Tuesday 30 October 2018

More news from the mere

The Safari has enjoyed to bright crisp mornings this week. The colder weather has brought a few more birds to the feeders at Base Camp including at long last the first Coal Tit of the autumn. Of most note have been the much larger than usual number of Blackbirds enticed in by the good crop of berries on next door's Rowan trees. The sunny mornings have offered several lovely autumnal photo opportunities.

After many attempts we finaly nailed the berry in the air between the mandibles shot.
A wander over to Marton Mere yesterday gave us a nice Mistle Thrush dropping in from on high on the top of pathside bush right in front of us. We get the impression that they are far less numerous locally than in recent years but in the NW they are about as common as they were back in 1995 but then the population rose by a massive 50% in the early naughties before dropping back to 'normal. Perhaps that's why we think they are less common now - certainly extinct as a local breeder around Patch 1 now especially as their favourite nesting trees have been felled, both for dubious reasons too. We don't hear them singing in the early part of the year from over by the railway as we used to only a couple or so years ago and we've not had one in the garden at Base Camp, actually usually on the TV aerial rather than down on the ground IN the garden, since 2013!
We met up with LR in the Feeding Station hide, still not a great deal happening in there despite the dropping temperatures. Grey Squirrels entertained us with their acrobat antics trying to defeat the anti-squirrrel baffles and Pheasants mopped up the spillage below - bring on the aliens. Natives were represented by a small number of Chaffinches, Great and Blue Tits, a Robin, a Wren, a Dunnock and a gaggle of Magpies.
A look from the Bittern-spotting area didn't give us any Bitterns and not a whole lot else apart from a lorra lorra Coots, maybe over 200 of the the little black beauties, LT picked up a Little Grebe on the far side that we didn't manage to get on.
Cetti's Warblers shouted at each other from the depths of the reedbed, by the time we'd completed the circuit we'd heard half a dozen of them. A couple of them were, as always, at the Fylde Bird Club hide but better than them was a female Goosander that circled round to the left of us and fortunately came in and landed right below us. Our first here for a few years, 2015 in fact.
All too soon it swam out of view behind the reeds.
Leaving the water we continued round to the embankment to have a listen for any Bearded Tits without any joy; everywhere else in west Lancashire/SW Cumbria seems to have them so why not us? Surely it can only be a matter of time before someone drops on them.
Talking of dropping on we watched a male Kestrel do a bit of hovering over the field to the east before swooping round to take up position on the big post a Barn Owl nesting box used to sit on. It didn't stay there long before dropping off and coming up with lunch of hat looked like a Short Tailed Field Vole. Leaving it to it's lunch we pressed on finding the scrub quiet save for a couple of Redwings, we've still not had a Fieldfare over on the side of the country this autumn. Then LR shouted out "Egret!". We looked over towards the water only to see him pointing the opposite way - we spun round with the bins to our eyes and saw that it was quite long winged and definitely black footed rather than yellow-footed - - get in! A Great White Egret which is a site tick for us despite what it says in the birds of Marton Mere 2nd Ed an event we don't recall back in February 2012. Maybe AB can confirm we were with him on that day and we did see it.
Anyway it was good to see on, we think it was a fly-over and hadn't been grounded somewhere round the mere. 
At the Viewing Platform there was still no sign of any Bitterns but we did start to notice some small loose flocks of Starlings going past.
None seemed to turn back so we guess they were heading to the pier to roost. but then we saw more starting to congregate down at the far end, over the reedbed and fields.
More and more came in to join them until the flock became quite a large swarm.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Starlings was that there were two large flocks and individual smaller flocks joining them seemed to know which one they belonged to. The ones at our end spent much less time flying round, well you couldn't call it a murmuration by any stretch of the imagination, but dropped in to the reeds to roost very quickly and newly arriving flocks went straight in to settle down for the night. Whereas the ones at the far end built up in numbers and had a bit of a murmurate before funneling down in to the reeds, not all of them mind and late joining flocks continued to fly round before dropping in, so much so that there were still a lot in the air when we had to leave but the western lot close to us had now gone quiet deep in the reedbed and very few were coming in to add to their number now. How do they know who is who and where they should go to join their mates?

