Sunday 31 May 2015

A rare visit back to the old patch

The Safari was able to have an hour out late on this arvo and we took the opportunity to have a mooch around Patch 1 for the first time in yonks, Frank can't walk anywhere near that far now never mind chase a ball round it for an hour or more.
This morning we weren't inclined to go out anywhere as it was seriously cold wet n windy but the Tree Bees by the kitchen door kept coming and going.
We've joined the 30 Days Wild project and had a little idea for tomorrows first day being wild so just in case we don;t get a chance to do it tomorrow we cheated and did it today on the way to Patch 1 but we'll not tell you what it is until tomorrow. 
At Patch 1 we had nice variety of stuff and we were relieved to see that there hadn't been any money business done to the Golden Triangle although a couple of nearby gardens have lost almost all their trees.
Nice patch of Birds Foot Trefoil ready for Common Blue butterflies
A Sycamore full of character with a guest Magpie
The first Common Catsear flowers we've seen this year
Love those velvety 'ears'
An Elm munching caterpillar but sadly not the wanted White Letter Hairstreak caterpillar
The only butterfly we saw all visit and one we don't see settled very often - Holly Blue
Orange Hawkweed aka Fox & Cubs
Sweet Vernal Grass
Cowslip - not sure if we've seen one here before
Also noted were a few birds with a Chiffchaff the only summer migrant we heard. Others were lots of Greenfinches and Blackbirds singing, Woodpigeons, lots of Magpies, a party of Long Tailed Tits one with a beakful of tiny insects and a pair of Robins.
The pond was covered with Duckweed and full of litter but had a reasonable number of Toad tapoles and Pond Skaters whizzing around in one corner.
There's a good crop of young Elms just itching for the White Letter Hairstreaks and using our boot we bravely waded into a patch of Nettles and Brambles to make a bit of space for some Creeping Thistles for them to nectar on in a few weeks time. Our shins and calves are feeling those stings and thorns now but hopefully it'll have been worth it when you get to see the butterfly close pics. Think we need to get a band of enthusiastic volunteers together and go trouble shooting habitat managing around town once a month...

Saturday 30 May 2015

Garden Bioblitz 2015

The Safari wasn't expecting to get out today but did want to get involved with the national Garden Bioblitz.
Overnight heavy rain was forecast so we didn't put the moth trap out so missed a species or two there, then our attention got diverted and we forgot to put the stealth-cam out - dohhh!
We started with the plants as they're pretty reliable. When we moved here a dozen or so years ago the garden was just a mass of concrete and it took a couple of years to get it all broken up, removed and the soil dug over. since them the larger trees, shrubs and climbers have been planted along with a few perennials, the rest have been 'donated' by the birds, the wind or the seeds in the seed-bank.
There are British Bluebells, Spanish Bluebells and hybrids, all arrived of their own accord. These are proper job British ones.
The planted Cotoneaster has just about covered the garage wall and when the sun came out it was covered in Honey Bees and a few Tree Bees too.
Herb Robert is everywhere!
Ox-eye Daisies are variable in their abundance, some years there's loads others not so many. This year is one of those 'other' years. This one is the most open one in the garden, they're quite late this season.
Invertebrates were hard to come by and we thought our best chance of success would be to check out the other garage wall where the sun was shining. Always a good spot for finding jumping spiders and Ruby Tailed Wasps. There were neither but a bee started buzzing around our ear, stepping back to get a better look as soon as we were out of its way it went into the bottom corner bamboo tube in our 'bug hotel'. It's been there three years and until today there's not been a bee near it! So as you can imagine we were pretty chuffed.
We set up the camera and tripod as near as we could and stood back with the remote control release.
We still haven't got it quite right but now we know it's there we intend to have some more sessions in the next few weeks.
In the afternoon the wind picked up, the clouds rolled in and temperature dropped so the lack of invert activity was even less likely to improve. Anyway Wifey started doing a job that required nits n bobs of assistance so that was the end of our bioblitzing for the rest of the day. We didn't get much done but at least the bee in the bamboo was a really big highlight.
Where to next? Tomorrow looks like being windy but not as wet as originally forecast so we might get out somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who's crawling down the holes in your outback.

