Monday 18 May 2020

Week 8 but are the safaris locked down or not?

The Safari has taken advantage of the relaxed lockdown rules available in the second half of this week. 
To start the week we were still only able to do one proper walk a day and Monday saw us have a wander along the full length of the North Blackpool Pond Trail. Both Sedge Warblers were still in song but unseen at the reedbed at the strat of our walk as was a Reed Warbler, our first there this year. Once again a search of the mound revealed no Bee Orchid rosettes. Continuing through the wooded areas we heard but couldn't see a singing Chaffinch, one we frustratingly still need for our 1 Mile Bird Blitz, plenty of Blackcaps were in song too, is it just us or do they seem very numerous this year to you too? 
Getting to the lake we heard a Little Grebe calling from the 'secret' side and a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying on the public side, no sign of any youngsters, have they nested and failed or not even started nesting yet?
 In its usual place aiting for bread of all things was the local Heron.
Our return journey gave us a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies in the glades bordering the wet woods and what looked at first like 3-Spined Stickleback fry by the bridge turned out to be stripey Perch fry on closer inspection.
The long Blackthorn thciket held a secretive singing Lesser Whitethroat that refused to show itself as did another by the Black Pond; we're now wondering if we'll get these on our vertebrate or 1 mile challenges at all this year or if we do will we have to ait until the autumn when they start eating berries and are a little less shy.
Almost at the end of pur walk at the bottom of the horse fields we heard an unmistakable sound 'prrt prrt'. Spinning round we connected with the white rumps of three House Martins disappearing over the , but still a mile or so further than we've been for a while.cratty hedge that divides the fields - our first of the year. Is it just us or do they seem very scarce this year to you too? 
Nothing was noted in the garden on Monday and nothing hit the notebooks from anywhere at all on Tuesday.
Wednesday was an interesting day! An early morning trip up the garden to the compost heap had us looking up when we heard an unfamiliar call above us. A flutey 'tiuu' sound. We heard it a couple of times more and saw a small short tailed bird circling around not too high up over the roof of the house behind ours before flying off more directly towards the water tower where it appeared to drop possibly in the compound where earthworks have been taking place and there's a few bushes to perch on too. We racked our brains but couldn't think what it might been. A flick through the field guide gave us a bit of a clue but a look in BWP wasn't so informative. Going off the clue in the field guide we had a listen on Xenocanto and found several recordings of flight calls that were bob on - Whinchat almost over the garden - get in!!! Wood Warbler last week, Whinchat this week = Wryneck next week doesn't it? 
Now that the lockdown has eased and we can go anywhere bearing in mind that everywhere is still closed and visitor attractions and beauty spots were imploring folk not to travel we decided to go further afield took the mutt in the car to Woodland Gardens and Heron's Reach. Not far just a dip the toe in the waters so to speak. Our main aim was to have a look for Great Crested Newts in the hot-spots. None there but we did have quite a few Toads under the refugia we peeked under. 
Woodland Gardens gave us a Mistle Thrush foraging on the soon to be destroyed golf course, another species we've had no luck connecting with for our 1 Mile challenge.
Blackcaps were everywhere on our route but the only one we actually saw was this female tackling a rather juicy caterpillar.
On our last visit here not too long before the lockdown we'd found some Bee Orchid rosettes and searching for them again we found they were now quite shaded and not in an optimal place for producing good flowers - we'll try to keep an eye on them over the next few weeks to see how they fare. 
The afternoon in the garden a bit of sunshine had us watching a pair of Red Mason Bees mating and not a lot of anything else. This week's change in the weather has certainly sent the invertebrates to ground.
Thursday dawned sunny but cool. We gave the mutt another change with a visit to Marton Mere nature reserve. e started at Staining Nook and walked in along the Heron's Reach path passing numerous Blackcaps, and Whitethroats, a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler along the way. One Whitethroat was sat up in the sunshine atop a tall tree. We stopped for a pic but it flitted down into the bushes below before we could focus on it. It appeared on the edge of the bushes a bit further down the track but look closely and you'll see this bird is a Lesser Whitethroat - bit of a fluke as it's one we needed for our Challenge becoming #143 on our tally. We didn't see the original treetop Whitethroat again.
On the reserve it was reedbed birds we were hoping to see (and hear). Hearing a Cetti's Warbler was no problem, one was singing loudly in our left ear as we chatted (at a safe distance) to FB and TS. Chatting face to face to other humans outside your home - what's the world coming to? Forgotten what that's like.
A singing Reed Bunting gave good views
Unlike most of the Sedge Warblers, of  which there seemed to be more of than in recent years, but persistence paid off and eventually we were able to get a pic of one that wasn't totally obscured by vegetation for #144.
