Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Sandwiches on the beach

The Safari was able to get a good look at Patch 2 this morning. The tide was just on the ebb and there wasn't much happening until we found a distant shoal of fish with a rake load of Gannets and gulls in attendance. The action was too far out and the sea too choppy to be able to tell if there was any blubber beneath them.
In the office we had a shuffy round the interweb to see if we could make any sense of yesterday's mystery swimmer. After a few abortive dead ends we had a stroke of luck and came across the very thing on a website we use quite often, iSpot. Turns out is was almost definitely an Idotea linearis...and the local area has some history of the species, there being a tetrad noted up beyond Chat Alley as well as across the bay on the NBN map. Mystery solved then, life's good!
At lunchtime we had a full hour watching the sea for National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Crikey the wind was cold! Not only cold it was strong too, a fair bit stronger than earlier. 
The first thing we noted was there were lots of Common Terns fishing close in and among them there were a few juvenile Sandwich Terns, the first we've seen this year. A look at the beach to the south revealed more down there roosting up conserving their strength rather than battling with the wind.
Looking out to sea it didn't take us long to find the fish, or at least their associated flock of birds. There were now two large shoals, was it two or was it just one massive one that had (been?) split into two parts?
There were probably over 100 Gannets and shed loads of gulls. Several Manx Shearwaters drifted past closer in too, always good to see them.
We had a pathetic effort at digi-scoping the flock but really it was far too far away.
We reckon there's at least 50 birds in the pic, we missed the central densest part of the flock - dohh!
As with earlier the range was too far and the sea was too choppy to detect any blubber.
All too soon the hour was up and back inside we had to go.
Where to next? We've got another hour out looking at Patch 2 tomorrow - will the weather be more condusive to blubber spotting?
In the meantime let us know where the sandwiches are in your outback.


Monday, 27 July 2015

Its all happening under the pier

The Safari spotted a most welcome returnee on the drive up the hill, the Peregrine was back on the tower after an absence of several months.
Our planned whale and dolphin watched was totally scuppered by the weather, visibility in the totally dreek conditions was only a few hundred yards. But after that we had an event for young children and their parents on the beach up by the pier. While we waited for them to arrive the weather started to clear a bit. They arrived in dribs and drabs and as we waited for the last few to arrive we chatted to the others and it wasn't long before the subject of killer gulls came up. There were some concerned parents of not much more than toddlers in the group - they've really believed the Daily Fail's rubbish - and here we were stood around with at least 50 of the ravening feathered monsters hanging around.
We told them about the different species found on our beach - more than the whole of Australia - and how the lessening amount of brown showed how they aged. We pointed out the Black Headed Gulls brown heads and looked at the silvery mantle of the Herring Gulls but then noticed one of them wasn;t quite 'right', far too dark but not a Lesser Black Back Gull either. It was (possibly) the long staying Yellow Legged Gull that's been hanging round here for a few years.
Once on the beach and now not worried about any species of gull no matter which they started their beachcombing. Being little ones we'd told them not to touch any jellyfish, it wasn't long before the shout of "jellyfish" went up for along the beach. Oh my it was a real whopper! A Lion's Mane Jellyfish nearly a metre across the widest visible tentacles. 
The beach wasn't over-exciting so they wandered down under the piers where there are pools of water around the legs. Minutes later the firsts small Green Shore Crabs and Brown Shrimps were in the pots. What we hadn't realised was there were quite a lot of Sabellaria 'reefs' amongst the piles.
This wasn't the best find of the day though. One of the little ones caught something quite unusual, some kind of Isopod the like of which we've never seen before. It was very thin about a centimetre long with a pair of long antennae almost as long as the body. Wish we could have been able to get a pic. We have our marine biologist friend DB on the case, wonder what she'll be able to tell us tomorrow.
All good stuff!
Where to next? More sea staring - weather permitting
In the meantime let us know what's amongst the piles in your outback.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Wel that wasn't quite what we expected

