Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Back and forth between the Holy Trinity

The Safari has yet again been very remiss about keeping the blog up-to-date. We've sort of been enjoying the Lockdown in that the skies aren't ruined by countless jet trails and there is almost no traffic noise at Base Camp these days, particularly now that the number of ambulance sirens dashing to the nearby hospital has diminished hugely in the last couple of weeks. Even when out n about during the day the reduced amount of human noise pollution has meant we've been able to enjoy the natural sounds around us much more, the sea lapping on the shore, the wind and the trees and even the sweet song of Skylarks on the few occasions we've traveled a little further.

Of course traveling is something we've not been doing much of at all, confining our dog walks to mostly just three sites, the local cliffs and beach or when dry and/or frosty enough for the Mud Monster not to get filthy dirty, Stanley Park and Marton Mere nature reserve - to be known henceforth as the Holy Trinity. We've also had a couple of mornings with a socially distanced CR a little further up the coast on the hunt for wading birds and whatever else we might chance upon.

Our Photo Year List Challenge has come on a pace since our last blog, in which the Heron on the nest was our 47th species of vertebrate photographed this year...so how did we fare through the restrictions of February? Not too badly actually. Starting the month in Stanley Park at last we caught up with a Treecreeper which had eluded us all of January. Not the best pic but it'll do for the Challenge - #48

The following day a now slightly unusual visitor turned up in the garden at Base Camp, a Collared Dove dropped in for a drink from our little waterfall. It's not that many years ago these were daily visitors but now sadly we only get a a handful of visits a month for some reason, they call still be seen or heard close by most days. The light was dreadful but at least the pic shows it doing something most birds can't do - suck to drink.

Our next day out as with CR to Marton Mere where just about the first bird we saw was a Pochard, horribly silhouetted against the harsh morning light. Like the Collared Doves at Base Camp these have become very scarce at the nature reserve in recent winters and unlike the Collared Dove scarce all over the Fylde and beyond now. Another fairly poor pic but we were lucky enough to come across a pair on Stanley Park lake a few days later in much better conditions and much closer.

Next time out was to Marton Mere with CR.  A nice dry bright sunny day and we were able to add a few more species to our tally, the first being one of a small flock of Goldfinches in the scrub just through the gate.

The water gave us a few more species. Grey Lag Geese, Goldeneye and Wigeon.

While the Feeding Station gave us a mammal, in the form of a Rabbit.

The following day we were out alone and walked the mutt to the nature reserve from the far end instead with the intention of having a shuffy at what might be on the feeders at the cottage there. A good move as we had some lovely views of the little flock of Tree Sparrows that frequents the area but only very rarely ventures on to the reserve itself only 100 yards away.

Nearby was a good sized flock of Reed Buntings too, flitting between the thickets of Blackthorn that are found between the rough fields by the cottage. 

While having a look at barn for any sign of the Little Owl we spotted a large flock of large waders approaching from the south. In excess of 100 Black-tailed Godwits flew past not far beyond the barn roof - an awesome spectacle and a good bird to get here so early in the year as they can easily be missed rarely stopping for long on the scrape.