None of the many Reed Warblers showed themselves for more than a millisceond so they weren't submitted to the SD card. We'll have to wait a while until they're feeding young and can be a bit more showy around the edges of the reedbed. We also had great vies of a Cetti's Warbler but like the Whitethroat disappeared into thick vegetation before we could lift the camera. Another Cetti's Warbler teased us with a game of 'hide and hide' singing here and there as it moved all around its territory without actually showing itself. 
Luckily this Linnet behaved. Nice to see a pair too, fingers crossed for a successful season for them on the reserve
The way back across the fields gave us a stonking male Chaffinch landing just above our head. Why won't they do that on the Pond Trail for our 1 Mile Blitz?
A Grasshopper Warbler sang from the field just beyond the Chaffinch. We had a good listen but weren't able to see it in the dense clump of Brambles it was singing from. Meanwhile a Kestrel hovered over the far end of the field and Swallows raked the long hedge for insects all in lovely sunshine and out of the cool wind - a cracking morning's birding.
Back where we'd parked the car there where several House Martins skimming low to the ground aroiund the horses in the paddock - a lovely summery scene.
After lunch the weather closed in a little but another trip to the compost heap had us come across this 14-Spot Ladybird taking advantage of a break in the clouds and sunning itself on a Nettle leaf. We'll have to check our records but we think this is the first record for the garden.
Friday saw some early sun so we hit the dunes to see if we could find any lizards. A search of the usual bank was disappointingly fruitless. As was an hours tromp through the sandhills. we did see some good insects though with some of them even settling for a few moments like this Common Blue
and this Small Copper, both butterflies looking very fresh and dapper.
Much more static was this large fly sitting motionless on the sand for ages. Had it got cooled and was warming back up? No - it's a Robber Fly which we could tell with our naked eye and was sucking the innards out of an unfortunate Crane Fly - - awesome find. We didn't realise it had prey until we downloaded the pics on the pc back at Base Camp.
Not much else in the dunes just a handful of Meadow Pipits, the odd Skylark and a pair of Linnets, but to be fair we were concentrating on finding scaly things rather than feathered friends.
On Saturday we made the fatal third time error of  not taking our phone out with us early morning. Two  Bottlenose Dolphins close in was the news from SD (he'd also had a distant one a couple of days earlier too) when we got back to Base Camp - dohhhhh what a numb-nut!!!!! Three times!!!! Note to self - JUST TAKE THE FREAKIN PHONE
The moth trap was out for the first time in the week but was empty yet again.
Saturday is also check the stealth-cam day. Not a lot to report apart from a plethora of cats using the garden like their private motorway.  Sadly no Hedgehogs nor Foxes using the garden but thankfully no nocturnal visitis to the pond by any Herons.Best of the rest were this pair of Dunnocks that we rarely see at the moment, they've gone very secretive, must be nesting not too far away though.
We have a Great Tit that comes to the feeders very regularly but prefers to expend his energy manipulating and opening a Black Sunflower seed when there's pre-opened hearts two feet away. Interesting  - and he almost always faces away, probably because that's the way the closest and densest cover is for a quick getaway if needed.
Never mind the Great Tit a real garden rarity turned up - Starling!!! We very very rarely get them actually in the garden although while we were emptying the moth empty moth trap there were two adults and a juvenile sitting on the top of our roof.
This was one of a family party that were taking advantage of our suet pellet feeder and a bathing in the ornamental waterfall. Let's hope they return - might be time to invest in some mealworms which we're sure Starlings can smell from some distance away as when we've fed them in the past Starlings have appeared out of the blue.
With Bottlenose Dolphins in the offing Sunday's early morning dog walk had to be down at the cliffs as the tide rose. Several scans of the sea revealed no seabirds at all never mind any fishing in association with blubber.
Eventually we had a few Gannets passing, a solitary Sandwich Tern dived once while a flock of nine Shelducks flew south west out to sea
We nearly missed a passing Little Egret
and did miss something fairly unusual, a second summer Common Gull, there's not many of those round these parts at this time of year.
Not a dolphin in sight - dohhhh.
It was the mildest night for a some time and next door's stadium quality floodlight wasn't on. That meant moths - at last! And it as a good catch, by far the best of the year so far. 
Here's the full list:-
4 Heart & Darts - yes FOUR!
2 Shuttle Shaped Darts - spot the shuttles below
2 Light Brown Apple Moths
1 Bright Line Brown Eye
and a Turnip Moth
Another real (back) garden rarity turned up in the form of a male House Sparrow. Regular visitors to the front garden they aren't even quite annual in the back. It didn't hang around for a pic unfortunately. We've got everything crossed that it develops a taste for suet pellets and brings the family next week. Less than an hour later a Coal Tit turned up, our first in the garden for ages and again we missed getting a pic - it's a species we haven't yet got for our 1 Mile Blitz..
As Sunday evening drew on this cheeky little blighter was helping him/herself to the bird food.

