higher than in a random population of older blokes.
The kiddies play area was being fairly well used by young families but there didn’t seem to be any more of them than on any other visit we’ve made there in recent years – not that we get there very often. However, we didn’t see many of this demographic on our travels around the reserve, to be fair we didn’t visit the duck-zoo part of the site which is likely to be more attractive to young families than the wildside.
A very noticeable hole in the demographic was young females aged between 10 and 41! OK there were a few but they were invariably accompanied by a bloke in a green coat not necessarily but likely to be father/boyfriend/husband and other assorted family members. Come on ladies where are you – better things to do?
For Sunday we had spy in the camp who we’d asked to undertake a secret mission but like us forgetting to take any pics she managed not to take a suitable camera, then came the lame excuses ‘only took my long lens’ ‘my more suitable camera was at home in my other bag’ – you don’t get James Bond operating like that - just can’t get the staff these days!
Her report of Sunday was interesting though and a little unexpected. We’d anticipated a broader demographic on Sunday as more people are ‘out n about’ looking for something to fill their time and with Autumnwatch and other good wildlife programmes being on the telly recently we might have expected more families and youngsters to come down to an event like this...we don’t know how it was marketed to non-birders.
To the question how many genuinely interested kids and teenage girls were there? “Not nearly enough :( not many in the 20 – 30 category. Possibly 10 at the most!!! Can honestly say don’t think I saw a single teenage girl. Lots of toddlers and babies, but not nearly enough 6 – 18 year olds”.
That really is not enough...come on girls where are you? What are we doing wrong? Is it the beard thing – don’t worry beards are still in a definite minority? Do you have an aversion to green – we once had a bright orange jacket but that was for mountaineering – would it have made a difference? Give us some clues, (why) is learning about our/your environment so untrendy/cool – you can’t all be all-consuming shop-a-holics can you? You can’t be all removed from it as there are some exceptional female role-models around at the moment and look at primatology almost all the world leaders in this field of ecology over the decades have been women, cetaceans seem to have a bias towards female biologists, certainly in the UK, but why are you youngsters not finding/taking the easy way in – birds? Are you seeing the role models?
Do any younger females actually read this far down here??? If not why not? If you are one please let us know you did and what kept you reading beyond the second line way way up there. By young we mean under 30!
Something else seemed to be happening there too, again pics might have helped with percentages but there were more big lenses than telescopes – hardly a scientific analysis bit is there a move away from pure birding to bird photography, many of the big lens brigade had all the gear but little knowledge, indeed we spent some time trying to convince people a couple of times while we were in the hide that the Ruffs and Reeves weren’t Redshanks and Greenshanks and on one occasion we could hear down the line the same mis-identification being spouted – maybe a free field guide should come with every 500mm lens.

If by some slim chance you are still reading...and that applies to the beardies too, here is today’s wildlife news.

BONG – 10 Bar Tailed Godwits on Patch 2 – joint record count
BONG – Grey Seal bottling just behind the surf
BONG - b*gger al else.

But the big news of the day is this great news for our local nature reserve, can't wait to get stuck in in some shape or form.

No doubt there will be plenty of activities for youngsters of all ages and sexes coming up over the next few months for you to get involved with that our secret spy will advertise. 

Our crime report - If you’re the bearded b*stard pictured on the website and featured in this clip


Give yourself up thieving toe-rag. Anyone know him, possibly the other guy with the salesman is a stooge too. Neither are necessarily birders maybe just dressed up to look like them – sort of matching hats??? Or have we gone all Poirot? Wonder what he looks like without a beard or a hat.

Keep your eye on cheap deals on eBay for Swarovski binoculars, models 10x50 EL and 8.5x42 EL, valued at £2,010 and £1,850, 10x32 EL binoculars worth £1,620, and Zeiss 8.42 FLT binoculars worth £1,329 all from the same vendor.

In wildlife news – Wolves escape   if, as is stated they do not provide a risk to the public why were two shot dead? Was it on the orders of the extremely terrified looking Pied Wagtail?

Where to next? On the beach tomorrow with the litter pickers...and camera.
In the meantime let us know who’s got all the beards in your outback.

Monday 25 November 2013

At last and not before time!

