Sunday, 25 January 2015

We can resist everything except temptation

The Safari headed over the the pond project only to find the 'workers' on a tea break. They were struggling with the Typha which was well rooted and not giving up its grip on the bottom of the pond easily.
From there we picked up BD on route to the other side of the river to see the long staying Pomarine Skua and anything else that might be lurking nearby.
Just our luck the darned thing had flown off not more than a few minutes before we got there but apparently not too far away. We soon saw the flock of at least 80 flighty Twite (99) that were feeding among the various patches of strandline vegetation.
They were constantly on the move both on the deck and in the air.
We were told of two adult Mediterranean Gulls  in the middle of a flock of a couple of hundred or so other gulls. One of them was soon found (100) What a great way to bring up the year's ton! The other however remained unseen. With the skua done a bunk we decided gove the cold wind a miss and go and hunt it down further up the coast.
Arriving at the second site there was no sign of it and not much else either so we moved on.
Again the grapevine came up trumps with news of a plant we hadn't seen before. There were a few specimens of Thorn-apple, Datura stamonium, a somewhat poisonous non-native 'weed' It was growing by the roadside by the local sewage works. Lurking there all ominously prickly waiting for spring but will it be a season to bring it forth this summer, they can be quite ephemeral.




Been a while since we saw a new plant species and 'usually' not one as graphic as this beast.
This was a brief stop on the way to our next site where the tide was racing up the marsh. There was a magical selection of waders and waterfowl out there. Pink Footed Geese, but not the Brent Goose that had been reported, hundreds of Shelducks floated in and Skylarks (101) and Rock Pipits (102) flew up out of the grass.
We continued to enjoy the unfolding spectacle and eventually picked up a Merlin (103) in the distance but lost it as it flushed a load of Lapwings the far side of the seawall. No-one else managed to pick it up but fortunately the young lady stood next to us got on to it again as it raced towards us and out over the bay giving everyone great views.
Still no sign of the skua though and we thought that the tide might have forced it back to its original resting place were there are some carcasses laid out for it. We returned via the farmland feeding stations where we enjoyed, but don't count, Red Legged Partridges grazing on the provided seeds. A few Chaffinches hopped in and out of the hedge but we had to wait a while for the Tree Sparrows to turn up. The other feeding station gave us several more Tree Sparrows, a couple of Chaffinches and a female Yellowhammer (104).
Back at our first site the skua still didn't show its ugly mush but BD did pick out some Golden Plovers (105) amidst the Lapwings sheltering behind the clumps of grass.
So a good afternoon on the far side of the river but we weren't quite finished. News of a Bean Goose not far from the nature reserve reached us and since it was just about on the way back to Base Camp we gave it a go. The weather was closing in with mist forming quickly and by the time we got there thee geese had gone to roost. To be honest we would have struggled to have picked it out amongst the Pink Feet in that light unless it had been very close to the road.
Another great day out on safari - you may have noticed there's not many pics today, the light wasn't good and many of the most special sights were out of range but sometimes the best camera is your eyes and memory anyway.
That's evough woffle we're of to imbibe some 16 year old stuff in honor of a man who could barely speak English but seems to be hugely popular still. Chin chin Rabbie.
Where to next? Patch 2 again tomoz.
In the meantime let us know who's been playing hide n seek in your outback.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The crestless run continues

The Safari added another year bird from Patch 2 yesterday, a Razorbill (98, P2 #22), a Great Crested Grebe was #21 for the Patch 2 list too; getting interestingly close to the 100 in January mark now and there's still a week to go - will we or won't we?
Early this morning we did our RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, it was disappointing after recent years due to the abominable amount of habitat destruction locally this year.
A pair of Magpies were already making serious inroads into the sunny seeds and mealworms we'd put down last night. To get gulls on the score sheet we throw a few slices of bread on the garage roof just before the off and dash back in to our watch point, if we're not quick enough they can get the bread before we can count them. First one in was a Black Headed Gull (Garden #11). Nothing much happened until almost half time when a male Chaffinch (Garden #12) we weren't expecting dropped in.
One of the Magpies was now in last year's nest fettling up something in the inner sanctum.
A lone female Greenfinch arrived and landed on the feeder, it was extremely wary staying motionless for well over five minutes before starting to feed. They need their friends to keep a watch, this one was seriously unhappy without the rest of its flock.
In the end we had just 21 birds of 10 species, a third of the total were the gulls and gone by the end of the 30th second on the hour's watch.
This afternoon we were able to get out to the nature reserve for yet another look for the Firecrest, not far along the walk in there was a cracking male Stonechat (MMLNR #56) perched up on the red tops half way across the wetland.




