Saturday, 28 December 2013

Festive Scouting

Aldcliffe Marsh; looking north from The Creek
I hopped on my bike on Christmas Day and popped down to the patch for a festive scout around.
Everything seemed in order; the usual wildfowl on the various pools, bullfinches and winter thrushes in the hedgerows and a couple of peckish sparrowhawks patrolling for Christmas dinner.
The undoubted highlight was the flock of skylarks in the stubble fields - at least 40 birds rising from the muddy maize stumps from time to time, easily the largest number I've seen in the Aldcliffe area for many years. I reckon I'd have to check my notebooks from a couple of decades ago to see if I've ever seen that many here!
The other notable thing was the sight of a pair of whooper swans flying down river. They dropped onto Aldcliffe Marsh briefly but obviously thought that the grazing mute swans weren't quite up to their standard and took off again.

Earlier today (Saturday 28th), I got wrapped up and headed out once more, hoping that yesterday's stormy conditions might have thrown something our way...  after all, similar conditions have brought common scoters, little gulls, kittiwakes and such in the past.
Alas, it wasn't to be and I couldn't find anything windblown of note. The skylark mob was still working the maize fields and the usual gadwalls, tufted ducks, goldeneyes, little grebes et al were all present and correct on Freeman's Pools. Several little egrets were lurking in various boggy corners, and just a single snipe was at Snipe Bog - no doubt more were there before the one-man-and-his-dog had splashed through the area just before I arrived.
In a wet field adjacent to the cycle track I was surprised to find a feeding flock of some 48 meadow pipits. Meanwhile out on the marsh, I spotted at least 3 rock pipits but the low tide prevented me from being able to really scrutinize any.

If you're heading down Aldcliffe in the next day or so, be aware that a section of the cycle track is currently flooded, as per usual near Reedy Corner, so take the upper cinder path to bypass it unless you've got wellies.


Saturday, 21 December 2013

We Will Rook You

Had a good rummage around the patch over the high tide today.
With the continuing unremarkable weather remaining damp, blustery and relatively mild nothing much had changed on the whole.
Freeman's Pools weren't exactly teeming with wildfowl, the tally being just 5 goldeneye, 7 tufted duck, 6 gadwall, 5 wigeon, 12 teal and 7 mallard. A couple of little grebe and 5 coot were also present as was a snipe.
Another little grebe and a female tufted duck were on Frog Pond while 12 moorhen were feeding in the field by Heron Pool.
A single coot was on Darter Pool and 42 moorhen were by the Wildfowlers' Pools.

There has been some work going on near the pathway junction, with hedgerow at the northern end of the upper track having been partly dug out and levelled.
This area is/was usually pretty good for migrant warblers, goldcrests and tit flocks and once held a roosting long-eared owl. Recently it has been popular with lots of redwing and blackbirds.
In the water-filled tractor ruts a grey wagtail was feeding but it seemed pretty nervous and wouldn't settle. This was most unfortunate as the bird was sporting colour rings.

I could make out a yellow plastic ring on the right leg and red one, over a metal ring, on the left leg but no other colour rings - perhaps there was a black ring below the yellow on the right leg that didn't seem obvious?
In these crappy distant shots, you can make out the yellow ring.
This bird is presumably one from the ringing scheme featured on the Heysham Observatory blog site.

A small gathering of corvids in the fields to the east of the upper track was notable for having 5 rooks mixed in. Carrion crows and jackdaws are of course common in the Aldcliffe area but rooks are pretty scarce down here, so they're always a treat to see. In fact ravens are far easier to find on the patch, with one or two almost always to be found around the estuary.

I couldn't find any pipits or finches along the tide line or on the marsh though I did note 11 snipe at Snipe Bog. The usual common waders and gulls were all present and correct and a scan through the assembled mute swans revealed no 'wild' swans. All the geese and egrets were on the other side of the river - just 6 pinkfeet flew over.
The hawthorns along Dawson's Bank were still attracting good numbers of thrushes with plenty of fieldfare and few redwing in the mix.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Winter's 'Tail (or Alba Home For Christmas)

As lovely as the twinkling illuminated trees and buildings around Lancaster are at this time of year, a far prettier cluster of adornments can be found in the city centre on any given evening.
At no cost whatsoever to local council tax-paying folk (and with a significantly smaller carbon footprint than the mass of electric lights), these lovely things can be found in the two small trees at Horseshoe Corner from late afternoon onward - often unseen by the vast majority of passers-by.
A quick count of the pied wagtails roosting at this traditional site reveals somewhere between 350 and 400 birds. Quite a wonderful sight.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Breaking The Bank

Following last week's 'big storm' I was surprised to see relatively little flooding down at Aldcliffe. In the good old days when the seawall was relatively frequently breached during high tides and gusty winds the Wildfowlers' Pools would often become a temporary lake. As a result, duck and coot numbers would go through the roof (even red-throated diver and razorbill occurred!) and as the water subsided the muddy edges would attract good numbers of waders. 

Well, the sea defences held out on the whole and the fields remained unflooded. Just a section of footpath along Dawson's Bank near Marsh Point had collapsed, causing a small amount of water to enter the northern most maize field. 

Of course, the tide rack had shifted up several metres, even covering the cycle track in places between Aldcliffe and Stodday. I was hoping for some hot passerine action along here but as yet no finch flocks have arrived to pick through the tideline debris. 

On Sunday I noticed some pink-footed geese in one of the fields to the east of the path but I couldn't get a good look as they were mostly obscured by the hedges. Yesterday they had moved to the field by Frog Pond and I was able to count 126 pinkfeet along with a scattering of greylags
Over on Freeman's Pools tufted duck numbers have increased to a barely impressive 5 while the regular gadwall, wigeon and little grebes were all still present. 

Pink-footed geese
Good numbers of redwing, fieldfare and other common thrushes could be found gorging on the hawthorns all along the cycle path between Freeman's Wood and the parking area at Aldcliffe Hall Lane. Bullfinch have been showing nicely along here lately too. 
I'm still impressed by the large numbers of moorhen in the Aldcliffe area these days; I counted 42 at the Wildfowlers' Pools yesterday. 

At dusk I headed back down to Freeman's Pools to see if there was any woodcock or wintering owl activity to be had. Sadly I didn't see either, but I was quite surprised to spot a couple of bats - not sure what species they were but they appeared too large and 'slow', with a direct flight, for pipistrelle or soprano bats. 
Incidentally, while I was keeping a dusky vigil here Dan was up river checking the egrets coming into roost at Ashton Hall. Earlier we'd had a conversation about whether anyone had been looking to see if the Sunderland Point great white egret had been looked for coming into roost there. He counted 39 little egrets, but no sign of the larger species. 


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Rings Around The World

Back in mid-October I noted 3 Canada geese out on Aldcliffe Marsh that were sporting red darvic rings on their left legs, and standard BTO rings on their right legs. A bit of digging around revealed that these were likely part of a scheme being run in Windermere by the RSPCA in association with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust to determine the movements of the Lake District geese.
Today I came across 8 such birds and managed to read the numbers on 5 of them. The info has been sent on to those involved in the research and I will post on here any interesting feedback that I get concerning these geese.

