Saturday 31 January 2015

Are we allowed to count it?

The Safari was allowed out for a few hours this arvo provided we stopped at the shops for a few emergency supplies on the way back to Base Camp, only one place to go, Firecrest-land aka the nature reserve.
There was a steady stream of hopefuls all afternoon. The friendly Robin kept us on our toes as it flitted through the undergrowth (past the Snowdrops we photod last week which are now fully open but not photod today). It has found some friends who have brought some extra nosh.
The low afternoon sun was streaming through the reedheads and it actualy felt quite warm out of the cold strong wind.
It was almost birdless until a Cetti's Warbler and then a Water Rail started calling.And then a couple of Goldcrests and a Blue Tit turned up. Better than that the long staying Treecreeper (108, MMLNR #60) was with them. Assuming it is the same one that was reported as a ?Northern type a couple of weeks ago.
It's been the best part of 20 years since we last saw one there and we believe there's only been a couple of sightings since then and only two prior to that one.
We just about managed a pic of it as it probed around the tree trunks mostly on the shady side.
Not the best pic!
It rarely ventured into the light and when it did it was often obscured by branches.
More hopeful watchers came and went and came back again but the hoped for Firecrest simply refused to show.
Out on the water the gulls kept lifting but it wasn't until the third or fourth time we saw the culprit - a Great Black Backed Gull. In similar vein the ducks on the far side and our side frequently flushed out off the reeds in a blind panic but not once did we see what was causing it - the whole group of us were almost willing the Otter to come out of the reds on our side and show itself. There were a large number of Wigeon, well over 100 - uncounted - but not as many Teal as in recent weeks and they were almost silent.
Over the far fields a flock of about 200 Lapwings wheeled around several times and once we made the horrendous mistake of misidentifying a much larger flock of Pink Footed Geese as them!
These must have been the ones reported earlier in the day from down the lane with the Bean Goose and been disturbed off their feed. So the flock in the air circling over the far end of the mere must have held it. Can we count it on our Mere list???
A small portion of the 500 or so Pinks + 1
Time and the cold beat us in the end and somehow after all the hours we've spent down there we're still Firecrest-less. The Stonechats weren't at the wetland on the walk back to the Land Rover either.
So can we count it? Plleeeeeaase pretty pleeaaase...
Where to next? A day out somewhere beckons but we're not sure where yet.
In the meantime let us know who's keeping well out of the way in your outback.

Friday 30 January 2015

Stormy starfish carnage

The Safari wasn't able to get out early doors this morning and had to wait until lunchtime before venturing forth to the seawall. There was a reasonable number of gulls on the beach mostly Black Headed Gulls rather than Herring Gulls, it's usually the other way round by a mile at the mo. We couldn't find anything in amongst them but could see they were working their way through a particularly dense stretch of a long strandline.
There wasn't much happening out at  sea so we decided to take a shuffy at whatever the gulls were looking for.
It was pure carnage down on the sand, victims of the storms of the last several days.
What we couldn't see from our elevated vantage point was just how many Common Sand Stars there were, there must have been thousands of them, some still just about alive or at least very slow in the bitingly cold wind.
Looking at the strandline more closely we noticed there were quite a few Bristle Stars lurking there too.
Not only Bristle Stars but also some Cushion Stars too, it shouldn't be but it is amazing what you find when you start to look closely - just how much tonnage of life is out there? Everyone should really be looking at their surroundings closely at all times, there's just some much to see.
 Some of those Common Sand Stars were pretty sizable compared to our size 9s
Sat a little way apart from the rest of the carnage was a nice bright Queen Scallop encrusted with Dead Mans' Fingers, a relative of the anemones.
We posted a general pic of the carnage on Twitter and ended up with a bit of a challenge from LM another marine biologist friend
 Here's our tally
1 - Pod Razor
2 - Bean Razor
3 - Curved Razor
4 - Rayed Trough Shell
5 - Thin Tellin
6 - Common Cockle
7 - Necklace Shell
8 - Comon Sand Star
9 - Brittle Star
10 - Sea Potato
11 - Masked Crab
12 - Shore Crab
13 - Sand Mason Worm cases
14 - Fan Worm cases
15 - An unidentified worm (slightly top right of centre - any ideas anyone?)

