Saturday 24 February 2018

Here there and everywhere

The Safari could do with a little less time out in the field taking photos and more time sat at the puter processing the 1000s we've not caught up with and writing about them - err no actually we're quite happy to be out n about on safari in all weathers!
However we have been busy out in the fields this week.
We went back Over Wyre with CR for another try for the Turtle Dove and after a short wait we found it when a flock of Collared Doves flew from a line of large conifers and some settled in an isolated Hawthorn bush.
Three species of pigeon in one bush
Shame about the shadow
With the Turtle Dove (109, PYLC #85) and not much else around on the marshes we headed for another look at the Twite flock on the slipway at Knott End but they had been replaced by a gang of workmen with a big digger breaking concrete so were nowhere to be seen. All was not lost though as CR can now heartily recommend the village pie shop - Top quality scram for not a lot of loot!
From there we drove north stopping at Lane Ends to eat our lunch and where there were only a few very distant Pink Footed Geese and no sign of the recent Brent Goose.
Conder Green gave us little except a Little Grebe and a pair of Lesser Black Backed Gulls that looked like they may have taken over the tern nesting raft - they'll probably eat all the Avocet and Common Tern eggs/chicks on the other islands if they stay there which won't be good - - apart from for their own chicks that is.
Cracking views of Teal in the creeks and a few Redshank were down there too.
A Kestrel hovered over the marsh
From there we drove the lanes down to the estuary passing herds of Whooper and Mute Swans on the way but seeing very little else in the fields and roadside ditches. The field behind the car park held at least 40 Skylarks which although not singing were getting in the mood for spring with lots of aerial chases and excitable twittering.
The tide was coming in quickly and concentrating Redshanks, Oystercatchers, and Turnstones on the rapidly diminishing shoreline, further out on Plover Scar there was a tidy flock of Wigeon and beyond them outside the light surf a small flock of Eiders (PYLC #86)
The fields were disappointingly quite but in the distance we could see a number of dots so we drove round to investigate, lots of Lapwings and Starlings, a good number of Dunlin feeding around a flood while the tide was in and covering the mud flats and a few Curlews and Redshanks, up the hill were three Brown Hares sitting quietly no doubt waiting to go mad next week in March. No sign of any Golden Plovers which is what we were hoping might have been there. 
We headed back inland to the farmland feeding stations, the first had no food, the second already had a birders car parked up. The light was awful looking towards the table and spread of seeds on the ground but we did see a Yellowhammer (110) and numerous Tree Sparrows. When another car full of  birders arrived we left and decided to go further inland still to investigate the River Brock at Bilsborough. A good move it was much milder away from the wind of the coast and flat fields. But our drive took us through the back lanes and one of those appropriately named Back Lane that we didn't travel along but weren't far from had had a Red Kite we learned later - doh if only we'd known at the time would have only been a minor detour.
The river soon gave up its quarry, a Dipper (111, PYLC #87)
We followed it's progress along the brook and caught up wit hit on the way back too
No sign of this stretch of river's other specialities, the Kingfisher or Grey Wagtail though.
The following day we were in Stanley Park with a family group looking at the birds to be found there using a game of Bird Bingo. We didn't have a camera with us, these pics are from KQ's phone.
Ring Necked Parakeet high in the branches
Here's what we found:-
A pair of Great crested grebes doing their courtship dance
Herons on their nests
Mute swans
Canada geese 2

Shoveler 1
Tufted ducks
Moorhens 2
Common gulls 2

Black headed gulls - who's heads are actually brown have a close look next time you see them
Herring gulls
Feral pigeons
Ring necked parakeets
- pair wit hthe female poking her head out of the nest hole...are there eggs in there yet?
Pied wagtail 1
Blackbird 1
Blue tits
Great tits
at least 2
Treecreepers 2

Carrion crows
Some notable missing species especially Cormorant and Gadwall but that's birding for you; you never know what are and aren't going to spot.

