Friday 25 October 2019

Working backwards

The Safari once again has to apologise for not keeping you up to date with our goings-on of which there's been plenty this last three weeks or so since we last out pen to keyboard.
We'll start with our most recent adventure, a run out an hour down the motorway with CR to twitch a long staying Little Gull. Can you believe that TWITCHING a Little Gull, it's not as if they're THAT scarce but then looking at our records we note that we dipped some earlier this year and didn't see any at all last year so as usual we can resist everything except temptation and the temptation was too much so off we went.
We parked the car and got our gear out as a Nuthatch called from the trees above us and then walking the track to the reservoir we got good close views of a Jay. Arriving  at the small reservoir it has been frequenting for some time now we saw a decent sized flock of Black Headed Gulls spread across the water, would finding our quarry prove tricky? Most of them were towards the far side and a quick scan of the closer ones revealed no interloper so we trotted off along the embankment passing a Little Grebe and a small flotilla of Tufted Ducks (wonder where that Ring Necked Duck that turned up as a one-day-wonder not far from here disappeared too) to the other side where the low sunlight made viewing uncomfortable at some angles and badly  silhouetted the gulls on the water.
Making our way slowly along the far bank we checked the gulls in the field to our left just in case there was a Mediterranean Gull feeding with the Black Heads in the stubble, there wasn't and we didn't expect to see the Little Gull there as they mostly feed of insects taken at or near the surface of the water. Overhead we heard Meadow Pipits and Skylarks passing southwards, most too high up in the blue sky to be able to see.
Checking the water every few yards as each next cluster of gulls became easier to look at after a few such checks we spotted the Little Gull - couldn't have been was the nearest bird to us no more than 10 yards out from the bank. Our plan now was to casually walk past it a short way trying not to spook it and get in a good position with the sun over our shoulder to be able to get a good look at it. No problem it totally ignored us even with Monty sniffing his way along the track. Seems like it's become pretty immune to the multitude of dogs walked round the res.
Little Gull - 2nd winter pumage. PYLC #180)
A bonny little bird and so confiding. After a couple of minutes it swam closer to the bank pecking at what we imagined to be tiny flies on the water's surface. And then turned parallel to the bank not 10 feet out and began to paddle towards us. Gently sitting down lower to the water we hoped to get some nice pics, all the while holding on to Monty just in case he decided to make a lunge for it as it passed by, thankfully he was a good dog and totally ignored it.
At its closest even though we got as low to the water's edge as possible we were still looking down on it - maybe we should have lain down but it was a bit soggy after a heavy dew down there.
Really nice to get acquainted with this delicate little gull again and such stupendous views too. we have a bit of a 'soft-spot' for them as in the late 70's we did a stint at wardening a rare British nesting attempt in the Norfolk Broads but sadly the eggs failed to hatch.
Completing the circuit of the reservoir we almost trod on an un-noticed Grey Wagtail and watched two Little Grebes swim out of range of the camera - the light was poor with a hazy mist descending by know anyway. The mist seemed ot have dropped a few birds there were now some Redwings about and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of the woods and across the corner of the res to an isolated stand of bushes.There seemed ot be a few more Blackbirds about now too.
We bumped into the birder who'd originally found the Little Gull and he told us he's been watching it advance its plumage from 1st summer to 2nd winter over the last few weeks, we didn't realise it had been here that long. After a few minutes chat we told him we were heading off to the nearby Doffcocker Lodge reserve which he told us didn't get much in the way of birds but Bitterns have been seen at dusk in the small reedbed in recent winters and it was generally very underwatched during the week.
In the end our visit turned out to be more of a dog walk rather than a birding extravaganza with only a Robin being heard near the car park and some decidedly dodgy Grey Lag Geese hybrid type farmyard thingies begging for bread at the dam. The wooded areas were devoid of birds and the lake almost devoid too bar a handful each of Mallards and Tufted Ducks and down by the causeway a couple of Great Crested Grebes. Most exciting were the three Red Breasted Mergansers that flew over the causeway but went on their way and didn't land on the main lake.

