Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Skies full of geese

The Safari took the trail north over the border last week. As is usual for our longer journeys we kept a tally of the raptors we saw, it wasn't the best of days for raptors to be on the wing and that was reflected in the numbers seen, Buzzards 3 (of which we missed one) versus Kestrels 1. Dead things amounted to just one Fox (apart from a few Woodpigeons and numerous Pheasants recently released to be shot). Is there no wildlife left in the north of England, surely we'd expect more than that to end up squished along a 150 mile route?
A comfort stop for Monty by the river in Dumfries town centre had us missing an opportunity to get a snap of a Goosander although it would have had to have been a phone-pic as the cameras were packed well down in the back of the car. Three Red Admirals basking on a tree trunk enjoying the warm sunshine was nice to see, we disturbed a fourth from the grass as we walked Monty too.
Arriving at our cottage once unpacked it was time for a quick scan of the calm sea with the binoculars, a Harbour Porpoise was seen almost straight away not far offshore, great stuff!
Sunday 
Our first early morning Monty walk along the beach gave us a small number of Siskins at the top of a pine tree in a neighbouring garden, no chance of any pics for our Photo Challenge in the semi-dark at that time of the morning.
Then it was off for an hour or so before breakfast to the RSPB reserve Mersehead, a wetland and saltmarsh reserve of big skies on the narrow plain twixt the mountains and the sea.
The hedges along the path to the first hide were alive with birds, with every step there was a whirring of wings as the birds moved along the hedge in front of us before doubling back to a favoured spot on the far side of the thick bushes. There were Reed Buntings and Robins galore, Song Thrushes, Greenfinches, Dunnocks, Wrens, Linnets and a Chiffchaff. every foot along the grassy edge to the path, on both sides, had the imprint of a Badger's snout where they had been grubbing up worms overnight. It's a shame the same can't be said for all the other local hedgerows. Red from the multitude of berries was the dominant colour rather than the white of the shattered and splintered twigs and branches left behind by the farmers' flails on the other hedges leaving little food or shelter in this windswept landscape.
Surely it can't take much of a change for farmers across the land to produce hedges full of food like this
Linnets
We heard Goldcrests deep in the hedges, Skylark, Rooks (which seem to rarely get a mention by the Safari these days) and Carrion Crows on the recently cut field and a Buzzard on a post.
Rook (left) and Carrion Crow (right)
Rook
Along the short woodland walk to the next hide a scurry in the grass down by our feet was either a shrew or a vole, it was lost in the undergrowth before we'd got any more than 'mammal' on it! Red Campion was still in flower and shafts of light coming through thee every dwindling canopy illuminated an area of Hawthorn leaves where a cluster of hoverflies were indulging in a mating ritual a bit like Strictly Come Dancing on an invertebrate scale.
Pink Footed Geese called as they flew overhead and on the wetland in the distance there was a flock of Grey Lag Geese and a few Canada Geese
Pink Footed Geese high up and possibly just fresh in from Iceland
But where were the site's speciality the Barnacle Geese? Oh here they are...among the very first arrivals of the autumn!
Coming in from the north over the mountains, their dog-like yapping calls soon filled the air...marvelous!
Back along the hedgerow with only minutes to spare before having to return to Temporary Base Camp we noted Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and lots of Chaffinches, Robins and Blackbirds.
There were even House Sparrows in the hedge and around the barns and farmhouse, it was like stepping back to an earlier time in our youth when there was still 'bioabundance' in our countryside.
Insects were represented by Red Admirals feeding on Ivy flowers, no Ivy Bees up this far north yet but we were told they've reached the Fylde so that'll be one to look out for next week.
On the short drive back we saw a Jay and a Bullfinch fly across the road in front of us.
The tide was coming in as we arrived flushing Meadow Pipits of the beach and a couple of Ravens were passing overhead.
As we scanned the sea there were no Harbour Porpoises but there was a Red Throated Diver sheltering in the little bay in the lee of the rocks. It might have recently 'overlanded' from the east coast as it spent well over an hour just sitting preening and shaking itself down.
Further out on the sea there wasn't anything more than three Great Crested Grebes and more and more flights of Barnacle Geese overhead. A walk along the beach a little later saw Monty's nose finding a Harbour Porpoise vertebra.
Apologies for the out of focusness and/or camera shake
Where to next? We'll tell you about the rest of the week tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's just arrived in your outback.




Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Elementary my dear Leach’s

The Safari is embarrassed to tell you that we dropped a huge bollard yesterday! The morning weather forecast was for a raging south westerly gale with rain coming on early afternoon., high tide was mid to late morning - that should have been enough to tell us to get down to the Prom for high tide and watch it down. But no, for some bizarre reason we had a bee in our bonnet about going to Stanley Park to see if we could come across the Ring Necked Parakeet that's been hanging around there for the last couple of weeks or so. Why???????????? Was the parakeet likely to come out of its hiding hole in a rampant gale, possibly not, would there be any Treecreepers out, probably not - are there any still there since so many of the big crinkly barked trees have been felled this year, really hope we haven't lost them as a breeding species in town but it may have happened. As it happened we saw neither, in fact in the wooded areas we saw very little and heard even less apart from the noise of the wind whipping the treetops around.
In desperation more than anything else we had a look at the lake. There wasn't a single gull on the rail, usually it's shoulder to shoulder on there. A Cormorant was all there was to be seen, on the 'wrong side of the light' as always.
This morning we were up north on the top of Rossall Tower with the Living Seas Wildlife Trust team helping out with a seawatch. The wind had swung round to the north west which is a duff direction for sea-birds along our coast and so it proved to be. We saw very little although a big bull Grey Seal hauled out on the new shingle island that is King's Scar. Also on there were around two dozen Eiders, a big flock of roosting Oystercatchers and Cormorants. It took a while but eventually between all the watchers present it was decided that the 'other seal' wasn't a seal but a lump of seal-like driftwood. Had us guessing most of the morning until it didn't move when the tide started washing over it.
This afternoon we had a stroll round the nature reserve but being a windy afternoon there was little to be found. All we could point the camera at were these few autunmal Oak leaves.
It really was that quiet!
Where to next? Not sure where we'll be on safari tomorrow but we could well be looking at some wildlife somewhere. 
In the meantime let us know who's making all the elementary mistakes in your outback.


