Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A bit of warmth is great isn’t it

The Safari has enjoyed another sunshine filled day today, well we would have done even more if we'd been able to get out and about a little more. We didn't get a look at the flat calm sea early doors but did have a little run out at lunchtime to the waste depot. Driving round the corner we saw there were a lot of gulls on the roof today but up at the top and out of sight from the only car parking spot.
Most were Lesser Black Backed Gulls as is expected at this time of year, most of the Herring Gulls and Black Headed Gulls that frequented the piles of rubbish only a couple or three weeks ago are now in their breeding colonies/areas, whereas the Lesser Black Backed Gulls are still moving through.
The gulls didn't move around much at all, we could have done with a Buzzard flying over to mix them up a bit and prove to us the Iceland Gull was definitely not present. 
Back at work we watched a male Blackbird collect a beakful of worms for his nestlings not far away - spring is definitely springing now!
After work we picked up Monty and as we puled up at his work we heard our first Chiffchaff (117) of the year and it wasn't long before we heard our second and then third. This is the joint latest date we've had them since 2010. In only one of those years did we find a wintering bird. They've been coming through for about two weeks so it shows you how little we've been able to get out recently.
A bit of walking around the wildflower area at the top of the mound revealed three Bee Orchid rosettes close together but we couldn't find any anywhere else.
At the very end of our walk there was a piece of roadworks detritus that had found its way to on to the grassland. Always worth a lift at this time of year it was - there was a Toad lurking beneath. Another 'first' for us this year.
The was a good sound-scape too with Wrens, Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes and Great Tits all singing for all their worth.
A very productive hour out in the very pleasantly warm sunshine.
Where to next? Tomorrow sees our annual safari to Lesser Spotted Woodpecker-land - but will we see any? They are really struggling now and we're not sure if we heard somewhere that they could well be extinct in Britain before 2030, we certainly hope not.
In the meantime let us know who's sprouting in the spring sunshine in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

It was there but…

The Safari was able to get out to the big park before family duties kicked in on Sunday. It only took us a couple of minutes to find the Chough. We'd expected to see a large crowd giving us a clue as to where it was but there was no-one with bins and scopes to be seen. However, as it happened it was only a few feet from where it had been seen the previous day.
With the dreadful conditions and long range our pics weren't up to much and this dire effort is the best of a very bad bunch. Still a Chough (115) is a very welcome addition to our Year Bird Challenge, indeed it was our 100th species photographed giving us a 'hit rate' of 87%.
Monday's weather was much better but sadly we were stuck in the office driving the desk and unable to take advantage of the sunshine.
During the week we had the opportunity of a quick scamper down on to the beach to investigate an interesting looking piece of driftwood that may be useful as a feature for the refurbished gardens at work.
We had a good look at it but it was far too heavy for us to drag off the beach unaided. A good poke around it revealed a large Plumose Anemone secreted in a crevice so it would be a shame to remove it from the marine environment.
It would be good to see this specimen fully open. At the steps off the beach on our walk back to terra-firma there were a lot of starfish washed up from the previous day's heavy weather. We quickly found three different species, Common Starfish, a Cushion  Star and a Brittle Star, possibly Ophiothrix fragilis. It was good to be out on the beach again even if only for a few minutes, you just never know what you might come across down there.
Today we left Base Camp to the lovely sound of a Song Thrush singing loudly from the end of the street. We can hear the ones from Patch 1 in the distance but this was the first we've heard this close for a good number of years.
A quick morning look at the sea at Patch 2 while the computer was booting up and the kettle boiling gave us a flock of 33 Whooper Swans (P2 #32)  flying out to sea on their way to Iceland for the breeding season and a flock of 10 Eiders much closer in going towards the river mouth. All the while we could see little bouncing brown dots heading northwards most of which were well out to sea, Meadow Pipits, there were hundreds of them although we heard very few calls overhead. A little later in the morning we found out that 'thousands' had gone over the point to the north of us, JS had obviously been able to do a proper watch not just our ten minutes or so. All the same it was really good to know we'd witnessed a tiny part of a much bigger migration spectacle.
After work we took Monty to Chat Alley as Patch 2 would be still far to soggy after yesterday's nonstop deluge. he had a great time and we spotted a cracking male Wheatear (116) on the rocks down on the lower walk.We did get a pic for the YBC (#101) but it was with our phone on full zoom at considerable range so although we've added the pic to our album as it is jsut about identifiable we're too embarrassed to put it up for you to see...yes it is really that bad!
Where to next? Hopefully there'll be some sunshine and something to point the camera at.
In the meantime let us know who's on the move in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A cracker and a bad dip on a very wet day

