Saturday, 22 October 2016

Flower power

The Safari arrived at work to a beautiful sunrise yesterday. It didn't last very long and didn't develop any further than this.
But the light morning and lack of wind encouraged us to get out asap. From the wall the sun rising behind us was illuminating the clouds in the distance out to the west.
The promised sun continued to shine most of the day which brought out a Red Admiral to nectar on the Castor Oil plant with the multitude of hoverflies. A Grey Wagtail flew over the gardens, not a rare sighting but neither are they regular here.
Our lunchtime visit to the sea wall gave us a decent count of over 500 Common Scoters but not a great lot else save for a low flying male Eider headed down towards the estuary.
As we were leaving work at the end of the day we spotted a few more than several little snails sat perched up in the flowers of the French Marigolds. We can't ever remember seeing that before - surely we have, have we?
This morning there was some Blackbird and Robin activity in the garden and we also thought we heard a Chiffchaff but we were looking after Monty and couldn't get out for a proper look. We did however get a good look at a flock of about 60 Jackdaws that came in from the south east and circled the water tower several times. They'd flap round and round for ages then one or two would start to glide followed almost instantaneously by all the others. This happened a few times, never noticed them do that before, have we? After about half an hour they drifted off together to the north east.
Not a lot happened for the rest of the day, much of the time young Monty was firmly affixed too our foot or ankle - is he a puppy or a hairy Piranha? At least legs are repairable which the furniture isn' doubt he'll eat the furniture once he's eaten us!
Where to next? Not much chance of getting out tomorrow due to puppy duties again but we'll keep our eyes and ears open, not for any wildlife but for the snapping jaws of the man-eating pupster!
In the meantime let us know who's doing all the chewing in all your outback.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Big influx

The Safari didn't manage to get out yesterday, totally thwarted by adverse weather early morning and at lunchtime. In between we were working in the garden with our volunteers but neither heard nor saw owt of note or interest other than a few chunky Eristalis tenax hoverflies still taking advantage of any sunshine on the Caster Oil plant flowers.
If there were any passing Leach's Petrels, as there was across the bay, we had no chance of getting out to look for them in the driving rain and high tide sploshing over the wall. The Black Browed Albatross seen 'just round the corner' the other day turned south rather than north ending up doing a tour of the Scilly Isles and far west Cornish coast. B*gger!
This morning was much brighter and our quick visit to the sea wall gave us a horde of Lugworm diggers down at the low tide. We do worry about the amount of worms these guys take. One took eight in five minutes which works out at 96 an hour or nearly 200 in the two hours the tide is that low and he was one of a dozen diggers which is nearly 2500 worms and they and others will have been out on other low tides this week so x7 is getting on for the best part of 20000 worms lost out of the ecosystem. How sustainable is this considering it is now spawning season for them? Indeed there is a survey for you to get involved with going on right now! Is there any regulation by anybody, has anybody ever even considered any regulation? However, it would seem that they have a high capacity for recovering this amount of loss and the beach here is huge so there will be plenty of unworked areas with worms but it does beg the question how does removing this amount of food from the ecosystem affect other species, for example the rapidly declining Curlew, not to mention the impact of disturbance from several humans in (often) bright clothing on birds that need to feed during the low tide period. Having said that the gulls, which admittedly are much less bothered about humans than many other species, approach quite close but ignore the buckets full of worms preferring to find their own food. The Oystercatchers too, although much more wary than the gulls, don't seem to be over bothered by the presence of people, perhaps it's because they don't move quickly or far and have apparently predictable movements.
Talking of Oystercatchers this morning there were a lot more than we've seen in recent weeks, well over 500 within our patch and many more further south towards the river. Sanderlings too were numerous with at least 300 of them with about 50 Dunlin mixed in with them. By far the most waders we've seen for a long time.
The sea was choppy so getting an accurate estimate of the numbers of Common Scoters out there was impossible and other than a small flock of Cormorants we didn't see anything else.
This afternoon we were able to grab a few minutes and have a bash at getting some pics of the hoverflies before the sun went round and cast the bush in to shade.
Where to next? More Patch 2 gawping tomorrow, the wind should have died down a bit by the morning so searching through the Common Scoter flock for an odd one out might be a bit easier.
In the meantime let us know who's ransacking your outback without a care in the world.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

