Monday, 27 April 2015

Missed it; if it ever existed that is

The Safari's  morning look over the a very cold sea wasn’t productive at all, it was deathly quiet out there. Other than a small raft of gulls is the middle distance all we had to show for it were two shimmering Gannets well to the north.
At lunchtime we tried again but by now the cold had changed to horrible heat haze, everything was indistinctly wobbly not that there was much. A look at the few gulls on the beach didn’t give us anything to shout about but half a dozen Turnstones on the soon to disappear outfall pipe made us feel totally sad at the imminent loss of this small but vibrant ‘reef’ community. Looking north the light was fractionally better although bright sunlight is never good for discerning the subtle greys of gulls’ mantles. A bit of a wide shallow runnel held about thirty of the winged wonders almost all adult Herring Gulls with a few Lesser Black Backs and what looked suspiciously darker backed and brighter legged enough to be a Yellow Legged Gull. It took an age of it wandering around to come close to and at the sane angle as a nearby Herring Gull. With the side-by-side comparison it was just about dark enough to call but its clinching legs were now underwater as paddling in deeper water. We made the decision to nip back to the office to get the big camera and then drop down on to the beach for a good close look. We weren’t gone long but sadly long enough; when we got down on to the beach we gave the flock a good look with the bins, the light was better with them being closer and being down at their level but could only see Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls in the water. We tried a few test shots on the ‘normal’ gulls and thought it can’t have gone far so we scanned the rest of the beach – there flying south along the tide line was a gull with what seemed like a slightly too-dark back for a Herring Gull but could just have been shadowed due to the angle we were looking at it from and a big wedge of black in the wing tip but it was hard to tell what was real and what was lighting effect in the horrid light and the bird now far too far away for a pic. 
Lesser Black Back with watery reflections
So the moral of the story is if you find a dodgy gull leave and go back to it and can’t find it a) it probably wasn’t so dodgy after all or b) you just missed it fly off, the former is the most likely.
Our solitary bees in the garden were hard to come by too with just one hairy faced male of a still unknown species being seen. We had the camera to see if we could get a better photo than last week’s abysmal efforts only to find we’d drained the battery on the gull pics and didn’t have our spare with us as it’s in our other coat pocket back at Base Camp – dohhhh school boy error – always take your spare battery.
Phone pics
Where to next? Looks like winter has returned with a big last bite, could be something out there somewhere to be found tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who snuck off without waiting in your outback.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Dogs, newts, ticks n dips

