Sunday, 24 February 2019

Annual Aldcliffe goose fest

As to be expected in later winter / early spring, Aldcliffe saw an arrival of good numbers of pink-footed geese in mid-February. Peaking at around 3,000 birds (relatively low by some years standards) the flock included one or two other species of note.
So far, both subspecies of greater white-fronted goose have been seen - 3 Russian birds (1 adult and 2 juvs) were found by Dan Heywood (pic of adult by Dan) on the 10th, and a Greenland bird on the 19th while a fine tundra bean goose was discovered by Matt Jackson on the 18th. This latter scarcity had the decency to hang around for a few days and was seen by many local birders.

Of course there were also plenty of greylags and Canada geese around too.
Other birds of note in recent weeks include water pipit, up to two great white egrets, merlin, barn owl, black-tailed godwits and pintail.
Dan came across a yellowhammer - very much a rarity in North Lancashire these days - on the morning of 24th in the Fairfield stubble fields. The last Aldcliffe area record (I think) concerned a fly-over in the autumn of 2011!
If the decent weather continues we can hope for some early migrants in the next few days and weeks; first to appear are usually little ringed plover, sand martin, wheatear and chiffchaff. Last year's famously late spring saw many delayed arrivals, so fingers crossed this year gets off to a better start.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Save Freeman's Wood

For decades, the area of mixed woodland and scrub (known locally as Freeman's Wood) to the south west of the Lune Industrial Estate off Willow Lane, Lancaster has been a well-used and popular space for local residents.

Children have built dens, dog walkers have exercised their pets and, for me and many other Lancastrians, it has been a great area to connect with nature.

It is a significant nesting site for an array of nationally declining woodland and garden birds, an important wintering site for long-distance migrants from the north and an essential stopping-off place for summer visitors freshly arrived from Africa and continental Europe.

Once again, this prime piece of wildlife habitat is under threat. An application to build 250 houses on the land has been submitted. Obviously, if this goes ahead we will not only lose the space for our own recreational use but it will also destroy a vital area of rare biodiversity within the city boundaries. 

Campaigners are asking for your help to save this invaluable local resource.

You can object to the proposal:
Visit and place an objection online.

Write to Planning, PO Box 4, Lancaster Town Hall, LA1 1QR or email

Quote the reference number 18/01520/OUT

There will be a public meeting at Hornets Function Room (off Willow Lane, behind the Spar shop) on Feb 26 at 7.30pm where the proposal will be discussed. 

Freeman's Wood as viewed from Marsh Point overlooking Freeman's Pools


Saturday, 1 September 2018

The Promise of Autumn

Well, that was a long time between posts wasn't it folks?
I have to say, despite my not posting anything on here since the beginning of April there's hardly been an outcry from my loyal readers... one or two mentions here and there just about covers it.
So, what's the reason for the lack of input on my part? I don't really know, to be honest. I've been birding around the Aldcliffe area as usual but I've been somewhat uninspired by my wanderings. The terrible weather in spring meant little in the way of passage migrants on the patch and the wonderful summer heatwave was admittedly good for many breeding birds though was dull as far as variety goes.
And here we are, about to embark on autumn - surely the most exciting of all seasons in the birders' calendar. But before we look at the potential joys of September, here are few notable records from the pat few months:
April 13 - marsh harrier
May 5 - very long overdue patch tick came in the form of a red kite (about bloody time!)
May 25 - marsh harrier & 2 ruff
June 25 - first post-breeding green sandpiper back in the area

Little ringed plovers eventually appeared but in lower numbers than in recent years and didn't breed anywhere on the patch.
Lapwings had a better year, thanks to the wet fields delaying ploughing. Several young fledged from the maize fields and a couple got off from the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Oystercatchers fledged at least one young and there were two broods of tufted ducks at Freeman's Pools.
short-eared owl was seen by a dog walker in early July - we occasionally get wandering post-breeders passing through in late summer but they never linger. It would be nice to get a wintering bird on the patch this year.

As autumn proceeds I expect things will start picking up a bit - yesterday I had a couple of flyover meadow pipits and a pair of wheatears on the saltmarsh, so things are looking up! Wader numbers have been pretty dire with just the lone green sandpiper commuting between the pools. A few more duck are dribbling in with 9 gadwall back on patch.  


Monday, 2 April 2018

Is it spring yet?

Welcome to the most uninspiring spring of all time. Which is quite fitting I suppose, given that this winter was possibly the dullest I can remember as far as birding around Aldcliffe is concerned.
The lack of posts here has been solely down to a lack of enthusiasm on my part - I've been out around the patch on plenty of occasions but the birds have barely differed from one visit to the next.

