Tuesday 9 April 2024

Scuppered by the weather yet again!

The Safari had news that there were still two birds present Over Wyre that we could do with for our Challenge tally. It was a pretty miserable morning as we set off but thankfully dried up on route. We gave t'mutt a quick 'pit-stop' on the way at Lane Ends. On the meadow area the Cowslips were looking wonderful with their dripping wet foliage.

On the marshes there was a small flock of Pink Footed Geese right close to the car park.
They looked a bit flighty so we kept t'mutt well away and let them settle back down with the intention of coming back to them a bit later.
There's always one on watch but the others weren't bothered by us snapping away. Way further out on the marsh a huge flock of over a thousand Pink Footed Geese got up, the light was excellent but no matter how many times we scanned through them while they were in the air we couldn't find any odd-ones-out, like maybe a Brent Goose or a Barnacle Goose.

Anyways geese undisturbed and dog 'pit-stopped' off we went to our main destination. We pulled up at the screen at Conder Pool to see a group of birders looking across the road towards the river. They had one of our target species in their sights, the Spotted Redshank, #129 for our Challenge.

It was fairly distant and we hoped it would come nearer especially when it crossed the river to the far bank, but it had other ideas and wandered round the loop and out of view. Rude!
Never mind though there was a second target to look for and there could be other birds to enjoy, the group had seen a Barn Owl quartering the pool not long before we arrived but that was now nowhere to be found. They were particularly keen to see the Little Ringed Plovers that had been reported, as were we, but between us we could only find a single 'ordinary' Ringed Plover and there wasn't much else in the offing. They'd have liked to have seen one of the recently reported Mediterranean Gulls too but we couldn't find one among the flock of Black Headed Gulls roosting on the pool. After a while they left and guess what - yes the Little Ringed Plover appeared, only minutes after their car had gone round the corner so we couldn't flag them down. Excuse the really duff quality - for some reason we never seem to be able to get a good pic of this species, never mind good, a slight improvement on this rubbish would be more than welcome. Poor or not it is identifiable so comes in at #130.
We potter round the lanes back to the main road didn't give us anything to write home about so back to Base camp it was.

For our next safari we were hoping to get up to south Cumbria to enjoy some reptiles last but once again the weather had other ideas; cold wet n windy does not a productive reptilian safari make! An alternative venue had to be chosen, but where? Leighton Moss was a potential venue particularly as Green Woodpeckers had been showing very well and we've not seen one there since at least the early 90s and probably quite a bit longer! But with all the rain how much of the site was going to be inaccessible to CR who has no wellies? Pennington Flash was also touted but again there are some very wet and muddy paths to negotiate there so it was a very last minute decision to go back to the old stalwart Martin Mere where almost all the paths are paved and the others mostly well drained.

Fortunately the rain eased as CR pointed the car southwards over the river and although there was no sun it was quite bright when we arrived in the Discovery Hide. We sat in our usual place but the cold wind was howling throu the windows and the birds mostly to our left. We had a quick scan and found an adult Mediterranean Gull sat on the crest of one the mid-range islands but decided against a pic. We moved down to the left hand wing of the hide where some food must have been put out as there were lots of Black Tailed Godwits feeding on the bank. This part of the hide was at a slightly different angle to the wind making it far more comfortable here to the windows to get some pics.

The Black Tailed Godwits were looking resplendant moulting into their breeding plumage, some more advanced than others.

And we could still see that Mediterranean Gull although from our revised position in the hide it was now a few feet further away.
As much as we were enjoying the gorgeous Black Tailed Godwits there's a limit to how many portraits you can/should take of them so we ventured forth heading for the Feeding Station. The Nature Trail had some temporary info signs about some of the wildlfowers to be found along the way like these Primroses, no Bee Flies on them today, far too cold and windy.