Friday 29 May 2015

A great find on the beach

The Safari is back at work now and so Patch 2 it is. This morning it was lashing down but we able to wait til it had died off a bit. Getting to the wall we saw the tide was in, we've not been taking much notice of the tides while we were off. A tiny movement where we put the scope made us look closer and it was a small caterpillar no more than 2cm long.
Any one any ideas. Late Edit - Small Tortoiseshell...dohh we shoulda known that one, but it was out of context - any lame excuse will do.
Looking out there wasn't much to see on the sea just a couple of distant Gannets.
Mid-morning we had a job to do. Next week we've got some kids' groups on the beach but we can't access it from our normal place due to the engineering works so we had to find somewhere else suitable. We had a walk towards town and eventually found the best place was on the far side of the pier. A quick scoot around as the tide was dropping off the wall had us finding a large Cuttlefish bone.
A bit more scootling about had us finding our first jellyfish of the year, a small Moon Jelly.
On the way back we spotted a Grey Seal only a few yards off the wall so out came the phone again. Now with our naked eye we could see it easily and could even just about make out its whiskers...the phone on the other hand...and this is a heavy crop!
That tiny black speck in the centre of the circle is a Grey Seal's head - Honest!!!
Look at the size of that Cuttlefish!
At lunchtime we got out again and although the rain had stopped the air was now so hazy it was almost impossible to focus the scope at anything more than 1/2 - 3/4 mile. A quick scan gave us two male and a female Eiders going towards the river along the surf line. We soon picked up a few Manx Shearwaters, we seen a single one (168, P2 #53) yesterday. We saw more in the haze and in the end had well over a hundred at all ranges from quite close behind the surf to wobbly blobs on the horizon. In amongst the shearwaters were a small number of completely unidentifiable auks. There were more Gannets to including some that were fishing using very shallow dives so we assume the fish were pretty close to the surface.
Three Common Terns from the dockland colony passed us as did about half a dozen Sandwich Terns and there's still a few Common Scoters out there. And small flocks of both Ringed Plover and Dunlin went south towards the nearly exposed mudflats.
JD had almost exactly the same birds but we didn't get his Little Egret, that probably came off the salt-marshes in the river to the south of us.
After work we dropped a printed off copy of our children's story to a good friend and had a good old chat. As we left she showed us her Nuthatch nesting in her box, well we saw the box, but how bonkers for it to be there when they seem to have just about disappeared from their usual haunts in the big park. On her Silver Birch tree we both spotted an unusual looking fly.
Any ideas anyone
Where to next? A weekend means we'll be out and about on safari somewhere.We've got some stealth-cam footage to look through too, hopefully there'll be something worth sharing.
In the meantime let us know who's climbing the trees in your outback.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