The Safari was out again for National Whale and Dolphin Watch, this time at the cliffs at Chat Alley on the dropping tide. We were relieved to find the sea was calmer than yesterday and the forecast strong westerly wind hadn't materialised but instead a stiffish offshore wind was blowing and the driving rain hadn't started yet.
It looked pretty good out there, barely a white horse, good visibility and no shadows from the overcast sky.
It didn't take long to pick up a few small flocks of Common Scoters and then about 10 young Gannets working their way south.
Behind us the punters went by on their Sunday morning wanders, it was amusing to listen to their chat which invariably meant they'd just read our sign out loud...good to know almost everyone who came by could read even if they were a little incredulous that there might actually be some of those whales and dolphins out there - and the seemingly ubiquitous 'killer' seagulls, the Daily Fail and the like have a lot to answer for...maybe it would be better if the masses didn't read them
One chap told us had actually seen Bottlenosed Dolphins last week but when we quizzed him further it seems they were the last ones seen that we saw at the start of the month. He was chufferd though, lived here all his life and that was the first time he'd ever seen - or even heard of - any.
Some of the younger children looked out to see and saw all sorts of good things, whale blows (our Minke Whales don't do that) and lots of leaping dolphins - isn't imagination, or excellent eyesight, great!
We had some volunteers turn up just after we'd found a huge shoal of fish away to our left, just offshore from Patch 2 where we were yesterday...isn't that always the case. There were hundreds of gulls in attendance and a good number of Gannets diving, that was were the Gannets we'd seen earlier were headed. Unfortunately the action was too far away to tell if anything mammalian was there too.
The shoal moved slowly northwards towards us as the tide ebbed so it looked like we might be in with a shout of some blubber. Up to now we'd not even seen a Grey Seal which we would have expected in the reasonable sea conditions.
Then the weather started to close in. The distant low cloud was no longer distant and we felt light spots of rain.
On the beach a couple walked along the sands left by the tide and then stopped, the middle-aged bloke stripped off revealing long swimming shorts and very bravely entered the water for a swim and became the only blubber we'd see.
The weather closed further and we decided to abandon ship at half time once the feeding frenzy was lost in the cloud and wasn't going to work its way nearer any time soon. 
Four Eiders flew past and we found a couple of very close-in female Common Scoters but that was the lot - back to Base camp we went soaking wet.
Where to next? We'll be back out looking at the sea on Patch 2 tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know if there was some weather today in your outback


Saturday, 25 July 2015

The gulls are coming - run for your lives!

The Safari was out on Patch 2 for the first day of National Whale and Dolphin Watch. We had plenty of volunteers today, including a young lass who'd traveled by train from Derby! and DB chair of the Lancashire Mammal Group among their number, but the wind had whipped up a bit after yesterday's calm and it was a tad to choppy for seeing any cetaceans. 
 
We did find a Grey Seal quite close in early on and managed to get a few of the passing punters on to it. Then another turned up a short way to the south of our watch point.
There wasn't too much else to get excited about, there were hardly any sea birds out there and not so many on the beach either - must have all been in town ripping terriers to shreds and carrying off babies. Three juvenile Kittiwakes and a juvenile Gannet were pick if the bunch. 
We'll be out again tomorrow morning but sadly the weather forecast is looking very promising at all.
Once back at Base Camp we had to venture outside to hang some laundry and saw that these two very scary looking reprobates were lurking furtively on the roof looking down on us licking their beaks in anticipation of a meal of warm, fresh and dripping human flesh.

