Monday, 11 April 2022

Spring Things...

I've managed a few trips down to Aldcliffe for a spot of birding in recent days; spring time, despite the rather crummy wind direction of late, always lures me out in search of birds passing through. Despite the unhelpful conditions, it's been mostly dry (bar the odd hail shower) and some determined migrants have made it through. 

Personal highlights this week have included a fine drake garganey on Freeman's Pools on Friday, a wheatear by The Flood on Tuesday and both swallow and willow warblers today (Monday 11). 

Dan H had his first tree pipit of the season earlier in the week and an osprey flew over Fairfield just after noon today. 

Up to 3 little ringed plovers and a green sandpiper have been regular on both the Wildfowlers' Pools and the Flood. We could do with a bit of rain to keep the Flood a little wet and muddy to attract waders and wagtails in the next couple of weeks...   

As ever, the Easter holidays has seen an increase in the number of people with off-lead dogs wandering around all over the saltmarsh, having first walked past all the signs explicitly asking them not to. It's really no wonder that the number of birds seen in these areas of marsh have diminished significantly in recent years. Constant disturbance simply prevents birds from roosting, feeding and nesting.     

(Pic of drake garganey not taken at Aldcliffe but recently at Cockersands)       

Monday, 4 April 2022

2022 Update!

Flippin' heck. It's been a while. 

As ever, I have had lots of good intentions to update this page from time to time but alas I simply haven't got round to it. So, here we are almost two years since the last post. Quite a lot has happened in that time to be fair, both in the wider world and indeed at Aldcliffe. And, while many of the bigger issues have been somewhat consuming, we shall try not to focus on those here and instead direct our interests to the matter of birding in and around the Aldcliffe area. 

Since our last blog post, there have been a one or two notable developments in the area. 
The Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society (LDBWS) have installed an excellent feeding station by Pony Wood at Fairfield. As a result we have seen a wide variety of species using this resource including good numbers of reed buntings and bramblings - much to the delight of local birdwatchers and the local community in general. 

Also, some extensive drainage work has been done in an effort to reduce flooding in the fields bordering Aldcliffe Hall Lane and the cycle track. This has the potential to reduce this area's appeal to birds (particularly passage waders and wagtails etc) but the actual outcomes have yet to be seen. 

Meanwhile the overall condition of the Aldcliffe landscape continues to be generally poor for wildlife and the stretch from Freeman's Wood to Stodday is increasingly uninviting to many birds. A notable increase in the number of people using the cycle-track and the spill-over disturbance onto the marsh and into the fields, especially by significant numbers of people with off-lead dogs, appears to be having quite an impact. Despite lots of signage having placed at the entry points, many dog-owners appear to think that it applies to other pet owners only.

The Wildfowlers' Pools still attract plenty of birds seasonally as do Freeman's Pools, so it's not all bad.

When I started this blog, the primary purpose was to try to highlight the area's potential and hopefully encourage more birdwatchers to visit - after all I had been birding here since the 1980s and knew how good it could be! Thankfully, more people do birdwatch here now than ever and thanks to this increase and regular ongoing coverage by a small but dedicated band of local patchers we have a far better understanding of the area and its value to breeding and wintering birds as well as off-passage migrants. 

So, given that it's spring (not that it feels like it out there today) let's kick off with some seasonal news...

Spring migrants so far include: 

Chiffchaff (plenty singing around the entire area for some time now) 

Blackcap: (small numbers singing in and around Freeman's Wood)

Little ringed plover (at least 3 birds on The Flood and Wildfowlers' Pools)

Ruff (1 at Wildfowlers' Pools 27-28 March)

(No one had any sand martins here yet???)

Other odds and sods in recent weeks include red kite, tundra bean goose, white-fronted goose, barn owl, Mediterranean gull, ringed plover, black-tailed godwit, etc. 

It is my intention to maintain some sort of updates here moving forward, but I've had those sort of intentions before. Let's see how we get on...          


Tuesday, 12 May 2020

More Migrants on the Move

With no further sightings of Saturday's RB shrike and the notable change in weather (from positively Mediterranean to classic Northern European) one would expect things to have quietened down on the patch in recent days.
However, a couple of very welcome late migrants were added to the Aldcliffe yearlist with an active female redstart by Freeman's Pools yesterday (Monday) and a couple of whinchats there this morning.

Female whinchat (from archive, J Carter)
I had gone out this morning with the express intention of finding a whinchat, so I was pleased when I finally clapped eyes on them in an area where they often turn up.
That's the thing about local patch birding; over the years one builds up a picture of a site and often the same areas attract the same species when passing through. By checking certain favoured spots at certain times of year, one increases the chances of finding specific birds.
When I first noticed this morning's whinchats they were feeding in much the same area but one of the birds seemed to take offence to the other and chased it off.

