Monday 30 October 2023

Marshsprey or Osp Harrier?

The Safari was the nominated driver this week but unexpected car issues meant we were kindly driven up the motorway by CR for another day out at the fabulous Leighton Moss. The weather looked fine with nice sunshine but unfortunately it clouded over for most of the timne we were there. That didn't stop the fun though. We had high hopes of Bearded Tits, Otters, Red Deer stags and a suporting cast of Redwings and Siskins along with much more so how did we fare?

First stop was the grit trays on laong the path to the Grizedale Hide where we saw a group eargly awaiting the arrival of the Bearded Tits, how did we know this...well no-one was pointing binoculars or cameras at the reed bed so we deduced the stars of the show weren't playing out. And nearly right we were, we thought the folks were waiting but they told  us we should have been there five minutes earlier...dohhh. We waited a couple of minutes but as there was no action and no sounds of 'pinging' coming from the reeds we walked the few yards on to the hide. Here we had some Marsh Harrier action, with a male and a female passing by doing the rounds of the reedbed looking for unsuspecting prey.

As we said earlier we'd lost the sunshine and the light wasn't great now, although a nearby sleepy drake Teal was nicely lit showing his newly aquired vermiculations very well.
Almost all there with his moult, just a few more feathers to go like most of his drake ducky companions - none of them were quite at their 'out-of-eclipse' finest yet. 
From the furthest reachess of the reedbed to our right a Great White Egret flew in and landed on the right hand edge of the pool.
We watched for a while as the harriers did more passes, mostly distant - how is it some birders post pics of these which appear to be taken from only a few yards from the hide window when every time we see them they're invariably miles away? We noted a good selection of dabbling ducks, the Pintail and Shovelers binging to look might fine. The Blue Winged Teal look-alike Cinnamon Teal x Shoveler hybrid was also there but remained fast asleep the whole time. It's a bonny bird right enough and always worthy of a pic but even though it was fairly close it was facing away and was obscured by a fair bit of intervening vegetation so we didn't press the shutter on this occasion.
Moving on we retraced our steps past the grit trays where there was a different posse of eager watchers not watching just chatting so we passed quickly by heading for the Tim Jackson Hide. En route we bumped into KL and friend who showed us pics of their seriously prolonged and close Otter encounter out on the saltmarsh earlier in the morning...not jealous at all!!! 
Already ensconced within the hide was old mate DP who informed us there hadn't been any Red Deer on show and all there was for our delectation were a few Mallards, a couple of Mute Swans and a Moorhen or two, oh - and some Gadwall. We didn't stay long deciding to head to the far end of the reserve to have our pies etc at the Lower Hide so off we set at a brisk walk. A couple were staring intently into a pathside bush and showed us a Treecreeper working its way round the truck, there was a second on on the other side of the path too - both too deep in the foliage to warrent a pic but they were the vanguard of what was to become 'Bird of the Day'. Cetti's Warblers were  giving them a run for their money, there were loads of them, one singing unseen every few yards - remember the good old days when these were a real rarity? 
A very brief look at the Feeding Station gave us Coal Tits and a Marsh Tit among the more numerous Blue and Great Tits and Chaffinches. Any how as we were hightailing it down the boardwalk towards the causeway a small flock of thrushes flew overhead, we got on to one, a Mistle Thrush and we thought the one before it was too, but the others not seen properly before they disappeared over the treetops sounded like Fieldfares. As we drew close to the grit trays the birders there beckoned us to come quickly. Thank you very much...a pair of Bearded Tits were gritting up on one of the trays. They change their diet from invertebrates to seeds in the autumn and need the grit to help grind down the harder seeds in their gizzards.
Fantastic little things even if they're not in the tit family and haven't got beards...really they should be called Moustchioed Reedlings or even Moustachioed Parrotbills although the former is probably the better name as they're in a seperate family from the rest of the parrotbills too. 
They had their fill of grit and flitted into the reedbed and out of view, they don't have to go more than a couple of stems in to disappear completely. However we could tell where they were by the shaking of the tops of the reeds as they moved through. Luckily the male decided to climb to the top of one of the tall stems and showed just long enough for us to have a stab at the shutter button.
Result - job done, they're always a very welcome treat.
Once they'd snuck back into the depths of the reedbed we wandered on to the Causeway Hide, no news from those inside of any Otters so far today. The water level was quite high and a good scan revealed not a lot out of the ordinary, best of the bunch was probably the Little Grebe to our right. The camera just had to be pointed at a Moorhen that swam past the hide just as the sun broke through, brilliant things - One of the best birds in the book, if not THE best bird!
The sunshine brought out a pair of Migrant Hawkers that flew past the window, at one point it looked like they might come through the window, and another single individual but our butties now seriously beckoned so it was time to move on again. Walking down the Causeway we passed another Treecreeper and heard more Cetti's Warblers than you could shake a stick at. The walk along the woodland edge beyond the gate didn't give us the hoped for Siskins in the Alder trees nor any Fieldfares or Redwings in the fields on the right, even the local Jays weren't playing out there today.