The Safari was able to get to the nature reserve fairly early this morning. We walked in past a quiet and very wet wetland seeing very little on the way to our first stop at the Feeding Station. There was a bit of activity with several Chaffinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits coming and going. A bright male Pheasant displayed furiously to a non-plussed Woodpigeon while a pair of Dunnocks skulked around in the Brambles waiting for a lull in the fighting on the feeders to do a lightning smash and grab raid on the seeds.
A tidy male Reed Bunting (MMLNR #48) appeared briefly and Rabbit refused to come out in to the open for a pic. Just outside the hide there was a pile of droppings on a stump which looked rather Stoaty; a species we've not seen for far too long.
As ever we were time constrained and had to move on after a few minutes. Before we reached 'Ice Station Zebra' we stopped at the wet meadow for a quick can. The Cowslips are coming into flower but we were after Snakes Head Fritillaries, a couple of scans later and Bingo there was one with the flower about to open.
ICZ was warm and there were no druggy scrotes today thankfully. A Great Crested Grebe graced the water but there was no dancing today, no gulls were in view either; we hoped the Iceland Gull would put in appearance, assuming it's still about. A Cetti's Warbler sang loudly to our left but refused to show itself as usual.
Carrying on to the Bird Club hide the rain started and came down heavy for a good while so we were stuck in there so as not to get the camera wet. It wasn't a plan but it turned out OK. A Sparrowhawk (MMLNR #49) came wafting over the scrape flushing about 30 Teal, no Green Winged Teal today - as usual. A few Shovelers came out too as did two Snipe (YBC #97).
Unfortunately they didn't circle close enough for a decent pic in the dull conditions.
We kept hearing another Cetti's Warbler but it wouldn't come out of the reeds, and then we saw a dark brown shape flit across the gap. It went in deep but then appeared on the corner of the area of cut reeds. Arrghh - a Wren!
A pair of Little Grebes (MMLNR #50) kept us entertained while the rain continued to fall.
And then a movement in the cut between the reed caught our eye and we swung the camera round as fast as we could. We fired off a burst of shots roughly in that direction and hoped the settings would be OK and that the auto-focus had found something to lock on to.
With far more luck than judgement Water Rail (YBC #98) finds its way on to our Year Bird Challenge list.
The rain was still failing heavily and at last Monty had settled and laid down when a little bit of magic happened. A Cetti's Warbler (YBC #99) came out close to where the Wren had been and proceeded to put on a show for us!
Holy Shamoly they never come out like this for us especially when we've a camera in our hands. but when they pose like this once in a Blue Moon wil do us nicely. A Blue Moon when there's a bit of sunshine wouldn't go amiss sometime this year.
It was a relief to get a good pic of this tricky species that rarely gives good views, not here at least. It was a shame this white Grey Lag Goose wasn't the Great White Egret it superficially resembled.
Getting back to the car as quickly as we could didn't give us anything extra but there were a lot more gulls to look through from the new bench - still no Iceland Gull though.
Back at Base Camp we learnt that a Chough had been in the big Park for much of the morning only a few hundred yards from where we'd been. After lunch we headed out in the rain for a look. If it wasn't for the queues caused by the nearby bridge being out of action we'd have seen it missing it by only a few minutes. With a bit of luck it should be around tomorrow so we might get out before family duties are required.
Where to next? Hopefuly the Chough but failing that we might see something along the motorway network.
In the meantime let us know who popped out to say hello in your outback.



Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Spring is still trying to sprung

The Safari hasn't had many opportunities to get out an about this week. On the odd occasion we have we've been out we've been on the look out for a Wheatear or two. No such luck. We have seen a flock of about a dozen Siskins (114, P2 #31) fly over the work's garden. We thought they looked like they might drop on to the feeders and join the local House Sparrows but there were too many people around so they circled round and left towards the coast.
A quick look over the wall the other lunchtime had us watching a drake Eider drifting past on the dropping not too far out, legging it back for the camera we hoped it would be still there when we got back. It was but quite away further down the prom, took some catching up that tide runs a lot quicker than you think. By the time we did catch it up it was a little further out, right on the limit of our lens, shame we didn't have the 600mm with us that day. Eider became the 96th species photographed on our Year Bird Challenge so the initial target of 100 shouldn't be too much trouble and not too far off but how many over the ton do you think we'll manage - we've a new target in mind, some of the other challengers are already very close to that number!
Earlier in the week we had a look through a new improved up-graded scope. We were able to compare it with our old stalwart and the wee one we won in the competition a few months ago. The little one retails at almost only 1/10 the price of the one we were thinking of getting but on a cloudy evening it held its own way past the point we expected it too and it was almost dark by the time it 'failed', out birding you'd have probably packed up by then unless you were deliberately staying out for a crepuscular or nocturnal species.