Just before we got to the gate there was a lovely female Kestrel soaring around over the scrub.
Walking down to the Firecrest zone we met some birders coming out with negative news - OK so we won't have to wait too long this time we hoped.
A Cetti's Warbler fired up close by but even the Robins were absent at first. A movement in the reeds turned out to be the Dunnock but we did see a brief flit of a Cetti's Warbler which the other couple with us sadly missed as they'd not seen before.
The Willow catkins are not far off opening and then it won't be long before the first queen bumble bees are out of hibernation and looking for flowers to get their reserves back up.
Beneath the trees the Snowdrops are beginning to show, spring is deffo on the way now but there'll be a few more chilly days before its here for keeps.
Still no Firecrest for us though and not even any Goldcrests today.
The walk back to the Land Rover with our new friends there were some House Sparrows (MMLNR #57) chirruping away from the depths of the roadside Privet hedge.
Where to next? Not sure where we'll end up after the pond jaunt, possibly a skua might be involved.
In the meantime let us know what's keeping you guessing in your outback.




Friday, 23 January 2015

Crest-fallen

The Safari had a day off yesterday to recover from the exertions at the gig and the past our normal bed-time late home.
We used it to do some birding. Well why not, better out than in and although it was a cold day there wasn't any wind to make life uncomfortable.
Our first stop was down in to the estuary where the midday high tide - a real whopper - would flood the newly developing salt march and drive out anything lurking within. We haven't been to this part of the coast for a while and were surprised to see how much the salt marsh had grown, it's still only a thin strip along the beach but must be at least quarter of a mile long if not more - gonna be an impressive additional piece of habitat as it develops in years to come.
We'd asked AH for her local knowledge and she suggested we got into position about an hour before the top of the tide, which due to 'speed of the wind' old gimmer traffic we only just made,  already the water was lapping the outermost clumps of vegetation. There were about 1000 Oystercatchers shuffling landwards as the water rose. Curlews were numerous too along with the odd Redshank. In the distance to our right a Little Egret stalked around. A flock of about 30 Grey Plovers flew upstream looking for somewhere dry to roost while others in the distance wailed their plaintive call through the hazy mist...a really haunting sound.
The water continued to creep shorewards and doing so started to flush the first of the hidden Snipe out. A few Reed Buntings and a couple of Meadow Pipits appeared too. Most of the Snipe towered up and a way but a few of them pitched down in the long vegetation of the dunes, a risky move seeing it was a doggy hell, mutts were everywhere.
Behind us a movement caught our peripheral vision and turning round we saw a flock of Greenfinches laying into the last remaining hips on a Rosa rugosa thicket.
Overhead a Peregrine whorled around trying unsuccessfully to spook the waders on the ground; ground? They we rapidly running out of that commodity and were continually shuffling around to find the shallowest patches before the water became too deep and they were forced to fly off.
Eventually almost all the waders had left and we waited for the first of the Jack Snipe to lift out of the flooded marsh. It didn't take long before the first one did and then another and another, eventually there were five and a total of 11 Snipe. A large flock of Linnets flew along the strandline in front of yet more mutts and we thought we heard a Twite or two in with them but were unable to confirm as they turned and flew back over the heads of the oncoming mutts and landed out of sight. It was then that a flock of Knot (96) went past bucking the trend by heading out to sea. A Water Rail flew out of the now very wet marsh, we saw another run out and a third swim out. Over the river a few good sized flocks of Bar Tailed Godwits (97) flew upstream.
Another Jack Snipe came out of the marsh and flew over our head but the last birds out were two Robins - what were they doing in there? So after not seeing a single Jack Snipe last year we saw six here and one on our visit to RSPB Leighton Moss at the very start of the year.
There was another bird in there that we thought might have been another Jack Snipe but in closer inspection turned into a half submerged Water Rail that was clinging to a piece of twiggy driftwood determined not to leave the safely of the cover, it looked like it was going to need a snorkel at times being over half submerged with only the top of its back and head above the gently lapping waves. Fun though it was that Water Rail was going to cost us dear, not that we knew that then.
From the coast we headed to the nature reserve driving past the Great Grey Shrike site on the way where a birder was giving something unseen from the driver's seat a good binning; we ddin't stop.
At the nature reserve we parked up and scurried round to the viewing platform without stopping to look at anything on the way except that we noted much of this end of the mere was frozen.
On the way a couple of birders were leaving by the west gate as we passed and we asked them if they'd seen anything, they had - not long since they'd been watching the Firecrest - dohh we'd probably have a couple of hours wait for it to come round on its circuit again.
Wait we did and while we waited we enjoyed the antics of three Robins charging about the 'woodland' floor.




