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

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Caught In A Shower

Aldcliffe little owl
Had a very enjoyable three hours or so rummaging around the estuary and environs this morning.
Freeman's Pools was quiet with just a couple of coot, a moorhen, mute swan, a gadwall and 6 little grebes.
A check of Darter Pool revealed a garganey. It flew off toward Bank Pool where it presumably touched down. After a blank 2016, this was a most welcome bird!
The Wildfowlers' Pools and Frog Pond were fairly birdless. Due to the high water levels we're not seeing any waders dropping in to feed on the pools. That said, the flood looks good with lots of mud and water but it must be pretty food-free as few birds are bothering with it.
A check of the estuary was more productive.
There were around 2,300 black-headed gulls roosting on what was once Gull Bank (now more of a steep terrace following the collapse of the bank during the 2015 floods) with smaller numbers of common, herring and lesser black-backs. As I scanned through in search of Mediterranean gulls I picked out 9 but there may well have been more. That could be the highest count I've ever had of Med gulls at Aldcliffe...?
Also on the Lune were 42 black-tailed godwit feeding frantically away on the exposed mud. Among the gathered lapwing were the first three 'autumn' golden plovers.

Before heading home I checked on the little owls near FAUNA and found them just as another shower set in. I could see two adults initially but no youngster.
As the rain fell I noticed one of the adults adopting what I thought was perhaps a defence pose (pictured right). It dropped its wings and then brought them to the fore. I looked at the other adult and it was doing the same. Then two young owls emerged and also adopted the same stance.
Was this something to do with feather conditioning? Were they literally taking a shower? I'll be looking into this when I get chance; I've certainly never witnessed that behaviour before.

Jon
    

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Little Grebe Collective

Grey partridge
Managed to squeeze in a quick blast around the patch after work this evening. It was drizzly but mild and calm enough.
First port of call was Freeman's Pools where I was greeted by the sight of an impressive 9 little grebes. Nice to see grown youngsters among them. Otherwise, a couple of coot and a lone moorhen were all I could see on the main pool.
A grey heron, a mute swan and a couple more moorhens graced the top pools. A female sparrowhawk was sat on a fence post.
A scan of the gulls on the Lune revealed nothing of note.
Water levels being generally high, the ponds were all pretty cruddy with no muddy edges for anything to lurk on. Hence, they were dead.
A couple of whitethroat were heard grunting in the hedges and a couple of willow warblers were in the track-side hawthorns.
There were plenty of swallows around but only a couple each of house and sand martin.
The Flood was slightly more birdy with a pair of little egret and both green sandpiper and common sandpiper.
Despite the large numbers of black-headed gull and lapwings on the river, I couldn't find anything else among them. A kestrel was hunting over the saltmarsh.
I came across a single well-grown juvenile grey partridge on the tideline near Walled Meadow. Proof at least that they still manage (just about) to maintain a small but ever-dwindling population in the Aldcliffe area...

Jon
 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Field Good Factor

I had an extremely soggy trundle around the patch on Saturday morning, but it wasn't without its rewards.
Freeman's Pools were relatively quiet; 3 tufted duck, a couple of little grebes and a few mallard, coot and Canada geese on the water. A reed warbler was half-heartedly singing but kept typically hidden.
A single green sandpiper was at the Wildfowlers' Pools along with a shelduck and one fledged youngster. The sedge warbler-in-residence was belting it out from a path-side hawthorn.
A lone breeding-plumage black-tailed godwit was also here, freshly returned no doubt from Iceland. Also back in the Aldcliffe 'hood were the first post-breeding greylags of the year - approximately 120 including a couple of collared birds.
Out on the Lune the tide was low and as a consequence the mud was littered with lapwings and black-headed gulls. From among the throng I picked out a dunlin, 4 common sandpipers and an adult Mediterranean gull.
A common tern was fishing in the channel, presumably a Conder Pools bird at large.

The arable field at Fairfield
Sunday, things were generally a lot nicer weather-wise so Jenny and I walked through the Fairfield Orchard, via Aldcliffe village and back along the cycle track to Freeman's Wood.
The arable field was looking superb in the sunshine with the crop gently swaying in the breeze and the belt of wildflowers growing around its borders.

Last week I followed up a couple of recent reports of little owl in the area and was delighted to find one. Having been resident in the area for ages (I've been aware of them here since the late 1980s) little owls disappeared from the Admiralty Wood a couple of years ago, mirroring a general decline in the wider area.
The really great news today was that I saw not just one owl there again but a second adult and a recently fledged chick. Where they nested, I have no idea. I checked the area regularly during the spring and found no birds on territory. Let's hope they stick around.

Broad-leaved helleborine
Nearby, I noticed that the broad-leafed helleborine mentioned in my last post was still not in flower. Here's a pic of it anyway - hopefully I'll get a shot of it once it's in bloom.

Birds-wise I didn't see anything that I didn't yesterday (green sandpiper, black-tailed godwit, etc) but there were more butterflies around today.

