Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Touch tank trial

The Safari hasn't had the underwater camera out for a while but before we get on to our adventures 'beneath the waves' we've a couple of bits an bobs to fill you in on first.
The other day we had a quick clean out of the back of the Land Rover - WHAT!!! - and found a hibernating Garden Snail - how long has that been in there? Rarely does the back seat get sat on...except by snails!
The snail theme continued when we found a load of them at work still hard at hibernation by one of  downspouts.
This morning we had a bit of a wild watch in very stormy conditions on Patch 2 before the waves came crashing over the wall despite the high tide not being that high. We didn't have to wait long before a sparklingly white Gannet (128) contrasting against the dark grey sea followed by another about five minutes later. A couple of Red Throated Divers were all the mountainous seas gave us.
Mid morning we played host to a student on a placement from his marine biology course, he'd brought a touch tank with some dried pieces of coral, shells, shed crab skins and even some live inhabitants.
And so to the first attempt with the underwater camera in a smaller side tank.
Green Shore Crab
Not the best attempt, think we need a paler background and try one of our shallow trays; more sunshine in the exhibition hall wouldn't go amiss. He'll be in a several days over the holidays so we can have a few more attempts at a variety of creatures he brings - looking forward to it and if you're in town do come down have a look and support him.
Where to next? More Patch 2 stuff and another dip into the touch tank, might try some video too.
In the meantime let us know who's careening through the waves in your outback.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The annual path-standing jaunt

The Safari set off in horrific rain to meet our long-time birding chums for our annual aunt to the nature reserve which holds a few Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. We haven't had a motorway drive as bad as that for a long time. We arrived before the others and had a bit of a wait in the car park where the rain still lashed down in bucket, it wasn't looking good. The rain eased a little and that was the cue for the birds to start to move around a bit. A Green Woodpecker (125) was particularly vocal as was a Chiffchaff. The rain desisted to a heavy drizzle so we decided to don the waterproofs and have a mooch about to see if we could see the Green Woodpecker. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed and we got a decent view of it high in a tree, two down just the hard one to go and the others hadn't arrived yet. A Buzzard called somewhere over the tree tops and we thought we might have heard a brief snippet of Blackcap song, the Mistle Thrush behind us was doing more than snippets!
The others arrived and it was off down the trail to stand on the path for a while. Other than a small flock of Goldfinches and a Nuthatch it was very quiet down there. We took a few pics of the same Primroses we take every year.
With nothing doing we went a little further and had a look over the lake where three Little Grebes a few Tufted Ducks and Canada Geese were all that was on offer, on the other side of the track the 'marsh' hide offered even less although a Bumble Bee was seen. It was quite mild if still a bit damp.
Retracing our steps going very slowly past the Lesser Pecker zone we wandered down to the feeding station which was very lively.
Blue, Great and Coal Tits were regular visitors with Chaffinches and a couple of Reed Buntings and a bolshi Nuthatch for good measure until a Jay dropped in for a few peanuts. Another near miss was a possible Willow Tit that shot through without stopping. Under the feeders the pool held a pair of Teal and a Moorhen. Mammals were represented by two Grey Squirrels.
All the while our collective ears were open for the distinct drumming or calls of the Lesser Peckers -  but nothing! Back to the 'zone' we went again for another bout of path standing. But again we saw and heard nothing of note. Time for luch back at the car park.
At the car park we heard the Green Woodpecker again and this time it flew over us and landed in a nearby tree giving excellent views - nice one!
The rain had gone and the sun was trying to come out bringing out some Buzzards.
One of our mates had a friend of his leading a birding group elsewhere on site and it was at lunchtime we met up them. While catching up on all the gossip, they'd seen a couple of Iceland Gulls on the dump but not a great lot else, AK shouted 'up there!' 'Sand Martin' everyone swung their bins skyward as two Sand Martins (126) went over. The prolonged heavy rain had prevented what could have been a much better overnight migration.
We also kept an eye on the passing gulls in case one of the Iceland Gulls should go over but found a Yellow Legged Gull (127) instead.
After lunch it was all eyes to the trees and a bit more path standing.
All to no avail sadly. From there we wandered down the canal with the group in a strong wind seeing plenty of Gadwall, some Shelducks and a couple of Teal. We ended up overlooking the river were the tide was low and plenty of gulls were loafing on a sand bank in the middle. As soon as we raised our bins we spotted a 1st winter Iceland Gull sat right on the front of the flock. Apparently this was a different one to the others seen earlier.
By know we'd run out of time and had to forgo the excellent farmland area. Our day had come to an end far too soon so it was time to say our goodbyes and plan our next adventure - it'll be something to do with warblers.
Today we had a lunchtime event on the beach with a gang of kids. It was cold and horrendously windy and not conducive to enjoying a couple of hours beachcoming and rockpooling. 
We weren't out very long at all, far less than we'd arranged, and only found a small Brown Shrimp, a Gammerid type shrimp and a nice Blunt Gaper Shell.
With a bit of time on our hands we went to the nature reserve for a quick look. Again the wind was putting the mockers on everything although the sun was out it wasn't warm.
Bottoms up!
We were pleased to find our first flowering Snakeshead Fritillary out but not yet fully open. The Cowslips aren't quite out yet either, another couple of days of sunshine should do it.
A long shot - we didn't want to go onto the meadow for fear of accidentally standing on any not yet with a obvious flower bud
 The Sand Martin bank is all but finished - all we need now are the birds!
Where to next? More Patch 2 stuff tomorrow - hope that strong wind's died down.
In the meantime let us know who wasn't for showing themselves in your outback.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A bit of blubber at last

