Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Camera Never Lies

Hello-- Dan here! good picture, eh?

As the sun broke through early afternoon I rang Steve W to suggest a bit of Aldcliffe migrant raptor-watching. Glad I did!

I picked up the first osprey within a couple of minutes of being in the magic parish. It was over Snatchems above a furore of gulls and it headed N-Westish from there.
Steve, having been distracted from the serious business of sky-watching by a little ringed plover displaying over Freeman's Pools, managed to get onto the raptor with only thirty seconds to spare.

Sensing that another good raptor was on the cards, we were onto a second osprey within about fifty minutes. Something had vexed the shelducks, oystercatchers and curlews downstream and a minute or so later the culprit cruised right over our Stodday vantage point at about fifty metres. Great views.

This one headed N/NE towards Lancaster, without so much as a flap.

We hoped for a hat-trick of inter-continental fish-botherers, but had to be content with a westbound common buzzard, a thermalling female sparrowhawk and two peregrine falcons.

Other highlights included a flock of eleven wheatears around 'the chat wall', a trickle of sand martins and 4 or 5 chiffchaffs, one of which was creeping around in the hedge on 'upper track'.

A brilliant male brimstone butterfly was patrolling the edge of Freeman's Wood.

No doubt Jon will be along shortly with a crepuscular update!

* Indeed he will. Not much to report though.
I decided, having seen the LEOs yesterday I'd have a later visit in the hope of determining whether the barn owl was still in the area. Arrived around 7.35pm (a bit late for the long-eareds) and hung around for just over an hour when it became a touch too dark to see much. No barn owl was seen.
2 LRP were on the island, numerous snipe were noisily leaving the pools as the light went - presumably off to feed, a small scattering of sand martin were moving up river but otherwise it was business as usual.
The doe roe deer was showing well and good numbers of pipistrelle were tazzing around.

Dan, are you sure that pic's not of a swallow tailed kite or booted eagle?

Incidentally I had what looked very much like a house martin bombing over my backyard just before 6pm...

Monday, 30 March 2009

All ears.

A post-work visit revealed 9 gadwall still on Freeman's Pools plus a pair of tufted duck, plus the other usual stuff. Of particular note was the total absence of nest prospecting black-headed gulls.
A quick check of some nearby fence posts proved that long-eared owl is still present in the area and I had excellent views of it catching and eating a field vole.
Approx. 600 pinkfooted geese were grazing in the upper fields.
A little egret was on Frog Pond, then Darter Pool where a pair of little grebe remain.
Another little egret was at the Wildfowlers' Pools but nothing else of note.
On The Flood a green sandpiper was feeding alongside a pair of redshank.
A quick check of the marsh implied that any wheatears that may have arrived in association with the Heysham/Morecambe late morning influx had moved through.
Returning to the Freeman's Pools area I was somewhat surprised, and thrilled, to see two long-eared owls.
Maybe as exciting(ish) was the appearance of the ermine stoat - at last - though disappointingly it is now only about 50% white, so I don't suppose it really counts...
A single swallow came through, my first of the year.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to hang around to see if the barn owl was going to put in an appearance and left around 7.20pm.

Friday, 27 March 2009

In the week...

The “un-springlike" weather came up with a surprise Greenshank, and me wishing I had more layers on!
On the 26.03.09 bumped into Pete Woodruff who said he had a Greenshank on Freeman’s Pool, took the scopes there and confirmed indeed a sheltering Greenshank. Not for long however, as a rather hefty shower agitated it enough, and me, to get it moving, watched it for another few minutes striding up the pool edge, then it flew off. There were 9 Gadwall on the island, that’s the most I have seen there. Pete saw a Green Sandpiper on Wild Fowlers’. Checked Flood for LRP’s but no joy.
27.03.09. Went to the Flood to see if LRP’s were there, and I was in luck, two of them very static, mind you it was blowing a gale, didn’t stop the Meadow Pipits though, about 15 of them being buffeted across the flood field. 300 or so Pink-footed Geese in the fields beyond. Little Egret and 12 Shelduck on Wildfowler'.

