Friday, 27 November 2015

A-maizing Geese

Highlights from visits yesterday morning and again today were the huge numbers of geese working their way through the maize fields. Unfortunately, I couldn't see any 'wild' geese, but at least 800 greylags (including a handful of orange-collared birds) and around 150 Canada geese were present.
Obviously, such a large concentration of geese at a solid food source could easily pull in some passing geese of less dubious origin so regular checks should prove worthwhile (as per the whitefronts recently).
Freeman's Pools had 6 goldeneye in residence, along with ever growing numbers of gadwall, plus 3 tufted duck.
The hedges around the maize fields were positively jumping with chaffinches and reed buntings, yesterday. The only other things I could find among them were a pair of tree sparrows.
A couple of stock dove are still kicking around the area and good numbers of fieldfare, plus a smattering of redwing continue to feast on the remaining berries.
Raptors have been in short supply lately with just the occasional sparrowhawk and kestrel being seen with any regularity. I had great views however of a merlin in pursuit of a snipe over The Flood yesterday morning.
I haven't seen anything particularly interesting drifting in with the rising high tides, but if the current forecast comes to fruition we might have better luck with some windblown waif in the next couple of days.


Monday, 23 November 2015

Cold Comfort

I nipped down to Aldcliffe on Friday to see if the whitefronts were still around but alas, they appeared to have moved on.
As it happens, there wasn't a great deal going on at all and a couple of hours scouring the patch turned up little of note, beyond the regular birds.

Yet to be harvested maize
One thing I did notice was that the maize field was still waiting to be cut. It would appear that the crop itself has been exceedingly poor this year and the plants appear to be rotting where they stand. I assume that this crop is destined to be animal feed but I wouldn't expect that lot to be much use this winter. Was it really worth destroying 22 lapwing nests for?

After a weekend working at the North West Bird Festival at Martin Mere, I had today (Monday) off and headed down to the patch this morning to see if the colder conditions had made a tangible difference to the numbers of birds to be seen.
First up, was Freeman's Pools. All the regular species (gadwall, coot, teal, wigeon, little grebe, tufted duck, etc) were present with no notable change in numbers.
However, new arrivals were noted with the appearance of 4 new goldeneye and a smart drake pochard. As it happens, a male pochard turned up here in late November last year and stayed for just a few short days. Will this one hang around any longer?
The edge of Freeman's Wood was buzzing with the commoner species of finches, tits and a few showy goldcrests.
I headed along the cycle track and became swiftly aware that the maize had finally been harvested over the weekend. As a consequence there were masses of jackdaws and carrion crows, plus a few rooks pillaging the fields.
A scan of the furrows and hedges revealed good numbers of foraging chaffinch, reed bunting and a couple of tree sparrows. Hopefully, we'll see an increase in the number of birds taking advantage of the spilled maize in the coming days and weeks.
The cooler conditions had certainly brought more thrushes in too with plenty of redwing, fieldfare and blackbird stripping the hawthorns of their remaining berries.
Water levels at the Wildfowlers' Pools was still impressively high and there were plenty of redshank feeding in the waterlogged fields. Meanwhile the greylags had moved inland a little and were grazing in the fields to the east of the upper cinder track. A scan through the flock turned up 38 pink-footed geese but again, no whitefronts.
Out on the marsh and estuary it was business as usual with flocks of lapwing and golden plover with smaller numbers of dunlin, assembling on the river bank as the tide dropped. A wildfowler was active out on Colloway Marsh, pushing the relatively few wigeon and teal onto the Lune.

A repeat visit to Aldcliffe (via FAUNA) late afternoon added one each of black-tailed godwit, spotted redshank and dunlin to the tally of waders at the Wildfowlers' Pools.


Monday, 16 November 2015


Clearly a white-fronted goose.
There was a family party of white-fronted geese in with the greylags at Aldcliffe today. They were feeding in the flood-expanded wet area between the Wildfowlers' Pools and Reedy Corner and when I first spotted one of the aduits it appeared distinctly pink-billed.
As European birds albifrons are the least common of the two races in this part of the world (the other being flavirostris from Greenland) I was rather pleased!

