Thursday 30 November 2017

Wither has it wandered we wonder

The Safari had a morning on the North Blackpool Pond Trail yesterday. A conservation event had been organised with the Freshwater Habitats Trust to clear Willow trees that were growing in the pond to create a larger and unshaded area of open water. The pond is one of their 'Flagship Ponds' meaning it's one of the top 10% best ponds in the country. Its location between long-term footy fields and a housing estate probably means that there's never been any nutrient input like manure or fertiliser spread nearby and seeped in making the water too rich. The only inputs are blown leaves and rain!...and the leaves issue is being sorted.
It was a chilly frosty morning and everyone was eager to make a start once the formalities of the health n safety briefing and the tools talk had been completed.
Fortunately we had chain-saw wielding A from the FWT out who made light work of the larger trees which made lots of work  for the 'tidying up' crew of which we were one.
Cold over-the-wellies work!
That looks a bit heavy S
Gone - and it's gonna make a big splash!!!
That looks a bit more manageable
In the good old days you could have a big bonfire to lose all the cut material but not anymore so all the brash has to be dragged well away from the pond and stacked up into neat habitat piles. This was our job as it's just about all our hands will allow these days,
With everybody's heads down concentrating on the job in hand not much wildlife was seen apart from a youngish Frog and a flock of Long Tailed Tits working their way through the ever decreasing twiggery - seems to be a thing this week!
We had to leave for other commitments at lunchtime but looking at the group's Facebook page there was plenty more achieved in the afternoon session.
There's always something to do along the Pond Trail so if you're at a loose end and fancy getting stuck in please get in touch.
In an attempt to get Monty drier and cleaner we took him to the prom late in the afternoon, which unlike almost everywhere else is more or less mud free. He had his usual ball with his ball but unfortunately his good buddy Stanley wasn't able to join him for a mad half hour's romp. He did get to enjoy a bit of a dig and a gorgeous Blackpool sunset though.
Today we were planning taking GB out to Marton Mere for his first visit in ages but an injury to him caused by a domestic appliance (a dangerous thing is a hoover!!!) put paid to that so we went on our own with Monty. We had the big lens with us and no tools today so only stopped to say hello to the volunteers who are still clearing the hedge line prepping it up in readiness for next week's laying session - again if you're at a loose end and fancy meeting a bunch of friendly folk, learning new skills and doing something positive for your environment please get in touch. There's so much going on out there it's impossible to say you're bored; you've got nothing to do!
After saying hello and getting all the negative local bird news (although the tempting Preston Firecrest is still present at the sewage works) we wandered off round the reserve visiting the very quiet Feeding Station first and not stopping long. We didn't stop at Dragonfly Den but kept going to the Bird Club Hide where J was already watching from. He hadn't seen much, most of the waterfowl were tucked tight in to the reeds on the far bank to get out of the bitingly cold wind. 
A Water Rail was seen briefly right under the SE Viewing Platform bit darted in to the reeds far too quickly for any chance of raising the was in deep shade anyway. There was no sign of the Stonechat around the new ponds from the very cold east embankment, if it was that cold here today how cold was it on the East Embankment at Cley in Norfolk??? Brrrrrrrrrrrrr and double brrrrrrrrrrrr we guess.
Earlier we'd had a brief chat to TS who told us he'd seen two female Bullfinches very well in the scrub, it'd be good if they were still there and sitting up all photogenic and all. We scanned the bushes and listened to no avail. A few Blackbirds, calling but unseen Fieldfares, a Dunnock and a Robin were all we could find.
Are you lookin at me?!?!
We also spotted a Grey Squirrel having a doze soaking up the warming rays.

