Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Close, awesome and emotional

The Safari had bad wind and high seas yesterday so wasn't able to get out for long and didn't see much. This morning the wind had eased a bit and the light was much better early doors so we were able to have a good look for 20 minutes or so. It was still extremely choppy out there and apart from the usual gulls, but no 'unusual' ones, about 60 Oystercacthers, 30 Cormorants and 100 Common Scoters there wasn't anything else save for a lone Sanderling which was rather odd, they usually come mob-handed!
Our Monday gardening volunteer wasn't able to come yesterday, which was good as he wouldn't have been able to do much outside in the atrocious weather, so he came today instead, which was good as it meant we saw the male Kestrel (P2 #34) waft over the mirror ball in a generally southerly direction that we would have missed had he been here yesterday and we'd been stuck driving the desk this morning. Nothing over-excting about a Kestrel although they are always a pleasure to see and watch but they are having a torrid time at the moment
From BTO Population Trends
Their longer term picture is a little different
Again from the BTO
No wonder we used to see more of them when we were cutting our birding teeth in the late 60s and early 70s, sadly the downward plummet since 2005 doesn't appear to be showing any signs of bottoming out like it did in the late 80s and late 90s. Let's hope it does though and they see a resurgence in their fortunes.
We said earlier there was nothing over-exciting about seeing a Kestrel, well yes in general they are still reasonably common and widespread and many non-birders recognise and enjoy them when they spot them hunting alongside motorway verges but at Patch 2 it's a very different story. This one was the first since 2014 and that was the only one recorded here in the previous five years, so you see, the 'ordinary and 'common-place' can be unusual and exciting!
Our volunteer did his two hours and went for his lunch and so did we. We were then unexpectedly called to man the front desk while our colleagues got their lunches, this turned out to be a bit of a boon. By the time they'd scoffed their baggin and returned to their posts the wind had dropped and more importantly so had the tide so that the waves weren't crashing over the wall as they were an hour earlier. That gave us the perfecrt opportunity to have a quick look.
It was still very choppy, the buoy is about 12 feet (4m) tall, yesterday it was totally disappearing in the troughs and at times rocking to less than 45 degrees from vertical; not quite so bad today
It's a little over a kilometre (c2/3 - 3/4 mile) from the wall, these pics are phone-scoped

The sea is predominantly brown from the stirred up sand and silt, yesterday it was predominately white with sea-foam and at high tide was hitting the wall with great booming thuds. 
Looking out that way there was little to the south (left) but the glare from the sun (sun???? - What's that???) off the water made looking that way difficult, there wasn't much straight around and beyond the buoy either. Looking north was far more interesting, here we could see tiny white specs flitting about over the sea beyond the 100 or so Common Scoters which must be on their rinse cycle now after yesterday's thrashing from the weather - by eck they are tough little cookies! 
Every so often one of the white specs would drift into range of the scope revealing it to be a Little Gull, most were the black under-winged adults. These are the worlds smallest species of gulls and one of the prettiest - YES gulls can be pretty! A couple of times we had both the worlds smallest and largest species of gull in our field of view when a Great Black Backed Gull cruised by, unfortunately we didn't  quiet get the full house of Little, Black Headed, Common, Kittiwake, Herring, Lesser Black Backed and Great Black Backed all in the scope together, got a view of six out of the possible seven though which can't be bad - those darned Lesser Blackies are still to migrate in reasonable numbers past here.
Last week we had young Kittiwakes and Little Gulls feeding along the beach between us and the pier so we had a look from the gate to the beach again, just in case. The tide was ebbing quickly now but still crashing violently against the toe of the wall. There was hardly a gull over the water but one in the distance cruising along the top of the wall caught our eye, it banked a little and gave itself up as an adult Kittiwake. It continued to cruise towards us without so much of a hint of a wing flap using the up-draught from the wall, a real masterclass in mastering the air currrents, at a few points it was actually over the  promenade - a real live 'inland' Kittiwake! We soon wished we'd brought the camera to work; that's twice in recent days we've broken the basic rules of photography - 1) Carry the darned camera and 2) make sure the lens cap is off for instant snapping (That's why there was no Lesser Redpoll pic for you at the weekend - dohhh). Our bird kept coming closer and closer, still without a wing flap and then passed at eye level just the other side of the wall from us, no more than two arms lengths away - awesome, absolutely awesome views as it slightly turned its head to look at us as it met our gaze as we turned ours to look at it; such a spectacle we got all emotional and started to well up a bit - nature can do that to you when you witness something apparently simple yet truly special.
Then it stalled and landed on the sea to investigate a potential morsel before being rudely interrupted by a couple of young Herring Gulls who wanted a  piece of whatever it was it had found. Deciding that it wasn't worth hanging around near the bullies the Kittiwake upped and headed out to sea - bon voyage and fair well my friend...
Where to next? More of the same please, and we were looking through some photo folders this arvo and realised we've not seen a Sea Mouse for ages, must put our wellies on and get down on the beach for a good rummage about through what the tide has washed up, who knows we might even get close to a decent gull or two.
In the meantime let us know who's cruising along close as maybe in your outback. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Ever been to Baffin Island?

