Tuesday 31 October 2017

Stealth rotovating by Hawfinches?

The Safari was able to get out on a couple of longer trips last week. The first was northwards up to Leighton Moss with CR. We arrived on site about half past 9 and went straight to the causeway that runs across the centre of the reserve. There were already a few people waiting at the grit trays where the Bearded Tits come to get grit for their gizzards as they change their summer diet of soft and squidgy insects to the harder and needing grinding up seeds of the Common Reeds they live among. Word on the street was that none had been seen so far that morning, which didn't surprise us as we normally get there far too early and spend ages standing around freezing our ******s off waiting for them appear. Fortunately it wasn't cold today and they did tease us by calling repeatedly both in front and behind us, at least we knew they were awake already!
A movement in the reeds had us all jumping to scopes, bins and cameras but it was 'just' a Robin playing at being a Bearded Tit.
It was ringed and we wondered if it is the same individual we photod several years ago in the same place.
A few yards down the track and in the Willow scrub at the edge a Cetti's Warbler sand loudly as a small party of incoming birders were passing and they were lucky enough to get good views of it, something we've never managed here. Eventually the 'pinging' from the Bearded Tits began to become more frequent and our ears could tell that the group in the reeds in front of us were on the move and heading our way. All eyes were on the trays until a hint of movement was seen on the edge of the reeds a little further back. A female was briefly in view, we wouldn't have long to wait now!
 Minutes later the main event happened.
Aren't they great, but horrendously misnamed, they should be called Moustached Reedlings as patently that's not a beard and they aren't really even closely related to the tit family being more aligned to the babblers. Whatever they are called or should bee called makes no odds, they're simply just stunners
Especially when they come a little bit closer
After filling our boots with  Bearded Tits (YBC #159) we decided to move down to the coastal marshes. Along the rough track to the car park there were two Stonechats hopping about on the tops of the reeds on the other side of the wall, not a bad start to this part of the day!
Looking through the window of the first hide just about the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret (185, YBC #160) but it soon strutted over the embankment and into the ditch on the other side where it was out of sight.
The pool was fairly quiet with just a few Redshank, Teal and Wigeon to be seen. In the distance on the grazing marsh a small number of Curlews wandered about occasionally making their mournful call.
A Little Egret came in to view on our left stalking sticklebacks and/or shrimps in the shallows very close to the bank. It would often stir up the mud with its feet to flush out anything that might be hiding. Eventually it passed in front of us.
And shortly afterwards went back whence it came
We moved on to the second hide and were a little surprised to see the Great White Egret come back from the direction we'd just come from, it must have walked all the way along the dyke right in front of our noses but hidden by the embankment.
It landed in the closest corner of the pool and started to fish giving us superb views
C spotted two birds incoming...a couple of Goosanders (YBC #161).
They had a bit of a swim round on the far side of the small island often putting their heads underwater to look for fish
Coming round to the front of the island one of them had success
But the large lunch was too slippery to wrangle and after a few tries to neck it down the Goosander lost its grip and the fish escaped...but not for long. A lurking Lesser Black Back Gull had been watching the action with interest and swooped in and caught the fish in the shallows and brought it on to the island where it could be handled more easily and stood far less chance of another escape.
And with some serious wriggling it did manage a partial escape
A gull with a fish is a persistent beast and eventually the inevitable happened
Yes it went down whole and sideways!
Our interest was now back on the Great White Egret which had been joined by a pair of squabbling Little Egrets. They were battling back and forth all across the pool but unfortunately we didn't manage to get a pic. In between rounds of fighting they had a little fish and at one point where with the Great White Egret in a scene reminiscent of the Carmargue - apart from the dull grey skies!
An unimaginable birding scene in north Lancashire when we were a nipper - who'd have thunk it!
With a no-show from the Kingfisher and not a lot on the other pool apart from a lot of Lapwings it was time to head back to the main reserve. Water levels in the pools - and along the track - were very high after the recent rains so there wasn't as much activity as we'd hoped, certainly wading birds were in short supply. But a brief view of a Marsh Harrier kept us entertained. Shame it was a bit distant quartering the reeds on the far side of the pool.
The second hide was even quieter with no Red Deer or Purple Herons (what did we say about the Carmargue!) on view. Best was a snoozing Little Grebe. It was good to see grit trays provided for the Bearded Tits at a couple of locations down this end of the reserve, wonder why they hadn't thought of that before - well neither had we and we've been visiting since the early 70s.
From there we went back to the causeway to find that the Bearded Tits hadn't been at the grit trays for some time, the main lake was desperately quiet, the only highlight being a group of Whooper Swans coming overhead.
With the path to the furthest hide being out of bounds due to the high water levels and only being shod in trainers it was back to the feeding station. The gloomy conditions under the trees had us shooting on ISO Ludicrous but there were a few subjects around. The Marsh Tit put in a single brief appearance early on and we missed the Nuthatch every time it was perched on 'natural habitat' rather than the feeder at which it didn't stay long - grab n go!