The best kind of visitor

The Safari had the stealth-cam out all the while we were away but the batteries must have been on their last legs as we only got daytime activations. Yesterday we got round to buying some new batteries and set it up late evening overlooking the ground feeder with some sunflower hearts in it. If the Long Tailed Field Mice were still about they'd come to the food and trip the camera and of course there's a multitude of passing cats to be snapped.
The time on the camera shows it must have been waiting for us to put the food out, it was only a few minutes earlier that we'd set the scene up!
And it was munching away in the morning not long after we'd been out with Frank through the back door only a few feet from the food tray - brazen these mice are!
But what of the intervening hours of darkness? Yes, there was cat after cat after cat but we also hit garden gold.
We haven't seen or heard any evidence of the local Foxes for several months so were really chuffed to get this one passing through on the first night the camera was set up, which begs the question is it a regular route for them???? Tonight's camera might shed a little more (infra-red) light on the question.
Not entirely sure what it's stopped to sniff at, can't be 'looking' to see if Frank is still about as it's well past his bedtime. We now need some tasty morsels that the cats wont be interested in to see if we can tempt it/them to linger longer - boiled eggs perhaps; any other suggestions anyone. Are there cubs??? Do we still have Hedgehogs coming into the garden?
At lunchtime we were allowed out for a couple of hours and as we'd had a call from LR about the orchids at the nature reserve we decided to go and check them out. We pulled up at our usual parking spot and as we locked the Land Rover doors something dark lying in the grass caught our eye. We thought we'd best not step in it and saw that it wasn't that yukky stuff that should be picked up but something bizarrely out of habitat and totally out of context. It was a Mermaid's Purse, or more accurately an empty egg-case from a Thornback Ray. How'd that got there? Dropped by a passing gull, passed through a passing gull - hope not we picked it up!, fallen out of a child's seaside bucket or fallen from a fisherman's car. Anyway it's possibly the oddest find we've ever had there and we've had some weird stuff over the years.
We know they like it wet but nowhere near as dry as a wetland!
We had a look over the water but all was quiet. A pale thing attracted our attention.
Was it a giant dead Eel, was it the arm of  the long lost mythical Boggart, looked far too big to be a piece of Yellow Water Lily root or Reedmace rhizome. What was it? Later, from the other side we were to discover it was a large piece of tree branch covered in old bleached water weed - almost disappointing!
Our mission to find the orchids didn't go quite to plan as we'd seemed to have forgotten exactly where they were and ended up looking about 15 yards away from their patch. We did find them in the end. Most only had flower buds like this large and stout Common Spotted Orchid.
But some of the Northern Marsh Orchids(?) were just waiting for another sunny day to open fully.
We didn't count them but were later reliably informed by MMcG that there were at least 45 spikes waiting to open.
After that we had a look from the Viewing Platform and enjoyed a few Swifts until the weather cooled a little and about 30 turned up only to depart as quickly as they came whe nit warmed up again a few minutes later.
Coming out of the scrub we bumped in to the Kids Club being led by Ranger Steve from the caravan site on a guided wildlife walk and we were able to show them something really special.
Most of them had never seen any kind of newt before and some hadn't even heard of them but they all had a turn of gently holding it, even some of the mums! There were three altogether, all small ones from last year, which is our best count on the reserve.
Not far away in the scrub is our favourite tree on the reserve, an Elm which has obviously succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease but is now recovering and growing strongly - great to see, is it too far from the colonies of White Letter Hairstreak butterflies to hope they might find it - actually there are at least two other Elm trees on the reserve, the nearer one is much bigger than this one but bigger is more easily found by the Elm Bark Beetle and Dutch Elm Disease might not be far away.
Another great couple of hours on safari.
Where to next? With the antics of #spinelesssimon on Springwatch we might have to get the underwater camera out and set it up in our pond at work tomorrow to see if our 3-Spined Sticklebacks are as interesting as he is. Our hols have come to an end so Patch 2 will be back in play too.
In the meantime let us know what needs a few hours of sun to burst forth in your outback.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

