Friday 24 November 2023

We've gone twitchy all of a sudden

 The Safari heard news of a Waxwing at one of their favourite sites in nearby Preston over the usual local social media outlets last weekend. Due to serious family stuff there was no way we'd be able to go there an then but we hoped they might stick around a couple of days or so, the strteet it was in has several Rowan trees which often have a plethora of berries. The following day news broke that there were now two birds present; and then three! How do they find these 'regular' places? - we must have stood in that street at least three times over the last 20 odd years. There's no way that it's inherited knowledge as it's often too long between visits for parents to take their offspring, could it be scent that guides them, these berries giving off a 'we're ripe' odour  that the birds can detect on the wind and home in on? Whatever the reason they find the little street their increasing number was the impetus we needed to decide to make the 15 mile trip down the motorway as soon as possible. Tuesday morning arrived and we had a the afternoon available and better still news was now that there were four present. After lunch we picked up CR and headed east. The roads were clear and we made good time but after parking up we were told we should have been there ten minutes ago. Well at least they were about and would probably come back after a short wait and a small group of birders had set off to see if there was any sign of them on any nearby berry laden trees or bushes.

One thing that did strike us as we looked around the trees and rooftop aerials for any sign of them was the large clumps of Mistletoe in several of the trees - don't  recall that being there on previous visits.

The rooftops and aerials gave us a pair of Collared Doves and a couple of Woodpigeons. A few minutes later a small flock of Goldfinches appeared at the top of the furthest tree down the street. It was good to see that all the street's trees had a Tree Preservation Order number on thenm too.

After a good while the local Mistle Thrush showed up, really good to see they're still about as they have become much harder to come by round our way in recent years. It was followed by three Blackbirds all of which came and went as if they had a curcuit they were following. But alas the Waxwings were still a 'been and gone'. 

All of a sudden, after about an hour, DB shouted "that was them" as four birds shot over high above the houses. He went off after them and came back a good while later having found them in some trees overloooking the canal a few hundred yards away. "Rubbish views against the low sun, just silhouettes really - useless for photographs". There were several folk who wanted a look so he showed the way and set off like the Pied Piper with a straggle of birders in his wake. After crossing the road and going down the track to the little marina/stopping point on the canal we scanned the trees opposite where they had been half an hour earlier but there was no sign of them. Back to the street it was just in case they had turned their attention back to the berries. No they hadn't. We hung around a few more minutes and decided to get some pics of the Blackbirds before the light totally went. These short winter days can be a real pain!

