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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Where's Mum Gone?

Awake early I decided to go with my instincts rather than the weather forecast but at 05.30 it was grey, leaden and a fine drizzle but I thought it might clear up. My first attempt at a photo resulted in exposure of over two seconds, which hand held isn't going to get you far. 
Newton marsh was once again very quite so on to Lytham. The sky was grey and 'stormy' but out to the west there was a clear gap on the horizon and my guess that it would brighten up from the west appeared justified. Inland it looked awful. Nothing showing at Lytham Green. Fairlawn Road provided Pied Wagtail and Swallow again along the wall, together with a juvenile Meadow Pipit, that led me a merry dance and took about thirty minutes to identify, simply by popping in and out of the grass along the sea wall and the light was still appalling. In the Bay, 60+ Redshank, 60+ Oystercatcher, the usual assortment of Gulls of various ages,  Lesser Black Backed, four Canada Geese from Fairhaven Lake and a Whimbrel.

A quick trawl around Fairhaven Car Park and a look at the lake and on to Fairhaven Dunes. By this time a couple of hours had passed and the dog walkers were out in force. Around the Dunes more than 20 Meadow Pipits were being constantly disturbed by the dog walkers, so the trick was to get 50 yards in front of them and wait for the birds to be flushed towards me! Just as I was departing another juvenile Meadow Pipit appeared close by and spent ten minutes calling for it's parents who eventually turned up. I was surprised to see a pair of Reed Buntings at the edge of the dunes while the Common Whitethroat was found again in the same hawthorn adjacent to the road. By now the 'pair of sailors trousers' (a patch of blue sky) had increased and the sun was out and the sky blue! As a consequence a number of Meadow Browns had taken to the wing. One of my favourite plants the Sea Holly was just coming into flower... my visit just a few days too early, one of the reasons I'd decided to pop down this way again. It is really one of those desert plants, a Xerophyte (a plant capable of surviving in an environment with little fresh water... one for the Scrabble board!) and remarkably a member of the carrot family. And finally a Tufted Duck by Fairhaven Lake before dashing off to do what a man has got to do.

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Monday, 19 July 2010

On t'beach

I think we are all going stir crazy now with this weather and all. Enough said?
I managed to jump out between showers to little avail but I did bump into that lovely man Maurice Jones for another quick chat. After a quick call by Newton Marsh which was 'dead' I ended up at Lytham at Fairlawn Road in the hope something interesting might have blown in. I hadn't checked the tide times and the tide was just beginning to ebb. A number of Swallows were coursing the sea wall and tidal debris, picking off sand flies and insects I guess. What surprised me was a number of Swallows landing on the sea wall. Taking a break from proceedings and preparing themselves for their long journey I guess. I say surprising because one expects to see Swallows on overhead wires and cables etc and not too often do you see them landing on the beach and sea walls, but probably nothing out of the ordinary; I have seen them land on tarmacadam roads so no big deal. 
Along with the Swallows were a number of what I think were Pied Wagtails. Alba mozzerella and all that do my head in, so let's just say these juveniles all appeared in varying juvenile plumage. By all means advise. (I know it's a cheese... just a little joke... I need to brush up on my Latin... 'THAT BOY in the corner...' was always me!).
Popped into Fairhaven Dunes and apart from four juvenile Blue Tits, two Long-Tailed Tits there was a Whitethroat. Nothing of interest around the sea wall other then 'Jake the Peg'. Sadly I came across this rabbit with 'mix a ma toes innit'. I know they can be a damn nuisance but to see any animal with a disease, and one introduced by our good selves is 'disappointing'.
Newton Marsh on the way home didn't really produce anything other than a Sparrowhawk flying over eastbound carrying food. And yes it was raining here too! Just about to go and get the bailer... I may be gone for sometime!

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Sunday, 18 July 2010


Just a quick word, as you will know not only new at 'birding' but also at this blogging m'larkey and my inadequacies accepted. Maybe it is my neurosis and paranoia manifesting itself, which has always shied me away from this type of blog and desire for anonymity; however I have noticed this blog going 'pear-shaped' in a spectacular short period of time. Many of the original links don't work and have gone AWOL and I have noted some of the content appearing elsewhere already without permission. Not a problem for those that ask and obtain consent but copyright is copyright, respect is respect, for one another and all that. There is and always will be ignorance and stupidity but deliberate misuse is not acceptable and file corruption and crawling computer virus's are not in the slightest way clever or funny (rhymes with 'anchors'). I may have to check out the security settings but if anyone has any knowledge of specific security issues on these blogs and on the web, I would be pleased to hear from you.

My apologies if you are finding access frustrating and links that don't work, I will try and repair what I can as soon as possible (but don't hold your breath). If you come across any problems, do let me know.

Now let's get back to the wildlife etc.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A Family Affair – Common Terns again

Juvenile Common Tern beginning to look like an adult
(Just to clarify and thanks to Chris Batty for highlighting the need for clarification – not this year's bird but a returning Common Tern. As you will know Common Terns leave in autumn to spend our winter in West Africa... this is a first or second summer bird. )

We had already had a torrential downpour, rain was in the air and the sky was threatening and subsequently lived up to the threat. As a consequence it was more like night than day... a real test for any photography and being inept I was never going to get a 'great' shot. You may see the rain on the water in some of the images. Armed with a large umbrella I decided it would be worthwhile to see what stage of development the young terns were now at.

