Sunday 30 September 2018

More twitching tales and a safari to the Southside

The Safari has been a bit pre-occupied tidying up and decluttering in advance of the Base Camp move to get out as often as we would have liked but when a couple of opportunities for a twitch came up we were able to take them.
We were a little disappointed to have dipped all the Leach's Petrels during the gales the week before last so when news of a flurry of late stragglers in the form of Grey Phalaropes turning up all over the country started to appear on social media it was inevitable one would appear not too far away. So when the news broke that one was showing well at Newton Marsh just this side of Preston off we went - we'd seen pics of others showing well on Twitter and F/B which more or less meant crawling into the camera lens! This one wasn't so obliging but at least it wasn't at the same range as the Semi Palmated Sandpiper we'd seen a couple of weeks previously. A great bird to see again, our last one being in 2010 and again superb scope views but just a little too distant for great pics.
A lovely little bird that just wouldn't keep still, frantically picking flies of the surface of the water or occasionally dipping its bill right under for some morsel or other. It spent most of it's time on the far side of the little island but when it flew further down the pool and in to a clump of rushes it  was time to say bye to the fair throng of local birders and head back to Base Camp for more tidying up. It brought our tally for the year to 180 and our Photo Year List Challenge up to 163, a great little 'bonus bird' that was never on the 'radar' - we're still being stuffed by the front runners who are now about 100 species ahead.
But that afternoon news broke of another lost waif, this time just down the road at Marton Mere. A couple of juvenile Black Terns had been reported for a couple of days until one had been re-identified as a juvenile White Winged Black Tern. Fortunately it was still present the following day and in the late afternoon we were able to nip down for an hour for a shuffy. It ranged widely about the mere often hugging the Yellow Water Lily beds on the far side and then disappearing for extended lengths of time when it was discovered to have settled on the lilies. Take your eye off it for a moment and it was lost, its seemingly languid flight being surprisingly fast. 
On the odd time it did come into range we snapped away but only really got one rubbishy pic that shows hints of the diagnostic white rump and the lack of  smudgy neck mark.
Another one well off the radar coming in at 181, PYLC #164, and the first we've seen anywhere in the world in this plumage and the first since the adult we found at the same place in the summer of '93.
It was being reported as being 'not quite right' and some observers say and posting pics of it drooping one of its wings when at rest but it did seem to be flying OK and picking plenty of invertebrates from the water surface. But right at the last of the light we managed this fuzzy pic when it settled on some reeds not too far in front of us.
It shows the left wing drooping while the right wings looks fine and also the left leg is held up and might not be quite as bright red as the right one. In lots of our distant out of focus and too fuzzy to show you shots you can see both legs dangling, whether they do that habitually using their feet as extra air brakes we don't know but it could also be a symptom of an unseen injury/illness. Whatever it might have been the bird was still there the following morning but we were unable to better our rubbishy pics and the following day there was no sign so we assume it was fit enough to continue on its migration.
Also passing overhead but slowing and not dropping on to the water were two fresh in from Iceland Whooper Swans, our first of the year here (MMLNR #81) - really can't believe we didn't see any in the early part of the year! And had we stayed but a few more minutes we would have seen an Otter too.
With summer giving way to autumn and the weather following suit there has been nothing of real note on Patch 1 or in the garden at Base Camp. Until one morning in the week when we heard the loud calls of an agitated Peregrine. Looking out of the bedroom window we could see two crows on its favourite ledge but looking closely they looked big and we thought we heard a Raven cronking. Grabbing the bins a proper look revealed they were indeed two Ravens and the Peregrine was sat above them on the comms masts giving it hell - really unhappy with them in its space.
We'll miss sights like this from the bedroom window when Base Camp gets moved but no doubt there'll be other equally awesome wildlife sights to be had at the new Base Camp- we just don't know what they'll be yet...or where!
And so to Friday when we picked up GB and CR early doors and set off to meet JG at Lunt Meadows down on our childhood birding grounds over on the south side of the Ribble. We arrived first and the short wait in the car park ave us a few Jays flying over to and fro to collect or bringing back Acorns to cache for the winter. Recently arrived Pink Footed Geese could be heard murmuring in conversation the distant fields and Lapwings called their wheezy calls from the wetland between us and the geese. A serene and peaceful morning but just half a dozen miles from one of Britain's busiest city centres.
Annoyingly we couldn't get a pic of any of the Jays for our challenge - becoming a bit of a bogey bird in that respect but while looking up at one flying by we saw a weird object high up in one of the Willow trees around the edge of the car park.
A something we don't recall ever seeing before which we've discovered is Mossy Willow Catkin Gall and now we know that we're quite certain we've never come across one before never having heard of them until now. They are probably a viral infection of a catkin (caused by agents unknown) and are often green rather than black as in this case.