A mixed week with some superb wildlife - if only we'd got the blubber too.

Where to next? More more distant safaris, hopefully scales ill be involved if there's some sunshine

In the meantime let us know who's passing through your outback.

Stay safe, stay socially distant enjoy the wildlife around you it's good for your well being whether only on your doorstep or further afield if you can get out and about. The world is still turning it's only us humans who aren't.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Lockdown week 7 brings a real treat

The Safari took a wander along the North Blackpool Pond Trail on a warm Monday morning. At the reedbed through the gate a pair of Dunnocks were busy looking for nesting material, one disappeared into the thick Brambles with a feather while the other was on the look out for more.
We had no luck getting a pic of either of the two Sedge Warblers that were singing at each other from further back in the reeds. 
Mooching slowly on listening to Robins, Blackcaps and Wrens we came to the Community Orchard where the alarm calls of the gulls had us looking up. A Buzzard came into view coming our way mobbed by an entourage of closely following gulls.
 It dropped a bit lower to avoid the worst of their attentions and came directly overhead skimming the tree tops - awesome view!
We wonder how it came by the damage to its wing, hopefully not from gunfire - can't believe in the 21st century there's still far too many people think these birds pose a threat to them and still persecute them all too often.
 In the field a few yards further on a pair of Jackdaws searched the dry ground for something to eat.
At the Black Pond the family of Mallard ducklings were busy hoovering up invertebrates dropping of the Marsh Marigold flowers above their little heads.
After the close Buzzard encounter in the morning the afternoon provided another at Base Camp when again the gulls alerted us to a bird of prey. Looking up we watched three Buzzards circling tightly in a 'kettle' gaining altitude and drifting towards the coast right over the garden.
Moth trapping has been a dead loss so far this year with our efforts being thwarted by clear skies, the bright moon and mostly cool temperatures. However some warm calm days brought hope but it wasn't to be as our neighbours have installed a floodlight in their yard worthy of a football stadium so even more light pollution to contend with along side all the garden destruction being wrought by folk stuck at home suddenly discovering their gardens and wanting to 'improve' them which basically seems to mean ripping out all the shrubs and felling all the trees - we've got real eco-anxiety this week with all the deforestation going on. If you think the Amazon is bad Blackpool is worse and we have far fewer trees to lose.
Tuesday saw us back along Chat Alley. Not a lot going on down there although we weren't expecting to see a rather late skein of Pink Footed Geese heading out to see on route to Iceland.
A Great Crested Grebe was sat on the sea some distance out, secretly we were hoping the white dot we could see was a Red Throated Diver we could add to our 1 mile bird blitz but it wasn't to be. 
We spent the afternoon watching the Red Mason Bees around the Bee Hotel
and spotted a tiny fly lurking furtively around the entrance holes and occasionally sneaking in - what is it and what's it up to?????
The compost heap was also worth watching with all the spider activity but above it a small Crane Fly caught our attention. Quite a bonny one compared to most of the other members of the family.
The Wolf Spiders on the compost heap were in fine form but getting them to sit facing the light was an issue - they're not the most obliging of models.
Then we noticed a pair on the edge of the pond. These two allowed us to approach quite closely and watch their mating ritual. Lots of pedipalp waving and while the is was going on the front legs were also beating a rowdy tattoo on the wood. he inched closer, mate or death were the options...until the female scuttled away unimpressed.
