Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Last week in February

Not all my sightings are on special trips, in fact most will be when I am surveying round Cuerden Valley Park or  other tasks with the various charities for whom I volunteer. These are A Rocha UK, Lancs Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Lancashire Badger Group and I keep a record of flowering dates for Chorley Natural History Society. Saturday 25th Feb was the morning I led Cuerden Watch/Wildlife Explorers group. We were searching for animal tracks in the valley. At the start it seemed mainly dog tracks until we went to a more secluded part of the Park. One of the Junior Leaders found some interesting tracks under the bark of a piece of wood found on the ground. I have discovered it is almost impossible to identify which beetle grub made these.

We then saw some roe deer tracks and poured some Plaster of Paris into the print so we had a permanent record. On our return journey I saw a primrose in flower and also some Dog's Mercury.
Tuesday 28th I had to go to Mere Sands Wood and took advantage of the visit to have a look round. At Rufford hide there was a crowd of folk with cameras. The reason was the presence of two bitterns quite close to the hide. On my way home I called at a private site and was rewarded by the sight of two short-eared owls. Finally as I was getting back into the car I spotted both opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage and common mouse-ear. The picture is of the Golden saxifrage and was taken by my brother.

Total now 214

Monday, February 27, 2012

West of Wells Feb 17 - 24

The day starts with the short trip from Wells-next-the-Sea to Holkham. The fields near the entrance to Holkham gap are unusually bereft of geese so a brisk walk took us to the beach. A walk Eastwards towards the sand dunes initiated our search for shore larks. They have been in short supply this year but after about a twenty minute careful search we saw the four birds not too far from the dunes. There had also been some Lapland Buntings reported the previous day, but no success for anyone this day for these birds. On returning to the woodland we heard firecrest in an oak, which turned out to be Holm Oak and another to add to my list. We then saw some goldeneyes, some Canada geese, a few little grebes and a muntjack deer

Our next port of call was the Hawk & Owl Trust reserve at Sculthorpe Moor. This is a small reserve but I would encourage anyone who visits North Norfolk to pay a visit. As we arrived someone had just seen Golden Pheasant but that was not our privilege. On our way to the woodland hide we did see and hear both willow and marsh tits as well as the more common species. Consuming lunch in the hide ensured we had good views of red legged partridge and a great spotted woodpecker. They have another hide overlooking a scrape where a very obliging water rail comes to feed every 25 minutes. He shot back into cover when a grey Heron flew too close. We returned towards the visitor centre and as we got closer someone waved to us to hurry to where they were standing. They had spotted the Golden Pheasant. It does not look real, and how such a brightly coloured bird can be so hard to spot is one of life's mysteries. I managed one shot
From a small reserve to a large one. Welney WWT reserve is some distance, but within reach. The day continued to be dry and sunny helping us to see lots of hares and avian game. I continued to decline the pheasants' invitation to run them over. At the reserve wildfowl were in abundance with Whooper swans, pintail, wigeon, tufted duck, gadwall and of course mallards. I asked one of the folk there was there anything about but his reply "Nothing" made me feel disappointed for him. There were all the birds I had just mentioned as well as a couple of hares and four roe deer. The day I don't get excited about blue tits or house sparrows, is the day I cease to be a naturalist. A walk northwards to the furthest hide enabled us to see a few Bewick swans just flying in. The other thing I noticed here as at Cley, was the shortage of water. I think all of us need to mange our water use better, think of more ways to save water and those of us who believe in prayer, pray that more rain will come to the South and East.  Tichwell RSPB reserve was the next destination. We were trying to catch the high tide. Part of our journey took us through Brancaster Staithe and we were delighted to see a rough legged buzzard. There had been several reported in the area. After parking up at Tichwell, we glimpsed another Arctic Redpoll and another obliging water rail

They have built a new hide since I was last here and I was impressed by it. The volunteers were very good as well, even though one of them upstaged me by saying he had his 30 year volunteering badge, as opposed to my only 20 years. Brent geese, lots of gulls, which included two Mediterraneans, pintail, gadwall, redshanks, avocets and the ubiquitous coot were good to see. Continuing to the shore we passed a spotted redshank feeding in the brackish lagoon.