J said he'd seen a few, more than ever before, on this side of the reserve in recent visits and sure enough just round the corner was another enjoying the sunshine, shame the same can't be said for a Long Eared Owl - where are they this year?
We're pretty sure there are actually two tails here - what do you think?
As we were taking this pic we heard the low call of a Bullfinch from somewhere deep in the scrub behind the squirrel. There were calls and calls but no sign...and then one flew - so we followed it. More calling but no can see - arrrghhhh. With no Bullfinch luck we checked a few more previous Long Eared Owl spots again with no luck and left J to go on to the Viewing Platform while we retraced our steps and left the reserve in the NE corner to give Monty a bit of off-lead time.
'Round the back' where we used to watch the Long Eared Owls from we heard the Bullfinch again but again it wasn't possible to see ti deep in the scrub...frustrating! The race is on for someone to ge the first decent pic of one at Marton Mere, now if TS carried a camera we'd all have long since been beaten to it!
Further down the track this Norway Maple stood out from the leafless crown shining like gold in the late morning sunlight.
On the path back to the car we saw LR's favourite gull; a Black Headed Gull that's been patrolling this stretch of track across the field every winter for more winters than we care to remember; is it five, seven, 10, more? 
Year in year out he wanders up and down this stretch of the track, drifting up and overhead if someone comes along to start the march again.
But it all begs the question; where does (s)he spend the summer, on the local salt marshes, Denmark, Czechoslovakia (OK OK we know there's no such place anymore) or even further afield?
Wonder where does he go from here?

We'd forgotten how good Michael Schenker is
It was walking towards an Apple tree with a few remaindf apples on the branches and a good number of windfalls beneath. earlier we'd heard Fieldfare(?) calling from here but would they be there now. There was movement in the lower branches but only three Blackbirds dropped to the ground, no Fieldfares this time.
A bitterly cold morning but a great safari none the less...and our thermal socks, last year's Christmas pressy, worked a treat on their first outing, no cold toes in our wellies!
But even with all that great wildlife the best sighting of the day was watching Monty get to grips (or not) with the first serious ice of his life, if he has come across it before, last January of February he's certainly forgotten about its lack of traction - it was quite amusing in a sort of cruel sort of a way watching him slithering about on it this morning...and he couldn't drink it either!
Where to next? To the Southside on family duties tomorrow but there might be a chance to see something somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who';s marching up and down with monotonous regularity in your outback.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

We like it at the lake

The  Safari saw a Flickr pic from PE the other day after we'd visited Stanley Park lake to have a look at the Scaup, but he hadn't posted Scaup pics but an interesting looking hybrid duck, presumably a male Pochard x Tufted Duck. With a bit of decent weather and hopefully some sunshine we arranged a lift with CR for an afternoon visit. 
There were a lot of Tufted Ducks on the lake but it didn't take long to locate the Scaup, they'd hardly moved since our previous visit a couple of days earlier.
The Gadwall didn't seem to like the Scaup coming too close and regularly acted aggressively towards them
The light was marginally better today but all the Scaup were asleep, a small number of Pochards were having a doze nearby.
It was when we were checking these few Pochards we noticed that the hybrid was with them, and like them was mostly asleep.
We took a good many pics but only these few showed it with its eyes open.
Gulls swimming close by and a Cormorant made everyone wake up and shuffle about, even the Scaup.
The hybrid woke up and had a little swim round too.
It's not often we get a mix of Aythya ducks like this round our way...impressive.
Aythya ducks - Left to right - - female Tufted Duck, 1st W Scaup, the hybrid, male Pochard
After filling our boots with the ducks we had a quick look over the rest of the lake, 30 Cormorants on the far rail and one in the water, no Goldeneyes, a fair few Gadwall and behind us in the woods a punter tempted a Blue Tit down onto his outstretched hand with some tasty morsels but it was too quick for our camera...or our reactions more like. In the distance a Nuthatch called but there was no sight nor nor sound of the Ring Necked Parakeet today.  From there went for a look at the other part of the lake especially to see what was with the gulls on the rail there, when we got there there was hardly a gull to be seen apart from a few Herring Gulls and Black Headed Gulls in the far corner. 
Where the children feed the ducks we had a check of the few Coots' feet to see if we could see any rings bit all the ones we were able to get a look at were blingless today. As you walk up to the rail at the water's edge a hopeful flotilla swims towards you and the waiting vultures (aka Feral Pigeons) swoop down expectantly from the boathouse roof. Among the Coots and Mallards were a few Tufted Ducks, which although shyer than the others still come quite close if you don't move too much or too quickly.
We were in no position to move quickly or move much at all being at severe risk of being goosed by this ferocious scary beast that snuck up behind us.
Yet another quality safari and many thanks to C for the lift and the company.
We got to the nature reserve again this morning and bunked in on the hedgelaying crew, it;s still early days and clearing out was order of the day rather than swinging the axe and laying any 'pleachers'; we have to admit we got a little impatient and snuck one in, right at the 'wrong' end of the hedge. No wildlife was spotted other than a nice flock of Long Tailed Tits working their way through what's left of the twiggery.
Where to next? There's a conservation day at one of the top quality local 'Flagship' ponds tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's snoozing in your outback.

