Friday, 30 November 2018

"You shoulda been here five minutes ago"

The Safari had arranged to meet GB from the tram for a jaunt out with CR but before his tram arrived we had half an hour up n down the prom with Monty. The wind was a howlin and the drying sand was being whipped around the top of the sandbanks in a myriad of infinite ever changing patterns. We really like watching this, we find it mesmerising, could stand there for hours - not so pleasant to walk through though; unless you like your boots filling with sand that is.
From the top of the cliffs below us along the bottom of the cliff along the Lower Walk we saw a few Meadow Pipits, fewer than in recent visits when there have been over a dozen, less than half that today. A bit too far away and the wind was buffeting us all over the shop.
The tram arrived and GB alighted and off we went to pick up CR for the day's adventure to the south east.
An hour or so later we were dashing from the car to the first hide at Pennington Flash desperate to get under cover before the latest batch of weather landed.
It was rough out there!
Most of the wildlife was hunkering down out of the way of the ferocious squalls, a few Lapwings and a herd of Canada Geese stood out braving the weather as did three Herons although they did wimp out and tried to find some cover. 
It took a while but eventually the torrential rain  eased giving us enough time to dart round to the shelter of Bunting Hide and once there the rain started again. The place was heaving with most of the usual subjects, Blue and Great Tits, Moorhens and Magpies, Robins and Chaffinches, and a Grey Squirrel or two. A couple of pairs of Bullfinches dashed in and out, always good to see but there were no Long Tailed Tits, Wrens, Water Rails, Goldfinches or Greenfinches and only one Stock Dove.
Looks like it's worn the fur off its nose trying to stick its beak through the anti-squirrel mesh around the feeders
 A couple of Reed Buntings were around too.
The main event soon turned up, the site's speciality a couple of Willow Tits. Always good to see this sadly increasingly scarce bird and here is probably the best place there is especially outside the breeding now! This one had found a stash of food in a crack in the feeding 'slab'.
If there's a way of telling them apart from Marsh Tits from a photo here's a more typical view of a Willow Tit down a hole.
Again a gap in the weather allowed us to scarper quickly round the trail to the next hide hopefully escaping a drenching. 
Gadwall, Shoveler, a few more Canada Geese and a couple of Goosanders were on the next pool but we saw very little on the walk round there. GB spotted a bit of movement in the rough grass at the edge of the pool and closer inspection revealed a sleeping wisp of Snipe - are they a 'wisp' when they are on the ground or does the expression only apply when they are in flight?

Still not a Kingfisher to been seen on the conveniently placed posts and perches though. Time to high tail it round to the next hide. Very little there apart from a Heron and a couple of Teal but the wind was rattling uncomfortably through the windows bringing driving rain with it. Time to escape to the next hide where the wind was taking the rain over the top from behind us so it a good deal more comfortable. "You shoulda been here a few minutes ago, the Kingfisher was just there", said the lad we sat next to. "Don't worry, it'll be back, it's been back and forth several times this morning"
No we didn't see it - sat thee for well over half an hour - not a sniff of the little Bobby Dazzler. Half a dozen Herons lazed around doing very little, occasionally shifting position to another vantage point but not really doing  any fishing.
By now our butties were beckoning us back to the car park. We opened the car got our butties out and were just about to take a chomp out of our doorstep cheese n pickle when we saw the unmistakable translucent white wing tip of a Mediterranean Gull land about 100 yards away among a gaggle of Black Headed Gulls and Mallard ducks waiting for any punters to launch the tail end of their butties or a few chips from their car windows. Temporarily abandoning our butty and walking closer we found it in the middle of the group. What a beauty! as John Wilson would say. We were saddened to hear of his passing (even after our anti-fishing rant in our previous post) as we spent a lot of time (probably too much) in his shop in Norwich when we were at uni in the late 70s.
What a beaut!!! There's not a better bird in the book
We thought about edging closer to try to get a 'frame filler' and see if we could get some detail from the ring but a bloke got out of his car skirted carefully around the flock, he didn't disturb them but five yards from the bin he launch his bag of rubbish into the bin like a basketball player and flushed everything...dohhh.
There's that translucent white wingtip
Result though - wasn't expecting to find one of those.
After butties we were back out on the trails and went to the Bunting Hide again, this time it was deadly quiet, all the food had been eaten and didn't all the birds know it. CR tried chucking out some seed he'd brought but it only brought in a couple or three Magpies and a Grey Squirrel. We soon moved on. The Herons were now trying to see how deep they could wade without floating. There were two of them doing this for no apparent reason.
On a strategically placed perch but not a Kingfisher. Only pigeons can drink like this as no other birds can suck!

