Thursday, 28 February 2013

Feels like spring


The Safari set foot outside to a crisp morning, frost blanketed the roadside grass verge and was accompanied by a beautifully clear view of the waning gibbous moon. Despite the sub-zero temperature much birdsong was heard as the reddening hues of dawn started to glow above the eastern horizon.
Blackbirds, Robins, Dunnocks, a Wren and a distant Song Thrush were all heard on our short excursion...Poor old Frank has hurt himself again; too much jumping round like a puppy than is good for him at his age, so we didn’t get far or stay out long.
Driving into work we could see that the sea conditions were just about as perfect as you can get and we were eager to grab the scope and get out onto Patch 2. Needn’t have rushed! The settled conditions had brought anything new in, the same Common Scoters were there but visibility further out was poor so numbers appeared to be down a little. Only six Great Crested Grebes were found and a single Red Throated Diver. 
On the beach we counted 31 Sanderlings and 14 Redshanks but didn’t count the not so many Oystercatchers it was almost gull-less. All a bit samey unfortunately... Overhead three single Pied Wagtails made their way south and keeping the three theme three Blackbirds poked about on the frosted grass by the hedge at the front of the office...indicating a bit of movement???
At lunchtime the tide was almost full. The beach was gone and the sea was unchanged apart from fewer grebes and double the amount of Red Throated Divers. Away on the hazy horizon many dark spectral shapes were Cormorants, the nearest signs that there might be some fish about. With nothing doing apart from the lovely (and by now warm) sunshine we reluctantly returned to our desk only to learn that FOUR Harbour Porpoises and at least 10x as many Common Scoters had just been seen at the other end of town...cruel - don't you just hate it when you're in the wrong place at the right time!
Mid-afternoon saw us wandering down the corridor mug in hand towards the brew room, looking out of the windows we noticed a bloke heaving slices of bread around that had attracted a good number of Black Headed Gulls, a Common Gull and a couple of Herring Gulls. So many gulls that they’d polished off all the bread before we had a chance to double back and grab the camera for some in-flight shots. 
Where to next? More of the same and with no change in the weather forecast it could well be exactly that - more of the very same.
In the meantime let us know what was (annoyingly) found just outside your outback

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Wake up and smell the coconuts

The Safari reckons you might not want to get your snozzer too close

Stonking full moon this morning when we took Frank out.
Nothing of note on the sea today again just the same number of Common Scoters as yesterday, around the 750 mark. Six Great Crested Grebes were seen. By lunchtime only the scoters remained for the high tide no grebes being seen.
With the Gorse coming into flower in the works's garden spring is deffo trying to sprung. Only three weeks to thee first Wheatear, Sand Martin and singing Chiffchaff. Today the first report of an Osprey we've noticed this year came on BG admittedly from Cornwall but it's an encouraging start.
But there may yet be plenty of winter stuff to find before those early migrants grace the notebook.
Where to next? More of the Patch 2 same but will it be the same, must be due a Rock Pipit!
In the meantime let us know how spring-like it's getting in your outback.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Lean patch

The Safari hasn't had a chance to get out much over the past couple of days and the camera hasn't seen light of day at all.
Garden news is that a Wren snuck in to become 20th species of the year and this morning a big flock of Starlings from the pier roost flew over our airspace making 21. Wonder if we'll get any actually grounded this year, might have to put some mealworms out later in the spring.
Patch 2 gave us nothing yesterday in splendid viewing conditions. This morning conditions weren't quite so good but we had 138 Oystercatchers on the beach with many hundreds more over our southern boundary. Out at  sea about 750  Common Scoters lurked in the little white ponies, better were 16 Eiders, a good sized flock for this stretch of the coast hardly noteworthy only a few miles further up wherever we were on Sunday though. Ten Great Crested Grebes was nice with a pair over a mile out going through their dancing display, no chance of making a nest out there is there!
At lunchtime two Red Throated Divers had joined the throng, still in their winter garb.
Lovely glowing red orb as the sun set this evening but no chance of a pic.
Where to next? Doesn't look as if Patch 2 will produce in the calm settled conditions but you never know what might pop out of the waves.
In the meantime let us know if it's all settled down in your outback.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Dashing around slowly