Earlier this morning we learned that the Limpet was back in town although we should have received the message yesterday, the wonders of modern technology ehh!
So with a few minutes to spare we had a quick look, we were told roughly were it was. It didn't take long to find, stuck out like a sore thumb. 
Made a bit of a hole in the Enteromorpha there hasn't it.
Go on let us into a secret - where has it been for the last however many months? It's only inches from where we last saw it but it's not been near there in recent weeks - as far as we've been able to search at least.
Cold out there again in that cruel wind but a good bit of exploring well worth getting chilled to the bone for.
Where to next? It's the weekend and we've got a certain natty version of Goldcrests as a target.
In the meantime let us know who's all washed up in your  outback.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

It's a bit wild out there

The Safari avoided the worst of the early morning torrents by foregoing the usual Patch 2 watch. The rain was being driven in waves up the hill as we drove down it on our commute
By lunchtime the sun had come out but the wind was still running around 50mph. The incoming tide was well wavy and frothed up and we didn't see anything. Looking at the rapidly diminishing beach there was no sign of yesterday's bucketful of fishing net but we did see there was the fun sea-foam foaming along the edges of the pools. The best was too far away to risk so we tried to get a pic of some lesser formations safely nearer.
It's harmless stuff mad from the surfactant properties of the Diatoms in the water.
Our walk back up the beach was a lot easier and more comfortable with the wind at our back. As we neared the wall a dark shape moved among the artificial rock pool, some Turnstones. They allowed a fairly close approach but as soon as we stopped and raised our phone towards them they were off like a shot.
Crikey it was raw out on the sands! Not often we're really glad to get back indoors.
As we drove to our school visit mid-afternoon closer to high tide there was blobs of foam blowing up the road many hundreds of yards from the wall.
Later we heard the good news that the River Otter Beavers down in Devon have been given a reprieve and are going to be 'allowed' to remain in the wild subject to a) they are disease free and b) they and their effects on the local area are studied intensely, a job to be done by the Devon Wildlife Trust. Don't you think it's very magnanimous of the 'authorities' to allow a native wild animal to remain in the wild even if their means of getting there is unknown. They did say that no other licences will be issued for any more releases until the end of the project, reading between the lines that suggests that anyone else trying to sneak a Beaver or two into the wild will be breaking the law! There are other trials, one in Kent and another in mid-Wales, not sure if there are any others besides the famous Scottish one whose outcome will be decided later in the year, hopefully they'll be allowed to remain where nature intended out in the wetlands where they belong. 
Then we got to wondering where we might see them locally one day although it's going to take them a long time to spread from Devon to Lancashire and there'll be many obstacles on the way - mostly biophobic conservative land owners of which there seem to be an awful lot these days. Maybe a 'twitch' to the mid- wales population once it's 'allowed' out will be high on the bucket list...What will out landscape evolve into? Can't wait to find out!
In other wildlifey news received today it appears that the UK's only pod of Orcas big bull John Coe has been bitten by a shark. Where has he been and who has he met up with to get a bite like that? His pod generally hang out off the NW coast of Scotland, not an area noted for big aggressive sharks except Basking Sharks and JC is just a little bit larger than their normal plankton fare! Has he been deep diving and a Greenland Shark has snuck up behind him? We were under the impression that Orcas protected each other against sharks, so where were his chums? Is it really a shark bite and not done by one of said chums - not that we're dissing the HWDT in anyway, they are the local experts after all. Wonder what Monika's year's of Orca experience makes of this.
One day we hope that the pod will swim past the Prom - preferably when we're watching!!! - and second that they will have a youngster one day.
Where to next? Might just be time for a Patch 2 visit tomorrow but we're pretty jam packed with school work tomoz.
In the meantime let us know who's been taking chunks out of what in your outback.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

