Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Sandwiches on the beach

The Safari was hoping that the early morning low tides would permit a roost of Sandwich Terns providing there hadn't been too much doggy or fisherman disturbance before we got out. We took the bins and big lens to work and fortunately there was a roost well down on the beach and better still it was directly in front of us and there was no sign of any forthcoming disturbance. So that was it, the wellies went on and we set off down the steps onto the beach. To make sure we didn't disturb them and get in the best position for the pretty rubbish light - we were still on ISO Stupid - we headed off to their left well in front of them with the intention of walking back towards them slowly and stopping every few yards so that they got used to our movements. If we got a hint they were getting fidgety then we could walk back up the beach a bit away from them until they settled down, thankfully we didn't need to do that. Once as close as we dared we took a few pics
and then moved in a few more yards one step at a time
The black sticky-up things in the sand are the tops of Mason Worms whose silk and shell fragment cases get washed up by the trillion after rough weather. 
The did flush in the end but thanmkfully we weren't the culprit, a young Herring Gull had decoded to join their number but they spooked, perhaps because they'd not long since been out at sea dodging the attentions of several Arctic Skuas and the gull looked similar to those persistent thieves.




We succeeded in getting just one BiF shot off.
Yesterday morning we had an early morning wander round Patch 1 finding a couple of Sparrowhawks with perhaps more in the trees as there was a good bit of flying around going on and a lot of squawking to be heard. Also around the rough field's hedgerows were a Willow Warbler and a nearby Lesser Whitethroat while in the park proper there was a calling Goldcrest and a singing Coal Tit along with several 'tic'ing Robins, sounding very autumnal.
This morning we took Monty to the nature reserve with the hope of some pics for our Year Bird Challenge. At last we had a decent morning with good sunshine and for once this summer no wind!
Straight out of the car and through the gate we got a glimpse of the Blackcap that has been infuriatingly noisy but invisible all summer. Eventually it stopped out in the open long enough to fire of a few pics and once downloaded back at Base Camp a couple of them were even in focus. At long last after walking past this particular bird since early April we've finally got Blackcap (YBC #143) on our tally.
The rest of our walk was fairly quiet apart from an unseen Redshank (MMLNR #74) circling round before sounding like it headed off to the coast south west-wards until we got to the Elderberry bushes by the cabins where there was some activity around the not so many ripe berries. Mostly Blackbirds and Whitethroats but there were a couple of Song Thrushes too. A family of Magpies stopped briefly in the Rowan tree next door to pluck a few berries but maybe there weren't many ripe ones although they all looked the same to us as the soon moved on cackling away as they do.
More Whitethroats were seen on the way to the first hide. probably the most numerous bird of the day. A late Swift flew over with a few Swallows following in its wake a minute or so later. We kept an eye on the reedbed in case the Bittern should decide to take a flight but no such luck. Sneaking up to the viewing screen next to the hide we peered cautiously through the slats hoping the Bittern might be in the reeds fringing the pool - needless to say it wasn't but there was a Reed Warbler that deigned to show itself properly.
By now it was late enough for the charge of the dog brigade to be in full flow and it just became so frustrating as we'd see something in the scrub only for either it or us to be disturbed by a dog wandering unleashed off piste. Monty still wants to meet and greet as he's still only a pup (one year old next weekend) so trying to get him to keep still so we can focus either bins or camera on a no empty bush is hard with the constant passage of other mutts. It's a nightmare and ruins the experience of being at one with nature on a reserve. We saw a snippet of Lesser Whitethroat but were dogged off before we could raise the camera. Luckily there was another back at the Elderberry bush by the cabins - it just wouldn't show its face but another 'at laster', Lesser Whitethroat (TBC #144).
Back at Base Camp after lunch the warm sun brought out a Mint Moth, a species we've not seen here for a couple of years.
Phone pic
Monty's evening walk back to Patch 1 had us hearing the Sparrowhawks squawking again but little else until we spotted a couple of fungi on a long felled tree. No idea what they are but they're nice all the same.
All good stuff on a wildlife filled weekend and we got lots of family duties in too.
Where to next? Pond dipping and bug hunting with family centre group at work tomorrow but will we be too excited and busy to take any pics of their most interesting finds?
In the meantime let us know who's eventually given themselves up in your outback.






Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Murphy’s Law hits hard

The Safari was eager to get out with CR this morning and had most of our gear ready last night butties were in the fridge, the camera's spare battery was charged, all we had to do first thing was make up a flask. And then about an hour before lift off Wifey calls out Monty's eye is bad and he needs the vet asap, who of course don't open until about 09.00 in other words 40 minutes after lift off. So we had to let CR know we'd be on a shortened day and our original plan to visit the big reserve to the north would have to change. 
We got Monty to the vets and were seen quickly. He'd been playing rough with a ball on a string yesterday and taken a serious whack to his eye which had gone orrible over night. Fortunately he's suffered no lasting damage but if he were a boxer he'd have a huge black eye. Once out of the vets we gave him a bit of a run on his favourite field before taking him to Wifey for a day of convalescing in her office. We saw nothing of note on the field.
Once Monty was ensconced we were free for the rest of the day so called CR and we set off to the reserve to the east just down the motorway with thoughts of Hobbys in our head on this supposedly sunniest day of the week by a mile. Unfortunately the weather hadn't read the forecasts and there were some seriously large black clouds around - the camera was still set on ISO Nearly Stupid!
We set off along the river which was birdless, the families of Goosanders having moved on it would seem. The woodland walk was similarly quiet but once we reached the first hide we were told there'd not long been a juvenile Cuckoo showing on the island in front of us - that'd do nicely! Nothing for it but to sit it out and hope it didn't take too long to reappear. 
Best of the rest were several Mallards.
A few Cormorants
And of course being a wetland there's always a Heron
The purple spikes are Purple Loosestrife which was in flower all over the reserve, beautiful. Not so beautiful is the bright green stuff the Heron is standing in - it's the very invasive New Zealand Pygmy Weed, Crassula helmsii, and it's all over the reserve and has smothered the muddy margins of the islands and lakesides several inches deep which has had a very negative effect on the wading birds using the site; very few have bred and passage birds have no mud to feed in. It's almost impossible to eradicate too. Behind the Heron is a small Willow bush and this too has become a little invasive now covering a large proportion of the island (and hiding the Cuckoo) when just a few years ago it was bare ground with only sparse short vegetation - it seriously needs some Wild Goats or Wild Boar or even something bigger to browse it down and grub up the roots if there is to be any chance of waders nesting there next season - otherwise it'll be a Willow forest full of warblers and nesting Herons when the trees become tall enough.
After a good wait and no Cuckoo we moved on to the next hide passing volunteers tearing into another invasive plant, Himalayan Balsam, they've got their work cut out as there's loads of it and some huge patches scattered around the reserve. Best at the hide were a couple of Goldfinches, a churring Whitethroat and a Reed Bunting. With not a lot about we continued to the next pool passing a couple of Peacock butterflies on the way.
The sun that was forecast did its best to make an appearance and when it did it was quite pleasantly warm and that brought out a Kestrel which a mass of chittering Sand Martins alerted to and a more distant Buzzard soared over the woods on the river bluff. In the pool a family of Great Crested Grebes swam around with the large well grown youngsters still making baby noises begging for fish. Brown Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies and a few damselflies took to the wing in the warmth. Maybe the Hobbys would come out too.
Walking back towards the 'Cuckoo hide' we nearly trod on some cuckoo food in the form of a Woolly Bear caterpillar, the irritating hairs being no problem to a hairy caterpillar specialist bird that the Cuckoo is.
Sadly the Cuckoo didn't show up to scoff it but we did try to get some pics of the Sand Martins while we waited for it not to show. From about two dozen shots half of which were birdless - too slow with the shutter finger - only these two poor ones were anything like.
Then C began to feel a bit rough so we had to call it a day and head back up the motorway but not before having a calamity with the car park payment machine which somehow decided to take our cash for the wrong car so we had to pay twice!
Back at Base Camp we had a brew then went to collect Monty to give him another run. We took him back to his favourite field where this time we saw a few butterflies including several Meadow Browns and a few Gatekeepers. Our best sighting wasn't a butterfly but an Ectemnius wasp sat on a hunk of ancient Bog Oak but we couldn't get a pic with our phone.
Once he'd had a good play we drove back down the prom where we saw the giant to mile long  overflow pipe was being installed so we  stopped for a nosey. It was then we got a txt from DB saying a pod of (probably) Bottlenose Dolphins had been seen at lunchtime...dohhhh bl**dy typical - the week after National Whale & Dolphin Watch and on a day off too - you couldn't write it but perhaps Murphy did!!!
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow but will those Bottlenose Dolphins turn up again.
In the meantime let us know who's law needs breaking in your outback

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Well that filled our wellies

