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.

Jon

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Whooper Trouper

Had a couple of hours mooching around the patch yesterday (Saturday) morning.

Things were looking slightly livelier at Freeman's Pools with some more goldeneye new in (now 8 birds present) along with 22 coot, 4 tufted duck, 3 little grebe and 19 gadwall. A little egret was on the island.

Checking the Lune at Marsh Point, a pair of great crested grebes drifted by on the incoming tide.

With the maize fields now fully cut, good numbers of corvids, woodpigeons and geese were rooting around in them. Also there were plenty of chaffinches and a few reed buntings and greenfinches searching for food. I could hear tree sparrows calling and eventually tracked two down in the hedge near Darter Pool.

Whooper swan
As I made my way along the cycle track a couple of skeins (comprised approx 70 & 130 birds) of pink-footed geese went over, heading south.

A drake shoveler was on the Wildfowlers' Pools, keeping company with teal and mallard. In the adjacent field a lone whooper swan was with a mute swan. I tried a couple of dodgy digi-scope shots.

Sheep
I was rather pleased with my picture of a sheep... The whooper later took off, flew around in a large circle and landed on the pools with a group of mutes.

All along the track, small numbers of redwing were feeding in the hawthorns and a sprinkling of goldcrests were also seen and heard.

Two grey partridge were in fields near Walled Meadow - always good to see this increasingly scarce bird.

Walking back along Dawson's Bank I came across a single rock pipit amongst 14 meadow pipit & 6 pied wagtails feeding on the tideline.

Jon

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Return of the Goldeneye

The clear winner of the 'Highlight of the Day' category was the pair of goldeneyes on Freeman's Pools this morning. Generally duck numbers seem to be rather low so far this autumn, not only at Aldcliffe but other places too. The cooler air from the north this weekend will have no doubt brought more wildfowl in but on the whole I expect we'll need a spell of prolonged wintry weather before we see any really significant changes. Also with water levels being so high, the traditional ponds are likely too deep for dabbling ducks to feed so flooded fields may be attracting more birds than usual.

Collared greylag
The usual 20-odd gadwall were at Freeman's Pools along with 3 wigeon, a handful of tufted duck, a few coot and 5 little grebes.

The maize was being harvested today so hopefully we'll get some finch and sparrow action in these fields in the next couple of weeks - always worth looking out for brambling, tree sparrow and maybe even an interesting bunting.

Greylags too will congregate in search of spilled corn and it's a good time to check for collared birds. So far I've got the details of 10 of the collared birds I've seen this season but it's not always easy to read the digits when the geese are way out on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Flooded cycle track

A week or so ago I found a single jack snipe along with 4 common snipe at the somewhat appropriately monikered Snipe Bog and my first autumn rock pipit was also there. 11 black-tailed godwit were at the flooded Reedy Corner. This area has once again retained tons of water with the result that the cycle track is submerged again for a good 100 metres or so.

Snipe Bog
Redwings and fieldfares are now an almost regular sight in small numbers but sightings should increase in number and frequency in the coming weeks as birds head west and south.

Good to see that the little owls are remaining faithful to the area they nested in and all being well, should stick around now. Talking of owls, with a good breeding season under their belt we can hope for some barn and short-eared owls on and around the patch this winter - fingers crossed!

Jon   
      

Friday, 13 October 2017

Better Gate Than Never

Boy, where has the time gone? One minute it's early September and I'm looking forward to lots of exciting autumn birding, then it's suddenly mid-October and it feels like I've hardly been out!
Well, that's not strictly true - I have had a few visits to Aldcliffe and environs but I've not exactly come back with a bulging notebook.

North Ronaldsay
Plus, I spent the last week of September on North Ronaldsay, in Orkney. And that was pretty much dawn till dusk birding for 6 days. Our stay on this magical isle didn't coincide with The Big One (that came several days later) but we still found and / or saw plenty to entertain us.
Rustic bunting by Mark Witherall
Highlights included rustic, little and ortolan bunting  olive-backed pipit, bluethroat, red-breasted flycatcher, barred and yellow-browed warblers plus plenty of birds I don't see enough of in this part of the world; great northern diver, great skua, black guillemot, purple sandpiper, Lapland and snow bunting, ring ouzel, grasshopper warbler and common migrants such as redstart and spotted flyctacher. Not too bad really.

