Sunday, 28 January 2018

Twitching in the sunshine

The Safari joined the North Blackpool Pond Trail volunteers on Thursday morning to assist in a bit of pond clearance at one of the top ponds along the trail, so good for its aquatic life it's listed by the Freshwater Habitats Trust as one of their Flagship Ponds.
It is having a bit of trouble with Willow bushes and Reedmace becoming dominant and excluding the open water species the pond was identified as being important for so several days of work parties have been arranged to knock back the vegetation succession to provide more open water so the scarcer species can thrive again. We did a little bit of branch dragging to keep the dead-hedge (built to protect one side of the pond from unnecessary access) team supplied and took a few pics. Unfortunately we had to leave before lunch so you're only seeing half the work that was done...we'll have to nip back this coming week to get some 'after' pics.
Into the wet Willow thicket
The first layer of the dead-hedge
Out comes the Typha
The dead-hedge is coming along nicely
The Willow is being reduced too
More to do but now there's lots of open water
Many hands making light work of the Typha side of the pond too as brew time approaches
The following day we'd arranged to have a further flung safari with CR and as luck would have it we got the easily the best day of the week for the weather, wall to wall sunshine and no was even quite warm for late January - no hat or gloves needed! There's been a few scarce local birds in the Lancaster area recently so we decided to head for those before going on up to Leighton Moss especially as the light would be best for them earlier in the morning. 
The Black Throated Diver was our first stop and an easy find. We drew up by an old fella laying the roadside hedge, we could have joined him rather than twitch the diver as not half an hour earlier we'd taken our axes out of the car! He asked if the bird was still there an a very quick scan with the bins revealed it was if a little distant half way across the reservoir and in the shade of the bankside wood.
It was swimming into the better lit part of the res but was diving regularly not surfacing for long so we got lots of shots like this. (96, PYLC #66)
But eventually got some dodgy pics of it swimming around.

This isn't a species we see often, our previous one was off Patch 2 at Starr Gate way back in 2013 and certainly wasn't giving views like this one.
Next up was the Chough at Heysham so the sat -nav was set and almost at our destination we should have ignored it and taken the direct route for some reason it didn't want us to go on but took us on a loop round the back of town which took us past one of the areas it had been seen so we stopped for a quick look but saw too many dogwalkers so moved on quickly. We should have looked longer and harder as this appeared on the Heysham Obs blog later "Pale-bellied Brent Goose - on the shore off the childrens play area, viewable from Knowlys road vantage point" - precisely where we had parked the car- - dohhhhh!!!! - Isn't hindsight is a wonderful thing
A check of the blog showed the Chough had favoured the other end of Half Moon Bay in the last couple of days which was our intended destination anyway so off we went again ignoring the sat-nav's directions. Again there were dogwalkers everywhere so we weren't too hopeful but it was a good day for a wander so off we went and after scanning the cliffs and having no joy looking in the sheep fields spotted two blokes down on the cliff edge with cameras - bingo - - if you want to find the bird look for the birders! Not ten yards beyond them was a black shape poking around on the cliff edge across a little gully and then we saw the red legs and bill, Chough hits the year list at #97 but could we get a pic for our Photo Year List Challenge?
Cautiously we approached  the two lads especially the last 20 yards or so but to no avail either we or something else spooked the bird and it flew past us back the way we'd come from calling loudly. We swung the camera round pressed the shutter button and fired a few shots off hoping for the best. (PYLC #67)
Not good but there was another couple of birders behind us who saw where it may have landed so we retraced our steps. It wasn't in the sheep field nor could we find it on the cliffs although the light looking at the cliff edge was absolutely dire. But we had a little luck when the two lads who were watching it earlier relocated it in the dog walking field of all places.
It was pushed from pillar to post by passing dog walkers but fortunately didn't seem to want to leave the good feeding it was getting in the field didn't go to far except for once when it went along the cliff face but turned and came straight back.
When flying past us it was often too close for the camera, the action was that quick and sudden we didn't get the chance to zoom out a bit!
We stopped to point out a raft of about 500 Eiders on the sea to the other visiting birders and while we did so we noticed C was filling his boots with pics in field next to the car park. Joining him we saw he was only 20 yards away from the bird which was feeding away quite happily so long as we didn't make any sudden movements or try to get any closer. Views even without the bins were awesome!
It even fed in a muddy rut on the dog walking path at one stage - in the few minutes there were no dogs about.
Well choughed as they say!
It was now approaching lunchtime so we decided to move on to Leighton Moss giving the potential of a Glaucous Gull in Heysham harbour a miss aiming straight to the marshes where we heard a Greenshank (98) flying off into the distance before we got to the first hide. The Lapwings were very unsettled often taking flight.
But they looked stunning in the sunshine when they settled in the shallow water.
There wasn't much else on the pool, a few Teal, Wigeon and Pintail and a scattering of Redshank, the only close-ish bird was one of those Redshanks.
A lady in the hide called out a Kingfisher but it left its perch as soon as we got to her side of the hide and lifted the camera 

Don't think we'll be adding this one to our Photo Year Bird Challenge album - not unless it's still the best we have of a Kingfisher come tea time on 31st December