Once in the hide we were told 'we should have been here five minutes ago' there had been an Otter very close...dohhh
We got our butties out and began to get stuck in when the call went up - Otter coming from the right. Now we were in a dilema - butty or bins, camera or butty??? The large over-filler wholemeal barm cake won hands down as the Otter was a long way off and only showing the very top of the top of its head when it surfaced, certainly not worth dropping food for.
A Marsh Harrier that had been mooching about in the distance came closer and began to circle over the Otter and then did something we'd never seen before - started fishing like an Osprey. It was as if it knew the Otter, even though it was only travelling not fishing on this ocassion, might scare some fish towards the surface.
The swirl to the right of the harrier is the Otter submerging.
Sadly, for phtographic purposes at least, it was totally unsuccessful, not so much as a scale was caught in those talons. There were thoughts among the birders in the hide that it had spent the last few weeks watching the Ospreys fishing and got some handy tips from them. They are known to take fish but in all our years watching them we've never seen one actively fishing like this before, we'd guess that most of the fish they do eat is either as carrion or dying at the surface rather than caught in this 'Osprey-like' fashion.
A Sparrowhawk shot across the cut reed below the hide window in the hope of flushing an unwary Snipe but nothing came up for it to chase, it had done this ealrier too apparently and was likely the reason there were no Snipe nor Jack Snipe for us to watch. Cetti's Warblers sang and Teal snoozed as we waited for the Otter to put in another appearance. It didn't so headed back to Grizedale Hide in the hope of some Red Deer action. Once again there were no Siskins in the woodland and no Bearded Tits on the grit trays as we passed. A male Common Darter on the final bend of the boardwalk was too quick for us zipping into the reedbed before we could lift our cameras. A female a few yards further on was much more photogenic, posing for ages on the handrail even allowing several people to walk close by without flying off.
She sat so still we tried a shot from a jaunty angle.
The grit trays down towards the Grizedale Hide produced the goods this time too, again a pair of Bearded Tits provided the entertainment.
At the hide the duck had shuffled round a bit since we left although it has to be said most were still asleep. The Pintail were a little more active than earlier and a single male had strayed quite close. He'll look even more splendid when his pin tail-feather grows in a weeek or so's time.
The Cinnamon Teal x Shoveler hybrid had changed its sleeping location but was now in exactly the same position as before just further away but slightly less obscured by vegetation.
There was negative news of any Red Deer activity too so with the afternoon now moving on a pace we thought it time to visit the saltmarsh pools. Off we went towards the car park but within a couple of minutes another couple of Treecreepers caught our attention, we'd seen so many today it would have been rude not to have tried to get a pic or two. Actually we only managed to get this not very good one.
We did get our Siskin, but only as a fly-over - no chance of a pic, so one still needed for our Photo Challenge which is currently on 174 species of birds photographed this year.
At the Allen Pool we opened the window, looked out and closed them again, the pool was a birdless desert save for a couple of lonely Shelducks. We hoped there'd be a lot more action on the Eric Morecambe Pool. Thankfully there was, all the usual suspects of duck were there along with a small selection of wading birds, Lapwings, Redshank, Little Egrets and four Snipe. No sign of the Otter that KL had seen in the morning though. A Marsh Harrier flew through and caused a bit of a panic especially among the Lapwings which looked to have a smaller wader with them when they got up, perhaps a Ruff or a Golden Plover, but when they landed and settled down we couldn't find anything out of the ordinary amongst them. 
On the island closest to the window a handful of Wigeon loafed and grazed.
One male in particular started whistling - we thought it would be fun to whistke worked we whistled he whistled back several times. Here he is having a listen.
We must have sounded interesting as another male started to walk towards us as if to check out who was making all the noise.
We thought better of teasing them any further and kept quiet allowing them to go about their business.The light was beginning to fade when a Great White Egret flew in, landing some way off in the far corner.
While many in the hide were watching that we spotted a 'proper bird' coming in from the right - a gull. We assumed (=mis-identified) it was a Great Black Back - tut tut!!! It was a Lesser Black Back, our error stemmed from the fact that on back on our local patch we've not seen a Lesser Black Back for a few weeks now so (wrongly) assumed they's all left for sunnier climes (many do but not all, some do spend the winter in Britain). We've got a bit of a talk on gulls coming up so thought this would be a good opportunity to get some flight shots and other general ID pics so we swapped over to the Allen Pool windows only to see it swoop down and catch a Green Shore Crab.
Rather than swallow it whole it took it to an adjacent island to pick apart.
Once the crab was no more the gull had another fly round hunting for another without success.
We have to say this isn't a particularly safe place for Green Shore Crabs after we watched a Redshank and a Little Egret eating them on our previous visit a couple of weeks back.
Our time was now up and back down the motorway to Base Camp we headed, after a grand day out on safari.