Back in Lancaster and a trundle around the patch on October 1 revealed the following highlights: 
1 whinchat
5 chiffchaff
1 green sandpiper
17 house martin (appeared to be moving through as opposed to lingering local birds)
7 gadwall
5 tufted duck

Better gate than never
Though perhaps most significant was the appearance of the new gate by Keyline. Will this be enough to stop the increasing number of rat-runners using the cycle track as a short-cut? Let's hope so. 
I can't help but think this is the absolute least that could have been done to solve the problem of unauthorised vehicle use on this track. 
I expect one or two farm contractors will soon 'forget' the lock the gate behind them and it isn't beyond some drivers (such as those who clearly removed the no vehicle signage at the Aldcliffe Hall Lane end) to just cut through the locks. A couple of set-in bollards part way along the track may have been preferable... 
Talking of house martins (see above), there were still 7 birds at the Willow Lane colony on Sunday 8 October. I haven't seen any since so I expect they've finally headed south.
This morning I had a good wander around the area, starting at FAUNA. I was pleased to my first local patch redwings of the autumn (already spotted on North Ron and at Leighton Moss earlier this week) - 3 were with 5 mistle thrush. I coudn't see any little owls in the usual spot.
After the initial promise provided by the redwings the next couple of hours were something of a dreary slog. A lone chiffchaff was the scant highlight from the cycle track while a kingfisher brightened up an otherwise dull Freeman's Pools. 
Other typical odds and sods included sparrowhawk, gadwall, little egret, reed bunting etc. 

Meanwhile, my day job allows me to see regular bearded tits, purple heron, marsh harrier and the like, so I'm not doing too badly. I will try to get down the patch a bit more frequently, and after one or comments about the lack of posts here of late will endeavour to keep Birding Aldcliffe up to date!  

Jon

Monday, 4 September 2017

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Autumn

It certainly felt autumnal again this morning, not so much weather-wise but bird-wise.
A few migrants hinted at the real onset of passage.

Distant whinchat & wheatear
Two redstarts were the highlight, both dazzling males.
The whinchat remains by the Wildfowlers' Pools - I assume it's the same bird I first saw on 27th and again on Saturday, when it was with a wheatear.
I could see 5 wheatear out on Aldcliffe Marsh though I suspect there were more around.
A few other bits and bobs in the hedges included a lesser whitethroat and a male blackcap plus several willow warblers and chiffchaffs. Swallows were moving south in good numbers.

A green sandpiper was on the Flood but given the reported national influx of pectoral sandpipers it wasn't exactly what I'd hoped to find!
Similarly, the mass of waders on the Lune in recent days has yet to attract anything beyond the expected species; lapwing, redshank, curlew, dunlin and the odd golden plover and common sandpiper. Even so, it's great fun scanning through the large gatherings of birds as they feed on the mud or roost on the river bank.
And it's early days of course, so there's plenty of time for something a little bit out of the ordinary to drop in. 

I had a pleasant couple of hours around Fairfield Orchard and FAUNA yesterday morning, leading a bird walk. Although the rather stiff breeze kept most smaller birds hunkered down, the little owls performed beautifully for the group. We also saw common buzzard and sparrowhawk and noted at least 20 rooks still picking their way through the stubble in the arable field.  

Jon

   


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Autumn Beckons

My last few rummages around around the local patch have certainly had a feeling of impending autumn about them.
This morning, the undoubted highlight was a lovely whinchat with 3 wheatears by the Wildfowlers' Pools. Oddly, I didn't find any other obvious grounded migrants anywhere else though overhead, swallows were clearly on the move.
A green sandpiper was on the pools too. There were 2 here yesterday morning.

Kingfisher, Freeman's Pools
Also yesterday, there was a pair of kingfishers at Freeman's Pools though I couldn't see them this morning.
Wader numbers continue to creep up with good numbers of curlew, lapwing and redshank on the estuary. A few black-tailed godwit have been dropping in and ones or two's of dunlin and greenshank have been on the river. Just 3 golden plover have appeared so far.
An adult great crested grebe was on the Lune yesterday, and the resident 10 or so little grebes have scattered around the patch to occupy the various ponds and pools.