Our next safari was back to Pennington Flash, not been for four years then twice in a week. This time we were with GB. It wasn't quite as lively as last week with CR but it was still good.
A Little Egret on one of the pools was unexpected (By us used to seeing them at the coast at least - we don't know if they are regular there)
There were a few Gadwall here too

The feeding station wasn't quite a lively as last week but there was still plenty of interest going on. No Water Rails or Willow Tits today but other odd stuff instead.
Stars of the show!
This Chaffinch spent ages sat like this - but what's it doing, it looks like Anting or sunbathing behaviour but on a cold day in late February there's certainly no ants and there wasn't anything by way of  sunshine either????? It flew up from here on to a mossy branch and continued to snuggle down pressing its wings and wrapping its tail tightly round the branch for many miutes - really odd. We've had a look in a couple of books and can't find any reference to it, not looked in Ian Newton's 'Finches' yet which is on the top shelf above our head as we type.
Answers on a post card please...
Any food in here?
What you lookin at?
 Keeping an eye on the tangle of vegetation at the back of the feeding station for the Water Rail had us find this unusually marked Moorhen showing a bit of leucism
What a cracking looking bird, but then if they all looked like that we say a 'normal' one was a cracking looking bird - well they are anyway aren't they!
Stock Doves are lookers too in an understated sort of way.
The closest pool to the feeding station only gave us a rather distant male Pochard today
But it did have a little shimmy
Friday morning saw us back on more familiar territory with CR, Marton Mere. Good sunshine but a cool wind and not too many birds.
A couple of Skylarks (MMLNR #55) went north overhead as we walked across the field and a Song Thrush (MMLNR #56) sang from the scrub by the gate. 
A couple of Lesser Black Backed Gulls (MMLNR #57) were on the water as we walked past Ice Station Zebra not daring to venture in in the cold wind!
The Bird Club hide gave us the best photo opportunities, but the Cetti's Warbler singing just below us refused to show itself.
Common Gull
Black Headed Gull
Herring Gull
From the platform in the south east corner of the mere we got lovely views of several Gadwall.
Along the embankment we counted 26 Fieldfares in the fields to the east and got an awful distant pic for the Challenge (PYLC #88) when they flew up on to the wires.
You can tell they are Fieldfares - right?
A quick look in the north east corner had us find a Jack Snipe (112, MMLNR 57) and then two Snipe (MMLNR #58) - We've never had Jack Snipe before Snipe there on our year lists before!!! 
The scrub areas were quiet until right up by the gate when we spotted a Kestrel hunting, it was in great light but by the time we'd raised our cameras it had swung round to hunt a different part of the scrub wit hthe sun now right behind it - shouldn't have bothered pressing the shutter button really, it took a lot of processing to get this poor image.
So a cracking week out on safari.
Where to next? The 'Beast from the East' is due at the weekend bringing some challenging weather next week but we're hoping to see a 'Beast from the North' on Sunday...and who knows where we'll end up on safari during the week any plans we make could be weather affected.
In the meantime let us know who's trying to enjoy the limp winter sun in your outback.