Today's Marton Mere meander was much quieter, we couldn't find anything to point the camera at all the way round. Our best sighting was a Red Admiral butterfly on a sunny but still quite chilly morning and we think we may have heard a Bullfinch but a five minute wait listening for a second call proved fruitless.
A couple of Goldcrests were best of the rest, like we said it wasn't too lively for us today, had we not been dragged hither and thither by Monty we might have had a bit more time to stand and study the surroundings a bit more thoroughly and found a bit more but it wasn't to be.

Where to next? Another safari to the Southside tomorrow.

In the meantime let us know who's swarming round your outback

Thursday 25 October 2018

A wet day up north

The Safari had a somewhat wet day out with our chums from the Southside. After some discussion as to where to meet we meet we decided on Leighton Moss. A good choice as the hides aren't too far apart which is handy on a day of heavy drizzle.
We arrived a few minutes before the others and bunked into Lillian's Hide to wait for them. Crikey it appeared dire, a huge expanse of water and barely a bird to be seen.  The water level was very high too, not far off the highest we've ever seen it at 'the Moss', probably due to the very heavy rain earlier in the week. A quick count gave us the stupefying totals of eight Mallards, a Black Headed Gull, a Coot and a Moorhen - yes it was as good as that! A few more Mallards dropped in to make 14 and we found two more asleep on the far bank with a very well hidden Teal. One more each of Moorhen and Coot crept out of the reeds too. Two wisps of Snipe flew round totaling about 20 birds.
The others turned up and we challenged them to find the snoozing Teal. They found it before too long and discovered there were a couple of others secreted in the cut reeds too. A Marsh Harrier drifted in to view which we weren't really expecting with the weather being so miserable. It wasn't the only raptor on the wing either, one Peregrine shot through and kept going then a second one came in to view speeding one way then the next, finally getting mobbed by the Marsh Harrier with two others in the bins field of view together. We've been coming here since the early 70s and today's awesome raptor sighting was one of the best wildlife experiences we've ever had there.
Roaming round the reserve in the gloaming we caught up with almost all the usual suspects, Red Deer, two rather wet hinds in the distance, no Bearded Tits on the grit trays but we did hear some and see a couple flit over the Causeway close to the grit trays. Marsh Tit didn't fall until we hit the path to the Lower Hide, but did have a bit of a wait to see the Otter we missed by a few minutes earlier. While waiting for it to show we watched a Cormorant struggle with a rather large Tench - what a shame, Tench are our bestest favouritest fish and one anyone other than anglers rarely see. A small flock of Redshank flew in and one of them was a Spotted Redshank which we were able to get all the other birders in the hide on to it. More Redshank came in flushed off the salt marsh and landed on the little island, a huge flock of Black Tailed Godwits circled around a few times but didn't land.
We'd just about made the decision to move on when the Otter decided to show itself over to the far right not far from where the Cormorant and Tench had been.
All in all a cracking day out with good friends and great wildlife even though the camera didn't see light of day, sometimes it's just good to look and observe rather than try to get that 'perfect' pic.
Just about the only birds we didn't see were the Bittern(s?) but none had been seen by anyone else and a Garganey that one keen eyed observer had found hiding in the large number of Teal at the Tim Jackson Hide. One lucky birder had had seen a Yellow Browed Warbler a little way down the road but off the reserve.
Our final new bird of the day was a pair of Bullfinches spotted by IH on the feeders just out the front of the Visitor Centre as we were saying our goodbyes and about to go to the car for the journey back to Base Camp.
The following day dawned sunny and we met up with CR for a wander round Marton Mere. Compared to recent visits there wasn't much about and no visible migration happening overhead apart from the occasional Skylark heard calling. Down at the Fylde Bird Club Hide all was quiet with just a couple of Mallards sitting on the goalposts and a few Teal scattered about. A Cetti's Warbler snag loudly from the reeds in front of us.
TS joined us and as we were chatting the call of 'Bittern' went up again - this time the camera didn't fail us. It came from the left somewhere near the scrape and landed right opposite us.
As soon as it landed it had a look round in typical Bittern head pointing skywards pose before turning round and walking in to the depths of the reeds.
After the earlier camera malfunction there was palpable relief when Bittern was added to our PYLC at #174.
TS left us to it but we stayed pput a few more minutes. Something unseen flushed a few ducks out of the reed edge and in view. We saw a few more Teal, some of the dozen or so Wigeon that are on site
and then we noticed that one of the Teals wasn't a Teal it was a flippin Garganey, (MMLNR #87),  not the latest recorded here over the years but not far off; if it has to stick around due to bad weather it could end up breaking the late record.
All too soon it swan across the gap and was lost to sight behind the reeds on our left. How mad is that though, didn't see Bittern or Garganey on a major reserve all day yesterday and them come down to our local reserve for a couple of hours the following morning and nail them both.
TS had mentioned there were a lot of Pink Footed Geese in the first field and that scoping through them might just throw up something of interest among them. Neither CR nor us had a scope with us so the only thing to do was to take lots of pics of the flock and check them from the comfort of the living room later...lots of images were taken but no sign of anything other than Pink Feet unfortunately.
A small part of the flock which numbered about 750, maybe as many as 1000 allowing for any hidden in the dip in the ground to the left of the pic
The rest of the reserve was a bit of let down with very little finding its way into the notebook.
In the afternoon we had a visit from this splendid little chappie. As often as not they just shoot through but this one was settled on one of the sticks holding up the anti-Heron net over the pond. It was looking around but was it looking for lunch? No - it was going to have a bath in the ornamental waterfall...does it come often and we don't see it cos we're out or was it a one off??????
We had to very carefully get from the kitchen to the sitting room to get the camera and then sneak back without disturbing it and were very worried it would see us as we poked the lens through the kitchen blinds - it did see us but wasn't too bothered fortunately.
We couldn't get a pic of it bathing, which it did for ages as the netting was obscuring it and it was always facing away.

