Tuesday 30 April 2024

A change of scenery

The Safari picked up CR and sped off down the motorway to Brockholes where we met up with IH. This was another weather induced alternative safari venue, our original plan was to head north to look for more snakes and stuff but increasingly poor weather forecasts for up north forced us into a last minute change of plan. So we decided to stay south of the worst of the weather an visit a site we should go to more often but don't.

From the car park we could see three Roe Deer grazing on the march beyond the visitor centre - that's two safari's running the first thing we've seen were deer! Off we went to the floating visitor centre for a closer view from their cafe terrace. Not a bad start to the day.

In the eaves of the cafe roof were a number of cobwebs, each full to busting with little black midges, we hope they're the non-biting type!
A quick look at the fish, either Rudd or Roach it's hard to tell them apart from above, as we crossed the boardwalk back to terra firma and over to the riverside walk beyond. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sang in the trees lining the lake as we passed. At the river the little wooded area a sign invited us to look for Jays...our Challenge bogey bird. Would this be the only one we saw never mind photographed today?
In the river IH soon found a couple of Redshanks and a Common Sandpiper on the far bank and we picked out a male Goosander with a couple of Mallards while high in the distance but all too quickly disappearing behond a row of tall trees was a large bird probably the resident Osprey but it never reappeared for confirmation.

One resident that did make his presence known was 'Kevin the car park Kestrel'. A very popular character with the regular visitors. We first saw him high in a tall tree.

But after a few minutes he swooped down right in front of us to a much smaller riverside bush.

From there he went a little further away to land on a short sign board but for some inexplicable reason all our shots were blurry, it's possible he was too close and we had our lens' focus limiter set to >10m. Whatever it was it was very annoying when we downloaded our pics later that evening. Kevin made his excuses and left us to continue our walk. The river was now quite, there were very few Sand Martins about and no Common Terns fishing and no further sign of any Ospreys.
Cutting back 'inland' IH had to go back to his car so we slowly ambled in that direction, we'd not gone far when CR spotted an Orange Tip butterfly. The sun when behind a cloud and the butterfly settled on one of its favouritev food-plalts, Cuckoo Flower. Expecting it to flit off as soon ass the sun reappeared we took a few shots with the 600mm lens.
But as it stayed put we were able to get the macro lens out and get down on our hands and knees for a much closer (and cleaner) shot. There were three of these butterflies on that small patch of Cuckoo Flower grounded by that cloud.
Reaching the car park we could hear a Sedge Warbler in the distance then saw someone pointing a camera at a patch of reeds not far away...probably there then! She walked on before we reached her and although we could still hear the Sedge Warbler couldn't see it in the thick vegetation. Persistance paid off and we got a fleeting glimpse of it as it sang from a bit of a hollow in the reedbed but there was no chance getting a pic. Hopefully there would be others around the site for us to have a go at.
We had our lunch at the Lookout hide where we tried to get some Sand Martin pics as they tazzed to and fro in and out of the nesting bank...they were mostly too quick for us and it wasn't the best shooting through the big glass window at a bit of an angle.
Also at an artificial nest site was a Common Tern, the nest platform was a bit too far away for a pic but luckily it came closer to sit on a float (for the anti-blue-green algae pumps?) #143 for our Challenge.
From outside the hide we tried again to get some Sand Martin shots but failed miserably. A pair of Great Crested Grebes did their dance for us though.

