Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Going For Goldeneye

Goldeneyes - Freeman's Pools
Following last week's flying visit by a female scaup, it was another classic winter duck species that dropped in on Monday morning.
A considerable flotilla of 14 goldeneye were present at Freeman's Pools for the first couple of hours of daylight with all but two females having moved on by mid-morning.
It doesn't half make you wonder what turns up and subsequently clears off unseen...

Otherwise the big numbers of birds were concentrated on the flooded fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools fields. Here there were large numbers of probing redshank, along with a handful each of curlew, dunlin, snipe and black-tailed godwit.
Approximately 230 black-headed gulls, and a few common gulls, were also taking advantage of whatever abundant food-source had attracted so many birds. Teal too were notably numerous with in excess of 120 dabbling nervously away.
A single rock pipit was on the marsh near The Channel.
The majority of the wintering greylags were reasonably close to Dawson's Bank as I walked back toward Marsh Point and I was able to read the neck collars of 22 birds. Most of these were familiar individuals but there were a few that I had never seen before.

Pied wagtail roost - Lancaster
Many Lancastrians will be aware of the pied wagtails that routinely roost in the city centre in the winter months.
In winters past, they favoured the trees around the car park between Sainsburys and the old Waring & Gillow building on North Road. 
In more recent years this roost has been primarily concentrated in the two small trees at Horseshoe Corner.
Once again, the birds are coming to huddle in these Christmas-light-festooned trees in the late afternoon and I have estimated there to be somewhere in the region of 300 wagtails there. Give or take one or two...
I may be way off the mark with that very loose count and I would welcome any more accurate estimates!

Waxwings - Kendal

And talking of birds in trees (not a unique concept, admittedly) here's a pic of the waxwing flock that I recently saw in Kendal. I reckoned there to be in the region of 65 birds present when I was there.
These dazzling birds seem to be turning up all over the place so, as always, keep an extra special eye out on any ornamental berry-filled rowans or similar, and do pass on any sightings of these nomadic northern beauties.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Scaup Scarpers

I was surprised to see that Freeman's Pools remained unfrozen this morning but as a consequence the number of ducks had increased a fair bit.
Most notably a female scaup had dropped in to join the 12 tufted ducks present. It was present when I checked the pools at at 9.15am but when I returned at 10.40am it had moved on.
Gadwall and teal numbers were up and there were at least 5 little grebes on the pools.
A female sparrowhawk buzzed through causing the ever-wary woodpigeons and redwings to scatter in panic.
Elsewhere it was the same old stuff, the only thing of note being the arrival of a few fieldfare in Freeman's Wood and along the cycle track.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Great Day for a Great Egret

I had a feeling today was going to be a good day.
First thing, I had a merlin flying around over my house - it was uttering a soft persistent call I don't recall ever hearing before, no idea what it was up to!

I then trundled off through Freeman's Wood in the lovely sunlight, scattering multiple redwings and blackbirds. Best bird by far was my first woodcock of the season - always a favourite of mine, these birds have the capacity to brighten any day. In the absence of a photo, here's a drawing I did of one ages ago...

Things were still relatively quiet at Freeman's Pools; 5 tufted duck, 9 gadwall, 2 goldeneye and the usual scattering of little grebes, coot, teal and wigeon, etc.
Frog Pond was hosting a few more wigeon and gadwall plus several redshank and curlew.

A racket drew my attention to a hedge bordering the maize fields. A formidable gathering of chaffinches, blackbirds, blue tits and the odd robin was seriously bothered by something.
After a bit of manoevering I found the source of their excitement - a rather angry looking little owl. Despite their status as regular Aldcliffe birds, this is the first little owl I've seen in the area for a good couple of years. I used to have two guaranteed spots for finding these diminutive hunters on the patch but alas those days appear to have gone. Hopefully this individual marks the return of these fab little predators to the area.

Next, I checked the flooded fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools. A gaggle of garrulous greylags were gathered here along with large numbers of teal. Several mallard, moorhen and a lone female pintail were here too.
Four black-tailed godwits were feeding alongside several redshank. Half a dozen pied wagtails and a meadow pipit were picking around the edges of the wet areas.

A quick scan over the marsh revealed yet more greylags and Canada geese but little else beyond a few black-headed gulls and little egrets.
I walked the tideline to Cadaver Corner but it was pretty quiet with just 4 common snipe coming up from Snipe Bog.
Out on the muddy river edges I could see large numbers of golden plover and lapwing.