Cheers for the updates Steve, been unable to get down this week and was away in Scotland at the weekend.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Late afternoon visit

Continued domestic chores only allowed for a couple of hours on the patch this afternoon.
The little-ringed plover pair were still at The Flood though just 3 pied wags and a handful of meadow pipit remain.
At least 700 pinkfeet were unhelpfully spread over Aldcliffe Marsh - all at a distance and many feeding and/or resting on the troughs meaning that a thorough check was not only difficult but thanks to the relentless wind, also rather unpleasant. Needless to say, I couldn't find anything else amongst them.
Little egrets were seen on Frog Pond, the marsh and 2 were on Bank Pool.
Green sandpipers were at the Wildfowlers' and Freeman's Pools.
9 gadwall now at Freeman's Pools as well as the usual little grebes, tufted ducks, drake shoveler etc.
The Freeman's Wood kestrel (male) was busy hunting all over the place.
Lots of stuff pairing up all over the place, it'll be interesting to see what happens this coming week with the decidedly 'un-springlike' weather on its way...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Osprey jam

A bit of very lucky timing allowed me to jam into an osprey as it headed north over Aldcliffe just before 2pm today.
With only an hour or so to spare I had a quick reccie around the patch checking Freeman's Pools first - all the usual stuff was present ie 8 gadwall, 4 tufted duck, 1 shoveler, 2 little grebe, 1 green sandpiper etc. A couple of silent chiffchaff were feeding in the pathway trees.
A little egret was fishing in Darter Pool and the little grebe pair were still busy nest building. A 5th little grebe was on Frog Pond.
Just 2 pair of teal were visible on the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Heading along the upper track to check The Flood I bumped into a birder who had seen 2 little-ringed plover there. They were still present along with 40+ meadow pipit and 9 pied wagtails when I got there. As I was checking through the pipits I heard the cacophonous sound of panicking oystercatchers and curlews and looking up I saw the osprey flying low-ish over the fields heading in the direction of the Priory.
I've seen osprey take this route here before, cutting off the bend in the river and heading over Lancaster. Mind you, I think this is the first year I've seen osprey before wheatear...!

Friday, 20 March 2009


Managed a blast around some of the Parish after work this evening and recorded the following:

At least one chiffchaff heard from the cycle track by Freeman's Wood.

Frog Pond: 2 little egret, 1 wigeon and a snipe - all flushed by the rather comedic sight of a codger in his mobility scooter driving right into the field and up to the pond edge as his rather excited terrier ran around the pool edges. Only at Aldcliffe...

Nest building pairs of both little grebe and coot at Darter Pool.

Green sandpiper and a pair of teal at the Wildfowlers' Pools

80ish meadow pipit and 4 pied wags at The Flood.

At Freeman's Pools another pair of little grebe were nest building and 4 pairs of gadwall, 2 pairs of tufted duck, 1 drake shoveler and another teal pair were present.
No show on the LEO front his evening, though a woodcock flew in from Freeman's Wood and the barn owl appeared, once again just after I left, at around 7.10pm (thanks to Guy McC for the call). A tawny owl was calling from Freeman's Wood.

* Little-ringed plover seen at The Flood this morning by JWB et al.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Springy things

A very quick visit after work proved pretty fruitful, despite a couple of teenagers dossing about around the pool edge.

8 gadwall, 4 tufties, 1 goldeneye, 1 shoveler, 3 little grebe and green sandpiper were on Freeman's Pools plus a pair of redshank were 'getting it on' on the gravel island.
I was alerted to the sound of some snipe and as I counted 7 exploding from the pool edge I noticed the reason - a lovely long-eared owl had suddenly appeared and was quartering the rough ground. It soon landed on a post a few metres away and gave superb vies for quiet some time before flying off to hunt over the area behind Keyline.
I was delighted to see it make a reappearance and if I'm honest it was pretty nice to have it all to myself again on such a glorious evening!
Unfortunately I couldn't hang around and I left around 6.30pm.

