Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Frustrating ticks

The Safari has been out and about to all sort of weird and wonderful places this last week. The week started well with friend LGB phoning to say a couple of Little Terns were on their way to wards us past his watchpoint down the prom. Great stuff and a big thank you as they aren't a species we can guarantee to see on Patch 2. The eventually came past but were a little distant to 'enjoy' properly still they made it on to the list, Little Tern (147, P2 #48). More enjoyable was the lone Black Tern (14, P2 #49) milling around going back and forth with 11 Arctic Terns followed by a couple of Common Terns (149, P2 #50). So at last we got to see one of the throng of Black Terns that passed through the country last week, what a relief! No chance of getting any of those on the Year Bird Challenge though, the easy two we'll pick up later in the season but the Black Tern won't now be entered in the challenge unless something weird happens.
Something weird happened when one of our work colleagues told us there was a dragonfly dead on the windowsill in the main hall. Further investigation revealed it wasn't (quite) dead and wasn't a dragonfly but a Blue Tailed Damselfly. We'd seen plenty of pics of Large Red Damselflies on social media but none of this species. It was a windy day with the wind from the east so it could have come from anywhere, even from our work's pond just a few feet away - a very thorough check of the edges and reed stems gave us no exuvia so it was most likely from elsewhere. We put it outside but didn't really rate its chances.

A visit to the zoo to help prep up for a Bioblitz later in the month gave us the opportunity for a wander round. We were looking for native species rather than at the exotics but we have to say the Aardvark is very cute if not particularly cuddly. By far the best find was among the dinosaurs, a species of Blood Bee, Sphecodes sp, we've not seen anything like it before and a look on the national database would suggest almost no-one else has locally either. They warrant further investigation and better pics! This one is a phone-pic as we didn't have a camera with us. One of the species is known as the Sand Pit Blood Bee and this one was in what could loosely be called a sand pit...but there are other very similar looking species.

Next up LCV and the children came to visit. A twitch was called for on Saturday morning when we just had to go and have a look at the two Wood Sandpipers that had been found the previous day, another species we can't guarantee to see in any particular year. See them we did but always at some distance in the muddy hollow of a farmer's field. Still it's always good to see a Wood Sandpiper (150, YBC #123).
One of the reasons LCV had come up was to go to see the now resident Pallid Harrier in Bowland - just about the most dangerousd place in England for any type of harrier, or falcon, or hawk, or anything else with a hooky beak. The pics floating round Twitter, Facebook, Flickr etc were impressive so we had to go. An early start was called for so the kids were in the car by 07.00, a bit cruel on a Sunday morning especial with the prospect of a 3 mile hike ahead of them, little P is only seven. But they didn't know about the length of the hike at that time - it was a surprise to come later!
Once parked up it didn't take long for the youngsters to find their stride and they soon covered 'Stage 1' - kept them in a better state of mind to have visible targets to reach on the hike. Not far into Stage 2 we heard a Cuckoo caliing from up the fell t oour left. Almost at the top it was and just out of effective range of the lens but we fired away anyway. Cuckoo (151, YBC #124) being mobbed by what we assume to be a Meadow Pipit.
A little further on we heard a Tree Pipit singing (152) but were unable to get a pic.
We were making good time despite slowing down to look for Common Lizards in any likely spot but sadly we didn't find any to show the children. At the bridge we peered into the water to look for fish, there's usually a few but none today. There was a Grey Wagtail (YBC #124) collecting food for its recently fledged chick on the rocks around the concrete spillway.
Unfortunately we didn't see the adult feeding the chick. A Common Sandpiper was also hunting invertebrates between the rocks nearby.
Birders coming down the hill, they must have been early risers!, told us the Pallid Harrier was still about and with that news the hill didn't seem so steep. We reached the fairly substantial crowd and had our breakfast picnic to the news that it had flown a good distant off and into the next valley. Not good but there was nothing to be done apart from watch and wait and enjoy the serenity of the mountain. LCV caught sight of a distant Ring Ouzel (153) and managed a digi-scoped shot.
And from the hillside opposite our vantage point we heard the go-back go-back go-back calls of Red Grouse (154) several times before spotting one and LCV took another digi-scoped pic.
Eventually the cry went up that the Pallid Harrier (155, YBC #126) was up and sky-dancing over the hill at the head of the valley. We could just about make it out in the bins and even through LCV's scope the views weren't much better. At about two miles away it was almost definitely the worst views of a Lifer we've ever had. The whole group hoped and prayed it would come closer, it did but not by much. At about a mile way it was just photographable, nothing like the awesome pics we'd seen over the past few days.
What made matters worse is by the time we'd got half way down the hill unbeknown to us it was doing a hat and cane routine right over the heads  of the watchers we'd just been standing with, but being time limited we'd had to leave - cruel!!!
On the way back down we kept eyes and ears open, hearing Siskins but not the hoped for and seen by everyone else Crossbills in the woods and spotting a family of Mallards shooting the rapids on the river.
There were plenty of Sheep about but most were shy and didn't want their photos taken.
This one was suckling a well grown lamb but to fit all the action in the frame of the big lens we'd have had to have backed off that far we'd have fallen ar*e over breakfast in to the river!
The riverside woods near the bridge almost at the end of the walk gave us two nice birds. The first we heard first doing it's lovely thrush-like warble and using the song we located it high in the branches of an Alder tree on the far bank. Stunning views with the bins of one of our favourite birds, a male Redstart (156). It took a bit of finding in the twiggery of the treetops with the camera and once we had found it found it a b*gger to focus on - we know - - shoulda used manual focus!!!). A millisecond before we pressed the shutter button it stopped singing and did a flit.
Just our luck!!! But hey-ho it is an identifiable blur so counts towards the Year Bird Challenge (YBC #127).
A few yards further on a small group of birders and photographers had gathered and were looking up at the top of an Ash tree on our side of the stream. A cracking male Pied Flycatcher (157, TBC #128)