It was a glorious day with warm sunshine and light winds and no appreciable recent rain meant dry footpaths too. However looking at the first pool into the harsh morning light wasn't so good. But it did highlight all the spiders' gossamer trails lain across the rushes over night. The pic doesn't really do the scene justice, there were hundreds of them draped across the fronds shimmering in the gentle breeze when the light caught them.
Turning round to view the pool behind us the light was much better. Here we could see the vivid colours of the Lapwings, rue the eclipse plumage of the Teal and pick out the nuances of the speckley Ruffs.
All looking sup-duper in the bright light. 
Something disturbed the Pink Footed Geese from the fields and all of a sudden their quiet conversation became louder and more intense as the flock took to the air - what a sight, about a thousand of them, but more than a sight what a sound as they wheeled round splitting in to sub-flocks and going off in different directions - truly wonderful.
Just a few of them, couldn't fit the whole flock in the frame
Wandering on we had a look at the next pool but it was quiet there, just a handful of Mallards and a couple of snoozing Teal. The main attraction here, often very showy Short Eared Owls and Stonechats haven't arrived for the winter yet and there was no sign of any Roe Deer either, the vegetation is still a bit too summery for them to able to be easily seen yet. GB got cracking views of what sounds like a pristine Small Copper butterfly and we caught a glimpse of a Weasel darting between clumps of reeds below the hide - no amount of 'pishing' would entice it to break cover unfortunately. Far easier to photograph were these showy and stationary mushrooms sitting among the grass at the side of the steps up to the screen.
One we ought to know the name of but honestly can't remember it just now
As we were moving on to the next screen we heard the call of a Spotted Redshank and swinging round quickly and scanning with the bins caught sight of a small wader dropping on to one of the pools we viewed earlier. As luck would have it, or rather ill-luck, it was located on the one looking into the sun and was very flighty and we didn't manage a pic before it was up and away. We watched it go high to the north but it swung round and came back, we didn't see where it landed but hoped it was on the well lit pool, a long look there didn't find it and when it called again the sound came from the same place as before. We were able to get just a couple of pics of it as went up and away again this time never to be seen again.
Spotted Redshank (182, PYLC #165)
And with that so were we - back to the cars for a bite to eat. At the car park it was all go with the Jays again with no less than eight being seen in quick succession heading northwards towards the favoured Oak trees. Yet again we failed to get the camera on to any of them - bogey birds indeed!
Butties scoffed it was time to hit the road to another Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve Mere Sands Wood to see what we could find there.
At the first hide there was a good selection of waterfowl, all now in their eclipse plumage now. But scanning around we noticed a goose on the spit showing a lot of white and closer inspection showed there to be four Egyptian Geese (183, PYLC #166) snoozing away up there.
The fourth one is out of frame mostly concealed behind a clump of vegetation to the left of the left-hand bird.
With not a lot happening and no sign of any Kingfishers around this part of the reserve, and none mentioned by other visitors, we moved on.
The light at the hide in the bottom  corner was much better, once again showing the Lapwings off superbly.
A drake Shoveler swan into view, of all the eclipse ducks these are probably the 'best' looking but that big orange eye gives them a worried look.
Again no Kingfishers for us and similarly so at the next hide, where other birders were already waiting for one to turn up and use the strategically placed perches. No such luck for us but one of the brders pointed out a Green Sandpiper he'd seen earlier when it came back out onto the open. We were pleased to get better pics of this seldom seen (by us) bird in much better light and far far closer than on our last visit here. We snapped away with gay abandon as they say.
Is the dark blob by its feet a dead vole???
Nearby a pair of Teal dozed the afternoon away.
On the way to the next hide there's  an open viewing platform overlooking a smaller pool, here we stopped in the hope of seeing some dragonflies whizzing around in the afternoon warmth but instead our attention was taken by a shoal of fish right below us. Lookin closely at them it would appear that the dorsal and ventral fins are just about level with each other and the one eating a leaf from a water plant seems to have an overhanging top lip these features would make at least some of them Roach.
A few were a little bigger than the rest maybe approaching 6-7 inches (15 - 18cm) long.
The keen ex-fisherman's eyes of GB picked out the striped back of a rather larger Perch lurking below the shoal, although the Roach weren't that bothered about its presence.
As we approached the last hide we told of lots of Migrant Hawkers at which info CR sped off passing a lovely cluster of Fly Agaric mushrooms (or are they toadstools?) in various stages of openness.
Once inside the hide we did see some Migrant Hawker dragonflies as well as at least one Brown Hawker and a couple of unidentified but probably Blue Tailed Damselfies
With a lot of luck one of the Migrant Hawkers settled in a hover in an open patch in the reeds long enough for us to get our best ever pic of a dragonfly in flight by a long way - still not perfect but we're well chuffed with it.
They rarely settled and when they did this was  often a 'good' view
A quality end to a perfect day on safari with great mates...but still no Jays submitted to the SD card despite several sightings and lots heard squawking  - getting beyond a joke now...

