Friday 29 September 2023

Lancashire coast - The new Carmargue? Part 2

The Safari was back at Leighton Moss with CR, more to do with the weather forecast than anything else, the plethora of hides to bunk in to meant a soaking from isolated heavy showers was less likely than anywhere else. Our day started before we'd even got to the Feeding Station. A member of staff was putting thr moth trap away so we asked what they'd caught. She kindly showed us the pots of moths they'd trapped that night. As we don't often trap in woodland and rarely this late in the season most of them were new to us...Large Wainscot, Pink Barred Sallow, Black Rustic, Feathered Ranunculus and a few more we can't remember (should have taken phone pics and/or used a notebook!) were all good to see. 

The Feeding Station was busy with a number of Coal Tits going back and forth and we spotted a Marsh Tit doing a smash and grab raid on the sunflower heart feeder. Best was a stiking male Bullfinch that sat at eye level just a few yards away. Always good to see these close up and personal.

Leaving the Feeding Station and deciding to head to the Bearded Tit grit trays on route to the Grizedale Hide a passing birder told us of large Red Deer stag and a Marsh Harrier were visible from the Sky Tower. We've not been up there for a while so taking advantage of the information up we went. The first thing we saw was a nicely coloured male Sparrowhawk dashing low across the pool, perhaps hoping to put a Snipe up but nothing moved for him. It didn't take long to find the stag laying down on a dry patch deep in the reedbed.
The Marsh Harrier was harder, and had perhaps stopped flying around. Eventually we found it tucked up in a bush miles away right on the far side of the reserve. Far to far for a pic but always good to get one on our day list. Red Deer and Marsh Harrier early on in the day makes for an already good day! Now for those pesky Bearded Tits we missed on our previous visit a couple of weeks earlier, would they show this time. A photographer with all the gear was already in situ at the grit trays and told us 'we should have been here five minutes ago'...dohhh...we could hear their 'pings' further back in the reeds and got brief views of a couple flitting over the reed tops going further away...not the best news. We'd have to come back this way after visitying the hide so all was not lost.

The hide was quiet with only a Great White Egret, a Grey Heron and a few Gadwall on offer. The egret, however, was worth the watch as it stalked around the pool.

After a while with no success it flew to the left and started stalking another part of the pool. This time it did make a catch, a small 'Jack' Pike.