Ice cream ended a memorable but slightly frustrating walk in the hills.
Back at work on Monday we saw the first of the season's Cinnabar moths emerging from the grass in our wildflower area. What little belters they are!
In other late news we've been stuck in the office and missing passing Puffins, not an easy bird to come across along our coast. But did see our first Pipistrelle bat of the year, at Base Camp, last night. Hope this isn't the only sighting of the year, we only saw one at Base camp all last year and that was in April. A lunchtime look over the sea wall this lunchtime didn't give us any Puffins which we'd hoped for but just about the first thing we did see other than a few white dots on the sea which turned into Gannets was a pod of about four or five Bottlenose Dolphins way out on the horizon. We called some passers-by over for a look but they were too far into the haze to be seen with the naked eye. We then saw a second pod of two or three animals, maybe more, about a mile to the north of the others. The next half hour was awesome watching them chase, charge and leap after their unseen fishy prey with a melee of Gannets and gulls above them, no skuas came in though which we thought they might given the commotion - what a way to spend your lunchtime - - lucky lucky us - so lucky we almost forgot about not seeing any Puffins! You really can't beat a bit of blubber!
Where to next? We've taken Monty round a new site for him and have a couple of pics to show you and there may be a more far flung safari in the offing, we're not sure yet.
In the meantime let us know who's leaping seriously high in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Somehow we missed all the Black Terns

The Safari could practically smell the Black Terns the other day. We had family matters to attend to on the South-side so wasn't able to get out early. News came in from far and wide of prodigious numbers of the wafty little waifs including not more than a mile from our destination. What better than to pop in to one of the sites before our visit to give Monty a run and fire off a few shots. But when we arrived the water was devoid of life bar a handful of gulls. We had a good walk round and still came across nothing of note apart from hundreds of people enjoying a lovely spring Sunday afternoon in the fresh air. We had to leave to go visiting and once home discovered that had we stayed another 30 seconds or so we'd have been in luck. Not only that one of our Twitter chums  @arborist2222 was watching several all the while we were there not 200 yards away but on the nature reserve the other side of the fence...Dohhh cruellll!!!
Not to worry there'd be some at 'our' nature reserve in the morning. There wasn't and somehow it must have been the only wetland nature reserve in England not to have any although a good number were close but passing along the coast.
Monday morning wasn't half bad though we added a couple of old friends to our Year List and while chatting to one of them a Whimbrel ((MMLNR #71) flew over. Talking of Whimbrel here's another coupl of shots from our visit to the dog toilet.
It wasn't a bad morning out on the reserve just not as spectacular as we'd hoped with the run of easterly winds. We did, however, add a new mammal to our list for the year, a Brown Rat stuffing its face in one of the feeders.
We don't mind Rats too much, we think they are often unfairly maligned but realise they can be a nightmare in some circumstances like on originally mammal-free islands - wouldn't really want one in the house though
Back at Base Camp after breakfast we took Monty round PAtch 1 and this was definitely more exciting. As soon as we hit the scrub we heard the 'tic'ing of a Silvia warbler and soon located the tic-er, a Garden Warbler (145, P1 #34) among the half open buds of a large White Poplar tree. Monty had a good run round the bottom fields where we heard a Lesser Whitethroat and up at the top near the road while he wqs sniffing with his new friends we heard a Sedge Warbler (P1 #35) fire up from one of the clumps of ornamental bushes - what a weird place for one of those!
On the way back we saw that the Nomad Bees were out enjoying the sun on the bank of our neighbours garden. With dog in one hand and camera in the other we took a few snaps. one had settled by the entrance to another species of bee's burrow, well they are a brood parasite of solitary bees.
Occasionally they would settle to bask on a sunny stone.
But when we dowmloaded the pics and had a proper look it seems we have two species here - who'd have thunk it!
The top one we think is Gooden's Nomad Bee and has a smooth black back with yellow spots, the lower one we think is Broad Banded Nomad Bee and has red dots and red stripes on its back. It could well be a job for those clever iSpotters to give a conclusive answer, if a conclusive answer can be given to this tricky group of species.
Later news broke of a Whinchat at the nature reserve so back we went. We walked across the side of the wetland to the hedge and ditch to scan and came across a couple of House Sparrows (MMLNR #72). Having a scan across the inaccessible area we soon found it but it was very distant across the far side of the wetland. Always good to see a Whinchat (146, MMLNR #74,, YBC #121)
Hopefully there would be a better view from the top path. On the way there was a Sedge Warbler pretending to be a Reed Warbler. And we disturbed a Meadow Pipit (MMLNR #74) from the damp grass.
The Whinchat was no nearer though.
At least it was now facing the front!
We had  a look at the nature reserve down as far as the scrape where we missed another three Whinchats because we didn't look hard enough at the bank behind the scrape - silly us...note to self - be more thorough in future.
There were Sedge Warblers aplenty, this one pretending to be a Willow Warbler.
 At long last we got a pic of a Whitethroat (YBC #122)
We like Whitethroats but went right off them a little later. We were back on the wetlands where the Whinchat was now much nearer, it was in the hedge the House Sparrows were in earlier. But the local Whitethroats weren't happy with it's presence in their territiory.
Milliseconds before the camera focused we pressed the shutter button and milliseconds after the image was taken the Whitethroats came in and saw it off their patch. Soooooo annoying to be so close to a brilliant shot of an absolutely brilliant bird only to blow it like that. And with them being in such short supply locally the chance of redeeming ourself is slim to remote at best. We really could kick ourselves and/or could cry!
Once the Whitethroats had done the dirty had done the dirty we could not find the Whinchat again and not for lack of trying, it seemed to have vanished up its own a*se.
The Whitethroats on the other hand appeared to gloat in their bullying.
While we were unsuccessfully looking for the Whinchat our perambulations around the wet grassland were stirring up little flies from the vegetation which attracted a posse of Swallows passing through. We had a few blasts at them more in hope than anything else.
Crikey they're quick! Which doesn't bode well for when we try to get some pics of the much quicker Swifts! All the time we were messing around getting these hopeless shots the reserve's most regular birder TS was behind us looking at a female Redstart only a hundred yards away - we really must swap mobile numbers!
Today we had another Sedge Warbler shock when we heard one pretending to be a Garden Warbler - well it was warbling away in the works garden, only the second or maybe third we've heard there since 2004. Being on opening up duty we weren't able to get an early look at the sea but our lunchtime look was productive with four Whimbrels in a muddy hollow well down the beach. They then did something unexpected and a bit bizarre. They walked up the beach over a sandbank and up to the wall to feed in a runnel. how did they know it was there, the sandbanks are quite high certainly higher than a Whimbrel can see over. A very stealthy approach down the seawall steps allowed us to get almost close enough. We fired off a few shots and left them to their walk along the beach. Once back on the prom we heard their distinctive seven note whistle and then they were gone, off on their long journey northbound.
And so ends a good but Black Tern free couple of days wildlifing.
Where to next? More Patch 2 stuff tomorrow
In the meantime let is know who's doing a tern in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Warbletastic – and not before time

