Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

No snow at Marton Mere

The Safari had an exciting day last Saturday. It started with a  bang! Well not so much as a bang but a loud call from a large finch-like bird that was loosely associated with a small flock of about half a dozen Greenfinches. We'd had a little bit of a lie in and were a few minutes later than usual taking Monty out on his first walk of the day. We took our normal route but as is now the norm didn't go as far as the field to meet his friends as it's a total quagmire and the amount of doggy pressure it's getting is giving us cause for concern for any overwintering butterfly eggs or caterpillars, how will they survive such trampling? We'll have to wait and see what the populations are like next spring and summer. Anyway that's by-the-by we took our shortened route just to the little field not really noticing much on the way, a Robin sang from a garden, there were a couple of Blackbirds in their usual spots by the shrubbery and a very optimistic Woodpigeon coo-coo-coooo-coo-coo'd in the chilly distance. We not noticed the small flock of finches in the largish Sycamore tree we pass beneath, that is until we looked up to see what had made that call that was so unusual we've never heard the like of before. There, with the half a dozen Greenfinches, was a much larger 'finch'. The Greenfinches circled round and landed back in the top twiggery where they often sit up in the Sycamore tree but the odd one kept going over the rooftops in the direction of the park giving another couple of single calls. So what was this call like? Loud, slurred disyllabic and quite musical. 
We asked the Twitteraty the question as it to what it might be and within minuted renowned birder AM @leicester_llama came back with Pine Grosbeak or something escaped - well we had a listen on Xeno-Canto  and knock us down wiff a feaver we soon found this, the first European recording we listened to and it doesn't half sound reeet like what we'd heard earlier especially the single calls in the middle of the recording - we didn't hear it make any double calls. But was it a Pine Grosbeak or something else??? Unfortunately we weren't able to get out later and have a search for whatever it was so it'll remain a mystery.
The reason we were unable to get out is because we were on our way to Manchester with Wifey. And why were we going to a big city? To see Queen with Adam Lambert of course - again. And as with last time a couple of years ago it was an awesome gig. Monster graphics and lighting effects with of course a good two hours and more of belting rock n roll almost all different tunes from the last tour; well Queen's portfolio has a fair few songs to choose from - only 14 albums!
Photos from Wifey's camera.
Frank the friendly robot
Adam - "I want to ride my tricycle"
Adam Lambert, a runner-up in a USA X-Factor series, was just nine when legend  Freddie Mercury died - he doesn't pretend to be Freddie he's got enough 'camp' ego of his own and to be fair although Freddie appears in some incredible 3D graphics Adam is still the star of the show, cracking voice, great stage presence and wicked sense of humour 21st Century Queen wouldn't exist without him.
A tricky drive back to Base Camp through some serious snow showers and motorway warning signs showing 'Severe Weather Expected Tomorrow Expect Delays' gave us a taste of things to come in the morning.
The morning came and with it cold cold cold but not a flake of snow in sight. With sunshine to good to waste we called CR and arranged a quick trip round Marton Mere. 
The feeding station was busy with a maximum count of 29 Blackbirds feeding on windfall Apples under one tree with a couple of others lurking further the back too. Monty managed to get his lead tangled in LGB's very expensive tripod legs at the Viewing Platform and while we were carefully extracting him we missed a short flight from one of the Bitterns. The water was mostly frozen with a couple of open areas holding good numbers of waterfowl but it was the gulls roosting on the ice we were most interested in. Would the recently returned Iceland Gull be on there?
It wasn't there, we later found it had been and gone about the time we were picking C up.
Before we entered the hide we had to 'tidy up' after Monty and lose the plastic bag - in doing so we missed another Bittern flight this time C managed a 'record' shot. Dohhh only an idiot would have a dog.
There wasn't much else on offer and we soon ran out of time anyway.
So no Bittern pics or Iceland Gulls to add to our Year Bird Challenge tally but we were greeted by this beast as we drew up outside Base Camp.
We were back the following day too. Even colder, still not a snow flake to be seen. But perhaps a wider variety of birds. A flock of nine Black Tailed Godwits flew by. We'd bumped the dial on the camera and knocked the settings to Lordy knows what.
While scanning the gulls two Ravens cronked as they flew seawards. Only the second time we've seen them here. By the time we'd seen them they were past us hence the backside shots.
A last look from the Viewing Platform gave us three Redshanks sat on the ice before flying off to the south.
But better was to come. we had a very brief view of a Bittern and called out to some visiting birders in the nearby hide. We didn't get a reply so went to chat to them and discovered they hadn't seen it. While we were chatting one of them spotted a Fox out on the ice at the far end of the mere. We'd seen probably the same individual dart across the path near the bridge down that end earlier.
Then as we chatted a Bittern flew from where we'd seen it land a few minutes earlier and this time we managed to get a couple of dodgy shots off.
Not perfect but we're happy enough. Better still the second one followed a couple of minutes later.
Time to go; with a big smile on our face!
This morning we had a half hour looking for the Iceland Gull at it's favourite waste disposal depot. There were hundreds of gulls on the roof but mostly out of sight. Our best bet was going to be getting a pics of them as they left the roof en-mass and hope the Iceland Gull could be found on the photo. We might have been better with a wider angle lens as we weren't getting many in the frame. 
A movement down to our right caught our eye, a Dunnock was doing a bit of kerb crawling picking up tiny morsels of ???? as it went. 
Our gull pics weren't brilliant and we didn't strike white gold.
Better luck tomorrow perhaps.
Where to next? Back at the waste depot and/or a brief visit to Marton Mere in amongst Christmas duties.
In the meantime let us know who's got cold feet in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Gee tha’s a cold wind