The Safari had a well attended weekend of National Whale and Dolphin Watches and the Moth and Bat Night at the nature reserve drew a good crowd too. Sadly the weather wasn't good for dolphin spotting with the sea far too rough for observing cetaceans - but you have to try! It was pretty much a birdless desert out there too. Sunday proved to be the best day for birds with a Kestrel going south well out to sea and a little later a Great Skua was seen giving some terns a bit of trouble way out towards the windfarms before giving up on them and heading deep into the bay round the corner and out of sight.
Maybe next year they'll pick a week when the weather is warm sunny and calm!
The moth and bat night we helped out with was disappointing for bats, one flew past quite early on while it was still very light and that tempted us to take the group for a wander up the fields and hedgerows where we've seen loads in the past but we couldn't find any at all - the detectors remained worryingly silent. On the walk back we had two sightings of either one or two Pipistrelles which fortunately everyone in the group managed to see. We kept the detectors on while we turned our attentions to the moths but there were no other sounds to be heard from either of them.
The moths were a little slow starting but after a short while the identifiers were kept busy with a nice selection and fortunately we weren't over-run with a huge number of Large Yellow Underwings. Lesser Broad Bordered Yellow Underwing and Least Yellow Underwing also found the nets..A Gothic was new for us as was a Fen Wainscot. Ruby Tiger, Marbled Beauty and Brown China Mark were pick of the rest with a supporting cast of bright yellow Brimstones, dull brown Common Rustics, Flame Shoulders, Mother of Pearls, pumpkin seed shaped Dingy Footmen and a Common Plume. The Silver Ys attracted to the lamp were much smaller than the one we'd found earlier while pegging out the laundry at Base Camp.
A Yellow Orphion wasp was an exotic looking visitor to the trap.
We were very fortunate to see a Barn Owl fly over the group but they all missed it as they were bent down  concentrating on the moths around the light.
We didn't get a chance to do much wildlife-ing yesterday or today but did manage a Sparrowhawk with a youngster on Patch 1 while out with Monty and a Holly Blue at another site while walking him. Is it just us or are there not so many Holly Blues around this year? The following day we were out on Patch 1 with Monty when the heavens opened and boy did they open it was like the first day of the monsoons. The downpour lasted about ten minutes by which time we'd got under cover of the bigger trees but there was still so much water coming down that it ran off our coat drenched our trousers andd filled up our wellies almost to the brim resulting in a rather squelchy walk back to Base Camp - and Monty? He loved it, ran round like a mad thing and got as wet as a soggy doggy possibly can.
Remember the Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars we didn't weed out last week - sadly we have to tell you they are no more, victims of the tidy-brigade without so much as a by your leave - - and you wonder why there's no butterflies anymore. Fuming we are!!!
Where to next? A welcome day off tomorrow and a trip out planned with CR
In the meantime let us know who's flying over un-noticed in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Weekend wildlife wander

The Safari has had an enjoyable mooch about across several different sites this weekend. And thankfully the weather has been quiet kind and conducive to wildlife spotting. 
Recently we've been fretting about the loss of the Sneezewort at Monty's favourite walkies site. We were worried that all the tree planting that had been done on the site had shaded it out. Luckily it turns out it's still there and we'd been looking in totally the wrong place, those trees had changed our point of reference. Not only was it still there but there seemed to be more of it than we've seen in the past.
Sneezewort - phone pic
Well that was a relief! It was also a bit of a relief when we were allowed to go out to the nature reserve for a couple of hours with CR and without Monty.
We had three 'B's on our hit list. First was a Blackcap - yes we're still missing this on our Year Bird Challenge. No sight or sound of them on the walk in at all. Our first stop was at the Viewing Platform where we hoped a/the Bittern might be stood out in plain sight - it wasn't but four Herons were. Scanning round the water three Wigeon were a bit of a mid-summer surprise.
At the nest hide Reed Warblers flitted around teasing us as always.  Never giving us a clear view unless they hopped up to the top of the reed stem but when they did that they flitted off the instant the camera was raised towards them.