Today we did something we've not done since the early 80s...we joined one of the local volunteer groups and dug up then replanted a load of Marram Grass on the dunes to help stabilise an area of blowing sand.
We could only stay with the group for two hours but in that time the group was able to completely fill up the blow-out area. The pic is from about half way through., the planting eventually reaching the yellow trugs by lunchtime.
We had a great time catching up with HS and she told us some really encouraging news about a sometimes very frustrating conservation project we worked on for about 5-6 years before we retired - it's come to fruition but we're sworn to secrecy for the time being, but suffice to say it has to be one of the most important and exciting conservation projects we've been closely involved with since we left uni as an 'ecologist' in 1980! We hope to be able to divulge the secret in the next couple of months.

Where to nest? We don't have any safaris planned until next week when we may get further afield again, although we are doing something batty for a local children's centre tomorrow.

In the meantime let us know who's having a bath in your outback

Saturday 20 October 2018

Another morning at Marton Mere

The Safari and CR were going to have a day out on the Southside but news on the street was that where we were going to head off to was going to be seriously disturbed due to large machinery beginning work on some extensive habitat modifications - going to be really good when they're finished. However it did mean that had we rocked up there might have been little to see so Plan B was activated - go to Marton Mere, where else! Saved a few bob in petrol and a good hours traveling time too.
On the walk in through the wetlands it was three mornings out of three for the Cetti's Warbler but this time it was on the allotment side of the path rather than in the second pond along.
A Redwing called high above us and then dropped like a stone in to the adjacent scrub, also in the scrub was a flock of Long Tailed Tits which held a Coal Tit too. Then we bumped into RC and while chatting a couple of Siskins (MMLNR #85) went over us. From there we entered the reserve proper and we aimed for the Feeding Station. It was livelier than the previous couple of days with a whole pack of female Pheasants, several Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Robins, Blue and Great Tits. Mammal activity was provided by a flurry of Grey Squirrels.
A quick scan from the new Bittern viewing area didn't give us much other than a lot of Coots and certainly no Bitterns, the nearest we could get to a Bittern was a Heron stood motionless on the reed edge away on the far side of the mere.
Moving on to the Fylde Bird Club hide a pair of Mallards were asleep on the 'goalposts' and a nicely moulting through drake Teal swam past a little way beyond them.
A movement through the tops of the reeds to our right had us squealing 'Bittern' (191, MMLNR #86) in a very overexcited voice. CR fired off a burst of shots but was too eager and didn't let his lens focus on it we on the other hand fared even worse - for some inexplicable reason our camera refused to do anything.
Too eager a Bittern by CR - he won't thank us for posting this image!
The darned thing flew right past us almost giving us a wave as it went - why oh why did our camera throw a moody??? We had a little fiddle with some of the knobs and buttons and not two or three minutes later pointed the lens at a passing gull - no problems, Common Gull committed to the SD card - now why didn't that happen earlier????? So concerned were we with the state of our camera we didn't realise it was a Common Gull until we reviewed the pic to check all was hunky dory, wrongly we'd assumed it was a Black Headed Gull. But then we've told you a hundred times never assume nothin unless told to in a Maths or Physics exam and now you know why!
Two Water Rails scuttled their way through the reeds and across the gaps between them but too quickly, two Cetti's Warblers argued loudly with other either side of the hide but as ever declined to show themselves. 
We'd been hearing Skylarks all morning but some louder calls from lower birds had us looking skywards to find a flock of 10 birds coming towards us.

