Sunday, 30 August 2020

Go back go back go back go back - our grouse about grouse shooting

The Safari is but one of many who would like to see the end of the extremely environmentally damaging hobby (it's not sport!) that is driven grouse shooting. "But why?" do you ask "what harm is there in using living animals as target practice?" "If you've got a few bob more than the average Joe why shouldn't you pay a few thousand bucks to kill as many Red Grouse in a short a time as possible, it's not as if they're endangered or anything is it?" "And anyway they all get eaten in posh restaurants don't they?"
No they're not endangered, more the opposite; they're 'farmed' to produce excessively unnatural numbers far more than the carrying capacity of the environment so that Mr I've-got-a-bigger-wad-than-you has a chance of shooting 100 in a day rather than just 10. 
But why should that bother you, they're still wild birds living out their lives in a wild environment aren't they? Unless of course you don't like the idea that living beings are being killed and maimed for target practice fun but then that make you a left wing commie pinko or worse an animal rights 'activist' or even worse a bunny- or even a tree-hugger - - when did doing or even thinking the compassionate thing become the 'wrong' thing and demand a derogatory term from the rest of society?
And then there's all the landscape scale destruction that goes with this perverse pastime - you can't call it a sport. Now if the grouse had AK-47s to shoot back that might be more sporting!
Damaged landscape - patchwork quilt of burnt areas
Ruined landscape - spot the patchwork quilt of burnt areas

One of those Red Grouse in one of those burnt patches

But 'They' will tell you that moorland is rarer than Tropical Rain Forest - which is true but so are golf course  and urban areas as a world-wide habitat. They don't tell you of the awful cost their precious moorland comes at though. The thousands of incinerated animals during the burns, 

Adder - becoming increasingly scarce but often a victim of the burning

the total lack of trees due to burning and sheep grazing - which should and could be present. See the pic below of a lone self-seeded conifer (OK so it's a weed that shouldn't be there but is growing quite nicely thank you) almost at the summit of the highest point in SW Scotland.


And where's all the upland scrub of Bilbery, Juniper Gorse, covered in lichens and mosses - burned to a frazzle
Moss growing on Juniper
They've neglected to tell you that Atlantic fringe temperate rainforest is a truly rare habitat, mainly because most of it has been destroyed and the tiny pockets that remain can't spread due to over-grazing by sheep and in some cases deer.
Red Deer numbers are artificially high due to lack of predators and winter feeding in some areas
Then there's the knock on effects that affect us. Peat stained water running off the denuded areas cost a fortune to clean before it reaches our taps - who pay? Us in our watter bills, not those that caused it. Downstream flooding is made worse by their drainage and lack of sufficiently dense natural vegetation to hold the water back, although there are some projects to re-wet upland peat, who pays for that damage? Not them, us through higher taxes for flood defence and higher insurance premiums.
And then there's just the almost lack of any wildlife interest in the uplands. OK they'll say what about the waders and yes their extensive and excessive predator control probably does help breeding Lapwing, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Snipe, Redshank but their land management doesn't help other upland species like Redstart, Tree Pipit, Pied Flycatcher, Black Grouse, Whinchat,  and a whole host of small mammals and invertebrates. And of course anything with a hooky beak gets suspiciously 'disappeared' with their populations artificially low and almost impossible to expand their ranges in to areas they once frequented, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, and still Buzzard and Red Kite in some areas. 
But it shouldn't be like this and hopefully the status quo won't last much longer. Another way is possible.
It's great that there are a few places where the sight below can still be found but this should be the norm not the exception.
Common Lizard on a mossy stump in a wet upland-fringe woodland
Our brother lives in NE Italy. There between the major regional centre of Trieste and the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana (they are only 60 miles (100km) apart lies a National Park which hosts these magnificent animals. Not only the Brown Bears but also Wolves and Lynx!