A poor mid-winter day

The Safari was only able to get out onto Patch 2 for a few minutes first thing yesterday morning. There was little happening on the wide expanse of beach, where are all the gulls hanging out these days? There are precious few to work through loafing on the sands to our north in the good light now.
Out at sea only a handful of Common Scoters bobbed around distantly on the choppy sea, a tiny fraction of the 12000+ counted by other birders recently. An adult Kittiwake was the only other bird to pass by.
By lunchtime the tide was just about up to the wall, we’d been given a mission by our marine biologist friend DB to find some different species of seaweed for one of her colleague’s projects. No chance of getting on the beach but as luck would have it there was a large clump of Bladderwrack lying on the prom close to where we stood so that was duly bagged. We’d hazard a guess that it had got snagged round a fisherman’s line rather than been thrown over the wall by a large wave.
The rising tide had brought the Common Scoters a bit nearer, we could now see there were more than we originally thought and still no more than a couple of hundred or so but it was quiet out there even the scoters weren’t doing much flying around. On the point of giving up we found a Great Crested Grebe and then a flock of three Kittiwakes heading north.
We finished work as early as we could to take the long route back to Base Camp via a field full of geese. We packed the work scope in to the Land Rover and set off in heavy rain, not ideal conditions for picking out dodgy geese from a flock of many hundreds of Pink Footed Geese
Arriving at the site local birder FB was sat in his car his scope stuck out of the window. He had the best spot – well he would being the only one there – looking at the bulk of the flock over the gate into the field. We had to make do with a limited view of a small part of the flock and some of that through the fairly dense hedge either side of the gate.
After a while the rain stopped and FB was able to sneak cautiously out of his car and set his scope up on its tripod in a position from where the whole flock could be viewed – turned out to be a good move as it wasn’t many minutes before he’d located the odd one out; in a part of the field we had no chance of seeing from our position not five yards away from him. He kindly let us have a look through his scope at the ‘Tundra’ Bean Goose (107) at the back of the flock. Even in his top quality scope the light was far from good so we may well have not been able to pick it out in our cheap n cheerless Chinese rubbish we had with us - so many thanks to him for the look.
The rain dried up and the sun shone over the brow of the low hillock above the geese right into our faces and so a successful goose watch came to an end.
No photos of the goose were possible and there were few wildlife opportunities throughout the day,  those that did present themselves we didn’t twig at the time and so missed Day 87 of our mission to complete #100moredaysofnature – b*gger!
No Patch 2 watch was possible this morning due to desk duties.
Our lunchtime visit didn’t produce anything of any excitement but we are worried about a large bucket a few yards in advance of the incoming waves which contained a folded gill net. We deliberated if we could risk running out to collect it but it was too far down the beach for us to be able to get near it before the tide swirled around the sand banks – had we tried we’d have ended up cut off and another statistic in the coastguard’s rescue book. Hope it’s still there and still contained in the bucket tomorrow when we stand more of a chance of bring it in out of harm’s way – last thing we want is a few hundred yards of ghost net floating around for  months.
If by chance you were wondering where year bird #106 had gone, and you probably weren't, we have a bit of a confession to make. This evening when we arrived back at Base Camp there was a Long Tailed Tit (106, Garden #14) on our suet block feeder and another calling unseen nearby - it wasn't until we added the Bean Goose to our spreadsheet we noticed the oversight that we'd not added Long Tailed Tit to the list despite seeing them at the nature reserve a couple of times this year. Another garden year bird was seen as we hoped the second Lottie would come in to view, a couple of Starlings (Garden #15) flew over on their way to roost on the pier, we're driving past too early now to be able to watch the murmurations - never thought we'd be complaining the evenings are drawing out at last!
Another day without the opportunity for a #100moredaysofnature Tweet - not doing very well with them at the mo.
Wifey informs us that the local Great Tit was singing this morning - drove her bonkers last spring with its incessant  tea-cher tea-cher--ing
Where to next? More Patch 2 shenanigans, hopefully something will put in appearance as there’s a bit of weather on the way again apparently.
In the meantime let us know who needs containing in your outback.

