Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Little Wonder

Little ringed plover - Aldcliffe
Mid to late March always has me anticipating the arrival of the first little ringed plover at Aldcliffe. They are extremely reliable here and turn up each year around the same date; March 17th in 2013, 19th in 2014 and 2015 and 18th last year.
So when I clapped eyes on a lovely adult female on the Flood this morning I wasn't the least bit surprised.
These dainty little waders are long distance migrants, returning to the UK each spring from their wintering grounds in Africa. They are as much a herald of spring for me as wheatears, sand martins and chiffchaffs.
(The pic here was taken previously).

Today's morning visit to Aldcliffe followed a few off-patch visits along with fellow birder and good chum Stuart Meredith. First we headed to Sizergh Castle in search of hawfinch. These dazzling and often elusive birds are regular at this site and we weren't disappointed. Arriving around 6.30am we had just a short wait before being treated to superb views of a pair of birds feeding on the ground. Although I have seen this species at Sizergh before these were by far the best views I've ever had of hawfinch. A severe blizzard of hail covered the car park in a carpet of white and signaled our time to leave!
For details of this great site visit: Sizergh Hawfinches

A stop at Leighton Moss (including breakfast in the cafe) added 3 egret species to the day's list; cattle, great (2) and little (enough). Around 50 sand martins were visible from the Causeway Hide as they hawked over the water while water rails squeeled from the depths of the reedbeds. A pair of marsh harriers showed well and 10 pochard (an increasingly scarce sight these days) were on the mere.
At least 8 avocets were on the Allen Pool.

We then headed to Heysham where were looked for the Iceland gull at the Harbour. We soon located it having a snooze on the roof of one of the harbour-side buildings. Not the best of views, but good enough.

After our first drop-in at Aldcliffe we moved on to Bradshaw Lane, Pilling. This area is well known among local birders for the farmland bird feeding initiative that has been running here for many years. The feeding stations attract many species including several that are difficult to find in this region. We were blessed with great views of multiple yellowhammers and tree sparrows plus a single brambling.

A brief return to Aldcliffe (after tea and cake at Ashton Hall) revealed that the little ringed plover was still present.

All in all we enjoyed a good trundle around the area and I added a few new birds to my slowly increasing yearlist and possibly a few new inches to my waistline...

Jon        

Thursday, 16 March 2017

White Arse Works Wonders

Wheatear
Yet more indicators of the coming season came in the form of a smart male wheatear on the tide line on Monday morning.
These long-distance migrants are always a pleasure to see and a real sign that there are tons more birds on their way to our shores!
In case you're wondering, the name wheatear has nothing to do with either wheat or indeed ears.
It is a derivation of the old name 'white-arse' - and if you've seen one flying away from you, you'll know why!
Skylarks have been both passing through and singing over the marsh while meadow pipits continue to make their way north in small numbers. 
Chiffchaffs have arrived in notable numbers in recent days with a few birds singing in Freeman's Wood while others have been feeding quietly in the hedgerows.

Presumably the same green sandpiper I saw last Sunday was again present at the Wildfowlers' Pools this morning. These cracking waders used to be regular during winter around Aldcliffe but the last two years have been poor - presumably water levels play a significant part in suitability of habitat.
Black-tailed godwit have also been thin on the ground around Aldcliffe this winter so a flock of c150 flying down the Lune earlier in the week was notable. 15 including 2 in dapper breeding plumage were present today, feeding by Frog Pond.
Two reports of avocet on the Lune last week were typical; these early migrants are already present at RSPB Leighton Moss in double figures.  
This morning a jack snipe and 3 common snipe were lurking in Snipe Bog.
If previous years are anything to go by, the first little ringed plovers should arrive back in the parish this weekend. Looking at the forecast however, they may be slightly delayed...

Regular scans through the gulls on the river have so far failed to turn up anything interesting; not even any Med gulls.
Several hundred pinkfeet are still hanging around, commuting regularly between Aldcliffe Marsh and the Heysham / Oxcliffe area.
Duck numbers are dwindling  on the whole with far fewer wigeon and teal around. Up to 20 tufted duck remain in the area and at least 10 goldeneye can still be seen at Freeman's Pools.
 
