Thursday, 11 September 2014

Another super summery day

The Safari is enjoying this bit of an Indian summer. We've had stuff to do indoors but managed a bit of a mooch round the garden in the afternoon and then Frank took us to Magpie Wood for half an hour.
Hoverfly having a chill in the morning sun - darned phone focused past it on the brickwork - dohhh
Autumn colour is beginning to form
Field Scabious continues to provide late summer nectar for bees and hoverflies
It pays to watch where you're going!
Mystery mud lined nest - should be Blackbird but don't they line with grass, has it washed/blown out?
Old man's beard - don't you just love the old 'country' manes of stuff
Mystery ornamental plant - from a bulb we think but does anyone have a name?
Bird sown Dog Rose hips
Very few Apples on the tree this year and they all look like this - a tad unappetizing wouldn't you say?
Out on the field by Magpie Wood we always look for fungi at this time of year and found this one lurking under the edge of the hedge
Think they're great when they've gone past their best and have started to decay like this one - great patterns and shapes from all that gooey mush - brilliant.
So there you have it just a few short minutes out on safari and we've found a load of interesting seasonal stuff for you - ain't nature brill - Always something to see and learn everyday!
Where to next? Not sure about tomorrow, might have a surprise for you all.
In the meantime let us know who's going all gooey in your outback.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Tide's up!

The Safari hi-tailed it down to the southern estuary after work yesterday in the hope of spotting the two Scaup that had been seen earlier in the day. We were far too late, the tide had dropped a long way and the light was atrcoious glaring off the wet sand/mud. The birds had probaly drifted down the river on the ebbing tide, so that was a dip.
Today we offered photographer BD a lift down the other estuary where a nice selection of scarcer waders have been seen over the last few days. Sadly he was down with lurgy and unable to join us. 
A wander along the saltmarsh path gave us a the last of the Sea Asters, a couple of weeks ago the marsh would have had a beautiful violet flush from the myriad of flowers.
We weren't the om;y birder at the appointed place and MF was happy to tell us how he'd seen the quarry birds yesterday. Not long later the estuary expert LGB joined us - must have been something good out there then!
The tide hadn't started to rise yet and there was acres of mud to scan and lots of hidden creeks for any number of birdies to hide in - but with the tide on the rise the acres of mud would soon disappear and the creeks would fill flushing out their feathered treasures.
Looking the other way was somewhat trickier!
A flock of about 20 Black Tailed Godwits were working the top of the mud but there was little else on view other than scattered Curlews. Then a small flock of Dunlin flew past us and whirled round - the call went up Curlew Sandpiper...but did we see it? We thought so at the time but looking back in our mind's eye we'd have liked a much more obvious view of the white rump to be certain so we've not included it on our year list challenge...have to go back! They flock picked up some others from somewhere and about two dozen flew off downstream over our heads.
The water's continued to rise and Redshanks became more agitated and then we heard a Greenshank (161) calling, it continued to call continuously most of the time we were there. 
We scanned and scanned but there was no further sign of the Dunlin flock. Eventually the waters rose to start filling the gully in front of us first flushing off the Heron, then the Black Tailed Godwit and finally the Little Egret which was shoved off it's feeding area by a particularly fierce tidal bore.
Within minutes of these pics being taken the gully was full and the island of mud in front of us gone, time to retrace our steps a few yards to have a look at the last bit of mud on our side if the river, just two Dunlins and a few Redshanks - no sign of the Little Stint.
We ended with a ten minute scan of the disappearing mud on the far side of the river but couldn't find anything other than the usual common species.
OK so one out of three (four if you count yesterday's dipped Scaup) isn't a great result and hasn't done us any favours in our year list but it was a lovely couple of hours on the river. Peaceful, no sounds apart from the piping calls of the waders and the lapping of the waters becoming a noisy race warm sun no wind to speak of and good company - do you really need anything more in life? well maybe a pint or two of good beer eh.
Where to next? Hmm not sure about tomorrow, possibly some early morning cetacean watching, always provided we can find one.
In the meantime let us know what was hiding itself very effectively in your outback.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Another jaunt into south west Wales