The Safari didn't get much on our early morning Patch 2 look apart from the very welcome feeling of warm sun on our ear, just one of them the other, in the shade, was a lot cooler! There was some haze and the flock of Common Scoters were well out on the low tide so no  chance of seeing if anything was mixed in with them.
At lunchtime we were out again and this time it was warm enough not to need our coat zipped up. The tide was now well up but the scoters were still out of range. Better was the Red Throated Diver we was in the middle distance, where have they been we've not seen any for ages apart from the 'tame' one on the nearby marine lake. Even better was the brief view of a Harbour Porpoise that surfaced a hundred yards or so in front of it. We had one more brief view before it disappeared - excellent stuff.
Wandering down the corridor to the printer mid-afternoon something blue caught our eye, we're sure it wasn't there yesterday. A small Borage plant in full bloom  - bring on the bees!
After work we didn't want to waste the glorious sunshine so we headed to the nature reserve to have a shuffy at what the lads have been up to, Rumor had it they'd started on the Sand Martin nesting bank - and they had; almost up to the height where the holes start going in, need a metre above water level to prevent access from predators like Mink, Stoats and such like.
Looking good, there's still some vegetation to scrape off the top of plateau to encourage the local Lapwings and Oystercatchers and maybe a Little Ringed Plover or two, OK now we're just getting carried away.
A Chiffchaff (MMLNR #74) sang from the bushes to our left as did a Cetti's Warbler while a nice male Reed Bunting graced the reeds to our right.
From our limited vantage point we couldn't see much on the water apart from Coots, three Gadwall, three Teal a few Cormorants on the old bund and four Lapwings there too.
All good stuff.
Where to next? What will Patch 2 produce tomorrow?
In the meantime let us know who put in the briefest of appearances in your outback.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Tick n run isn't good but has to be done

The Safari was back on Patch 2 this morning a little later than anticipated but at least we got out when for a while it was looking like we wouldn't be able to. For some reason we went a slightly different way past the Mirror Ball and that took us to the 'wrong' place to watch from. Fortuitously before we realised (we must have been in some sort of daze this morning) we were in the wrong location we spotted a Sea Slater on the top of the wall. Our first of the year, a big un too!
It was when we got our phone out to take the pics that we realised we were stooped more than we normally are and looking around saw we were one chunk of wall to the left of where we thought we were - duhhhh. Relocating to the 'proper place' we put the scope on the wall and our eye to it without having to bend and saw...naff all! Well slightly more than that a few Common Scoters in the chop and a pair of Eiders flying towards the estuary and that was the lot.
Our lunchtime look was even briefer and even less exciting.
At five to going home time we got a txt from the nature reserve telling us there was a female Common Scoter there. We seen a small number there over the years and the prognosis is often not good, they're either ill or oiled. We arrived in great light and found it immediately in exceptional light, what a shame we didn't have the proper camera with us. Common Scoter (MMLNR #73) on the Patchwork Challenge list - happy days , hope it stays for others to catch up with it before it moves on fit as a flea. There was also a Chiffchaff reported but we didn't have time to hang around cos we had a delivery later in the afternoon, if we'd have stayed it would have come even earlier than it did!
On the way out there were no builders' vans outside the new visitor centre and we saw all the thatching had been finished and was looking rather smart. The reed wasn't cut from the reserve but has come from elsewhere in the country.
Isn't it great when nature throws you surprises!
Where to next? Will Patch 2 produce tomorrow, let's hope so.
In the meantime let us know who turned up unexpectedly in your outback.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Another go at the big tide

