Saturday, 17 March 2018

A bit of luck brings success

The Safari had a Mothers' Day wander along the prom at Rossall with Wifey and Monty. The tide was well out but the distant sea as flat calm, perfect for spotting any Harbour Porpoises or Grey Seals that might have been out there. We saw neither but did see a large raft of Eider ducks but too far away to count effectively or see if there was anything else with them.
We did bump in to the local flock of Linnets (PYLC #97) at the far end of our walk
and a few steps in to our return walk looking the other way across the beach watched a Grey Plover fly in and land not too far away.
Monty had fun, always on the lookout for other doggies to play with.
A Stonechat was unusual in that it was hopping about on the dog walking field rather than sitting on a fence post between the thin strip of dunes and the golf course.
Monday first thing out with Monty gave us a very late Patch 1 tick in the form of a singing Wren (P1 #26) surely we must have overlooked them down there so far this year, mid March before the first one can't be right! Later that morning saw us along Chat Alley again with Monty. The conditions looked good for a bit of migration although it was a bit chilly, the wind was south easterly though so you never know.
There wasn't much about at all. A couple of local Pied Wagtails and a small number of migrating Meadow Pipits overhead, a couple being seen coming in-off the sea but most were 'heard onlys'.
Here and there were Turnstones scattered around finding any pickings washed up by the high tide or more likely left by the recently left anglers
Just after we took the pic above something caught our eye down by our boots. A deceased Bumble Bee, emerged too soon and got caught out by the return of the cold weather and lack of nectar bearing plants, there's  hardly a Dandelion to be seen yet and even the Coltsfoot flowers on the cliffs aren't particularly advanced yet.
The tide hadn't gone out enough for the Redshanks to leave their roost on the old boating pool wall.
We'd walked the full length of the Chat Alley from Gynn Square to Norbreck Castle and back without so much as a sniff of a Wheatear.
Tuesday saw us on safari with CR beyond the Southside across the Mersey and just into Cheshire. The weather forecast was for fine weather but the drive down the motorway was through heavy rain, we weren't hopeful it would stop. But our luck changed and the rain dried up as we left the motorway and by the time we arrived at Moore nature reserve the sun as trying its best to shine through the thinning cloud.
We spent a good few minutes at the nearest hide to the car park where a Little Grebe was giving us superb close views, when it was on the surface. It dived repeatedly and for long periods searching for what turned out to be Caddisfly nymphs, C getting some pics of it surfacing with them in its beak.
After a while it was time to go and look for the star attraction. We walked down the lane and we explained to C that finding our quarry could be tricky unless we hear it calling or drumming first. He asked what they sound like and we said a bit like a Kestrel and then a billi-second later we said 'just like that!' The call came from the usual corner of the woods 100 yards in front of us and two other birders came round the corner pointing towards the tree tops.
They'd seen it earlier but lost it but knew roughly where it went. A couple of minutes or so later we picked it up high in the upper branches of a large tree. It showed well and we got stupendous views in our bins but it was tricky to get pics of as it probed the bark for food never turning its face away from the woodwork for us.
Still we were very happy to connect so quickly, the birding gods being with us today after our two ill-fated twitches for the Hawfinches.
Very lucky too as once we'd lost it it wasn't seen again all day at all by anyone we spoke to.
The sound track of the day was a notoriously invisible Green Woodpecker (119) probably more than one and perhaps more than two even trilling Little Grebes and later once the sun strengthened mewing Buzzards.
Walking round the rest of the western part of the reserve we didn't see much else, certainly no early Chiffchaffs were in yet.
The thicket of Gorse on the way up to the Raptor Watchpoint hadn't been warmed enough to smell of Coconuts but there was a big splurge of Yellow Brain Fungus (or is it a Slime Mould?) on one of the stems.
After lunch in the car park we hit the eastern half of the reserve. The pools were quiet, just a few Tufted Ducks and a couple of pairs of Goldeneyes on the first one. The Birch woods were even quieter, in fact the main things we noted here were the numerous fungi. odd for 'spring' perhaps as they're more normally associated with autumn.
Jelly Ear on Elder - still can't get used to this 'new' PC name for this species
Unknown species on Silver Birch
But the star of the show was covering a fallen log on the woodland floor. The fairies have been hard at work there. A shed load of Scarlet Elf Cups dazzled in a shaft of light. What a stunning thing they are - wildlife doesn't have be feathered or cute n cuddly to be awesome - just look at the colour of those little beauties!