The Safari went to meet, recently back in town, JH at the Starlings at the pier on Friday night but the weather was dire and access to the lower Prom restricted by the annual rally car race. The tide was out and the Starlings roosted on the beach before headed under the pier without really doing any murmuring. We left before the weather worsened and plenty more were still coming in as we drove away.
Yesterday morning we did the BTO Goldfinch Survey and counted an acceptable four - mightn't sound many but certainly better than the normal none!
After breakfast we had a day out with Wifey meeting up with our long-time chums over at the Place we do not Mention by Name over on the south side. 
While waiting from the crew to arrive we had a look through the visitor centre window overlooking the captive pond where Wifey practiced her ID skills using her new EDs. She found Pochards, Gadwall, Shelducks, Wigeon and even a Coot.
Female Wigeon
Shelduck again
Once the crew was assembled we headed out into the rain straight to the nearest hide where hundreds of Whooper Swans were milling around waiting for the mid-afternoon feed.
 Left over spilled grain from an earlier feed was being hunted down by a few Wigeon.
The flock of 3000 Lapwings held about 50 Ruff (100). Marsh Harriers and Buzzards kept putting them up making for a fantastic spectacle. We couldn't find any Peregrines but a Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance. Unfortunately the Barn Owls were out in the rain before we arrived but not when it was drier while we were there.
The volunteer in the hide told us where to look for the Tawny Owl and AB's astonishing eyesight picked it out hidden deep in in the Ivy at the top of a tall Silver Birch tree. Eventually all the group got on to it and we just about managed to get the scope on it. AB then said there were two up there! Tawny Owl (101) on the list in a tree only yards from the only one we saw last year, probably one of the one's we saw today was the same bird as that one.
Back at the first hide we watched a Marsh Harrier pull morsels from a dead Whooper Swan and looking through the birds on the mud we found a couple of Black Tailed Godwits (102).
The long staying Ross's Goose was also there.
Lovely looking thing but the million dollar question is how wild is it??? Every summer it disappears and every autumn it seems to reappear when the Pink Footed Geese arrive. Does it go back to Baffin Island or does it end up on someone's duck pond less than a hundred miles away.
It's been suggested we have a whip round for a satellite tag or pull a feather off it for isotope analysis. Could be a disappointing result...or...
There's never been a 'genuine' proven one in Britain could this be it?
Trying to get to the last hide on the reserve we were turned round by the ranger who'd just locked it up - we'd run out of time! Another great day out with the old crew.
Today we had a cold afternoon on the nature reserve starting at the Feeding Station where we had three Reed Buntings (MMLNR #66) and then a strange thing happened. A Jackdaw turned up, nothing unusual with Jackdaws but in all our years visiting the reserve we've never seen one at the Feeding Station.
Not many minutes later another little beauty turned up, a Lesser Redpoll (103, MMLNR #67) very briefly dropped down to the small drinking pool and was gone in a moment. We dashed outside to look in the Alders behind the hide but there was no sign of it anywhere.  
From there we went to look at the water to see if the Iceland Gull or a Mediterranean Gull would turn up. They didn't, although there had been a Med in the morning. It was very quiet with very few gulls about today. The best we saw was a Collared Dove (MMLNR #68). A Sparrowhawk worked the reedbeds waiting for a Snipe to flush, one did but was far too quick for the predator.
More bizarreness occurred when four Stock Doves left their usual haunt over on the big barn and flew round the east end of the reserve for a while almost looking like they were going to land at the edge of the scrape for a drink at one point.
The reedbed along the embankment didn't give us any Bearded Tits this week and there were no Mistle Thrushes in the 50 strong flock of Fieldfares in the field - the flock of 50 plus Linnets was nice though. 
Instead of going to see the owls, we were told the path was very wet and we were shod in boots rather than wellies, we double back to do more gulling but the water at the hide was devoid of gulls so we returned to the Feeding Station with BD who we'd just met. Always nice to see Long Tailed Tits but there was no sign of the hoped for Treecreeper.
Best now was a Great Spotted Woodpecker giving great views at the far feeder and then the rain started and it was time to go.
Not a bad weekend on safari.
Where to next? More weather is forecast so Patch 2 may provide some interest again.
In the meantime let us know who's unexpectedly arrived in your outback.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Added a few more