Moving on to the next view point a group of birders pointed out a showy but distant Sedge Warbler to us, happy days - #144.
We watched numerous Black Headed Gulls and now two Common Terns picking hatching insects of the water and scanned the island for Little Ringed Plovers but saw none. The next hide gave us closer views of the hawking gulls and terns but not really any good opportunities for pics due to intervening bankside vegetation. Outside the hide though CR had found an Alder Fly and a small Alder tree covered in hundreds of Alder Beetles, it's not that long ago these were quite uncommon now they're so numerous they're defoliating large trees.
A couple of small 7-Spot Ladybirds were close by too. A bit of sunshine was bringing some insects out at last. The walk to the Motorway Hide didn't give us much and from the hide the most interesting thing was a clump of Timothy grass bedecked with a species of small snail, how odd. There were a few snails on the surrounding grass but nothing like the density this small clump had attracted.
Beyond the hide the edge of the path had a Brown-Lipped Banded Snail every few inches for many yards, all singles spaced about 3 to four inches apart - how weird, what was all that about?
From there it was into the woodland with its floor of Wild Garlic and Bluebells but not many birds as we'd now hit the mid-day birdy lull. We were concerned by the amount of large trees that had been felled, almost all were Ash so we guess it was somethihng to do with the current outbreak of Ash Dieback Disease but sad to see and we did wonder if any of these might have survived and become ressistant to it in the furute or could have been left as standing dead timber for a whole host of invertebrates. One tree that wasn't marked for felling had us intigued for a bit.  A lovely patterned bark
with a Beech-like leaf
identified it as a Hornbeam, a species we don't see on the Fylde coast. Hornbeam is a known attractor of the lovely but usually elusive Hawfinch and these did formerly occur in these woods until at least 40 years ago. 
Continuing our circuit back to the visitor centre when we were almost there a flock of Whimbrel flew overhead from behind us
And awy they went over the low hill on the far bank of the river. At the visitor centre one of the Roe Deers was still grazing.
While on the water a Great Crested Grebe sailed past with a small fish.
As we followed it to see where it might be nesting we spotted a couple of Coots squaring up for a fight and it developed into a pretty rough affair.
And then it was all over as suddenly as it started, just the wings up clucking and posturing to suggest anything had happened. Fortunately no-one got drowned.
Now with a bit of time left in the afternoon we decided to leave and head for a site not far away and new to all of us, Grimsargh Wetlands, built from a series of small redundant reservoirs. It holds a good number of roosting Whimbrels at this time of yearand we hoped to see some. Which we did but no sooner had we arrived than they departed stage right.
What else could we find?IH noticed that one of the pair of Great Black Backed Gulls on the little island closest to us was sporting a Darvik ring.
Back at Base Camp we were able to inspect our pics and found it to read R16:D
We put the info on Euring and within hours had had a reply, that doesn't happen often. Apparently it was ringed as a chick on Dalkey Island, Dublin in early July 2020 and photographed there 10 days later. After that it wasn't reported again until late February '23 when it was seen at a landfill site not too far from here. There were no more reports until early April this year when it has commuted between this site and the one we just left. The pair looked pretty settled here so will they breed here?
While we were observing the gulls we noticed a Little Ringed Plover flying around. A species we never seem to get a decent pic of and today was no different, being far too far away.
And then it happened! CR shouted Jay! As one flew across the pool and landed in the nearest tree along the bank, allbeit on the 'wrong' side of it, obviously been taking lessons from last week's Willow Warblers. We seen one flash acrosss the car park earlier in the day at Brockholes but that one vanished into thick vegetation, thankfully this one stayed still just long enough to get one snap off before it flew leaving just a blurry tail in the bottom corner of the next frame.
Bogey bird down, #145 and only 20 to go to reach our target. The next seven months could be painfully slow!
Looking along the bank the other way IH had seen a large number of Early Purple Orchids in flower, always good to see.
Sadly they are declining throughout the country and as they can take as much as eight years between germinating and flowering are extremely vulnerable to any change in their habitat. 
A series of seven whistles filled the air heralding the return(?) of the flock of Whimbrels we'd watched leave minutes after arriving. Unfortunately they landed on farther of the two islands.
And finally some bizarre news - we'd spent the day at two wetland sites and not seen any species of egrets so todays result is Herons win hands down! Not sure how much double counting went on today but as we had at least one at each site then the final score must have been 2(+?) - 0

At the weekend news broke of three Spoonbills on the freshwater marsh down towards Preston. One that is on our list of potential 'to gets'. The next morning we were out with t'mutt when the pocket pinged with news one was still present so back to Base Camp we went as fast as t'mutt would allow - which is not very!!! We grabbed the camera and bins and set off almost immediately hitting frustratingly slow traffic...don't these people know birds have wings and can fly at any given moment...get a move on!!!!!!

Well we got to the site in about 40 minutes, way longer that it should have taken and fortunately it was still there, feeding well down the pool, as we drove past the row of parked cars in the lane looking for somewhere to pull in with a view. We found just the right place, lowered the car windows stuck the camera out and ARRRGGGHHHH schoolboy error - no card in the camera. T'mutt had to cover his ears as a rant of expletives rattled round the inside of the car. Back to Base Camp it was then.

The following day the news broke in the same fashion that it was still there so we dragged t'mutt back to Base Camp threw him in the car went inside for the camera checked it had a card in it and grabbed a spare battery too just to be on the safe side.A much quicker journey today, or so we thought...until we got held up by a bin waggon doing its rounds on a narrow but busy main road. No need to panic, the Spoonbill was still there. It was catching quite sizeable fish, we'd never thought or even imagined there'd be fish in that pool as we've seen it dry out in hot summers.

