Sunday, 29 January 2017

Wading around in the downpours

The Safari was on family duties on the South-side yesterday. The drive over was awful with horrendous heavy rain showers but by the time we got to the beach car park there were tiny patches of blue sky to be seen. 
We wandered down the track towards the receding tide which was allowing the first waders to land for their post-roost 'breakfast'. The front runners were a small flock of Dunlin (77). 
The light was really weird as the tide receded further and the wind turbines a couple of miles offshore disappeared into one of the blackest clouds we've ever seen. We reckoned we had long enough to take a few snaps of some Bar Tailed Godwits (78) that had come in and frightened off the Dunlins.
With the first spots of rain we ran with Monty back to the car and got in before the heavens opened. As we were running we saw the pigeons and gulls go up of the Coastguards building, then a Peregrine tazzed past us, another one wanting to dodge the advancing rain. 
The rainstorm lasted about half an hour and once it was over the light was still quiet weird.
By now the tide was quite well down and the birds further away. Although some of them were a lot bigger than the Dunlins we saw earlier. One of the reasons the birds were further away was this numbnut who flushed them all by walking right along the water's edge oblivious to the flushing birds in front of him. Thankfully a large runnel prevented him reaching the best feeding area where there were several Curlews, a lot of Bar Tailed Godwits and some Ringed Plovers along with Dunlin and Grey Plovers.
Others were much nearer not needing the deep wet mud near the water's edge, there were lots of Grey Plovers (79) higher up the beach and in range of the lens.
Time was up and our family duties beckoned but we did see some too distant to photograph Knot (80) now far out on the tide-line as we walked back to the car. 
One thing is for sure, handling a large, heavy and fairly expensive camera/lens combo in one hand and a 5 1/2 month old eager-beaver meeter-greeter of a puppy in the other isn't easy and disaster could strike at any second.
This morning we did our stint on the Big Garden Birdwatch. It was a bit dire really. We through some bread on the garage roof to attract any passing gulls. Unfortunately a Herring Gull was already passing and his calls attracted another four, they'd made off with all the bread within a second of us starting the hour's countdown. 
A pair of courting Woodpigeons on the pergola were joined by an interloping third. The local pair of Magpies dropped in to snaffle up some sunny seeds we'd scattered on the ground. Also paired up were the two Great Tits that visited once, taking just one sunny seed each. A Robin and a Dunnock completed our meagre list although during a trip to the recycling bin in the yard Goldfinches were heard they didn't show themselves in the garden until far too late in the afternoon.
Taken through dirty double glazed kitchen window at high ISO
Before the Goldfinches we'd been out again with the risky camera/puppy combo. This time we went closer to Base Camp and hit Chat Alley. We knew the tide would be up and hoped to find some Purple Sandpipers in the roost. As we approached we saw a couple of birders with a scope set up about a third of the way along the old boating pool. This wasn't good news a it meant the roost was on the back wall and not close to the footpath where it often is. Better news was they'd found a Purple Sandpiper (81) but it was the only one present today, sometimes there are two or three. In the 20 minutes or so we chatted and watched it didn't move a muscle.
Of course it's the arrowed one, it's the odd one out and we did say there was only one of them today.
The Goldfinches brought our total for the Photo Challenge to 57 although the front runners are now nipping past the ton. Good on them!
Where to next? We have some plans afoot for the day ahead and the week ahead.
In the meantime let us know who's hiding at the back in your outback.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Where's the sun?

