Friday, 20 October 2017

The final installment from the Solway Firth

The Safari enjoyed a calm moonlight night over the sea listening to the calls of Oystercatchers and Curlews out on the mudflats.
The following morning out with Monty we saw a few Octopus Jellyfish washed up on the sands.
A Merlin was twisting and diving chasing a Meadow Pipit right above our head, the pipit escaped by the skin of its beak. Moments later a Peregrine was cruising low over the rocks causing mayhem among the gulls and waders, it eventually landed on one of the outer rocks the master of all it surveyed.
We got a final visit to RSPB Mersehead in too. There we found a pair of Stonechats working their way a;long a fence-line. Behind them the Roe Deer were out in the paddock again looking splendid with the sun behind them.
We also saw one of the leucistic Barnacle Geese
They were a flighty bunch and although they were well back in the middle of the field they weren't happy with us walking down the track and before long one had spooked and they all took to the air. Our leucistic bird still had its lunch dangling from its bill.




They may have been a bit worried by the digger clearing the ditch between two of the fields they often frequent.
Out on the wetland a couple of Whooper Swans had arrived.
The wind in the trees behind the hide was blowing many leaves off the swaying branches which fluttered down softly landing on the water like dying butterflies.
Not very many leaves had fallen and some were still quite green. The Sycamores sporting their autumn speckling of Tar Spot Fungus. Leaves in the light were being used by a variety of insects as basking spots.
At the very back of the wetland on the reserve boundary were another three Roe Deer.
Closer to us was the Little Grebe family although they were well scattered across the lake. We found a drake Wigeon too
One of the young Little Grebes swam past him.
We also had a Chiffchaff on this visit, the Red Admirals were on the wing in the brighter spells and a dragonfly of unknown species flew past us - too quick for an ID.
At the car park we had a last peek at a lovely male Yellowhammer.
Driving out down the access track for the last time we spotted this small tree almost at the top of the mountain. 
If the hills weren't burnt (these aren't) or sheep grazed most of britain's uplands would be 'forested' in a wild tangle of stunted trees and shrubs with a fantastic 'biodiversity' of mosses, lichens, invertebrates, birds and mammals. Many areas would have a lot of self-seeded non-native conifers but does that matter too much as they wouldn't be growing in straight lines and do attract exciting species like Crossbills. Answers on a postcard please... 
After lunch we had a wander round Dalbeattie Forest. Lots of Siskins were heard, very few seen but no chance of any pics though. Jays were calling but not a lot else was seen. We had two Red Kites along the road and two skeins of about 150 Pink Footed Geese went over the supermarket car park during another enforced watch. Here unlike back home several shoppers stopped and looked up at the flocks as they flew over.
Our last day was a wet and windy one. But we went out during a bit of break in the rain and fortunately were out for a couple of hours without getting wet. We went back to Dalbeattie Forest bit a different part of it. Again we heard Jays shrieking unseen in the woods - Monty doesn't like their raucous squawks, he stops when he hears them looks in the direction of the sound and lowers his tail. Goldcrests, Siskins and at last Crossbills ((181) were all heard in good numbers and not seen in the dense canopy. 
The forest was awesome, shame there aren't more upland forests like this one although this is still, for the most part, a vast commercial tree farm. 
One of the trails had totem pole of leaping Salmon carved by local people and guests from the native American community of British Columbia, so these might be representations of Monika's Southern Residents Orcas' Chinnook Salmon It's about 20 feet tall
The living trees were cloaked in green - stunning!
Even the exposed roots had an arty feel about them overlain with contrasting needles from above.
One of our favourite finds of the whole week was in the lawn outside the ice-cream shop. tiny little fingers of fungus - we've no idea about the species...anyone out there know what it is?
A great week away and Monty had a great time away too.
Where to next? We've had a bit of success at the nature reserve and elsewhere since we've been back which we can tell you about tomorrow
In the meantime let us know who's growing up at the top of the hill in your outback 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Wilderness and wildness

