Thursday, 30 January 2014

Another two tally ticks today

The Safari couldn't wait to get out to the the sea wall this morning, even in the faintest of pre-dawn light we could see the sea was flatter than the carpet in your sitting room as we drove down the Prom.
It seemed to take an age to get light enough for us to nip out.
What a sight, hardly a ripple, just a little swell and not a shadow to be seen. This was going to be good. 
Lazily we didn't count the now easy to see Common Scoters but did note the seven Great Crested Grebes, same seven as yesterday? While we scanned for mammals five single Red Throated Divers flew southwards. Away in the distance an unidentified auk was seen but which one was it, either of the two common ones would have been a new bird for the year.
Fortunately it didn't take long to find out, a Great Black Backed Gull swung in and landed on the water away to our left and about 20 yards in front of it was a pair of Razorbills (92, P2 #33) - happy days. 
Swinging the scope right round to the north we got on one of the previously counted Great Crested Grebes and right by that was a single Guillemot (93, P2 #34). Happy happy days, if only there'd been a mammal too.
We continued scanning through the really too distant Common Scoters hoping to find a 'better' duck but 'only' came across another Guillemot.
It was cooler out there than it has been for many a day but with the conditions so good it was one of those days when work really was the bane of the birding classes!
By lunchtime the wind had dropped even more but sadly a session in the dentist's chair beckoned. You chose a day at random in all this duff weather and it clashes with one of the best spotting days of the winter - dohhhh don't yer just hate it when that happens.
Where to next? Hopefully the wind won't have picked up much overnight and the conditions will still be perfect.
In the meantime let us know who put in a welcome appearance in your outback.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Two tally ticks today

The Safari was able to get out for a few minutes this morning after some torrential rain had passed over - has there been any other type of rain this winter?  The tide was well up so no beach to peruse but the light offshore breeze meant the sea was quite calm. 
We saw plenty of Common Scoters but it was still that bit too choppy to be able to count them with any accuracy so we guessed at around 250 or so. A couple of Red Throated Divers flew towards us but well out and lines of Cormorants followed each other out  to their fishing grounds.
There are always some Common Scoters in flight, small flocks shifting position from here to there and this morning was no exception, except that one such small flock contained a much smaller duck in their midst, a Teal (P2 #31), always a good find on Patch 2, we didn't see one here last year.
After lunch we nipped out again, the tide was well down by now and we could see with our naked eye there was a good number of gulls picking through the shellfish at the low water mark. The scope revealed just how many, well over 500 with most a long way to the north.
We had a look at the closest ones and was releived the light was better (= flatter) than yesterday but couldn't find anything of note.
Looking to the north at much further range we had to concentrate a lot more. The gulls here were milling round in a tight bunch in a pool left by the tide well up the beach. It wasn't easy to pick individual birds out of the morass but then a dog walker walked by - just what we needed! but like the other day at the Iceland Gull site and the motorised chav he unwittingly did us a favour - the gulls flew along the beach towards us and landed in a line at the water's edge just right for viewing. It didn't take long before we picked out a striking brute of an adult Yellow Legged Gull (91, p2 #32). Now we were stoked and searched through the remainder very diligently but to no avail, we couldn't find anything else of note. We have to admit we were hoping to find the Mediterranean Gull from yesterday again. 
Then we discovered why we might not have found it - looking beyond the southern boundary the far beach was absolutely smothered with gulls all the way to the river mouth, how many? Several thousands but too far away to have any hope of finding anything unusual apart from a single Lesser Black Backed Gull.
With all these gulls about it wasn't a good day to be a stranded Dab or Common Sandstar, the Great Black Backed Gulls were having a field day ripping chunks out of these when they found or stole them.
We could have stayed out for hours today even though the wind was getting on the sharp side. But there was a bit of weather sneaking up behind us. Turning round to go back inside at well past the nominated time the sky looked just a tad on the threatening side!
If you saw that sky in the summer you'd be thinking thunder and lightning.
Where to next? Patch 2 is producing the goods this week but will the good luck continue tomorrow - hope so.
In the meantime let us know if it did actually stop raining in your outback.

