Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Scales and fluffy stuff

The Safari took advantage of some early morning sun in the weather forecast and planned a trip down the coast to the local lizard hotspot. CR drove the few miles south and pulled up in what he thought was a rather unusual spot, it was the right place and it is possible with a bit of luck to spot our quarry from the driving seat of your motor.
It wasn't to be today as we had to walk up and down the bank a few times, taking care not to let our shadows fall on the vegetation. It took a while but eventually persistence paid off. Hiding under an extensive amount of overhanging Marram Grass was the first Common Lizard of the morning. Cautiously we approached as close as we dared to get a good luck at the little beauty.
They like bare patches of sand that are lightly covered by vegetation. For some reason they don't seem to like to bask out in the open as they do on boardwalks, or rocks, at other places. Maybe next time we should take a rake to pull away some of the excess dead grass to make spotting them a tad easier.
We walked up and don a few more times, the sun was warm but the wind was still chilly. As the sun gained a bit more strength we found a second, smaller individual right down at the far end of the bank but up high at eye-level. Again it was well concealed and we were lucky to spot it.
At first glance we thought it had lost the tip of its tail but when checking this pic we found it does indeed have a full tail.
We were able to get CR on to it before we made the fatal error of moving a little too quickly too close and it darted back down its almost invisible burrow in the sand.
With that one gone we had a check on the first one before we had to leave and it was still there warming up.
Can you see him? Would you have spotted him?
As CR drove away we took the liberty of having a look and yes we were able to see it from the passenger seat of the car as we passed.
The weather deteriorated as we approached base camp and then got worse throughout the rest of the day so we were rather fortunate to have had such good views. 
The following day we got news of a family of Tawny Owls in a local woodland. We saw one there many years ago while leading a moth and bat night and heard one calling when we helped out with moths and bats on a nearby Bioblitz about three years ago. We arrived at the site to see a pair of Stock Doves at the nest box, never seen one at that site before, but way above them in the topmost branches of the tree we found two fledgling Tawny Owls (YLPC #111). They weren't easy to get a pic of, trying to hold a heavy lens still while pointing it almost vertically isn't easy and we fired the ISO up to the giddy heights of 10,000 to get anything a shutter speed to knock out our wobbling.
There was no sign of the adults, with the Stock Doves going in the nest box they probably weren't in there! Maybe they were hiding in one of the Ivy covered large trees scattered about. Fortunately one our chums, PL, got a pic of an adult later in week.
Behind us is a pool where a Little Egret was fishing.
Successfully as it happens.
Still find it a bit weird that we can see these less than a mile from Base Camp.
With time to spare we wandered up through the woods and beyond with Monty coming across our first singing Blackcap (140) of the year, Chiffchaffs and eventually a singing Willow Warbler (141) but we couldn't get the camera on to any of them.
In the afternoon we met up with GR and had a mooch along Fleetwood Prom spotting not a lot apart from a couple of very brief views of what was probably a Harbour Porpoise out beyond the distant light surf.
A couple of scans of the golf course didn't give us any Wheatears but we did eventually find one on the beach. The local flock of Linnets gave us the run around, mostly as they kept being flushed by dog walkers. But with a little luck and patience we managed a couple of pics of a singing male.
Today we met up with CR again and went for another look at the Tawny Owls but they were nowhere to be seen this morning. There were plenty of other birds calling and singing in the woods, Nuthatches, cheeky Blue and Great Tits, Robins, noisy Wrens and singing Blackcaps. But again none of them were for posing for the camera so we drove round to Marton Mere in the hope of some summer migrants perhaps a more unusual one or two.
It didn't take long to hear a Blackcap and a Song Thrush hopped around in front of us until a camera was pointed at it and it went shy a flew in to cover. Cetti's Warblers sang all around us but remained invisible. By Heron Hide two Cetti's Warblers one either side of us tormented us by singing loudly at each other but refusing to show although we did see a presumed pair of Lesser Whitethroats (142) there to add to the one we'd seen earlier, a possible fourth was nearby too but could have been the first one that had moved across the path while we were looking for the Cetti's Warblers. Also from there we heard our first Reed Warblers (143) of the year.
The embankment, south east corner and Bird Club hide were quiet but coming out of the hide C noticed a couple of small bees resting on a fence post. They looked like a species of mining bee but neither of us were sure which one.
A minute or so later we found a female, that had us guessing a bit in the field but once the pics were downloaded and examined it was obviously a Tawny Ming Bee, as were the males seen earlier with their prominent white beard.
We looked for more as we passed the profusion of flowers on the Blackthorn bushes but none were seen. 
At the damp meadow there were a few patches of Cowslips in flower and far fewer than in previous years patches of Snakeshead Fritillaries. Where have they gone? Surely the bulbs haven't drowned over the winter months???
Above the Fritillaries the gulls were going bonkers and eventually C found the culprit, a very high soaring Buzzard which did drop lower and drift off to the south. 
The feeding station was disappointingly devoid of life so we didn't stay long.
The walk back to the car gave us a lone Swallow (MMLNR #66) hawking insects in the lee of the line of fruit trees alongside the track.
So a grand morning out despite the disappointment of not seeing the Tawny Owls and the frustration of not being able to get the camera on the warblers but as ever with wildlife there's always a surprise and always something new to see even if you don't see what you set out to see.

Where to next? A safari up the motorway beckons...

In the meantime let us know who's tipping the scales in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Spring is hardly springing along

The Safari had a very pleasant surprise on Sunday. After a wet and miserable Saturday when we planned to go to have a look at a new car but decided not too because of the weather we had a browse on-line and found a similar one much closer to Base Camp, the original one wasn't viewable on Sunday so we nipped out for a look at the nearer one in dry bight warm and sunny conditions - a proper spring day. Long gone are our days of the fuel thirsty but fun and capable Land Rovers now we're looking at hybrid hatchbacks, they're not the same but needs must!!!
Anyway the salesman was showing us what was on offer on his forecourt when we heard a commotion of gulls above our heads - we had to ask him to hold his patter for a few minutes while we picked out a passing Osprey (138) the gulls had alerted us too. It was low overhead as it circled slowly northeastwards trying to avoid the attention of the mobbing gulls. Yer man was impressed with our find! We weren't able to have a test drive as Monty was in our motor and was a getting on for a bit too warm for leaving dogs in cars so we had to break away from the sales pitch and hit the beach.
The beach was busy and Monty had great fun trying to steal other dogs' balls - he's a nightmare every other dog's ball is better than his own - he has a classic case of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence! 
With so many people and their mutts about wildlife was non-existent until we spotted a Swallow (139) jinking towards us at about double head-height, judging by the extreme length of his tail streamers we'd hazard a guess that he was a male.
Monday was another proper spring day - tee-shirt sleeves even! We took Monty fro a morning wander round Patch 1 for the first time in ages. As we approached we could see the rough field through the still leafless hedge and it was a sodden quagmire - we daren't let him anywhere near that, we'd have to keep him in the park proper and hope he didn't do a U-ey and make bee-line for the mud.
The first thing to catch our eye in the scrubby wild area was the enormous patch of Cow Parsley growing under the trees - great to see and it be full of interesting invertebrates to get to grips with when it starts to flower.
The second thing we noticed was the grass in the 'butterfly area' has been hammered down by the weather over the winter, much more than in previous winters so that might help the wildflowers put on a better show this season which should help the butterflies and other insects. The only downer was that someone has been camping or sleeping rough and left a very bare muddy patch which could 'weed' up and there's lots of litter around, need to take a carrier bag next time we're out that way. 
The main part of the park was saddening, lots of mature trees and not so mature trees have been felled and a large portion of the previously dense shrubbery has been reduced to a few sticks poking out of a sea of woodchippings. It was noticeable that there was no bird song or calls from the likes of undergrowth-lovers like Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks. The only birds we saw were Blackbirds, Woodpigeons, Blue and Great Tits. Despite the warm and still conditions we saw no bees or butterflies at all. The Moorhens that nested in previous years have gone, the low cover around the top pond they preferred having been removed.
Fortunately no Elms seem to have been felled so the White Letter Hairstreaks should be safe...for now. 
There are a number of newish looking bird boxes up although some are very close together. We watched a Blue Tit investigating one and took up position behind a nearby tree and aimed the camera. Unfortunately it didn't come back to this box but went to another in the cluster a little further away.
Don't these  things normally have a hole?
Nope, not on this side
OK - found it now
While it was investigating the interior we took the opportunity to sneak a few trees closer for a better view.
Not bad, quite cosy
But we'll go and have a look at another one - just in case...
Another lap of the park had us looking up when we heard the usual gull commotion, not the hoped for Osprey or Red Kite but a pair of Sparrowhawks displaying way, way up in the ether this time.
On the little field on the way back to Base camp we stopped to get a pic (wrong lens really) of the Meadow Foxtail grass we'd seen on Monty's early morning walk. No sign of any Sweet Vernal Grass coming in to flower yet, which is the next one in the succession but there were a few Daisies and Dandelions out in flower - no doubt the mowing men will appear imminently to do these in, can't allow pollinator attracting wildflowers ruining our sterile green desert can we!!!
Back at Base camp we did a day of household chores and a bit of gardening while keeping an ear out for the gulls. They did go potty a  couple of times and on only one of those did we find the culprit or culprits as it was - a pair of circling Buzzards heading towards CR's airspace.
Today we're sat here tip-tapping away at the keyboard while outside the rain batters down - back to a typical 2018 spring day then, cold wet n windy!