And then the light faded too much for pics so we hit the trail back up the motorway to Base Camp. Waxwings will have to go down on the spreadsheet in Bold red letters - a dip!
There are plenty about this year and there does seem to  be an abundance of berries in places so hopefully we'll be more successful with them as the season progresses.
The following day three turned on the edge of Stanley Park only three miles from Base Camp but unfortuantely we weere unable to get out when the news broke and even if we had gone it's likely they would have flown off before we arrived as they weren't around long.
On the same day TS texted the Safari to say there was a Long Tailed Duck on Marton Mere, again we weren't able to get out but that did stick and was still there the next day, and the next! Phew, once again we had an hour or more free in the afternoon so went for a shuffy. It was a cool and blustery, bright and sunny afternoon. We arrived on site to the news from some birders that they hadn't seen it from the north west corner, as we chatted a flock of noisy squawking Ring Necked Parakeets flew over from the direction of the Feeding Station. We knew the duck could be elusive so went down to the bench for a look anyway. We aimed to give it at least half an hour but Monty the mutt started to get impatient and wanted to get on the move again. We set off and immediately bumped into TS who told us it tended to hang around with the four Goldeneyes on site and probably got itself tucked in the sheltered inflow channel. We'd already decided to wander round to the bench in the south west corner so that now sounded like a good plan.
A good plan it was, we didn't have to wait too long before the Goldeneyes appeared as if from nowhere. There were four, two females, a male and an immature male. We only managed pics of the two females.
To see over the encroaching vegetation we had to stand on the bench while being buffeted by the 50 mph wind, that Buddliea bush, Alder tree and 'Larry's Willow' really need to go! Not the best conditions to try to hold a long lens steady. We perservered and after a few minutes the Long Tailed Duck came out of the reeds, the last one we saw here was way back in 1998.
It didn't hang around with the Goldeneyes for long, instead started to make it's way across towards the area we'd been at earlier while the Goleneyes moved eastwards along the reed edge and out of sight. It dived frequently and spent minutes at a time under water sometimes moving a considerable distance too. It's appearances at the surface were brief and unpredictable so it was tricky to get any pics of particularly as it was all too often obscured by the aforementioned trees and shrubs. After a while a noisy gaggle of Grey Lag Geese came up from the east and it wasn't happy about their appearance and kept a distance in front of them as they approached before they all sailed past the Heron into the channel and out of sight.
Once the duck was out of sight we thought we'd best give it a few minutes in case the Grey Lag Geese settled down and it swam out again. They might have done but it didn't. However a large female Sparrowhawk flew past at great speed and once again their was a great deal of sqawking from the parakeets at the Feeding Station. She obviously had a plan and a tast for the exotic. Chatting to TS who was at our first bench on the phone the sky behind him blackened and a rainbow appeared.
He was of the opinion that the front would miss us and we agreed because the south westerly wind was taking it away from us, we might just catch the edge of it. We stayed to see if anything would fly in front of the raibow and give us a pleasing arty shot. A couple of Herring Gulls did but too far away and our pics were deleted straight away, then a Black Headed Gull followed suit, this time much closer, and we firred away again.
We totally missed the Stock Dove that flew past towards Stanley Park but did get this Woodpigeon but missed it while it was in front of the rainbow - ah well you can't have everything! It looks as though it's had a good supper before retiring to bed for the night just look at its crop - full to busting!
A few spots of light rain fell, our cue to leave. Unfortunately we'd left it too late to leave - once out of the shelter of the big Bramble thicket behind the bench we realised the wind had changed from south westerly to west north westerly bringing the storm front back towards us and we now had several hundred yards across open country to walk to the car in torrential diving rain - Monty the mutt doesn't mind a bit of weather and wouldn't be hurried - - we got absolutely drenched!
Where to next? It could be anywhere who knows? 

In the meantime let us know who's coming and going in your outback.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

More bearded wonders

 The Safari was kindly driven up to Leighton Moss by Cr last friday where we met up with good friend IH from the Southside. We met in Lillians Hide and spent several minutes looking for the female Ring Necked Duck we'd seen on our last visit (see previous blog post). There was much more water in the pool that last time and the numbers of both dabbling and diving ducks was much reduced. There were still a fair few Tufted Ducks around but no sign of our target bird. We found a couple of Snipe well hidden among the piles of cut reed and then found a third extremely well hidden. No sign of any Jack Snipe though - we should have been here last week when friend KL videod one doing its bobbing sewing machine thing.

A distant Marsh Harrier soon disappeared so we made our way to towards the Grizedale Hide via the Sky Tower, from where we didn't see any sign of any Red Deer nor much else! Passing the grit trays the wasn't the usual posse of photographers/birders just a couple of folk stood chatting, news was there was no news since at least early morning. A little disappointing but hardly surprising as the Bearded Tits tend to frequent the grit trays far less often the later into the autumn it gets. From the hide the lovely sunshine meant that the light was awful for viewing wildlife. However our friend the Cinnamon Teal x Shoveler hybrid was close by and unlike last time was  awake. We were informed that this is his fifth winter here.