Gatekeeper
Red admirals seemed especially numerous (by this year's shockingly low standards, at least) and I spotted my first gatekeeper of the year.

Butterfly enthusiasts may be interested to hear that Pete Woodruff called me a few days ago to say that he had seen a ringlet near Stodday, certainly a species I can't recall ever seeing in that area. 

Jon

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sunday Summary

A couple of hours spent blasting around the patch today, just as the tide started to drop was reasonably productive.
Once the jet skiers by Snatchems had packed up and gone off to do whatever it is people like that do, the gulls and lapwings started to settle once more around the river's edge.
Scanning through I was slightly disappointed to find just one Mediterranean gull but as it was an extremely handsome adult still sporting it's breeding finery, I was quite happy with it. It was quite distant, hence the terrible dodgi-scoped pic here.

Med gull
Other than a single eider and my first 'autumn' common sandpiper the Lune was as to be expected; little egrets, grey herons, etc.

Highlights from the Wildfowlers' Pools included a pair of eclipse shoveler and 2 green sandpipers. The Reedy Corner sedge warbler was singing its heart out as were multiple whitethroats along the track-side hedges.

Back in 2009 Tom Wilmer let me know about a particular plant that he'd come across at Aldcliffe; broad-leafed helleborine. I wrote this short post about it. Despite checking the same area in subsequent years I have never relocated this attractive orchid. So it was with some delight that I clapped eyes on a pair of plants in the same area last week, although they had not yet flowered - I checked again today and they still haven't.
Hopefully I'll get some snaps of the flowers once they come into bloom.

Jon
    

Monday, 3 July 2017

Green Back

My first green sandpiper of the post-breeding season was bang on cue this evening with a single bird at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
We usually see a few passing through from early July onward and numbers can reach double figures in exceptional years. Of course there's also the chance of the odd wood sandpiper dropping in too; we generally get on one every other year or so.
Other notable stuff from my latish sojourn included a couple of noisy water rails in Reedy Corner (have they bred here this year?), both reed and sedge warblers singing and a little ringed plover. Although I still haven't seen any young plovers so far this year, there's still a chance that there may be a late brood, as there was last year.
At Freeman's Pools the 2 young little grebes continue to grow but other than a few mallard duckling and Canada goose goslings there's been little in the way of successful nesting. The tufted ducks failed to produce anything, no mute swans have nested for the first time in decades and even the lowly moorhen seems to have had a pretty poor time of it. That said, a recently hatched clutch was at Bank Pool while the coots on Frog Pond still had one decent sized nipper with them.

Earlier in the day I had dropped into Leighton Moss briefly and had cracking views of osprey - I've been seeing them almost daily since starting my new job there but I never fail to be chuffed by the sight of these ace birds. At one point, a male marsh harrier and the osprey were in my field of vision at the same time - an almost unimaginable sight when I used to go there as a lad...

Jon

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Tern Up For The Books

With the sun a-blazing it was always going to be about insects today. Having hardly spent any time birding around Aldcliffe lately, I was keen to see if there was much about - and particularly interested to see what dragonflies had emerged.
On the odanata front it was great to see my first emperor dragonflies of the year; four of these monsters were cruising around at Darter Pool. Also here was a lone four-spotted chaser and a few broad-bodied chasers along with multiple common blue damselflies.
Butterflies were seriously lacking and just a handful of speckled woods, and the odd red admiral, peacock and skipper were seen between Aldcliffe and Glasson.

Birds-wise, Aldcliffe highlights included a newly hatched brood of lapwing chicks at the Wildfowlers' Pools. Otherwise the patch was pretty quiet. Talking of lapwings, the post-breeding (perhaps that should be failed-breeding) flocks are starting to build up with large numbers congregating in the maize fields (the scene of the crime...) and the estuary. Similarly, adult curlews have started arriving back on the Lune in recent days.
Although birds have been present on the patch throughout the breeding season I haven't yet had confirmation of successful nesting by little ringed plover.
Wader numbers will continue to build in the coming weeks and we'll start to see the movement of such species as green sandpiper and the like.

Keen eyed visitors to Freeman's Pools will have noticed the appearance of a 'strange' floating platform a couple of weeks back. Well, if you've been wondering what on earth this odd contraption might be - let me put you out of your misery. It is a tern raft.  Probably way too late to attract breeding birds this year, it may might just appeal to passing common terns, or oystercatchers or even little ringed plovers in years to come.
Terns do take readily to artificial nest sites, as evidenced at nearby Conder Pools and notably at Preston Docks.

In other news, some numb-nuts has presumably decided to get around the law by removing a sign along the cycle track. The notice, which clearly states that it is illegal for unauthorised vehicles to drive along the track has mysteriously disappeared.
Odd that.
Especially when the number of vans, cars and lorries 'accidentally' driving along the track between Aldcliffe Hall Lane and the quay has clearly increased in recent months. Anything to do with the number of new dwellings along New Quay Road, I wonder?