Saturday 25 November 2017

A quick but successful sprint round Marton Mere

The Safari took advantage of a sunny morning yesterday and picked up CR for a swift rush round the nature reserve. We had family duties in the afternoon so were time limited to make sure we got back to Base Camp to make all the necessary preparations. We had a particular target in mind and after the double success of the Scaup and Ring Necked Parakeet at Stanley Park the other day C was 'expecting' to see the Bittern(s?) and Otters, not that he's ever seen the latter here. At the wetland a Water Rail called from one of the pools and a Meadow Pipit got up from the long grass around the northern edge. At the main gate we decided to go round anti-clockwise for a change taking us to the Woodland Watch hide first. Here a Grey Squirrel mooched about with a small number of Chaffinches and a Dunnock. Over to the left two Apple trees had shed their fruit and three Blackbirds were taking advantage of the windfall. C spotted another movement beyond the Blackbirds, a Fieldfare - superb, that's the one we wanted as they've been thin on the ground so far this season. But from our seat at the far end of the hide we couldn't see it as it was down in a little depression. Only one thing to do - move seats to the near end and success, there it was in all its multi-coloured thrushy gorgeousness. At long last we got a much improved pic for our Year Bird Challenge, we'd got it on our tally last March but that one was at distance and in atrocious light, so a closer one even if still in poorish light was much appreciated. A second one appeared but neither stayed long as a passer-by on the footpath behind the hide flushed them deep in to the scrub.
Moving on we didn't stay long at the next hide nut carried on to the Bird Club hide passing a singing Cetti's Warbler and calling Goldcrest on the way. RH was already in the hide but hadn't found anything out of the ordinary. There were a lot of Coot on the water and all of a sudden something got them scuttering across the water towards the far bank. We couldn't see what was causing the commotion, possibly just a Cormorant coming up underneath one of their backsides. The main thing we noticed was that the ginormous reed island that recently appeared had disappeared being broken up and floated off by the previous day's gale force winds and rise in water level from the torrential rain. That meant that we didn't have close views of many of the wildfowl that we'd enjoyed on recent visits and we didn't see many Teal of which one which may be the Green Winged Teal that was apparently reported last weekend. 
Wandering on we left RH to go the opposite way. A few yards later we saw that a large Willow tree that blocked much of the view from the little viewing platform had been removed - good stuff. We had a bit of a slippery look from the platform only to flush a large number of Wigeon, Shoveler and that's where they were all hiding!
At the bridge the water going down the overflow was prodigious as was the flooding in the fields to the east, rarely have we seen them so wet. Wet but fairly devoid of birds as far as we could tell.
Along the reedbed we heard more Cetti's Warblers but through the scrub we had very little. A quick stop at the Heron Hide gave us a lot of glare and not much else, certainly no Bullfinches.
We saw RH coming from the opposite direction approaching the Viewing Platform so we aimed that way too. After a bit of chat our phone went off, JS was calling, we'd not long since noticed him down at the far end by the bridge. "Have you seen the two Otters by the Mute Swans?", "err no we haven't where exactly?, "By the juvenile close in to the reeds", "Oh yes, cheers, nice one!!!" Thanks for that J.
A little far off for a decent pic but they did put on a good show for several minutes, unfortunately our time was up and we had to leave before the show ended. We'll never tire of seeing Otters here.
Diving Otter or floating football?
So no Bittern for us as usual but great that C broke his Marton Mere Otter duck.
Where to next? We've got a couple of visits back to the nature reserve lined up next week, one of them will be helping the volunteers out with a bit of hedgelaying which should be fun even if we will mostly only be standing and pointing cos of our bad hands. No flailing an axe around for us!
In the meantime let us know who's breaking up and sailing away in your outback.

