Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Quick catch up with spring now springing

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

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A much better day but only poor pics

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

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Spring continues to drag its heels

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

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Spring seems to have unsprung itself

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

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

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Mad migrants coming through

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

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Wasn’t all it was cracked up to be

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


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

More spring arrivals

The Safari has been out n about recently. We've caught up with a most of the early migrant birds including a surprise, been herpetoligically challenged for a while and seen some quality solitary bees in new places.
On Friday we spotted a Tawny Mining Bee in the street at Base Camp, a first here. CR has loads in his garden only 400 yards away and offered the opportunity to come over and take some pics on Saturday but we had family duties so couldn't take him up on his kind offer. 
Sunday saw us out early picking up BD on the way to the dunes. We parked up at our favoured spot and started to cautiously inspect every square inch of the dune along the track. We soon found our first 7-Spot Ladybird of the year, but that wasn't what we were after.
Monty's keen nose sniffed at something on the road just in front of the car, we pulled him away as he's a begger for trying to eat anything and everything off the pavement but as we looked to see what it was shock and sadness overcame us - it was a freshly killed large specimen of what we'd come to look for. A Common Lizard.
How unlucky, what was it doing in the road in the shade? And a blow to the small and isolated population of them here. It may well have been killed by the car parked a little way in front of ours. 
It took a good half hour or more of intense scrutiny of the dune face to find our first live one tucked away in a small patch of dappled sunshine.
It took a while before we realised it wasn't on its own, there was a much bigger one extremely well hidden and superbly camouflaged only inches way!
Monty started getting disruptive as other dogs began to pass by on their morning walk to the beach an while we were gtetting to grips with him yet again BD shouted out he'd found a third, another tiny yearling well away from the first two. We bundled Monty into the car and went to have a look.
Tiny indeed and already missing its tail.
So three found and the dead one wasn't a bad haul if a little sad. on the way back to Base Camp we passed herpetologist supreme RL's truck parked at the roadside. A later email revealed he'd found about a dozen by 10.30 by which time he told us it had got too hot; we'd left to get back to Base Camp before our 10 am curfew.
At Base Camp we took Monty for a quick stretch before making Wifey her breakfast. It was on his little walk we spotted some solitary bees on the dry stone revetment of our neighbour's garden. You guessed it we had to go and get the camera!
They're too small for Tawny Mining Bees, the males of which have white 'moustaches' which these don't. They are a species of Andrena but which one??? 
After breakfast we were able ot get out again and this time went to the nature reserve where we met up with BD again. At the viewing platform we heard Willow Warbler (124, MMLNR #55) and Blackcap (125, MMLNR #56). B saw but couldn't get a pic of the very loud Cetti's Warbler singing in the reeds across the little pool. A Little Grebe whinneyed away in front of us too.
Moving down the main drag we had a look for the Bee Orchids but couldn't find any rosettes this time. All around us Chiffchaffs chiff-chaffed and we heard another Blackcap. Passing the scrape we stopped to look to see if any of the Teal were Garganeys, they weren't but we did hear a Reed Warbler (126, MMLNR #57) strike up its rhythmical almost mechanical song, it transpired that this was the earliest Lancashire record by a day. How long before a totally unprecedented March arrival???
A Buzzard (MMLNR #58) was temptingly in range of the lens over the embankment but by the time we'd got round there it had disappeared.
At the hide we grilled the gulls in the hope of the Iceland Gull - or better - but there were only Herring and Lesser Black Backs coming in to bathe save for a single 2nd winter Great Black Back and a lone Black Headed Gull. Again the very loud Cetti's Warbler refused to show and none of the Teal or Shovelers could be 'strung' into anything more exciting.  Two Oystercatchers (MMLNR #59) and a Lapwing (MMLNR #60) were with the waterfowl on the scrape. A Heron flew in and gave great views, not wanting to sound ungrateful but we'd have rather it had have been the Bittern.
Excitement did come a little further on when B spotted several Tawny Mining Bees in the grass. We'd have though it was a bit long for them but there they were in all they brilliant red glory.
Looks to be holding something in its jaws
We didn't stop at ICZ but did have a look at the adjacent meadow where there were a good number of Cowslips and a fair few Snakeshead Fritillaries.
Moving on to the Feeding Station we had a pleasant surprise, the Brambling (MMLNR #61) reported the previous day was still there.
The light was pretty good and the feeding station was fairly busy so we stayed a good while snapping away ad infinitum.
The Magpies were a little infuriating as they simply refused to turn so as the sun caught their iridescent plumage. It took a lot of shots to get this one...only to then see the bird has an elongated lower mandible.
Action shots always prove tricky but when they're right they're pretty impressive.
Always on the margins of the activity this Robin kept returning to a favoured perch but never stayed more than a few seconds. In the middle of winter they are far less shy getting right in the thick ofg the action on the feeders and arguing with all-comers.
There's always a Pheasant or two hoovering up spillage.
The male looked most splendid in the bright sunshine but only did his sing-whirring display under the cover of the trees, most annoying. The only time he did it in the open we missed it but he was obscured behind one the feeding table posts anyway.
Not a bad afternoon out despite the hordes of unleashed uncontrolled dogs, the idiots on the roof of the hide and the scrotes on the mini-moto bike. Must go mid-week after the holiday for a bit more peace and quiet next time!
Back on Patch 2 yesterday we our first Sandwich Terns (127, P2 #38) of the year when we saw half a dozen successfully catching small fish just behind the surf. 11 Whooper Swans (P2 #39) leaving the marshes of the estuary and pitching down on the sea about a mile out was good too. That evening we took Monty to a drier site than the mud-wallow of the park that is Patch 1 and saw our first Swallow (128) of the year tazz seaward.
Despite all this excitement we've only added one species to our Photo Challenge list, a very poorly phone-picd Jay (YBC #106) in our parent's garden, the only one we've seen there since the early 70s and the house is imminently to be sold! 
All busy busy springy stuff with more to come in the next few days. 
Where to next? Lots of desk driving at work is curtailing wildlifing opportunities to just a few minutes a day for the foreseeable but you never know! 
In the meantime let us know who's trying to get in the record books in your outback.