The Safari has again had a few short nips over to the sea wall and Patch 2.  The other morning we were fortunate enough to see two Linnets out the back at work. We say fortunate when in reality they are now very scarce here after being a regular breeder until the Gorse hedge got too severely hacked in our absence one year. They were seen just after a heavy shower so were probably migrants from who knows where and were feeding voraciously on Dandelion seeds. We raced down the corridor to grab the camera as they were only a few feet from the window but as is always the way they annoyingly had done a flit by the time we got back and were not seen again. Now fueled up and with brighter weather after the shower they were keen to get on their way.
By lunchtime conditions had deteriorated a bit. Looking out to sea it was as hazy as hell, focusing the scope was only possible to about 3/4 of a mile and a very cold north westerly wind was getting stronger by the minute chopping up the sea something rotten.
In the distancee to our left we could see a string of terns making their way towards us. We had to wait a while for them to reach us and in the meantime enjoyed good views of a small number of Manx Shearwaters going past and a flock of 18 Kittiwakes. just beyond the green buoy, so just about focus-on-able in the haze. Not entirely sure how we're going to get these two species on our Year Bird Photo Challenge list as even as close as that they are going to be no more tha ntwo or three pixels even with the 600mm lens.
The terns eventually turned up and the great majority of them were Sandwich Terns but interspersed where at least a dozen Arctic Terns (138, P2 #47) too. We watched them as they passed hugging the troughs to keep their slight bodies out of the head wind as much as possible.Only a couple of thousand miles to go chaps if your off to the high Arctic.
After work we met up with GB and had a mooch round the nature park near his that is also known as a dog toilet. Here we used our new Swazza bins and the first bird ever to be to be seen through them was a fine and dandy male Wheatear, nice one! Over the fenced off grassy areas Skylarks sang with gusto filling the air with their exultations. Walking down to the riverbank where the tide was well up and almost fully covering the marsh we heard then saw a Whimbrel (139, YBC #118) that had been close to the side and heard us coming. There were a couple more and one was almost obliging!
A few Swallows and Sand Martins tazzed upstream as we wandered round chatting but with the plethora of dogs running about there wasn't much bird life to be seen. From one of the pools we heard the whinneying call of a Little Grebe but didn't have a look at the other nor a proper listen at the reedbed although there was a Reed Bunting flitting around there and at least a couple of Reed Warblers singing.
With time up we headed back to the car.
Yesterday we were at the nature reserve at 06.30 and probably and hour too late. It wasn't at all bad but an hour earlier we'd have missed the dog walkers. As soon as we got through the gate at the wetland we heard a new bird for the year, a Sedge Warbler (140, MMLNR #65), it was hunkered down low in the vegetation and wouldn't show properly for a pic. A few yards further on and we heard another new bird, a Grasshopper Warbler (141, MMLNR #66) amazingly we could see it perched up almost in the open a long way off but as soon as we raised the camera for what was ever only going to be a poor record shot it flew.
It is a Grasshopper Warbler - honest
Once on the path to the nature reserve another new bird was first heard then sen when a Whitethroat  (142, MMLNR #67) started singing its scratchy tuneless ditty from the back of bush and then launched into its song flight. We'll get a pic of that when it lands we though - no it did what its old colloquial name of Nettlecreeper describes and landed in thick low vegetation never to come out again.
On we went mostly to the tune of an almost uncountable multitude if Blackcaps, it wasn't that long ago they were scarce here - not any more! Numerous they are but elusive too and we only saw one briefly so we still haven't got a pic for our Year Bird Challenge. At one point we almost got another pic of a Cetti's Warbler when one exploded int o song inches from our ear from a hawthorn bush on the 'inland' side of the path well away from the lake's edge. It showed rather well in the outer twigs and we'll probably have to wait a long time to get better views of one in our new bins. You've guessed it though, as soon as we swapped bins for camera it was off!
More Whitethroats scratched, Blackcaps fluted, Willow Warblers warbled and Chiffchaffs chiffed (and chaffed) but all from deep cover and we couldn't get the camera on any of them. In the reedbed it was obvious there were many more newly arrived Reed Warblers and some Sedge Warblers too.
At the scrape we met LR coming the other way and as we chatted a Common Sandpiper (MMLNR #68) came in to view. And then we heard a Grasshopper Warbler fire up from the island opposite us.
He went off for his breakfast and we continued round to the embankment where we heard another Grasshopper Warbler close by then another further away - four singing males great stuff! We walked as far as the bridge passing yet more loud Cetti's Warblers and more Reed Warblers and another Whitethroat was over on the island.
Turning back at the bridge and retracing our steps we now saw two Grasshopper Warblers close together at the top end of the embankment while the more distant one in the ditch and the one on the island were still reeling away at each other, a pair perhaps? 
Continuing round pastt the scrape we hoped to see the recently spotted Bullfinches in the scrub which is burtsing in to flower, no chance - are they even still here but it really does look good for them. A Lesser Whitethroat (143, MMLNR #69) rattled away from the far side of the scrub.
By now we were being plagued by dog walkers, most allowing their mutts to run around unleashed. We saw a couple more Whitethroats and in good light going back towards the car we stopped to get a pic but each time Monty was disturbed from his very 'good sit and wait' by yet another unleashed dog coming up to him and him moving and yanking our arm...very very frustrating. The adjacent caravan site needs to be a dog-free site and the Public Footpath running through the reserve needs to be moved to outside the fence, there's a perfectly suitable surfaced path going in the same destination only a few yards to the north. We don't mind dogs, well well-behaved ones at least; it's the arrogant twatty owners we don't like!
Almost out of the reserve we watched a small passage of Swallows and Sand Martins and with them was our first Swift (144, MMLNR #70) of the year. We couldn't follow it in the camera as yet another dog came passed making Monty pull at our arm. At the same time about 30 Black Tailed Godwits came in from the east and circled around a couple of times, we think they landed on the scrape but couldn't be totally sure.
Frustrated we wandered a little further and came across another Lesser Whitethroat rattling away unseen deep in the scrub.Not keeping hidden in the scrub was one of the Sedge Warblers (YBC #119) we passed on the way in and it was still showing very well in the Raspberry thicket. We stopped and snapped away.
Beautiful little thing shame it's song can't quite  be described as beautiful too!
A little further on at the edge of the wetlands we heard the Grasshopper Warbler (YBC #120) again. Again we could see it and tried to sneak round to get a clearer view. As we walked through the grass we disturbed a second from almost under our feet, Another pair perhaps? The male continued to reel away as we moved round. It was more or less in the same twigs as it was first thing. All of a sudden two weird things happened. The camera refused to find a focus point, battery was dying and for the first time ever outside Monty started barking and jumping up at our back - bonkers what was all that about? Anyway we only managed a couple of shots before the battery totally died and Monty's antics flushed the bird and this was easily the best shot we got.
A good morning out on safari but a frustrating one too.
Where to next? Strong easterly winds at this time of year mean Black Terns but we've got family duties so we hope some will stick around locally over the  holiday weekend.
In the meantime let us know who's reeling away in your outback