With not much else on the go and no sign of the Red Deer getting up and walking across the causeway at the back of the pool we went back to the grit trays after being told the Bearded Tits had been seen a few minutes earlier. "You've just missed them" the photographer told us. Never mind we went on to the Tim Jackson Hide knowing we'd have the chance to have another try on the way back. Again there wasn't much to be seen there except a shed load of Gadwall...we do like a nice Gadwall...just look at the vermiculations on that!
A return visit to the grit trays saw the photographer packing up, he'd had a good morning, but we'd missed the Bearded Tit again...third time unlucky. Along the path we heard Cetti's Warblers and Water Rails with a Robin in the tree beside the grit trays. Butties began to beckon and they were some way off in the boot of the car, a quick look in a quiet Lillians Hide didn't warrant staying long, the water levels stilla bit too high after a wet week. Butties were extracted from the car and we wander off down to the Causeway Hide to eat them. On the way we had to pass the old set of grit trays and guess what - Bingo - Bearded Tits were there waiting for us...fourth time lucky!
Our butties would taste even better now! We chowed down on them at the Causeway Hide as planned but again high water levels were palying against us. Yet more Gadwall, the usual herd of Mute Swans, a few Coots and Mallards with four Cormorants sat on the little island and not a great lot else. No sign of any Marsh Harriers, Otters or Ospreys although we were told one of the latter had been seen earlier in the morning. Other folk told us that the Otters had been showing well from Lower Hide so after lunch was finished off we went. We'd already seen a few Swallows, Sand Martins and a House Martin drop in during a light shower but on the way down the Causeway to the gate a Swift sped over head, not particularly late but you don't see many after the end of August. 
At Lower Hide it didn't take long for the Otter to show and although it was always fairly distant for pics it stuck around fishing for ages giving great views in the bins.
And an Osprey was tearing a fish to shreds in a dead tree away across the pool. Try as we might we just could't get the Otter to swim quite far enough to the right to be able to get both in the bins at the same time.
More short showers meant more Swallows dropping in, we searched through them for American Cliff Swallows...just in case, seeing as how many have reached our shores on the back of the recent gales. As you might expect we had no joy.
With afternoon pushing on we decided to call it a day here and head over to the saltmarsh hides for the final session. A quick pitstop at the visitor centre gave CR the chance to have a shuffy round the little wildflower garden where he found a Hummingbird Hawkmoth...nice one, we saw it very briefly before it shot off to who knows where. And we had a Sparrowhawk unsuccessfully attack one of the feeders and perch up atop it briefly.
Now the title of this blog alludes to warmer climes and so far we've not shown you much evidence of that apart from the Great White Egret - well it all kicked off down on the saltmarsh.
At the Allen Hide there was bad sunny glare to the left but looking right was where the long legged action was. It was just like the Carmargue now. Two Little Egrets vied for the best spot in the shallows while a Spoonbill swept the deeper water a little beyond them.
And regularly snaffled up a tasty morsel.
Closer and tighter to our right a Little Egret shared a little bay with a Grey Heron. Both having some success.
The Little Egret waded past us and in to the edge of the glare where it promptly stopped and speared a rather sizeable Green Shore Crab which its big feet must have disturbed from the gooey ooze between its toes.
A quick wrangle and it was swallowed whole, Don't think our tonsils would be too happy about us swallowing a large crab whole, just look at those pincers! The Little Egret wasn't the only bird having oozy success, a trio of Redshanks came by probing deep in to the mud and pulling out tiny little round things which we think must be Hydrobia snails.
They also caught many (what look like) Lugworms, some of which were swallowed there and then but others were taken to the edge of the pool to have the mud rinsed off them. It seemed about 50/50 but why those chosen to be rinsed were rinsed and the others not is a complete mystery - they all looked equally gooey from where we were sat.
Then one of them emulated the Little Egret and caught another Green Shore Crab.
Interesting to see the crab has been speared through its softer underside, how did the Redshank manage that beneath the surface of the murky water?
Now a Redshank isn't going to be able to swallow something that size whole is it? No siree deffo not! What did it do? It wrangled the crab to a patch of slightly deeper water and then shook it vigourously to remove a leg at a time. Was the water being used as some kind of vice tostop the body moving so much enabling a leg to be pulled off more easily???
All that wader probing and feeding activity from the Redshanks reminded us of way back in '78 when were counting the timing the probe rate and success rate of Redshanks and other waders at on the Mediterranean coast further east than the Carmargue at Ma'agan Michael Kibbutz fish ponds in Israel.
For some reason we didn't see what became of the de-legged crab, perhaps becuase all the Lapwings, about 100 of them, a few yards to the left of the Redshank took up as something unseen flushed them. Within the flock we saw a slightly smaller bird, a Ruff? No once they'd settled it was slightly easier to see than against the sun in flight and was a Golden Plover.
As the sun moved round the light got worse but would be better from the Eric Morecambe Hide, looking back this way anyway so off we went. We'd now visited all the hides, the Feeding Station, the Garden and the Skytower, that must be the first time that's ever happened!
Indeed the light was much better looking away from the sun but the distance was a bit further, at least you can see the lovely golden spangles now.
Our Spoobill had relocated too and was now much nearer than earlier.
Looking the other way ther was glare again so it was trickier to pick out anything out of the ordinary. There were plenty more Redshanks, we couldn't find any Spotted Redshanks lurking furtively among them, Lapwings, a few Black Tailed Godwits, loads of Teal tucked up undere the bank fast asleep. A smattering of Shelducks were further out on the pool, mostly juveniles and single Wigeon caught our eye. The birders sat next to us with telescopes found a humungously distant Peregrine sat out on the farthest edge of the marsh which we eventually picked up in the bins when it flew a couple of hundred yards but not getting any closer.
We'd turned round to have a look at somethinhg on the Allen Pool and got a pleasant surprise when we turned back - we'd only turned away a minute or so but in that time two new Spoonbills had appeared. Great stuff.
They had a little go at feeding but soon gave up and started to have a bit of a preen
After a little argy-bargyover summat n nowt
they both climbed out on to the bank and promptly fell asleep head tucked under their wings and became statuesque...just like almost all the other times we've ever seen Spoonbills
It was getting near time to leave but ther was one last bird to see, again as if from nowhere a Little Grebe magically appeared right under our nose so we fired off a few pics.
And with that it was time to hit the trail back to Base Camp - what an few excellent days out on safari in Lancashire's answer to the Carmargue - Bring on the Black Winged Stilts, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingos and Purple Gallinules to make even more authentic.
The Spoonbill became the 164th species of bird added to our International Photo Challenge...happy days.

