Friday 27 April 2018

Hope that wasn't summer

The Safari had a couple of early morning wanders around Marton Mere last weekend, arriving at just before 07.00 hours. It was lively both mornings but better on Saturday. Grasshopper Warblers (147) reeled, Cetti's Warblers exploded, Blackcaps warbled, Lesser Whitethroats rattled and fresh in that day Whitethroats (148) scratched. The place was alive with bird song in the almost warm sunshine.
Willow Warbler (PYLC #117)
We took the outside path and sauntered slowly down to The Nook returning via Mere View where we found three Tree Sparrows (PYLC #121) mostly secreted in the dense Blackthorn thicket. We didn't get a pic but went back the following morning to get this one.
It was a bit harrowing (pun intended!) to see the farmer rolling the pasture, OK they'll say they have to do it to get better grass growth but if there were any Lapwing nests on there, and there have been a couple of pairs displaying, they won't have any eggs now. Lets hope they were late or can re-lay, incubate and get agile youngsters off before the next 'essential' agricultural operation.
Down along the embankment we found a Wheatear and another bird on the same fence further along which could have been a Whinchat but was just out of range for our bins. By the time we'd walked down to the bridge to get a closer look they'd both gone so perhaps the mystery bird was 'only' a well coloured Wheatear. We lurked furtively at the new pond dipping platform for ages but neither bird reappeared.
We retraced our steps along the embankment listening to several Reed Warblers, a few Cetti's Warblers and a Sedge Warbler (149). Round the corner we waited for a loud and obviously close Cetti's Warbler to show itself and managed a couple of Blue Tit pics while we waited.
Patience paid off and the Cetti's Warbler (PYLC #118) did eventually show itself and much better than expected, took us aback a little so our camera settings weren't quite right - more feeble excuses for a poor pic!
There wasn't much visible in the scrubby areas but song from Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats were order of the day along with Song Thrushes and Wrens. We weren't going to go to the Feeding Station as feeding has now stopped for the summer but something made us change our mind. On the way something dark brown caught our eye in the other section of the reserve, taking a pic to enlarge it it was a row of pot plants, and then we saw other stuff - several cheeky blighters have extended their gardens into the nature reserve with an array of pot plants, compost bins and heaps and even a trampoline!
We've reported the incursion so hopefully they'll be thrown back over the garden fences where they belong. Slightly miffed we continued the few yards to the Feeding Station and saw a small bird flycatching from the side of the nearest Apple tree, at first we hoped it would be one of the flycatchers most likely Pied Flycatcher but realised it was probably 'only' a Blackcap but when we got the bins on it it was a cracking male Redstart! Get in! (150, MMLNR #73). unfortunately we weren't able to get a pic as it shot through the scrub to the sunny side almost as soon as we'd spotted it.
happy we hit the track back to the car passing a lovely male Blackbird on the way. It might be a simple colour scheme but it's still stunning.
Even better was the Grasshopper Warbler reeling away very close to the path and then we caught a glimpse and were able to creep in to a position in advance of it as it made its way through the tangle of last year's stems.
Very chuffed to get a half decent shot (PYLC #119) - why do they never perch out in the open for us like the seem to do on countless occasions for all those folk on Twitter and Facebook? And then it did us the honour of singing right at us!
One of the objectives of the day was to get a pic of a singing Blackcap but they were all ever so elusive being almost invariably heard  and not seen apart from the odd little flit deep in cover. Almost back at the car we did spot one out in the open and was able to snatch a couple of iffy shots of it (PYLC #120). Woulda been a better pic had we let go of Monty's lead!
A dog walk with Wifey up to Rossall gave us a couple of Common Terns (151) sitting on a floating pallet just offshore and very little else. Then after a family visit we had half an hour late lunch break at Marshside RSPB reserve wher we found a cracking 2CY Mediterranean Gull lurking in among the throng of Black Headed Gulls and Avocets. Also there were a couple of Spoonbills (152), great to see  if a little distant and they they did a close formation fly-past rifght in fron of the hide and we didn't have a camera with us...Oh no man!!! 
Yesterday we had a mooch down the North Blackpool Pond Trail seeing our first House Martins (153) of the year  skimming low over the footy fields in the dull cold and windy conditions. Close by a Whitethroat sang but wasn't for showing itself.
On the return leg we had a look at the Black Pond and found a Heron up to its knees in the awfully invasive Crassula, New Zealand Pygmy Weed. Wherever that Heron goes next it's going to give it a dose of the nasty stuff.
A hundred yards further on and we found a few Swallows and House Martins skimming over a wet patch in one of the horse paddocks. 100 pics later and we got just one that's almost passable for the challenge.
House Martins (PYLC #122)
No we didn't manage to get any pics of the more numerous Swallows - they were just far too quick for us!
A quick scoot between the dog walkers on the top wildflower area had us find just one Bee Orchid rosette, there's probably more but it needs to be quieter to have a proper look.
This morning we planned to go back to Marton Mere but the threatened rain started as soon as we got Monty in the car so we had a change of plan and headed for the cliffs. At first it seemed like nothing much was happening. We noted the clumps of Great Burnet beginning to sprout so added them to iRecord.
and then not too many yards along the path spotted something that's obviously been there a long time but we've never noticed before, a small stunted Apple tree and you'll never guess what there was a similarly scratty bonsai-d Willow not ten paces away. The more you look the more you see, the more you see the more you learn. We looked and looked for anything else we might have missed over the years but those were enough for one day.
The Apple 'tree'
The Willow bush
 There were no birds to be seen on the way north but coming back we saw three Shelducks going south well out to sea. Shortly after a light shower a female Wheatear was seen working its way  along the bottom of the cliffs. Three, two and a single Swallows tazzed up and down along the cliff face gleaning whatever insects were in the air after the rain, the first we've seen here this year. Never mind first of the year a first EVER was about to pop up in front of us in the form of two Woodpigeons walking along the path not far in front of us. Fortunately Monty was well behaved and didn't flush them. We were able to get a bit of phone pic - no camera again!
Wasn't expecting them! Isn't Nature is ace - it always has the knack of throwing you a curve ball