The Safari had a quick shuffy at our spreadsheets and discovered we'd not seen a Woodcock on Patch 1 before the other day making it the fortieth species we've found on the Patch so far this year. Not only that the Ring Necked Parakeet that flew over Base Camp on Wednesday was the 33rd species for the garden this year and the first of its kind ever! it came from the north...but from where??? We've heard one up at Monty's walkies field which is to the north of us, could it be that one and just how many are there around town now; three have been in Stanley Park now, an increase of two in recent days.
Yesterday we joined the Wildlife Trusts Living Seas team for a rather chilly and very blustery two seawatch from the top of Rossall Tower. Storm clouds gathered and the sea tossed and turned but there was a good turn out despite everyone realising there'd be very little chance of seeing any blubber, still there's always a chance of a seabird or two when staring out to sea.
Thankfully that big black cloud missed us, as did all the others!
It was a bit like hard work, but we found a distant flock of Kittiwakes perhaps the same as came right beneath our noses in a tight flock a little later. From our position tucked in behind the wall at the back of the tower we didn't see them until very late and they'd passed by the time we'd grabbed the camera.
Just one out of perhaps 20 - where'd the others go?
Not much else was out there. The new shingle island was almost covered and all we could see roosting on it was a handful of Eiders and a couple of Great Black Backed Gulls. After while a Red Throated Diver flew by but most of the action was right below us on the beach as the tide began to drop. First in was a fly-by of a nice flock of Ringed Plovers followed by a good number of Sanderlings which pattered up and down the beach on twinkling black legs dodging the incoming waves.
From time to time a larger wave would send the closest ones to the water fluttering skywards.
Best find of the session was actually as we were leaving when we spotted a Purple Sandpiper roosting with a few Turnstones.
Once we'd found one we found a second, and then a third and then two more; five! That's a really good count for this stretch of coast and most unexpected.
This morning we had a wander round Marton Mere for a couple of hours with Monty. We came across a couple of female Bullfinches and we were almost able to gget a decent pic of one until the usual plague happened - a couple of unleashed dogs (two of far too many this very chilly morning) miles away from their idiot human ran in front of us and flushed it seconds before we could press the shutter button...sooooo frustrating and infinitely annoying.
Not too much else to be seen, a Goldcrest and perhaps a bit of a cold weather movement with a bit of an influx of Fieldfares and Blackbirds, we heard at least a couple of Redwings too. 
At the platform a flock of tits came by some of which stopped to take a few pecks out of the remaining Apples still hanging from the branches.
The light wasn't good for looking at the water from there, but at least 200 Coots were sat in the middle of the mere.
A bumblebee buzzing past was a complete surprise, although it was sunny it was no more than 4C out there and there are lots of Bluebells popping up under the trees behind the platform.
We will get that Bullfinch pic one day (idiot dog owners permitting) but it won't be this weekend as we're elsewhere.
Where to next? Not sure and there might me this space.
In the meantime let us know who's bitten off more than they can chew in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Billhooks at the ready

The Safari was able to get a good half hour or so at Lunt Meadows after our family duties at the end of last week. The sun was very bright and we thought the main attraction wouldn't be out n about until long after we'd had to leave. Long time birding chum JG was able to join us and told us of a Red Kite seen locally the previous day, we looked but there was no sign of it today.  Walking the riverbank we could see hundreds of Pink Footed Geese in the arable fields, they weren't too far away and the noise of their conversation was a delight to the ear. We stopped at the viewing screens from where the Short Eared Owls are often seen but word on the street marsh was that we'd just missed one having a quick fly round. 
We waited and waited as long as we could but eventually had to leave and head towards the car park. From our next vantage point five pr more minutes from the previous one we could see two Short Eared Owls flying around - how annoying! And within a few minutes J had counted no fewer than five in the air together! Too far for anything like a proper pic, these few are by far the best we could muster...if'd we stayed put a few minutes longer earlier we'd have been able to fill our boots with full frame pics in glorious low afternoon sunshine. The big question is will we have the opportunity to visit on a similar day later in the year.
Even at this range the views we got in our bins were spectacular, well worth bobbing in for on the way back to Base Camp.
Sunday afternoon we  had a jaunt out with Wifey and Monty to Scorton Nature Trail. It was quiet for birds but it's always a good walk round. There weren't many terrestrial fungi but many of the dead trees hosted huge numbers of fruiting bodies of many species, none of which we know the names of we're ashamed to say.
After all the recent rain the woods were flooded and  looked for all the world like the swamp forest of the south eastern United States.
Like those damp American forests there's plenty of epiphytes growing on the trunks of the larger trees, like this Bracken rooted in the thick layer of moss covering the bark of the living tree.
Detail of the Bracken spores
A possible quarry species had been seen a few times over the weekend and pics on the interweb were very tempting. All we needed was a sunny Monday morning, a sunny morning that didn't materialise leaving us a little frustrated but able to crack on with some jobs around Base Camp. Fortunately the sun came out at lunchtime and off we went 45 minutes down the road to a sewage works.
We pulled up and as soon as we got out of the car we were put on to the bird in question by the group of birders stood along the footpath around the side of the water works. We got a poor and almost inconclusive view in the darkness of the shrubs.  We got Monty out of the car and walked him further round the corner to stretch his legs. And wow just about the first bird we saw in a quickly moving flock of small birds was the Firecrest (189). We got crippling views of it with the bins as it worked its way through some felled stacked shrubs and bushes where it searched for tiny invertebrates. But could we get any pics? By eck it was tricky, never still and almost always hidden or at least half hidden in the twiggery.
Bottoms up - a typical view of the bright yellow feet
Another quality typical view
Darned twigs!
At least you can see its eye
Much happier now!
Argh - motion blur
At last!
Very happy with this one; now if only we had the patience to clone out that annoying twig!
Very pleased to have got a Firecrest (YBC 165) on our Year Bird Challenge as it's a species that wasn't on our radar at all being scarce and unpredictable in Safari-land. Particularly pleased that we didn't have to wait for it as we've heard tales of folk having up to five hours standing along the footpath before it deigned to show itself.
It was associating with a mixed flock of tits and Goldcrests, the latter too were also very hard to get a decent pic of as they moved through the edge of the wood 20 yards the other side of the fence.
Also in the flock was an overwintering Chiffchaff and like the others refused to show itself properly. That is until we were just walking off back to the car when it came out and sat on the pathside vegetation, unfortunately we were at the back of the line and had to stretch our lens round the side of the peeps in front of us. 
We left rather chuffed with our efforts and on the motorway as we drove back it started raining again, how well timed was that!
Today start with a nice bonus. It's still dark when we take Monty out for his early morning walk and when we reached the little field beyond the water tower we flushed a Woodcock from the long and squelchy grass. The grass is still growing even though it's now December. not only is it still growing, Meadow Foxtail, Perennial Rye and Cocksfoot are in flower along with a few Daisies, Dandelions and the odd Creeping Buttercup here and there.
That wasn't the only good find of the morning. Our visit to Marton Mere LNR gave us only our second sighting of the Bittern this year. It flew along the top of the reedbed in front of us and landed on the far edge of a reedy bay where it stood for a couple of minutes looking skyward as they do - superb views in the bins but sadly we weren't able to get a pic of it for our Year Bird Challenge - wrong lens again!
Not a great lot of other birds and we didn't see or hear the Bullfinches; we did get plagued by unleashed dogs just about every time we stopped to look at something...what a right royal pain the ar*e they are there's absolutely no need to exercise an unleashed dog in the nature reserve - it's supposed to be reserved for nature not a dog toilet! It's not as if there's nowhere else locally, only a several acre field and a four mile circular walk use those instead you ignorant feckers!!!
The reason we had the wrong lens for the Bittern was because we had the right lens for getting some pics of the volunteers hedgelaying team who were pushing on now and making some inroads into the first length of hedge.
Still some big stems in the hedge requiring the expertise of M and his chainsaw
Expert hedgelayers will note some elementary mistakes but everyone is a beginner here and many of the stems aren't ideal being old and gnarly and not easy to 'pleach' neatly. Still Hawthorn is a forgiving beast and in a couple of years time all will be thick and green again and hopefully dog-proof in the spring which it isn't at the moment. To be fair it's a project we wanted to get stuck in to when we were in charge here about 15 years ago, it would still have been a little tricky then but a lot less so than now.
A lively few days for the Safari!
Where to next? A day in the garden at Base Camp tomorrow and what's likely to be a cold and windy seawatch atop Rossall Tower with the Living Seas team from the Wildlife Trust on Thursday.
In the meantime let us know who's giving the quality views in the bins in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Wither has it wandered we wonder