The Safari hasn't had a chance to get out today but as luck would have it our Extreme Photographer sent some pics through from a recent exploratory adventure. He's been able to get out n about more recently now he's settled in down in Pembrokeshire and is starting to discover the local hotspots as well as some quieter little visited backwaters that he says could well produce the goods like this Common Lizard did on a rock in a random field.
Where to next? Not sure what might happen tomorrow, hopefully we'll be able to get out onto Patch 2 for a shuffy.
In the meantime let us know who's basking in the sunshine in your outback

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Heavy duty digging

The Safari had a Sunday with a bit of a difference, we played host to a gang of teenagers. Seven of them came in a mini-bus to do a bit of gardening for us prepping up a little used area to make it safer for children and getting it ready for wildflower sowing and bog garden planting. Sadly we don't have a before pic and we weren't allowed to take pics of the crew while they were working.
The garden was originally a demonstration 'Carbon Neural' garden but the pond had been damaged by vandals and didn't hold much water but was still a 'falling' hazard for youngsters so the gates were never opened.
Our kids today came totally ill-dressed for gardening, one of the girls was in a going out/party type  dress but it was she who wielded the lump hammer to break off the WD40 smothered but still unopenable locks - the boys' efforts were puny.
Once in spades, forks and a mattock were used with great enthusiasm and effect. The idea was to reprofile the rear bank using the excess soil to fill the defunct pond - a simple task but there was a lot of pond to fill!
Some five hot hours later the task was just about finished. Stronger wire cutters would have moved the job on faster as would a larger workforce, we were expecting 14 only seven turned up but for inexperienced heavy duty gardening tool users they moved heaven and earth to complete the job - well about three tons of earth, not sure how much heaven!
As soon as we'd moved away once finished a Robin hopped down for a poke about to see if we'd unearathed any grubs for him - great to see.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot a few blue flecks of Meadow Cranesbill flowers, they are brill for bees. The idea is to plant some of the usual annual wildflower mixture on the bank behind the seat then plant some perennials in there too to attract moths, butterflies and bees amongst other insects for the kiddies to discover. The white area is crushed Cockles, so their limey conditions should be good for some low growing specialist plants.
The gang discovered three 7-spot Ladybirds, about the same number as we've seen all year except for the vast numbers on the seawall last April. Across the green we saw a Common Blue, Speckled Wood and a Small White butterflies. In-between all the huffing and puffing we heard our first Goldcrest (P2 # 69) and Chiffchaff (P2 #70) for the work's garden this year.
A great day watching youngsters work hard - we can't do it anymore, only 'supervise'! Don't let anyone tell you the youth of today are no good, there were seven here today who were very very good indeed and their efforts will be much appreciated by many in the months to come. Those last awful Phormiums at the back will have to go though - we can't abide the useless things.
Where to next? A busy day tomorrow with a class of kids learning about all the different Ice Age deposited rocks on the beach in the afternoon.
Let us know who's been wielding the hardware in your outback.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Where does the time go?

