Thursday 28 December 2017

A bit of distant festive whiteness

The Safari has had a family and friend filled festive holiday and hopes you have too. On Boxing Day we had a wander up the prom with Wifey and Monty. It wasn't a bad day with little wind and some sunshine so everyone and his or her uncle was out walking off their excesses from the previous day. We didn't see a great lot of wildlife to to be honest we weren't looking too hard. Away on the top of Bowland's highest peak point, Ward's Stone, the afternoon sun was lighting up a little cap of snow, now if it fell on the fell before midnight that would make it a white Christmas in Lancashire.
The following day we were visiting friends just over the Cumbria birder where a walk to the pub gave us lovely views of the Lake District fells showing their good covering of snow on the higher ground.

In the snow; L>R Bow Fell, Pike o' Stickle, Gimmer Crag, Harrison Stickle, Pavey Ark
We think the 'big one' is Red Screes

This morning's early morning dog walk through up a pleasant surprise when we heard a Raven (P1 #43), only the second time we've had them here in 13 1/2 years. Looking round we saw a Carrion Crow and thought we'd made a mistake but then heard the 'cronk' again and looking round behind us watched two soaring in synchronised flight around the top of the water tower - nice!!! 
Later we met up with CR for a spin round Marton Mere. He'd arrived a little before us and had already seen a nice blotchy leucistic male Blackbird. We stopped in the hide affectionately known as Ice Station Zebra, it wasn't too cold today. There were a few Herring Gulls, plenty of Coot and Wigeon but not a lot else. Looking well to our right to see if we could get a glimpse of any more gulls further down the mere and got a surprise view of a Bittern flying across the water into the far corner.
At the Bird Club hide we again scoured the gulls, more Black Headed Gulls and fewer Herring Gulls here but also good numbers of Teal and more yet Wigeon. Best of the rest was a female Mallard lording it over everyone else being Queen of the Castle on the 'goalpost'. That would come into play later too.
Big full crop there!
We continued the circuit seeing not much more than a few more Teal on the way, the embankment and scrub were very quiet apart from a handful of Robins. No sign or sign of any of the Bullfinches
Round at Heron Hide the light was horrid but we still had to scan the gulls of which there were more Herring Gulls now. One of them raised up and had a flap in front of the 'goalpost' - oh yes the Iceland Gull (190, MMLNR #89, YBC #167) was there and we got pretty good views through the bins despite the rotten light as it took to a vigorous bathe. But by the time we'd lowered our bins and raised the camera it had drifted a little way and in the dreadful light we couldn't find it in the viewfinder so had to resort to taking a 'scattergun' of shots in the hope it would be there and in focus. It was, but it wasn't.
Something unseen flushed the gulls and many of them moved further down the lake but a good few left, unfortunately the Iceland Gull was with that group. 
From the Viewing Platform we counted at least 225 Wigeon and we knew there were more hidden in the reeds at the far end so probably over 250 were on site, a good number for here. C saw a Little Grebe that we missed but that probably didn't make up for him not seeing the Bittern nor the Iceland Gull.
Back at the car a couple of Magpies were in the tree by the hedge too close for the 600mm but we had to snap away as the opportunity was too good to miss before we headed off back to Base Camp for a brew.

Where to next? Might well get back out to Marton Mere again tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's lording up in your outback.