So did we or didn't - well actually we didn't but we do have a bit of a plan for a slightly different upgrade ay some stage in the future.
Closer in the future we had a sunny lunchtime trip up towards town on the trail of an individual gull, an old friend of ours. Armed with a few slices of slightly mouldy bread we pulled a few bits off scattered them around and waited for the fun to begin and our friend to arrive. Within seconds we had a horde of expectant Herring Gulls surrounding us. More gulls came in but our friend wasn't with them. The only non- Herring Gull to come for a slice of white was this rather bolshy Lesser Black Backed Gull, it didn't like any  other birds near it grabbing them and giving them some serious feather pulling pecks if any came too close.
Spring is still trying to sprung with both Tree Bees and Buff Tailed Bumble Bees being seen this morning.
Where to next? This weekend it seems winter is coming back with a vengeance but we've got to go to the nature reserve for a meeting so we have to have at least a quick look round while we're there, be rude not too!
In the meantime let us know who didn't turn up to the party in your outback.


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Migrants, drugs, sun and rain

The Safari hasn't been able to get out much this week, work has got seriously in the way. There are signs of spring springing up all over the place now, including the works garden where we found this little snail seeking shelter from some dawn frost under a Daffodil petal.
Yesterday we had family business on the South-side and it took us to within a mile of the regular Cattle Egrets (113, YBC #93) you know the ones that are so regular that they weren't there last time we stopped at the site. Most people have seen them just over the hedge in the horse field. Today they were miles away across the fields...just typical of our luck lately. This is by far the best of c100 pics, but at least this local scarcity is on the list and the Year Bird Photo Challenge too.
Today we had a quick walk with Monty passing this very early opening Red Valerian on the neighbour's wall which also has the colony of Gooden's Nomad Bees.
We didn't get out again until the early morning sun was about to be lost, typical of our luck again! We headed out to the Nature Reserve, we've hardly been there this year. It was quiet-ish, but we did hear two Cetti's Warblers at the wetland but couldn't find the Stonechats that have been about recently.
Walking on through the reserve is was almost birdless, we were hoping for an early Chiffchaff and over the water a Sand Martin but neither put in an appearance. There was a nice selection of ducks on the water and a good number of gulls, no sign of the Iceland Gull again - has it left for colder climes already? 
We had an unsuccessful look for Bee Orchid rosettes finding this little Puffball instead. 
Moving on we saw a Kestrel hovering across the other side of the reedbed. By now it was drizzling and the light grotty but it was just about gettable for the YBC (#94). Can't really believe this is the first photo opportunity we've had of this species so far this year.
And if you thought that was bad have a shuffy at this Fieldfare (YBC #95) again the best we could do in the dark drizzle at serious range.
Lots of Cetti's Warblers were singing and we stopped and waited for a few of them but saw nothing. Our best hope was either the FBC hide where on sung several times but didn't show, we did hear a Snipe too but couldn't find it in the sky. Our next bet was Ice Station Zebra, which wasn't too cold today. There was one singing and not showing but we decided not to stay long as we were sharing the hide with some foul mouthed teenage scrotes smoking weed, one of them could only have been 13 or 14. Monty wasn't happy with them and wouldn't settle and we had to hold him which wouldn't have made photography easy. That neighbouring caravan site has some lovely customers - NOT!!!
Making our way back to the car the Feeding Station was quiet and we couldn't find the Stonechats again although we did hear a Cetti's Warbler and a Water Rail by the bench at the Wetland - of course we saw neither.
So no migrants there for us, they'll come we just have to make sure we're able to get out to see them!
Later in the afternoon the sun came out again and we thought we'd have a quick sprint down Chat Alley to see if there were any Wheatears down there, there's been a few here and there along the coast during the morning so there just might be one or two still moving through.
We were out of luck, the only small birds we saw were the local pair of Pied Wagtails.
We looked on the way back but there was nothing of note so we spent a few minutes trying to get some pics of the Herring Gulls riding the gentle up-draughts from the cliffs, most of them were going the 'wrong' way  but every now and then one came our way at the right height nicely illuminated bu the low sun.
So that was that, some success but not totally overjoyed about the weekend's safaris. Mustn't grumble though at least we got out and did see some sunshine.
In other news a couple of Buff Tailed Bumble Bees and a Tree Bee have been seen at Base Camp - sping is deffo a-springing.
Where to next? Hopefully we'll get out on Patch 2 at least once or twice this week.
In the meantime let us know who's springing in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A bit of warmth in the sun at last