 

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Of fires, glyphosate and the annual dandelion cull

The Safari watched plumes of smoke rising from four fires over the Forest of Bowland (supposed Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) as we drove back to Base Camp along the motorway last Saturday. The grouse shooting crew were burning the heather and everything in and under it sleepily coming out of hibernation in late March. Hedgehogs, Adders, Common Lizards, a multitude of invertebrates and any seeds lying on or near the surface get incinerated so as a few rich folk can kill lots of one species of wildlife. The following day we were having a mooch up the northern prom with Monty, GB and JH, looking across to the hills the fires were still burning and a fug of brown smoke hung in a narrow cloud across many square miles of lowland northern Lancashire at about 2000 feet up. Anyone else deliberately producing this amount of coloured smoke would have have the Law crashing down on them like a ton of bricks, but not this lot - one rule for us, no rules for the mega-rich. Anyone else causing that amount of damage to protected habitats in this time of year would also no doubt have to answer for their deeds, bit oh no not this lot! It's time to ban the ecological disaster, nay ecocide, that is driven grouse shooting and start the process to a much more diverse upland landscape one with more than a lot of Heather (isn't it an understorey woodland shrub anyway?) artificially maintained over-populations of Red Grouse, a few Meadow Pipits and not a lot else! Burning really shouldn't be allowed after Christmas!!! If at all, if the ground conditions are too wet to allow mechanical cutting then it's likely too wet to be burned, being peaty, too...so tough, let the Heather grow and anything else that might like to grow up on those fellsides.
The other thing we noticed was a narrow browning strip along the edges of the grass verges and around the base of tree, lamp-posts and sign-posts - ahh the glyphosate gangs have been out in force. No longer having the manpower to look after the roadside verges properly all and sundry are reaching for the weedkiller. Frank used to get really ill when this stuff was sprayed and strangely Monty required the vets for an upset stomach last week, apparently a stomach infection from something he ate...or was it a reaction to the freshly sprayed weedkiller? Anything that creeps, crawls or slithers over the treated areas like worms, slugs, snails, beetles etc will pick a little up, anyhting that eats lots of those things like Blackbirds that we regularly see in the early morning foraging on the verges will be accumulating a dose but to what effect???
And then it was a sunny Sunday afternoon, Mother's Day duties done by all and sundry it was time to kill those Dandelions, by three O'clock the air was positively humming with the sound of lawnmowers all taking the heads off the newly opened Dandelion flowers, what chance do the bees and other early season pollinators have, when we're so quick to remove one of their most important sources of food? Who said all grass must be totally green 1/4 inch high and devoid of any other plant? Wouldn't it be great if TV adverts told us to look after and encourage our Dandelions instead of vilifying them as something that must be sprayed, pulled or burned - what actual harm do they do and there really isn;t much that looks better than a huge roadside swathe of them - yes they look far better than feral Daffodils and are far more useful too, the Daffs are cheery but there's just so many in the wrong place. But the Dandelions have no 'value' as they weren't bought and no-one spent any effort planting them so therefore they must worthless! What a pity we can't appreciate the Dandelions for what they are and if we want yellow plants along our outer suburbs and rural roads why can't we have Primroses and Cowslips - of native provenance of course. Close to Base camp there is a short strip of verge that is currently a superb picture, a joy to the eyes, glowing golden yellow with a mass of Lesser Celandine, no doubt someone will complain the grass there isn't green enough and it'll get sprayed off.
Rant over.
Later that afternoon we had a thrilling but maybe unwelcome to the garden at Base Camp, come to eye up the chance of a bit of a feast.
The gulls alerted us to his presence, going Billy Bonkers overhead, but he wasn't fussed by them at all. fortunately Monty didn't get a sight nor sniff of him otherwise all Hell might have broken loose!
During the week we've been able to get out and have a look at Patch 2. Not a great lot happening when we've been looking but others who have been able to look longer have seen some good stuff and good numbers of the more normal fare. A flock Of Jackdaws (P2 #33) going north and one of 11 Grey Plovers (P2 #34) going south were good additions to the year list here. The following day we saw a Grey Seal dozing well over half a mile out.
Looking at the photos we took we noticed that it had received a bad gash to its throat, probably from a rival bull in a fight over one of them's harem.
