Friday, 26 May 2017

To Botallack and back

The Safari has been away for a few days down to the far south west, just about as far south west as you can get. Since we've been back we've been on family duties with another terminal illness which ended with the inevitable conclusion yesterday. No matter how prepared you are it's still a shock to the system. Processing the holiday snaps and blogging has necessarily taken a bit of back seat. 
We went down to the Cornish tin mining village of Botallack in the heart of Poldark filming country, although he wasn't there at the time showing off his poor scything technique and 'his' mine is nowhere near there being half way between Helston and Falmouth. Cornish tin has been sought after since the Bronze Age over 4000 years ago and has its value led to the trade and immigration of people from all over Europe well into the Iron Age.
Most of what remains around Botallack is late 18th and 19th Century workings.
We were hoping to get several year birds and a good few pics for our Year Bird Photo Challenge but the weather conspired against us despite the sunny sunshine in the pic above, that was the exception rather than the norm. The norm looked more like this...
It doesn't look too bad in the village but out on the cliffs you couldn't see down to the sea much of the time. And when you could the light was very poor.
We did manage to add Fulmar (158) and Shag (159) to our  year list and we were very lucky to be alerted to the presence of a very swift Hobby (160) hurtling over the garden of our cottage by the alarm calls of the local Swallows.
Breaks in the weather enabled us to get very distant and grotty pics of
Fulmar (YBC #129)
Gannet (YBC #130)
Kittiwake (YBC #131)
 and
Manx  Shearwater (YBC #132)
We also go an awful pic of a House Martin (YBC #133) which we had to replace once back in Lancashire with a much better effort which at least shows their lovely blue sheen and white rump - the original didn't!
A couple of sunny days at the end of our week had us on the cliffs looking singularly unsuccessfully for Adders, which the locals repeatedly warned us about particularly with respect to sniffer here-there-and everwhere-Monty, we didn't even find a Common Lizard!
The wildflowers were good though with Bluebells still in good fettle, Red Campion coming through, the Gorse was a blaze of yellow and the scent of Coconuts from it was heady. Sea Campion and Thift were also in bloom.
One of the Gorse bushes was covered in the thin strands of the parasitic plant Common Dodder. unfortunately we were a couple of months too early to see the small white flowers.
 Birds up on the cliffs included a pair or two of Ravens
Innumerable Jackdaws our best views of sky diving Choughs - ever - - by a mile, but we had the wrong camera with us and nesting Fulmars.
Raptors were represented by a Peregrine Kestrels
A very foggy hour saw a loose flock of about 25 Swifts and a few Swallows going south hugging the edge of the cliff.

Also out there were a few Linnets and a family of very unapproachable Stonechats

Doh - right at the limit of the macro lens
With the sun not being out much we saw few insects other than bumblebees. This Small Copper would have provided a better pic had Monty not wound his lead round our legs as we were trying to get in a better position to show both its wings.
We saw few other buttterflies up there, just a couple of Common Blues and a pair of very fast swirling brown things - (Small) Pearl Bordered FritillariesTalking of Monty we took him down to the dog friendly beach near Penzance most days where he had a whale of a time mashing up seaweed
While we watched his antics we had a go at some stone balancing
Shoulda gone for 15 layers + the base stone

Half way through our balancing act a Painted Lady butterfly flew across the beach and settled briefly  on a nearby Dandelion, we're pretty sure it had just come in off the sea after crossing from France! We grabbed the phone for a pic but after a very quick slurp of nectar was on its way again up and over the railway line and heading ever onwards to the north.

A day trip to St Ive's had us trying to do some serious art - well you have to in this artists' town