A couple more each of Cetti's Warblers and Water Rails were heard along the embankment but still no sight nor sound of any Bearded Tits yet.
Further round CR's keen eyes picked out a few ladybirds and then cluster of Harlequin Ladybirds sunning themselves on a fence post.
We found a few more scattered around on the surrounding vegetation too. We'd been reading about the 'Invasion of Killer Ladybirds' all over the nonsense press and social media but these are the first we've seen for some time.
It was sunny and warm by now, warm enough to bring a few butterflies, at least three Red Admirals and a couple of Speckled Woods.
Great Spotted Woodpecker and Buzzard best of the rest on a relatively quiet morning.
With time to spare and the sun out it woulda been a sin to waste it. But where to go? CR suggested Stanley Park and why not it was less than a five minute drive away. 
We walked round the lakeside looking for any Mediterranean Gulls roosting up on the rail, none again - not seen one there for far too long now, where are they all? 
Perhaps more unusual was the almost complete lack of birds along the woodland part of the lakeside walk. Out on the lake there's a huge ominous swathe of Azolla. Monty fell through it thinking it was solid 'grass' when he tried to reach someone's lost football - oops he won't be doing that again - - frightened himself he did. In the bits of open water we saw some sleeping Shovelers, several Gadwall and some Tufted Ducks.
Along the roadside we came across a Great Crested Grebe which started fishing.
And at last it was close enough when it caught a Perch for us to get our best shot of one with a fish so far.
The grebe must have still been hungry after its meal as it continued fishing for some time all in a very small area but sisn't catch anything else.
It was then we heard a Ring Necked Parakeet call from the other side of the lake so off we went. By the time we'd walked round there other birders/photographers told us it had flown off and they were interesting their lenses with a couple a couple of Grey Squirrels tucking in to food they'd pout down for them. They are very habituated to people and dogs showing no fear so we were able to frame fillers from as close as the big lens would allow, shame the sun wasn't reaching this shady area low down under the trees now.
They might be unwanted aliens and some Pine Martens and Goshawks might not go amiss but lots of folk love em and are able to interact with them on a very personal level so maybe they're not THAT bad.

Also horrendously popular are those other aliens the Ring Necked Parakeets which reappeared while everyone was concentrating on the Grey Squirrels. Yes we really do have bright green aliens - no really we really do have real aliens that are really really green.
Almost arty bright green framed by the red leaves of the maple tree
Best of the rest was a Great Spotted Woodpecker that kept itself mostly high in the tree-tops and round the wrong side of the woodwork.

Where to next? A safari up north again tomorrow.