A chat to a couple of passing birders told us that the pair of kingfishers at the Eastern Reedbed were showing well and chasing each other around. But when we got there there was little to be seen, a couple of Little Grebes, a Great Crested Grebe down at the far end of the pool, a Green Woodpecker was heard from the fringing line of trees...again! and a pair of Shovelers shoveled but not a Kingfisher to be seen.
Then we heard a distinctive whistle and a flash of electric blue shot across the face of the reeds across the pool in front of us. Unfortunately it landed just a little too far away. Who cares, we got cracking views as it looked for fish below; its head staying almost motionless as the reed it was perched on waved about in the gentle breeze. 
The all black bill tells us this is a male Kingfisher (PYLC #99)
It did a couple of fly rounds getting slightly nearer but more obscured before eventually going to sit in a Willow bush much further away and much more obscured - still happy days!
A great day out o safari and big thanks to C for the driving.
Our next safari was with our children's group when we were out on the hunt for Frog spawn. The ponds we looked in were very full of rain and cold snow-melt water and we had no luck in finding any spawn. But that's not to say our nets didn't pull out anything at all from the ponds.
Backswimming Water Boatman
Brown Lipped Banded Snail - found in the grass not a pond
A damselfly nymph
Ramshorn Snails
At last a Frog - found in the wet grass close to the pond
And then there were two
Safely released in to the edge of the pond where they were not going to get trodden on
It was a cold day and there weren't many signs of spring although the shiny golden flowers of this Lesser Celandine brightened up proceedijgs.
As we led the group to our last pond one of the mothers called us back as her very young son had just spotted a little bird in a Bramble thicket and it was eating a huge caterpillar. We'd totally walked passed it but as our eye level was very different to his that's perhaps not so surprising! Anyway we turned back to find a Goldcrest (PYLC #100) wrangling a sizeable green caterpillar. The camera was set up for small close things in white buckets so our hastily taken pics aren't quite the best but we were thrilled that group got to see this interesting piece of behaviour from a bird most of them, if not all, had never heard of before.
An awesome find for someone so young. Before too long, sadly, we'll need another David Attenborough; could he be the one???
The last pond gave us a very interesting sighting, no Frogs but something much more unusual and rarely seen. At the edge of the pond there was a floating thing which we recognised as a giant shell of a Swan Mussel. It was just about reachable with the longest handled net in the group and a bit of risky stretching down a steep bank on our part.
When we lifted the shell from the net the animal fell from it - yuk - rank!!!
The boy in the blue hat poking out above the shell is the lad who spotted the Goldcrest
But what a cool find, then one of the group spotted a second in the pond but that was well out of reach. They are probably victims of the cold spell last week. We certainly didn't expect to find those but that's what going out on safari is all about - you just never know what you're going to come across and that's what makes watching wildlife so exciting, there's always something new to see and learn.
And learning about wildlife is something we all need to do. while we were on site there was a Community Payback team cutting down the adjacent hedge to its roots. They are supposed to be on reparation work for their crimes and yet someone had instructed them to do work that was actually forcing them into breaking the law - a ridiculous situation but we're not blaming the lads rather the site manager who has apparently been told about this before...a case for Vicarious Liability perhaps?
The following day saw us out to the east for a riverside mooch with GB and Monty, it was a wildlife, geography and history sort of a walk. 
Brock mill
We took some other pics but they are for another blog, perhaps a guest blog on another blogger's site, at a later date.
The river gave us good views of a Dipper and Grey Wagtails but we weren't expecting to hear a Tawny Owl (120) hooting in the middle of the day.
Yesterday we took Monty for yet another walk along Chat Alley in the afternoon and this time we struck lucky even though it was late in the day there were two Wheatears (121) on the cliffs, they have usually passed through along here by mid morning.
Then just to prove migration can be all day thing we heard Whooper Swans (Garden #18) going over Base Camp as we sat at the 'puter - probably the 13 seen by SD minutes earlier a mile or so to the south of us and reported on Twitter.
So yet another great week out on safari and we're thrilled to get the ton-up for our Photo Year List Challenge beating last year to 100 by five days, the Stanley Park Chough on 19th March last year. The front runners are approaching 200 but they do have the advantage of having had a foreign holiday to sunny climes away from the northern snows, two other challengers are a little ahead in the low hundreds and two are nipping at our heels in the high 90s...still all to play for and it's all a bit of educational fun, we're certainly enjoying seeing pics of birds we've never heard of before and learning about the birding in places we'll almost definitely never visit.

