Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A nice bright morning at the nature reserve

The Safari started a few days off work with a dawn raid on the nature reserve. Even before 08.00 it was a warm one with the bank of high cloud drifting off east leaving blistering sunshine in an azure blue sky - the perfect start to anyone's holiday! 
At first it felt like there wasn't much happening. The wetland and rough wet grassland on the walk in were birdless desert, the light scrub to our left maybe had a couple more Robins 'ticking' away than we've heard on recent visits but our overall impression was that it was quiet. 
Once through the gate we were almost overcome by the quietness, where is that Redstart and/or Pied Flycatcher with our name on it hiding? The silence was broken by a Cetti's Warbler giving lip at the Viewing Platform and being immediately answered by another the other side of said platform. with the light no better than seriously iffy for viewing from the Viewing Platform we continued our walk. The Paddock and scrub were notably birdless too apart from a few Woodpigeons (Why is it Woodpigeons and not Wood Pigeons? It's not a Feralpigeon is it!). We heard a couple or more Blackcaps 'tacking' away deep in the Hawthorns which we have to say are totally bedecked with berries unlike the roadside hedgerows we passed on the way to the pub last night which have been scalped to within an inch of their lives as usual - no food or shelter for the wildlife this winter just like every other winter sadly.
As we approached the track to the panoramic hide we found our first big birdy activity, a mixed flock of tits and (mostly) 'Phyllosc' warblers. Getting to the other side of them where they were in the light gave us splendiferous views of several Blue Tits, two Great Tits, about 10  Long Tailed Tits (they wouldn't keep still), at least  three Chiffchaffs and one Willow Warbler, a shy Chaffinch that we only saw once briefly (where did  it go - it was in a small isolated clump of bushes!), a couple of Blackcaps and a Whitethroat. We stood and watched for a good few minutes before raising the camera.
Long Tailed Tit with spider(?)
We had a look from the hide but it was suffering from the aftermath of a warm weekend's anti-social behaviour so we didn't stay long. There wasn't much to see apart from a decent sized flock of Lapwings which landed in the scrape so we set off round to count them and see if we'd missed anything 'more interesting' among them. As we left the hide we heard another Cetti's Warbler fire up from the reedbed, they're becoming more vocal again now the summer is drawing to a close. 
At the scrape we counted exactly 80 Lapwings and no other waders, three Teal, a Mallard and a sleepy Shoveler. There was no sign of the Garganey which had been reported again yesterday.
Just as we were moving on we heard yet our fourth Cetti's Warbler of the morning sing a brief snatch of song. We made our way along the embankment towards the bridge scanning the recently cut silage field for any Wheatears, none! Plenty of Woodpigeons and four Magpies were all we could see. But we did hear a Grey Wagtail going over and then heard sporadic calls from 'alba' Wagtails high up in the ether. Also up there at invisible altitude were our first Meadow Pipits of the autumn. Reed Buntings have been thin on the ground over the summer, we've seen odd ones here and there but today we came across five of them, our best count since the spring. one of them even sat still on the reeds as per their name, unlike the nearby Reed Warbler which was far too busy for us to connect with the lens.
She stayed still long enough for us to fire off a few shots before she launched herself skywards and continued her journey to who knows where.
Behind us, down by the new pools a flock of about 20 Linnets got up out of the cut field and landed on the Thistles at the edge of the little dyke that separates 'us' from 'them'. With nothing in the stream at the bridge and too many people beginning to stir on the caravan site we turned back hearing more passing Meadow Pipits and even seeing one - going north west!?!
A quick look from the vantage point the gives a restricted view of the part of the scrape you can't see from the 'normal' spot gave us a duck that look very suspiciously like the Garganey
Off we went at a trot passing the tree which 999 times out of a thousand has a Woodpigeon sat in it and once again it did.
only this time there were two sat up there, that hardly ever happens!
At the scrape our hunch was correct, the duck was indeed the Garganey. Again the light for pics was awful and this is horrendously processed to make it look something like a Garganey.
With time running short it was time to high-tail it back to the car passing not a lot on the way.
All in all a very pleasant morning out, we'll have to do it again sometime!
Where to next? Sometime is coming again tomorrow morning.