 Beyond him there was a flock of eight Tufted Ducks (P2 #35) but again looking at the pic we discovered there was a Teal (P2 #35) lurking in the flock. We spent so long looking to check the Teal was a Teal we failed to notice the four Scaup a little further out...dohhhh.
Can you spot the little dabbler?
High tides at lunchtime had us itching to get to the tiny saltmarsh at lunchtime, we were able to take a long lunch-break and meet up with AB to see if any Jack Snipe were pushed out of the vegetation by the rising waters.As the water flooded the marsh the larger birds were soon forced to move several Little Egrets came past us. This one has unusual markings.
A single Ringed Plover flew past too.
The water rose higher and began to flush Snipe out, we had seven in all and then four Jack Snipes (121)
Not the best pic!
We watched one land in the dunes and AB set off to see if he could find it with us close behind. Unfortunately he was looking the wrong way when it flushed from almost under his foot on a tiny sandy track.
After work we took Monty to the cliffs and a short sharp shower dropped a Wheatear. We'd not taken the camera the two previous evenings and seen two Wheatears both nights. This time we had the camera but until the shower hadn't seen a single bird other than the local gulls. Prior to the shower it had been lovely and sunny but the thick cloud had us bumping up the ISO on the camera - AGAIN!!!
Still not all that good but 1000x better than our other one for our Year Bird Challenge
Yesterday we had a day off. We booked it when we got the tide tables last October, the highest tide of the spring which means a good chance of spotting Water Pipits down on the nearby marshes. The high tide wasn't until early afternoon so we went to the nature reserve for an hour on the way. As soon as we got there we saw a few Sand Martins (122, MMLNR #51) hawing insects high over the far end in the gloom.
A Water Rail shot across the gap in the reeds in front of the hide but didn't reappear and a Cetti's Warbler teased us by doing the same many times. but only really showing once and that wasn't the best if views.
A Woodpigeon came down for a drink and performed much better.
And then we had a stroke of luck, the Cetti's Warbler sang really loudly and closer this time - it was in a bush well up the bank to the side of the hide.
We weren't going to better that in the dull conditions - still want that pic in the sunshine, greedy we know! - so off we went to the marsh via a flooded field to check if the recent Green Sandpipers were still there, they weren't, the flood was devoid of life apart from a Pied Wagtail and a Mallard.
At the marshes we met PE and then JS who'd pulled up behind us at the flood. They'd been looking for the Cattle Egrets, very likely the same six we saw on the South-side a couple of weeks ago. We'd not bothered going the few extra miles to see them this time.
At the marshes PE was kind enough to let us have a look through his scope at a couple of Avocets (123) which soon became six when four more flew in from the outer estuary. Far too far for a pic though.
The tide rose slowly and we were treated to Redshanks, Shelducks, a white duck with a yellow bill that looked like a Cattle Egret when rummaging around in the creeks. Heavy showers sent us scurrying in and out of cover as the tide rose inexorably higher and higher. A Peregrine appeared on a gate post miles out towards the river mouth. Also out that way were about two dozen Whooper Swans and a multitude of Little Egrets. What with Cattle Egrets, Avocets and all these Little Egrets it's getting like the Carmargue out there - without the sunshine obviously!
The rising water flushed a Jack Snipe that dropped in only a little nearer to us and a large flock of about three dozen normal Snipe flew round over head for a while.
The Peregrine was sat on the gate for ages but the only other raptors were singles of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard that took an interest in something unseen in a creek. No harriers of any description today.
Once the tide was right up excitement at the thought of lots of pipits grew and then dissipated as there weren't that many about and they didn't really come close to us, apart from a single Meadow Pipit.
A commotion amongst the gulls had us looking what all the fuss was about. One of them had caught a mammal flooded out by the water. It looked like a Mole but our pics aren't that good.
Too big for a vole
Sadly no pics of the underside, if not Mole could it be a Water Shrew??? But those feet do look Mole-like big.
In the last of our news a heavy rain shower this morning dropped a Wheatear (P2 #28) onto the picnic tables outside the cafe at work.
We were working outside most of the day in lovely spring conditions but the gulls didn't alert us to anything out of the ordinary going over.
Where to next? A weekend of good weather is promised but we might only be able to get out on Sunday afternoon after family duties.
In the meantime let us know who's showing well in your outback.



Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

The annual pilgrimage to dip the lesser pecker

The Safari left Base Camp without a winter jacket for the first time this year yesterday. We were on our way to meet up with our long-time birding buddies from the South-side for our annual rendezvous at the usual Lesser Spotted Woodpecker site.
After a slight frost at dawn the day quickly warmed up and with sunshine and little in the way of wind forecast the decision was easily made to ditch the winter coat - a decision well made as it happened as we would have cooked had we worn it - the day was a scorcher for early spring.
We arrived on site first and had a few minutes with another birder in the first hide which overlooks a large pool/small lake. A Great Spotted Woodpecker (118) drummed in the trees to our right. We're certain we've heard this already this year but neglected to add it to our year list. Numerous Chiffchaffs chiff-chaffed, Wrens and Robins sang loudly, greenery sprouted here there and everywhere; the place was alive!
On the water there was little at first glance but looking further we found Tufted Ducks, Wigeon, a Great Crested Grebe, Goldeneyes and a Cormorant sat in the trees on the small island. Star of the show were four Little Grebes wickering away and dashing at each other in a territorial dispute in the reeds to our right.
Goldeneye
Little Grebe
 From the woods another woodpecker called, a different species, but not the hoped for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a Green Woodpecker (119). Would we see one today we often hear them here on our annual visits but only rarely get to see them.
The rest of the gang arrived as other groups of birders came back to the car park from the woods - it wasn't good news, no-one had a sniff of the Lesser Peckers all morning. It might have been negative news but we put a positive spin on it by twlling ourselves it was our turn to strike lucky so off we went being regaled and entertained by tales of cetaceans and birds from the south west coast of South America by the recently returned AB (You can read trip reports here). What was perhaps more weird than some of the names of the birds he saw was that one of the passengers on the cruise knew the Safari! It really is a small world and we can't go far in it without being recognised - fame at last....if only!!!
Yes there were birders out today who recognised us too! We followed in their footsteps down to the woods and waited, not too long, Apparently there had been sightings earlier in the week but the woods were quite so we soon moved to the feeding station after a very brief scan of 'the' Tawny Owl tree. No sign of it today. On the way to the feeders we passed a male Goldcrest giving a very serious display to a female, his crest raised as far as it could go to show his glorious blaze of fiery orange to best advantage. She was having none of it, ate a tiny spider and shuffled off to find another totally spurning his amorous advances. A privilege for us to be able to watch the drama play out though.
The feeders were busy with the usual garden birds. A Robin provided a brief photo-opportunity on the stump just across the fence.
A Jay (120) flew through the trees at the back but didn't circle round to visit the feeders. Reed Buntings came and went and a Nuthatch fought off all-comers to defend his table full of seeds. It wasn't long before we were able to Great Spotted Woodpecker (YBC #102) to our Year Bird Challenge photos. Unfortunately the light under the trees at the feeding station isn't too good and like the Robin it wouldn't sit where there was a bit of sunlight coming through the canopy, or at least sit facing the sun.
After a good feed it left but fortunately returned for a much better pic a few minutes later.
Oh that it was the smaller species, not sure if anyone has seen that on the feeders here, certainly never heard of it but we suppose it could happen as they do find feeders attractive elsewhere as IH told us of his Lakeland Lesser Pecker experiences during the winter. If we had no luck at this site maybe we'll all have to decamp to that place next time!
Anyway it was time for another look at the favoured woodland and so we stood and stood and not much happened. The woods were quiet, by now it was mid-morning and even the freshly arrived Chiffchaffs had just about stopped singing. While we were stood at a previous nest site a small broad blunt winged pointy billed bird flew over us from the trees in the distance. It landed somewhere behind us but didn't call and couldn't be relocated - a near miss or wishful thinking???
