Wednesday 20 March 2019

Mid month flurry

The Safari hasn't been enjoying the incessant stream of Atlantic storms battering us in the last couple of weeks; they've been a shock to the system after the brief record-breaking warm spell at the end of February, but this rough weather is normal for the time of year it's always windy around the equinox. We're now in to the last third of March and we still haven't seen a Wheatear, we missed the very early ones then the door was slapped firmly in their faces by the atrocious weather.
A bit of a break between storms saw us head east to Brock Bottoms for a morning walk with Monty. It was still gloomy and drizzly but at least the howling wind had dropped. The river was very high and going through like a train. A Dipper (PYLC #103) tried its best to keep in the dark shadows under the near bank.
The woods were fairly quiet we might have expected a bit more bird activity after the hooleys but even with the (very refreshing) lack of humans and their mutts everything was still keeping its head down. Best of the rest was easily a pair of Grey Wagtails (PYLC #104) flitting around close to the old mill looking rather dapper in the sunshine. It's shame we didn't see the Dipper again now the sun had come out.
Back in the car park we noticed something we don't think we've noticed there before despite visiting regularly since the mid-80s, one of the trees close to the entrance is a Hornbeam. How come we've never spotted that before, or have we and we've just forgotten?
The strong winds have brought a few Little Gulls to our coast and at the weekend we went to look for them on the rising tide, there'd been some earlier in the afternoon but by the time Monty's walk time came around it was getting a bit late and dark and we'd missed them. A drake Eider (PYLC #105) half way across the river mouth was all we could see of note.
Pretty rubbish so we'll have to see if we can improve on it during the course of the year
Good weather beckoned on Monday so we arranged a trip out with CR, unfortunately by the time Monday came round the forecast good weather  had changed to cold and wet but at least not windy. With all the recent rain we reckoned our best bet for dry footpaths would be south of the river at Martin Mere and Marshside. We hit Martin Mere first, spending much of our time at the lively feeding stations
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Reed Bunting
Blue Tit
Chaffinch sitting somewhat uncomfortably
Perhaps due to its legs being affected by Papilloma virus
Tree Sparrow
We took a walk round the Reedbed Walk in the hope that the calm weather would have any Bearded Tits still on site giving their presence away with their distinctive pinging calls. We didn't hear any nor did we hear the sites booming Bittern but we did hear a couple of Cetti's Warblers giving brief bursts of song.
From the Ron Barker hide the chance of seeing any Barn Owls hunting was well and truly scuppered by the now heavy drizzle. From there we always like to get a pic of the big Longhorn bull. Today's opportunity was a good one as he was closer than usual and we were able to get a more natural pic of him that doesn't show his ear tags or nose ring.
A fine looking beast
Also there were a few Avocets.
Somehow we managed to dodge most of the wildfowl and waders but we were tempted to point the lens at this Ruff that landed close to us at the remains of the old Swan Link hide.
Round at the UU hide we soon picked out the flock of Barnacle Geese but are they 'real' or 'just' some feral wanderers?
A Little Egret flew past the window and landed at the edge of the pool across the big dyke but didn't stay more than a few minutes.
After lunch we moved down tthe road a couple of miles to Marshside RSPB reserve.
As soon as we got there a quick look on the Junction Pool gave us a very sleepy Scaup (PYLC #106)
But the 'main event' was to be seen from the visitor centre, Sandgrounders hide, the long(ish) staying Spoonbill. Wonder if it is one of the three we saw here last year but didn't have a camera with us for pic. It was feeding in a deep ditch and we had to wait a while until it reached more open ground by which time it was even further away across the marsh. Still it hits the Challenge tally at #107 and a good bonus bird as they're far from guaranteed round these parts.
Much of the time we spent in the hide was taken up watching the antics of the Black Headed Gulls going about their courtship rituals. One female in particular was regularly being offered coughed up morsels, whether or not it was the same male bringing them we couldn't tell.
A nice variety of ducks swam past the window very close in.
Shoveler female
Shoveler male
Tufted Duck
Just breaking the surface

Bedraggled Gadwall
But the stars of the show were the Avocets which came so close we could see they were eating 3-Spined Sticklebacks and small snails among other unidentified invertebrates.
And what goes in must inevitably come out
We meant the water...but you knew that didn't you!
Time was drawing to a close so another quick look at the Junction Pool before hitting the car park gave us a pair of Little Grebes (PYLC #108) right below us at the screen.
A great safari south of the river and our thanks to C for the driving today.

