Thursday 20 December 2018

Well that was unexpected

The Safari had a wander out east with GB the other morning. Before we met him off the tram we took Monty for a quick stretch up the prom where, while he was having a merry old sniff, we spied these two interesting clouds which we guess were hailstone cells but we're no meteorological wizard not by a long chalk.
GB's tram arrived on time and Monty gave him his usual over-exuberant welcome. Once in the car we started chatting and one of the first thing he mentioned were the weird clouds he'd seen from the tram.
Half an hour later we turned in to the car park at the River Brock and very atmospheric it was too. Just before we reached the last turn before the car park gate a Jay flew over the car and a second was already perched in the roadside tree it flew too...still not got them on our Photo Challenge but that seemed like a good omen. A Buzzard also cruised the field possibly what flushed the Jay...not the best place to be a Buzzard hope it stays safe and well away from any gamekeepers.
While we were putting our boots on we could hear a Nuthatch calling from somewhere around the feeders and then a second in the trees behind us.
By the time we were shod a bit of a mist had settled over the river looking all picturesque where the sun was shining through the trees.
Further round in the sunlight we found one shaft picking out an epiphytic fern quite high up on a tree bole.

The woods were livelier with birds than they often are, GB picking put a Goldcrest with a second one a couple of spindly trees further back. A Treecreeper was spotted too. But more was to come; down by the old mill we heard a sort of familiar but very seldom heard monotone rattle, and then a few seconds later there it went again...this time it really did sound like a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling from the tall trees on the other side of the river. WOW!!!! But could we see it up there, sadly not. We've never heard (or seen) one there before but 20 odd years ago there were a few sightings by Bird Club members in the woods a mile or so further up stream. It's a while since we've visited those woods and decided to have a peek today. Blimey the road/track has deteriorated since we were last there and was impassible to the 'normal' car we have now, the old Discovery wouldn't have had any problems - it looks like this...or did several years ago when we filmed it but you don't really get the full impression of how steep the drop to the river and climb out are

It was an interesting reverse out today as we couldn't get down the lane as far as the turning round space. The woods look much as they always did but what they look like to our eyes and what they are really like to the various species that inhabit it now, is it better, worse, same???

Round the corner is Beacon Fell where GB treated us to a coffee while we sat out close to the feeder they have there. It was busy with Blue, Great and Coal Tits with a Robin hanging around and a couple of Chaffinches coming in and out. 
The sun was still out and creating harsh lighting conditions at the feeder where the benches aren't in the best place for photographers but are great for all other folk just sat out on the benches having tea and a bun.
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
A great way to sit and watch and shoot for as long as it takes to drink a cuppa...Time to go and get some pies in! one the way to the pies we were on another single track road when two vans appeared coming the other direction as we reached a tight corner...good job we'd had that bit of reversing practice coming out of the woods earlier.
Pies successfully scoffed we headed back to Fleetwood to take GB home passing the Marine Lake on the way to see if there were any Red Breasted Mergansers on there, GB, Fleetwood born n bred, has never seen them on there and doesn't believe they actually exist! Once again he was right there weren't any; but there were three Goldeneyes close to the roadside, a male, a first winter male and a female. While we were searching for the mythical mergansers a Black Headed Gull with a yellow Darvik ring unfortunately we weren't able to get a read of it as the letters were round the rong side of the leg and then a passer-by came along and it flew off and although we waited a while it dodn't return...shoulda saved some pie crusts!

In other news the big lens is back but we don't know if the workshop has been able to resolve the intermittent problem it was having, they cleaned up all the contacts and tightened up all the screws but it didn't misbehave for them...will it for us tomorrow - hope not and we hope that's the last of the problem too.

Where to next? The Marton Mere Otter has been seen daily so we'll try a wander round there early doors tomorrow...with the big lens.

In the meantime let us know who's rattling away in your outback.