New arrivals

The Safari has been a bit occupied these last few days. Most of our time has been spent wiping the floor with a wet cloth! The little chap has a lot of learning to do and how can such a small animal hold so much pee???
We've been having fun though, he's already leaned his name, Monty and is beginning to get the hang of recall already which is impressive for such a young puppy, we just hope he keeps it up and gets really good at it. It came in very useful at tea-time today when we lost him, you only have to take your eye off him for a couple of seconds and he can be gone! He'd managed to sneak into the front room through the barrier we'd put up and where he's not allowed, luckily he came running from places unknown when called - phew we thought he might have got out under the back gate and out into the big wide world where he's not safe until he's had his next vaccination jab.
Day 1
Day 5

We were trying very unsuccessfully to get some video of him playing ball for the first time this arvo when a few Redwings (Garden #29) looked like they were thinking about dropping into our Crab Apple tree which is covered in succulent bright red berries.
As dusk fell wee went to put some recycling in the bin and saw the small murmuration, about 30 odd) of Starlings was happening again just up the hill from us, wonder if it'll build up into any more than just the local birds. Other small flocks were passing overhead aiming to the traditional North Pier roost.
Where to next? There's a Black Browed Albatross wandering the Irish Sea now that would be something to find on Patch 2 tomorrow morning.  
In the meantime let us know who's turned your outback upside down.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Thought it best to get out and bash some bushes

The Safari set off for work slightly earlier than usual this morning with the intention of finding one of those Siberian Sprites that have graced our shores this last week or so. We stopped off at the park where we'd seen the one last week. It's been a hotspot for good birds for many years with all manner of rarities turning up but the only Yellow Browed Warbler recorded there before last week's bird was one that had got itself trapped inside someone's house and caught in a big sweetie jar and released there. 
We had a good mooch about but trying to hear anything calling was difficult with the horrendous traffic noise, it really is an awful thing; how on earth does wildlife put up with it? We did manage to hear a Chiffchaff call from one of the groups of trees in the middle of the park and then a Goldcrest piped up. We sort of did a zig-zig across the middle of the park taking in the scattered groups of trees stopping for a listen every so often, apart from the traffic it was very quite! A couple of Robins and a Wren were normal fare for a suburban park and it wasn't until we were almost back at the car that we heard then saw something more interesting, a flock of Long Tailed Tits working their way through the  roadside tree tops. A good 'carrier' flock so stopped in front of them and waited for them to pass. There's still lots of leaves on the trees, we haven't had a decent autumn blow to knock them off yet, so counting and keeping up with the Lotties was tricky. There were at least 10 of them but the only other bird we could find with them was a Blue Tit. further back in the direction from which the flock had come from we heard two more Goldcrests call and with the clock now pushing on it was time to leave.
Instead of having a look at Patch 2, which could have been a silly decision as seven Bottlenose Dolphins were seen across the bay yesterday, we had a wander round the work's garden - all very quite save for two Robins (down from six over the last couple of days) and the almost mega rare Wren is still here.
A mid-morning tea-break saw us out in the garden for a very quick shuffy again, this time we had three Robins but nothing else.
Lunchtime came and again we decided to hit the garden with the camera this time just in case a Robin pic more than anything. We headed out of the back door and went past our wild garden, at the end of the building we heard the loud penetrating inflected 'tsweet', it can only have been made by a Yellow Browed Warbler so we followed the calls round the corner and stared at the hedge for a few moments. More excited calling, a flit, a brief glimpse and then it was up and away across the road. Thankfully the hedge isn't too tall and there aren't that many bushes by the tram tracks so we were able to see where it landed. 
A tram traveler waiting for his ride saw our bins and camera and asked what we had seen. It was calling again and now we had two pairs of eyes looking for it if it should show itself. A House Sparrow popped out to chew on some fallen Dandelion seeds.
Eventually, after what seemed lake an age the minuscule warbler did break cover right on the top of the shrubs and we both got a quick but half decent view before it went back in to cover. It didn't stay there long a couple of minutes later it popped up again this time on the promenade handrail where it showed really well - enough for our new friend to exclaim 'wow it has got a yellow brow hasn't it!' before it shot off over our heads to the next bushes to the south. We shot off after it leaving our friend to catch his approaching tram.  We had one more brief glimpse of it flitting low down on the backside of the bushes before it was lost forever. No chance of a pic but we're well chuffed that a self found Yellow Browed Warbler (P2 #76) is on the list. We tried a quick look at the bushes further down the track but could only find this rather sizeable Common Wasp sunning itself.
Back at Base Camp excitement has reached fever pitch with the arrival of the puppy, Monty. Our lives have changed forever...we wont tell you how many times he's peed on the carpet already, only been in the house two hours!
Where to next? More scouring of the work's bushes and we have a group of youngsters out on the beach rockpooling late afternoon so hopefully they'll find some interesting stuff to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know who's causing mayhem in your outback.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Super silver sea