Yesterday we decidded to have a look for a local Little Owl, we sort of knew where it was but had no joy, it wasn't until later in the morning when AM bumped in to us that he told us he'd just seen it - miust have missed him on site by minutes - and that we had been looking in the wrong place, we'd been checking out some of the tumbledown farm buildings when in fact they are in a tree across the fields, a tree we'd seen and noted but not looked at properly - dohhh. Never mind, we know for next time. AM told us he was going down to Warton Marsh and as Monty needed a bit of a stretch we decided to follow him there. 
A good decision it turns out as we picked up a harrier on the far side of the river which A got in his scope anb confirmed it as a ring-tail Hen Harrier, a year bird for us but no chance of a photo. We walked the embankment counting about 120 Whooper Swans and 10 distant Avocets along with numerous Little Egrets while being serenaded by Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, it was a little chilly but a lovely morning to be out.
A Buzzard flew over us and then out in the distance we picked up another, rather larger harrier, a Marsh Harrier. As we watched it quartering the marsh at some height it suddenly stooped on something white that got up out of the grass, well not quite white pale grey and we could just about make out a hint of dark at the wingtips, male Hen Harrier exclaimed A looking at it through his scope - excellent! Unfortunately as soon as the Marsh Harrier had passed over it dropped back in to the long grass not to be seen again.
One last scan of  the marsh through the scope as we were leaving had A saying he'd found a Merlin on a piece of driftwood - what a great morning, really glad we decided to follow him down there.
The road back to Base Camp takes us through the little village of Wrea Green where there is a village green complete with cricket square and duck pond. On the green there were a few Rooks feeding so we had to stop.
Rooks (PYLC #109)
A good end to a good morning on safari even if we did miss the Little Owls.

This morning it was very foggy out on Chat Alley with Monty. There were at least a dozen grounded Meadow Pipits and then a much bigger flash of white, our first Wheatear of the year. A quick look at our records from the last eight years shows it is actually just about bang on time, our mean date of seeing our first being 21st March and today is the 20th. Close enough for rock n roll!!!
Also there was a big bonus of a female Stonechat, the first we've seen along the cliffs for quite a long time, well over a year and maybe over two don't remember ever having seen one with Monty and he's now 2 1/2. Really should use BirdTrack more then these stats would be a lot easier to recall.

Where to next? We've got our first amphibian survey of the season this evening, hopefully four species in good numbers.

In the meantime let us know who's arriving bang on time in your outback.

Sunday 10 March 2019

The Law of Diminishing Returns sets in

The Safari didn't get out much last week due to the poor weather although we did spot we'd forgotten to add a species to our Photo Year List Challenge tally when we came across this pic from our recent safari up to Leighton Moss which has a Knot (101) roosting among the massed ranks of Redshanks.
Our best find for a some time came during a visit to our local Marton Mere nature reserve. It was a fairly quite late winter visit with the best being a Chiffchaff calling by the Fylde Bird Club hide, a quiet day but at least we got ourselves a year tick, couldn't see it in the dense Blackthorn scrub to get a pic though. We crossed the bridge and continued along the embankment with the intention of going through the main part of the reserve for a change but as we approached the turning point there was a succession of off-the-lead dogs heading our way - - nightmare so to avoid them we bunked off the embankment at the earliest opportunity and took the path down through the rough field. good choice as through the bins we could make out a bit of a lump low down in the bushes by the barn that didn't look right. not a lump but a Little Owl!!! We heard it calling a couple of weeks or so ago but this is the first sighting we've had of it here since 6th December 2015; we didn't get one on our year list at all last year or in 2016. It was really too far across the field for a pic and a strong gusty wind was blowing us around a bit but it is identifiable - if you squint hard - so is added to our PYLC at number 102.
Little Owl - honest - - we'll just have to try for a better one