Where to next? Family business on the Southside tomorrow but there may be the opportunity to have a quick look at some wildlife somewhere and we have a little plan...if we have time.  

In the meantime let us know who's peering through the holes in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

The simplest things give the most pleasure

The Safari was walking Monty along the top of Chat Alley the other morning expecting to see a  Wheatear or Meadow Pipit or two and secretly hoping for something a little more exotic like a Stonechat or a, heaven forbid, Black Redstart or even a grounded Ring Ouzel. No such luck with the exotica but we did hear a couple of Meadow Pipits overhead. It was a no bins no camera dog walk and as can only happen when you're optic-less up pops a stonking male Wheatear on to the fence only a few yards in front of us...absolutely awesome; it stayed put giving ever closer views as we carefully inched forward towards it. The sort of sighting permanent memories are made of, but sadly not digital images - if we'd have had the big lens we'd have had to wind the zoom right in and still step back a few yards to get it all in the frame we were that close! Once we got as close as we dared without disturbing it we watched it testing the breeze before hopping off the fence and floating down the cliff in that most Wheateary way that they do with legs half dangling and that was the last we saw of it...well chuffed - it made our day and it wasn't even 9.30 yet! Saw our first butterfly of the year too, a Small Tortoiseshell, although we missed one at the Ring Ouzel in the park the other day.
Later in the morning we met up with GB and had a slow mooch along Fleetwood prom. The tide was out and with the weather being better than expected there were locals and Easter holidaymakers all over the place so there was virtually no wildlife on the beach at all save for a few gulls scattered here and there along some of the bigger channels.
We sat for a while on the sea wall at the Observation Tower from where we got two brief and inconclusive views of what was probably a Harbour Porpoise away to our left, a small flock of Eiders was well offshore in that direction too. As the tide rose more birds appeared, mostly small flocks of Oystercatchers heading for the 'new' shingle island and then a Ringed Plover came past close by and landed on the beach to our right. Our best sighting was a flock of a couple of hundred Knot that came from the left and landed on the advancing tide line joining a small group of Oystercatchers.
What we didn't do and perhaps should have done was take a look across the golf course behind us. From where we were sat we could hear Skylarks singing from there but learned later that there were perhaps as many as double figures of Wheatears scattered around the fairways. Still Monty was having a good run and plenty of fun and GB as out n about away from his 'puter for a good hour or so so it was mission accomplished even if we had lugged the camera all the way there and all the way back without pointing it at anything.
Yesterday we'd been invited by EP of the North West Living Seas team from the Wildlife Trust to join her as 'resident expert' on their family rockpooling event. not sure about the 'expert' bit - more knowledgeable than many on all things marine along our coast but we think we need a lot more practice before we get anything like worthy of the accolade of 'expert'.
There was a great turn out with several families coming along on a cool and blustery day. They were soon finding all manner of shells and dipping in the rockpools for creepy crawly things which were sadly lacking, the recent prolonged cold weather might have something to do with the dearth of crabs, shrimps and prawns. We only managed to spot one small Blenny darting for cover too, normally there's lots of them.
But as ever the more you look the more you see and it was evident that there were far more Beadlet Anemones than we normally see, some of them still covered by the water had their tentacles out. We gently prised one from the rock and let it grip to our hand with its millions of stinging cells. We'll post the pic at a later date when it's been downloaded from AN Other's camera. No it doesn't hurt, the stings are too small to penetrate any more than the top most layers of cells of our skin and their toxin is more for subduing microscopic plankton than 85kg mammals. Looks impressive though and is testament to how strong lots and lots and lots of tiny things can be.
While showing one group of children the difference between a Prickly Cockle and an Edible Cockle something on the wall of the adjacent rockpool caught our eye. Only a flippin Limpet! Not a massive one but not a particularly small one either - but you're thinking it's only a Limpet, rockpools all over the shop are full of them what's the big deal? Well in all the years we've been taking groups out rockpooling on this stretch of coast we've only ever seen one Limpet and we believe that was destroyed along with its habitat when the old storm water pipe was replaced with a new one a couple of years ago. This 'new' one was quite away from where the original one lived and was a totally different size anyway. Result - get in!!! That's the joy of wildlife - you really don't know what you're going to see from one day to the next, there's always a surprise waiting for you when you least expect it.
And there was another surprise to come, another family found another Limpet doubling the town's population! Another smallish one and a little nearer to where the original one lived but still definitely a different one.
Something made us wander to the pools on the south side of the slipway, maybe it was took look to see if there were any Green Shore Crabs there as there weren't any anywhere else but then as we approached the end of the pools and where the sea wall had been altered fro the new storm water pipe a little white dot caught our eye, could it be???????
Yes it was!!!!!

Tripled the Blackpool population of Limpets in the space of half an hour - well done guys! But how many more are there if there's three we've found?????
Now this one isn't far from from where we last saw the original one - sort of directly below the chap in the pic above. But is it the same one or is it a new one? Questions questions - we'd like to think that somehow it survived the habitat annihilation caused by the rebuilding of the wall. It's certainly big enough and has that white cast we remember when we last saw it a little over three years ago. Here's some pics from 2013 - what do think, same or different?
One thing that has changed and very probably due to the old storm pipe being removed is the flora and fauna on the rockpools. The old pipe was above beach level whereas the new one is buried and that seems to have had an effect on what grows where and how much. There is certainly much less Honeycomb worm in the rockpools now as well as very little Spiral Wrack seaweed, perhaps losing the breakwater effect of the raised old pipe is causing more sand scour so some species can't get or maintain a grip on the concrete walls. A species that is doing well is the Edible Mussel. Look at the two pics above there is a sharp dividing line between the white of the Barnacles and the black of teeming millions of tiny Edible Mussels, we've never seen that here before it's a brand new phenomenon! Another surprising surprise thrown up by our wonderful nature and just begging more questions to be asked and more observations to be made. Is it just in this locality, does it occur 'round the corner' where we very rarely look, does it occur further north towards the pier again we rarely look that far. A couple of years ago there was a Shore Search survey done by students from the local marine biology course, it would be very interesting to have it done again.
Eventually the tide came in and we all had to leave the beach - happy