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Still flippin Arctic

The Safari has been on a trip up north with our birding chums from the South-side. We'd agreed to meet in the reserve car-park but only minor traffic on a Sunday morning had us due to arrive a few minutes early so we bunked into the old quarry for a quick look.
It didn't take long to find one of the resident Ravens (134, YBC #113) sat in a tree-top.
A scan of the rock face opposite had us finding the nest with four well grown almost ready to fledge youngsters in it.
The female came in to give the nippers a feed, the nest site was high up at the far end of the quarry but even at that range we could see the red gape of the youngsters with our bins. but we missed the family moment with the camera only catching the female as she left.
There was a Peregrine on a ledge too but other than that just the multitude of raucous Jackdaws. We thought we heard a Little Owl call but a chat to a regular visitor told us there hadn't been any there for a number of years.
Joining up with the gang off we went into the reserve where almost immediately a Buzzard soared low overhead being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. Wee could see it had something dangling from its beak which turned out to be a mouse rather than a worm.
Down at the first hide the light was awful with horrendous glare coming off the water and wet mud making viewing and getting pics hard work, as  you can tell from this dreadful Moorhen pic.  
There were hundreds of Black Tailed Godwits many showing their glorious brick red summer plumage, and several Redshanks
Try as we might we couldn't find the two drake Garganeys that had been present in recent days but IH spotted a small wader drop in beyond the snoozing Redshanks. It turned out to be a Green Sandpiper (135, YBC #114). This was the best we could get at the range through the tops of a clump of reeds.
A womble down to the westernmost hides didn't give us much but we did hear a Green Woodpecker on the way, appropriately enough just beyond 'Green Woodpecker field' so called as we saw one there once in about 1981 and never since but we live in hope! A Bank Vole popped out from under a fallen tree trunk where people leave food for the birds for photo opportunities, we waited a few minutes with the camera aimed at the spot but it didn't reappear. Both the hides were very quite with no sign of either the Garganeys nor any Great White Egrets which we could have done with a pic of for our Year Bird Challenge - where were they, there's always a couple or three on the reserve these days?
Retracing our steps back to the the causeway hide we had distant views of a male Marsh Harrier (135) and were constantly serenaded by Willow Warblers, Reed Warblers and a couple of Cetti's Warblers.  
From the hide the water was pretty quiet but it was good to see a couple of Pochards out there, these seem to have been very scarce locally this winter. A Cormorant flew in to sit on 'Great Black Back Gull island' (not a lot dares venture on to there) 
while a Great Crested Grebe cruised round the back
The male Marsh Harrier (YBC #115) did several distant rounds over the extensive reedbed before landing in a dead tree to our left. It sat there for several minutes before lifting off and drifting over the mere in front of us.
Continuing onward towards the next hide as we passed through the wooded area a Marsh Tit (136, YBC #116) popped up on to a pile of cut logs where a handful of mealworms had been left. 
Not far away one of the many serenading Willow Warblers (YBC #117) was in song and visible too as it worked its way through the opening foliage
We passed a few Pheasants on the way, both males and females and they all looked splendiferous in the sunshine, what amazing patterns and colours they have, even the females, when you get such close views. Other folks were practically hand feeding them they are that used to people down this trail.
At the hide we were treated to exceptional views of two Otters playing, or at least they seemed to be we didn't see them eating anything. The show went on for about 10 minutes and throughly enjoyed by everyone in the hide despite the freezing Arctic wind that was blasting through the open windows. It was lovely being out in the sunshine...but in the wind - by eck was it cold!!!
What a show but tricky to get pics of as it was hard to second guess where they would pop up next. The Heron just outside the window was a far better subject, big, close and immobile! Just how we like our wildlife to be!
All too soon we'd run out of time. The others went off for a look at the coastal marshes but we had to head back to Base Camp after a very good if chilly day out on safari with the gang.
Where to next? Back to a very windy and chilly Patch 2 no doubt
In the meantime let us know who's popping up here there and everywhere in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Quick catch up with spring now springing