A last minute decision to climb to the top of the skytower was made before we left after earwigging a conversation about the Red Deer that could be seen from there. Worth the steps up too - there was a small group of hinds attended by a stag lying out in a dry clearing in the reeds well away across the pool - just about photographable and annoyingly 'hiding' behind the only twig for miles!
Our second safari had us meeting up with our Southside chums for a day's birding and fun at the other big localish wetland reserve, the 'other place we do not mention by name'.
If the weather during our trip to Leighton Moss was dull this time it was positively dreary with rain for much of the day and a cold wind blustery wind increasing in strength and decreasing in temperature as the day went on. As a group we had a few target birds especially the Scaup and Pale Bellied Brent Goose that had been seen the previous day. We were happy enough to stay in the first hide for a good while as the heaviest of the day's rain fell almost horizontally across the mere. A lone Ruff broke away from its mates and had a bit of a mooch round right in front of us, at times it was almost too close to focus on!
There was the usual selection of ducks including Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shelduck, a few Tufted Ducks but we could only find three Pochards - how scarce have they become in recent years! - and one of our number struggled to find a Pintail despite there being plenty on show, was she even looking through the window??? We couldn't find the Scaup and desperately tried to string moulting Tufted Ducks into one. Waderwise there were more distant Ruffs, several, Snipe and an out of season Avocet. We couldn't find any Mediterranean Gulls mixed in with the Black Headed Gulls - again there's been one recently.
Moving on to the next hide the main excitement were a couple of Jackdaws hiding in plain sight among a flock of Coot searching for spilled grain from the previous evening's Whooper Swan feeding session.
At the hide with the Kingfisher perch, there were some very nice close views of Teal and Wigeon but not a Kingfisher in sight.
At the mis-named Kingfisher Hide there were no Kingfishers either but we did get good views of the Tree Sparrows on the feeders. It was in this hide that the chat turned to the recent Hawfinch invasion. AB recounted tales of seeing several in the Forest of Dean and others told of their positive and negative experiences of visits to Sizergh Castle. With mention of the Forest of Dean the conversation moved naturally on to Wild Boar and how hard they could be to find there despite being so big. We told of our frustration of seeing the extensive diggings in the gardens and around the swimming pool at our hotel in Sardinia but not actually seeing any of the animals and happened to mention they were like rotovators. AB agreed saying that he'd seen them push their whole face in to the ground. Not keeping up at the back - "Hey? I thought they fed up in the trees' 'What, Wild Boar up trees?' No silly; Hawfinches!!! Don't they feed up in the trees not pushing their beak into the ground - why would they need to do that at Sizergh there's always loads of food just scattered on the ground!!! - and hence Stealth rotovating by Hawfinches. Doh, come on AK do keep up at the back.
During this somewhat bizarre cross-purposed conversation an attempt was made to grill the large flock of Pink Footed Geese for the Pale Bellied Brent Goose but many of them were hidden in the long vegetation and anyway the total goose number was quite low with most of the huge flocks feeding offsite.
There is something about our in-hide conversations that tends to get everyone else to get up and go, lord only knows what they think of us, and we;re not particularly loud or rude or anything like that but it happens so now we've set ourselves a target of no more than five minutes to empty a hide...or the big guns (all hush hush) come out.
The final hide was a cold and winswept affair...don't open the windowwwwssss - too late...brrrrrr. Most of the Teal were seen from here but searching through them several times didn't give us any American Green Winged Teal, there's one most winters but it either hasn't turned up yet or not moulted through enough  to be able to be picked out from the 'normal' ones. At least two different Marsh Harriers cruised back and forth and AB picked up a brief and distant Peregrine tazzing through but star find went to IH and JG for picking up this Kingfisher on the side pool. A long way off but you just have to point the camera at their multi-colouredness don't you. It came and went a few times during the afternoon but this was the only time it settled in view.
The causeway between the two large meres had a dead Whooper Swan which was attracting the attention of a Buzzard and then a Marsh Harrier.
To our left a Pink Footed Goose carcass  was giving a feast to a couple of Carrion Crows until another, paler backed, Marsh Harrier decided to muscle in. We wondered if that in turn would be usurped when a juvenile Great Black Backed Gull showed an interest cruising back and forth overhead several times but eventually it moved on without come down.
Before too much excitement happened we called it a day and on leaving the hide those at the front of the party were lucky to get a brief glimpse of a Merlin before it disappeared behhind the tall trees at the edge of the reserve.
Best, or at least the most entertaining, sighting of the day were the family of Brown Rats at the feeding station. We watched them for ages but it was far too dark down there to even consider lifting the camera.
So two marvelous safaris in one week, some superb wildlife seen, some grotty pics taken and bizarre conversions had.
And no we still haven't seen one of the multitude of Hawfinches - has anyone else failed as well?
Where to next? We've a couple of shorter visits to Marton Mere (very confusing these reserves with almost identical names) to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know how quickly your conversations can empty a hide full of birders.

