Sunday, 28 February 2016

Yet more invisible owls

The Safari was feeling decidedly liverish did the last of the BTO Goldfinch survey watches yesterday morning. We'd been out until ridiculous o'clock supping copious excessive quantities of fine ale with good friends and Wifey to her favourite karaoke haunt. Wifey is a very good singer, we don't sing, the agonised shrieks and howls of those suffering unmentionable torture at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition are nothing in comparison at our attempts at warbling. Blurred double vision aside we counted four Goldfinches for the survey, one of our higher counts! six Greenfinches was a good count too. This has to have been one of the easiest citizen science surveys ever devised and if there's something similar soon we'd recommend you take part.
Wifey went out swimming and we had a sneaky hour at the nature reserve doing nothing other than looking for the Tawny Owl that had been reported again from the same place the previous afternoon. God to know it's still about. We looked high and low and east and west but couldn't see any sign of it. After a while another birder, from out of town, turned up. He wasn't over-impressed by the mega lurking in the trees behind the hedge but was, not unsurprisingly, more interested in seeing the Long Eared Owls which he naturally assumed we were looking at/for. We took him the extra 100 yards or so along the path and showed him one very easy, one not quite so easy and one very tricky Long Eared Owls. We both then went to look at the mere to see if the Iceland Gull was present, the other of his day's target species. We couldn't see it from the path but as we were now time constrained suggested he go down to the Viewing Platform and see if it could seen from there.
Later in the afternoon we were back for another longer look and met up with PL. We both looked high and low and east and west but again had no success. From not seeing the Tawny Owl we went to the Viewing Platform to try our luck with the Bittern(s). We stood there for the best part of two hours listening to the multitude of Cetti's Warblers, a couple deafeningly close, squealing Water Rails and a hweeting Chiffchaff. Behind us in the trees there was an unseen Goldcrest calling.
In the pool in front of us there was a pair of Teal and pairs each of fighting Coots and fighting Moorhens. The light began to fade and as it did so the Teal became more active and started feeding all around the pool eventually coming right to the bank below us.
By now toes and fingers were cooling down rapidly and with no sign of anything beginning with B, namely Bittern, Bearded Tit or Barn Owl we called it a day.
After breakfast Wifey was able to identify a Wren (Wifey #49) from its song drifting in on the gentle breeze through the bedroom window.
At lunchtime we picked up JH and GB at the prom and took them to the nature reserve for their first visit in 15 years, they have been out of town and ' overseas' for that time though. Indeed while waiting for their tram to arrive we had a scan of the sea and in the distance beyond the windfarm we could see the grey shapes of the tops of the hills of their previous residence, the Isle of Man. It wasn't a particularly birding visit more a social natter and show them what's been going on in the last decade and a half - more reeds!!! said GB.
Our first stop was the lively Feeding Station where there were birds a plenty. Most were flitting around too quickly, it was cold overnight and they were busy piling on the pounds for another cold night ahead. We failed miserably with the Coal Tits and only just managed a almost passable pic of one of the several Long Tailed Tits.
The rotters just wouldn't keep still! We wanted a pic of the Moorhen family that was sneaking around too, but they wouldn't sneak far enough out of the scrub for us, the cracking male Reed Bunting was behaving in exactly the same manner, refusing to come out into the open.
Continuing round we stopped briefly at Ice Station Zebra, it was lovely out on the grass with warm sun on our backs but as soon as we entered the hide there was a temperature plummet of about 50C. Gulls aplenty were on the water in front of us but not the Iceland Gull today. The only noteworthies were the large increase in numbers of Lesser Black Backed Gulls as they return from their wintering grounds on the tips and coasts of Spain, Portugal and North Africa. A Coot came into the reeds in front of us but wouldn't venture into open water, it looked like it was prospecting suitable nesting locations.
Crossing the bridge at the east end the view over the new stream the air was so clear it was almost possible to tick Red Grouse on the Bowland fells (but not Hen Harriers - cos they've killed them all!) 
Looking the other way the light was strong but back lit a patch of Teasels beautifully.
A quick jaunt out of the reserve took us through the sunny glade along the path illuminating a some well opened Blackthorn flowers.
And although it's still winter coming on spring we spotted a nice fungus growing on a broken stump deep in the wet scrub.
A few yards later we were at our target but they weren't showing quite as well as yesterday, Not only that we could only find two of the three.
Can you see the second owl?
We approached the Viewing Platform and rounding the last tree managed to only flush a flippin Bittern (109, MMLNR #76) right from the edge of the pool where we hoped it would be with PL yesterday. Unfortunately our chatter had it fly round to the left and drop into the dense reedbed not to be seen again.
Today it was warm on the bench sat in the sunshine, very pleasant indeed. As usual Cetti's Warblers verbally sparred with each other and Water Rails screamed at each other. The pair of Teal were still in the pool and a Little Grebe called unseen from the hidden pool to our right. After a while the Teal started moving around again, what a difference a bit of light makes.
As ever time ran out and we had to make tracks. On the way back to the car we passed a good show of Crocuses we helped school children plant in the years running up to the Millennium.
Shame the other circle gets trodden on and wrecked by both dogs and humans walking on them - maybe we shouldn't have planted them so near the gate...ohhh hang on maybe the numpties should respect them and keep themselves and their mutts off them.
But enough of the ranting and doom and gloom this was a lovely day out with good company and plenty of warm sunshine.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 where a couple of days of light winds should have calmed down the sea enough to have a good look at what's out there.
In the meantime let us know who's been showing themselves off in the sunshine in your outback.