The Safari yet again has had only a few opportunities to get out this week and even when we have its been very much time constrained during the day. We've added Swallows to all our various patch lists now (P1 #33) P2 #45 & Garden #25) with the last one being over the garden this arvo while waiting for a delivery. A Willow Warbler (Garden #24) quietly sub-songing at the bottom of the garden at Base Camp before work yesterday was a bit of a bonus; the first here since 2012! There must have been a bit of an overnight arrival as there were two on Patch 1 too (P1 #32). Patch 2 yesterday gave us our first Manx Shearwaters (133) of the year when two sped northwards almost at the horizon, not entirely sure how we're going to get these on our Year Bird Challenge. The sea has been mostly very quiet.
We've been reminded to record some of the plants on Patch 1 but rarely taking the camera with us we have been having to rely on phone-pics. Nothing really outstanding...yet...
Cuckoo flower and Cowslip
Common Figwort
Ploughman's Spikenard - pick of the bunch as there's no others nearby
Sweet Vernal Grass - one of our favourite grasses, tastes like American Cream Soda you know. Quality phone-pic...NOT
 There's also several Yellow Meadow Ant mounds, a couple are about a foot high and two in diameter and must have some age about them.
We took the camera on Monty's walk this morning and came across several Speckled Wood butterflies, only of of which settled for a pic.
One of the smaller species of white butterfly was the first seen there this year but remained unidentified. We took the camera in the hope of coming across a Blackcap or a Willow Warbler or even a Greenfinch but there were two very shy singing males of the former and not a sniff of either of the latter. The only bird we could point the camera at was a Collared Dove sat atop the butchered remains of a formerly nice mature Ash tree in a roadside garden.
Back at Base Camp with having to wait in we had a look at what was on the cards from the Stealth Cams...Nothing of note again and still barely a cat - where are they??? The best is our female Blackbird with the little bit of leucistic mottling.
Where to next? A big day out on Safari up north tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's building mounds in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A much better day but only poor pics

The Safari went a few miles north to meet up with GB and JH for a mooch along the prom again.
The tide was well down and there were two ferries at anchor waiting for the tide to rise before they could get into Heysham dock, they have a 5.5m (18ft) draught, with our very long lens we couldn't get both of them in frame together.
In front of the ship and stretching to the left is the 'new' shingle island King's Scar which has arisen about a mile offshore since the dredging of our smaller port has stopped. Looks good for nesting sea/shore birds like Ringed Plovers and terns (hopefully to include Little Terns). It isn't totally covered by most high tides now but how much higher can it get? Maybe that's what the ancient village of S(h)ingleton Thorpe was built of that was a good way off the current coastline. The village was lost in a storm in the Middle Ages the residents surviving but becoming refugees  and given a plot of land to relocate too, now known as Singleton.
All the while during our walk we were listening to the exhaulting songs of Skylarks, we kept looking up waiting for a photo opportunity. At the same time a flock of about 50 waders was continually disturbed by a multitude of dog walkers as they tried to settle to roost as the tide rose.
Most were Dunlins and Sanderlings with a few Ringed Plovers thrown in for good measure. What a shame, these birds need to conserve their energy for their imminent long migrations to higher latitudes, not waste it every two minutes as yet another dog walker comes along. Maybe they should have headed out to the new island but even that gets over-run by jet-skiers if the sea is calm enough for them to get that far.
As the tide rose they were forced closer to the promenade.
Swallows were moving through both out to sea and behind us over the golf course all afternoon. Never in bog groups but by the time we got back to the car we must have had well over 50 and a small number of Sand Martins too.
Concentrating on the golf course we did eventually get a pic of a Skylark (YBC #112) both singing and on the ground although the latter was too far away.
Surely we'll get better pics than this before 31st December
There was a wagtail briefly on the mound too, which had a hint of White Wagtail about it but it disappeared over the back before we could get a proper look at it.
One of the reasons we went up that way was to look for Harbour Porpoises seeing ass how the sea was calm enough to spot them. We didn't manage to find any but did see a Grey Seal not too far offshore. We were very surprised to learn that it was the first local lad GB had ever seen here especially seeing as how he more or less grew up on this beach as a nipper - he did say it was far too polluted in those days to support creatures like the porpoises and seals.
Our pic but GB's processing
This morning we were out early with Monty when about 200 Pink Footed Geese flew over on their way to Iceland.  When we put them on the website we saw that Young Un AB had seen them over his house some 20 minutes earlier and then probably the same flock was counted at 230 at the coast we were at at the weekend.
This evening we took Monty round the new woodland where we found some Cuckoo Flowers blooming.
There are Oak leaves unfurling all over the place but we only saw one Ash tree with anything like open buds, some had a hint of green showing but most were still fast asleep. A drier summer coming up?
Not much on the sea at Patch 2 today in a time constrained lunchtime watch, just three Shelducks going south and a lone Sandwich Tern until we started trying to count the Cormorants lined up on the dry outer sandbanks. It was then we saw two flying out to sea, one was distinctly smaller and didn't look as black as the other, we'd like to say it was a Shag but it was just too fr away to be positive. In the end we didn't count the rest of the Cormorants.
Where to next? Little chance of doing any safari-ing tomorrow but there's always Friday.
In the meantime let us know been avoiding the limelight in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Spring continues to drag its heels