The Safari arranged to meet up with CR for an early morning jaunt in the big park.We arrived a few minutes after 08.00 and walked straight to the lake as CR was after getting some pics of the Great Crested Grebes doing their weed dance. However we couldn't see any grebes at all.
The sun was peeking over the trees on the other side of the lake and lit up the woods we were looking into. Before we set of we had a bit of a list of target species to add to our Photo Year Bird Challenge. It wasn't long before we came across a photo-opportunity of one we should have had on our list already. This morning we'd already heard several but not seen them tucked up in dense patches of vegetation. This one kept moving from song perch to song perch keeping a wary eye on us all the while. This must be one of the few Wren (YBC #89) pics in which its tail is stuck up at a jaunty angle.
We wandered as far as the big logs where kindly folk have put up loads of feeders, unfortunately they were all empty today so we retraced our steps expecting to bump in to CR somewhere along the lakeside. We hoped to find a couple of other woodland specialists but we had no luck, didn't even hear a peep out of them. At the bridges CR txtd to say he was down by the Heron Island. Passing a lively but 'unpicable' Goldcrest on the way. There was a Great Crested Grebe down there but you need two to tango.
Up in the trees on the little island we counted 27 nests although we doubt if all were occupied. Some had birds sitting tight barely visible over the edge of the large structures. Others were still standing around in their pairs, not having laid any eggs yet.
They're quite ungainly in the trees and sometimes get tipped over by odd gusts of wind requiring a bit of urgent re-positioning to regain poise and balance.
With no grebe action we moved on spying a Mistle Thrush (YBC #90) fly across the road and landing in the top of a tree.
A few Shoveler were nicely lit up in the morning sun but a little distant so we carried on round hoping to catch up with our woodland target. C had brought a bag of seeds and laid them down in small handfuls to see who might approach, mostly the Feral Pigeons
Eventually we did manage to attract some Blue and Great Tits, many are now paired up and food isn't the only thing on their minds. Several pairs of Blue Tits were investigating holes and crevices in the few remaining older trees, far too many seem to have been cut down recently which could be the reason we were struggling for some of target species. So far we had two out of five of the hoped for ones.
While waiting for the woodland birds the sun was positively warm on the top of our shoulders for the first time this year and very welcome it was too, Looking the other way across the lake the bright sunshine made for interesting silhouettes like this Moorhen.
By now we'd run out of time. C was starting to head back to the Heron Island and we were going back to the car he saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker, we'd expected to have heard one drumming by now but there hadn't been so much a s a single peck from them. It landed high in a tree and wasn't seen again. Then we heard a Nuthatch calling in the distance and we both headed towards the sound. After a good deal of searching we found it, or rather them - there were two.
Even though we'd walked a good way they were still a long way off and well up in a big Poplar tree.
Poor we know but never mind they all count. After enjoying the Nuthatches (YBC #91) we went our separate ways. Almost back at the car we heard a Goldcrest singing and went to look for it. Minutes later we found it in a small Fir tree hunting spiders and the like just above head height. Goldcrest (YBC #92) was the fourth addition to our YBC tally and a bonus as it wasn't on our list of five hoped-fors.
So in to the first week of March and we've photographed 92 species out of 112 seen/heard, a strike rate of 82% but we've probably got way more than half of our final total.
In other news we dipped on the local Iceland Gull at the waste depot again yesterday - not a gull in sight! And again yesterday in the park with Monty we saw a Moorhen (P1 #24).
Once back at Base Camp this morning a commotion by the gulls had us racing outside bins in hand to find the first Buzzard (Garden #19) of the year circling high northwards roughly over CR's place. A Pied Wagtail (Garden #20) passed over while we were out too, migration has started at last. On the way back from th park this afternoon with him we had Patch 1's first Lesser Black Backed Gulls (P1 #25) of the season.
All good stuff, we could get used to this birding m'larky - apparently having birds nearby is very good for you.
Where to next? Might try to the nature reserve tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's not seeing the wood for the trees in your outback.



Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Our year bird photo tally creeps ever upwards

The Safari nearly had our eyeballs blown out of their sockets on Thursday lunchtime as the much vaunted Storm Doris blew through with a vengeance. There was no chance of keeping the scope still to see if there was anything out on the sea. It was well past high tide but the fierce wind had kept the ebbing tide tight against the sea wall. It was a good job it was a very low high tide, had it been a 10m+ one then things along the prom would have got just a tad wet!
A quick look on Friday gave us reduced numbers of Common Scoters and a nice male Eider (106, P2 #24) heading north in the middle distance, far too far for a pic. 
Saturday was a family day and the only thing of note we saw was a flock of Canada Geese (Garden #17) over Base Camp and a few Buzzards on posts along the motorway.
At last Sunday came round and late morning we were able to head out with Monty. Once again we headed over the river to 'mop-up' everything we missed last week, once again it was grey and miserable but at least the threatened rain held off. Our first port of call was the ferry terminal and its adjacent posh new apartment block and at last after about a five minute wait we caught a distant glimpse of our quarry, the long-staying Black Redstart (107, YBC #82) poking around on its favourite piles of rubble below the concrete sea defence of the posh flats' garden.
With that success under our belt we set off further north to a site for whatever reason we've managed never to have visited before. We followed local birder MF down the lane and parked up. We walked together along the embankment until Monty managed to slip his collar trying to grab a dollop of sheep sh*t. MF walked ahead and got the essential gen from returning birders. Luckily he had a scope with him as the two Shore Larks were half way across the marsh and took him quite a while to find; there's no way we could see them with just our bins. He was kind enough to let us have a look at the three yellow dots on show, two Shore Larks (108) and a Grey Wagtail (109), they were so far away we could only just make out the difference between the two species!
From there we traveled a short way to the little estuary where it took no time at all to find the Spotted Redshank (110, YBC #83) we couldn't find last time. It was roosting on the bend with a dozen or so Redshanks.
We knew the tide was dropping and the mud would be exposed shortly and the bird would drop down to start feeding on the mud.
Next up was a journey back don the main road to the farmland feeding stations, the first was full of Collared Doves and little else, the second was busy. Lots of Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches and a couple of Corn Buntings.
They were flighty though and kept popping up into the nearby bush. It was there we spotted the first Yellowhammer of the day and a Brambling (111, YBC #84).
There were a few Yellowhammers but quite wary today and didn't spend much time down on the seed.

The Brambling(s - there were two there but we only saw the male) were even more wary not coming down until a couple of Woodpigeons and Stock Doves (YBC #85) proved the coast was clear.
The next field held a massive flock of crows most of which had to have been Rooks. By now it was trying to drizzle and very gloomy so we had to step up the ISO on the camera to 'Stupid+. We parked the car by the old pumping station where we hope we'll hear Quails calling later in the year. The Rooks (YBC #86) were a little way across the field and no doubt we'll get better shots of them in due course but for this challenge any old pic will do to get another species on your scoresheet, they can be improved upon later if necessary.
We had a rendezvous with GB again but made the fatal error of not stopping at the 'reserve' we stopped at last week - there was a Glaucous Gull on the sands across the river.  Never mind! We met up with GB and had a walk along the prom where we soon saw a small flock of Skylarks really close but with the threatening dark sky we'd not brought the camera out with us. At the furthet point of our walk there were some Linnets but we didn't bother to get camera-close, they'll have to wait until next week when fingers crossed there might be a hint of sunshine.
The rest of the afternoon was spend chewing the fat over a coffee with GB and JH watching Monty and his new friend Alby battling it out for possession of the bean-bag.
Not a bad day out on safari despite the gloomy conditions. But where were all the geese - we didn't see a single one all day!
Where to next? We might get a look or two at the sea this coming week.
In the meantime let us know who's all dull and blurry in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