Monday 19 February 2018

Not so wet in Wigan

The Safari is taking you back to Pennington Flash to show you what we found after the rain had stopped the other day and we were able to 'escape' the excitement of the feeding station.
After eating our butties at the car we had a quick look through a couple of flocks of gulls, one on the field in front of us and the other behind us lurking round the edge of the flash. Almost all were Black Headed Gulls there being no sign of the Mediterranean Gulls that are seen in the roost later in the day. Out on the water there were a small number of Goldeneyes (PYLC # 82) a pair of which came fairly close in, much closer than they ever do at Marton Mere these days.
 We didn't stop long at the famous Horrocks Hide as there were very few birds to be seen and that icy blast coming through the windows was cruel - we soon moved on! The next hide was more sheltered and provided great views over a smaller flash which held a Heron, several Shovelers and Teal. A birder already in the hide showed us superb pics of a Roe Deer he'd seen swimming across the water between a couple of the small islands and then told us had e been there a few minutes earlier we'd have seen a Kingfisher but it hadn't stopped, just shot through. Most of the hides had very nicely positioned Kingfisher perches just outside the reasons to go back - - soon!!!
The next hide had deeper water and just one island - the Isle of 'G' populated by a number of Goosanders and Gadwall...just don't tell the Teal they don't begin with G and shouldn't be there.
 Moving on we passed the adjacent golf course and saw a flock of smallish birds feeding on the greens, a look through the bins revealed them to be about 30 or more Redwings (PYLC #83).
Nice but we couldn't see any Fieldfares that had been reported as being with them. A little further on a Kestrel swooped in and landed in a nearby tree nicely lit for us.
Time was running short now and as we headed back to the car the pair of Mistle Thrush we'd seen earlier  were still on the lawn near the car park so it would have been rude not to have a quiet sneak up on them and get a few pics (PYLC #84).
A cracking day out and big thanks to CR for the driving in some grotty conditions.
The following day we nipped over the river for rather unseasonal Turtle Dove that had been found over the weekend although it now seems other residents in the little village had been seeing it for about a week before it turned up in top local birder PE's garden and the news was out. We arrived after news was that it had been seen that morning so we were hopeful. Two hours and a bit later it had gone to ground all morning and only been seen very briefly when we were at the other end of the village giving Monty a bit of a leg stretch and not seeing much on our travels. The best thing we saw was a decent sized flock of Linnets (for these days at least) and we failed to take the opportunity to add another species to our challenge tally...we shouldn't really struggle for a Linnet pic though. Strangely the small area of marsh and the beach were virtually birdless save for a Redshank and a few Shelducks, which was unusual for here.
Not a lot of other news as later in the week the weather deteriorated again, best was a Great Black Backed Gull (P1 #25) cruising the airspace above and around but not directly over, Base camp.
Where to next? A busy week ahead, back to dip the Turtle Dove again - we hope not!, a kid's birding group and another further flung safari with political cartoonist GB possibly back to Pennington Flash...
In the meantime let us know who were the stars when the rain stopped in your outback.

