Monday, 27 June 2016

Dragons Emerge In The Sun

The past few visits I've made around the Aldcliffe area have been pretty interesting, one way of the other.
On the sunnier days, the highlights have definitely been insect-related; dragonflies and butterflies have been much in evidence.
Relatively recent colonists such as black-tailed skimmer appear to be settling in nicely with mating pairs and individuals on Frog Pond (where the photo here was taken) and Darter Pool.
Dazzling emperor dragonflies can now be found on all the pools and I was pleased to spot a broad-bodied chaser at Darter Pool a couple of days ago. Hundreds of common blue and blue-tailed damselflies too are prolific on warmer days.

Good news (if such low productivity can be hailed as 'good') from the Wildfowlers' Pools concerns the appearance of a brood of 4 lapwing chicks. A pair behaving like 'new parents' in the one of the maize fields also looks promising but given the number of pairs that initially settled in to nest this is pretty dire stuff. Hardly surprising that the numbers of lapwing have decreased massively in England recent decades.
The reappearance of little ringed plovers on The Flood last week wasn't much of a surprise. A pair of adults with a well-fledged youngster implies local-ish breeding but as far as I'm aware there were no nesting pairs on the patch at all this year. I suspect that these birds nested not too far away in some un-watched grubby industrial spot. 
In other baby-bird news; I accidentally flushed a pair of grey partridge the other day, revealing a brood of tiny, recently hatched chicks. Let's hope that some of these make it to adulthood to prop up the dwindling local population.  
The pair of avocets seen on the Lune off Aldcliffe Marsh last week were presumably not those currently nesting further down river.


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Quail Fail

My few visits to the patch have been pretty unremarkable over the past few days; a pair of tufted duck have appeared on Freeman's Pools and the mute swan pair have actually hatched eight cygnets (not seven as I said in my last post).
The first returning greylags and Canada geese dropped in too - numbers of both these 'resident' species should increase significantly in the coming weeks. Similarly, lapwings have started gathering in the fields - these all presumably failed or non-breeders. I have yet to see a single youngster around the Aldcliffe area this season...

Given this dearth of avian thrills, I headed out to Fluke Hall, Pilling yesterday morning in search of something of a nemesis bird. A quail has been singing in fields in the area for several days and I was quite keen to go and have a listen for it and hopefully to catch a glimpse of this often secretive gamebird.
Quails are long-range migrants and are scarce summer visitors to the north west. This species is what we birders call a 'bogey bird' for me. I have heard them on several occasions throughout the UK and I have seen them on the continent and in their wintering grounds in South Africa, but it is the only breeding British bird that I have never seen on British soil. And given David Talbot's superb shots of the Pilling bird on the LDBWS website (click here) I was feeling optimistic.

I arrived at the spot and was soon marveling at the sight of a smart corn bunting (now sadly extinct as a breeding bird at Aldcliffe) and several tree sparrows. What a difference a few miles and a few arable fields make...
On a slightly less exciting note there were also lots of red-legged partridge in the fields, along with lapwings and an oystercatcher. The hedgerows were filled with whitethroat too, many of which were carrying food to noisy begging youngsters.
But alas, no singing quail could be heard.
I had a walk along the seawall, spotting 8 grey plover out on the sands and a large flock of knot by Cocker's Dyke. I estimated around 2000 birds present, several in dazzling brick-red breeding garb. A scan through (secretly hoping for a broad-billed sandpiper or something of that ilk) only revealed 3 smart summer-plumaged dunlin. A painted lady was seen along the path.
I returned to the 'quail-zone' and once again the air was bereft of its distinctive 'wet my lips' song.


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Flaming June by the Lune

Crikey, it's been a month since I last posted here. What a slacker.
I do have a half-decent excuse, as I've been in Canada since May 20th guiding a group of Brit birders in BC. We had a great trip and saw almost 200 species of bird in two weeks, plus all manner of mammals including orca, grey whale and black bear. I was there with North West-based company Ribble Bird Tours and our itinerary included a range of habitats in the Lower Mainland, Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island. An account of the trip will be posted here soon, so if you're keen to find out more about birding in Western Canada please check back shortly.