With time passing we moved further down the track passing the first Primroses we always photograph each year. We'd didn't take a pic this time, we'd get them later on the way back - we didn't come back that way in the end so no Primroses for you.
At the next hide which was supposed too overlook a large area of wet grassland for observing raptors and which now looks over a very speedily developing birch woodland we longed a sounder of Wild Boars to appear (not that are any round here) for either/or/and a Great Grey Shrike to pop up and impale some poor unfortunate prey item on a nearby thorn bush - of course neither happened. But IH and JG both simultaneously said did you hear that...they were referring to the call of a possible Lesser Spotted Woodpecker they;d both just heard. The rest of us listened hard but if it was one it didn't call again...near miss or wishful thinking again? More likely the latter this time.
We moved onto higher ground overlooking the lake where the Gorse bushes were in full flower and the air hung heavy with the delicious scent of Coconuts from them. The first butterfly of the day was nectaring on them, a Large White which wouldn't stay still for its pic to be taken. The only Chiffchaff (YBC #103) we saw all morning singing in the open put on a bit of a show for us.
After a quick lunch break back at the car park we moved on the other end of the reserve passing beneath a couple of very high soaring Buzzards on the way.
A Brimstone flitted along the Gorse hedge too but didn't stop. We invariably see our first of the year here as they are very scarce around Base Camp although we are trying to change that by encouraging landscaping schemes from developers to include their foodplant Alder Buckthorn in their planting schedules.
It's a fair walk to the bottom end of the reserve passing through birch woodland at first where we spotted some huge specimens of Elf Cup Fungus over two inches (5cm) across and a couple of logs bedecked in smaller more normally sized specimens.
One of the fallen logs was covered in Honey Fungus too and where the bark had peeled off you could see the thick black root-like hyphae that give it its other name of Bootstrap Fungus.
At the far hide all was fairly quite except for a pair of Gadwall and yet another wickering Little Grebe when all of a sudden a brute of a female Sparrowhawk started soaring above us.
That was the bird of the day until this little chap appeared a couple of minutes later and started to put on a bit of a show.
He was always a bit distant but dived several times each time successfully catching a small fish.
At last he came a little nearer.
And from this perch gave us a fantastic display of hovering, no photo - we were too busy just watching as his wings were whirring and his head absolutely motionless. A little bright blue jewel suspended in the brilliant sunshine. It was one of those 'you never know when it's going to happen best wildlife experiences of your life' moments. From there he came back to his perch, Kingfisher (YBC #104)
but he didn't stay there long - he is a he as his bill is all black, the female has an orangy red lower mandible) - his mate arrived and went to sit in the reeds where he had been earlier. He promptly caught a fish and took it to her and fed her as part of his courtship. With over 150 combined years of wildlife watching between our group none of us had ever seen that before! Behind them the strident song of a Cetti's Warbler boomed out.
Pity they weren't on the near perch but we mustn't be greedy!

A fabulous few minutes at that hide! With AB having just moved house he was under strict instructions to get back early to empty yet more boxes so our time was up. The walk back back to the car park was filled with chat about how amazing what we'd just witnessed was and plans for future wildlife adventures. We passed a flitting Small Tortoisehell butterfly on the way and then found this Peacock enjoying a good slurp of sweet Blackthorn nectar.
We might not have seen the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but you can't say the site didn't produce the goods - it did and then some, a brilliant place! 
Where to next? Not sure but it could be Patch 2 on Monday
In the meantime let us know who's not for giving themselves up in your outback.

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.