I was daydreaming about finding a desert wheatear (as I often do) when I noticed a large white bird flying languidly at mid-height over the marsh. I knew what it was straight away and as I lifted my binocs to my eyes I allowed myself a little smile; my first, long-awaited great egret on the patch. Phew!
I watched the egret as it flew in a direct line toward Freeman's Pools but it carried on and disappeared over Lancaster. I wonder if any sharp-eyed shoppers spotted it? Could be worth checking the roost at Skerton Weir later?
To put in into context, although this was the first great egret that I have seen in the Aldcliffe area (though somewhat ironically I was looking at one yesterday at Leighton Moss...) it isn't the first to have occurred here.
The first was an individual that spent a short time on the Lune near Snatchems back in 2004 (before it moved on to Leighton Moss where I did see it later the same day). And then a second bird stopped by in 2011 when I was in Canada. So, this constitutes the third patch record.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Wintry Tales

For the most part today (Friday) the weather hasn't been anywhere as bleak as forecast (unlike yesterday which was every bit as vile as anticipated). That said, I did choose a period of the morning for a spot of birding that coincided with a short but incredibly horrible hail & sleet storm. Hey ho.
Otherwise, my few hours on the patch were relatively pleasant even if somewhat lacking in exciting finds.
Freeman's Wood was bouncing with blackbirds and redwings but not much else beyond a couple of goldcrests.
Freeman's Pools have been a bit quieter lately with the 200+ wigeon flock having moved on. Even so, there were 20 or so wigeon still present along with the usual gadwall, teal, mallard, coot and little grebe. 6 goldeneye remain on the main pool and the number of tufted duck had increased to 15.
The wet fields by Frog Pond are drawing good numbers of foraging lapwing, curlew and redshank along with black-headed and common gulls.
The hedgerows and fields generally seem to be very quiet passerine-wise with no numbers of common finches or any reed buntings being seen.

Common snipe & duck's arse
The Wildfowlers' Pools and adjacent fields are full of water and sizeable gatherings of snipe, teal, greylags and Canada geese was evident. In previous years these 'feral' geese have attracted occasional groups of pink-footed and white-fronted geese, so it's always worth checking through the gaggle.
A pair of goldcrest were near the parking area and a couple of fieldfare were tagging along with the other more numerous hawthorn-hogging thrushes.
A pair of pintail (relatively scarce on this stretch of the estuary) were dabbling on the marsh near the Creek.
In recent years Snipe Bog appears to have lost its appeal to snipe generally; long-gone are the double figure counts from that small area. I was pleased therefore to discover a jack snipe today (having seen one flushed by the high tide in the same area yesterday). These dinky little waders really do brighten up even the dullest of days!
Also seen yesterday but not today were a couple of rock pipits - another bird that seems far less numerous in this area of the estuary these days...

Highlights from a visit to the area on November 9th included:
11 goldeneye & 7 tufted duck on Freeman's Pools
1 goldeneye on Frog Pond
Kingfisher & goosander at Wildfowlers' Pools

Many local folk will be aware that there is quite a significant pied wagtail roost in the city centre during the winter months but a lesser-known roost of grey wagtails can also be found in Lancaster. The birds routinely appear by the canal near White Cross in the late afternoon and last week we counted at least 17 grey wags coming into the roost. Quite a lovely sight!

And I keep checking those rowans and other ornamental berry-filled trees in search of waxwings. It's surely only a matter of time before some turn up in the area...


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Under Covered

Stonechat - Aldcliffe
I can't believe it's a month since my last post here. How negligent of me!
To be honest, I've barely been out on the patch in the past few weeks so it isn't entirely down to laziness for my lack of input.
And rather frustratingly, bird-wise this has been an amazing autumn so far; goodness knows what I've missed in the Aldcliffe area...

That said, I did abandon the patch in favour of more northerly charms at the beginning of the month when I spent a week on North Ronaldsay, in the Orkneys.
Along with my brother Dave, my chums Mark Witherall and Adrian 'Ziggy' Dawson, I enjoyed several days scouring the small island in search of exciting migrants and wayward vagrants. But while the Shetlands to the north of us seemed to be festooned with mouth-watering rarities, our little North Sea paradise appeared to be less attractive to scarce windblown birds.
Of course, it wasn't exactly dead. Multiple yellow-browed warblers were seen daily, little buntings were seemingly lurking behind every dry stone wall and in every weedy field while a dazzling red-flanked bluetail entertained the few birders on the island. Add to that grey phalarope, snow and Lapland buntings, bramblings, short-eared owl, hen harrier, merlin and purple sandpipers, among other things and it hardly seems like a total washout!

Once I got back to Merry Olde England it was back to work and wondering what I was missing at Aldcliffe. There were yellow-browed warblers all over the place and one was surely waiting to be discovered in Freeman's Wood or along the cycle track.
My first free weekend was already booked up - a couple of days celebrating my mate Rich Mooney's significant birthday in the Brecon Beacons (a fab time was had, for sure) and when Monday rolled around I forsook my chance to scour the patch in favour of a dash to the east coast.