We've had a couple of good morning's out at Marton Mere tyrying to connect with some visible migration. Our first attempt was a bit duff, we were too early everything decided to be on the move after we'd got home so the following day we went half an hour later and connected with rakes of Redwings passing through, perhaps the most we've ever seen there in any one session. lots of Jackdaws too but we had no camera with us. 
A couple of days later we had another bash this time with CR. There were fewer Redwings and they were very flighty but we managed to get a couple of shots to bring up #179 for our PYLC - seems weird counting them backwards.

The previous week we'd had a safari out with CR to Pennington Flash in the hope of picking up a Redwing or Fieldfare or two and maybe some more good views of their Kingfishers too. 
We saw no winter thrushes and hardly even a Blackbird either but the feeding station at the Bunting Hide was a hive of activity. Here we managed to get a replacement for our earlier very poor Willow Tit pic for our PYLC . There were three of them coming and going throughout the day.
Plenty of other birds were taking advantage of the free handouts too.
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Moorhen - not entirely sure what it's doing up a tree; don't think it is either

Stock Dove
On a previous visit we'd seen a Mediterranean Gull hanging around the car park with the other gulls waiting for people to come and throw some bread at the Canada Geese and Mute Swans. We'd brought a few rounds of sliced white which C threw out over the water, we weren't able to locate any Mediterranean Gulls in the resulting scrum. But close in to the bank and not bothered by the offer of bread were the two Egyptian Geese another birder had told us about earlier. As feral as you like but they are wild so count on our challenge for #178

Earlier that week there'd been a small influx of Yellow Browed Warblers into the Fylde and those in the know had had success staking out Watson Road Park, a noted hotspot for these Siberian Sprites and other rarities over the years. We'd left Marton Mere and had just arrived back at Base Camp when the news broke, the park is in the opposite direction but had we learned of it before we left the Mere we'd have gone for it. Fortunately poor afternoon and overnight weather meant it stayed put and was seen early in the morning so picking up CR again off we popped. We soon spotted a posse of local birders some with garden chairs looking at a particular Sycamore tree in the corner of the park. Monty got a bit restless while we waited so we strolled off only to get a txt from C saying it was back on the tree. A bit challenging to get pics of up in the still leafy canopy against the light but we got some great views with our bins. A Chiffchaff was lurking in the trees in the other side of the park too. Hope the lads we spoke to who'd traveled all the way from Stockport managed to see the warbler.
Yellow Browed Warbler - PYLC #177

We've enjoyed a rather wet and dull day at Martin Mere WWT with CR too. No new species for our Challenge and surprisingly no waders seen on site either but a good day out none-the-less.
Barn Owl
Four species of ducks
An annoying feather
Nice weather for ducks
Marsh Harrier
Nice weather for Moorhens
A few of the recently returned Pink Footed Geese
Two of only half a dozen Whooper Swans back from Iceland so far
At the end of our previous post we mentioned a certain Kentish Plover, a bird we've not seen in Britain since the 90's. Come to think of it we don't think we've seen one anywhere else in the world either!
As luck would have it we had a family arrangement on the South-side that would take us right past the plover, it would have been rude not to stop. It was busy with birders some looking through scopes and cameras but many just standing round chatting. We asked the nearest group if it had been seen recently and if so where - they pointed to the nearest group of birds about 50 yards away, "there, on the right of the sleeping Oystercatcher. It doesn't take long to locate a solitary Oystercatcher 50 yards away. 
Through the scope we could see the Kentish Plover was asleep and facing into the stiff breeze tucked in under a tiny sandbank to keep at least partially out of the wind. It didn't raise its head often and we were lucky to catch one of those times. Not being particularly happy with our distant shots we tried digi-scoping it and was pleased that it did look round at the throng of birders eagerly waiting for it to do something. A good bird for our Challenge (#176) and one that was well off the radar.
A very welcome and very tasty bacon butty was waiting for us at our brother's a little later.
Best we could manage with the camera
Not long after we'd got back from Menorca we learned of a Caspian Gull that had taken up residence not far away on the coast Over Wyre. Always partial to a good gull we picked up CR on a breezy morning an off we went. It didn't take long to find the gull on a more or less empty saltmarsh and mudflats save for a few Redshanks. But it didn't look in the best of health.
Caspian Gull - 1st winter looking decidedly iffy (PYLC #175)
We walked on a bit further along the seawall seeing a flock of about 50 Linnets and a handful of Little Egrets but what we really wanted to find was some Golden Plovers. With no luck we walked back towards the car passing the Caspian Gull but not noticing it tucked away behind the vegetation so we had to retrace our steps a way to check it was still there. Lucky we did as we were able to point it out to a visiting birder. With a bit of extra time we walked past the track to the car and continued along the seawall. A good decision as it happened as a hundred yards or so further on a Carrion Crow was having an aerial duel with something similar in size, a quick look through the bins - a Short Eared Owl, nice!
Not a bad morning's birding!