Trouble is he went and sat with a female Shoveler right against the light, if only he'd have swum left instead of right, no amount of willing it made hime change course...the rotter!
There was precious little else on the pool here, again the high water levels had driven most of the ducks elsewhere. CR spotted a butterfly which shot past and remained unidentified. We didn't stay too long and retraced our steps past the grit trays where a female Reed Bunting was the only attraction. - there was only one other birdeer there and he didn't stop long; that doesn't happen often and suggested that our little moustacheod friends weren't playing out today. The decision was made to head to the Causeway Hide passing the grit trays there on the way. A Robin posed in the sunshine for us, probably hoping for an illicit hand out but being the goody-two hoes that we are we had nothing for it.
Along the boardwalk Cetti's Warblers sang invisibly and above our heads a small flock of Long Tailed Tits with a couple of Blue Tits flitted about the shrubby Willows lining the path. They were very active and a soon as the camera locked onto them they were gone so we got a lot of fuzzy shots, shots of a tail in the corner orf the frame and lots of twiggy shots and just this one poor nearly OK shot.
Always a joy to see and now seem to be much more widespread than in the dim and distant past, indeed these were only a few hundred yards from where we saw our very first ones back in the early 1970s on a YOC visit. Does the YOC still exist? A quick Google suggests its morphed into something else youthy now. 
A little further down the path a Great White Egret flew across in the middle distance. Our hastily take nsnaps weren't brilliant in the harsh sunlight even though it was behind us.
As soon as we joined the Causeway we could see a crowd at the grit trays and as we approached there were folk beckoning to us to hurry up. Thank you guys. There were more people there than we could see at first and getting a good view of the action through the throng was tricky but still most enjoyable as at least half a dozen Bearded Tits flitted through over the next ten minutes or so taking turns on the grit tray this time rather than all piling on at once. Despite shooting over peoples' shoulders and thought their ears we filled out boots as the little beauties flitted in and out of the reedbed.
Getting a clear shot proved tricky as they were invariably obscured to some extent by some bit of vegetation or other.
A couple of birds spent some time doing what they are supposed to do at this time of year, namely take seeds from the seedheads of the Reeds but from our position in the huddle we couldn't get a clear shot of them. After a while they all made their way across the trand in to the reeds on the other side where thir pinging calls grew fainter and fainter as moved further and further away. Not so faint were the calling Water Rails, their squealing calls being heard from all over the place today unlike our last visit. None of them ventured out into the open though, we'll probably have to wait until there's some ice about for that. 
From the hide our attention was immediately drawn to the wonderful iridescence of the two Cormorants sat on the posts in front of us.
This one even did the whole Liver Birds thing.
And on close inspection of our pics the other one is one of those 'sinensis' sub-species.
Comparing the two
Despite their (slight) differences they were of a single mind.
While enjoying the Cormorants a couple of Coots flew in from a long way back down the pool, we just had to try to get a flight shot as long distance flying Coots aren't something you see every day, sadly we were unable to get both in frame together as they were a bit too far apart.
There were a lot of Coots on the water and something unseen upset all those to our left which scurried and fluttered out into the middle of the lake, all apart from these 21 that decided terra firma might be a better bet. They couldn't have been too bothered by whatever it was cos their vigilance soon subsided into a mass preen-off.
As well as a lot of Coots there was also a lot of Mute Swans but the Whooper Swans from last time out were now long gone. With not an Otter to be seen it was time for us to be long gone to Lower Hide. 
The walk through the woods was a quiet as it invariably is these days and the view from the hide window wasn't that inspiring either. News from the birders already there was more or less that there was no news! The pool was empty and had been for some time. Still we sat it out for a good while until a Marsh Harrier started to patrol the reedbeds on the far side. It put up several small gruops of Snipe which coalesced into a larger 'whisp'. Our maximum count was about three dozen but by the time they'd come within range of our lens some had peeled away leaving these 26 to do a couple of laps of the pool before settling out of sight on the far bank.
With no sign of any Otters and precious little else the decision was made to retrace our steps back past both sets of grit trays. There was no action at the Causeway grit trays so we pressed on. Close to the Visitor centre there's a small orchard and here we found a couple of Fieldfares, along with a Magpie and a few Blackbirds all enjoying the remaining apples.
Always good to see and another one for our International Photo Challenge, one we somehow missed during the first winter period this year.
We pushed on and it was past Lillians Hide where we had the best sighting of the day, at least we should say that CR and IH had the best sighting of the day as we totally missed it - a Water Shrew ran across the path a few yards in front of us. Not a species you get to see very often so we were a bit gutted to have been looking the wrong way at that precise moment.
There was yet more inactivity at the grit trays, not overly surprising at it was now getting late in the afternoon and we're well past 'peak grit tray season'. 
At the hide it was still quiet, no-one had seen hide nor hair of any Red Deer all day, again it's that time of year after the 'rut' when they just melt away into the reedbeds and nearby woods and become much more secretive. However our hybrid friend hadn't moved far from this morning's visit and was now in much better light even though it was much darker now.
For a few short minutes it looked like he might have a little paddle about but no - he went back to sleep again.
And that left just a lone drake Teal to point the camera at. We're not complaining they are a most beautiful animal, in our Top 3 bonny ducks league after Gadwall and Pintail.