The Safari did the WinterTthrush survey yesterday and found only 13 Blackbirds and a big flock of Starlings - OK we know they aren't thrushes but you can count them. More Blackbirds were seen before the start of the survey and then at 'half time' when we went to have a look at the nearby lake to try to 'up'  our NBPT list.
We did find seven Bee Orchid rosettes on the old tip but nothing of note in the reedbed unfortunately. There was loads of Lesser Celandine waiting for an hour of sunshine to burst their flower buds open.
on the lake we had two male and two female Pochards but only three Teal. Two Mistle Thrushes weren't far off survey but far enough not to be included.  A Reed Bunting was a nice find on the 'isolated' pond by the flats and in the Community Orchard we found our only other thrush of the day a Redwing.
Today we decided not to go far and headed up to the Fleetwood area only to be thwarted by dog walkers, joggers and model yacht sailors. 
We called in at the Point but there was very little on the sea apart from a small flock of Eider but behind us in the dunes/golf course area a Skylark (114) sang - lovely to hear those sweet notes again. Ingleborough Hill looked lovely in the sunshine with its cap of snow, A small flock of Sanderlings were promptly disturbed by a tide line jogger just as they were getting into a good close position...he must have seen what we were doing but carried on between us and the birds rather than doing a minor detour round the back of us - thanks mate NOT!


Frank had a little swim before we moved 1/4 mile down the road to the boating lake where we hoped to see some Red Breasted Mergansers but only saw model yachts. We looked at the Turnstones roosting on the bank in between being disturbed by dog walkers. They refused to come close to the food unlike three Pigeons, one of which is/was as racing bird as can be seen by the ring, no doubt some pigeon fancier is calling for a cull of Sparrowhawks cos his bird;s gone missing.




One Turnstone did deign to come back and land within range of the lens.
Enough time had been spent here so we moved to the nearby Nature Park - aka dog toilet - naturalists were outnumbered about 50: 1 by dog walkers who were themselves outnumbered by their mutts 3:1
We had a look at the pools and heard but didn't see a wickering Little Grebe. Nothing spectacular amongst the gulls but on the more accessible pond there was mayhem with two Staffies trying to attack the resident Mute Swans, the owners were nowhere to be seen for ages then laughed it off as a bit of fun...not for the swans we don't think. No they weren't hoody types but a middle class looking family.


We didn't look at the estuary having had our fill of unruly mutts it was time to give the very staid Frank a rest in the back of the Land Rover - his arthritis in his front legs is getting bad - so we crossed the river in the hope of some farmland birds.
We went straight to the feeding station where there were very few birds but luckily three of them were Yellowhammers (105). Not the best of pics but you get the gist.


We waited and waited but nothing, and surprisingly no-one, came. Just a Robin, a Woodpigeon and a Blue Tit until a Stock Dove called by.

We moved round to the other feeding station to find a car parked down the track and two photographers enjoying stonking views of a Barn Owl hunting a bit of a paddock...it was kind enough to land on a very close post.

One for Warren down at Pittswood, Kent ;-)
This was one of three Barn Owls we saw today but no sign of the Short Eared Owl or the Hen Harrier.
Frank was now needing to stretch his legs so we went to the 'Chicken Reserve' on the marshes. The tide was well out and there were thousands of geese on the saltmarsh. We scanned and scanned and scanned and more came in but no sign of the Snow Goose with them. Plenty of snow in the distance though.

 Lots of Little Egrets out there too; we've not photo'd three together before.
It was now getting near tea-time and we'd not ate nor drunk since early breakfast so we headed back to Base Camp a little disappointed with the day but we certainly couldn't grumble with the fantastic spectacle of all those geese in the air and the sound of them was simple awe inspiring, even some boy racery type chavs in the car park stopped what they were doing and looked up commenting "corrrr look at all those berds!". And it's not all about ticking off lists is it...
Back home there was a surprise...you must have heard the phrase "reduce, re-use, recycle" well here's a splendid example of re-using...