Monday 20 November 2017

Over to t'other coast

The Safari has had a few days away across on the east coast. Lots of sightseeing along the Cleveland coast and in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park (aka North Yorkshire Moors dead zone - there's almost no wildlife at all!) but not a lot of time for wildlifing.
We went to the picturesque Yorkshire harbour town of Whitby via Brough and Barnard Castle, where the castle is impressive looming large and austere above you as you drive across the river. As ever we did a Buzzards v Kestrels count during the journey, a not very productive Buzzards 2; Kestrels 0. Dead things were also recorded apart from the horrendous number of Pheasants, more of the 40,000,000 released in the autumn must get hit by cars than by the flying lead they are bred for, the only other thing we could identify was a drake Mallard
Along the motorway we had a Jay carrying an acorn fly over us then a few miles further on two more together. Close to the tiny village of Ravenstone we passed a Red Grouse sat atop a roadside bush. In the distance a couple of large plumes of smoke rose from Heather fires burning on the fells of the Yorkshire Dales National Park lit by the grouse blasting fraternity. 
Our first full day was in town where we met up with our Extreme Photographer who is working there now. The harbour area was lacking in trawlers so there were very few gulls in town and none of the hoped for Iceland or Glaucous Gulls
Most towns have a large population of Feral Pigeons but here they are replaced by multitudes of Turnstones running round between peoples' feet picking up various dropped bits n pieces.
Not much else in or around the harbour but we did watch a Cormorant catch a fish in the dock and others were sat drying their wings on the outer breakwaters and there was a shy Rock Pipit flitting around. We stayed in a modern development close to the river right beneath the impressive disused railway viaduct just out of town.
It's 120 feet from the water to the track (or at least where the track used to be)
How many bricks??? It took just two years to build
Top quality Victorian detail - was it really necessary to be so intricate?
No piece about Whitby is complete without a mention of the ancient Abbey, so here it is as seen from the deck of the viaduct complete with 'shanty town' of the allotments just beneath it - bet they don't often get a mention in the same breath as the abbey!
In the afternoon we took Monty for a wander on the nearby beach at Sandsend. The tide was just on the ebb. He lost his ball in the surf and we got our wellies full of water trying to find it for him. The surf not only took his ball but also provided decent conditions for some of the local surfers. Hardy folk, we can confirm the water wasn't particularly warm and a thick November mist rolled in.
Looking the other way towards the village the light coming through the clouds was dramatically catching the breaking waves.
Back at Temporary Base Camp in the evening a Tawny Owl was 'kewicking' nearby, our Extreme Photographer heard two bickering a little later.
Wednesday had us watching a pair of Bullfinches down the old railway line early morning with Monty. There were signs of Badgers all over the place and Monty's nose was all over the place too trying to work out what they are, what they were doing and where they were going...He's never met a real live Badger yet.
The ex-track side bushes held a good number of Redwings and Blackbirds but where are all the Fieldfares?
The day was spent sightseeing up the coast. We got as far as Saltburn stopping at the very steep Staithes on the way.
Like Whitby it was a little disappointing to see very few boats in the harbours. They must only park them there for the summer tourists.
The rocky shores around he outer harbour held Rock Pipits and Jackdaws but there was a surprise at the top car park in the form of a couple of Tree Sparrows in the House Sparrow flock.
From Staithes we headed down to Runswick Bay. Here Redshank and Oystercatchers roosting on the far beach inaccessible to humans and their mutts while to tide was still up to the rocks. The gaps between the big sea defence rocks were home to Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks.
As we were leaving we had a special moment as two Roe Deer ambled across the road in front of the car, good job it's a steep slow climb out of the village. A Sparrowhawk was seen by our Extreme Photographer perched on a road sign as we sped by on our way south.
Back at Sandsend a Stonechat was spotted on a clump of roadside Brambles close to where we'd parked up the previous day.
The Tawny Owl was in the garden again at dusk.
Dead things seen on the road today included a Brown Hare and a Hedgehog.
Thursday saw us head inland driving through forests, over moors and trekking to waterfalls. Our first stop in the Dalby Forest only gave us a Wren and a Coal Tit, almost totally devoid of birdlife. The trackside Birch trees were covered in Witches Broom some of which were covered with mosses and in some cases Wood Sorrel too.
At the visitor centre we hoped there's be a bird feeding station but in this instance there wasn't, so no chance of any Siskin pics for our Year Bird Challenge although we could hear some in the trees not too far away, no Crossbills though. A Jay, Robins and a few Blackbirds were all that were in the area.
Over the desolate moors there was no sign of life apart from a couple of Red Grouse always far too far away for any chance of a pic.
Trees will grow on the moors as can be seen from the young Birch growing safely on the road side of the fence. It's got no chance on the other side as it gets burned to 'promote' the growth of Heather and destroy almost everything else. Obviously no raptors as they've all been done in by those lovely grouse shooters. Please sign this latest petition to have this out-dated Victorian 'tradition' banned and the upland environment improved for all. There should be a mossy, lichen encrusted woodland up there not mile upon mile of flat nothingness.
Once off the derelict moorland we were in verdant woodland, or as verdant as late autumn allows on the hunt for waterfalls. First up was the scramble over small car sized boulders to Mallyan Spout close to the village of Goathland, the real 'Adensfield' in the long running TV show Heartbeat.
A mush easier walk in but a trickier drive to was Falling Foss not far from Whitby. Apparently a well kept local secret as chat in the pub that evening revealed that it's a 'locals place; that the tourists don't know about. Perhaps more tourists should thoroughly peruse the Ordnance Survey maps often left in their digs. A really serene little find and a beautiful woodland walk.
Once again the tawny Owl was calling back at Base Camp at dusk.
Friday was our drive home day. It dawned frosty with a lovely but chilly sunrise.