The Safari has a bit of a mixed bag for you today starting in the warm sunshine on Thursday morning when we tried to see if we could get some shots of the solitary bees in the works garden with the super-macro lens. For some reason they weren't playing out and we had to settle for some close-ups of the Red Tailed Bumble Bees instead. A Tree Bee was the first of the year here but it didn't stick around long enough for us to point the camera at it.
Late morning news broke of a trio of good passage migrant birds in the big park so that was lunchtime's visit to Patch 2 knocked on the head, we headed uptown instead. A fair crowd was present when we arrived and we learned that the female Pied Flycatcher was tricky - that was OK as we'd seen the male last weekend - the female Redstart had been seen on and off not 10 minutes ago and the Wood Warbler had only just been singing. With plenty of eyes ears, binoculars and cameras on the job this was going to be a quick and easy twitch, but no our lunchtime time ran out with a serious Redstart/Wood Warbler double dip and we didn't see the Pied Flycatcher either. Plenty of common birds where there to keep us on our toes but there was a total no-show from the Big Three.
Then we learned there was a male Whinchat over on the wetland but there was no chance of us being able to call in on the way back to work nor on the way back to Base Camp after work. The day wasn't going that well!
Thing's looked brighter (or actually darker) later as we had the first amphibian pond/newt survey of the season to join after tea. 
Starting the survey as the sun began to set we soon discovered how much our four-legged companions and their owners' ignorance/couldn't care lessiness can wreck important habitats.  They look so innocuous asleep on the mat by the fire don't they.
But once outside they turn into an ecological nightmare of disturbance and destruction...and there's so many of them, there's almost no escape!
Every accessible pond, even those 'out of bounds' to the public on private land was dogged, footprints everywhere, bankside vegetation on the 'easy' slopes worn away to sticky mud, water so turbid it looked solid in our torchlight, and no aquatic vegetation able to grow - it was almost like a nuclear holocaust out there.
Our favourite spot gave us a hit but it was a long way round our circuit before we found any more amphibians, in addition to the dogs lack of management had meant some previously suitable areas were now too reeded up - a double whammy. We were getting a little disappointed and despondent until we found one the ponds had been dredged out. That shouldn't have happened in the Great Crested Newt breeding season but it looked very recent., more despondency but thankfully it was short lived. Only a portion of the pond was affected and the unaffected half held more Great Crested Newts than Smooth Newts. A good result at last. But our excitement was short lived, the next pond, very close to the doggy brigade had been totally cleared out back to its clay base and was ultra turbid due to there being doggy access all round  now - what's that about only clearing a third of a pond in any one year and only in winter especially when you know there's Great Crests in the vicinity.
At our final pond we weren't too hopeful as it's not seen any management for at least 10 years and maybe nearer 20 and is extremely well vegetated, we hate the phrase 'over-grown'. But our fears were totally unfounded and although we could only access a tiny corner and this was the same place the doggies go in the water was clear and the Great Crested Newts were numerous. We've not seen the final tally yet as we weren't the scribe wit the data sheet on this occasion but for the whole evening we think Great Crests outnumbered Smooth Newts two to one - where are the Smoothies???
Why wasn't this one where it should have been when Alicia was with us, she's have loved to have seen one.
We had also hoped to have a heard the local Tawny Owl hooting while we were out but the world was a silent place. There weren't as many insects out as we would have thought seeing as how the temperature was quiet mild and there was no wind. Not a single bat was seen during the three and a half hours of darkness we were out which was a little disconcerting.
Yesterday we picked up BD reasonably early to have a bit of a safari round the low hills to the east, we had a couple of targets in mind the first and closest of which was why we didn't need a very early start. While out with Frank at 06.00 the sun was creeping over the eastern horizon to start another day of summer-like sunshine, however two hours later it had been replaced by low cloud and a cold wind which didn't bode well for our day out. Certainly it put paid to any chance finding the Common Lizards on the sandy bank that come out to bask when the morning sun rises above the houses on the right. It was like standing in a freezing wind tunnel down that track.
A brief Wheatear, a few House Sparrows, a lot of Pill Bugs and an unusual Springtail were the pick of the bunch.
We didn't stay long and drove off to our next site stopping to take a phone call telling us that at the time we'd driven past there was a Whinchat on the dunes and we later discovered the Scaup had been on the lake when we drove by.
Our next port of call was the freshwater marsh near the coast where we enjoyed great views of Sand Martins and Swallows skimming low over the water. A brick red summer plumaged Black Tailed Godwit did a display flight while Redshanks poked around in the shallows and Lapwings fed on the grassland. All very idyllic but none less usual waders and no Garganeys to keep us there we set off on the longest leg  of our safari to the conifer forest on the hill. We had hoped to go further but when on the big dip in the park we learned the road we needed to travel through the higher hills was closed for re-tarmacing so a speedy alternative had to be thunk up. So the Tree Pipit site it was - would they be in yet?
We arrived got out of the Land Rover waked a few yards and wished we'd put our coat on, brrrr it was chilly when the wind blew through a gap in the trees. Low mist smothered the scenery. It really didn't look promising but birds were singing; Chaffinches, Goldcrests, Coal Tits, Robins, Wrens, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs all making themselves heard and there were a few bumble bees at the Bilberry flowers so we were hopeful. But sadly no Tree Pipits parachuted their cheery song from the usual glade. The Spruce trees had a reasonable crop of cones but alas we found no sign of any Crossbills it can be hit and miss if there are any here from year to year and we've not heard of any being present for at least a couple of years. We did come across several Lesser Redpolls though (145).
From there we went to the steep wooded valley in the search for Redstarts. It was still winter in there, few leaves on the trees and the cold wind blowing through them made it feel far from the summer-like conditions of the last few days.
Bluebells were just beginning to open and we found this unusual plant which we are now pretty sure is the cotyledons of a seedling of an unknown plant.
Three Brown Hares were the first we've seen this year but excitement was pretty thin on the ground so we quickly moved to the next site a mile or so down the valley. The car park here was busy which is never a good sign for wildlife watchers but with only a young family with buckets and nets playing in the river by the car park and no-one else about things could have been worse.
BD thought he heard a Wood Warbler near the car park but we both listened intently and heard no more from it. Time to move on along the river bank enjoying these Wild Cherry trees in flower - we planted them in the mid-80s.
The woodland floor was awash of just opening Bluebells and Wood Anemones with masses of Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage in the wetter areas.
Through a gap in the bankside trees we spotted a Heron midstream wading up towards us. There can't have been much recent disturbance and we were fairly well hidden behind the branches so we watched as it stalked nearer catching small fish from time to time.
We stood stock still as it drew level with us on the far side of the river
What happened next was astonishing! It's bill darted into the water and it caught another fish - we both got the strike on camera. Nothing odd in that so far...but when we reviewed our pics - as you do with digital - we saw that it wasn't a fish it had caught but a mammal!
A small underwater mammal with a jet black back and white belly can only be a Water Shrew.