The Safari was at the tide again hoping for the Water Pipit(s) to show. The tide was higher today and punched by a gentle wind rather than hindered by one as yesterday and came in quicker.
The last remaining 1000 or so Pink Footed Geese took to the skies and headed north. We thought that would be the last of them until next September but they returned an hour or so later.
There were far fewer pipits than yesterday and no Wheatears, insects were conspicuously absent in the chilly wind. We did see a couple of 'Scandinavian' Rock Pipits and a 'petrosus' type with very bright legs.
Over the fields behind the embankment a Kestrel hunted briefly.
This is normally a good site for raptors but the last two days have proved otherwise with a brief view of a distant Buzzard the only other sighting today.
We saw at least 13 Avocets, and plenty of Little Egrets, checking our records from June 78 when we were wardening at Hickling Broad NNR's Rush Hill scrape we saw just two of the former and none of the latter there then - how times have changed!
Young Un AB heard a Chiffchaff (123) that our older ears took an age to pick up.
After all the chatting was done we went our separate ways and we ended up at the local cemetery to twitch the local exotica.
We sat quietly by the pond watching the Mallards, Jackdaws and Black Headed Gulls go about their business all the while keeping our ears firmly open on the trees behind us for a tell-tale squawk.
The main event soon made itself known an looking round we saw a flash of green disappear towards the golf course but it soon came back with a friend.

Ring Necked Parakeets (124), for whatever reason we don't mind adding them to our list but not so the Black Swan we saw with the Whooper Swans on the marsh.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 to see what the sea might bring.
In the meantime let us know who's doing the wooing in your outback.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A right real warm spring day

The Safari missed out on the aurora in the early part of the week and yesterday we were all ready with our cards and sharp pin for the almost total eclipse of the sun but like the aurora cloud rolled in and we were unfortunately thwarted. It did go twilighty dark which made our two 'work' Robins sing at each other.
Today we picked up BD and headed to the salt-marsh where a big tide was expected around lunchtime.
There were already a few birders around and we started off by making our way to the wildfowlers' track where it took a while to locate the recently returned Avocets. They were very distant out on the river bank, against the light and through a helluva shimmery heat haze.
Talking off heat it was very mild, no need for a hat and out of the light breeze it was very pleasantly warm. Warm enough to bring out the butterflies, not quite in abundance but certainly more today than we've seen all year so far.
First up was a Peacock, found by BD, which was already warm enough not to need to spread its wings flat to the ground.
He also found two Small Tortoiseshells, again already warm and not showing themselves to best advantage
Not the best butterfly pics we'll take this summer but it felt good to get the first ones on the SD card at last. Another butterfly flew behind us while taking these shots, probably a second Peacock
BD's sharp eyes spotted a shed-load of Wolf Spiders scurrying over the dead grasses dumped on the strandline by the last high tides, there were hundreds of them. He also spotted other inverts nectaring on nearby Daisies, one was a Green Bottle type thingy, the other caught our attention more as being a rather small species of Dung Fly, certainly hairer even to the naked eye than the very common Yellow Dung Fly too, time for a pic if we could get one without disturbing it.
Not the best pics - forgot to change the camera settings from the butterfly shots - dohhh
You can see how small it is sitting on the central rosette of the Daisy.
BD had his eye in now and soon called out again, this time it was the first 7-spot Ladybird, then the second, then the third...there were at least eight or nine in the end sunning themselves on the Alexanders lining the stonework at the edge of the track.
The tide was now rising quickly and beginning to flood the marsh. Whooper Swans drifted downstream in the river channel, a Black Tailed Godwit probed around between the dabbling Mallards. Away over the far side a huge flock of Pink Footed Geese lifted and wheeled around for a few minutes. All over the place there were Little Egrets but we couldn't find the Great White Egret that occasionally sneaks over to our side of the river. To the right was a nice flock of Golden Plovers with some well moulted into their summer finery - what little stunners!
Exhaulting Skylarks serenaded us as we waited for the main event, pipits gathering on the last remaining few square yards of marsh.
Eventually they came. Meadow Pipits dropped in and pottered around but what, if anything, was with them. A call went up along the sea wall, Water Pipit!  Everyone made there way to join the small group that had spotted it but it had flown and couldn't be relocated. We found a Wheatear flying by and the others found a striking 'littoralis' Rock Pipit.
More Meadow Pipits arrived and all where studied intently but to no avail. Two Buzzards soaring around were the only raptors today, where where the Marsh Harriers and the Ravens? More Small Tortoisehell butterflies flew up and down the low embankment as did a couple of White Tailed Bumble Bees and a large queen Common Wasp seemed to have a thing for the gathered birders' optics and tripods.
Once the tide reached its peak and started to ebb the crowd drifted away and we did likewise. With hoisehold duties to do in the afternoon there was no chance of anymore ssafari-ing bjut we'd had a good morning out in the warm sunshine so despite not getting to see our target bird we were well happy.
Where to next? More of the same probably, that Water Pipit is still on the marsh somewhere and the tide is high again tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's escaping the rising waters in your outback.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Poorly today