Friday 22 December 2017

Drizzle drizzle and yet more drizzle - it's wet out there

The Safari has had laundry 'drying' on the line for over a week and it's still wetter than when it came out of the machine! To say it's been a bit dreich would be the understatement of the year...and today we had thick fog all day too.
Other than having to walk Monty we've barely been outside except to do bits n bobs of Christmas shopping. We've not seen a great lot of wildlife even the garden at Base Camp has been very quiet probably because the temperatures have been well above 'normal' for mid December this week. We did get a very brief surprise visitor the other day though; wee were sat at our desk in the sitting room half watching daytime drivel on the telly, half flicking through Flickr or some other social media on the laptop and half doing nowt in particular at all when by chance we chanced to look up through the window as a Woodcock (Garden #31) flew past the window and up the garden beneath the two pergolas and away over the back fence - the first sighting for the garden and at about 2pm it should have been roosting deep in cover in some woodland. It must have been flushed by a ?cat? from the little piece of rough scrub affectionately know as the Golden Triangle close to the end of our street.
A couple of days later we had a male Sparrowhawk fly through on the same route but this time landed on the back fence and stayed there for several minutes but not long enough for us to grab the camera as we'd not long since put it away upstairs from its normal within-easy-reach place due to a big family birthday meal and lots of guests arriving imminently.
We managed a very early morning walk round Marton Mere to catch up with LR. It was deadly quiet out there even the Robins weren't singing! We did have a Woodcock fly in front of us in the gloom of the pre-dawn as it went to roost in the scrub close to my old cabin. No sign of the Bullfinches later once it had got light - we use the word loosely! There were a good number of Wigeon and Coot on the mere but most of the other waterfowl were still tucked up in the edge of the reeds and mostly out of sight, seeing three Pochards was good - - can't believe we've ritten that, we've made triple figure counts here in the 90s! 
Drake Wigeon
That early in the morning there were few gulls on the water, there's no overnight roost here, so the chances of bumping into the local Iceland Gull were slim to remote. A quick bunk in to the roadside alongside the waste depot was fruitless too...where does that little blighter lurk when it's not being seen?
As always there were a couple each of Cetti's Warblers and Water Rails calling from the reedbeds.
A pre-planned trip down the motorway to Pennington Flash to hopefully find the increasingly disappearing Willow Tits with CR was rained off. We were hopeful that a couple of Yellow Legged Gulls would be there too if we looked through the gull roost hard enough but it wasn't to be.
A wander out today with Wifey and GB along the prom was taken in thick fog, even though the tide was in you could hardly see the sea. We didn't make it as far as Rossall tower, it wasn't far off but was barely visible through the fog.
Plenty of chat but not a lot to see obviously. A few Skylarks flew down the beach looking a bit lost but it seems the Snow Bunting that is sometimes seen the far side of the tower might have joined another and gone down the coast just beyond Patch 2 to where we photographed them last winter, lets hope they stick around down there as the Year Bird Photo Challenge will be on again in 2018 but maybe with slightly different rules.
Where to next? Not sure if we'll get out until after Christmas now but where-ever you are have a happy solstice and a merry Christmas we hope 2018 is a peaceful one for you and don't forget whatever nonsense the humans get up to the wonder of wildlife is just outside your front door so get out and enjoy it.
In the meantime let us know who's the wettest in your outback.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

