Saturday, 30 July 2016

National Whale & Dolphin Watch 2016 so far

The Safari has been doing an hour's watch midweek during lunchtime for National Whale and Dolphin Watch but without success. Indeed we've probably had negative success when we recovered another dead baby Harbour Porpoise which is now awaiting a post-mortem. Today we learned of another youngster dead on the beach 'one day last week' which was found on the tide-line to the south of us along the toe of the dunes - what's going on with them? There does seem to be an awful lot washing up. Best of the rest has been daily Grey Seals, two today but always distant and not so easy to get the generally inexperienced at using telescopes volunteers on to them. Eventually everyone got at least a few seconds look at it/them. Thursday morning also provided a decent birding session when at least 20 Sandwich Terns and 10 Common Terns were fishing quite close to the wall. It's a pity it was so dull as they were probably just in range of the lens. Today bird excitement was limited to a brief build up of Gannets at a small bait ball just this side of the horizon to the south west early in the watch. There were never more than 20 and they soon either dispersed or drifted back over the didn't amount to much at all and that was about it bird-wise for the next three and a half hours. Apart from the rather strange sighting of a pair of Common Scoters coming over the road from inland and landing on the sea just behind the surf - never seen that before!
Here's some pics from our trip north of the border to the capital of Bonny Scotland last weekend.
Edinburgh Castle with flaming torches
Late 16th century building skills - engineered onto the solid basalt rock The original 12th C castle was destroyed during a siege in 1570s

We were there to enjoy what may or may not have been Runrig's last UK gig after 43 years on the road. If it was the last it was an absolute cracker to end with and we can say "we were there", if it wasn't we'll have to go back!

Bruce - Canadian from Nova Scotia...New Scotland; so we suppose that's OK then

Here's Wifey's pics of the Greyfriar's Bobby pub we found by accident after the gig. What a dedicated doggy he was.
Oh and on the drive up we saw a real choo-choo train with smoke and all!!! Chooowwooooo. In Lancashire too! Showing our train-spotting 'knowledge' it might have been a Black 5.
After watching no whales or dolphins this morning we took the camera into the garden at Base Camp this arvo but there wasn't really that much to point it at.
A Small White butterfly was fluttering around Wifey's Nasturtiums so we went to have a look for any eggs finding some tiny already hatched caterpillars had started muching holes in the leaves - they'll be defoliated before too long!
Also lurking on the underside of the leaves were a few Blackfly, but with Aphids a few can very soon become very many!
The big one in the middle is exuding a drop of honeydew from its backside
On the upper surface of a nearby leaf an rather nicely marked dipteran fly of a totally unknown species was taking in the afternoon sun during a welcome break in the clouds. It's possibly a parasitic Tachinidae maybe Dexiosoma sp??????
Far easier to identify was this 'Batman' hoverfly, Myathropa florea. It's a whopper and an excellent wasp mimic.
Even easier to ID were the Red Tailed Bumble Bees  on the Thyme flowers. Plenty of Honey Bees on there too.
Where to next? The last throw of the Whale and Dolphin dice tomorrow. This time we're up at the start of Chat Alley - wonder  if there'll be any migrant birds on the cliffs below our watch point.
In the meantime let us know who's playing hard to get in your outback.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Where's the dolphins gone?

The Safari has been out on Patch 2 for the last couple of days doing a lunchtime hour's watch as part of the National Whale and Dolphin Watch. So far we've had plenty of people joining in and several passer's by asking about what can be seen out to sea. But the only blubber we've seen is a single Grey Seal. Yesterday there was a big bait ball of fish which drifted in on the ebbing tide with at least 50 Gannets and many more gulls in attendance, three Kttiwakes were seen too. If there had been any Bottlenose Dolphins in the bay they surely must have been attracted to that commotion so we can fairly confidently say that unfortunately there's none around...YET. Will we see any tomorrow? There's plenty of time to go before the event ends on Sunday.
We did a rough count up of all the Grey Seals in the top end of this side of the Irish Sea and came up with about 1000 depending on how many hang out, haul out on the eastern side of the Isle of Man...that's a fair blob of blubber so why don't we have any mammal eating Orcas resident in the area? Wish we did, getting very jealous of Monika's recent escapades over on San Juan island in Washington state. Maybe we did in the dim and distant past of the 16th or 17th centuries and we humans managed to kill them all.
This morning on the way in to work we stopped off at the nature reserve to watch the Fylde Ringing Group's demonstration which was postponed from last week due to the bad weather. By the time we arrived they'd already started and processed some Reed Warblers. These turned out to be order of the day. Several were brought from the nets in the reedbed to the ringing station where the assembled early risers were shown the methods by which the birds are aged and sexed as well as how all the various measurements are taken, including looking at the pattern of spots inside the birds' mouths. All very fascinating and a superb opportunity to get to see the birds close up and personal!
A couple of Gatekeepers kept us occupied while the ringers were away in the scrub checking the nets.
Back at the office we got a txt saying we'd missed the star bird of the morning, a juvenile Cetti's Warbler proving that they have bred on site again this year. Not only that the Bittern that was spotted earlier in the week was seen again, and again later in the day too, this is likely the earliest 'autumn; bird for the site. We last saw one there on 19th March and we're not sure if it was seen after that by anyone else. Could it have been on site all that time without being seen???
Back at Base Camp the ringed Greenfinch was back again briefly the other evening, we managed to fire of a few shots but the angle was poor and the light worse so we weren't able to get a clear shot of the missing digit. 
Also about are a fair few young Herring Gulls fresh out of the nest and not that brilliant at flying yet. They're landing in all sorts of places we never see the adults.
They get a bit nervous when the can't see ma or da and start calling with that piercing shrill anxious cry they have.
Where to next? More whale and dolphin watching tomorrow lunchtime and we'll probably sneak in an early morning peek too.
In the meantime let us know who's giving ear piercing squeals in your outback.