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

A bit breezy down on the nature reserve

The Safari has been having to do curtailed early morning Patch 1 walks due to the darkening mornings and bad weather. Mostly we've only been getting to the top field and the Golden Triangle rather than round the park or the rough fields further on, not only are the rough fields rough but they are now like quagmires after all the rain we've had. Still we've had a few interesting sightings like our first Skylark (P1 #41) and Meadow Pipits (P1 #42) although the latter have probably been forgotten to be added to the spreadsheet on an earlier date, they also appeared over Base Camp in small numbers the other day while we were doing a bit of vegetation hacking (Garden #29) - It's like a jungle at the back and although we don't like tidying up habitats just for the sake of it - as has been done recently on the top field, they've stripped out all the cover from under the hedge, it was going to die off anyway but at least some shelter would have been left, the bushes too have been turned into spherical lollipops; power tools make the butchery of the countryside (and wilder suburban areas) far too easy! - Goldcrests have been a feature too and we've seen a/the Kestrel on the water tower again. This morning a Goldcrest nearly had our eye out as it flew straight towards us being blown down the road by the strong wing, luckily for us and it it managed to dive into a thick garden shrub before any collision occurred.
Yesterday we'd arranged a trip out to far flung places with CR but a doggy disaster, not of our making this time, meant we'd have Monty in tow so we were forced to stay local and went to Marton Mere for the morning. The weather was worse than forecast so somewhere where it wasn't too far between hides in case of heavy rain was going to be a boon anyway.
The wetland was quiet as we walked in, it's probably still a bit too early in the season for a Stonechat to put in an appearance there and even if there was one the fierce wind would have kept it tucked well down in the vegetation anyway..
Our first stop in the reserve was at the refugium where no-one was home. From there it's only a short walk to the Viewing Platform where the light was against us but we gave it a good while failing to get any pics of the passing flock of Long Tailed Tits. A Heron came in and landed in the reeds along the north side but didn't flush out any Bitterns
With not a lot happening we wandered down to the Heron Hide where we watched a Cormorant come in from the south east and join a couple of its mates sat on the reed edge along the opposite bank.
C picked out a Little Grebe fishing in the fringes of the pool below us. For the most part it kept itself annoyingly tucked in behind the reeds and dived frequently meaning we were second-guessing where it would pop up all the time. Eventually it did come in to some open water and we were able to get a few shots off. Although it was actively fishing we never saw it surface with any prey, either it was unsuccessful or swallowing small invertebrate prey items underwater.
A Water Rail called and we got a count of nine Gadwall - nowhere near the 19 counted by TS, we obviously weren't trying hard enough!!! Taking advantage of a longer gap between showers we moved down to have a look on the scrape. With all the rain it's looking a bit too full of water for most waders although we wouldn't say no to a phalarope dropping in...no such luck today! Nearby is a large patch of Michaelmas Daisies which are great insect attractors and true to form had attracted the attention of a Red Admiral.
Overlooking the scrape is a bench which today was being taken advantage of by a Common Darter sunning itself to warm up between the showers and cloudy spells.
The 600mm isn't the best for macro invertebrate shots!
With the scrape empty save for a few Teal we continued our circuit stopping to look for the reported Peregrine in the field and any sign of the Kingfisher along the spillway and dyke, but had no joy with either.  
At the Bird Club Hide the grass and reeds on the bank directly in front of the hide have been cut but not to the sides so looking straight out is OK-ish - the reeds in the water still need cutting - looking out to the sides the view was limited making hunting for the Bittern which may (or more likely may not) be stood on the edge of the reeds on the far bank awkward. A Grey Wagtail (MMLNR #82) flew past high above the reeds struggling to make much progress in the wind and a Sparrowhawk appeared over the reeds on the far bank and dropped into the scrape flushing out a small flock of Teal.
Easily the best sighting here was a very quick Stoat dashing from left to right along the water's edge, it appeared to be carrying something small but was far too quick for either of us to lift the camera. So after not seeing one anywhere for several years we've now seen two in a week here - how mad is that, it just shows how unpredictable wildlife watching can be...and that's the essence of it, you never know what you might come across but one thing is for sure - if you don't go out you won't see nowt (#IFYDGOYWSN).
Looking at the clouds to the north west a break gave us the chance to leg it round to the Feeding Station. It was lively in there. Good numbers of Chaffinches as usual,
Singles of Reed Bunting, Dunnock and a Chiffchaff that was too close to the hide window for us to get a pic of, cracking views though - didn't even need the binoculars. It came in twice both to the same Willow bush right by the window.
Dunnock
Most of the entertainment was provided by the Blue and Great Tits. The peanut feeder was particularly popular with the Blue Tits, we tried for five but as a fifth flew in one of the four was flushed off.
Suddenly there was a bit of a panic and the small birds scarpered in to cover. A Grey Squirrel arrived on the scene and no matter how well protected from the raiders the feeders are they always seem to get a meal - and a big one at that.
Star of the session was a cracking male Great Spotted Woodpecker. For once it was on one of the closer feeders and wasn't bothered by our hushed conversation or clicking shutters. We both filled our boots.
It wasn't even bothered when a Great Tit joined it on the feeder, sometimes they can be a bit feisty and chase off all-comers.
Quality viewing!
Before heading back to the car we had another look from the Viewing Platform where a Cetti's Warbler was heard and more surprisingly a Jay (MMLNR #83) seen  flying across the mere. We got a pic but it's hardly conclusive!
So with no sign of any Bitterns or Otters and now getting hungry we called it a day and wandered back to the car passing a hunting Kestrel on the way, the first sighting of the morning.
Not a bad morning out given the weather especially the strong wind, there's always something to see if you look - or if you get lucky!
Where to next? We're helping out with the Living Seas team doing a seawatch tomorrow morning and with several Leach's Petrels seen from the Prom this morning we're hopeful for something exciting provided trhe wind does turn too far to the north - fingers crossed.
In the meantime let us know who's jay-walking across your skies.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Still searching for a Siberian sprite