Thursday, 25 February 2016

City slickers

The Safari has been playing out in the big smoke. A train ride of an hour or so took us into a strange alien urban territory known as Manchester. what a strange place full to busting with upright bipedal mammalian forms of all sizes, shapes and hues and many of them making sounds unheard by us before. What a great multi-cultural experience although we wouldn't want to be there too long - we need a lot more wild and green.
After a wander round a host of retail establishments with Wifey we started to make our way to our destination, a concert hall we haven't been to for about 30 years, the last time we were there we saw a rather famous rockin flute player known for standing on one leg who for his school days was a local lad too. About half way we were walking down on of the shop filled streets which was lined with a few trees illuminated in the modern way by a myriad of sparkly lights. At the top we saw a small bird, a Goldfinch, then noticed beneath it another larger bird, a Mistle Thrush - year bird #48 for Wifey. So there is life amid the concrete, glass, steel and noise. As the Urban Birder says Look UP!
We were in town to see Runrig a Celtic rock band we've seen several times before but not since 1997, deffo time to catch up with them again. Once inside the hall we realised we'd left our phone at home so we weren't going to be able to get any pics for you and have had to rely on ace photographer Wifey.
Wifey's pic - she's missed Rory and Malcolm off!
Twas a great gig - have a listen to the clip about the game (game? - more like all out war!) of shinty; play it loud!!!

So good Wifey has booked to go again later in the summer, this time in their and her homeland Bonny Scotland.
This morning we awoke to a different tune, that of a Wren (Garden #21). The local Blackbird was giving it plenty too.
At work we didn't see much at sea, the best was the snow on the both 'arms' of the bay, the highest peaks of Snowdonia (living up to its name for once) and the Lake District had a healthy smattering of the white stuff.
Our gardeners have just about finished brutalising our work garden, it looks rough but it'll be fine by mid-summer. They wanted a quick chat about which bits to finish off during which the lilting rolling call of a Skylark (P2 #40) was heard as it passed overhead. A good tick here, the last one was 2014 and before that back in 2011. 
Yesterday there was a mega at the nature reserve but unfortunately we were unable to get there. what was this mega? A Tawny Owl, only the eighth since 1950, one of which we saw in the trees at the rear of what is now the Feeding Station hide in about 1992/3??? Would seriously like to connect with it if it's still about, there appears to be no news from the reserve today.
Where to next? More Patch 2 excitement and maybe a sneaky last minute visit to the nature reserve on the way back to Base Camp.
In the meantime let us know who's found their voice in your outback.