And that, my friends, brings you just about up to date. We hope you've enjoyed the tales of our safaris.

Where to next? Bad weather may hinder us for the next couple of days but after that we've a further-flung and, hopefully, very exciting safari coming up.

 In the meantime let us know who's the best gull in your outback this week

There's more pics from our adventures on our Flickr site

Sunday 6 October 2019

Back to local safaris

The Safari can't believe what's happening -two posts in almost as manny days...what's going on???
We had a quick afternoon out with CR, more of a dog walk really, without our camera up at Rossall. There'd been a couple of good pics of a returning Purple Sandpiper by top dollar photo duo D & JM so we thought we'd go and have a shuffy. Due to wet weather and bad light we didn't take a camera, even CR only took his 'easy-to-stash 
-in-the-event-of-inclement-weather' 300mm. Walking along the promenade the beach adjacent was pretty quiet with just the occasional Sanderling working the incoming tide and a couple of Ringed Plovers being spotted until a very nicely marked winter plumage Grey Plover dropped in on the water's edge fairly close by. Several, at least five, very active Wheatears kept us on our toes - could we turn any of them into a different kind of Wheatear a la the Pauls - the answer, a resounding no they were all 'normal' Wheatears.
It wasn't until we were almost at the new seawall that we came across the Purple Sandpipers - yes plural! Now there were two of them. And fairly tame they were too running around together on the higher parts of the wall not yet covered by the rising waters. Despite the grotty light it wasn't raining and how we wished we'd bitten the bullet and brought a camera. As the tide rose they skipped off the beach and started running around the promenade coming within a few feet of us if we stood still - they weren't even phased by the presence of a certain large black dog provided he remained fairly still too. C got some pretty good pics and we resolved to get back there ASAP when the light was better and there was less of a threat of rain.
Our chance came two afternoons later. This time the walk down the prom was worryingly quiet but once we got closer to the new seawall we could see a birder so our hopes were raised. It was local lad K who kindly put us on to the (now) single Purple Sandpiper hugging the very base of  the seawall below our feet. It get anything like a shot involved very precariously lying down and leaning as far over the wall as we dared hoping our feet were heavy enough to counterbalance the not insubstantial extra weight of the 600mm lens! Our dare paid off and we were rewarded with this intimate shot of it preening unaware of us peering down at it only five or six feet above. Had the worst happened we'd have landed on it with a dull thud and that would have been the end of both it and us!
One advantage of leaning over the wall was that we had the opportunity to be the 'right side' of the light when the sun briefly shone
As the tide came in its favoured areas were being covered and it moved to a new part of the wall but tended to stick very close to the wall's base. Now we were able to wander down the nearest slipway and get 'eye-level' with it at the risk of getting wet feet from the larger incoming waves if we took our eye off them. Here it gleaned small flies off the wall and Sandhoppers from the tiny bit of still exposed beach on the few occasions it ventured away from the wall.
After a while it got fed up or became full up and flitted up onto the nearest groyne for a bit of rest offering some pretty good photo opportunities allowing us the chance to get easily our best ever pics of this species. It's a shame the sun didn't break through the clouds while it was sat up there so some hint of purple could be seen on its plumage.
The following morning we picked up CR again this time heading to Marton Mere for a mooch around. We'd been a couple of days earlier but not seen much apart from hearing a good number of Cetti's Warblers. This morning we were hoping there'd been an overnight arrival of Redwings as some had been reported as passing over the previous night, we'd had a listen when out later with Monty but unfortunately heard zilch, their thin 'tseeeep' is one of THE sounds of autumn.
It wasn't to be, the walk up to the embankment was very quiet apart from the odd ticking Robin here and there.
Along the embankment we started to hear Cetti's Warblers but they weren't as vocal as on our previous visit.