Well you don't see that often! A look at the NBN map back at Base Camp revealed that Water Shrew hasn't been recorded in this 10km square. Hopefully they're not now extinct in said 10km square. We'll be relating tales beginning "Did we tell you of the time we saw..." for the next 50 years after witnessing that little episode of life and death.
We wandered a bit further along listening to Song Thrushes and Nuthatches and generally enjoying the woodland and riverscape for a few hundred yards more in the hope of a Dipper but only found a ringed Grey Wagtail, no colour rings so probably not from Heysham up the coast aways.
Back at the car park BD once again heard the Wood Warbler (146) and after a few minutes so did we but we couldn't see it amongst the opening buds on the thicker canopy here.
Another longer drive to us to our next port of call where we had three target species. Looking from the narrow road bridge and our walk along the river didn't give us either a Dipper or a Kingfisher although at the top end of the walk we did see a lovely Dipper's nest tucked in on the iron work of the huge bridge. We waited around but no adults came and we were unable to tell if it was active or not. Our third target was potentially more difficult as they may not have arrived in yet. From the car park we walked downstream and soon heard Blackcaps and a Song Thrush singing, but there coming from low in the shrubbery was a fainter more scratchy Blackcap-like song, it can only have been a Garden Warbler. What happened next almost beats the Heron/Water Shrew sighting. A small bird flew across the track but just before it took off we got a glimpse of that big dark eye, Garden Warbler (147). A Blackcap followed and we played cat and mouse with two cameras and two birds trying to get BD on to it properly as it was a lifer for him. Eventually one of the two birds flew across the Dipper and Kingfisher-less river and landed in an overhanging Willow in full view. Fortunately it was the Garden Warbler and we enjoyed the best views we've had of this species in 50 years bird watching as it pulled caterpillars and other invertebrates from the twigs for a good five minutes - just simply superb! We got a new plant tick too, one we must surely have overlooked in the past - the tiny Moschatel
The Primroses were gorgeous too.
It was a short drive up the hill to the hidden valley, our last site of the day, where although there was the possibility of Green Woodpecker and Cuckoo birds weren't the main target here. Running short of time a bit of a route march was needed but on the way we heard another Wood Warbler. We soon reached the appointed place and had a look round for our quarry. Bingo!!!
Always nice to find a Slow Worm and this was the only one today so we were lucky. There's a good little bank for Common Lizards higher up the valley, it was little too chilly but as BD hadn't been to the site before we risked the time and went the quarter of a mile further on to show him more of the area.
There was no more excitement on the way back apart from a low flying Buzzard which a little later we thought had gone high up over the hill top only to put our bins on it to find we were actually looking at a Raven...we saw the Buzzard going away low down over the tree tops but again raising our bins that was another Raven...dohhh!
Earlier when quizzed by BD if there were any Dippers here we said the stream was too narrow, barely a couple of yards wide and mostly very shallow, for it to be of any interest to them and we couldn't recall ever seeing one here. Almost at the point where the path leaves the river bank and heads up hill DB spotted a movement in the river - a flippin Dipper! (148) Shows you what we know!!!
Dipper - not on a rock for once
As BD took the final photos of the day a Whimbrel flew over calling going to the local roost at the top of the hill and its congener a couple of Curlews flew round the valley doing their bat-like display flight and singing their haunting bubbling song a fitting end to a great day out. So the weather wasn't great given the last few days of blistering sunshine but it didn''t rain until we got back to Base Camp and a superb day's safari-ing was enjoyed by all.
We've had the stealth-cam out in the garden since last weekend but all we can report is a plethora of night-time cats and daytime Woodpigeons apart from occasional visits by our local Blackbirds.
Where to next? It's the weekend and guess what it cold wet and windy, but there'll be some wildlife to be seen we're sure about that.
In the meantime let us know who's putting on an ornithological show in your outback.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Second patch lifer in two days