A flock of Long Tailed Tits flew in front of the window and in to the shrub on our left. Always a joy to see these tiny tots.
A couple came in and told us they'd been watching a Kingfisher not five minutes ago back at the first hide we visited. We had to go - - arriving a few minutes later after a scurry down the trail we got there; "you shoulda been here five minutes ago" greeted us as we came through the door. "It's been coming and going all afternoon". Nothing for it but to sit and wait. And then at last a flash of blue! There it was sitting on a conveniently placed branch right in front of us. Trouble was the wind was blowing the branch around like something off Strictly Come Dancing. Luckily Kingfishers have gyroscopic heads and it was stone dead still even though its body was wiggling around like a maggot on a hook. We totally missed the second bird that GB saw which made our bird fly off only moments after this pic as taken.
Not perfect but our best Kingfisher pic so far by far
We had a look at the gulls coming in to roost but the light was poor and against us. One stood out as being a Kodiak Grey Scale darker than the others no matter what angle it was at, so definitely darker than the others around it. Take your eye off it for a few minutes and look away and you re-find it very quickly again it was that different.
Not sure what it is, those little white primary tips (and is that a bit of the end of P6 or a worn tertial?) bill looks dull too so we're guessing at a sub-adult Herring Gull possibly with a more Northern lineage - any thoughts anyone.
The nearest buoy had a very pale headed gull sat on it. Again 'only' a Herring Gull judging by the speckly coverts.
And that was the end of the light. Time to head back to Base Camp - - and we didn't get wet all day - how did we manage that???.

A great day out on safari with great mates.

Where to next? Safari's will be very weather dependent this coming week. No doubt we'll be out somewhere sometime during the week but where we'll be is another question altogether.

In the meantime who's doing the Bobby Dazzling in your outback.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