OK so they're Daffs not Celery but it's better on our window sill than in a landfill somewhere.
Where to next? Wonder if Patch 2 will give up the Velvet Scoter that was seen at the point yesterday...or even something for us to find ourselves, a Scaup would be nice.
In the meantime let us know what's not found its way into the notebook in your outback. 



Friday, 22 February 2013

The chase is on

The Safari loaded the Land Rover and set off southbound on the motorway.
We played our usual motorway spotting game and got a grand total of Buzzards 1 v Kestrels 0.
Dead things on the hard shoulder included a fresh looking Barn Owl :-( (M55), nothing other than numerous Pheasants in Lancashire – they were actually numerous in all counties, but in Cheshire we witnessed carnage with a Buzzard, a Badger and what looked like a Polecat/Polecat-ferret hybrid type thingy – we didn’t stop to get a DNA sample. Nothing of note other than Pheasants in Staffordshire.
Nearly two hours later we had survived the traffic and pulled into a truck stop to await the arrival of LCV. Not long after we’d shifted parking position by about ½ a mile and were now within spitting distance of a year bird. Loading loads of optics and tons of sandwiches into C’s car we drove the couple of hundred yards down the lane to view the (European) White Fronted Geese (107).
We needed have bothered about sneaking up on them as some other birders arrived while we were turning the car round and got out of their vehicle – fortunately the geese didn’t flush although they did get a little nervy. We took advantage of the little cover and got as near as we could, about 20 feet away!
Photo’s taken and notes written in notebook we got back in the car and hit the ancient hunting forest of Cannock Chase. 

Never been there before and even on this horrendously cold day looked pretty good.
He took us to an area of recently cleared plantation which only had a few stumps and a handful of standing hardwoods round the edge. A Great Grey Shrike has been seen here most days for months...if only it had been sunny like earlier in the week...not a sniff of the ferocious little beast. Apparently it regularly sits on the still standing tree poles...not today it didn’t.
A couple of Buzzards hung on the wind and a Raven (108) croaked gruffly as it passed even giving us some tumbling and upside-down aerobatics to enjoy.
A single Siskin (109) crossed the open ground but we didn’t see if it landed in one of the perimeter trees.
We walked all round the four or five acres of clear fell and scoped a smaller area on the far side of the valley to no avail.

It's supposed to be on the poles!
Only one thing to do and that was to move to another site. A few minutes and a few miles later we were at a different part of the forest with Crossbills as the target. In the car park someone had chucked some bread into the scrub at the side and a couple of Ravens were taking advantage with Magpies and Carrion Crows in attendance hoping they’d leave some scraps. Not a bad car park tick but too dark under the trees for any pics of a black bird.
Getting out of the car we quickly saw a Jay (110) and heard a Green Woodpecker (111) yaffling a couple of times in the distance. Walking down the main path it was obvious there was nothing flying about in the seriously cold stiff breeze.
Reaching the huge conifer plantation there was no evidence of any birds at all, not even the sheltered areas had easy conifer stuff like Goldcrests or Coal Tits, never mind any Crossbills.
Deciding it was deadly duff we headed back and met another out of town birder who had been told of a nearby feeding station which he kindly showed us, must have been the best well secreted feeding station we've ever known, we'd never have found it if Mr X hadn't taken us to it - cheers mate yer a star. This is where all the birds were. Jays, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, three male and two female Bullfinches, one of the males gave us our best bully pic ever – so far – and we don’t recall seeing them feeding on the ground before. 

Stonker - oh to have them in the garden
As well as the previous mentioned species lots of Blue and Great Tits, a Coal Tit or two and a flock of Long Tailed Tits were all taking advantage of the free nosh until a dog walker came by and flushed everything. An unknown number of Lesser Redpolls che che che’d overhead.
With just about everything except Crossbills bagged here it was time to depart for pastures – or more accurately reservoirs – new.
Close to a large landfill site is Kingswood pool, a fishing pit, which attracts a pre-roost of gulls dropping in for a wash n brush up before heading off to their main roost. We hit it bang on time, as we were getting in position large numbers of Lesser Black Backed Gulls started to drop in. Without wasting a moment we started to scan through them.
We soon found a couple of oddballs.
Anyone fancy an ID
1st winter = 2CY




 Next two are probable argentatus Herring Gulls.