He took these from the hide run by Slovenian Bears. Can't wait to go!!!
Our uplands do have space for amazing sights like this...if only there was the political will from government and the 'vested' land owning interests.
 We've got as a 10 point plan for better , more natural, wilder uplands for all to enjoy.
1. Black all drainage above the in-bye
2. No burning of heather - cut after mid-October and before end of the year. If too wet or too steep to cut - tough! Use the cuttings to block the drains mentioned above.
3. All tracks not shown on the last edition of the 1 inch to a mile OS maps to be dismantled and re-vegetated.
4. No predator control i.e. no traps, snares, stink pits, vermin shooting (what is vermin other than an out-dated Victorian term anyway) 
5. Any trace of banned poisons get a mandatory prison sentence for senior land manager and land owner (assuming the land 'owner' isn't an off-shore 'trust')
6. No medication of wild animals either medicated grit and catch-and-dose
7. No farming subsidy for any land seen as patchwork heather on aerial photos - Agriculture is not the primary land use
8. No produce to be eaten off-estate, i.e. in the general food-chain, unless shot with non-toxic ammunition
9. No mass releases of non-native species. Shoots should begin the process of eliminating Pheasant, Red Legged Partridge, Canada Geese, Muntjac and Sika Deer from the landscape where possible.
10. 50% grants should be available for fencing upland gullies, cloughs, valleys, to at least 100m from their edge to allow natural regeneration. No planting required and any non-native conifers self-seeding should be removed.
11. OK we said it was a 10 point plan but we've added an extra one. All clear-fell forestry plantations to be allowed to regenerate naturally but again self-sown conifers except Scots Pine to be removed. Additional timber forestry can be started on adjacent suitable land with the proviso that once it's harvested it is allowed to revert to native woodland.

Lets try that for starters and see how we get on in 10 years - see if we need any tweeks.

Where to next? Sunshine on the cliffs maybe?

In the meantime let us know if you've got a bear behind in your outback.

Stay safe ,enjoy your local wildlife but keep that social distance.

That lot should do for starters - if the sheep and grouse business models can't manage that then it's time they were cosigned to history, certainly the latter.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Dodging the showers at the wetlands

The Safari met up with the South-side gang for a bit of wildlifing and good old fashioned banter at Martin Mere WT reserve a few days ago. As we passed through Infection Control and out into the wilderness beyond the first thing we spotted was a family of young Mallard ducklings snoozing in the grass by the path with eh-up muvver watching over them a couple of feet away. As cute as buttons they were. And not the only brood of young ducklings we saw either.

From the Discovery Hide the in-your-face cool wind meant everything was on the far side of the pool trying to take advantage of whatever shelter they could find.  As usual there was a bit of a Black Headed Gull flock thing going on but that part of it we could see held no Mediterranean Gulls.

There were a couple of Common Sandpipers footling around on the muddy edges and a Green Sandpiper came in to view briefly as did a Ringed Plover. So we decided to wander round that way to see if we could get closer views and inspect more of the gull flock.  

The gulls were now nearer and broadside on so making checking for odd-ones-out a lot easier not that we could find any and to make matters worse the Ringed Plover and sandpipers had done a bunk too.

The gull flock did hold a few sleepy Lapwings, always good to see this lovely bird and this year they seem to have had a good breeding season, at least in this area, with plenty of local sites reporting good numbers.

A quick stop at the Feeding Station was quiet to start with and no sign of the stars of the show, the Brown Rats. Slowly birds started to return to to the feeders, Goldfinches and Chaffinches and a couple of Great Tits but as numbers built a little male Sparrowhawk belted through like greased lightning scattering all and sundry. It was that fast we must have blinked as it was going through as we totally missed it and right under our nose it was too!
A quick look from the Harrier Hide gave us lots of Gadwalls and an unlikely 'family' of a pair of Little Grebes with a young Great Crested Grebe sat with them.

With not great deal on offer A had spotted a new construction off to the right he'd never seen before not having visited for quite some time. It was the new hide - "How on earth do you get out there?" he asked. Easy-peasy walk this way...Turned out it was a good move rain came down heavily on the way keeping all others away and giving us an empty hide to enjoy our lunch and some stunning views of a Marsh Harrier as it swooped low over the water disturbing Lapwings, Black Tailed Godwits and a lovely wisp of about a dozen or so Snipe.

A superb twenty minutes or so of aerobatic skills in the stiff breeze. We've still never seen them catch anything other than gull chicks and dead goose/swan carrion but as this one appears to have a full crop we assume it must have eaten something fairly sizeable not so long ago. 

Back at the visitor centre there is a ool of captive ducks that we almost invariably ignore apart to think should we take a pic of the tame Eiders???  Well today we did.

Not much else was seen on our travels around the rest of the reserve but we did have our first Common Darter of the season. It was a bit gloomy and the little dragon wouldn't face the front but we fired off a few shots anyway.

All too soon our time was up and we had to leave. A great day out in good company.

Where to next? More of the same coming up.shortly.