The Safari was out early on Patch 2 to a flat calm sea with no sign of nothing much at all. During the morning we popped out in to the garden from time to time to see if we could see any of the solitary bees we've spotted recently. The Dandelions are looking particularly lush but we failed to find any bees on several of our nips out.
Please leave the Dandelions alone, there's no need to wreak carnage and ecocide upon them, they're far to valuable for the bees, butterflies, hoverflies and a myriad other pollinating insects for that. Don't get the sprayer out, leave the mower in the shed and save your back and don't dig them out. If you really don't want them to spread too much cut them just before the seeds develop but remember the the seeds are an extremely important food source for several species of birds later in the summer
On a Facebook page we've joined someone had asked why so much attention is lavished on 'Naffodils' when other yellow native plants are detroyed with almost gay abandon - we reckon it's because the Naffodills have cost money and as they have a 'price' they are perceived to have ''value' too; whereas the Dandelions are 'free' therefore have no value to humans...and they are the prime target of the 'get rid of that weed cos it's making your useless lawn look untidy with our super-duper product marketing men, consequently although 'valueless' it is one of the very few wildflowers almost everyone can identify but sadly for all the wrong reasons.
Do you not think a roadside verge ablaze with wall to wall golden yellow is far superior to a grass verge with lumps of browning cuttings bestrewn all over it from the cutter blades - leave them alone!
Eventually we did come across a bee or two but not the solitary bees we were hoping for.
We find bumblebees awfully hard to photograph, think it's the fact that they don't have contrasting eyes and always have their heads down in the flower so getting the all important highlight in the eye in focus almost always defeats us. And they never stop moving...a better, faster camera might help too.
As well as a couple of Drone Flies this hoverfly was also around the first of it's ilk we've seen here this season.

And here's the Drone Fly
We were out at lunchtime on Patch 2 and quickly found a distant Grey Seal and a couple of Red Throated Divers. The weather conditions have made the sea absolutely mint for spotting Harbour Porpoises but they all seem to be hanging around south of the river for some reason, or at least they're refusing to show themselves to us.
While looking at a third, much closer, Red Throated Diver three wagtails passed through the field of view quite low over the water and seemed to show a fair bit of yellow. We swung the scope round to follow them as they drew level with us and as they were just about straight out we heard the distinctive 'tsweeep' call. Three Yellow Wagtails (144, P2 #51), another Patch 2 lifer and the second in 24 hours! A Whimbrel went past too.
A meeting with a new visitor to work had us showing her around the grounds and explaining what goes on where and it was while showing her the rubbishy far too much soil on view 'formal' garden that we spotted the solitary bees. They were in the last bit of sunshine mooching around the patch of Hedge Garlic we planted a few years ago that has survived the 'gardener' that looks after that area for the cafe.
After our meeting we got the camera out and sat and waited, it took a while to get these couple of really grotty shots.
We're reliably informed they are males of two different species of Andrena but which two???
The local Blackbird hopped off the roof landing quite close to us for a listen for worms.
Where to next? Think we'll take the macro lens to work tomorrow and see if we can get some better pics of those little bees now we know where they're hanging out. Too much to ask for three Patch 2 lifers in three days?
In the meantime let us who who's abuzzing in your outback.