And so on to that frustrating fog

The Safari met up with the Community Arts team again on Saturday to do a bit of a history talk followed by a wander round the park to see what we could see. They had all sorts of activities planned too, one of which was 'seed bombing' and we were to look out for a suitable area for their wetland mix of seeds during our walk.
Filling a seed bomb - more like a seed scatterer actually
As with Thursday's event we were on the look out for interestingly shaped and/or patterned trees. We found a large Small Leaved Lime tree we didn't know was in there, it was a giant but the trunk forked too low down to be able to do the measuring the age with a tape measure trick. Hawthorns often have good bark and trunk shapes, these two are right by the children's play area.
Did you spot the litter between the trees? fortunately some of the group were armed with bags and pickers so it was collected along with quite a lot of other rubbish that had been strewn about. Why are we so messy??????
The park was probably laid out in the early 1920s but few of the original trees remain, perhaps the big Lime and a few Sycamores, there were likely to have been Elms but these have long since succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease. From measurements of some of the other trees we'd guess they were about the same age as us being planted in the late 50's or early 60s. More recent planting has taken place too, like this Jubilee Wood from which Jubilee we're not sure and even more recently in the year or so there have been some groups of trees planted under the Woodlands From Waste scheme.
The wooded future of the park looks rosy!
At the wettest point we tore away at the thatch of grasses, bring a rake would have been a good idea, to reveal about a square metre of clear soil on to which the youngest member of our group sprinkled her seed bomb. We all helped press the seeds in by gently trampling the ground and then hoped for rain. Wit ha bit of luck more similar patches would be done in the afternoon to create a nice colourful area buzzing with bees and butterflies later in the year, or probably next year.
The end point of our walk was a half buried lump of 13500 year old Bog Oak which was dug up when the field was tried to be drained. The Arts group had heard about it and as a piece of local history wanted to lift it from its dumped area and display it on a plinth with some interpretation for all to see.
It wasn't buried as badly as we thought, just covered with a good growth of grass which was soon pulled off. It was however a lot longer than we realised.
Never the less with a bit of muscle and teamwork it was soon released from it's grassy grip. As it was lifted off the ground we saw our first Frog of the year.
Turning it over to find out how much it had started to rot on the underside revealed a horde of hibernating Yellow Slugs, Limacus flavus
They weren't too happy about being woken from their slumbers and slithered off to find somewhere else to lay their heads.
After a little pulling and shoving, puffing and panting the Bog Oak was wrested on to a couple of smaller pieces to keep it clear of the ground so it could dry out properly. The local rugby team who play on the field from which it originally came will lift it to its final resting place near their clubhouse. Where it will get a more detailed permanent sign too.
Mission accomplished and all good fun.
On Sunday we set off back over the river in an attempt to mop up some of the species we missed last weekend and went a little further to find some more. We had to stop of the marshland car park again and in the field at the entrance there was a flock of about 100 Pink Footed Geese.
At the very back of the flock we're sure we got a fleeting glimpse of a Barnacle Goose with them, but we waited and waited and waited much to Monty's impatience but it never showed again, if indeed it was ever there in the first place...why are the odd-balls always at the back of the flock when we look???
From there we headed to the northernmost point of our day out, the little estuary with the creeks. Here we had a walk along the old railway-line passing an unseen Goldcrest and a couple of Chaffinches in the hedge, the tide was well out so the river was out of range of our bins and camera.
Moving round to the pool we had cracking close up views of a Curlew and a couple of pairs of Teal.
With not much else on the pool we had a look in the creeks. Here there was a good assortment of birds, Shelducks, Teal, Wigeon, a couple of Black Tailed Godwits (102), a lot of Redshanks but no sign of the hoped for Spotted Redshank. A heavy drizzle was beginning to fall so we moved around the lanes to find some wild swans which we soon did. We'd heard there was a flock of about 400 Whooper Swans in the area with a few Bewick's Swans mixed in but before we found them we came across a much smaller herd of Whooper Swans (103) some distance across a large field. we stopped and pointed the camera out of the window.
It was just as well as a few bends further down the lane we saw the large flock miles away across the fields and without a scope we'd had no chance of looking through them. On we went to the marsh where by now a think mist was settling over the river and snaking its way towards us. We saw a Collared Dove that didn't sit long enough for our Year Bird Challenge and had to drag half a rotting Shelduck from Monty's gullet - yuk!!!
With the river still low there weren't many birds close up to shore and with the wet gloom rapidly approaching we didn't want to stay out too long and get the camera soaked so we fired off a few shots at a group of Black Tailed Godwits. Just another 'banker' really, we should get much better and closer pics of them in full summ plum later in the spring.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving along lanes through dense fog not seeing much at all apart from the odd suicidal Blackbird darting across the road in front of the car at the very last minute. We expected the Lesser Snow Goose to be where it had been all week but could hardly see the field and only saw one Grey Lag Goose, we later learned it had moved half a mile or so away - cruel, so another trip over the river will be needed.
We decided to give the dipped last week Black Redstart a miss too as we'd arranged to meet GB (not the Aussie one!) for a bit of a walk with Monty who he's not met yet.
On the way we briefly stopped off at the nature reserve that is really just a dogs' toilet in the hope of seeing either or both of the Glaucous Gulls that have been frequenting the adjacent tip, we could barely see the river or the tip so gave up on that one and went to pick up GB.
A few minutes later were were walking to the point along the prom and stopped to look at the sign about the pebbles on the beach. now GB was a geologist and the next half hour was spent on the beach having a good close look at many of the fascinating pebbles there. We were careful to keep Monty away from the roosting 40 or so Ringed Plovers we could just about see about 50 yards away through the murk.
It must have been a low murk as we could hear a couple of Skylarks (104) singing over the golf course behind us. Actually its not year bird 104 as we'd neglected to put one flying over the garden (Garden #16)  on our spreadsheet on 5th of Feb.
With both of us getting hungry we took GB home and set off Base Camp. Once ensconced at the computer downloading our day's pics we spotted we'd got a bonus Bewick's Swan (105, YBC #80)
Where to next? Dunno yet but we do hope the heating engineer comes soon as it's freezing in here with the boiler on the blink - hope it's not terminal it is a bit of an old thing...
In the meantime let us know who's hiding in plain sight in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A busy week followed by frustrating fog