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

Enjoy your wildlife, there's plenty right outside your front door. But take care and maintain that safe social distance.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Back up north five weeks to the day

The Safari was given the opportunity to join CR on a socially distanced trip up to our favourite reserve in south Cumbria. The weather was a bit iffy on the drive up but we were hopeful it would improve by the time we arrived. C informed us it was exactly five months to the day since our last pre-lockdown visit in some ways it didn't seem that long ago but in others it seemed an age since we were last there, either way it was great to be back even if all the facilities aren't open yet.

We were after anything with scales and some exciting invertebrates and hopefully some of the special birds that can be found there. Taking the trail across the moss the weather was obviously beating us as we saw nothing with scales, hardly any invertebrates, an no birds apart from a couple of juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers and hearing a Wren, the woods were deadly quiet all the 'good birds', the Redstarts, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers seemed to have moved on. 

By the time we reached the bridge and had a look down the wildlife devoid stream we decided not to go any further but retrace our steps back to the car and try another venue. However, once we'd reached some open ground a white dot near the Osprey's nest caught our eye and a scan with the bins revealed it was indeed one of the Ospreys - very distant but a welcome addition to our Photo Year List Challenge at #170

The return walk gave us nothing else, everything was very very quiet. So off we went on a short drive to a site we've not visited for many years Meathop Moss. By the time we'd reached the reserve the sun was trying to break through and the mercury had climbed a couple of notches up the thermometer. The difference was immediately noticeable with Speckled Wood and a couple of white butterflies flitting along the access track. We did a couple of laps of the boardwalk trail picking up plenty of Black Darters particularly on the second round. Unfortunately we only spotted one other dragonfly which was probably a Common Darter.

Somehow we noticed several bumble bees but neglected to take any pics which on reflection was probably a mistake as they could well have been Heath Bumble Bees and Bilberry Bumble Bees. There weren't many butterflies about just a couple of Small Tortoiseshells and towards the end of our second lap only our second Green Veined White of the year - how have we managed not to have seen more than than that?

It was good to see so many Common Lizards too, shed loads of them and better still about three quarters of them were juveniles. Almost all of them were spotted on the edges of the boardwalk apart from from these two that were upto no good in the grass just off the edge of the woodwork.

The spiders, later identified as 4-Spotted Orb Weavers, were having a field day catching hoverflies mainly the stripy Footballers but C spotted a right dobber soaking up the heat from the boardwalk, a local speciality a Common Bog Hoverfly, Sericomyia silentis.
Here's some more Black Darter pics.

A quality true bug was spotted too, a Spiked Shieldbug.

After exhausting the possibilities at Meathop Moss and failing to bump into any of the apparently numerous Adders we decamped to another site to see if we could to see any butterflies, Latterbarrow,

A bit of sunshine had a few more Black Darters on the wing including this one which settle very close by.

An interesting bee mimicking hoverfly was seen. One of the forms of Volucella bombylans?

Despite the warmth there were few butterflies on the wing, one of the few was this tatty Meadow Brown.

A bumble bee gave us a bit of a headache but turned out to be 'just' a male Red Tailed Bumble Bee all be it a somewhat faded one.

After finding little else, although a probable Southern Hawker dragonfly sped round but wouldn't slow down enough to give us a confirming view, we called it a day and headed back to the motorway. One last stop, a new site for C and one we've not been to for several years, a bit of a waterfall/rapids that on its day can produce leaping Salmon. We only stopped a few minutes noting that the water was very high and with drains issuing sheets of water over the slippery rocks meant we couldn't view the bottom end of the rapids. Well worth another visit and a longer one at that!

We'll leave you with that wet n wonderful image.

Where to next? Another safari coming up, this time to the south again. And maybe a bit of a rant too...

In the meantime let us know who's basking on the woodwork in your outback

And don't forget to enjoy your local wildlife - it's good for you you know. Keep safe - maintain your social distancing.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Anyone seen any butterflies?

The Safari has been wanting to do counts for this summer's Big Butterfly Count but the weather has been constantly putting the mockers on proceedings so much so that we've only managed a couple of counts over the last fortnight and they haven't revealed prodigious numbers of butterflies. Meadow Browns have been the most numerous but well below what we would normally expect on our rough fields, followed by the not counted for the Count Small Skippers.
Small Skipper
Only a handful of other species have been seen, a couple of Red Admirals, a few Gatekeepers and a Common Blue on our second visit not many Large or Small Whites and a single very fresh Small Copper on our first visit.
Small Copper

