Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Tasty Duck as Spring Rolls On

Regular visitors birding in the Aldcliffe area may have noticed that the maize fields have yet to be ploughed and seeded, so fingers crossed the lapwings might just get some chicks hatched again this year. That said, I haven't seen many pairs in there compared with previous years - I suppose that's what happens after several consecutive years of nest destruction; numbers go down. Worth noting too that the most northerly of the two maize fields has now been converted to grass production, thus reducing nesting habitat for lapwings. No wonder they, like many breeding waders reliant on quality farmland, are declining rapidly across the UK.

I did get word that a pair of grey partridge had been seen in the fields beyond Freeman's Pools - perhaps they're not quite extinct in the Aldcliffe area after all. However, one pair clinging on for dear life is hardly something to celebrate!

On a more positive note, little ringed plovers finally arrived (better late than never) with the first report from The Flood on April 3. They peaked at 7 on 13th and there were still 5 present yesterday (Easter Monday) but just 2 there this morning.

The main highlight from this morning was a cracking drake garganey on the Wildfowlers' Pools. other migrants were pretty thin on the ground, 3 wheatear on Aldcliffe Marsh and another one on The Flood being the only obvious passage birds. I was rather hoping for something of the whinchat / redstart variety (see Heysham Obs blog).
I only counted 3 each of lesser and common whitethroat in the two-and-half hours I was out though blackcaps were absolutely everywhere.
The sedge warbler I heard on Sunday had either moved on or was just keeping quiet.
Of course, there are lots of swallows, sand martins and house martins around now along with willow warblers and chiffchaffs too.

A few other recent sightings of interest from the Aldcliffe area include: osprey, marsh harrier, white wagtail and yellow wagtail

Please note there is an up-to-date Save Freeman's Wood Facebook group 


Monday, 1 April 2019

Scattering of Spring Migrants

A few highlights from a morning trawl today included: 

House Martin - my first of the year with with a few sand martins at Freeman's Pools
Sand martin - several passing through plus birds feeding at Freeman's pools. 
Wheatear - 11 (8 on tideline, 3 in fields)
Blackcap - 2 singing in Freeman's Wood 

Green sandpiper on Frog Pond
Black-tailed godwit c250 on The Flood & c300 on Wildfowlers' Pools 
Wildfowl included 4 goldeneye, 3 pink-footed geese, 3 shoveler, 4 tufted duck plus a fe gadwall and teal. 
Great White egret on Colloway Marsh 
Multiple chiffchaffs singing around the patch.

Sadly, no sign of any little ringed plover
Last year the first (late, thanks in part to the 'Beast from the East') arrival was on April 1. 
The Flood has no appealing muddy edges thanks to high water levels at the moment and although the Wildfowlers' Pools are crawling with waders it's presumably also too wet for LRPs. 

For context, recent years LRP arrival dates at Aldcliffe as follows - all March: 21st 2017, 18th 2016, 19th 2015 & 2014, 17th in 2013. 

Of note, I didn't find any evidence of breeding at Aldcliffe last year...


Sunday, 24 February 2019

Annual Aldcliffe goose fest

As to be expected in later winter / early spring, Aldcliffe saw an arrival of good numbers of pink-footed geese in mid-February. Peaking at around 3,000 birds (relatively low by some years standards) the flock included one or two other species of note.
So far, both subspecies of greater white-fronted goose have been seen - 3 Russian birds (1 adult and 2 juvs) were found by Dan Heywood (pic of adult by Dan) on the 10th, and a Greenland bird on the 19th while a fine tundra bean goose was discovered by Matt Jackson on the 18th. This latter scarcity had the decency to hang around for a few days and was seen by many local birders.

Of course there were also plenty of greylags and Canada geese around too.
Other birds of note in recent weeks include water pipit, up to two great white egrets, merlin, barn owl, black-tailed godwits and pintail.
Dan came across a yellowhammer - very much a rarity in North Lancashire these days - on the morning of 24th in the Fairfield stubble fields. The last Aldcliffe area record (I think) concerned a fly-over in the autumn of 2011!
If the decent weather continues we can hope for some early migrants in the next few days and weeks; first to appear are usually little ringed plover, sand martin, wheatear and chiffchaff. Last year's famously late spring saw many delayed arrivals, so fingers crossed this year gets off to a better start.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Save Freeman's Wood

For decades, the area of mixed woodland and scrub (known locally as Freeman's Wood) to the south west of the Lune Industrial Estate off Willow Lane, Lancaster has been a well-used and popular space for local residents.