Big thanks to Brian Tollitt for these cracking shots of the LEO, taken last weekend.

From Guy McClelland this morning:
4 prs of gadwall, 4 tufties, 1 goldeneye, 1 drake shoveller and 4 snipe were the pick of Freeman's pool.
3 goldcrest in Freeman's Wood.
Pair of little grebe on Darter Pond.
2 singing reed buntings in the area.
4 singing chiffchaff around the parish
1 wheatear along the high tide mark

and from Steve Wallis this afternoon:
As above, plus Green Sandpiper Freeman's Pool. Little Egret Frog pond. Half a dozen Reed Bunting along the track near Flood. Spotted Redshank usual place, along with two Little Egrets nearby

Monday, 16 March 2009

Owlcyon days come to an end....

On the goose: rather disappointingly only one person has voiced their opinion so far and they are leaning toward it being a pink-foot, mainly on the basis of the bill colour.
Certainly, in one of the pics it doesn't appear orange at all although on another it does! In the field, the bill was definitely brighter and seemingly 'orangey' compared to the pinkfeet around it.
One of the things that struck Dan and I was the clear white edging to the tertials and greater coverts, giving the bird a much more contrasty appearance than the nearby pinkfeet - a feature maybe supporting bean, though probably not enough. Structurally, the head did seem longer with something of a peak (we said like a mini-whooper swan at the time), though nowhere near as distinct as one would hope for. And it is clearly a big, robust bird with longer legs than the other geese it was with.
What are the odds of a hybrid? We all know how catholic wildfowl can be when it comes to getting off with anything with webbed feet... Just a thought.
Now if it is a orange-legged pinkfooted goose I'd definitely say that that was more unusual than a white wag in mid-March.

Back to this evening's sightings, or lack of. I got to Freeman's Pools just before 6pm and nothing had been spotted (except for a lovely white stoat...).
By 6.45pm it was almost dark and just Benjie and I were left and as I was about to give up the barn owl suddenly appeared, and almost as suddenly disappeared having flown around the pool edge and through the pathway trees and toward the stubble fields.
This could support a theory I conjured up yesterday, that having battered the hell out of the vole population around the pools for a number of weeks, the owls were now hunting elsewhere - hence no long-eared for 2 nights (and its 'unusual' behaviour on Saturday). Also, when the SEO made a brief appearance a few nights ago it also made straight for the fields south of the pools and disappeared. Of course, the LEO could simply have headed off back to Norway or wherever...
Just after the barn owl showed, a woodcock flew in from Freeman's Wood and a snipe had been drumming briefly earlier.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Bean had?

Bloody hell - what a palaver! I wish I'd never come across that orange-legged goose now... Not really, I love a mystery and boy, is this turning into a good one!
I'm sure some goose-savvy expert will have all the ansers (pun intended) and I'll be delighted to be thoroughly discredited by having erroneously called it a bean goose if it turns out to be nothing more than not-pinkfoot (in as much as it has orange feet).
Have a look at the pics Dan took today while we were trying our hardest to figure out what the hell was going on and feel free to comment either on this blog, or on the LDBWS website. We've come up with very convincing arguments for just about every conceivable outcome so come on, surprise us!

On a more typical thread, highlights from the Aldcliffe area today included the above mentioned goose amongst approx 800 normal (ie boring) pinkfeet as well as 3 pairs of gadwall, 4 tufted duck, 13 goldeneye, 1 green sandpiper and a spotted redshank.
The first real sub-Saharan migrants in the shape of 2 sand martins blasted through early afternoon adding to the feeling of spring in the air.