It's murder out there

The Safari had a family day out and dogs walk around the dunes at Birkdale last weekend. mot much to report as as can be imagined on a Sunday afternoon there was a lot of disturbance. Most unusual was the number of Harebells still flowering, normally they are a mid to late summer flowerer so to see plenty of them still going strong at the end of November is a tad unusual to say the least and possibly something to to do with the hot dry summer followed by a fairly mild autumn.
Monday morning saw us on the beach for the first time in a while. Again we came across another rather unusual late November sighting, this time an Octopus Jellyfish. They are more usually associated with the summer months but can be found after rough weather more sporadically throughout the winter too.
Much less pleasing was the discovery of one then two then casting our eye along the beach almost two dozen dead young Lesser Spotted Catsharks. No doubt victims of the fishermen over the weekend. Further own the beach Monty had spotted (or more likely got a sniff of) something grey lying on the sand. At first we thought it was a sheet of plastic but getting closer soon realised it was  a dead Thornback Ray.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Monty and get him on his lead before he dropped a shoulder and rolled on it as is his wont with dead stuff. Good job we did too as he could have shredded and minced himself looking at those spines! A common enough creature in our waters and we find many of their Mermaid's Purse egg-cases but it wouldn't and probably didn't look out of place in the times of Jurassic Park 150 million years ago. Sad to see its life snuffed out. We witnessed a fishing match along the prom last weekend and have to say the cruelty we witnessed was shocking. Whatever happened to anglers respecting and being responsible for their catch and looking after the environment? We watched fish being dragged over the concrete sea wall rather than being lifted with a net as soon as they were able, others were left hooked on the dry ground or dangling from the mouth with their full body weight (not good for an animal that nver feels its own weight) for several minutes while the fishermen changed their leader and recast had a chat to their mates about their catch and only then got round to measuring it before unhooking it, often brutally, and then slinging it back over the wall in to the sea. surely the measure and release should be done first and the release could be much more gently done from the steps down to the beach - providing it's safe to descend them without risk of being washed in. The amount of fishing related litter left behind was shocking too; despite all the publicity surrounding plastic and its effect on marine life the message isn't getting through to some, or it is and they just don't care.
We used to do a lot of fishing but we think the rod n reel will be staying put in the garage now.
Anyway come Monday afternoon we had a wander round the nature reserve. Not a lot going on but to be fair we walked around the outside path peering in at all the former favourite Long Eared Owl roost spots to no avail - where are they? Are there even any here? Our walk took us along the caravan site bank where we had quick look from Dragonfly Den, the much improved view didn't give us any reward though. Our best sighting so far came in the form of two Little Grebes away across against the reeds on the far side from the unofficial 'under the big tree' view point - could do with a proper screen here as its a great spot to check out the gulls.
Frpm the  Fylde Bird Club hide we were told about two neck ringed Grey Lag Geese by MJ and BD. At first both were distant on the scrape with one out of site behind the reeds in the corner but after a while a flotilla sawm out and passed in front of us giving an opportunity to read the collars Orange PZP and PZS, birds from the Windermere study site.
From information received from WWT's KB they were ringed together in 2015 at Lake Windermere and are often seen together. They summer and presumably breed in the Lake District around Lake Windermere and then fly south a few miles to spend the winter around the Fylde and SW Lancashire.
Conscious of the time we pushed on passing a Water Rail and then a Cetti's Warbler calling unseen from the reeds below the embankment. But our plans to try to avoid the worst of the traffic were thwarted when we dropped off the embankment and in to the rough field. A movement of something pale to the left caught the corner of our eye and turning to see what it was we were face to face with a Barn Owl! It flew past us and over on to the island where although a bit distant did give us the opportunity to fire off a few (too) hasty shots in the gloom. It was our 99th species of the year at the nature reserve and 176th species in our Photo Year List Challenge. What will the 100th species be, Little Owl perhaps, a Long Eared Owl would be nice!, or something unexpected might just pop along. Shame the flurry of Bearded Tits passed our ever-so attractive reedbed by.
Yesterday found us mooching round the Rock Gardens in the gloom of a miserable late November day. A party of Long Tailed Tits is always guaranteed to brighten up proceedings.
We're not sure if we like Grey Squirrels or not. Half of us wish they were Red Squirrels and yet the other half is pleased that a great many folks get a great deal of pleasure seeing them and interacting with them in a positive way - that can't be bad can it?
Whatever your thoughts you can't get past the fact they're pretty darned cute.
Bits and bobs about too in the shape of a dozen Blackbirds, a Great Spotted Woodpecker left  the wooded area of the park and flew eastwards over the open ground towards CR's place, singles of Goldcrest and Coal Tit too. All went quiet when a Sparrowhawk tazzed through.
Nowt happening today, barely got a chance to look out of the window.

Where to next? A big safari to the south east tomorrow.

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

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Plenty of birds as the weather cools down

