Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Spotted Redshank Spotted

The weather wasn't exactly conducive for common autumn migrants this morning so I wasn't too surprised to find nothing lurking in the bushes. I didn't even see a blackcap and only noted 2 chiffchaff - it was as if everything had cleared out overnight.
At least things are livening up at Freeman's Pools; I counted an impressive 10 little grebe on the main pool. Coot numbers have increased slightly with 32 present and along with the 6 wigeon there were 4 newly arrived tufted duck. A little egret was on the island along with a grey heron.
A greenshank, common sandpiper and adult Mediterranean gull were on the river off Marsh Point.
A calling spotted redshank flew over me as I walked toward the Wildfowlers' Pools - perhaps it had come up from there or the Flood? It continued on toward Freeman's Pools but seemed to drop onto the river somewhere near the old tip. We don't get too many 'spotshanks' on the patch so that was nice wee surprise.
Other than a dozen or so dunlin and 5 golden plover there was nothing among the many redshank and lapwing at Gull Bank.
The relatively warm sunshine had brought out the usual array of common dragonflies and butterflies.


Monday, 14 September 2015

Whinchat Saves The Day

With Dan sending a message yesterday saying that there were 4 whinchat on Heaton Marsh, and Pete Marsh texting this morning with news of a firecrest at Heysham, along with good numbers of other migrants, I couldn't wait to get out and see was waiting to be found at Aldcliffe.
I finally got out to onto the patch just before 9am (a little later than ideal but sometimes other things simply get in the way of birding). 

A slow stroll through Freeman's Wood revealed little more than a few chiffchaff and the odd 'tecking' blackcap. In fact it seemed eerily devoid of even common resident species.
Freeman's Pool hosted a kingfisher plus the usual bits and pieces. Six wigeon certainly lent an air of autumn to the scene.

The hedgerows were pretty quiet until I finally found a pair of male blackcaps along the upper cinder track. A nice whitethroat was also present along with a handful of chiffchaff. Then it started to rain and the sky filled with swallows plus a couple of dozen house martin. At one point I could see at least 300 swallows feeding low over the maize fields and marsh.
A green sandpiper called from the direction of the Wildfowlers' Pools.
The next bout of activity came from the hedge just beyond Walled Meadow where a small tit flock included two more whitethroat, a willow warbler and several chiffchaff.
As I headed back along the cycle track I came across a trio of female blackcap gorging on elderberries near the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Three grey partridge were picking their way through the grass in a nearby field.
Another tit flock in the track hawthorns was momentarily almost exciting as it contained 3 lesser whitethroat and 2 willow warbler, but sadly nothing more exotic.
A very small number of pied wagtail and meadow pipit passed over during my three hours birding on the patch.
The only real highlight was the last-minute discovery of a whinchat sat on the newly trimmed hedgerow near the flood defence bunds. It was in the company of yet another whitethroat.    

I have another day off tomorrow, so I'll doubtless be sporting my trusty optimism-hat and be heading down once more in the hope of finding something worthy of a message to RBA... wish me luck :-)


Friday, 11 September 2015

Breezy Like A Friday Morning

Red darvic ringed Canada goose
Inspired by yesterday's impressive haul down the road at Fairhaven Lake, Lytham St. Anne's (two barred warblers and a wryneck!) I stepped out on to the patch with an air of ΓΌber-optimism this morning. Who knows what might be lurking in the mass of Aldcliffe hawthorns and elders?
Who indeed. Not me, that's for sure.
The wind (although theoretically coming from a helpful direction) was pretty stiff and the vast majority of songbirds were keeping a low profile.
In some sheltered areas I was able to find a few birds, but alas my hoped-for scarce migrant remained decidedly scarce.
Here's the best I could do in a couple of hours:
Freeman's Wood - 2 Blackcap, 1 willow warbler, 2 chiffchaff.
Walled Meadow - redstart, 2 willow warbler, 3 chiffchaff and a common whitethroat.
Upper cinder track - 1 lesser whitethroat, 5 chiffchaff.
Small numbers of swallow were moving, plus a group of 6 sand martin passed through.

A green sandpiper and 3 little grebe were at the Wildfowlers' Pools while a greenshank was heard calling from somewhere out on Aldcliffe Marsh.
3 wigeon, 2 gadwall, 7 little grebe & 22 coot were on Freeman's Pools.

Common darter - immature male (I think!)
The large flock of Canada geese were grazing by Frog Pond and I was able to 'scope the letters on a few of the red darvic rings. As ever, a few had to remain unread thanks to them being mud-smeared or simply too deep in the grass to read. Oh, and the bloody wind didn't help either.
When the sun came out, good numbers of speckled wood were evident plus plenty of common darters, a few migrant hawkers and a couple of brown hawkers were seen. 