The late afternoon owl-session was abandoned due to a piece of beef being in the oven which meant that I missed the barn owl by 2 minutes, though ominously the long-eared, after yesterday's notable change of habit, wasn't (as far as I'm aware) seen at all. Despite the huge crowds gathered in anticipation.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Bean counting

Quiet a day on the old patch. Following a tip-off I checked Pete Woodruff's blog and saw a photo of a VERY interesting stonechat taken yesterday in the Aldcliffe area. However, despite a lot of searching in the same, and other favoured stonechat, areas I drew a total blank. Could have been this year's bluethroat!
Otherwise some good stuff around including:
My first trawl of the day around Freeman's Pools revealed a slight increase in gadwall with 3 pairs present plus 2 tufted duck, 1 goldenenye, 1 little grebe, 14 coot, 3 moorhen and a pair of mute swans. A pair each of lapwing and oystercatcher were looking cozy on the island as was a shelduck. 3 snipe there too.
The other pools were a bit quiet though some 800 pinkfeet were in the Trigg Point field and although distant it was clear that nothing too noticeable was amongst them. I'll come back to that later!
A little owl was in its usual roost at Admiralty Wood.
After trampling around looking (and failing) for jack snipe, though flushing 2 common snipe I checked The Flood where a green sandpiper and water rail were showing.
Checking through the carpet of feeding passerines I was chuffed to notice a white wagtail with 10 pieds, 26 meadow pipit and 3 reed bunts.
The geese had move a bit nearer by late afternoon and were in the fields adjacent to the upper track. Scanning through with just my bins I soon picked out a bean goose. Nice one. It was probably about 170m distant and I could make out what I thought was all I needed to be sure of its specific ID. After a chat with Dan and Pete I was relatively happy that it was a 'probable' taiga, but being cautious by nature I wanted to check the literature before declaring anything positive. That didn't entirely work, though I think I'm still inclined toward it being fabalis - I'll be happily disproved though if someone tells me otherwise!

Checking the time, my mind then turned to owls and I headed back to Freeman's Pools where the long-eared owl did its best to defy convention and failed to turn up either in the place it usually does or at the time it has been reliably doing all week.
It took some locating - and around 5.20pm I discovered it sat on a post between the new flood defence bund and the Freeman's Wood pathway. It then gave a bit of a runaround (flushing 2 green sandpipers as it went) before settling into its routine of showing well around the pool edges. I left at 5.45pm with it still being enjoyed by a small gathering.

Friday, 13 March 2009


Arriving just before 5.30pm I took the Luneside route from Keyline and was almost immediately watching a long-eared owl sat on a fencepost behind the buildings. It then began to hunt over the rough area and adjacent bank and continued to do so, giving ace views, as I headed along toward the Marsh point viewing area.
From there the LEO continued to perform on and off though, this evening failed to work the riverside posts and instead stuck around the pools area.
Soon the barn owl appeared and it gave good views for the remainder of the evening. Following a chat about that damned ermine stoat, a guy who'd been watching the owls but had left on his bike, came hurtling back to let us know that he'd just nearly run it over on the footpath! Of course, I had a good root about but it was by now doubtless sniggering at me from its hidden lair. I'm starting to hate that beast. Even Steve W sent me a text this afternoon to say he'd finally seen it...
As I was about to leave I met Tony Riden by the cycle track pull-in where we had great views again of the barn owl. Peter Chapel then caught up with us again and then what I initially took to be a long-eared owl appeared (6.25pm), flying on the far side of the pool parallel with the tree-lined footpath, but it was soon clear that it was a short-eared. This is, to my knowledge, the first confirmed sighting of SEO here for quite some time, though Peter had seen 2 'eared' owls flying around the ponds earlier though, one too briefly for positive ID (the other being LEO).
Also present at the pools were 7 goldeneye, 4 gadwall, 4 tufted duck and all the other usual stuff.
A roe deer was in the copse at Roase Cottage.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