One bill looks pink, the other orange...
I took a couple of distant record shots and moved to get slightly closer.
Now as I looked I noticed that the three 1st winter birds had bright orange bills. Looking again at the adults it was frankly hard to tell what colour their beaks were...
As the light changed, so did the bare-part colouration and I took a few more snaps to see if that would help me get to grips with the true identity of these birds.

Now they all look orange.
Looking at the structure of the bill and the amount of black on the bellies of the adults I'd be inclined toward Greenland, especially as the young birds appear to be so orange-billed.
But, it just goes to show that light conditions can really play with colour perception in the field.
And even in the same light, colour can vary between individuals; as you can see in one of the pics here, one bird appears orange-billed while the other looks to be pink-billed.
Is one adult bird flavirostris and the other albifrons? That seems most unlikely... but not impossible.

I suppose if I'd had my 'scope with me I might have been able to determine the race of the birds much easier as I'd expect a closer look at the bills would allow clearer definition of colour.

...but these appear decidedly pink!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Gale Fail

I had a good check around the patch yesterday (in the rather windy weather) and again this morning but notable highlights were somewhat lacking. Unfortunately I wasn't blessed with the discovery of some exciting wind-blown oddity...

Obviously there's a lot of standing water around and both The Flood and Wildfowlers' Pools are particularly deluged. The former has only attracted a dozen or so moorhen while the latter pools are teeming with teal.
Also at the Wildfowlers' Pools there were a couple of little grebe and the usual scattering of mallard and today there were 40-odd greylag geese having a paddle in the wet edges.
Aldcliffe Marsh has yet to attract any wild swans or geese but there are quite impressive numbers of waders on the estuary. Admittedly there are far fewer curlew and lapwing than there used to be but numbers of golden plover seem to be up on this stretch of the river. Scatterings of redshank & dunlin and all the expected gulls were also seen.

Freeman's Pools seems pretty consistent on the whole with up to 18 gadwall, 30+ coot and varying numbers of little egret, grey heron, teal, mallard, tufted duck and wigeon present most days.
Yesterday a drake red-breasted merganser put in an appearance - not an especially frequent visitor to the site. The female goldeneye that I first saw on Tuesday was still busily diving away on the main pool.
Along the track hedgerows it has been pleasing to note lately what can only be described as flocks of greenfinch. Now, they're no where as near as numerous as they were a few years back but after significant population declines it looks as if there might be some sign of a bounce-back. I do hope so.
The almost-expected trio of stock dove were again by the flood defense bunds.   

A quick visit to the patch on Tuesday was pretty good with yet another sighting of a short-eared owl.
The same as on my previous visit or another bird altogether? With something of an influx of the species into the region in recent weeks I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if these were two different owls.
Incidentally, the pic here is not of either of the Aldcliffe SEOs, but 'one I prepared earlier' and included here for illustrative purposes only. 
Another notable sight on what was a very blustery Tuesday was the flock of 18 pintail that came barreling over and heading downriver.  This handsome duck is a pretty scarce beast on the patch, and is most regularly associated with gales.


Saturday, 7 November 2015


I spent a couple of hours trying to dodge the downpours at Aldcliffe this afternoon...

Freeman's Pools were lively enough with quite a bit of wildfowl in situ - wigeon, tufted duck, gadwall and teal were all present along with little grebes and 30+ coot.
Nearby, 3 stock dove were by the bunds and a kingfisher was at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
A male blackcap was in the hedgerow between the cinder track and the cycle path: a late southbound migrant or a recently arrived winter visitor from the continent?

As I headed home, my attention was drawn to the activity of a gang of corvids over the drumlins. They were clearly mobbing something and as I got my bins on it I was pleased to see that it was a short-eared owl. The carrion crows and jackdaws were only going at it half-heartedly and the owl drifted off at height over Lancaster. Of note, Dan had seen a 'shortie' over Aldcliffe Marsh exactly a week ago. 

Prior to my spell of Aldcliffe birding, a small but dedicated group of locals had joined me for a very wet bird walk around the FAUNA reserve this morning. The rain kept most things pretty quiet and out of sight but nonetheless we still managed to see a few bits and bobs over the hour and half we were out.

Earlier in the week we had done our monthly snipe count at the reserve and racked up a total of 43 common snipe and 1 jack snipe. Hopefully we'll have a woodcock or two to add to the list next month.
Following a recent report of a barn owl in the area I checked a few likely spots and located a roosting bird - hopefully it'll stick around for the winter.  