The Safari had a morning on the North Blackpool Pond Trail yesterday. A conservation event had been organised with the Freshwater Habitats Trust to clear Willow trees that were growing in the pond to create a larger and unshaded area of open water. The pond is one of their 'Flagship Ponds' meaning it's one of the top 10% best ponds in the country. Its location between long-term footy fields and a housing estate probably means that there's never been any nutrient input like manure or fertiliser spread nearby and seeped in making the water too rich. The only inputs are blown leaves and rain!...and the leaves issue is being sorted.
It was a chilly frosty morning and everyone was eager to make a start once the formalities of the health n safety briefing and the tools talk had been completed.
Fortunately we had chain-saw wielding A from the FWT out who made light work of the larger trees which made lots of work  for the 'tidying up' crew of which we were one.
Cold over-the-wellies work!
That looks a bit heavy S
Gone - and it's gonna make a big splash!!!
That looks a bit more manageable
In the good old days you could have a big bonfire to lose all the cut material but not anymore so all the brash has to be dragged well away from the pond and stacked up into neat habitat piles. This was our job as it's just about all our hands will allow these days,
With everybody's heads down concentrating on the job in hand not much wildlife was seen apart from a youngish Frog and a flock of Long Tailed Tits working their way through the ever decreasing twiggery - seems to be a thing this week!
We had to leave for other commitments at lunchtime but looking at the group's Facebook page there was plenty more achieved in the afternoon session.
There's always something to do along the Pond Trail so if you're at a loose end and fancy getting stuck in please get in touch.
In an attempt to get Monty drier and cleaner we took him to the prom late in the afternoon, which unlike almost everywhere else is more or less mud free. He had his usual ball with his ball but unfortunately his good buddy Stanley wasn't able to join him for a mad half hour's romp. He did get to enjoy a bit of a dig and a gorgeous Blackpool sunset though.
Today we were planning taking GB out to Marton Mere for his first visit in ages but an injury to him caused by a domestic appliance (a dangerous thing is a hoover!!!) put paid to that so we went on our own with Monty. We had the big lens with us and no tools today so only stopped to say hello to the volunteers who are still clearing the hedge line prepping it up in readiness for next week's laying session - again if you're at a loose end and fancy meeting a bunch of friendly folk, learning new skills and doing something positive for your environment please get in touch. There's so much going on out there it's impossible to say you're bored; you've got nothing to do!
After saying hello and getting all the negative local bird news (although the tempting Preston Firecrest is still present at the sewage works) we wandered off round the reserve visiting the very quiet Feeding Station first and not stopping long. We didn't stop at Dragonfly Den but kept going to the Bird Club Hide where J was already watching from. He hadn't seen much, most of the waterfowl were tucked tight in to the reeds on the far bank to get out of the bitingly cold wind. 
A Water Rail was seen briefly right under the SE Viewing Platform bit darted in to the reeds far too quickly for any chance of raising the was in deep shade anyway. There was no sign of the Stonechat around the new ponds from the very cold east embankment, if it was that cold here today how cold was it on the East Embankment at Cley in Norfolk??? Brrrrrrrrrrrrr and double brrrrrrrrrrrr we guess.
Earlier we'd had a brief chat to TS who told us he'd seen two female Bullfinches very well in the scrub, it'd be good if they were still there and sitting up all photogenic and all. We scanned the bushes and listened to no avail. A few Blackbirds, calling but unseen Fieldfares, a Dunnock and a Robin were all we could find.
Are you lookin at me?!?!
We also spotted a Grey Squirrel having a doze soaking up the warming rays.

J said he'd seen a few, more than ever before, on this side of the reserve in recent visits and sure enough just round the corner was another enjoying the sunshine, shame the same can't be said for a Long Eared Owl - where are they this year?
We're pretty sure there are actually two tails here - what do you think?
As we were taking this pic we heard the low call of a Bullfinch from somewhere deep in the scrub behind the squirrel. There were calls and calls but no sign...and then one flew - so we followed it. More calling but no can see - arrrghhhh. With no Bullfinch luck we checked a few more previous Long Eared Owl spots again with no luck and left J to go on to the Viewing Platform while we retraced our steps and left the reserve in the NE corner to give Monty a bit of off-lead time.
'Round the back' where we used to watch the Long Eared Owls from we heard the Bullfinch again but again it wasn't possible to see ti deep in the scrub...frustrating! The race is on for someone to ge the first decent pic of one at Marton Mere, now if TS carried a camera we'd all have long since been beaten to it!
Further down the track this Norway Maple stood out from the leafless crown shining like gold in the late morning sunlight.
On the path back to the car we saw LR's favourite gull; a Black Headed Gull that's been patrolling this stretch of track across the field every winter for more winters than we care to remember; is it five, seven, 10, more? 
Year in year out he wanders up and down this stretch of the track, drifting up and overhead if someone comes along to start the march again.
But it all begs the question; where does (s)he spend the summer, on the local salt marshes, Denmark, Czechoslovakia (OK OK we know there's no such place anymore) or even further afield?
Wonder where does he go from here?