I've been scouting around the Aldcliffe / Freeman's Pools patch a fair bit recently but it's been fairly unremarkable in many ways.
Wildfowl numbers seem pretty low on the whole. Gadwall numbers seem to be sticking at 5, although there were 9 present one day last week. Teal are averaging around the 50 mark while at least 94 wigeon were on Frog Pond for a day, boosting the usual 20+. A first-year male tufted duck has arrived on Freeman's Pools in the past couple of days, joining the female that's been there for a while and a single goldeneye has been in residence for a day or so.
Coot are down with fewer than 10 birds present, and just a couple of little grebe are sticking around at the moment.
A lone drake shoveler has been hanging around at the Wildfowlers' Pools and up to 3 goosanders have been on the river. 
The majority of geese in the area comprise the feral masses; greylags and Canadas. Today there were just 9 pink-footed geese in total on the ground, 5 in the fields and 4 on the marsh. A skein of c180 headed north.
I suppose things will change significantly once we get a decent cold snap.

Ring-billed gull - not at Aldcliffe...
The hedgerows are still bustling with fieldfare although last week's flock of up to 90 birds has dwindled down to around 40. Several redwing too are feeding on the rapidly disappearing hawthorn berries alongside multiple blackbirds and handful of song and mistle thrushes.
A few goldcrest can be found in the hedges too, along with flocks of long-tailed tits.
A small flock of 9 meadow pipits were in the fields near Frog Pond this morning and another 3 were on the tideline with pied wagtails.
A single siskin was in Freeman's Wood this morning, close to the cycle track near the Freeman's Pools watchpoint.

Wader numbers continue to remain pretty stable with lapwing, golden plover, curlew, redshank and dunlin all present on the Lune - though it looks as if we may have a blank year as far as over-wintering green sandpipers goes. I haven't seen one since October 16th, but it's possible one's around somewhere off the beaten track?

An adult Mediterranean gull on the river at high tide this morning, was almost certainly the same bird that I saw feeding in nearby fields with about 600 black-headed gulls on Friday. Given the possible ring-billed gull seen at Torrisholme recently I scrutinised every common gull but they all turned to be just that.
I've attached a pic of a ring-billed gull that I took in Canada a while back just in case you need reminding of what to look out for!   


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

New Med Highlight

Another gloriously bright sunny morning, and another day off. Grand! The tide was forecast to be reasonably high at 9.2 metres but not quite high enough to cover the marsh - so little chance of water pipits or jack snipe today!
Nonetheless, I headed out for the rising tide just in case something interesting got pushed up out the creeks or came floating down the Lune.
First off, I checked Freeman's Pools but they were disappointingly quiet with just the usual coot, little grebe, heron, mallard, teal and such on show.
Frog Pond was hosting 26 wigeon plus a pair of mute swan.
Darter Pool was bereft of birds while 20 or so each of teal and moorhen were the only things on the Wildfowlers' Pools.
A flock of thrushes came over; 12 mistle thrushes and 5 fieldfare. These are the first fieldfare that I've seen here this winter. The berry-filled hedgerows were positively bustling with blackbirds and smaller numbers of song thrush.
A couple of distant gamebirds caught my eye up on the drumlins. They looked very pale about the head so I got my 'scope out and confirmed what I thought - red-legged partridge! Not a terribly common species in these parts they are almost certainly released birds, as opposed to ones that have arrived here from a viable population elsewhere.
Out on the river there were hundreds of black-headed gulls milling around. I couldn't locate any adult Mediterranean gulls among them but I did eventually find a 1stw bird that I picked up as it flew in, before landing on the water.
Also on the estuary there were several hundred golden plover and curlew, c160 dunlin and a couple of thousand lapwing. 4 common snipe flew off Snipe Bog.
Walking back along Dawson's Bank I spotted a kingfisher as it flew off the marsh and toward the Wildfowlers' Pools.
I checked the length of the tide rack for foraging passerines but only came across a party of 7 meadow pipit and a single rock pipit.
A lone pinkfoot and 'that' snow goose were the only things amongst the mass of greylags and Canada geese. Even last week's whooper swan had cleared out.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Whoop of Delight

Whooper & mute swan
Another gorgeous day with bright sunlight and only a bit of a cool breeze. Better still, a day off and a couple of hours free to get out and check the patch this morning.

Despite my obvious enthusiasm, Aldcliffe hasn't really been at its best this autumn and I suspect that it will pretty much remain this way until we get some serious temperature changes.
The pools are still bereft of wildfowl in any number, just the usual mallard, teal and handful of gadwall to see most days along with the odd little grebe and multiple coot and moorhen

The geese seem to have had their fill of the stubble for now and were back out on the marsh. Consequently the only things poking around in the maize fields were pheasants, woodpigeons, carrion crows and jackdaws
Even the large finch/sparrow flock had whittled down to around 20 chaffinch and a couple each of tree sparrow and reed bunting. Just 3 skylark were flying around.

Whooper swan
I was delighted to finally find a whooper swan among the mute swans out on Aldcliffe Marsh - it was surely only a matter of time before one dropped in!
Scanning through the Canada geese and greylags I couldn't see anything else among them, bar the usual snow goose-on-the-loose and the regular farmyard honkers.

An unexpected sighting involved a late small tortoiseshell fluttering over the tideline.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Marvelous Montanus

Tree sparrow
I finally caught up with some tree sparrows on the patch this morning. 
There were 9 in the hedge dissecting the stubble fields. Unfortunately they were a bit too flighty for me to get a decent pic, so I've cheated and used a previously taken shot I got of one earlier in the year.
Feeding nearby were a mixture of other birds including around 40
chaffinch, 6 reed bunting and a couple of greenfinch.
Also present were at least 14 mobile skylark. It was lovely to have the calls of these increasingly scarce birds constantly ringing out over the fields.
There was also a trio of stock dove nearby. It almost felt like proper farmland birding! I just need to find an errant yellowhammer, or something even better...  

Golden plover, lapwing and dunlin
On the river there were approx. 700 golden plover, 2,400 lapwing and c100 dunlin in the Gull Bank area, along with the usual curlew, redshank, etc. While out on the marsh the usual geese, mute swans and little egrets were doing what they do.

Freeman's Pools were again quietish, as were all the other ponds. The 5 gadwall -in-residence were about the only things of note. 
A female sparrowhawk was doing the rounds.

Thrush numbers seem to building slowly with a notable increase in blackbirds along the cycle track, along with a few song and mistle thrushes. Still no off-passage redwing or fieldfare around Aldcliffe though. There is so much food available in the hedgerows this year, I guess they have no need to range as far and wide as in some years. I'm sure they'll be along soon. 