Sunday 16 December 2018

The great Great Grey Shrike dip

The Safari was picked up on a cold and frosty morning by CR and we hit the motorway, or at least we tried to being thwarted by in no particular order heavy traffic, slowcoaches and tractors going miles further than they really ought. A good 20 minutes later than we should have arrived CR pulled up in to the marsh car park at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. We strolled eagerly down the trail full of expectations for the day. We'd not gone far when the first of the days Robins was seen sat on a frosty stem overhanging the path. Unfortunately it didn't stay on the stem but hopped onto the path in front of us - basically it was a mugger waiting for us to throw down some food for the beggar on a cold morning - which C did as he'd brought a bag of goodies for such an occasion and it was grateful for the handout.
Walking down to the hides we passed a couple more Robins but they weren't so full on. The hide was very cold and from the very condensation covered windows we saw that both the pool in front of us and the further one were almost birdless. In front of us only a couple of dozen Wigeon grazed the far bank and as far as we could see all the birds were right at the back of the other pool so we made a quick decision to hightail it down to the main reserve. There we expected the main pools to be mostly frozen so aimed for the Causeway first where we'd heard an Otter had been showing well.
On the way another mugger was lurking in the Ivy.

Robins might be common and confiding but don't ever take them for granted as they are beautiful little birds.
Reaching the Causeway Hide we'd not long sat down and noted a few Lapwings on the small island in front of us when someone called out 'Otter to the far right'. Miles too far away for the 300mm lens but superb views through the scope and then a second was in view a little to the left but even further away. for a while we had both in view through the scope although they totally ignored each other.
Best of the rest was a snoozing Greenshank on the island with the Lapwings.
We hadn't heard of any news of the recent Great Grey Shrike on any social media/bird news platform since the previous Thursday so guessed it had probably gone. however it was sometimes reported as being 'elusive' so we thought it best to have a look for it anyway - just in case.
Wandering down the track to Lower Hide we passed yet more mugging Robins, the regular mugging female Pheasant and this wary male Blackbird who was content for you to throw some seed about rather than dive in to your pockets for it.
Half way along tthe track we came across a flock of Siskins right up in the top of a group of tall Alder trees. They spent all their time in the uppermost twigs and mostly on the far and shady side of the treetops. We hoped they come to our, the sunny, side of the trees but they never did. While waiting for them not to come our way we did spy a Treecreeper working its way up one of the Alder trees and this Coal Tit.
Keeping a careful eye on the field margin hedges as we went eventually arrived at Lower Hide. It was quite busy in there - we can remember the days when hardly a soul ventured that far and you could have the hide all to yourself for most of the day. Anyway one of the birders already there pointed two pairs of Snipe one to the left and one to the right. The right hand birds were in good light but more obscured by intervening vegetation. After a while other birds left and we could reposition ourselves for a clearer view of them.
 Thee warm sun soon had them beginning to stir and move around as it thawed the muddy margins of the pool and eventually four became seven as initially unseen ones rose from their places of concealment.
A couple of Little Egrets flew past, four female Goldeneyes dived in the un-frozen water in the centre of the pool and we misidentified a Marsh Harrier as a Bittern when it rose from the middle of the far reedbed...ops!!!! Mistake rectified when it banked and showed its true colours before landing on the reed edge just like a Bittern might do!
Once we'd had our fill of shuffling Snipe we resumed our quest for the invisible Great Grey Shrike. At the path junction a couple of birders had put out a bit of food on the fence top and attracted a lot of interest from the birds, just about hardest to get a pic of were the very fast in and out Marsh Tits, they really didn't hang around for more than a millisecond. We gave it a good ten minutes to get these pics and enjoy the other species coming and going best of which was another Treecreeper that flicked about on the branches just beyond the food but as expected didn't join the fray.