Back at Base Camp we finally got a Garden Tick in the form of the local Peregrine - to qualify birds flying over must be within the airspace directly above the garden, not just visible from the garden. Better yet it was tussling with a pair of Ravens - never expected to get that species as a garden tick! It was the cronking of the Ravens that made Monty bark which stopped us doing whatever it was we were doing at the time and go and look outside - we immediately dashed back inside for the camera but missed the action as the Ravens broke off from the Peregrine's assaults and headed off southwards low over the roof tops - still it was a totally epic sight from our small suburban garden.
We saw one of the Ravens (we're assuming it was one of the two although we always say you should never assume anything!) the following morning at the start of Monty's early morning walk.
For his second walk, his big walk, that morning we again went to Marton Mere but with a deteriorating forecast already gloomy skies and rain imminent we didn't take the camera. Big mistake, the light wasn't that bad, cloudy yes but quite bright and the imminently threatened rain didn't appear for a couple of hours and we were nearly back at the car. If we had have taken the camera we'd have got a super pic of a Little Grebe really close at the Dragonfly Den hide. We had hoped to get good pics of this species at Moore last week but although there were several there on all the ponds and pools none were close enough to warrant pointing the lens at. 
Salt was rubbed in our wounds when we went to the shops in the afternoon to park up in the car park next to a car that had a Rook sat on it. The bird was un-phased by us winding down the window and just looked at us as we hastily footled round in our pockets for our phone - yes it was that close! The PYLC rules state 'no hand of man' in your pics but this Rook was so close a good portrait of its face could have been had without any of the car it was sat on in the frame...unfortunately we'd left our phone on the table by the front door back at Base Camp...dohhhhh. But never mind we'll have to go back and do 'some more shopping', taking a proper camera and maybe a bit of bread for bait with us.
We did take the camera out with Wifey and Monty and met up with GB for a bit of a breezy mooch along Fleetwood prom and back around the marine lake. 
The Purple Sandpiper was roosting on the end of the island but just as we raised the camera to get a pic a small group of Turnstones flew round from the other end of the island landed next to it and flew off again taking it with them, we tried in vain to get a flight shot....missed by miles! Other 'excitement' came in the form of the now long dead drake Red Breasted Merganser and Monty slid in on the slippery algae covered slopes trying to retrieve an empty plastic bottle he'd picked up and was playing with - he was not amused! Fortunately he persevered and did manage to grab it at the far end of the lake, without falling in this time and we were able to put it in a bin when he'd finished chasing it around in the wind.
The only bird we could find to point the camera at was this Black Headed Gull sitting for a while in the choppy water before lifting off and drifting past us.
During the brief spell of southerly winds a small number of very early Wheatears and Sand Martins were reported from a variety of local and local-ish sites but we failed to bump in to any of them. That's the trouble with March it gets you all over-excited too soon and then it snows. We'll just have to be patient and take any opportunities when we get them - helps if we take the camera with us. It'll happen when it happens and that's usually not for another month at least yet so we'll have to make do with slim pickings for a while longer.

Where to next? It looks like it's going to be a rough week weather-wise but we're sure we'll hit Marton Mere at least once or twice and maybe a further flung safari next weekend.

In the meantime let us know who was a hit n miss in your outback.

Saturday 2 March 2019

Cracking on a-pace

The Safari wants to know if anyone spotted the deliberate mistake in our last post? Treecreeper should have been number 87 not 86 again - somehow we missed we'd doubled up.
Since then we've been busy adding several more species to our Photo Year List Challenge. But we'll start with a couple of shots of our local Starling roost. The tide was just dropping when we arrived but the Starlings hadn't arrived yet, by the time the first few flew in the tide had dropped a fair way down the beach.
With the beach being exposed the birds chose to pre-roost on it. Being closer than normal we could just about see what they were doing down there - nothing much just standing around. Also being on the beach left them vulnerable to numpties getting too close mostly deliberately 'to make them fly'.
At least 50000 we totally guestimated, would love to know how many there actually are and if our guess is close or not.
News of a couple of Waxwings not too far up the road on the southern outskirts of Lancaster sent us twitching on a drizzly morning. We arrived on the street and saw two 'Starlings' sat in a low tree just past the row of shops, looking more closely as we drove slowly past gave us Waxwing (PYLC 88) as a top quality 'from the driving seat whilst moving' tick. We stopped a little further down the road and got our kit together and Monty out of the car but as we were doing that a bin wagon arrived and reversed into the driveway right under the tree flushing the birds. It took half an hour for them to be relocated, high in a tree on the opposite side of the small park there.
After a while they gained confidence and returned to their favourite berry tree. Shame the light was so grotty.
Job done we had a drive round the lanes back to Base Camp being thwarted by road closures at every twist and turn so we abandoned the lanes and went straight on to Knott End to have a look at the flock of Twite (PYLC 89).