At least you can tell what it is, #146; yesterday's too far zoomed in phone pic could have been a snowman - well it is still cold enough...when will this winter end?

Where to next? Probably northwards again but where exactly will no doubt be weather dependent.

In the meantime let us know who's coming into flower in your outback.

Monday 22 April 2024

Finally some very welcome sunshine

The Safari has been waiting for the promise of some sunshine for weeks and at last the weather forecast looked promising. We joined CR for a drive up the motorway to our favourite little reserve where we met IH. Drops of rain at the start of our journey had disappeared by the time we arrived and the sun was trying  to get out from behind the clouds. Time to look for some things with scales...and not before time! 

Up in the eaves of the warden's house House Martins investigated their old nests from last year but didn't hang around for any pics. We checked the walled areas of the gardens for Grass Snakes and Slow Worms without success nor were there any Bee Flies hovering around the Primroses. Maybe the sun needed to climb a little higher and come out from the clouds a little longer as it was still quite cool. In the little bit of scratty woodland beneath the empty Osprey nest we found lone Red Deer. Through the gate into the reserve 'proper' there were no Adders to be found on the remains of the old wall either. We passed slowly through the wet (very very wet) Silver Birch dominated woodland checking the base of the trees and edges of the boardwalk for Common Lizards - again no joy. But we did hear the song of a Pied Flycatcher and following flits of movement through the trees soon got half a glimpse of the little fellow. A nice one for our Challenge, #137

He wasn't for showing himself at all. From the end of the boardwalk we battled bravely through yards of  thick, gooey, welly-sucking mud to where the wood ends and drier ground with another boardwalk begins. Here we heard a Redstart sing and then witnessed a couple of male Redstarts were having a ding-dong of an aerial dogfight - a veritable blaze of red hanging in the air! We've never seen that before, and then spotted why all the fighting a female was perched not far away. #138
It wasn't long before one of the males reappeared, chosing to sit on a rather unphotogenic gate and fence rather than perch on some more attractive foliage.
For some reason best known to themselves both our cameras seemed to have trouble focusing on it...it might not have been all the cameras' fault, the operator can be a bit flaky at times. 

We expected the track across the moss to be a lot wetter than it was and soon came across a Tree Pipit which, like the Pied Flycatcher, wasn't wanting to show itself to best advantage. #139