In the meantime let us know who's looking like a dodgy duck in your outback

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Bats and back

The Safari was supposed to be leading a Moth and Bat Night last night but all day rain and increasing wind meant we were forced to pull the plug on it early evening. We got  a txt from our co-host saying she was going to go down to the meeting point at the appointed time just in case anyone hadn't got the cancellation message and turned up to find no-one there. The rain had eased off and although tche wind was still raging we decided to skip the start of yet another series of Strictly Come Drivel take out the bat detector and join her. 
It wasn't long before a lady with a torch bearing small boy arrived then another and regular Friend of the NBPT N turned up too saying he'd just seen a bat on his walk down. All was not lost, we'd get half an hour out of the evening at least even if it was way to windy and the ground far to wet to risk the electrics of the moth trap on.
It was too dark to see any birds but the quacking of the Mallards as they settled down for the night on the islands could be heard and above them an indistinct pale blob in the tips of the overhanging trees was likely to have been the resident Heron.
With the small group in tow we walked round to the far side of the lake where the taller trees should provide a bit of shelter from the wind should any bats be out. On the way we heard a couple of quiet hits on the detectors so there were bats flying around, all we needed to do now was catch up with them. And that's exactly what we did near the little bridge. N was in front by a good few yards when even from that distance we all heard his detector blast out a long series of clicks...we were in luck!
A small clearing in the canopy gave all the group reasonable sightings of the bats passing across the paler sky but they were high up at the top of the canopy.
We crossed the bridge to a more open grassy area and tried the bat attracting grass trick which worked a treat. Everyone got superb views of the Pipistrelle Bats. That was the only species we could identify from the bat detectors, the site also has Soprano Pipistrelles, Daubenton's Bats and Brown Long Eared Bats. At one time we had five in view whizzing low over our heads. We saw some behaviour we've not seen before when two bats turned off their echo-location clicks and had a bit of a chase-me chase-me barney over the best place to hunt. We stayed out well over an hour longer than we had planned, the bat action was exceptional but we only saw a small number of micro-moths and just one large macro up in the tree-tops so it was probably just as well we didn't put the trap on.
Not long before we finished we realised the battery compartment cover of our bat detector had dropped off. It was going to hard to find it among the fallen leaves from the White Poplar trees which were about the same size and once fallen, black too. We'd have to go back in daylight for a proper look.
In the morning it was obvious were we'd been stood as the ground was well and truly muddied up. There was also a huge number of blackened White Poplar leaves on the ground and despite quartering the ground in a logical manner we couldn't find our missing piece of plastic. Beneath our feet were hundreds of medium sized Craneflies and dozens of yearling Frogs
The most memorable aspect of our visit was the enormous number of Speckled Wood butterflies, don't think we've ever seen so many in one place before, they were uncountably everywhere!
Both phone pics
After a late breakfast we had a mooch round the garden at Base Camp. Invertebrates were what we were after but there weren't too many about and we had to work hard to find any. We looked in all the sunniest nooks and crannies finding the following.
Common Carder Bee
Marmalade Hoverfly
A tiny spider
A different tiny spider with a greenfly - the action was very fast, the greenfly was injected, wrapped, removed from the web and taken in to cover in the blink of an eye
There's still a few plants in flower including some Willowherbs
and this lovely florescent Dianthus.
Best of all was this fly of which there were a few buzzing around the sunny side of the back gate.
After a  quick lunch we decided to have a wander down the hill to the North Blackpool Pond Trail to see if we could find any butterflies to point the lens at in the pleasantly autumnal sunshine. 
The best wildflower area is just about finished now with only a few heads of Red Clover and some Ragwort offering much in the way of nectar. We didn't see any butterflies at all but did disturb a Silver Y moth which tried unsuccessfully to hide from us in the long grass.
The nice stand of Fleabane along the edge of the ditch often attracts butterflies but there were none there today.
Up the steps the remnant ancient hedge was in sunshine but catching the wind making it tricky to get these small metallic bronze flies in focus on the wildly dancing leaves. They are very eye-catching though, well worth a closer look.
There were people faffing around at the pond we wanted to look at for some dragonflies so we had to give it a miss. We carried on to the cemetery having a look at the corner pond but it was devoid of life. Further on a family of Mistle Thrushes were pulling worms out of the moss at the edges of some of the older stones.