Monday, 27 January 2014

White winged gold

The Safari was disappointed not to be able to get out early doors on to Patch 2 due to incessant gloom so we had to wait until lunchtime before we could get our daily fix of wildlife.
Lunchtime came round eventually and we went straight out over the road to the wall. We have a little project to do with the local gulls so we set about counting these before we looked at the sea. It was quite productive from the off. There were over 400 gulls along the whole length of our beach but a short stretch with a decent wreck of shellfish had attracted the majority of them so after our general gull count it was time to work through them more thoroughly. It wasn't long before we found a couple of Herring Gulls with far more white in their wing-tips as the 'normal' ones but  in the bright light it was hard to tell if they were any darker on the mantle than 'ours' - ehh Herring Gulls don't you just luv em!
While we were studying one of these a number of smaller gulls walked past - one of them was an adult Mediterranean Gull (P2 #29) - whoopy-doo!!! Only just about annual on the beach here so we were well chuffed. Checking further on we thought we might have had another with a dodgy leg flying along over the top of the feeding flock. Sadly we didn't see it land and then couldn't find it again if it was one. It might have flown much further down the beach well beyond our southern boundary where a good number of gulls had gathered to roost and mooch about.
Out at sea we had nothing in the heavy chop apart from an uncountable number of Common  Scoters and an uncounted much smaller number of Cormorants.
The walk back over the road and into the office gave us four House Sparrows (P2 #30) flying from one side of the rear garden to the other, so not a bad visit over the road at all.
Where to next? If we remember to take our wellies tomorrow we might be able to get down to that strand-line and see if anything of particular note and interest has been washed up.
In the meantime let us know who the celebrity guest was in your outback.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A day of citizen science projects

The Safari was peering through the blinds and a rain soaked window watching the rain lash down across the garden waiting to count the birds that came to the feeders hanging in the trees at the far end.
The appointed hour for our RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch came and thankfully so did the birds. Once our hour was up we'd recorded:-
Long Tailed Tits - 5
Great Tit - 2
Blackbird - 1 female which sat under a bush for over half an hour without moving sheltering from the torrential rain
Blue Tit - 2
Chaffinch - 3 2 females, 1 male
Woodpigeon - 1
Robin - 1
Greenfinch - 2 A pair the female being dominant over the male.

Of the foods provided only the sunflower hearts were favoured. The suet block was attended briefly by one of the Long Tailed Tits. Only the male Greenfinch fed from the suet and sunny seed 'Robin mix' and then only once he'd been chucked of the sunny hearts by the female. The Niger seeds weren't touched and indeed haven't been touched by anything at all ever, even the Goldfinches which have since disappeared never went near them.
A few slices of bread were thrown on the garage roof for the gulls and although there were some flying around none showed any interest in it during the hour - duhhhhh??????
A male Blackbird and one of the local Collared Doves put showed up not long after the end of the hour...we're sure some of them watch us watching the clock!
Later a female Great Tit turned up which was ringed - not seen her before.
Sadly our second bash at the survey, with the public this time, was rained off and excessively so it was heaving down and only ourselves and the other organisers from the North Blackpool Pond Trail turned up...think the rain might have put the other punters off - you don't say!
After lunch the rain relented and the sun tried to come out so we went off round Patch 1 for the first time in ages, now Frank can't walk that far we've more or less had a to abandon it. The target here was to add a few more records to Birdtrack and hopefully get another species or three for our Foot It tally.
A singing Song Thrush was a pleasant surprise while all the regulars were added in due course. Half way round we found a tree with a splurge of fungi erupting from it.
In the wooded area a flock of small birds were spotted nipping over a fence and into a garden, coming back with peanuts. Here we stood our best chance of picking up a new species for our Foot It list...and we did...but not the one we expected. Watching a Great Tit hammering away at a peanut we heard a Goldcrest (FI #45 90%) break into song, OK this was on our 'hit-list' for the walk but where we were stood we expected to find a Coal Tit...which didn't show, nor did the hoped for Great Spotted Woodpecker either of which would have taken us over the 90% mark.
The gulls started making a ruckus and alerted us to the Peregrine coming in to roost.
Birdtrack doesn't seem to like big numbers of common birds, yesterday we had an alert that our House Sparrow count was high and today it was the 34+ Magpies in their pre-roost congregation that got the red line treatment.
Then it went dark...and that was that for the day, quite a productive one despite having to  abandon the guided walk.
Where to next? Breezy for Patch 2 in the morning.
In the meantime let us know if the rain eventually stopped in your outback.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