Still no Blackcaps were seen or heard in the scrub as we walked further down the trail...neither were any Bullfinches although to be fair this would be a corking bird to get a pic of at the reserve. We managed it once - just!  Annoyingly we had a cracking male in our sights once too but it was flushed by a dog on the 'wrong' side of fence a billi-second before we pressed the shutter button - grr grr and double grrr.
CR's sharp eyes picked out a couple of intriguing insects along the track. Some dark shiny black flies revealed bright yellow abdomens with a dark stripe.
Identified later in the day by GB by simply just using Google - now why didn't we do that? Sciara hemerobioides, a Fungus Gnat. Not knowingly recorded in our local area before.
CR also picked out a small micro-moth resting on a Black Knapweed head. This one took a little more persistence to get ID'd...eventually those clever local lepidopterists on Facebook provided an answer - Eucosma sp they weren't able to get it down to species level.
Whilst CR was loking for Common Blue butterflies we spotted a Whitethroat checking out a ripening Blackberry.
I found it - it's mine - now get lost!!!
No butterflies for CR unfortunately, it was a bit overcast and cool to be honest - the forecast was for all day sun.
Back at Base Camp the sun did come out and with Wifey out for the day we were in for the duration looking after Monty so we spent the time in the garden trying to get some pics of the insects that were buzzing around the Oregano plants.
Ersitalis tenax - a fluke the real subject had done a bunk from the flower
Myathropa florea - the 'Batman' hoverfly
Marmalade Hoverfly
Scaeva pyrastri
Great Pied Hoverfly - Volucalla pellucens
Look at those feathery antennae - almost moth-like
This morning we were out earlish with Monty, there was a mist lying over the low ground between us and the high ground of Bowland. Ah Bowland - where in a months time thousands of Red Grouse will be used as target practice and to provide the ridiculously large numbers of surplus Red Grouse the habitat is 'altered' dramatically to suit them and them alone and anything and everything that might prey on them is 'removed' legally or illegally as in the case of the Hen Harrier and other birds of prey. It's time for for things to change in our uplands...please get yourselves along to one of the Hen Harrier Days coming up soon and find out what really happens in our 'lovely' uplands.
Yesterday on Patch 1 we missed a Blackcap by seconds in the gloom under the trees, this morning there was lovely sunshine but no sign of any Blackcaps. Bizarrely there was a Moorhen poking around on the lawn by the pond, they are usually on the smaller but much more densely vegetated top pond.
A wander round the fields with the dog walking crew in the sunshine gave us a glimpse of the male Whitethroat and a soaring male Sparrowhawk and not a lot else.
Later in the morning we set off with Wifey and Monty for a wander in the dunes to the south. Mostly throwing a ball for Monty and supervising his meeting n greeting but we did have the camera with us on the off chance of something interesting. There's always something interesting in the world of wildlife!
Sea Bindweed
Common Centaury
Harebell
We were hoping for the uncommon Grayling butterfly to put in an appearance. It didn't but yesterday's missing Common Blues were on the wing today.
As were several Gatekeepers.
Butterflies we would expect and we saw a few Burnet moths flying around but perhaps the most unusual find of the trip was this Smoky Wainscot moth - what was that doing out during the day - other than nectaring on Yarrow of course.
And so ended a pretty good wildlife filled weekend.
Where to next? Next weekend is National Whale and Dolphin Watch and we have a full programme of watches lined up for you to join.
In the meantime let us know who's put past their bedtime in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

All change down in the fields by the brook

The Safari had a family day out with brother P and niece M who were over from Italy on a short break back home. A few years ago they took us on a very pleasant walk around the Karst limestone area just east of their home in Trieste so it was time to return the favour...but where to go?
We decided to take them to the new nature reserve that was fields of carrots, spuds, cabbages and cereals when P was a lad before he set off on his international wanderings. 
He is also one of the members of the Year Bird Challenge but hasn't added too many species yet despite visits to the Confluence of the Niles at Khartoum and Etosha National Park in Namibia. He gets to exotic locations but probably doesn't have much time to devote to sight-seeing or bird photography. With him not being in Britain so far this year we thought we give him a chance to add to his tally...and of course we might too and had a couple of targets in mind.
Before we met up we stopped off at a big wetland reserve on the way. Only a small part of it is dog friendly so we were restricted having Monty with us. The areas of the reserve we could access were pretty quiet with just large numbers of moulting Mallards, Coots flitting Sand Martins  and a few Lapwings on show, and none of them really close enough for a decent pic. There was no sign of the 'famous' car park Kestrel that shows down to a few inches at times.
One of the best conservation developments in recent times has been the use of grazing animals to help create the right conditions for other species by breaking up areas of continuous sward in to a more mixed habitat. At this reserve they use a small herd of Longhorn cattle.
They don't quite have full access all over the reserve but are able to get down to the lakeside to drink, bathe, chill out if the so desire. It's standing ankle deep in Crassula, the invasive New Zealand Pygmyweed which unfortunately blankets all the lakes' margins. It's a pity the cattle don't eat it as there's plenty for them to go at.
From the raised viewpoint we saw a new structure out in the water. A gravel raft for Common Terns to nest on. Within a few minutes a tern arrived a sat up on a corner post. We watched while it had a good preen but couldn't see if there was another bird or any chicks inside.
 A scan of the far bank revealed a small pale wader scurrying around at the water's edge. Could this be one of our target species? We couldn't really tell  as it was too far away through our new Super-Swazza bins so we fired off a few hopeful shots.
Can you see it?
Zooming in we saw it was 'just' a Ringed Plover, not the hoped for Little Ringed Plover.
Time to go and meet up with the family...
The day was warm, humid but with enough breeze to thankfully keep the vicious bloodsucking  Cleggs grounded. There were other insects on the wing in the form of butterflies which P monitors back home and was telling us that so far this year he's recorded 49 species on his 1km transect - compare that to the total British list of just 50 species! He was surprised to see the most common butterfly here today was the Gatekeeper, a species we never would have guessed would colonise the area when we were nippers out on our bikes round the former fields.
At the first screen he added several species to his Year Bird Challenge tally, 'simple' stuff like Lesser Black Backed Gull, Lapwing and Canada Goose. We picked up a wader behind the Lapwings which we embarrassingly called as a Ruff until we got a better view ad decided it was actually a Greenshank (165, YBC #142) - Ouch!!!
Following the trail rpund we saw more Gatekeepers, a Red Admiral some Meadow Browns and found P a rather well hidden Snipe.
A Little Grebe fished in the small pool as a few dragonflies zipped about.
Climbing the flood bank to view the river the dyke by the pumphouse had a lovely Banded Demoiselle which we couldn't get a pic of as our big lens wouldn't fit through the mesh of the fence. Once again this was an unheard of species from our youth in these parts, the ditches and rivers were so polluted they were just about lifeless, now there were more Banded Demoiselles, other small damselflies, Broad Bodied Chaser dragonflies patrolling, water weeds, even Mallards cruising up and down. All these would have probably been dissolved in the foul smelling chemistry set this river used to be!
Now Sedge Warblers song-flighted, Lapwings panicked, a Peregrine flew overhead, a Kestrel hovered, butterflies flitted - all in all a rural idyll and a wildlife haven where not too long ago there was very little wildlife to be found.
Back-lit Meadow Brown
As a thunder cloud darkened menacingly and grew larger and closer it was time to go.
Yet another great day on safari and some excellent Monty wrangling from young M who's not used to walking dogs.
Where to next? No sure yet but no doubt we'll come across some wildlife somewhere to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know who's sitting on the posts in your outback.