The Safari has been itching to get out all week. We haven't had much joy since our last blog but have seen a few bits n bobs and added some more species to our Photo Challenge. 
Last weekend we had a family trip to the South-side and stopped off for an hour or so on the way to see if we could find some Red Squirrels. The reserve was heaving with Saturday afternoon escapees from the dreaded shops, which was good to see we suppose but it meant the car park was full to busting and we ended up down by the beach well away from the squirrel-laden trees. We ended up spending all our time in the fixed dunes and long defunct Asparagus fields. These are now grazed by sheep at various times of the year to improve their floral diversity. There were no sheep present but the fence-lines held a few Lesser Black Backed Gulls (67) which we just abut managed to get a pic of in the dreadfully dull conditions.
Here's the Safari and ur little helper trying to get a decent shot of the above gull.
We had hoped to get pics of several more common species that are found there but we just didn't see any of them. A Mistle Thrush (68) sang in the far distance it's tuneful melody brightening up a dull day.
The following day again we were thwarted by dull, dreary, dismal overcast conditions and despite taking Monty to a birdy hotspot failed to find anything more exciting than a distant Blackbird. So yet another 'banker' shot was fired off, we're sure we'll be able to improve on these duff pics as the year goes on. Once back at home we saw news that there was a flock of about 2000 Pink Footed Geese nearby, indeed we had seen a small portion of them on our drive by to Base Camp, with them was a single White Fronted Goose. It was getting dark but we went out anyway. The geese were spread out over several fields and many were obscured behind hedgerows and brows of the slight rises in the fields, we saw plenty of the Pink Feet but couldn't find the White Front. Another 'banker' pic was added to our Photo Challenge.
Monday dawned bright and sunny, the cold red light of dawn shining through the front door's window but by the time we left for work the sun was gone for the rest of the day to be replaced by thick fog for much of the morning.
Similarly on Tuesday morning we saw the sun only too briefly. We had the opportunity to look at some work that's been done in the big park so got there in the chilly first light of dawn. A drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker was the first bird we heard. The sun eased slowly through then over the trees to the east then promptly went behind a cloud for the rest of the day. We hoped it would illuminate the woodland floor but it didn't get anywhere near. The following are the best we could get.
Song Thrush
Long Tailed tits - not often you see them on the ground
Coal Tit - in almost nocturnal conditions 
and sporting an unreadable ring (band for our American readers)
Great Tit
All the while several Grey Squirrels visited the various feeders generous members of the public keep topped up every day.
Behind us on the lake a pair of Gadwall (69) appeared but were in far too much shade to bother pointing the camera at. Across on the island there was a Heron poking around with a stick on one of the nests getting it ready for the forthcoming breeding season. With the light getting worse rather than better we headed off to the other side of the bridges to look at the gulls coming in from their roost for a bathe. You never know a Mediterranean Gull might just be with them - there wasn't. But on the way we passed under a pair of Nuthatches (70) high in the tops of the tall trees.
The rail where the gulls haul out also attracts a few Cormorants. One had the white head of an older bird but hadn't developed the white thigh patches of the breeding plumage.
With the sun gone and not coming back out it was time to head to the office. After lunch we had another site visit to make, this time to the nature reserve in advance of a meeting there. We were also able to join our Extreme Photographer who was up from Pembrokeshire for a few days, he hadn't brought  his camera though being mostly on family duties.
We had a good wander round, can't believe it's well into the third week of January and this was our first visit of the year. Unfortunately the light was still totally duff and drizzle was beginning to fill the air which all meant the camera was left in its bag. Still there were plenty of birds to be found despite an earlier visit from the Police dredging the lake for a potential dead body! This had frightened off most of the waterfowl except the Coots of which we counted at least 300, a good count for here. Before we'd even got the bins out of the car and locked it behind us we'd added Cetti's Warbler (71) to our year list when one its song blasted out from the nearby reedbed.
From the window of the first hide we watched a wisp of eight Snipe (72) fly round through the murk and the ar*e end of a Water Rail (73) disappear into the edge of the reeds below our vantage point. A few Teal were on the scrape but as ever there were no males with a vertical white line. We have seen a couple of Green Winged Teals there over the years and there's often more than one in the county most winters so we're always checking for them...maybe one day!
Gulls came and went, mostly Herring and Black Headed but there was no sign of the local Iceland Gull.
Moving on we ended up at the feeding station for a while, plenty of common birds but nothing out of the ordinary. Best of the bunch were three female Pheasants, for whatever reason we took a few snaps of them with our phone, it was that dark, bear in mind it wasn't much after mid afternoon, that the flash went off.