Sunday 22 October 2017

Geese, geese and more geese

The Safari had a morning at Marton Mere nature reserve with CR. Before we'd set off we'd heard that there was a Stonechat at the wetland on the way in but a short cursory scan didn't reveal it. A quick peek under the refugium inside the reserve didn't reveal any amphibians either.
Down at the Viewing Platform the morning light was pretty aweful for looking through the waterfowl but it didn't stop us firing off a few shots at the mass of Pink Footed Geese over the far fields. The flock was so big that even down at 150mm we coouldn't fit more than a a third of the flock in the frame - we reckoned about 5000 altogether.
 An awesome sight and even from our view point half a mile away an awesome sound!
No Bitterns were found on the edges of the reedbed and no Otters were seen swimming through the tranquil water - again!
With the warm sunshine there were a few Red Admirals on the wing and feeding around an extensive patch of Michaelmas Daisies, close by this Comma caught C's eye.
One of the targets for the visit was recently arrived Redwings and it didn't take long to find a small group as they moved through the scrub eagerly refueling on the Hawthorn berries. Getting a pic was tricky through the foliage and they were flightly not allowing anything like a close approach. But they did give good views with the bins and we got a sort of decent pic for our Year bird Challenge (MMLNR #84, YBC #156).
Down on the embankment we were closer to the throng of geese but they were in the top field and mostly either obscured by the hedge or over the other side of the slight rise so we aren't able to show you anything like the ull extent of the flock. You'll have to believe us whe nwe tell you it was an impressive sight.
The 'volcano' in the distance is Parlick an Ice Age rounded hill at the southern tip of Bowland
With little wind and warm sunshine we took the lower 'pond path' hoping to find some dragonflies enjoying the last of the season's warmth but we were out of luck. Joining the main path again we crossed the bridge where a Grey Wagtail was feeding in the stream.
Moving round to the first hide just before we got there C shouted 'Buzzard' soaring way high over the mere. Still not quite believing how common they are now compared to 25 years ago when they were a distinct rarity we had to have a look and through our bins could see it wasn't a Buzzard but our first Marton Mere Raven (MMLNR #85). It's been a long and frustrating time coming with rreports of them reaching us almost daily the couple of weeks before we went ot Scotland! It was our 188th species we've seen there and what's the betting now we've broken our duck we see them almost every other visit from now on.
At the hide we saw that a large clump of reeds had broken off the main reedbed and drifted down the lake on the wind. It seems to have come to rest on the far side of the old dyke that runs through the bed of the mere. That could become a serious management issue in the near future, unless of course a huge reedbed is what's wanted cos that's what's going to happen, it'll spread across the whole shallow side of the mere eventually joining up with the reeds growing on the side of the scrape which will probably become invisible in due course. Gonna be hard to control!
Another surprise awaited us at the Feeding Station, a Treecreeper (183, MMLNR #86, YBC #157) was on one of the close trees, almost too close to focus on. It was constantly on the move and in the shade, second guessing where it would pop up after it had been round the back was tricky but we fired a few pics off in the hope one would be OK, it sort of was.
So only a morning visit but two new species added to our challenge tally which was pretty cool seeing as that's the same as our week in Scotland where we'd hoped to add seven or eight species!
Later in the week we had family duties and once they were done we had a chance to drop in on the roadside at RSPB Marshide on the Southside for a few minutes. As we arrived a small flock of Golden Plovers flew over the road. More about them in a minute. There were a few birders scoping the marsh so we joined them to be shown a Curlew Sandpiper (184, YBC #158) among the Lapwings.
Really we'd stopped to look for the Long Billed Dowitchers but we were told only one had been present and it had just left with a small flock of Golden Plovers - arrgghh driving we couldn't have a proper look at the flock as it crosssed the road and didin't notice it in there.
Where to next? Storm Brian is rattling the windows and there's reports of good birds off the prom so hopefully there'll be some left for us if we can get out tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's sneaking off with the crowd in your outback.