Monday, 25 July 2016

An afternoon in the big park

The Safari went over to the big park on Friday afternoon hoping to see some predation in action and get a few snaps of it. The main action was likely to happen up at the top end of the lake and to get there we had to walk past the 'rail of gulls'. Almost all were Black Headed Gulls and we couldn't see any wearing a ring, neither BTO type nor Darvik. Among them and standing out like a giant was this Lesser Black Backed Gull.
The Mute Swans and Mallards were as popular as ever with the bread throwing families, especially the cygnets.
We tried a few shots at the many Coots that were mostly ignoring the copious amonts of bread and concentrating on getting a proper meal of water weed. As ever they were pugnacious not letting any others of their species invade their personal space. When not eating they do seem to be in a permanent state of bickering.
Moving down towards the Conservation Area of the lake we stopped to watch a Brown Hawker dragonfly patrolling the bankside. It wouldn't stay still long enough for a pic, unlike the several Common Blue Damselflies that flitted around the overhanging vegetation when the sun came out from behind the clouds.
Even up at this end of the lake, where there is far less bread thrown, there are plenty of Mallards seemingly just loafing around chilling out doing nothing much in particular.
There was a pair of Moorhens too although these were busily on the move looking for whatever their beaks could find.
We'd come to see the Great Crested Grebe family and hopefully see the chick being fed. We found them tucked up by the island about as far from either bank as they could get. Well out of range for the 600mm lens.
We hoped that the male might come closer but for much of our time he too was fishing well out in the middle of the lake. We were patient and just sat and watched him and waited, sure enough after what seemed like an age he came within range.
After a dive he would often appear to be looking into the water directly beneath him. At first we thought he was preening but we never actually saw him touch his feathers so we assume he's looking to see where the fish are before making a dive.
He came very close a little later on.
But only caught a fish for the youngster when annoyingly he was really too far away again and making haste to give it to his hungry chick.
Near enough to be able to identify the fish he's caught as a Perch though.
For better results we'll have to spend much more time here but it was great to see the action even if our pics were pretty rubbish. 
Once junior was fed the family went for a nap under the overhanging branches on the island for a while so we wandered a bit further on. There are some regrowing young Elm trees and we secretly hoped we'd find a White Letter Hairstreak if we could find some nectar rich plants in flower. It's several years ago now but we have seen one in the big park before. We found a likely looking patch of Brambles with a few flowers still open and importantly was in good sunshine just out from the shadow of the tree canopy. We soon saw a butterfly come along, but it was a 'wrong one', a Green Veined White. We didn't mind as we've hardly seen any of this very common species this year.
It went on its merry way once topped up with nectar and so did we although we didn't go far. The next clearing has a fallen tree trunk rough hewn into a bench where a youngish lad was sat very quietly and patiently with a tub of peanuts waiting to see who might want a free handout. Well everyone and his uncle did!
BD had joined us a while back and pointed out a Black Headed Gull sat on the No Fishing sign.
It was only later once we'd gone our separate ways that we noticed the ring was from the famous Helgoland Bird Observatory in Germany.
Because the sign is a few yards out into the lake we weren't able to get the full code but between us managed to photograph enough to read 53510, there's probably another digit 'round the back'. We've reported it to the Obs so we'll let you know if we hear anything back from them.
Another Black Headed Gull was sat nearby on a broken dead branch.
Beyond him was a Heron staring intently in to the water at something obviously interesting.
A little further away under the rail two Red Eared Terrapins were basking on a chunk of driftwood. They were probably dumped as much smaller ones many years ago after the Mutant Ninja Turtles craze came to an end.
Both of them were almost the size of a dinner plate!
With the weather beginning to cool down and a hint of rain was in the air we started to make our way back to the car. We hadn't gone far when we spotted something struggling on the water, a Soldier Beetle. It was trapped by the surface tension and at any moment was likely to become fish food. After a struggle lasting well over five minutes it eventually did manage to completely unfurl its wings and break free flying off to safety before any fish sussed there was an easy meal on offer.
Under the trees we saw a commotion of small birds flitting around a tree trunk which turned out to be two Treecreepers. Was it a territorial dispute, male/female display activity or chasing off a fledged juvenile? It ended with a burst of song from one and the other hopping up the tree.
Not the best pic - heavily cropped and severely processed from camera settings looking out over the open water
Our last bit of news took us a by surprise...We have Walnut fruits this year, found on two trees we didn't know were in the park. We know of another but not near these. BD tried one - they aren't ripe yet - - 'nuff said!
The big question is will they ripen or not and can we get to them before the Grey Squirrels or BD if they do?
All this fantastic wildlife (and much more that we haven't documented) was seen in a just few hundred square yards in one part of the park and still people walked past us heads down staring at a screen trying to find imaginary creatures. Imagine if they spent that much time and energy how many real creatures with amazing super-powers they might find!
And this report from those great lads n lasses at A Focus on Nature is well worth a read to find out what direction the youngsters of today want our wildlife to go in...and it's not more of the downward spiral our generation has forced upon them!
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow, where National Whale and Dolphin Watch has already been successful without us and a quick round up of our Scottish news.
In the meantime let us know who's keeping their distance in your outback.