The old railway line gave us our best views of the Bullfinches of the week and a Sparrowhawk. Monty was very interested in the two Grey Squirrels he spied running across the horse paddocks. We have to say the Bullfinches have been the best birds of the week, great to see them every day!
Before leaving Whitby we drove up to the James Cook monument. Can't believe he left the tiny speck of the remote Pacific island of Tahiti only to bump into some land not on his map...Australia!!!
Great to see a gull on his head - wonder what seabirds he saw on his voyages and how many - and more worryingly how many he ate!
Whitby was a whaling town almost 3000 being brought in to be chopped up and boiled down. Again we wonder what species, is that why there's no coastal Orcas in the North Sea and very few Humpbacks? We've not looked to see if there's any species records. These are a replacement set donated from Barrow, Alaska, so possibly Bowhead? They are 20 feet high.
The whale jaw bones
We took the scenic route back to the west coast via Pickering, thirsk, Ripon, Harrogate, Skipton and Clitheroe. Another almost raptor free route Buzzards 0; Kestrels 1. The Kestrel was on the flat land beyond the escarpment from the White Horse near Thirsk.
Dead things on this route included:- 
Pheasants - gazzillions
Badger 1
Barn Owl 1
Fox 1

Good to be back at Permanent Base Camp from where our first Safari was out to the nature reserve. A Little Egret (MMLNR #88) was the best sighting.
Today we were able to grab an hour out between the drizzly showers. Off to the big park we went with CR in search of the Scaup that have been there a few days.
Success, they hadn't done an overnight flit!!!
Scaup (187; YBC #163) was on the possible but not definite list of birds we thought we'd get pics of during the year.
Also there has been a Ring Necked Parakeet knocking around for a few weeks and we were lucky enough for it to show for us.
Another not definite to get although there is a small breeding colony, that seems to be declining, nearby. Good to get old Polly on the Year Bird Challenge; Ring Necked Parakeet (188; YBC #164).
We 'need' one more to reach our predicted target from earlier in the year. Over in Yorkshire we hoped to get Siskin, Crossbill, Red Grouse and Shag but no such luck.
Where to next? back to Marton Mere nature reserve in the morning - but will the Bittern(s?) show for us???
In the meantime let us know who's bright green in your outback.