Where to next? We're off out a bit to east shortly.
In the meantime let us know who's demolishing the crab population in your outback

Thursday 28 September 2023

Lancashire coast - The new Carmargue? Part 1

The Safari has been out n about with good mates CR and IH over the last two or three weeks; we've been to both the north side and south side of the River Ribble to some of the variety of coastal and inland wetlands to be found between Liverpool and Barrow, not that we got into Cumbria this time. 

Over the last few years it's been noticeable how many more egrets you can see in these places than Grey Herons, the latter was the only long legged thingy to be found in the parts back in the day. Now it's a game of 'by how many will Little Egrets outnumber Grey Herons today?'. And it's usually 'loads'. And it's no longer 'just' Little Egrets there's a whole host of 'Daz' (other titanium oxide enhanced laundry cleaneres are available) white long legged beasties waiting to outnumber Grey Herons, they're all over the shop! Not that we're complaining, we'd have had to go to far flung corners like the Danube Delta to see Great White Egrets when we started birding some 50 something years ago, not that we'd been much further than Anglesey back then.

First up we headed up north to Leighton Moss where we found a trio of Cattle Egrets out on the saltmarsh, until very recently these were quite scarce locally favouring a few small hotspots but now seem to almost ubiquitous although still in small mubers, we're yet to come across a double figure flock. Maybe when they start following the plough like they do on the continent we'll see large numbers together - by then they'll probably be fighting off Black Kites, or maybe even Black Winged Kites, for what gets turned out of the soil.

On the moss itself it was pretty quiet with somewhat too high water levels in the pools and very recent habitat work outside two of the hides. But of course we did find a Great White Egret.
Beyond it in the furthest part of the pool was a Grey Heron too and then there were two. After a bit of a squabble over fishing rights the newcomer flew off over the Causeway...we hadn't taken much notice of it but looking that way at something else we saw that its upper wings were very gingery and we were suddenly became very interested in it. Now there had been a Purple Heron here but it was at least two weeks since the last sighting and we hadn't paid enough attention to this bird and it was soon lost to view. However, with plenty of other birders around all day it's unlikley that had it been a Purple Heron no-one else had seen 'just' a 'normal' Grey Heron and a trick of the light combined with a good dose of wishful thinking was the conclusion.
The Bearded Tits weren't playing ball at either of the grit trays and with nothing much else about in easy reach of the lens (recently pics of Ospreys, Bitterns, Marsh Harriers and more had been flooding social media groups but they weren't on show today) we had to 'make do' with watching the dragonflies outside the Causeway Hide window and what a show they were putting on for us, they were loads of them, Mostly Migrant Hawkers.

Like the egrets it's not that long ago that these were almost unknown around these parts too. Always numerous though were Common Darters and so it was today with several pairs in tandem on the wing and perching up.
So far this year we've not come across a Garganey so we spent quite a lot of time checking through the nort so many Teal to be found in case one was lurking in plain sight and nobody had picked it out yet. What was unsual wasa Teal stood on a post, there's lots of posts sticking out of the water here and we've seen all manner of birds stood on them but never a Teal. There's got to be a first time for everything we suppose.
No sign of any Garganey on the main reserve but we did find a distant likely candidate on the saltmarsh pools with a much greater number of Teal to rummage through.
At range through the bins it did look quite good but when we asked a newly arrived birder to put his scope on it it showed a bit of previously hidden green on the wing so no joy for us. It did stand out from the crowd, often a good sign of something unusual - if you take your eyes off it and then can't relocate it it probably wasn't anything out of the ordinary but this one was easy to pick out among the much darker, plainer Teal...close but no cigar! 
We were also put onto two very distant Whinchats, always nice to see but we do wish they'd been a mile or two closer - we won't be winning any photo competitions with this effort.
Our next safari was south of the Ribble to Marshside, in the hope of connecting with a Spoonbill or two. The pools at Sandgrounders Hide were really good for Canada Geese and not a lot else! Closeish were a smattering of Lapwings and a few gulls until IH found a Pale Bellied Brent Goose lurking at the far end of the Canada Goose flock. We watched it come nearer, waiting for a better photo opportunity when CR shouts Kingfisher. Which duly landed on the perch especially positioned for them. Not only did it land, it fished too and for a good length of time, giving the camera shutter a lot of  work to do.
After a good while the Kingfisher left which meant looking for the Brent Goose again, it was nowhere to be seen among the Canada Geese - how could it hide so effectively? Well it wasn't hiding at all it was right out in the open on its own, it had snuck across the channel onto the island in front of us while our attention was elsewhere.
While watching it grazing all alone we spotted a juvenile  Little Ringed Plover working its way along the water's edge behind it and while looking at that IH saw a White Wagtail drop in briefly. Having exhausted the possibilities of the pool we decided to nip round the other side of the reserve and view the muddy pools from the old sea wall wherwe a number of Curlew Sandpipers had been seen in recent days. It didn't take long to find them too and a nice Ruff for good measure.
While we were watching (and checking the small flock of roosting Black Headed Gulls for Mediterranean Gulls - gotta be done!) another dozen Curlew Sandpipers dropped in - We now had more Curlew Sandpipers in front of us at any one time than we've had before and possibly almost as many as we've ever had put together - they're not a bird we see often or many of - WOW! Sadly they were too far spread to be able to fit in one frame so this is the most we could get together.
There were no Spoonbills to be seen from this side and only a couple of Little Egrets so it wasn't that Carmarguey after all.
From there we hit Martin Mere WWT reserve where there were a lot of noisy argumentative Grey Lag Geese, well they made a change from the Canada Geese at Marshside. A quick fly-by Kingfisher made it a daily double which doesn't often happen.
Like at Leighton Moss the the water level was a bit too high after all the recent rain so there was precious little mud to attract many waders. Scanning around we found the usual duck characters, Teal and Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall and just a handful of Wigeon.
A bit of scanning the margins gave us a few Snipe secreted among the snoozing Teal.
Most of the recently arrived Pink Footed Geese were away elsewhere but there were a small number to be seen among the Grey Lag Geese hordes.