Cattle egret
In a rare bit of non-Aldcliffe birding, while interviewing at Leighton Moss earlier in the week, I casually managed to add sand martin and green woodpecker to my year-list. More importantly, I squeezed in a spot of drive-by twitching and had a quick look at the cattle egret at Yealand Storrs. Although I've seen this species in many parts of the world and in the UK before this was the first cattle egret that I have ever seen in Lancashire. It's still a very rare bird in our neck of the woods so it was well worth having a peek at!

* The pic here is not of the Yealand cattle egret, but one I took elsewhere previously. 

Jon

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Hint Of Spring

Stonechat
With cool, overcast conditions it didn't seem much like spring down at Aldcliffe this morning. But the sound of multiple singing birds certainly hinted that change was in the air.
Oystercatchers were noisily pairing up and proclaiming potential territories while a few lapwings were already staking their claims in the maize fields.
Small numbers of meadow pipit were passing over and a handful of 'new-in' reed buntings were evident around the patch. A small group of linnet were feeding on the tideline.
Other new arrivals included a female stonechat at Marsh Point and a green sandpiper at the Wildfowlers'  Pools.
Around 1,200 pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh, plus several fieldfare and redwings along the path hedgerows, were reminders that winter is still very much clinging on...
The regular greenshank continues to hang around on the marsh flashes.

On Thursday I came across my first butterflies of the year; a comma was at Aldcliffe and a small tortoiseshell was in FAUNA. The blast of welcome sunshine clearly triggered an instinct to emerge.
Notable birds seen that same day included a couple of siskins feeding in the Freeman's Pool alders, a female merlin hunting on the marsh and four common buzzards displaying over the drumlins.


Griffon vulture
Last week Jenny and I escaped to Spain for a few days for a spot of R&R. Having previously seen most of the birds that can be found in the Iberian peninsular, this was a relaxing affair with just one species on my 'wants' list; the very rare Spanish imperial eagle.
We started off at the lovely town of Ronda where were noted red-billed choughs, black redstarts, singing serins and heaps of Sardinian warblers, before heading up to Cordoba. En route we saw good numbers of griffon vultures and around the city we saw some classic common Spanish birds including lots of spotless starlings.

Spotless
At dusk as little and great egrets headed up the Guadalquivir River to roost, night herons flew out in the opposite direction. Cetti's warblers blasted from the waterside vegetation and as bats emerged from the old stone bridges a kestrel took advantage of this crepuscular food source and engaged in an amazing display of aerial hunting.
We then headed to Sierra de Andújar in search of the eagle and hopefully Iberian lynx. Unfortunately we didn't see any lynx despite our best efforts (mammals did include red and fallow deer and otter) but I did manage to catch up with 5 imperial eagles.

Azure-winged magpie
Also seen were lots of other great birds including golden eagle, booted eagle, more griffons and 3 black vultures, Iberian grey shrike, blue rock thrush, hoopoe, wryneck, short-toed treecreeper, great spotted cuckoo, red-rumped swallow, crag martin, Iberian green woodpecker, crested lark, rock bunting, rock sparrow & hawfinch as well as more azure-winged magpies than you could shake a stick at.
We finished our trip with a couple of days in Granada before flying home from Malaga. All in all, a great short trip with tons of fabulous wildlife, scenery, architecture and food, plus lots of rioja.
   
 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Grillers In The Mist

Aldcliffe birding's been a bit on the predictable side of late. The last three or four visits have seen me looking at pretty much the same birds, in the same places.

But today was different. Today we had persistent mizzle. Today we had apparent 'movement' of birds.
Things started out as normal; Freeman's Pools was hosting a few tufted duck and goldeneye along with the regular residents. 150 or so pink-footed geese were grazing on the drumlins.

Frog Pond had its attendant wigeon flock - and the drake shoveler, lately faithful to Darter Pool, had relocated to this larger water. In the fields, curlew were feeding and with them a couple of fine black-tailed godwits (my first on the patch this year).
A further 9 black-tailed godwits were frantically feeding on the Flood where a sure sign of impending spring included a flock of 9 meadow pipits.