 3rd winter what?








Apologies for the poor quality pics - too far away, no tripod so handheld and very windy, and very dull. But please let us know what you think on any of the four.
Then it was onto the main roost reservoir which was HUGGGGE. And the gulls were on the far side where there was a bit more shelter for them over night. There were thousands!!! Bliss! A female Goosander (112)
Only one way to do this - start at one end and work through...and no too many minutes later a1st winter Iceland Gull gave itself up....NICE!
We couldn't even see the whole flock from our very cold and exposed vantage point. Using a scratty Willow shrub be tried to get in as much shelter as possible so as not to have our eyes watering like a tap.
We didn't give the Black Headed Gulls enough attention so we didn't find any Mediterranean Gulls. Concentrating on the LWHGs we eventually found a thick square headed Yellow Legged Gull (113) two 2nd winter Glaucous Gulls (114) within about 1/4 of an hour of each other - job done!
With the light fading and the cold becoming bone-numbing we called it a day.
Very many thanks to LCV for the great company and showing us his cracking local patch; we're seriously thinking about a spring return for the summer visitors - could be very, very good.
Today wasn't brilliant but reports of 'new' Waxwings  here and there was interesting.
Where to next? The next episode of the Winter thrushes survey in the morning, how many and what else will we find?
In the meantime let us know if you've been off-piste from your outback.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Got the slippery little sucker

The Safari has DB to thank as she was good enough to come down at lunchtime and show us and the Young Uns where the invisible Limpet was. Well she thought she knew as it wasn't where she first thought it was. No it hadn't shot off elsewhere but was slightly off to the side of where we'd been looking.
Local 1st in the bag! When will be find the next?
There was a chance this arvo when we set off with the vols to clean our stretch of the beach as part of the Love my Beach campaign.
No Limpets and thankfully not much litter. But some of that limited litter was just a little of the wall. Well more like off the shelves in the cabinet stood against the wall in the 1970s...
Not your usual dumped on the beach rubbish...we're off to the Antiques Roadshow! The wee house has lost a chimney...but bizarrely AB found it about 50 yards further sown the beach.
After the beach clean we attacked the work's pond to remove as many of the 30 or so 3-Spined Sticklebacks in there before the breeding season. You wouldn't believe it, we eventually pulled out 70!!! One of them actually attacked us with its spines, only a tiny tiddler but it did get a spine in as we were easing out of the net. It felt like a Bramble thorn and was strong enough to easily hold the fish upside down on the end of our finger. It did swim off in good health but shocked us - we didn't think a 1cm long fish's spine would be sharp/long enough to penetrate the skin on the end of our index finger, plenty enough to put a predatory fish off a meal. We've always said with this nature game you learn something new everyday, and today was certainly no exception.
The fish were released at the big park where after letting them go into a quite corner of the lake we had a quick look around the wooded area nearby. Worth it! We had some of the best views of a Treecreeper (106) we've ever had; it flew past us from behind and landed at nose height about 18 inches in front us. It went slow up the tree without going round the far side. It then flew back past us to another tree where it typically landed at the bottom and did the same, not going round the back. We watched it for about five minutes never more than a yard away, too close to get the camera out of its bag without flushing it...didn't need the camera the memories will last for ever...simply stunning. So close were we that we could see the tail feathers flexing as it shuffled up the tree.
Where to next? Gonna be hard to beat today as was a really cracking day but tomorrow we've got a surprise for you...we're traveling south out of Safari-land for a birding day with the Little C who's now quite big...really looking forward to having the day with him and being shown his local hotspots in a part of the country we just don't know.
In the meantime let us know what 'simple' wildlife gave the surprises in your outback.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Slip slidin away

