South then twice north and a cracker in between

The Safari spotted a very late Swallow hawking along the cliffs at Chat Alley the other day. We saw a small number during our safari to Spurn at the end of October but we don't see many into November, our latest one ever was a day later than this one, 5th of November many years ago muxed ip in a Starling roost of all places. We hoped it would stick around a couple more days at least, mainly because we were unable to look for it the following day as we were down the motorway with CR to Pennington Flash. As it happened the weather on the 5th wasn't too bad and our Swallow must have made a dash for it as we didn't see it on the 6th or subsequently. It must remain our second latest...
So what of our safari to the outer reaches of Greater Manchester. The day dawned calm, cool and mostly sunny and continued in that vein all the way down the motorway - all that changed not too many minutes after getting all our optical gear out of the car on site and wandering in the direction of the very impressive feeding station at Bunting Hide. A bit of a misnomer today as there were no buntings in sight, although there often are some Reed Buntings to be fair.
If there's plenty of food put out this is one of the liveliest feeding stations we know and attracts some species we rarely get to see close up. One of which is the beautiful Bullfinch, if only the feeders at Marton Mere would get the couple of birds there turning up regularly instead of them being so secretive around the scrub on the opposite side of the reserve.
Bright as they are and as much as we like them we do wish they were a bit easier to get good pics of on the more natural setting of the bushes around the feeders but they always seem to stay well back before zooming in and landing on their favoured table. Even then you have to fairly quick as they don;t tend linger long, just a quick nibble of a few seeds and off again.
The quality of the pics isn't that good as the light was grim, if there was any sunshine it hadn't risen over the tops of the enclosing trees yet. None of the pics from the feeding station were taken at below ISO 14000 and most were 20000+ - yep it was a tad on the gloomy side!
Dark yes - quiet no! There was plenty going on with a good variety of birds to enjoy. A bit too dark to photograph dark birds like the multitude of Moorhens and Stock Doves on the woodland floor but when birds posed on branches in the open they were fair game like this female Chaffinch, in fact almost all the Chaffinches were females. Their scientific name reflects the fact that they are often found in single sex flocks, Fringilla coelebs L.: fringilla from Gr.: phrugilos = a sparrow described by Aristophanes and L.: caelebs = unmarried (From the BTO's mine of birdy information)
The rest of the cast included most of the usual feeding station suspects like this Coal Tit, currently a regular visitor to the feeders here at Base Camp too.
If Great Tits were rare you'd be severely tempted to travel a long way to twitch one. Just look at the colours and patterns on that...better than your average Joe as they say.
As ever it's not only birds coming to the feeders but mammals too. How many Grey Squirrels were there? So busy they were tricky to count accurately.
They are very entertaining if a little bit of a pest and greedy beggars. But the most entertainment was had was when a Brown Rat shot out of the undergrowth and chased a squirrel all round the place - which begs the questions, why wasn't it the other way round as the squirrels are bigger than the rats and 2) why didn't the squirrel just fly up a tree out of the way being a far better climber??? Maybe it was 'just a game'? Great fun to watch whatever the reasons for it. We like Brown Rats, a much maligned creature but you probably wouldn't want running loose round your house.
However, the main event here is the small but regular population of Willow Tits and today they put on a great show there being three on show at one time today.
These are definitely Willow Tits as can be told by the calls they make, but just look at that small white spot at the bese of the upper mandible - isn't that supposed to be one of the more critical ID features of Marsh Tits (see later down this post).
One of the reasons we went off that way was to try to get some good views and hopefully some pics of the Redwings that had been around there. We got neither as they were so wary and invariably on the opposite of the trees and annoying...but that's wildlife watching - it doesn't always happen like you see on the telly.
The rest of the reserve was mostly quiet. Gadwall and Goosanders from the Teal Hide but not a lot anywhere else. A Heron was stood fishing at the edge of a Willow thicket a nice contrast between the grey feathers and the autumnal leaves of the Willow.
Everything from Horrock's Hide was distant and try as we might we couldn't find a Mediterranean Gull in the throng of Black Headed Gulls along the far bank. 
Interestingly last time we were here the one of the Coots was feasting on Freshwater Mussels, we thought this one was too but closer inspection shows the 'prey' to be something else, but what exactly?
We threw about half a loaf of bread at the gulls and ducks at the car park at lunch time but again we couldn't pull in a Mediterranean Gull nor were last visit's Egyptian Geese present today either.
Another circuit didn't give us much more variety or any better opportunities to get some pics of the Redwings but we did see two Kingfishers chase one another past the hide but not stopping to show themselves properly and then a few minutes later a third did the same...cruel! And with the light fading fast on a dull November afternoon it was time to hit the road home.

