Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Short changed

The Safari has had the best views of Short Eared Owls (MMLNR #105) at the nature reserve since the early 1990's when that was the 'default' hunting over the rough grassland that is now the golf course. Now the default owl are the Long Eared Owls that sit quietly all winter tucked up in the scrub but which are unfortunately notably invisible so far this this season.
Yesterday we had a look for the one seen at the weekend with no success and not seeing very much else either apart from a good number of Fieldfares.
As darkness grew we trundled off head down against the chilly wind until we got to the wetland were we stopped for one last look for the Stonechat and BOOM - a Shorty flew though our field of view. It quartered back and forth across the wetland and then over to the rough fields further away before coming back and passing within a few yards of us, we could almost have reached out and grabbed it as it flew by looking at us with its bright yellow eyes. SU-flippin-PERBBBBBBB.
We went back today for another look. Again the reserve was fairly quiet apart from fewer but still plenty of Fieldfares and Blackbirds. Looking over the water we found two male and a female Pochards as well as a doubling of Goldeneye numbers to four, the two females being joined by our first adult male of the season and a 1st winter male.
A pink Rose has burst into flower at the back of one of the scrubby areas.
The afternoon passed and a bit of a sunset began to develop while we were at the far end so we got into the reedbed to try some arty shots, sadly the hoped for red hues didn't materialise, but you get the gist
We had a chat to the Ranger who was packing the kit away after a day's hedgelaying with the volunteers when the moon began to rise...a Goldcrest nearly landed on his head just after the pic was taken, he hadn't seen it but moved and it jinked away landing in the bushes some distance away.
As we chatted some Starlings came in and did a mini-murmuration, others had already come in and gone straight into their reedbed roost without any flying around kerfuffle. It was quite dark by now and we thought we'd left it a bit late for spotting any owls.
Off we went back towards the car past the wetland where we stood for a few minutes without any sign of the Shorty, we were just about to give up when two 'crows' started interacting high over the treetops at the corner of the reserve. We put the bins up to watch their antics only to see they weren't crows at all they were TWO Short Eared Owls. They cavorted with each other in twists and spirals well above the tree tops for several minutes before they split up and went their separate ways - those ways didn't include coming down to hunt the wetland though. 
Where to next? Last day of sick leave tomorrow so we'll try to get out somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who's doubled their numbers in your outback.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Something for the weekend

The Safari went out to Chat Alley on Friday afternoon, there was  another hooley blowing and the tide was rising so we hoped for a few windblown seabirds, especially as EM had told us of loads of Kittiwakes down on his patch not far to the south of us. The wind had more north in it than our last safari and our sheltered position was seriously compromised with an icy blast hitting us in the face if we peered too far round the corner of the the building to get a decent view of the sea. Behind us gulls and Oystercatchers made the most of the last uncovered sandbank.
We took a walk down to the lower pro, mainly just to get the circulation going, to have a look at the bottom of the go-kart track wall before the tide covered it to see if there were any Purple Sandpipers about. There weren't and the usual wader roost on the wall didn't happened, even the Redshanks didn't come in today.
We did find a Starling that looked a bit worse for wear, not much of it had been eaten so it may not have been predated just scavenged. Not having a suitable bag we didn't pocket it to give to SB for her skull collection.
Before we got back to our vantage point the first squall came in, by eck it was cold and wet, soft fine snow, almost hail. From then on squall after squall whipped in on the increasing wind.
Some of the heavier ones seriously reducing visibility, at times we could hardly see the sea never mind any seabirds!
It wasn't long before we bottled out and scurried back to Base Camp to get Little Bertha fired up.
Later we went back out to the Starling roost but despite about 10000 coming in they didn't want to murmurate and went straight under the pier to roost - we didn't blame them.
Saturday we to Wifey to the NW bird fair at the 'place we don't mention by name' to buy her a new pair of bins out of a little unexpected windfall we got last week. After trying a few she settled on a pair and is now all ED'd up. We also bumped into EM meeting him for the first time as he was with FW promoting Young Birders for the BTO.
Once she was suitably ED'd it was time to see some birds. We had a look from the extremely busy but very impressive new hide but opted for the older and colder, and far less busy, Swan Link hide in the end where she impressed us with her identification skills, pointing out Whooper and Mute Swans, Shelducks, Wigeon and a Lapwing. A couple of days of cold weather had brought more Whooper Swans down from the north and there were some disputes going on as to who should have the best positions for the imminent Warden's swan feed.
From there we had a quick look round thee collection where Wifey's new opyics came into their own as she saw new detail on common species like the wing bar on a Robin and enjoyed droplets of water sitting on the plumage of a Red Crested Pochard.
We both enjoyed stunning views of the Southern African Crowned Cranes.
As dusk fell it was time to head back to Base Camp not having met up and chatted to half the people we would have liked to but did meet a few old friends we've not seen for some time.
Sunday brought our Extreme Photographer to our door on a short vacation trip back up north. We went to the nature reserve to show him all the new works that have been going on since he moved away. He got a very brief glimpse of a Short Eared Owl that we totally missed but we did see the three Goosanders (MMLNR #104) that he picked up milliseconds before they flew through our field of view.
Shame our Extreme Photographer was camera-less today
We've not seen them there for years. There was plenty of the usual around too with great views of Great Spotted Woodpecker and loads of Fieldfares being pick of the bunch.
Where to next? We've got three days left off work so that Shorty has to be number one on the hit list. 
In the meantime let us know who's seeing all the detail in your outback.