In and out and then they were gone - by far the 'best' flight shot we got (= fluked)
Turning left to continue our shrike quest we kept scanning the hedgerows and scrub to no avail. This part of the reserve is much less walked by birders and it was noticeable a) how many fewer Robins there were and b) most of the footprints on the track weren't human boot prints but deer slots from the local Red Deer Deer herd.
There was an almost total lack of birds in the field hedges apart from the odd Woodpigeon or two, there was a farmer spraying some particularly pungent slurry in  one of the fields so anything with a sense of smell was going to be long gone! Once we'd retraced our steps back to the Causeway it was evident that the shrike wasn't about and probably hadn't been for some days.
This time we didn't stop at the Causeway Hide, it was pretty full in there, but continued to Lillian's Hide where a small group of Teal feeding on seeds caught in the thin film of meltwater sitting on the ice at the edge of the pool. Having a successful time of it too by the look of the bloated crops on some of them.
Teal are a really resplendent duck especially in late afternoon light
Suddenly they all flushed, we looked round to see this Cormorant coming in to land, we had hoped it was something a little more exciting as we'd seen a couple of Marsh Harriers quartering the reeds on the far side of the reserve.
When they flushed again several minutes later it couldn't have been the Cormorant as that was fishing in the middle of the pool in front of us well away from the ducks. It was indeed one of the Marsh Harriers that had done a circuit of the pool but unfortunately didn't get any closer than this, right on the edge of the range of the 300mm. Absolutely corking views in the bins though.
On the ice below us a movement caught our eye, a Pied Wagtail had dropped in unseen while we were concentrating on the Marsh Harrier.
It certainly lacked the grace and poise of a seasoned ice skater as it slipped and slithered across the slippery surface.
It was then that long time chum SB came in to the hide on his rounds and told us that the Great Grey Shrike had been seen earlier in the morning, not long before we headed out that way by the sound of it but he went on to say it didn't stick around long. maybe it goes somewhere with far fewer people around to record and report it on the Warton Crag opposite the reserve. We suppose that'll have to go down as a dip then!
With that disappointing news, although you can't say we'd had a disappointing day by a long chalk, CR suggested abandoning ship and heading back via Over Wyre to see if we could find an owl or two. We stopped by two of the farmland feeding stations to see a couple of male Pheasants, several Tree Sparrows, three Dunnocks, Robin and a Chaffinch at the first and nothing at all at the second.
Not an owl in sight so far but when we parked up at a hotspot we saw a Barn Owl hunting the field behind a distant hedge as soon as hot out of the car. By the time we walked down the lane to the path that crosses the fields it had gone and the light was going fast too.
Being crepuscular creatures we stuck it out and waited a while. The wind was getting up and gee was it icy, whipping across the low lying fields it felt as though it was trying to amputate our thumbs poking out of their fingerless gloves. But stick it out we did and were rewarded with several more views of the Barn Owl. This time it wasn't hunting just behind the hedge - the same hedge we were secreted in but right away across the far side of the field - how annoying - way too far in the failing light for the 300mm. And it always seemed to be flying away from us, that's the way the wind was coming from so it makes sense it would be flying in to it to get as slow a speed as possible for listening for voles in the grass. A couple of times it landed in the grass and once sat on the top of a lonely hedgerow 'tree' - most of the hedgerows round here are butchered to withing an inch of their lives each autumn/winter. 
The second time it landed a Carrion Crow came up to it and it took off wit ha vole and disappeared in to the nearby barn and that was our cue to leave and warm up in the car. By eck it was cold out there!
By far the best shot we got - still great to see even if our pics were rubbish
Another great day out on safari and big thanks to CR for the driving today.

Where to next? Got a safari up to the edge of the hills coming up next week.