Thursday, 7 November 2013

No Head for High Tides

Had a good stroll around the patch late morning culminating with a trawl along the seawall on the incoming tide.
Freeman's Pools were pretty quiet with just 27 mallard, 5 gadwall, 1 wigeon, 7 coot, 2 moorhen and a little egret visible.
The stubble fields were full of geese, specifically c280 greylag. I could only find a single pinkfoot among them, plus the fenc-hopper snow goose (and that white barnyard thing).
I couldn't see or hear any tree sparrows - 'lots' were reported from here yesterday on the LDBWS site! Not sure how many that means, but anything into double figures is generally pretty significant for Aldcliffe.
A couple of reed buntings were among the chaffinches and a flock of around 18 skylark was notable.
Frog Pond, Darter Pool, Wildfowlers' Pools and the Flood were all pretty quiet bar the odd mallard, moorhen, redshank, etc.
Aldcliffe Marsh wasn't too thrilling either with the usual scattering of curlew, lapwing, redshank, grey heron, little egret and the common gull species. There were no yellow-billed swans among the numerous mutes and I couldn't locate anything of note mingling with the 80ish greylags and 200+ Canada geese.
Passerines feeding in the tide rack included 22 pied wagtail, 9 meadow pipit and 3 rock pipit. The twite seen here by birders yesterday were nowhere to be found, unfortunately.
Tideline stiffs included a headless heron, a headless common gull and an immaculate, if somewhat dead, red fox.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Partridge Family Reunion

While reading the Lancaster & District Bird Watching Society 2012 annual report recently I was dismayed to see the grim status of grey partridge. So few sightings had been made in the local recording area that it was described as "so rare... that it has become a notable occasion when they are seen."

Grey partridge
 Back in August, I was pleased to find that the pair I'd been seeing on and off around Aldcliffe had fledged 7 youngsters and I was even more delighted to come across a covey of 11 partridge today. They were quite distant but it appeared to be a mixed group of adults and 1st year birds. Hopefully their local extinction can be held off for a few years yet.
Otherwise there wasn't much to get excited about. There were no 'real' geese to be found among the mass of Canadas and greylags on the marsh and similarly the build up of mute swans has yet to drag in any passing 'wild' swans.
A single rock pipit was at Marsh Point and now that the maize has been cut there are up to 40 chaffinches feeding in the stubble. I couldn't find any tree sparrows or anything else of note among them, bar a single skylark
A dead razorbill, long deceased, was on the tideline.
There were very few ducks around, the ponds and pools were almost empty of birds.
A bloke out with his Harris hawk provided a brief distraction... 


Monday, 28 October 2013

The Imperfect Storm

What's this - two posts in three days? This could get silly...
I managed to squeeze in an early afternoon visit to the patch today, convinced that I might find some windblown stray of some kind or other. It's fair to say at this point that I didn't.
Nonetheless, it was great to get out and have a root around Aldcliffe.

First I checked the glamorous environs of the Lune Industrial Estate in the hope that a black redstart might be lurking somewhere. I then had a scout around Keyline, with the same species in mind. I walked along the estuary from here to Marsh Point in case something interesting was feeding along the tideline, checking the river as I went but finding just the regular gulls and a brace of goosander.
Freeman's Pools were suspiciously quiet, though it may have been just down to the brisk wind causing birds to seek more sheltered pools nearby.
This certainly appeared to be the case; there were several wigeon, a tufted duck and a bunch of mallard on Frog Pond.
On Darter Pool a juvenile little grebe was joined by 10 smart gadwall.
Around 35 teal were at the Wildfowlers' Pools along with a pair of shoveler and 2 more little grebe.
The Flood, the Marsh and the hedgerows were pretty drab with nothing of note to be seen. A pair of stock dove were flying around near Walled Meadow and a skein of c80 pink-footed geese passed over heading SSW.
On  my way back things had picked up a bit at Freeman's Pools with 3 goldeneye and another tufted duck on the water as well as a minimum of 7 little grebe.

So, it looks like we pretty much missed out on the weather event of the decade up here in North Lancashire, but I suppose there could be one or two wind-borne goodies just waiting to be found out there in the next few days... 

Saturday, 26 October 2013


Snow goose
The lack of activity from me on this blog of late isn't entirely due to me having not been out. It's fair to say that I haven't been out quite as much as I'd like, but I have been checking the patch whenever time has allowed. The grim reality is that I've hardly seen anything all that worthy of mention.
When the rest of the UK was inundated with yellow-browed warblers I was out every day checking the tit flocks and scouring the sycamore's in and around Freeman's Wood but unfortunately drew blanks on each occasion.
Wader numbers have been slow to build and there were very few migrant shorebirds generally in the Aldcliffe area. As witnessed in many other places, Aldcliffe saw a major passage of pink-footed geese but none stopped off on the estuary.
To put things into perspective, the highlight of this otherwise very drab autumn (on the patch) was the arrival of a pristine, yet proven escapee, snow goose that turned up when the greylag flocks returned to the marsh. 
I also had a week off in September and went to Majorca with Jenny. I had two target birds, moustached and Balearic warblers - you can read my brief account and see some lovely pictures of some Mediterannean exotica here or by clicking on the tab above.
In the past few weeks I have also enjoyed a few hours at the RSPB reserves at Burton Mere on the Dee estuary (where I was treated to amazing views of a hobby snatching dragonflies in front of the hide) and the newly renovated Campfield Marsh on the Solway. 

Anyway, just for completion here are some annotated posts that I put onto the LDBWS website since I last blogged...  

October 16

Among the 270 or so Canada geese on Aldcliffe Marsh this morning were at least 3 birds sporting orange/red darvic rings on their left legs. I was without 'scope so couldn't get any digits.
These are part of a RSPCA-related ringing scheme based out of Windermere.
Otherwise it was pretty unremarkable out there. I scoured the tideline for northern buntings, checked the marsh for ibis and kicked a few bushes for grounded migrants but came back with nowt. A solitary green sandpiper was the only thing of note.

October 8th

Nothing much new to report from Aldcliffe this morning, just much the same stuff as present for the past week or so but with less emphasis on migrant passerines.
Indeed I couldn't even find a single chiffchaff despite a thorough grilling of a handful of tit flocks.
Reed bunting numbers are pretty good along the cycle track and particularly in the maize fields, while greenfinch and chaffinch seem to have increased notably.
Approx 70 black-tailed godwit were on the Lune off Marsh Point, and an adult Mediterannean gull was with the many black-headeds at Gull Bank. Around 160 wigeon were on the river here.
3 grey wagtail were among a dozen or so pied wags at Stodday ETW.
No sign of any green sandpipers anywhere, just 8 snipe on The Flood.
At least 6 little grebes, 3 shoveler and 5 gadwall on Freeman's Pools, plus 6 swallow briefly feeding over the water before moving on.

Had a walk along Morecambe prom from Stone Jetty to Broadway as the tide was rising early afternoon. Highlights included a rock pipit on the jetty, a scattering of (25+) eider, plus the expected turnstones, redshank, oystercatchers etc.
An adult Med gull was flying around near Promenade Music (couldn't see any rings). 