PS...apologies to Led Zeppelin for the slight lyric change


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Summertime bird lull

The Safari has been up to the nature field with Wifey and Monty in the evenings. By that time of the day most of the enormous numbers of butterflies have gone ot roost even Monty and his pals charging through the grass only manage to disturb small numbers of Small Skippers and Meadow Browns. The birds too are mostly inconspicuous except for the gulls flying over, the Woodpigeons flying about and the House Sparrows roosting noisily in the big Blackthorn thicket.
There's ususally something to point the camera at though.
And if you like beetles there must be trillions of these Red Soldier Beetles.
Ass the evening draws on small numbers of Swifts congregate loosely overhead catching the last of the rising insects. They are usually too high for the 300mm though.
Monty likes a game of rough n tumble with his doggy friends and if there's no-one about his ball will have to do.

A sunny Sunday afternoon in the garden was reallly too quiet for insects, hardly a hoverfly to be seen - where are they all??? At CR's just over the road apparently he's had Wool Carder Bees and Hummingbird Hawk Moths in recent days. We've really struggled to find subjects to point the camera at although there's always a few Lucilia Greenbottles around the bins which gave us a chance to experiment with the extension tubes.
Other than those we almost had to resort to arty pics of the flowers!
At last we found a hoverfly but it was the only one we saw all afternoon apart from a tiny black one that was being buffeted around in the wind too much for any chance of a pic.
While trying to get pics of the hoverfly a small bee was seen among its larger Red Tailed Bumble Bee brethren. Some kind of solitary bee, possibly Halictus rubicundus again.
Then 'Catch of the day' arrived. A bright yellow 'wasp' flew past and landed. Unfortunately it landed in deep shade and the camera was set up for sunny flower tops. We managed one dodgy shot and a couple of totally useless ones as it disappeared down a gap in the timbers around the pond with its prey. One of the Ectemnius species of wasps - but which one? Is that why there's no hoverflies???
It's always good to see the little flies that dance on the Water Lily leaves in the pond. They are Poecilobothrus nobilitatus.
Psyching itself up
Stretch and ready....
Going for it!
Trying to chase off a rival - the females don't have the white tips to the wings
On Monday we were office-bound but parking the car by a demolition site the rough grassy mound held an interesting variety of wildflowers and a couple of Meadow Brown butterflies, some solitary bees as well as the chirping calls of numerous grasshoppers, a great way to start a day sat in front of the 'puter.
Yesterday early morning saw us scoping Patch 2 with LGB for half an hour. We found our first Golden Plover (P2 #53) of the autumn but missed the Kestrel half a mile or or more out to sea. Otherwise it was quiet out there with just a few Sandwich Terns going back and forth seemingly struggling to find any fish although one did catch a decent sized Sand Eel right in front of us. Thinking we'd improve our Year Bird Challenge pic of a Sandwich Tern we got the camera out and they promptly disappeared leaving us the first returning Common Gull of the autumn to photograph badly instead.
Later in the morning we played host to the local nursery kids and took them down on the beach to see what they could find. We didn't have long with them but long enough to get a few prize specimens in the bucket for them to have a look at.
At lunchtime we were joined by DW from a local beach care group and together we had a bit of a beachcomb collecting some more specimens for the afternoon's children.
All good stuff!
In the evening we had a group Rainbows visit the pond who found all the ususal stuff and then pulled out a dragonfly in real trouble. A strong wind had blown up in the afternoon and this poor creature must have been blown into the water while it was drying its wings. Duly rescued we put it in the last of the sunshine to dry out and then moved it to a sheltered spot where he morning sun would warm it -provided it didn't get blown away in the overnight gales.
Where to next? A day off work and a trip to the Southside on family duties but with the opportunity to do get some pics for our Year Bird Challenge.
In the meantime let us know who's on the way back in your outback.