But where are the Small Tortoiseshells? Are you seeing any round your outback? Maybe all that mowing and weedkillering of the Dandelions is having an effect on the early emergers and they aren't able to get into good enough condition to lay lots of eggs and even if they do the 'Tidy Brigade' lay waste to the all important Nettle patches destroying eggs and/or caterpillars in the process. Or maybe it's just bad luck with weather conditions and parasitoids?
Like the butterfly counting opportunities to put the moth trap out have been sadly lacking too and when it has gone out the catches have been nothing to write home about, mostly a few Large Yellow Underwings with fewer Dark Arches, Common Rustic aggs and Uncertain/Rustics - doubt we'll ever get the hang of separating those too despite watching videos and reading articles on how to do it.
We did get one good night though and that produced the best catchy of the year so far with no less than 53 moths of eight species although 37 of them were Large Yellow Underwings. Pick of the bunch was a nice Iron Prominent.
Iron Prominent - don't you just love that furry face

We took the chance on the weather and did an on-line booking for a visit to Martin Mere WWT and was lucky enough to send round our Scouse mates for JG to also get a place before the day booked up so a great opportunity for a meet up.
The day was a little cool and windy but at least the rain held off. The morning started well with a Common Sandpiper appearing in front of the Discovery Hide.
There were plenty of other birds about to keep us on our toes too. Lapwings appeared to have had a good season with a sizeable flock already building up.
A flock of settled Black Headed Gulls held a fair proportion of juveniles but despite scanning through them repeatedly we couldn't find any Mediterranean Gulls lurking. Over in the distance the Black Tailed Godwits looked resplendent in their bright golden summer garb. Buzzards sat on posts and we had a couple of distantish views of a hunting Marsh Harrier. Our next stop was all the way round to the far side of the reserve to the recently opened Gordon Taylor hide stopping at the feeding station on the way. That was really busy there were birds zooting here there and everywhere. All tyhe common feeding station birds, pick of the bunch being a really bright male Greenfinch. The Brown Rats were fun to watch too until a drake Mallard appeared and shooed them off the fallen seed. At the Gordon Taylor hide we had a short wait outside for people to leave before we could enter socially distanced from the other birders already in there. Everything on view from here was a bit distant, more stunning Black Tailed Godwits and Lapwings, a few moulting Teal but no Avocets, they've already left for pastures new. More birders arrived so no wanting to 'hog the hide' we moved on umming and erring as whether or not to do the Reed Bed Walk time was getting to wards butty time so we opted for the return to the car park option where our butties were still in the boot of the car. A stop at the Unitied Utilities hide was fairly quiet until someone mentioned they'd not seen a Peregrine on site for quite a few weeks and no sooner had they got the words out of their mouth than one appeared - how often does that happen - -  it's spookey!!! We got some more Marsh Harrier action too. Moving on we passed a nice bright largeish orange fungus - we're useless at fungi so if anyone knows what it might be please let us know.
We decided on a quick peek from the Harrier Hide and bumped into KL looking to get to some pics of any butterflies that might be about in the warmth of the sheltered flowery dip behind the hide but he was having little success chasing the few Gatekeepers that were flitting around. There wasn't a great lot to be seen from the hide, best being a pair of Little Grebes, a new species for the day.
A very brief look at the Feeding Station gave us the Mallard still keeping the Brown Rats at bay.
With our butties retrieved from the car we made our way to the relative comfort of the Raines Observatory. Never really understood a hide without opening windows but the full height glazing does give a panoramic view of the site and keeps the wind out, you don't half get a crinkle cut ar*e off those wooden seats though. Anyway while butties were being munched a tractor working in the distance came in for lunch and as it got closer flushed a Heron from the water's edge.
Now as you're probably aware we have a penchant fro agricultural machinery, for more so than the average Joe...but certainly not as much as this odd chap
Stolen from Twitter with apologies to the original poster
We're loathe to admit it but Masseys and John Deeres are our faves too, but NO we haven't got anything like 5000 images of tractors on our PC! 3000 maybe but none are in provocative poses.
Agricultural excitement over our window seat then gave us some avian excitement in the form of a Green Sandpiper landing close by but mostly obscured by a large fence post. We had to wait for it to wander a little further away along the bank of the pool before we could get anything like a decent pic - not that that's possible through the glazed window. Photo Year List Challenge #164.
The glazing also prevented any pics of a really close Marsh Harrier, the third different individual of the day and a very well marked one at that.
After lunch we moved on to the Kingfisher hide where we had superb views of very lively Tree Sparrows at the feeders but unfortunately the light was poor for getting any pics so not waning to hog the best seats we moved on to the Ron Barker hide where little was happening until after a few minutes the lady to our right heard a Kingfisher and then briefly saw it. Not long after it flew to a favoured perch, a branch deliberately poised over the brook. We filled our boots as it repeatedly dived, not for fish but to bathe.