That was one squelchy circuit

The Safari was woken early by Frank asking to go out and we could hear the beautiful sound of a Blackbird singing in the distance, the first time this year. By the time we were all kitted up for the wet weather outside and opened the door it had stopped.
An hour and a half later we were out again, this time on our Winter Thrushes survey and recording for our Foot It challenge too.
It took a while to get the first Blackbird in the notebook a little way before our survey route starts but three singing Song Thrushes within a 100 yards of each other was a real joy.
It was spring-like this morning and the hat came off early on followed by the unzipping of the coat a little later. Dunnocks and Robins sang, mostly from unseen hiding places.
Most of the usual Blackbirds were mostly in their usual places as we continued our usual trail much of which was very wet underfoot, particularly the football fields, wouldn't like to play on those it was very heavy going under foot. However from thee top of a tall Poplar tree in the corner of the fields by the school a Mistle Thrush was singing its lovely fluty melody.
A check of the gulls on the fields didn't give us any ringed birds but did give us our first Foot It Lesser Black Backed Gull and a fly over Pied Wagtail, making us just six short of our target with a week to go but our next chance of a daytime venture out might be too late.
It was a lovely morning to be out but we were time constrained and could only give it about an hour, still we recorded over 378 birds (excluding gulls) of which about a quarter were Feral Pigeons all duly recorded onto the excellent people-powered Birdtrack.
Snowdrop flowers were opening and Cow Parsley was well sprouted but obviously a long way off flowering.
Once breakfasted we had a look at stealth-cam but there wasn't anything of mote for you. One of the Wood Mice won't be starring in any more three minute films as it was found dead, probably catted, by the front gate at lunchtime.
As dusk fell we topped up the feeders and scattered plenty of seed on the ground in preparation for tomorrow's citizen science project, the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.
Where to next? After our own garden birdwatch we're doing a guided walk around the large lake on the North Blackpool Pond Trail but looking at the weather forecast it could turn into a guided swim!
In the meantime let us know who hit the top spot in your outback.

Friday, 24 January 2014

We've been to Iceland

The Safari got a chance to have a look at Patch 2 this morning. The wind was cold but offshore enough to keep the sea quite calm, at least for the first mile or so. This allowed the Common Scoters to be far more visible and we sort of counted about 500 of them but there wasn't anything else at all with them as far we could see.
On the beach a scattering of Oystercatchers were intermingled with just over 200 mixed gulls. We we're hoping for a Mediterranean Gull but no such luck, one the other hand a Lesser Black Back Gull caught our eye for being rather dark and lacking almost any contrast between the mantle/upper wing coverts and the primaries...intermedius type rather than graellsi??? Wouldn't like to call it with the way gull grey shades change with the angle of the light. The nearby Herring Gulls all looked quite 'normally grey'. But where are all the argentatus Herring Gulls, not seen anything that has stood out as 'northern' yet this back end. To be fair the gull numbers on our stretch of the beach this winter have been decidedly low despite all the shellfish wrecks from the storms. Why, where are they??? Casual observations from the other beaches along the Prom haven't really produced enormous numbers either but we could easily have missed big counts.
Lunchtime was no better if a little rougher out at sea, similar numbers of Common Scoters and still nothing with them. Less on the beach too as the tide was well on its way in.
After work we headed to the waste recycling depot where a reasonable number of gulls sat on the roof. It's not the most salubrious birding location we've ever been but the reward would be worth it if it was there and if we could find it.
We couldn't! Most of the gulls were out of view so we got out of the Land Rover and walked down the road stopping every few yards to get a different angle, still no joy. We were beginning to feel a bit down hearted when a boy racer sped by trying to break the sound barrier in his little hot hatchback. He had one of those silly exhaust tail pipes that looks like a bucket - dohhh - but  as he slowed for the bend the bucket coughed, spluttered and popped a bit flushing a load more gulls from the far side of the roof - lo and behold right there slap gang in the middle of the flock was the white winger Iceland Gull (90) in the bag. Thank goodness for small boys and their toys. It didn't stick around but flew off with the other gulls south over the raised highway and out of sight.
No chance of a pic in the heavy drizzle and evening gloom. Hopefully it'll stick around long enough for us to find it in some sunshine.
Where to next? Gotta do those Winter Thrushes in the morning which might add a couple more to our Foot It challenge too.
In the meantime let us know who's hanging around the sheds in your outback.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Out and about at last