The Safari reckons you can't beat a bit of Mr Simon.
We looked at Patch 2 for no more than 30 seconds today - total haze with no hint of horizon and in the absence of waves and/or ripples we couldn't tell what was sky and what was wet water.
To infinity and beyondddddd
We were on the beach to see if we could see the Limpet. we asked DB where it was found to narrow down the search area. She said it was somewhere here.
We slithered around on the extremely (dangerously) slippery slope with absolutely no success what so ever. The slipperiness is provided by this little Hydroid. It's an animal (or at least a colony of tiny animals)

How hard can it be to find one of the most common shoreline species in the country?
We asked again if it was a small immature animal but no apparently it's an adult. Narrowing the search area further led us here.
Tomorrow we'll find it even if we need help from DB. We'll be on the beach anyway as it's our second Love my Beach beach clean between 1 and 2pm when we'll be heading northwards towards the pier this time. Please join us if you can.
After our slip slidin session we headed off to the nature reserve to add our support to the Public Consultation Event for the lottery bid we are helping develop. Good to see a decent turnout on a weekday afternoon. The next one is tomorrow evening after work so no excuses for not putting your four-penneth worth in - see link on right for details.
After the event ended we met up with some of the birders and had a mooch round. We'd just missed the Bittern and there weren't many gulls on. To be honest we spent more time chatting about the future of the reserve than doing any serious birding. The weather was superb, the afternoon light making the ducks positively glow. The Coot were good value, starting their territorial disputes and have a right old do at each other, sharp clawed yellow feet flying everywhere!
A wander up the top end had Young Un AB beckoning us to hurry. we didn't and saw the briefest bit of a Bittern drop into the reeds at the far end from where we'd just come from. 
Again we hung around and chatted and would you believe it a second Bittern popped up out of the reeds and flew across the mere not far from where we were stood! Very nice to have more than one on site again.
Great to see everyone out enjoying the birds and the sunshine; not so nice to see the handiwork of an unknown number of drunken yobs who had totally trashed the Feeding Station and its hide - arsewipes the lot of em.
Where to next? Some gardening jobs with the Young Uns in the works garden for the first time this year and then back on the beach tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know if summer snuck in to your outback today.
Talking of summer two reports of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies came in today...must be summer!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Hits and misses

The Safari went out this morning at the usual time and it was light! Or at least very nearly so. Overhead we heard what sounded like a small flock of Jackdaws but looking up we discovered as is often the case with this species it was a 'flock' of one. Fortunately it's flightpath was straight over Base Camp's chimney so it became 'garden' year bird #19. Unlike the Wren we saw when we were leaving the house to go to work - no lights needed on the Land Rover this morning for the first time this year - said Wren was in next door's bush on the corner of their wall and had we left a minute earlier would probably have seen it flit there from our garden so Wren remains a serious gap in the list.
At work we  had an update from the Shoresearch organiser DB with a species list from her team. All the usual suspects and a Common Limpet (Patella vulgata). Nothing too unusual in that you might think - well think again it is our first official record. As far as we know none have been recorded along Blackpool's coastline before. DB thinks she may have seen one or two before but might not have realised the significance. They have been found just over our northern border at Fleetwood. In seven years looking for them we've certainly not found one! So we had a quick look for it before the tide came in at lunchtime without success - we looked under the Spiral Wrack and in the cracks between the pots but no luck - well it can hardly have gone far can it! Another look tomorrow should be easier as the tide is an hour later giving us a bit more time.
No chance to look at Patch 2, with an errand to run and the Limpet fiasco using our time at lunch although we did nearly get speared by a very low and very close Turnstone going to roost. Patch 2 in the morning was a misty murk of uselessness with just a few small flocks of close-by Common Scoters able to be seen.. Seems like all/many of the Great Crested Grebes have headed inland to freshwater. A very nice set of dancing pics from the big park by CR can be seen here...but given the weather forecast for later this week they may well be frozen off and and back on the patch.
Today's weather was mild and spring like as witnessed by the sighting of two convertibles with their tops off today and two reports of unID'd Bumble Bees coming in, both probably White Tailed Bumble Bees. We on the otherhand did a quick bit of gardening once back at Base Camp after work and had the good fortune of an Eristalis pertinax hoverfly landing on us...must  be summer!
No chance of a pic today despite the sunny conditions :-(. You would have got a Limpet but...some you win and some you don't.
Where to next? We'll be on safari somewhere tomorrow and we do have a trip to the nature reserve planned for the afternoon to attend one of the Consultation Events so come along if you can, have a look at the plans and give us your five penneth worth.
In the meantime let us know whether it's summer or winter in your outback.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Owls in the 'burbs