Other birds of note included a pair of great crested grebes on the pools - prospective breeders?


Monday, 11 May 2020

Bike / Hike Shrike

One of the concerns of local patch birding is how to treat news if one finds a rare bird? Can we manage parking and access, how far might people wish to travel in order to see a scarce visitor and how many birdwatchers might descend on this relatively quiet spot?

Male red-backed shrike (J Carter)
Of course, in lockdown these questions are to some extent moot - we would not wish to encourage anyone to get in a car in order to twitch a regional or national rarity. So while the small band of Aldcliffe patch birders have continued to search for noteworthy birds we have been, uncharacteristically, hoping not to discover anything that might draw the crowds.

However, when news broke on Saturday afternoon that a male red-backed shrike had been discovered along the Dawson Bank hedgerow, a small gaggle of West Lancaster birders suddenly found the need to take their daily exercise (as per government guidelines, after all).

Personally, I've spent time on the patch pretty much every day since I was furloughed but I'd given Saturday a miss due to the glorious weather and the likely hordes of walkers, cyclists etc, as a result of the lack of coherent messaging about staying at home... I believe the phrase may be Sod's law!

Local birders observing social distancing (P Crooks)
News reached the grapevine just before 4pm (huge thanks to finder Joe Murphy) and despite my immediate reservations about dropping everything (decorating, as it happens) I soon found myself leaping on my bike and heading towards the patch, which is literally just minutes from home. Despite the bird having disappeared from view, and news of its last whereabouts being vague, less than half an hour after deciding to leave the house I was stood watching this most dazzling of continental overshoots. Within an hour of news breaking, most of the local patchers were on site enjoying good views of the bird.

Red-backed shrike is a long-overdue first the Aldcliffe area and it represents the third species of shrike to be seen here to my knowledge.
A great grey shrike spent some time in Freeman's Wood back in December 1991 and a stunning woodchat shrike was in almost the same area as the red-backed (and remarkably close in date) on 8/9 May 2014. So, which next: Lesser grey? Steppe grey? Brown? Masked? Watch this space!  

RB shrike brings the known Aldcliffe list to 204 and my personal patch list to 201.  


Friday, 8 May 2020

May Magic

As April gave way to May the optimistic amongst us were out in search of more incoming migrants and while there were few surprises, we did at least see the continued arrival of commoner species.

Newly arrived swallow stops for a brief rest at the pools (J Carter)

A short trek anywhere along the cycle path between Freeman's Wood and Stodday is sure to be accompanied by a soundtrack provided by multiple warblers. Blackcaps, chiffchaffs, whitethroats, lesser whitethroats and sedge and willow warblers can all be heard with ease, blasting out their territorial rights. Reed warblers too are back in their usual nesting sites. Overhead swallows, house martins and swifts regularly sweep through while on the saltmarsh a few late wheatears, probably bound for Greenland, can still be found.
The majority of lingering white wagtails moved on last week with just a handful remaining into May. 

Yep, I'd be knackered too if I'd flown from South Africa (J Carter)

On the ponds, as the water levels continue to drop due to the mostly rain free conditions of late, the number of birds has similarly dropped. The local breeding species remain alongside a few non-breeders. At least a dozen gadwall are hanging around along with a pair of teal. A lone drake wigeon looks set to spend the summer with us.
This morning (Friday 8) a single pink-footed goose was at the Wildfowlers' Pools - a couple of days ago Dan came across an unseasonal (and doubtless un-wild) barnacle goose. I failed to catch up with this May mega and had to do with the sight of a rather attractive, if incongruous, black swan on the Lune this morning in order to fill my quota of well-dodgy-wildfowl.   
Talking of pointless web-footed birds, the first Canada goose goslings emerged this week while multiple mallard broods of various sizes can be spotted by anyone bored enough to look.
A Freeman's Pools the garrullous black-headed gull colony continues to grow - it will interesting to see how many young they get off this year.

Roe deer by Freeman's Pools
The doomed lapwings in the fields have continued to get repeatedly clobbered by the need to grow maize for indoor cattle. There have now been three separate assaults on these fields ensuring that any second or even third nesting attempts have been rendered pointless. The handful of birds sat in the fields now may yet have a further visit by large agricultural plant to contend with. Let's the solitary nesting lapwing by the pools has some success.

On a less depressing note, other notable birds to have been seen around the Aldcliffe patch in recent days include: whimbrel, common sandpiper, common tern, eider and osprey.

With the forecast set to change significantly it will interesting to see how this affects the local birds and other wildlife in the coming days...