Sunday 23 July 2017

Weekend wildlife wander

The Safari has had an enjoyable mooch about across several different sites this weekend. And thankfully the weather has been quiet kind and conducive to wildlife spotting. 
Recently we've been fretting about the loss of the Sneezewort at Monty's favourite walkies site. We were worried that all the tree planting that had been done on the site had shaded it out. Luckily it turns out it's still there and we'd been looking in totally the wrong place, those trees had changed our point of reference. Not only was it still there but there seemed to be more of it than we've seen in the past.
Sneezewort - phone pic
Well that was a relief! It was also a bit of a relief when we were allowed to go out to the nature reserve for a couple of hours with CR and without Monty.
We had three 'B's on our hit list. First was a Blackcap - yes we're still missing this on our Year Bird Challenge. No sight or sound of them on the walk in at all. Our first stop was at the Viewing Platform where we hoped a/the Bittern might be stood out in plain sight - it wasn't but four Herons were. Scanning round the water three Wigeon were a bit of a mid-summer surprise.
At the nest hide Reed Warblers flitted around teasing us as always.  Never giving us a clear view unless they hopped up to the top of the reed stem but when they did that they flitted off the instant the camera was raised towards them.

Still no Blackcaps were seen or heard in the scrub as we walked further down the trail...neither were any Bullfinches although to be fair this would be a corking bird to get a pic of at the reserve. We managed it once - just!  Annoyingly we had a cracking male in our sights once too but it was flushed by a dog on the 'wrong' side of fence a billi-second before we pressed the shutter button - grr grr and double grrr.
CR's sharp eyes picked out a couple of intriguing insects along the track. Some dark shiny black flies revealed bright yellow abdomens with a dark stripe.
Identified later in the day by GB by simply just using Google - now why didn't we do that? Sciara hemerobioides, a Fungus Gnat. Not knowingly recorded in our local area before.
CR also picked out a small micro-moth resting on a Black Knapweed head. This one took a little more persistence to get ID'd...eventually those clever local lepidopterists on Facebook provided an answer - Eucosma sp they weren't able to get it down to species level.
Whilst CR was loking for Common Blue butterflies we spotted a Whitethroat checking out a ripening Blackberry.
I found it - it's mine - now get lost!!!
No butterflies for CR unfortunately, it was a bit overcast and cool to be honest - the forecast was for all day sun.
Back at Base Camp the sun did come out and with Wifey out for the day we were in for the duration looking after Monty so we spent the time in the garden trying to get some pics of the insects that were buzzing around the Oregano plants.
Ersitalis tenax - a fluke the real subject had done a bunk from the flower
Myathropa florea - the 'Batman' hoverfly
Marmalade Hoverfly
Scaeva pyrastri
Great Pied Hoverfly - Volucalla pellucens
Look at those feathery antennae - almost moth-like
This morning we were out earlish with Monty, there was a mist lying over the low ground between us and the high ground of Bowland. Ah Bowland - where in a months time thousands of Red Grouse will be used as target practice and to provide the ridiculously large numbers of surplus Red Grouse the habitat is 'altered' dramatically to suit them and them alone and anything and everything that might prey on them is 'removed' legally or illegally as in the case of the Hen Harrier and other birds of prey. It's time for for things to change in our uplands...please get yourselves along to one of the Hen Harrier Days coming up soon and find out what really happens in our 'lovely' uplands.
Yesterday on Patch 1 we missed a Blackcap by seconds in the gloom under the trees, this morning there was lovely sunshine but no sign of any Blackcaps. Bizarrely there was a Moorhen poking around on the lawn by the pond, they are usually on the smaller but much more densely vegetated top pond.
A wander round the fields with the dog walking crew in the sunshine gave us a glimpse of the male Whitethroat and a soaring male Sparrowhawk and not a lot else.
Later in the morning we set off with Wifey and Monty for a wander in the dunes to the south. Mostly throwing a ball for Monty and supervising his meeting n greeting but we did have the camera with us on the off chance of something interesting. There's always something interesting in the world of wildlife!
Sea Bindweed
Common Centaury
We were hoping for the uncommon Grayling butterfly to put in an appearance. It didn't but yesterday's missing Common Blues were on the wing today.
As were several Gatekeepers.
Butterflies we would expect and we saw a few Burnet moths flying around but perhaps the most unusual find of the trip was this Smoky Wainscot moth - what was that doing out during the day - other than nectaring on Yarrow of course.
And so ended a pretty good wildlife filled weekend.
Where to next? Next weekend is National Whale and Dolphin Watch and we have a full programme of watches lined up for you to join.
In the meantime let us know who's put past their bedtime in your outback.