In summary:
There was loads of water, the pools were high and the cycle track was flooded for most of the season. Water levels have now dropped. Of note, the smaller rear pool at the Wildfowlers' Pools has been 'de-vegetated' and re-landscaped for the benefit of ducks but little else.  

Duck numbers were relatively unremarkable although we had a decent mix of species. Highlights have included double figure shovelers and up to five pintail throughout and a pair of pochard for a couple of days and a high count of 29 goldeneye in early March.
Goose numbers were disappointing on the whole with no real large peak of pinkfeet (fewer than 3000) and as such no attendant scarce species. 

Ringed plover
At least one jack snipe was present for most of the winter and up to four were at FAUNA.
Other wader records worth noting included occasional green sandpiper, multiple (up to 90) black-tailed godwits, an incredibly 400 or so dunlin on The Flood on March 5 along with 20 snipe and local patch scarcities knot (1) and ringed plover (3) by the Wildfowlers' Pools the same day.
Also in the area were around 100 golden plover. These unusual wader numbers came in the wake of the so-called 'Beast From The East' or as I like to call it, 'weather'. 

Peregrine, sparrowhawk, buzzard and kestrel have all been present here and there along with occasional sightings of a female merlin out on the marsh. 

Tideline passerines have been very thin on the ground with no finch flocks to speak of and no twite or redpoll (other than odd flyovers of the latter) as yet. A wandering group of c25-35 linnet have been in and out of the maize fields frequently.
One notable event on March 3 involved a flock of 32 skylarks; common enough here in small numbers but these days a grounded flock of that size is exceptional. The same day a single rock pipit was also seen nearby - both presumably pushed onto Aldcliffe Marsh by the high tide.
The first stonechat I clocked was a single bird on March 5 with a further three present on 12th.

Chiffchaff wave trickled in but given the state of the weather at the moment it's hardly surprising they've been slow to arrive.
Yesterday (April 1) saw my first, late, wheatear of the year and the arrival finally of the first little ringed plovers with a pair on The Flood.
Given the arrival dates for these dinky shorebirds for last few years have been March 17th in 2013, 19th in 2014 and 2015, 18th in 2016 and 21st last year, these were well overdue!

Other odds and sods include a fabulous barn owl which has shown well regularly and another unusual species in a strictly patch context, red-legged partridge which I have seen a couple of times in the past couple of weeks, yet unusually I haven't spotted any grey partridge yet this year... 

With a promising change in the forecast, I think we can hope to see a few more migrants heading our way shortly.  The lingering winter visitors will head off and our resident birds can get on with the job of nesting. Let's hope that we have a memorable spring for all the right reasons.


Monday, 29 January 2018

Slow Start to New Year

I've never been very good at making New Year's resolutions. And it turns out, I'm not that good at keeping them. My intention was to ensure more regular updates on the Birding Aldcliffe blog during 2018  but I haven't exactly got off to a good start...

I do have some excuses; the first two weeks of January saw Jenny and I heading off to Cuba for a spot of post Christmas respite. A spot of winter sunshine and a handful of new birds seemed most appealing. Despite some unseasonal rain and rather cool conditions on some days, the overall trip was great with relaxation and exploration enjoyed in equal measure.
And yes, I saw a few 'new' birds. Highlights were of course the endemic species, such as Cuban tody, seen here in my short video:

As well as the endemic and near-endemic specialities, Cuba is also the wintering site for several species of North American warblers and so seeing a multitude of dazzling 'Yank' warblers was a daily treat. I do enjoy birding overseas, and I must admit that I often find my return to the local patch a little underwhelming when I get back from a trip somewhere.
After black-throated blue warblers, magnificent frigatebirds, Cuban emeralds, great lizard cuckoos and the like it's hard to get excited about dunnocks and coots.