It was almost devoid of birds so we didn't stay long, we learned later that a Sparrowhawk had been visiting so the dicky birds were not surprisingly been cautious and staying in cover. Onward to the Harrier Hide where Grey Lag Geese were more or less the only birds on offer so on we went again and onto the 'new' part of the reserve, passing a very loud Cetti's Warbler by the bridges but as usual for us it wouldn't show itself. The first pool was deserted as most of the birds were away in the distance so once more we were on the move and passed two more unseen but very loud Cetti's Warblers. From the next hide a pair of Stonechats briefly gave some closer interest but all the action looked like it was going to be best viewed from the furthest hide. And it was. The small group of Avocets were good to see close up rather than black and white dots in the distance.
Some of them were hanging around a small island
A pair of Black Headed Gulls had ideas of nesting on there and weren't happy about the stripey intruders
This pool has a very tall anti-predator fence around it to keep (especially) Foxes off the ground nesting birds' breeding area, it also has spikes placed on the top of the posts nearest the water areas to keep Carrion Crows and other predatory birds from using them as a look out for nests to raid. A Buzzard to our left hadn't taken the hint.
It perched rather precariously, or should that be well practicedly, on the spikes scanning both sides for a bite to eat.
It dived down on both sides of the fence, for now content with beetles or worms, we couldn't see what it was picking up from the long grass but as it was only down for a seconfd or so it probably wasn't taking Short Tailed Field Voles.
By now butties were beckoning and they were in the boot (trunk - for our American readers) of the car on the car park...It was going to be a quick and hungry sprint back. However we were side-swiped in our haste first by some Roe Deer footprints in the mud along the track.
and then by two recently predated eggs at the side of the track, hence the need for those spikes on the fence posts to protect the ground nesters.
Pockets now laden with pies, butties and a hot flask we went back to the Discovery Hide where birders just leaving put us onto a much closer pair of Mediterranean Gulls.
One of which was a second summer bird as told by the black in the wingtips.
It wasn't particularly happy with any of the Black Headed Gulls coming too close to its mate and spent much of the time chasing them away of preventing them from landing nearby.
There were still plenty of Black Tailed Godwits to enjoy
but once again we succumbed to taking regular portrait pics
It was time to try to get them in a more interesting, action-packed pose...that turned out not to be so easy. Although they were quite active getting one doing something a bit different while not being obscured by its compadres proved tricky. Probing pics were the easiest
But getting them with a morsel in their bill was much more difficult
One was spottedd by CR having a drink at the water's edge made for a much more dynamic shot at last
We even tried some flight shots but with the wind really in the wrong direction they appeared too far too our right we didn't get much time for the camera to lock on to them before they hit the ground. They were slightly easier when landing on the island a few yards off the water's edge.
Eventually we got one landing on the bank in front of us - you don't want to know how many failed shots we deleted...
Shots like this would have been a lot easier with the 18-300mm lens, which obviously we hadn't brought with us.
After having our fill of both godwits and butties we moved on to have a shuffy round the other part of the reserve. Outside one of the small hides CR's practiced eyes spotted a shieldbug (he's got a couple of Green Shieldbugs in his garden), once back home he identified it as a Birch Shieldbug, a new species for us. A great find especially as the weather was keeping invertebrates well and truly off the menu.
There had been reports of vast numbers of Cattle Egrets frequenting the reserve in recent days and some of the pics on social media had them showing very well, right in front of the hide in many cases.We soon found one but far far away...just our luck, but still great to see.
The closer field now had one of the bulls and a couple of bullocks in it but the egrets weren't for hanging around them, more;s the pity.
The big fella was acting like a modern day Auroch crashing his way through the thickest bits of the vegetation, he's a big fella, weighing in at almost a ton, but Aurochs could grow to about half as big again, they must have been a very impressive and fearsome beast, shame they were driven to extinction.
His two friends still have quite a bit of growing to do.
After a while more Cattle Egrets began to show themselves, our highest count was 15 of which six are in this shot.
There were four of the 15 well to the right of us on the far bank of the big ditch running in front of us. Two of whom were making their way slowly but surely towards us poking here and there in the poached ground and through the cow pats for whatever they could find. 15 Cattle Egrets is the most we've ever seen together in Britain, by 11!
We hoped they'd come all the way to ther bridge in front of us but sadly they turned back a couple of tens of yards short of there. Annoying but at least they were a little bit closer.
A flock of Jackdaws appeared
and one of their number jumped on the back of one of the bullocks to pull some hair for its nest but we missed the shot...dohhhh

Almost all the Cattle Egrets eventually disappeared into the long grass around the cattle leaving just a couple in view, thankfully one of those did the decent thing and hopped up, just like they're supposed too...happy days.


Time was running out now but still enough left for another look at the Black Tailed Godwits. The soundtrack of the day was the Black Headed Gulls, not quite as cacophonous as at Leighton Moss last week but getting there. Rather than doing what we should have done and got some courting display and aggressive interactions shots we went for 'boring we've got plenty already' flight shots - don't ask cos we don't know but a bit of practice is never a bad thing.

As for the godwits well we got yet more standard portrait shots, as if we don't have enough of those.
Then we started to notice quite a few of them were starting to bicker with one another and short fights were breaking out. Getting a shot wasn't easy; by the time you'd heard the squabblng calls and located the protagonists they'd settled their differences and moved on. The trick was to look for two walking in opposite directions head down looking for food and on a collision course. And it paid off...
At last something a bit different for a change.
And then we realised we hadn't photgraphed any ducks all day. What was around, plenty of Shelducks of course.
And a few Mallards including this sleepy female.
We'll leave you with another shot of the Black Tailed Godwits just in case you've not had your fill of them yet, and well they are lovely at this time of year.
So a grand day out at a last minute impromptu change of venue but no new species added to our Challenge tally - Darn those elusive Cetti's Warblers!

Where to next? We've got a couple of local safaris lined up for you but will we be able to add to our Challenge total...

In the meantime let us know who's looking gorgeous in your outback

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