With time pressing on and the light fading fast, not to mention the chance of horrendous traffic on the way back to Base Camp it was time to leave. Another grand day out on safari at leighton Moss came to an end. Did we hit the horrendous traffic? Unfortuantely yes.

Where to next? Family stuff might have to take precident for a few days but you can rest assured we'll be out in our outback looking at the wonderful wildlife as often as we can, with camera in hand on occasion too.

In the meantime let us know who's sporting the best beards in your outback.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

A fine finish at Leighton Moss

The Safari and CR headed up the motorway to leighton Moss again after deciding there was probably going to be more of interest there than at Martin Mere WWT, the lure of the possiblility of Bearded Tits, Red Deer, Otters, Bitterns and a Ring Necked Duck was greater than the possiblility of water levels being too high and still not fully out of eclipse waterfowl. 

On arrival our first destination was the grit trays along the path to the Grizedale Hide. As ever there was aposse of birders standing there, obviously waiting as no bins nor cameras were raised in the direction of the reedbed. "You should have been here ten minutes ago" was the answer to our inevitable question "Have they been showing?" With no sounds of 'pinging' coming from the reedbed we walked staright on to the hide. The sun was out and the glare was bad to our right, which unfortunately is exactly where all the birds were. And there weren't that many of them, just a few Teal, Shoveler and Pintail. We tried to get an arty silhoutte shot of a Pintail without quite nailing the effect we wanted.

The area of cut reeds to our left was perfectly illuminated in lovely autumn morning sunshine but there wasn't a bird to be seen! All our options now exhausted we didn't hang around too long and soon walked back along the trail past the grit trays to the shaking of heads - still no sign. We took the left hand turn to Tim Jackson Hide where again there was preecious little on view, a couple of Mute Swans with a few Mallards and Gadwall and all distant, we only gave it a few minutes before retracing our steps to the main path. At the junction there is a fallen log covered in mosses and ferns.
A reminder that we are in an/the area of Atlantic Temperate Rainforest where trees and shrubs with any age to them should be bedecked with ferns, mosses, liverworts and other epiphytes.
Out of the shade and into the sunshine the temperature soared and minutes after CR remarked dragonflies should be emerging this male Common Darter flew across the path and landed a few feet  in front of  us.
With the current weather forecasts showing no sign of any frost they'll be still on the wing at Christmas! It was just after we'd had our fill of the dragonfly and had walked on a bit that we heard the distinctive pinging of the Bearded Tits coming from deep in the reeds to our left. Obviously we didn't know it at the time but this was the nearest we were going to get to them today. 

Approaching Lillians Hide we saw a couple staring intently at the tops of the Alder trees right outside the door..."A few Siskins and some Goldfinches" the informed us as we walked up. Holding the camera anything like still while pointing it just about vertically was a challenge - we really do need or (or better) muscles! But we did have some success although they weren't for posing properly.