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Pec Of The Pops

I've had a busy couple of weeks since my last post here.
I spent the best part of a week in the North East, with three days working at the RSPB's fab Saltholme reserve near Middlesborough.
While there I stayed in the seaside 'resort' of Seaton Carew. The great thing about this was my seaview, which allowed me to 'scope the bird-filled North Sea from my bedroom window. Staring out to sea on our coast can be somewhat frustrating, with comparatively few good bird days to be had (still definitely worth doing in the right conditions!). However, a cursory few minutes peering through my 'scope from Seaton rewarded me with views of countless terns, rafts of eider and common scoter, plus fly-by auks, fulmars, gannets and Arctic skuas.
Given the time of year, I was rather hopeful of a few decent migrants along the coast and each morning I checked a few likely hotspots: Seaton Common, Seaton cemetery, North Gare, etc. Unfortunately it wasn't as productive as I'd hoped and other than a few whinchats grounded migrants were minimal. I did get superb views of a short-eared owl though, so it wasn't all bad.
At Saltholme itself, waders were the main news with little stints, curlew sandpiper and other regular autumn shorebirds passing through. A couple of eclipse plumage garganey were still on site as well as the very unseasonal smew that arrived a few weeks earlier.

I returned to the west coast last Thursday and headed off down to Aldcliffe for a spot of proper patch birding.
First off, a dazzling kingfisher was at Freeman's Pools but not much else was there. Checking the bushes along the cycle track I was dismayed by the lack of migrants - a lone chiffchaff was the only bird of note.
At Gull Bank I scanned through the roosting lapwing. A nice trio of golden plover were nice to see, and then I spotted something else. It had its back to me, and it was clearly smaller than the nearby plover and lapwing. Palish legs were evident but I couldn't really get anything else on it until all the birds raised their heads in response to a passing peregrine. It was clearly a calidrid and as it turned I could see the clear 'braces' on its mantle and 'warm', streaky breast - it was a juvenile pectoral sandpiper!

A pectoral sandpiper
As soon as I'd realised what it was I was looking at, all the birds got up as the marauding peregrine piled in. I kept on the sandpiper as the flock flew around in panic. The indistinct wing bar and white patches at the sides of the tail were notable.
Thankfully the birds soon resettled and I was able to see the pec much better this time but within a matter of half a minute or so they all went up and again, thanks to that pesky falcon! This happened once more with the majority of birds landing again but this time the pec was further away, and seemed a little agitated. On the fourth flush the lapwings all went up again but the sandpiper headed high and I thought that it was going to just keep gaining height but it rapidly dropped down onto the estuary somewhere between where I was stood and Snatchems.   
I headed down to Marsh Point to see if I could relocate it but there was no sign of it. Of practically no compensation were a ruff and an adult Mediterranean gull.
I had tried to get a snap of the distant bird using my hand-held camera but failed spectacularly - so here's one I prepared earlier (to use Blue Peter parlance). This was taken in Canada. 

The following day I had another look (after failing first to see the Caspian gull and Cocker's Dyke) but other than a pair of greenshank, the estuary failed to reveal any waders of note.

I then spent the weekend near Brampton at the well-publicised bee-eater breeding site. With the first youngster fledging on Friday we were expecting a few days of excitement as the remaining chicks emerged from the nest tunnel to join the family flying around for all and sundry to see. Alas, it was not to be quite as we'd hoped. No other chicks left the nest, and the adults and single young bird took off and spent the day about 1/2 a mile away! On Sunday there was no sign of any bee-eaters whatsoever. Despite the rather disappointing outcome, we were at least cheered by the fact that although only one young bird had left the nest it was still a success - and only the third ever successful breeding by this truly enigmatic species in the United Kingdom! Not to be sniffed at.
Oh, and while I was at Brampton I got word that Guy McClelland and re found the pectoral sandpiper again at Gull Bank on Saturday. Nice! 

It was back to routine yesterday with a good 2-plus hours spent scouring Aldcliffe. Highlights included a nice 1st winter male common redstart at Walled Meadow along with a lesser whitethroat. A reed warbler was at Bank Pool and a green sandpiper was at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
A repeat trudge this morning was slightly birdier with a juv-type marsh harrier being the best bird. It had attracted the attention of a pair of ravens who busily mobbed it until it drifted across the river and headed towards Heysham at considerable height.
There were tons of swallows moving though, and what was presumably the same redstart was again at Walled Meadow. 
A nice feeding group of birds in an elder included 2 blackcap, 2 lesser whitethroat and a handful of willow warbler and chiffchaff. Another lesser whitethroat was in the hedge further along. A common whitethroat was at Freeman's Wood.
One each of green sandpiper and greenshank were at the Wildfolwers' Pools.