From the Bird Club Hide we had a male Sparrowhawk set down on a clump of cut reed after narrowly failing to catch a Snipe and upsettting about two dozen Teal on the scrape in the process. Over in the distance there was a Buzzard on the barn - we don't often see Buzzards actually on buildings, fence posts yes barns no! A male Kestrel hovered over the field in front of the barn - a three raptor view - not bad! and a couple of Stock Dove sat on the opposite end of the barn to the Buzzard - very wise!
Moving down to Heron Hide (aka Ice Station Zebra for its notable 'warmth' in the winter months) it was a relief to see there was a bit of view down a channel through the reeds (Typha). It'll be better if the roosting Starlings get over that way and crush the standing reeds over and then we get a bit of frost on them too. There was a bit of duck and Coot action but best of all, for us at least, was our first sighting of a Great Crested Grebe there this year, although to be fair we've not been for a few months over the summer silly season.
Drake Gadwall
Drake Shoveler coming out of eclipse plumage
Female Tufted Ducks
At the bench and viewing platform the Volunteer Rangers have recently constructed we admired the exceptional view of the water and reedbeds hoping to spot a Bittern or an Otter. We didn't but it won't be long before we do as it's in the perfect position - Thank you.
While we were there TS came along and told us of the wondrous sightings he'd had over the summer while we've been keeping away including a stunning close encounter with a Hobby catching dragonflies, a fantastic experience. He's done well this summer! While we were chatting a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over us.
It was now time to spend some time in the Feeding Station where it was quite lively but not up to full winter blitz yet. A Coal Tit was probably star of the show among the Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Dunnocks and single Chaffinch and ubiquitous Grey Squirrel. Easy winner of the cuteness competition was this young Rabbit that grazed away  few feet from the window occasionally glancing in our direction when it heard the camera shutters clicking.
The scrub in the main part of the reserve was largely devoid of birds despite the Hawthorns being bedecked with berries there weren't even any Blackbirds making themselves obvious. Despite the concerns about pollinator numbers it seems they've been busy this spring as the trees, Rowans, Whitebeams etc, are bursting woth berries. It's such a shame that on our tor out to the east through the farming country there's barely a berry left on mile upon mile of wayside and field boundary hedge as they've almost all been hacked back by the farmers already - come on farmers you can do better than this.
Our journey away from the coast was to local scenic site Beacon Fell Country Park, again mostly a dog walk so we didn't take the camera which was jst as well as it lashed it down most of the time we were there and we saw precious little wildlife apart from a very quick Robin and heard a few Goldcrests in the conifer plantations.
A couple of wnters ago a torndo type ofwind tore through a significant part of the forest downing many trees and damaging others. One such damaged tree has been turned in to a beautiful Golden Eagle. We'd love to see a real one soaring over the skies of Lancashire but with the intense illegal persecution on the grouse moors across the valley that sight is sadly very unlikely...but maybe one day you never know...Sign here to help eagles (and other birds of prey) survive in Lancashire
A few yards along the soggy trail a bright red thing caught our eye, a plastic sweet wrapper? Surely not, indeed not; a very bright fungus and not just one of them some others just pushing through the leaf litter too. We think it's Russula emetica but it could be one of the other Russula species not something we've come across for man years. Bonny whatever it is and the slugs seem to like it.
As we were nearing the car park on our return from the summit viewpoint a flock of finches erupted from the tree-tops and annoyingly went the wrong way back up the hill towards the summit and disappeared into the thickest part of the forest. There were about two dozen and from the loud excitable calls we'd say they were Crossbills, a return visit in better weather conditions is required.
A very wet but not pleasurable afternoon on the hill.

Where to next? News of a Kentish Plover on the South-side is very tempting, not seen one for a long time.

In the meantime let us know let us know who's flitting around the tree-tops in your outback.