Where to next? Another further flung safari beckons.

In the meantime lets us know who's not allowing themselves to be photographed in your outback.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Arfa milyun up

The Safari has reached a bit of a significant milestone, over 500,000 views - now that's not necessarily 300,000 'reads' but a big thank you to one and all who have dipped a proverbial toe in the Safari's proverbial waters; we hope you have been enjoying the rubbish wot we've ritten and will continue to pop back for some fun wildlife info going forwards.
So what have we been up to this week. A mixed bag of weather has seen us doing some seawatching, twitching and dipping. We did a seawatch with the Living Seas team on a day when there should have been some Leach's Petrels about (one of our favourite birds). There was but we missed it as did everyone else on the watch, the closest we got was a Swallow coming down one of the troughs that got our heart going for a bit.
We did manage to add a couple of new species to our Challenge, Common Scoters and a sickly looking Guillemot that we hope survived but was being pushed closer and closer to the shore with every wave.
On our drive up from Cornwall news broke of a Semi Palmated Sandpiper on the Wyre estuary and as soon as we hoped for a twitch but it had done a bunk. It took another birder to relocate it a few days later so the twitch was on. Unfortunately it was a long way across the mud flats and spent odd times asleep in between feeding bouts - which is when we clicked to shutter button - darn it! Another lifer all the same ( crikey what's going on two lifers in a week!!!) and we did enjoy great views in other folks' generously offered scopes.
It's the left hand fuzzy blob - there's some proper pics on Fylde Bird Club's Flickr site
Then news broke of a new bird for the Fylde, a juvenile Pallid Harrier. We are very time constrained at the mo and the weather is unpredictable. Luckily CR was up for a drive out before (or at least in between showers) and after a short wait where AB told us to sit - there were plenty of other birders to aim for though - it appeared but sadly it didn't come in to the nearest field like it had done on several occasions in the previous couple of days. What a beauty, those cinnamon underparts are something else and that neck collar stands out a mile away. Just a shame the light was so grotty we couldn't get any decent pics as it quartered  back and forth for ages mostly hidden behind a hedge. The pic might be rubbish but the views in the bins were superb.
Over night we listened to the wind whistling round the eaves and dreamt of Leach's Petrels - did we tell you they're one of our very favourites? As soon as could we were out on the prom and the phone pinged our pocket saying a Barolo Shearwater had passed Heysham earlier and could come past Rossall and indeed it did but with the wind dropping rapidly it must have gone straight out to sea from there rather than coming round the corner and hugging the coast - couldn't have us getting three lifers in a fortnight could we! The dropping wind also meant no chance of any Leach's Petrels and indeed we saw very little other than at least 500 Common Scoters bobbing around in the middle distance.
An hour round the Rock Gardens (Patch 1) we don't get to visit as much as we probably ought gave us a load of panicky alarm calls had us looking up to see a Sparrowhawk passing overhead. There was a bit of vis mig in a handful of Meadow Pipits heading south in a mild quiet gap in the grotty weather which closed in horribly in the afternoon.
Again a bit of gap in the grot gave us the opportunity to nip out with Monty and from the cliff top we watched a Little Egret fly over the dropping tide.
It's not that long since these were considered terribly exotic and to some of use oldies they still conjure up thoughts of warm far away places rather than windswept Lancashire saltmarshes. But recent counts of the local root sites suggest there may be almost (perhaps over) a thousand in the county now and it's become an odd birding day in many local areas when you don't see a Little Egret well before coming across a good old fashioned Heron.