The Safari wasn't expecting to find water in the mothy again...yes it drizzled overnight! There wasn't mush inside, a small number of Large Yellow Underwings and a couple each of Garden Carpets and Light Brown Apple Moths. Here's a Garden Carpet milliseconds before take off....we hadn't cooled it long enough in the fridge!
A lazy morning ensued but Wifey had to go to work and she could take Frank so we had the option of staying in following the youngsters #VisionforNature conference on Twitter or go out for a mooch. The conference would have fascinating but when faced with a choice of in or out, out almost always wins hands down and so it was today and out we went to the nature reserve.
But then distaster happened. Only yards through the gate we stopped to admire a patch of Tufted Vetch at the side of the path and went to take a pic 'Internal memory full - please insert card' Drat drat and double drat the SD card was still in the puter after downloading the above moth pic, ah well we'll use the phone...oh no we wont a fumble through the multitude of pockets told us we'd left that back at Base Camp too.
What to do now we were scuppered? Thank goodness we'd brought a notebook so we made good use of that and will have to describe our day in words which you will have to translate into images in your imagination - we believe it's called story telling...Always assuming we can read our handwriting!
It was warm but overcast with a light breeze from the north that gently rustled the drying end of summer leaves. Speckled Wood butterflies danced in the lee of the bushes one alighting briefly on a cluster of shiny black Elderberries.
Over the still distant mere a soaring Buzzard spooked a large number of Woodpigeons; in the intervening wet meadow patches of bright blue revealed late flowering Meadow Cranesbills and the locations of the now dry ponds were punctuated by the spikes of Purple Loosestrife.
The leaves of the White Poplar trees shimmered like silver when the wind caught them but the flat brown crowns of the long gone over patch of Hogweed stood tall and firm.
Several Common Carder Bees worked the large meadow at the nature resservewhich is a little past its best now, all that is still in flower and providing essential late nectar was plenty of Hoary Ragwort and scattered heads of Red Clover. It looked like there'd been a splendid show of Black Knapweed (which is purple!) and Tufted Vetch a couple of short weeks ago. Hawthorn bushes in the adjacent scrub were bedecked with red berries, these won't be flailed to within an inch of their lives like most of their farmland cousins And we wonder why there's no farmland birds - HINT leave the flail in the shed and don't destroy all the winter shelter and food supply, that'd help many species and not just birds!
From the scrub, where the Apple scrumpers have already started making inroads stealing the winter thrushes winter food a Goldcrest called and a Whitethroat churred. Two Woodpigeons clattered out from the Elder bush above us making us jump. Apart from clattering Woodpigeons it was exceptionally peaceful barely any human noise pollution for a change.
Sitting on our friend's memorial bench we scanned the water for anything other than Coots (92 from our limited viewpoint) or gulls wishing we were still able to grab some tools and clear some of the summer's growth in from of the platform - we're sure there's a Spotted Crake in there somewhere. Would be about time, don't think there's been one on the nature reserve since 1996 - long overdue then! And come on Otters, where ARE you???
A Peregrine (MMLNR #86) cruised north over the far fields to the east leaving a trail of panicked flocks of pigeons in its wake, down in front of us Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood butterflies flitted about the flowers and another Goldcrest was heard nearby - all beautifully idyllic.
A brief gap in the clouds brought out the sun and the temperature rose a couple of degrees bringing out the first dragonflies of the day...Migrant Hawkers. Sneaking slightly off-piste we gently lifted the refugium (is that a word?), it had to be lifted carefully as it's covered in thorny trailing branches of Brambles and wild Roses. Beneath it the only thing that moved was a small Great Crested Newt, one from last year probably - RESULT! Which reminds us we don't think ew've had a reminder about renewing our licence from Natural England yet this year - hope we've not been 'illegal'! Although unseen ther was plenty of evidence of Short Tailed Field Voles being under there all summer long with grass nests and lots of runs going this way and that.
Another clattering Woodpigeon spooked us but generally the birds were very quiet asyou would expect in the middle of the day, perhaps we should really have been here in the drizzly dawn instead of faffing round with soggy moths. While contemplating what should or couldn't have been a small Toad struggled through the vegetation on the rough track in front of our size 9s.
By now we must have got used to the Woodpigeons as they sped noisily from their leafy hiding places as we walked below and watched a couple of Common Darters flitting along the path to the hide. At the hide a bizarre sight met our eyes - not that we could see much since the reed needs to die back a bit before there's a view from the windows - but one of the Council's 'Hire Bikes' was taking a swim 'Heath' is its name - we'll have to report that to the relevant people tomorrow. It'll need a grappling iron to get it out and a lot of TLC to get it back on the road. What kind of dough-brained numpty does a thing like that???