The Safari was out on to Patch 2 like a shot this morning conditions were bob on. Crisp, clear and hardly a ripple. The tide was out and we found a solitary Bar Tailed Godwit with the few Oystercatchers on the sand. A flock of about 30 Golden Plovers flew past but we couldn't find anything out of the ordinary on the sea. Common Scoter numbers were good, over 1000 it's amazing how many come out of the watery woodwork when the sea calms down.
Lunchtime came round and conditions were now even better, absolutely mirror calm. The scoters in the distance looked to be floating in an ether. An uncounted number of Great Crested Grebes was only about a dozen - very lazy of us! A single Red Throated Diver and a fly by Shelduck entered the notebook.
In the middle distance we found two Grey Seals. Wish we could have stayed out much longer there was surely a cetacean out there to be found.
A phone call from CR gave us an invite to join him at the Starling roost after work. By now the clouds had rolled in and the chance of a murmuration against the fire of a Blackpool sunset was lost. Not that the murmurations have been any good yet this season. Numbers have been very disappointing so far.
Thankfully today was the exception! Best of the season so far - hazard a guess as to the numbers there anyone.
Interestingly a small passerine was seen to flit round the roof of Central Pier on the drive down to meet CR - never see anything like that there, wonder what it was - hmmmm???????

It's obvious we're not the world's best wildlife film-maker, our camera technique needs 'some work'.

Where to next? There's a cetacean watch with SMcC tomorrow from the Norbreck Castle promenade lower walk 2 - 3pm wrap up warm and bring your bins - we can't be there unfortunately.
In the meantime let us know who's been swirling round your outback.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Couldn't find a big white thing, did (re)find some small white things

The Safari was out not long after first light on our fortnightly Winter Thrushes survey. It was somewhat quiet out there took a while to find our first Blackbird not far short of the survey's starting point.
Grey Squirrels were in evidence this morning but birds were hard to come by, other than the thrushes we noted noting of note! 51 Blackbirds made it on to the sheet and just one Mistle Thrush representing 'the others' - really need a lengthy spell of cold crisp weather rather than the odd day here and there.
On the way back to Base Camp we disturbed two Blackbirds in the street.
A plate of toasted crumpets was demolished then it was out to meet up with Young Un AB who had been on the trail of the Snow Buntings found yesterday just beyond Patch 2's southern border. He'd been out for hours without success although another birder had found them. We marched poor Frank a mile up dune and down dale for nothing until we decided they must have snuck behind us so we walked all they way back and beyond our start point on the beach - a bit easier for the old fella but he  did find a ball and want to play with it. Almost at the end of the beach we saw a movement on the shingle - a Pied Wagtail flitting about but then another movement caught our eye on the toe of the dune - Bingo Get In!!! 5 Snow Buntings (189).
Creeping nearer as they fed we got withing about 20 feet of them as they worked their way through the shingle. Shame about the really rubbishy light.
We're only two behind birding arch-rival Monika although it's not all about the lists, just being outside communing with nature and enjoying what we do see common, unusual or rare is great in itself. But can we catch up and overtake in the next 36 days?
Not much else in the dunes, a Meadow Pipit and a couple of Reed Buntings was the size of it!
We dropped AB off at home cos the poor lad was starving then went back to Base Camp for a quick nibble ourselves and grab the scope for a cetacean watch from the cliffs nearby.
We set up on the cliff top and started to scan, first impressions were that there wasn't too much out there but we soon picked up a Red Throated Diver. Two Shelducks flewe past and enough close enough Common Scoters kept us entertained looking for the recent Velvet Scoter. A flock of about 17 Meadow Pipits went past at eye level followed by another five and a few minutes later a singleton - still moving south? To the north a male Kestrel hovered over the steep grassland arse on to us, we hoped it would come our way giving us the opportunity of a face on 'at eye level' shot but it went further north and round the corner.  
We scoped the distant meteorological tower and counted 13 Cormorants on it with another wrestling with a medium sized flatfish in the middle distance. Whilst watching it struggle with its dinner a drake Eider flew past. We didn't find anything blubbery - we'd very happily swap our cetacean free sea for the waters off southern Japan at the moment, the news from there in the last couple of weeks has been depressingly awful. Someone once said 'forgive them for they know not what they do' but tbh we're finding it very hard to do that at the mo not least because we're certain that, very sadly, they know exactly what they are doing! If it wasn't for dolphin 'shows' these massacres wouldn't happen - please please please don't go and explain to the children who want you to take them to Florida for the Christmas break why you're not going to take them. This is how you see cetaceans especially Orcas. Don't forget that Monika's Southern Resident species of Orca was decimated by the captive 'trade' and they've never really recovered numerically or mentally.
The tide was in and the waders were roosting in a bad place on the boating pool wall with most of them out of sight. But as time went by we noticed that a few Turnstones were clinging to the almost vertical wall like Spiderman dodging the waves as they sloshed up towards them. Good fun. Until we saw that one wasn't a Turnstone, a Purple Sandpiper, then we saw another and another - WOW our record count here by a whole 50% - well chuffed!
We lost the light without a sunset and left for home and to give Frank a well earned rest.