Yes folks, I went on my first twitch in 13 years. I couldn't help it. The allure of a Siberian accentor near Spurn was just too strong to ignore. It was a world-tick and too cool a bird not to go and see. And while I was there, the discovery of a nearby Isabelline wheatear gave me a second British tick. Madness. Mind you, the 4.5 hour return journey reminded me why I don't like twitching...

Female stonechat - Aldcliffe
So, what about Aldcliffe? Well, I have made two or three visits recently, though despite at least two found by others on the patch, yellow-browed warbler has thus far eluded me there.
One of the most notable things is the amazing number of wigeon on Freeman's Pools - I can't remember ever seeing so many there. There are approximately 200-250 regularly on the pools along with the usual gadwall, tufted duck, teal and mallard.
Other interesting wildfowl concerned 8 barnacle geese in with the mass of greylags and Canada geese on Aldcliffe Marsh on 21st.
Other notable birds seen on my few visits include stonechat (one seen twice, two seen once; male and female pictured here), greenshank and of course the expected arrival of redwings taking full advantage of the glut of berries available.
A pair of crossbills flying over the FAUNA reserve on the morning of the 20th was a nice surprise.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Ducktastic Day

Dodging the odd showery bursts this morning, I spent a couple of hours birding around the Aldcliffe area for the first time in a while.
The combined forces of a bust work schedule and a few days visiting family on Jersey have meant that I've had little time to get out and see what's occurring on the patch.
I did manage to see a few birds while on Jersey; migration was in full swing when I first arrived and I was treated to what is a rare sight in North Lancashire these days - flocks of yellow wagtails. 'Vis-miggers' on the south of the island had been logging literally hundreds of these lovely migrants, along with other classic autumn fayre, as they passed over en route to the continent and beyond.
My encounters were more modest but even so, finding groups containing double figures as they fed around the hooves of Jersey cows was quite a treat.
I also came across redstarts, whinchats, wheatears, spotted flycatchers, marsh harriers and other common migrants. Jersey is also home to a few species that are otherwise rare or absent from much of the UK mainland including cirl bunting, Dartford warbler and short-toed treecreeper and all are relatively easy to find if you look in the right places!
Find out more about Jersey birds and the latest sightings from there by visiting the website here.

Now, back to Lancaster and my morning's trawl... a few highlights included an obvious arrival of wildfowl since my last visit.
At Freeman's Pools there were 12 wigeon, 3 tufted duck and 7 gadwall plus the usual little grebes, mallards and teal.
Frog Pond was positively heaving with birds and a further 8 wigeon were there with half a dozen gadwall and teal, a lone tufted duck plus an impressive 12 shoveler.
The Wildfowlers' Pools were quiet; the highlight here was a single wheatear.
The Flood was covered in teal with 62 present (and STILL no garganey!) but only a redshank, snipe and lapwing as far as waders were concerned.
A pair of greenshank were out on Aldcliffe Marsh (later flying on to the Flood) and the only other things of note were a pair of golden plover with the mass of lapwings roosting the edge of the Lune and another 4 wheatear. The adult whooper swan was on Colloway.

The hedges were very quiet with just single blackcap and chiffchaff found among the tit and finch flocks. Chaffinch numbers were certainly up and a couple of reed buntings were kicking around. Four skylarks flew over, as did just one meadow pipit and a small number of swallows and house martins.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Dirty Harrier

Mediterranean gull
I had an interesting couple of hours rooting around on the patch this morning.
I started at Freeman's Pools where a 'new-in' juvenile great crested grebe was snoozing on the water. The female tufted duck was still present along with its youngster - a drake was nearby too.
A small gathering of 50 or so black-headed gulls in Frog Pond field also had a 1st winter Mediterranean gull among them.
Water levels on all the pools remains high and as a result we're seeing very few fresh-water waders in the Aldcliffe area so far this season.
The Flood hosted just a handful of lapwing, redshank and a lone snipe.
Out on the marsh, near Snipe Bog, a single greenshank was feeding in the brackish pools.
Meanwhile, a scan through the many lapwing on the estuary only turned up a pair of golden plover - the first I've seen there this autumn.
Two adult Mediterranean gulls were with the several hundred black-heads and handful of common gulls on the sand.

Marsh harrier
On Heaton Marsh I could see a common buzzard hunting low over the marsh and as I 'scoped it I noticed another raptor sat deep in the grass - a female / juvenile type marsh harrier. After a short while the harrier got up and spent a short while hunting over the marsh before dropping down and feeding on the carcass of a lesser black-backed gull on the river's edge.
It soon took off again but this time attracted the attention of one of the local peregrines which half-heartedly gave it a bit of bother before the harrier drifted off and returned to its manky gull meal.

Migrant songbirds seemed pretty thin on the ground, with the local tit flocks hosting fewer chiffchaffs & willow warblers than juts a couple of days ago. A single lesser whitethroat was near the parking area.