October 01  

A good scout around the patch this morning failed to turn up anything beyond a paltry trickle of swallows and at least 5 chiffchaff as far as classic migrants was concerned.
An adult Med gull was on gull bank, a single black-tailed godwit was on the marsh and a green sandpiper was heard.
A pristine, if highly suspect, snow goose was among c.370 greylag on Aldcliffe Marsh.

September 24 

As noted elsewhere recently the skies have been punctuated with skeins of pinkfeet in recent days and this morning had 3 large groups pass over the estuary. One skein contained a very small goose, but it was way too distant to get anything on it.
Gadwall are back on Freeman's Pools with 6 present plus 3 new-in shoveler. At least 6 little grebe there too.
No sign of the fence-hopping sacred/Australian white ibis today.

Very few migrants around - several chifchaffs, a couple of blackcap and single male stonechat being the most obvious. A steady trickle of meadow pipits were moving through.
Reed bunting and chaffinch numbers are building up in and around the maize fields.
Waders continue to increase with yet more lapwing arriving along with golden plover and a scattering of dunlin. Redshank are still pretty thin on the ground.
3 green sandpiper were on The Flood, then later the Wildfowlers Pools. 


Monday, 9 September 2013

Migrants On The Move

I had my first real taste of autumn birding at Aldcliffe, since my return to the UK, this morning. Initially it didn't seem too birdy and I struggled to find anything of much note for the first hour or so of being out.

Little grebe and chick
Feeman's Pools were pretty uneventful with just the usual suspects on show; tufted duck (1 fem), grey heron (7), little grebe (6 + chick), coot, moorhen, etc.
A decent gathering of lapwing were assembled on the Lune mud off Marsh Point along with a scattering of gulls.
There were plenty of swallows milling about with quite a few house martins mixed in.
3 wigeon were on Darter Pool and a reed bunting was calling from the surrounding maize.
There was a farm truck rounding up sheep at the Wildfowlers' Pools as I arrived, causing 40+ teal to take to the air but I didn't notice anything else coming off the site.
The Flood was well and truly flooded, but unfortunately no passing stints, ruff or other common-ish passage waders had dropped in. A pair of green sandpiper were present as were 14 snipe.
Along the cycle track a few chiffchaffs and a couple of willow warblers were seen and heard along the way. I checked Stodday sewage works but all was quiet, and I couldn't see much on the river by the pylons, beyond the usual stuff.
I then noticed a few meadow pipit coming through, calling overhead. As I cycled back toward Aldcliffe Hall Lane I spotted a wheatear out on the marsh near Snipe Bog. I stopped and noticed a further half dozen. And yet more meadow pipits continued to pass over. Soon I had counted at least 26 wheatear - things were seemingly on the move!
A phyllosc flitted into the hedge by Walled Meadow and I checked it out - chiifchaff. Then a larger bird came into view, a juv/female redstart! As I scanned along the hedge I could see several more chiffchaffs and willow warblers and the a cracking spotted flycatcher. Within a couple of minutes another 2 spot flies had joined the gang along with at least 2 whitethroat. I spent the next 40 minutes grilling the area but didn't add anything to the tally. I wonder what, if anything, lurked unseen...!

On a less thrilling note, some kind soul (arse - soul?) deposited a fine collection of old fridge freezers on the cycletrack. Magnificent.        

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Pigeon's Off The Menu

Today I visited Dearne Valley, Old Moor RSPB reserve in South Yorkshire for the first time. I only had an hour or so to spare on the reserve itself but did manage to see a good selection of birds while there.
The place was alive with waders and wildfowl. Among the former were green and common sandpiper, greenshank, spotted redshank, ruff, ringed plover, golden plover, dunlin and even a turnstone.
The in-residence spoonbill put in an appearance, as did a little egret and I even got to see the back of a juvenile night heron's head. This bird has been around for a few weeks now and has been frequently playing hard to get, so I was pleased to have even shoddy views of the bird during my whistle-stop tour!      

Once again I spent a good few hours trawling around the patch yesterday morning in the hope of turning up something autumnal. Unfortunately the blustery westerly winds were doing their best to make it feel like a total waste of time.
And to be honest, it just about was.
I could only find 2 green sandpiper on the Wildfowlers' Pools and none elsewhere around Aldcliffe. A few snipe were spotted here and there but otherwise it was a relatively wader-less vista. Of course the lapwing and curlew numbers continue to build up on the marsh and a handful of golden plover can be found here and there but there was no sign of anything off-passage.
There were still good numbers of phylloscs moving through and both chiffchaff and willow warblers were seen and heard all along the cycle track hedgerows.
The only thing really of note was a kingfisher that flew out from the trackside ditch near reedy corner and onto the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Up at Freeman's Pools coot numbers have started to increase notably, and wildfowl included 4 wigeon along with the expected mallard and teal.

A vehicle parked at the bottom of Aldcliffe Hall Lane (I've seen it here a number of times) had the sticker seen here proudly displayed in its rear window. Aside of the rather laughable and naff rhyme, it struck me just how misinformed and dangerous this piece of anti-raptor propaganda is. Imagine if normal people read this and actually think that there is some validity in it? No sooner have birds of prey recovered from decades of persecution than certain elements feel the need to start killing them en masse again, simply to protect their minority past time.
It's a shame that mere anecdotal 'evidence' and a lack of basic predator/prey relationship understanding can help influence such Draconian thinking. If you wish to see just how keen this lot are on saving songbirds, have a look at their website and see what scientific papers and extensive research you can find to support a nationwide cull of raptors (good luck).
I'm not against pigeon racing particularly, nor am I especially for it, and I appreciate that it must be galling to have a prize bird scoffed by a wild predator but I find using the rather disingenuous argument that raptors are responsible for the decline in songbirds extremely frustrating. Not only does this theory have more holes in it than a secondhand dartboard but it also tries to patronisingly disguise the real reason that the RPRA are calling for the destruction of wild birds of prey; to protect their precious pigeons.


Friday, 30 August 2013

Dabchick Late Brood News

Juvenile barn swallow
I've been making a point of checking the patch every morning this week but sadly my efforts have gone mostly unrewarded, as far as unusual off-passage species are concerned.
Given the volume of ace birds being seen elsewhere in the recording area (eg yesterday I dropped in at Leighton Moss and saw 24 curlew sandpiper, at least 4 ruff and a couple of spotted redshank) it seems only natural that Aldcliffe will have a few waders passing through, right?
Nonetheless, it's been interesting to see the daily changes regarding common birds. Chiffchaffs and willow warblers have been moving through in numbers, and the swallows and house martins have been gathering in increasingly larger flocks.    
The first wigeon arrived early in the week and the number of teal continue to build. I've been scrutinising the latter for the odd garganey but alas none have yet shown up.

The number of little grebe on Freeman's Pools have peaked at 6 birds and today (Friday) I was able to confirm my suspicions of a late breeding attempt with one grebe in the company of a recently hatched youngster. This seems to be a regular occurrence at Aldcliffe with this species. They clear out completely in the spring, returning late in the summer and have a crack at a late brood. Perhaps the habitat just isn't good enough early on and only once the vegetation has grown up significantly does the site offer suitable nesting habitat?
Another bird really increasing in number as the days go by is little egret; I saw at least 8 today without even really looking.