The Safari has been listening to a Song Thrush (Garden #19) singing nearby before the first light of dawn. Great to hear, we assume (never do that!) it's in the Golden Triangle somewhere we've not been for a long time now.
Setting off to work our first Black Headed Gull of the year flew over (Garden #20).
At work Patch 2 was very poor, there was very little about. Later in the morning we started having horrendous IT problems so an early lunch was the only option. Yesterday the Iceland Gull (aka the Posh Gull) was found at the nature reserve by Young Un AB - where has it been hiding all winter, not round here that's for sure, somewhere else has had the pleasure of its company. We had a hunch that it would be at its favourite morning haunt - the nearby waste depot, where else?
We parked up on the roadside wound down the window and watched through the railings of the depot. There was a good number of gulls, mostly Herring and Black Headed Gulls, going in and out of the shed to investigate the new rubbish brought in by the wagons. We thought we saw a paler one fly into the shed amid the throng and looking deep into the gloom there was the Iceland Gull (99) half way up the pile of rancid bin bags with its head buried in one of them, not the best of view but hey they all count. The bulldozer stopped work for the driver's lunch and all the gulls flew out of the shed and up onto the roof but we didn't see the Posh Gull again. 
Back at the office we were told the IT was still playing up so we took the opportunity of grabbing the scope and having a quick look at the sea. There we found a 1st winter Little Gull almost straight away which was a bit of a surprise as the fierce wind of recent days had died down. It was with a few Black Headed Gulls on the beach, they were catching worms at the water's edge but the Little Gull was just resting. We looked at another gaggle of gulls to see nothing of note, looking back the Little Gull had now done a bunk, we couldn't find it anywhere neither on the beach nor out over the sea. 
Checking the other flocks we found a Scandinavian Herring Gull looking all big, dark and brutal against the 'normal' argenteus birds.
BD came along but just before he arrived all the gulls and Oystercatchers were flushed by something unseen, did we miss a Peregrine? There was some serious panic going on.
Once they'd settled down we couldn't find anything exciting but the flock of Sanderlings held at least one Dunlin (P2 #33). A few minutes later we saw a few Knot further down the beach.
Another check through the gulls gave us a Darvik ringed Lesser Black Backed Gull but it was a long way down the beach. BD got some pics so we'll report back if the ring numbers can be read - it's a long shot but it was a very long shot.
Where to next? More Patch 2 gull searching and if the weather holds there may well be some Starling action too.
In the meantime let us know who's still out of place in your outback.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Are you suffering from excessive wind?

