Thursday 31 December 2015

Best wishes for 2016

The Safari went out this morning in very welcome sunshine. We had an couple of shops to visit to get four items of which two were the same before we could go looking for wildlife, By the time we'd come out of the first shop it was spitting with rain and by the time we'd crossed the road to the second shop and final little item it was full blown raining again! Purchases made we pointed the car towards the local Short Eared Owls but they were never going to show as the rain turned from heavy to torrential again, looking out to sea it was clear the weather is in for the day. From there we decided to risk a soaking at Chat Alley to see the wader roost on the now storm-wrecked go-kart track. A dash across the Prom in heavy rain to look down on the roost was unpleasant but there was a good number Redshanks and several Turnstones already on the wall. Our usual watch  point gave us no shelter what so ever so we tried down by the disused toilets - never the most pleasant place to bird from but at least the driving rain was rattling on our back. After about 10 minutes some of the Turnstones dropped into the go-kart track to feed on the remains of the flood's strandline, the Redshanks didn't follow them. We risked a quick walk hunched against the wind to get a different angle to see if there were any Purple Sandpipers lurking in amongst the others - there weren't today but there had been earlier in the week. By now we were colder and wetter and gave up on the idea of nipping round to the nature reserve to see if there were any more than one Long Eared Owl on show.
We weren't able to get the camera from out under our coat today, so no pics for you.
So that was that for the end of 2015.
All that remains is to wish all our readers a happy, peaceful and wildlife filled New Year - All the very best everyone. If you've joined the Patchwork Challenge we'll see you on there.
Where to next? Family duties tomorrow but we'll be out with our Scouse mates on 2nd for some serious birding.
In the meantime let us know who's getting rained on in your outback

Wednesday 30 December 2015

The Safari had a trip up north yesterday in rather pleasant sunshine. The fields either side of the motorway showed plenty of evidence of the recent heavy rain although most of the rivers and streams we crossed had subsided to more normal levels leaving hundreds of shreds of black plastic from silage bags suspended in the trees scarily several metres above the current water level. There were a couple of  Kestrels up hunting and several Buzzards soaring and sitting on fence posts. 
Wifey bought her new boots to replace her 17 year old ones that turned into flip flops on our recent visit to the 'owl' reserve on the South Side and we decided to try them out and start breaking them in on the short walk up to the local waterfall. The sun had gone in by the time we got there and it was very dull under the trees.
On the way back down we admired the moss and liverworts growing on the dry stone walls and then noticed some black slimy 'stuff' - any idea what it might be anyone? Something like Nostoc perhaps? The blob is about as wide as our index finger and was dribbling down the wall forming the blob on the underside of a slight overhang.
The drive home was less eventful but we did pass a field with a huge number of Fieldfares, difficult to count at 70mph even from the passenger seat.
After the rain stopped today we had a wander down to the nature reserve for a couple of hours meeting up with LR. It didn't take long to find a variety of plants in flower including Scentless Mayweed, Ragwort, Hogweed (a different plant to the other day), and well opened Hazel catkins.
We found one Long Eared Owl and a Woodpigeon doing a good impersonation of another. After a good look to see if we could find an more which we couldn't. The walk along the embankment was quiet with the fields now devoid of almost all of their floodwater there was no large flock of gulls to look through. At the spillway the water level had dropped significantly since our last visit.
We had another thorough look for Long Eared Owls inside the reserve was fruitless and there was little else about apart from a handful of Fieldfares and a couple of Greenfinches
A family arrived hoping to see a/the Short Eared Owl but didn't know about the Long Eared Owl so we pointed them in the right direction and went on our way. LR went off home and we went back round to make sure the family had found the owl. We had to pass the scarred Ash tree. We're not sure what the cause is. It looks like it could be scratches from a territorial Roe Deer, or a disease but perhaps not Ash Dieback, or another type of fungus - anyone got any ideas.
It was a good job we had retraced our steps as we found the family looking in the wrong place, we soon put them on to the Long Eared Owl and we were very please that the young girl about 7 or 8 years old was enthralled by it particularly when it turned to stare back at us...job done. They went on their way with information about where to find the Little Owl should it appear at its broken window in the barn and hopes to see the Short Eared Owl should it take to the air as dusk fell. Hopefully they got to see both.
Where to next? Might get out somewhere tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's got themselves out of season in your outback.