We pretended to be a Wild Boar and kicked some of the moss aside to see if they'd come to investigate the turned earth - they did!
And found previously hidden morsels, including a rather large caterpillar
They were quite confining; even landing on CR's tripod.
A Dunnock hopped about with the Robins from time to time but above we saw a movement which was more 'interesting'. 'Only' a Goldcrest.



Not the easiest things to get pics of as they seem to stay in the shade and never keep still.
Another turned up but it still wasn't the one we wanted.
A typical 'on the move' sighting
Three hours we gave it, others came and went but we stuck it out until our fingers were that cold we couldn't stand it any longer and we decided to call it a day. We hadn't got far when we bumped into a young couple who asked if we knew where the Firecrest could be found. They were new to birding and didn't know about the Long Eared Owls so we took them round for a look. We couldn't find it/them for them. Next it was back to the Firecrest where they were very patient and gave it an hour. We didn't realise how new they really were until they told us the Long Tailed Tits we just saw flitting round the trees with a Blue Tit and a Great Tit but not a Firecrest (it has been seen with Long Tailed Tits on a couple of occasions) were a Lifer! Nothing wrong with that, we can remember like it was yesterday when we saw them for the first time, back at Leighton Moss even before that new fangled pop group Queen had got together.
After the fourth hour everyone was getting pretty cold as the sun went down so this time we did say our farewells and headed back to Base Camp Firecrestless.
The day hadn't panned out as we had hoped, a quick Firecrest followed by a good look for the Dusky Warbler but hey ho you can't have it all and we did make some new friends so certainly a good day in the field.
Then we had a txt from our Extreme Photographer saying he's been having a bit of a Starling problem.
It keeps giving him the run around.
Where to next? It's the weekend again and no doubt we'll be out somewhere, might have the wellies on as there is some pond clearing work to get stuck into on Sunday, we'll probably just be standing and pointing but it'll be fun and you never know what the crew will find.
In the meantime let us know who's eluding who in your outback


Thursday, 22 January 2015

41 ½


The Safari used to go round to MG’s house after school, or in the hols if the weather wasn’t good enough to play footy, cricket or go out wildlifing round the local farms and woods, to doss round playing board games, cards or table footy while listening to the latest 45s and LPs on his little record play. In the early 70s when we were about a year older than FW is now he put on this LP by a new fangled group we’d not heard of he’d borrowed from another frien
It was different, deffo not heavy rock like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, and not really progressive like Genesis or Yes and certainly not glam rock-poppy like Sweet or Slade nor was it 12 bar bluesy like Status Quo and yet it had elements of all these genres but was certainly in it’s own little musical niche.
When we finally saw them on Top of the Pops some months later by eck did we think they were a bit weird especially that lead singer.
So who is this mystery pop group? Queen of course. We followed them for a few years buying all their albums up to A Day At The Races and then we went to Uni and had a slight musical taste change and ignored them but still continued to hear the singles on the radio through the years. We never did get to go to see them in those early years and then sadly Freddie Mercury died and that too many people was the end of Queen. But not to the other band members who, after a while, began to tour again with ‘guest’ lead singers including Free’s incomparable vocalist Paul Rodgers (who we saw in his Bad Company incarnation along time ago) and then went on to recruit American Idol runner up Adam Lambert.
A new world tour began this year after last year’s success and we just had to grab a ticket or two.


Well were they any good? You betcha! A set list of 24 of the old favourites, Freddy even put in a posthumous appearance through the magic of digital media but you know what they don't really need him anymore - the new boy done real good. This no tribute band, this is the real deal with a different lead singer.
Where to next? Got some stuff from today to tell you about tomoz.
In the meantime let us know who's belting out the tunes in your outback