There are two sort of out of sight ponds, but not out of sight enough too many fishermen visit and one of them has found a rather large Swan Mussel and broken it open for bait - what a waste!
The other pond is less visited and normally very clear. It wasn't today there was a horrible algal bloom.
What's going on there??? And then we saw it, or was it them? Bally fishermen have released a/some big Carp in there, we saw at least one stout back break the surface. They must have been rummaging around in the sediment recycling all the nutrients that had been locked away for decades. Not food for any of the other wildlife in this pond and they'll be impossible to get out, sadly the pond is pretty much wrecked by our friendly neighbourhood environmental vandals. Very disappointing and only a brief and distant view of a Brown Hawker - where are all the other dragonflies today, they should have been out in force.
At the furthest point of our walk we didn't take enough notice of a falcon that went high over our head. We're not sure why we dismissed it at first but then turned for another look but by now it was much further away. It did look a bit slight and small for a Peregrine and was too short in the tail and not 'flying right' for a Kestrel - did we just ignore a Hobby???
We wandered back towards the pond we couldn't visit earlier to find it empty now. There were just a few Moorhens on there, count them and there were a few more scattered around the far side out of shot
Turning to leave we saw a movement over the grass below us, a smart looking parasitic wasp - probably a female Ichneumon deliratorius. A fine looking beast.
A few yards further on a bit of a surprise awaited us. We thought we heard a Rook calling, odd because we can't recall ever seeing them here before and they are as rare as rocking horse do-do over Base Camp only a few hundred yards away. And there away across the horse field there were indeed a couple of Rooks.
Our last snap was a butterfly, at last, a nice Small White perched up on a White Poplar leaf.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's dumped what in your outback

Friday, 2 September 2016

Disaster struck but all was not lost

The Safari has been out a couple of times early morning to the nature reserve. Our first visit didn't give us a repeat of the previous blog with no Ospreys flying over nor any Ruffs wading around in the scrape. In fact we didn't see much at all. Patch 2 gave us  nothing that day either.
Yesterday all went horribly wrong almost from the off. We'd not got far along the path the other side of the wetlands when our shoulder suddenly felt far too light and half an instant later that was a sickening crash from behind us. The bracket holding our camera to it's strap had sheared. We bent down and picked up the beast it didn't seem too badly scarred but then we realised it wouldn't turn back on. Ah well it;s sort of a computer so we turned it off, counted to twenty, then turned it back on again - nothing, not a flicker. Not only that we tried and failed to release the big lens from the camera body it was stuck fast. Now we were stuck carrying round 6 or 7 kgs and over a grand's worth of broken optics. We were devastated.
Worse was to come, after we'd met LR on his way back home and told him our tale of woe the sun came out and so did the birds after she'd told us it was all very quiet. Later down by the panoramic hide we had the really annoying view of two Lesser Whitethroats out in the open in great light almost together - a perfect photo opportunity, we even half-heartedly raised the camera just in case a miracle had occurred and the birds stayed put; no doubt if there had been life in the camera they'd have instantly done a bunk.
The bushes were alive with other warblers too, there were several Whitrethroats, Blackcaps and a Wren but no Garden Warblers today.
We got back to work in a right state of distrautness, but things were to change for the better when we spoke to a very nice and extremely helpful insurance lady. An hour later another insurance chap phoned asking details of the wrecked goods and told us replacements would be with us early next week. Out we went at lunchtime to Patch 2 feeling an enormous amount of relief and promptly found a Great Skua (172, P2 #72) giving a young gull a right serious chase which lasted well over five minutes before the gull finally succumbed to the skua's aggression.
This morning we were out at the usual time on Patch 2 to see AB already watching the sea further down at the next shelter. We didn't stay out  long there wasn't much to see at all. After no more then quarter of an hour we were back inside with nothing more than a roosting flock of about 1000 Knot and probably more than 500 scattered Oystercatchers feeding on the mud as the tide began to creep up despoiling the notebook's page.
After about half an hour sat driving our desk AB phoned saying there was a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull on the beach close to were we stand. We didn't need any persuading to dash out with the scope. It didn't take long to find it with AB's directions and it being quite obvious among the few Black Headed Gulls hanging around. Mediterranean Gull (P2 #73) on the Patch 2 list at long last - just how many tens of thousands of gulls have we looked at over the last eight months trying to find one?
