Billhooks at the ready

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