Mid month flurry

The Safari hasn't been enjoying the incessant stream of Atlantic storms battering us in the last couple of weeks; they've been a shock to the system after the brief record-breaking warm spell at the end of February, but this rough weather is normal for the time of year it's always windy around the equinox. We're now in to the last third of March and we still haven't seen a Wheatear, we missed the very early ones then the door was slapped firmly in their faces by the atrocious weather.
A bit of a break between storms saw us head east to Brock Bottoms for a morning walk with Monty. It was still gloomy and drizzly but at least the howling wind had dropped. The river was very high and going through like a train. A Dipper (PYLC #103) tried its best to keep in the dark shadows under the near bank.
The woods were fairly quiet we might have expected a bit more bird activity after the hooleys but even with the (very refreshing) lack of humans and their mutts everything was still keeping its head down. Best of the rest was easily a pair of Grey Wagtails (PYLC #104) flitting around close to the old mill looking rather dapper in the sunshine. It's shame we didn't see the Dipper again now the sun had come out.
Back in the car park we noticed something we don't think we've noticed there before despite visiting regularly since the mid-80s, one of the trees close to the entrance is a Hornbeam. How come we've never spotted that before, or have we and we've just forgotten?
The strong winds have brought a few Little Gulls to our coast and at the weekend we went to look for them on the rising tide, there'd been some earlier in the afternoon but by the time Monty's walk time came around it was getting a bit late and dark and we'd missed them. A drake Eider (PYLC #105) half way across the river mouth was all we could see of note.
Pretty rubbish so we'll have to see if we can improve on it during the course of the year
Good weather beckoned on Monday so we arranged a trip out with CR, unfortunately by the time Monday came round the forecast good weather  had changed to cold and wet but at least not windy. With all the recent rain we reckoned our best bet for dry footpaths would be south of the river at Martin Mere and Marshside. We hit Martin Mere first, spending much of our time at the lively feeding stations
Blackbird
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Reed Bunting
Shelduck
Blue Tit
Chaffinch sitting somewhat uncomfortably
Perhaps due to its legs being affected by Papilloma virus
Tree Sparrow
We took a walk round the Reedbed Walk in the hope that the calm weather would have any Bearded Tits still on site giving their presence away with their distinctive pinging calls. We didn't hear any nor did we hear the sites booming Bittern but we did hear a couple of Cetti's Warblers giving brief bursts of song.
From the Ron Barker hide the chance of seeing any Barn Owls hunting was well and truly scuppered by the now heavy drizzle. From there we always like to get a pic of the big Longhorn bull. Today's opportunity was a good one as he was closer than usual and we were able to get a more natural pic of him that doesn't show his ear tags or nose ring.
A fine looking beast
Also there were a few Avocets.
Somehow we managed to dodge most of the wildfowl and waders but we were tempted to point the lens at this Ruff that landed close to us at the remains of the old Swan Link hide.
Round at the UU hide we soon picked out the flock of Barnacle Geese but are they 'real' or 'just' some feral wanderers?
A Little Egret flew past the window and landed at the edge of the pool across the big dyke but didn't stay more than a few minutes.
After lunch we moved down tthe road a couple of miles to Marshside RSPB reserve.
As soon as we got there a quick look on the Junction Pool gave us a very sleepy Scaup (PYLC #106)
But the 'main event' was to be seen from the visitor centre, Sandgrounders hide, the long(ish) staying Spoonbill. Wonder if it is one of the three we saw here last year but didn't have a camera with us for pic. It was feeding in a deep ditch and we had to wait a while until it reached more open ground by which time it was even further away across the marsh. Still it hits the Challenge tally at #107 and a good bonus bird as they're far from guaranteed round these parts.
Much of the time we spent in the hide was taken up watching the antics of the Black Headed Gulls going about their courtship rituals. One female in particular was regularly being offered coughed up morsels, whether or not it was the same male bringing them we couldn't tell.
A nice variety of ducks swam past the window very close in.
Shoveler female
Shoveler male
Teal
Tufted Duck
Just breaking the surface

Bedraggled Gadwall
Pintail
But the stars of the show were the Avocets which came so close we could see they were eating 3-Spined Sticklebacks and small snails among other unidentified invertebrates.
And what goes in must inevitably come out
We meant the water...but you knew that didn't you!
Time was drawing to a close so another quick look at the Junction Pool before hitting the car park gave us a pair of Little Grebes (PYLC #108) right below us at the screen.
A great safari south of the river and our thanks to C for the driving today.

Yesterday we decidded to have a look for a local Little Owl, we sort of knew where it was but had no joy, it wasn't until later in the morning when AM bumped in to us that he told us he'd just seen it - miust have missed him on site by minutes - and that we had been looking in the wrong place, we'd been checking out some of the tumbledown farm buildings when in fact they are in a tree across the fields, a tree we'd seen and noted but not looked at properly - dohhh. Never mind, we know for next time. AM told us he was going down to Warton Marsh and as Monty needed a bit of a stretch we decided to follow him there. 
A good decision it turns out as we picked up a harrier on the far side of the river which A got in his scope anb confirmed it as a ring-tail Hen Harrier, a year bird for us but no chance of a photo. We walked the embankment counting about 120 Whooper Swans and 10 distant Avocets along with numerous Little Egrets while being serenaded by Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, it was a little chilly but a lovely morning to be out.
A Buzzard flew over us and then out in the distance we picked up another, rather larger harrier, a Marsh Harrier. As we watched it quartering the marsh at some height it suddenly stooped on something white that got up out of the grass, well not quite white pale grey and we could just about make out a hint of dark at the wingtips, male Hen Harrier exclaimed A looking at it through his scope - excellent! Unfortunately as soon as the Marsh Harrier had passed over it dropped back in to the long grass not to be seen again.
One last scan of  the marsh through the scope as we were leaving had A saying he'd found a Merlin on a piece of driftwood - what a great morning, really glad we decided to follow him down there.
The road back to Base Camp takes us through the little village of Wrea Green where there is a village green complete with cricket square and duck pond. On the green there were a few Rooks feeding so we had to stop.
Rooks (PYLC #109)
A good end to a good morning on safari even if we did miss the Little Owls.

This morning it was very foggy out on Chat Alley with Monty. There were at least a dozen grounded Meadow Pipits and then a much bigger flash of white, our first Wheatear of the year. A quick look at our records from the last eight years shows it is actually just about bang on time, our mean date of seeing our first being 21st March and today is the 20th. Close enough for rock n roll!!!
Also there was a big bonus of a female Stonechat, the first we've seen along the cliffs for quite a long time, well over a year and maybe over two don't remember ever having seen one with Monty and he's now 2 1/2. Really should use BirdTrack more then these stats would be a lot easier to recall.

Where to next? We've got our first amphibian survey of the season this evening, hopefully four species in good numbers.

In the meantime let us know who's arriving bang on time in your outback.