The Safari managed a bit of Foot It this morning and added a just a few species to out tally, in fact reaching 84% of our target after a slow start. Get in! If we can do a Winter thrushes survey on Saturday too with a bit if luck we might just get our 100% or at least very close.
We wandered scopeless down to the coast where we had an unsuccessful low tide look for the Purple Sandpiper that roosted there over yesterday's high tide. For our list we got Redshank, Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Turnstone almost immediately. behind us on the grassy cliffs of Chat Alley we had a couple of Meadow Pipits but it was out at sea where the birds came thick and fast, including a year bird too.  Cormorant, Eider (84), Red Throated Diver, Common Scoter and Great Crested Grebe all fell. The sea looked good for mammals too but several scans didn't reveal any.
Turning to leave we saw a Kestrel (85, Foot It #42) hovering above the cliffs, not a bad mile's walk although our hand is pretty sore now.
Earlier CR had phoned to say there was a chance of a trip out in the afternoon, well it was on and he duly came round to pick us up and off we went on an ibis twitch.
Driving along the narrow country lanes we looked for Redwings and Fieldfares without success and nor were any owls out either. In the fields below the sea wall we saw Little Egret (86) after Little Egret, there were loads of them but could we find a Heron? We had well into double figures of Little Egrets and not a single Heron - that wouldn't have happened 20 years ago!
We arrived at the twitching site and as we drove along the lane the Glossy Ibis (87) was easily visible through the trees from the car with a few Little Egrets.Twitching has never been so easy!!! We parked up and walked back...the last Glossy Ibis we saw was long before digital photography, think it was in the days of the Box Brownie, so we were looking forward to getting a few pics. The ibis had other ideas and promptly wandered to the far side of the field and over a slight ridge out of sight. We hung around for a fair while hoping it would come back in to view with CR re-naming it the Shybis!
With it not showing we took a trip across the way to look for the Bewick's Swans that had been seen yesterday but all we could find were Mute Swans today, going a little further to the scar there was a works crew repairing storm damage and the tide was right up so no birds there so we turned straight rround and headed to the little estuary past the Little Owl barn...guess who wasn't showing!
At the canal bridge we mentioned to C that we used to see Kingfishers all the time there but hadn't for ages, several years even. Blow us down with a feather two hundred yards further on by the pools a Kingfisher (88) flew along side the car for about 50 yards and landed on a nearby post! Could we stop? No! A car was practically in the boot - drat drat and double drat but what an amazing 'speak and ye shall find' moment - is it us or does that happen more often than it should by chance alone???
The tide in the creek was well up and had moved most birds off apart from a few Teal so we had a look on the pool which we expected to be livelier. A couple of Goldeneyes were out on the water, the nearest island had a dozen or so Lapwings and the far bank held a few Black Headed Gulls, Teal and Wigeon but nothing spectacular. Then we noticed a Little Grebe (89) and another. The second was being chased by a quick paddling Black Headed Gull for some unknown reason. The grebe sped up but the gull still gained, as it closed the gull dived and did a U'ey underwater coming up with a small fish leaving the gull still looking for it in the opposite direction!
We went back to the ibis field and again saw the bird from the road but much nearer this time as we drove through the gates this was going to be easier than before! Oh no it wasn't! We parked up walked back and all seven Little Egrets and the Glossy Ibis had wandered back over the little ridge in the field and almost out of view again. Certainly was proving to be a Shybis! We got no pics. Time was running short and as we turned to leave we spotted a bright yellow blob amongst the twigs on the woodland floor. Nothing for it but try a pic...
That certainly brightened the day! Any ideas what it is?
The drive back to Base Camp still didn't give us any of those Redwings or Fieldfares - where are they?
Where to next? Hope going back to work tomorrow doesn't interfere with Iceland Gull twitching.
In the meantime let us know who was being excessively shy in your outback.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A letter from Japan

The Safari would like to thank the British embassy in Japan for their prompt response to our recent request. We are reassured that there are good people on the ground raising awareness with their contacts within the Japanese government - if only their message was heeded with a little more urgency and a little less 'nationalism'. The only bit of the letter we don't like is the penultimate word 'stocks' as it implies trade or commodity which these creatures should not be, surely 'populations' would be a better word.

Thank you for your email on dolphins in Taiji.

The UK opposes all forms of dolphin and porpoise drives and believes they cause unacceptable levels of suffering.  At the recent annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in July, 2011 (IWC63) the UK urged members to support the conservation of small cetaceans.

Under international law it is primarily for individual countries to regulate the management and killing of small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) in their own waters, so dolphin hunts such as those in Taiji and Futo are regulated by Japanese domestic not international legislation.  However we feel very strongly about the welfare issues raised by these dolphin hunts.  In response to previous hunts we have raised our concerns with the Japanese Government and sought assurances that legislation regulating them will be improved and enforced. We also continue to work within the International Whaling Commission to sponsor resolutions that raise the profile of the issue and to encourage the IWC to adopt a strong position in favour of the protection of small cetaceans.