Monday, 22 February 2016

A modicum of excitement on the South Side

The Safari had a big family get-together to attend on Saturday. Down the motorway we drove through atrocious weather to our destination. Once off the motorway we were onto minor roads and country lanes were we spotted a pair of Red Legged Partridges in a field close to the roadside. We refuse to count these but Wifey has added them to her first ever year-list bringing her up to 47. She also has Red Kite on her list which we don't have from her business trip down to London early in the new year. Hopefully we'll catch that one back at some time in the next 10 months. Her target is 100 which she should be able to reach given a favourable wind.
We don't count Red Legged Partridges as they are introduced willy-nilly into the countryside by the shooting estates. They're a non-native species but there's no licensing, no risk assessments, no environmental impact assessments, no limit on numbers; quite unlike the hoops that have to jumped through to release formerly native species like pilot schemes, stakeholder involvement, reports and debates before anything significant can happen - come on pull your fingers out bring on the Lynx and Beaver this year, even desperately needed tree planting can have significant barriers put up before it actually happens.  We saw too other partridges a hundred yards further on which were likely the same but by the time we got to them they'd gone out of view from the car at the bottom of the road's embankment. They could have been Grey Partridge, wishful thinking probably, this area used to be somewhat of a stronghold for that species when we were a lot younger.
The rain had just about stopped by the time we arrived at our destination and as we walked across the car park a Buzzard flew over. This would have been unheard of back in the day and if it had have been heard of wouldn't have ended well for the Buzzard at the hands of the local gamekeeper so we suppose there is something to be thankful for although the game 'industry' is still a long long way from perfect.
Once our big family do was over we headed back to Ma n Da's for tea and a bun or more accurately birthday cake. On the way a second Buzzard was seen wafting on raised wings over the fields upsetting the local Carrion Crows and a Magpie. Two Buzzards in an afternoon, that's more than we had in over a decade of birding round there as a kid!
The fields to our left had good numbers of Lapwings in them but we couldn't pick out any Golden Plovers which used to be quite numerous round these parts and may still be. Another sight from our dim and distant past was a huge flock of Pink Footed Geese grazing on the right hand side of the road, they are probably more numerous now than back then.
A brief interlude saw us heading to the beach to meet R n S and their new dog, a young little rescued terrier named Rogue. As we left the house a Sparrowhawk was displaying over the few remaining tree tops. When we lived there they were still suffering the catastrophic effects of DDT and were still persecuted without mercy by the gamekeepers, we'd see maybe one or two a year and even then have to travel a few miles to the pinewoods for the privilege.
At the beach Rogue lived up to his name as he decided we were some kine of tasty giant sausage and proceeded to try to eat a leg, arm, buttock or anything else he could get his sharp little teeth into! We walked the 'wrong' way for seeing the best of the birds on the beach and by late afternoon most had been disturbed by the countless other dog walkers so were well out of non-binocular range anyway. We were hoping for a Bar Tailed Godwit or two as this stretch of beach used to be a bit of hotspot for them - probably still is on the less disturbed areas to the north - assuming they are still less disturbed, too many dog walkers have a habit of going precisely where they really shouldn't be.
our walk on the beach gave us, as well as bite marks from Rogue, a couple of Mermaid's Purses from Thornback Rays and a few pieces of sea-coal for the fire back at Base Camp. Somewhat strangely, we thought, there weren't many shells on this part of the beach although there could have been plenty lower down nearer the water's edge we only strayed a few yards from the sea wall.
The walk did allow us to get up close and personal with a couple of Antony Gormley's 100 iron men. One day we'll visit and actually take a photo of them, not that you could get all 100 in one pic except probably from a plane way up high but then the effect would be lost - well worth a visit if your passing.
Back at Base Camp on Sunday we most unusually spent all day indoors, well the weather was rotten. We had a bit of a work project to do which couldn't be done at work involving a stack of filled SD cards and a marine biology theme for a bit of an arty project on our own promenade some time soon(ish) if sufficient funds can be garnered from a suitable grant source.
This morning when we awoke a Song Thrush was giving it plenty at the top of its syrinx but sadly we haven't heard the local Mistle Thrush at all, surely he should be singing by now locally extinct? We sincerely hope not but sightings are very few and far between round these part now...not good!
No excitement from both visits to a very choppy Patch 2 sea today although watching a Redshank catch Brown Shrimps at almost every prod of it's bill as the tide dropped off the wall was worth going out for. Had we taken the camera today it would have made for a good bit of video.
Where to next? Another bit of trip southwards tomorrow, a bit further this time but probably not a lot of wildlife just a wild time.
In the meantime let us know who's not as welcome as their dapper appearance would suggest in your outback

Friday, 19 February 2016

Twice bittern twice shy

The Safari has been out wildlifing this week - honest! And we've added a few species at both our Patchwork Challenge sites.
Our main target/hope of the week has been the Bitterns at the nature reserve but our best success has come from Patch 2 where we watched a Ringed Plover (108, P2 #38) drop on the beach in front of our watch point and promptly picked several quite long and very slender worms out of the sand. Impressive stuff, when we're digging over that way we never see anything like them yet they must be there in reasonable numbers for the Ringed Plover to catch so many within a few minutes, without moving more than a few steps in any direction.
The drive from work to the nature reserve took us to the outer reaches of our Patchwork Challenge work patch and while waiting at the traffic lights on the patch boundary we saw a flock of Jackdaws feeding on the football pitches opposite - the wrong side of the patch boundary line but the rules allow sightings made from within the patch. These are well outside our 'normal' Patch 2 recording area though - all horrendously geographically confusing! Back on the 'real' Patch 2 apart from the aforementioned Ringed Plover there hasn't been a great deal of note, not a lot of the usual and nothing remotely unusual.
We have been able to get on the beach a couple of times, the first time with BD we found a nice undamaged mermaid's purse from a Thornback Ray.
Once work was over a trip to the nature reserve was in order. Making our way to the south west corner which gives the best vantage point over almost all of the reedbeds we settled in for a long watch. It was cool bordering on chilly and there wasn't much happening. We didn't see or hear the Little Grebe that was seen by others but did note a recent increase in the number of Goldeneyes, now eight of them, and Shovelers, up to a respectable 45 but still well short of numbers that used to be here 20 years or so ago. Light rain started to fall and there was some umm-ing and ahh-ing as to whether or not we should call it a day, then the Iceland Gull dropped in right in front of us - decision made - STAY!
But alas the rain came down heavier and colder and there was little chance of the Bitterns coming out to play so despite the best efforts of the gorgeous Iceland Gull we packed up and left before we got soaked through.
Two evening's later and we were back in the same place to be greeted by a small crowd of hopeful birders. This time we had a little more success seeing not one but two Little Grebes (MMLNR #75) tucked up looking all lovey- dovey on the edge of the reeds and then being put onto a third a little way down the mere. Later, almost at dusk, what could well have been a fourth appeared making its way along the north reeds to join the others we'd seen earlier, or was it the third doing a circuit we'd not noticed go back down that way? A white shape over the far side of the reserve was the local Barn Owl out hunting well before it got dark and gave us a very enjoyable if slightly distant display before headed off east through the scrub to the rough fields. Later it was seen again this time even further away down by the east embankment.
From the opposite side of the little bay a Chiffchaff called and then sounded as though it was closer in the reeds, we whistled the call and chiff-chaff song, remarkably it responded and came and sat on the Bramble thicket right in front of us giving great views as it flicked its wings in agitation at another 'Chiffchaff' somewhere in its patch.
Still no Bitterns though as one by one the other birders drifted off leaving just three of us stalwarts and the local Rabbits for the richest pickings.
Dusk fell the greens of day turned to greys of night and still the Bitterns refused to show. We left as a few Snipe left their reedbed hideaways unseen against the now dark sky to feed elsewhere.
So two and a quarter hours stood out there in the cold and not a pic to show for it. Same as the previous one and three quarter hours stood out there in the cold then! We might not have seen the Bitterns but it was worth it, plenty of other wildlife to enjoy and some good birding banter too makes for a far better time than being sat indoors watching drivel on the telly.
Today we weren't able to get an early morning look over the seawall and had to wait until lunchtime when again we were time constrained. Nothing much doing out on the sea but a quick look through the not so very many gulls working the receding tide revealed a Herring Gull with ludicrously bright pink, almost fluorescent pink, legs. It didn't stick around long before flying to join the thousands of other gulls on the wide beach to the south. In flight there wasn't anything unusual looking about it but those legs!!! If anyone is old enough to remember Bazooka Joe bubble gum that's the sort of colour they were - vivid.
Well maybe not quite that pink - but almost
We look at a lorra lorra Herring Gulls and have never seen any with anything like as pink legs as this one. A North American gene or two in there perhaps. We'll be on the look out for it next week.
Where to next? The weekend beckons as does some important family stuff so our time out on safari will be a bit limited.
In the meantime let us know who's wafting gracefully around your outback