Wisely we covered our head in a thick towel while we hung the rest of laundry on the line.
Not long after Wifey had to go to her sister's on an errand - we had to make sure the coast was clear - it wasn't the 'sea'gulls had set up sentries on the look out for victims on several nearby roofs.
She made a dash for it from the front door all of 10 paces to her car using the garden shrubbery as cover - Oh no! She was spotted..one swooped in for the kill it's menacing eye locked onto the top of poor Wifey's head.
Thankfully she reached the car flung open the door and dived inside before it could strike.
It's getting seriously dangerous out there - Help us Mr Ca-moron pleeeeaseeee before we all DIEEEE
Really though all this biophobic ecocidal nonsense has to stop, is it part of the complete disconnect with the natural world that has been called Nature Deficit Disorder
We learned this arvo that some half-wits had killed five large mature trees by drilling large holes in them and packing them with poison - what is the world coming to?
The Safari implores anyone with any knowledge of natural history to get busy and promote it as a wonderful thing to everyone else especially those that don't want to know - there are none so blind as those who won't see, keep plugging away sharing those wondrous moments and fuzzy out of focus pics without being too evangelical. A local community inter-web forum here has a huge long thread about the 'need' to get rid of 'sea'gulls, why you ask...the over-riding consensus is they make  a noise early in the morning and sh*t on peoples' cars. They've even written to their MP (Tory) demanding action...this is a seaside town what do they expect? If they don't like gulls they should move to Coventry or some other such well inland place! Roof nesting has been going on for years here so why they haven't got used to it by now is beyond us. We suspect it's because the attitude of 'normal' people is to be far more intolerant of wildlife than in the past especially brought about by a government and (pocket) media demonising just about everything that moves and those same general Jo Publics just keep on lapping it up along with all the other cr*p the corporate moguls shovel at them.
Where to next? We'll be back on the coast but you can bet your bottom dollar we'll be keeping a watchful eye out for those pesky seagulls.
In the meantime let us know who's been carrying away all the babies in your outback.




Friday, 24 July 2015

Pretty in pink

The Safari had an unexpected bonus last night as we took Frank out, we saw our first Base Camp Pipistrelle bat if the year, we were almost reaching the point of dispair thinking we wouldn't see any at all - now all it has to do is come back and bring some friends with it; there's plenty of midges flying over the pond for it in the late evening.
We really liked the look of the sea today as we drove to work...it was carpet smooth and we were able to get a few minutes scan before opening up to the masses. Not a lot was out there apart from a few flocks of Common Scoters numbering in the region of 100, they're starting to build up now. A Grey Seal bobbed along on the current a long way out and that was about the lot apart from a shed load of gulls on the beach to our left - Mr Ca-moron is really going to have to have a conversation about those - seagulls at the seaside on the beach - - would you credit it?
Just before lunchtime we spotted the mum of a young family taking pics with her phone of something in our wildflower meadow. Turned out to be a Cinnabar moth caterpillar chewing its way through  a Ragwort plant. We had a chat to them showing the daughter where the Ant's nest was, she had asked, and the young lad spotted a butterfly basking on the windows. his dad thought it was  Painted Lady but it was 'only' a Small Tortoiseshell - seems he'd had the two muxed ip all his life!
We were showing them the other plants in the meadow explaining that like the Cinnabars and Ragwort, many other caterpillars only eat one or two species of plants like Nettles for the Small Tortoiseshell and the Birds Foot Trefoil for the Common Blue butterflies. It was then we spotted two 'new' Deptford Pink plants in flower a little way away from the one we've shown you in previous posts.
The family left and we went for lunch after which we were straight out with the scope and were relieved to see the sea was still flat calm.
Nothing much had changed since earlier other than a second Grey Seal had arrived. With viewing conditions as good as they were were loathe to leave but decided to have another slightly longer than normal lunch break and give it a couple more scans. Well are we glad we did - two Harbour Porpoises appeared as if by magic about a mile or so straight out in front of us and stuck around for a while. We wouldn't swear to it but it looked like one was larger than the other and the stuck close together surfacing and diving in synchrony so could well have been a mother and calf. We watched them for about five minutes and then as mysteriously as they appeared they disappeared and by now we had to too.
Where to next? We got it wrong yesterday - tomorrow is the first day of National Whale & Dolphin Watch, do join us if you can.
Will those Harbour Porpoises stick around? Will the sea be calm enough for us to see them?
In the meantime let us know who's the prettiest in pink in your outback.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Quail for lunch and tea - tasty!