Where to next? A lot may depend on how sickly our car is but we're sure we'll be out on safari again very soon, even if it's only through the window at Base Camp.

In the meantime let us know who's flavour of the month for all the predators in your outback.

Thursday 19 October 2023

The annual safari to the east coast - Days 3 & 4

The Safari was once again hearing the wind in the tree tops outside the pre-dawn window...not a good sign. It really did feel like the weather gods were well and truly against us - Again! To be fair to those gods the wind had dropped a little bit but was still too strong from the 'wrong' direction.

Where to first this morning? Well in previous years we've always started the day at the seawatching hide but so far this trip hadn't so a conscious decision was made to do just that. Despite the slacking wind there wasn't much tio get the juices flowing. The now regular Grey Seal was a bit closer but very active, every time we tried for a pic he got camera shy and dived.

At least the regular Red Throated Diver was closer, but still not close enough. Squint hard and you might just be able to make out a hint of red on its throat.
More of its kin kept moving southwards as did Common and Sandwich Terns, far more of the former than the latter. Far more Guillemots than Razorbills also moved southwards but Gannets, all juveniles on this watch, went the 'wrong' way.
Ducks were represented by small numbers of incoming Teal and Wigeon and distant small flocks of Common Scoters mooching around well out towards the turbines. It was all much of a muchness until a Merlin sped past the hide window clutching what looked like half a prey item. And then the real action started "Dolphins!" was the cry. Coming up from the south in the near to middle distance was a scattered pod of about a dozen Bottlenose Dolphins - nice one!!!
As you can see they were motoring through on a mission to somewhere. But there were a few spectacular breaches that we caught on camera.
It's always impressive to see them 'perform' like this but please DON'T EVER EVER go to a captive dolphin show, or swim with captive dolphins in a pool - if you have, or are thinking about it, watch the film The Cove which documents how they get to those tiny pools then see if you still want to.
LCV got some phone-scoped pics too which he's kindly let us show you. 
It looked like there was an infant in the group and a small immature. Some of our better pics were sent to the North East Cetacean Project to see if any could be identified from their catalogue of fin images. Only one was, a male helpfully named 'Flipper' or #964. He roams the North Sea sometimes getting as far north as the Firth of Forth and has been seen 'flinging a Harbour Porpoise about'.
A few hundred yards out of camera range it looked like they had broken off from their travels and come across a shoal of fish as there was some circling activity and more excited splashings going on that what we'd seen as they passed us. All very welcome as we'd been told every day that they'd been past in the early morning, in both directions, so it was good to catch up with them before our time on the east coast was up.
The only other thing of note was a freshly dead Rabbit, unknown cause. LCV was fascinated by it and picked it up to place in front of the hide where he hoped (we guess) the/a passing White Tailed Eagle might swoop down to carry it away. With the excitement of the dolphins over it was back to the car to drive up tzo the wetalnds for another look there passing on the way 12 Pale Bellied Brent Geese, the first of the trip so far.
They didn't hang around long, noisy military areoplanes spooked them and off they went.
At the wetlands it was business as usual with the Spotted Redshanks still too far away for a proper pic. A couple of the Avocets were closer then usual though going about their sweepy-billed business.

