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.


Monday, 11 April 2016

More Spring Things

Managed a quick stroll around the patch after work on Sunday late afternoon / early evening.
Freeman's Pools was fairly quiet with just a drake tufted duck, 6 wigeon and 5 goldeneye in the 'interesting' wildfowl department. A few sand martins were hawking over the water along with 3 swallows.
Singing birds were few but a handful of chifchaff and a couple of willow warbler were half-heartedly announcing their presence.
At the Wildfowlers' Pools there were just 2 pairs of gadwall - most years more of these wintering birds stay much later into the spring, tempting me to hope for a breeding attempt - a lone pair of shoveler and a scattering of teal.
I bumped int Steve Wallis who had seen 6 little ringed plover on the Flood. I was able to add a further two birds to his tally making an impressive 8 in total. A coupe of little egret were also fishing on the Flood with another on the Wildfowlers' Pools.   

Notes from a morning's birding in and around Aldcliffe from Thursday (7th):
A willow warbler was singing in a garden on Milking Stile Lane - my first of the year. 
Aldcliffe and up to FAUNA/FLORA included:
Chiffchaffs - lots singing all over the place!
Willow warbler - another one singing in the hedgerow along the cycle track.
Little ringed plover - 2 on The Flood
Greenshank - 1 on Aldcliffe Marsh
Wheatear - 12 on the marsh near The Channel & 6 in newly ploughed field at FLORA
Sand martin - one north at FAUNA

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Ringing The Changes

Spring is certainly well and truly upon us. Recent bouts of birding at Aldcliffe have revealed quite a bit of activity; wintering birds are thinning out and breeding species are revving up nicely.
On calm days skylarks and lapwings can be seen and heard over the marsh and maize fields respectively while singing chaffinches, goldfinches and wrens are busy proclaiming territories all over the place.
Up to 12 lesser redpoll continue to mix with the goldfinch flock along the tideline.

We've had the first real arrivals of true spring migrants in recent days too with freshly arrived chiffchaffs aplenty - I counted 12 yesterday (Saturday) between Freeman's Wood and Aldcliffe Hall Lane. I could only find 2 wheatear on the marsh but they were nonetheless a very welcome sight.
Aldcliffe regular Manjeet Lamba struck lucky earlier in the week when he came across a firecrest in the newly relayed hedges by the Wildfowlers' Pools on Tuesday morning. Given the large numbers of firecrests in the country in recent days this was almost certainly a new bird, as opposed to the Freeman's Wood one out on manoeuvres.

Drake pintail
Wildfowl numbers have dropped off a touch with the relatively long-staying pintail no longer on site and even the tufted ducks have moved on. Up to 7 goldeneye remain at Freeman's Pools along with a handful of wigeon and teal while up to 3 shoveler and half a dozen or so gadwall are still hanging around the Wildfowlers' Pools.
As the water levels continue to drop here the numbers of birds are similarly dropping. However, a feeding flock of c260 redshank have been at Frog Pond along with the ubiquitous little egrets.

Little ringed plover
The solitary greenshank is still to be found most days out on the Aldcliffe Marsh pools.
Little ringed plover seem firmly settled in at The Flood with 3 present there today.
I keep looking up in the hope of picking out the first patch passage osprey of the season but so far the only raptors winding up the gulls have been common buzzards and sparrowhawks.
Every day at this time of year one can hope to add another new bird for the year as long-distant migrants arrive and short-range ones move through - it's just a case of putting the time in and (often) being a bit lucky!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Return of the Irish Plover

Black-tailed godwits
Spent an hour or so before work yesterday morning checking out the usual spots around the Aldcliffe patch.
I must have been channeling Mystic Meg while writing my last post, as I had so accurately predicted the arrival of the year's first little ringed plover. One was on the wet fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools alongside a group of dunlin. In fairness, it was a fairly safe bet that one would arrive around now as the first of these diminutive long-distance waders usually appears a day or so either side of St Patrick's Day.
Also in the area were at least 4 pintail (commuting between the WP's and The Flood) and a dozen or so black-tailed godwit.

Quite a bit of hedgerow improvement is underway around the Wildfowlers' Pools at the moment.
Naturally, this does cause a little bit of disturbance but the majority of birds don't appear to be overly bothered, simply moving further toward the centre of the fields.
On the plus side it really has opened up viewing of the pools from the cycle track, though the short-term downside may be that it will be too 'open' for some birds to deal with. Time will tell.


Monday, 14 March 2016

Fired Up

Having spent countless hours thrashing around in Freeman's Wood over recent weeks in fruitless search of the firecrest I was surprised to practically bump into it today when I least expected it.
It was actively feeding in a scrubby patch of woodland just to the south-west of the football pitch, within the fenced area. It showed well for a couple of brief minutes before melting away into a dense patch of brambles.
(Gav Thomas and I had another look for it late afternoon / early evening but other than flushing a woodcock we came away pretty much birdless).

Snoozing drake pintail
With a fair amount of much-needed hedge-work going on by the Wildfowlers' Pools, the area was a bit less birdy than it has been of late. Few waders were on the flooded fields (just 3 black-tailed godwit and few redshank, lapwing and oystercatcher) though there were still some wildfowl hanging in there. Around 30 coot were in the deeper water while a peak count of exactly 30 gadwall (an Aldcliffe record?), 3 shoveler and a pair of pintail were the notable highlights.
A singing common chiffchaff was in the hedgerow but again, the Siberian chiffchaff was nowhere to be seen.

Given that little ringed plovers have returned to Aldcliffe on the same date of March 19th for the past two years (March 17th in 2013), it's fair to expect that given the calm weather forecast we may well get our first of 2016 in the next few days. With so much appealing habitat available at the moment, my bet is that one will show up on the Wildfowlers' Pools before the weekend. Mind you, I'm a terrible gambler so don't set off to Ladbrokes just yet...

I walked back along Dawson's Bank but there were no geese (see Jean Roberts' post from a few days ago here) or much else for that matter. Even the reliable redpoll were absent.
A singing 1st year male reed bunting was at the still very flooded Bank Pool. Given the glorious weather I was surprised that no lapwings were displaying over the maize fields today. As futile and unsuccessful as it will doubtless be, thanks wholly to the farming practices employed here these days, it will be interesting to see how many nests we have here this year.
Maybe, just maybe, the birds will actually hatch some chicks before the tractors roll in.

Freeman's Pools were fairly quiet with no sign of the recent drake scaup. There was still a decent number of wigeon and a pair of goldeneye present, along with half a dozen tufted duck and a couple of little grebe.

As I neared home, a pair of dancing small tortoiseshells represented my first butterflies of the year. It would seem that spring has officially arrived!

* Ex-Aldcliffe regular birder and latter-day citizen of the white-rose county, Greg Potter, sent the following highlights from his visit to the patch on Wednesday:
45 mute swan, c550 pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh
5 goldeneye, 15 gadwall, 4 shoveler, 3 pintail & 80 BT godwit at the Wildfowlers' Pools
18 redpoll with 22 goldfinch & 2 greenfinch on Dawson's Bank
5 tufted duck, 20 wigeon & 2 goldeneye at Freeman's Pools
Cheers Greg!