The Safari got out for a short while yesterday morning and was only able to find a distant Grey Seal and a lot of juvenile Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls.
Today was no better, the Grey Seal wasn't playing out either but a lone Dunlin did fly past in front of the digging rig. We've learned that each bucketful the rig digs is about 20 tons and they've been digging for weeks!
Mid morning we discovered there were a few Quails not far away yesterday so as we had an errand to run at lunchtime we were able to make a bit of a detour and see if we could locate them. not many minutes later we parked up the Land Rover and wandered down the track. Gatekeeper butterflies were everywhere and then not more than 100 yards along we heard the distinctive 'wet my lips' song coming from behind the hedge on our right. It's quite an evocative sound or is that just because we hear it so rarely. Quail (172) on the list and not one we were expect to get in any particular year, our last one was in 2011.
With time short we saw some other 'birders' a bit further down and hurried to tell them we'd heard one...but they weren't birders they were pigeon shooters but were thrilled to hear two more Quails, one said he'd not heard them since the 1950s.
We had to go but decided to come back after work inviting BD to come with us as he was nearby anyway having an afternoon searching for more orchids on the dunes.
The tea-time session was longer and gave us more opportunities to have a proper look at what other wildlife was around, more Gatekeepers, a Large White, a Comma and some impressive Peacock caterpillars.
There was only one Quail singing now but it was joined by a couple of Corn Buntings and lots of House Martins over the field. A really bright Emperor dragonfly flew along the ditch between us and the field.
Behind us the Barley was nearly ready for harvest and catching the afternoon sun nicely.
Barley, Wheat and Oats are in the pic - can you see them all?
We imagined what it must have been like in the (very) old days with Water Voles 'plopping' in the ditch lots of Quails in the field instead of just two or three and some Corncrakes rasping away too amongst the wildflower rich fields and lots of Corn Buntings in the not butchered to almost beyond recognition hedges.
The walk back along the lane gave us a couple of Greenfinches and a Goldfinch along with a very fresh Small Tortoiseshell.
Quail eh, nice...still never actually seen one though.
Where to next? First day of National Whale and Dolphin Watch tomorrow so we'll be down on Patch 2 for four hours. 
In the meantime let us know what's wetting your lips in your outback.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Headed out east today