Where to next? A wet weekend beckons but no doubt there'll be something to see

In the meantime let us know who's providing the surprises in your outback

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Dip tick undip

The Safari has failed to see many fresh-in migrants so far this week. We've been looking at our toes when an Osprey flew unnoticed over our heads and not connected with any of the several others that have passed through close by so far, we've not heard any Chiffchaffs singing from the 'Golden Triangle' of scrub on Monty's early morning walk and there haven't been many Wheatears along Chat Alley.
Then the other morning we did have a couple of Wheatears grounded well out on the beach with a Meadow Pipit with them and almost another two dozen overhead.
Yesterday we were able to get out a little further and decided to have a look for the two Cattle Egrets about 10 miles down the road. We stopped at the place shown on the maps provided by the bird club and even saw some some cows but couldn't find the egrets, we now think we were looking in the wrong direction! There were a few Shelducks in the fields and displaying Lapwings along with a Curlew or two. We drove away with a big dip under our belt. 
We hadn't gone far when the phone rang, it was LR telling us that he'd just been told of Ring Ouzel back in town at Stanley Park. Only one thing to do - point the car that way! A minor traffic jam slowed us down but as we drove into the park it was obvious it was busy with families enjoying the Easter break and we fretted there would be nowhere to park. As we drove up the main drag we saw a bunch of familiar faces staring into the trees on the right hand side of the road. Luckily we found a parking spot and two minutes later were being shown where the Ring Ouzel had been spending most of its time when not hiding up in the top of the trees as it was now.
Within a few minutes the call went up that it had dropped out of the tree but had landed in a dip where we couldn't see it. Not to worry it soon hopped in to view. Great binocular views but a little distant and against the light for the camera so this was the only half decent pic we got. OK for our Challenge (125, PYLC #109). Not seen one in the Fylde for a few years and the only one we saw last year was very very distant even in the scope so it was good to have quality views at a local site.
We stayed a  while but was regularly seen back up in to the trees by the local Blackbirds and stayed there for extended periods.

A Nuthatch poking round the base of some of trees kept us entertained and a flock of Woodpigeons held a Stock Dove, another species we've never seen in the park before. It was a shame we weren't able to get a pic of the Ring Ouzel and Stock Dove together or at least in the same frame, would have been a unique Stanley Park combo pic. During one of its sojourns up high we took the opportunity to walk round to the other side of the copse to get better light for pics. We waited and waited until finally it dropped from its perch but was almost immediately seen on its way by one of the Blackbirds. A dark bird was seen to fly high to the north well beyond the nearest trees - was that it had we just seen the last of it?
A Blue Tit kept an eye on us to make sure we didn't stray from the straight and narrow.
After another half an hour and no further sighting of the Ring Ouzel we called it a day and were convinced we'd seen it leave, but fortunately for late comers we heard later that it was seen again in the evening.
First thing this morning there were three Wheatears on the cliffs at Chat Alley but very few Meadow Pipits going over.
After breakfast it was back to the park to see if the Ring Ouzel had stayed overnight. As soon as we got out of the car and began to wander over that way another birder just leaving told us there's been no sign since very early morning so there must have been a gap in the rain during the night and it's taken advantage of that to continue on its way. 
While chatting to another birder we watched a pair of Mistle Thrushes bringing great cobs of moss to line their nest in the fork of a Sycamore tree.
Back and forth they came at fairly regular intervals but at one point a Blue Tit dropped in up to no good by the shifty look of it, checking this way and that to make sure the residents weren't on their way back.
It skiddaldled moments before one of the Mistle Thrushes returned. we thought it might have been trying to burgle some free moss but it left with an empty beak.
Then our friend pointed out a Nuthatch on a nearby tree and looking closer we saw that there were two working their way round the trunk, always seemingly equidistant from each other.
He then spotted a Treecreeper a little further back, good to see these still hanging on in the park after so many large trees have been removed, including a couple that they have previously nested in.
By now it was lunch time so we had to leave.
After lunch with the weather improved we decided to have another try for the Cattle Egrets but as we were on route the heavens opened and ominous dark clouds drew ever closer. Fortunately the heavy shower had passed by the time we arrived and looking at the sky there was a few minutes gap before the next downpour arrived. This time we looked harder and wider and soon found the Cattle Egrets walking along an embankment miles across across the fields. Just about close enough for the lousiest of record shots (126, PYLC #110).
It was good to add a couple of 'bonus' species to our Challenge tally particularly after not doing so well on Anglesey last week. Hopefully we'll be able to better the Cattle Egret pic sometime later in the year - can't believe we've said that 25 years ago regular Cattle Egrets in Lancashire weren't even on the radar...nowhere near the radar even!

Where to next? We really need to come across on the many passing Ospreys! So we'' be out n about on safari looking and listening for the local gulls making  a hullaballoo to let us know there's a passing bird of prey in their airspace.

In the meantime let us know who's dropped in for a quick hello in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A Welsh week on Anglesey