We'd forgotten how good Michael Schenker is
It was walking towards an Apple tree with a few remaindf apples on the branches and a good number of windfalls beneath. earlier we'd heard Fieldfare(?) calling from here but would they be there now. There was movement in the lower branches but only three Blackbirds dropped to the ground, no Fieldfares this time.
A bitterly cold morning but a great safari none the less...and our thermal socks, last year's Christmas pressy, worked a treat on their first outing, no cold toes in our wellies!
But even with all that great wildlife the best sighting of the day was watching Monty get to grips (or not) with the first serious ice of his life, if he has come across it before, last January of February he's certainly forgotten about its lack of traction - it was quite amusing in a sort of cruel sort of a way watching him slithering about on it this morning...and he couldn't drink it either!
Where to next? To the Southside on family duties tomorrow but there might be a chance to see something somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who';s marching up and down with monotonous regularity in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

We like it at the lake

The  Safari saw a Flickr pic from PE the other day after we'd visited Stanley Park lake to have a look at the Scaup, but he hadn't posted Scaup pics but an interesting looking hybrid duck, presumably a male Pochard x Tufted Duck. With a bit of decent weather and hopefully some sunshine we arranged a lift with CR for an afternoon visit. 
There were a lot of Tufted Ducks on the lake but it didn't take long to locate the Scaup, they'd hardly moved since our previous visit a couple of days earlier.
The Gadwall didn't seem to like the Scaup coming too close and regularly acted aggressively towards them
The light was marginally better today but all the Scaup were asleep, a small number of Pochards were having a doze nearby.
It was when we were checking these few Pochards we noticed that the hybrid was with them, and like them was mostly asleep.
We took a good many pics but only these few showed it with its eyes open.
Gulls swimming close by and a Cormorant made everyone wake up and shuffle about, even the Scaup.
The hybrid woke up and had a little swim round too.
It's not often we get a mix of Aythya ducks like this round our way...impressive.
Aythya ducks - Left to right - - female Tufted Duck, 1st W Scaup, the hybrid, male Pochard
After filling our boots with the ducks we had a quick look over the rest of the lake, 30 Cormorants on the far rail and one in the water, no Goldeneyes, a fair few Gadwall and behind us in the woods a punter tempted a Blue Tit down onto his outstretched hand with some tasty morsels but it was too quick for our camera...or our reactions more like. In the distance a Nuthatch called but there was no sight nor nor sound of the Ring Necked Parakeet today.  From there went for a look at the other part of the lake especially to see what was with the gulls on the rail there, when we got there there was hardly a gull to be seen apart from a few Herring Gulls and Black Headed Gulls in the far corner. 
Where the children feed the ducks we had a check of the few Coots' feet to see if we could see any rings bit all the ones we were able to get a look at were blingless today. As you walk up to the rail at the water's edge a hopeful flotilla swims towards you and the waiting vultures (aka Feral Pigeons) swoop down expectantly from the boathouse roof. Among the Coots and Mallards were a few Tufted Ducks, which although shyer than the others still come quite close if you don't move too much or too quickly.
We were in no position to move quickly or move much at all being at severe risk of being goosed by this ferocious scary beast that snuck up behind us.
Yet another quality safari and many thanks to C for the lift and the company.
We got to the nature reserve again this morning and bunked in on the hedgelaying crew, it;s still early days and clearing out was order of the day rather than swinging the axe and laying any 'pleachers'; we have to admit we got a little impatient and snuck one in, right at the 'wrong' end of the hedge. No wildlife was spotted other than a nice flock of Long Tailed Tits working their way through what's left of the twiggery.
Where to next? There's a conservation day at one of the top quality local 'Flagship' ponds tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's snoozing in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A quick but successful sprint round Marton Mere

The Safari took advantage of a sunny morning yesterday and picked up CR for a swift rush round the nature reserve. We had family duties in the afternoon so were time limited to make sure we got back to Base Camp to make all the necessary preparations. We had a particular target in mind and after the double success of the Scaup and Ring Necked Parakeet at Stanley Park the other day C was 'expecting' to see the Bittern(s?) and Otters, not that he's ever seen the latter here. At the wetland a Water Rail called from one of the pools and a Meadow Pipit got up from the long grass around the northern edge. At the main gate we decided to go round anti-clockwise for a change taking us to the Woodland Watch hide first. Here a Grey Squirrel mooched about with a small number of Chaffinches and a Dunnock. Over to the left two Apple trees had shed their fruit and three Blackbirds were taking advantage of the windfall. C spotted another movement beyond the Blackbirds, a Fieldfare - superb, that's the one we wanted as they've been thin on the ground so far this season. But from our seat at the far end of the hide we couldn't see it as it was down in a little depression. Only one thing to do - move seats to the near end and success, there it was in all its multi-coloured thrushy gorgeousness. At long last we got a much improved pic for our Year Bird Challenge, we'd got it on our tally last March but that one was at distance and in atrocious light, so a closer one even if still in poorish light was much appreciated. A second one appeared but neither stayed long as a passer-by on the footpath behind the hide flushed them deep in to the scrub.
Moving on we didn't stay long at the next hide nut carried on to the Bird Club hide passing a singing Cetti's Warbler and calling Goldcrest on the way. RH was already in the hide but hadn't found anything out of the ordinary. There were a lot of Coot on the water and all of a sudden something got them scuttering across the water towards the far bank. We couldn't see what was causing the commotion, possibly just a Cormorant coming up underneath one of their backsides. The main thing we noticed was that the ginormous reed island that recently appeared had disappeared being broken up and floated off by the previous day's gale force winds and rise in water level from the torrential rain. That meant that we didn't have close views of many of the wildfowl that we'd enjoyed on recent visits and we didn't see many Teal of which one which may be the Green Winged Teal that was apparently reported last weekend. 
Wandering on we left RH to go the opposite way. A few yards later we saw that a large Willow tree that blocked much of the view from the little viewing platform had been removed - good stuff. We had a bit of a slippery look from the platform only to flush a large number of Wigeon, Shoveler and that's where they were all hiding!
At the bridge the water going down the overflow was prodigious as was the flooding in the fields to the east, rarely have we seen them so wet. Wet but fairly devoid of birds as far as we could tell.
Along the reedbed we heard more Cetti's Warblers but through the scrub we had very little. A quick stop at the Heron Hide gave us a lot of glare and not much else, certainly no Bullfinches.
We saw RH coming from the opposite direction approaching the Viewing Platform so we aimed that way too. After a bit of chat our phone went off, JS was calling, we'd not long since noticed him down at the far end by the bridge. "Have you seen the two Otters by the Mute Swans?", "err no we haven't where exactly?, "By the juvenile close in to the reeds", "Oh yes, cheers, nice one!!!" Thanks for that J.
A little far off for a decent pic but they did put on a good show for several minutes, unfortunately our time was up and we had to leave before the show ended. We'll never tire of seeing Otters here.
Diving Otter or floating football?
So no Bittern for us as usual but great that C broke his Marton Mere Otter duck.
Where to next? We've got a couple of visits back to the nature reserve lined up next week, one of them will be helping the volunteers out with a bit of hedgelaying which should be fun even if we will mostly only be standing and pointing cos of our bad hands. No flailing an axe around for us!
In the meantime let us know who's breaking up and sailing away in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Over to t’other coast