Where to next? Not sure what's happening this coming week we have family duties on the Southside that may give the opportunity for a stop off somewhere and then there's a bit of a trip coming up.

In the meantime let us know who's doing the quality wildlife spotting in your outback

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Migration begins with a trickle

The Safari took a group out onto the the beach to explore the rockpools last week - by eck it was chilly but a good time was had by all as we were all wrapped up. We made the (deliberate) mistake of putting our arm in to the freezing water to pull out a Beadlet Anemone to show the youngsters - now that was seriously cold! The things we do for science/education eh!
We put it in one of our trays but sadly it hadn't opened its tentacles out before it was time to leave. 
A good time was had by all!
Searching the runnels
Here's a few of the shells they found in the runnels and on the beach
Later in the week we went back around Herons' Reach and managed a very fleeting glimpse of the Kingfisher and had great views of the two Water Rails on the defrosting pond. We nearly got a pic of them together but a a couple of loose dogs put paid to that; as we were holding on to Monty (to stop him getting near the pond) they rushed towards him he dodged out of their way and we went down like a sack of spuds lucky not to break a collar bone or land on the camera and damage that, thankfully neither us nor the camera came up worse for wear other than covered in mud but not an apology or an 'are you alright?' from the woman with the dogs who saw the whole thing unfold just an 'oh they're friendly they're only having fun'. Fun it certainly wasn't and expensive it could have been! And the Water Rails were flushed deep in to cover not to come out in the 10 more minutes or so we waited for them - Feckin dog walkers
The following day a bit of an improvement in the weather saw us visit Marton Mere for the first time in a while. The sun had brought Song Thrushes out in to song and a little later we watched one listening for worms in the grass.
There was a reasonable number of gulls on the water but no sign of the local Iceland Gull amongst them, has it discovered somewhere else to bathe, a flooded field perhaps?
The 'fritillary meadow' was scrutinised and we found a couple of Cowslips in flower but there didn't seem to be as many as in previous years. We also spotted the first shoots of the Snakeshead Fritillaries and one clump even had a small flowerbud beginning to form - spring won't long now folks. The team there need to get the fence fixed before a football gets kicked over the meadow and the plants get squished by said ball or booted feet retrieving it.
The rest of our visit was fairly quiet. The volunteers were working on the island and we had hoped they might flush a Bittern or a Jack Snipe, neither appeared as the dragged the last of the cut reeds out of the scrape to prepare it for the spring  wader passage. 
A Buzzard soared high to the north east over the fields and lifted three pairs of Lapwings up to see it on its way. Hope they have a good season in those fields this year but it so much depends on what farming activities are going to happen and the timing of them, all to often the eggs and or chicks get rolled, mown or ploughed and only a tiny handful survive and even any predation sees the remainder off as there aren;t enough adults left on territory to help with the defence. When we first started birding there were three times as many in the fields as there are now - a sad loss and very much a part of that thing that is the reduction in Bioadundance rather than Biodiversity.
The scrub areas were quiet but a sudden movement in the 'Paddock' had us look closely to see what it was - a nightmarishly back lit Stonechat 
Signs of the first bits of migration, we've not seen one on the reserve since the start of the winter and this part of the reserve isn't normally favoured by them, in fact we've not seen one here for at least 20 years!
Later, getting towards the car the Buzzard or another appeared overhead.
This time it was pursued relentlessly by a small number of crows who pushed it off their patch and out to the south east over town.
Back at Base camp a Coal Tit (Garden #17) as a new visitor to the feeders for the year. Possibly a refugee from the recently 'tidied' (= ecologically devastated) park on Patch 1. We really hope the White Letter Hairstreaks will be OK and the extensive tree felling hasn't included any Elms nor altered the micro-climate unfavourably for the overwintering eggs or opened up the canopy to enable any passing Elm Bark Beetles to find the trees and kill them. We'll have to wait until the summer to find out what if any the consequences have been for our favourite colony of rare butterflies. Fingers crossed it might actually have enhanced it...we're not holding our breath though.