Moving round to the new Tominson Hide we had a bit of a shock when the herd of cows came trundling down the narrow track. Was someone moving them back to the shed we'd just passed, seems a bit odd to be doing that during opening hours but as far as we could tell there was no 'cowboy' 'cushing' them on from the rear. Two calves took an interest in us as we stood in the widest part of the track we could find and then we saw the huge bull lumbering along...and still no sign of a 'cowboy'...the flimsey gate we were stood by didn't look as if it would hold our weight if we had to vault it, not that we do much vaulting but in the case of an emergency, and it certainly wouldn't hinder the progress of a 1000+ kg animal should he have had the mind to follow us...oooh errr. He passed by without looking up far more interested in the lush grass on the opposite side of the path - phew! We tried to get three lingering cows to catch up with the rest so that we could carry on to the hide but they wouldn't pass us rather they turned and went back the way they came so our cattle wrangling skills were rated as a big fat 0... 
CR did the decent thing and phoned reception for assitance and shortly after a member of staff came running down the track explaining that a gate had inadvertently been left open. He suggested we make our way to thew hide and stay there until he told us the coast was clear - which we did! On the way to the  hide we pased a  family of Stonechats on the adjacent fence but had no time to stop and admire them.
Once in the hide all we had to do was watch and wait for the cattle to be brought home. High water levels meant there wasn't much to see other than the almost ubiquitous Grey Lag Geese, a couple more Pink Footed Geese and a few Gadwall but we had to stick it out until the coast was clear.  Close Encounters of the Herd Kind! Ian missed all the excitement ftoday (& jeopardy) when we were surrounded by these escaped Longhorn Cattle, including bull, and had to phone the visitor centre asking them to rescue us 😱
Before too long our cowboy friend popped his head through the door letting us know the beasts were back in their field and the gate locked behind them. Off we went for a look at the Stonechats but for a few minutes we couldn't find them. Then one reappeared further down along the fenceline.

And then a second deep in the vegetation behind the fence

Despite a long search we never did see the rest of the family, where had they disappeared too?

With time now pressing it was decided to have a last look from the Discovery Hide and lo and behold what did we find here - a whole heap of Cattle Egrets, and, of course, a couple of Little Egrets scattered about the wetland.

As the wore on so the Pink Footed Geese began to return for the night, the sound as they came in was just fabulous.
At times they filled the sky
Even better was a well grown Moorhen chick poking around on its own right outside the window. Too good an opportunity to miss - just look at those feet! We do like a Moorhen; one of the best birds in the book - you can keep your brightly coloured Kingfishers and Puffins, it's Moorhens, Coots and Mediterraneran Gulls for us everytime...oh and Swifts - what's not to like about a Swift?
Sadly time was up and we had to head back to Base Camp.

Where to next? More adventures on the 'Carmargue' coast.

In the meantime let us know who's got the longest legs in your outback