Friday, 20 November 2015

We're seriously losing our touch

The Safari was once again going a bit stir crazy stuck indoors watching the rain hammer down. Once again the feeders were devoid of bird activity as was the rest of the garden, a cold snap is needed to bring all our feathered friends back into the garden. After lunch the rain stopped and we had to get out for some fresh air and wild time. It was nowhere near as windy as forecast so instead of going to the cliffs to watch the tide up again we went for a gentle potter round the nature reserve. The was some wind, although nothing like the predicted gale. The tree-tops whooshed, the reedbeds swished and in sheltered places there was the clinketing sound of dry leaves tumbling through the twigs and branches to the ground. Nothing else sounds quite like falling leaves - have a listen next time you're out.
We made our way to the viewing platform (Teal View) ever hopeful the Bittern might fly past, or better still be stood at the reed edge around the pool in front of us fishing. Needless to say it didn't and it wasn't. On the walk down a Mistle Thrush flew overhead and we heard a couple of Blackbirds clucking away as they fed on the windfall Apples, certainly seemed like a bit of Blackbird influx. Out on the water the waterfowl were still tucked up in the reeds along the far bank, Mallard, Wigeon, a few Teal and a couple of Shovelers were on view, many more were undoubtedly secreted out of sight deeper in the reeds. A couple of dozen Coot and a handful of Tufted Ducks were braver and feeding right out in the open water as was a Great Crested Grebe, not seen one here for a good while, not since the end of the breeding season.
There were also a fair number of gulls to look at. If our regularly returning Iceland Gull is going to show this season it can't be far away so it was worth a look even if it was unlikely to appear on the south westerlies of recent days. Most were Black Headed Gulls and although we were looking against the light viewing conditions weren't too bad and we gave the flock a good going over several  times without finding anything out of the ordinary.
With the possibilities exhausted and nothing out of the ordinary seen we moved on. A few minutes later we got a call from MMCG asking if we'd seen the Mediterranean Gull, of course we hadn't - what's going on????? We really are seriously losing our touch! We used to be able to sniff these out at least a mile away, missing one in a flock of less than 200 Black Headed Gulls is a heinous oversight, more than that it's almost a crime. Back we went for a 'proper' look; it took more minutes than we care to admit to find it.
Can you see it?
It drifted around in the flock and eventually gave us some better views - they are one of the best birds in the book, even in their winter garb.
Best bird of the day now seen we continued our circuit seeing nothing in the scrub apart from a couple more Blackbirds, deffo an bit  of an influx and hearing a Goldcrest. The almost hurricane force winds haven't blown all the fruits and berries off the trees and shrubs which is good as many species of birds prefer to feed up in relative the safety of the canopy rather than on windfall fruit on the ground if they can. The bright red berries of Guelder Rose are always cited as being great for wildlife and as such the bush is regularly planted in landscape schemes, not sure if we've ever seen anything eat them though there's still plenty on one one particular bush we'll keep an eye on over the coming months and see what happens. Maybe its nocturnal mice that eat them rather than diurnal birds???