Continuing round two Woodcocks (74) came out of the scrub to our right as the gloom glowered deeper and a small flock of eight Linnets (75) stopped briefly in the tallest Poplar tree before moving on to their nighttime roost.
Our Extreme Photographer had to go back to his van while we went round to complete the circuit. We stopped for a quick look for the Long Eared Owl but there was no sign. No sign either of the Barn Owl at the big barn. Rumour has it that the Little Owls are still about over there despite being seen so infrequently by the birders in recent years.
We waited for the Starlings to come in off the field where they'd been feeding with at least 60 Fieldfares. Unfortunately they came in in small flocks each of which did no more than a couple of minutes murmurating before they dropped into the reeds to spend the night. About 500 came in all told. Three Cetti's Warblers sang along the embankment and Water Rails squealed in the distance as darkness fell.
We were office-bound on Wednesday and with absolute cruelty the sun shone brightly all day. A quick look over the wall at the dropping tide didn't give us much so we didn't stay long, back on the work's garden there was a Redshank - how bizarre, a real rarity here especially in the middle of the day when there's hordes of dog walkers around and when there was beach showing after the tide.
Buoyed up by our success we did a full round of the garden hoping for more exotica but could only come up with our usual Starling singing away on his usual sign-post.
On the way back to Base Camp we had a quick stop in the park but again the sun was dropping quickly. We managed a few shots to replace the dire grainy shots from the previous morning.
Great Tit
Robin at sunset
and then spotted a Great Crested Grebe (76) cruising towards the bridges, great stuff we were heading back to the car that way and could well intercept it. We did and by now it was very close but was also in the shadow of the bridge.
Great Crested Grebe - Photo Challenge bird #51
...There really is no need to add these duff pics of common species but the Challenge has become sort of addictive.
No news from a bitingly cold, dull and windy day today.
Where to next? We have a cunning plan for tomorrow providing there's a bit of sunshine.
In the meantime let us know who's the grainiest in your outback.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Dull and dreary - well it is January so what do you expect?

The Safari hasn't had the chance to get the camera out much and only odd few minutes worth looking over the wall at the sea. The weather these last couple of days has been wall to wall low cloud and drizzle but we have seen some good stuff. We've had two school groups out pond dipping in our work's pond as part of their year long study of the habitat.
They've done well and found quite a bit more aquatic life than we thought they would given the pond was frozen hard last week. Sadly the very dull conditions haven't let us get the camera out. Perhaps the best bits have been the lack of 3-spined Sticklebacks, which may be the reason for more of the invertebrate finds, and they always like a Bloodworm, especially when it gets chomped by a large Diving Beetle of unknown species. Predation in action - the class loved it!!! The third group comes tomorrow - what will they pull out? Hopefully a lot and there'll be some sunshine so we can show you.
Today a short lunchtime look over the sea wall gave us about 1000 very distant Common Scoters and a Red Throated Diver (65, P2 #19). No chance of any pics in the grim conditions. They were a little closer yesterday but still too far away for an 'identifiable' pic for our Photo Challenge.
They really could be almost anything, maybe even birds!
Later in the afternoon we had an errand to run to take some stamps to the local RSPB centre for their Save the Albatross appeal @AlbyTaskForce on Twitter if you use social media. While there we took the opportunity to have a look at the lake and see if their were any photogenic subjects on offer. Shortly after lunch we got a rare glimpse of the sun but by the time we'd got down to the lake it had well and truly gone back in and the usual drizzle was beginning to be felt in the air.
Not to worry, we had a couple of subjects that were reasonably close. As ever around a lake someone had thrown some bread at the ducks and that had attracted the attention of some of the local Jackdaws and Black Headed Gulls.
A pair of Moorhens were a little more timid, taking their time to suss out if it was safe enough to cross the short stretch of water where the boats are moored up in the summer.
Walking further round towards the island a flock of mostly male Pochards (66) was loafing around doing nothing in particular. In the poor light they were really too far away for any sensible pics but we fired a few shots off anyway...just to increase our Photo Challenge tally, well the pic might be rubbish but they are identifiable.
Where to next? Depending on which weather forecast we look at there just might be a bit of sun, or at least lighter cloud, by lunchtime tomorrow and then of course there's the school kids pond dipping so hopefully we'll have plenty to tell you about.
In the meantime time let us know who's in the mist in your outback.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