Green sandpipers continue to show both on the Flood and at the Wildfowlers' Pools. The week's high count came this morning with 6 present.
A juvenile little ringed plover had remained on the Flood throughout the week, but it looks as though it may have finally moved on as I couldn't locate it today.

When I went out to see if I could see last weekend's wood sandpiper on Sunday morning I missed it, arriving at Aldcliffe too late. Pete Crooks has seen it on the Flood at 7.30am but it was flushed by a dog walker seemingly engaging in practice for the Noisiest Man In The World competition.

All was not lost however, and I did see an adult female marsh harrier hunting along Dawson's Bank and I also spied my first post-breeding wheatear out on the marsh.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Wood You Believe It

I got a message from Guy McLellan saying that he'd found his second Aldcliffe wood sandpiper of the season this afternoon - a juvenile on The Flood.
Once again, I was well out of town with work and unable to get along to see it.
Pete Crooks reported it as still being present up to 4.55pm.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

All The Fun Of The BirdFair

Me and TV's Nick Baker. Sort of...
The work load's been a bit heavy of late and as a consequence my visits to Aldcliffe have been, at best, few and far between.
Nonetheless, it hasn't been all bad as I spent the weekend down at Rutland working at the Birdfair
This was my first visit to the event since I last went in the mid/late 90s (the exact year escapes me...) and it was quite a privilege to attend as part of the RSPB team.
I didn't get to see too much of the fair as I spent the majority of my time on the RSPB stand handing out free checklists (we gave out over 9,000 of them over 3 days!), selling raffle tickets (£15,000 trip to Antarctica for 2 as the first prize), and signing up new members to the society.
And on the plus side, I had red kite drifting over the campsite I was staying on two days in succession.

In my absence, Aldcliffe regular and finder of spoonbills and yellowlegs, Pete Crooks posted the following on the LDBWS site on August 19th:
"The flooded field at the end of Aldcliffe Hall Lane proved to be very productive following the morning rain - 1 juv. Ruff, 5 Green Sandpiper, 4 juv. Little Ringed Plover, 9 Snipe, 1 Whimbrel and c.80 Goldfinch"

I did manage a brief check on the following day but it was pretty birdless by comparison. A single pair of juv. little ringer plover were on the Flood, a single mobile and noisy greenshank was flying around and 3 golden plover were flushed off the marsh along with a large flock of lapwing when an adult peregrine came blasting through accompanying a younger bird carrying prey.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Torn Between Two Plovers

After spending the day today out wandering around the Lyth Valley area with Jenny I squeezed in a quick late afternoon visit to Aldcliffe for a spot of leisurely, if blustery, birding.
Three little egret were on the island at Freeman's Pools, alongside a couple of stately grey herons. There wasn't much else showing bar a few mallard, coot, moorhen, the resident mute swan family and a tufted duck.  
I could only see two green sandpipers at the Wildfowlers' Pools. A few snipe, around 60 curlew and another little egret were also here.
On the Flood there were 4 little ringed plover but perhaps more interesting was a single ringed plover. Although considerably commoner on the whole, ringed plovers are pretty scarce in the Aldcliffe area, usually preferring the wider sandier stretches of the estuary.

Moth fans may like this pic I took of a Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata).  
We came across it while trundling around near Crosthwaite. Or rather it came across Jenny's face after she flushed it, much to her delight (not). It crawled into a dry stone wall where it posed badly and made getting a decent shot all but impossible.
The Magpie is a really smart looking insect though I have to say that I'm not all that familiar with the species, despite the fact that it is apparently reasonably common.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Wandering warblers

Another quick walk round on Saturday afternoon revealed 4 lrp's on the Flood.
A green sandpiper and snipe were at Wildfowler's.
Approximately 50 goldfinch were at the bund.
During my morning walk around Scotforth it became evident by the calling in the bushes along the railway track that warbler migration is underway. 6 chiffchaff, including a singing bird, were heard in various bushes along the cycle track.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Marsh Attacks

On Thursday morning I managed a reasonably thorough, if quick, blast around Aldcliffe.
Freeman's Pools were quiet, as seems to be the norm at this time of year. 5 little grebe were present, including a well grown juvenile.
There were a couple of green sandpiper and a snipe at the Wildfowlers' Pools plus three further green sands on the Flood along with an adult and 2 juv little ringed plover.
I was chatting to fellow Aldcliffe regular Ray Hobbs when I spotted a large dark raptor heading toward the drumlins. It was a large female/juv marsh harrier. It continued to fly in the direction of Freeman's Wood before banking round and flying out to the river.
Over the next 10 minutes or so, despite my not being able to actually see the harrier, it was obvious where it was as waves of panicking lapwing, starlings and other species flew up off the marsh as it seemingly made its way out toward Stodday.
Once again, I was a camera-free zone so here's one of my old recycled sketches...


Monday, 5 August 2013

Partridge Family

It's almost incomprehensible that last week I was concerned about the lack of water in the various smaller pools around the patch. The Wildfowlers' Pools for example had been sunbaked to the point where only a trio of tiny puddles remained.
The last few days have seen something of a change of fortune and normal service has resumed, with wet weather ensuring that water levels have returned to an acceptable level.
Unfortunately, I was in the Peak District all day when Guy contacted me with news of the wood sandpiper on Friday, and Saturday saw me working in West Yorkshire.
With a day off today (Monday) I headed out in the pouring morning rain for a check around the Aldcliffe area.
Arriving at the Wildfowlers' Pools it was immediately apparent that there wasn't too much going on. The mute swan family were still very much in evidence but other than a few coot, moorhen, mallard and a couple of little grebe there was little to see on the pools. Of note, three stock dove were around the reserve.
I was delighted to come across a family party of grey partridge near Frog Pond, comprising two adults and 7 fledged young. This nationally declining species is just about hanging on at Aldcliffe, but we're going to need some new blood in the area if they are going to continue to survive locally.

Frog Pond itself was hosting a soggy looking little egret and 5 snipe
Multiple snipe were also around the Wildfolwers' Pools with flighty groups of 9, 7 and 2s here and there moving around the site.
A small group of teal were dabbling in the wet grass.
Just one green sandpiper was seen here along with 2 little egrets, 3 black-tailed godwit and several curlews feeding in the fields. (In the absence of any photos taken today here is a drawing of a curlew that, as they almost used to say on Blue Peter, I prepared earlier...)
More curlews were in the fields near The Flood.
A single adult Mediterranean gull was in among 70 or so black-headed gulls on The Flood edge, as was another green sandpiper, a couple of oystercatcher and a dozen lapwing


Friday, 2 August 2013

Wood you believe it

I struggle to do any birding these days so I made the most of a free hour to head down to the patch. Water levels are low (certainly much lower than this time last year) but after the recent rain the flood and wildfowler's are nice and muddy. A wood sandpiper was at wildfowler's. This is only my second Aldcliffe wood sand but they head my list as the favourite and I always thought the star of the show on the patch last autumn was the wood sand rather than the lesser yellowlegs.