Passing the time of day and comparing recent sightings with TS we both heard a Water Rail, the first since the water levels began to rise. He went on his way and we had a look at the rough grassland below the embankment thinking there be might be hungry Short Eared Owl out hunting after the very windy night and very wet morning - there wasn't! There was a nice flock of 17 Fieldfares that came in from the fields over our heads and landed in the scrub to take advantage of a quick refuel on the Apples.
Returning the way we'd come we had a quick look from Heron Hide and saw a Heron on the far side. Still no Bitterns flying up and down the reedbeds to our left and right nor opposite though. The Fieldfares were still in the scrub nearby their russet and grey tones a perfect combination for an autumn afternoon. On we went and got caught in a stinging squall hastily trying to reach the next hide for some shelter but it was over before we got there, TS had also sought refuge there and was coming out saying he'd just seen a female Goldeneye but it had disappeared out of sight. Back down on Teal View he soon picked it up close to the reeds, the first we've seen this season. he went on his way and we stayed to wait for, yes you've guessed it, the invisible Bittern.
Small flocks of Starlings came towards us low over the water but went straight through to the pier roost rather than stopping to murmurate here, LR had earlier told us he'd seen about 1500 leave the reedbed roost at first light this morning. It was watching one of those flocks we spotted there were now two female Goldeneyes.
A Sparrowhawk sped across the top of the reeds probably hoping to surprise a Snipe then veered off into the scrub sending the Fieldfares chattering noisily in all directions.
We then got a txt from CR saying he was going down to the pier to watch the Starlings again but we declined the offer to join him - we were still waiting for that sodding Bittern!!! It was almost worth hanging around as there were stacks of gulls coming in for a pre-roost bathe, almost all were Black Headed Gulls, probably well over 99%. After their ablutions they leave SW over the trees to their roost on the sand flats in the estuary. We watched them go in case of another Mediterranean Gull but got on what looked rather like a second winter Ring Billed Gull instead. Sadly unclaimable but did show the following features, pale mantle about same as BHG with hardly discernible white trailing edge, the feature which made us look harder at it, a well marked head, no mirror visible in the outer primaries, a few black flecks in the outer secondaries of one wing only, could have been both but for angle, light conditions and shortness of view, broken black tail band. It could easily have been 'just' a Common Gull but that paleness of the mantle just wasn't 'right'. One to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks.
So another  couple of hours of very enjoyable 'wildtime' came to an end as the light faded and another shower rattled in on the increasing wind.
But maybe we should have taken up CR's offer - here's his video of the proceedings.