The Safari picked up BD quite late in the morning after a visit to the docs, we can feel a couple of hand operations coming along in the not too distant future. Our plan was to hit the high roads of the eastern hills and see if we couldn't pick up a couple or three year birds and find some other interesting stuff too.
All was going swimmingly until we got stuck behind an fully laden articulated tanker truck on the narrowest of country lanes, OK a bit of patience was required but every bend had on-coming traffic and some folk don't know the width of their vehicles! We lost a good ten minutes or more of valuable safari-ing time before the driver was able to let us past safely.
We got close to the turn to our destination and saw 'Road Closed' - darn it! Last time we wanted to come this way the road was closed for repairs too. An alternative had be found and quick. Fortunately BD has never been to this area before so we decided to bunk into the valley we used to visit regularly with Wifey and Frank when he could walk that far.
We parked in the village car park and had a wander to the river bank. We hadn't been out of the Land Rover more than a couple of minutes before the first Clegg came sniffing round. Out came the insect repellent; we'll be glad to get back to work tomorrow to allow the DEET to drain out of our system!
Once fully DEETed up we set off on our walk up the river and soon came upon a bush covered in caterpillar webs. On closer inspection little white dashes all over the outside of the webs were in fact adult moths, perhaps only just emerged.
There were hundreds of them and they were easily disturbed by the slightest movement but didn't really fly far before settling again.
We're fairly confident they might be Bird Cherry Ermine moths.
Like the Cleggs yesterday the Red Soldier Beetles were also out on the Creeping Thistles again today.
A Garden Warbler sang from a tree which also had a Blue Tit and a Robin.
It didn't take too long to find one of the alternative site's specialities, Heath Spotted Orchid.
There were lots of them along the trackside, only trouble was when we got back to Base Camp and looked them up in the Lancashire Atlas we discovered they were Common Spotted Orchids; Heath Spotted now only occur in five restricted areas of the county and this isn't one of them - dohhh.
Buoyed by our 'success' we pressed on onwards and upwards. A tatty Sparrowhawk cruised along the tree tops to our left and to the right we saw a Kestrel which when coming towards us looked so much like a Peregrine we made a schoolboy ID error. It flew around in an agitated manner for a while then went back from whence it came and had a tussle with another bird of prey hidden in the Heather. But what was it? B took his big camera over and fired away as we couldn't see anything with our bins.
Whatever it is it's up there somewhere
What raptor did we see that could be hiding up there? A Hen Harrier perhaps? With no apparent joy we continued up the hill briefly stopping to get out of the rain behind a shed where B found a small Puffball just protruding through the grass
Looking at it closely and cutting it open inside was a slimy greenish sludge - euchhh, not like the firm insides of a Giant Puffball.
We looked for Common Lizards on the stony walls and doing so spotted a wasp around a patch of Figwort, it didn't look quite right for a normal Common Wasp so we both took some pics. 
It didn't give itself up lightly
Again once back at Base Camp it was identified via Twitter by none other than Richard Lewington, he of the field guide illustrations fame, as Figwort Sawfly which B discovered was a first for Lancashire until a few minutes later CR piped up with a not so fast me hearties, he's been waiting for confirmation of one he put on iRecord from the nature reserve a couple of years ago - the race is on!
We were looking at something and nothing, possibly the tiny flower Tormentil, when B called out 'lizard!', he'd only just gone and found his first ever British Common Lizard. Were very close to it and it disappeared down it's hidey-hole before we'd caught a glimpse of it and long before any cameras could be pointed in its direction.
A little further up the lane the Kestrel was back and appeared to be calling loudly.
It flew off and the calling stopped but we weren't convinced it was the Kestrel, it was something else, a very anxious Common Sandpiper was in the stream close by not at all happy that there was an aerial predator in its territory.
At the water's meet we watched House Martins, Swallows and a few Sand Martin's cruising around in the rain over the big weir. Looking down into the river we could see no fish in the strongly peat stained water. The water gets pulled off for drinking in several towns a few yards down stream and we pay in our water bills to have it cleaned. The staining comes from the over drained moorland used for driven grouse shooting. Surely the polluter should pay not us, even if their name does begin with Duke of....time for you all to support this year's Hen Harrier Day even if you're not a birder or don't care about the concerted illegal killings of a protected bird the actions of a few affect the many in several ways, mostly in our pockets, increased flood risk insurance premiums, climate change risks and all to kill as many Red Grouse as possible in a short a time as possible for as much money as possible.
Rant over - there was an impressive bull in the field by the weir - we're no cattle expert but we think he's a Belgian Blue or at least a BB crossed with something. Whatever he is he's a bit of a beast.
The rain came down heavier making the valley round the corner rather less photogenic than it usually is. Those cut fields have been silaged, in the old days they'd have been hay meadows and full of a huge variety of of wildflowers, now they probably contain Rye Grass, a few Dandelions and a Chickweed or two.
This is a one way in same way out walk and the way back was against the rain, we were soon soaked through.
Our friend the Kestrel was on the ground on a nearby Heather clad hillside.
Overhead soaring higher over the fellside was our third raptor of the day, a Buzzard...is it just us or are you seeing fewer Buzzards than expected?
The rain continued to pour down as we looked on the bank where the Common Lizard was and lo and behold it was still there despite the downpour. Again it did a bunk as soon as we spotted it and with the rain cameras were well tucked away so there was no chance of a pic. This is the closest we could get to it.
There were a few soggy sheep about too.
More plants were noted after our botanising trip on Friday when we found some different species of St John's Wort, here was a new one Square Stemmed St John's Wort.
Back at the Land Rover our safari wasn't quite over, a Mayfly was on the side of the car as we unlocked it.




Once again great wildlife and good company to enjoy and share it with...and no we didn't see any Hen Harriers, the mystery bird up the fellside turned out to be another Kestrel.
Where to next? National Whale and Dolphin Watch is coming up starting this weekend, hope the weather isn't too windy - see you there - - look under Cheshire, don't ask!
In the meantime let us know if there's any Hen harriers in your outback...ohhh there isn't why not??? Please sign the petition, let Them know we care and won't be fobbed off!