The Safari has had a few days away across on the east coast. Lots of sightseeing along the Cleveland coast and in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park (aka North Yorkshire Moors dead zone - there's almost no wildlife at all!) but not a lot of time for wildlifing.
We went to the picturesque Yorkshire harbour town of Whitby via Brough and Barnard Castle, where the castle is impressive looming large and austere above you as you drive across the river. As ever we did a Buzzards v Kestrels count during the journey, a not very productive Buzzards 2; Kestrels 0. Dead things were also recorded apart from the horrendous number of Pheasants, more of the 40,000,000 released in the autumn must get hit by cars than by the flying lead they are bred for, the only other thing we could identify was a drake Mallard
Along the motorway we had a Jay carrying an acorn fly over us then a few miles further on two more together. Close to the tiny village of Ravenstone we passed a Red Grouse sat atop a roadside bush. In the distance a couple of large plumes of smoke rose from Heather fires burning on the fells of the Yorkshire Dales National Park lit by the grouse blasting fraternity. 
Our first full day was in town where we met up with our Extreme Photographer who is working there now. The harbour area was lacking in trawlers so there were very few gulls in town and none of the hoped for Iceland or Glaucous Gulls
Most towns have a large population of Feral Pigeons but here they are replaced by multitudes of Turnstones running round between peoples' feet picking up various dropped bits n pieces.
Not much else in or around the harbour but we did watch a Cormorant catch a fish in the dock and others were sat drying their wings on the outer breakwaters and there was a shy Rock Pipit flitting around. We stayed in a modern development close to the river right beneath the impressive disused railway viaduct just out of town.
It's 120 feet from the water to the track (or at least where the track used to be)
How many bricks??? It took just two years to build
Top quality Victorian detail - was it really necessary to be so intricate?
No piece about Whitby is complete without a mention of the ancient Abbey, so here it is as seen from the deck of the viaduct complete with 'shanty town' of the allotments just beneath it - bet they don't often get a mention in the same breath as the abbey!
In the afternoon we took Monty for a wander on the nearby beach at Sandsend. The tide was just on the ebb. He lost his ball in the surf and we got our wellies full of water trying to find it for him. The surf not only took his ball but also provided decent conditions for some of the local surfers. Hardy folk, we can confirm the water wasn't particularly warm and a thick November mist rolled in.
Looking the other way towards the village the light coming through the clouds was dramatically catching the breaking waves.
Back at Temporary Base Camp in the evening a Tawny Owl was 'kewicking' nearby, our Extreme Photographer heard two bickering a little later.
Wednesday had us watching a pair of Bullfinches down the old railway line early morning with Monty. There were signs of Badgers all over the place and Monty's nose was all over the place too trying to work out what they are, what they were doing and where they were going...He's never met a real live Badger yet.
The ex-track side bushes held a good number of Redwings and Blackbirds but where are all the Fieldfares?
The day was spent sightseeing up the coast. We got as far as Saltburn stopping at the very steep Staithes on the way.
Like Whitby it was a little disappointing to see very few boats in the harbours. They must only park them there for the summer tourists.
The rocky shores around he outer harbour held Rock Pipits and Jackdaws but there was a surprise at the top car park in the form of a couple of Tree Sparrows in the House Sparrow flock.
From Staithes we headed down to Runswick Bay. Here Redshank and Oystercatchers roosting on the far beach inaccessible to humans and their mutts while to tide was still up to the rocks. The gaps between the big sea defence rocks were home to Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks.
As we were leaving we had a special moment as two Roe Deer ambled across the road in front of the car, good job it's a steep slow climb out of the village. A Sparrowhawk was seen by our Extreme Photographer perched on a road sign as we sped by on our way south.
Back at Sandsend a Stonechat was spotted on a clump of roadside Brambles close to where we'd parked up the previous day.
The Tawny Owl was in the garden again at dusk.
Dead things seen on the road today included a Brown Hare and a Hedgehog.
Thursday saw us head inland driving through forests, over moors and trekking to waterfalls. Our first stop in the Dalby Forest only gave us a Wren and a Coal Tit, almost totally devoid of birdlife. The trackside Birch trees were covered in Witches Broom some of which were covered with mosses and in some cases Wood Sorrel too.
At the visitor centre we hoped there's be a bird feeding station but in this instance there wasn't, so no chance of any Siskin pics for our Year Bird Challenge although we could hear some in the trees not too far away, no Crossbills though. A Jay, Robins and a few Blackbirds were all that were in the area.
Over the desolate moors there was no sign of life apart from a couple of Red Grouse always far too far away for any chance of a pic.
Trees will grow on the moors as can be seen from the young Birch growing safely on the road side of the fence. It's got no chance on the other side as it gets burned to 'promote' the growth of Heather and destroy almost everything else. Obviously no raptors as they've all been done in by those lovely grouse shooters. Please sign this latest petition to have this out-dated Victorian 'tradition' banned and the upland environment improved for all. There should be a mossy, lichen encrusted woodland up there not mile upon mile of flat nothingness.
Once off the derelict moorland we were in verdant woodland, or as verdant as late autumn allows on the hunt for waterfalls. First up was the scramble over small car sized boulders to Mallyan Spout close to the village of Goathland, the real 'Adensfield' in the long running TV show Heartbeat.
A mush easier walk in but a trickier drive to was Falling Foss not far from Whitby. Apparently a well kept local secret as chat in the pub that evening revealed that it's a 'locals place; that the tourists don't know about. Perhaps more tourists should thoroughly peruse the Ordnance Survey maps often left in their digs. A really serene little find and a beautiful woodland walk.
Once again the tawny Owl was calling back at Base Camp at dusk.
Friday was our drive home day. It dawned frosty with a lovely but chilly sunrise.