The Safari has been diligently counting the birds in the park on Patch 1 most mornings much to Monty's annoyance as he would prefer to join his mates on the now very soggy field for a run around and rough n tumble before breakfast. So far we have had little migrant joy with mostly similar numbers of Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Goldcrests recorded each morning, although the first Song Thrush since they went quiet at the end of the breeding season could have been  from elsewhere rather than a local bird.
A morning visit to the nature reserve was a quiet affair, nice to hear several Skylarks, including a flock of 11, and Meadow Pipits going over though but not a lot else obviously moving - we still haven't had that 'big day' of visible migration.
A quick peek under the refugium gave us another juvenile Great Crested Newt, maybe we should have taken pics of their undersides so we would know if there have been three, four or five this week. A tiny Froglet was under there too.
From the Viewing Platform the light looking across the mere was simple dreadful so we didn't linger long, long enough to see there were no Otters and the Heron in flight over the reeds was 'just' a Heron and not a Bittern - AGAIN!!! The Willow tree next to us held a very camera shy couple of Long Tailed Tits.
Along the track there was little to trouble the notebook and the wader LR had told us about in the scrape not long after first light was long gone. So to was any hint of the Kingfisher down at the spillway, even the flooded corner of the farmer's field was devoid of life - there's always at least one Pied Wagtail on there.
It was so quiet bird-wise we took to getting pics of ageing farm equipment that was in the field. We're not toally sure but it looks like this old combine has got stuck in a wet patch
so this one has been brought in to finish the job

Walking back the way we came the scrub opposite the scrape was now alive with a flock of tits and other birds. We watched waiting for another chance of a Long Tailed Tit pic as a Chiffchaff sang from further back then it or another one began to give a Great Tit, twice its size and not normally to be messed with by lesser fry, a right royal chasing around the bushes for a good couple of minutes or more - we don't know what the Great Tit had done to deserve this but that Chiffchaff had attitude and wouldn't let it lie! We eventually were able to fire off a couple of shots at a Long Tailed Tit but they didn't amount to much.
The rest of the walk back was as quite as the walk down with only a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the distance and, following on from Patch 1, another Song Thrush breaking the monotony; that is apart from the numerous Migrant Hawker, a couple of Common Darters and a Brown Hawker dragonflies. There were also a couple of migrating Red Admirals flying doggedly south in the stiff southerly breeze and a single Small Tortoiseshell brightening up proceedings too. 
Family duties on the Southside enabled a quick visit to Lunt Meadows reserve. The drive down was a traffic nightmare but we did see at least four Jays, all carrying Acorns, flying over the congested motorway. Arriving at the reserve the first thing we saw as we drew to a halt in the car park was another Jay carrying its Acorn.
The sun was out and we were looking forward to brief but quality visit. Then the sun went in before we'd even reached the first screen. Looking across the pool there wasn't a lot to be seen, a Heron and a few Mallards and then the heads of some Snipe poking up from the far side of a low muddy bank.
A movement in the grass to the left of the water had us counting a family party of seven Moorhens and then another movement further left still had us suspecting more Moorhens but in fact it was three Grey Partridges, very nice to see again so soon after our last sighting not far from here recently we've been down to just one or two sightings a year of these once very common birds. One of them even stood up taller than the surrounding vegetation rather than hiding behind the only stalk like last time!
Moving round to the next screen overlooking the pool the light was against us but we could now see that the Snipes 'heads' were in fact about a dozen birds.
There were even more Snipe at the next pool which is where most of the other birds were too. Including three Ruff way over on the furthest mud.
Then we noticed some spitting raindrops making ripples on the water. It wasn't long before the spitting became a downpour and as we huddled the camera under our jacket tight to the screen the rain drove against our back ran down our jacket and legs and in a cold trickle in to our wellies - not a pleasant feeling!
Thankfully the rain didn't last long and the sun came out. As far as we could tell nothing new had dropped in. The Snipe were looking good in the bright sunshine and the Ruff had a little fly round with the Lapwings landing a bit closer when something unseen spooked them briefly.
Looks like it's drop-kicking a Lapwing
An we just had to take a few snaps of  an incoming flock of Canada Geese.
From the next screen we didn't see much but did notice a Kestrel hunting a little further along the track so of we went. And glad we did as this is easily our best Kestrel pic ever.
Good as it it we do hope to better it one day though.
The time had now come for us to get on with our family stuff so we had leave but we did call in at the first screen again to check on the Grey Partridges. They weren't there but there was an enormous flock of several thousand Pink Footed Geese in the distance probably over the Formby mosses, it was gazing at these we noticed the Lapwings were up over the other pool. But what was that white thing with  them getting grief from a Lapwing? At first glance it looked like one of those white Feral Pigeons rather than a gull but closer inspection revealed it to be a leucistic Lapwing and what a beauty it was too with it's black wingtips - wish we'd noticed it on the deck with all the other Lapwings - what a cracking looking bird! Apparently there is another less striking leucistic Lapwing too.
This morning we were back on Patch 1 doing our count and hoping for for something green with wing-bars and an eyebrow. our luck could have been in, there were a lot of Goldcrests today, at least nine and a flock of Long Tailed Tits, just the sort of activity that a lonely Yellow Browed Warbler could join in with but sadly it wasn't to be.
Back at Base camp a surprise awaited us. While making a cuppa we saw something on the feeder that didn't look like a Greenfinch or Goldfinch, indeed opening the blinds a little wider it didn't look like a bird at at all! Our first Long Tailed Field Mouse we've seen in the garden since last winter and the first we've ever seen clinging to the feeder. Nice one!
Where to next? A friend told us during the week that time in field equals birds so we'll be out somewhere on safari tomorrow looking for that elusive Siberian sprite - or something else equally exciting...or elusive.
In the meantime let us know who's eluding who in your outback.

Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Missed in the mist?

The Safari woke up in a bit of a dilemma this morning. Last night's rain came a good few hours too early to drop a good crop of migrants but there could have been something somewhere. Where to go? We wanted to catch up with a Yellow Browed Warbler and had a choice of two locations. It was either Patch 1 where there are some big Sycamores that they like or Monty's favourite field where there are some good patches of trees and scrub and is closer to the coast. In the thick clinging wet mist we opted for the latter. We pulled up in the car by the entrance gate to see a little male Sparrowhawk sat there waiting for breakfast of House Sparrow, a big flock of which roost in the thick bushes to the right in the pic wot we took through the car window - the moment it heard the motor of the window winder it was off.
Winding our way round the pathways we only came across a couple of Robins and Blackbirds and heard a Wren. Not a migrant in sight, not much in sight at all in the thick mist. Should we have gone to Patch 1? We'll never know, but we later found out SD had found one of the little Siberian sprites right on the coast in one of his favourite 'Grotspots', so they were about - maybe tomorrow for us???
In the afternoon we headed for the high tide at Chat Alley, it would seem that the early year Purple Sandpiper may well have returned so we went down to the old boating pool to check out the wader roost. Walking down the cliff path we saw a Pied Wagtail land a little way in front of us and pose nicely on  the edge of the rocks - shame about the blurry camera shake though.
At a rough glance there were about 50 Redshanks and 25 Turnstones in the roost but we couldn't see the Purple Sandpiper, surely it was there somewhere as they do seem to be creatures of habit. Walking a little way to the north towards the first group of fishermen gave us a better angle and sure enough there it was tucked up right at  the back of the flock fast asleep.
Waiting around to see if it would wake up required patience and frequent scans of the misty sea. Out there a hundred yards or so beyond the low water mark was a dark blob, definitely a bird but too far for the bins to make out in poor visibility, all we could tell was a dark upper side, white underparts and pointy wings when it did a bit of a flap it was in the trough of the swell at this point so we couldn't see if the wings were long or short.
As it happened it started to swim south against the current and come a little nearer, now we could tell it was a Red Throated Diver and the course it was on would take it much closer in at the other end of the boating pool wall so off we went...it didn't appear down there! That was a shame as the sun was trying to come out and the light a lot better. with no sign of the diver we retraced our steps spotting a flash of white high above us on the cliff edge. A couple of Wheatears were flitting around. Risking a wet ar*e for the White-ar*ses (their pre-Victorian name) we sat on the wet concrete edge of the boating pool wall and fired a few shots off.
They were continually looking up for insects and then flying up flycatcher-like to grab them.
Unfortunately we didn't manage of shot of them performing their aerobatics, it was all over took quickly for our aging reactions so you'll have to make do with another perched pic, the old chain fence was one of their favoured alighting spots.
After a few minutes of intense flycatching they moved south further along the cliff and out of sight so we made our way back to the Purple Sandpiper, as luck would have it a Herring Gull had just landed close by  and shuffled the pack a bit waking up many of the sleeping waders including the Purple Sandpiper which had a little preen.
But shuffled round and went back to sleep again after a short minute.
Turning our attention back to the sea the Red Throated Diver was close to its original position deciding not to go south after all but at least it was a little nearer. Right on the limit of the 600mm but still on the 'wrong side' of the light. We got one passable pic for our Year Bird Challenge, Red Throated Diver (YBC 152) of a species we hadn't got on our 'hit-list' as we didn't think we'd find one close enough for a pic even though they are very common along our coast - here it is but don't laugh.
You can see the red throat patch - can't you?
Later we discovered that had we arrived at Chat Alley a few minutes earlier there might have been a chance of bumping in to an Osprey as one was seen on the Southside about 20 minutes after we parked the car, it may well have 'coasted' and it's about half an hour's flying time from here to there...dohhhh that five minutes again!
Where to next? A family day so maybe not a lot of chance to get out on safari.
In the meantime let us know who's not drifting quite close enough in your outback.



Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Where’s all the migrants?