In the meantime let us know who's looking resplendent in our outback

Thursday 13 December 2018

A one day road trip

The Safari picked up CR last Monday and off we went down the motorway towards Bolton. Many years ago we used to do a bit of work out that way at Anglezarke reservoir and up towards Rivington Pike but we'd never heard of the little reservoir just a couple of miles beyond, High Rid. Our reason for going out that way was to twitch the Velvet Scoter that had been hanging round on the res for the past couple of weeks. With news that it was still there on Sunday come Monday morning we felt we just had to have a trip out.
The weather wasn't great with low cloud and a lot of drizzle but on arrival at the reservoir it didn't take long to find the bird - it was only 10 yards out from the bank right in the nearest corner.
Our 194th species for the year and number 177 on our Photo Year List Challenge - not many days left now and the front runners are around 100 species ahead so we'll never catch up but it's all about the taking part and challenging yourself to get better/different/more interesting photos not just the 'winning'...Honest!
Our quarry was feeding in the margins and sailed past us working it's way towards the far end of the res so we tucked ourselves below the crest of the embankment and and tried to get ahead of it. Our plan nearly worked but the bird had other ideas and flew off to the furthest corner, nothing for it but to walk round that way taking in the drizzle and scenery. Also on the lake was a flotilla of Tufted Ducks a few Mallards (aren't there always) and a handful of Goldeneyes. Small numbers of Black Headed and Common Gulls drifted in and out and we picked up a Little Grebe too.
We'd just reached the nearest corner of the res when the scoter decided it was going to fly down to the other end again....dohhh but the exercise is good for you! We retraced our steps and caught up with it as it fished close in along the edge at the top end close to where we'd first seen it. This time we were able to get closer pics by peeking our head over the embankment so as not to flush it seeing as it was so close. If only the 600mm lens wasn't in dock but it was still close enough for the 300mm, shame the light wasn't a bit better.
A good bird to see close up, normally we only see them miles out to sea as a dot in the telescope and even then not that frequently. We also saw it do its little shimmy lift out of the water without stretching its wings as is diagnostic with this species; our much more frequently seen species, Common Scoters stretch their wings out when they do the shimmy thing. We hoped we'd get a pic of it but it only did it once all the time we were there.
Our tummies were now telling us lunchtime was rapidly approaching so it was back to the car for the second leg of the day's safari over to Lunt Meadows just north of Liverpool.
45 minutes later we were chomping our butties in the reserve car park having passed two Jays on the way - a species we still haven't been able to submit to the SD card for the Challenge.
Here we hoped to see a Short Eared Owl or two and possibly some Grey Partridges as on our last visit here without a camera we'd seen several large coveys, the most we've seen in one day for a great many years. However it was the large number of Lapwings constantly taking to the air that caught our attention first. They were up and down all afternoon but we never did get to see what was spooking them - probably nothing!
No sign of any Grey Partridges in the fields as we approached the first pool, where we'd seen most of them last time but a pair of very active Little Egrets caught our eye. There was some argy-bargy going on with one chasing the other hither and thither around the pool. Eventually the action drew close to the screen we were approaching and from there after a cautious approach they gave good views. One, presumably female, just wanted to get on with the job of catching some fish but the other, presumably male was chasing her around something rotten and wouldn't let her settle. We think he was wanting to get amorous but she was having none of it.
Come back and stand still for a minute why don't you
If I have to fly after you one more time!!!
She was still trying to resist his advances over an hour later after we'd moved to the next screen and chatted to a trio of birders who told us a Short Eared Owl had been seen on the far side of the river earlier in the day. With not too much space and not a lot going on at the screen we decided to walk up to then along the river. A good move as it happened. About half way along the embankment heading south a Short Eared Owl picked up form the side of the embankment not far in front of us. Whether it was going to anyway or whether it saw/heard us coming we're not sure but it flew away from us a few yards and then settled on a post. we took a few pics of it in the distance and then edged 10 yards closer took some more pics and had a good bins look before edging another 10 yards closer and repeating the performance. Our next attempt at edging 10 yards closer didn't work, we must have reached its zone of tolerance and it flew off crossing the river, doubling back behind us and dropping down behind the embankment on the far side of the river and out of sight.
Job done though, PYLC number 178.
But we hoped if we hung around another hour or more we'd get closer views as it/they came out to hunt nearer dusk.