Where to next? More wind coming but what will it bring?

In the meantime let us know who's dodging the waves in your outback.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Not a bad little boaty ride

The Safari likes a boat trip when we're away and we're a pretty good sailor, not succumbing to the dreaded sea-sickness and we've had some rough rides in the past. Last week we had been hoping to go to the Scilly Isles for a day trip on the Scallonian ferry but with it being an all day trip Wifey wasn't to happy to left home alone so we opted for a half day trip instead. Our first choice of operator had finished for the season the previous weekend so we had to scout around for another and Wifey found Marine Discovery and their snazzy red catamaran. Turned out to be a good choice. The skipper told us the catamaran made for a pretty stable platform and even though the wind of recent days had died down and sheltered Mount's Bay was nice and calm further out there was a bit of a swell going on. Under sail the catamaran just swished along lovely and peaceful, just the lanyards rattling and the flap of the sails without the roar/whine of the outboard motors (which were used from time to time).
While waiting for all the rest of the passengers to arrive we watched some Mullet cruising around in the harbour and snapped away at passing Black Headed Gulls.
Once out of the water our knowledgeable crew, skipper Duncan and wildlife spotter Amber, pointed out a dark shape on the water a fair way off the port bow - getting all nautical for you now...aka on the left - which was Eddie the Eider Penzance's only resident Eider duck (drake) who is occasionally joined by others during the winter months but is currently probably (definitely?) the world's most southerly Eider.
It was while trying to get pics of Eddie we realised that this on board a boat photography wasn't going to be that easy. Even in the calm waters just outside the harbour wall the boat was saying around and of course it was making forward progress too so as soon as the camera had locked on to the subject it was out of focus almost instantaneously. Add the changing light as you looked port, starboard or straight ahead and we had the recipe for photo-nightmares. Yep we're making excuses for the poor quality of our pics already. Oh and we soon realised we should have taken the 18-300mm lens not the big dobber 150-600mm.
Once away from the harbour we turned towards the Atlantic but hugged the coast aiming towards the rocks just off the fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced Mouzle) where the team knew there would be snoozing Grey Seals, again among the most southerly in the world. They were a favourite of the more land-locked of the passengers and even we don't see them hauled out this close along our coast.
Cruising slowly round the island there was a second one and then a third until the Scallonian ferry went past and its wake rudely woke them from their slumbers and washed them off the rocks and into the water. also on the rocks were a number of gulls, Great Black Backs which nest on there but obviously have now finished their breeding season, Herring Gulls and this little cluster of over-exposed first winter Mediterranean Gulls.
Underway again and heading out into open water a passing fisherman in a Rib came close and told us of a group of Harbour Porpoises feeding out by a certain mark so we changed course towards them.
All the while groups of Gannets passed overhead and aay in the distance one of the punters spotted a large number of them diving so we changed course again and went that way to find out what else was with the commotion.
It was then someone shouted out "dolphins!"  (Bizarre - our speech marks key and 'at' key have just changed places - how does that happen?) We looked round but couldn't see them at first until we spotted one right underneath us between the two hulls of the catamaran - awesome, in all the very many boaty rides to see marine life all over the world we've never had dolphins bow-riding the boat we've been on before. It was no it became apparent we needed the shorter eider lens, the 150-600 was U/S! And to make matters worse we couldn't get our phone from the depths of the pocket due to life jacket we were (very sensibly) wearing. At times we could almost touch them, our fingertip only inches above the water surface and their snout only inches below it, superb - what we've been waiting many years for - - and of course the lass who was sat next to us was on her first ever boat ride, beginners luck but we're very glad she was with us!!!