Fore Street - where it all happens
Arty harbour - must go when the tide is in next time!
Our last day in Cornwall had us chatting to the locals at the garden gate when something moving in the grass by our feet caught our eye. A Fox Moth, a bit bedraggled but not a bad find and apart from a couple of Light Brown Apple Moths and a White Shouldered House Moth (in the cottage - where else!) we saw no other moths.
On our last walk on the cliffs we spotted a bizarre wall, there's always a wall, why do humans have the need to build them everywhere? What on earth was the purpose of this one. A bit of a scary build for someone too we reckon.
It was high above the world famous and often photographed Crown Mines who's shafts extend out under the seabed.
Not a great place to be working in a fierce Atlantic storm
And our week away ended with a bit of a sunset
Keeping our usual journey statistics we had the following in our nearly 1000 mile round trip of mostly motorway, although the drive down wasn't good weather for raptors to be up and about:-
Kestrels just 1!!!!! Buzzards 16
Dead things: -  
Badger 8, 
Fox 4
Hedgehog only 6 - where are they - what have we done?????
Stoat 1
Our general appraisal of the English countryside is that it offers very little by way of habitat or food for much wildlife at all. The number-plate of the car had barely a squished insect on it on our return and we don't think we needed the windscreen squirter all holiday - where are all the insects - never mind the biodiversity, where is the bioabundance???? Green it might be but it's also a biological desert, there's probably more life in the depths of the Sahara!
Where to next? We've had a couple of extra days off and been a couple of places we can tell you about next time.
In the meantime let us know who's being digging all the holes in your outback


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Frustrating ticks

The Safari has been out and about to all sort of weird and wonderful places this last week. The week started well with friend LGB phoning to say a couple of Little Terns were on their way to wards us past his watchpoint down the prom. Great stuff and a big thank you as they aren't a species we can guarantee to see on Patch 2. The eventually came past but were a little distant to 'enjoy' properly still they made it on to the list, Little Tern (147, P2 #48). More enjoyable was the lone Black Tern (14, P2 #49) milling around going back and forth with 11 Arctic Terns followed by a couple of Common Terns (149, P2 #50). So at last we got to see one of the throng of Black Terns that passed through the country last week, what a relief! No chance of getting any of those on the Year Bird Challenge though, the easy two we'll pick up later in the season but the Black Tern won't now be entered in the challenge unless something weird happens.
Something weird happened when one of our work colleagues told us there was a dragonfly dead on the windowsill in the main hall. Further investigation revealed it wasn't (quite) dead and wasn't a dragonfly but a Blue Tailed Damselfly. We'd seen plenty of pics of Large Red Damselflies on social media but none of this species. It was a windy day with the wind from the east so it could have come from anywhere, even from our work's pond just a few feet away - a very thorough check of the edges and reed stems gave us no exuvia so it was most likely from elsewhere. We put it outside but didn't really rate its chances.

A visit to the zoo to help prep up for a Bioblitz later in the month gave us the opportunity for a wander round. We were looking for native species rather than at the exotics but we have to say the Aardvark is very cute if not particularly cuddly. By far the best find was among the dinosaurs, a species of Blood Bee, Sphecodes sp, we've not seen anything like it before and a look on the national database would suggest almost no-one else has locally either. They warrant further investigation and better pics! This one is a phone-pic as we didn't have a camera with us. One of the species is known as the Sand Pit Blood Bee and this one was in what could loosely be called a sand pit...but there are other very similar looking species.