A nice find early last week was a juvenile marsh harrier which was hunting around Freeman's Pools on Tuesday morning. It left the pools and headed off toward the river where it spooked everything, sending up clouds of panicking gulls, waders and starlings in its wake.      
That same morning, the hedges were full of migrants; lots of chiffchaffs and willow warblers were flitting around in the hawthorns. At least 3 lesser whitethroat, 2 common whitethroat and 1 blackcap were also seen. My first autumn wheatear was on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Purple heron at RSPB Leighton Moss
And - I can't post on here without mentioning the purple heron currently attracting hordes of birdwatchers at Leighton Moss.
I've been fortunate enough to see this great rarity on a near daily basis but I haven't yet managed to get a decent pic of it.
However, that won't stop me from putting a rather iffy record shot on here! 

Jon

Monday, 21 August 2017

Purple Patch

Well, it's certainly been an interesting few days!
On Friday, shortly before I was due to catch my train to Oakham for the Birdfair a juvenile purple heron was discovered in front of the Grisedale Hide at Leighton Moss. Now, given that the last purple heron at the reserve (and in this area) was back in 1996 (I saw that one too) this was not a bird to be missed.
So, I duly legged it up the Skytower - following intel from Kev Kelly that it had flow into reeds 'behind Lilian's' - and scanned the vista. Kev decided to join me as it was no longer visible from the hide and we had no idea what it was going to do next.

Purple heron (not the Leighton Moss one...)
After a few gruelling minutes the heron rose from the reeds and flew a short distance before pitching down, out of sight once more. It did this a couple more times before relocating to Grisedale, much to the delight of visiting birders who had hot-tailed it to the reserve in the hope of seeing the rarity.
As I write, it's still present and has shown exceedingly well for many admirers over the past 3 days. I hope to get better views and couple of record shots when I get back to work... in the meantime here's an adult purple heron I photographed elsewhere, previously. All being well, I'll have a pic of the Leighton bird here soon!

Birdfair was fun, as always. I spent all of Saturday and Sunday on the RSPB stand, catching up with old faces and meeting lots of new ones.
Among the book signings hosted on our stand, we had Bill Oddie join us on Saturday afternoon.

Goodie & Baddie
I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to have a pic with him; the last time I'd done this was several years ago when I interviewed him in Morecambe for The Visitor newspaper. I expect I remember that occasion more than he does.

Back in North Lancs, I had a mooch around the patch this morning.
Freeman's Pools was a bit livelier than it has been lately with the first notable returning wildfowl; 9 gadwall and a pair of tufted duck. The usual little grebes, coots and moorhens were present.

Frog Pond and Darter Pool were quiet. Water levels still being high at the Wildfowlers' Pools, there was little on offer beyond a few mallard. A small number of teal were snoozing near Reedy Corner.
A group of 6 snipe flew over and the tell-tale calls of a green sandpiper were audible though I couldn't see the bird.
A check of the Flood failed to reveal the anticipated sandpiper, just 2 little egrets were picking around the muddy pool.
Yet more egrets were out on Aldcliffe Marsh. It's pretty normal these days to be able to stand in one spot and casually count up to 30 egrets...
With the tide at its peak, the river's edge was punctuated with roosting and feeding redshanks, lapwings, curlew and gulls. Scanning through the birds, I found a couple of Mediterranean gulls (adult & 2nd winter) and a common sandpiper but nothing else.
Out on the river there was a group of 10 goosander and 18 cormorants

Collared greylags
The number of greylag and Canada geese have been steadily building in recent weeks but today was the first time I've had the opportunity (and inclination) to read any collars. I suppose it gives me something to do on those slow winter days!   
Kestrels appear to have had a pretty good season locally (for a change) with up to 6 different birds seen in the area today. They've presumably taken full advantage of the good vole year - I hear that short-eared and barn owls have enjoyed high productivity in the county this year. Hopefully we'll see some on the patch this autumn and winter?
On my way home I spotted the green sandpiper as it flew noisily onto the Flood.

After a spot of lunch I had a walk through the FAUNA reserve and had a look at the little owls. Just two were visible today. The cut arable was filled with birds - lesser black-back gulls, herring gulls, black-headed gulls and one each of common and Mediterranean gulls (the latter and adult with a limp) were feeding alongside jackdaws, carrion crows and 7 rooks. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any stock doves among the mass of wood pigeons and feral pigeons.

Jon