The Safari had family duties on Saturday and ended up on the South-side at a beach we used to frequent as a nipper but one we've not visited for many many years. We parked up in the against the developing dune at the side of the car park and with Wifey watched the Starlings and House Sparrows rummaging around in the vegetation for invertebrates and scraps. Behind us we heard some Linnets and above us Skylarks sang. As we waited for the rest of our party to arrive Wifey wondered why Monty's coat couldn't be iridescent like the Starlings' that would be something - an iridescent dog!
Once the others had arrived we set off on a dog walk along the back of the dunes seeing a Skylark sitting on the grass not 20 yards away and totally oblivious to the gang of lads knocking a football guessed it - no long-lensed camera today. 
At the furthest point we crossed the dunes and dropped down on to the beach where the tide was rising and had covered most of the 'Another Place' statues. There was time for a few quick phone pics though.
Which of the three is you favourite?
 Of course at the same time as throwing the ball for our brother's dog
A right little rapscallion - always full of beans!
We kept an eye out for anything that might be of interest on the strandline. It's always good to find a Mermaid' Purse, this one is from a Lesser Spotted Catshark; what's not so good is to see the balloon ribbons tangled up with the seaweed.
Further on we came across the remains of a long dead Great Black Backed Gull and then this much fresher Kittiwake
We don't think we can count dead things on our Year Bird Challenge, which is a pity because getting a pic of a live Kittiwake could prove tricky as we doubt we'll be visiting any of their nesting cliffs this season. Very occasionally they come close to shore along Patch 2 but it's far from guaranteed.
Back on the dunes we had another, even closer, encounter with a Skylark and then saw where the Linnets were hanging out, an easy full frame shot from the car in the right car parking space - no camera - dohhhhh!!!
Yesterday the rain came down for hours and once it had stopped off we went to the nature reserve once again full of hope something less ordinary would have been dropped by the rain. 
Once again trying to get pics of common birds such as the Blackcap at the Wetland and the Willow Warbler at the Viewing Platform proved impossible, both were too flitty and there are now just too many leaves leave a photographer frustrated...we're not the only either, it seems Monika is having the same problems on the west coast of America.
We both have the same target of 200 species recorded for the year and she was hoping to photograph 150 of them at a strike rate of 75%, so far she's almost reached her target of 150 species photographed and has an excellent strike rate of over 90% We might just get past 150 species photographed and probably won't  get to 200 species recorded. Currently our 111 out of 132 is a strike rate of 84%.
The scrub within the nature reserve was very quiet, where are the Whitethroats, Leser Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and the rest of the Willow Warblers and Blackcaps? It wasn't until we got to the scrape there was any excitement at all. One of the two recent Black Tailed Godwits (MMLNR #63) was there. The new scrape doing its thing attracting down waders to feed and rest that would previously just flown round had a quick look and moved on in a few minutes.
Continuing our walk we dropped in to the hide where MJ was already ensconced but hadn't seen a great deal. A few Sand Martins came by fairly close but we failed to get a shot off. In the distance a Kestrel hovered. One thing we did notice was individual male Reed Buntings flying in to the reeds coming in from the east and then working their way westwards through the tops of the reeds. We noted six but then recalled we'd seen at least a  couple others doing similar earlier in our walk but not thought anything of it - was it a bit of passage after the rain? 
A Rabbit came out to graze in front of the hide. If you 'click the pic' and look closely above its ears you'll see a few of gazillions of  tiny midges that are attracting the Sand Martins to the site.
Another flurry of Sand Martins held a few Swallows and then MJ picked out a House Martin (132, MMLNR #64) which swooped, dived, stalled and towered way away across the far side so no chance of an early pic of this species.
Then MJ's pager went off informing us of 10 Cattle Egrets, in a field of cows, not many miles away. Off he went but we couldn't follow as we had to help Wifey prepare for visitors later in the evening so off we went back towards the car. Best of the rest was a good view of a Chiffchaff while we had a brief chat with TS.
Where to next? Last day of the holiday so we'll be out somewhere on safari.
In the meantime let us know who's visiting more regularly in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Spring seems to have unsprung itself