'owling wind

Thought it might have a bit too breezy for owling today but it appeared not to be the case, and the wind dip drop considerably later in the afternoon.
Got off work early and headed to the pools for about 3.45pm. I checked the one known roost but there was nothing there, so I headed for Marsh Point. After a bit of a search I headed back down to the cycle track where I met Guy. Trying to find somewhere out of the wind proved difficult and eventually we settled on him watching from the track viewing area while I went back to the top.
A green sandpiper dropped in and then Guy called to say the long-eared owl had appeared (approx 4.30pm) and was sat on a fence post about 15m from them. I could see it with bins and decided to head down to join him and the other few now gathered. It then flew and landed on another post along the cycle track. Just as I approached the area it flew and started hunting in the open just in front of me. I could go on, but let's just say that it put on a decent show for a good hour giving everyone stunning views. Interestingly, a couple of times it went into Freeman's Wood (the first time I am aware of it doing this).
The LEO eventually headed off up the marsh having done its usual Luneside fence-sitting exercise. Brilliant stuff. I'm really going to miss this bird when it finally departs!
At 5.57pm the barn owl made an appearance and, again, gave superb views passing incredibly close to us. At one point it stooped and flushed a snipe! The barn owl was last seen as it disappeared over the riverside bank.
I just can't tire of this amazing spectacle.

Cheers to Guy for the fab shots taken this afternoon.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Couldn't get down myself this evening but Dan and Steve had great views of both barn and long-eared owl. Check out the LDBWS website for details of these and more. Fuzzy picture by H. Hughes.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

LEO puts on early show

The sun was still above the horizon when I got to the pools close to six o'clock this evening, so armed with optimism I headed first for the riverside bank.
I met Graham, one of the local dog-walkers, who mentioned that the barn owl had been sat on a post earlier behind Keyline. It was all quiet along the bank and I met Steve W at the Marsh Point viewing area. He'd had great views of the LEO from the cycle track viewing spot earlier but it had now disappeared.
Well, the weather had held out but it was looking a bit crap for owl spotting! Mind you, the moon was spectacular.
A familiar call high up alerted me to an incoming green sandpiper which dropped onto the pools, presumably coming in to roost.
We decided to head down to the track where after a couple of minutes the barn owl appeared hunting over the bank behind the Keyline buildings. That's more like it.

Earlier Steve had come across up to 6 stonechat around the pools and c30 meadow pipit.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Wet from the west

Unfortunately my only window of opportunity today coincided with a band of horizontal rain sweeping up the Lune that made birding both difficult and rather unpleasant.
A couple of hours trawling the patch in a sodden state 'rewarded' me with the following highlights:

1 spotted redshank on the marsh pool again, viewed from the gate at the bottom of Railway Crossing, or Aldcliffe Hall, Lane depending on which map you use.
200ish pinkfeet & little egret on the marsh.
Another little egret at Frog Pond.
1 soggy roosting long-eared owl.
4 tufted duck, 14 coot, 16 snipe, 8 teal and just 1 visible little grebe at Freeman's Pools.

I think I might give owling a miss this evening...


Couldn't resist the temptation - it had stopped raining and at 4.30pm I headed down. Just before I reached the Marsh Point end of the path the LEO flew up and landed a few yards from me. We stared into each other's eyes for a minute or so and then it started hunting over the SW corner of the Pools area, punctuated by occasional post-sitting. One thing it did today that I hadn't observed before was hover intently a couple of times.
It eventually flew over the banking and again hunted along the river edge, often landing on the fence posts just metres from me.
It then took off over the river and headed for the tip but was immediately set upon by a pair of carrion crows. Eventually it flew into a clump of trees where the crows and a bunch of magpies began to mob it. It stayed put and after several minutes I left to see if anything was showing from the cycle track area.
I left just before 6pm and neither short-eared or barn owl had appeared.

Thanks to Jeff Butcher for the pic above, taken last week.

Friday, 6 March 2009

'stoatally avoiding me

Once again the suite of 3 owls showed last night as reported by my brother Dave, M Robinson and R Hobbs.