The UK Government has, bilaterally and in the IWC, regularly raised its concern over Japanese dolphin hunts with the Japanese Government and will continue to do so until there is progress through these discussions.  The Japanese Government are in no doubt of the strength of feeling in the UK about these hunts and the UK Government will continue to make their opposition to the hunting of small cetaceans known to Japan at every appropriate opportunity and argue that they undermine the credibility of the IWC as an effective organisation for the conservation of cetacean stocks worldwide.

Climate Change and Energy Section
British Embassy Tokyo

We're not sure how many dolphins were killed today, some more were taken captive and some we think may have been driven back out to sea, these are often juvenile animals 'not worth killing' but often too young to survive without their families - so effectively 'killed' anyway.
We'll let you know if we get a response from the Japanese.
All we can hope is that the souls of those lost ask Ryujin  for vengeance and send a tide to wash Taiji clean off the face of the earth for ever. Enough is enough!

On a lighter note the stealth-cam has been busy overnight with several recordings of our Long Tailed Field Mice through the hours of darkness. One mouse is a regular occurrence, two mice fairly frequent but look at em all - three - - a site record! Click full-screen for an improved viewing expeerience.

But then we saw that the time recorded was 08.00, it's just about light by then so we assumed stealth-cam had been triggered by a neighbour's cat sneaking by. 
But no it was two mice staying out late!

Half an hour later and now fully daylight...really taking a risk!
Continuing the long tailed theme the only birds of note in the garden today were four Long Tailed Tits briefly on the feeders. Standing at the window watching those we realised we could see the ledge where the Peregrine roosts, from a downstairs window??? And then we twigged - someone has cut another large tree down or at least seriously pruned it, they probably got scared by the recent high winds but it's yet more local habitat destruction and there's precious little habitat improvements going on round here. Later we did get that 'Armchair' tick; Peregrine from the sitting room armchair - good but for very much the wrong reason!

Still off work and looking after a poorly legged Frank, which is much better now, we've been watching BBC Winterwatch on the webcams and hovered over the print screen button to capture this cheeky Red Squirrel, we were almost pishing at the screen to make him turn round he spent so much time nibbling with his back to us think that counts as '#desperation'
Used to get them from time to time in Ma n Da's garden when we were a kid, sadly all Grey Squirrels there now - bring back the Pine Martens!
Where to next? More from Base Camp again tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's become very numerous in your outback

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A letter to Japan

The Safari has written a letter which you may copy and amend to suit your circumstances but remain dignified and polite despite what you may be feeling.
We have sent it to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonweath Affairs, the Japanese embassy here in the UK, The British embassy in Japan and the Japanese Commission at the UN

Dear sir
I am writing to you on behalf of the large pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins currently held at Taiji. I am student of natural history and an environmental manager of over 30 years experience devoting many hours voluntary time to the monitoring and surveying the cetaceans of the British Isles for conservation purposes. The pod currently held is almost as big as the UK population for this species!
I would urge you to bring this matter to the attention of the Japanese Prime Minister and his government immediately.
The ecocide at Taiji has little to do with tradition or culture now, it  is all about profit and greed and as such has no place in a supposed 21 Century civilised nation; it should be consigned to the history books as soon as is possible.
Almost all nations are currently committing acts of ecocide, including my own sadly, but the events at Taiji this winter culminating this weekend are perhaps the most shameful and abhorrent of them all. The brutality and barbarism meted out on the sentient victims is sickening.
The removal of young animals from their mothers is little short of kidnap – imaging how you would feel if your child was forcibly taken from you and made to dance for entertainment in a tiny prison cell. Dolphin mothers don’t know the final fate of their offspring but the bond they have with them is every bit as strong as the one between human parents and their children.
It has been known for many years now that there is only a little science that can be gained from keeping these animals in captivity and the taking of the albino juvenile in my mind was for no more purpose than a Victorian-style freak show exhibit.
I respectfully ask that the Japanese government study this matter closely and make the decision to end these atrocities immediately and at the same time close down the ‘Dolphinaria’ that drive the demand for live captures.
The practice is not sustainable whereas with the numbers of animals so close to shore the possibility of a dolphin watching tourist industry must be feasible.