Disaster happened when we missed a call from CR that would have told us another Osprey was coming our way. By the time we'd called back we'd missed it.
A Grey Squirrel was in the garden under the feeders early morning on Wednesday, probably looking for spillage. The first we've seen at Base Camp for a few weeks.
Our walk was again along Chat Alley where there were no chats but a few Swallows zooming up and down along the the cliffs kept us entertained trying to get an in-focus pic. 
We totally missed the late Sand Martin that zoomed through, wasn't expecting that! Nor were we expecting the at first unidentified bird coming towards us from way out to sea, it turned in to a Wood Pigeon as it drew closer - where'd that come from???
The fine afternoon meant the garden was lively. 
Not sure what species this Club Horned Wasp is. Last summer we had a 5 spotted species, Sapyga quinquepunctata, this one appears to have only four spots but could it be a male? They prey on solitary bees especially Osmia Mason Bees.
The little Longhorn Beetles Grammoptera ruficornis were out again, at least three of them including a mating pair - We reckon they are fairly well established round here despite not being previously recorded.
The warmth brought a good number of Honey Bees to the garden too.
Solitary bee sightings included this tiny wee shiny metallic one which we've been told is one of the  Lasioglossum morio agg. species
Another small wasp/sawfly thingy remains unidentified.
A Speckled Wood butterfly was the first of the year in the garden - butterflies have been very thin on the ground (or even in the air here so far this year) and while having a brew we got buzzed by a large ladybird flying round us and later found a second much smaller 7-Spot Ladybird up by the compost heap. 
Our best record of the day wasn't a sighting but a 'heard only' SWIFTS screaming way up high overhead - so glad they're back!
At last the moth trap had something in it when we opened it on Thursday morning. Not much - just one Tachystola acroxantha - but better than all the blanks we'd drawn recently. 
Very close to the trap we disturbed a male Light Brown Apple Moth
Yet another mooch along the cliffs gave us some wader movement perhaps due to the high tide washing them off a roosting site. We had some Oystercatchers on the move
as well as some new species for pur 1 mile bird blitz whe na mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers came past for number 63 and 64.
And they were followed by another addition, a Cormorant, which was good as we'd missed one flying past a couple of days earlier. #65
More sunshine at Base Camp in the afternoon gave us the chance to get a phone snap of this parasitic wasp that's been seen most days but until now hasn't really posed nicely for a pic.
A Pond Skater was on the pond which is quite an unusual occurrence. If any aquatic life arrives the fish soon gobble it up but it seems the fish or at least almost all of them are no more - we think we've had nocturnal visits from a Heron that has taken advantage of the bright moonlit nights and scoffed all but the very biggest fish in the pond. Well we always wanted a wildlife pond but now we have to break the bad news to Wifey who won't be happy she's lost her fish.
Not long after that another unusual visitor to the garden was found. We saw it struggling in the water and hoiked it out to dry off. It was only then we saw that it was a St Mark's Fly - don't think we've ever seen one in the garden before.
Friday's moth trap was successful - just. A female Light Brown Apple Moth and a small brown Caddis Fly were secreted in the egg boxes. Are things looking up at last?
There's nothing to reprt from our morning walk. Back in the garden the Lasioglossum bee was back this time nectaring on the Aubretia flowers.