The Safari had a few opportunities to look at the sea this week but there wasn't much doing. On Thursday we joined up with a local Community Arts group to see what natural materials and things wild we could find for their project. We started off at the chapel at the entrance to the old cemetery 
We measured some trees, finding out their age with a tape measure and a clever piece of card and a friend to discover their height. One some of the trees have had a garnish of bat boxes placed around them.
Anywhere where there's old(ish) trees we look for faces in them. This one's probably no the best we'll ever find.
Beneath the trees we found a few fresh fungi coming up through the grass.
We found a Holly tree which had been attacked, like almost all Holly trees, by the Holly Leaf Miner fly. This one has hatched rather than the larva within the leafbeen predated or parasitised.
Well if we've got Holly, there must be Ivy nearby.
Ivy has lots of good shapes, patterns and forms
And there even some berries left for the birds. 
The group we were with were trying to identify the trees from their twigs and buds. So what's this one folks?
Close by was an Ash tree with its distinctive chocolate brown buds and flattened twigs. So for a bit of a clue we told them the old adage about which of the pairs' leaves coming out first will determine if we have a splash of a summer or  a soak of a summer to come. No sign of any leaves on either of the trees yet.
A nice Wild Cherry tree stood all gnarly on the intersection of to of the avenues.
Some trees around the cemetery have had to be felled and they have left some interesting stumps like this one with a big see-through hole in it, possibly the reason why it was felled.
Along with twig collecting our group were also doing some bark rubbing. Another one for you, what;s this snap from?
A very pleasant couple of hours out. On the way back to the office we stopped off at the waste depot but there wasn't a single gull on the roof.
The following day we were entertaining a half-term holiday group rockpooling on the beach, our first of the year. We thought we'd best do a recce to see the lie of the land - well the sand anyways - and what was about. Good job we did as we found a huge tangle of fishing line with a massive hook in it right where the children would be exploring and no doubt their eagle eyes would have been attracted to the bright colour.
We put it out of reach but somewhere we could show them and tell them about the dangers of marine litter. Then we spotted something else in the pool. On closer inspection it was a large bullet! Where'd that come from?
Having seen corroded live ordnance before we thought it best to call the police. They came and took it away...in his pocket, so much for it being unstable and deadly dangerous!
With the beach all safe and well the kids came and had a great time. A flock of about 100 Pink Footed Geese flew over but they didn't notice they were concentrating too much on hat was around their feet.
Tiny hands soon filled our tubs with all manner of goodies gleaned from the pools and sands.
 Catch of the day was left to us, with this Dab.
Actually we cheated as we knew where it was because it was buried in the sand attached to the fishing line we collected earlier. We' cut the line but there was no chance of removing the hook so we don't reckon much for its chances. When we let it go the children were fascinated watching it wriggle to bury itself.
The enjoyed that more than the fossils we found them, Crinoids aren't as impressive as dinosaurs even if they are much older
After work we took Monty to the park and had a surprise on the way in the form of a couple of rather early 'blooms' of Meadow Foxtail, anyone else seen any spring grasses in flower yet? Sorry about the grotty pic it was almost dark and a  bit breezy.
Far more expected in mid-February are the Snowdrops in blossom around the base of several of the trees.
Where to next? Our bad hands have got tired of typing so we'll have to tell you about more community fun and all that frustrating fog next time.
In the meantime let us know who's very early in your outback.


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Still a bit dull, damp and dreary