For our next safari CR picked us up and we headed north to Leighton  Moss RSPB reserve calling in first at the saltmarsh pools. The Allen Pool was quiet so we quickly moved on to the Eric Morecambe Pool where a small flock of Goosanders with two female Red Breasted Mergansers were cruising round. The drake Goosanders were looking especially dapper, the low morning sunshine giving their salmon pink an extra richness.
Looking into the sun wasn't so good but did give us the chance to try some arty shots of the flock of Redshank roosting close to the hide.
One the walk back to the car park we were told of a Kingfisher at the Allen Hide but by the time we'd reached there news was it had done a vanishing act round the corner to the large dyke that flows out across the marshes. Being thwarted by the blue and orange twice in a week isn't good!
But then once on the long straight back to the car park the scratty tall hedgerow along the side of the marsh was alive with Fieldfares. Like the Redwings at Pennington Flash they were mostly on the 'wrong' side of the bushes and again very flighty but we chanced our arm and the shutter button and managed just this one half decent pic but don't inspect it too closely.
Once on the main reserve we decided to head straight to the Grisedale Hide. It turned out to be a good move as just past the Bearded Tit grit tray clearing where there were no Bearded Tits a couple coming towards us from the hide stopped and raised their binocs - there on the path in front of them three Bearded Tits were collecting grit. We stopped well short so as not to disturb them.
At the hide there was a good selection of ducks on show with Teal and Pintail looking very smart. Several Snipe were secreted about the margins too.
But the main attraction here was the chance of a couple of out of season Garganeys. We could only find one and that took some time and a couple of embarrassing wrong calls at distant female Teal. When we did eventually spot it it had been hiding in plain sight all the while with one of the nearest groups of Teal.
Can you see it?
It was a lot easier to spot after a Marsh Harrier had cruised overhead and scattered the ducks from their reedside loafing places.
And then a bit of a flap to show its full speculum and totally prove its not 'just' a dodgy Teal.
We never did find the second bird though.
On the way back the first of the two impromptu feeding areas was busy but very dark..
Marsh Tit - look at the white spot at the base of the bill, cf the Willow Tits above. Hmm ID mark or not?
The second one had a Water Rail that had been showing well but didn't come out to play while we waited there. A little further on a Nuthatch gave superb views and display of how to hang upside-down as it cached several sunflower hearts in cracks in the bark and under clumps of moss on the branches.
Love the autumn colours in this pic
We've never seen so many Gadwall in one place as when we arrived at Lillian's Hide, they were everywhere.Plenty of other ducks on offer too and the deeper water had attracted several diving ducks like Goldeneye, all females so far, and Tufted Duck although somewhat worryingly there were no Pochard, are they late or are they not coming, their decline isn't good.
Unlike the earlier Garganey it didn't take us too long to winkle out the Scaup that's been around for several days now.
From there we headed to the Causeway passing numerous Robins waiting to mug unsuspecting passers-by of any seed they may have secreted about their person.
Fairly quiet at the Causeway Hide until another birder called out a Marsh Harrier coming our way.
With little happening we strolled on towards Lower Hide. just inside the gate at the end of the Causeway   there's a bench where earlier passing folk had been leaving a bit of food on the armrests but all had been eaten. A fair few birds were about including this hopeful Coal Tit that approached us to see if we had more hand-outs - we didn't.
Lower Hide was very quiet so we didn't linger long. On the way back the sun had come out again casting a golden afternoon glow over the world. High in the trees to our right a flock of Siskins was heard and then about 30 seen as they briefly all took to the air. 
At the bench C rummaged in his pockets for a bit of lost  seed and flakes of pie crust, just enough scrapings to attract a few birds. A couple of Marsh Tits were particularly inquisitive.
And of course one of the multitude of muggers was in attendance.
One of our target animals for the day had been a Red Deer stag but with no luck we opted for a look from the top of the Sky Tower, from where there is a good view over much of the reserve, as the sun began to set.