Our perusing of the wadwers was rudely interrupted when  Short Eared Owl appeared to our left and circled round rough grass the back of the pool before coming towards us down the right hand side and coveniently landing on a fence post not too far away...we say 'conveniently' with a wry smile as like thwe Glossy Ibis yesterday it was only visible through the small side window through which everyone wanted to look making getting decent pics a bit tricky over people's assorted shoulders, scopes and cameras.

It did another fly round after a few minutes of posing on the post eventually going round the back of the hide and being lost to view but it did reappear later on the left hand side probably after hunting the rough field over the bank. Eventually it gained height and was lost to view behind us again not to be seen again.

So back to perusing the waders and waterfowl it was. The Avocets had come even closer
and did a display of synchronised sweeping for us.

The supporting cast included the ever present Dunlin
a couple of Ruff including a nice ginger juvenile but still no Caspian Gulls in the gull roost. A Rock Pipit landed briefly right in front of us and a Meadow Pipit followed it a couple of minutes later but stopped for a wash and brush up.
The slighter wind also meant there was a fraction more passage of smaller birds today with a Siskin (or Siskins) heard going overhead as we headed for the car park, along with four Skylarks coming in off the sea and a Great Spotted Woodpecker heading south towards the nearest tree in the village. A Roe Deer had also posed nicely for us in the farmer's field along the path almost totally unperturbed by our presence.