The Safari was able to get down to the pier to watch the Starlings last Sunday. When we arrived the tide was already touching the end of the pier but that meant it was still way down the beach. There had already been a big arrival of Starlings and they were trying to relax on the beach.The big black slick is somewhere approaching 10000 birds, hard to get anything like an accurate count or even estimation.
Unfortunately when the tide is this far down they are very vulnerable to disturbance by every numptie that comes along, some like the dog walkers just don't see them and blunder aimlessly with their can't possibly do any wrong/harm 'fur babies' (who came up with that dreadful expression?), photographers with very poor field skills who got too close and then this twerp who kept running at them 'to make them fly' while he filmed them on his mobile.
All this nonsense meant they'd wasted a lot of energy flying around avoiding the next disturbance and ended up doing very little flying round in any form of formation before going under the pier to roost.
The sunset was getting better all the while and we took a few arty pics of the pier, not that it's one of the most picturesque piers in the country.
 The last few Starlings from the beach went to roost
As it got darker a couple more large flocks arrived but went straight under the desk to sleep.
Our last snap of the evening was of the famous Blackpool Tower in almost darkness with the 'Strictly Come Dancing' flag flying from the pole (not that you can tell from this awful pic) for those that are interested in that sort of 'distraction' entertainment.
During the week we've had a couple of trips to Warton Bank on the salt marsh to unsuccessfully look for the two Hen Harriers that have been criss-crossing the river for the last couple of weeks or so. Apart from Little Egrets there hasn't been much to see close up down there. Plenty of waders and ducks further out towards the river but well out of range for our lens. On our first visit we had a very distant Marsh Harrier and our visit today gave us a Great White Egret, a brief Merlin and a Buzzard surveying the marsh from the loftiest vantage point around, the top of one of the airfield's navigation lights. Small birds were almost non-existent apart from a few Chaffinches and a couple of Skylarks triliip-ing overhead.
Probably  our most unusual sighting of the week was a huge bumble bee that bounced off the side of our head shortly after sunrise on one of  Monty's first dog walk of the day. It was still fairly dark and the temperature couldn't have been more than 5C, not the most obvious conditions you'd expect a bee to be flying around in. It all happened so quickly we were unable to get an ID as to which species of bee it was but it did fly off strongly after its collision with our rather thick head!
Yesterday CR took us on an all day safari up to RSPB Leighton Moss. Spirits and optimism were high as we hit the trail north in blistering sunshine...but only a mile after joining the motorway our spirits dampened somewhat as low cloud and gloom spread coastwards from the east obliterating the lovely sunshine.
With recent news of a drake American Wigeon at the coastal pools we aimed that way first. But as soon as we opened the hide door there was the question "Have you come for the wigeon?" "yes" "ah, it's flown way out over the marsh about two hours ago and not been seen since". Never mind there's always plenty on offer here.
Most obvious was the Great White Egret fishing in the near corner of the pool. Looking more closely in that direction we saw that it was with a small flotilla of Goosanders, four females and two males.
A wader waded in front of it, a Greenshank, looking particularly tiny next to the giant sized egret.
And then we got the three Gs together, Great White Egret, Greenshank and Goosander, unfortunately we couldn't get a shot of all three together when the Goosander had its head out of the water.
After a while the egret took flight and moved closer to us, flopping in to the shallow water with a pose reminiscent of Daniel, the Karate Kid and his famous Crane Kick...against which there is (allegedly) no defence; you have all seen the film, right???

Meanwhile jst to the right of all this Kung Fu action a Kingfisher had been sitting motionless and probably unimpressed by all the flappy antics on a nearby post just up the bank from the water's edge. Always a little too distant as it skipped from post to post occasionally, never really coming in to effective range in the poor light but great so see all the same. Prolonged views too, normally when we see them here it's all too brief a sighting but this morning it was present all the time we were there. brilliant! It did a bit of diving but we didn't see it bring any fish back to its perch.
Although we love to see thee Great White Egrets and are still aware of their 'rarity status' - couldn't believe how excited folk got about them over at Spurn last month, we still have a soft spot for the now extremely common and seen all over the coast Little Egrets, long gone are the days of a trip to the southern half of France to see these chaps. We watched it deftly picking out what appeared to be shrimps rather than Sticklebacks today (a lucky pic to confirm would have been good but it swallowed them too quickly for us to get a snap!) from the murky water, made all the more murkier by its habit of using those big yellow feet to stir up the mud and flush out any prey items.
Someone in the hide noticed that a Snipe had wandered out from a concealed position just below us and was having a bit of preen at the water's edge.
Looks like its about to apply its lippy!
After a good bout of feather re-positioning it climbed the bank and strutted off to find some lunch.
As it got further away the Goosanders came closer, or at least the females did. But again they were preoccupied hunting fish and rarely put their heads up for long. As with the Little Egret it was difficult to tell what they were catching, whatever it was it was small fry as they'd swallowed it below the surface just briefly raising their bill from the water to lick their lips.
At long last we got a head-up pic. The lady sat next to us pointed out that the hook on the end of the bill is much larger in the males than the females. That's not something we've ever noticed before but a good look through the bins confirmed it, the males did indeed have a much larger hook, perhaps as much as half as big again. We'll look out for that again next time we come across a mixed flock of Goosanders.
The supporting cast included a large flock of Lapwings, some Black Tailed Godwits, with a few Redshanks, and single Dunlin and Spotted Redshank thrown in for good measure.
Time to have a look at the rest of the reserve. News was that the two nearest pools were frozen and there was little to be seen there but returnees were reporting occasional sightings of Bearded Tits on the new grit trays down that way so we decided to give it a go. On the way we passed a chap waiting by a tree stump he'd baited up with a small handful of seeds. It was lively with Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and a despicable Marsh Tit that darted in and darted out on a smash and grab raid for the tastiest morsel on offer. We were always far to slow with the camera to get him but we did get a quick snap of the young Brown Rat cheekily nipping out every so often to mop up the spillage from above.
A very rumbustuous Robin was doing its best to keep everyone else away from the handouts including this Dunnock that got a serious duffing up if it got too close to the food, so much so we didn't actually see it grab anything to eat while it was hanging around the margins of the action. even when food was offered a bit nearer to it .
Nuthatches are either a bit tougher or a bit quicker than Dunnocks or maybe both as this one didn't have any Robin problems when it came for a refill or three.
Further on the reedbeds were silent and the grit trays empty, absolutely not a sniff of a Bearded Tit and very little else apart from a Moorhen or two at both hides. Yep everything was frozen out there.
Time to move on again, we had a quick look from Lillian's Hide with again not a lot happening so off we went to the Causeway passing something we saw out of the corner of our eye that we don't see around the Fylde, the soils are 'wrong'; the shiny red, but toxic, berries of Black Bryony, a straggly climbing plant. In the green months it has attractive heart shaped shiny leaves.
The pool at the Causeway was mostly frozen with the selection of waterfowl concentrated in the open water to our left. No Bitterns or Otters to be seen, any Otters would probably have fallen through the thin ice! Work on the roof of the Lower hide was well underway and we could hear the buzz of saws from our location well across the pool, a large fire was burning too but we were still considering going that way to have a shuffy for the Great Grey Shrike that's been frequenting the fields just outside the reserve, and then we saw a shooting party roll up in said fields - no chance of the shrike sticking around with all that Pheasant blasting going on. Bl**dy psychopaths! Although the shrike's not that much better, brutal b*ggers they are but at least they're brutal to survive rather than for fun.
Retracing our steps we popped in to Lillian's Hide again where another gorgeous Snipe was probing around in the now thawed mud just below us. 
No mandibular gymnastics this time
Little smashers aren't they!
With the light winds we thought that a Marsh Harrier or two must have been in the air by know but as far as we knew none had so far been seen by anyone all day - until we mentioned that and within five minutes one appeared far away across the reedbed but only briefly, not sure if anyone else in the hide got on to it despite us calling out directions.
Time to move on again so a quick stop at the feeding station where by eckk was it gloomy! These Chaffinch pics were more of an experiment than anything else.  We whacked the ISO up to a ludicrous 16000 but looking at the pics we might have been better going up another notch or two to freeze the action. The camera only actually goes up another two notches.