The old railway line gave us our best views of the Bullfinches of the week and a Sparrowhawk. Monty was very interested in the two Grey Squirrels he spied running across the horse paddocks. We have to say the Bullfinches have been the best birds of the week, great to see them every day!
Before leaving Whitby we drove up to the James Cook monument. Can't believe he left the tiny speck of the remote Pacific island of Tahiti only to bump into some land not on his map...Australia!!!
Great to see a gull on his head - wonder what seabirds he saw on his voyages and how many - and more worryingly how many he ate!
Whitby was a whaling town almost 3000 being brought in to be chopped up and boiled down. Again we wonder what species, is that why there's no coastal Orcas in the North Sea and very few Humpbacks? We've not looked to see if there's any species records. These are a replacement set donated from Barrow, Alaska, so possibly Bowhead? They are 20 feet high.
The whale jaw bones
We took the scenic route back to the west coast via Pickering, thirsk, Ripon, Harrogate, Skipton and Clitheroe. Another almost raptor free route Buzzards 0; Kestrels 1. The Kestrel was on the flat land beyond the escarpment from the White Horse near Thirsk.
Dead things on this route included:- 
Pheasants - gazzillions
Badger 1
Barn Owl 1
Fox 1

Good to be back at Permanent Base Camp from where our first Safari was out to the nature reserve. A Little Egret (MMLNR #88) was the best sighting.
Today we were able to grab an hour out between the drizzly showers. Off to the big park we went with CR in search of the Scaup that have been there a few days.
Success, they hadn't done an overnight flit!!!
Scaup (187; YBC #163) was on the possible but not definite list of birds we thought we'd get pics of during the year.
Also there has been a Ring Necked Parakeet knocking around for a few weeks and we were lucky enough for it to show for us.
Another not definite to get although there is a small breeding colony, that seems to be declining, nearby. Good to get old Polly on the Year Bird Challenge; Ring Necked Parakeet (188; YBC #164).
We 'need' one more to reach our predicted target from earlier in the year. Over in Yorkshire we hoped to get Siskin, Crossbill, Red Grouse and Shag but no such luck.
Where to next? back to Marton Mere nature reserve in the morning - but will the Bittern(s?) show for us???
In the meantime let us know who's bright green in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Otterly brilliant

The Safari hasn't been out as much as hoped this week. Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our large Elm tree. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with it it had just become too big for the small space it was in and had begun to send up suckers all over the garden which could easily become a digging out problem in a couple of years time and could pop up in neighbours' gardens too. Sadly it means that there will be no chance of the local White Letter Hairstreak setting up a satellite colony at Base Camp as was the original hope when we planted it. Perhaps now the small subservient Rowan will be able to grow and maybe one day attract a Waxwing or two if the Blackbirds leave any berries for them.
Many thanks to CP and his skill with the Stihl
Today we took Monty down to Marton Mere for a quick spin in the sunshine, once the early morning rain had cleared. First stop was the (to our mind) somewhat over-zealously cleared Feeding Station. There was little about apart from a couple of Pheasants and a Grey Squirrel, no sign of yesterday's reported Bullfinch.
 From there we could hear the volunteers' strimmers not too far away. We thought they were continuing to work at the little bay view point they made last week that we're not fond of, we think the time and effort could have been spent better elsewhere on the reserve. When we got there we saw we were wrong, they weren't there but further down at the first hide. We had a quick chat but it was too noisy for Monty's sensitive doggy ears. They did tell us that there were two Otters over against the far reeds. We looked and looked and saw 200 or more Coot panic but didn't see any Otters.
We left the vols to their tasks and walked down to the next hide where we didn't go in but snuck round the front and flattened the area of reeds to the left to open up the view for the winter, our first bit of volunteering here, we're sure there'll be more!
We also had a look at the new reed island from this's massssiiiivvveee!!!!! And the ducks seem to like to loaf in its lee so perhaps it's not all bad...still going to be a nightmare though.

Once again we were time does that happen when your retired?? so we had to head back. This time the strimmering team were having a tea-break and all was quiet enough to join them again. This time we were told the Otters were having a swim round again. Wow, we got superb prolonged views of them with the bins, if a little distant, on the far side of the mere. Excellent!!! Awesome!!! Other expletives are available. Just a little to distant for our 300mm lens we brought out today - typical; and we're not entirely sure why we opted to leave the 600mm back at Base Camp - won't make that mistake again in a hurry!
Well chuffed but later found out there were two Bitterns flying round together in the afternoon, long after we'd had to leave though.
Almost back at the car we spotted a few flowers of Meadow Cranesbill enjoying the last of the year's sunshine.
In the afternoon we joined our local Wildlife Trust's Living Seas team for a Sea Watch at Rossall tower. A chilly and blustery afternoon but the event was well attended. We got a count of 50 Eiders roosting on the new shingle island, there were a lot of Oystercatchers and Turnstones roosting over there too.
It took a while for the only Grey Seal to put in an appearance and we missed it. While searching the waves and troughs for it we spotted half a dozen Little Gulls, five adults and a first winter, flying west out of the bay. A nice find even though we say so ourself.
Not much else was out there for the others to enjoy, a few more Eiders and a few Common Scoters on the sea and a small flock of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a Sanderling on the beach.
Where to next? More gardening at Base Camp tomorrow but we'll keep our ears open for anything passing overhead.
In the meantime let us know who's gracing the waters in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Twitching the dowtwichers