We got a couple of better ones too which brought up our target of 175 species of bird photographed this year for our International Bird Photo Challenge...Job done and still a handful more to get if the gods allow.

From the hide we had some great views of a male Marsh Harrier which came at lot closer than they usually do for us.
The best (and closest) bird on the lake was this Black Headed Gull, all the waterfowl being fairly distant today.

We found the female Ring Necked Duck for the others in the hide, several of whome didn't realise it was here. It was too far away to warrant pointing the camera though as we'd seen (possibly) the same bird and got photos here last March. While we watched for more harrier action or maybe a passing Otter some of the waterflowl ventured a little closer.

It was now getting towards butty time so we moved on aiming for the Causeway Hide to have our lunch. We were interupted in our journey by these fungi along the boardwalk. We're useless at fungi so can't tell you what they are.
Interestingly today the Cetti's Warblers were noticable by their silence, we expected them to be quite vocal in the sunshine as they had been the previous week. Of course we stopped at the grit trays but word on the street was there had been no sight nor sound of the Bearded Tits since early morning. While we chatted this Coal Tit appeared and flew down to the ground picking tiny morsels up.
We had a look on the floor but couldn't see anything that might be of interest to a Coal Tit, perhaps some naughty person had left some food - which is against the site rules now - and it had all been eaten. While watching the Coal Tit we were sure we could hear Whooper Swans close by and turning round we just caught a flock dispeearing behind the treetops. 
Now our butties were getting heavy in our bags so off to the hide it was for a good old chomp. Along the wat the Causeway ahead of us looked spectacular.
Looking through the screen beside the hide door before we entered there was a Heron having a good old preen.
Once sat down on a bench in the hide our gags were ransacked and butties eagerly devoured. Just like last week a paitr of Migrant Hawker dragonflies flew past in tandem. Out on the water 'sound of the day' was provided by the quiet conversational honks of the Whooper Swans, it's a really peaceful and soothing sound. In all we counted eight Whooper Swans, not bad for here as we've rarely seen them grace this reserve in all the years we've been coming here.
There was plenty to see here with lots of the waterfowl taking time out to have a wash and brush up like this female Gadwall.
And this Coot.
Butties munched and waterfowl enjoyed it was time to hit the trail again, this time continuing on to Lower Hide. 
The rule against putting food out at various points along the way has made the woodland walk a lot quieter, gone are the Robins that mugged you for seed and gone are the fleeting smash n grab raids of the Marsh Tits. We understand the fear of Avian Flu getting a hold and of the birds becoming dependent on hand outs even though there's an abundance of natural food but it does seem the up close and personal interactions with the wildlife have suffered for it.
Anyways at the hide we heard a couple of Cetti's Warblers at last, something had to break the silence. From the hide there were a few  Mallards and Teal roosting up close by but again it was a case of you should have been here ten minutes ago as the Otters (plural!) had been showing. Nothing for it but to sit and wait.
A juvenile Moorhen pottered about
And away in the distance a Marsh Harrier appeared flew over the far reedbed then circled and came in to land on a waterside tussock.
Where it sat for ages.
If it was the same one as last week it didn't follow the Otter that appeared briefly in an attempt at Osprey-like fishing.
The Otter didn't show well nor did it show for long it soon disappeared back in to the reeds...ah well more waiting...
In the meantime we watched the Moorhen coninue its potterings
and when something unseen flushed all the roosting ducks we saw there were far more Teal than we'd first imagined.
Away to our left one of the swans identified itself as a Whooper Swan, surely not one from earlier??? If so its swum a fair distance pretty quickly, and then three of the others were also Whoopers...these four must be another four, different to the earlier eight, mustn't they??? And still the Marsh Harrier sat on his tussock. Our excitement hit a new high when a Heron appeared from nowhere - we assume it had been standing out of sight behind the tree at the end of the cut patch of reeds.
Time passed and we were just about to give up and go and have a look elsewhere when an Otter appeared, then there was a commotion, was it fishing? No, it was fighting a second one, two well grown cubs having a playful rough n tumble.