A Southside safari

The Safari picked up BD yesterday morning and we headed to the huge wetland reserve over the river. We had a bird or two to twitch. We stopped at a field close to our destination and the first thing we noticed was we'd left our trusty Swazzas at home...ohhh no an all day visit to one of the North West's top reserves and no bins!!! Our quarry here was Yellow Wagtails which we did see briefly but they disappeared into the ruts in a ploughed field almost as soon we pulled up.
Once through the doors and onto the reserve proper we could have hired some bins but chose not too ass we knew that much of the stuff would be distant and others would be so close as to not need the bins, but we won't be forgetting them next time that's for sure! We didn't need them to spot this huge Chicken of the Woods fungus. 
A look in the nearest hide wasn't too productive with just lots of nesting Black Headed Gulls and several Shelducks and a couple of pairs of Avocets. At the back of the pool was a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits, some in their summer finery but too far away for any pics. The trails are about as insect friendly as it gets with just a one mower width strip along the path edge cut for 'neatness'. Why can't all roadside verges be managed this way - it's not rocket science.Just look at that colour and visit next week and it'll probably be different as the next species in the succession comes into flower.
We arrived at the intended hide to learn the diminutive Temminck's Stint was in view but the other bird we'd hoped to see, the White Winged Black Tern, had done a bunk overnight. The bins would have been useless for spotting the stint it was miles away across the marsh, almost half way back to Base Camp it seemed, even with the scope wound up to full volume 70x it was still little more than a small dot although in the good light we could tell it was a summer plumaged dot. Temminck's Stint (165) on the list; a bonus species that wasn't really on the radar in our Year List Challenge with Monika. The old Dutchman Mr Temminck has fair few species named after him.
We shared our scope with several other visitors who only had bins with them to ensure they got the best views possible. One of those said she'd just seen a Merlin flying across the back fields as we were watching a distant Barn Owl hunting out in broad daylight. A Merlin here at the end of May would be unusual so we thought she may have seen a Hobby but couldn't relocate it.
Moving on back to the previous hide we stopped to have a good look at the superb variety of grasses and wildflowers on the bank amongst the 4-5000+ YO 'Bog Oaks' on display. It's amazing to think that these trees which look like they were felled recently were actually growing in the Middle Stone Age! 
From the hide there wasn't much to see but one of the punters there said they'd seen a Cuckoo not long since - that was probably what the 'Merlin' was, not a Hobby
Next stop was right around the far side of the reserve, you can't do a round circuit at this reserve. Here the water levels were down and lots of black sticky mud was exposed. A very dirty legged Redshank was the first bird seen other than the multitude of nesting Black Headed Gulls. We were a little disappointed to see the little islands that used to be covered in shingle were now well vegetated and so far less suitable for Common Terns and Little Ringed Plovers to nest on although the Black Headed Gulls and a pair of Oystercatchers were taking full advantage.
Eventuality we found the Little Ringed Plovers (166), more tiny dots well camouflaged and miles away on the mud.
Phone-scoped at 70x mag
Even further away was a small group of Whooper Swans unable to migrate to Iceland but they had strayed too close to a pair of Avocet's chicks and the adults were trying to drive them off, even giving them stamps on the back in one instance. We were able to get a family of youngsters to witness this through the scope - great behaviour for them to see first-hand. Also close by but not a threat to the Avocets were two Pink Footed Geese.
Outside the breeding season the marshy grasslands are grazed by a herd of Longhorn Cattle to get the grass the right length and tussockiness for the wintering geese and then the breeding waders. The bulls are impressive beasts.