Monday, 15 February 2016

Shoulda stayed out later

The Safari didn't have the best of days yesterday. We were at the nature reserve by lunchtime spending a fair bit of time on the east embankment listening for the Bearded Tit(s?) without success. At the same time we scoped the few gulls that came and went to no avail. From there we decided to have another look at the Long Eared Owls and were able to set the scope up on one of them so that some passing families could have a look and hopefully inspire them to buy a pair of binoculars. 
On the way back into the reserve we were accosted at the gate by a woman with two dogs off their leads who had apparently had a run-in with another birder. She had been 'told off' for allowing her dogs to run amok in the reserve but said her dogs wouldn't harm anything they were only having fun and anyway her husband was a falconer who really respected wildlife...err by killing it???
It wasn't long before we met up with the teller-offer and a couple of other birders, he's dead right nature reserves aren't the palce to exercise dogs, bring yours with you by all means but keep it on a short lead so it can't stray from the path into the habitat or jump up at people - wouldn't it be great to have a few Lynx about with a sign saying WARNING if your dog enters the habitat it may get eaten! Has anyone dome any studies on the effects of disturbance on breeding success and survival (particularly in winter) of wildlife by dogs other than at the coast?
After putting the world to rights and deciding we didn't like the majority of dog walkers - how come so many people get a dog and lose the ability to read?
While chatting we did see a decent flock of Fieldfares in the field behind us and a good number of Lapwings (MMLNR #74) too, it's a shame the Golden Plovers no longer visit these fields. TS had a sneaky mooch off piste  over that way and said there was a huge muddy flood that looks great for all manner of waders to drop on to it - pity it can't really be viewed from anywhere convenient.
Two Kestrels were on the gable end of the big barn and a third hovering in the icy wind at the far end of the reserve.
Going our separate ways we headed for a look at the waterfowl although from the hide it appeared Wigeon and Teal numbers were well down, so much so that we didn't hear or see a Wigeon all afternoon.
Meeting up with BD we spent a long time in the south west corner of the reserve willing the Iceland and/or Mediterranean Gulls to appear - neither did, like the waterfowl it was  very quiet for gulls too. We persevered getting colder and colder to no avail. 
Another wander down to the embankment gave us a couple of lumps of ancient Bog Oak which had been dug out during the spillway improvements last year - they'd make an interesting display up at the Visitor Centre. We must bring a net one day, maybe around the next spring tides to have a dip around the lower reaches of the stream to see if there's any Elvers making their way into the mere. Still not a 'ping' from the Bearded Tits owe had a little rummage along the reed edge in the north east corner fluching about a dozen Snipe in the process, one or two may have been Jack Snipe on their diving straight down into the reeds rather than towering and flying around behaviour but we being only as tall as the reeds we were unable to get proper look at them. Round the corner we heard then all too briefly saw a Cetti's Warbler under the big Sycamore tree. We had a look from the new hide but the hinterland to it was more interesting than the view in to the bright sunlight, there were several plants of Common Fumitory in flower.
Reaching the Viewing Platform we were informed by TS that we'd just missed a drake Goosander, that's going to be a real tricky one to catch back up! We watched and waited for the Bittern to show as it had done to TS yesterday but it was noticeable by its absence.
The others wandered off late afternoon heading back towards the big park and town while we continued round to the car parked at the bottom end meeting PS in the south west corner on the way. We stood and chatted for a while until we were joined by other P and K. Cetti's Warblers sand, Water Rails sharmed, Woodpigeons flew over but still the Bittern didn't show. By now the wind had eased a little and although the sun had dropped and clouds were about it didn't feel quite so numbingly cold as earlier when the sun was much higher.
The low sun illuminated the far reeds with a golden glow but the Bittern didn't climb to the top to bask in the last of the warm rays like they used to in the old days.
The two Ps heard a ping from the Bearded Tit very close by but K and us missed it, they scanned the adjacent reeds furiously but it never revealed itself by sight nor sound. 
By now our toes were being to seriously feel the cold, more and thicker socks required next time! We left only to get home and discover that had we stayed a mere ten more minutes we'd have seen the Bittern and had we stayed another ten we'd have seen a second Bittern!
Some days you see more than others, Sunday was one of those others but we still had some great sightings despite the cold and if you don't get out you won't see nowt - that's guaranteed!!!
Where to next? More Patch 2 sea scanning tomorrow
in the meantime let us know wgo succeeded in avoid you in your outback.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Don't think two out of three was good enough