The Safari was at the nature reserve fairly early this morning. Unlike our last visit there were plenty of Blackbirds particularly in the well berried Hawthorn hedge along the allotments. What a shame the farmers have already flailed off almost every berry on the roadside hedges round these parts - it's almost as if they don't want any wildlife in our countryside, those hedges have no shelter, no berries, no undergrowth and consequently probably hardly any invertebrates either. At least there's plenty of berries on the reserve although the Apples are taking a hammering from human thieves. 
A trio of Chaffinches flew over southwards as we walked down the track, a sign of some visible migration but we didn't see or hear much more, the seven incoming Tufted Ducks looked like they'd just flown across the field from the park lake. The usual look from the Viewing Platform gave us a decent count of two dozen Shovelers and hiding among them a couple of Wigeon, so there had been some migration over night or at least in recent days. Along with those were a few Teal, a couple of Gadwall and a reasonable number of Mallards, yet again no Bitterns or Otters though.
A quick peak under the refugium didn't give us any Great Crested Newts or Short Tailed Field Voles today - can't win em all! Down at Heron Hide a Cetti's Warbler sang briefly and a little further a Chiffchaff sang too. We only went as far as the scrape where we saw more Teal and half a dozen more Shovelers making about 30 in all, we'd seen a few flying down the mere on our walk down.
Making our way back we came across a Brown Hawker dragonfly and a couple of spikes of Toadflax still in flower at the side of the track.
A flock of four Jackdaws going steady south over the mere were likely to have been migrants but the two Reed Buntings that bunked in to the reeds were probably local birds so we were still short of some decent vis mig to record. It was then we had the morning's best sighting, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers came flying towards us, they then circled round the end of the reserve three or four times before dropping in to the top of the tallest tree. They didn't stay there long as within a few minutes they were both off south together, at last a bit of migration. A second Chiffchaff sang from the scrub beyond the large tree while we were watching the woodpeckers.
The walk back along the field was uneventful until we were caught up by LR and while chatting another Cetti's Warbler fired up from the wetland.
Once again we learned we'd missed the biggy, this time long after we left rather than the 'usual' five minutes, a Great White Egret (another missing off our Marton Mere list) but the two Ravens weren't more than half an hour after we'd gone...dohhh are we ever going to see these there???
In the afternoon we took Monty to his favourite field and as we were wandering around the rides mown through the new woodland we heard a Willow Warbler give a couple of short bursts of song. Further on a freshly deceased Short Tailed Field Vole was found on the side of the path, a victim of someone's dog or perhaps a cat we hadn't seen. A friend's dog started digging furiously after something in the grass, soil was flying everywhere. When Monty joined in we went to investigate and found a small Frog sneaking away through the grass. While the dogs' attention was still focused in the hole we took it away and put out of harm's way on the other side of the path. Then as we were leaving we spotted a bird dropping in from an enormous height, it turned out to be a Blackbird and it went straight into one of the thickest tallest clumps of older trees - interesting and likely to be a late mover looking for somewhere to root.
Where to next? There's a bit of a weather front moving through this evening so we might try that field again early doors tomorrow morning, the front might arrive a bit too early though.
In the meantime let us know who's ringing rings round you in your outback.


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

It might only be five minutes but arrrghhh!

The Safari is a little miffed! At the end of the previous post we told how we'd narrowly missed the Otter and a couple of Ravens down at Marton Mere well we did the same trick again the following day.
We took Monty for a wander along the cliffs at Chat Alley on the rising tide with the intention of looking out for the 10 Bottlenose Dolphins that had been seen in the far southern corner of the bay off Hilbre Island the day before. The sea was too choppy there were white horses everywhere so spotting any cetaceans was going to be very tricky especially as we only had our bins with us, they'd need to be really close in to be able to see them. So we concentrated on the cliffs themselves as we walked northwards. All very quiet until a single Wheatear was found flitting about dropping in to the long grass to pick off some morsel sheltering from the wind and then returning to a dried Dock stem, or suchlike, lookout post. No camera so no pic.
We walked almost the full length of the cliffs reaching the point where they sort of become more dune like than cliff like about 1 1/2 miles up. With not a lot happening and no 'friends' for the Monster to play with we turned round and headed back to the car. The Wheatear hadn't gone far and when we did stop for a doggy play we spotted a Turnstone on the seawall and a grounded Meadow Pipit on the steep grassy slope.
We got back to car at roughly high noon and drove off for Base camp and a cuppa. A little later we learned that an Osprey had passed a watcher not far to the north of our walk and probably would have coasted right over our head with ample warning from the local gulls had we only stayed out a few minutes longer - well you can't win em all but grrrrrrr all the same! There probably won't be any more opportunities to see Ospreys locally - but you never know there might just be a late one waiting in the wings.
In other news it does seem to be a good season for Red Admirals, this one was taken on Patch 1 but we've seen good numbers of them everywhere we've been - even the shops. Anecdotally to us at least it seems like we've seen more this autumn than we've seen for a very long time, if ever - they really are everywhere and some are on the wing in the cool of the early morning dog walks almost invariably heading south.
Let us know if you think there's exceptional, or at least large number of Red Admirals about this season. We'd like to be able to report that other butterflies are doing well too but other than Speckled Woods and a Comma or two we've struggled to find other late season species like Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells. We have seen a couple of day flying Vapourer moths though which look superficially like skipper butterflies at first glance.
The (not so) big news from Base Camp is that a large dragonfly, one of the hawker species, flew through yesterday but didn't stop, not even for five seconds never mind five minutes, and we've had a family of Greenfinches return to the sunny seeds after a lengthy absence.
Hope you've all had better luck than we have.
Where to next? Back to Patch 1 early doors where hopefully this ind with a bit of east in it might have dropped something of interest, otherwise it'll be the usual Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds to count. After lunch we might get out somewhere with Wifey and Monty
In the meantime let us know who's waiting until your back is turned in your outback.



Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Not quite dipping out

The Safari has been out most days this week. Most mornings we've been round Patch 1 at the crack of dawn mostly counting the Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens we come across. The other day we had a 'good' count of three Moorhens although with two juveniles around there should really be at least four present, and a singing Chiffchaff was a nice bonus to the usual 'extras' of Goldcrest(s) and/or Coal Tit(s)
Visible migration has been slow to get going, Patch 1 has only given us a single Chaffinch and a couple of Greenfinches which could have been local birds although we rarely see them in or over the park and these were quite high 'overs'. The same morning as the singing Chiffchaff we had one grounded at Base Camp too.
'Vis mig' over Base Camp has been limited to a solitary Meadow Pipit - where are they all??? - and a few skeins, up to a maximum of about 55 birds, of Pink Footed Geese. A Golden Plover flying over during an annoying Monty wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-take-me-out-for-a-pee-NOW was a bonus! We've probably had more Red Admirals migrating through the Patch than birds this week, there certainly seems to be a good number of them about.
After breakfast a morning saunter round Marton Mere reserve started at the lively Feeding Station. Good numbers of Chaffinches, Blue and Great Tits and an acrobatic Grey Squirrel doing its best to squeeze at least a nose between the anti-squirrel wires around the feeder.
Along the path a Rabbit crouched motionless on the recently cut meadow area hoping Monty didn't spot it - we were hoping that too and holding on tight just in case he did! Fortunately for the Rabbit and our arm he didn't we were able to walk right past it within only a few feet without it being noticed by the Monster. 
All pretty quiet around the reserve with only a lone Meadow Pipit and a couple of Skylarks heard passing overhead.  Down at the Viewing Platform we heard a Water Rail squeal and a the first of half a dozen Cetti's Warblers sing a quick blast.
A sneaky peek under the refugium gave us our third mammal species of the morning in the shape of our first Short Tailed Field Vole of the year not counting the one being carried aloft by a Buzzard at Leighton Moss earlier in the summer. Also under there were a couple of Great Crested Newts, always good to see and especially good to see a juvenile even if it was trying to do a runner.
We gently picked it up and positioned it on a leaf for a better pic. The adult is a male, told by the white stripe down the centre of the tail which they wave amorously in front of the females during courtship. Seeing the juvenile was good news as it means we've had some local breeding success especially as the surveys undertaken earlier in the year came back negative and with worrying news that most of the ponds looked at had been stirred up so badly by dogs that they were now unsuitable for the newts to breed in - if the water's too turbid the females can't see those frantically waving tails! 
A Sparrowhawk and a brief glimpse of a Reed Warbler at the Heron Hide broke the monotony but then as we were leaving we heard a rustle in the long grass to the side of the hide. We could see the grass being disturbed by something fairly large at times too. Crikey! A family of Stoats exploded in to full view for a few milliseconds before vanishing back in to the undergrowth - excellent views if so fleetingly brief. We've not seen a Stoat for soooooo long so to see at least three was great - and our fourth mammal of the morning. A Goldcrest called from a nearby Willow too.
At the Fylde Bird Club Hide the view is still a bit hindered by the summer's Reed growth, need a strimmer, a large flock of roosting Starlings and/or another good gale to knock them down a bit.
Not a lot about, the usual suspects of Mallard, Coot and a couple of Gadwall with a fly-over Snipe. But then what's that big duck asleep over the far side - blimey a Pintail, (MMLNR #80). It's been a while since we caught up with one of those here too it was turning in to a decentish sort of a day! Shame it slept motionless all the time we were there, probably only dropped in from Iceland or the far north of Europe, perhaps even further afield, earlier that morning.
Moving on it was good to see the Snake's Head Fritillary meadow had been mown, lots of Meadow Cranesbill and Agrimony are present too but the number of Cowslips seems to be declining a bit. Perhaps due to the meadow become inundated with Common Reed for much of the summer.
Nothing else of note - where is that Bittern when you want it?
The following morning dawned rather chilly, the coldest morning since the end of last winter.
The cold hadn't brought anything new to Patch 1 though. After breakfast we set off east down the country roads to a little river we know. Looking downstream from the bridge it looks like this and moments later a Kingfisher sped through and straight under the bridge and out of sight. 
Our gaze followed the Kingfisher and fell upon our hoped for quarry for the day. A Dipper was feeding a few yards beyond the far side of the bridge - a little distant but hey ho at least Dipper (YBC #151) makes it on to our Year Bird Challenge tally doing what they do best - dipping!
Perhaps we might get a closer shot downstream so off we went passing a few Robins and a small flock of Long Tailed Tits as we walked along the river bank.
We got all the way to the end and only managed to flush another distant Dipper. On the way back we spotted another, quite likely the same one, that hadn't spotted us so we secreted ourself behind a tree and waited for it to walk/swim up the stream a bit and in to view. Thankfully it obliged.
Back at the bridge our first Dipper was nowhere to be seen but a Grey Wagtail flew down and had a bob around on a rock mid-stream.
A short but productive morning out.
This morning we went back to the nature reserve but it was desperately quiet. Looking under the refugium again had us disturbing the Short Tailed Field Vole again but now there were three juvenile Great Crested Newts - nice. As we hadn't made a note or taken a pic of the underside of the one the other day it was impossible to tell if one of these was that one or if none of these three were that one.
The best of the rest was a passing Mistle Thrush and we didn't even see a Blackbird all morning - told you it was quiet!
So quiet the next best thing we found was a fresh Shaggy Ink Cap fungus.
It didn't help when later we discovered we didn't quite stay long enough to see the Otter and a couple of Ravens, a species which has become much more numerous in the local area but which we've still not seen there.  Dohhhhh!!! can't win em all!
Where to next? We'll be out somewhere tomorrow but we're not sure where yet -0 could well be weather dependent.
In the meantime let us know who's doing the dipping in your outback.


Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Two trips to the Southside

The Safari has been enjoying the many superb pics of the recent Leach's Petrels along our coast - this one by young EM is a real humdinger! And what about these - awesome and a clever trick to get them. Unfortunately the wind didn't stay strong enough long enough or from the right direction for us a to get a pic of the little mites, yes we are a bit disappointed not to add Leach's Petrel to our Year Bird Challenge tally! 
We had to go down to the Southside on family duties on Thursday and to tire Monty out a little before we went visiting we had an hour's mooch around the excellent Lunt Meadows reserve. We say it's excellent but today it was rather quiet. The drive down had got our hopes up for a good morning's birding with a Jay flying over the car and both Buzzard and Kestrel seen close to the roadside in quick succession.
At the first screen the cattle were close by, Monty couldn't see them but he could sure smell them and was rather 'interested'! There is a small herd of Redpoll that undertake conservation grazing to create hummocky grassland for breeding waders and mud wallows for the birds to feed in.
We're not sure what species of Mayweed it is but the 'field' looked really beautiful and the cattle contrasted very nicely against it. with this fellow so close we weren't going to hop over the fence to investigate either and it's probably a good job he couldn't see Monty behind the screen too.
At the back behine the distant cows a small hint of movement caught our eye. A Brown Hare had poked it's head up out of a bit of a ditch for a look-around - our first of the year.
Something spooked it and it shot off at a slow gallop for a hare but a bit quick for us and the camera.
Bird-wise there was only a small flock of Lapwings on the pool and they were soon flushed by something unseen and flew over to the far pool - nothing for it but to follow them. 
We passed a couple of Red Admirals and a Small White butterfly on the way.
The sun came out at the next screen and nicely lit up the Lapwings which had now joined a larger flock.
With all the strong winds we expected there might have been a more exotic wader from more northern latitudes or even North America in the Lapwing flock or at least a Ruff, but no there were just a handful of Snipe secreted around the marginal vegetation.
There were a few gulls loafing in the shallows and snoozing on the small muddy island. Mostly Herring Gulls,  a couple of Lesser Black Backs and four Black Headed Gulls, but with the Black Heads was an obvious odd-man-out - a first winter Mediterranean Gull...Result!
A Water Rail was far too quick for us as it legged it across the mud below the screen, that was about the best of the rest and with time getting near to visiting time we legged it too.
We had one trick up our sleeve, close to the reserve is a barn which holds a pair of Little Owls. It's always worth the two minute detour even if we'd done it unsuccessfully a few times before - today was our lucky day! There in the dark recesses of the barn was a Little Owl (174, YBC #148) sitting on a beam and fortunately against the pale timber so a pic was possible for our Year Bird Challenge. Good to see one as we totally dipped out on this species in 2014 and 2016.
Now time was pressing but there are two roads you can go by but in the short run we chose to retrace our steps right rather than continue left. A good choice, turning off the 'main' road down the lane we used to call Ratty Road when we were birding round here on our bike many years ago a family of Grey Partridges (175) flew almost over our bonnet. Now had we been on our bike we could have just stopped but in the car we had to drive nearly half a mile to find somewhere to turn round and hope they'd still be in view. Only one was but maybe fortunately it was one of the adults, the well grown chicks were nowhere to be seen in the recently harvested field, they must have gone into the ditch at the side of the little wood. But how annoying it should stand behind the only remaining stalk of stubble in the whole field! (YBC #149).
Such exquisitely marked birds it's a real shame they are now so rare and generally hard to come by when in our youth we practically used to trip over them in these same fields. 
All too soon it followed the rest of the family into the ditch with a last look over its shoulder.
The following day we were taken by CR to the big reserve Martin Mere (there we've said it - we normally refer to it as the reserve we don't mention by name due to the similarity with 'our' reserve Marton Mere)
With a gentle wind just west of north this was going to be a Pink Footed Goose day and so it transpired as we saw a couple of flocks at height heading that way when we dropped Monty off at his minders. More were seen on the drive down.
The wink-wink sound of Pink Footed Geese wafted down from on high as small flocks began to arrive
Landing gear down - for the first time in 750 miles?
More and more arrived in larger and larger flocks too...spectacular!
They were landing out of sight in one of the reserve's fields away from the hide we were in so we had a little walk.
The next hide we stopped in overlooks a small pool which had a couple of Black Headed Gulls that were fishing for 3-Spined Sticklebacks with some success.
They were joined by a Heron which was successful too, many times! It all seemed a bit too easy and not good if you were a Stickleback!
Look at that - it must have somehow caught two at once but ended up dropping one - lucky fish!
Also on the pool briefly were a pair of Gadwall 
and a couple of Coot.
We didn't get a pic of the lovely Moorhen and totally missed the very brief visit by the Kingfisher.
Moving down to the farthest hide we searched through the scattered flock of Lapwings 
for a Ruff and eventually found one, a long way off. So far away this pic is enlarged by 200%
At long last Ruff (176) goes on the year list, how come it's taken until mid-September to come across one of these? And it just about qualifies for inclusion on our Year Bird Challenge bringing up our 150 species photographed. hopefully we'll be able to get a much better replacement pic before the year end - won't we?
Another Kingfisher zipped past along the dyke but didn't stop, while in the the dyke that joins this one an injured over-summering Whooper Swan won't have long for its mates to arrive from Iceland, they're usually not too far behind the Pink footed Geese.
The wander round the rest of the reserve didn't give us much more of note so we decided to cut our losses and head to Mere Sands Wood, a cracking little reserve we often helped out at during its formative years in the early 80s.
The main feeding station was quiet except for a couple of Chaffinches and a family of Dunnocks so we didn't stay long and anyway our main 'target' was away across the far side of the reserve. On the way we came across a nice Nuthatch (didn't get those here in the 80s) and a recently fledged still mostly spotty Robin at the woodland feeding station, no sight nor sound of the recent Willow Tit, the first here for a number of years although they were regular in the 80s.
A flock of Long Tailed Tits entertained us briefly at the first hide down this end of the lake but it was the next hide we wanted to be at. It was already full of eager photographers who told us the Kingfisher had been about but not showing at all well. Several perches have been positioned over the water to enable photographers to get 'the' shot...providing the bird behaves...which it wasn't today.
We waited a while hearing Jays shrieking in the distance until someone gave the call 'Kingfisher'...it landed on the most distant perch almost totally obscured by the tall heads of Willowherb from our seat. No good - it had gone by the time we'd managed to get the camera to focus on the perch rather than the intervening vegetation - it wouldn't have been 'the' shot either - too distant. There'll be more opportunities later in the year when the vegetation has either been cut or died back for the winter.
Leaving the gang of photographers to their wait we continued round the reserve which being mid-afternoon was pretty quiet. We settled in the empty hide overlooking the other large lake and tried to get some dragonfly pics without success - using our phone as they were too close for the long lens! We'd got a Common Darter on the bridge at the reserve entrance but that was settled on the handrail.
This time we were after flight shots - yes with the phone! - as the dragons flew back and forth around the vegetation just outside the window.
We only managed a couple of very blurry shots one of which might have been OK if the dragon had been within the depth of field - how annoying.
Heading back for a last blast at the Kingfishers we passed an interesting looking fungus - the reserve has a superb variety of fungi but they are a group we know little about so if anyone out there can identify this one we'd be grateful. We don't even possess a field guide for fungi - we did have one but it seems to have disappeared off our bookshelf sometine in the distant past.
A Raven 'cronking' overhead was another species we wouldn't have dreamed of finding here in the 80s - had to go a long way to the nearest ones at that time. 
No further Kingfisher action was reported by the photographers and we missed the opportunity for a great Jay-in-flight shot as it flew across the lake but didn't land in the nearby tree as it had apparently done earlier. The only bird about was a moulting drake Shoveler which has a face a little bit like a Yankee Blue Winged Teal. It was preening like mad and like a dog chasing its tail it spun round and round rather comically trying to nibble those hard to reach parts.
A funny looking sheet rainbow heralded the downpour that would soak us on the way back to the car - should have got a phone pic of that it was a bit weird, never seen anything like it before. Despite the short sharp shower, missing an Osprey and only seeing one of the four Marsh Harriers in the morning it was a great day out on safari.
Where to next? It's the weekend so anything could happen anywhere!
In the meantime let us know who's reaching those hard to reach places in your outback.