Two dinky jack snipe were still being faithful to Snipe Bog. A scan over the estuary revealed little and so I opted to walk along Dawson's Bank in case anything was lurking along the tideline or on the marsh.

Eventually, through the mist I could make out a few geese. As I approached I scanned through the flock, regularly wiping my drizzle drenched binoculars with a bit of soggy tissue. I wondered if there might be something else tagging along with the 850 or so pinkfeet present.
Then I spotted it; a lone Canada goose. The conditions were pretty rotten and so I decided to get the 'scope out so that I could give them a good grilling.

Todd's Canada Goose - Aldcliffe
Aware of the Todd's Canada goose that has been seen in Norfolk, and latterly the Fylde, this winter I knew this bird was worth checking out.
Problem was, as I looked at it I realised that I didn't really know what one should look like! Sure, I was aware of some of the features but this thing didn't wholly fit what I thought it should. It certainly had a few characters good for the subspecies but it looked a bit too pale breasted and that head-shape wasn't as 'whooper swan-like' as I'd expected. On the plus side, it appeared to have a dark brownish mantle without any pale fringes to the scapulars, tertials etc, and the neck shape didn't quite look right for our typical feral Canada geese.
I tried to grab a couple of snaps through the murk and decided to go home and have a read up on the identification of Todd's, or interior Canada goose.

Mediterranean gull - Lune Estuary
As I arrived at Marsh Point I had a quick look at the gulls on the River Lune and soon found a smart adult winter Mediterranean gull - a lot bloody easier to identify!
Once I got home I had a look through a few books and a bit of online checking had me baffled even more. So, I called Pete Marsh and let him know about the goose. He called back later to confirm it as the Todd's. Phew.

That's the brilliant thing about birding, there's always plenty to baffle and always lots to learn!

Jon 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Rare Goose Revisited

White-fronted & red-breasted goose, Pilling
I managed an hour and a half or so down at Aldcliffe on Wednesday where the most notable thing was the reduction in the number of geese.  Just c550 pinkfeet were grazing on the drumlins.
A group of 7 adult whooper swans were on bathing and preening in one of the flashes on Aldcliffe Marsh, before they flew off westwards.
There was quite a bit of skylark movement throughout with 1s & 2s plus a flock of 11 going in all directions.
Ultra-scarce this winter, a single rock pipit feeding in the marsh channels was a nice find and the drake shoveler was once again on Darter Pool.

I had a good walk around the patch this morning but it was pretty quiet. The reduced goose flock was still on the hill and the shoveler was remaining faithful to Darter Pool.
Freeman's Pools continues to host a handful each of goldeneye and tufted duck, plus the usual 20ish coot and a couple of little grebes.
The peregrine pair were again keeping sentinel on the marsh.
The drake shoveler was still present and a small number of skylarks were again passing over.

I walked back up through Aldcliffe village and along the patch toward the Fairfield Orchard. The annual influx of redwing and fieldfare was well in evidence with around 120 birds in a mixed flock by Admiralty Wood.
As I trudged along the muddy path the wintering finch flock got up from the arable field and landed in the small tree by the path. A female brambling was among the expected chaffinches and linnets - the first I've seen locally this winter.

After a good dousing by rain and hail I headed home for a warming brew. Suitably refreshed, I decided to pop over to Pilling to have another look at the red-breasted goose which was apparently showing well in fields by Backsands Lane.
As I passed by Conder I was treated to the sight of a great egret as it flew over the road and heading in the direction of Glasson. This bird has been seen in the area a number of times in recent weeks.

Red-breasted goose
I arrived at the goose-spot and soon picked out the dinky rarity from the flock of pink-footed and 23 Eurasian white-fronted geese. It showed brilliantly in good light and I was able to get a couple of record shots using my compact digital camera held up to my 'scope. My last visit to see this bird was something of a mad-dash and we had distant views of the birds so to see it closer and with more time on my hands was a real joy. I still want it to make its way over to the Lune though...