The Safari has been a bit busy this week but we have been able to get out and see some great wildlife.
It started on Wednesday morning with a fine sunrise as we turned into the work's car park.
We got out on to Patch 2 as soon as we were able, crossing the road and climbing the steps up to the mirror ball we saw a bird on the sea wall, blimey a Stonechat (P2 #35) a Patch 2 lifer! We sort of predicated it arriving last week, but got the location wrong by 50 yards. We just about got the scope on it, it was almost too close for it, and got a poor record shot with the phone...shoulda taken the proper camera!
Poor pic, great find!
Then more spookiness happened, looking at the beach to the north there were a lot of gulls to look through so we took the scope to the gate where, on the top of the wall, was a discombobulated Sea Mouse, we mentioned not seeing them for ages in our last post - weird or what?
Later in the day we had a school group coming and while we waited listened to this Starling singing away imitating an Oystercatcher.
The youngsters had a great time in the sunshine, a much better day than their postponed day a couple of weeks ago. They found loads but a Blue Tailed Damselfly nymph was their best find.
Once school was done we had an evening meeting but had an hour to kill so had a quick look on the big park for Treecreepers and Nuthatches without success, bit late in the day really. We did find a ringed Coot from 2014, wonder how many of the others ringed at that time are still alive - keep an eye out for them they could be anywhere in the country by now.
From there we headed to the nature reserve for our meeting seeing a Barn Owl (104, MMLNR #69) away in the north east field as soon as we crossed the bridge. A heavy shower sent it running for cover and that was the last we saw of it. The sunset was a fine spectacle though.
Behind us a Pied Wagtail (MMLNR # 70) flew over and a little later a Mistle Thrush (105, MMLNR #71) appeared on the barn roof.
The following morning news broke of a Black Redstart seen at the bottom end of Patch 2 so at lunchtime we had a rather warm walk down that way but had no luck. All we could find were a Pied Wagtail and a Magpie (P2 #36). Walking back to work we then saw a record breaking eight Magpies on the neighbouring hotel roof.
A quick look at the sea gave us a fluke, an angler's boat flushed about 500 - 600 Common Scoters and hoping for a Velvet Scoter we gave them a good look through when they were in the air. We didn't find a Velvet Scoter but a female type Long tailed Duck (106, P2 #37) instead - happy days.
After work we met up with CR at the pier for the Starlings bumping into a gang of birders from Leeds who had come over for the spectacle.
It was another great sunset.
The Starlings came in their droves and as the tide was out landed on the beach. They covered an area we estimated as about nearly an acre
They don't murmurate so much when the tide is out but do look spectacular when they lift, shame the whole flock doesn't go as one - where are the dog walkers on the rare occasions you need them.
That's not all of them, there were a decent number of earlier arrivals murmurating and going to roost. We guessed at somewhere in the region of 70000.
Today we were able to get to the nature reserve around lunchtime where we met MJ, KB and TS who immediately put us onto an adult Mediterranean Gull (107, MMLNR #72). We'd gone there to see if the Iceland Gull would put in an appearance, sadly it already had and left not long before we'd arrived. Fortunately it reappeared later; always good to get such a stunner on the nature reserve list, Iceland Gull (MMLNR #73).
So two great gulls thoroughly enjoyed. In the meantime TS had gone and done a circuit and round the far side opposite us had a Bittern fly towards and past him low along the reed edge. It landed between him and us but we all missed it. We waited and watched and watched and waited but sadly it didn't show itself again. We've not seen one anywhere since 2013 and that one was here at the nature reserve - about time for another sighting then!
Where to next? We'll be back at the nature reserve with our fingers crossed, might go somewhere else first though.
in the meantime let us know who's been secrecy cloaked in your outback.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Close, awesome and emotional