No snow at Marton Mere

The Safari had an exciting day last Saturday. It started with a  bang! Well not so much as a bang but a loud call from a large finch-like bird that was loosely associated with a small flock of about half a dozen Greenfinches. We'd had a little bit of a lie in and were a few minutes later than usual taking Monty out on his first walk of the day. We took our normal route but as is now the norm didn't go as far as the field to meet his friends as it's a total quagmire and the amount of doggy pressure it's getting is giving us cause for concern for any overwintering butterfly eggs or caterpillars, how will they survive such trampling? We'll have to wait and see what the populations are like next spring and summer. Anyway that's by-the-by we took our shortened route just to the little field not really noticing much on the way, a Robin sang from a garden, there were a couple of Blackbirds in their usual spots by the shrubbery and a very optimistic Woodpigeon coo-coo-coooo-coo-coo'd in the chilly distance. We not noticed the small flock of finches in the largish Sycamore tree we pass beneath, that is until we looked up to see what had made that call that was so unusual we've never heard the like of before. There, with the half a dozen Greenfinches, was a much larger 'finch'. The Greenfinches circled round and landed back in the top twiggery where they often sit up in the Sycamore tree but the odd one kept going over the rooftops in the direction of the park giving another couple of single calls. So what was this call like? Loud, slurred disyllabic and quite musical. 
We asked the Twitteraty the question as it to what it might be and within minuted renowned birder AM @leicester_llama came back with Pine Grosbeak or something escaped - well we had a listen on Xeno-Canto  and knock us down wiff a feaver we soon found this, the first European recording we listened to and it doesn't half sound reeet like what we'd heard earlier especially the single calls in the middle of the recording - we didn't hear it make any double calls. But was it a Pine Grosbeak or something else??? Unfortunately we weren't able to get out later and have a search for whatever it was so it'll remain a mystery.
The reason we were unable to get out is because we were on our way to Manchester with Wifey. And why were we going to a big city? To see Queen with Adam Lambert of course - again. And as with last time a couple of years ago it was an awesome gig. Monster graphics and lighting effects with of course a good two hours and more of belting rock n roll almost all different tunes from the last tour; well Queen's portfolio has a fair few songs to choose from - only 14 albums!
Photos from Wifey's camera.
Frank the friendly robot
Adam - "I want to ride my tricycle"
Adam Lambert, a runner-up in a USA X-Factor series, was just nine when legend  Freddie Mercury died - he doesn't pretend to be Freddie he's got enough 'camp' ego of his own and to be fair although Freddie appears in some incredible 3D graphics Adam is still the star of the show, cracking voice, great stage presence and wicked sense of humour 21st Century Queen wouldn't exist without him.
A tricky drive back to Base Camp through some serious snow showers and motorway warning signs showing 'Severe Weather Expected Tomorrow Expect Delays' gave us a taste of things to come in the morning.
The morning came and with it cold cold cold but not a flake of snow in sight. With sunshine to good to waste we called CR and arranged a quick trip round Marton Mere. 
The feeding station was busy with a maximum count of 29 Blackbirds feeding on windfall Apples under one tree with a couple of others lurking further the back too. Monty managed to get his lead tangled in LGB's very expensive tripod legs at the Viewing Platform and while we were carefully extracting him we missed a short flight from one of the Bitterns. The water was mostly frozen with a couple of open areas holding good numbers of waterfowl but it was the gulls roosting on the ice we were most interested in. Would the recently returned Iceland Gull be on there?
It wasn't there, we later found it had been and gone about the time we were picking C up.
Before we entered the hide we had to 'tidy up' after Monty and lose the plastic bag - in doing so we missed another Bittern flight this time C managed a 'record' shot. Dohhh only an idiot would have a dog.
There wasn't much else on offer and we soon ran out of time anyway.
So no Bittern pics or Iceland Gulls to add to our Year Bird Challenge tally but we were greeted by this beast as we drew up outside Base Camp.
We were back the following day too. Even colder, still not a snow flake to be seen. But perhaps a wider variety of birds. A flock of nine Black Tailed Godwits flew by. We'd bumped the dial on the camera and knocked the settings to Lordy knows what.
While scanning the gulls two Ravens cronked as they flew seawards. Only the second time we've seen them here. By the time we'd seen them they were past us hence the backside shots.
A last look from the Viewing Platform gave us three Redshanks sat on the ice before flying off to the south.
But better was to come. we had a very brief view of a Bittern and called out to some visiting birders in the nearby hide. We didn't get a reply so went to chat to them and discovered they hadn't seen it. While we were chatting one of them spotted a Fox out on the ice at the far end of the mere. We'd seen probably the same individual dart across the path near the bridge down that end earlier.
Then as we chatted a Bittern flew from where we'd seen it land a few minutes earlier and this time we managed to get a couple of dodgy shots off.
Not perfect but we're happy enough. Better still the second one followed a couple of minutes later.
Time to go; with a big smile on our face!
This morning we had a half hour looking for the Iceland Gull at it's favourite waste disposal depot. There were hundreds of gulls on the roof but mostly out of sight. Our best bet was going to be getting a pics of them as they left the roof en-mass and hope the Iceland Gull could be found on the photo. We might have been better with a wider angle lens as we weren't getting many in the frame. 
A movement down to our right caught our eye, a Dunnock was doing a bit of kerb crawling picking up tiny morsels of ???? as it went. 
Our gull pics weren't brilliant and we didn't strike white gold.
Better luck tomorrow perhaps.
Where to next? Back at the waste depot and/or a brief visit to Marton Mere in amongst Christmas duties.
In the meantime let us know who's got cold feet in your outback.