So, I had a quick scout around the Aldcliffe patch in the flaming June sunshine today to see what was occurring. There were plenty of birds in song including summer visitors such as blackcap, chiffchaff, sedge warbler and whitethroat.
Down at Freeman's Pools it was good to see that the local mute swan pair had hatched 7 cygnets. A lone near-fledged oystercatcher chick was feeding on the muddy edges of the upper pools while a well-grown brood of 4 mallard were also present.
As I walked along Dawson's Bank I spotted a common tern fishing by the Lune and over the saltmarsh pools (my first on the patch this year).
Another local 'year-tick' came in the form of a couple of reed warblers, both of which were singing from the small reed-fringed Bank Pool. One of these fine birds showed well as he belted out his fabulous song from high up in the waterside vegetation.
Potential good news from the maize fields; at least 6 sitting lapwing and an oystercatcher bodes well following the earlier nest trashing...

Thanks to the balmy temperatures there were plenty of butterflies around including speckled wood, small tortoiseshell and my first painted lady of the season.
At Darter Pool I added another year-first in the form of a dazzling emperor dragonfly while the poolside was positively alive with hundreds of blue-tailed damselflies


Friday, 6 May 2016

What A DIfference A Day Makes

I spent four hours rummaging around on the patch this morning, covering just about every key area.
To be honest I wasn't too impressed initially, there seemed to be a serious lack of newly arrived migrants and there was no evidence of visible migration at all.

Common toad - Freeman's Wood
The first sign that things had changed slightly came in the form of a couple of common whitethroat that were singing at one another near Darter Pool.

This theme continued throughout the morning, implying a major arrival of the long-distance travellers. There seemed to whitethroats in every hedge and small tree; I even found one lurking incongruously in the tideline debris near the Channel.
By contrast, I only saw or heard around 5 lesser whitethroat between Freeman's Wood and Stodday ETW.

A grasshopper warbler was reluctantly reeling from an area of dense vegetation in the cutting just to the south of the Aldcliffe Marsh metal sheep access gate by Cadaver Corner.

A pair of peregrines were over Colloway Marsh and the only other notable birds on or around the river included 7 eider, 2 goosander and a whimbrel plus the usual multiple little egrets.

On the Flood a pair of little ringed plover were in residence while another two were with a small flock of dunlin on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Female whinchat
As I walked back along the seawall I came across the first evidence of passage migrants all morning (there weren't even any hirundines on the move).
A couple of wheatear were feeding with a pair of whinchat along the tideline. They always kept their distance, the male whinchat in particular remaining just too away far to get a pic.
A check around the upper ponds at Freeman's Pools revealed an apparent influx of sedge warblers with at least 4 singing away in close proximity.

Other stuff of note seen included 2 pairs of grey partridge, 3 gadwall, lots of blackcaps, chiffchaffs, a few willow warblers, linnets, 3 stock doves, and sparrowhawk. And while I don't normally take much notice of pheasants, I couldn't help but be struck by this rather fine male in a field of dandelions. Sorry about that...

* In other news; Aldcliffe regular Jane McVickers had great views of a short-eared owl by Freeman's Pools on evening earlier in the week. 



Tuesday, 3 May 2016

A Swift Visit

Managed an hour on the patch before work this morning. Felt like an age since I'd been birding around Aldcliffe and I was keen if there had been any notable changes since my last visit.  I had my mind set on garganey, swift or yellow wagtail...

Apart from the fact that there was a lot more greenery, it was disappointingly quiet.
Freeman's Pools were almost birdless. A couple of coot and mute swans were the only things on the water while a pair of Canada geese on the island were joined by a cormorant, grey heron and a brace of oystercatchers.

As I scanned a bird-free Frog Pond I looked up and noticed a couple of distant swifts - my first of the year! They came closer and eventually passed overhead moving in a north westerly direction. A scattering of swallows and sand martins were moving through is irregular small flurries.
Other than the vocal blackcaps in and around Freeman's Wood there wasn't too much else singing. An occasional common whitethroat muttered half-heartedly from the hedgerow but I didn't hear any lesser whitethroat at all this morning and I have yet to hear a sedge warbler on the patch this spring.
Only a couple of willow warbler were bothering to declare their presence; at least the chiffchaffs were making slightly more effort.

The first round of the annual lapwing nest-trash had taken place in recent days, with the spreading of horse manure around the maize fields. Once again, the clutches would have been just days from hatching. Compared to last year the number of birds attempting to breed here this year is frighteningly low with probably only 6-7 pairs present. With such high nest failure rates I suppose its hardly surprising that numbers are sharply declining... 
Two drake gadwall and a drake teal were at the Wildfowlers' Pools, as was a fine adult peregrine which was sat pulling a freshly dispatched moorhen apart.