The Safari had bad wind and high seas yesterday so wasn't able to get out for long and didn't see much. This morning the wind had eased a bit and the light was much better early doors so we were able to have a good look for 20 minutes or so. It was still extremely choppy out there and apart from the usual gulls, but no 'unusual' ones, about 60 Oystercacthers, 30 Cormorants and 100 Common Scoters there wasn't anything else save for a lone Sanderling which was rather odd, they usually come mob-handed!
Our Monday gardening volunteer wasn't able to come yesterday, which was good as he wouldn't have been able to do much outside in the atrocious weather, so he came today instead, which was good as it meant we saw the male Kestrel (P2 #34) waft over the mirror ball in a generally southerly direction that we would have missed had he been here yesterday and we'd been stuck driving the desk this morning. Nothing over-excting about a Kestrel although they are always a pleasure to see and watch but they are having a torrid time at the moment
From BTO Population Trends
Their longer term picture is a little different
Again from the BTO
No wonder we used to see more of them when we were cutting our birding teeth in the late 60s and early 70s, sadly the downward plummet since 2005 doesn't appear to be showing any signs of bottoming out like it did in the late 80s and late 90s. Let's hope it does though and they see a resurgence in their fortunes.
We said earlier there was nothing over-exciting about seeing a Kestrel, well yes in general they are still reasonably common and widespread and many non-birders recognise and enjoy them when they spot them hunting alongside motorway verges but at Patch 2 it's a very different story. This one was the first since 2014 and that was the only one recorded here in the previous five years, so you see, the 'ordinary and 'common-place' can be unusual and exciting!
Our volunteer did his two hours and went for his lunch and so did we. We were then unexpectedly called to man the front desk while our colleagues got their lunches, this turned out to be a bit of a boon. By the time they'd scoffed their baggin and returned to their posts the wind had dropped and more importantly so had the tide so that the waves weren't crashing over the wall as they were an hour earlier. That gave us the perfecrt opportunity to have a quick look.
It was still very choppy, the buoy is about 12 feet (4m) tall, yesterday it was totally disappearing in the troughs and at times rocking to less than 45 degrees from vertical; not quite so bad today
It's a little over a kilometre (c2/3 - 3/4 mile) from the wall, these pics are phone-scoped

The sea is predominantly brown from the stirred up sand and silt, yesterday it was predominately white with sea-foam and at high tide was hitting the wall with great booming thuds. 
Looking out that way there was little to the south (left) but the glare from the sun (sun???? - What's that???) off the water made looking that way difficult, there wasn't much straight around and beyond the buoy either. Looking north was far more interesting, here we could see tiny white specs flitting about over the sea beyond the 100 or so Common Scoters which must be on their rinse cycle now after yesterday's thrashing from the weather - by eck they are tough little cookies! 
Every so often one of the white specs would drift into range of the scope revealing it to be a Little Gull, most were the black under-winged adults. These are the worlds smallest species of gulls and one of the prettiest - YES gulls can be pretty! A couple of times we had both the worlds smallest and largest species of gull in our field of view when a Great Black Backed Gull cruised by, unfortunately we didn't  quiet get the full house of Little, Black Headed, Common, Kittiwake, Herring, Lesser Black Backed and Great Black Backed all in the scope together, got a view of six out of the possible seven though which can't be bad - those darned Lesser Blackies are still to migrate in reasonable numbers past here.
Last week we had young Kittiwakes and Little Gulls feeding along the beach between us and the pier so we had a look from the gate to the beach again, just in case. The tide was ebbing quickly now but still crashing violently against the toe of the wall. There was hardly a gull over the water but one in the distance cruising along the top of the wall caught our eye, it banked a little and gave itself up as an adult Kittiwake. It continued to cruise towards us without so much of a hint of a wing flap using the up-draught from the wall, a real masterclass in mastering the air currrents, at a few points it was actually over the  promenade - a real live 'inland' Kittiwake! We soon wished we'd brought the camera to work; that's twice in recent days we've broken the basic rules of photography - 1) Carry the darned camera and 2) make sure the lens cap is off for instant snapping (That's why there was no Lesser Redpoll pic for you at the weekend - dohhh). Our bird kept coming closer and closer, still without a wing flap and then passed at eye level just the other side of the wall from us, no more than two arms lengths away - awesome, absolutely awesome views as it slightly turned its head to look at us as it met our gaze as we turned ours to look at it; such a spectacle we got all emotional and started to well up a bit - nature can do that to you when you witness something apparently simple yet truly special.
Then it stalled and landed on the sea to investigate a potential morsel before being rudely interrupted by a couple of young Herring Gulls who wanted a  piece of whatever it was it had found. Deciding that it wasn't worth hanging around near the bullies the Kittiwake upped and headed out to sea - bon voyage and fair well my friend...
Where to next? More of the same please, and we were looking through some photo folders this arvo and realised we've not seen a Sea Mouse for ages, must put our wellies on and get down on the beach for a good rummage about through what the tide has washed up, who knows we might even get close to a decent gull or two.
In the meantime let us know who's cruising along close as maybe in your outback. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Ever been to Baffin Island?