Sunday 27 December 2015

A very welcome break in the weather

The Safari, like many other folk has been undertaking family duties and thwarted by the atrocious weather. We have enjoyed a very pleasant festive week unlike the many not very far away whose homes have been inundated by flood waters by yet another one of those 1 in 200 year storms. With a sunny day forecast we resolved to get out as early as we could. It was only an hour after first light that we parked up and set off along drier than expected paths to the nature reserve. We'd arranged a possible meet-up with young SB to show her the Long Eared Owl so that's the way we went first. On the way we passed the greening Hawthorn bush we photographed last time we were round this way and saw another a few yards further on.
Turning round to rejoin the path we spotted that we'd just walked past a Hogweed in flower - one for the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt next week. We think it's late flowering rather than very early.
It didn't take us long to find a Long Eared Owl but it was too deep in the shrubbery to be able to photograph. We did txt SB to let her know where it was for when she visited if we weren't able to meet up.
From there we made our way along the embankment listening to singing Cetti's Warblers and squealing Water Rails before noticing the amount of water in the fields was more than we've ever seen before and it was nowhere near high tide yet.
There was plenty of juice coming over the spillway to keep the dyke topped up.
We'll have to take a pic of the depth gauge when it's settled back down to normal - if that's ever likely to happen again...there's another storm on the way.
Doing the circuit we had a look from the hides to find plenty of Coots and Canada Geese. We could hear Teal but there were hardly any Wigeon today wonder where they've popped off to.
Just as we were about to leave the reserve we had the bonus of about 30 Fieldfares and a couple of Redwings high up in the top of the tallest trees in the scrub.
After a bite of lunch CR invited us back out by which time SB had been round and txtd us she'd successfully found two Long Eared Owls. Twice as any as we saw earlier! We started in the hides seeing three Pochards which we'd not seen in the morning. SD left and then reappeared saying there was a drake Goosander further down the mere.  We could just about see it from where we were so everyone left to get a closer look at this site rarity. 
At Ice Station Zebra hide (not selling it very well are we!) we learned it had flown off while we were walking down. A count of the other waterfowl gave us another male and female Pochard, 16 Gadwalls and 67 Tufted Ducks. A Little Grebe swam past and we spotted a female Goldeneye in the distance.
The Feeding Station was busy with both birds and birders. A podgy Grey Squirrel had got itself stuck in one of the feeders and took about five minutes to extricate itself. A second opted for the safer uncaged feeding table.
With little activity down the north path to keep us occupied it didn't take long to get to the Long Eared Owl site. There we couldn't find the one we'd seen in the morning but saw the two that SB had found a few yards away - could there have been three on site today?
Bally twigs!
Back at our first hide we had another look at the water where there was a full male and a second year Goldeneye, the latter being the nearest but by now the light was dropping fast.
And the the light went so we had to too...still no Bittern though.
Where to next? A bit of a trip out up north tomorrow there might be a little time for some wildlifing.
In the meantime let us know who doubled their numbers in your outback.

Monday 21 December 2015

10 days left and all to play for

The Safari has done quite well in our annual Year List Challenge with Monika and exceeded our target of 200 species for tour very productive few days with LCV at Spurn.
But the overall total hides some perhaps unusual misses on our local patches.
We're very unlikely to get back to Patch 2 this year, but have added it as a second site for next year's Patchwork Challenge. How did we do? 77 species out of a target of 90 in the end, 85.6%.
So what was missed, a rather mixed bag of what could/should have been reasonably be expected - Arctic Tern, Black Tailed Godwit, Collared Dove, Fulmar, Golden Plover, House Martin, Kestrel, Little Gull, Mallard, Peregrine, and even Woodpigeon.
The garden didn't do so well only managing 42, out of a target of 55 (76.4%) with a long list of absentees including some which must surely have passed unseen while we were out at work - work eh, the bane of the birding classes! Canada Goose, Fieldfare, Great Spotted Woodpecker (maybe not so expected now the neighbour's large Sycamore tree has been removed), Grey Wagtail, House Martin, Jay, Kestrel, Lesser Redpoll, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Peregrine,  and Pied wagtail.
The nature reserve was by far our best location coning in with 109 species, nine over our target of a ton...and there's still a week left of the year to add another one or two. Not many 'missing' species seeing as we're so far over target but with all the water raging through the local rivers a Kingfisher must be on the cards. Lesser Redpoll and Little Egret might have been added to the tally by now with a little bit of luck. But where are the Otters? Like the Kingfisher they may be expected to turn up to escape the worst the rivers are throwing at them, and what about favourites from the 'old days' Grey Partridge, Golden Plover and Brown Hares which used to be fairly regular in the adjacent fields, sadly it seems they are nothing more than a memory.
Going back to our overall total missing species reasonably expected are Great Northern Diver, Bittern, Mandarin, Red Grouse, Hobby, Redstart, Long Tailed Duck and Curlew Sandpiper. Overall we're pleased with how the year has panned out, a couple of out of area birding trips/hols but other than that not too much 'out of area' twitching has provided plenty of marvelous sightings of all manner of flora and fauna - you don't have to go far to see fantastic wildlife there's lots to see only a few yards from your front door all you have to do is keep your eyes (and ears) open.
We had a wildly windy hour or so at the nature reserve after this morning's torrential rain. Once again we failed to find any Long Eared Owls which wasn't too surprising they'd probably still be sheltering after the atrocious weather. Unsuitably shod we couldn't get to the other side for a look without going the long way round. We got side tracked looking over the water so didn't get that far. The wind was getting stronger making the reeds dance to a crazy tune and whipping up white horses on the mere so only the brave Coot were sat out, the rest of the waterfowl were taking shelter in and against the reeds on the far side. Lots of uncountable Teal and  Wigeon, 22 Tufted Ducks, a couple of Goldeneyes completed the line up. In the distance a Carrion Crow tussled with a Kestrel while a Buzzard flew behind them. With little happening we wandered back to the car having a long but unsuccessful look for the Stonechat at the wetland on the way, the light was a lot better today but with all the rain there was no way we'd have been able to get on to the field for some pics had it been present.
Then it was time to hit the shops for yet more cold and flu remedies.
Where to next? If the weather is kind we'll probably be out on safari somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who's not posing for photos in your outback.