The Safari had a pretty good week out n about this week. We had a couple of morning visits to Marton Mere where we had a few Redwings and a lot of Blackbirds feeding on the Hawthorn berries along the wetland hedge.
Lawson's wetland looking south east
At the Viewing Platform many of the 300 plus Coot suddenly scarpered across the water for cover, we hoped the Otter or Bittern or perhaps a Marsh/Hen Harrier would come in to view but no such luck, it was a cat that had frightened them, not a fluffy one but a giant helium filled one - don't forget folks balloons blow so don't let go! Well all balloon releases are is glorified large scale littering; we can't believe they've not been banned yet and if nonsense like this waste of natural resourses weren't filled with helium they wouldn't float off in to the ether to land who knows where and cause who knows what problems.
The giant flying cat flushed about 100 Wigeon off the water too which flew around whistling their most un-duck-like call until the 'danger' was out of sight.
We wanted to see the new 'island' we'd been told of. The little island we reported in a recent post has been usurped by something much much more substantial - looks to be over 100 tons of management nightmare! How on earth do you clear that out of the middle of the mere and if you do where do you ump it without the enormous expense of removing it off site?
Frustratingly there were far too many loose dogs to see much wildlife - it's not as it there isn't a 3 mile walk and six acre field nearby they can be excercised in, absolutely no need to bring an unleashed dog in to the nature reserve just to pall ball - so annoying! Having said that we did here a Bullfinch calling from the densest part of the scrub and we stood watched, listened and waited to see if it would show but it didn't. We later were chatting to regular visitor TS who'd had great views about half an hour later not far from where we'd heard the calls.
With no birds to point the lens at it was vegetation that caught our eye.
Dog Rose hips
The Feeding Station has had a bit of a make over, a bit on the excessive side to our mind, and there were very few birds about other than the usual couldn't care less Pheasants, a few wary Chaffinches and Great Tits and no fewer than four Grey Squirrels. Not sure what the rationale is behind the clearance of the cover around the feeders and beyond but we forgot to ask the vols when we met up with them later on.
After the frustrations, including lack of Hawfinches, of Marton Mere we teamed up with CR again for another safari south of the river. 
Our first stop was at Marshside RSPB where the Cattle Egrets were doing what Cattle Egrets do best but doing it well away across the marsh. We counted four although five have been seen in recent days. The west Lancashire coast is getting more like the Carmargue everyday...there'll be nesting Greater Flamingos before too long.......
A quick look at the marsh from the two screens and hide gave us countless Black Tailed Godwits, a good selection of waterfowl but no obvious sign of our day's quarry, the Long Billed Dowitchers, not that we'd be able to pick them out among the godwits with no scope today. For some reason neither of us had ever stopped at the viewing platform at the far south of the reserve so off we went there to view the pool that a Scaup had been frequenting, it wasn't with the few Tufted Ducks that were present and we totally overlooked the distant and very late in the season Garganey. But at least the light was good and we had great views of the common species on offer, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shelduck, Black Tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Canada, Grey Lag and Pink Footed Geese; the Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail we'd been told about in the reeds to our left didn't make themselves known to us.
Canada Goose
After while we decided to go back to the hide but stopped to ask what the couple of lads with scopes were looking at close to the road junction. They were looking for the Long Billed Dowitchers which had just been reported on their pagers as seen from the hide and they were trying to find them from there in better light.
We arrived at the hide and were told where to look and kindly given scope views, without which we'd probably never have found the sleeping 'beauty'.
Can you see it?
Occasionally it would shuffle around a bit but barely moved at all. Eventually a bit of a kerfuffle in the ranks of the Black Tailed Godwits had it rouse itself and take a look at what was going on.
You can see it now - right? Did you find it in the previous pic?
It's the first Long Billed Dowitcher (186, YBC #162) we've seen since the mid 90s so it was good to make acquaintance with one again even if it did look like this for most of the morning.
You know where it is now but would you have found it - don't think we would!
Certainly a bonus bird for our Year Bird Challenge, not even close to being on the radar earlier in the year.
With that success and 'thank yous' said we set off to the reserve we do not mention by name for the rest of the afternoon. A quick look in their 'new' Discovery hide showed the light to be tricky, this Whooper Swan out of a fine selection of waterfowl was the best we could muster with the camera.
Whooper Swan
But leaving the hide which way to go, left or right? Right was tempting with the afternoon sun behind us so we went left ignoring the hide without opening windows but with a heater - didn't need that today it was very mild - and went straight to the next little hide with the Kingfisher perch, it was very quiet there so we didn't stop long but continued to the Kingfisher Hide where we never see Kingfishers and we about turned when a birder coming down the steps told us a Kingfisher had been showing from the next hide not fiver minutes earlier.
Luckily it was still there.
We had the most prolonged views of a Kingfisher we've had in a very long time, perhaps ever and watched it catch a small fish and then a right dobber which we think is a Perch. Doubt if we've ever seen a Kingfisher with a fish that large impressive catch indeed!
There was a supporting cast of hundreds of Teal and Wigeon and an obliging pair of Kestrels and an unobliging duo of Marsh Harriers.
The Kingfisher decided it was time to move on and digest its ginormous meal somewhere comfy so we went back to the far side and stopped at one of the screens where the old hide used to be - they still give better light than the new all singing all dancing family friendly hide.
And even closer
As the afternoon's Whooper Swan feed for the punters draws near the waterfowl start to gather where the wheelbarrow of grain will appear. It's quite a spectacle! Unfortunately we had to leave before the melee started.
He'll be out in a minute - how many species can you find?
A great few days out on safari...but still no Hawfinch for us!
Where to next? Not sure where we'll get to next week but Marton Mere is probably a given.
In the meantime let us know who's bitten off almost more than they can chew in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Stealth rotovating by Hawfinches?