From there we went to have a look for the drake Mandarin news of which had come over a local's radio.It was on the Humber down by the old tank traps with a small flock of Mallards, what an odd place to be for a duck that is normally seen skulking under overhanging branches around the edge of small-ish ponds.
Those big ginger whiskers aleways remind us of the cartonn character Yosemite Sam. There wasn't much else out there in range apart from the larger flock of Shelducks. The tide was well out now and all the waders were right down on the water's edge half way to Grimsby.
Time ofr a brew and a bite to eat so we headed for the cafe. While waiting for our grub to appear we watched a flock of about 500 Golden Plovers wheeling about as if disturbed by something but we couldn't pick out a Peregrine anywhere. That's sort of standard fare for the estuary but a Great Spotted woodpecker flying out towards the river and landing on the wet edge of the saltmarsh certainly isn't - how odd but then this is Spurn and weird things do happen here. We were asked about the brown bird hovering outside the window by the couple on the next table - 'just' a Kestrel but there did seem to be far fewer today than the last couple of days.
Grub devoured and brews swigged it was off to the Canal Scrape where the Little Grebe was still catching 3-Spined Sticklebacks, this time we watched carefully as it shook them violently eventually removing the head - we've never seen that before they usually just swallow them whole head first...there's always soemthing new to see in nature even with common things you've seen hundreds of times before.
LCV's rinky dinky Thermal Imager couldn't find us any Snipe or Jack Snipe nor anything else so we were reduced to taking pics of the resident Moorhens.
With nowt happening we left the hide hearing the Cetti's Warblers in the bushes on eiither side of the path duetting or arguing or just making sure the other knew they were there. For the want of anything better to do we decided to walk the Triangle starting off going up the road towards the village. A Heron sat on the far end of the 'Wooly Bully' (Highland Cattle) field fence seemed rather odd. Looking at that we noticed much closer there was some considerable activity going on, at least 20 Stonechats had dropped in and were in a feeding frenzy darting into the field presumably to catch insects at the multitude of cow pats and twizzling up into the air like flycatchers to catch airborne flies. A couple of female Reed Buntings were among them, one of which we didn't think looked quite right but we totally failed to get a pic of it to confirm if it was a Reed Bunting or not, it probably was and we were just getting a dose of over-excited migrantitis. We saw the Heron again, this time it was perched up on the top of a Hawthorn bush, what on earth was it doing up there? Waiting for a flock of Flying Fish to come by??? Like we said earlier weird stuff happens at Spurn.
Wandering on up the lane there were a few Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs around the Churchyard and Cliff Farm but nothing else of any interest in fact barely anything else at all. 
A final sewatch was called for as the afternoon of our last full day drew on. Again not a lot about, a few juvenile Gannets went by and a couple of adults. The two Grey Seals were still about - were they the same two every time??? Three single Arctic Skuas went north and several, mostly juvenile, Common Terns, several Red Throated Divers, a few Guillemots and fewer Razorbills went south. Best bird of the watch was a second winter Mediterranean Gull coming in off the sea and best combo went to a Mallard/Tufted Duck/ Guillemot trio - a strange mix of travelling companions. 
Remember the dead Rabbit? Well a pair of Magpies had discovered it and were busy pulling bits of its innards out.
On the walk back to the car we had the trip's first Dunnock, three days to find a Dunnock! Can you believe that?
We'd just got settled in in the pub ordered beer and sustainance when late news broke that the Nightjar had been trapped and ringed in the field behind us, maybe we should have stayed out half an hour later. A bad dip but you can't win em all!
With little change in the weather we decided to give the seawatching hide a miss firdt thing after breakfast and instead did the unthinkable - abandoned Spurn altogether for a twitch elsewhere. In hindsight reading the Spurn report for that day we wouldn't have seen much at all so our decision to head north to Tophill Low Reserve was justified. But why did we choose to go there? Word in one of the hides earlier in the week was a couple of birders couldn't find it ending up on the wrong side of the river. Getting there was indeed convoluted to say the least. This area of britain is very much Viking territory, and what we can deduce about the Vikings is that they couldn't walk in a straight line, they must have been pie-eyed on mead or out of their trees on mushrooms all the time - there's not a road with more than a 50 yards between bends for miles, certainly it seemed that the Romans never came this way! Anyways LCV's sat-nav found the reserve entrance with no fuss at all, not sure what that other crew had been following - ancient Viking maps perchance?
The reason for all the convoluted driving was to twitch the Blue Wing Teals that had been on site for a few weeks. A helpful Ranger pointed out on the site map where they normally hang out and also gave us directions of how to get there, even so at the first junction in the path we started off in the wrong direction, 20 yards later we wer retracing our steps and now going the right way. The reserve looked interesting and we had a couple of Long Tailed Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker during our walk. We time limited, especially, IH who had a prior appointment and could only stay half an hour or so. It was a case of crossing fingers, toes and even buttocks that the rarities would be on show for him. We arrived at the empty hide and scanned the water, not a lot but under the overhanging branches fringing both sides of the pool there were a few ducks loafing about - was our quarry among them. If it was it wasn't for showing itself. A birder came in and told us its favourite resting place was under the branches to the left but a close inspection gave us no joy. Only one thing for it - say goodbye to IH and sit it out til lunchtime still keeping everythiing crossed.
A few Mallards were under the branches on on our right a handful of Teal and a couple of Gadwall. Three Little Grebes, Moorhens and our first Coot of the trip were best of the rest. The trees and bushes around the pool gave us at least two Cetti's Warblers, unseen as always, a flock of Long Tailed Tits with Blue and Great Tits with them along with a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest. It was noticeable how many Chiffchaffs there were, one was even singing. A Siskin was heard flying over the pool and we saw a Stock Dove do the same.
A fter a while the sleepy hidden Teal woke up came out from under the low branches and went for a swim, there were four of them, two more than we could see from the hide.
And from the other side the Coot did the same.
But there was no sign of the Blue Winged Teal. Another birder joined us as hopeful as we were, perhaps more so as he'd driven a couple of hours to get here and already dipped it on a previous visit when they first arrived - would his luck (and ours) change? While we chatted and waited a bit of welcome sun appeared and with it a few Migrant Hawkers started flying around close enough to the hide to tempt us into trying to get a pic.
Success and just about in focus too!
Then all too soon it was time to leave and head back to the west coast empty handed.
Another slightly disappointing safari to the east coast in the end but the great company and chats and banter with the other birds on site went a long way to make up for the lack of birds. We still got some goodies, certainly can't argue with a trio of Glossy Ibis or a dozen Bottlenose Dolphins. We must be due to hit a bout of good weather here but will it be next year???
Where to next? We'll be back on more familiar territory next time.
In the meantime let us know who's not palying ball in your outback.