Friday 18 December 2015

They were there and then they weren't

The Safari was able to get back down to the nature reserve for a couple of hours today and after all the coughing, snot and sore throat it was good to get a lengthy lung full of fresh air it feels, like the manflu is on the wane at last.
We scurried down to where we'd seen the Long Eared Owls yesterday but they weren't sat on the same branches.Where were they??? We looked here and there, high and low without success so decided to have a look in some of their haunts from former years. Wandering round through the new woodland we heard lots of Fieldfares chacking from the scrub. Once we reached the embankment there were hundreds of gulls to look at on the remains of the flood in the corner of the fields while looking at those we heard a Cetti's Warbler sing from the reeds to our right. Half turning to look at where the sound came from we saw something large and pale orangy flop into the reeds at the far side of the scrape - oooh that looked rather Bitterny! From where we were stood we couldn't see the base of the reeds so a quickish sprint to a better viewpoint was required; by the time we got there there was no sign of life either on the scrape or in the reeds at all....was it or wasn't it? Sadly not quite a good enough or long enough look to be able to add it to our year list.
From there we went to the new hide to see if we could see it on the other side of the reeds - no chance but there were lots of other waterfowl to see including a single Whooper Swan (MMLNR #107) that dropped in before being chased off by the territorial Mute Swans.
The plan now was to check out all the former Long Eared Owl roosting spots inside the reserve. Again we had no success and we decided to continue on a full circuit  of the reserve. It was then that BD txtd to say he was looking for the owls at their original place so we doubled back to meet him. It was then we saw a load of the Fieldfares in the top of one of the taller trees, then another tree and another, over 40 in all.
Approaching BD we were overtaken by a small flock of Long Tailed Tits which showed quite nicely as they hunted tiny insects hidden on the twigs...and there was BD doing the same thing - we rounded the corner and saw he had his macro lens out, flash gun attached and was stooped over the top rail of the fence, could only mean one thing - he was looking for/at Springtails. When we reached him he was looking at a Springtail, a big un too, we think it's the same species as this one he photographed a while back. It was just about visible to our aging eyes but a shine with the phone's torch and a look down the wrong end of our bins had us enjoying it's main features without squinting too hard.
With no owl joy BD expressed an interest in the nearby Stonechat so off we went looking at the lichens and mosses on the fence rail and wondering if there were any Tardigrades lurking in there. He's been looking but not found any for his microscopy project yet.
At the wetland it took a few minutes to find the Stonechat but once in our sights we snuck up on it as it flitted from Typha head to Typha head. Every time it dropped down to the ground we'd get a few yards nearer. It was lively though and gave us the run around sometimes only flitting to an adjacent stem other times flying half way across the wetland. Eventually we got as close as we were going to get when it settled on the boundary hedge.
Best we could get in the dark, wet, dire conditions
Picking our way round the larger pond to get back to the track we managed to flush no less than eight Snipe and then two Jack Snipe. One of the latter gave excellent views as it flew a wide circle around us before dropping down again, the other did a more typical short low flight before diving in to thick cover. The local male Kestrel also put on a good performance, the flat light showing his apricot browns and bluey greys to fine effect.
With rain coming down heavier and our belly telling us we'd had no lunch and it was nearly tea-time we called it a day. No Long Eared Owls and only a vaguely possible Bittern but still a great day out, after all it's not every day you get introduced to a Dicyrtomina sanders and we learned they are no longer classed as insects.
Where to next? Little chance of getting out until Monday due to family stuff but we'll be looking out of the window on our Goldfinch survey in the morning.
In the meantime let us know who wasn't where they were supposed to be in your  outback.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Drier owls