The Safari succumbed to the dreaded manflu and wasn't able to go work today.
When we eventually surfaced it was almost warm and bright and sunny. We decided to sit out and watch for any passing raptor migration. Nothing doing but a Heron (Garden #23) over the garden was the first of the year. 
A slice or two of stale bread thrown on the garage roof attracted the local gulls.
 Later we found a sleepy colony of Woodlice and just had to get the macro lens out.
By now we were shattered again so it was back to bed for a couple of hours.
Where to next? Patch 2 might be eclipsed tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's crawling around almost unnoticed in your outback.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Too much 24 hour misty hazy mush

The Safari has come down with the worst bout of manflu - EVER!. But it hasn't stopped us getting out -yet!
Yesterday nothing much was  happening on Patch 2, the sea was quite calm but it was too hazy to see far and almost all the birds were distant black fuzzy blobs. We must be due a Harbour Porpoise soon but it wasn't to be.
In the evening we had a meeting to attend and as we drove to the community centre we could see the sun setting in the rear view mirror. We had to find a suitable location cos the whole western sky was bathed in an unbelievable hue of peach. The best place we could get to was wide grass verge at the pond a minutes walk from the centre.
It would have been rude not to look in the pond, so we did. At the short amount of bank that's accessible there's a decent sized patch of Flag Iris and this was playing host to an enormous Frog spawn mass.
The patch is probably about eight feet by four and this is just a corner of it, it was like that right the way across the whole area and who knows how deep it went. It was getting a bit dark for looking into ponds without a torch and we still had the meeting to attend so we only looked very briefly and unsuccessfully for Toad spawn. At the meeting it was resolved to arrange some pond surveys with FARG so watch that blog for news of when and where and join us if you can.
Once the meeting was over it was back to Base Camp for tea and to keep an eye on the northern sky as there had been a prediction of an aurora. Sadly it turned out to be too misty and murky although a friend of ours took a trip to the hills to the east and hit the jackpot. Well done SC, what a capture!
Our idiot dog Frank got us up at some ungodly hour with a four in it, going outside it was bitterly cold and we discovered later it was the coldest minimum temperature for the 18th March since 2003, that year gave us 33C later in summer, the highest temperature ever recorded in town; but we aren't drawing any comparisons just yet.
A couple of hours later saw us scraping the hardest ice we've ever had to scrape off the windscreen of the Land Rover. It was just a thin film but it was so hard the scraper bounced of it. One it was gone we drove the sort distant down the prom to see the sea was like a carpet although like yesterday it was hazy again....worse if anything.
We were out on Patch 2 as soon as we were able and heard both Grey Wagtail and Pied Wagtails going over in the haze above our head.
Scanning the sea was hard work with the haze reducing visibility to a few hundred yards and again the bulk of the Common Scoters were out of range in the haze. Shame really as the sea was so flat it was silent as the tide rose. Overhead we had a Patch 2 year bird in the form of a calling Meadow Pipit (P2 #39), there may well have been more than one, others were heard on and off during our short visit.
Our scans picked up a few fishing Cormorants and then the birds of the session, two drake Wigeon (P3 #40) sitting becalmed on the edge of the haze.
For the afternoon we had 90 youngsters from Yr3, great fun but perhaps not the best with a bad dose of manflu- they were loud and excitable - it was the most pleasant day of the year so far down there on the beach and they were learning about the Ice Age, volcanoes, sand dunes in deserts, layered muds in estuaries and shallow plankton-rich warm seas, fossils - and they did some rockpooling and drawing on their own - what's not to like!
Where to next? More Patcch 2 tomorrow, let's hope the haze lifts.
In the meantime let us know who;s making all the racket in your outback.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Mars Bar is still up for grabs