The Safari had a day off work yesterday and was out early on a cold blustery morning. The wind direction was totally wrong for migrants to fall but we left Base Camp off full of hope as birders always do.
The now usual Cetti's Warbler was heard as we parked up at the gate to the wetland and seconds later the Blackcap in the boundary hedge fired up too. Other than those two regulars it was quiet, very quiet! We met up with old friend LR and set off to see what we could see.
We listened along the way for any hint of Grasshopper Warblers but there was nothing to be heard. 
Down at the viewing platform the water was almost devoid of life, the male Mute Swan driving anything away that came too close to his mate on their nest in the reeds. Close by behind us were a Wren and a Chiffchaff and a something doing an unidentified song. It sounded reminiscent of a Wood Warbler but wasn't quite right but we never really got onto anything to confirm the identity of the singer. Every time we thought we had a Wren popped up - do Wrens sometimes forget their whole song and just concentrate on the trill at the end? But it didn't sound quite right for that either...a mystery!
The scrub and developing woods were also very quiet save for the occasional burst of song from the odd Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Blackcap. The Blackcaps were infuriatingly hard to spot and we're beginning to think we might have to wait until the autumn when they're feeding on berries to get our pic for our Year Bird Challenge. Getting a pic  of the local Willow Warblers might be even trickier as they don't feed on berries. The seem very thin on the ground this year, lets hope there's more to come but they have been declining very rapidly in recent years. So far they've not been for singing from exposed perches preferring to stay deep in the shelter of the the densest bushes and who can blame them in the wintry conditions we're currently 'enjoying'.
On a more positive note LR managed to find two Bee Orchid rosettes only minutes after complaining and us agreeing that we'd both looked and looked and not having see many were convinced none were going to show this season.
Down at the scrape we hoped the two Little Ringed Plovers that were reported the previous evening would still be around - they weren't. There were just a few Teal a couple of Shovelers, two male Gadwall and a coupla three Moorhens. above them and which may have come out of a reedbed roost were at least 50 Sand Martins and we just about managed a pic, one out of c150 shots for our Year Bird Challenge, (YBC #107)
The ubiquitous Cetti's Warblers blasted out their explosive song and there was THE single Reed Warbler too, actually there's probably two on site now but we only heard this one. Further on along the embankment we saw that at least one of the Sand Martins was in fact a Swallow (YBC #108). It was well out over the water and wouldn't come towards us above the tree tops in the distance only doing so once it had turned to redo it's feeding loop. There was a bit of blue sky by now but don't be fooled it wasn't any warmer.
At the bridge LR double back retracing his steps while we continued on the circuit towards the car. We stopped in the hide briefly to see very little, the recent Little Gull was nowhere to be seen, like all the other good stuff then, so we pushed on keen to get back to the car to try another site. EP was coming the other way and told us that news had broken of a drake Garganey at the site we intended to visit next - nice one. Hopefully the earlier reported Little Ringed Plovers would still be there too.
It didn't take too long to get there and as soon as we pulled up we spotted a Common Sandpiper (130, YBC #109) on the mud on the other side of the creek through the fence. Dropping the window we poked the camera out and fired away, and then the phone rang - a work number so probably needing answering, but at least we'd got the Common Sandpiper on our Year Bird Challenge.
As we were on the phone we could see a few birds on the little stony island out in the creek. A Lapwing catching the sun its plumage looking resplendent in the now bright sunshine.
And a sleepy Black Tailed Godwit also looking resplendent in its summer garb.
Also while we were on the phone another birder turned up and within seconds of  putting his scope up had found the Garganey (131, YBC #110). Once our call was over he kindly let us have a look through his scope. It was a long way off, right on the very edge of the lens' range and didn't wake up all the time we were there.
The Black Tailed Godwit did wake up in the end but we missed it having a good old stretch.
We haven't mentioned the Little Ringed Plovers as they'd done a bunk. After that we had an errand to run before lunch but were able to stop at another site on the estuary but the tide was already very high and almost right up to the wall. Only a small bit of the mudflats were still uncovered but the water was rising fast. A quick scan gave us just a few Oystercatchers but then a second longer more intense scan gave us what we wanted, just three Knot (YBC #111) out of the thousands that were probably there half an hour earlier but had already gone to roost on higher ground.
The light was seriously against us and the tide was seriously against their short little legs. They soon ran out of time and had to fly.
Here's a tight crop of the left-hand bird.
That was that for safari-ing yesterday but we did try the very same again this morning with even less success and a lot more rain. We got trapped in one of the hides by a spell of heavy rain and were able to watch a pair of Little Grebes fishing. The rain dropped a bucket load of Sand Martins and we tried to better our duff shot from yesterday.