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Another First for Aldcliffe

Once the (un-forecast) rain stopped this morning I dragged myself down to the patch for a spot of Aldcliffe birding.
First, I made my way through Freeman's Wood noting good numbers of redwings, blackbirds and goldcrests around the place. A charming pair of bullfinch showed well and a female blackcap was seen gorging on blackberries.

At Freeman's Pools there was nothing out of the ordinary, although it was good to see numbers of classic wintering species still creeping up (14 each of wigeon, teal and gadwall plus 31 coot).
As mentioned several times on this blog in the past, rooks are relatively scarce visitors on the patch. We can usually expect a few in autumn and early winter but they rarely exceed double figures, so a total of 22 scattered around the fields to the east of the cycle track was cause for minor celebration.

Stopping, as always, to check all the small flocks of passerines along the hedgerows I came across a modest tit flock made up of the usual bits and pieces; blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, wren and a couple of goldcrests. Then just a few metres behind, a 'large' warbler loomed into view.
My first naked-eye thoughts were of reed warbler but as soon as I got my bins on it it was clear that this was my long-awaited first Cetti's warbler for the patch.
The bird was feeding low down in a sparse hawthorn and gave brilliant views for several minutes before dropping down out of view.

So, if you were one of the 52% of participants who chose Cetti's warbler as probable next new bird for Aldcliffe (see the poll on the top right). please give yourselves a round of quiet applause. Now I'll have to think of another bird to replace it and keep the poll open... incidentally, the last new patch bird, pectoral sandpiper, wasn't even included in the options!

Close by, a party of at least 6 lesser redpoll were feeding on rosebay willowherb seedheads - presumably this is the same small flock that was in the same area nearly 3 weeks ago?


Friday, 23 October 2015

A Week Away Works Wonders

Blimey, it's a been a while since I posted something on here.
That doesn't mean that I haven't been out birding, more a case of that I've struggled to find motivation to write anything about in what has been a very unusual autumn period.
Common migrants have been hard to find (nice clear September nights for clearing out with no off-passage stuff to speak of) and ongoing mild conditions means relatively few weather-induced arrivals from the north.

The influx of yellow-browed warblers had me hopeful but as yet not a single one has materialised on the patch. That said, I've been working away fair bit and also just spent a week on the Scillies so there may have been dozens of the wee sprites at Aldcliffe, but with practically no birders checking the area they could easily have gone unnoticed. It's a philosophical (phylloscophical?) conundrum: a yellow-browed warbler calls in the sycamore but there's no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound?   

Phone'scope pic of Hudsonian whimbrel
Anyhoo, I saw loads of yellow-browed warblers on the Scillies  along with an embarrassing glut of firecrests - always great to see. The Hudsonian whimbrel on Tresco gave me a British tick, as did the St Mary's Blyth's pipit and my third, if well overdue, 'first' was the dazzling (if a little tick infested) olive-backed pipit on St Martins.

'Fawn Yawn' at Land's End

Kev Kelly and I also found the islands' only Pallas's warbler of the season while on Tresco and we finished the week off with a look at a ridiculously approachable juvenile rose-coloured starling at Land's End. The pic of the starling here was taken with my phone. No 'scope, no trickery, just my phone.

Closer to home, here are a few of the highlights from the past few weeks around Aldcliffe...

Oct 4th: a few blackcap around plus 2 'new-in' tree sparrows

Colour-ringed grey wagtail
Oct 5th: common whitethroat, 5 chiffchaff (all but one silent), loads of goldcrests and a very showy party of 6 redpoll.
Colour-ringed grey wagtail at Stodday ETW (ringed at Middleton 27/9/15).

Sept 27th: few chiffchaffs found in the company of the local tit flocks. Small numbers of meadow pipit & swallow overhead.
A drake scaup on the Lune.

Sept 18th: 1 blackcap and common whitethroat this morning. A few swallows mainly in small numbers though one tight flock of 22, plus 4 meadow pipit and 6 alba wagtail over. Chaffinch, greenfinch and reed bunting numbers creeping up a touch. A couple of willow warbler and 5 chiffchaff.
A ringed adult Med gull at Gull Bank
Gadwall up to 6 at Freeman's Pools, plus 2 tufted duck, 6 wigeon, a green sandpiper and the usual little grebes, etc.