Nonetheless, I have been out to scour the Aldcliffe patch a couple of times in the past week or so. Frankly, little has changed since December. The Wildfowlers' Pools are still flooded, as is the cycle track. Last week I had a look and there were seven shoveler there. This morning I could see just a pair but a further three were on Darter Pool. Four goldeneye were present on the Wildfowlers' Pools along with eight tufted duck. Another six goldeneye were on Freeman's Pools and a pair were on the Lune. Also on Freeman's Pools were around 40 wigeon and 20 gadwall.
A buzzard was floating around the fields, much to the annoyance of the carrion crows.
A couple of hundred pink-footed geese were grazing on the drumlins before settling on Aldcliffe Marsh.
A scan through the gulls on the river revealed nothing of note - we see far fewer large gulls on the Lune since the closure of the tip and as a consequence such finds as glaucous and Iceland gull are now a thing of the past.
Not so just a few miles away; Heysham Harbour continues its enviable track record as the place in our region to locate such scarce beasts. Both Iceland and glaucous gulls have graced the site in recent days. The long-staying chough too is still hanging around over there... For details see here: Heysham Bird Observatory
Closer to home, the black-throated diver remains faithful to Blea Tarn reservoir near Hala. I actually found time yesterday to nip out and have a look at it. This s a very rare bird in our neck of the woods and I suspect I haven't seen one in Lancashire for about 20 years!
The windy conditions made my attempts at getting a pic through my 'scope even more pitiful than usual. After a couple of fuzzy head-shots and several pics that looked like those Loch Ness monster shots from the 70s, I managed the following snap.

Black-throated diver
Back at work, things have been pretty good at RSPB Leighton Moss in recent weeks with an impressive starling murmuration pleasing the crowds most evenings.
Added to that very frequent otter sightings along with great white egrets, marsh harriers, bitterns, Cetti's warblers and bearded tits there's rarely a dull moment.
Check out the Leighton Moss blog for the latest news.



Saturday, 23 December 2017

Floods, Ice and Wildfowl

Wishing all readers of this blog a very merry Christmas and a bird-filled New Year.

Sunset over the flooded Wildfowlers' Pools

My own resolution for 2018 will be to try and post on here a bit more often than I have of late... to summarise the past few weeks: rain, rain, ice, rain, drizzle.

Flooded Wildfowlers' Pools
Nothing much has changed birds-wise beyond a few ducks dropping in here and there.
The high water levels have attracted a few more dabblers than we normally get at Aldcliffe and the Wildfowlers' Pools have seen several pintail (not a common bird on this stretch of the Lune) and a few shoveler too. Teal numbers have been impressive at times and last week there was a mass arrival of mallard with in excess of a hundred birds present.
A few pink-footed geese have commuted over from the Oxcliffe area or stopped off briefly while heading through but as is the norm here at this time of year no big numbers yet.

Whooper swan at the Wildfowlers' Pools
Whooper swans have been sporadic; a family group flew in and landed on the Wildfowlers' Pools this morning while other small parties have come and gone in recent weeks.
Still no short-eared or barn owls in the area as far as I can tell - please let me know if you have seen any. I was pleased to relocate the little owls near FAUNA following their post-breeding vanishing act.
The cycle track is still well under water (probably the best vehicle deterrent there is and certainly more effective than that next-to-useless gate by Keyline).
Flooded cycle track
Now, let's hope for another nice prolonged cold spell to get things moving around a bit!


Monday, 20 November 2017

Wading In

Great to see a green sandpiper back on the patch this morning. I was beginning to think that we wouldn't have one in the Aldcliffe area this winter. I suspect that it will remain elusive in the coming weeks but we'll wait and see. Today it was on The Flood.
The Flood, along with the fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools, are looking fabulous at the moment. The high water levels of recent weeks have receded and as a result the fields are nicely boggy and seemingly hooching with invertebrates. There were loads of teal dabbling in the muddy shallows this morning along with multiple redshanks, curlews, snipe, up to 11 dunlin and a couple of black-tailed godwits.
It could be well worth keeping an eye on these wet fields as anything could potentially turn up - past winters have seen such oddities as lesser yellowlegs, wood sandpiper, knot and little stint here.

The nearby hedgerows were bustling with blackbirds, despite the relative paucity of berries in the hawthorns. A sprinkling of both mistle and song thrushes along with small parties of redwings and fieldfares were a welcome sight as always. Another feature of this late autumn period is the encouraging number of greenfinches and bullfinches along the cycle track. Greenfinches in particular are comparatively scarce these days so any sign of improvement in the local population is a blessing.
Tree sparrows continue to be seen in the maize fields with plenty of chaffinches and several reed buntings.

A solitary jack snipe was at Snipe Bog and the incoming tide pushed a rock pipit my way.    

Freeman's Pools remain fairly quiet. Coot numbers are noticeably down with just 14 present. A female shoveler was new in while other wildfowl included 5 goldeneye, 7 tufted duck and 19 gadwall plus 3 little grebe.

42 wigeon were on Frog Pond yesterday late afternoon.