Short but very important family business south of the river was order of the day yesterday but it did give us the opportunity to take CR on a bit a twitch and a run around Memory Lane.
We started off hurtling down the motorway network to a peviously unheard of Country Park on the outskirts of Liverpool with a most un-scouse sounding name, Stadt Moers CP. Here a couple of Hawfinches have been fairly regularly seen in the SE corner of the park. After our Sizergh Castle debacle last time out we were hopeful although the most recent news we had of them was almost a week old and it had snowed heavily since them, never the less we were feeling optimistic and the weather was mild, no need for a hat!
The locals were extremely friendly and helpful setting us off on the right paths and once on the bottom field a birder was already there - good stuff. He told us he'd not seen 'anything yet' but warned there were a lot of Greenfinches in the area and indeed there were. We don't think we've seen so many of them on one place for a long time. 
Two hours later and almost all the other finches in the book spotted including a pair of unphotographable Lesser Redpolls (115) but not a Hawfinch in sight.
The supporting cast included plenty of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, Dunnocks and Song Thrushes, a flock of about 10 Redwings, a flock of Long Tailed Tits, a Jay and a soaring Buzzard or two. 
This area was the first place we saw Buzzards once the persecution of them had waned enough for them to spread for their core areas in the mountains. We used to look forward to a drive down the much less busy then motorway with our birding mates hoping we might see one way back when. 
We even saw the 'double-decker' Airbus A300-600 Super Transporter (nicknamed the Beluga, and everyone’s favorite, ridiculous, aircraft) approaching Liverpool airport - now why didn't we take a pic?
From there were headed to our old birding stomping ground at the coast at Crosby. Black Headed Gulls and Carrion Crows came to bread thrown copiously in the car park and Skylarks sang above us in the dunes, one even landed close by and posed very nicely for us (YLPC #93).
Out on the beach the tide was on the way in but still a fairly long way out but was beginning to push the waders from the further mudflats closer inshore, including a nice Grey Plover (116. YLPC #94).
CR saw a flit in the grass and this time it wasn't a Skylark but a grounded Meadow Pipit (YLPC #95).
We saw several Stonechats but couldn't approach them closely enough for a pic but there was no sign of any of the secretly hoped for early Wheatears, other birders we spoke to also hadn't come across any although like us they thought they might given the mild conditions and the wind direction. 
The tide inexorably kept coming in as it does forcing the waders ever closer but still not quite close enough, lots of Dunlin and Redshank but only one Ringed Plover and a fair few of the star of the show, the Bar Tailed Godwits, some getting into their brick red summer plumage (117, YLPC #96).
Making our way back tot the car park we came across a couple of Stonechats close to the path, one of which was very confiding at last.
We finished the afternoon at the usually excellent Lunt Meadows but it had far too much water on it today and was rather quiet. We looked for Grey Partridge on the fields as we got close, none but a day-flying Woodcock was a good spot, shame it wasn't still flying when we reached the reserve.The selection of waterfowl was less than usual and the numbers of each of the species much reduced too. There was no sign of the regularish Red Kite just a couple of Buzzards. The fields on the far side of the river held masses of Lapwings and a few lingering Pink Footed Geese along with huge numbers of Common Gulls.
The earlier sunshine had now gone and ever thickening cloud was rolling in dropping the light intensity so we were hopeful for the appearance of the Short Eared Owls. Other birders with big cameras began to arrive but by now we had to leave so if they did come out we missed them.  While we waited in vain for them we heard a Cetti's Warbler briefly and saw yet more Stonechats, there does seem to be a lot of them about this last week or so, we even had one on Chat Alley when out with Monty the other day.
A quick peak in the barn round the corner didn't give us the Little Owl before we hit the motorway and headed back to Base Camp after a good a day in the field.
This morning while out with Monty it was Meadow Pipits all the way, deffo the best day of migration so far for them. At least 10 were seen including one coming in off the sea and a flock of four going north along the cliff edge, and others being only's getting closer folks!

Where to next? we have a secret plan for early next week, lets hope the weather is good enough for us to carry it out and there's success rather than our seemingly interminable Hawfinch-like failure.

In the meantime let us know who's on the move in your outback.