Where to next? It's a dilemma now, it's very windy but it's low tide will Chat Alley be worth a look, do we try the nature reserve again and hope for the dodgy gull, or try somewhere completely different - ohh decisions decisions. 
in the meantime let us know who's not coming out to play in your outback.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Barney blows a bit of a hooley

The Safari has been getting a bit stir crazy confined to barracks so yesterday afternoon our bad hand felt quite good and we decided it was time to try a little drive once the tropical style rain had stopped. We didn't go far just down to the prom to watch the tide rise.
There was an increasing sou'westerly with heavy showers so we found the most sheltered place we could at the top of the cliffs. From our lofty vantage point we had a good view down the troughs between the waves so hopefully if anything came past we wouldn't miss it hidden behind the large waves.
Shower after shower rolled in but fortunately none lasted more than a few minutes giving us lots of rainbows. Our choice of shelter was good so we didn't get wet, thankfully it wasn't too cold either.
Without the scope we were a bit limited distance-wise but visibility in the squalls was limited anyway but all we kept finding was gulls cruising towards us along the cliff edge going to roost over the high tide further down the coast.
It was quite dramatic and exhilarating especially so as we've not been outside much over the last fortnight. 
Others were equally exhilarated which is good to see, and got even nearer to the action.
We missed the next big breaker which totally swamped the car, they drove off pretty quick after that!
There's always some poor guys that have to work in these challenging conditions.
Below us was the former boating pool now used as a go-kart track. At high tide there is a wader roost on the top wall or if windy on the high ledge on the inside of the wall. Today there was no chance of roosting on the top of the wall although a single Turnstone tried briefly before going elsewhere. The ledge was being washed by water slooshing through the drain holes so that was no good either. 77 Redshanks tucked themselves in behind the tryes marking the lanes of the race track but there were no other species with them, we'd hoped there might have been a Purple Sandpiper or two.
Looking north the visibility was good apart from the squalls and we were treated to yet more rainbows.
Someone's going to come back to their hotel room to find a crock of gold under the bed - that'd be a nice surprise!
Looking the other way was hopeless for spotting any wildlife but looking into the sun was extremely dramatic.
Shame the breaking wave on the far right is just out of frame
After a couple of hours stood scanning with not a bird in sight over the sea a bit of dark movement caught our eye amid the white water. It took five minutes of concentrating before we picked it up again a little nearer and not too far off the wall, a Bonxie and with it another large skua but this one was pale, a Pomarine Skua. Something was going on they didn't act like traveling companions the Pom stayed down on the water unless a white water breaker threatened to engulf it when it would lift up let the wave pass and drop to the surface again.Each time it did this the Bonxie did the same whether it too was going to engulfed or not, landing close behind it giving us the impression it wasn't being that friendly and was maybe waiting for the apparently weakened Pom to keel over then hey presto - lunch! We didn't see what happened as they drifted past us into the sunny side of our watch point. Interesting and certainly better than but but we would have liked a Leach's Petrel, Little Gulls, a Sabine's Gull and/or Grey Phalarope to come past...OK so we're greedy.
Time was pushing on and slowly but surely afternoon was turning to evening.
It was then we got a txt from CR asking if we'd like to meet him down by the pier to watch the Starlings coming in, we thought he'd be in for a soaking if he did that looking at the waves crashing over the wall down that way so we decided to give it a miss and head off back to Base Camp at 4 o'clock after the sunset if it was any good. 
It wasn't bad but we've seen better.
And moving to the sunny side of our vantage point also meant we were now on the windy side too and we got salt spray on the lens.
From here we also saw some Starlings making their way to the pier so we through caution to the wind - of which there was plenty! - and decided to join CR after all. It was a short drive down to where he was watching from so we went to get the car seeing a lovely illuminated cloud stretching above the roof tops with the moon close by too.
By the time we got to CR the sun had gone down behind the clouds and the sunset was lost too the coming night. He'd seen a couple of thousand Starlings come in breaking into two flocks, an end of the pier flock and a close to the shore under the pier flock and he told us the two flocks appeared to be keeping themselves separate. More flocks came in over our heads the largest one containing at least 1000 birds the others much smaller but by now the light was gone and there was no chance of getting any pics. It was great to see that there were a couple of other folk standing there with cameras snapping away and even people waiting for the tram at the nearby stop watching the rather pathetic mini-murmurations rather than looking down the line for their ride home. Even though it wasn't spectacular this evening the wildlife can sooth the soul after a hard day at work
Best pic of the day? Probably this perfectly (or extremely luckily) timed one...
At our visit with the consultant last night he told us he'd done OK with our hand, the result of his prodding and poking was as well as might be expected and was pleased with his handiwork - however looking at our 'good' hand he said "see you as early as possible in the new year for a good old delve around - it's not looking good at all".
Where to next? Wind's picking up again today so we might have another nip down the Prom, hopefully the sunset and the Starlings will coincide too.
in the meantime let us know who's making a splash in your outback.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Top dollar top banana birding optics up for grabs