The Safari has continued to be busy with important family stuff and work but we have been able to get out to see what's about a couple of times this last week.
We've spotted the Peregrine on the water tower a couple of times but it hasn't been showing at any time when we would have been able to put the scope on it to show young neighbour OC - we told him about it being the fastest animal on the planet and he could see it from his house - his reaction - - COOOOOLLLLLLL. So the pressure is on for us to help him to for him to get a good look at it. We wouldn't mind a pic of it with the new 600mm lens either.
Last Friday we had a short and very productive look at Patch 2 at lunchtime on the rising tide. A Guillemot (P2 #75) was soon found fairly close in, then while watching a Red Throated Diver fly past in the near to middle distance it passed over a surfacing Harbour Porpoise. Instantly ignoring the diver we focused on the porpoise and before too long saw three surface together. All adults. They surfaced frequently for the next ten minutes or so until one made easily the biggest breach we've ever seen a porpoise do leaping clean out of the water at least it's own body length high...and with that demonstration of gymnastics they were gone not to be seen again. 
A good record of 12 Teal flew south, six Gannets were milling around and close inshore an immature Great Crested Grebe was fishing too. Not a bad half hour out.
First light on Saturday morning had us on Patch 1 searching for a self-found Yellow Browed Warbler.
It wasn't to be as we could only find at least three Goldcrests (could have perhaps been double that they were very active), a Coal Tit, about a dozen Blackbirds and two dozen Redwings along with a Heron in a tree (no it wasn't a Pear tree) and two Moorhens skulking very furtively round the 'top' pond.
A couple of Wrens kept us amused for a few minutes too.
A very grainy Wren
As we were leaving an old Elm stump with a blog of Cramp Balls Fungus caught our eye.
It was good to see quite a number of the felled Elms shooting from the root too, good news for the White Letter Hairstreaks.
Sunday morning saw us leaving our childhood home early to visit the new reserve a mile or so away. Sunrise was a colourful affair but we probably should have used our phonecam rather than the big lens to capture it in all its glory.
As we drove through the gate a Kestrel got up off the track and flew in front of us in the light from the car's headlamps for a good distance and as we pulled into the car park a Jay flew over us, they used to be really really scarce around these parts although we're not sure of their current status with lots of woodland having been planted and maturing over the last forty years and (hopefully) more enlightened gamekeepers on the adjacent Pheasant and Partridge shoots.
The reserve was a little quieter than we'd hoped/expected after the run of easterly winds. There were a good number of Lapwings but not so many ducks, mainly Teal and Mallard with a lot of Canada Geese, which soon took to the air and left, on the first pool as the first Pink Footed Geese came over from the little estuary we were at last weekend heading towards their agricultural feeding grounds. 
The walk to the second pool gave us a few passing Skylarks and Meadow Pipits with Reed Buntings along the ditch. The rising sun nicely illuminated a Heron stalking at the edge of the reeds.