The Safari is beginning to get rather peed awff with the amount of wind being delivered by these successive winter storms now. As one batters through there’s another one lining up in the west Atlantic, there’s just no respite!
Looking at the sea we had to feel for the Common Scoters, it must be like living in a washing machine for them at the moment and most of their food seems to have been washed up on the beach. Yesterday a very rough guestimate of about 2000 tightly packed Herring Gulls were feasting on a huge shellfish wreck along the beach at Patch 2. With them were a handful of Black Headed Gulls, a few Common Gulls, a couple of Great Black Back Backed Gulls and a single 1st winter Yellow Legged Gull (98, #31). Out at sea others had seen good numbers of both Kittiwakes and Little Gulls but we could only find a couple of Little Gulls (P2 #32) and half a dozen Kittiwakes. A flock of five Pintails went through low over the tide’s edge and we had a dark phase unIDd skua go north at distance, it looked quite broad winged so probably not an Arctic Skua, can’t go on any of the lists unfortunately but no doubt we’ll get better views of some other skua species over the course of the year.
While working in the garden with our volunteers we saw that at least 20 House Sparrows were taking advantage of the food provided by a generous member of the public. How long they’ll have sufficient cover to hide in is the big question as the ‘official’ gardeners are on-site flooring, aka pruning, all the shrubbery for the first time in many years. It looks ferocious but should help thicken them up over the next couple of growing seasons – the garden will look pretty bare and uninviting to wildlife until that happens though. Maybe it’ll attract different wildlife like perhaps a Stonechat, a species we’ve somewhat surprisingly not recorded here; the nearby dunes must be just too tempting for them as they are regularly found there on passage.
Last night there was some weird cloud action at sunset. We had to go outside to check the back gates were fastened securely against the increasing wind as we'd heard something bang out the back. Looking up we saw the most impressive mother-of-pearl coloured clouds well above the normal and all too familiar rain clouds - we've never seen anything quite like it before - time to ignore the gate for a mo and dash back inside for the camera.
Nacreous clouds between 9 to 15 miles up in the stratosphere
This morning we drove under a swarm of Starlings leaving their roost at the pier, very impressive, shame the traffic light weren’t on red and we couldn’t stop to enjoy the spectacle. Arriving at work the Song Thrush was poking about under the front hedge with a Blackbird, the front hedge won’t be so fiercely pruned just trimmed to a bring it back to a neater ‘A’ shape so there should still be somewhere for the Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Robins to nest.
This morning there wasn't much happening on Patch 2 early morning, best was a half decent count of around 175 Oystercatchers, but it was a little better by lunchtime on the rising tide. Flock of four Kittiwakes followed a few minutes later by one on it's own. A Little Gull weaved in and out between the enormous crashing waves in the distance and a quick look along the advancing tide line towards the pier gave us a 1st winter Little Gull with a few Black Headed Gulls picking who knows what off the surface of the water, the Black Heads wading, the Little Gull doing it in their usual dipping flight.
We had a chat to the work's gardeners and discovered to our amazement that the bush they were working on had the Blackbird's nest in it, not just one but about five old ones and one currrent one with cheeping nestlings in it! 
A couple of hours later we met up with BD who is holding an exhibition of his brilliant pics at work this month and next. After discussing the intricacies of our picture hanging doobries we headed over to the seawall to see what we could see. Immediately there was a 1st winter Kittiwake below us, what a great start.
A few other gulls drifted by including this 1st winter Common Gull
After a while a second Kittiwake turned up and for a split second we had them both in the viewfinder but alas they were too quick for us.
From there we went to the pier to watch the Starlings coming in and murmurating above the tide.
Here they come!
Getting close to the action

There were quite a few of them
For the first time we saw a Sparrowhawk taz past us only inches off the tarmac and disappear under the pier. Moments later the Starlings bunched up.

An excellent if rather chilly session in the brisk wind. The late arrivals missed the main murmuration which was a shame as there might have been as many as 50,000 altogether.
Where to next? More Patch 2 gulling tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's seasonally maladjusted in your outback.
Formatting has gone haywire again - doh! Sorry

Sunday, 31 January 2016

A double whammy with big smiles

The Safari didn't get out yesterday after a good friend's 50th resulting in a very late night and a skinful of beer, no we didn't sing!
We did do the Big Garden Birdwatch but our hour didn't produce too much, half way through we were upto the grand total of two Woodpigeons and a Robin. The second half was a slight improvement with two Great Tits, a Coal Tit, a Magpie, a Blackbird and on the garage roof after scraps, a Herring Gull.
This morning we did our weekly Goldfinch survey, finding not a one and only singles of Greenfinch and Chaffinch, a very quiet morning until a Carrion Crow came in, a rare enough event in itself but then it started to grab great beakfuls from the suet block hanging low down in the Crab Apple tree - wonder how often it does that when we're at work, we very seldom see them venture down into the garden.
Once breakfast was made and chomped we got out to the nature reserve, parking up we put on our wellies and turned to see a small red and white fungus growing in the crook of an Elder tree at the edge of the car park. On closer inspection the white bit was a covering of mycellium, is it part of the red fungus or is it devouring it?