Leighton Moss was busy! Very busy, so busy it took two laps of the car park to get a lucky space as someone was leaving. There's too many retired folk with too much time on their hands and too much money for optics these days!!!!! - Enough said!
We had some seed normally destined for the garden at Base Camp in our pocket and put it out on a favoured tree trunk a waited - didn't have to wait long before the birds started arriving for the free hand out 
Coal Tit
And with them came a Marsh Tit (99, PYLC #68)
Always happy to accept a freebie
The  group of Snipe (100 - can't believe it's taken us this long to find a Snipe!) in the corner weren't for having their pic taken. With little else happening their we moved on to the next hide where a Little Egret flew off but we checked the other egret to find it was actually the much scarcer Great White Egret (101). It didn't fly off with the Little Egret but strayed put and did some serious fishing catching several Sticklebacks. Brilliant to watch but the light made photographing a brilliantly white bird 'challenging'. (PYBC #69)
C mentioned it would be nice to see a Marsh Harrier and lo and behold one appeared as if by magic giving great views but taking most people in the hide by surprise so no-one got any pics. C now had mythical status and was asked to produce all manner of good stuff like Bitterns, Otters and Bearded Tits, sadly none of those would oblige.
At the Causeway hide (formerly the Public hide) we had superb views of the Teal which started doing a bit of displaying in the afternoon sunshine.
Once again the Marsh Harrier put in an appearance but it was nearer Yorkshire than to us! Not the best pics but just about identifiable so OK for the Challenge - in at #70.
A young Mute Swan from last year's brood took exception to an adult that got into its space and off it shot like a rocket
Don't think we've ever noticed an immature chase an adult like this - it's invariably the other way round but chase it did and persistent too covering 10s of yards with it's double-footed paddle until the adult was well away from where it wasn't wanted.
And then time was up...hat a great day out on safari and all the better for being out in the lovely sunshine.
Where to next? We've got some beach and marine wildlife escapades lined up this week.
In the meantime let us know who's getting all flighty in the sunshine in your outback

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Weather still affecting safari-ing

The Safari was undecided where to go on Monday morning with a bit of a wind still blowing but not quite as howling as of late. It was dry for a change too so off to dunes we went but dull so it as bins only, no camera today. It always makes us giggle at the rate Monty flies up the steep loose slope while we're lagging behind puffing and panting slipping our way to the top. He's on the beach before we're half way down the the side. Once on the beach we had a quick scan along the toe of the dunes and any strand lines just to check ho much food/seeds might be available for the Snow Buntings. Today the wind had blown fresh sand over everything at the bottom of the dunes so there'd be no seeds there, time to check the strandlines. Plenty of fresh washed down the rivers/off the marshes/dragged off the lower dunes by the storms vegetation so a good chance of seeds here. Only one thing to do walk the beach from end to end stopping every so often for a through scan. fortunately there were very few dog walkers out and those that were were ell out down by the waters edge so we had little disturbance.  We only had two black and white birds to show for our efforts unfortunately they were a pair of Pied Wagtails and not a pair of Snow Buntings - we wonder where they have disappeared to and will they miraculously reappear???
In the afternoon the sun tried to come out and the wind dropped a little too so we did take the camera out this time. We decided to have a look at the notoriously doggy Fleetwood Nature Park aka dog toilet but at least Monty could have another bit of a run. He'd have a few friends to run with too there were dogs everywhere when we arrived and the grassy areas are like a minefield where lazy owners haven't lifted the sh*t. It's a wonder there's any nature in the nature park but there are a few dog-conditioned ducks, Mallard, Tufted Ducks and Coots (OK not a duck) and bizarrely a tame-ish drake Shoveler. We headed for the edge of the marsh, the tide was coming in so we didn't want to venture far for fear of disappearing down a deep creek. There was a big flock of Linnets too that didn't want to be disturbed.
That was about it though apart from a couple of Magpies hunting for lordy knows what out on the marsh. They were a photo opportunity for our Photo Tear List Challenge being out in a somewhat unusual habitat but they were far to wary out in the open to get anywhere near. 
With no wildlife to point the lens we had to all arty and aimed it at some long derelict ships slowly rotting away where they'd been abandoned many years ago at the far edge of the marsh.
Tuesday was a windy wash out in the morning, we went to the cliffs at the north end of town and got very wet. We went there again is drier but still very windy conditions in the afternoon. The tide was crashing over the wall and gave exciting views of gulls dodging the spray as they flew low along the wall on their way to roost to the south. We decided to take the camera the next day to try to get some action shots and the bins to see if there were any Little Gulls and Kittiwakes to be found blown inshore by the gales.
This morning we went to briefly join the volunteers on the North Blackpool Pond Trail. We'd intended staying longer but had chores to do which curtailed our available time. The walk down to the pond had us passing a singing Coal Tit and Mistle Thrush by the houses and very little at all along the 'countryside' part of our walk. Close to the pond we thought we heard a Snipe but looking up didn't see anything, it may have been disturbed from the pond by the other vols. A Frog was also seen in the pond, the first of the year.
In  the afternoon we did take our bins and camera but the waves weren't as powerful as yesterday, the tide being less high and the wind less strong and the gulls were flying higher in the lighter wind. Although we'd had a chat with JS who we'd seen with his scope further down the prom and he told us he'd had a few Little Gulls but distant we couldn't find any.A couple of Great Black Backed Gulls came past with the multitude of Herring Gulls.
On the way back the sun was shining  righteously on a small flock of Starlings working the grass at the side of the tram track. We fired a few shots off and luckily got a pic of one lifting a leather-jacket out of the grass. We've been waiting for a different pic of a Starling for our challenge and this one we reckoned was different enough from last years so on the list it goes at #65.
Job done - sorted.
Where to next? Back on the North Blackpool Pond Trail in the a different pond.
In the meantime let us know who's riding the wind in your outback.