Tuesday, 21 April 2015

At last - can't believe it hasn't happened earlier

The Safari was out as usual on Patch 2 but it was all very quiet, the most interesting sighting by far was of two Linnets (P2 #48) going north, they've gone scarce since some local development has happened and wiped out a massive chunk of their local habitat - miss them pulling Thistle seeds from the wild garden by the office.
By the office we searched in vain at various times through the morning for more Tawny Mining Bees, we did see more bumble bees than we've seen there so far this year with Red Tailed Bumble Bees and Early Bumble Bees being the most numerous. A different species of solitary bee buzzed around and landed on the path briefly but was too flighty for us to creep up on it and get a couple of snaps.
Dandelions and the Borage were by far the favourites although there aren't many other alternatives in flower yet.
Back out on Patch 2 there wasn't much going on again but we did see something we perhaps should have seen there long ago, a Little Egret (P2 #49).
A few Swallows going through were all the rest we could muster.
This afternoon we were teaching in school close to the nature reserve and when the three o'clock bell went we drove round the corner parked up and had another look for the Tawny Mining Bees but again there was no sign.
We didn't have long so walked only as far as raptor hill. On the way we heard and saw the gulls go up three times but we could only find what it was that spooked them once a Buzzard fairly low heading west.
With it being mid afternoon there wasn't much bird song going on so we didn't hear the Whitethroat we would have liked to add to the list. Quickly running out of time we turned and walked back to the Land Rover wit ha couple of birders we'd met. At the top of the wetland path the Cetti's Warbler fired up very loudly, we stopped to see if would show itself like it did the other day a movement caught our eye to our right and then we heard a snatch of scratchy song - a Whitethroat (142, MMLNR #87).
Back at Base Camp we turned the PC on and had a browse through Twitter to see what'd been happening during the afternoon and came across a corking photo of a 2CY Caspian Gull by Tom Lowe that was almost the spitting image of the one we saw on the beach last week, ours was slightly better marked on the mantle, a more defined nape shawl and had a slightly stouter all dark bill. It's never going to be accepted as an 'official' record but this our list, we make the rules and as we were confident enough to submit it as one it's gone on the list (143, P2 #50).
Frank was back at the vets this evening and is now on his last chance saloon pills once these are no longer powerful enough to keep his joint pain at bay it's curtains for the old boy. Hopefully they'll work well and give him a good six months but we're having to prepare ourselves for the worst.
Where to next? Can Patch 2 provide us with even more surprises.
In the meantime let us know who's buzzing around in your outback.

Monday, 20 April 2015

We've seen more wildlife...

The Safari is wondering if you're wondering if that means we haven't seen much wildlife today or we've seen an additional amount. We have to tell you it's the former, we've seen more life in tramp's vest. But the little we have seen today has been of a decent quality.
We started with a low tide look over Patch 2 this morning and found not a lot apart from about 20 Sandwich Terns fishing with some roosting up on the outfall pipe (who's days are now seriously numbered, the first of the works containers has been delivered) and some on the beach. 36 Oystercatchers were strewn along the water's edge on our counting length. A single Swallow (P2 #47) jinked northwards well out to sea.
Mid morning we had to go have a break and a bit of a hand rest from typing up the minutes from our evening meeting last week, crikey were they were aching! What a good decision it turned out to be. Instead of heading straight for the kettle as is the norm the sun was shining good and warm and in our butty bag we had a packet of bee friendly seeds Wifey had found in the cupboard over the weekend so we went to explore the wild garden to see if there were any spaces where they could be sown. 
There were Daisies, Dandelions and Coltsfoot aplenty in flower but we saw only one Drone Fly. so far this year we've only had a just one brief glimpse of a bumble bee here. Wandering further along to the end towards the Bug Hotel a dark movement from a Dandelion flower caught our eye and then the wee beastie landed on another close by. A Tawny Mining Bee, hot on the heels of the first one we've ever seen locally at the weekend we now have our second and first for the work's garden - what's going on? Are they spreading? CR gets them in his garden only 400 yards from Base Camp!
A check on the NBN Gateway map told us they have been recorded in our area in both 10k squares but there wasn't any info on smaller areas so they really could have been almost anywhere along the coastal plain. Well they have two points with an eight figure grid reference now. Happy days, what other marvels will the garden provide for the nosy investigators this season?
Lunchtime came round quickly and off we went to watch the high tide. Not a lot again but a distant Grey Seal was a good find in the heat haze. About 20 Sandwich Terns fished, the only place to rest up now was a huge lump of driftwood well out to see, it had a covering of white which we assumed were Sandwich Terns as odd ones were flying round close by but some could have been gulls and a dark lump at one end could have been a Cormorant. Another half a dozen Swallows fizzed northwards well out to sea but other than that all was quiet out there - with the almost carpet like conditions we had hoped to find a Harbour Porpoise but they weren't for showing themselves today.