Friday 8 December 2017

Gee tha's a cold wind

The Safari had a quick shuffy at our spreadsheets and discovered we'd not seen a Woodcock on Patch 1 before the other day making it the fortieth species we've found on the Patch so far this year. Not only that the Ring Necked Parakeet that flew over Base Camp on Wednesday was the 33rd species for the garden this year and the first of its kind ever! it came from the north...but from where??? We've heard one up at Monty's walkies field which is to the north of us, could it be that one and just how many are there around town now; three have been in Stanley Park now, an increase of two in recent days.
Yesterday we joined the Wildlife Trusts Living Seas team for a rather chilly and very blustery two seawatch from the top of Rossall Tower. Storm clouds gathered and the sea tossed and turned but there was a good turn out despite everyone realising there'd be very little chance of seeing any blubber, still there's always a chance of a seabird or two when staring out to sea.
Thankfully that big black cloud missed us, as did all the others!
It was a bit like hard work, but we found a distant flock of Kittiwakes perhaps the same as came right beneath our noses in a tight flock a little later. From our position tucked in behind the wall at the back of the tower we didn't see them until very late and they'd passed by the time we'd grabbed the camera.
Just one out of perhaps 20 - where'd the others go?
Not much else was out there. The new shingle island was almost covered and all we could see roosting on it was a handful of Eiders and a couple of Great Black Backed Gulls. After while a Red Throated Diver flew by but most of the action was right below us on the beach as the tide began to drop. First in was a fly-by of a nice flock of Ringed Plovers followed by a good number of Sanderlings which pattered up and down the beach on twinkling black legs dodging the incoming waves.
From time to time a larger wave would send the closest ones to the water fluttering skywards.
Best find of the session was actually as we were leaving when we spotted a Purple Sandpiper roosting with a few Turnstones.
Once we'd found one we found a second, and then a third and then two more; five! That's a really good count for this stretch of coast and most unexpected.
This morning we had a wander round Marton Mere for a couple of hours with Monty. We came across a couple of female Bullfinches and we were almost able to gget a decent pic of one until the usual plague happened - a couple of unleashed dogs (two of far too many this very chilly morning) miles away from their idiot human ran in front of us and flushed it seconds before we could press the shutter button...sooooo frustrating and infinitely annoying.
Not too much else to be seen, a Goldcrest and perhaps a bit of a cold weather movement with a bit of an influx of Fieldfares and Blackbirds, we heard at least a couple of Redwings too. 
At the platform a flock of tits came by some of which stopped to take a few pecks out of the remaining Apples still hanging from the branches.
The light wasn't good for looking at the water from there, but at least 200 Coots were sat in the middle of the mere.
A bumblebee buzzing past was a complete surprise, although it was sunny it was no more than 4C out there and there are lots of Bluebells popping up under the trees behind the platform.
We will get that Bullfinch pic one day (idiot dog owners permitting) but it won't be this weekend as we're elsewhere.
Where to next? Not sure and there might me this space.
In the meantime let us know who's bitten off more than they can chew in your outback.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Billhooks at the ready