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Too busy to blog

The Safari has been out looking for wildlife every day this week with much of our time taken up in the evenings with Brownie and Beavers groups. They've been working in the pond and have successfully released a tiny Froglet in to the garden. Our work's pond is raised with high sides so there's no way it could have escaped in to big wide world on its own. There's at least one big tadpole still in there too.
We've been so busy educating the kids in the wonders of wildlife that we've not stopped to take any pics. But then again there's only so many gruesome pics of dragonfly nymphs chomping down on poor unfortunate 3-Spined Sticklebacks you readers can take. 
We've had a couple of brief visits to Patch 1 with Monty to see if we could increase our tally of just a single White Letter Hairstreak. No joy with those as no more have been seen but we did note a large increase in the number of Small Skippers.
While waiting for the WLHs after some afternoon rain we spotted an arty spider's web by our knee.
Mid-week we were down on the beach with school groups for a couple of days. Great fun and some great finds like a small unknown species of Bearded Rockling, a few Blennies and a handful of tiny fry from some unknown fish. Neither of the two groups could catch any Sand Gobies though, imagine being outsmarted by a tiny fish with the brain the size of a pin-head. Yes, catching those calls for teamwork and some serious stealth, something we were sadly lacking this week. 
Much easier to catch was this stranded Barrel Jellyfish.
It's a small one
After doing the health and safety talk to the teachers and children we broke the don't touch any jellyfish rule and picked this one up. Gathering the class around we got two of them to stand next to us for a teacher to get a pic. Fully dangling (it was well heavy - arm achingly heavy waiting for the not so quick class to assemble) it was almost as big as the little Year 1 children! 
They continued to collect their shells and whatever else they could find. Then one child called out 'Jellyfish!!!!!!' exactly as they had been instructed to do. We headed off to inspect it and drawn a no-go line in the sand around it with the end of a net but found it not to be a jellyfish at  all. It was a cluster of Squid eggs. Only a small one and well battered but still the first bunch of Squid eggs we've seen on the beach for a few years. Interesting - what were we saying about the dolphins a couple of posts back...
Unfortunately despite the excellent sea conditions the Bottlenose Dolphins didn't put in an appearance for these children from an inland school. That didn't bother them too much they still had a whale of a time. It's very gratifying when at the end of the day and they're getting on the bus to head back to school one of them says 'Thanks sir, that's the best school trip I've ever been on'...but please note he was only six years old and hasn't been on many school trips! Not to worry we're sure he'll remember it for the rest of his life and tell his friends how brilliant our beach is and what they should do and look for if they come down with their families during the summer holidays.
We've got a little guessing game for you now...sadly that was our last school session ever :-( ...but why? NO - we haven't been arrested!!!
Where to next? Family duties at the weekend but we might be able to get out on Safari somewhere for an hour or so.
In the meantime let us know who's holding up the specimens in your outback


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Missed the biggie of the year – no, not the Amur Falcon