At the viewing screen we saw a Cetti's Warbler fly low in front of us and enjoyed the sights and sounds of more Lapwings. (Late edit - just be told by the team at Lunt Meadows that that's the first record of Cetti's Warbler since March!)
Five Pintail and a lot of Snipe were pick of the rest.
Shame the water weed spoils the Snipe's reflection
Walking along the river bank the Pink Footed Geese feeding in the fields were too far away to have a proper look through as we didn't have a scope with us today, six distant Whooper Swans our first of the autumn flew over them heading further inland. At the bridge one species or other of Mustelid had very recently left its calling card on the concrete step, possibly an American Mink or a Stoat certainly not an Otter unfortunately. Passing rather than crossing the bridge we went to the next view point where there were two archaeologists uncovering the dig site of the 8000 YO Mesolithic settlement that was found there while the reserve was being excavated. We kept an eye on the fence-lines and taller prominent patches of vegetation but couldn't find any of the regular Stonechats that frequent the reserve. A last look from the first screen gave us a Chiffchaff calling from the low scrub behind us but little else.
Back at the car park we saw the Jay again, or was it a second? Good to see the car park filling up with birders' cars before 09.00 on a Sunday morning too, testament to the reserve's quality.
Later in the day back at Ma n Da's we watched open-mouthed through the sitting room window as V after V of Pink Footed Geese went over back towards the estuarine roost, there must have been several thousand of them, a very impressive sight. Never saw anything like that many over there in the mid-70s. Somethings do change for the better in the wonderful world of wildlife despite all the doom and gloom there are some bright spots to give us a bit of hope all is not quite lost yet. 
Back at work today we went out on Patch 2 on a stunning morning. Dark clouds glowered over the flat calm silver sea which was dotted with several hundred scattered black specks of Common Scoters. A bright almost complete rainbow competed the stunning scene. Nothing much else was out there in the most very excellent visibility other than the head of a bottling Grey Seal away to our right.
In the gardens no fewer than six Robins were heard ticking away in the perimeter hedge, that's got to be a record count!
Later we had a rummage round and a listen for Yellow Browed Warblers - none heard although we did hear something that could well have been but couldn't find it in the depths of the Tamarisk bushes where the sound seemed to come from to get a sighting...missed or wishful thinking??? We did find a Goldcrest and the Wren is still about so it was worth the look/listen.
Arriving back at BAse Camp as we turned in to our street we could see the Peregrine sat up on the water tower. OC wasn't home from school yet so we couldn't show it to him. We did grab the big lens and head off up the hill on foot.
We've seen it a few times up there recently so it shouldn't be too long before OC gets a good look at it.
Where to next? More intense scrutiny of the work bushes tomorrow - this run of easterly winds are very very interesting.
In the meantime let us know what the wind;s blown in in your outback.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Birding is good for the soul

