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

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