Wednesday 7 September 2022

A change of ID and a sneak across to the SouthSide

The Safari got a txt from old friend TS the other morning telling us that the Hobby we'd seen reported on the local birders' WhatsApp group at Marton Mere was still there. Not having seen one there for many years, and not anywhere else for only slightly fewer and not hardly having been there at all this year we decided to go and have a look, it shouldn't be too busy as the schools have gone back to the annoying adjacent caravan site would be a lot quieter.

The walk in was very quiet, just a calling Chiffchaff and Blackcap breaking the warm silence. We soon found out where to look as a couple of other birders were stood half way down the main drag looking towards a particular bush. We stopped and scanned and saw the unidentifiable silhouette of a small falcon perched on the edge of said bush. Joining the others, who were unable to see it on the far side of the bush, we stood waiting and chatting until it decided to hop around a bit - which eventually it did.

The light wasn't brilliant, looking towards the sun but we got a couple of snaps. It did a little fly around chasing dragonflies too. It was then that top local birder PE when reviewing his pics realised something wasn't quite right and the Hobby might not be a Hobby after all. After a phone call he rejoined the small group and announced the bird was in fact a juvenile Red-footed Falcon. So one off our list and one on our list! Still not seen a Hobby at that site for many years! But a Red-footed Falcon makes up for not being able to get to the one not too far away a tad over 30 years ago. The rubbish pic above is also a much better view than the very poor flight views we had of one at Spurn well over 25 years ago too. The big question is had we come across it on our tod would we have questioned the original ID or like PE twigged something was amiss, sadly it'd mostly likely have been the former.
All too soon we had to leave but came back for another look later in the afternoon when we hoped the light would be better. It was but now the little falcon was performing at the western end of the reedbed hawking dragonflies so for viewing purposes the light still wasn't great.

When it was in better light it was back at its favoured bush but that was now miles away from our new position.
At least this distant shot shows the barred tail confirming it's not a Hobby. None of the flight shots of the underwing we got were very good unlike others we've seen on Flickr/Twitter etc which should the underwing coverts are buff coloured so it's not the very closely related but much much rarer Amur Falcon either.
With news of it still present we went down the next day too and watched it catching dragonflies. But still very much against the light.
It did perch up in nearby Willow tree for a while too.
And so onto Day 3, gosh - hardly been to the reserve all year and now thrice in three days! This time we had CR as company. But we couldn't find it anywhere, then TS came along and told us it had been favouring the NE corner the previous evening, so we had a look there and met other birders looking too but to no avail - had it moved on after an earlier shower? We took the opportunity to do a circuit of the reserve, noting not a lot apart from a few Cetti's Warblers singing half-heartedly from unseen perches deep in the reeds. As we come towards the NE corner along the embankment we could see a bigger pack of birders and they looked to be looking at something - sure enough when we approached there was the Red-footed Falcon sitting almost directly over the path in a tall Willow tree.
At last a decent view in decent light but we still couldn't manage any half-good flight shots...and still nothing else to point the camera at. 
The other birders told us that a proper Hobby had been seen too as well as a juvenile Cuckoo, that would have been good to bump into, the last one we saw here was being fed by every passing species of small bird while it sat in its Sedge Warbler foster parents' diminutive nest many years ago.
We didn't get a fourth day as the Saturday was earmarked for a safari over the river to meet up with the old gang at the 'other' place we don't mention by name.
As we approached the entrance we could see a shiny white patch in the field opposite - looked like about 2-300 gulls..."hmm that bodes well must be a Mediterranean Gull on the cards today", we thought.
Another white bird was first up though, we'd passed through the check-in desk and through the facing window we could see an egret sat on a pontoon in middle of the lake. A telescope was set up in the window too, manned by a volunteer - not seen that before. Well it was a Cattle Egret hence the excitement, they're sort of regular just inland of the Ribble estuary now, more so on the south side but there may be not so many records from this site which is a little further inland still but does have the herd of Longhorn Cattle grazing sort of naturally on the wet fields so Cattle Egrets might be expected to turn up there.

When we started birding you had to go to the Carmargue in southern France, the  Ebro delta in SE Spain or SW Spain and southern Portugal to see these - how times change! 

JG was already in the Discovery Hide when we'd finished gawping at the egret and pointed out a few Ruff and a Buzzard on a post, there's always a Buzzard on a post at this reserve. Something put the Lapwings and gulls up and in the throng we picked out a Mediterranean Gull but it must have left the reserve with most of the other gulls as we never saw it again all day despite concerted efforts whenever the gulls were in view.