Jon   

Monday, 30 January 2017

Goose Influx Excites

Barnacle goose
An intended quick scout around the patch yesterday morning turned into a longer visit courtesy of a large gaggle of newly-arrived pink-footed geese.
Around 1,400 birds had ditched down in the fields immediately east of the cycle track and I spent a good deal of time scrutinising the flock.
The only birds to stand out from the crowd were a smart barnacle goose and a rather irritating pinkfoot with orange legs and a slightly orangey bill (pictured) which was doing a half-decent job of suggesting rossicus bean goose.

Fox, having a good scratch
Along the hedgeline a dog fox kept the birds on alert but he didn't seem particularly interested in a goose dinner.
Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me so  the collection of shoddy shots here were taken using my phone held up to my 'scope. 

A return visit to the fields today revealed a significant increase in the number of geese. I estimated somewhere in the region of 3,500. My optimism-o-meter went into overdrive.

An hour or so of careful 'scoping later and all I could say with any conviction was there was nowt else among the mass of pinks.
Well, that's not entirely true, the barnacle was still there, as was the orange-legged pinkfoot.

Orange-footed goose...
A lone greylag was also grazing among the geese (an Icelandic bird?) and a particularly dark pinkfoot stood out from the crowd.
Hopefully the numbers will continue to rise and we'll see something really interesting among them...

In other non-goose news: yesterday highlights included a pair of peregrines and the wintering greenshank on Aldcliffe Marsh and a kingfisher at Freeman's Pools.
Today, I didn't really see much else as I was rather fixated on the geese!   

Jon
     

Friday, 27 January 2017

Spellbinding Merlin

I toured the patch by bike today and with a bit of time at my disposal ventured beyond Aldcliffe's exalted boundaries.
First stop was an icy Freeman's Pools where the birds were concentrated into one relatively small area of open water. Here 20 coots dived alongside a couple of little grebe and three each of goldeneye and tufted duck. A squad of snoozing teal were on the ice.
Oddly, the smaller Frog Pond wasn't as frozen and 50 or so wigeon were paddling about with a handful of Canada geese.
The cycle track was pretty quiet with the just the usual blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, wrens, tits, dunnocks, goldfinches and a couple of bullfinches seen.
A gaggle of 140 rather edgy pink-footed geese were grazing in the fields to the east of the track. The activities of a couple of wildfowlers on the estuary possibly contributed to their wariness.
The river itself was pretty quiet beyond the expected gulls, waders and ducks.
A fair amount of work was going on in one of the fields near Low Wood. It appears to be another phase of the solar farm... It will be interesting to see if, and how, this affects local wildlife.

Spotted redshank
I carried on down to Conder Green and Glasson Dock stopping frequently along the way. To be honest, the high tide did little to enhance the experience and I hardly saw anything worth mentioning.
One of the few highlights was the wintering spotted redshank roosting at the Conder.
I checked Jeremy Lane for any swans but found only mutes and Glasson Marina offered little beyond a couple of goosander.

Distant merlin!
On my way back to Lancaster along the cycle track I stopped to 'scope a peregrine sat out on Colloway and then noticed a dashing female merlin hunting over Aldcliffe Marsh. She soon sat and I was able to get good views (and a bad 'scope pic!).
As I passed the Wildfowlers' Pools I added a kingfisher to the day's tally.

Earlier, I'd been called by Paul Brady to say that he'd bumped into a flock of 42 waxwings near Skerton Bridge. I later got another call from Ken Green to say that a friend of his had reported the same flock near PC World.

Waxwing, Lancaster
Around 3pm I popped along and soon found a group of waxwings in the trees adjacent to the cycle track just by Skerton Bridge.
As I walked around trying to assess the size of the flock they took off and headed over the road toward the Kingsway Retail Park. I tracked them down to a small rowan that miraculously still had lots of fruit on offer - the last berried rowan in town?
Waxwing
Here a group of 20 or so fed happily at the entrance of the Bathstore car park as two lanes of traffic passed by just feet away; the waxwings and commuters were seemingly completely oblivious of one another.


Don't forget - it's the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend. For more info about this massive countrywide event see here: Big Garden Birdwatch and to find out what's happening in the Lancaster area click here.
If you're taking part, keep an extra eye out - you never know you might have a waxwing drop by!

Jon