Thursday 28 January 2021

Three mornings round the park

The Safari has had a wander or three round the lake at Stanley Park. Basically we've been looking for somewhere with close wildlife and not too much mud for the mutt to collect and the park fits the bill especially if the ground is frozen. 

The first day was the best with bright sunshine and a frosty start. As usual these days we had a few target species to try to find to go towards our Photo Year List Challenge tally. There was plenty on offer and we took advantage of all the regular hotspots, by the boathouse where the Mute Swans get fed, the wild side of the lake and the two impromptu feeding stations the regular park visitors keep topped up.

Cormorants often sit on the rails along side a multitude of gulls

Dunnocks aren't often as photogenic as this one
Great Tits are always present around the feeders - shame the light was iffy for this one.
So far this year this is the only Goldcrest we've seen - well spotted flitting around in the undergrowth by CR.
Canada Geese are a regular feature on the lake.
As are Coots.
The boathouse roof is the favoured haunt of the large flock of Feral Pigeons, from up there they can spot a bag of bread or bird seed arriving from the car park long before the other birds. This year we've made the decision to only get pics of true (or as true as possible) wild Rock Dove types.
Tufted Ducks can be present in fairly large numbers, sadly today there were no Scaup with them as there was at the end of last year.
At the northernmost end of the lake there is a Silver Birch tree bedecked with Witch's Broom growths as featured in the WinterWatch list of things to find at this time of year, although it can be seen all year round as it is a permanent growth it's easier to see when there are no leaves to obscure the view.

The Ring Necked Parakeets' favourite nesting tree blew down in a gale before Christmas but they still hang around the neighbouring trees where there are feeders full of all manner of goodies left out for them.

Nuthatches too aren't shy of coming really close to make the most of the freebies.
Back at the boathouse the Mallards are never going to pass up on the chance of more bread.
And neither are the Black Headed Gulls!

A grand morning out n about on safari and proving you don't have to go far to find stunning wildlife - indeed we can't go much further than this due to the current lockdown restrictions. And really good to see a very young lad out with his new little binoculars and camera enjoying the wildlife. Hopefully in 50 years time he'll know way more than we now know about wildlife and there's still plenty of wildlife left for hm to enjoy, more than we have now would be even better!

Our second visit turned out to be rather odd, the birds seemed to have disappeared on us although we did avoid the boathouse area of Mute Swans, Mallards and Feral Pigeons due to a gaggle of dogs Monty doesn't get on with so we ended up going behind the boathouse through the woods. The first pic we took was of a large fungus looking fairly fresh. Not something we'd expect on a very cold morning in late January. Now we are useless at fungi  but good friend and all round fungi guru AB tells us it's a Tawny Funnel, not one we've ever heard of before.

Our next pic was again not of birds but a patch of early flowering Daffodils, not easy with the 150-600mm lens any further back to frame them better and we'd have put our foot through the ice at the edge of the lake.
Eventually the birds did come but still far from the usual numbers. A Wood Pigeon was eying up the feeders from on high making sure the coast was clear, despite all the people and dogs always around these birds are still quite shy while most of the others have become accustomed to all the disturbance.
Others like several of the Robins now regularly come to the hand for titbits.
The stars of the show were a pair of very active Blue Tits, definitely some courtship going on they were flying round the trees chasing each other for ages.

Eventually one got a bit peckish and came down to feast on one of the apples poked on to the branches mostly for the Ring Necked Parakeets.
That's a big portion for a little dicky bird.
Behind us a few Black Headed Gulls mooched about between the thawed water and the still frozen patches. 
And round the corner the usual Cormorants were sat on their usual rail.

Fog and mist was the order of the third visit making the park and especially the lake very atmospheric.

With dark murky conditions what we saw wasn't worth pointing the camera at until we got round the far side of the lake and spotted a couple of Herons back on their nests. This is the first time we've seen them up there this year but others have already posted pics of them in much better light it has to be said.

Wandering back the way we came as the light improved slightly gave us a few more photo opportunities like this Coal Tit.
At the big feeding area one of the Ring Necked Parakeets was having a good old feast one one of the several apples.
As ever the usual Cormorants were on their usual rail. This one is in top breeding plumage, it must be quite an old individual to have as much white about the head and neck as that.
We finished the morning enjoying the the intricate patterns in the plumages of the immature Herring Gulls by the boathouse.
Where to next?  Not very far for the next six weeks that's for sure but when the weather allows we'll be out somewhere local on safari armed and dangerous with the camera to show you what we've been able to find.

In the meantime let us know who's lurking in the mist in your outback.
Enjoy your local wildlife - it;ll do you good but make sure you stay safe.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Mixed weather so far in locked down 2021

The Safari can't quite believe our last post was way back in early October and we apologise profusely for not keeping you up to date with all the exciting wildlife we've been lucky enough to come across during these somewhat trying times - not least because many of our favourite wildlife sites are well and truly 'out of bounds'.

As regular visitors will know we've been in a regular Photo Year List Challenge. Last year we managed a very credible 205 species of vertebrates and with a little bit more luck could have broken 210. This year is the Challenge's fifth and the rules are the same as last year all vertebrates - no captives, no sub-species - count so we're setting a target of 200. It's a worldwide challenge with most of the participants living in the Pacific NW of the USA and last year's winner and runner-up were both well over 300 a tally we can't possibly hope to achieve so we have our own mini-challenge beat my brother based in NE Italy and Monika the Challenge originator from San Juan Island, we split the two last time with my brother on 200 and Monika on 210.