Next up LCV and the children came to visit. A twitch was called for on Saturday morning when we just had to go and have a look at the two Wood Sandpipers that had been found the previous day, another species we can't guarantee to see in any particular year. See them we did but always at some distance in the muddy hollow of a farmer's field. Still it's always good to see a Wood Sandpiper (150, YBC #123).
One of the reasons LCV had come up was to go to see the now resident Pallid Harrier in Bowland - just about the most dangerousd place in England for any type of harrier, or falcon, or hawk, or anything else with a hooky beak. The pics floating round Twitter, Facebook, Flickr etc were impressive so we had to go. An early start was called for so the kids were in the car by 07.00, a bit cruel on a Sunday morning especial with the prospect of a 3 mile hike ahead of them, little P is only seven. But they didn't know about the length of the hike at that time - it was a surprise to come later!
Once parked up it didn't take long for the youngsters to find their stride and they soon covered 'Stage 1' - kept them in a better state of mind to have visible targets to reach on the hike. Not far into Stage 2 we heard a Cuckoo caliing from up the fell t oour left. Almost at the top it was and just out of effective range of the lens but we fired away anyway. Cuckoo (151, YBC #124) being mobbed by what we assume to be a Meadow Pipit.
A little further on we heard a Tree Pipit singing (152) but were unable to get a pic.
We were making good time despite slowing down to look for Common Lizards in any likely spot but sadly we didn't find any to show the children. At the bridge we peered into the water to look for fish, there's usually a few but none today. There was a Grey Wagtail (YBC #124) collecting food for its recently fledged chick on the rocks around the concrete spillway.
Unfortunately we didn't see the adult feeding the chick. A Common Sandpiper was also hunting invertebrates between the rocks nearby.
Birders coming down the hill, they must have been early risers!, told us the Pallid Harrier was still about and with that news the hill didn't seem so steep. We reached the fairly substantial crowd and had our breakfast picnic to the news that it had flown a good distant off and into the next valley. Not good but there was nothing to be done apart from watch and wait and enjoy the serenity of the mountain. LCV caught sight of a distant Ring Ouzel (153) and managed a digi-scoped shot.
And from the hillside opposite our vantage point we heard the go-back go-back go-back calls of Red Grouse (154) several times before spotting one and LCV took another digi-scoped pic.
Eventually the cry went up that the Pallid Harrier (155, YBC #126) was up and sky-dancing over the hill at the head of the valley. We could just about make it out in the bins and even through LCV's scope the views weren't much better. At about two miles away it was almost definitely the worst views of a Lifer we've ever had. The whole group hoped and prayed it would come closer, it did but not by much. At about a mile way it was just photographable, nothing like the awesome pics we'd seen over the past few days.
What made matters worse is by the time we'd got half way down the hill unbeknown to us it was doing a hat and cane routine right over the heads  of the watchers we'd just been standing with, but being time limited we'd had to leave - cruel!!!
On the way back down we kept eyes and ears open, hearing Siskins but not the hoped for and seen by everyone else Crossbills in the woods and spotting a family of Mallards shooting the rapids on the river.
There were plenty of Sheep about but most were shy and didn't want their photos taken.
This one was suckling a well grown lamb but to fit all the action in the frame of the big lens we'd have had to have backed off that far we'd have fallen ar*e over breakfast in to the river!
The riverside woods near the bridge almost at the end of the walk gave us two nice birds. The first we heard first doing it's lovely thrush-like warble and using the song we located it high in the branches of an Alder tree on the far bank. Stunning views with the bins of one of our favourite birds, a male Redstart (156). It took a bit of finding in the twiggery of the treetops with the camera and once we had found it found it a b*gger to focus on - we know - - shoulda used manual focus!!!). A millisecond before we pressed the shutter button it stopped singing and did a flit.
dohhhh
Just our luck!!! But hey-ho it is an identifiable blur so counts towards the Year Bird Challenge (YBC #127).
A few yards further on a small group of birders and photographers had gathered and were looking up at the top of an Ash tree on our side of the stream. A cracking male Pied Flycatcher (157, TBC #128)

Ice cream ended a memorable but slightly frustrating walk in the hills.
Back at work on Monday we saw the first of the season's Cinnabar moths emerging from the grass in our wildflower area. What little belters they are!
In other late news we've been stuck in the office and missing passing Puffins, not an easy bird to come across along our coast. But did see our first Pipistrelle bat of the year, at Base Camp, last night. Hope this isn't the only sighting of the year, we only saw one at Base camp all last year and that was in April. A lunchtime look over the sea wall this lunchtime didn't give us any Puffins which we'd hoped for but just about the first thing we did see other than a few white dots on the sea which turned into Gannets was a pod of about four or five Bottlenose Dolphins way out on the horizon. We called some passers-by over for a look but they were too far into the haze to be seen with the naked eye. We then saw a second pod of two or three animals, maybe more, about a mile to the north of the others. The next half hour was awesome watching them chase, charge and leap after their unseen fishy prey with a melee of Gannets and gulls above them, no skuas came in though which we thought they might given the commotion - what a way to spend your lunchtime - - lucky lucky us - so lucky we almost forgot about not seeing any Puffins! You really can't beat a bit of blubber!
Where to next? We've taken Monty round a new site for him and have a couple of pics to show you and there may be a more far flung safari in the offing, we're not sure yet.
In the meantime let us know who's leaping seriously high in your outback.