The Safari has been suffering an horrendous attack of manflu this week, coughing and spluttering all over the shop so we've not been out n about wildlifing other than seeing nowt through the rain soaked kitchen window.
Today we felt a little bit better and it's the first day of our Christmas hols, not only that it wasn't raining this arvo so we risked an hour out in the fresh air.
Since our weekend owl-fest over on the south side of the river the regular Long Eared Owls have turned up again/at last at the nature reserve so it would have been rude not to pay them a visit and get reacquainted with them. The first day they were discovered there were five on show, three yesterday but only two today and they weren't easy! One was obscured by lots of still-to-die-back vegetation, the second was easier to see but only for taller folk as it was perched low down behind a Bramble thicket. Hopefully a bit of decent wind-free dry weather over the holiday period will get them sitting up more out in the open so that lots of peeps can bob down enjoy them.
The Apples have attracted a good number of Fieldfares and although we didn't see many we could hear them chacking almost non-stop in the scrub. There were Blackbirds aplenty too and we had a brief glimpse of a Redwing
We couldn't stop long and wanted to have a quick look over the water too so mooched round that way passing an unseen Goldcrest just before we reached a Hawthorn bush that was bursting in to leaf - it's not even the end of December yet never mind spring!
Our look across the mere gave us a Little Grebe in the pool below the hide and a count of at least 145 Wigeon and three Goldeneyes, two females and a male - why do those little stunners never come within range of the lens? Hundreds of gulls kept getting up off the flood at the far end along with a couple of dozen Lapwings but time was short so we weren't able to nip down there and have a proper look in the fields.
Where to next? We'll have to have a longer wander round tomorrow provided Wifey doesn't have anything planned for us
In the meantime let us know who's got themselves secreted deep in the undergrowth in your outback.

Sunday 13 December 2015

A soggy owl or two

The Safari has been mostly rained off recently and when combined with covering staff absences has meant very little time for getting out wildlifing. 
Today was our first day out other than a few minutes looking at the Common Scoters from Patch 2.
We met up with our long-standing birding mates in damp drizzly conditions at a fairly new reserve very close to our early birding haunts. The weather forecast earlier in the week was promising but as the week progress it became evident we were going to get wet. This was Wifey's first proper birding trip and with her new ED's too.
The site is 77 hectares of wetland developed as a flood storage basin for the local river, in our teenage years it was intensive cereal and potato growing agricultural land which is probably why now it is very thistly with a very poor flora indicating a high nutrient soil. The river was as high as we've ever seen it and had been higher in recent days but hadn't got close to the spillway that  would flood the reserve - just as well for the grazing Exmoor Ponies and Red Poll Cattle. The ponies are real lookers with their white muzzles and spectacles - shame they were so far from the fence today.
Our target lined up for us by our mates were owls - lots of them - but the weather was anything but owly. Undeterred we wander round not seeing too much until a flock of Pink Footed Geese lifted from the fields beyond the river. Mallards and a couple of Little Egrets graced the first pool we looked at after passing a couple of photographers who'd just got a pic of a Cetti's Warbler, still a rare and exotic find here unlike 'our' nature reserve.
A shout of 'owl' went up as a Short Eared Owl appeared out of the sodden grass and quartered the field around the cattle. A Kestrel appeared in a brief lull in the drizzle too and then a Barn Owl. A second Shorty lifted and we had a great view of the Barn Owl flying behind a Shorty sat on a large post.
The Barny came closer and started to hunt a dyke running towards us. Sadly it didn't quite come close enough before turning round and flying beyond the large bush well out of range.
Wjfey found a second Barn Owl - well done her! It was caught up with huddled in a bank of scrub on our way back to the car park, we also disturbed possibly a third Shorty that was laid up out of the rain at the base of an old hawthorn bush.
A double footwear malfunction for Wifey had her scuttling cautiously back to the car past the Barny well ahead of the rest of us and we spotted her stop and have a good look at it through her new EDs. She's had her hiking boots since 26th December 1998 and today both of them decided to part company with their soles - how odd.
From the bridge over the river we scanned a large flock of Pink Footed Geese in the fields but there was no sign of the Marsh or, occasional, Hen Harriers that hunt the area. A forlorn looking Buzzard sat alone in a muddy field waiting for worms to come to the surface. A 'flange' of Black Headed Gulls was present too, not just an ordinary flange but a full flange at that!
We left too early to see if the ring-tail Hen Harrier would come in to roost, apparently it has to almost too dark to see but we did have another owl to look for.
Where we'd parked up there's a barn and a few derelict buildings where a Little Owl hangs out although IH to;d us that if he sees barn owls he never sees the Little Owl and if he sees the Little Owl the Barnies don't show...we'd seen the Barn Owls so would break his jinx and see the Little Owl? No we didn't, so 'only' a two owl day. And then it was dark.
Where to next? We should be able to get a look at the sea tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's floating round gracefully in your outback.