The Safari has been approached by a friend who is selling his Swarovski 10x42 EL Field Pro 2015 model. Brand new, hot off the factory floor, only purchased 6th November. They've barely been out of the box never mind the house and then no further than the back door step. He says unfortunately he just can't take to them and would accept £1600. Best prices around the web seem to be touching the 1800 quid mark so a fair bit of a saving to be made.
If anyone is seriously interested drop a comment in the box below, email, Twitter, Facebook, carrier pigeon etc and we'll pass him on to you.
Knock a nought off the end and we've have them for an upgrade on our trusty early 21st C ELs but sadly we're skint as ever. 
In bird news this morning was the liveliest the garden has been since we've been incapacitated by a mile. There was a visit from a flock of Long Tailed Tits which included at least one of each of Blue, Great and Coal Tits. Some of the Long Tails and the Coal Tit even used the feeders, the Coal Tit returning several times after the rest of the flock had moved on.
Later a Blackbird popped in, wonder if there are still any windfall Apples at the bottom of the garden - been too wet n windy to even contemplate going all the way up there - it's only 50 feet (17m)! If not we've got some in the fruit bowl which are more likely to end up in the garden than on our plate.
Not too long after that a Goldfinch and a Greenfinch were on the feeder at the same time with not another of their finchy brethren in sight and what looked like a Robin darted onto the small feeder then darted off never to be seen again. No chance of any pics - far too dark.
By late morning that flurry of activity was but a distant memory as even thicker cloud and yet more rain swept in on the quickening wind as Storm Barney approached.
What's with all this naming of Atlantic depressions? Doesn't make them any less wet n windy nor does it make them any more wet n windy - Come Easter they'll have run out of names anyway if this winter is anything like a normal winter with the usual procession of storms racing in. Do we really  have to copy the Americans in everything???
In the absence of any pics from us here's a couple from our Extreme Photographer, the first a not so welcome visitor to his extremely busy bird feeders but cute all the same
And who remembers this handsome chappy - when was the last time anyone saw him at the nature reserve? Don't think he's been seen this year but was he there last winter?
Where to next? We were hoping to get a little drive to the Prom in today but earlier had to move the car for our neighbours to get by, no way, not ready yet - struggled to put it in gear! Maybe tomorrow the duff hand will be a little bit better.
In the meantime let is know who's leave of absence has ended in your outback

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Fun with fungi in the rain

The Safari was dropped off at the nature reserve by Wifey for an hour or so this arvo. She immediately spotted lots of fungi growing out of the grass next to the path to the hide.
Shaggy Ink Caps and some brown ones
Some brown ones and a Shaggy Ink Cap
Brown ones
The same brown ones from above
Small dark brown ones
You'll have noticed we're not too clever with fungi but just because we can't identify them doesn't mean to say we don't look out for them and enjoy them...unlike some people who think all they're good for is smashing to smitherins - as with many other things today ignorance + fear = hate = (all too often) violence.
The only flowering plant we could find in flower in the lawn and immediate longer grassy areas were a few Daisies.
As soon as we got in the hide the wind picked up rattling the tins on the roof and outside the rain lashed down by the bucket load. It wasn't really birding weather. A few gulls bathed (why - they were already soaking wet, could they not have used that water?) in front of us and Coots dived for water weed. It was going to be a difficult hour. Out by the barn a soggy Kestrel gave up hunting and flew through the damaged gable end to shelter inside.

More gulls kept coming in but there were no dodgy ones, the 'regular' Iceland Gull can't be far off reappearing. Most of the gulls were the 'smaller' ones, Black Headed and Common Gulls but a flush by a Heron from our left brought several Herring Gulls and a couple of adult Lesser Black Backed Gulls into view - no Bonaparte's or Ring Billed Gulls driven in by the gales from across the Atlantic unfortunately, Franklin's Gull would be nice!
Below us on the grass running down to the water was a rather soggy Woodpigeon, the only bird to have come anywhere near the lens today.
A flock of Long Tailed Tits whizzed past the window and a Cetti's Warbler sang from the reeds just to our right. Despite the gale force and tropical-style rain winds a Wasp flew past us then back again. Not surprisingly there were no butterflies or dragonflies today.
A couple of distant Reed Buntings dropped into the reeds and a single Collared Dove flew south across the mere then three more but apart from keeping a beady eye on the gulls just in case there was about as much interest as expected in the dire conditions - not a lot! That's not to say it wasn't worth going out, it's always worth going out - if you don't go out you won't see owt, as they say.
Wifey phoned to say she hadn't gone to the shops and was on her way back so we left the hide and walked up the road to meet her. It was then we saw a large Poplar Tree who's deeply fissured bark was covered in a dense coat of lichens and mosses. Lovely shapes and textures.
Where to next? If the duff hand allows, it's been extra duff today, we might try our first short drive up and over the hill to the coast tomorrow arvo on the off chance of a Leach's Petrel, not seen one since the dead one we picked up outside work a couple of years ago.
In the meantime let us know who;s survived the deluge in your outback.