The Safari had a busy week with family duties but did have the chance to stop off at Marshside RSPB to have a half hour look to see if there was anything about. There were plenty of Wigeon and Black Tailed Godwits but on the whole there wasn't too much about. The water levels with all the rain and melting snow were a bit on the high side. The other side of the reserve gave us a walk down to Nels Hide from where the Scaup were nowhere to be seen. Several flights Pink Footed Geese left the freshwater marsh flying low over our head over to the salt water marsh as we walked down to the hide. 
We were asked if we'd seen the Avocets, which we hadn't but as we were being told there were a few about two flew past the window (123, PYLC #101)
They joined a small group of others doing their best to shelter from the ferociously cold wind behind a low island. There's precious little shelter when conditions are bad here.
The left hand bird is Yellow flagged but we couldn't read the code
With nothing else on show, the Scaup were reported from a different area of the reserve we didn't have had time to visit, we had to call it a day.
The following day we took the big camera on Monty's early morning walk along the cliffs and had the success we hoped for with just one Wheatear (PYLC #102) briefly on the lower rocks.
Then we hit the road down to the lovely and sunny island of Anglesey off the north coast of Wales.
As we always do on a road trip we tallied up Buzzards versus Kestrels along the way with the result in favour of Buzzards yet again 5:1 but second dead Kestrel on the side of the road too. Other roadkill wildlife included a single Badger and what looked seriously like a Polecat.
Once we'd unpacked at our temporary Base Camp we hit the beach where we soon found a Grey Seal bottling on the flat sea. Also out there was  a nice variety of birds, several Shags (124) fished offshore while on the beach there were a few Sanderlings, Ringed Plovers and a Dunlin or two scattered among them. Out to sea we found five Great Crested Grebes and watched what turned out to be the first, of only two, Sandwich Tern (125) of the week fly past. A pair of Red Breasted Mergansers split up, the male flying inland and landing on a small creek behind the beach. Several auks were too far out to be able to identify but that didn't matter too much as there would be plenty of opportunities to catch up with them at close quarters later in the week.
Saturday morning out with Monty brought us overflying Ravens, distant drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Sparrowhawk that looked like it was on a migratory mission. A trip up to the gorgeous little inlet of Porth Eilian later in the morning had us watching more Shags and a Black Guillemot (126) while Monty had a swim but they were both always a little too distant for decent pics.
On the drive out just up the hill in the village a Red Squirrel scampered along the roadside towards gardens bedecked with feeders. Great to see one, Anglesey is a superb conservation success story for this enigmatic species and we didn't see any at all when we were here four years ago. The drive back to Base Camp also gave us our first dead Hedgehog on the road of the year, that one hadn't survived long after coming out of hibernation.
After tea a final sprint round the beach with Monty brought a bit of a surprise in the form of a flock of Pale Bellied Brent Geese (127, PYLC #103) we hadn't brought the camera so only had our phone to get some pics with and were doing quite well sneaking up on them slowly but surely inching closer until the Monster came charging up behind us and flushed them, they seemed far more wary of dogs than people.
A duff pic but never mind we'd get them with the big lens in the morning.
On Saturday evening we were joined by LCV and his family so on Sunday we planned a big family excursion to the RSPB South Stack reserve and Lighthouse. Reports earlier had shown thousands of guillemots etc back on the nesting cliffs and even more exciting a Snowy Owl had been on the mountain behind the cliffs for much of Saturday.
The morning walk before setting off had us listening to our first Chiffchaff (128) of the year in the cottage's garden and the Brent Geese were on the beach again but we didn't have the camera, two Razorbills (129) were close in too.
South Stack gave us awesome views of a flock of at least 15 Choughs with lots of calling and aerobatic display going on but not photo opportunities, they kept dipping over the edge of the cliffs or flipping up over the skyline and out of sight before we could raise the camera. A Kittiwake (130) cruised the cliff edge below us but again was out of sight before we could get a pic, astonishingly this was the only one we saw all week. The Guillemot nesting cliffs were deserted. It seems the bad weather of the Beast from the East mk2 had sent all the cliffs' residents back out to sea and from Ellin's Tower viewing point they were indeed empty apart from a few pairs of Herring Gulls and Fulmars (131, PYLC #104) - All very worrying, hopefully the huddled masses will return before too long and have a good breeding season. our look for Puffins in 'Puffin Gully' was unsuccessful too, although we learned later in the week that the first Puffin to be seen there this year wasn't until the following day. Despite hordes of birders out on the trail of the Snowy Owl there was no news of that either.
Overexposed Fulmars
While the kids had a run down the million steps to the lighthouse we stayed up top and watched a Meadow Pipit poke about the rocks by the track.
There were very few small birds about giving a hint that there had been no recent migrants on the move. A camera-shy Stonechat on the walk back to the car was best of the rest and more than likely a local bird.
A stop at Porth Eilian before going back to Base Camp gave us more Shags (PYLC #105) and a couple of duff Black Guillemot pics (PYLC #106)
At Penmon Head the next day LCV soon picked up a Harbour Porpoise fishing a few hundred yards offshore. There were plenty of birds but all distant. All the auks missing from the cliffs at South Stack seemed to be here. Lots of Guillemots (132) and Razorbills (PYLC #107)
Some Shags floated close by giving us the chance to better our earlier PYLC pic.
The flock of Eiders weren't so obliging.
LCV picked up a couple of Puffins (133) loafing, appropriately, just off Puffin Island, so far to far for a pic, then he found another half dozen or so a couple of hundred yards further back.
While having tea and a bun in the tea-rooms with the family a Sand Martin (134) flew over us and eagle-eyed LCV picked up the second Sandwich Tern of the week out in the straits. 
Playing ball with Monty a Rock Pipit flew past us and landed close by but by the time we'd gone for the camera it was long gone too.
Tuesday was a wash out with rain and we'd come down with a bug too.
Wednesday saw us feeling a bit better so we headed out across the island to see if we could find some Red Squirrels in the forest at Newborough. We'd only got as far as the first village off the main road before seeing one on the side of the road again. Which was good as the woods were very quite and notably devoid of squirrels, in fact notably devoid of almost all wildlife apart from a smattering of Great Tits and Blackbirds and a soaring Buzzard that was a bit too high for our little lens.
Back at our beach Monty had a good time as we successfully failed to get any pics of the Brent Geese again.
Our last day had us photographing a pair of Red Legged Partridges (PYLC #108) through the kitchen window which we spotted while doing the last of the washing up. We've counted it on our challenge list but as per usual we don't add these multi-millions released for shooting without so much as a by-your-leave to our regular year list.
Then we had a lovely surprise, we went to throw the last  remnants of a loaf out on the lawn for the Carrion Crows when we spotted this little chap snuffling his way through the short grass.
Once back at Base Camp we were able to have a look at the Stealth Cam's captures. After seeing a Hedgehog in the flesh we weren't surprised to see one had triggered the camera and possibly a different one as it looks a bit bigger, the daytime one appearing to be only just large enough to have survived hibernation.
Monty found a Fox turd to roll in in the garden on his way back from his walk one morning yuk, yuk and double yuk!!! So again it wasn't a surprise to see the camera had been tripped by one.
But we didn't expect to see this 'orrible and frightening beast staring at us. Could it be the fabled Welsh Yeti?
So all in all a rather mixed week but great to share the best two days of weather and health with the kids.
As a bit off an aside to the safari we were given the loan of a snazzy all-wheel drive motor for the week. A plug-in hybrid Mitsusushi Outlander - a rather comfortable car to drive with all bells and whistles - or at least all lights and things that go ping. We've never known a car to make so many noises in the cabin!
There's a bit of rigmarole to turn it on, the computer systems like all computer systems need to fire up; no turning the key rev the engine and you have to wait for the 'ready' notice on the dash but it doesn't take that long, it's not going to delay your journey...
We weren't given the plug-in lead so couldn't charge it up overnight from the house electricity so had to use the engine to charge the battery. There are three modes, electric motor travel, electric motor travel while the engine charges the battery and helps if necessary and save the battery for eg fast or hilly driving where the engine does all the work, all can be switched at any time by the push of a button on the centre console.
Due to the nature of the terrain and distances we were traveling we normally used the charge the battery mode, then either using the charge or saving it dependiong on where we were and how far there was to travel. For nipping down to the beach with Monty or round to the local village shop electric mode was great. This vehicle is a 2017 model and only has about 20 miles of electric power depending on the terrain, great for a short daily commute - the owner can get to work 5 days a week without using any petrol and can charge it up at work if necessary (rarely). The current year model has been given a big mileage boost to 40 miles on a fully charged battery.
At high speed on the motorway legs totally on petrol it didn't fare very well at all only giving us about 25mpg, hardly surprising with 2.4l engine and a 2 tonne car with the aerodynamics of a brick. Adding on the time in electric mode the total mpg for the trip was bumped up to 30mpg so a reasonable saving. The electric mode came into its own in a stretch of serious motorway congestion, the half hour or more delay used no petrol at all as we inched forward, in our old Disco we'd have been watching the fuel gauge plummet and getting twitchy if it dropped below a quarter. Also very convenient in the traffic jam was the Auto-hold (foot)brake.
We didn't get the opportunity to use the Super All Wheel Control 4x4 system although did note that the manual warned you not to go off road on to mud or sand in case you got stuck (not surprising given the tread pattern on the standard tyres) and the suspension could be damaged by rough tracks - a bit different to the Land Rover manuals which show you how to get the best out of the 4x4 system on your vehicle.
The dash has more lights than the average Boeing 747 and we're certain we didn't see them all! Slightly disconcerting are the pinging and orange flashing BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE warnings when there's no obvious danger, the sensors having picked up a passing leaf or something blowing in the wind, or worse come on AFTER you've taken evasive action eg on narrow streets avoiding on-coming traffic.
To be fair though we think all this super-technology is all part of the trials in the run-up to driverless cars...and we really like the reversing camera how on earth did we ever park before??? Great for making sure you just within an inch of the double yellow lines!
Would we dash out an buy one, no. Will our next car have some of the technologies this one has - yes but it'll be much older so they'll be a lot simpler. Can we wait for driverless cars - NO - - they'll be perfect for going to the pub!

Where to next? Back to more familiar territories this week, will there be nay migrants to find - that weather is still very wintry rather than springy!

In the meantime let us know who's scampering along the roadsides in your outback

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A bit of luck brings success