In the meantime let us know who the well loved aliens are in your outback.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Non-birdy wildlife at Marton Mere followed by a good bird day there

The Safari was able to get an unexpected sneaky visit to Marton Mere yesterday morning.There were a few birds about the first notable one being a Cetti's Warbler in one of the ponds at the wetland on the way in. That was followed by a Sparrowhawk circling over the north western corner of the reserve. A few Skylarks were going over calling but unseen the continued on and off all morning, no idea how many were involved all together. 
We decided to go round anti-clockwise taking us to the Feeding Station first where it was quiet with only two Pheasants and two Chaffinches. A volunteer was mowing the path edges behind us and the noise was upsetting Monty so we high tailed it out of there, wasn't owt happening anyway. We'd just got out through the caravan site gate when four Redpolls (MMLNR #82) went over. They'd come from over the mere so hadn't been parked up in the Alders behind the Feeding Station. 
Moving further down the bank we didn't see much on interest until we came upon a smashed up mushroom.
Why do folk do that - fear of the unknown we guess going back to the 'all mushrooms are edible - some only once'. But if no-one's going to eat it why smash it up with a stick? Some folk are absolute numpties, so disassociated with wildlife and nature and sadly that's the norm now.
No more than a couple of yards away were two Shaggy Inkcaps which must have popped up after Mr/s Destruction had gone otherwise they'd no doubt be smashed up too despite being edible - and good...although we weren't going to take a bite out of these as they were very much in a dog zone!
While we were getting down n dirty with the Shaggy Inkcaps Monty's nose had taken him off to our left and he was pulling hard on his lead making us take notice of him again - good job we did he'd pulled himself within range of this Fox do-do and was just about to drop his shoulder for a good old roll in in it...Nooooooooo - only an idiot would have a dog!!! Fortunately we managed to drag him away from it before it was smeared all over his back - why do they do that - YUKKKKK
From the fence we could see there wasn't muxh by way of waterfowl or gulls in front of the Fylde Bird Club Hide so we opted to keep moving instead of going in, good move cos if we had have gone in we'd have missed the two Swallows scudding across the grassed area going westwards at a rate of knots.
With Redpolls and Swallows of interest spotted already we thought it best to call in at the visitor centre and report them officially. On the way up there we saw a cluster of Common Inkcaps - unsmashed and yet these can give you a seriously dicky tummy if eaten and you have alcohol in your system...best avoided unless your a total tee-totaller.
After a quick chat at the VC we continued our circuit. At the gate by the bridge over the outflow stream we found an interesting pellet sat on top of the rubbish bin. It's about the size of our thumbnail and almost spherical. We're not sure what it might have been produced by, Little Owl, Blackbird (bit big for one of those?) something else??? The snail is intriguing, we're no good at snail ID is it a terrestrial species or is it from the adjacent stream?
Some of the black bits look very much like beetle elytra (wing cases) which would point towards Little Owl, or maybe Kestrel perhaps - can anyone shed any further light on the ID? So far on Twitter we've had no response and on Facebook a 'Big Gun' is gunning for Little Owl. Thoughts anyone...over to you.
Our walk around most of the rest of the reserve was pretty uneventful apart from a couple of small flocks of Pink Footed Geese dropping in to the fields to the east but landing out of sight behind a rise in the ground and a handful more Cetti's Warblers scattered around the site. When we reached the path to the Viewing Platform we spied this rather impressive fungus at the side of the path, must be 18 inches end to end - a real beast! No idea what it is though.
At the Viewing Platform we hoped for a Bittern but it wasn't to be, 'just' a small flock of Long Tailed Tits working their way through the top of the recently pruned Willow tree to the left of the bench - great stuff as there is now a sweeping visita right around the northwest corner of the reedbed - just right for spotting any Bitterns popping up out of there and heading towards you.
Just as we were leaving a huge pall of thick black smoke came up from behind the barn just beyond the reserve's eastern boundary - doesn't look good but who ya gonna call? Fire brigade or the Environment Agency? Probably shoulda called the latter.
Framers eh? Sometimes we think they dshouldn't be allowed in the countryside - and we're from farming stock!
The walk back to the car gave us the same number of Goldcrests as we had all last weekend at Spurn - one, in the allotment hedge at the wetlands.