Unfortunately there was no splash of yellow to brighten up the small group of alba wagtails on the Flood, but 2 smart white wagtails were some compensation. A pair of little ringed plover were present along with a lone redshank and a little egret.

Scanning the far bank of the Lune from beyond Walled Meadow I could see 7 loafing eider, while closer in a couple of whimbrel were on the saltmarsh.
As I headed off to work I noticed a further group of 7 swifts over the FAUNA reserve.

Spring might well be here, but some days it really doesn't feel much like it...


Monday, 25 April 2016

Got Wood

Singing wood warbler, Stodday
As a few migrants continue to trickle through, we birdwatchers always hope to find something that little more unusual among the commoner species. That can mean something unusual in a real sense or simply in the context of the patch.
My best finds of late have included nothing more than the expected but always welcome whimbrel, lesser whitethroat, common whitethroat and the like.
However, Dan H came up trumps on Saturday morning when he came across a fine wood warbler at Stodday Effluent Treatment Works. This not-so-glamorous sounding spot has a habit of turning up decent birds from time to time and it's only down to the efforts of a handful of local birders that they get recorded. Over the years it has hosted such birds as yellow-browed warbler and black redstart and it has a fair track record for attracting yellow wagtail - an increasingly difficult bird to find in North Lancs.
Dan's wood warbler was singing intermittently and he managed to get a couple of record shots, one of which is reproduced here.
Unlike most other long-range migrants, wood warblers hardly ever turn up at well-watched coastal bird observatories so finding one off-passage is always a thrill for local patch birders. Also, these dazzling migrant warblers have, like yellow wagtail, become very scarce in parts of the UK where they were once relatively common and it's a number of years since one was seen around the Aldcliffe area.

Monday, 18 April 2016

More migrants...

Willow warbler
My work and non-birding lives have conspired lately to keep me away from Aldcliffe. In the past week or so I've seen copulating ospreys in the Lakes, hunting peregrines in the Yorkshire Dales and a smart male ring ouzel in a bleak Pennine valley but none of these are equal to a first-of-the-year migrant on my local patch!

I did squeeze in an hour or so late on Sunday afternoon where the few highlights included:
5 whimbrel - flew in calling 
6 little ringed plover and 2 white wagtail on the Flood
7 goldeneye still at Freeman's Pools
2 grey partridge near Walled Meadow
With a day off today and no pressing chores in wait, I headed off for a couple of hours checking the area. Admittedly, the weather wasn't quite what I'd have hoped for; a brisk westerly with a few squally showers may be OK for coastal birding but alas, not much cop on the estuary.
At Freeman's Pools there was a nice feeding flock of around 40 swallows with a handful of sand martins thrown in for good measure. Swallows were something of a feature of the day with birds trickling through at regular intervals.
A couple of blackcaps were singing in Freeman's Wood along with several now well in-situ willow warblers and chiffchaffs.
At the Wildfowlers' Pools there were 3 pairs of gadwall plus a couple of 'spare' drakes. Other than a small number of teal it was pretty quiet. On the nearby mud there were 3 little ringed plover, with a further 6 on the Flood. Also at the Flood were 7 white wagtails with 5 pied wags.
My first lesser whitethroat of the year was in occasional song along the upper cinder track.
Six eider (4 drakes, 2 ducks) were loafing on the banks of the Lune opposite the Channel.
Once again a pair of grey partridge were near Walled Meadow while another pair were by Heron Pool.

Later in the day I fixed a puncture on my bike and decided to go for a quick spin around the patch... the wind had dropped a bit and I felt the need to go and have another check.
Soon after arriving at Freeman's Pools a fabulous, beautifully lit short-eared owl came into view, with a carrion crow hot on its tail. The crow soon got bored of the chase and the owl briefly quartered the pools edges and rushy field beyond before disappearing from sight.   
All 9 of the earlier little ringed plover were on the Flood, noisily courting and chasing one another.  A notable increase in alba wagtails since my morning visit resulted in 26 birds being present. It was  hard to be sure of the exact ratio as they were extremely mobile and I had only my bins with me they seemed to be mostly pied with at least 7 white wagtails among them.