A quick dart up the Prom

The Safari wasn't expecting to get out very far today. but slight changes to Wifey's plan meant we were able to have a good few hours out in today's better weather than tomorrow's drizzly rain. It did mean we had to take Monty with us though, his first 'proper' safari - how would he get on; or more importantly how would we get on!?!
We packed him into the boot of the car and headed northwards. At the marine lake we had a particular quarry in mind. To find it we get the pooch out and had a wander along the lakeside path where we soon discovered holding a 5 month old pup and using bins single-handed in a bit of a cold breeze is a bit tricky and not conducive to aiding accurate identifications. We had a good luck for our quarry but to no avail. We did however get a few year birds but had to put Monty back in the car and come out again with the camera; bins and dog was hard enough camera and dog would have been impossible and probably expensive.
At work we watched a Kittiwake (59, P2 #14) battle its way north against the fierce gale yesterday, that could be one of the species we see fairly often throughout the year but end up being unable to get a pic of for our Photo Challenge.
Anyway back to today we soon added Mute Swan (60) to our year list
with a couple of pairs hanging round the lake margins for the inevitable hand-out of copious amount of bread. Much further out were a trio of Goldeneyes (61) , one male and a couple of females, too distant for any proper pics unfortunately.
And two pairs of Red Breasted Mergansers (62) again always way too far out for a proper pic
On the little island we hoped to find one or more Purple Sandpipers roosting over the high tide with about 200 Turnstones and 150 Redshanks but it wasn't to be today; where were they - there were three there yesterday - how annoying! There was another bird for our Photo Challenge though, a Grey Heron.
The smaller lake had a been drained and a bit of a gull roost had formed, mostly Black Headed Gulls but scanning through them hoping for a Mediterranean Gull we soon found a couple of Common Gulls snoozing deeply on the far bank.
After 20 minutes or so locked in the car while we had our photo session Monty needed to stretch hos legs again so we took him up to the Prom where we soon noticed the flood barriers had been fitted. he met loads of new friends and we saw few birds as the tide was almost up to the wall already. Only a couple of hundred Sanderlings roosted on the highest shingle banks. We bumped into some friends we see at work and then CR came along after he too had been unsuccessful with the Purple Sandpipers. We wandered back to the car park with him and then drove back to the lake where we hoped the top of the tide might have pushed the Purple Sands off the last bit of beach and onto the island with the Turnstones, sadly it hadn't. We went our separate ways CR went home and we decided to have a look at the nearby Nature Park aka dog toilet - Monty loved it!
There were dogs everywhere including swimming in the lake but the birds didn't seem that bothered - they must be really used to it! Again we lt Monty have a run round and a play with some new friends before we locked him up and had a few minutes with the camera.
We can't believe it's half way through January and we only saw our first Coot (63) of the year today.
Similarly with Tufted Ducks (64) of which there were several and approachable which they often aren't at many other sites.
There were hundreds of gulls coming off the adjacent landfill site to the pools to bathe before going up on a nearby factory roof to roost, it was a shame we didn't have the time to do them justice we're sure there'd have been a goody or two sooner or later. 
By now it was long past Monty's dinner-time and he wasn't the only one getting a bit peckish so we called it a day. A very enjoyable day out at that with some great birds and doggy fun.
Where to next? Monty is going to meet his cousin Roguey for an afternoon of rough n tumble and we'll take the camera in-case there's something to point it at; the weather doesn't look too promising though.
In the meantime let us know who's playing hide and seek in your outback.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Our birding Photo Challenge creeps on at snail's pace

The Safari saw that the Waxwings were still hanging around some berry laden trees alongside the main road in to town the other day so we had  a quick run up there at lunchtime passing a Rook (55) foraging on a grassy roadside verge on the way.
We spotted them in the tall Poplar trees as soon as we pulled up but the light was awful on a grey dismal drizzly day. Before long they flew down into the berried Whitebeam trees which were much shorter and offered a better angle but before we could get the camera to them a passing pedestrian came by and spooked them making them fly up the road towards town. We waited a good few minutes but they didn't return. Nothing for it as lunchtime quickly ebbed away but to drive back to work the way the Waxwings went and there they were sat up in a tree in a garden about 300 yards up the road.
We threw the car in to the nearby DIY store and jumped out with the camera to try to get a few yards closer.
They came down to one of the two scratty Rowan trees by the side of the car park and we were able to get just one slightly better shot.
Great to get Waxwings (56) on the year list and in the Photo Challenge album.  Lucky too as they haven't been seen in town since that day. While we were chatting to FB, who'd driven up for a quick look at the Waxwings, a Pied Wagtail (57) flew over us.
A quick stop at the waste depot on the way back to the office revealed very few gulls and certainly not the Iceland Gull, more's the pity/
In the afternoon the sun came out and we were able to have a wander on the beach where we got some nice pics of already spotted species for our Photo Challenge.
Redshank and Turnstone
And back on the seawall someone had left a huge pile of left over probably stale crackers but Turnstones will eat almost anything.
Great Black Backed Gull
 There were a few Sanderlings down on the water's edge too.
But perhaps the best thing we found wasn't a bird but a large lump of sea-coal, the biggest we've ever found anywhere ever.
A Carrion Crow on the work's lawn became our 29th species for the Photo Challenge.
All good stuff but sadly nothing added on a very windy day today although a Goldcrest (58) was heard while out with Monty, the Peregrine was on the tower and the Magpie roost in the park is up to at least 100 now.
Where to next? Apparently there's some snow on the way, that might shuffle things round a bit.
In the meantime let us know who's dodging the waves in your outback.