The Safari has had two hats on today, this morning we teamed up with another Fylde Amphibian and Reptile Group member and got an hour or so's clearing work done at a local pond. we think, and could be totally wrong, that the lack of Frogs and spawn there could have been due to the weather warming up a bit and then going quiet cold overnight, some chilly frosts in the small hours here on recent nights.
Anyway despite there only being two of us we got the necessary work done and had a look round so with time on our hands we took the tools back to nature reserve and set off on a wander round.
With our FARG hat still on we had a look under the refugium here too but again it was devoid of life below. 
In the distance we could hear a motorbike being razzed loudly and had a bit of a shock when this pillock came round the bend at breakneck speed - really glad we weren't closer to the corner.
An intimidating little scrote, did he stop?...Only just!
Think the bike decal ends in 'ermann'  - any mini-moto afficionados out there?
He came back a few minutes later with his friend also on the bike, again they came straight along the path at at speed straight towards us this time whizzing past so close they knocked the camera from our hand, not sure if he was trying to grab it. After a mouthful of abuse for standing in his way - on a Public Footpath! - we started to phone the Police and that was their cue to leave and thankfully not come back. We later heard that two motorbikes were on the reserve yesterday evening.
With the noise machine gone peace reigned again and we continued our walk, noting the many Cetti's Warblers strident bursts of song.
As usual there was no sign of any Bullfinches, they're probably long gone by now, nor was there any sound from the possibly still around Dusky Warbler, although that too may have moved on to pastures new a good while ago.
Rather than go down the embankment we thought we'd try our luck on the path that runs outside the reserve for a change and head back towards the feeding station. Was it a wise move, perhaps not as it was horrifically quiet, hardly a bird sound was heard and other than overhead gulls none were seen until we reached the horse stile. There we watched a Goldcrest at very close range and then it was joined by another - great to watch these tiny birds working there way through the scrubby trees. A Bumble Bee of unidentified species buzzed past them, a huge queen almost as big as the Goldcrests it seemed. We hoped she'd land on some of the open Willow flowers for a photo opportunity but alas she kept on going.
There's a pond adjacent to the golf course fairway here, just through the trees from the Goldcrests, one we only very rarely visit or even take much notice of, but today our interest was peeked when we heard a Cetti's Warbler fire up form there. Maybe we'll have to take more notice of it in future and it's good for amphibians so is worth a nocturnal survey over the coming weeks.
From there we headed back round to the reserve gate and spied PL coming from the viewing platform so instead of going straight to the feeding station we decided to catch him up for a chat. We got slightly side tracked near the gate to the viewing platform when we're pretty sure we heard the Firecrest call a couple of times but couldn't see anything moving in the scrub at all.
eventually we did meet up and stopped for a chinwag, whereupon he saw that the local 'friendly' Buzzard was sat at the top of the Hawthorn bush across the 'paddock'. With the motorbike, a multitude of unleashed dogs and a Buzzard in the tree there was no wonder there weren't any Wheatears in the paddock so the Mars Bar remains unclaimed.
We've seen this youngster many times before but never had the camera with us when (s)he's been this close.
The Buzzard flew of away from us so that was our cue to follow slowly in its wing-beats. We looked for the Bullfinches and listened for the Dusky Warbler again without any joy but did hear more Cetti's Warblers and a Water Rail. A look across thee scrape and the parked diggers gave us a pair of Oystercatchers probing the silty mud although there's probably not much for them to find it yet. In the distance we could hear the Little Grebe trilling away for fun.
In the thickest Willow two more Goldcrests searched for their miniscule prey, again giving superb views but no photo opportunities.
This time we did do the embankment and had a few unsuccessful stops to see if the Stonechats were about. A Kestrel teased the camera lens before getting bored of the game and flying too far away before we could get a shot off. More Cetti's Warblers were heard - just how many are there here and roundabouts??? Might be worth doing a coordinated count soon.
At the end of the embankment we had planned to sneak across the bridge but no can do the works have left it in a rather precarious position. You can sneak over but then there's a sheer drop on the other side. We opted for sensible and just had a look from our side below the embankment.
The works are coming along nicely and you can now see the shape of the new 'river'.
The right hand (northern) bank will eventually meet up with the vegetation on the bottom right of the pic probably just ti the left of where we were stood. The original watercourse will be blocked off and the concrete structure collapsed and perhaps removed off site. Going to be interesting to see the finished product.
Behind us we saw the Buzzard again on the top of one of the pylons that rum across the field, wonder if it had its eye on the dead sheep in the corner of the field on the other side of the dyke.
From the Buzzard we retraced our steps to the spillway and noticed there was a lump of something below the bridge in the old concrete channel. Time for an investigation...
A tidy lump of prehistoric Bog Oak, might well be worth saving for the new visitor centre - OK just outside it, it's a bit too big for inside.
By now we were out of time for Mother's Day stuff and had to scurry as fast as our little legs would take us back to the Land Rover and thence to Base Camp.
Where to next? The shop to but that blessed Mars Bar before someone claims it! And then Patch 2 for a look at what should be a fairly calm sea after the recent days of  light offshore winds.
In the meantime let us know who's finally deigned to pose for the camera in your outback.