Friday 21 July 2017

All change down in the fields by the brook

The Safari had a family day out with brother P and niece M who were over from Italy on a short break back home. A few years ago they took us on a very pleasant walk around the Karst limestone area just east of their home in Trieste so it was time to return the favour...but where to go?
We decided to take them to the new nature reserve that was fields of carrots, spuds, cabbages and cereals when P was a lad before he set off on his international wanderings. 
He is also one of the members of the Year Bird Challenge but hasn't added too many species yet despite visits to the Confluence of the Niles at Khartoum and Etosha National Park in Namibia. He gets to exotic locations but probably doesn't have much time to devote to sight-seeing or bird photography. With him not being in Britain so far this year we thought we give him a chance to add to his tally...and of course we might too and had a couple of targets in mind.
Before we met up we stopped off at a big wetland reserve on the way. Only a small part of it is dog friendly so we were restricted having Monty with us. The areas of the reserve we could access were pretty quiet with just large numbers of moulting Mallards, Coots flitting Sand Martins  and a few Lapwings on show, and none of them really close enough for a decent pic. There was no sign of the 'famous' car park Kestrel that shows down to a few inches at times.
One of the best conservation developments in recent times has been the use of grazing animals to help create the right conditions for other species by breaking up areas of continuous sward in to a more mixed habitat. At this reserve they use a small herd of Longhorn cattle.
They don't quite have full access all over the reserve but are able to get down to the lakeside to drink, bathe, chill out if the so desire. It's standing ankle deep in Crassula, the invasive New Zealand Pygmyweed which unfortunately blankets all the lakes' margins. It's a pity the cattle don't eat it as there's plenty for them to go at.
From the raised viewpoint we saw a new structure out in the water. A gravel raft for Common Terns to nest on. Within a few minutes a tern arrived a sat up on a corner post. We watched while it had a good preen but couldn't see if there was another bird or any chicks inside.
 A scan of the far bank revealed a small pale wader scurrying around at the water's edge. Could this be one of our target species? We couldn't really tell  as it was too far away through our new Super-Swazza bins so we fired off a few hopeful shots.
Can you see it?
Zooming in we saw it was 'just' a Ringed Plover, not the hoped for Little Ringed Plover.
Time to go and meet up with the family...
The day was warm, humid but with enough breeze to thankfully keep the vicious bloodsucking  Cleggs grounded. There were other insects on the wing in the form of butterflies which P monitors back home and was telling us that so far this year he's recorded 49 species on his 1km transect - compare that to the total British list of just 50 species! He was surprised to see the most common butterfly here today was the Gatekeeper, a species we never would have guessed would colonise the area when we were nippers out on our bikes round the former fields.
At the first screen he added several species to his Year Bird Challenge tally, 'simple' stuff like Lesser Black Backed Gull, Lapwing and Canada Goose. We picked up a wader behind the Lapwings which we embarrassingly called as a Ruff until we got a better view ad decided it was actually a Greenshank (165, YBC #142) - Ouch!!!
Following the trail rpund we saw more Gatekeepers, a Red Admiral some Meadow Browns and found P a rather well hidden Snipe.
A Little Grebe fished in the small pool as a few dragonflies zipped about.
Climbing the flood bank to view the river the dyke by the pumphouse had a lovely Banded Demoiselle which we couldn't get a pic of as our big lens wouldn't fit through the mesh of the fence. Once again this was an unheard of species from our youth in these parts, the ditches and rivers were so polluted they were just about lifeless, now there were more Banded Demoiselles, other small damselflies, Broad Bodied Chaser dragonflies patrolling, water weeds, even Mallards cruising up and down. All these would have probably been dissolved in the foul smelling chemistry set this river used to be!
Now Sedge Warblers song-flighted, Lapwings panicked, a Peregrine flew overhead, a Kestrel hovered, butterflies flitted - all in all a rural idyll and a wildlife haven where not too long ago there was very little wildlife to be found.
Back-lit Meadow Brown
As a thunder cloud darkened menacingly and grew larger and closer it was time to go.
Yet another great day on safari and some excellent Monty wrangling from young M who's not used to walking dogs.
Where to next? No sure yet but no doubt we'll come across some wildlife somewhere to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know who's sitting on the posts in your outback.