Children have built dens, dog walkers have exercised their pets and, for me and many other Lancastrians, it has been a great area to connect with nature.

It is a significant nesting site for an array of nationally declining woodland and garden birds, an important wintering site for long-distance migrants from the north and an essential stopping-off place for summer visitors freshly arrived from Africa and continental Europe.

Once again, this prime piece of wildlife habitat is under threat. An application to build 250 houses on the land has been submitted. Obviously, if this goes ahead we will not only lose the space for our own recreational use but it will also destroy a vital area of rare biodiversity within the city boundaries. 

Campaigners are asking for your help to save this invaluable local resource.

You can object to the proposal:
Visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/planning and place an objection online.

Write to Planning, PO Box 4, Lancaster Town Hall, LA1 1QR or email dcconsultation@lancaster.gov.uk

Quote the reference number 18/01520/OUT

There will be a public meeting at Hornets Function Room (off Willow Lane, behind the Spar shop) on Feb 26 at 7.30pm where the proposal will be discussed. 

Freeman's Wood as viewed from Marsh Point overlooking Freeman's Pools


Saturday, 1 September 2018

The Promise of Autumn

Well, that was a long time between posts wasn't it folks?
I have to say, despite my not posting anything on here since the beginning of April there's hardly been an outcry from my loyal readers... one or two mentions here and there just about covers it.
So, what's the reason for the lack of input on my part? I don't really know, to be honest. I've been birding around the Aldcliffe area as usual but I've been somewhat uninspired by my wanderings. The terrible weather in spring meant little in the way of passage migrants on the patch and the wonderful summer heatwave was admittedly good for many breeding birds though was dull as far as variety goes.
And here we are, about to embark on autumn - surely the most exciting of all seasons in the birders' calendar. But before we look at the potential joys of September, here are few notable records from the pat few months:
April 13 - marsh harrier
May 5 - very long overdue patch tick came in the form of a red kite (about bloody time!)
May 25 - marsh harrier & 2 ruff
June 25 - first post-breeding green sandpiper back in the area

Little ringed plovers eventually appeared but in lower numbers than in recent years and didn't breed anywhere on the patch.
Lapwings had a better year, thanks to the wet fields delaying ploughing. Several young fledged from the maize fields and a couple got off from the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Oystercatchers fledged at least one young and there were two broods of tufted ducks at Freeman's Pools.
short-eared owl was seen by a dog walker in early July - we occasionally get wandering post-breeders passing through in late summer but they never linger. It would be nice to get a wintering bird on the patch this year.

As autumn proceeds I expect things will start picking up a bit - yesterday I had a couple of flyover meadow pipits and a pair of wheatears on the saltmarsh, so things are looking up! Wader numbers have been pretty dire with just the lone green sandpiper commuting between the pools. A few more duck are dribbling in with 9 gadwall back on patch.  


Monday, 2 April 2018

Is it spring yet?

Welcome to the most uninspiring spring of all time. Which is quite fitting I suppose, given that this winter was possibly the dullest I can remember as far as birding around Aldcliffe is concerned.
The lack of posts here has been solely down to a lack of enthusiasm on my part - I've been out around the patch on plenty of occasions but the birds have barely differed from one visit to the next.

In summary:
There was loads of water, the pools were high and the cycle track was flooded for most of the season. Water levels have now dropped. Of note, the smaller rear pool at the Wildfowlers' Pools has been 'de-vegetated' and re-landscaped for the benefit of ducks but little else.  

Duck numbers were relatively unremarkable although we had a decent mix of species. Highlights have included double figure shovelers and up to five pintail throughout and a pair of pochard for a couple of days and a high count of 29 goldeneye in early March.
Goose numbers were disappointing on the whole with no real large peak of pinkfeet (fewer than 3000) and as such no attendant scarce species. 

Ringed plover
At least one jack snipe was present for most of the winter and up to four were at FAUNA.
Other wader records worth noting included occasional green sandpiper, multiple (up to 90) black-tailed godwits, an incredibly 400 or so dunlin on The Flood on March 5 along with 20 snipe and local patch scarcities knot (1) and ringed plover (3) by the Wildfowlers' Pools the same day.
Also in the area were around 100 golden plover. These unusual wader numbers came in the wake of the so-called 'Beast From The East' or as I like to call it, 'weather'. 

Peregrine, sparrowhawk, buzzard and kestrel have all been present here and there along with occasional sightings of a female merlin out on the marsh. 