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Birding in a Wader Wonderland

One of the great things about mid-summer is the return of waders from their northern or upland breeding grounds.
Aldcliffe typically gets the first, and the largest number, of green sandpipers in the local recording area and so far this year is pretty much on track with expectations. Of course, we local patchers are also very keen on finding an oddity here and there; wood sandpipers for example are annual, while other scarcer species might just show up on any of the pools or on the river if we're lucky.
Post-breeding little egrets also start to really show up in numbers along with grey herons and a wealth of gulls.

Here are selected highlights from recent days:
Black-tailed godwits

Monday 29th - A trawl around the patch during the morning turned up the following:
1 adult little ringed plover was flying around calling by the Lune at Marsh Point - presumably recently fledged young were nearby. 2 common sandpiper were on the river bank.
There were 5 green sandpiper and
2 little egret at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
26 black-tailed godwit, including a colour ringed bird (photo), were feeding near Reedy Corner. The bird had been ringed in Iceland - I'm waiting for further details.
Another little egret was on The Flood. There were 16 common sandpiper at the Creek and scanning through the black-headed gulls on Gull Bank I picked out 2 adult Mediterranean gulls

Colour-ringed black-tailed godwit
Thursday July 25th - Following the (re?)appearance of 5 avocet a couple of days previously, there was still one juvenile on the Lune off Marsh Point in the morning.
A greenshank was on Freeman's Pools as were a newly arrived mass of greylag (c320 birds).
3 green sandpiper, 1 common sandpiper & a little ringed plover were all at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Raptors-wise peregrine, kestrel (including newly fledged pair) and a sparrowhawk were all seen in the area. 

A smart black-tailed godwit in full breeding garb was on the river at Gull Bank while 2 whimbrel and 5 common sandpiper were on the river near the pylons. 
Black-headed (left) and Mediterranean gull (right)

Tuesday July 23rd - 5 avocets were on the river in the early evening (1 adult, 4 juv) just off Marsh Point.
There were 4 green sandpiper, 3 little ringed plover and a snipe at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
The little grebes on Freeman's Pools increased from 3 to 5 birds, all of them adults.
The little ringed plovers on the industrial estate still had at least 2 healthy-looking near-to-fledging chicks.

Monday July 22nd - At least 6 green sandpiper were in the area during morning, though there were possibly as many as 9. Their rather flighty behaviour made a definitive count impossible with birds present on Freeman's Pools, Frog Pond and the Wildfowlers' Pools. Six were definitely visible at one time, so at least we know an absolute minimum. 
Also on the patch were a minimum of 4 little ringed plover.
It was nice to see a single stock dove over the maize fields, though I suppose it would be nicer still to see several! 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Yankie Gull Draws Crowds

Male reed bunting
I've been lucky enough to have a couple of weekdays off lately, allowing me to get down to Aldcliffe early enough to cover the area while it's been relatively quiet.

Since the arrival of the first green sandpiper on the 7th numbers have fluctuated a little peaking at 6 on the 15th. These have mainly been on the Wildfowlers' Pools, as one would expect, although birds have also visited Freeman's Pools and Frog Pond.
Little ringed plovers are still hanging around here and there with a pair at Freeman's Pools and couple of adults with 2 fledged young on the Wildfowlers' Pools. The young family were still present on the industrial estate and seemingly doing OK when I checked yesterday morning.
The new-in pair of little grebe at Freeman's Pool were joined by a third bird a couple of days ago and much 'winny-ing' has been going on. Perhaps we'll see another late breeding attempt as has happened in previous years?
Common sandpipers typically start gathering on the Lune at this time of year, along with the odd ones and twos on the pools. When I had a check at the traditionally favoured spot at The Creek on Monday morning I counted 17 - not too bad!
Snipe are reappearing on the patch with a couple on the Wildflowers' and Darter Pools. Similarly, teal have started trickling in, peaking at 5 birds while tufted duck numbers have increased to 5 on Freeman's Pools.
I also had a good root through the increasing black-headed gull flocks on the river mindful of the Bonaparte's gull seen at Heysham at the weekend. I even came across an enticing gathering of around 270 birds feeding in the water just off Stodday but I couldn't pick any likely looking candidates out from the mass of BHs. Of note, 4 little egret were also joining in the frenzy.

A cycle from Aldcliffe to Conder last week was reasonably rewarding as it allowed me to get a sense of the scale of movement and breeding success along the stretch of the estuary. Common sandpipers were seen in small family groups, shelduck with multiple ducklings and fledged black-headed gulls and lapwings were scattered alongside the route.
Sedge warblers, blackcaps and common whitethroat are still in fine song, while reed buntings seem to have done pretty well with a handful of broods in the area.  
At Conder itself there were 3 greenshank among the mass of roosting redshanks and an adult Mediterranean gull was a pleasant sight as it flew around over the estuary. 
There wasn't much on the Conder Pools, just the dubious 1st year male goldeneye and yet more common sandpipers.
Nearby a couple of tree sparrows flew over, betraying their presence with their distinctive call. 


Napolean Dynamite!  


Bearing mind that I was regularly seeing Bonaparte's gulls in considerable numbers during the three and a bit years I lived in Western Canada, I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to see the Heysham bird this week.
However, given that I hadn't actually seen one in Britain since 1990 (yes, that's a whopping 23 years ago folks) I thought it would be rude not to pop along and have a look as it was just down the road. So, yesterday evening I grabbed my 'scope and bins and headed off to the glamorous coastal location of Red Nab and the Power Station Outfalls.

Bonaparte's gull - Heysham
I arrived to find a small cluster of birders scanning the large number of roosting gulls on Red Nab, and my enquiries soon confirmed (albeit rather abruptly) that they were still looking for the North American vagrant. I started to scan through, soon finding a couple of Med gulls among the many snoozing larids, oystercatchers, curlew and a handful of whimbrel.  
Another birder arrived and made similar enquiries to which I, in a hopefully more helpful and friendly manner, updated him on progress. Within seconds this same chap announced 'got it', and indeed he had!
Over the course of the next hour or so the bird played with us a little, often bedding down behind other birds or in little crevices but after a 'big flush' it resettled on a rock and posed nicely for a time. I even manged to get the just about discernible digi-scope picture shown here. If you think this photo's bad, please bear in mind that this was by far the best of a not-especially-amazing bunch... 
A 'first' for the Lancaster & District recording area, this was a well deserved find for the diligent birders who located and identified this rare gull.  

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Baby Birds & Dragons Delight

With the weather so warm and wonderfully sunny I thought I'd concentrate my efforts today on looking for Aldcliffe odanata.

Little ringed plover chick
I set off, walking through the glamorous environs of the Lune Industrial Estate where my attention was drawn to the alarm calls of a little ringed plover. I soon found the bird, on a large patch of gravel in the heart of the estate. Thinking back, this was adjacent to where I saw a male displaying several weeks ago... As I scanned around the still calling adult, obviously agitated by the magpie patrolling the gravel patch, I spotted first one, then a further three chicks. They were pretty young and quite a way from fledging so I'm guessing they're a second or even third brood.
Given the apparent lack of LRP chicks elsewhere in the Aldcliffe area this year, it was good to see this little family party, and in such an unusual location.