Here's some more pics from yesterday, the Ruffs were good value for money.
If we were designing a hide where there was no vegetation in front of it we wouldn't make it all high for looking across  the landscape but would also incorporate a sunken area for photography at the birds' level.
More about the bird fair later in the week.
Where to next? We have an invite to join CR at the Starling roost after work tomorrow and of course there's always the possibility/probability of something on Patch 2.
In the meantime let us know what's flown down from the frozen north in your outback.  

Saturday 23 November 2013

Living legends

The Safari is having minor computer problems and everything is taking 10x as long as it should so please bear with us.
On Friday morning we  had the last of our Year 6 classes out exploring the habitats near their school. It was much colder than previous visits and the chances of finding invertebrates was a lot slimmer so we had a wander down to the nature reserve. The sun was out and we had a look at the mere and the reedbeds. It warmed up enough for inverts to come out and be found and the class found loads of stuff. The inverts were good but what on earth is this snotty stuff - a Slime Mould
Look at that child's dirty hands; no fear of mud there - legend!
We saw two Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Sparrowhawk flap flap flap glide-ing then a super fast stoop - not long after mentioning why the House Sparrows hide in the thick Blackthorn scrub - brill!   
We also showed them the old Bumble Bee's nest which now everyone has seen it much of it was taken back to school for a closer look and we got a couple of pics of a bee that didn't make it - any ideas? Unusual blue hue to it's abdomen could be a clue to its ID.
One child surpassed themselves by bringing a leaf with a mine in it saying 'what makes lines like this - it looks like it's been eaten' - great observation.
Then they all went yuk when we held it up to the light and showed them the frass inside...they loved it really.
Great stuff! And great youngsters none of them were in the least bit frightened of mud and dirt.
Later in the day we went with Wifey to see a real live living legend - Bob Dylan. Never thought we'd ever get to see him when we bought his albums over 30 years ago. To be honest we haven't heard any of his recent stuff - recent being since Slow Train Coming in 1979! Vocally he'd never get past Barlow, Osbourne, Walsh and Scherzinger in this day and age but what do they know he's only sold 60 million records in a 50 year career, not bad for a little wizened old man. He said nothing to us, just stood there and sang but was totally captivating, his rocky version of All Along the Watchtower combined elements of his original and Jimi Hendrix's awesome cover and brought the house down.
Today we had an early start but slept in! We wanted to get to the NW Bird Festival early but ended up going to the coast on the Southside first instead. Driving along the marsh road we kept an eye out for the Ross's Goose, is it dodgy or not the camps seem to be split 50:50 - that's the trouble with geese!  From the moving vehicle we didn't see it. Scoping up we wandered back down the road having a scan of the marshes every few yards. First bird seen was a Great White Egret (188), still three behind Monika and not much chance of getting to our target of 200! A Sparrowhawk had an unsuccesful dib at a couple of Snipe. Lots of Pink Footed Geese were out there but there was no sign of the Ross's Goose. We somehow manged not to see the Long Tailed Duck either that was seen earlier on a tiny unfrozen pool with a few Pintail - how'd we manage that?
So off to the bird fair we went where as soon as we got through the door we bumped in to Young Uns AB and JS.
A mooch around the exhibits had us mentally spending thousands, melting the credit card even but we resisted all temptation. We were on the look out for something unusual or unique that Frank could spend his pocket money on for Wifey's Christmas (there we've said the 'C' word) but there wasn't anything suitable, there could be an opening for a birdy type jeweller/crafts-person next year.
Of to the wildside and the hides it was. The light was a bit weird not bright but not dull enough to prevent squinting and shadowless but not flat...nothing for it but to set the camera to auto and hope for the best!
A selection coming up...
Grey Lag Geese coming in to land
Pink Footed Geese whiffling in
Drake Pintail
Who cares where the food is!
Female Pintail
Male Ruff
Tawny Owl - best view we've had of one for many years!