Saturday, 17 January 2015

You say Martin I say Marton

The Safari was invited on a walk-round and chat with the new staff at the nature reserve yesterday which turned out rather fortuitously.
On a cold and blustery day we had a look at some of the projects that are coming up and rambled on about the 'old days'. Our walk round took us from the under construction visitor centre & classroom across the bridge and along the embankment. We saw various bits n bobs as we walked including a large female Sparrowhawk wafting over the reedbed in the distance which at first pre-bins glance had us thinking ring tailed harrier but to no avail onc the bins were lifted.
We had a look at the pond in the corner which was scraped out of a wet area a few years ago, no Jack Snipe there unfortunately. Rejoining the main path we stopped to let a group of walkers catch up with us and while AH had a chat to them GN and us just admired the scenery. Out of nowhere (well the reedbed actually) down to our left right on the side of the path a Chiffchaff appeared. We lifted the bins and something didn't ring true. It's face was wrong, the rear flanks quite ochorous and although the low morning light was harsh and behind it a Chiffchaff wouldn't have such bright legs would it? Then it called like two stones being knocked together tchk tchk tchk - hang on a mo - what kind of call is that for a Chiffchaff, certainly nothing like a 'normal' one would make and neither would a 'tristis' eastern one? Our mind was racing now! Ahh we've got the camera quick blast off a few pics - but with it being bright sunny and the bird in the shadows we couldn't see it in the viewfinder - point and click and hope. We doubted we got it. We tried to get closer but it moved ahead of us in the dense vegetation still calling until it flew a good few yards and dropped out of view never to be seen again. 
We were definitely unhappy about calling it a Chiffchaff and considered the options of what else it could be which left Dusky Warbler or Radde's Warbler neither of which we are familiar with.
On our round we had a look at the one Long Eared Owl on view and later saw the Iceland Gull drop in for a bathe but didn't see the Firecrest
We finished our circuit and AH and GN left the site leaving us on a very late lunch break so we decided to wander back for another try at the Firecrest. Extremely experienced birders MJ and FW were there and we told them about our warbler which MJ immediately said sounded more like Dusky than Radde's or anything else for that matter. We then listened to the calls of Dusky Warbler on Xeno-canto on our phone and that WAS the call we'd heard earlier - the three of us hit the trail to the reedbed for a look and listen! After a conflab we spoke to CB on the phone and he said it sounded really good for one and put it out as a probable on the pager network - we hoped it would reappear and although late in the afternoon some local birders could get down and confirm the ID.
Once home we downloaded the camera and blow us down there was some semblance of some pics - we had got it after all - after a fashion at least!
We posted the pics on the local birding FB group and within minutes CB phoned to confirm the ID - magic, a self found Lifer (87)! Well double chuffed.
Although we weren't the first to see it as NP had seen it last week apparently but not put an ID to it. 
We ended the day with a tally of 55 for the year at the nature reserve, 10% over half our target for the year.
Today we'd already arranged to meet our long time birding buds at the Place We Do Not Mention By Name on the South-side, very confusing having two superb but very different reserves with almost identical names so close to each other 20km/15miles (but nearly 70 miles round trip by road).
Marton Mere LNR v Martin Mere WWT
It was raw in the weather but great fun, we are quite an irreverent bunch of birders enjoying what we see when and if we see it.
Hazel catkins - early sign of spring
Advertsing a well known tyre and exhaust repair company? One of KB's no doubt
New for the year were Whooper Swan, Pintail, Ruff, Black Tailed Godwit, Coal Tit, Tree Sparrow, Peregrine and Barn Owl (95)

Never mind our numbers, their numbers are spectacular 5000 Pink Feet, 1000 Whoopers, 800 Lapwings and over 60 Ruff. The sights and more particularly sounds are awesome and if you haven't been to witness it then we suggest you get your skates on and get down there if you can...wrap up warm though! 
A couple of Peregrines, more Buzzards than you can shake a stick at, a Marsh Harrier and a Barn Owl at the close of play - we couldn't see the Tawny Owl the small birds were mobbing in an Ivy covered tree.
Many thanks to the gang for a superb day out.
Where to next? Indoors doing an event for the Zoo tomoz.
In the meantime let us know who's making all the noise in your outback.



Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Back on the beach at last

The Safari was able to get a few minutes down on the sands at lunchtime today. It was one of the highest low tides of the year and time was short before the incoming waters covered the beach again.
We had a target in mind but there wasn't much of anything about other than the larger than normal numbers of Common Otter Shells.
Other shells we found were a few Iceland Cyprines
Lots of Prickly Cockles
and we found just singles of Tower Shell
and a gorgeous ?Queen Scallop
A large well worn Native Oyster was a nice surprise, been in the sea a long time. About 15cm long
Bits of seaweed lined the tideline, mostly Spiral Wrack with some strands of Egg Wrack mixed in.
Quite a few birds were on the beach including Patch 2's first Turnstones (P2 #17) and Ringed Plover (P2 #18) which might be somewhere behind the Black Headed Gulls in the pic amongst the Oystercatchers, there were about 30 unapproachable Redshanks too.
By eck it was cold out there! And we didn't find hardly any of our quarry - beach coal for the fire, we thought ther'd be loads after the storms but we only found a couple of bits other than this huge piece which wouldn't fit in Little Bertha. Its about 40cm long and 10 thick
Where to next? Might be back out there on the blustery chilly sands again looking to see what tonight's stormy tide has brought in
In the meantime let us know who's chilling out on the sands in your outback.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Having a lark at the shore

The Safari was out at lunchtime as is usual on a Sunday - we can't get out any earlier - and our first port of call was to pick up BD in the town centre before turning the Land Rover round and heading north.
As we pulled into the car park there was a bloke scoping our quarry in the space between two vans - good job we hadn't sped in to the parking spot as we only saw him at the last minute and could have squished him!
Still he was decent enough to point out that amongst the dozen or so Turnstones (82) was the gorgeousness that is the long staying Shore Lark (83). We still haven't got a decent close up pic of it but do we really need to it's enough just to keep popping up here to enjoy it and long may it continue to stay - we could come everyday and still not get tired of seeing it.
Before we could get all the kit including camera out of the Land Rover a flippin dog walker flushed it over on to the beach. Off went to have a look for it. The wind the other side of the low dunes was fierce and cold, holding the bins still enough to see anything was tricky!
We tried our best but couldn't find it but did see a good number of Ringed Plovers hunkered well down behind the beach pebbles.

Two ladies arrived scopes in hand and asked if we'd seen the Shore Lark - we hadn't but all was not lost as after about five minutes searching B called out he'd got it and gave us rock by rock directions to it. Our ladies were well happy as their scope views were pretty good.
After a good look at the lark and enjoying some Turnstones also hunkered down with the plovers and a couple of Sanderlings working the incoming tide we had a quick look out to sea but the visibility was shocking so back to the car park it was.
And there was the Shore Lark, back on the grass with some more Turnstones...who'd have thunk it.
Our next stop was just along the way at the still drained marine lake where a number of gulls were roosting including two Great Black Backs. OK gulls are great but they weren't our main target here, that was somewhere in amongst the ranked masses of Redshanks and Turnstones. We couldn't see it at first and had to leave the shelter of the shelter and wander further along the bank of the lake to get a better angle 'round the corner' of the island where the roosting flock continued.
And amongst that flock was the smaller, darker form of one of the Purple Sandpipers (84). Not the best views as it had its back to us and its head under its wing fast asleep.
From there it was off to the nearby nature park (aka dog walking hell-hole) where not unsurprisingly we saw no other naturalists and shed loads of dog walkers - good job we had a dog with us then isn't it! The prime purpose of our visit here was to check out the pools and shed roofs for any out of the ordinary gulls. There were plenty of 'ordinary' gulls but no out-of-the-ordinary gulls, most of the gulls were flying around rather than roosting on the roof where it might have been a bit windy for them. 
A flock of small birds landed on the far side of the accessible pool and we sent B round to get a look/pic at them but somehow they'd vanished by the time he got round there - neither of us saw them fly off but they weren't there! They could have Linnets but there could have been a Twite or two with them or vise versa.
It was cruelly cold out there and once the gulls had decided not to give up their secrets we headed off elsewhere...the nature reserve to be precise. But we had a plan...we took BD the long way round to the waste depot with the Iceland Gull, the depot had just closed there were workers' vans about to leave and the machine was parked up in the shed making for zero gulls loafing around on the roof.
If there were any gulls on the mere they weren't in front of the FBC Hide, indeed very little was there.
There were a few Teal tucked against the reeds, still displaying despite the strong cold wind and driving rain, and  a few Coots, toughing it out on the open water. Across on the island were a handful of Cormorants, one really strikingly white headed, a some Mallards, the drakes now looking very dapper in their breeding finery.
In the reeds behind the island a Reed Bunting (MMLNR #46) dropped to roost and in an Apple tree beyond that at least 18 Magpies gathered before moving on to their main roost in the zoo.
And then the weather was too much for the pair of us and called it a day. Not the best day's safari-ing we've ever had but it wasn't all that bad  in the end, was it?
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 to see what the storms might have brought  in.
In the meantime let us know who's got their head down in your outback.