Not as bad and blotchy as we feared and certainly fine for illustrating blog posts.
Experiment over we had another look at the marsh pools where one small flock of Wigeon had been flushed off the marsh on to the back of the pool by a male Marsh Harrier, our third of the day after passing the second a few minutes earlier on the drive from the reserve to the pools.
We've had a good look and there's no American Wigeon in the pic
The Kingfisher was still around and did come a little nearer but in the gloom we just had a good look at it through the bins and didn't point the camera at it again.
With the light fading rapidly C had the idea of heading home via Over Wyre to see if we could find any owls, particularly any Short Eared Owls. As we approached the half way there  mark drizzle started and started to get heavier and become proper good old fashioned wet English rain and that put the kibosh on any owls coming out. Straight back to Base Camp it was then.
Yet another cracking day out on safari and once again thanks to C for doing the driving.

This morning broke with hazy sunshine and we set off for Marton Mere only minutes after sun rise with Monty. It felt like we'd beaten the birds getting out of bed, it was so quiet we thought they all must have been having a well earned weekend lie-in.
The best bit was the new viewing channel the Ranger and volunteers had cut through the reedbed at Dragonfly Den. There was a Moorhen feeding and a Heron flew in for a bit of a stalk. Good stuff, all we need now is the Bittern to do the same, or should that be one of the three Bitterns...
Not much from the Fylde Bird Club hide s owe moved on but perhaps we should have been more patient cos when we were half way along the embankment only a few minutes later we heard a Coot commotion and a good scan with the bins showed an Otter swimming straight across the middle of the mere towards the Heron Hide. Far to far away for a pic but we took a blast's worth anyway. One day we'll get a decent close up pic of one at the mere.
A handful of Fieldfares was best of the rest.

Where to next? More safaris next week, one we have planned away down to the furthest southeast corner of Safari-land, weather permitting. 

In the meantime let us know who's practicing their Kung Fu moves in your outback.