The Safari had a Mothers' Day wander along the prom at Rossall with Wifey and Monty. The tide was well out but the distant sea as flat calm, perfect for spotting any Harbour Porpoises or Grey Seals that might have been out there. We saw neither but did see a large raft of Eider ducks but too far away to count effectively or see if there was anything else with them.
We did bump in to the local flock of Linnets (PYLC #97) at the far end of our walk
and a few steps in to our return walk looking the other way across the beach watched a Grey Plover fly in and land not too far away.
Monty had fun, always on the lookout for other doggies to play with.
A Stonechat was unusual in that it was hopping about on the dog walking field rather than sitting on a fence post between the thin strip of dunes and the golf course.
Monday first thing out with Monty gave us a very late Patch 1 tick in the form of a singing Wren (P1 #26) surely we must have overlooked them down there so far this year, mid March before the first one can't be right! Later that morning saw us along Chat Alley again with Monty. The conditions looked good for a bit of migration although it was a bit chilly, the wind was south easterly though so you never know.
There wasn't much about at all. A couple of local Pied Wagtails and a small number of migrating Meadow Pipits overhead, a couple being seen coming in-off the sea but most were 'heard onlys'.
Here and there were Turnstones scattered around finding any pickings washed up by the high tide or more likely left by the recently left anglers
Just after we took the pic above something caught our eye down by our boots. A deceased Bumble Bee, emerged too soon and got caught out by the return of the cold weather and lack of nectar bearing plants, there's  hardly a Dandelion to be seen yet and even the Coltsfoot flowers on the cliffs aren't particularly advanced yet.
The tide hadn't gone out enough for the Redshanks to leave their roost on the old boating pool wall.
We'd walked the full length of the Chat Alley from Gynn Square to Norbreck Castle and back without so much as a sniff of a Wheatear.
Tuesday saw us on safari with CR beyond the Southside across the Mersey and just into Cheshire. The weather forecast was for fine weather but the drive down the motorway was through heavy rain, we weren't hopeful it would stop. But our luck changed and the rain dried up as we left the motorway and by the time we arrived at Moore nature reserve the sun as trying its best to shine through the thinning cloud.
We spent a good few minutes at the nearest hide to the car park where a Little Grebe was giving us superb close views, when it was on the surface. It dived repeatedly and for long periods searching for what turned out to be Caddisfly nymphs, C getting some pics of it surfacing with them in its beak.
After a while it was time to go and look for the star attraction. We walked down the lane and we explained to C that finding our quarry could be tricky unless we hear it calling or drumming first. He asked what they sound like and we said a bit like a Kestrel and then a billi-second later we said 'just like that!' The call came from the usual corner of the woods 100 yards in front of us and two other birders came round the corner pointing towards the tree tops.
They'd seen it earlier but lost it but knew roughly where it went. A couple of minutes or so later we picked it up high in the upper branches of a large tree. It showed well and we got stupendous views in our bins but it was tricky to get pics of as it probed the bark for food never turning its face away from the woodwork for us.
Still we were very happy to connect so quickly, the birding gods being with us today after our two ill-fated twitches for the Hawfinches.
Very lucky too as once we'd lost it it wasn't seen again all day at all by anyone we spoke to.
The sound track of the day was a notoriously invisible Green Woodpecker (119) probably more than one and perhaps more than two even trilling Little Grebes and later once the sun strengthened mewing Buzzards.
Walking round the rest of the western part of the reserve we didn't see much else, certainly no early Chiffchaffs were in yet.
The thicket of Gorse on the way up to the Raptor Watchpoint hadn't been warmed enough to smell of Coconuts but there was a big splurge of Yellow Brain Fungus (or is it a Slime Mould?) on one of the stems.
After lunch in the car park we hit the eastern half of the reserve. The pools were quiet, just a few Tufted Ducks and a couple of pairs of Goldeneyes on the first one. The Birch woods were even quieter, in fact the main things we noted here were the numerous fungi. odd for 'spring' perhaps as they're more normally associated with autumn.
Jelly Ear on Elder - still can't get used to this 'new' PC name for this species
Unknown species on Silver Birch
But the star of the show was covering a fallen log on the woodland floor. The fairies have been hard at work there. A shed load of Scarlet Elf Cups dazzled in a shaft of light. What a stunning thing they are - wildlife doesn't have be feathered or cute n cuddly to be awesome - just look at the colour of those little beauties!
A chat to a couple of passing birders told us that the pair of kingfishers at the Eastern Reedbed were showing well and chasing each other around. But when we got there there was little to be seen, a couple of Little Grebes, a Great Crested Grebe down at the far end of the pool, a Green Woodpecker was heard from the fringing line of trees...again! and a pair of Shovelers shoveled but not a Kingfisher to be seen.
Then we heard a distinctive whistle and a flash of electric blue shot across the face of the reeds across the pool in front of us. Unfortunately it landed just a little too far away. Who cares, we got cracking views as it looked for fish below; its head staying almost motionless as the reed it was perched on waved about in the gentle breeze. 
The all black bill tells us this is a male Kingfisher (PYLC #99)
It did a couple of fly rounds getting slightly nearer but more obscured before eventually going to sit in a Willow bush much further away and much more obscured - still happy days!
A great day out o safari and big thanks to C for the driving.
Our next safari was with our children's group when we were out on the hunt for Frog spawn. The ponds we looked in were very full of rain and cold snow-melt water and we had no luck in finding any spawn. But that's not to say our nets didn't pull out anything at all from the ponds.
Backswimming Water Boatman
Brown Lipped Banded Snail - found in the grass not a pond
A damselfly nymph
Ramshorn Snails
At last a Frog - found in the wet grass close to the pond
And then there were two
Safely released in to the edge of the pond where they were not going to get trodden on
It was a cold day and there weren't many signs of spring although the shiny golden flowers of this Lesser Celandine brightened up proceedijgs.
As we led the group to our last pond one of the mothers called us back as her very young son had just spotted a little bird in a Bramble thicket and it was eating a huge caterpillar. We'd totally walked passed it but as our eye level was very different to his that's perhaps not so surprising! Anyway we turned back to find a Goldcrest (PYLC #100) wrangling a sizeable green caterpillar. The camera was set up for small close things in white buckets so our hastily taken pics aren't quite the best but we were thrilled that group got to see this interesting piece of behaviour from a bird most of them, if not all, had never heard of before.
An awesome find for someone so young. Before too long, sadly, we'll need another David Attenborough; could he be the one???
The last pond gave us a very interesting sighting, no Frogs but something much more unusual and rarely seen. At the edge of the pond there was a floating thing which we recognised as a giant shell of a Swan Mussel. It was just about reachable with the longest handled net in the group and a bit of risky stretching down a steep bank on our part.
When we lifted the shell from the net the animal fell from it - yuk - rank!!!
The boy in the blue hat poking out above the shell is the lad who spotted the Goldcrest
But what a cool find, then one of the group spotted a second in the pond but that was well out of reach. They are probably victims of the cold spell last week. We certainly didn't expect to find those but that's what going out on safari is all about - you just never know what you're going to come across and that's what makes watching wildlife so exciting, there's always something new to see and learn.
And learning about wildlife is something we all need to do. while we were on site there was a Community Payback team cutting down the adjacent hedge to its roots. They are supposed to be on reparation work for their crimes and yet someone had instructed them to do work that was actually forcing them into breaking the law - a ridiculous situation but we're not blaming the lads rather the site manager who has apparently been told about this before...a case for Vicarious Liability perhaps?
The following day saw us out to the east for a riverside mooch with GB and Monty, it was a wildlife, geography and history sort of a walk. 
Brock mill
We took some other pics but they are for another blog, perhaps a guest blog on another blogger's site, at a later date.
The river gave us good views of a Dipper and Grey Wagtails but we weren't expecting to hear a Tawny Owl (120) hooting in the middle of the day.
Yesterday we took Monty for yet another walk along Chat Alley in the afternoon and this time we struck lucky even though it was late in the day there were two Wheatears (121) on the cliffs, they have usually passed through along here by mid morning.
Then just to prove migration can be all day thing we heard Whooper Swans (Garden #18) going over Base Camp as we sat at the 'puter - probably the 13 seen by SD minutes earlier a mile or so to the south of us and reported on Twitter.
So yet another great week out on safari and we're thrilled to get the ton-up for our Photo Year List Challenge beating last year to 100 by five days, the Stanley Park Chough on 19th March last year. The front runners are approaching 200 but they do have the advantage of having had a foreign holiday to sunny climes away from the northern snows, two other challengers are a little ahead in the low hundreds and two are nipping at our heels in the high 90s...still all to play for and it's all a bit of educational fun, we're certainly enjoying seeing pics of birds we've never heard of before and learning about the birding in places we'll almost definitely never visit.

Where to next? Not sure what's happening this coming week we have family duties on the Southside that may give the opportunity for a stop off somewhere and then there's a bit of a trip coming up.