We had to wait until the pod had moved off away from us someway before they came in range.
(Short Beaked) Common Dolphins aren't a species we see along our coast and we can only recall one instance of one being found washed up on the beach in recent(ish) years.
One species we didn't see many of all holiday as Kittowakes, maybe they'd all moved through but there are seriously concerns about population crashes due to the unavailability of their prey from a combination of Climate Change moving the distribution of their prey species to industrial fishing depleting the populations of these smaller fish to make pig food, farmed salmon food, fertiliser etc...not good at all.
The dolphins left us, not bothering to go as far as the bait ball, seems they only wanted to have a look at us and 'play' and weren't too hungry, or they knew it was the wrong sort of fish. Once we arrived the Gannets had mostly dispersed and there were none diving just a few loafing on the water. There were however hundreds of Manx Shearwaters which despite their number were notoriously difficult to get decent pics of leaving us just this one out of hundreds taken!
After have a good close look at the shearwaters we turned back towards the mark where the Harbour Porpoises had been seen and after a few minutes under sail spotted them in the distance, at least five including a juvenile animal. They were shy and moved away from the approaching boat even though we were under sail with no engines running. They did their usual trick of surfacing four or five times in quick succession to replenish their oxygen supply before disappearing on much longer divers when it became very much a guessing game as to where they would resurface, we managed just one dodgy shot of one, at least it shows the typical view of the small triangular fin disappearing below the waves - one we're all too familiar with along our coastline.
Once we'd had our fill of porpoise guessing it was time to move on and the skipper shouted he'd seen a bit if a breach in the distance, he wasn't sure if it was a Blue Fin Tuna or a dolphin but his experienced eyes saw it again and he confirmed it was a (Offshore) Bottlenose Dolphin so off we went that way to see if we could catch them up. We didn't it/they weren't seen again but we did come across another large raft of Manx Shearwaters and this one had two Sooty Shearwaters with them.
Not the best due to the rolling action of the boat just taking it out of the 'sweet spot' (honest) but a species we never in a million years would have thought we'd get a pic of never mind a fairly close up one
 As ever more Gannets were passing the boat but we never did catch up with them diving for fish.
A dark bird coming as if from nowhere across our bows was an Arctic Skua which we failed to get a pic of as it was lost to view behind the sail and then all we would have been able to get once it reemerged was a shot looking straight up its backside - not pretty!
But all was not lost as a Bonxie (aka Great Skua) did almost the same thing but was picked up earlier and stayed in view longer going diagonally away from us rather than straight across us. Scary things these beasts, stealing fish from Gannets twice their size with impunity and even on occasion killing Great Black Back Gulls - now that takes some doing as they're not the most passive of birds themselves!
Moving back inshore we learned about the need for England's newest lighthouse Tater Du and stopped for a moments reflection at the site of the Penlee lifeboat disaster.
Moving on back towards the harbour we passed a sea cave that 'must' have been used by smugglers - well this is Cornwall and 'every' sea cave must have been used by smugglers.
And where there's smugglers there HAS to be pirates, or at least boats that look like they ought to be pirate ships
And with that we were soon back in the dock.  No sign of any Minke Whales on this trip and of course we unable to catch up with the Bottlenose Dolphins, we'd have liked a Great Shearwater and Storm Petrel or two as  well but that's just being greedy and overoptimistic. Only one thing for it - we'll have to go out with them again and we're sure we will. An excellent morning out on the water - thanks very much to Duncan and Amber for their hospitality and knowledge.

Where to next? Tales of local rarity twitching, even more dreadful pics and outside there's a huge south westerly whipping up so we could be in for some Leach's Petrels and other seabird goodies this coming week

In the meantime let us know who's only a fingertip away in your outback