Sunday 6 December 2015

The calm after the storm

The Safari had an hour watching the feeders before Wifey surfaced this morning. It was much more lively than yesterday, there were even three, yes THREE, Goldfinches - where were they for yesterday's survey? The twig balancing Blackbird was back too along with a pair of Chaffinches and a Robin
Then we saw something very pale flit from the Crab Apple Tree down on to the ground, it seemed so pale at first we thought it might have been a Canary but once it came back and we got the bins on it it was obviously a Chaffinch albeit a somewhat washed out one. The kitchen window was still soaking wet as it hadn't sopped raining yet and it hadn't got properly light either so the pics aren't brilliant but you'll get a feel of how unusual it was...never seen it round here before, wonder if it'll stick.
The twig balancer came back but we had to look twice, it wasn't the usual female this was a male that's either copied or learned the trick. We'll have to video it for you, they don't find it as easy as it looks in still pics.
Once Wifey had gone to eh-up muvver's we went to the nature reserve. On the walk in we found an Italian Alder tree with well developed catkins. No others of that species we passed were showing any sign of catkins.

Once in the reserve we went to the Viewing Platform (Teal View) where just at the side of the path was a small patch of Bluebells poking through the leaf litter. There's Daffodils at work almost six inches tall already as well.
On the other side of the path there were some Willow twigs showing pussy willow beginning to open, there's more quite a bit further advanced on the other sided of the reserve but we forgot to take a pic of it.
Just about the first bird we saw when we looked at the water was a female Pintail (MMLNR #106) a scarce but just about annual visitor here. The calmer conditions meant that most of the other waterfowl were on view and not hiding in the reeds, a nice mix of the commoner species with two female and a male Goldeneye but no Pochard today.
We had a stroll round to the far side passing the now completely laid hedge (our pics didn't come out) it's all down but just needs staking and tidying in to finish it off - looks pretty good too.
What didn't look good were someone's helium balloons stuck in the top of the Blackthorn thicket, only one way to get them down is to cut the shrubs down. Please please please folks never use helium balloons ever, there's just no need and they far too often become litter and a hazard to terrestrial or marine wildlife or livestock.
CR was in the hide trying out his new lens for the first time, we had a chat before moving on to the next hide - he was a bit time limited today. A Woodcock flew round over the scrub opposite us, probably disturbed from the scrub by some numpy's unleashed dog. He left and we went further round, he'd warned us the overflow was a bit on the excessive side - he wasn't wrong!
The dyke was full to busting even though the tide was out, it had over topped and spilled into the fields over night.
Earlier in the day some of the Bird Club had been out on the island hacking away at the reeds, not an easy job at the best of times but more difficult today with the water level several inches up. Looks good though lads n lasses - impressive views cross both the old and new scrapes now, thank you.
The afternoon was drawing to a close so we hung round for the chance of the Little Owl (200, MMLNR #107) coming out - it popped up on to the barn roof twice but didn't stay out long.
We got a better but much darker view as it sat on the edge of one of the broken sky lights. Great to have a good look at it, we've not seen it there for a long time, we didn't see a Little Owl anywhere last year!
By now it was almost dark and time to watch the Starlings come in to roost and murmurate but only about 50 turned up gave a short murmuration and then dropped in the reeds. Back towards the car we awaited by the wetland for the Short Eared Owl(s) to show - they didn't but we did hear a Water Rail and saw a Snipe fly off to feed. As we turned to go back to the car we met a couple we'd shown the Little Owl to earlier and they told us we'd missed the Short Eared Owl quartering over the island at about the time we were watching the Starlings, from where we'd chosen to stand we couldn't see the island - dohhhhh.
All in all a good afternoon out with our target reached in our Year List Challenge with Monika, but how many dogs...after the totally crap weather yesterday the wildlife could have done with a disturbance free day today to catch up on some serious feeding instead of being flushed every five minutes.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 for a look before the next storm wangs in.
In the meantime let us know who's on the not so hot tin roof in your outback.