Moving round to the screens before the rest of the crew arrived at the first one we had great views of a snoozing juvenile Shelduck, a stunning pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, iridescent Lapwings and a deep wading Snipe

The second screen provided a lone Black-tailed Godwit and a Green Sandpiper obliged by flying in and running round in the gloopy mud in front of us.

We arranged to meet the late arriving remainder of the gang at the Feeding Station so sat up there for a while enjoying the Brown Rats (always a star attraction for us), Greenfinches and Goldfinches on offer. No sign of any Willow Tits this morning although there were very few of the regular Blue and Great Tits knocking about.

The gang arrived and had a quick look before moving on to the Harrier Hide with it's throngs of feral Canada and Greylag Geese. A couple Little Grebes and Gadwall broke the gooses' monopoly on the water while overhead a small number of Sand Martins tazzed about. The most exciting wildlife wasn't a bird though, a tiny orange beetle was clambering about the shelf and AB's camera, on closer inspection by AB he declared it to be a type of Leaf Beetle. A few photos and a bit of research later it was identified as one of the Sphaerodermas, of which there are two species to choose from in Britain. All the info about them is here.

Time to move on - we hit the UU Hide to enjoy distant views of not a lot. Easily pick of the bunch was an arriving but immediately disappearing Kingfisher which put in a second brief appearance a few minutes later and a quality Kestrel hovering not too far away.

Another Green Sandpiper flew in but landed on a muddy pool miles away. They do remind us of giant - well not that giant - House Martins when they swoop across the water. Scanning around we found a Buzzard on a post, a Buzzard on a stick, a Buzzard on a gate and a Buzzard on a bonfire with a distant Marsh Harrier to break the Buzzard monotony. With not a lot else happening we soon moved on to the next hide. Well would you believe it we couldn't get in - the ginormous camera brigade were in there and not for sharing the space so we didn't stay. Lunch beckoned anyway so it was no hardship turning back and we got great views of a bright Comma butterfly on the path outside the hide.

Back at the reception area we met our remaining late arriving gang member and aimed for our butties in the boot of the car while noting that the earlier Cattle Egret was no longer on its pontoon. 

After a selection of butties, chips, salads and more were eagerly scoffed it was time to hit the trail again. T'other way this time to the as yet unvisited hides. Nowt doing in the first three but that's only to be expected at this stage of the autumn as the wintering ducks and geese from the northern latitudes haven't arrived yet, another week or so and they'll start steaming in. 

From the elevated Kingfisher Hide we watched a juvenile male Marsh Harrier cruising around and the Cattle Egret appeared landing among the Longhorn Cattle where the scene was looking decidedly primaeval.

No Tree Sparrows were on the feeders nor were there any on the walk up - where  are they we wondered, they're always along this stretch.

On the approach to the final hide there's a pool, sheltered by some tall Willows and a hedge, this sheltered area was absolutely hooching with dragonflies, mostly Migrant Hawkers with a few Common Darters thrown in for good measure. It was like a scene from a tropical documentary they were everywhere, dozens of them, absolutely awesome. And looking good for a Hobby slicing through in search of an easy meal or two. But when a passing cloud obscured the sun they disappeared. Well not quite they were spotted roosting up high in the tree tops of the hedge waiting for the sun to come back out. Some trees had good numbers - here's a couple of twigs with seven Migrant Hawkers on them.

The hoped for Hobby didn't show up, neither did the Kingfisher or Stoat that fairly regularly hang around the bridge. A distant small raptor circling with a couple of Buzzards could have been a Hobby but could easily have been a Sparrowhawk. With all the hirundines over the adjacent farm and all those dragonflies behind us there just had to be a Hobby somewhere close by, all we had to do was wait. A Peregrine flew over high up and didn't bring about a panic, several Ruff fed on the mud including a couple of nice bright white males, along with a few Teal. It was during that wait that we ran out of time and had to head back to the car for the drive back across the river.
We stopped at the Discovery Hide on the way to the car just to check the gulls but alas very few gulls were visible. The couple in there had seen a Stoat or a Weasel a few times hunting among the rocks but it refused to show for us. Then just as we'd got through the door it reappeared - black tipped tail they said so a Stoat

And that was that, time to go after a great day with great company, lots of laughs catching up and reminiscing and lots of fantastic wildlife too.

Where to next? Not sure yet, new Base Camp is having some modifications so we mightn't be very far afield for a while but you never know what we might find on the garden or a cuple paces from the front door - it's all out there just waiting to be seen.

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

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