We went to the lecture on the Red Breasted Goose conservation scheme in Bulgaria by local wonder-boy and soon to be legend Kane Brides for whom we've been recording colour-ringed Coots for for some time - keep your eyes open for them some of them go further than you think! Look out for his darvik ringed Black Headed Gulls too.
50% of Red Breasted Geese have been lost in only a few years, now there are less than 1/3 the human population of Blackpool. If we can't protect something as beautiful as this gorgeous and very obvious goose what chance have we got for species that no-one sees or aren't particularly pretty and the worst of it is the decline could be at least halted if illegal hunting could be stopped...isn't that the case for too many species these days...what is it with the need to kill things...OK so some/many of theese may well eb eaten but they shouldn't have been shot in the forst place and the people doing the shooting know this only too well. With KB and his colleagues on the job things will surely turn round.
We had a quick chat about an idea for a project for which he's already put out tentative feelers and if (BIG if) it comes off will be the pinnacle of our conservation career - wish him well and cross as many fingers as you can manage. Don't have a time scale yet could be next year could be five could be 25 but watch this space!
More bird fair pics tomorrow.
Where to next? We're back to more normal haunts tomorrow but with a possible twitch and maybe some blubbery action too.
In the meantime let us know who's illegally hunting what in your outback.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

A chill wind blows from the north

The Safari and our Extreme Photographer loaded our optics in to the Land Rover and drove off over the river on a quest for goosy type things and more. Our first port of call was the farmland feeding station. In the distance snow lay on the low hills and here there was an icy blast when we opened the car windows. We thought the cold might have brought some birds in but only a Robin was perched in the hedge. From the edge of the field across the ditch a male Pheasant's head poked out for a peek but would it fly across with gap or crawl down the bank and swim chose the latter but didn't go straight to the seed but snuck in to the bottom of the hedge and made the final approach to the seed out of sight. Away across the fields a flock of Lapwings rose up possibly spooked by the Sparrowhawk seen a little later lurking in the big tree at the far end of the hedge.
With nothing much around we tried the other feeding station, on the way a couple of birding chums drew up and told us a herd of Whooper Swans on the way. There were a lot there!
A couple of Pink Footed Geese were also in the field. Well worth a look but we couldn't see any Bewick's Swans with them, don't think there's many in yet.
The second feeding station didn't have any food down so we turned and headed to the salt marsh. Our friends from earlier were already there and had got onto a trio of dark bellied Brent Geese (186) amongst the hordes of Pink Feet and Shelducks. Also there we found the very beautiful but very 'plastic' Red Breasted Goose, it really is a bonny thing but has a ring from a collection on it not that we could see that at the mile or so range we were watching it today. We are however looking forward to KB telling us all about their conservation in eastern Europe at the NW bird fair on Saturday.
Another birder put us on to Peregrine hunkered down on the ground trying to get out of the wind on the opposite end of the marsh. A Merlin flew past at close range giving excellent views as did a Little Egret which flopped by well within range of the cameras that had just been returned to the Land Rover for departure - how annoying!
Our next port of call was the creek that drains the farmland where the Semi-Palmated Sandpiper had been seen last week, no recent news of it in recent days though. There were Lapwings a plenty and a few Dunlin as well as a bit of a gull roost but the stars of the show were the 70 or so Twite (187) feeding close by on the edge of the marsh.
Then it was off for a warming bag of chips (fries for foreign readers hmmmm there's no comparison really) it was freezing stood out on the embankment scoping the bay. Once our fingers had warmed up on the hot food we drove round the corner to the esplanade to have a look if there were any waders on the mud flats. A huge flock of tightly packed Oystercatchers was an easy find but most of the Lapwings were snoozing sheltering amongst the clumps of Spartina grass.
A little further on a few Redshanks started to probe the mud.
Our Extreme Photographer stealthily crawled out on the marsh to get within 10 metres of them so his pics should be pretty good. He got a pic of a pipit that flew past us and landed on a patch of flotsam, he was in the process of getting set up waiting for it to show a little better when a passing dog walker leaned over the railings to see what he was pointing his camera at and flushed it further down the beach - pillock!!!  We couldn't tell whether it was a Meadow or Rock Pipit from the image on the back of his camera.
From here we went back over the river to the nature reserve. The light was good but most of the birds were away along the far bank .
 The light really was gorgeous, the reeds positively glowed with a fiery hue.
This Black Headed Gull looks rather well fed!
An hour or so in the hide was enough before we set off back to Base Camp almost taking the key with us - almost naughty!
An almost new moon was rising in an almost cloudlest sky a little later which gave us a chance to have a bash at some pics.
Not easy shooting through lots of atmosphere when it's low in the sky - seem to lose a fair bit of detail compared to when its higher up.
Today was a washout early morning and then at lunchtime the sea was crashing over the wall so no joy then either. The sun did show briefly and it was quite warm out of the wind. The prolific flowers on the False Castor Oil plant, Fatsia japonica, by the cafe doors had attracted a couple of Muscidae flies.
Where to next? Hopefully the wind will have died down a bit tomorrow to bring Patch 2 back into play.
In the meantime let us know what the chilly the wind is blowing in in your outback. There's a bit of a roundabout clue to an indoor adventure later in the week in there somewhere. The answer my friends will be revealed on Saturday.