The Safari was full of wildness last week, everyone should try to fill themselves with wildness it's great for the soul and something that's lacking in the lives of too many people these days. Wildness isn't quite wilderness, with wildness you can be anywhere , even looking through your window at your garden - it's a state of mind, but wilderness requires a bit of remoteness.
Monday
Wilderness for us is somewhere we can't hear human noise, here in southern Scotland all we could hear was the wind, the waves,and wild sounds like the bubbling of the Curlews, the kleeping of the Oystercatchers and of course the yapping of the Barnacle Geese - all adding up to pure bliss.
This morning flock after flock of Barnacle Geese joined hundreds of others out on the mudflats where there were also a hundred or so Shelducks.
Much closer a Merlin (178) glided low over the rocks panicking a Curlew that was really far to big to be in any danger. Well beyond the action two white birds stood out among the throng of Barnacle Geese but they were in the furthest and largest flock away on the outer mudflats (isn't it always the case!). All of a oneness the whole flock took to the wing and we lost them.
A tiny proportion of the flock
without our scope the white ones were simply to far away to get any ID on but what were they? There's a few possibilities...albino/leucisic Barnacle Geese, Snow Geese or maybe just a couple of farmyard type Grey Lag Geese that had got themselves mixed up in the wrong crowd? A mystery to solve!
The weather was mild and there was a bit of passage through the morning with new Linnets on the beach, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits went overhead and a flock of about two dozen Swallows held at least one Sand Martin with them.
A second visit to RSPB Mersehead, an afternoon visit this time, was a fairly quiet affair. A Mistle Thrush on the drive to the reserve was a new species for the trip. We called into the visitor centre where the helpful lady on the desk told us there were two leucistic Barnacle Geese on the reserve last year, so we guess that's the mystery solved then!
The sky was full of geese again with Barnacles Geese, Pink Footed Geese and some Canada Geese sat on the wetland.
We walked down to the beach through the scratty trees, there wasn't much on the beach this time but turning back we saw a Great Crested Woodpecker high in one of the dead trees.
A Chiffchaff was in the trees too. When the geese were nowhere to be heard the soundtrack to the day was the thin calls of numerous Goldcrests and Robins. A Coal Tit was briefly seen in the woods too, while down on the water in front of the hide there was a family of three Little Grebes.
Hundreds of Pink Footed Geese appeared out of the low cloud over the high mountain, Criffel, at the back of the reserve. More Barnacle Geese came in too, what a fantastic sight and sound to witness. They dropped on to one of the paddocks where four Roe Deer were grazing - an awesome spectacle of wilderness. Earlier we'd only seen one of the deer, a buck.
A Red Admiral was again nectaring on Ivy flowers along the trackside hedge. At the pool there were lots of Wigeon and probably many more hidden in the dense rushes, far more than we noticed the previous day so perhaps fresh in overnight, 15 Snipe had a quick fly round too.
Tuesday 
Another mild morning, calm and clear. In all our years of seeing Cormorants we can't ever remember it being so quiet that we were able to hear their wingbeats - a little like the sounds a Mute Swan's wings make but much quieter. Back out on the beach we walked down to our goose watching spot. It was so clear that the Isle of Man was poking it out in the distance.
Looks idyllic doesn't it but turn round and look at the strandline - sadly it's not that nice. The amount of plastic mixed in with the natural seaweed and driftwood was shocking, and this is a remote beach by our standards so it's mostly washed up plastic rather than litter dropped by beach-goers.
Also down there was a let go bundle of balloons from an organisation in Ireland - maybe they should think about protecting the environment for those saved babies to live in, there is no Planet B for them.
Good job there's not a dead seabird tangled up in this one! Don't forget folks #BalloonsBlow #DontLetGo
A day out sightseeing took us to the pretty riverside village of Gatehouse of Fleet. At the turn off from the main road there were a couple of Red Kites (178) circling over the roadside woodland. No chance of a pic from the car but hopefully we'd visit the feeding station later in the week.
We missed the Red Squirrel Wifey saw on the walk through the woods we took, a lucky sighting according to some locals we chatted to, the most exciting thing we could find was a calling Nuthatch, a fairly recent colonist in this part of the world and this little cluster of mushrooms.
While Monty had a play in the river with a new friend we were watching a Dipper working its way along the far bank.
From there we took a the road south back to the coast to a secluded little cove, Brighouse Bay, we'd discovered by pouring over the Ordnance Survey maps. What a cracking find, an absolutely stunning secluded little beach. It didn't take long to find a Wheatear at the top of the beach and the flock of pipits working the top strandline weren't Meadow Pipits but Rock Pipits (180). After a few minutes they left the top of the beach and came down to explore a pebbly bit of beach close to the tide line where they offered a couple of photo opportunities after a bit of fieldcraft.
So Rock Pipit makes its way onto our Year Bird Challenge at #154. What a superb find that little beach was, shouldn't have told you about it and kept it secret!
Passing a tiny wood in the middle of a field on the way out we spotted no fewer than five Buzzards soaring over it. Another Buzzard was seen from the supermarket car park as we kept Monty company while Wifey hit the aisles for supplies.
Wednesday
This was one of those wild wet n windy mornings we really wished we didn't have to take a dog out but suited and waterproof booted out you have to go! The small front garden had a tiny but well berried Hawthorn bush in the corner and opening the door we flushed a couple of 'black billed' Blackbirds from it - continental fresh arrivals???
Our walk on to the beach gave us three Twite sheltering in the vegetation  at the base of the sea defence works right under the nose of the cottage.
Back at the cottage the rain kept coming and coming it was a day for staying indoors. - our view of the lighthouse looked like this...
It should look like this...
The rain stopped briefly and with the break in the weather came eight Whooper Swans flying eastward up the firth. The rain came back with a vengeance and we were once again stuck looking out of the window at the procession of Blackbirds to-ing and fro-ing in and out of the little Hawthorn bush taking advantage of its bounty.
A late afternoon seawatch (in our slippers!) during a brighter spell in the even had us only finding a a Great Crested Grebe flying out to sea followed closely by a Common Scoter and then we found another Great Crested Grebe on the sea and not a lot else
We'll save the rest of the week for the next installment.
A couple of hours seawatch this morning gave is a Leach's Petrel and a skua sp and nothing else on the tails of Hurricane Ophelia.
Where to next? We might have a little shuffy at Marton Mere tomorrow morning
 In the meantime let us know what's on the rocks in your outback.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Skies full of geese