The Safari went to meet, recently back in town, JH at the Starlings at the pier on Friday night but the weather was dire and access to the lower Prom restricted by the annual rally car race. The tide was out and the Starlings roosted on the beach before headed under the pier without really doing any murmuring. We left before the weather worsened and plenty more were still coming in as we drove away.
Yesterday morning we did the BTO Goldfinch Survey and counted an acceptable four - mightn't sound many but certainly better than the normal none!
After breakfast we had a day out with Wifey meeting up with our long-time chums over at the Place we do not Mention by Name over on the south side. 
While waiting from the crew to arrive we had a look through the visitor centre window overlooking the captive pond where Wifey practiced her ID skills using her new EDs. She found Pochards, Gadwall, Shelducks, Wigeon and even a Coot.
Female Wigeon
Shelduck again
Once the crew was assembled we headed out into the rain straight to the nearest hide where hundreds of Whooper Swans were milling around waiting for the mid-afternoon feed.
 Left over spilled grain from an earlier feed was being hunted down by a few Wigeon.
The flock of 3000 Lapwings held about 50 Ruff (100). Marsh Harriers and Buzzards kept putting them up making for a fantastic spectacle. We couldn't find any Peregrines but a Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance. Unfortunately the Barn Owls were out in the rain before we arrived but not when it was drier while we were there.
The volunteer in the hide told us where to look for the Tawny Owl and AB's astonishing eyesight picked it out hidden deep in in the Ivy at the top of a tall Silver Birch tree. Eventually all the group got on to it and we just about managed to get the scope on it. AB then said there were two up there! Tawny Owl (101) on the list in a tree only yards from the only one we saw last year, probably one of the one's we saw today was the same bird as that one.
Back at the first hide we watched a Marsh Harrier pull morsels from a dead Whooper Swan and looking through the birds on the mud we found a couple of Black Tailed Godwits (102).
The long staying Ross's Goose was also there.
Lovely looking thing but the million dollar question is how wild is it??? Every summer it disappears and every autumn it seems to reappear when the Pink Footed Geese arrive. Does it go back to Baffin Island or does it end up on someone's duck pond less than a hundred miles away.
It's been suggested we have a whip round for a satellite tag or pull a feather off it for isotope analysis. Could be a disappointing result...or...
There's never been a 'genuine' proven one in Britain could this be it?
Trying to get to the last hide on the reserve we were turned round by the ranger who'd just locked it up - we'd run out of time! Another great day out with the old crew.
Today we had a cold afternoon on the nature reserve starting at the Feeding Station where we had three Reed Buntings (MMLNR #66) and then a strange thing happened. A Jackdaw turned up, nothing unusual with Jackdaws but in all our years visiting the reserve we've never seen one at the Feeding Station.
Not many minutes later another little beauty turned up, a Lesser Redpoll (103, MMLNR #67) very briefly dropped down to the small drinking pool and was gone in a moment. We dashed outside to look in the Alders behind the hide but there was no sign of it anywhere.  
From there we went to look at the water to see if the Iceland Gull or a Mediterranean Gull would turn up. They didn't, although there had been a Med in the morning. It was very quiet with very few gulls about today. The best we saw was a Collared Dove (MMLNR #68). A Sparrowhawk worked the reedbeds waiting for a Snipe to flush, one did but was far too quick for the predator.
More bizarreness occurred when four Stock Doves left their usual haunt over on the big barn and flew round the east end of the reserve for a while almost looking like they were going to land at the edge of the scrape for a drink at one point.
The reedbed along the embankment didn't give us any Bearded Tits this week and there were no Mistle Thrushes in the 50 strong flock of Fieldfares in the field - the flock of 50 plus Linnets was nice though. 
Instead of going to see the owls, we were told the path was very wet and we were shod in boots rather than wellies, we double back to do more gulling but the water at the hide was devoid of gulls so we returned to the Feeding Station with BD who we'd just met. Always nice to see Long Tailed Tits but there was no sign of the hoped for Treecreeper.
Best now was a Great Spotted Woodpecker giving great views at the far feeder and then the rain started and it was time to go.
Not a bad weekend on safari.
Where to next? More weather is forecast so Patch 2 may provide some interest again.
In the meantime let us know who's unexpectedly arrived in your outback.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Added a few more

The Safari has been listening to a Song Thrush (Garden #19) singing nearby before the first light of dawn. Great to hear, we assume (never do that!) it's in the Golden Triangle somewhere we've not been for a long time now.
Setting off to work our first Black Headed Gull of the year flew over (Garden #20).
At work Patch 2 was very poor, there was very little about. Later in the morning we started having horrendous IT problems so an early lunch was the only option. Yesterday the Iceland Gull (aka the Posh Gull) was found at the nature reserve by Young Un AB - where has it been hiding all winter, not round here that's for sure, somewhere else has had the pleasure of its company. We had a hunch that it would be at its favourite morning haunt - the nearby waste depot, where else?
We parked up on the roadside wound down the window and watched through the railings of the depot. There was a good number of gulls, mostly Herring and Black Headed Gulls, going in and out of the shed to investigate the new rubbish brought in by the wagons. We thought we saw a paler one fly into the shed amid the throng and looking deep into the gloom there was the Iceland Gull (99) half way up the pile of rancid bin bags with its head buried in one of them, not the best of view but hey they all count. The bulldozer stopped work for the driver's lunch and all the gulls flew out of the shed and up onto the roof but we didn't see the Posh Gull again. 
Back at the office we were told the IT was still playing up so we took the opportunity of grabbing the scope and having a quick look at the sea. There we found a 1st winter Little Gull almost straight away which was a bit of a surprise as the fierce wind of recent days had died down. It was with a few Black Headed Gulls on the beach, they were catching worms at the water's edge but the Little Gull was just resting. We looked at another gaggle of gulls to see nothing of note, looking back the Little Gull had now done a bunk, we couldn't find it anywhere neither on the beach nor out over the sea. 
Checking the other flocks we found a Scandinavian Herring Gull looking all big, dark and brutal against the 'normal' argenteus birds.
BD came along but just before he arrived all the gulls and Oystercatchers were flushed by something unseen, did we miss a Peregrine? There was some serious panic going on.
Once they'd settled down we couldn't find anything exciting but the flock of Sanderlings held at least one Dunlin (P2 #33). A few minutes later we saw a few Knot further down the beach.
Another check through the gulls gave us a Darvik ringed Lesser Black Backed Gull but it was a long way down the beach. BD got some pics so we'll report back if the ring numbers can be read - it's a long shot but it was a very long shot.
Where to next? More Patch 2 gull searching and if the weather holds there may well be some Starling action too.
In the meantime let us know who's still out of place in your outback.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Are you suffering from excessive wind?