A fly landed on a nearby leaf - it looks like a Yellow Dung Fly if it is one it's the first record for the garden. e normally see them not too faraway in the horse fields along the North Blackpool Pond Trail where they are associated with - yes you've guessed it! perhaps blown our way by the run of easterly winds.
Saturday was forecast to be the last day of fine weather but overnight no moths had found their way into the trap. We had a change of scenery for our morning walk heading out early to the park passing this small wood, it's only about 20 x 30m in area, on the way. We affectionately call it Magpie Wood as it holds a roost of about 50 or more Magpies over the winter months.
In recent days just outside our 'comfort zone' there's been a flurry of decent scarce migrant birds including Redstart, Whinchats, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers which we would have loved to have seen but couldn't. However, this morning passing this scrap of woodland we thought we heard a Wood Warbler, listening hard we heard the trilling at the end of a Wren's song among the songs of Blackcap, and Chiffchaff and put it down to our aging ears playing tricks and the unlikeliness of the habitat on we went to the park where there is much better habitat for a grounded Wood Warbler
Despite the warning and the proximity of other recent good species we didn't even check the park but walked the rough fields as usual with our eyes and ears open just in case.
There wasn't much happening there just the usual two Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat in the old  hedge and Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing in the scrub. A Sparrowhawk called from there too.
On the way back we definitely heard a Wood Warbler both calling and singing. Putting the news out more for folks' information than anything else as no-one should be twitching at the current time we were surprised to get a txt from SD who just happened to be passing the top of the road on his way to the prom. Minutes later he arrived and was able to get this pic. Many thanks to him for letting us use it.
We had an errand to run later in the morning and called in with the big lens hoping it was still there. After a few minutes it sang to reveal its presence, but it was right at the top of the trees. We did get a bit of a pic  for #66 of of 1 Mile Bird Blitz and #146 of our Vertebrate Challenge.
What a great little bird to turn up on our local patch and what a weird place. It just goes to show that during migration time anything can turn up anywhere you've just got to keep your eyes and ears open - which we nearly didn't!
Back in the garden we spent yet more time with the Longhorn Beetles
Also in the garden was another (or perhaps the same although we'd nor  see nit since despite lots of looks) Pond Skater.
After tea it looked like a bit of a sunset was shaping up so we persuaded Wifey to turn the telly off and we took the mutt for a short walk along the cliffs. It as so clear we could almost see the sheep grazing the hills on both the Snowdonian mountains and the Lake District fells, shame the Isle of Man was lost in the low cloud. It as just that low cloud that gave the sunset its colour though.
Looking north to the Lake District
Well worth going out for the last of the day's sunshine.
The week ended on a moth high. The forecast was slightly wrong and we got another night with the moth trap in situ. Sunday's trap held easily our best catch yet and increased our year's tally by almost 50%. There were five moths in the trap; that shows just how poor this year has been. two Heart & Darts was our first multiple catch of a single species!
The others were a White Shouldered House Moth looking nice and fresh.
A female Bee Moth and another Tachystola acroxantha were the other two. here's hoping 'moffing' picks up soon!
The weather changed to bally chilly and we have nothing else to report from Sunday.

Where to next? More of the lockdown same we suppose.

In the meantime let us know who's turned up unexpectedly in your locked down outback

Stay safe - Stay physically distant - keep watching that wildlife, it's good for you you know.