The kind that wouldn't notice or appreciate the amazing Brown Hawker flying around the little clearing in the reeds they'd unknowingly created probably.
We remember in the early days of the reserve that was a bit of a hoo-hah about Ground Elder, well one of the main patches has now been almost totally succeeded by the land form of Amphibeous Bistort and it won't be long before that in turn is lost to willowherbs, Nettles, Bindweed and Brambles. The other much larger patch is still going strong but it hasn't spread as was feared and other species have begun to appear amongst it although to a lesser extent than the first patch.
A hidden Blackcap scolded us from a dense Hawthorn, next door was an Elderberry bush showing gorgeous pinky autumnal hues. Talking of pink why oh why don't we have breeding Bullfinches in the extensive fruit scrub here and will we get any on passage this autumn?
The purple tops of the reeds waved in the breeze but no sound came from within bar their rustling leaves until a loud burst of song from a Cetti's Warbler set off a Chiffchaff and Wren calling. Further on back in the scrub a mixed party of tits included many Long Tailed Tits working their way along the hedge at the back of the drier reedy area where we once put out an experiment to see if Harvest Mice were present or not. we were unsuccessful but that doesn't mean to say there weren't/aren't any - more research needed we think. A Chiffchaff sang briefly from within the flock and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over. what wasn't so good to see was an Elderberry bush showing its bright green leaves in the middle of the reedbed.
The reedbed has been partitioned into blocks and in a few years time all will have been dragged out on a rotation, this bit needs to be rotated first!
Two Cetti's Warblers sang briefly at each other and an Emperor dragonfly flew past while we were coming to terms with the errant Elderberry.
Retracing our steps the Emperor had found a partner and whipped over the path and down the embankment in tandem. It's not that long since Emperors were first recorded here, about 20 years ago or thereabouts. Underfoot a huge Black Slug was making bee-line for a discarded beer can. 
Back in the scrub an anxious looking Robin peered at us through the twigs of a large Willow tree stretching up on tippy-toe to get a better look at us, now why couldn't it have been a Redstart? Ah well you can't have em all!
Autumn fungi weren't much in evidence apart from a small patch of well past their best Common Inkcaps and a couple of Shaggy Inkcaps just beyond their eating best. A Blackbird clucked as we cast an eye over the wildflower area in front of us with only Yarrow and a few Bird's Foot Trefoil flowers still going strong. It does look as though it's been well colourful this summer and there's little grass so the Yellow Rattle must be doing its job. In fact there's might not be enough grass for the later flowering and once common Red Bartsia. There used to be some Biting Stonecrop in this area but we couldn't find any sign of it. We used to give the school kids a tiny bit to taste and wait for their reaction when the pepperiness hit them. The area has 'overgrown' (how we hate that expression) but we were pleased to find some decent sized patches of Hare's Foot Clover, so all is not lost to atmospheric nitrogen deposition - a really hard thing to counteract/mitigate against.
Standing chatting to PL for a while there was a little flock of warblers flitting about the scrub beyond us, at least a few Whitethroats and a male Blackcap but there could have been others. He is in the very enviable position of getting what we believe to be the first ever pics of a Brimstone butterfly at  the nature reserve. Excellent stuff.
We took a slightly different path back taking us past the lovely soft pinks of the Soapwort patch. Looking over the wetland there was a distinct lack of Whinchats, a choice spot for them in spring so there's no harm looking in the autumn especially as several have been seen locally in rrecent days.
Almost back at the Land Rover we passed a group of young ladies out for a walk with their dog when one called out "You're that man, aren't you, I recognise you from Yr've only got nine fingers" Yes that's us, but now we only have six fingers (and  two thumbs). We stayed for a quick chat and were encouraged to hear they claimed to have remembered all we'd shown them a few years ago when they were still in Primary school.
It was now time to get some lunch...when we got back to the Land Rover the clock showed we'd been out nearly five hours, and only only walked less than two miles...even slower than Fluffy Ma n Da's Tortoise.
What a place, so much to enjoy and we've only noted a fraction of what we saw today.
There's big excitement ahead and you'll all have the opportunity to join in with a volunteer group to help make this reserve even more special. All talents will be welcome not just muscley practical conservation work although we've no doubt there'll be plenty of that required too.
Us conservation folks really need to engage with more people and use feelings, the emotions of place, its intrinsic value, its specialness and not just the science and it's dry facts and figures if wild areas like this are to be valued. One chap out for a wander with his wife and dog we spoke to summed it up nicely...over there is Blackpool, waving his arm in the general direction of the tower,  and here just a mile away is the Serengeti - we knew exactly what he meant!
Where to next? A Sunday at work tomorrow doing a bit of wildlife gardening with a gang  of teenagers - hope they've got plenty of muscles!
In the meantime let us know what couldn't be photographed in your outback