A great deal of posturing was going on between the adults
Relationships were reinforced
Gosh what a racket! Squabbling, posturing and feeding Terns everywhere calling to each other, at each other and for each other. It was quite good fun watching all this behaviour. The bundles of fluff that was the new-born have grown into what nearly looks like adults and even taken to the air – sort of. I managed to count 14 Common Terns, I think, certainly 13, including at the moment 3 juveniles. The reason I say I think is there is so much activity with birds coming and going they are never in one place long enough to establish a head count. It is interesting that the Common Terns command the south side of the dock and wo betide any intruders, whereas the Gulls seem to have settled for the north side... but that may also be due to the detritus fed to them from the local takeaways. Nevertheless the Common Terns have also begun to take over the end of those floating pontoons on the north side too... hence the difficult head count.
Adult and junior for comparison
Someone looking to rob an easy meal?
Catching fish is one thing – getting it safely home is another
At last...
I think our male Common Tern from last year was doing all the feeding, he was at least seen more than once with fish in his beak and feeding the juveniles, but also reinforcing his relationship by bringing food back for 'her in-doors'. As a consequence any fish brought to beak led to continual and constant harassment by other adult terns. An adult with food for junior frequently undertook one or two flybys before being able to land and pass-on the catch, but sometimes simply had to land elsewhere first. At one point there was one adult with food with a trail of four would be interceptors. I am curious to know what they are feeding on, what type of fish and where they are being caught, not really seen any fishing in the Dock itself, although I have seen the odd plunge dive.

Trial flights don't always go to plan
And getting back in the air can be problematic when you're new at it...
Mum and Dad pop by to add encouragement...?
and eventually we have lift-off
The eldest two of the young Common Terns have taken to the air but are still finding their wings. As a consequence at one point the two of them ended up ditching into the water. This attracted the attention of the adults. It wasn't clear if they were being 'mobbed' by other non parental adults whereas two grown-ups did land alongside. A great deal of discussion and shouting appeared to take place, I assume by way of encouragement. But the parents soon left leaving the youngsters to it. A great deal of flapping and at first I thought they were bathing before realising it was frantic attempts to get airborne. The eldest eventually succeeding and flopped onto one of the pontoons leaving what I again assume to be the younger sibling still on the water. After another few minutes this too achieved an aerial return to the pontoon. Throughout, the youngest remained quietly behind, often flattened to the pontoon adjacent to the tyre that has served as home for he last few weeks waiting to be fed.
adult male  – SV43507
The adult male made one of his visits to the post for a bit of peace and quiet to do some feather rearrangement.

I am reliably informed by Chris Batty from the Fylde Bird Club that this bird was ringed as a chick at Doffcocker Lodge, Bolton, Greater Manchester on 14th June 2006. The ring number is SV43507. 

The skies darkened and I mean darkened, so it was time to leave, but it looked as if it might clear out to the west so I decided to pop down to Newton Marsh. Boy did the heavens open, within five minutes a true thunderstorm that battered down which even the windscreen wipers failed to deal with. 

Newton Marsh was particularly quiet, not surprising at this time of year and the water level is particularly low. However the constant and continual shotgun sound from Longton Clay Pigeon Shoot may not have helped. Doesn't seem to be an ideal location for such an activity, I would have thought it would disturb wildlife and wader roosts out on Longton and Clifton Marsh, but what do I know. 

Newton Marsh – What is it?
One matter I would seek your opinion on is – swallows often use the road as a feeding station and swoop and patrol the tarmac itself, maybe it is a bit warmer with residual heat than elsewhere and attract insects and I have seen Swallows land on the road here! I proceeded to the United Utilities plant at the end of the road and turned around at the gates. I 'drive' on idle, i.e as slow as possible, just keeping the wheels turning. The windows were covered in rain but before me, heading straight at the car, at two feet above the tarmac of the road hurtled a falcon. Slate grey wings; the two wings flashed past the car at speed and gone. I did see a patch of orange somewhere as it hurtled by. It wasn't very big and my immediate thought was a male Merlin, which are known to hunt hereabouts. Subsequently the 'flash of orange' worried me and I wondered about 'Hobby', then the obvious 'Sparrowhawk'. It didn't seem big enough for Sparrowhawk and I have seen quite a few and I didn't think it was. I put the complete wingspan down to the size of my steering wheel and having just measured it at 14 inches (36cm)  At the height I wondered if it was pursuing Swallows along the road and if a Sparrowhawk would exhibit this behaviour. Last year I found a Hobby feeding on a fence post hereabouts. I'll probably never know, if you have any thoughts or want to guess, I'll be pleased to hear what you think. 

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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Nothing much

All a bit quiet I am afraid
I am afraid one way or another and I haven't been out and about recently. Mind you the weather and light has not been inspiring, much like today, warm but grey and overcast, perhaps where you are it has been better.