Wow, just wow - absolutely fabulous, although as a photographer you always want them closer! But as quickly as they appeared so the departed - exit stage right and with their disappearance we disappeared too, heading back from whence we'd come.
Still no Robins or Marsh Tits through the woods and again no Jays in the 'Jay field' to the left. Back along the Causeway we didn't go in the hide but a quick look from the screen gave us a count of 12 Whooper Swans - the four we'd seen from Lower Hide now having met up with the others. At the grit trays there was no action, nor had there been all afternoon, a birder saying she'd been stood there for an hour and a half waiting for a glimpse of a Bearded Tit, as she had at the Grizedale grit trays too. We left her to it and continued back to Lillians Hide. There were no Siskins in the Alders above the Dipping Pond and none in the trees by the hide, just kalf a dozen or so Goldfinches here now. From the hide we were relieved to see the Ring Necked Duck was now one of the nearest birds to us.
A couple of Grey Wagtails tazzed about around the piles of cut reed below us adding some colour to the proceedings.
And then we had another Marsh Harrier
Pintail gave us good views like earlier too, they're such a handsome duck.
And one with a fully grown tail
Four Goldeneyes, diving in between the numerous Tufted Ducks, were our first of the season
A Great White Egret flew in and landed close to another Heron which wasn't amused so chased it off but further away.
We usually do an Egrets v Herons tally while out on safari and these days Herons are usually soundly beaten, but not today. 
Time to head back to try our luck at the Grizedale grit trays again...a much smaller posse of waiting birders this time and the same shaking of heads as we walked up, no sign all afternoon so on we went. From the hide the light was a bit better than this morning and the birds a little more spread out but still mostly over to the right. We 'made do' with a preening Mallard on a pile of cut reed right outside the window.
Another Great White Egret appeared and landed in the same place as one that caught a small Pike a couple of weeks ago so we were hopeful of a repeat performance.
It strode around looking very regal but had a stab at nothing, for a while it resorted to the leg jiggling egrets do to disturb prey hidden in the mud between their toes but that didn't seem to work either. We were concentrating very hard on the egret willing to to make a catch when a voice behind us said "Lads, there's deer to your right"...and he wasn't wrong! Three Red Deer hinds had emerged from the reedbed to graze on the fresh recently cut patch.
They munched away for several minutes until the middle one heard something behind it in the reeds
Whatever it was wasn't there so they went back to grazing, after a while this hind must have heard something else as she twited one ear round for a closer listen but obviously not quite as intently as before.
Then there he was, she could hear the big stag coming.
What a magnificent beast and amazing that he could make his way through the reedbed without seeming to disturb the reeds with his huge set of antlers, we've seen tiny Bearded Tits make the reeds shake more than he did. The sun came out and we had a photo bean feast!
 Wouldya look at that! What an animal!
And then they were gone - simply melted back into the reedbed. What a fantastic animal to have (almost) on our doorstep.
We thought they might reappear in a few minutes under the old tree on the bund between the two pools - and they did
And then they were gone, melting quietly into the reeds again.
Our attention returned to the Great White Egret, sorry bird but you were totally out-gunned for a while there. It was still fishing without success.
When it fiannly gave up and left to try a different, hopefully better, patch we left too.
Our plan was to nip back to the Tim Jackson Hide to see if the deer had made their way over there as that was where they looked like they were heading. There was more shaking of the heads as we passed the grit trays, no Bearded Tit pics for us this safari, and none for anyone else it would seem today. At the hide we asked if the deer had arrived but again there was an all round shaking of heads. We gave them ten minutes to turn up but sadly they were a no-show and with the light fading that was our cue to head back to Base Camp.
A bit of a slow start to the safari but what a mammal-tastic finish; who could ask for more.

Where to next? The Safari could be bothered by inclement weather this coming week and then a family reunion so it might be a little while before we're out n about again - watch this space as you never know.

In the meantime let us know who's looking all magestic in your outback.