Continuing round the south side as usual the numerous Cetti's Warblers manged to stay totally hidden...as they do - last year we failed to commit one to the SD card and not for lack of trying! The water was fairly quiet apart from the good numbers of Wigeon, over 200 which is a pretty good count for here and superb to listen too as well as watch as the males were starting to get a bit frisky. Similarly the Feeding Station didn't offer anything new to point the camera at but just leaving the reserve at the top gate we spotted a Kestrel hovering away in the distance and hoped it might come nearer. It did but went a bit too far, with the wind in the east it now had its back to us.
What happened next was an unbelievabubble little 1-2 combination. The Kestrel hadn't turned round to fly to the west of us for a face on view but shot off towards its favourite roosting place on the big barn when a Curlew flew past quite low and slow calling as it went. Another good wader fluke that we very graciously accepted.
The second part of the combo was just around the corner when we heard a Bullfinch call, then more than one and stopping to look we could see at least five, at least two of whom were males. For the next 10 minutes or more we tried to quietly follow them as they flitted through the trees never really giving good views for the camera but this was by far and away easily our best experience of Bullfinches at the reserve EVER. Indeed it's really good to see them expanding their numbers in the area in recent years. Shame the pic we got doesn't do the awesomeness of the sighting justice.
Encouraged by our success we made the same trip the following day and this time hit lucky with the Little Owl perched in one of its favourite spots in the hedge that runs alongside the barns. Unfortunately the light wasn't good as the sun hadn't moved round from behind the barn this early in the morning, but not to worry by the time we;d done the circuit of the reserve the sun would be in a much better position. At least  for now the Little Owl was in the bag so to speak.
As ever the Cetti's Warblers eluded us with their elusiveness as we walked past the reedbeds. At the Fylde Bird Club hide overlooking the water we realised that although we'd been watching the Teal and checking them for any chance of the American version, Green-winged Teal, we hadn't actually taken any pics of them!And of course they were looking resplendent in the gorgeous sunshine.
Almost overhead we heard the familiar 'wink wink' calls of a skein of Pink-footed Geese.
Up at the west end of the caravan site (it's been great while this has been closed, quiet, far fewer dog walkers and far far fewer numpties trashing the place) there's a couple of fairly tall Poplar trees and up in the uppermost twigs a brightly coloured male Greenfinch was sitting in the sun singing his heard out.
Back at the barn we were disappointed not to see the Little Owl again especially as the sun had indeed moved round a fair bit and where the owl was sat was much better illuminated now.             All was not lost though as walking back to the car along the old hedgerow it became apparent there had been a cold weather influx of winter thrushes from further east. Several Fieldfares and a couple of Song Thrushes flew out of the hedge in front of us and towards the farthest end of it we heard a couple of Redwings call too. One of these flew to the hedge that runs parallel to ours on the west side of the field where it landed but quite deep in in the hedge and horribly against the light. Still if it's identifiable it counts towards the Challenge so hey-ho. 
CR suggested our next safari should be a wander up the new seawall at Rossall on the high tide to see if we could find any roosting waders. It was another fine but chilly day that started with a party of House Sparrows foraging on the verge at the edge of the little hospital there.It took a while before we came across the roosting waders but when we did there was plenty to point our cameras at, Turnstones and Sanderlings galore.
We filled our boots - you can see more of our pics from the day on our Flickr site. 

Further up the coast from the old sea wall we spotted a solitary wader on the beach, we had been looking out for Ringed Plovers which are quite numerous but was a surprised to see it was a Knot when we got our bins on it. Try as we might we couldn't find any Ringed Plovers on this visit, they'd have to wait for a while.

As the tide dropped some of the Oystercatchers that had been roosting on the golf course flew over to start feeding on the newly exposed mudflats. Like the Teal earlier a species we've seen loads of times since the start of the year but not been able to get a pic of until now.
On the return leg back to our cars both Linnets and Skylarks successfully avoided having their pics taken, they too would have to wait for another day.
Back on safari at the Holy Trinity site of Stanley Park instead of  heading straight to the lake we had a look round the old putting green and sports fields to see if we could find any of the fabled Mistle Thrushes. No joy but an early returning Lesser Black-backed Gull was sat with a good number of Herring Gulls.
Walking the fields brought us to side of the lake we rarely visit and we had great views of a couple of Cormorants diving right in front of us in great light but not coming up with any prey. And yes you've guessed it - by the time we got round the other side with them now much much further away and against the light one of them goes and catches a decent sized Jack Pike, Or a small Pike - take your pick.
On previous visits we've heard Wrens singing and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming but failed to catch up with both. Today we hit the jackpot! A Great Spotted Woodpecker, not drumming just knocking seven shads out of a bit of dead branch.
And a feisty Wren very upset at an intruder in his territory - Get orff ma landddd!!!
News broke of a trio of Snow Buntings down on the beach just south of our old Patch and being just about within the 'local restrictions' range we decided to go and have a look for them. Wandering down the beach we kept well out from the dune edge as in previous winters we've seen them quite a way out on the beach and although there as a lot of doggy disturbance on the dune front we'd still see them if they were flushed. We did get some really good views of several Carrion Crows, yet another species seen daily all year but not yet added to our Challenge tally mostly due to bad light or no camera. No bad light today though!
About half a mile further on we eventually found the Snow Buntings and as suspected they were quite far down the beach where they were feeding along a bit of a strandline.