I then checked Freeman's Pools where 4 wigeon were dabbling around. The tufted duck pair were still in residence as were the mute swan family and little grebes. The coots on the upper pool have finally got a couple of chicks off the nest, and two newly hatched moorhens were dashing around the water's edge with a parent bird.
Sedge warblers seem to have had a good season with quite a few youngsters kicking around and a fledged brood of 4 reed buntings were a pleasant sight.
The river was quiet thanks to the tedious antics of a gaggle of jet-ski bores.

Black-tailed skimmer
I finally spotted some dragonfly action on Frog Pond and on closer inspection saw that they were what I suspected to be black-tailed skimmers. A quick call to Pete Marsh to confirm their presence in this part of the world satisfied my cautious identification. This species is a relatively recent colonist to these parts and they have become established locally only in the years that I was away in Canada. As a result, I'd never actually seen any at Aldcliffe - hence my caution.
I then had a peek at Darter Pool where I saw my first emperor dragonfly of the year.

Moving on to the Wildfowlers' Pools I was pleased to discover another family of little ringed plovers. This time an adult female was accompanying two fully fledged young while a lone adult male was nearby. Whether these birds were local nesters or off passage migrants I wouldn't like to say, but given the fact that I haven't seen any evidence of successful breeding at these pools this year I'd probably plump for the latter.
Better still was my first post-breeding green sandpiper. This site is just about the most reliable place in the Lancaster & District recording area for this species and we can expect multiple green sands to make an appearance here in the coming weeks.

The Flood and Aldcliffe Marsh had nothing much of note, and other than a few common and lesser whitethroat and a pair of bullfinch in the hedgerows it was fairly routine stuff on the way back.
Passing through the Fairfield Orchard I noticed another black-tailed skimmer and a brown hawker concluding my odanata hunt for the day.


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Magnificent Seven

I got a message yesterday from a fellow Aldcliffe birder, who we shall call Ray Hobbs, saying that he had found a family party of avocets on the Lune at Marsh Point.
As we all know, these elegant waders were once like the proverbial rocking horse dung but in recent years have become relatively common with breeding colonies now being found at Leighton Moss, Marshside and a few other north west locations.

Juvenile avocets
However, in Aldcliffe terms the species is still regarded as something of a mega. The first and only record (to my knowledge) involved a pair that appeared for a couple days on the then new Freeman's Pools back in May 2008.
So, not only was this a patch tick for Ray but also something well worth following up as far as I was concerned!
Consequently I headed off down there this morning, first checking the pools. Following an absence of several weeks a pair of little grebe were back in residence - they have bred this late at Aldcliffe in the past, so you never know.... The tufted duck pair remain but I have abandoned any thoughts of late nesting by this duo. Otherwise it was pretty unremarkable until a flock of 5 wigeon came flying over the pools before turning around around and heading back toward the river.
Once at Marsh Point I did a thorough scan of the river but alas no black-and-white bentbills were to be seen, though a little egret was prowling along the water's edge.
Along the cycle track things were fairly quiet until I bumped into the aforementioned Ray Hobbs and his hound at the Wildfowlers' Pools. We had a chat and after a while went our separate ways, me heading to Stodday.
I checked the Flood as I passed but it was birdless.
Looks like little ringed plover have had a dud year as I suspected, with no sign of any chicks at all so far and now not even any adults to be found in the Aldcliffe area. It's pretty depressing that with 3 pairs we didn't even get a single bird fledged...

Six of the seven avocets on the Lune
Other than a hunting kestrel and 5 snoozing female-type eiders on the Lune it wasn't too birdy. A small, distant wader on the far shore at Colloway was probably a common sandpiper, but I was 'scopeless and it went unconfirmed.
Before heading home I checked the river at Marsh Point one more time and bingo! The magnificent seven avocets were feeding along the receding tide opposite Snatchems. I got a couple of distant shots, as you can see here. Let wader migration begin!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

East Coast Seabird Spectacular

3rd year gannet
This post is firmly located in the 'and beyond' section of the Birding Aldcliffe and beyond.
Jenny and I have just returned from a short visit to Yorkshire's dramatic and impressive coast, where we took in Scarborough, Bempton Cliffs and Bridlington.
We didn't see much on the way over, the only highlight being a solitary red grouse peering out from some roadside heather.
Jenny had never had the pleasure of visiting Scarborough before and I hadn't been for ages. In fact, I think the last time I was in that seaside town was back in late June 1991 when both a pied wheatear and woodchat shrike were in very temporary residence in the Castle Hill area.
We didn't have any such sightings to rival that pair of cracking rarities but we did enjoy a good walk around the North and South Bay areas in glorious sunshine, taking in various tourist hot spots along the way (including Anne Brontë's grave).

Window sills as cliff substitutes
While I wasn't the slightest bit surprised to see multiple kittiwakes festooning the town's towering cliffs I was rather amazed to see their nests so liberally scattered around Scarborough's buildings.
Dozens of pairs of these dainty seabirds were tending to chicks on windowsills above countless amusement arcades, chippies and even the elaborate edifice of the once grand Grand Hotel.
After our afternoon and evening in Scarborough, we started the next day bright and early and drove south along the coast to Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve near Bridlington. 

Bempton Cliffs
To my shame, I had never before been to Bempton in the breeding season and I have to say it is absolutely brilliant.
We were met at the Visitor Centre by lots of tree sparrows; always a treat to see. They were nesting in the many boxes provided and actively feasting at the feeding station, giving great views.
Te walk along the cliff top was spectacular; swathes of wildflowers and grasses set against the deep blue of the North Sea beyond.
But it was below and upon the cliffs where the real action was taking place.

Gannet pair greeting one another
Thousands of garrulous seabirds including kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, gannets and, the tourists' favourite, puffins were busy in the throes of the breeding season.
Jenny was rather taken not only by the sheer scale of the seabird colony but also by the incredible stench that wafted up from the cliffs.
It almost put her off the idea of our planned fish and chip lunch...

The birds at Bempton are pretty obliging and anyone with even a half decent camera can get a shot or two worth showing.
The pics here were taken using a compact Nikon Coolpix with a built-in digital 21x digital zoom.
Mind you, I expect those folks trotting around the clifftops with their digital SLRs and Tannoy-speaker sized lenses ended up with somewhat more impressive photos that I managed.
Still not entirely sure I know why they feel the need to drape their gear in camouflage fabric though...

Anyway, Bempton was truly great and we left feeling that we had witnessed a genuinely awe-inspiring wildlife spectacle.
We took in some more wildlife spectacles of a very different nature over in Bridlington before hitting the road and heading back west.