There'll be a different one we'll find all on our own next time we take a peek over the wall no that the duck has been broken.
We had to go out again at lunchtime but we didn't last long it was very poor. After lunch we were just about to set off for an appointment when our colleague buzzed through to tell us a package had arrived - yes it was a brand spanking new camera and 600mm lens. That was some superb service we've received from our insurance company for which we are very grateful. We quickly assembled the kit put in the battery and card from the broken camera raced outside and fired off a few shots at a passing gull, just cos we could! And here it is - nowt special but surrounded by a powerful of relief.
So thankfully all's well that tends well.
Where to next? We're leading a moth n bat night tomorrow but the weather is looking a bit in the iffy side at the mo. We might get ouut somewhere before that though.
In the meantime let us know who's throwing themselves to the floor in your outback.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Osprey stops us jay walking for a ruff

The Safari was hoping to put the moth trap on last night but multiple weather forecasts suggested there would be showers through the first half of the night so we decided not to bring it out and set it up. A seemingly bad move as when we got up this morning the yard was bone dry, not a drop of rain had fallen overnight. Ahh well...with no moths to work through that gave us time to head out to the nature reserve. 
We pulled up by the gate to the wetland just as ST and her lovely new(ish) dog Max were leaving so we had to have a chat and a tickle of Max's ears. After chatting about doggies, holidays and the ridiculous planning application of yet more caravans this time actually ON the nature reserve we parted company, Max and S to their breakfasts us to the reserve. We'd not gone far when we looked for yesterday's probably-long-gone-by-now dead Common Shrew finding and moving a Brown Lipped Banded Snail (yellow background, one band) off the path before it got trodden on. Only a few steps further on we got a call from LR asking where we were. We told him we'd just come on site and he told us to look up and across to the nature reserve where an Osprey had just hovered over the water and got the gulls up. It didn't take long to pick out the bigger bird from the throng of gulls (MMLNR #98). Had we not met S we'd very likely have been much closer and the Osprey may well have been in range of the big lens we had with us, having said that it was lovely to have a stroke of Max's super-soft fluffy coat.
LR met up with us at the 'vis-mig' gate but by then the Osprey was long gone. From there we mooched down to the viewing platform where the early morning sunshine was dreadful to look into. Next we walked down to the scrape passing not a great lot on the way, a couple of Blackcaps and Dunnocks and a Lesser Whitethroat but compared to the flock-fest yesterday it was very very quiet.
At the scrape there was a small flock of Lapwings but nothing else other than a few Mallards. LR went off home and we went to have a look round the corner for a look at the scrape from a different angle to see if anything was lurking out of sight - there wasn't but we did hear a couple of Cetti's Warblers on our walk round.
Another look at the scrape on our return to get a count of the Lapwings revealed we'd missed a Ruff (MMLNR #99) earlier, or it dropped in unnoticed while we were walking round to the second viepoint. Either way it was a good find they're few and far between on the ground here.
The walk back to tour old cabins was uneventful apart from the large flock of Goldfinches we saw yesterday although today they were on the opposite side of the path.
The Elder bush at the cabin was empty of ripe berries and therefore birds too. The Rowan has plenty of berries but it was now we realised we'd been on site for well over an hour and not seen a Blackbird yet. There wasn't even one feasting on the jewel red berries the other side of the fence today. A Jay flew past us though landing in the willows at the western end of  the reserve, just the second we've seen here this year.
By now we were getting in dire need a brew and some breakfast so it was back to the car we went, no sign of the Ring Necked Parakeet this time.
A quiet but oddly productive early morning out.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow, wonder what'll be out there.
In the meantime let us know who dropped unannounced in to your outback.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Green but not green enough

The Safari was out early on the nature reserve this morning. We were hoping the overnight thunderstorm might have dropped some good stuff in.
Thankfully the horrendous rain had stopped and the paths were actually quite dry. We've been getting reports over the last 10 days or so of numbers of shrews from our mate LR. He's seen lots of them lying dead on several of the paths but seemingly uninjured. Today we hadn't got far through the gate from the car when we spotted one, probably caught out in the rain last night and got chilled. With their super-fast metabolic rate it doesn't take long for them to snuff ti if they can't find sufficient food very quickly.