In the meantime let us know who's doing the quality wildlife spotting in your outback

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Migration begins with a trickle

The Safari took a group out onto the the beach to explore the rockpools last week - by eck it was chilly but a good time was had by all as we were all wrapped up. We made the (deliberate) mistake of putting our arm in to the freezing water to pull out a Beadlet Anemone to show the youngsters - now that was seriously cold! The things we do for science/education eh!
We put it in one of our trays but sadly it hadn't opened its tentacles out before it was time to leave. 
A good time was had by all!
Searching the runnels
Here's a few of the shells they found in the runnels and on the beach
Later in the week we went back around Herons' Reach and managed a very fleeting glimpse of the Kingfisher and had great views of the two Water Rails on the defrosting pond. We nearly got a pic of them together but a a couple of loose dogs put paid to that; as we were holding on to Monty (to stop him getting near the pond) they rushed towards him he dodged out of their way and we went down like a sack of spuds lucky not to break a collar bone or land on the camera and damage that, thankfully neither us nor the camera came up worse for wear other than covered in mud but not an apology or an 'are you alright?' from the woman with the dogs who saw the whole thing unfold just an 'oh they're friendly they're only having fun'. Fun it certainly wasn't and expensive it could have been! And the Water Rails were flushed deep in to cover not to come out in the 10 more minutes or so we waited for them - Feckin dog walkers
The following day a bit of an improvement in the weather saw us visit Marton Mere for the first time in a while. The sun had brought Song Thrushes out in to song and a little later we watched one listening for worms in the grass.
There was a reasonable number of gulls on the water but no sign of the local Iceland Gull amongst them, has it discovered somewhere else to bathe, a flooded field perhaps?
The 'fritillary meadow' was scrutinised and we found a couple of Cowslips in flower but there didn't seem to be as many as in previous years. We also spotted the first shoots of the Snakeshead Fritillaries and one clump even had a small flowerbud beginning to form - spring won't long now folks. The team there need to get the fence fixed before a football gets kicked over the meadow and the plants get squished by said ball or booted feet retrieving it.
The rest of our visit was fairly quiet. The volunteers were working on the island and we had hoped they might flush a Bittern or a Jack Snipe, neither appeared as the dragged the last of the cut reeds out of the scrape to prepare it for the spring  wader passage. 
A Buzzard soared high to the north east over the fields and lifted three pairs of Lapwings up to see it on its way. Hope they have a good season in those fields this year but it so much depends on what farming activities are going to happen and the timing of them, all to often the eggs and or chicks get rolled, mown or ploughed and only a tiny handful survive and even any predation sees the remainder off as there aren;t enough adults left on territory to help with the defence. When we first started birding there were three times as many in the fields as there are now - a sad loss and very much a part of that thing that is the reduction in Bioadundance rather than Biodiversity.
The scrub areas were quiet but a sudden movement in the 'Paddock' had us look closely to see what it was - a nightmarishly back lit Stonechat 
Signs of the first bits of migration, we've not seen one on the reserve since the start of the winter and this part of the reserve isn't normally favoured by them, in fact we've not seen one here for at least 20 years!
Later, getting towards the car the Buzzard or another appeared overhead.
This time it was pursued relentlessly by a small number of crows who pushed it off their patch and out to the south east over town.
Back at Base camp a Coal Tit (Garden #17) as a new visitor to the feeders for the year. Possibly a refugee from the recently 'tidied' (= ecologically devastated) park on Patch 1. We really hope the White Letter Hairstreaks will be OK and the extensive tree felling hasn't included any Elms nor altered the micro-climate unfavourably for the overwintering eggs or opened up the canopy to enable any passing Elm Bark Beetles to find the trees and kill them. We'll have to wait until the summer to find out what if any the consequences have been for our favourite colony of rare butterflies. Fingers crossed it might actually have enhanced it...we're not holding our breath though.
Short but very important family business south of the river was order of the day yesterday but it did give us the opportunity to take CR on a bit a twitch and a run around Memory Lane.
We started off hurtling down the motorway network to a peviously unheard of Country Park on the outskirts of Liverpool with a most un-scouse sounding name, Stadt Moers CP. Here a couple of Hawfinches have been fairly regularly seen in the SE corner of the park. After our Sizergh Castle debacle last time out we were hopeful although the most recent news we had of them was almost a week old and it had snowed heavily since them, never the less we were feeling optimistic and the weather was mild, no need for a hat!
The locals were extremely friendly and helpful setting us off on the right paths and once on the bottom field a birder was already there - good stuff. He told us he'd not seen 'anything yet' but warned there were a lot of Greenfinches in the area and indeed there were. We don't think we've seen so many of them on one place for a long time. 
Two hours later and almost all the other finches in the book spotted including a pair of unphotographable Lesser Redpolls (115) but not a Hawfinch in sight.
The supporting cast included plenty of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, Dunnocks and Song Thrushes, a flock of about 10 Redwings, a flock of Long Tailed Tits, a Jay and a soaring Buzzard or two. 
This area was the first place we saw Buzzards once the persecution of them had waned enough for them to spread for their core areas in the mountains. We used to look forward to a drive down the much less busy then motorway with our birding mates hoping we might see one way back when. 
We even saw the 'double-decker' Airbus A300-600 Super Transporter (nicknamed the Beluga, and everyone’s favorite, ridiculous, aircraft) approaching Liverpool airport - now why didn't we take a pic?
From there were headed to our old birding stomping ground at the coast at Crosby. Black Headed Gulls and Carrion Crows came to bread thrown copiously in the car park and Skylarks sang above us in the dunes, one even landed close by and posed very nicely for us (YLPC #93).
Out on the beach the tide was on the way in but still a fairly long way out but was beginning to push the waders from the further mudflats closer inshore, including a nice Grey Plover (116. YLPC #94).
CR saw a flit in the grass and this time it wasn't a Skylark but a grounded Meadow Pipit (YLPC #95).
We saw several Stonechats but couldn't approach them closely enough for a pic but there was no sign of any of the secretly hoped for early Wheatears, other birders we spoke to also hadn't come across any although like us they thought they might given the mild conditions and the wind direction. 
The tide inexorably kept coming in as it does forcing the waders ever closer but still not quite close enough, lots of Dunlin and Redshank but only one Ringed Plover and a fair few of the star of the show, the Bar Tailed Godwits, some getting into their brick red summer plumage (117, YLPC #96).
Making our way back tot the car park we came across a couple of Stonechats close to the path, one of which was very confiding at last.
We finished the afternoon at the usually excellent Lunt Meadows but it had far too much water on it today and was rather quiet. The selection of waterfowl was less than usual and the numbers of each of the species much reduced too. There was no sign of the regularish Red Kite just a couple of Buzzards. The fields on the far side of the river held masses of Lapwings and a few lingering Pink Footed Geese along with huge numbers of Common Gulls.
The earlier sunshine had now gone and ever thickening cloud was rolling in dropping the light intensity so we were hopeful for the appearance of the Short Eared Owls. Other birders with big cameras began to arrive but by now we had to leave so if they did come out we missed them.  While we waited in vain for them we heard a Cetti's Warbler briefly and saw yet more Stonechats, there does seem to be a lot of them about this last week or so, we even had one on chat Alley when out with Monty the other day.
This morning while out with Monty it was Meadow Pipits all the way, deffo the best day of migration so far for them. At least 10 were seen including one coming in off the sea and a flock of four going north along the cliff edge, and others being only's getting closer folks!

Where to next? we have a secret plan for early next week, lets hope the weather is good enough for us to carry it out and there's success rather than our seemingly interminable Hawfinch-like failure.

In the meantime let us know who's on the move in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Back up north again before the beast from the east struck