Thursday, 4 September 2014

In for a blenny in for a pound

The Safari has a bit of mixed bag for you today. Yesterday we had a quick look on the sea wall and found a Whiting that had been discarded as undersized for keeping by the fishermen - sadly whether eaten or not the result was the same...a dead fish.
 Later in the afternoon we did get to the nature reserve but spent too much time gassing to the Ranger that we didn't get a wander about. There were a lot of Migrant Hawker dragonflies on the wing and at least three Willow Warbler/Chiffchaffs were heard 'hweet'ing away from the scrub.
In the distance we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Common Sandpiper (MMLNR #85).
We also got a bit of time to stick the camera in the rock pools again. It would have been better had we been able to get there later in the day when the sun shines in the pools - it seems the camera needs good light for best results -a steadier hand would be a boon too.
Any way see if you can spot the Blennies, hopefully we'll get better pics in the next few days.

Where to next? We've got a beach clean tomorrow so there might be the opportunity to spot something willdlifey as we scour the sands for litter - hopefullyy there on't be too much of that.
In the meantime let us know who's swimming around a breakneck speed in your outback.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A(nother) Grand Day Out at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve

The Safari has something different for you today, something we've never done before - a Guest Blog
We are privileged to have been accepted as a mentor for the (relatively) new natural history (in all its guises) network/organisation for young naturalists A Focus on Nature. Recently we have been teamed up with another youngster, much younger than our existing mentoree TP. 
She doesn't have her own blog just yet so we have offered her a post on here. Last week, a few days earlier than our safari, she visited Leighton Moss RSPB reserve with her family because her sister had won the day as a prize in a photographic competition - see below.
Anything in italics is our comments the rest is Alicia's own words - we both hope you enjoy her passion and enthusiasm for the natural world; we certainly need more youngsters like her to get involved with their local (and not so local) and get writing about their fantastic experiences of what nature has to offer all of us...

This week I visited the RSPB Reserve at Leighton Moss in Lancashire, and not only was it beautiful weather, (not the same day the Safari went then!) it was also a wildlife-packed day. We saw so many different sorts of birds and invertebrates and an occasional mammal, it was amazing!

We arrived in good time, and after picking up a map from the Visitor Centre, I headed off with my Dad, around the reserve.  In the first hide; the Tim Jackson Hide, things were relatively quiet on birds and mammals – however there were lots of insects. Large colourful Dragonflies flitted around outside and landed just outside the hide to sun themselves, tantalisingly close yet just out of reach for me to get photos!