For evil to prevail all that is necessary is that good men do nothing, please be those good men and do something.
I look forward to hearing from you
Many thanks

We hope many of you will send your message of disgust and that the Japanese Government takes note.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Bitterly disappointed

The Safari has been shocked at the depths of inhumanity wrought upon the natural world in recent days culminating with the capture of of 250 Bottle Nosed Dolphins at the notorious Japanese village of Taiji. You can help make a difference by contacting your Japanese embassy and letting them know how you feel...politely please - we realise that may be hard to achieve but do your best, remember not everyone in Japan supports or condones these atrocities. And while you're on to them you might like to ask about their 'scientific' whaling what are the scientific objectives of this season's expedition? Why can't the information be gathered by non-lethal means, there's plenty of techniques in the scientific world for non-lethal study? What are the minimum and maximum numbers of whales to be 'taken', how many of which species are required and how are those numbers arrived at? Why are the carcasses not returned to the ecosystem from which they were removed, ships of that size should have suitable laboratory facilities for research and tissue storage on board without the need to retain whole animals? Which peer reviewed journals will the resulting papers be published in, will there be an English translation of in Japanese?
We have been so upset by the events overnight (and all winter for that matter it's just that the pod captured last night was so large it's approximately the size of two resident UK populations , Cardigan Bay and Moray Firth combined!) that as much as we use our laptop and camera for trying to get you lot out there to look at experience and wonder at the fantastic natural world around us they are both made in Japan and have a tainted feel about them this morning.
Don't get us on the general overfishing and deliberate shark overfishing and the lunacy of shark baiting in Western Australia almost inviting another attack, hopefully they'll see sense there.
Then there's the almost annual rubbish from Scottish farmers about White Tailed Eagles carrying off children, that would explain the hordes of Romanians and Bulgarians banging on the door of the White Cliffs of Dover - they're not here to 'steal our jobs' they're refugees escaping the murderous talons on blood-thirsty marauding eagles - just vote No. Continuing the uplands theme surely it's about time that the farmers leaders, and we do have some sympathy for some of the farmers themselves, came to understand that the uplands of Britain are far more than sheep and Red Grouse. There should be crystal clear colourless streams complete with fish, trees, Juniper heath, active blanket bog, abundant and diverse wildflowers, Curlews and Golden Plover calling and a variety of raptors soaring overhead...for the most part sadly its just overgrazed denuded grassland or undergrazed impenetrable Bracken with the odd Meadow Pipit for company - it should be so much more than that. To help protect the raptors please sign this petition brought by an upland manager, with all you birders, naturalists and hill walkers out there it should have 75,000 signatures by now not just 7,500 - it's not just the raptors that are suffering the damage it's the entire ecosystem some of that damage has contributed to the recent flooding. In reality we all know that the flooding was caused by gay marriage - WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE ON???
Add to these the shameful re-introduction of fur at Harvey Nichols - surely a retrograde step but again it shows where there's profit to be made there's motive to push basic human decency straight out of the window. The animal shown in the header pic is a Raccoon Dog, an animal of eastern Asian origin but introduced into northern and eastern Europe solely because of the fur trade and is now classed as an invasive alien causing ecological problems for the native wildlife - oh great stuff; one despicable 'trade' two obscene side effects.
Its time to introduce this way of reckoning rather than only counting the monetary beans. This takes far more important stuff into account but the money men will no doubt ignore it or worse, discredit it as leftist clap-trap
Much more locally there has been disgraceful vandalism on two of our favorite reserves one by bone-fide numpty youths the other more worryingly by wildlife photographers exposing a Schedule 1 bird's nest site so they can get better pics, maybe they are worse than the numpty youths cos they really ought to know better! Vandalism on  a much larger scale is about to wrought by our beloved government in the name of progress or 10 minutes off the journey time between to fairly close cities. These woodlands have been present since the Mona Lisa was painted and very probably since the invasion by Julius Caesar or even Celtic chieftains about 500 years before that. Given that the Mona Lisa is only 77 x 55 cm = 4235sq cm and is worth about £775 million and that Ancient Woodland is older and even harder to reproduce it's equivalent worth comes out at an estimated £18 BILLION per hectare and don't forget that woodland has three dimensions not just two - stick that in your pipe and smoke it Praterson!
But it's all OK the footy's on as normal and we've got a new smart phone due anyday now; what's to worry about?
Gawd that lot took some one fingered typing and no photo ops today to lighten the mood - sorry, the only birds in the birdless desert today were three Greenfinches early doors and nothing at all since! Nothing on the stealth-cam for you either.
No idea if any of those on-line petitions do any good but if they are a better way of expressing the democratic process we'll keep signing away just in case.
Where to next? Hopefully tomorrow will be a mmore productive and positive day but with the likelihood of more bad news to come from Taiji don't bank on it...get emailing those ambassadors!
In the meantime let us know what's getting your goat in your outback.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Barely a bird but