At the reserve gate it's a choice of straight on or right, today we chose right and went to the Feeding Station first which was very quiet considering it was quiet chilly.
From there were continued round to Ice Station Zebra, living uup to its name today with the cold wind coming through the windows. As usual there was a good selection of waterfowl on offer, scanning through the Teal for a vertical white stripe beyond them was a smaller white duck, not a duck at all on closer inspection but a Little Gull (95, MMLNR #65). Something flushed the ducks but it stayed put close to the far side.
The light was simply dreadful
From there we moved down to the Bird Club hide where the usual suspects were on offer. We could still the Little Gull down where we'd come from. We hung around a while watching a small number of gulls coming and going but there was nothing of note to report to you.
From their we decided to nip up to the cottage where there are a few Tree Sparrows to be seen around the feeders in their garden. Once we'd crossed the bridge a familiar but very out of place sound caught our ears - was that a Bearded Tit we just heard? More pinging - by crikey yes it was!!! We didn't see anything more than a bit of an inconclusive flit along the back edge of the reeds but the distinctive pinging went on for about 30 seconds...Bearded Tit (96, MMLNR #66) on the list - get in. The last we saw here were at the end of the 1990s, not sure if there have been any since then. We walked up and down the reedbed but saw and heard nothing more of them - it sounded like there were two (or maybe more?) birds calling.
On the way to the cottage we passed a clump of Daffodils flowering cheerily in the winter gloom.
At the cottage a short wait brought good views of a couple of Tree Sparrows (97, MMLNR #67). They were too flighty for pics.
Returning to the nature reserve we took a detour round the outside to have a look to see if the Long Eared Owls were on show, one was easy a second was quite tricky being well hidden behind the twigs and branches a little higher up and to the right. No pics today - you've seen enough dodgy Long Eared Owl pics on here already.
By now it was raining pretty heavily and was even gloomier. We walked back along the embankment naughtily playing Bearded Tit calls on our phone, there was no response but it the phone isn't that loud and the strong wind was blowing the sound in the opposite direction.
Back at the hide the Little Gull was seen on the scrape and it didn't look too good. But another something flushed the ducks and it lifted and joined the other gulls bathing on the water allowing nearer but only slightly better pics.
Lovely little bird, hope it's OK and just needs a bit of a rest before heading out to sea again - it would do well to stay a few days as there's more atrocious weather on the way this week.
As the light faded 41 Grey Lag Geese came in and with them was everyone's favourite feral the Bar Headed Goose.
The rain came down and it was time to head back. We stopped in the Feeding Station but still little action apart from five Moorhens??? Still no Reed Bunting for us. No Mistle Thrush either despite having a good look at the flock of Fieldfares in the far fields that they often join and driving up to the posh hotel where they are regularly seen on the grass verge...but not by us!
You see what you see when you see it and you can't see everything all the time, and if you don't get out you won't see nowt - that's guaranteed!
Where to next? more wind on Patch 2, will there be any Little Gulls out there?
In the meantime let us know who turned up unannounced in your outback.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Gotcha you sneaky bush sneaker

The Safari has been trying to keep an eye on the Blackbird that has been collecting worms. Not easy through the office window which has a rather limited view. Today we had a bit more time available for serious 'outside' looking. We'd been over to Patch 2 but abandoned ship as the waves started to splash over the wall well before high tide, so we swapped scope for camera and took a slow stroll round the gardens. It was no good, we could see the Blackbirds and watched them carrying worms back to the scrub but they never stayed out in the open long because of the constant stream of dog walkers. We ran out of lunchtime and had to prepare for our school group who were due in an hour or so. Luckily once we'd got all their kit out and prepped up the dog walking circus died down and the Blackbirds were staying out longer...
They were very wary and wouldn't allow a particularly close approach if they had any food collected.
We watched him back to the densest part of the hedgerow where we had no chance of seeing how many youngsters were being fed. Behind us we saw the female also collecting worms and she disappeared under the nearby Tamarisk shrub bed which was much more open underneath. As she went in another movement was seen, it was the/another youngster!
It's certainly an unusual sight but not totally unprecedented Blackbirds have been known to nest in every month of the year but January's probably not their favourite. We don't recall ever seeing a fledgling Blackbird in January in our nearly 50 years of wildlife watching. Lets hope there's not a serious cold snap around the corner.
Our school group arrived on time and after a few preliminaries started their observations, first off was the temperature - a globally warmed plus two degrees above the long term January average 9.3C on the field and 'in the shade' too, it was totally cloudy and despite the high temperature the wind felt really this arvo. 
Once the science was completed it was time to find if anything could be found in the crystal clear 6.3C water. 
It didn't take long for the first creatures to be brought to the surface, not surprisingly 3-spined Sticklebacks were captured first.
The were soon joined by front swimming Water Boatmen of varying sizes.
And they were joined by a multitude of snails including the empty shell of a large Ramshorn Snail.
A couple of back swimming Water Boatmen were also netted, they're hard enough to find in the summer here!
What a great gang of kids and hardly a moan about the cold.
Where to next? Hopefully Patch 2 will be come back into play tomorrow and the wind might just have brought something interesting within reach of our scope.
In the meantime let us know who's got themselves out of of seasonal synch in your outback.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Surrogate herbivores in action

The Safari has been rumaging in ther phot archives for management pics taken at the nature reserve, here's a couple of oldies.


Where to next? Hopefully the tide won't be as high and the wind so strong so a lunchtime visit to Patch 2 can be made tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's chewing their way through your outback