The short bald tail tells us it's a Common Shrew
The wetland and rough fields were devoid of birdlife, our chances of picking up a Whinchat for our year-list challenge with Monika are looking slim now.
While looking for any hint of movement in the long vegetation our eye caught sight of something much nearer. The Hedge Bindweed is in flower, we used to be frightened of it but have learned it's not all bad and provides useful late summer feeding opportunities for a whole host of insects especially bees and moths. This one flower was looking out over the fields, most off the others were facing the path. It's not often you see them photod from the 'wrong side'. The raindrops add a little extra dimension too.
Wandering dowm the path we found our favourite Elder bush just about empty of birds. A few minutes standing there waiting for the action to happen gave us only a Blackcap, a Whitethroat and a Blackbird, the latter in the Rowan rather than the Elder. We didn't know it yet but all the action would be found further down the track.
We had a look at the water but the light was awful, good enough to count roughly 100 Coots though. A wisp of six Snipe flew round but didn't appear to land in the scrape. From there we went to the next hide and it was on the track down to it that the action happened, there was a huge mixed flock of birds flitting here there and everywhere. Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, even a couple of Dunnocks had joined the party. We checked through the throng carefully for any Garden Warblers failing miserably but did find at least two Lesser Whitethroats
At the scrape there was no sign of the Garganey today nor any Green Sandpipers, one of which had been seen yesterday. No Wood Sandpipers either, in fact no waders of any description at all.
Heading back a dog walker told us he'd seen a big green parrot "at the far end"...interesting, we'd heard there was a Ring Necked Parakeet seen not long since. Passing the wildflower paddock area a superb flock of about 40 Goldfinches feeding on the Knapweed seedheads. Most of them were juveniles indicating a good end to their breeding season after an iffy start when bad weather seemed to knobble many of their first broods.
Back at the viewpoint overlooking the mere we flushed a moth from the pathside vegetation. We spotted where it landed and fired off a few shots through the vegetation - a lovely Green Carpet.
A heavy squall blew through and once it was over a big flock of Lapwings went over the fields at the far end, about 130 or more, with them were four smaller waders probably Ruff rather than Golden Plovers.
No sign of the parrot yet but as we nearer the path to the car we heard it squawk loudly, do they ever squawk quietly? And then we saw a shape disappear over the hedge so no chance of a pic. Hey-ho but still Ring Necked Parakeet (171, MMLNR #97) made it on to our year list without the need for a trip to their usual cemetery haunt.
To end our trip a nice big female Sparrowhawk flew past us chased by another little flock of Goldfinches.
Back at Base Camp we had chores to do but once done we sat out in the garden enjoying the sunshine when we heard a high Curlew going over.
Where to next? Bank holiday tomorrow so we could be out somewhere or other.
In the meantime let us know who's squawking loudly in your outback.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Mixed fortunes on the beach

The Safari has had three days of groups on the beach on the trot which is good. Yesterday we were out early before work on the nature reserve again. The signs promised a good session and we were thrilled to see the Elder bush by our old cabin full of birds again. The, or most likely a different, Garden Warbler was feasting away with Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat, Woodpigeons, Blackbirds and a couple of Chaffinches, but strangely we only saw one Blackcap.
It all went quickly down hill once we left there though with very little else seen until we got to the scrape where the Garganey was still in residence and still too far away for a pic. Today there were three Teal with her. Behind us in the trees both Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs sang and we heard Long Tailed Tits conversing with one another but didn't see them. A Cetti's Warbler sub-songed from the reeds in front of us.
We couldn't see any waders on the scrape but the water level was up a bit after Monday's torrential rain, so we walked round the corner to get the other angle. From there we couldn't see any either. Walking back we passed another Elder bush full of ripening fruit and this one too had a Garden Warbler in it, that's the first time we've ever had two on site in one day! The rest of our visit was very quiet and even the Elder bush by the cabins had now been stripped of its ripe berries and the bids departed.
The sun got up and it got hot, just right for exploring the beach. but our group today was thwarted by the doldrum-like calm weather which had left the 'rockpools' full of debris washed off the marshes and lowest sand dunes by the recent spring tides. We looked and looked but couldn't find much in comparison to the day before...the normally super-abundant Brown Shrimps, Common Prawns and Green Shore Crabs were hard to find, even the shells on the beach weren't particularly inspiring; thank goodness for the Blennies and Sand Gobies...How different can two days be!