Once on the beach, the telescope came into play. Scores of gulls flying past were just the preliminary act to the stars of the show. There was a small raft of common scoter and suddenly, right by them a red-throated diver. It was stunning, and so close to shore. Another group of birds approached but with the ocean swell, identification was a problem. Fortunately they too came very close and we enjoyed seeing five long-tailed ducks - fantastic !! Dusk was making viewing difficult so we headed back to the hostel. We were not surprised to see another barn owl right by the edge of the road. This meant I have seen more barn owls this year than I have house sparrows. The last three blogs have been a condensed version of my week's visit that brought my Challenge total to 205  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

East of Wells again Feb 17-24

We set off at 0640 to look for the Arctic redpoll. As we passed Salthouse a Barn Owl silently glided across the road but we were not to be distracted from our initial goal. It was very quiet when we arrived at Kelling, so we tried not to disturb any of the locals. Jackdaws and blackbirds were first at the breakfast table with a few goldfinches and a dunnock joining later. We did not have to wait long for the redpolls to arrive. As the previous day several lesser redpoll and the occasional mealy consumed the nyjer seed with gusto. Suddenly it was there, a slightly larger bird, but so much white on it, made it unmistakeable. It was time to return to the YHA for porridge and toast.

A quick visit to the beach at Salthouse to enjoy snow buntings, and a careful drive past Cley enabled us to see another Barn Owl sitting on a post on the reserve side of the road. After our late breakfast it was time to go to Lynford Arboretum. The journey was a fruitful one for my challenge. I saw grey partridge, ground ivy in flower and a tree I hadn't recognised before - a walnut

It was a warm sunny day and on arriving at our destination it did not take too long to see hawfinch. There were a couple of bonuses here as well. A Firecrest singing near the car park and a few crossbills continued to make our day special. The most unexpected sighting was of a Red Admiral, my first butterfly of the year. Even with these newer sightings, I continued to enjoy the other wildlife around. There were lots of suicidal pheasant, ( I didn't oblige) several brown hares, lots of geese, a few skulking Red Legged partridge and even a house sparrow or two. The best thing about the middle of the week was Shrove Tuesday. I enjoy making pancakes but even more, I enjoy eating them.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wonderful Wells-next-the-Sea Feb 17 - 24

I spent several days holiday in North Norfolk to celebrate my 70th birthday. Here at Wells YHA hostel is where I chose to have my base. It only cost just over £16 per night but I did need to make my own meals. The bedroom was comfortably warm as were the lounge areas. Dining area was clean and bright and the showers great. The warden was very helpful even providing a list of Norfolk bird sightings from Birdguides.  Those of us having a bus pass can use the service which travels along the north coast from Cromer to Hunstanton for free, thus saving money and reducing our carbon footprint. A friend of mine arrived at the hostel unexpectedly and offered to occasionally give me a lift to the more remote sites

First location was Salthouse, just east of Cley. We started at the shingle beach where the turnstones and a single knot were almost tripping us up. To hear them calling as they fed was delightful. A flock of snow buntings kept moving around us but were never too far away. As I was trying to photograph them I heard the unique call of  Brent geese. Some other birders were also there and asked if we had seen the Arctic Redpoll. We hadn't but their directions were very good and within ten minutes we arrived at the site. There was a medium sized garden with several bird feeders and lots of birds taking advantage of the food on offer. Goldfinches, blackbirds, greenfinches, dunnocks and an occasional house sparrow were only the preliminary to the stars of the show. Scores of lesser redpoll were joined by a few mealy redpoll, but on this visit no sign of the Arctic redpoll.

 There were some workmen just across the road, who we suspected were the cause of the no show. we decided to return early on another day before the workmen arrived. We then thought it best to visit the Norfolk WT reserve at Cley, which some say is the best reserve in the country. ( My favourite is Abernethy RSPB) More Brent geese and hundreds of wigeon greeted us as we entered the first hide. A kestrel dived immediately in front of us and started to consume his dinner. Not to be outdone, three marsh harriers were practicing their display over the reeds. The duck species visible were shoveler, more wigeon, gadwall and shelduck whilst the waders included dunlin, ringed plover and the elegant avocet.

 We had lunch in the visitor centre and then walked all round the reserve. The only addition to our weekly total was a Cetti's warbler trying to perfect his song. This brought my challenge total to 185. Leaving our car at the Hostel we decided to walk towards the sea from Wells harbour. Little grebes, herring gulls, curlews and a single bar tailed godwit were in evidence as we walked towards the RNLI boathouse from where we could see both common and grey seals on the sand bars. We also saw a smallish grebe just off point where the lifeboat shed is. This proved to be a red necked grebe. ( Identification was only possible after two more walks, later in the week out to the RNLI boathouse with a telescope).  The sun was just setting so we returned to base for soup, spuds and a shower before sleep.