On a rather topical note the Safari's younger brother in Italy is making some sort of film about Solitary Bees and released this rather splendid trailer yesterday

- if that's a snippet we can't wait for the full shebang!

Going back to last week's Caspian Gull we had news from CB that he thought our description of its plumage and behaviour sounded very much like one but unfortunately some time ago the records committee decided they'll only accept records of this still locally scarce and somewhat tricky gull with an accompanying photograph. We're over 95% confident it was one but is that enough to add it to our year list challenge with Monika? What do you lot think should we or shouldn't we???

So some days you don't see much and it's not that exciting, some days you don't see much and there's plenty of interest and some days you see loads, nothing's guaranteed - what is guaranteed is that if you don't look you won't see nowt!
Where to next? What will we find on Patch 2 tomorrow?
In the meantime let us know who's popping up here, there and everywhere in your outback

Sorry no pics today we were in such a rush to get typing those minutes we forgot to pick up our phones and the camera...sheeeeee

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Struggled to get out on safari today

The Safari was up early with Frank, who thankfully seems a lot more chipper-dandy today, yesterday thought he wasn't  going to last the weekend poor old fella, the cheery strains of the local Chiffchaff, must be on territory chiffing and chaffing across the gardens - hope it's found/will find a mate. 
No chance of getting out other than that today but to be honest the overnight weather looked more like a migrant clear out night rather than a migrant dump night. Cloud appeared later in the day which may have brought some more birds within reach.
After Frank had had his breakfast, ancient or not there's no stopping his lust for food, we had a look in the moth trap and were very pleased to find more in there than yesterday morning's pitiful haul. Still no new species but five Hebrew Characters was a definite improvement.
Wifey left to take eh-up muvver to the shops and we pottered around in the garden for a while, sawing some wood and having a little shuffy round to see what was coming up. The path up the garden is a mass of Cowslips - best they've been.
Maybe we should have swept the bits ups before getting the camera out
Lovely to see it spring forth with lush verdantness to think it just a massive sterile concrete slab covered in geotextile this time 12 years ago.
We started a bit of weeding and were soon alerted to a raptor going over by a sudden explosion of noise from the local gulls, they'd been just about silent upto now. Looking up there were two Buzzards (Garden #26) soaring only 100 feet above Base Camp and then they did a talon locking tumble although they didn't quite lock talons. Brilliant - thanks gulls! The bins and camera were grabbed as quick as maybe from indoors but we were too late to get pictoral evidence.
Commotion and cacophony
A few minutes later there was another lesser and shorted burst of squawking when a Sparrowhawk drifted northwards.
Continuing to keep an eye and an ear open we saw our Great Tits going in and out of the House Sparrow nesting terrace - no House Sparrow has ever been near it, less likely to now as the pair that nested in the eaves of the house on the corner of the main road is nowhere to be seen this year, which begs the question will we get them on the garden list this year...maybe not which isn't good.
Over the road the Blue Tit's nest in a crack in the brickwork by the neighbours upstairs window is in use for at least the third year running which was good to see.
The garden was quiet for invertebrates despite the warm sunshine there was a cool breeze whistling through, just a few flyovers from bumble bees, n butterflies and a chunky Drone Fly, Eristalis sp, trying to maintain position in the sunniest spot.
A check of the south facing garage wall for Jumping Spiders and Solitary Bees/Wasps was a big fat negatory.

Here's a short clip of a steepish rocky decent from last Sunday's green laning adventure - best viewed full screen - not sure what YouTube is doing to us. Press escape to return here.