We walked another mile or so along the beach seeing very little else and on our return leg didn't see the Snow Buntings at all so we were very relieved we'd bumped in to them earlier.
Continuing with the fine and dry weather another safari to Marton Mere was on the cards so off we went again starting at Staining Nook. Despite the good weather we saw very little the best being a pair of Pied Wagtails feeding in a thawing puddle.
The lack of mud meant we could take our walk a bit further and include parts of Herons Reach too. We had a look for newts under our usual refugia but there were only a couple of Common Toads, good to see but still probably a bit too cold for the Great Crested Newts to become active - yes we do have a licence.
Another safari round Stanley Park had us searching the sports fields for the mysterious Mistle Thrushes again and again without success BUT look what we found instead - a stonking Mediterranean Gull - RESULT - the Mistle Thrushes can wait!
A look over the golf course for the Mistle Thrushes gave us a grotty distant pick of a couple of Jackdaws. Another pic to be replaced over the course of the year, we're sure we can do better than this.
We then got a txt from TS telling us there was a Great Crested Grebe on the lake so we had a good look but couldn't see it. After a good scan we decided to try for the cute little Bank Vole that lives under a pile of logs and put some food down for it. After a few minutes it hadn't shown so we went for a look at the Herons on their nests and wandered further along the lakeside seeing a pair of Treecreepers too which was nice. Returning for another look for the vole we chanced upon the Great Crested Grebe that was now between us and the Heron island at almost point blank range - Nice One! The Bank Vole was again a no-show though.
We'd had a couple of trips up to Fleetwood to give Wifey's poorly knee some exercise along the flat and mostly smooth promenade there and had good but cameraless views of Linnets, Skylarks and Ringed Plovers so when CR suggested another joint safari it was going to be worth a visit.
It turned out to be a good choice when a small flock of Common Scoters flew by in the middle distance, we've hardlt seen any from our regular visits to the cliffs and beach so far this year and certainly none anything like as near as these.
We got our Ringed Plovers too
The sharp-eyed among you will spot some Dunlins in that flock and we later got our pic of one down on the shingle. Having a good old yawn it was - who knew their bills could bend the wrong way?
Dodging the dog walkers along the track beside the golf course we also added Skylark and Linnet to our Challenge tally.
 
Back at Base Campwe've been very worried about the lack of Common Frogs in the garden. Last yaer we only had one sighting of a single individual. So far this yera not a sniff and friends locally and a little further afield already have spawn in their ponds. Every night we've been out with the torch to no avail. But we have seen quite a few 3-Spined ticklebacks in the crystal clear water, So we got a net out and set up a photo tank. Photo Year List Challenge #89. Coming along nicely although well behind some of the American front runners.
And so ends a rather long blog about our adventures during February. We hope you've got this far and enjoyed it.

Where to next? We'll do our best to keep you updated more regularly as our Challenge continues through March. It's going to be interesting as (hopefully) Lockdown is coming to and end - at least there'll be a little more freedom towards the end of the month - and of course hibernating wildlife is beginning to stir and migrant birds are starting to arrive.
 
In the meantime let us know who's keeping you entertained in your outback - stay safe everyone and keep enjoying your local wildlife - you know it's good for you.

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