Where to next? It's Bird Bingo with the kids on the Pond Trail tomorrow, what will we find?

In the meantime let us know who you weren't expecting in your outback

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Spring springs on at last

The Safari had a day out in north Lancashire with CR last week. We started out at Sizergh Castle where we (as is becoming the norm) dipped the Hawfinches. It didn't help that the place was busy and a couple of gimmers parked next to where C'd dropped the seed bait and faffed around getting their kit out of the back of the car for at least 20 minutes. Very dull cloudy conditions leading to rain didn't help the photography either. A Nuthatch flew in grabbed a sunny seed and bombed straight back in to cover.
But a Chaffinch hung around not flitting far when the faffers were moving around.
Look at its legs and feet, the poor little b*gger has Papilloma virus.
The rain sent us to Leighton Moss where there is shelter from the rain. However the rain had eased a bit and that gave us the opportunity to have a look at the Black Headed Wagtail (144, PYLC #112) that turned up a couple of days earlier.
Just a little too distant given the conditions but a bright little stonker whatever the weather. We've seen them before in Greece but it's a British Isles subspecies lifer for us.
Nothing speaks of spring like the cacophony of a Black Headed Gull colony.
There's always something going on in the melee - plenty of displaying and posturing going on
Followed up by the whole raison d'etre for the whole colony

But look closely and you'll find some odd ones out, interlopers, in the colony.
Avocets are pretty aggressive to other species around their nest sites but they're also quite happy to take advantage of the 'cover' provided by the vigilant Black Headed Gulls for extra protection against marauding larger gulls, crows etc.
One of them did us the honour of coming nice and close.
A flock of Black Tailed Godwits was on the pool too, coming in to their stunning summer plumage too.
Pintail are subtle stunners too.
Back on the reserve proper the Marsh Harriers gave us a great performance including collecting nesting material from a pile of cut reed on the opposite side of the pool. Shame the light was so iffy in the rain  so the pics are a bit fuzzy and grainy.
Like the Pintails, Teal are proper little stunners too.
On the trails we came across a Marsh Tit
And a Chiffchaff or two.
At the main hide we fluked a drake Garganey (145, PYLC #113) right close to the hide window which unfortunately we later discovered it had already been seen about ten minutes before we 'found' it.
If front of the Garganey there was a Little Egret that C thought looked a bit poorly.
It did seem to perk up a bit after a few minutes
We also fluked our best pic of Snipe (PYLC #114) of the year - yes this dross is our best attempt at this fairly common species in the last 3 1/2 months, don't know how we've managed that!
Wandering down to the Causeway hide we completely emptied it by mentioning the Garganey, never has so much birding kit been packed up so quickly! Out of the window there was a good variety of waterbirds present many getting well in to their breeding cycle.
Not quite so far along the line was a flock of Pochards, sadly a rare site these days. mostly randy bachelors chasing after the few females present. 
Close up, yet another stunner.
Not a bad day out on safari considering the weather and we did actually remain mostly dry by cleverly dodging the showers and darting between the hides.
Next up was an afternoon up the top of Rossall Tower with the Wildlife Trust's Living Seas team watching for whatever wildlife showed up. A Wheatear decided to fly out across the bay but didn't go far before turning back. Where Wheatears feared to tread a few individual Swallows went willingly as did a small number of Sandwich Terns. Behind us from the golf course we were serenaded continuously by a particularly persistent Skylark. Eventually we found a distant Grey Seal out by the new island which today held only one male Eider with the usual gulls. Towards the close of play we found a second Grey Seal then found what was probably Harbour Porpoise but it never resurfaced to confirm or otherwise.
The following day we had a short jaunt Over Wyre with GB. We were on the hunt for the Water Pipits that have been frequenting a flooded field. Trouble was we'd had a couple of 20C+ days and the flood was shrinking rapidly. The field had lots of Skylarks and some Lapwings, the sound of both our youths. We could only find a single Meadow Pipit on the flood along with a few Shelducks. A Buzzard and a Raven flew over and flushed a load of Black Tailed Godwits of the marsh and a good load of Whimbrel (146, PYLC #115) too.
The warm weather brought out a good number of butterflies too, they were all Small Tortoiseshells though.

Where to next? We've been out to Marton Mere a couple of times and seen some good stuff to tell you about.

In the meantime let us know who's dropping unannounced in in your outback.