In the meantime we waited around the pumphouse area ready to shoot off either north or south along the river embankment should any owls reappear. The supporting cast was good with a lot of Black Tailed Godwits on the Pumphouse Pool with a developing gull roost, about 100 Pink Footed Geese were in a cropped field on the far side of the river, the Lapwings were up and down like  yo-yos and a Cetti's Warbler sang briefly. Not so welcome was the American Mink that swam past us.
Then we spotted in the distance the Short Eared Owl as up and hunting again, back where we first saw it so of we went. It was quartering back and forth along the side of the embankment so we reckoned if we got to a spot just in front of where it was coming too and waited we'd be quids in. And as luck would have it the plan worked.
Again we could have done with a bit better light, an ominously dark black, thick black cloud had settled right in front of the setting sun, and the 600mm. Once again the owl did as it had done before and scarpered across the river not to be seen again. 
We waited and waited for it to come out to no avail but then there was a call of Barn Owl from another birder. It was miles away at the far end of the reserve but in time came closer passing in from the the mew and still under construction hide...don't think it's going to be big enough to fit all the potential owl photographers in.
The Barn Owl did come within range...just - and it as getting darker by the minute.
Great stuff! Always a pleasure to see Barny.
In other news we've had a couple of visits to Marton Mere this week. Somehow we've managed to miss the Otter which has been seen every day. 
A panic by the gulls alerted us to something interesting but we were unsighted under the big tree you're probably not supposed to be under but which could use a bit of screen making out of the living Willows on the water's edge. A Bittern emerged from behind the twigs and branches and flew high above the gulls. We probably got a bit excited and didn't let the camera do its thing but it was a fair way off for the 300 and that has focused on the trees beyond - darned thing!
And it was only seconds before it was hidden behind the trunks of the trees we were hiding under.
Unfortunately we couldn't find anything unusual in the gull flock. The Bittern and then a very loud jet flying just above the low cloud frightened all the duck out in to the open, there were at least 500 Teal, no Green Winged Teal as far as we could tell, and 170 odd Wigeon, a good count for here.
Earlier we'd noticed a big flock of Fieldfares numbering at least 30 flying over Lawson's Field before turning back towards the reserve. We re-found them 'round the back' where we hoped to spot a Long Eared Owl secreted in a former 'usual' place - no such luck this season.
Typical twig ridden view
A better but all to infrequent view - crackers aren't they
A few yards further on this nice Bracket Fungus caught our eye. The Fylde coast is pretty lacking in fungi, there's precious little mature woodland and the prevailing westerlies along the coast prevent spores from inland reaching us and colonising. But there's always an exception and this lovely purple job is one of them - no idea which species it is but it's very gaudy in a subtle sort of way for a Fylde coast.
The Feeding Station has been quite busy, mostly with a sackful of female Pheasants - refugees from - the shooting woods a mile or so away they always seem to find the free food!
On a more serious note it's high time there were some restrictions on the number of Pheasants that gett released, over 40 million of them annually with a total weight of far more than the weight of all the native breeding birds combined and all without some much as a by your leave. And yet there's so many hoops to jump through to re-release a former native that in most circumstances became extinct due to the same huntin shootin fishin types - we're thinking about the recent proposal to bring White Tailed Eagles back to the south coast on the Isle of Wight - bring em on we say, would we go for a look at them in a lowland setting you betcha!!! 
On our second visit there was little food left in the feeders so we snuck in - naughty - and moved the only feeder with some nuts left in it to a branch closer to the windows.
You'd travel a long way to see a Blue Tit if they were rare - little stunners, never take them for granted
Back at the car a speckly looking Carrion Crow was working the verge across the road.
An afternoon wander round Stanley Park with our group of young children in a very chilly and blustery wind gave us this flock of Pink Footed Geese flying over us as we set off.
A chilly afternoon wasn't conducive to seeing a lot of birds but the kids did enjoy seeing the Ring Necked Parakeet popping in and out of its nesting hole - not that it's nesting at this time of year just doing a bit of house keeping. 
In other news the local Bluebells are showing well in the Rock Gardens - WHY??? It's still only early December to crying out loud.
And turning round we saw these red berries, we think they're a plant we'd never heard of until the other day when we were shown a pic of one from Stanley Park, Stinking Iris.
A bit of research suggests they are a native species of damp undergrowth - that figures, so our thought that they might have been planted in the early days of the parks is probably way off the mark. The way to tell is to crush the leaves and sniff then for a hint of roast beef - it doesn't stink at all, another of those wildlife misnomers! And now we have to check we haven't been told about it before at Marton Mere and had forgotten about it.
Where to next? Another safari with CR tomorrow up north.

In the meantime let us know who's