The Safari has been at home all day recuperating from yesterday's operation. So far so good, it seems to have been a (painful) success.
Anyway nothing much was happening in the garden, well nothing at all really when we got a call from Wifey to say she was bringing in some quality pies for lunch. Don't know about you but we seem to have got into the annoying habit of wandering around aimlessly when on the phone, sure it was better in the old days when the phone was on a table in the hall and had a cord so you couldn't go anywhere; for no reason whatsoever we wandered into the kitchen and stared out of the window, with the phone jammed in the crick of our neck we filled the kettle one handed then nearly dropped the phone! What was that greyish bird that flitted away from the Blue Tit that had mysteriously been beamed in? Looked too grey for a Great Tit...and then it showed itself towards the top of the Bird Cherry tree - holy wow a male Blackcap! (83; Garden #17)
Checking the records this is the first 'proper' winter Blackcap we've had in the garden we usually get a spring or an autumn migrant moving through. Sadly it didn't stay long enough for a photo opportunity and the garden went back to its usual birdless desert self.
You can tell how birdless we are at the moment by the slice of bread that a gull has dropped and got stuck in the Crab Apple tree, it's within very easy reach of any passing Woodpigeons, Collared Doves, Robins, Starlings or House Sparrows, if there were any of the latter's been there a week!
In the afternoon a small flock of Long Tailed Tits bobbed by with a couple of the local Blue Tits, not quite as rare as the Blackcap but a scarce visitor none-the-less.

Not the best pic through the dirty window down the end of the gloomy garden. and so it became birdless again.
Where to next? No idea, more surprises from the birdless desert? Should be our Winter Thrushes survey this weekend but we're not fit enough just yet.
In the meantime let us know who put in an early appearance in your outback.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The tally moves on by one

The Safari wasn't able to do much wildlifing today but our brief lunchtime watch gave us a flock of six Grey Plovers (82; P2 #27) followed moments later by another tight flock of about 15 birds.
There were far fewer Common Scoters today and no sign of anything Velvety. A Great Crested Grebe floated by close in and a Kittiwake was out in the distance but the excitement that was the bait ball was nowhere to be seen.
And that my friends is yer lot tonight!
Where to next? Under the knife in hospital tomoz so we'll be out of action for a couple or three days.
In the meantime let us know if it's any livelier in your outback - was in someone's not far from here today, a real quality find, quality birding!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Winter bait ball

The Safari wasn't able to get to Patch 2 this morning but waiting for the tram - the Land Rover is in dock - we noticed that the tops of the northern fells had had a dusted with snow overnight. 
Just before dinnertime we got a txt from DC that there was a possible Velvet Scoter on the other side of the wall, rarely has lunch been chomped so quickly. He'd had to go back to work before we could get out to meet him. Look as we might we couldn't find it despite him saying it wasn't too distant. It was choppy put there though.
All was far from lost as a flock of six Shelducks (81; P2 #26) flew past, two more followed close behind while a few minutes later one, probably a different one, flew back the other way a fair distant out.
While watching the Shelducks we realised we hadn't added the Blackbird (P2 #24) or the Dunnocks (P2 #25) we saw at work yesterday to the tally sheet.
Also while watching the Shelducks we spotted a few gulls wheeling around looking interested in something in the distance. They were all Great Black Back Gulls, nine of them to start with but numbers quickly built up. Before long there were over 20 and some Herring Gulls to as well as a couple of Kittiwakes. All this attention caught the eye of a small flock of Cormorants which joined the melee. By now there were nearly 100 gulls and more Cormorants were coming in all the time and a couple of Red Throated Divers were in the mix too - there must have been some serious fish just below the surface but we didn't spot any of the mammals we hoped might be there too.
More scanning of the nearer Common Scoters didn't produce the odd one out but if it's there tomorrow we might catch up with it.
Not a photography sort of a day today.
Where to next? More of the Patch 2 same is all we'll be to do tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's milling round what in great numbers in your outback.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Couldn't get a word in edgeways