Retracing our steps, as you have to, we stopped at the raised hide and had excellent views of a Blackcap and some Tree Sparrows. Somewhere in the thicket below us was a Whitethroat too but it refused to show itself.
Arty Tree Sparrow
A Blackbird sang its glorious fluty song non-stop for ages and looking at it more closely we saw it was ringed, probably on site. 
All of a sudden it dropped like a stone with an alarm call and milliseconds later a Sparrowhawk flashed through exactly where it had been - a lucky escape! Checking our photos on the puter later none of them show it to have two feet on the branch, nor do BD's pics.
The hawk put paid to the bird activity so on we went stopping a few yards further down the path to admire some large fungi which we thought were Puffballs at first but closer inspection by BD revealed them to have a thick, short stipe who thought it was more than likely to be St George's Mushrooom.
While admiring them we heard an unusual alarm call we couldn't identify, was it a corvid or a squirrel? But it was in the area where Tawny Owls hang out in the densely Ivy covered trees. Looking up we saw a blob in the open in one of the Scot Pine trees, a Tawny Owl (167), nice even if a poor view, we've only heard them or had very fleeting flight views in the car headlights in recent years.
Stepping back a few yards to try to get a better angle we came across its mate tucked up close to the tree trunk only a couple of feet away but not visible from where we were before.
Once again we were able to get lots of youngsters on to it, and after a little while this one went to sit next  to the other out in the open but the only view of them together was looking right up their backsides through lots of twigs. Tawny Owls love to roost up unseen in Ivy - another good reason NOT to clear it from the trees its growing up -it does no harm...we did see a bloke hacking away at some on our hols last week - - numpty, probably thought it's going to kill the tree or it just looks that nightmare word 'untidy'!
The cold wind meant there weren't many invertebrates about, an Early Bumble Bee early on in the day and a white buttterfly were all we could really muster until BD's sharp eyes found a fence post covered with flies all lined up facing the same way, like planes on an aircraft carrier - we tried to get pics of the unusual array but inched too close and flushed them, we don't recall ever seeing anything quite like that before. It was just after we disturbed them that BD found an Ichneumon Wasp and was able to catch it as it wasn't very lively in the cool temperatures.
Looking at our pic we now think it could be some kind of Sawfly rather than an Icneumon Wasp.
A food and coffee stop by the captive collection offered some super photo opportunities and we've always wanted to get a decent pic of the simple but stunning patterns on a drake Gadwall.
Almost mesmerising to look at for a long time
A look at the time showed us time was running short and with no further sign of the White Winged Black Tern we decided to leave and have a last look down the lane for the Yellow Wagtails. We were glad we did, they were very close this time. Thanks to DC for the gen on which field to find them too - cheers bud.
We had a final stop at the Common Tern colony at the docks on the way back to Base Camp where there weren't many terns in and they were mostly right across the far side. A Great Black Backed Gull played with something in the water, we thought it looked like a fish but on closer inspection seems to be a piece of twig or root, vegetable rather than animal anyway.
So another very enjoyable safari with plenty of great wildlife found and shared; and thanks to BD for the company.
Where to next? Last day of freedom tomorrow, hopefully we'll get out somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who's snuck off before time in your outback.

Sunday 24 May 2015

More than one moth at last

The Safari wasn't able to get out today but that doesn't mean that we missed out on safari-ing!  Our early morning walk with Frank gave us a sinfing Blackcap (Garden #29) that sounded as though it was in or near the Golden Triangle. Can't believe there's been so many about and this is the first we've heard from Base Camp. Not been past the Golden Triangle for ages, hope no-one has decided to 'tidy it up' - that would be an ecological disaster.
We put the moth trap out last night with the big light for a change. When we woke to take Frank out we could hear rain outside and looking out of the bedroom our fears were confirmed it was lashing down. Fortunately the light was still on and hadn't shattered. When we came to empty it out there must have been about two pints of water in the bottom and a load of soggy egg boxes. But there were moths - PLURAL - too.
All phone pics
Common Pug
A dark Shuttle-shaped Dart
A medium Shuttle-shaped Dart having a drink, or at least a taste of the table
A pale Shuttle-shaped Dart with a Flame Shoulder
Heart & Dart with another Flame Shoulder
There was a Light Brown Apple Moth too.
Later we were doing chores upstairs when we noticed something stuck to the bathroom floor. It was a small bee. The chores were dropped and the camera with macro lens picked up.
A tweet to bee expert RC had it identified as a Red Mason Bee, Osmia bicornis, a new species for us.
In the afternoon we had an attack on the garden with loppers breaking our own don't wreck the habitat for the 'sake of tidiness' rule but didn't come across anything of any note. In fact it was almost invert free for some reason. We had a look on the trellising to see if there were any jumping spiders or Ruby Tailed Wasps but there we nothing at all. After seeing our first local Blue Tailed Damselfly at the nature reserve yesterday we had a good look at our pond but there's no sign of them yet.
So you don't need to go far to see something new...only a s far as the bathroom! Isn't nature great.
Where to next? A twitch to the Southside could be on the cards tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's turned up in multiple numbers in your outback.