The Safari was later in to work than normal due to the enforced office move even though we were working at our 'normal' place. That had a bit of a bad knock on effect. Back at Base Camp we missed a call telling us there were half a dozen Bottlenose Dolphins close inshore and by the time we'd got the message it was well after our usual leaving time so we got frustratingly stuck in the morning commuter run that previously we've avoided. We went straight to the watchpoint to meet LB and FB who put us on to the Bottlenose Dolphins right away letting us use their scopes as we'd brought no optics with us. Unfortunately they were now well to the south and a long way off. Then LB showed us a sketch he'd just made in his notebook - a Risso's Dolphin. Had we been on our normal routine we might just have caught it! We're not totally sure but it could well be the first of its species viewed from our promenade for about 20  or more years! Now our mind started racing - what was it doing there so close inshore? just hooked up with the local(?) Bottlenose Dolphins that seem to circle the wider bay chasing what exactly? Are they looking for Salmon approaching the rivers? If a Risso's Dolphin is with them have they been after Squid? Are there any Squid egg masses on the beach to support that hypothesis? That's the wonder of wildlife always far more questions to tax the brain than answers.
The following day we did have optics with us but the wind had picked up and the sea was choppy making viewing cetaceans difficult although we did have a Grey Seal close to the wall. Here's a bizarre animal fact we didn't know - Atlantic Grey Seals are rarer than African Elephants! and salmon farms are still allowed to shoot them! 
The sun came out at lunchtime and it was quite warm so we had a mooch with the camera for ten minutes or so. A few Black Headed Gulls have began arriving back on th beach after their breeding season. Just adults so far.
As always there's a few Herring Gulls cruising about looking at what the dropping tide might provide.
This one found a Weaver Fish which have a painful toxic spine on their dorsal fin which the gull had to wrangle out, which took a few minutes, before it could be safely swallowed. 
Thankfully none of our children's groups have ever caught a Weaver Fish (touch wood) but they are quite numerous, the anglers often catch them, and this one was only a few yards from the sea wall. As a regular beach-goer we always recommend folk wear suitable footwear and not go barefoot on the sands. 
Ohh nice - just had to break off writing this rubbish cos we saw Swifts passing the window. There's four of them whizzing really low through and over the garden. Brilliant things - we've got the phone playing their screaming so they might notice our Swift nestbox. Only a couple of photo opportunities, they're to quick for our limited viewing space.
It's been pretty lively around the garden at Base Camp today with plenty of comings and goings of juvenile Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Blue and Great Tits and their parents as well as a Robin and a passing Swallow or two. OK so after that little interlude it's back to the tales of safari's.
Last week we went to the zoo to see the rare orchid that had been found there. This week we returned to see if it was in flower yet. It wasn't for the simple reason that had we looked at it properly with our specs on last time we'd have seen that what we thought was a furled flower spike was in fact the remains of a well nibbled midrib...dohhhh. The main stem has been broken off so it's not going to flower this year. It has hardly changed during the week.
Yesterday we had an early start at the nature reserve and enjoyed the peace of early morning with two reeling Grasshopper Warblers, numerous Sedge and Reed Warblers and a bucketful of Reed Buntings. No sign of the Bittern but we did hear a couple of Curlews (MMLNR #77) and watched a Great Spotted Woodpecker (MMLNR #78 - surely we've seen one here before this and neglected to put on our spreadsheet?) fly almost the length of the reserve. Our two target species for our Year Bird Challenge failed to put in an appearance although we did hear several Blackcaps - we'll have to wait a few weeks until they're more out in the open eating berries, same with the no-show and silent Lesser Whitethroats.
In the afternoon we headed out east to the picturesque river valley for a walk with Wifey and Monty. It was busy so the chance of adding a Dipper to our Year Bird Challenge was slim to remote, we'll have to wait for a quiet mid-week opportunity to get out that way for those. There were the shrill calls of young birds in the canopy but far too many dogs in the river for even the Grey Wagtails to show up more than once. The shallow pools are just too inviting for mutts on a warm day, 
and those flippin owners do nothing to discourage their charges from running down the banks and into the water - most actively encourage them after all the countryside is only a place to kill things or let your dogs disturb everything.
Note the slugs and snails on the rock, the water level has risen recently, last time we were here we were able to sit on this rock, getting to it without gettin g our feet wet - bit like the molluscs but they could be stranded out there now - will have to check next time we go.
This morning a jaunt around Patch 1 was a little late as we missed the early morning sunshine and were back in the ISO Stupid gloom - the default for Lancashire according to ex-pat Lancastrian SP - he's not wrong!
We wanted butterflies - we got a (singular) butterfly, a male Meadow Brown.
and a rather dapper bee mimicing hoverfly Volucella pellucens.
Too gloomy to wait for long for nothing to happen at the White Letter Hairstreak tree but we did find our first ripening Blackberry of the year there. That could be a problem the White Letter Hairstreaks are only just emerging and almost all the Bramble flowers have gone over and there's no Creeping Thistle this year, the Bramble thicket having smothered them out. The butterflies will have to make do with honeydew up in the canopy where they are harder to spot.
Later in the afternoon the sun came out and we were able to shoot back out for half an hour for another look. On the way we met good friend PL on his way out of the butterfly zone looking a bit dejected. We had a good chat about all things local nature and eventually he decided to come with us back into the breach. It was a good job he did as he'd have been a bit miffed if we'd have found one minutes after he'd left. And that's what happened within a few minutes of seeing a couple of battling skippers a smaller duller butterfly caught our eye landing on or near a Bramble flower. joy of joys it was what we thought it was going to be. Two cameras rattled away but even through the bins we couldn't see the white 'W', good job those megapixels were able to pick it out.
A bit of a relief to find them on Patch 1 again, it's always a bit twitchy seeing the Elms fading away and hoping that that's not the tree they are dependent on. But then the dead Elms of last year start sprouting again and hopefully the new shoots will last long enough to be come available for egg laying in the future.
The afternoon was topped off by a Comma that landed almost too close to get a pic.
What a great way to end the weekend!
Where to next? In to the lion's den that is the town centre offices tomorrow, wonder if we'll see any wildlife around there.
In the meantime let us know who's


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Better not to be on the wrong end of the food chain