The customary Friday 5 o'clock finish allowed me to get to the pools in good light with lots of time to spare today.
A small gathering at the cycle track viewpoint mentioned that the long-eared had been giving excellent views but had disappeared somewhere into the wooded path toward Marsh Point. By the time I got up there it was sat on the fence in full view. It then put on a stunning show which had it make its way increasingly closer - moving from riverside fencepost to fencepost allowing for detailed scrutiny of every feather on its body! Absolutely astonishing.
It eventually made its way off up the marsh and disappeared from view having been flushed by a walker.
Next up was the barn owl which started off hunting behind the Keyline buildings before flying around the pool edges and also showing itself off pretty well. There was no sign of the short-eared owl.
A minor distraction came in the form of a green sandpiper on the pools plus 2 pair of gadwall and 2 pair of 'new-in' tufted duck.
I chatted to a couple from Leeds who had come to witness the owl event of the century and they had also seen the resident ermine stoat, which seems to be seen by all and sundry yet remains to be seen by me!
Following PJMs sighting of one at Heysham earlier this week and a report I received of one at Lancaster Golf Club recently this surely has to be the highest number of ermine's recording in the local area in such a short period? Could they have moulted rapidly in response to the recent snowfall?

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Owls about that then... (again)

Quick post-work dash.
Arrived to find A Draper, M Prestwood, T Walkington & J Girdley by Freeman's Pools. The long-eared had been showing earlier.
Headed up to the top of the pools where 2 green sandpiper were feeding.
Met S Wallis who shortly picked up the short-eared sat on a fence where it remained until it was pretty dark. On the way back what was almost certainly a LEO flew low across the water parallel with us on the cycle track.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Owl-less, brief visit

Long-eared seen Monday at 4.30pm - thanks to Ian Hartley for the record.

Despite getting a soaking on my way home and it being rather windy I couldn't resist that fact that I had about half an hour of decentish light left and headed down to the pools where I bumped into Guy. He'd been there around 40 minutes and hadn't seen anything. A woodcock came over but we saw no owls - hardly surprising given the conditions! Mind you, a tawny owl was hooting from Freeman's Wood...

Having seen some photos from Sunday afternoon/evening it would appear that only long-eared was on show - can anyone who was there confirm whether short-eared was definitely seen?

Monday, 2 March 2009

Owl sightings request...

Hi - couldn't make it down this evening but will try and see what's going on if any nights are relatively bright and dry this week.
With that in mind, could I ask that visitors to Freeman's Pools post their sightings on the LDBWS website or at least email them to me at the address on this blog.

And on that note...

I'd be very interested to hear which species of owl were definitely seen yesterday (Sunday) by the many birders at Freeman's Pools.

When I arrived at around 4.30pm I was told that the short-eared had been showing very well and had passed within a couple of metres of the mini crowd!
This was followed by a long-eared which was also seen well at the Marsh point end of the pools.
As far as I know there were no sightings of barn owl.

Could any of the gathered birders (especially those photographing the birds) present yesterday please confirm which species were showing from the cycle track viewing area prior to my arrival.

I'd also love to see any pics, if that's OK,



Sunday, 1 March 2009

Asio like it

Had a quick trawl around the patch starting off via Leighton Drive where the waxwing was showing well in its favourite rowan.
I then went past Admiralty Wood where one of the resident little owls was having a snooze - nearby a group of 50ish redwing were in Pony Wood. Great spotted woodpecker here also.
A spotted redshank was feeding in the pools at Snipe Bog and a couple of little egret were on the opposite side of the river.
A flock of 16 pied wagtails and 19 meadow pipit were joined by a pair of reed bunting on The Flood. The wags and mipits were presumably early passage birds.
Around 700 pinkfeet were on Aldcliffe Marsh.
Just one long-eared owl visible at the roost today.
A male shoveler was 'new-in' on Freeman's Pools, as were all the other usual suspects.

Of note: Heard some interesting gossip from a regular dog-walker recently - apparently one of the wildfowlers was saying that they were looking into access for shooting on Freeman's Pools. Now that the shooting season is over at least it shouldn't really be of concern until the autumn.


*Also, 2 male Stonechats on the back fence by the banking.
See Barn owl from last night, link below

Late breaking news... Sunday evening

4 male stonechats on Freeman's Pools fence (Marsh Point end).
Short-eared owl showed early on giving the crowds by the cycle track a good demo while a long-eared performed later, though exceptionally well in good light (catching a vole) at the Marsh Point end. No sign of barn owl.


Thanks to Dan H for today's blog title.