Sunday 25 January 2015

We can resist everything except temptation

The Safari headed over the the pond project only to find the 'workers' on a tea break. They were struggling with the Typha which was well rooted and not giving up its grip on the bottom of the pond easily.
From there we picked up BD on route to the other side of the river to see the long staying Pomarine Skua and anything else that might be lurking nearby.
Just our luck the darned thing had flown off not more than a few minutes before we got there but apparently not too far away. We soon saw the flock of at least 80 flighty Twite (99) that were feeding among the various patches of strandline vegetation.
They were constantly on the move both on the deck and in the air.
We were told of two adult Mediterranean Gulls  in the middle of a flock of a couple of hundred or so other gulls. One of them was soon found (100) What a great way to bring up the year's ton! The other however remained unseen. With the skua done a bunk we decided gove the cold wind a miss and go and hunt it down further up the coast.
Arriving at the second site there was no sign of it and not much else either so we moved on.
Again the grapevine came up trumps with news of a plant we hadn't seen before. There were a few specimens of Thorn-apple, Datura stamonium, a somewhat poisonous non-native 'weed' It was growing by the roadside by the local sewage works. Lurking there all ominously prickly waiting for spring but will it be a season to bring it forth this summer, they can be quite ephemeral.

Been a while since we saw a new plant species and 'usually' not one as graphic as this beast.
This was a brief stop on the way to our next site where the tide was racing up the marsh. There was a magical selection of waders and waterfowl out there. Pink Footed Geese, but not the Brent Goose that had been reported, hundreds of Shelducks floated in and Skylarks (101) and Rock Pipits (102) flew up out of the grass.
We continued to enjoy the unfolding spectacle and eventually picked up a Merlin (103) in the distance but lost it as it flushed a load of Lapwings the far side of the seawall. No-one else managed to pick it up but fortunately the young lady stood next to us got on to it again as it raced towards us and out over the bay giving everyone great views.
Still no sign of the skua though and we thought that the tide might have forced it back to its original resting place were there are some carcasses laid out for it. We returned via the farmland feeding stations where we enjoyed, but don't count, Red Legged Partridges grazing on the provided seeds. A few Chaffinches hopped in and out of the hedge but we had to wait a while for the Tree Sparrows to turn up. The other feeding station gave us several more Tree Sparrows, a couple of Chaffinches and a female Yellowhammer (104).
Back at our first site the skua still didn't show its ugly mush but BD did pick out some Golden Plovers (105) amidst the Lapwings sheltering behind the clumps of grass.
So a good afternoon on the far side of the river but we weren't quite finished. News of a Bean Goose not far from the nature reserve reached us and since it was just about on the way back to Base Camp we gave it a go. The weather was closing in with mist forming quickly and by the time we got there thee geese had gone to roost. To be honest we would have struggled to have picked it out amongst the Pink Feet in that light unless it had been very close to the road.
Another great day out on safari - you may have noticed there's not many pics today, the light wasn't good and many of the most special sights were out of range but sometimes the best camera is your eyes and memory anyway.
That's evough woffle we're of to imbibe some 16 year old stuff in honor of a man who could barely speak English but seems to be hugely popular still. Chin chin Rabbie.
Where to next? Patch 2 again tomoz.
In the meantime let us know who's been playing hide n seek in your outback.

Saturday 24 January 2015

The crestless run continues

The Safari added another year bird from Patch 2 yesterday, a Razorbill (98, P2 #22), a Great Crested Grebe was #21 for the Patch 2 list too; getting interestingly close to the 100 in January mark now and there's still a week to go - will we or won't we?
Early this morning we did our RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, it was disappointing after recent years due to the abominable amount of habitat destruction locally this year.
A pair of Magpies were already making serious inroads into the sunny seeds and mealworms we'd put down last night. To get gulls on the score sheet we throw a few slices of bread on the garage roof just before the off and dash back in to our watch point, if we're not quick enough they can get the bread before we can count them. First one in was a Black Headed Gull (Garden #11). Nothing much happened until almost half time when a male Chaffinch (Garden #12) we weren't expecting dropped in.
One of the Magpies was now in last year's nest fettling up something in the inner sanctum.
A lone female Greenfinch arrived and landed on the feeder, it was extremely wary staying motionless for well over five minutes before starting to feed. They need their friends to keep a watch, this one was seriously unhappy without the rest of its flock.
In the end we had just 21 birds of 10 species, a third of the total were the gulls and gone by the end of the 30th second on the hour's watch.
This afternoon we were able to get out to the nature reserve for yet another look for the Firecrest, not far along the walk in there was a cracking male Stonechat (MMLNR #56) perched up on the red tops half way across the wetland.