Source Dave McGrath Wildlife Safaris

Maybe we didn’t peak too soon after all

The Safari went back out for the high tide the other day . The wind was still strong but by now had too much north in it, south of west is much better direction for bringing seabirds close to shore along our coast. But it had been windy a while and any birds blown in to the bay should start to come out and past us as the tide dropped. With the wind in that direction we had to walk well over a mile up Chat Alley to find somewhere sheltered enough to put the scope up. 
An adult Kittiwake a fair way out got our hopes up but there wasn't much else about, even the local gulls were keeping their heads down. Then we spotted it, a tiny dark dot between the crashing white of the breaking waves. We stuck with it watching as it weaved its way through the maelstrom of foaming water. What an awesome little bird a Leach's Petrel (172) is. Nothing more than a scrap of feathers in the monstrous sea it barely needed more than a twist of its little tail to change its trim to glide effortlessly between the waves using the air currents to keep it on its way with hardly a beat of its wings. Like an empty crisp packet being blown along the street it wafted and wiggled past us giving great views in the scope. Nothing much else happened for a while until we picked up another Kittiwake, but this one wasn't an adult and as it got nearer it wasn't right for a youngster either - a flippin juvenile Sabine's Gull (173) - A self found lifer...another embarrassing gap on our life list filled! It gave great views in the scope as it came slowly past us just behind the worst of the surf. If the Leach's Petrel had us oohing and ahhing and telling Monty how good it was to spot one the Sabine's Gull had us punching the air and shouting "Get In!!!" much to the bemusement of some passing dog walkers...some people just don't get it do they.  
Once the Sabine's Gull had passed out of our view only a few minutes later another Leach's Petrel came in to view. This one appeared to be struggling compared to the first. It was much closer in and rather than just jinking and twisting its tail to keep airborne it was doing a lot of wing flapping and kept getting drenched by spray from the crashing waves which the first seemed to avoid with ease.
Then it was time to go unfortunately - a short but productive seawatch, most enjoyable.
We planned to get out early the following morning and do some more seawatching taking the camera with us this time but stay-a-bed Monty put paid to that idea. Instead we took him to the nature reserve after news of a Gannet sitting on the water there broke - only the second record for the reserve. Again Monty had other plans and was a devilish nightmare on the walk up from the wetlands. A walk that should have only taken five or six minutes turned in to half an hour of delays, ball thefts, sniff-a-thons and we missed the Gannet by a good many minutes! A quick scan from the Viewing Platform didn't give us anything of note on the water but a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest in the adjacent Willow tree offered some consolation. Neither were for having their pic taken though, staying well hidden in the still dense foliage...roll on autumn proper and let's get rid of those pesky leaves!
It was warm down in the dip with the trees behind us keeping the wind off, warm enough for a Brown Hawker to start flying around but when it got a bit buffeted by the wind it settled long enough for us to get a phone pic.
Out of time and out of luck it was back to Base Camp with an 'in disgrace' Monty.
Later we took him to his favourite field where we saw his friend and look-alike Richie, a Schnauser-Poodle cross (Schnoodle) rather than a Labradoodle, had been hard at work digging a huge hole which had filled with rain water. Almost looks like Wild Boar have been at work.
The mad hound dug this hole in not much more than a few minutes but what effect, if any, does this doggy behaviour have on the ecology of the field which is one of the best in town for butterflies? Is it a good think, is it a bad thing or is it just a thing? Could it bring long buried seeds to the surface or just make another heavily compressed area where all the dogs tread? One thing is for sure, once one dog has started a hole then all the others seem to want to finish it.
We tried again for seabirds this morning but had no luck at all and might have even dipped some stonkers like a juvenile Long Tailed Skua, a Velvet Scoter and yet more Leach's Petrels - aarrrggghhhhh.
Where to next? Back to Chat Alley tomorrow morning
In the meantime let us know who's doing all the excavating in your outback