The Safari was going to have a political rant at you today but we were beaten to it on all counts.
First up was all about fracking but all you need to know is the pic below is from Texas just east of Waco which covers an area slightly smaller than the Fylde, where you may have heard fracking has been tested for. It's on both Google and Bing Maps so is probably true - like some of the pro-websittes we take some of the anti ones with a pinch of salt too....but basically it boils (appropriate word!) to the fact we as a planet can't afford the carbon and if only half the funds tax-breaks (bribes) had been put towards the development of sensible and decentralised renewable energy that would have been a better political decision but it was never going to happen was it? Of course not there's no money renewables - there's no raw fuel to mine, process and sell!  
Each dot is a well-pad
If all goes to 'plan' that's what our local countryside might well look like in ten years time - not pretty and where's all the water going to come from...and perhaps even more importantly where's all the dirty used water going to go?
The other rant was about the recent flooding and how we need to address the problem at source (pun intended) But a certain George Monbiont posted almost exactly what we were going to say although typically for him more eloquently and better researched.
On a lighter note FW has done his write up of his adventures at the nature reserve. As has AFON leader LMcR who sneakily snuck in to see the Long Eared Owls without saying hello - cheek of it - None out of ten!
Sorry about all the links but please do read them.
No pics today and we didn't find any Great Crested Newts this morning nor any other amphibians, we thought we might have found a Frog or a Toad hiding somewhere as its been mild enough of late but we didn't.
Our beach clean was thankfully very unproductive, unfortunately it was as unproductive of interesting biological specimens as it was of man-made litter. The sand has been stripped away by the storms along lengths of the base of the wall and left huge amounts rock and shingle exposed that we don't normally see.
Where to next? Not sure tomorrow, a look at Patch 2 at lunchtime is probably all we'll be able to manage. If the wind stays light and offshore there may be a chance of a mammal or two.
In the meantime let us know who stole your thunder in your outback.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Two of the red headed kind

The Safari had a visit from a real Conservation Hero, as described in this month's British Wildlife Magazine by the very knowledgeable Twitcher in the Swamp. He'd come with his mum to join our Long Eared Owl guided walk. Almost as soon as he'd got out of the car his sharp ears picked up an overflying Siskin (79; MMLNR #53) - how's about that for a start!
Once all would-be owl spotters were assembled we set off at the appointed hour in search of our quarry - actually we'd already been round after earlier hearing a couple of worrying negative news's from other birders; thankfully we got to the roost site and promptly found one - What a relief!
Young FW quizzed us all the way round and his knowledge and enthusiasm for someone so young is very encouraging for the future state of our beloved wildlife.
As we approached the viewing area another family was walking towards us after trying unsuccessfully to locate the owl. Of course we let them join us and they were relieved to have been able to see the Long Eared Owl (after a fashion) after all.
Something about them tickled us, their son was the spitting image of young FB - how mad is that!
Which red-head is which?
And here's the owl - well this is what we were faced with - it is in there somewhere, honest...can you find it?
We'll give you a clue
Did you spot it and would you have done if you were on your own on site?
We walked around the reserve with FW still asking his questions; "what ducks do you get?" he asked. "Oh all of them" we told him. "What about Pintails?" "No we don't get them"..."Trust him!" said mum...then would you credit it he said what's those three birds flying there?...two  male and a female Pintail!!! (MMLNR #54).
We stopped at the Platform to look for the Iceland Gull that had been seen yesterday but there were extremely few gulls of any description this afternoon and we learned we'd missed a Bittern!
moving on to the Feeding Station where most of the birds disappeared minutes after we arrived - the rotters! A male and female Pheasant showed off their resplendent colours, the females beautiful colours being much more subtle but no less enjoyable.
We spent the last hour in the hide overlooking the scrape where we didn't see any Otters or Bitterns but did have lovely views of the Barn Owl as it came out of the nest box and  started to hunt. It soon went across the fields and out of view. It was a while later when we said it was about time the next Barn Owl came out of the box...and no sooner had we got the words out than this happened!
OK so it's not the best pic of a Barn Owl you'll ever see, it was pretty dark by now.
We waited a little longer until we lost the light without the Otters or Bittern coming out to play for our distinguished guests - what were they thinking!
As we were getting in the Land Rover a Woodcock (80; MMLNR #55) flew over us not sure if the Wilde family got a view of it 
So many thanks to all who came on the walk today, we trust you enjoyed it and look forward to seeing you all again soon.
Where to next? We have a site visit to 'look for' Great Crested Newts tomorrow - no your right we're not going to find any!
In the meantime let us know who deigned to grace your outback