This morning dawned cold and clear, the sun hasn't risen now when we're out on Monty's early morning walk and today there was a crisp frost on the grass and car windscreens. As ever we look for the Peregrine on its usual (now unusual) perch but yet again no sign of it. But high up in the cold steel grey ether we heard another Brambling, none for 14 1/2 years then two in a couple of days! P1 #51)
Coming back on to the main road and looking down the hill we could see a huge swirl of Jackdaws, about 100 of them which we guessed must have roosted somewhere nearby.
Back at Base Camp we were pleased to find about half a dozen Blackbirds in the garden feasting on next door's Rowan berries and our Pyracantha bush.
Blackbirds we expect, maybe not as many as six but they are daily visitors but Starlings are another kettle of fish altogether, very rarely do they come in to the garden so to see three drop in begs the question are they local birds or migrants from afar that have possibly traveled on the coat tails of the Blackbirds...you decide.
Either way it was great to see them in the garden.
A flock of about 85 Jackdaws went over going south west, almost definitely not the 100 we'd seen earlier.
And with the sun shining we decided on taking Monty for another spin round Marton Mere. The walk started as yesterday with a/the Cetti's Warbler at the wetlands. We'd not gone far when we heard the unmistakable woosh woosh sound of Mute Swans' wings carving up the air. Two of them came low overhead making for Stanley Park lake.
So close we could only fit one of them in the frame.
We opted to give Monty a bit more of a run before putting him on his lead so went round the outside of the reserve along the bridlepath, here a patch of sunshine had warmed the place up enough for a Common Darter to fly past and alight on the fence to do a bit of basking and catch a few rays.
We carried on on our way and into the reserve (with Monty now on his lead) and set off along the embankment where we met TS. We'd gone that way on the off chance we might see the Bittern fly over the reedbed and/or hear the pings of a fresh-in Bearded Tit, there's been a bit of an influx along the north west coast line and our reed bed is as good as anyone elses!
While we were chatting we both saw a large black bird we both at first glance thought might be a Raven but when it banked it turned into our first Marsh Harrier here since before 2010. Unfortunately it stayed down the far end before dropping in to the reedbed somewhere near the scrape putting about 60 Teal to flight. We hoped that when it got up again it would come our way and we'd get some spectacular views of it wafting over the reedbed in front of us - no such luck it went down the far end again and then set off high to the north east and away.
We also noted a steady passage of Skylarks and a few Chaffinches from our spot on the embankment. Behind us were more Pink Footed Geese than we'd had yesterday and more still were going over further east.
TS went on his way and we stopped a few more minutes to watch a Sparrowhawk speed by and listen to Water Rails squalling and Cetti's Warblers exploding but not a peep out of any Bearded Tits that might have been but probably weren't lurking in the reeds.
We followed on in TS's footsteps passing a family who think it's acceptable to come in to a nature reserve and take away the birds and animals winter food supply - armed with a long pole to reach the Apples no-one else could reach - how many hundredweight of invaluable winter food is lost to these numpties each autumn - all for the sake of saving a few pence at the supermarket. We're only taking  two or three they told us, each with one of those large 'indestructible' carrier bags in their hands.
Fortunately the morning picked up soon after that when we heard the soft 'peeuu' call of a Bullfinch and then watched a female lift out of the scrub fly a short distance and then drop back in again. That's the first sighting since early April. 
Our offer of a king sized Mars Bar for the person who gets a decent pic of one still stands, got to be better than our two paltry efforts so far to get that prize though.
Then we had 'bad news' from MMcG we'd just missed a Jay and a Bittern he told us, but we did get on to the two Whooper Swans that were cruising round the far end of the mere, our first actually on the water for several years.
We hung around chatting to the Ranger and volunteers for a while hoping the Bittern might show itself again - it didn't and they disappeared in to the reedbed to remove a substantial Willow growing on a bit of an island so went back towards the Feeding Station. We'd only gone a few steps when BOOM a flock of nine Coal Tits flew over us and went across to the trees in the caravan site - awesome as those over the other side of the pond say. No other species were in the flock and nine is at least six more than we've ever seen on site before!
Best of the rest were the shed loads of Jackdaws, must seen 1000 all morning up to now and a Great Spotted Woodpecker going east over the wetlands.

It was quieter back at Base Camp after lunch but thee were still a few Jackdaws on the move. After the school traffic had died down we took Monty out to the park, Patch 1, but without a camera - shoulda took one as as soon as we got there we spotted a Jay coming in from the east, very very seldom do we see them round here.
Sparrrowhawk and a Small White butterfly were best of the rest until we got home and had a Red Admiral perched up on one of our down pipes at Base Camp.

Where to next? An all day safari over to the Southside with CR tomorrow

In the meantime let us know who's reappeared in your outback