The Safari ventured on to the beach this morning with the Shoresearch crew who'd come to survey our rockpools. After a brief briefing we set off along our allotted section of beach armed with our notepads, ID guides and quadrats. Our team were 'the no climbing up the wall' brigade and we 'randomly' placed our quadrats at 10 sites along the wall, some were low enough to need the expertise of Mike 'The Swish' and his shrimp finding sieve.





We had to take pictures of the Barnacles cos we can never remember their IDs. We seem to have a mental block when it comes to Barnacles.

In this pic you can see Spiral Wrack,Purple Lava and a tiny bit of Gutweed with the unidentified Barnacles.



We didn't take much notice of any other beachy wildlife only really hearing a Turnstone somewhere and watching someone's mutt chasing a few Black Headed Gulls.
After we got back we did a bit of gardening in the mild sunshine, hacking some of our Buddliea back to encourage more flowers in the summer and a bit of general spring tiding of dead stems. Some signs of spring were seen, Cowslips shooting, Peony buds emerging from the soil and quite a lot of unwanted grass that'll need attention in due course. After an hour or so we had to give up as we'd filled our 'green' wheely-bin to bustin and the material was too stout for our composters.
Then it was back to the owls as the sun was dropping.
It didn't take long to find the Barn Owl, if a little distant. Arrowed in case you couldn't find it :-)

We snuck up on it as stealthily as the SAS might but it did one well before we made any significant inroads into reducing the gap between us. Then we saw a Stonechat and snuck up on that instead. We hid below a low mound and waited but the Stonechat wasn't seen again and we assume it had gone to roost.
With no further sign of the owl we went back to the track, whereupon it reappeared on a post not 20 feet (7m) from where we'd been lying...drat!


Not much else was about this evening and deffo no Short Eared Owls - they are now firmly on the 'dipped' list!
Sunset was nice again
All these clouds are from aeroplane con-trails.
Where to next? What will Patch 2 hold tomorrow?
In the meantime let us know what's going to make it onto the dipped list in your outback.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

To owl or not to owl...

The Safari went back to Australia this arvo watching the film Red Dog with Wifey set way up on the NW coast of the Pilbara some 1600 miles north of Maroo Wildlife Refuge where we think the threatening fires have been brought under control; that's about the same distance as from Blackpool to Barcelona or about 1/2 way across WA - it's a vast place! At times you can feel the wide open spaces of the NW WA, smell the heat and taste the red dust...The dog looks a bit like Frank would do if he had pointy ears. we get all emotional at the part when...well we won't spoil it for you you'll have to watch it  yourselves.
After the film we went up the road a few miles to look for the Short Eared Owls that have been hunting the rough ground adjacent a school. As soon as we got there we thought we might be on a loser as there were dog walkers all over the place. But we were very pleasantly surprised by a Barn Owl (105) appearing mid-afternoon. A Buzzard soaring over a big flock of Starlings heading to thee pier and a Kestrel floated around from lighting post to fence posts and back.
Behind us the sun was setting over a very calm sea where a couple of flocks of Eiders were bobbing about and another flying towards us from the south. Couldn't find any mammals though.
In the field we got another couple of views of he Barn Owl but it wouldn't come close enough for a pic in the fast fading light. A Curlew flew out of low spot which got us thinking for a millisecond it might have been one of the Shorties. A Mistle Thrush was there too and we thought we heard a Skylark going over but we weren't concentrating enough and didn't hear it again...can't believe we've not had one yet this year!
The Pink Footed Geese went south while we were watching the Kestrel shifting to another vantage point - not windy enough for hovering today.
With still no sign of the Shorties we called it a day.
Back at Base Camp we had a rummage through the clips of video that Stealth-cam had recorded from its new hiding place on the garage roof. Hardly Oscar winning filming!
Magpie
video
Woodpigeon
video
Herring Gull
video
Where to next? Might try getting back to the school very early doors tomorrow before we join the Shoresearch crew.
In the meantime let us know who's out when they shouldn't be and not out when they should be in your outback.