Again this is the best of c100 much worse shots - don't think it's any better than yesterday's effort. Really need some decent sunshine to do these speedy little beauties justice. Getting a bit closer wouldn't go a miss either.
Where to next? Being a glutton for punishment we'll probably try the same again tomorrow. We have a terrible fear that spring will happen once we're back at work and snowed under at our desk.
In the meantime let us know who's braving the cold in your outback 

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Mad migrants coming through

The Safari has been extremely busy at work with the culmination of the project happening yesterday afternoon. We have been a small cog in a large wheel getting a Dementia Friendly Family Garden built and not had much time for checking the rest of the grounds, lots of machinery disturbance along with the usual dog walkers from dawn til dusk and beyond.
As you can see the press were there in force. Full press story here. We're hiding at the back somewhere in the top pic.
We've  had few opportunities to nip over the road to see the sea and we new have there's been nowt to see anyway. The other day we had a couple of Gannets (129, P2 #40) cruise by and at low tide a gang of eight Carrion Crows were working their way along the more-substantial-than-usual strandline. Meanwhile a flock of 10 1st year Black Headed Gulls headed south-west already well out to sea - where were they going??? 
Locally migration has been a bit slow to say the least. We've heard reports of more Grasshopper Warblers and possibly the same two Little Ringed Plovers have visited the nature reserve on a couple of occasions but the southerly winds at the weekend did nothing to open the anticipated floodgates. It'll happen when it happens and in the meantime it's still that time of year when anything can happen whatever the weather.
And it has. We watched a Magpie (P2 #41) head north at about double roof-top height on Sunday it went steadily on its way until it was lost to view, surely a migrant rather than a local bird. We don't see that many here during the course of the  year. Sunday wasn't a bad day until mid afternoon when a cold front came in off the sea and it turned from very spring-like back to winter. Since then a brisk cold north westerly wind has picked up and strengthened. We missed the first Manx Shearwaters of the year by going back indoors too early yesterday but a heavy shower this morning dropped a Mega on to the work's garden. A Collared Dove (P2 #42)!!!  OK so we'd rather it had of been a Ring Ouzel or a Yellow Wagtail but still it was deffo one of those birding 'BOOM' moments! We see rarely see them here, in fact we've only recorded them in three years of the last seven, including 2017, and they have been fly-overs right along the seawall, and having seen one land on the seawall we can't actually remember seeing one grounded in the garden before we started year listing Patch 2, we've been here since late 2004.
It was pecking around on the small potato patch our volunteers planted last week but had moved a little further away onto the lawn by the time we'd grabbed the camera. Maybe we should have taken the time to see if anything else had been dropped by the rain but sadly we were right in the middle of something at the desk.
Taken through double glazed window
The joys of local patches eh!
Where to next? Day off tomorrow, had some plans but we've had to change them - we'll be out somewhere on Safari but not the South-side as originally intended.
In the meantime let us know who's popped in just for a minute in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Wasn’t all it was cracked up to be

The Safari was up early today in eager anticipation of the change of wind direction to southerly. It was cold out though everywhere was white frosty, it was misty too.
As soon as we opened the car door at the wetlands we heard a Cetti's Warbler burst into song which was then answered almost immediately by another on the opposite side.
We set off with high hopes, passing the first Cetti's Warbler, a Chaffinch and a Blackcap singing in the hedge. Further away Blackbirds and Song Thrushes sang heartily.
Nearer the reserve we began to hear Chiffchaffs but in the distance did we hear a Grasshopper Warbler? We stopped and listened - nothing, walking on a little further we thought we heard it again and stopped - nothing - - we put it down to either losing our hearing a bit or we were just catching the trill at the end of a Wren's song. 
It was cold and we wished we'd worn a hat. We don't think anyone would have been sitting on this well frosted bench in a hurry.
It took a while for us to hear the morning's first Willow Warbler whereas there were several Blackcaps. Lancashire's earliest Reed Warbler was still where we'd left him last week but all the Teal on the scrape were still Teal - not a Garganey to be seen, not were there any waders of any description over there either.
It was all becoming a little disappointing the anticipated opening of the migrant floodgates hadn't materialised.
We wandered as far as the bridge passing more singing Cetti's Warblers but no more Reed Warblers and no sign of any Sedge or Grasshopper Warblers. Two silent Reed Buntings perched atop  the reeds 30 or so yards apart did their best to break the monotony.
Retracing our steps back down the embankment we picked up a Sparrowhawk at about double tree-top height making its way steadily north until it was out of sight over the ridge. Quarter of an hour later it or a second was soaring over the mere being mobbed by about 15 Sand Martins. some of the martins dropped to feed low over the water and we went to the viewing platform in the nope they would be close enough for the lens but by the time we got there they'd lifted off, joined their chums and done a bunk.
So that was about the sum of it. And then we read this later this arvo "Despite the weather, today did not live up to expectation bird wise but it was beautiful day on the islands". from today a little way down the coast at Hilbre Island - so it wasn't just us! But we did see on the Bird Club sightings page that a Grasshopper Warbler had been heard on the nature reserve - not where we thought we'd heard ours but much later so it could have moved or was it the Two Bird Theory - did we or didn't we???
Back at Base Camp after breakfast we did a bit of work in the garden enjoying the lovely warm sunshine. A Blackcap sang from a nearby neighbour's garden and a Buzzard soared the wrong way low over the roof-tops. The gulls alerted us to the presence of a raptor and we grabbed the camera but took so long looking the way it should have been going that we only just caught up with it before it disappeared behind the chimney pots.
The warm sun was always likely to bring out some insects so we had the macro lens handy. The first butterfly of the year fluttered through the garden, a Speckled Wood, unfortunately it didn't stop. Strange to think that they've only been in the area for a fraction over 20 years, they're so common now. A very mobile hoverfly was flitting around the climbing roses but again didn't perform for the camera.
A giant queen Buff Tailed Bumble Bee had to be rescued from the dining room and later a queen Red Tailed Bumble Bee was the first of its kind we've seen this year.
Far easier to get a pic of provided the wind didn't pick up too much were our Cowslips in the pot by the back door.
Where to next? Working tomorrow but we should be able to get out early again for an hour or so.
In the meantime let us know who's not turning up when expected in your outback.