The Safari was able to get out on a couple of longer trips last week. The first was northwards up to Leighton Moss with CR. We arrived on site about half past 9 and went straight to the causeway that runs across the centre of the reserve. There were already a few people waiting at the grit trays where the Bearded Tits come to get grit for their gizzards as they change their summer diet of soft and squidgy insects to the harder and needing grinding up seeds of the Common Reeds they live among. Word on the street was that none had been seen so far that morning, which didn't surprise us as we normally get there far too early and spend ages standing around freezing our ******s off waiting for them appear. Fortunately it wasn't cold today and they did tease us by calling repeatedly both in front and behind us, at least we knew they were awake already!
A movement in the reeds had us all jumping to scopes, bins and cameras but it was 'just' a Robin playing at being a Bearded Tit.
It was ringed and we wondered if it is the same individual we photod several years ago in the same place.
A few yards down the track and in the Willow scrub at the edge a Cetti's Warbler sand loudly as a small party of incoming birders were passing and they were lucky enough to get good views of it, something we've never managed here. Eventually the 'pinging' from the Bearded Tits began to become more frequent and our ears could tell that the group in the reeds in front of us were on the move and heading our way. All eyes were on the trays until a hint of movement was seen on the edge of the reeds a little further back. A female was briefly in view, we wouldn't have long to wait now!
 Minutes later the main event happened.
Aren't they great, but horrendously misnamed, they should be called Moustached Reedlings as patently that's not a beard and they aren't really even closely related to the tit family being more aligned to the babblers. Whatever they are called or should bee called makes no odds, they're simply just stunners
Especially when they come a little bit closer
After filling our boots with  Bearded Tits (YBC #159) we decided to move down to the coastal marshes. Along the rough track to the car park there were two Stonechats hopping about on the tops of the reeds on the other side of the wall, not a bad start to this part of the day!
Looking through the window of the first hide just about the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret (185, YBC #160) but it soon strutted over the embankment and into the ditch on the other side where it was out of sight.
The pool was fairly quiet with just a few Redshank, Teal and Wigeon to be seen. In the distance on the grazing marsh a small number of Curlews wandered about occasionally making their mournful call.
A Little Egret came in to view on our left stalking sticklebacks and/or shrimps in the shallows very close to the bank. It would often stir up the mud with its feet to flush out anything that might be hiding. Eventually it passed in front of us.
And shortly afterwards went back whence it came
We moved on to the second hide and were a little surprised to see the Great White Egret come back from the direction we'd just come from, it must have walked all the way along the dyke right in front of our noses but hidden by the embankment.
It landed in the closest corner of the pool and started to fish giving us superb views
C spotted two birds incoming...a couple of Goosanders (YBC #161).
They had a bit of a swim round on the far side of the small island often putting their heads underwater to look for fish
Coming round to the front of the island one of them had success
But the large lunch was too slippery to wrangle and after a few tries to neck it down the Goosander lost its grip and the fish escaped...but not for long. A lurking Lesser Black Back Gull had been watching the action with interest and swooped in and caught the fish in the shallows and brought it on to the island where it could be handled more easily and stood far less chance of another escape.
And with some serious wriggling it did manage a partial escape
A gull with a fish is a persistent beast and eventually the inevitable happened
Yes it went down whole and sideways!
Our interest was now back on the Great White Egret which had been joined by a pair of squabbling Little Egrets. They were battling back and forth all across the pool but unfortunately we didn't manage to get a pic. In between rounds of fighting they had a little fish and at one point where with the Great White Egret in a scene reminiscent of the Carmargue - apart from the dull grey skies!
An unimaginable birding scene in north Lancashire when we were a nipper - who'd have thunk it!
With a no-show from the Kingfisher and not a lot on the other pool apart from a lot of Lapwings it was time to head back to the main reserve. Water levels in the pools - and along the track - were very high after the recent rains so there wasn't as much activity as we'd hoped, certainly wading birds were in short supply. But a brief view of a Marsh Harrier kept us entertained. Shame it was a bit distant quartering the reeds on the far side of the pool.
The second hide was even quieter with no Red Deer or Purple Herons (what did we say about the Carmargue!) on view. Best was a snoozing Little Grebe. It was good to see grit trays provided for the Bearded Tits at a couple of locations down this end of the reserve, wonder why they hadn't thought of that before - well neither had we and we've been visiting since the early 70s.
From there we went back to the causeway to find that the Bearded Tits hadn't been at the grit trays for some time, the main lake was desperately quiet, the only highlight being a group of Whooper Swans coming overhead.
With the path to the furthest hide being out of bounds due to the high water levels and only being shod in trainers it was back to the feeding station. The gloomy conditions under the trees had us shooting on ISO Ludicrous but there were a few subjects around. The Marsh Tit put in a single brief appearance early on and we missed the Nuthatch every time it was perched on 'natural habitat' rather than the feeder at which it didn't stay long - grab n go!
A last minute decision to climb to the top of the skytower was made before we left after earwigging a conversation about the Red Deer that could be seen from there. Worth the steps up too - there was a small group of hinds attended by a stag lying out in a dry clearing in the reeds well away across the pool - just about photographable and annoyingly 'hiding' behind the only twig for miles!
Our second safari had us meeting up with our Southside chums for a day's birding and fun at the other big localish wetland reserve, the 'other place we do not mention by name'.
If the weather during our trip to Leighton Moss was dull this time it was positively dreary with rain for much of the day and a cold wind blustery wind increasing in strength and decreasing in temperature as the day went on. As a group we had a few target birds especially the Scaup and Pale Bellied Brent Goose that had been seen the previous day. We were happy enough to stay in the first hide for a good while as the heaviest of the day's rain fell almost horizontally across the mere. A lone Ruff broke away from its mates and had a bit of a mooch round right in front of us, at times it was almost too close to focus on!
There was the usual selection of ducks including Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shelduck, a few Tufted Ducks but we could only find three Pochards - how scarce have they become in recent years! - and one of our number struggled to find a Pintail despite there being plenty on show, was she even looking through the window??? We couldn't find the Scaup and desperately tried to string moulting Tufted Ducks into one. Waderwise there were more distant Ruffs, several, Snipe and an out of season Avocet. We couldn't find any Mediterranean Gulls mixed in with the Black Headed Gulls - again there's been one recently.
Moving on to the next hide the main excitement were a couple of Jackdaws hiding in plain sight among a flock of Coot searching for spilled grain from the previous evening's Whooper Swan feeding session.
At the hide with the Kingfisher perch, there were some very nice close views of Teal and Wigeon but not a Kingfisher in sight.
At the mis-named Kingfisher Hide there were no Kingfishers either but we did get good views of the Tree Sparrows on the feeders. It was in this hide that the chat turned to the recent Hawfinch invasion. AB recounted tales of seeing several in the Forest of Dean and others told of their positive and negative experiences of visits to Sizergh Castle. With mention of the Forest of Dean the conversation moved naturally on to Wild Boar and how hard they could be to find there despite being so big. We told of our frustration of seeing the extensive diggings in the gardens and around the swimming pool at our hotel in Sardinia but not actually seeing any of the animals and happened to mention they were like rotovators. AB agreed saying that he'd seen them push their whole face in to the ground. Not keeping up at the back - "Hey? I thought they fed up in the trees' 'What, Wild Boar up trees?' No silly; Hawfinches!!! Don't they feed up in the trees not pushing their beak into the ground - why would they need to do that at Sizergh there's always loads of food just scattered on the ground!!! - and hence Stealth rotovating by Hawfinches. Doh, come on AK do keep up at the back.
During this somewhat bizarre cross-purposed conversation an attempt was made to grill the large flock of Pink Footed Geese for the Pale Bellied Brent Goose but many of them were hidden in the long vegetation and anyway the total goose number was quite low with most of the huge flocks feeding offsite.
There is something about our in-hide conversations that tends to get everyone else to get up and go, lord only knows what they think of us, and we;re not particularly loud or rude or anything like that but it happens so now we've set ourselves a target of no more than five minutes to empty a hide...or the big guns (all hush hush) come out.
The final hide was a cold and winswept affair...don't open the windowwwwssss - too late...brrrrrr. Most of the Teal were seen from here but searching through them several times didn't give us any American Green Winged Teal, there's one most winters but it either hasn't turned up yet or not moulted through enough  to be able to be picked out from the 'normal' ones. At least two different Marsh Harriers cruised back and forth and AB picked up a brief and distant Peregrine tazzing through but star find went to IH and JG for picking up this Kingfisher on the side pool. A long way off but you just have to point the camera at their multi-colouredness don't you. It came and went a few times during the afternoon but this was the only time it settled in view.
The causeway between the two large meres had a dead Whooper Swan which was attracting the attention of a Buzzard and then a Marsh Harrier.
To our left a Pink Footed Goose carcass  was giving a feast to a couple of Carrion Crows until another, paler backed, Marsh Harrier decided to muscle in. We wondered if that in turn would be usurped when a juvenile Great Black Backed Gull showed an interest cruising back and forth overhead several times but eventually it moved on without come down.
Before too much excitement happened we called it a day and on leaving the hide those at the front of the party were lucky to get a brief glimpse of a Merlin before it disappeared behhind the tall trees at the edge of the reserve.
Best, or at least the most entertaining, sighting of the day were the family of Brown Rats at the feeding station. We watched them for ages but it was far too dark down there to even consider lifting the camera.
So two marvelous safaris in one week, some superb wildlife seen, some grotty pics taken and bizarre conversions had.
And no we still haven't seen one of the multitude of Hawfinches - has anyone else failed as well?
Where to next? We've a couple of shorter visits to Marton Mere (very confusing these reserves with almost identical names) to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know how quickly your conversations can empty a hide full of birders.