Friday, 15 February 2013

7C and sunny....and a year tick!

The Safari got a year tick in the spring-like sunshine...a convertible BMW with the top down, well days you can do that don't happen often here so those that can take their tops off should certainly make the most of them.
Earlier, on arrival at work, we saw a strange looking thrush hopping around on the grass near the scene of yesterday's House Sparrow photo-shoot...a Sparrowhawk! (P2 #41). A works garden and Patch 2 rarity, seen annually but not very often!
The seawall was interesting with a slow but steady passage of Lesser Black Backed Gulls 37 were on the move northwards in small flocks during the quarter hour or so we were watching. A decent number of Common Gulls moving northwards too but we didn't count those. No Lesser Blackies on the beach, all were traveling over the sea. 24 Sanderlings were on the beach with a good few uncounted (again!) Oystercatchers.A drake Eider flew over them on its way to the river mouth.
A shoot out on errands in gorgeous spring sunshine gave us the opportunity to have another sneaky peeky at the Waxwings but there were none about.
Where to next? A bit of asteroid spotting this evening if the clouds disperse (hope it's not like the Russian one!)and a family day out of town tomorrow might provide a sighting or two to report.
In the meantime let us know what's whistling over your outback at 10,000mph

Thursday, 14 February 2013

We came we saw they went


The Safari enjoyed almost summery conditions today but with poor visibility from the middle distance but the beach was nice and clear today. A few gulls pecked hopefully at small remnants of shellfish wreck here and there. Concentrating on the outfall pipe we counted 22 Redshanks but didn’t count the Oystercatchers, more than 22 but well less than 100. Nothing out of the ordinary could be found amongst the gulls and just a single Turnstone could be seen working its way through the Mussels along the top of the pipe.
Out to sea nothing much was happening. Small flocks of Common Scoters were scattered about and that was about it...until we found a string of distant gulls.
Working along the line we saw that almost all of them were Kittiwakes with a handful of 1st winter Herring Gulls mixed in with them. We counted the Kittiwakes, all adults as far as we could tell, and got to 203. They were moving slowly south, with most of them dipping and dropping on to the surface at some time. Looked like they were feeding on something at the surface that was concentrated by the currents and/or tide in a long narrow strip. A Red Throated Diver took off from their midst.
The pleasant conditions made it hard for us to drag ourselves away a go back into work; it was nice enough to have been able to stand out there for a couple of hours!
A lunchtime trip to the post office gave us the chance to have another look at the Waxwings in lovely calm and sunny conditions. At least two were in a low tree near the berry bushes as we drove up. We parked up put the long lens on the camera and walked round the corner, managing to walk straight past a photographer sat by the fence without spotting him as we went...great camo gear he was wearing!
We had a look at the furthest berry trees as these would have given the best position to stand in relation to the sun but a Council landscape gang had recently been trimming the shrubs in that area – mostly Dogwood – isn’t the sole point of planting Dogwood to enjoy the deep red branches as the sap rises in the spring? So why do these ‘landscapers’ insist on cutting them down along with the spring flowering Forsythia and Flowering Currant bushes - - drives us mad! Should be simple horticultural ID and pruning knowledge. The general dumbing down of just about everything.
The Waxwings eventually took to the air from somewhere unseen and about two dozen circled a few times before landing in the Cotoneaster bushes we were stood by. None were in a good position for a pic and as we watched they shifted around until a Mistle Thrush came in and flushed them and off they went into the distance.
We waited around but there was no sign of them reappearing. All too soon it was time to head back to the office. Driving into the car park we spotted PL well away from his normal habitat trying to take pics of our House Sparrows. We had a brief chat and tried to get some pics ourselves. It’s difficult to get them without a background of brick wall, they have to sit up on the top-most branches of the hedge and you have to be as low as possible to get sky behind them. They don’t cooperate, getting low down into the thick of the hedge, well that is where the passing public have put the feeders.
We managed just one reasonable attempt.