The Safari hasn't seen much on Patch 2 during the week, the garden feeders remain totally untouched despite there being flocks of about 50 Greenfinches and 25 Goldfinches roosting nearby. Even the Peregrine on the tower has become a little unpredictable.
A visit to the nature reserve for a look round before a meeting saw Monty there for the first time, which curtailed our birding a little. The best bird we came across was the Barn Owl (94, MMLNR #39) on its usual window ledge at dusk. The only pic we took to add to our species tally for our Year Bird Challenge was this grotty attempt at a few Wigeon (YBC # 70) in the gloom.
On Saturday Wifey had family duties so we were able to take Monty on a more serious birding safari. We decided to take him north over the river with a few target species to aim for. We parked up and walked along the little promenade. The tide was up but on its way down but hadn't covered the little saltmarsh. No sign of target one along there so we walked to the tiny ferry terminal and had a look around the new posh apartment block for target species number two. It wasn't giving itself up either. We did spot three gentlemen crouched down at the top of the slip with big lenses pointing at something on the very small tide line. Target species one was there, about two dozen of them, Twite (95, YBC #71) and so we tied Monty to a nearby post so he could see what we were doing and joined the 'throng'. Gloomy with drizzle in the air but our pics weren't too bad.
Pleased with these pics as it's a species we somehow managed to avoid last year. 
From there we had wander down to the golf course hoping to see an Eider in the river mouth, there weren't any today. A quick look around the apartments, yet again there was no sign of target two, the Black Redstart. Back to the car we went, spotting a Little Egret and a pair of Shelducks feeding close in to the prom. The egret disappeared down one of the many little creeks not to be seen again leaving us the Shelducks (96, YBC #72). The dire conditions didn't do their fabulous plumage any favours.
Plenty of Redshanks and Sanderlings were on the mud but no Knots which we could have been grateful for although we shouldn't have too much trouble catching up with them somewhere before the year is out...Famous last words??? Once in the car we drove down to the slipway for a last look for the Black Redstart, several other birders were there but hadn't even come across the Twite, where had they nicked off to?
With no joy we headed inland passing the first farmland feeding station as there were already three cars parked up so no chance of squeezing in a fourth. Around the bend we saw a couple of Stock Doves (97) fly over the hedge in front of us. We had the second feeding station to ourselves and parked as close down the track as we dared needing to be at an angle to point the lens out of the window, in the Land Rover this wouldn't have been a problem but Monty hasn't been trained in hauling stuck cars out of the muddy edges of farm tracks. We did get a few pics of the farmland specialities. There were a lot of Chaffinches and Tree Sparrows but our eyes were peeled for even more colourful fare. First up though was the very common, although perhaps declining a little, Collared Doves (YBC #73)
Nice but not colourful enough, we were hoping for something a little brighter, when all of a sudden there were three of them. You really can't beat a Yellowhammer (98, #YBC #74) what a shame they have disappeared from much of our countryside. How could we let something so bright and cheery go?
And if we struggle with something 'pretty' what chance does something 'dull and boring' have? Like this Corn Bunting (99, YBC #75)
Actually there's been a bit of good news regarding Corn Buntings from Scotland where farmers have joined together to provide better habitat and very importantly late winter seed to provide sufficient food through the 'hungry period' of late winter and early spring. See the full story here 
No Stock Doves turned up here though. Returning to the first feeding station we did manage to squeeze in but there wasn't anything on the seed so we continued round the corner to see if we could find the goose flock. Easily done just stop by the the gang with the scopes parked up on the roadside.
One of the lads was kind enough to give us a look through his scope at the Red Breasted Goose (100). It had been hard to spot being right at the back of the flock which was spread across several fields and was spending most of its time down a little dip out of sight. The only way to try to get a pic was take lots of shots across the whole flock in that area. At one time something spooked them and all their heads went up - time to hit the shutter button! 
Well we got a few of the White Fronted Geese (101, YBC #76) that were in with the thousand or more Pink Footed Geese, but the diminutive Red Breasted Goose mustn't have had a long enough neck to clear the dip from where it was stood as there was no sign of it in any of our pics.
Why can't the odd ones out be at the front of the flock when we go a-goosing? These were only a couple of hundred yards away over the roadside hedge...There's still a dip in the field though, no doubt had the RBG been with this group it would have been hiding in that dead ground all the time we were there!
Time was pushing on now and Monty needed a bit of a run so we went to the furthest point of our journey and let him our at the car park overlooking the big saltmarsh. The tide was now well out so no birds were close in. We took him for a walk around the pond which was quite apart from a pair of Tufted Ducks and an unseen calling Moorhen. Once he'd had a good run round and a bit of play with a couple of other dogs we headed back to Base Camp but took the minor detour to the first feeding station. This time there wasn't a car in sight but as we pulled up the birds on the seen, mostly Stock Doves and Woodpigeons, we waited a long time for them to return but they didn't. Turning round it was time to go but only a few hundred yards down the lane we spotted a Buzzard sat on the remains of a bale over the hedge. We stopped and reversed and got the camera through the window, even though it was only mid-afternoon it was really gloomy, too gloomy for pics really. OK it's identifiable so Buzzard (YBC #77) goes into the album.
Hopefully we'll be able to swap it for a better, clearer pic taken in daylight sooner rather than later.
All in all not a bad day out on safari.
We didn't get a chance to get out on Sunday.
Where to next? Patch 2 at lunchtime or maybe the waste depot, what a great place to enjoy your butties.
In the meantime let us know who's hiding down a hole in your outback.