The Safari was able to get a good half hour or so at Lunt Meadows after our family duties at the end of last week. The sun was very bright and we thought the main attraction wouldn't be out n about until long after we'd had to leave. Long time birding chum JG was able to join us and told us of a Red Kite seen locally the previous day, we looked but there was no sign of it today.  Walking the riverbank we could see hundreds of Pink Footed Geese in the arable fields, they weren't too far away and the noise of their conversation was a delight to the ear. We stopped at the viewing screens from where the Short Eared Owls are often seen but word on the street marsh was that we'd just missed one having a quick fly round. 
We waited and waited as long as we could but eventually had to leave and head towards the car park. From our next vantage point five pr more minutes from the previous one we could see two Short Eared Owls flying around - how annoying! And within a few minutes J had counted no fewer than five in the air together! Too far for anything like a proper pic, these few are by far the best we could muster...if'd we stayed put a few minutes longer earlier we'd have been able to fill our boots with full frame pics in glorious low afternoon sunshine. The big question is will we have the opportunity to visit on a similar day later in the year.
Even at this range the views we got in our bins were spectacular, well worth bobbing in for on the way back to Base Camp.
Sunday afternoon we  had a jaunt out with Wifey and Monty to Scorton Nature Trail. It was quiet for birds but it's always a good walk round. There weren't many terrestrial fungi but many of the dead trees hosted huge numbers of fruiting bodies of many species, none of which we know the names of we're ashamed to say.
After all the recent rain the woods were flooded and  looked for all the world like the swamp forest of the south eastern United States.
Like those damp American forests there's plenty of epiphytes growing on the trunks of the larger trees, like this Bracken rooted in the thick layer of moss covering the bark of the living tree.
Detail of the Bracken spores
A possible quarry species had been seen a few times over the weekend and pics on the interweb were very tempting. All we needed was a sunny Monday morning, a sunny morning that didn't materialise leaving us a little frustrated but able to crack on with some jobs around Base Camp. Fortunately the sun came out at lunchtime and off we went 45 minutes down the road to a sewage works.
We pulled up and as soon as we got out of the car we were put on to the bird in question by the group of birders stood along the footpath around the side of the water works. We got a poor and almost inconclusive view in the darkness of the shrubs.  We got Monty out of the car and walked him further round the corner to stretch his legs. And wow just about the first bird we saw in a quickly moving flock of small birds was the Firecrest (189). We got crippling views of it with the bins as it worked its way through some felled stacked shrubs and bushes where it searched for tiny invertebrates. But could we get any pics? By eck it was tricky, never still and almost always hidden or at least half hidden in the twiggery.
Bottoms up - a typical view of the bright yellow feet
Another quality typical view
Darned twigs!
At least you can see its eye
Much happier now!
Argh - motion blur
At last!
Very happy with this one; now if only we had the patience to clone out that annoying twig!
Very pleased to have got a Firecrest (YBC 165) on our Year Bird Challenge as it's a species that wasn't on our radar at all being scarce and unpredictable in Safari-land. Particularly pleased that we didn't have to wait for it as we've heard tales of folk having up to five hours standing along the footpath before it deigned to show itself.
It was associating with a mixed flock of tits and Goldcrests, the latter too were also very hard to get a decent pic of as they moved through the edge of the wood 20 yards the other side of the fence.
Also in the flock was an overwintering Chiffchaff and like the others refused to show itself properly. That is until we were just walking off back to the car when it came out and sat on the pathside vegetation, unfortunately we were at the back of the line and had to stretch our lens round the side of the peeps in front of us. 
We left rather chuffed with our efforts and on the motorway as we drove back it started raining again, how well timed was that!
Today start with a nice bonus. It's still dark when we take Monty out for his early morning walk and when we reached the little field beyond the water tower we flushed a Woodcock from the long and squelchy grass. The grass is still growing even though it's now December. not only is it still growing, Meadow Foxtail, Perennial Rye and Cocksfoot are in flower along with a few Daisies, Dandelions and the odd Creeping Buttercup here and there.
That wasn't the only good find of the morning. Our visit to Marton Mere LNR gave us only our second sighting of the Bittern this year. It flew along the top of the reedbed in front of us and landed on the far edge of a reedy bay where it stood for a couple of minutes looking skyward as they do - superb views in the bins but sadly we weren't able to get a pic of it for our Year Bird Challenge - wrong lens again!
Not a great lot of other birds and we didn't see or hear the Bullfinches; we did get plagued by unleashed dogs just about every time we stopped to look at something...what a right royal pain the ar*e they are there's absolutely no need to exercise an unleashed dog in the nature reserve - it's supposed to be reserved for nature not a dog toilet! It's not as if there's nowhere else locally, only a several acre field and a four mile circular walk use those instead you ignorant feckers!!!
The reason we had the wrong lens for the Bittern was because we had the right lens for getting some pics of the volunteers hedgelaying team who were pushing on now and making some inroads into the first length of hedge.
Still some big stems in the hedge requiring the expertise of M and his chainsaw
Expert hedgelayers will note some elementary mistakes but everyone is a beginner here and many of the stems aren't ideal being old and gnarly and not easy to 'pleach' neatly. Still Hawthorn is a forgiving beast and in a couple of years time all will be thick and green again and hopefully dog-proof in the spring which it isn't at the moment. To be fair it's a project we wanted to get stuck in to when we were in charge here about 15 years ago, it would still have been a little tricky then but a lot less so than now.
A lively few days for the Safari!
Where to next? A day in the garden at Base Camp tomorrow and what's likely to be a cold and windy seawatch atop Rossall Tower with the Living Seas team from the Wildlife Trust on Thursday.
In the meantime let us know who's giving the quality views in the bins in your outback.