The Safari is going through the stress-mill at the moment but a visit to one of our early birding haunts at dawn on Sunday morning helped clear the head a little. A couple of hours communing with nature watching the sunrise lighting the gently lapping waves  of a calm sea was what we needed. As we drove down past the fields at first light the tips of the grass and stubbles had been brushed with a rime of frost, in the dips a thick low mist oozed out of the fields and over the roadside hedgerows.
We were only 8 miles from the city centre but could have been on another planet!
This is a page from our notebook c1974/5 - we walked the path through 8 and just into 9
There was no human made sounds to be heard. From across the mudflats we heard the conversations of the multitude of roosting Pink Footed Geese only recently returned from Iceland, the bubbling of the Curlews and the mournful wails of Grey Plovers. Occasionally the more strident and urgent calls of a Redshank would cut through the still morning air.
The tide was well out but the closest bird to us right at the top of the beach was our first British Bar Tailed Godwit of the year, hot on the heals of the one we saw in Sardinia. Flights of Pink Footed Geese left to feed in the fields passing overhead beautifully illuminated from beneath by the low sun.
The scratty dunes came alive with Linnets, Reed Buntings and Greenfinches taking advantage of the bright red hips of the Japanese Rose thickets. Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Pied Wagtails called as they flew over southwards.
Scanning the mudflats we watched the waders feeding away with Shelducks beyond the mouth of the little river. Beyond them a mass of circling gulls circled over a shoal of fish out in the main river channel, unfortunately it was too far and too hazy to be able to see if there were any mammals out there with them. Much closer, on the rubble below our tripod legs, a movement and flash of white caught our eye, a Wheatear popped up out from behind a rock and continued its way down the beach.
All of a sudden there was a strange drumming and rumbling sound coming from the north. It was the beating wings of a thousand or more Pink Footed Geese as the last of the roosting flock took to the air en masse the best part of a mile away from us. We were a little surprised we could hear that before we heard their 'wink wink' calls.
A small proportion of the flock
As the clock moved closer to 08.00 the track became busier with dog walkers, joggers and cyclists - it was never this busy in the 1970s you could spend all day here and not see another living soul! Well there were 10 million fewer people in the country then (and about 40% fewer world-wide!). Fortunately no-one was out on the beach disturbing the waders, although with the tide still very low there would have been plenty of undisturbed mud available had people and their mutts started to wander out. The area north of the little river is a part of military firing range and so is almost totally undisturbed and therefore acts as a very important refuge.
Having another look around the dunes and scattered scrub we came across a young Stonechat, wonder if they still breed here - all the big rough piles of rubble have been cleared away or smoothed out so they may have lost many of their potential nest sites. It was almost as unapproachable at the pair in Sardinia but eventually we were able to get a bit of a pic of it at the very limits of the lens's range so it's a heavy crop, not helped by the twig it's on wafting about in the breeze which had picked up after sunrise either.
Walking back to the car to return 'home' a Kestrel flew in from the nearby golf course and sat on a track-side signpost. It was a in the distance and on the 'wrong side' of the light. We waked cautiously towards it putting the scope down and taking a few pics before moving a few yards closer and doing the same. We did this several times hoping it would get used to us and allow us to pass so as we could get a pic of it on the 'right side' of the light. A dog walker was coming the other way, the race was now on - would she beat us to our required point and flush the bird? She did quite easily and then apologised saying she never got any pics of the beautiful birds she saw while out with her dogs...hardly surprising with a resounding 0/10 for fieldcraft even when noticing someone else exhibiting a bit of said fieldcraft and realising what the target was - flamin dog walkers!
BTW we will be among their number again soon as Monty the Labradoodle puppy is about to descend on Base Camp in 10 days time.
It'll be at least a month before he's allowed to venture in to the big wide world and start his own birding list though - will he be able to beat Frank's best find, the Iberian Chiffhcaff on Patch 1, which will be back in play before the year is out. We even had a look in there this morning after one of the huge numbers of Yellow Browed Warblers that have arrived in the country from Siberia this last week.
Anyway back to the tale in the end of our walk out on the beach a huge swirl of birds swarmed over the beach, a mass of Knot wheeling round the world famous Antony Gormley installation 'Another Place'. We watched them for ages until they settled back down on the beach.
Utterly bewitching and magical
A cracking couple of hours to take the stress away, you can't beat it and if you haven't tried it you really should...birding is the best therapy! Unfortunately we might well have to do it again this coming weekend.
In other news Patch 2 has provided us with some superb views of Red Throated Divers so close up that we could see their red throat - that doesn't happen often!!!
We've also seen a flock of Carrion Crows with two Rooks (P2 #74) come in off the sea and a Razorbill (182, P2 #75). There's been some other auks, some might well have been Guillemots which we still need for our Patch 2 list.
As noted earlier we've been on the hunt for a Yellow Browed Warbler preferably a self-found one on one of our Patchwork Challenge patches. We've been put on to a couple but not been able to get straight out to look for them, we tried a couple of sites before work this morning again with no joy. Then just as we were finished up after our school group we got news from Not so Young Un anymore AB that there was one in the park we drive past on the way back to Base Camp every evening. We just had to stop. After an hour and a half and some help from other birders that had come for a look-see we got a flit and then a one and a half second good view of it in the tree top. At long last a Lancashire Yellow Browed Warbler (183) after having seen a fair few on the 'easy' side of the Pennines.
Happy days! Now to self-find one...or a Red Breasted Flycatcher or better...
Where to next? A prowl round some local hot or grot spots could be on the cards.
In the meantime let us know who's winged in from Siberia in your outback.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Very wet at the wetlands