While intently watching the Kingfisher said lady called out a Stork on the bridge. We'd not seen that fly in and only a few feet from the Kingfisher lifting our eyes from the camera's viewfinder we could see no Stork, how did we miss that??? Happens she's said Stoat and we'd misheard here accent. then she called it out again and there it was a Stoat on the bridge and the first we've seen for a couple of years - can't believe we didn't see one at all last year.

We were relieved when it stood still long enough to fire off a few snaps but it soon disappeared under the Bramble bush never to be seen again. Photo Year List Challenge #165.
Then the Kingfisher put in another appearance, a little further aay but did catch a fish which we missed wit the camera as it flew off with it just as we were about to press the annoying.
Having a look what else was about we checked through the gull flock as always especially when a large number of Black Headed Gulls flew in from the neighbouring fields, nothing out of the ordinary was with them this time. It was nice to see some July Whooper Swans, obviously not fit enough to make the flight to Iceland back in the spring. We'd have loved to have seen them on their breeding grounds this summer but that darned virus thingy put paid to plans of an Icelandic adventure.
Returning to the Discovery hide we had a few minutes in there seeing another Common Sandpiper
Also close by were two broods of very young Mallards and a well moulted drake Teal.
In the distance we could see the sun shining on a few Black Tailed Godwits and a couple of Ruff - time to move round there to see if we could get closer views in better light.
The waders were having a bit of sticky time wading through the thick soft sticky peaty gloop.

And then a last look at the Feeding Station where we saw our first Green Veined White of the year - how come it's taken so long to connect with one of these very common butterflies?
And with that it was time to say our goodbyes to JG and thank her for the great day out before heading back across the river to Base Camp.
A sunny afternoon in the garden gave us the chance to have a go at getting some bee pics. We've been doing our best to get to grips with solitary bee ID this season and hoped the much needed sunshine might have brought some out but we only saw a female Blue Mason Bee sunning itself on the garage roof and out of range of the macro lens. All the other bees we saw were either bumble bees or Honey Bees.
Honey Bee
Believed to be Bombus terrestris

Male Common Carder Bee
The cliffs on our dog-walks have given us a stonking juvenile Willow Warbler and a couple of juvenile Wheatears. We've also done four, or more accurately 3 1/2 as one was abandoned due to atrocious weather, watches for National Whale & Dolphin Watch. Sadly due to inclement weather the only blubber we got were a couple of Grey Seals and a very brief view of a Harbour Porpoise. The birds weren't too brilliant either, a flock of over-landing Common/Arctic Terns at the very start of the final watch was the  best sighting among distant Manx Shearwaters, mostly distant Gannets and a couple of Little Terns and Fulmars. Annoyingly the weather on the Friday and Monday around both weekend's watches was much better tha nthe weekend s themselves - isn't it always the way! On the first saturday we left the watch with the car's heated seat on and the heater set to 25C we were that cold - it's the end of July for crying out loud that shouldn't be necessary!!!
A sunny morning the other day saw us meet up with CR and young EM to see if we could find any lizards on the dunes at St Anne's. The promised sunshine was actually a bit better a bit earlier than forecast and that had warmed the sand up too much before we got there and so we couldn't find any Common Lizards but it did mean that the butterflies were on the wing ready for our arrival. the site speciality here are the Graylings and this morning they were out in force - don't think we've ever seen so many in an hour or so before, they were everywhere we turned. Fantastic!
One thing you never see are the upper-wings of the Graylings, they never sit with their wings open. We tried a bit of a trick and very nearly succeeded and almost got to show you the unseen but it just needs a bit more perfecting in both camera settings and technique.
Another feature of the morning was the large number of Dune Robber Flies, like the Graylings they were everywhere.

We might get another bash at our tricky trick on Sunday when we have a short window of opportunity to get down to the dunes again, lets hope the sun is shining and the butterflies are out on the wing.

If you fancy a giggle have a watch of us doing our Attenborough impersonation on the beach for a virtual beachcombing kids event.

Where to next? After Sunday's short safari there may be the chance of longer further flung safaris later in the week if the promised weather holds out.

In the meantime let us know who's been keeping their wings folded in your outback.

Enjoy your local wildlife - Stay safe stay socially distanced.