The Grisedale hide was the hide that we visited next and we were constantly in the company of a Grey Heron. It was fascinating to watch this pterodactyl-like bird as it went about its daily life hunting. It went down to strike again and again, sometimes catching fish, sometimes not. A family of noisy Mallards then started having a bath behind the reeds but the Heron carried on fishing!
As we headed back through the more wooded area of Leighton Moss, we were surrounded by birdsong. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Nuthatch were only a few. I had recently read about some unusual behaviour in young birds, and was thrilled to witness it here. A young Robin sat on a sign and sang softly to itself with its beak closed. Young birds – especially birds in which their song is very important, sing with their beaks closed in order to practise their singing skills. Apparently, birds are not born with a song or being able to sing, they learn their particular song by listening to their parents sing, and then practise by themselves until it sounds good enough to sing with their beak open wide!  I managed to take a small film of this Robin, practising.
The next hide we went to was a great spot for birds. From the Public Hide, just over the wetland lake there was a dead tree in which a Great White Egret was perched.  We have had a Little Egret which has appeared near home in the last few weeks, so it was good to see the Great White Egret to compare the size.  It sat hunched over like a Grey Heron and simply watched. Near the opposite bank of the wetland, about 20 Coots were swimming and feeding, and closer to our side a Moorhen parent and its chick spent the time going in and out of view in the reeds. Suddenly a Water Rail came out of the reeds and started cleaning itself! It was only a few metres from the hide and was thrilling to see and photograph – my first Water Rail.
Just a little better than our paltry effort a couple of blog-posts back, don't you think
Lilian's hide was next, and we were treated to another Water Rail! Water Rails are quite rare and so it was very lucky to see one never mind two! (Apparently about 14% of the UK breeding population is at LM) Mallards, Moorhens, Coots, a flying Grey Heron and more dragonflies joined the wildlife here. Then we returned to the Grisedale Hide, where a family of Red Deer were feeding on the opposite bank. Two fawns and two females grazed undisturbed by the constant coming and goings of trains on the railway next to them!
We stopped by the Visitor Centre next where a mass of different bees were taking advantage of the flowers which were grown in the special sensory garden. A few butterflies – Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood, all flitted around and I photographed lots of images of bees on the flowers, showing the diversity in bee species. Some were tiny – a bit like 'baby' bumblebees, and then there were White-Tailed, Yellow-Tailed Bumble Bees and Honey Bees too!
Before heading to the coastal hides, we visited the cafe and had drinks and cakes, because we remembered that on BBC Autumnwatch they had said how good the cakes were – and they were right!  Then we went to the final hides, firstly calling at Allen Hide, but  as a Sparrowhawk had just flown through, it had scared away all the birds, so we moved on to the Eric Morecambe hide where there were loads of birds. Lapwing, Redshank, Greenshank, a Cormorant, Coots, Moorhens, a Kingfisher, Dunlins, Little Egrets (about 10) and even a Peregrine Falcon - which passed through and frightened everything! I took hundreds of photos as the light changed into an evening glow catching on the birds' feathers.

Leighton Moss is a beautiful and diverse place, full of wildlife gems. Although I didn't see it, my Mum and sister saw an Otter from Public Hide in the afternoon. However, I saw three wildlife firsts for me; Great White Egret, Greenshank and Water Rail, and saw practically everything I wanted to (the Kingfisher was a bonus). It would have been really great to have seen the elusive Bittern – one of my favourite birds, however hopefully next time I will!  We will definitely be visiting again, maybe in the winter months, to see what else we can spot.

Alicia        Aged 14                                                                                                  August 2014

PS  My sister has just been announced as Highly Commended in the under 12s section of BWPA, with a photo of a White-Tailed Sea Eagle she took on the Isle of Skye last summer.  It is on the British Wildlife Photography Awards website 

A talented family indeed! But just look at the quality of all those images the youngsters have taken - we'd be well happy with any of them even if they only came out half as good.

Where to next? There's a tiny bit of news from Patch 2 that'll have to keep til tomorrow and we may be able to have a quick look somewhere away from Patch 2 in the late afternoon with a bit of luck.
In the meantime let us know what the youngsters are getting out into the wilds and spotting in your outback.