The Safari has been busy with all sorts of things since our last post including worrying family stuff concerning aging parents which have kept us away from the keyboard.
Here's the promised scaly Sardinian pics. They are either Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard or plain old Italian Wall Lizard. We're not sure how to separate the two species.
And we managed just one quick snap of a Moorish Gecko before it disappeared down a crack in the rocks.
Then there's those wasps we mentioned.
The black ones crawled from flower to flower never really showing themselves to their best advantage. The red one we one saw this once.
Around the hotel gardens we found lots of evidence of Wild Boars. This little digging rampage was very close to the pool and passed by hundreds of tourists every day, very few of them actually realising what had been going on.
Sadly although they are reputed to eat absolutely everything they don't seem to like the invasive Hottentot Fig.
They came closer than that being found very close to our digs with fresh poo being found daily.
Exciting stuff but we never got to see the beasties themselves.
There was a hotel cat which was friendly enough

but only to people...probably in return for tit-bits. But when reptiles are about they'd better watch out.
This is very worrying as not far from Base Camp there's a massive housing development very close to the dunes where there a small population of Common Lizards. If more than a couple of those new houses have wandering cats we can't see them lasting more than a few years before becoming extinct.
Our Bird Year List Challenge added the following in Sardinia; Sardinian Warbler (173), Spotless Starling (174), Cirl Bunting (175), Fan Tailed Warbler (176), Bar Tailed Godwit (177), Scopoli's Shearwater (178), Red Rumped Swallow (179), Spanish Sparrow (180) - there might also have been a Pallid Swift or two but we couldn't quite clinch them.
On Saturday we had a very wet trip out to a wetland reserve we've not been to for many many years. We met up with our long-time birding mates, it always seems to lash it down we we go out together, and had a look to see what we could see. The reserve is slightly different to whe nwe last visited all those years ago and now includes a couple of fishing pools we used to try to catch large Carp from in the late 1970s, we never did get a 20 pounder but did pull out a 7 1/2 lb Tench, still got the Instamatic photo somewhere. We started off with good views of the Cattle Egret that's been there for a few weeks. Only seen one in Britain before, now we've seen two this summer.
Also on the scrape were a few Dunlin and a Little Stint (181) among the various ducks, Black Tailed Godwits and Lapwings.
After a while we braved the elements for a wander round the rest of the reserve. Not a lot was happening, everything was obviously hunkered down away from the weather. Eventually we found a Ruff, just about the only bird on this part of the reserve.
But just look at all that New Zealand Pygmy Weed aka Crassula helmsii - what a nightmare that is likely to become for the reserve manager. The Ruff almost came to grief at the talons of a Sparrowhawk there really wasn't any more than the thickness of a feather between life and death.
The next hide had a few Teal and lots of rain
as well as a few Mallards in the mud
Crikey it was wet out there. A small group of waders on a little muddy island was mostly Dunlins but there was another Little Stint (or the same one from earlier beating us round there) and three Curlew Sandpipers. After a while a Greenshank dropped in and a Stonechat was found perched atop some distant bankside rushes.
Dinnertime came round quickly but our butties were still in the car in the car park so back we went. Once our faces had been filled with all manner of sliced pig and chocolaty goodies we hit the hides again. The rain continued to come down by the bucket load. 
Back at the 'Ruff' hide there was only a lone Lapwing to be seen, a mega reserve with just one bird! 
Green Woodpecker in the distance and a couple of Pied Wagtails flew past us but most of the time we spent watching the rain fall and dodging some of the biggest Common Wasps we've ever seen. A Jay and then a Rook peeked our interest until a second bird joined the Lapwing on the scrape.
Four Greenshank flew around at the third hide, but we didn't risk getting even wetter and returned to our cars after a fun but soggy day out.
That night we had to stop over at our childhood home, that gave us the opportunity for an early morning visit to  a childhood birding spot first thing on Sunday morning which we'll tell you about tomorrow - it was good - - really good! 
Where to next? Now where's that Yellow Browed Warbler
In the meantime let us know who's getting wet in your outback