Just before we got to the gate there was a lovely female Kestrel soaring around over the scrub.
Walking down to the Firecrest zone we met some birders coming out with negative news - OK so we won't have to wait too long this time we hoped.
A Cetti's Warbler fired up close by but even the Robins were absent at first. A movement in the reeds turned out to be the Dunnock but we did see a brief flit of a Cetti's Warbler which the other couple with us sadly missed as they'd not seen before.
The Willow catkins are not far off opening and then it won't be long before the first queen bumble bees are out of hibernation and looking for flowers to get their reserves back up.
Beneath the trees the Snowdrops are beginning to show, spring is deffo on the way now but there'll be a few more chilly days before its here for keeps.
Still no Firecrest for us though and not even any Goldcrests today.
The walk back to the Land Rover with our new friends there were some House Sparrows (MMLNR #57) chirruping away from the depths of the roadside Privet hedge.
Where to next? Not sure where we'll end up after the pond jaunt, possibly a skua might be involved.
In the meantime let us know what's keeping you guessing in your outback.

Friday 23 January 2015


The Safari had a day off yesterday to recover from the exertions at the gig and the past our normal bed-time late home.
We used it to do some birding. Well why not, better out than in and although it was a cold day there wasn't any wind to make life uncomfortable.
Our first stop was down in to the estuary where the midday high tide - a real whopper - would flood the newly developing salt march and drive out anything lurking within. We haven't been to this part of the coast for a while and were surprised to see how much the salt marsh had grown, it's still only a thin strip along the beach but must be at least quarter of a mile long if not more - gonna be an impressive additional piece of habitat as it develops in years to come.
We'd asked AH for her local knowledge and she suggested we got into position about an hour before the top of the tide, which due to 'speed of the wind' old gimmer traffic we only just made,  already the water was lapping the outermost clumps of vegetation. There were about 1000 Oystercatchers shuffling landwards as the water rose. Curlews were numerous too along with the odd Redshank. In the distance to our right a Little Egret stalked around. A flock of about 30 Grey Plovers flew upstream looking for somewhere dry to roost while others in the distance wailed their plaintive call through the hazy mist...a really haunting sound.
The water continued to creep shorewards and doing so started to flush the first of the hidden Snipe out. A few Reed Buntings and a couple of Meadow Pipits appeared too. Most of the Snipe towered up and a way but a few of them pitched down in the long vegetation of the dunes, a risky move seeing it was a doggy hell, mutts were everywhere.
Behind us a movement caught our peripheral vision and turning round we saw a flock of Greenfinches laying into the last remaining hips on a Rosa rugosa thicket.
Overhead a Peregrine whorled around trying unsuccessfully to spook the waders on the ground; ground? They we rapidly running out of that commodity and were continually shuffling around to find the shallowest patches before the water became too deep and they were forced to fly off.
Eventually almost all the waders had left and we waited for the first of the Jack Snipe to lift out of the flooded marsh. It didn't take long before the first one did and then another and another, eventually there were five and a total of 11 Snipe. A large flock of Linnets flew along the strandline in front of yet more mutts and we thought we heard a Twite or two in with them but were unable to confirm as they turned and flew back over the heads of the oncoming mutts and landed out of sight. It was then that a flock of Knot (96) went past bucking the trend by heading out to sea. A Water Rail flew out of the now very wet marsh, we saw another run out and a third swim out. Over the river a few good sized flocks of Bar Tailed Godwits (97) flew upstream.
Another Jack Snipe came out of the marsh and flew over our head but the last birds out were two Robins - what were they doing in there? So after not seeing a single Jack Snipe last year we saw six here and one on our visit to RSPB Leighton Moss at the very start of the year.
There was another bird in there that we thought might have been another Jack Snipe but in closer inspection turned into a half submerged Water Rail that was clinging to a piece of twiggy driftwood determined not to leave the safely of the cover, it looked like it was going to need a snorkel at times being over half submerged with only the top of its back and head above the gently lapping waves. Fun though it was that Water Rail was going to cost us dear, not that we knew that then.
From the coast we headed to the nature reserve driving past the Great Grey Shrike site on the way where a birder was giving something unseen from the driver's seat a good binning; we ddin't stop.
At the nature reserve we parked up and scurried round to the viewing platform without stopping to look at anything on the way except that we noted much of this end of the mere was frozen.
On the way a couple of birders were leaving by the west gate as we passed and we asked them if they'd seen anything, they had - not long since they'd been watching the Firecrest - dohh we'd probably have a couple of hours wait for it to come round on its circuit again.
Wait we did and while we waited we enjoyed the antics of three Robins charging about the 'woodland' floor.