The Safari took the trail north over the border last week. As is usual for our longer journeys we kept a tally of the raptors we saw, it wasn't the best of days for raptors to be on the wing and that was reflected in the numbers seen, Buzzards 3 (of which we missed one) versus Kestrels 1. Dead things amounted to just one Fox (apart from a few Woodpigeons and numerous Pheasants recently released to be shot). Is there no wildlife left in the north of England, surely we'd expect more than that to end up squished along a 150 mile route?
A comfort stop for Monty by the river in Dumfries town centre had us missing an opportunity to get a snap of a Goosander although it would have had to have been a phone-pic as the cameras were packed well down in the back of the car. Three Red Admirals basking on a tree trunk enjoying the warm sunshine was nice to see, we disturbed a fourth from the grass as we walked Monty too.
Arriving at our cottage once unpacked it was time for a quick scan of the calm sea with the binoculars, a Harbour Porpoise was seen almost straight away not far offshore, great stuff!
Sunday 
Our first early morning Monty walk along the beach gave us a small number of Siskins at the top of a pine tree in a neighbouring garden, no chance of any pics for our Photo Challenge in the semi-dark at that time of the morning.
Then it was off for an hour or so before breakfast to the RSPB reserve Mersehead, a wetland and saltmarsh reserve of big skies on the narrow plain twixt the mountains and the sea.
The hedges along the path to the first hide were alive with birds, with every step there was a whirring of wings as the birds moved along the hedge in front of us before doubling back to a favoured spot on the far side of the thick bushes. There were Reed Buntings and Robins galore, Song Thrushes, Greenfinches, Dunnocks, Wrens, Linnets and a Chiffchaff. every foot along the grassy edge to the path, on both sides, had the imprint of a Badger's snout where they had been grubbing up worms overnight. It's a shame the same can't be said for all the other local hedgerows. Red from the multitude of berries was the dominant colour rather than the white of the shattered and splintered twigs and branches left behind by the farmers' flails on the other hedges leaving little food or shelter in this windswept landscape.
Surely it can't take much of a change for farmers across the land to produce hedges full of food like this
Linnets
We heard Goldcrests deep in the hedges, Skylark, Rooks (which seem to rarely get a mention by the Safari these days) and Carrion Crows on the recently cut field and a Buzzard on a post.
Rook (left) and Carrion Crow (right)
Rook
Along the short woodland walk to the next hide a scurry in the grass down by our feet was either a shrew or a vole, it was lost in the undergrowth before we'd got any more than 'mammal' on it! Red Campion was still in flower and shafts of light coming through thee every dwindling canopy illuminated an area of Hawthorn leaves where a cluster of hoverflies were indulging in a mating ritual a bit like Strictly Come Dancing on an invertebrate scale.
Pink Footed Geese called as they flew overhead and on the wetland in the distance there was a flock of Grey Lag Geese and a few Canada Geese
Pink Footed Geese high up and possibly just fresh in from Iceland
But where were the site's speciality the Barnacle Geese? Oh here they are...among the very first arrivals of the autumn!
Coming in from the north over the mountains, their dog-like yapping calls soon filled the air...marvelous! Barnacle Geese (177, YBC #153)
Back along the hedgerow with only minutes to spare before having to return to Temporary Base Camp we noted Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and lots of Chaffinches, Robins and Blackbirds.
There were even House Sparrows in the hedge and around the barns and farmhouse, it was like stepping back to an earlier time in our youth when there was still 'bioabundance' in our countryside.
Insects were represented by Red Admirals feeding on Ivy flowers, no Ivy Bees up this far north yet but we were told they've reached the Fylde so that'll be one to look out for next week.
On the short drive back we saw a Jay and a Bullfinch fly across the road in front of us.
The tide was coming in as we arrived flushing Meadow Pipits of the beach and a couple of Ravens were passing overhead.
As we scanned the sea there were no Harbour Porpoises but there was a Red Throated Diver sheltering in the little bay in the lee of the rocks. It might have recently 'overlanded' from the east coast as it spent well over an hour just sitting preening and shaking itself down.
Further out on the sea there wasn't anything more than three Great Crested Grebes and more and more flights of Barnacle Geese overhead. A walk along the beach a little later saw Monty's nose finding a Harbour Porpoise vertebra.
Apologies for the out of focusness and/or camera shake
Where to next? We'll tell you about the rest of the week tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's just arrived in your outback.