Still no staggy joy but we did pick out the Scaup again. 
On our way back to Base Camp C drove around the lanes of Over Wyre in the hope of an owl or two as dusk fell. We had no luck but as we approached a sizeable flock of gulls he slowed to a stop for a chance to give them a quick look for a Mediterranean Gull, a species we hadn't yet photographed on our challenge indeed we've only seen a couple this year. We might have been out of luck for the owls but only seconds after lifting our bins we had a Mediterranean Gull staring down the barrel at us! Then they lifted and all shimmied round a dozen or more yards or so as we reached for the camera. Would we be able to relocate it? Yes, thankfully we quickly redound it and by chance it was close to the only crows in the field which made searching for it in the camera's viewfinder a lot easier.
Adult winter plumage Mediterranean Gull - PYLC #187
We had the opportunity of a return visit at the  weekend this time with the gang from the South Side.
After a quick meet up at Lillian's Hide where there were far fewer Gadwall but far more Shovelers on show we moved down to the Causeway to join up with JC and hopefully find a Bearded Tit on the grit trays for JG. no such luck the trays were empty but with their pinging calls all around Bearded Tits weren't far away and after a good wait we got fleeting glimpses of them moving through the edge of the reeds.
A very very lucky shot!!!!
At the Causeway Hide we watched Mute Swans mating and then JG called out Bittern, one had flown through her field of view. It landed out of sight deep in the reeds but after a couple of minutes got up again and we watched it fly right across the pool and swoop round to come towards us - right get the camera wait for the landing shot or an on the deck chance it changed direction and went over the trees and track behind us - chance missed! Brilliant views though, probably our best flight view there in the 45+ years we've been going, doesn't get any better than that!
Or does it. Not long after we were the one calling out Bittern as it flew through our field of view. This was a darker one and flew away from us so not really offering any photo opportunities. Still it's a very very long time since we've had two Bitterns there...Happy Days!
After watching a couple of Marsh Harriers cruise the reed beds a Great White Egret got up and followed more or less the same path across the pool as the first Bittern - we were a bit quicker (or less over-awed and reluctant to put our bins down - how'd that happen? GWE is still a fairly scarce bird but we've become a bit blase)
Time for lunch back at the car then a wander to Grisedale Hide in the hope of more Bearded Tits. No joy on the path or the grit trays this time...and the hide was much quieter. We couldn't find the Garganey, don't think anyone saw them all day.
The Teal were looking good though.
And we had more views of the Marsh Harriers but still no Red Deer.
Back at Lillians Hide we had distant but good views of a really striking male Marsh Harrier and found the Scaup again, this time there was a couple of confusing female Tufted Ducks, one in particular had an ever larger and brighter white patch on its face so care was needed pointing out the right bird to the other birders in the hide wanting to connect with it.
with it being duller and cloudier than on our previous visit with CR we decided to go and have a look at the Starling murmuration down on the inner coastal marshes. Driving down we saw a bit of a crowd had already gathered. Joining them it wasn't long before we were watching about 10000 (total guess) Starlings weaving around over the reedbed but not really murmurating properly. Then they all swooped into the reeds to roost. Other flocks mostly small, a couple of hundred strong, but a few larger (1000+) joined them. They got up out of the reeds a couple of times but never really got going and soon settled back down. Still an awesome spectacle to enjoy and as the number of joining flocks dwindled we called it a day...and a very good one at that.

Three really good safaris totally enjoyed - - but what was the cracker in between??? 
Well on one of morning dog walks along Chat Alley we bumped into a very confiding Snow Bunting, the first we've ever seen there. A great patch tick...Happy Days. But no camera in the half-light of a dull dawn with the dog.

Where to next? Might have a safari even further north tomorrow if the weather forecast for sunny sunshine and light winds turns out to be correct.

In the meantime let us know who's hiding in plain sight in your outback