Sunday 18 February 2018

Wet in Wigan

The Safari shouldn't trust the weather forecasts so far in advance! We'd arranged to have a day out on safari with CR this week and at first it was looking like Monday was the best day then the forecast changed to Tuesday being better so we booked Monty in at the sitters and made the necessary pick up arrangements only to find that as the weekend drew to a close the forecast had changed again and Monday was back to being the better day. But now Tuesday it was for the further flung safari.
Monday was chilly but bright and we headed out to Marton Mere for the morning.
With nothing to stop for at the feeding station we went straight round to the  viewing point at the south west bay where our old cabin used to be. As soon as we raised the bins we spotted a small flock of Pintail (MMLNR #52). Great to see, even if a little distant across the far side of the mere.
Moving round to Ice Station Zebra we had to wait a little while for them to come in to the viewable gap between the reeds
The wait gave us a good opportunity to have a close look at the Teal and Wigeon much closer to us.
We also saw a our first Great Crested Grebe of the year here (MMLNR #53).
At the now well used gull viewing hideaway under the Willow trees (really need a screen here now)  half way down to the Bird Club hide there were no gull gulls to view - when does that Iceland Gull that frequents the nearby waste depot come in to bathe???
From the Bird Club hide we had very little other than a good number of Coots. A Buzzard (MMLNR #54) soared over the barn but we couldn't see any Stock Doves or the Kestrel over on the barn roof. Along the embankment we had a female Reed Bunting, on a sunny mid-February day like this we should be hearing the first warm-up chords from male Reed Buntings but not today. The scrub areas to the north of the mere were devoid of birds, the path was far from devoid of dogs, we counted 38 in the two hours we were on site and apart from Monty only two were on leads - the level of doggy disturbance is atrocious - - even more atrocious is the attitude of some of the dog walkers who firmly believe it is their inalienable right to let their dog do whatever it wants even encouraging them to leave the path and enter the habitats, usually to the tune of oh it doesn't matter there's no nature here anyway I've never seen any!
From the thankfully dog-free viewing platform there was little to view apart from the large flock of Grey Lag Geese which have recently decide to call the reserve home.
The Pintail were still on the water but distant and in poor light so no chance of a better pic than earlier. behind us at the edge of the scrub the Snowdrops were in full flower, always nice to see.
We were on the hunt for a Magpie in flight shot for our Photo Year List Challenge and just about managed one (PYLC #74) over Lawson's Field.
We should have used the one on the ground we got a little later but really wanted to post the in-flight shot. Hopefully we'll get a chance to improve on it sometime in the coming year.
The male Greenfinch wasn't on his usual song perch but as we walked towards the car heard Greenfinch song from further down the track. After a bit of a stake out we found a small flock in the top of a large Sycamore tree but couldn't get a clear shot due to intervening twigs and branches. Until at last we found one sitting out in the open but a fraction of a second before we pressed the shutter it/they flew. Still it's almost in focus and just about identifiable as a Greenfinch so on the challenge it goes at #75.
A similar thing happened with the flock of Long Tailed Tits that were working their way through the dense scrub beneath the Sycamore tree. The light was perfect on them but try as we might we couldn't get the camera to focus on a bird fast enough before it had flitted to another branch - infuriating! Then they decided to leave the scrub and fly over to a more isolated and much less dense patch of bushes. Now the light was against us a bit but at least they were perching in the open more often. Click went the shutter - again the tiniest fraction of a second too late.
Not a bad effort and certainly good enough for the challenge (PYLC #76) but we do with it hadn't turned its head away, it could have done us the courtesy of looking at the camera!
After all that blue sky the following day dawned grey wet cold and miserable and we were about to go out on safari with CR. We had a choice of two destinations one of which had no hides the other did so it was the second we opted for, Pennington Flash at Leigh near Wigan - a site we've not visited since the 2013 Lesser Scaup. Was it really that long ago!!!
It was wet and got wetter as the morning progressed. At the first hide we called in at there was a family of Mute Swans chilling out right outside the hide window.
Further out on the pool a Cormorant fished and a Great Crested Grebe cruised around in the rain.
Secreted around the reedy margins were a few each of Teal, Shoveler and Tufted Duck.
The rain eased a little and we took the opportunity to nip round to the next hide only a hundred yards away. This was the feeding station and it was very very lively. We didn't know where to look it was that busy. Star of the show were the Bullfinches at first.
Then some beautiful Stock Doves turned up (PYLC #77) muscling everything else away from the feeding tables
We even got a nice comparison shot when a Woodpigeon turned up, the Woodpigeon cleared all the Stockies off on its own!
One of the star performers here is a confiding Water Rail and before too long we spotted it coming through the brash at the back of open area. 
It was a little shy avoiding the Moorhens a Mallard but soon found some space for itself as it came and went a few tmes throughout the morning.
Now Water Rails are awesome and to get views like this are something else but the real star of the site are the rare and declining Willow Tits. It took a while for them to turn up and when they did, two of them, they were hard to get on as they were so quick darting in for a seed then out again to eat it deep in cover.
We only managed a couple of half decent pics considering how gloomy it was at best we went 'up' to ISO6400 and some of the pics had to be taken at ISO 10000! (108, PYLC #78)
The supporting cast included a Wren (PYLC #80) that repeatedly worked the underside of a fallen log.
Unlike the much bigger Water Rail it was unphased by larger neighbours.
Stay away from my seed you big galoot
Our top count of Dunnocks was five
But the Long Tailed Tits were uncountable, they were everywhere zipping in and out and smothering the feeders.
Just the 16 Moorhens were scratching about in the undergrowth until one turned 'monkey'.
Only one Nuthatch was seen at the feeders although we had had one earlier as we walked off the car park.
A couple of Reed Buntings came and went.
And up to six Robins scrapped for scraps in the rain.
Surprisingly despite all the small bird activity we didn't see a Sparrowhawk all day.
The rain eased off and that was our cue to head for the butties in the car, passing a singing Song Thrush (PYLC #81) on the way, then explore the rest of the reserve.
That's enough typing for now we'll let you know how we got on around the rest of the reserve tomorrow.
Where to next? More tales from Pennington Flash and news of an unsuccessful twitch elsewhere.
in the meantime let us know which site you should have safari'd to more often.