Saturday 5 December 2015

Brief then wet

The Safari is a tad soggy. Yesterday's sunshine was but an all too brief interlude in the succession of storms tazzing across the north Atlantic. It started raining as we were driving home from work yesterday evening and hasn't stopped since. Once this storm has passed there's another one due in two or three days. Already there is serious flooding all over the north of the country. They had a 1:1000 year flood in 2009, this one is bigger! It really is time to seriously rethink the land use in our uplands.
Late edit - if there have been two 1 in a 1000 floods in six years that should mean the next one won't be until the year 3010/11 give or take a few months, that should leave plenty of time to prepare. Somehow we feel the next one will be along well before that probably within  the next 10 years.
OK so there's not a lot that will stop water in today's quantities but we have to think about how to slow them down a bit.
The peat bogs must be undrained and allowed to rehydrate and start building up again, any drains above the in-bye should be stopped and then millions of trees have to be planted to slow the water through the ground and start building up organic soil again, a slow process but worth it in the end. There has to be adequate government/EU incentives for farmers/land owners to move away from sheep and into other more water-safe activities - maybe the insurance companies should start buying up land, be cheaper than paying out for losses and putting up premiums to almost affordable levels! Wonder if any of our glorious leaders at the climate Change summit in Paris are being briefed on the situation and contemplating doing anything about it? Thought not - it's all happening up north, needs for Oxfordshire and the Thames basin to be underwater every five years then they'd notice and be told to do summat about it!
As the world warms under the influence of increasing CO2 more moisture evaporates from the sea, water vapour is also a greenhouse gas so adding the the effect - then all that moist air meets a cold front from the Arctic and guess what cold air can't hold that amount of water so it all turns to rain - more rain than we've had before - - it can only get worse unfortunately.
We could barely see through the rain soaked windows to watch the feeders this morning. A male Chaffinch was first bird on and then we set a random time an hour or so hence to do our BTO Goldfinch Feeding Survey - hope you're all doing it too - but would a Goldfinch appear in the dire conditions, if they did would they be able to land on the feeder as it was swinging wildly inn the howling gale...the wind is dropping now but still gusting to 55mph (85-90kph)
The twig balancing sunny seed pecking female Blackbird arrived and stayed for many minutes then a Collared Dove came down and did the same. Minutes before the survey time was due a Goldfinch was there barely visible through the rain soaked glass, thankfully it stayed for the duration but it didn't have any friends...who cares it's another positive result...we have to say that negative results are equally important as well. 
From there the weather deteriorated even further and we gave up trying to see through the windows and went shopping with Wifey and so ended any further hope of safari-ing for the rest of the day - yes it was that bad!
We had a call from our Extreme Photographer down in south west Wales the other day. He's been keeping an eye on his Palmate Newts. They still haven't started to go in to hibernation and he was ringing to tell us he'd just had a record count in his garden of 32. Two of them were sat together on the top of the tallest plant stem on his small lawn. What are they doing? Did they climb up together like that or did one climb and then the other, but what's it all about?
Where to next? We're going to try to  venture out tomorrow got a cuple of possibilities that might just bring our 200th species of the year up.
In the meantime let us know who's out getting a soaking in your outback

Friday 4 December 2015

And not before time!

The Safari turned into the work car park thisd morning to see a strange glow in the south eastern sky. A few minutes later we were walking down the back corridor and witness a bizaare spectacle - a round globe of light was rising above the roof tops and with it came the sensation of warmth. How odd, what could this mysterios phenonemon be? Whatever it was it was most welcome and we hope it sticks around a long time - can't see that happening though.
Yesterday was a dull and miserable day. We were unable to get out early doors, too dark and too wet - it was grim out there. By lunchtime the rain had eased and the low msity cloud had lifted a bit. As soon as we put our eye to the scope we saw masses of Common Scoters flying south, hundreds of them. If evewr there was going to be a good time to pick out something more unusual like a Velvet Scoter or a Long Tailed Duck this was it. The reason for all the activity became apparent when we saw four lifeboats charging down the coast in formation. They were looking for a light aeroplane that had disappeared off the radar about three miles offshore earlier in the morning - it was then we twigged that's why we'd heard far more sirens than normal passing the office window a couple of hours back. A search and rescue helicopter was also out there methodically searching on a grid pattern. The flights of Common Scoters dried up and we, probably rightly, assumed that all the birds to the north of us had been flushed and already flown past us.
The Coastguards and Beach Patrol vehicles were driving up and down the tide line and it was watching them we saw a large number of gulls and Oystercatchers feeding on the shellfish wreck washed up by the relentless storms. As the tide was rising we couldn't go and have a proper look at them.
This morning the very welcome sunshine made the world seem a better place. A brief scan had us marveling at a flight of eight Wigeon going past, the low sunshine really making their white bellies and the males' white wing flashes shine, and then a flock of four Pintails (P2 #75) flew south low over the surf. We then went back over the road and donned our wellies for a womble on the beach for half an hour or so.
It was disappointing to see the shells had been spread out by the far calmer sea overnight rather than being concentrated along a dense strand-line like yesterday. We had a good old rummage round all the same. Best finds were a few large Tower Shells and Common Otter Shells and a Queen Scallop complete with a Dead Mans Fingers sponge attached.
Queen Scallop (bottom), Cockle sp (probably Prickly Cockle) partially buried, Blunt Gaper, White Piddock (damaged - they're very fragile) and two Curved Razors 
The sun continued to shine and there was comforting warmth on our cheeks when we faced out of the wind. At the base of the wall it was still shaded but a large runnel made a safe roosting spot away from charging dogs for a flock of about 15 Redshanks and half a dozen Turnstones.
We have to say it's been far too long since we were last on the beach and we hope the weather permits us to get down for so more shufties next week, there's yet another storm with 50+ mph winds forecast for this weekend so hopefully smething of interest will be blown itn or washed up.
Another look at the sea at lunchtime didn't give us anything  other than the usual Common Scoters, there must be a Long Tailed Duck or Great Northern Diver out there with our name on it for our 200th species of the year.
A much more positive feeling sort of a day today, it a grear what a bit of winter sunshine can do for the spirits.
Where to next? Not sure what's going to be on offer, rather depends on the weather but we do have our 2 minute Goldfinch watch to do.
In the meantime let us know whao mysteriously turned up in your outback