The Safari has done little in the way of braving the elements this week as the 'Beast from the East' struck with plummeting temperatures and a ferociously strong biting wind. Luckily on the Fylde coast we were spared the snow, only getting a light smattering.
Last Sunday just as the Beast was gathering momentum on the continent we had a scary motorway drive to Rochdale to visit Wifey's nephew at his new abode. Scary in that we now prefer to travel the motorways at rush hour when everyone knows where they're going and when they have to be there...Sunday travel was full of gimmers doing 45mph instead of the 70 - (Illegal) 90 and dangerously baulking the faster traffic, so much so that we didn't feel at all safe until we hit the much loathed 50mph restricted zone.
At least we arrived safely and had a big bonus at our destination overlooking the picturesque Hollingworth Lake. Many many years ago we unsuccessfully applied for a job at the country park there. 
Star of the show all winter here has been a 1st winter Glaucous Gull. when we arrived it wasn't in its favoured spot of the slipway fighting off the Mute Swans and Canada Geese for the copious amounts of bread been heaved at them by copius amounts of duck feeding public. We were told it had been there only a short while ago and was now roosting far out on the lake - far too far for our 300mm lens we brought today.
We hung around for it before it was time to let Monty have a walk, have a family catch up and hit the pub for some lunch. The walk through the county park was pleasant but birdless apart from the feeders around the car park which gave us splendiferous views of a Nuthatch and a Long Tailed Tit.
At the pub we sat outside in glorious sunshine with our coats off, the building sheltering us from the wicked wind. In the distance on the sailing club pontoon we could see our quarry. After a drink or two we wander back into 'town' and up to the sailing club for a closer view of the 'Beast from the North'.
Head and shoulders above the rest of the bread competition
We spotted another slightly closer vantage point to get a better shot but still against the light. Never mind it's always good to see one of these beasts, Glaucous Gull (113, PYLC #89)
We had a brew and a big bag of chips indoors and from AF's sofa we were able to take this blurry pic through his sitting room window, what an awesome 'Visiting the Relatives' tick!
Back out at the sailing club we took a few more pics adding Black Headed Gull (PYLC #90), one we could have easily have added on 1st January but have been waiting for them to attain summer plumage as we posted a winter plumage pic in last year's challenge and this year's 'rules' state 'better or different' to last year.
We'll probably replace these with something a bit different later - we have a cunning plan but at least for now they are on the tally.
We got a better and different shot of Jackdaw to replace the one we already posted back at #41.
All to soon it was time to head off the hills and back to the coast down the dreaded Sunday afternoon driver filled motorway - thankfully it wasn't that bad on the return trip.
Monday saw us doing a bit of garden repair with CP and as he arrived a Siskin (114, Garden #16) was heard flying over us, a hint of cold weather movement in advance of the Beast from the East perhaps.
Tuesday saw a change of plan, instead of heading south to a site with little shelter we headed north with CR to Leighton Moss again. We stopped first at Sizergh Castle to see if the Hawfinches were going to show themselves, the might have done but there was no chance of us seeing them as the carpark had a tarmac gang busy laying hundreds of tons of the black stuff right where we wanted to be. That's twice in consecutive weeks we've been thwarted by workmen!...there's a thing happening here! We tried to sneak through the fields and round the back to the little feeding station but there was no way through...totally thwarted we headed down to the Moss wit the intention of getting some 'Otter on Ice' pics. When we got there that plan was thwarted too as the pools weren't frozen just a bit slushy round the edges certainly not thick enough ice to support the weight of an Otter.
Still although cold it was relatively sheltered from the wind and we had a good few hours there. The main feeding station by the visitor centre was very quite, not even a Pheasant to be seen so we wandered round past the impromtu feeding station at the twisted tree on the edge of the reserve which was lively. 
We'd apparently juts missed the Water Rail and it was still in the ditch although all we could see was the back end of a Moorhen, was that a beginners mistake or was the Water Rail hiding? A Marsh Tit gave us the run around, nipping in and out far to quickly for us to lift the camera. Thankfully a Nuthatch and Treecreeper performed properly for us, the latter giving some of the closest prolonged views we've ever had!
At the first hide there were plenty of Snipe but a photo still eludes us. We scoured the margins of the pool for a Jack Snipe but if there were any of these wonders of camouflage we couldn't find them.
At the next hide it was somewhat odd to find a Great White Egret fishing along the edge of the slushy ice on the pool. This is a species we associate with much warmer climes like the Mediterranean rather than freezing north Lancashire in the depths of winter, never in our wildest dreams when we saw than down on the Med at the end of the 70s did we think they'd be a winter regular 'back home'.
It caught a good number of 3-spined Sticklebacks

After a while it had had its fill and walked up the bank but sat just too far away from the Little Egret in the top pic to be able to get them in the frame together for a comparison pic.
It had a preen then stood on one leg and went to sleep.
With no Otters for us we moved back to the hides at the other end of the reserve. Distant views of a couple of interacting Marsh Harriers were our top sighting and we got one rubbish pic of one of them.
With the reserve fairly quiet and no sign of any Otters we headed out to the saltmarsh...which turned out to be fairly quiet too.
Best was a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits and a few Lapwings but they were out in the pool a little to our right in in poor light and too far away. One of the godwits was almost in 'full sum plum'.
We have lift off
A Raven was sat well out on the marsh but we missed the two that flew right over the hide! Nothing for it but to have a look in the nearby old quarry to see if they had gone there.
We soon found the nest but there was no sign of any activity. 
But from time to time loud cronking was heard coming from the other side of the ridge, they were teasing us!. After a cold 45 minutes we gave up and pu the cameras in the boot of the car only to see one fly in...would you believe it!!! Our cameras came  back out of the boot in a hurry and a few hasty shots were taken as it flew round the quarry before swooping on to the nest and huddling down out of sight. 
With Raven on the challenge tally at #91 and no sign of any falcons it was time to move on, we still had time before having to pick Monty up so we took the long route back via Over Wyre where we found a large flock of Black Tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers, the latter looking rather splendid in the afternoon sunshine.
CR was able to stop the car at a convenient gap in the hedge for us to get a pic but even our best stealth mode getting the camera out of the boot flushed them although fortunately they only flew a couple of circuits of the field before settling down again - we don't like to disturb birds (or any other wildlife when they really need to conserve their energy in these conditions even a little disturbance and hence wasted energy can be the difference between life and death!). We did get a couple of flight shots before they settled and we left them in peace but we'd have preferred to have got on the ground shots and not have them fly round at all.
Aren't they stunners!
Golden Plover (PYLC #92)
Our drive back to Base Camp took us through the lanes looking for day hunting Barn and Little Owls and we had our fingers crossed for last week's Red Kite but we had no joy with any of them.
During the rest of the chilly week we had a couple of looks for the local Kingfisher again without success but did see a Lapwing on the golf course by the zoo, we've never seen one on there before, definitely a cold weather mover and had good views, but still no photos, of Snipe in the Kingfisher's ditch, again we've never seen one of those there either. A Woodcock (114) got up from an odd scratty bit of scrub right by the path near the zoo, almost the last place you;d expect for one to lie up given the serious amount of doggy disturbance in that area. 
The rest of the week we've met up at Mossom Nature Field with JW as it's frozen solid enough not to get Monty totally mud up but there hasn;t been anything of note there, we had hoped the Alder trees might have attracted some Siskins or Lesser Redpolls escaping the harsher conditions to the east but they haven't - yet!
Where to next? More Kingfisher hunting but we're not sure where else we'll get out on safari as we have a few appointments next week
In the meantime let us know who's the beast in your outback

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Here there and everywhere

The Safari could do with a little less time out in the field taking photos and more time sat at the puter processing the 1000s we've not caught up with and writing about them - err no actually we're quite happy to be out n about on safari in all weathers!
However we have been busy out in the fields this week.
We went back Over Wyre with CR for another try for the Turtle Dove and after a short wait we found it when a flock of Collared Doves flew from a line of large conifers and some settled in an isolated Hawthorn bush.
Three species of pigeon in one bush
Shame about the shadow
With the Turtle Dove (109, PYLC #85) and not much else around on the marshes we headed for another look at the Twite flock on the slipway at Knott End but they had been replaced by a gang of workmen with a big digger breaking concrete so were nowhere to be seen. All was not lost though as CR can now heartily recommend the village pie shop - Top quality scram for not a lot of loot!
From there we drove north stopping at Lane Ends to eat our lunch and where there were only a few very distant Pink Footed Geese and no sign of the recent Brent Goose.
Conder Green gave us little except a Little Grebe and a pair of Lesser Black Backed Gulls that looked like they may have taken over the tern nesting raft - they'll probably eat all the Avocet and Common Tern eggs/chicks on the other islands if they stay there which won't be good - - apart from for their own chicks that is.
Cracking views of Teal in the creeks and a few Redshank were down there too.
A Kestrel hovered over the marsh
From there we drove the lanes down to the estuary passing herds of Whooper and Mute Swans on the way but seeing very little else in the fields and roadside ditches. The field behind the car park held at least 40 Skylarks which although not singing were getting in the mood for spring with lots of aerial chases and excitable twittering.
The tide was coming in quickly and concentrating Redshanks, Oystercatchers, and Turnstones on the rapidly diminishing shoreline, further out on Plover Scar there was a tidy flock of Wigeon and beyond them outside the light surf a small flock of Eiders (PYLC #86)
The fields were disappointingly quite but in the distance we could see a number of dots so we drove round to investigate, lots of Lapwings and Starlings, a good number of Dunlin feeding around a flood while the tide was in and covering the mud flats and a few Curlews and Redshanks, up the hill were three Brown Hares sitting quietly no doubt waiting to go mad next week in March. No sign of any Golden Plovers which is what we were hoping might have been there. 
We headed back inland to the farmland feeding stations, the first had no food, the second already had a birders car parked up. The light was awful looking towards the table and spread of seeds on the ground but we did see a Yellowhammer (110) and numerous Tree Sparrows. When another car full of  birders arrived we left and decided to go further inland still to investigate the River Brock at Bilsborough. A good move it was much milder away from the wind of the coast and flat fields. But our drive took us through the back lanes and one of those appropriately named Back Lane that we didn't travel along but weren't far from had had a Red Kite we learned later - doh if only we'd known at the time would have only been a minor detour.
The river soon gave up its quarry, a Dipper (111, PYLC #87)
We followed it's progress along the brook and caught up wit hit on the way back too
No sign of this stretch of river's other specialities, the Kingfisher or Grey Wagtail though.
The following day we were in Stanley Park with a family group looking at the birds to be found there using a game of Bird Bingo. We didn't have a camera with us, these pics are from KQ's phone.
Ring Necked Parakeet high in the branches
Here's what we found:-
A pair of Great crested grebes doing their courtship dance
Herons on their nests
Mute swans
Canada geese 2