Where to next? Back to Patch 2 and offshore-ish winds could produce seas calm enough to spot cetaceans.
In the meantime let us know who's causing all the commotion in your outback


Saturday, 18 April 2015

The year list trots on and news of a twitch in Pembrokeshire

The Safari wasn't sure if we'd get out this morning or not as there were chores to be done. But we did put the mothy out last night for only the second time this year and when we opened it there was the first moth of the year inside, a Hebrew Character. The moth list is on its way.
A Pied Flycatcher had turned up close to Wifey's work last night and we were relieved it was still there this morning, it was very tempting! We had to decline a trip to the nature reserve early morning with CR but when news broke that the flycatcher was still around we let him know and arranged a pick-up as he left the nature reserve and headed back our way towards this local scarcity.
Once on site there were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing and we saw the Heron sat on the very low nest. A few other birders were already secreted in various parts of the scratty wet woodland but news wasn't good it hadn't been seen for a good while. All of a sudden a cry went out 'it's here', it had moved from the wooded area in to a sunnier glade at the back of the neighbouring gardens where we could occasionally see a face and then feet from a kid enjoying some trampolining fun - didn't seem to be disturbing our bird though. It was easy to see but not easy to photograph on the 'wrong' side of dense Hawthorn bush but soon moved into the open. A lovely little bird we see all too infrequently. Pied Flycatcher (139) hits the list. We did see on close to here many years ago, could it be a little hotspot but totally underwatched. 
We spent a good half hour watching it flit in and out of cover back in the wet woods. Also present were good numbers of Willow Warblers and a few butterflies including our first white of the year but too quick to be able to be identified.
Back at Base Camp we did a few more minor chores before being 'allowed' out again provided we called in at the shops on the way back so it was off to the nature reserve we went.
We thought about going to our newt-zone on the way but changed our mind when we saw the traffic and went directly to the wetland instead. As soon as we got out of the Land Rover a movement on the Privet bush alerted us to a Tawny Mining Bee, the first we've ever seen locally although CR gets them in his garden and was hoping to photograph them this arvo. We also saw LR with his dog who told us there'd been a couple of Whitethroats earlier in the morning. A scan of the wetland gave us no Stonechats but on the remnant hedge there were two interesting looking birds and we hoped for one of them to be a Whinchat. Wandering over cautiously one turned into a male House Sparrow, a Reed Bunting dropped in too but the mystery bird was mostly obscured on the far side of the vegetation. We could have done with being a couple of feet taller but it eventually gave itself up as a male Linnet which then dropped into the thick vegetation.
From there we had a quick look from raptor hill before committing sacrilege and going back on ourselves and walking the 'wrong way round' going to the Feeding Station first. It was quiet as would be expected on a fairly warm afternoon but a male Reed Bunting on the fat balls was something we're fairy certain we've never not seen before.
Butterflies were the most numerous they've been so far this year, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were all over the shop but a couple of Commas were our first of the year.
From the hide we had a good look at the numbers of Lesser Black Back and Herring Gulls that were dropping in all the while but couldn't find anything noteworthy amongst them. On the scrape a Common Sandpiper (140, MMLNR #84) poked around until something spooked the gulls and they flushed, it took a while to find a soaring Buzzard.
The two regular Oystercatchers were back on the scrape again too. Three Linnets dropped in on the top of the island and the Cetti's Warbler fired up nice and loud but unseen close by. 
MJ was on the embankment listening for warblers in the reeds and sure enough after a while sitting on the bench in the cold blustery wind both Reed and Sedge Warblers were heard if only briefly, the wind keeping them low and quiet.
The new hide attracted a gaggle of scrotes.
Running out of time again it was the turn of the shops so we high tailed it back to the Land Rover only to meet AM on the way who pointed out a Wheatear (MMLNR #85) on the top of a tree near the hotel. It soon flew and so we we after a bit of a chat. We were waylaid again by a local dog walker who has taken to bringing out her binoclurs now, she asked if there was anything about and we told her about the recently disappeared Wheatear and hurried on our way. At the top of the path across the wetland a Grasshopper Warbler (141, MMLNR #86) started to reel but she was now too far away against the wind to shout her back. 
So ended a much better afternoon than we expected this time yesterday.

Last night we heard from our Extreme Photographer telling us he'd been on a twitch to see the Woodchat Shrike that's landed not too far from his cottage in the sticks.
He says the pics are thee best he could do as the weather wasn't great with drizzle and the light was 'pants' and the bird a long way off!



Stonechat

Woodchat Shrike
He says he'll try to get back if it hangs around to get some better pics - they look alright to us!!!

Where to next? Frank's not been so good on his feet this week so we may be housebound, mothy will be out again though.
In the meantime let us know who's reeling around in your outback.