Wednesday 2 December 2015


The Safari is suffering from wind, high water and lack of sunshine but mostly lack of birds this week!
It barely got light today but we were able to make an earlyish flying visit to a very murky Patch 2. Not much doing out there apart from a few seasick Common Scoters and then a Shag (P2 #74) flew past. 
We tried again at lunchtime but were almost immediately beaten back by waves splashing over the wall and an oncoming drizzle storm that was reducing visibility to next to nothing very quickly.
You wanted pictures? Get real!!!
Where to next? We'll try again tomorrow, still need that one new species for our target of 200 species for the year and it could be out there in the morning.
In the meantime let us know who's sat out brazenly braving the weather in your outback

Sunday 29 November 2015

Better than a hobby

The Safari got to thinking that watching wildlife and birding isn't a hobby it's a way of life and no matter what the weather's like we've just got to get outside and see what we can see.
We'd sort of decided to go down to Chat Alley for the high tide today seeing as how it was extremely windy and there was a chance something might be blown in. However news broke mid-morning that a potential year bird was still present at the other end of the motorway. 
Looking out of the window the trees shook to their roots and the rain hammered down, it was wild out there. We offered CR a lift but he, probably sensibly, declined.
The wind increased even more but the rain eased and there were even a few small fleeting patches of blue sky, that was our cue to put our coat on grab the bins and head out.
As we drove light showers blew through but there was more and bigger bits of blue sky, the day was looking up...until we arrived on site!!! 
It took a full five minutes for a squall from hell to blow over before we dared get out of the car, then it was a quick dash to the large, well built, comfy, double glazed 'Look Out' hide from where our quarry had been seen earlier in the day.
Normally we'd rather be outside than in a hide but today we were very very glad of the shelter. The wind increased some more, our weather app on the phone showed gusts of 95 mph not too far away across the bay from Patch 1, at the top of the high mountains it would have been well over 100 mph!
In the relative 'calm' of inland the wind whipped spray off the little waves racing across the lake like spin-drift off snow. When it did rain it rained horizontal torrents, wafting great grey sheets of water pummeled the lake surface. There was no way our little bird was going to show. Patience is a virtue and the birders best friend. After about half an hour the rain eased a hint of blue appeared in the sky and despite the horrendous wind our hopes rose.
A tiny movement caught our eye well in front of the area we were looking at and sure enough once we'd got on it it was the Black Redstart (199).
It hoped about a bit on the ground around some light cover of rushes and Willow and Alder saplings. Following it was hard as it kept dropping into slight gullies. Eventually it showed quite well and found an enormously huge caterpillar which it had to break up to eat. Once it had finished it just sat there in the best shelter it could find looking full.
And sit there and sit there is all it did for the next 20 minutes or so as the weather deteriorated and the rain came down in sweeping bucketfuls again. A lull in the rain had it on the move again but it still stayed deep in cover.
After what seemed like an age it did eventually begin to stray out of the 'shelter' of the saplings come a bit nearer.
Rain soaked double glazed windows aren't ideal for photography and don't make for easy viewing with the bins but they were very welcome today! We did get some cracking views through our bins even though we were in the hide, somewhat annoyingly as we didn't see the Hobby last time we were here and hardly spent any time in any of the hides.
Braving the elements were a selection of waterfowl, Coots and a couple of drake Goldeneyes being the toughest out in the middle of the lake, the others, Teal, Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans and just one Wigeon tucked up on the far bank as best they could out of the wind. There was a bit of coming and going of Black Headed Gulls and a single Great Black Back Gull but in general there wasn't much risking being airborne.
Once we'd had our fill of the Black Redstart we headed back along the motorway to Chat Alley. Even though high tide was well past the waves still thundered against the sea wall. We had about quarter of an hour of trying to sneak a view round the corner without being buffeted to kingdom come and not seeing anything before we gave up. Below us the go-kart track had regained its original status as a boating pool, the tyres marking the track and the shipping containers containing all the kit were afloat. It's certainly been a humdinger of a stormy day!
Where to next? Might get a bit of a morning watch on Patch 1 if it's mot lashing down with rain, not sure about lunchtime as the wind and tide may make a visit impossible.
In the meantime let us know who kindly broke shelter in your outback.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Unusual behaviour from a bog standard blackbird