So off we go with 2021. Icy cold weather early in the month meant sunny days to make the most of during our permitted socially distanced lock down exercise so we had a couple of days out with good friend CR around Marton Mere as well as a shimmy round Stanley Park and almost daily visits to the coast with the mutt.  

Our challenge got off to a predictable start with a stunning Starling along the cliffs

On the return leg we had a peek at the high tide wader roost at the old boating pool and managed to pick out the two Purple Sandpipers, not bad for the second species of the year to be submitted to the SD card. They were sat among the Redshanks and Turnstones quite a distance apart so there was no way we could get them both in the same frame.
Our next visit out was to Stanley Park where we added several more species, pick of the bunch being a tidy Nuthatch.
Later in the week we had our first visit to Marton Mere where the scrub was fairly quiet but the remaining ice-free patch of water was quite lively and included this Great Black Backed Gull, nowt special in that you might think and we do see them every day on the beach but we never saw a single one at the reserve last year - how did that happen???
It was good to see a small flock of Pintails there too, far far less common than Great Black Backed Gull here.
The most birds were at the gloomy shaded feeding station but a big bonus bird there was a pair of Stock Doves, we've never seen them in there in the last 30 years!
Another bonus was a small flock of Fieldfares feeding on the only Apples still left on a tree just outside the reserve.
Our second visit there was on a very frosty morning, lovely to be out even if a bit nippy on the ears and finger-tips.
We came in from the NE corner this time rather than the usual west end, a good move as we bumped into the wintering pair of Stonechats straight away.

At the other end of the east embankment - not quite as cold as the east embankment  at Cley on the north Norfolk coast but not far off today - a Little Egret was at first in the flowing dyke then flew to stand by the frozen flood in the corner of the field.
The white near the tip of its bill is ice/frost that's frozen from when it was in the ditch. When we started birding in the late 60s you'd have to go to the southern half of France in the summer to see these birds.
We didn't do the full circuit as we could see there was only a tiny patch of unfrozen water that was probably not visible over the reeds from the hide so we turned round and retraced our steps. It was then a Bittern got up out of the reedbed we'd just been stood by and flew the length of  mere flushing hundreds of gulls in the process before it landed in the reeds at the far end. We struggled to lock on to it with the camera especially when it was going  through the gulls, this was the only 'usuable' pic out of over 100. It's identifiable so counts for the challenge and a good one to get early on as they can be tricky but not as tricky as that other reedbed skulker Cetti's Warbler that we totally failed on for last year's challenge.

We've had the stealth-cam out at Base Camp and picked up our local Fox which we've seen a couple of times and heard barking in the small hours a couple more.

It's being hopeful that we'd left another Turkey carcass out for it which we hadn't; one Turkey between two over Christmas is more than enough! A few nights each week we do leave a little something out for him/her though, a hard boiled egg, a few dog biscuits, a bit of left over dinner (that doesn't happen often!!!!!!).

Our first dog walk of the morning is before breakfast and it's still not quite light and certainly far to dark for the camera but most mornings we've heard the local Song Thrush giving it some welly his favourite Sycamore tree. Today he was being answered by another just across the green - don't think we've ever heard two singing at the same time here before. We've even seen one twice now early morning foraging on the lawn of a garden two doors away from Base Camp but they are ssoooo rare here barely an annual visitor. However, we have managed to get a pic of one during our last visit to the nature reserve in brilliant sunshine too even if the twiggery made for some tricky focusing.

Our next pic for you is a bit of a fluke from the stealth-cam. Very early in the year a Grey Wagtail dropped in to the garden at Base Camp had had no more than a couple of minutes round the pond. We certainly didn't expect to see another in or over the garden until at least Easter but lo-and-behold reviewing the stealth-cam's SD card look what we found.
So that's two garden records of Grey Wagtail before we got our first Wren - how mad is that! - and brings our Challenge tally to 37...sounds good but some of the American front runners are over 100 already - slow down will yer!!! Stealth-cam is coming up with the goods although my brother has already had Golden Jackal (recently expanded its range into his area) and Wild Cat on his - the rotter!

In previous challenges there's been a bit of a twist, a couple of years ago it was 'no hand of man in the pics' a tricky one, this year it's pics containing multiple species as sort of a sub challenge and more than that unusual combinations of species. So far we've got a couple of contenders.

If the nearby Moorhen, Gadwall and Grey Lag Geese had played ball we could have got double figures in this one
And in this one freezing weather can make for strange bed-fellows.

In not so good news it looks very likely that one of our favourite local biodiversity hot spots is going to built on before too long. Not sure how the developers can achieve 'no net loss of biodiversity' when there's so much there and we suppose there won't even be a single street tree provided on the new estate and if there is it'll be a poor choice of species. We're currently struggling with a bad bout of Eco-anxiety, living in the town with the least open space outside inner London and one of the boroughs with the least tree cover nationally, particularly how much open space and access to nature has been seen to be so important during this pandemic. But hey-ho there's no money to be made in Yellow Meadow Ants, Ploughman's Spikenard and Hedgehogs.

Where to next? If this rain ever stops and the sun shines again we'll be out somewhere local with the camera enjoying our fantastic wildlife, while there's still some to enjoy.

In the meantime let us know who's been stealthily visiting your outback.