Shoveler 1
Tufted ducks
Moorhens 2
Common gulls 2

Black headed gulls - who's heads are actually brown have a close look next time you see them
Herring gulls
Feral pigeons
Ring necked parakeets
- pair wit hthe female poking her head out of the nest hole...are there eggs in there yet?
Pied wagtail 1
Blackbird 1
Blue tits
Great tits
at least 2
Treecreepers 2

Carrion crows
Some notable missing species especially Cormorant and Gadwall but that's birding for you; you never know what are and aren't going to spot.

Our next safari was back to Pennington Flash, not been for four years then twice in a week. This time we were with GB. It wasn't quite as lively as last week with CR but it was still good.
A Little Egret on one of the pools was unexpected (By us used to seeing them at the coast at least - we don't know if they are regular there)
There were a few Gadwall here too

The feeding station wasn't quite a lively as last week but there was still plenty of interest going on. No Water Rails or Willow Tits today but other odd stuff instead.
Stars of the show!
This Chaffinch spent ages sat like this - but what's it doing, it looks like Anting or sunbathing behaviour but on a cold day in late February there's certainly no ants and there wasn't anything by way of  sunshine either????? It flew up from here on to a mossy branch and continued to snuggle down pressing its wings and wrapping its tail tightly round the branch for many miutes - really odd. We've had a look in a couple of books and can't find any reference to it, not looked in Ian Newton's 'Finches' yet which is on the top shelf above our head as we type.
Answers on a post card please...
Any food in here?
What you lookin at?
 Keeping an eye on the tangle of vegetation at the back of the feeding station for the Water Rail had us find this unusually marked Moorhen showing a bit of leucism
What a cracking looking bird, but then if they all looked like that we say a 'normal' one was a cracking looking bird - well they are anyway aren't they!
Stock Doves are lookers too in an understated sort of way.
The closest pool to the feeding station only gave us a rather distant male Pochard today
But it did have a little shimmy
Friday morning saw us back on more familiar territory with CR, Marton Mere. Good sunshine but a cool wind and not too many birds.
A couple of Skylarks (MMLNR #55) went north overhead as we walked across the field and a Song Thrush (MMLNR #56) sang from the scrub by the gate. 
A couple of Lesser Black Backed Gulls (MMLNR #57) were on the water as we walked past Ice Station Zebra not daring to venture in in the cold wind!
The Bird Club hide gave us the best photo opportunities, but the Cetti's Warbler singing just below us refused to show itself.
Common Gull
Black Headed Gull
Herring Gull
From the platform in the south east corner of the mere we got lovely views of several Gadwall.
Along the embankment we counted 26 Fieldfares in the fields to the east and got an awful distant pic for the Challenge (PYLC #88) when they flew up on to the wires.
You can tell they are Fieldfares - right?
A quick look in the north east corner had us find a Jack Snipe (112, MMLNR 57) and then two Snipe (MMLNR #58) - We've never had Jack Snipe before Snipe there on our year lists before!!! 
The scrub areas were quiet until right up by the gate when we spotted a Kestrel hunting, it was in great light but by the time we'd raised our cameras it had swung round to hunt a different part of the scrub wit hthe sun now right behind it - shouldn't have bothered pressing the shutter button really, it took a lot of processing to get this poor image.
So a cracking week out on safari.
Where to next? The 'Beast from the East' is due at the weekend bringing some challenging weather next week but we're hoping to see a 'Beast from the North' on Sunday...and who knows where we'll end up on safari during the week any plans we make could be weather affected.
In the meantime let us know who's trying to enjoy the limp winter sun in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Not so wet in Wigan

The Safari is taking you back to Pennington Flash to show you what we found after the rain had stopped the other day and we were able to 'escape' the excitement of the feeding station.
After eating our butties at the car we had a quick look through a couple of flocks of gulls, one on the field in front of us and the other behind us lurking round the edge of the flash. Almost all were Black Headed Gulls there being no sign of the Mediterranean Gulls that are seen in the roost later in the day. Out on the water there were a small number of Goldeneyes (PYLC # 82) a pair of which came fairly close in, much closer than they ever do at Marton Mere these days.
 We didn't stop long at the famous Horrocks Hide as there were very few birds to be seen and that icy blast coming through the windows was cruel - we soon moved on! The next hide was more sheltered and provided great views over a smaller flash which held a Heron, several Shovelers and Teal. A birder already in the hide showed us superb pics of a Roe Deer he'd seen swimming across the water between a couple of the small islands and then told us had e been there a few minutes earlier we'd have seen a Kingfisher but it hadn't stopped, just shot through. Most of the hides had very nicely positioned Kingfisher perches just outside the reasons to go back - - soon!!!
The next hide had deeper water and just one island - the Isle of 'G' populated by a number of Goosanders and Gadwall...just don't tell the Teal they don't begin with G and shouldn't be there.
 Moving on we passed the adjacent golf course and saw a flock of smallish birds feeding on the greens, a look through the bins revealed them to be about 30 or more Redwings (PYLC #83).
Nice but we couldn't see any Fieldfares that had been reported as being with them. A little further on a Kestrel swooped in and landed in a nearby tree nicely lit for us.
Time was running short now and as we headed back to the car the pair of Mistle Thrush we'd seen earlier  were still on the lawn near the car park so it would have been rude not to have a quiet sneak up on them and get a few pics (PYLC #84).
A cracking day out and big thanks to CR for the driving in some grotty conditions.
The following day we nipped over the river for rather unseasonal Turtle Dove that had been found over the weekend although it now seems other residents in the little village had been seeing it for about a week before it turned up in top local birder PE's garden and the news was out. We arrived after news was that it had been seen that morning so we were hopeful. Two hours and a bit later it had gone to ground all morning and only been seen very briefly when we were at the other end of the village giving Monty a bit of a leg stretch and not seeing much on our travels. The best thing we saw was a decent sized flock of Linnets (for these days at least) and we failed to take the opportunity to add another species to our challenge tally...we shouldn't really struggle for a Linnet pic though. Strangely the small area of marsh and the beach were virtually birdless save for a Redshank and a few Shelducks, which was unusual for here.
Not a lot of other news as later in the week the weather deteriorated again, best was a Great Black Backed Gull (P1 #25) cruising the airspace above and around but not directly over, Base camp.
Where to next? A busy week ahead, back to dip the Turtle Dove again - we hope not!, a kid's birding group and another further flung safari with political cartoonist GB possibly back to Pennington Flash...
In the meantime let us know who were the stars when the rain stopped in your outback.