The Safari has been doing the BTO's Goldfinch Feeding Survey every Saturday since it started at the beginning of the month. If you haven't got involved yet why not? It's sooooo simple taking all of 2 minutes a week - yes that's it just two minutes of your time each week.
Anyway today we set a random time to start the two minutes watch and watched the feeders while we waited for the allotted time to arrive. It was quite busy with Blue and Great Tits and a couple of Greenfinches. Then a female Blackbird rocked up in the tree with the feeders and promptly got itself balanced and started to peck out the sunny seeds. We've been watching these feeders for long periods over the last three weeks while we've been off work and hardly seen a Blackbird in the garden never mind in the tree doing this. Is this a new arrival that learnt this trick elsewhere or is it a resident that comes to our suet blocks and has adapted its technique and taste buds as we haven't put any suet out yet? Anyone else out there seen this from a Blackbird?
Poor pic but it was dark wet n windy out there
Unusual indeed but then a miracle happened a Goldfinch appeared on the feeder minutes before the survey started - would it stay a few more minutes? Yes it did! One on the tally sheet - at last! It stayed a while having a good old feast. We missed it leaving but an hour or so later it was back with a friend, the first we've seen for far too long - exactly where have they been? 
Where to next? Weather tomorrow looks even more rank than it's been today but we have a bit of a sneaky plan and a possibly a couple of very elusive targets.
In meantime let us know who's back in town in your outback.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Short changed

The Safari has had the best views of Short Eared Owls (MMLNR #105) at the nature reserve since the early 1990's when that was the 'default' hunting over the rough grassland that is now the golf course. Now the default owl are the Long Eared Owls that sit quietly all winter tucked up in the scrub but which are unfortunately notably invisible so far this this season.
Yesterday we had a look for the one seen at the weekend with no success and not seeing very much else either apart from a good number of Fieldfares.
As darkness grew we trundled off head down against the chilly wind until we got to the wetland were we stopped for one last look for the Stonechat and BOOM - a Shorty flew though our field of view. It quartered back and forth across the wetland and then over to the rough fields further away before coming back and passing within a few yards of us, we could almost have reached out and grabbed it as it flew by looking at us with its bright yellow eyes. SU-flippin-PERBBBBBBB.
We went back today for another look. Again the reserve was fairly quiet apart from fewer but still plenty of Fieldfares and Blackbirds. Looking over the water we found two male and a female Pochards as well as a doubling of Goldeneye numbers to four, the two females being joined by our first adult male of the season and a 1st winter male.
A pink Rose has burst into flower at the back of one of the scrubby areas.
The afternoon passed and a bit of a sunset began to develop while we were at the far end so we got into the reedbed to try some arty shots, sadly the hoped for red hues didn't materialise, but you get the gist
We had a chat to the Ranger who was packing the kit away after a day's hedgelaying with the volunteers when the moon began to rise...a Goldcrest nearly landed on his head just after the pic was taken, he hadn't seen it but moved and it jinked away landing in the bushes some distance away.
As we chatted some Starlings came in and did a mini-murmuration, others had already come in and gone straight into their reedbed roost without any flying around kerfuffle. It was quite dark by now and we thought we'd left it a bit late for spotting any owls.
Off we went back towards the car past the wetland where we stood for a few minutes without any sign of the Shorty, we were just about to give up when two 'crows' started interacting high over the treetops at the corner of the reserve. We put the bins up to watch their antics only to see they weren't crows at all they were TWO Short Eared Owls. They cavorted with each other in twists and spirals well above the tree tops for several minutes before they split up and went their separate ways - those ways didn't include coming down to hunt the wetland though. 
Where to next? Last day of sick leave tomorrow so we'll try to get out somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who's doubled their numbers in your outback.