Today was totally different again. There was lots to find. The Sand Gobies and Blennies were still about in good numbers but so were the shrimps and prawns. As for the Green Shore Crabs, loads were potted, some really big ones too. It was an altogether different day. A wanderr along a bit of a strand-line looking for shells to show the group had us finding this little beauty. An Oyster Drill shell, we've only ever found one or two of these before so were really chuffed to show it to the children even if they weren't over impressed by its diminutive size.
Other goodies we spotted down there were a very old worn piece of Native Oyster shell and a large piece of broken Iceland Cyprine, the gang didn't believe Oysters used to be the fast food of the day and didn't think a shell could live for several hundred years.
Sadly once again our hands were too wet and sandy to get the camera out so we only have the saved Oyster Drill shell to show you - that's going in our collection to take to schools and events.
Our marine life is jam-packed with fascinating facts to learn so get a net and get out there exploring.
Where to next? We've got a long weekend so an early start on the nature reserve is looking likely tomorrow morning.
In the meantime let us know who's just lying there waiting to be discovered in your outback.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The robin twitters his autumn song

The Safari was home late from work today and as we opened the car door we heard the distinctive twitterings of a Robin from the back garden. It was the autumn song in a 'minor key' we heard rather than the 'major key' of the spring song. The night's are drawing in and migrants are in the air.
Yesterday morning we got an early call from AB saying the weekend's Purple Sandpiper that had been found on Patch 2 was still there. We were on our way out anyway and soon found AB looking at the bird below us on the beach. As we made our way to the steps to join him a Peregrine flew over our head, only our second on Patch 2 this year. Down on the beach we had a quick look at the Purple Sandpiper (169, P2 #71) which walked along the bottom of the wall with about a dozen Turnstones and then promptly went to sleep. Sadly we were short of time and the office was beckoning so we couldn't stay out much longer and had to 'tick n run'.
Just as well as the rain started and by eck did it come down, flood warnings were issued on some of the local rivers. Fortunately it eased by our late lunchtime and we were able out get out again but by now the tide was high and the sea fairly rough so the Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers had gone elsewhere to roost.
Passing us going south in dribs and drabs were about 30 Sandwich Terns. In the distance the gulls were mooching around off shore. We spotted a couple of more distant birds swirling around which turned out to be a couple of Arctic Skuas. After a few circuits of the gulls and not finding anything to steal from them they drifted out to sea away from us.
Today we had another look for the Purple Sandpiper but wasn't able to find it. It may have gone or been elsewhere along the wall but we had a group coming so didn't have time to go searching further afield. Some Turnstones were on the rocks as usual.
But far more unusual were three Common Sandpipers that were mooching around at the edge of one of the runnels close to the bottom of the wall. They wouldn't keep still nor would they allow close approach.
Our group arrived and we were soon on our way back on the beach with pots and nets. As we walked down the slipway what we presume was a fourth Common Sandpiper flew past us. We're pretty sure it was a different one as the others had moved way down the beach together when we left earlier and we think any further disturbance would probably have pushed them even further south on their journey to the tropics.
The children soon had some super finds to show us including two tiny Common Starfish neither more than half an inch across. Soon plenty of juvenile Blennies were in the pots as were good numbers of Common Prawns but all small juveniles, we didn't find any big adults today. There were also some small Green Shore Crabs but it wasn't until almost the end of the session that we found a large one to show the children. 
Right at the end of the session we overhead a dog walker pulling her mutt away from something on the beach, at first we thought she said "jellyfish" but she had actually said "dogfish". As the group were getting ready to leave we went to investigate - it was indeed a dead dogfish,  - or at least a Lesser Spotted Catshark, a victim of manhandling by an angler. That was great as earlier we'd found a Mermaid's Purse from one. The little ones all had a stoke of its smooth skin and then felt the difference when they tried to stoke it the wrong way...Great fun was had by all. A proper dose of both Vitamin N and Vitamin Sea. 
With sandy and wet hands we couldn't get the camera out so sadly haven't got any pics of their finds to show you.
Where to next? We've got a late start tomorrow so a visit to the nature reserve is on the cards. 
In the meantime let us know who snuck out of your outback without so much as a by your leave.