Monday, 24 August 2015

Conder Green With Envy

Lesser yellowlegs, Conder
I was working at the Birdfair at Rutland Water over the weekend so when news broke that a lesser yellowlegs had been found at Conder on Sunday I wasn't in much of a position to do anything about it.
Of course it's only 3 years ago that Aldcliffe played host to this rare trans-Atlantic wader but nonetheless, yank shorebirds are always great to see so close to home turf.

Naturally, once back in Lancashire, I spent the first part of my birding day today checking the patch before continuing along the cycle track to 'mini-twitch' the vagrant tringa. Well, one has to have one's priorities in place.
Despite the active management work being undertaken by Lancashire Wildlife Trust staff at Freeman's Pools, there were still plenty of birds to see there.
The first autumn gadwall were back with two eclipse birds present and similarly five post-breeding wigeon were also on the main pool.
I counted 12 little grebe and 22 coot.
A single common sandpiper was on the Lune off Marsh Point.
Teal numbers continue to grow at the Wildfowlers' Pools. Last week around 70 were on the pools; today the numbers exceeded 120 birds.
A lone green sandpiper was feeding at the Flood but there was little else there.
Among the throng of common and black-headed gulls at Gull Bank I picked out 3 adult winter Mediterranean gulls while the large lapwing flock on the sandy shore included a couple of golden plover.
A female merlin gave great views as she spooked the waders before heading across to Heaton Marsh and a large juvenile peregrine added to the pandemonium by harassing the birds further upriver.
Masses of the usual gulls, common waders and little egrets were feeding along the estuary on the dropping tide but other than a greenshank and a further 5 golden plover there wasn't much to add.

Lesser yellowlegs
When I arrived at Conder the yellowlegs was showing well but unfortunately the light was behind it. I tried to see if it was visible from the Conder Pool side but soon made my way back to the foot bridge and 'scoped it from the road there. I managed a couple of iffy record digi-shots, as you can see. A couple of ruff and up to 3 common sandpiper were also present.


Monday, 17 August 2015

Dan's Dragonfly Roundup

Hello. Dan here.

Two decent dragons were on the patch on the 13th; the Ruddy Darter pictured below and a Common Hawker.

My first record of either here in 7 or 8 years. Ruddy Darter is in decline in Lancashire.

Other odonata sightings in recent visits have included some of the first Migrant Hawkers, ovipositing Common Darters and building numbers of Emerald damsels.

The bird scene has been less interesting, with two adult Meds and a Greenshank the best I could manage today.

Human disturbance to the estuary doesn't let up. Birds are forced onto the relative safety of the lip of Colloway Marsh...and then jet-skis move them on again. The conduct of a 'professional' dog-walker with eight off-lead canines on the marshes today was anything but.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Off-Patch Bongo-Bird

Juvenile ruff
After having a good trundle around the regular Aldcliffe area this morning, I decided to stray off-patch for a bit and paid a visit to Conder.

Highlights from Aldcliffe included 6 green sandpiper on the Wildfowlers' Pool (5 seen on my way to Conder, 6 on my return). A single common sandpiper was also picking its way around the edges but there was no sign of the garganey, despite the presence of half a dozen teal.
The female tufted duck was again at Freeman's Pools. Little grebe and coot numbers have increased here in recent days, with up to 7 grebe and 14 coot on the main pool.
A couple of noisy peregrines were mucking about around the pylons, keeping the local lapwings on their toes.

Snoozing bongo-bird
So, having failed to find much of note along the upper Lune estuary (with the exception of loads of little egrets) I pedaled onward toward Glasson, hoping to see if the spoonbill was still hanging around the Conder estuary mouth.
It was.
And it was doing what spoonbills are so fond of doing.
It was characteristically stood with its ridiculous spatulate beak concealed beneath the folds in it wings, snoozing away out on the marsh. It did lift its head out at one point and even flew a short distance before assuming its statue-like stance once more.
As the tide dropped to reveal its food-filled mud, I had a quick look around the Conder. Along with the many redshank and lapwing were smaller numbers of black-tailed godwit, curlew, dunlin and common sandpiper plus a lone juvenile ruff (pictured) and a greenshank.