PS...apologies to Led Zeppelin for the slight lyric change

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Summertime bird lull

The Safari has been up to the nature field with Wifey and Monty in the evenings. By that time of the day most of the enormous numbers of butterflies have gone ot roost even Monty and his pals charging through the grass only manage to disturb small numbers of Small Skippers and Meadow Browns. The birds too are mostly inconspicuous except for the gulls flying over, the Woodpigeons flying about and the House Sparrows roosting noisily in the big Blackthorn thicket.
There's ususally something to point the camera at though.
And if you like beetles there must be trillions of these Red Soldier Beetles.
Ass the evening draws on small numbers of Swifts congregate loosely overhead catching the last of the rising insects. They are usually too high for the 300mm though.
Monty likes a game of rough n tumble with his doggy friends and if there's no-one about his ball will have to do.

A sunny Sunday afternoon in the garden was reallly too quiet for insects, hardly a hoverfly to be seen - where are they all??? At CR's just over the road apparently he's had Wool Carder Bees and Hummingbird Hawk Moths in recent days. We've really struggled to find subjects to point the camera at although there's always a few Lucilia Greenbottles around the bins which gave us a chance to experiment with the extension tubes.
Other than those we almost had to resort to arty pics of the flowers!
At last we found a hoverfly but it was the only one we saw all afternoon apart from a tiny black one that was being buffeted around in the wind too much for any chance of a pic.
While trying to get pics of the hoverfly a small bee was seen among its larger Red Tailed Bumble Bee brethren. Some kind of solitary bee, possibly Halictus rubicundus again.
Then 'Catch of the day' arrived. A bright yellow 'wasp' flew past and landed. Unfortunately it landed in deep shade and the camera was set up for sunny flower tops. We managed one dodgy shot and a couple of totally useless ones as it disappeared down a gap in the timbers around the pond with its prey. One of the Ectemnius species of wasps - but which one? Is that why there's no hoverflies???
It's always good to see the little flies that dance on the Water Lily leaves in the pond. They are Poecilobothrus nobilitatus.
Psyching itself up
Stretch and ready....
Going for it!
Trying to chase off a rival - the females don't have the white tips to the wings
On Monday we were office-bound but parking the car by a demolition site the rough grassy mound held an interesting variety of wildflowers and a couple of Meadow Brown butterflies, some solitary bees as well as the chirping calls of numerous grasshoppers, a great way to start a day sat in front of the 'puter.
Yesterday early morning saw us scoping Patch 2 with LGB for half an hour. We found our first Golden Plover (P2 #53) of the autumn but missed the Kestrel half a mile or or more out to sea. Otherwise it was quiet out there with just a few Sandwich Terns going back and forth seemingly struggling to find any fish although one did catch a decent sized Sand Eel right in front of us. Thinking we'd improve our Year Bird Challenge pic of a Sandwich Tern we got the camera out and they promptly disappeared leaving us the first returning Common Gull of the autumn to photograph badly instead.
Later in the morning we played host to the local nursery kids and took them down on the beach to see what they could find. We didn't have long with them but long enough to get a few prize specimens in the bucket for them to have a look at.
At lunchtime we were joined by DW from a local beach care group and together we had a bit of a beachcomb collecting some more specimens for the afternoon's children.
All good stuff!
In the evening we had a group Rainbows visit the pond who found all the ususal stuff and then pulled out a dragonfly in real trouble. A strong wind had blown up in the afternoon and this poor creature must have been blown into the water while it was drying its wings. Duly rescued we put it in the last of the sunshine to dry out and then moved it to a sheltered spot where he morning sun would warm it -provided it didn't get blown away in the overnight gales.
Where to next? A day off work and a trip to the Southside on family duties but with the opportunity to do get some pics for our Year Bird Challenge.
In the meantime let us know who's on the way back in your outback.