The Safari is beginning to get rather peed awff with the amount of wind being delivered by these successive winter storms now. As one batters through there’s another one lining up in the west Atlantic, there’s just no respite!
Looking at the sea we had to feel for the Common Scoters, it must be like living in a washing machine for them at the moment and most of their food seems to have been washed up on the beach. Yesterday a very rough guestimate of about 2000 tightly packed Herring Gulls were feasting on a huge shellfish wreck along the beach at Patch 2. With them were a handful of Black Headed Gulls, a few Common Gulls, a couple of Great Black Back Backed Gulls and a single 1st winter Yellow Legged Gull (98, #31). Out at sea others had seen good numbers of both Kittiwakes and Little Gulls but we could only find a couple of Little Gulls (P2 #32) and half a dozen Kittiwakes. A flock of five Pintails went through low over the tide’s edge and we had a dark phase unIDd skua go north at distance, it looked quite broad winged so probably not an Arctic Skua, can’t go on any of the lists unfortunately but no doubt we’ll get better views of some other skua species over the course of the year.
While working in the garden with our volunteers we saw that at least 20 House Sparrows were taking advantage of the food provided by a generous member of the public. How long they’ll have sufficient cover to hide in is the big question as the ‘official’ gardeners are on-site flooring, aka pruning, all the shrubbery for the first time in many years. It looks ferocious but should help thicken them up over the next couple of growing seasons – the garden will look pretty bare and uninviting to wildlife until that happens though. Maybe it’ll attract different wildlife like perhaps a Stonechat, a species we’ve somewhat surprisingly not recorded here; the nearby dunes must be just too tempting for them as they are regularly found there on passage.
Last night there was some weird cloud action at sunset. We had to go outside to check the back gates were fastened securely against the increasing wind as we'd heard something bang out the back. Looking up we saw the most impressive mother-of-pearl coloured clouds well above the normal and all too familiar rain clouds - we've never seen anything quite like it before - time to ignore the gate for a mo and dash back inside for the camera.
Nacreous clouds between 9 to 15 miles up in the stratosphere
This morning we drove under a swarm of Starlings leaving their roost at the pier, very impressive, shame the traffic light weren’t on red and we couldn’t stop to enjoy the spectacle. Arriving at work the Song Thrush was poking about under the front hedge with a Blackbird, the front hedge won’t be so fiercely pruned just trimmed to a bring it back to a neater ‘A’ shape so there should still be somewhere for the Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Robins to nest.
This morning there wasn't much happening on Patch 2 early morning, best was a half decent count of around 175 Oystercatchers, but it was a little better by lunchtime on the rising tide. Flock of four Kittiwakes followed a few minutes later by one on it's own. A Little Gull weaved in and out between the enormous crashing waves in the distance and a quick look along the advancing tide line towards the pier gave us a 1st winter Little Gull with a few Black Headed Gulls picking who knows what off the surface of the water, the Black Heads wading, the Little Gull doing it in their usual dipping flight.
We had a chat to the work's gardeners and discovered to our amazement that the bush they were working on had the Blackbird's nest in it, not just one but about five old ones and one currrent one with cheeping nestlings in it! 
A couple of hours later we met up with BD who is holding an exhibition of his brilliant pics at work this month and next. After discussing the intricacies of our picture hanging doobries we headed over to the seawall to see what we could see. Immediately there was a 1st winter Kittiwake below us, what a great start.
A few other gulls drifted by including this 1st winter Common Gull
After a while a second Kittiwake turned up and for a split second we had them both in the viewfinder but alas they were too quick for us.
From there we went to the pier to watch the Starlings coming in and murmurating above the tide.
Here they come!
Getting close to the action

There were quite a few of them
For the first time we saw a Sparrowhawk taz past us only inches off the tarmac and disappear under the pier. Moments later the Starlings bunched up.

An excellent if rather chilly session in the brisk wind. The late arrivals missed the main murmuration which was a shame as there might have been as many as 50,000 altogether.
Where to next? More Patch 2 gulling tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's seasonally maladjusted in your outback.
Formatting has gone haywire again - doh! Sorry