Tideline passerines have been very thin on the ground with no finch flocks to speak of and no twite or redpoll (other than odd flyovers of the latter) as yet. A wandering group of c25-35 linnet have been in and out of the maize fields frequently.
One notable event on March 3 involved a flock of 32 skylarks; common enough here in small numbers but these days a grounded flock of that size is exceptional. The same day a single rock pipit was also seen nearby - both presumably pushed onto Aldcliffe Marsh by the high tide.
The first stonechat I clocked was a single bird on March 5 with a further three present on 12th.

Chiffchaff wave trickled in but given the state of the weather at the moment it's hardly surprising they've been slow to arrive.
Yesterday (April 1) saw my first, late, wheatear of the year and the arrival finally of the first little ringed plovers with a pair on The Flood.
Given the arrival dates for these dinky shorebirds for last few years have been March 17th in 2013, 19th in 2014 and 2015, 18th in 2016 and 21st last year, these were well overdue!

Other odds and sods include a fabulous barn owl which has shown well regularly and another unusual species in a strictly patch context, red-legged partridge which I have seen a couple of times in the past couple of weeks, yet unusually I haven't spotted any grey partridge yet this year... 

With a promising change in the forecast, I think we can hope to see a few more migrants heading our way shortly.  The lingering winter visitors will head off and our resident birds can get on with the job of nesting. Let's hope that we have a memorable spring for all the right reasons.


Monday, 29 January 2018

Slow Start to New Year

I've never been very good at making New Year's resolutions. And it turns out, I'm not that good at keeping them. My intention was to ensure more regular updates on the Birding Aldcliffe blog during 2018  but I haven't exactly got off to a good start...

I do have some excuses; the first two weeks of January saw Jenny and I heading off to Cuba for a spot of post Christmas respite. A spot of winter sunshine and a handful of new birds seemed most appealing. Despite some unseasonal rain and rather cool conditions on some days, the overall trip was great with relaxation and exploration enjoyed in equal measure.
And yes, I saw a few 'new' birds. Highlights were of course the endemic species, such as Cuban tody, seen here in my short video:

As well as the endemic and near-endemic specialities, Cuba is also the wintering site for several species of North American warblers and so seeing a multitude of dazzling 'Yank' warblers was a daily treat. I do enjoy birding overseas, and I must admit that I often find my return to the local patch a little underwhelming when I get back from a trip somewhere.
After black-throated blue warblers, magnificent frigatebirds, Cuban emeralds, great lizard cuckoos and the like it's hard to get excited about dunnocks and coots.

Nonetheless, I have been out to scour the Aldcliffe patch a couple of times in the past week or so. Frankly, little has changed since December. The Wildfowlers' Pools are still flooded, as is the cycle track. Last week I had a look and there were seven shoveler there. This morning I could see just a pair but a further three were on Darter Pool. Four goldeneye were present on the Wildfowlers' Pools along with eight tufted duck. Another six goldeneye were on Freeman's Pools and a pair were on the Lune. Also on Freeman's Pools were around 40 wigeon and 20 gadwall.
A buzzard was floating around the fields, much to the annoyance of the carrion crows.
A couple of hundred pink-footed geese were grazing on the drumlins before settling on Aldcliffe Marsh.
A scan through the gulls on the river revealed nothing of note - we see far fewer large gulls on the Lune since the closure of the tip and as a consequence such finds as glaucous and Iceland gull are now a thing of the past.
Not so just a few miles away; Heysham Harbour continues its enviable track record as the place in our region to locate such scarce beasts. Both Iceland and glaucous gulls have graced the site in recent days. The long-staying chough too is still hanging around over there... For details see here: Heysham Bird Observatory
Closer to home, the black-throated diver remains faithful to Blea Tarn reservoir near Hala. I actually found time yesterday to nip out and have a look at it. This s a very rare bird in our neck of the woods and I suspect I haven't seen one in Lancashire for about 20 years!
The windy conditions made my attempts at getting a pic through my 'scope even more pitiful than usual. After a couple of fuzzy head-shots and several pics that looked like those Loch Ness monster shots from the 70s, I managed the following snap.

Black-throated diver
Back at work, things have been pretty good at RSPB Leighton Moss in recent weeks with an impressive starling murmuration pleasing the crowds most evenings.
Added to that very frequent otter sightings along with great white egrets, marsh harriers, bitterns, Cetti's warblers and bearded tits there's rarely a dull moment.
Check out the Leighton Moss blog for the latest news.