Again we ran out of time and PL sauntered off to try his luck with the Waxwings. Hope he had better luck than we did!
Where to next? More Patch 2 and if it's sunny we might try for the Waxwings again before they decide to move  on.
In the meantime let us know if the sun shone for a change in your outback.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Too much snow, too much work, not enough safari-ing

The Safari hasn't been out much over the last couple of days. Who'd have thought teaching Yr 3 rocks n soils would be so much fun, never knew we knew so much about geology seeing as how we've never studied it - thank you Mr Google you're a star. And thank you Mr Ice Age for dumping such a fantastic variety of rocks, stones and pebbles in our gardens and on the beach. 
We were having so much fun that we didn't have time to stop off at the beach not far from school to watch the tide rise to see if any Jack Snipe would be flushed off the developing salt marsh there.
Today was a total snow out. We took Frank out just after 06.00 and there was no snow at all on the bitingly cold wind. The last few days have seen a bit of a dawn chorus developing. A Song Thrush in the distance from the Golden Triangle, several Blackbirds, Robins, a couple of Dunnocks and one morning even a Wren, a species not yet found in the garden at Base Camp this year. This morning there wasn't a peep from them. 
Patch 2 was a total snow-out we could barely see the other side of the road for the blizzardy conditions. No chance of seeing the sea never mind anything in, on or over it!
By lunchtime the snow had given way to heavy, cold, almost horizontal rain so we gave it a miss then too.
Where to next? Might actually get out on Patch 2 tomorrow but what will we find?
In the meantime let us know how deep the snow is in your outback.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Dominated

The Safari, having worked on Saturday morning, enjoyed a late start this morning. Late enough to get our Winter Thrushes survey done. Think we're going to have to rename it the Winter Blackbird survey as apart from two Song Thrushes all other thrush records were Blackbirds today, even those off survey at the start and end of the walk!
Little else was seen other than Woodpigeons and Magpies. At the furthest point of our route we went a bit further to the  lake and added Pochard (NBPT #39) to the list but not the Shoveler that was present over the weekend.
Wandering to the route we added a few more off survey Blackbirds and a nice flock of 12 House Sparrows, the on survey flock was at  least 30 but their favourite hedge has been 'tidied' for the spring and now offers no shelter/cover at all; suppose this is just about the best time for hedgerow maintenance, after the berries are all gone and with it ready to sprout again but it does look forlorn.
The football fields yielded another NBPT year bird in the shape of a lone Lesser Black Backed Gull (NBPT #40) with about 40 Black Headeds, a few Commons and a 1st winter Herring to bring the Pond Trail's total up equal to Patch 2's.
We tried to find the weekend Snipe in the reedbed but only succeeded in briefly seeing a female Reed Bunting. Someone has been very naughty and been driving a 4x4 up the bank overlooking the reedbed and making a right old mess of the ground - exactly the type of behaviour that gets the rest of us legit 4x4 drivers unfairly blamed and banned from many routes...not that being banned would stop these numpties anyway. Maybe there should be a 'pay n play' site locally where you can test your skills, nerve and vehicle to their limits (and sometimes beyond...oooohhh eeerrr), the nearest one is a good hour's drive away.
That was close and would have been very embarrassing
In the end we had 27 Blackbirds on survey and about the same off survey.
A quick visit to Patch 2 wasn't as expected, the sea was calm and fairly swell-free and visibility was good but there were only two Great Crested Grebes with a few Common Scoters and Cormorants to be seen... still no Harbour Porpoises for us although the boss found a dead one on the beach a the weekend...his note said it didn't smell too sweet!
A Kestrel nearly made it onto the garden list but missed by a dozen or so yards to the south.
No pics today.
Where to next? School again first thing tomorrow so only a lunchtime Patch 2 visit; might get a few minutes at a couple of other sites if we're lucky.
In the meantime let us know what's hitting the survey sheet in your outback .