We pretended to be a Wild Boar and kicked some of the moss aside to see if they'd come to investigate the turned earth - they did!
And found previously hidden morsels, including a rather large caterpillar
They were quite confining; even landing on CR's tripod.
A Dunnock hopped about with the Robins from time to time but above we saw a movement which was more 'interesting'. 'Only' a Goldcrest.

Not the easiest things to get pics of as they seem to stay in the shade and never keep still.
Another turned up but it still wasn't the one we wanted.
A typical 'on the move' sighting
Three hours we gave it, others came and went but we stuck it out until our fingers were that cold we couldn't stand it any longer and we decided to call it a day. We hadn't got far when we bumped into a young couple who asked if we knew where the Firecrest could be found. They were new to birding and didn't know about the Long Eared Owls so we took them round for a look. We couldn't find it/them for them. Next it was back to the Firecrest where they were very patient and gave it an hour. We didn't realise how new they really were until they told us the Long Tailed Tits we just saw flitting round the trees with a Blue Tit and a Great Tit but not a Firecrest (it has been seen with Long Tailed Tits on a couple of occasions) were a Lifer! Nothing wrong with that, we can remember like it was yesterday when we saw them for the first time, back at Leighton Moss even before that new fangled pop group Queen had got together.
After the fourth hour everyone was getting pretty cold as the sun went down so this time we did say our farewells and headed back to Base Camp Firecrestless.
The day hadn't panned out as we had hoped, a quick Firecrest followed by a good look for the Dusky Warbler but hey ho you can't have it all and we did make some new friends so certainly a good day in the field.
Then we had a txt from our Extreme Photographer saying he's been having a bit of a Starling problem.
It keeps giving him the run around.
Where to next? It's the weekend again and no doubt we'll be out somewhere, might have the wellies on as there is some pond clearing work to get stuck into on Sunday, we'll probably just be standing and pointing but it'll be fun and you never know what the crew will find.
In the meantime let us know who's eluding who in your outback

Thursday 22 January 2015

41 ½

The Safari used to go round to MG’s house after school, or in the hols if the weather wasn’t good enough to play footy, cricket or go out wildlifing round the local farms and woods, to doss round playing board games, cards or table footy while listening to the latest 45s and LPs on his little record play. In the early 70s when we were about a year older than FW is now he put on this LP by a new fangled group we’d not heard of he’d borrowed from another frien
It was different, deffo not heavy rock like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, and not really progressive like Genesis or Yes and certainly not glam rock-poppy like Sweet or Slade nor was it 12 bar bluesy like Status Quo and yet it had elements of all these genres but was certainly in it’s own little musical niche.
When we finally saw them on Top of the Pops some months later by eck did we think they were a bit weird especially that lead singer.
So who is this mystery pop group? Queen of course. We followed them for a few years buying all their albums up to A Day At The Races and then we went to Uni and had a slight musical taste change and ignored them but still continued to hear the singles on the radio through the years. We never did get to go to see them in those early years and then sadly Freddie Mercury died and that too many people was the end of Queen. But not to the other band members who, after a while, began to tour again with ‘guest’ lead singers including Free’s incomparable vocalist Paul Rodgers (who we saw in his Bad Company incarnation along time ago) and then went on to recruit American Idol runner up Adam Lambert.
A new world tour began this year after last year’s success and we just had to grab a ticket or two.

Well were they any good? You betcha! A set list of 24 of the old favourites, Freddy even put in a posthumous appearance through the magic of digital media but you know what they don't really need him anymore - the new boy done real good. This no tribute band, this is the real deal with a different lead singer.
Where to next? Got some stuff from today to tell you about tomoz.
In the meantime let us know who's belting out the tunes in your outback