A bit further on we looked back across the moss to the Osprey nest but there were no birds sat on it.The sun was doing its best to come out and in the brief moments it did it was much warmer and butterflies began to appear, we had a couple of Peacocks and a Small Tortoiseshell in fairly quick succession. only the first Peacock settled for a pic though.
Crossing the bridge, where the stream was much lower than expected, the large patch of Bilberry hadn't begun to come into leaf so our chance of a hoped for Green Hairstreak butterfly was slim to remote. There were no Red Deer faces peering out of the woods beyond the Bilberry patch today. We did see a couple of Crossbills disappearing into the distance from the next patch of woodland after picking them up on call but sadly we couldn't find any others still feeding in the cone laden conifer trees where they'd flown from.
Soundtrack of the day once again was Willow Warblers and as usual they were invariable singing from the back side of the trees and bushes. We waited ages and passed how many 'hundreds' before we found one on the right side of the tree and even then it was partially obscured. See them or not it's still a great sound to listen to when the spring woodland is full of them.
Given our squelching, slipping and sliding along the non-boardwalked sections of this path it was inevitable that we'd come to a sticky end. This is a circular route back to the bridge the final stretch of which runs alongside the stream...it was inaccessible today the last few yards before the stream being far too muddy to contemplate trying to cross unless you were wearing chest waders - which we weren't. Here's a couple of habitat shots of the tangled and mossy wet Willow woodland, you wouldn't want to go off-piste into there, you'd never be seen again until your peat-preserved body was dug up some thousands of years into the future.
Nothing for it but to retrace our steps. Still no Common Lizards and no futher sign of the Crossbills and no Raft Spiders but we did see a trio of cronking Ravens and a somewhat out of place Little Egret land in field of sheep. We had more but not better views of Tree Pipits while crossing the moss and a far to brief for a pic Lesser Redpoll landed briefly on the electricity wires crossing the site. Back in the Birch woodland we soon came across the Pied Flycatcher again and this time it was more obliging but still a litttle distant.
The tumble-down wall wasn't for giving up its Adders again as thoughts turned towards pies and butties. A Mistle Thrush landed not too far behind the wall and for a moment thoughts of lunch disappeared.
While scanning the wall we happened across our first Large Red Damselflies of the year, first a teneral (recently emerged) individual then a fully coloured up one.
And then a Dung Beetle crossed our path - would we ever get to our pies???
Fortunately we did make it back to the cars and our lunches. The sun came out while we were tucking into our goodies and we enjoyed sightings of Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies and then heard the unmistakeable high pitched yickering of Ospreys calling. We grabbed the camera and pointed it at the nest where one bird was hunkered down not showing very well but then the male flew in and landed on the nest. #140. The sun was strong now and there was a serious heat haze going on so the pic isn't that good.
Not that we mind strong sunshine - it means the snakes come out to bask so as soon as we'd eaen it was back to the wall where....there were no snakes...b*gger! In fact the most exciting thing we found was a Banded Snail that had stashed itself among the delicate Bracket Fungi of a rotting stump.
Our route after lunch took us up the 'hill of death' but today wasn't too bad and we weren't huffing and puffing like an old steam engine by the time we got to the top. We discovered a new pond had been dug which will require much inspection later in the year, the older new ponds would have been inaccessible due to feet thick gloopy mud in the valley today so we gave them a miss. We'd brought a pot to see if we could nab one ofthe Nomad Bees that like this stretch of the road but didn't see any. Seeing them is one thing,catching one would have been something else entirely. Why were we after catching one? Well, we've seen them many times over the years but have yet to identify them, we don't know if anyone else has tried to identify them either. 
Passing the tarn the Little Grebes were calling, there's always a Little Grebe or two, or three, on there. Down at the entrance pond we looked in vain for tadpoles - how come there weren't any, there's always loads at this time of year, surely with all the cold wet weather they can't have metamorphosed and left the pond already? IH spotted the only newt of the afternoon, probably a Palmate Newt given the site. Then he found another Pied Flycatcher, like the first it wasn't for showing itself.
We went to have a look at 'Great Crested Newt corner' and obviouslty saw none, we didn't see any other water life either, no water boatmen or other swimmy things just a few Whirlygig Beetles buzzing around on the surface, we guess the water must still be very cold. Then CR beckoned us to join him on the other side of the pond, he'd got much better views of the Pied Flycatcher...at last!
And it alllowed a stealthy closer approach...bonus!
Also in the woods around the pond was a Blue Tit with a beakful of nesting material. It hung around a while perhaps waiting for us to get out of the way before delivering it to a nearby nestbox.
A bright male Orange Tip wouldn't do us the courtesy of landing on a Bluebell but shot straight past and promptly vanished. 
Around the reserve IH had noticed that the winter storms had smashed up a lot of the trees, the Silver Birch being especially badly hit, much more so than any of the other tree species. Large numbers had high broken branches like these.

On the walk back yet another Willow Warbler gave us the runaround and while we were trying to get on it IH found a tiny Crab Spider on the top of a gate. Top banana eyesight that lad has.
We've no idea what species it might be, one for our good mate and expert in all things spidery AB. 
Unfurling Bracken fronds are always worth getting down to eye-level with - do ferns have eyes?
Cambrian Poppies were in flower along the roadside too.
Time was now getting short but with the sun out for a while and warmth in the air we just had to have another look for the Adders. Through the gate we went, ignoring the snail secreted among its fungi friends, and for some reason we looked to the right rather than scanning the wall to our left. Oh joy of joys there was an Adder, no there were two. We hastened the others to come for a look.
Two Adders - fantastico - - but wait - - - look closely, there's two heads down there at the bottom of the pic. Three Adders even better than fantastico. And they even started to move about a bit as we got as close as we dared without disturbing them.
The sun kept going behind a cloud and this made them flatten themselves down to get the maximum warmth when it came back out. The two males might have been tempted to do their dance had it been just a bit warmer. The female was more or less stationary all the while.
With such a superb opportunity we just kept firing shots off.
At no time were they upset by our (fairly) close presence although we're sure they knew we were there.
To break the snake monopoly a Longhorn Beetle landed on IH's lens. Rhagium mordax to give it its full name.
A fabulous wee beasty. anyway enough of that back to the Adders.
What a brilliant experience, well worth that last look.
And to finish we had a couple of really bright Large Red Damselflies on the wall by the car park before we had to leave.

Where to next? Maybe something a bit different to report on, if we can remember to take some pics.

In the meantime let us know who's slipping and sliding round your outback.