I am fortunate to live within one hundred paces of a watercourse, in fact it is one of the reason for buying the property I am in. So today it was a late lunch and a stroll before the rains arrived, and as I write they appear to be here any moment and by the looks of it with thunder for good measure.

So my stroll always involve a beeline to the watercourse, and sure enough as  approached a flash of brilliant blue and a kingfisher shot off in the other direction. The watercourse isn't maintained and is heavily overgrown with willow, ideal habitat... for all sorts of things. In fact the big old Willow directly in front of me as I approach has been circumnavigated by a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. The Moorhen are always hidden under the overgrown margins.

I was fortunate enough last year to follow and photograph a family of five kingfishers and it is reassuring to see kingfishers again this year, although I have been concerned about mink and human disturbance, which has prevented me from pursuing them with any intensity. If you know when and where to look you can often come across one or two, but they are gone in a flash, literally, if you do not approach with great stealth, but even then there is no guarantee of a sighting. I must have spent days in hours spent sitting and waiting until all feeling has disappeared from various parts of the anatomy. I intended to set up a hide this year, but it hasn't happened.

I hope to add the story of last years exploits and sightings at a later date. So in the meantime one of the images from last year – if only to illustrate the difficulty in obtaining a clear view of these fabulous little birds.

I don't know if it was the impending change in the weather, you could feel the change in atmospheric pressure but everything was as quiet as a mouse. There seemed something wrong. No birds were singing, the silence was deafening – all very odd. A few Blackbirds scurried about and one of the many Magpie. A couple of Mallard in moult and unusually three Moorhen (unusual as it's normally an odd one). I checked in on a Wren's nest I know and thankfully all was peaceful. A Brown Hawker dragonfly was looking for prey, coursing one location, but moving so fast I had no chance... one day! A Comma butterfly was feeding on some blackberry flowers and there appears to have been a sudden influx of Gatekeeper butterflies, they were everywhere. All the damselflies appear to have disappeared but that might be something to do with the weather. And finally, recently the Goldfinches have been in the garden feeding the noisy and flapping children.

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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Pied Wagtails a-go-go

Late afternoon and a gap in proceedings, the need for fresh air set me off in search of a bank where sand martins were at roost, 'not far away'! Needless to say I missed it from the directions provided by a friend... my fault obviously. So before I knew where I was, Abbeystead beckoned. The open moors and barely a car about , the silence only pierced by calling Curlew... of which there were many throughout the evening. The bright sunshine of the coastal plain disappeared as I climbed the side of the Pennines and indeed light rain greeted me at my first stop, to see what was sat on the road ahead, an adult Pied Wagtail.

I cannot recall my last visit to Abbeystead, if indeed there ever was one, as I have always by-passed this location on the road to Marshaw and Dunsop Bridge, so I didn't know where I was. Down by the river I came across a Spotted Flycatcher having a bath in rocks and pools adjacent the main stream, along with a male chaffinch and then a song thrush on the tractor track. A female blackbird and an Oystercatcher in the field. It was so overcast I only managed 'record' photographs. (In the voice of Michae Caine, "did you know... Dunsop Bridge is one of the locations that claims to be the centre of England". I bet you did).

Above Abbeystead there was a number of Curlew in a field but I couldn't slow down sufficient or stop to count numbers, about 20 I reckon. Over a cattle grid and there was space to pull over and I was able to pick up a singing skylark high above along with three meadow pipits on the open moorland. Eventually they joined me alongside the road, close, but never quite close enough.

On the way home on the Abbeystead–Scorton Road the noise from calling Oystercatchers was at one point deafening! I came across a field with over 30 pied wagtails, primarily juveniles! They were everywhere. 3 or 4 at a time on the fence, in a tree, down by the stream, on a wall or collectively in a field. Interestingly I only really saw 2 adults but there may have been many more.

As I walked the road using the stone wall 'as cover', an adult appeared to keep a close eye on me. Down by the stream there was a Grey Wagtail and 2 Common Sandpipers, only poor record shots in poor light. The fields were full of calling Oystercatchers and a few Lapwing keeping an eye on proceedings. I don't think I have ever seen so many rabbits hereabouts. I think they must know the law, that shooting within a given distance of the Queens Highway is forbidden... drive slowly, they are everywhere. Must be carrion heaven.

The light had been poor and the sun peeped out briefly under the cloud cover just as it was setting, before disappearing again. Needless to say two Oystercatchers sat conveniently close by, only on the wrong side of the road, being 'backlit', so all detail was obscured. Interestingly one was carrying leg irons, but no chance of seeing any detail. Then further along another 'viewpoint' a lapwing was in close proximity... which seemed odd, so I didn't hang about and drew off in the car onto the highway to be confronted with 'junior' crossing the road, about ten days old I reckon. That explains it!

Then dropping back down off the moor the sun provided an interesting sky in the west (well it would wouldn't it!). The solitude and peace and quite apart from the birds calling was appreciated.

'Video' isn't great, probably because I don't know what I'm doing, but I do hope it brings some 'life' to this nonsense.

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