The Safari has had another busy week entertaining groups of children at our work's pond. Before all the fun started we took Monty for a wander across the dunes with Wifey and came across these little gems, Narrow Bordered Five Spot Burnet moths.
It was a warm sunny afternoon but other than these beauts was very disappointing for insects, it was almost as if the whole dune system had been sprayed with insecticide; in a couple of hours out we only saw a handful of bumble bees and not a single butterfly and hardly any other unidentified/unidentifiable little flying things - all very worrying.
Monday saw the pond ransacked again, the poor inhabitants must be getting pretty fed up of being netted, hoiked out and dumped unceremoniously in a white tray! This year is a little odd as there's loads of 3-Spined Sticklebacks and a good number of Darter dragonfly nymphs, and not a lot else...wonder why??? Have they eaten everything else between them?
And when there's nothing else to eat they eat each other much to the excitement and/or horror depending on their point of view. Some children even suggested that the fish should be rescued - bit late for that - but we told them it was the food chain in action and how would they like it if they were half way through chomping their favourite grease-burger when someone whipped it away from them.
The following day yet more nets were being swirled around the unfortunate pond and yet more inhabitants hoiked out. This time there were a small number of damselfly nymphs brought out, where were they the day before??? And once again they witnessed the food chain in action...you really don't want to be a small stickleback fry in this pond!
In all our years pond dipping we don't think we've ever seen a damselfly nymph tackle prey that large! The little fish wriggled and wriggled in a vain attempt to break free but the nymph wasn't about to surrender its meal. Eventually all was eaten up to the gill covers.
Gruesome stuff!
A meeting at the nature reserve saw us arrive a little early and with a bit of time to kill before the allotted hour. The warm humid air hung heavy with a Song Thrush's liquid ditty - for once there was little or no human noise pollution to be heard, lovely! We headed off along the embankment with the intention of going round as far as the viewing point for the back of the scrape.  Coming towards us was another birder so stopping to ask him if he'd 'seen owt' we got chatting. It transpired we'd last met at the local Waxwings in the winter and told him about the Iceland Gull which he'd toddled off to look for and was lucky enough to see it straight away and then moments later spotted the Otter. not a bad day in the field that! We didn't see the Iceland Gull all winter, not for want of trying either, and haven't seen the Otter for at least a couple of years now.
We never found out if there was anything on the scrape as he said he'd come to see if he could see the Bittern. Some chance as we thought 'ours' was possibly the one seen at the 'reserve we don't mention by name' on the Southside the previous day. But now his luck ran true and as we were chatting it lifted from the reeds in the corner to our left and flew briefly to drop somewhere near the new Sand Martin nesting bank. We had no chance of a pic as it was only in view fore a second or so but both of us were well chuffed to have seen it. A Bittern (164, MMLNR 76) in July is a good find at the nature reserve on a dull day. The 64b million dollar question now is will it stick through the autumn and winter? And if it does is it a male and will it start booming next spring? Ohh there's a fair few fingers crossed!
He went off very happy indeed and we had a few more minutes to kill so hung around enjoying the multitude of families of Reed and Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings, the latter seem to have a had a very good season here so far. In the distance an odd looking gull caught our eye - after the July Bittern a July Iceland Gull???
We rushed round to the hide form where we hoped we would be able to see it on the water but we couldn't, it wasn't with the small number of other gulls bathing in front of us. We'd seen it drop down so it was probably further to our left obscured behind the tall reeds growing up the bank. 
It was and we saw it briefly when it must have finished bathing and went to loaf in the scrape again out of sight behind tall reeds.
Then the rain that had been threatening all morning arrived and it lashed it down. Not wanting to get everything soaked through we stayed in the hide and missed our meeting time. The rain continued to hammer down and we sat it out in the hide watching motionless through the corner of our eye the comings and goings of the pair of Blackbirds feeding nestlings on the ledge above the door behind us.
We also kept an eye out for the Bittern in case it stalked a reed edge across the way. Herons flying about kept us on our toes, one might just turn into the Bittern, but one flying across the scrape flushed the gulls and up popped our quarry. What a beauty, but what a weirdo - not an Iceland Gull at all but a Herring Gull with an asymmetrical wing pattern. One wing normal, the other borrowed off an over-sized Black Headed Gull - How mad is that!
Duff pics but it is July so we're still on ISO Stupid on the camera
A great find and one we wouldn't have seen properly if at all had we set off to our meeting at the right time and we'd deffo missed the 'close-up' views had there not been a torrential rain storm.
It all goes to show there's always some thing to new to see when out on safari whether it be gruesome, unusual, beautiful, extraordinary or just plain weird and of course it's guaranteed if you don't get out you won't see nowt!
Where to next? We'll be back on to Patch 2 for a couple of days then what we don't know because we've had a forced office move to the town centre, all a bit ridiculous as we've loads of school and other kids groups to attend to between now and the end of the summer, but hey-ho the powers that be always know best...don't they!
In the meantime let us know who's being weird and wonderful in your outback.