A trip down to the SouthSide with CR saw us checking out a rather quiet Lunt but it did give us our first Toad of the year.
With nothing much happening we left earlier than anticipated and went down to the coast for an hour or so. It was mad busy being a sunny day and the tide was already too high for any waders to be on the beach. We headed through the dunes finding several Stonechats including a couple of singing males.
 With possibilities exhausted we upped sticks to Mere Sands Wood where it was quiet again but we did find several 7-Spot Ladybirds, a Tree Bee and a Buff Tailed Bumble Bee in the warm afternoon sunshine. The good weather had brought the farmers out on the land but never have we seen so few gulls following tractors, it used to be like a plume of snow behind a plough not just a few dozen.
The good weather continued in the week and we had our first butterflies of the year with this Small Tortoiseshell and later another at Marton Mere, but no decent birds to point the camera at.
The 'supermoon' coincided with high tides in the middle of th day so a safari down to the marshes was order of the day. We had a mooch finding this distant but shy male Kestrel (PYLC 90) which flew off when we tried to creep a little closer.
Retracing our steps back to the embankment we came a cross a pair of Wrens (PYLC 91) scolding a Dunnock that had strayed into their territory...They weren't happy!
The tide came right up to the defences, something you don't see too often but we failed to see the Hen Harrier(s) again. The other target birds were the Water Pipits which we did see but only as awful silhouettes in the atrocious glare. Best of the rest was this Water Rail flushed out of the marsh by the rising water and having to take refuge in a bankside Hawthorn bush in the absence of any other cover. Not a good day to be a vole either asa they were getiing picked off by the Black Headed Gulls as they desperately swam as fast as their tiny legs could take them for dry ground.
Another round Marton Mere this time on a gloomy day was unproductive until we left the reserve and walked round the bridlepath to give Monty an off-lead run and we came across a Goldcrest (PYLC 92). A tricky one to get to grips with as if flitted busily through the twigs and branches of a dense Willow bush.
An impromtu family wander along the prom at Fleetwood had us getting to grips with a Meadow Pipit (PYLC 93) while Wifey spotted three male Stonechats in a little group close to the tower on the way back to the car.
On a post so can't be included in the challenge
On the deck so good to go - sorted
Back at Base Camp in the week we'd watched a Buzzard soaring over CR's place and luckily a different, darker, bird came soaring high over Base Camp the following day. (PYLC 94)
Could do with a better one but it'll do as a placeholder
 Then it was all birding systems go when LCV came up for a few days non-stop birding. We met him at 'the place we don't mention by name' for a couple of hours getting lots of good birds, water fowl, waders and much better views or their Tawny Owls than last time we were here.
The sunshine brought out Brimstone and Red Admiral butterflies, always good to see the former as they are very scarce on our side of the river.
We counted 56 Avocets (PYLC 95) but learned that earlier in the day there'd been twice that many. Had to get a good pic of at range shooting into the harsh afternoon light.
The following day we set of up the motorway in the opposite direction to Leighton Moss in blistering sunshine again. Lots going on there with plenty to keep us occupied but a search for the over-wintering Great Grey Shrike was fruitless yet again.
 We'd heard a few pings of Bearded Tits on the way down to Lower Hide but our luck was in when LCV heard more pinging on the way back and a male showed well but briefly, actually there were two when we noted the colour combinations of the rings on their legs.
OK for the challenge, number 96
A better, sharper pic but there's rings so it can't be posted for the challenge
Lots of other good stuff around
 For our next safari the weather had deteriorated horrendously and we had a wander locally round the lanes of Over Wyre. Bewick's Swans were on the hit list and fluky stop had a family of three being the closest birds to the car (PYLC 97).
The rain came down heavier as we visited more sites racking up LCV's year list with species he rarely sees back home in the Midlands.  At Fleetwood again we came across the Linnets (PYLC 98) that were too disturbed last time out here with Wifey the other day. The light was truly dreadful by now.
And was even worse when LCV picked up a flock of Ringed Plovers landing close by but a way down the beach. A year bird for both of us and number 99 for our challenge. Actually the 100th species we've photographed this year, Grey Wagtail on the edge of our pond being disqualified due to showing 'hand of man' for the challenge.
Our last day out was down to Moore nature reserve near Warrington to see if we could see their Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. We'd not been there long when we heard one calling but could we see it??? We hung around the general area craning our necks at the slightest hint of a flit, we did get an incredibly brief glimpse of what was probably one after we'd seen a flit immediately after a bout of calling but not conclusive unfortunately.
We did get a Willow Tit (PYLC 100)
But is it? Latest info from the reserve's Facebook page suggests both Willow and Marsh Tits are now found on site and when visiting the feeders the Willows take their seeds high and the Marsh's go low...which this one did. They've learnt this from their calls, unfortunately this one didn't call and at the time we didn't realise both could now be seen here. So we're (probably) back to 99...or are we??? Which ever it is it was flippin tricky getting the shot in the dreadful conditions, as you can no doubt tell.
A great week with my boy.

Where to next? Oohh not sure where we'll be off to next week.

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

For more pics from our recent safari's have a look at our Flickr site - link on the right hand panel