The undoubted highlight of our return journey came just after we'd passed through Harrogate where I confidently stated "this area looks good for red kite". Turned out I was right, and we had great looks at a single bird hunting over fields right by the roadside.
Not a bad way to end a couple of days in Yorkshire! 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Melodious Marvel - A Twitch In Time

I did a couple of things last week that I wouldn't ordinarily do. One was twitch a bird, the other was related to this particular twitch and I'll come to it later...
So let me set the scene; I am in the company of four other RSPB staff returning from a three-day training event in the south. While we were away news of the white-throated needletail on Harris broke and a small number of us keenly kept our eyes on the bird's progress and its ultimate and well-publicised death at the hands of a small and solitary wind turbine.
Another bird regularly appearing on the pagers during this time was the singing melodious warbler in Nottinghamshire. A brief chat soon revealed that three of the five heading back north in our single vehicle all 'needed' this species on our British lists! The other two didn't keep lists and weren't the slightest bit bothered one way or the other whether we stopped off en route to see this scarce songster. So following lunch we said our farewells to the other RSPBers and headed north, melodious warbler on our minds.
It transpired that Paul, Kevin and myself, despite being keen birders, had all done something completely out of character. Not a single one of us had a pair of bins with us. So, we were off to twitch a bird with no optics whatsoever.
We arrived at Tiln, just outside Worksop, and followed the pager instructions to the bird's location. As we approached the area we could clearly hear the wonderfully mad jumble of the melodious warbler's song coming from a small plantation of young conifers and mixed shrubbery.
The bird was seriously out of view from the path but Kev soon found a well-worn trail cutting into the area and soon came across a small group of 'scoped-up birders.
We piled in looking like a bunch of oddballs; bright t-shirts, no optics, no indication whatsover that we would even have a clue as to what a melodious warbler was.
A quick chat soon put the assembled gents in the picture and we stood patiently waiting for the warbler to show. A few bursts of its brilliant song indicated that it was still in the same area and before long it took up position in its favoured tree and commenced to give great views. Of course with the naked eye, these views were absolutely terrible and it was only through the kindness of a couple of birders that we were able to get ace (and thoroughly tickable) views of the smart visitor.
While I fully expect I may once again be in a position of seeing a decent bird when without my bins (we all get caught off guard from time to time...) I truly hope that I never, ever turn up to see a lifer without the aid of some optical device again...        

Friday, 21 June 2013

Baby Birds Bonanza

Blue-tailed damselfly
My day off on Wednesday coincided with a good forecast so I hopped on my bike and spent a bit of time birding around the Aldcliffe area in the morning. My main focus was on trying to make sense of the breeding waders situation, which had been thus far pretty inconclusive.
Checking Freeman's Pools first, the signs weren't terribly good with still no sign of any young oystercatchers on the island - the adults were being very active in seeing off passing gulls and crows, so hopefully there are well-hidden chicks somewhere on there.
I could only find a lone adult little ringed plover, so unless a late clutch is being sat on somewhere it doesn't look like a productive year for this species (I didn't find any LRPs anywhere else in the Aldcliffe area despite a thorough search). 
The trio of mute swan cygnets were still all present and accompanying both attentive parents. Similarly the two coot broods seemed to be doing reasonably well.
A male and female tufted duck were acting very much like a breeding pair, with the duck in particular spending quite a bit of time hidden away in the reeds - a late second nesting attempt following a failure elsewhere? We'll see.
Reed buntings and sedge warblers were busy feeding growing young in the waterside vegetation.

In the maize fields one pair of oystercatchers was escorting a single sizable chick, but I couldn't spot any young lapwings in the furrows.
A tractor soon came along and commenced spraying the emergent maize (and of course any wee birds that might be in the way) with some herbicide / insecticide forcing the oystecatcher family to flee toward the Wildfowlers' Pools.
I did see some fluffy little lapwing chicks dashing about by the pools and a pair of very agitated redshank implied that they too had chicks nearby.
A kestrel was hunting over the area, and a sparrowhawk upset the local swallows and house martins as it barreled along the cycletrack-side hedgerow.

The marsh was pretty quiet, other than a few more redshank and a couple of singing skylarks.
Scanning through the 850ish large gulls loafing on the riverbank, I couldn't find anything interesting among them. Suddenly the gulls went into panic mode, rising noisily into the air. I looked around for the culprit and soon spotted a large female peregrine in pursuit if a woodpigeon. The pigeon did a very good job of evading capture - to a point. That is, until it got whacked, spectacularly by the master hunter.

Later in the day when the sun really came out, I returned to Aldcliffe again; this time for a dragonfly hunt. I didn't find much, but did at least come across my first broad-bodied chasers on the patch this year. A pair were at Freeman's Pools, where a female was busy ovipositing.
All around the pools there were loads of common blue damselflies and good numbers of blue-tailed damselflies and I even managed a snap of the latter. All being well, the first emperor dragonflies will be appearing any time now along with common darters and such.

An early evening visit yesterday failed to produce anything much of note bar a pair of grey partridge in the usual field. I couldn't see any chicks but, it's possible they were hidden in the grass.
I'm just hoping for a hobby or something even more exciting... after all, with singing greenish warbler and white-spotted bluethroat in the county in recent days who knows what's out there waiting to be found?       

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Several Cygents Signal Successful Spring Season

Mute swan family at Freeman's Pools
Once again my 'weekend' happened on Monday and Tuesday this week. Unfortunately the long prolonged spell of warm, sunny weather decided to end on Sunday evening and as I headed down to Aldcliffe on Monday morning there was a decided chill in the air. It did warm up as the day wore on and today (Tuesday) certainly felt better.
Although little new has appeared in recent days (with the exception of a drake tufted duck back on Freeman's Pools) there is still plenty of activity going on around the patch.
Non-breeding large gulls continue to build in number on the river and yesterday up to 500 were roosting along the western shore. Also hanging around the Lune are around 30 or so non-breeding mute swans.
Juvenile robins and blackbirds are present in good numbers throughout the patch while blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, goldfinches, greenfinches and chaffinches are busy feeding multiple young.
Despite their late arrival, many migrant songbirds seem to making the most of the good conditions and chiffchaffs and both common and lesser whitethroat are fastidiously tending to growing chicks in the cycle track hedgerows.
However, the waders seem to be struggling to get anything out of the nest. I have yet to see any young oystercatchers, lapwing or little ringed plover despite the presence of nests, or breeding pairs on territory. In the maize fields, the 'second attempt' lapwing eggs should be due to hatch any day now, so hopefully some of the 11 nests (that I'm aware of) will get some young through to fledging stage.
The mute swans on Freeman's Pools left the nest last week, and on Wednesday evening I saw the proud pair escorting 3 very newly hatched cygnets around the reserve. (Incidentally, the pair on the canal along Aldcliffe Road also have 3 young cygnets, as seen today).
Also on Wednesday I noticed a very unseasonal drake goldeneye on the River Lune off St. George's Quay in the early evening. An escape or a genuine wild bird?
And on the subject of ducks, I also saw 2 female-type gadwall (1 adult, 1 fledged juv?) on the river toward Stodday. They flew in from inland and dropped on the water - have gadwall actually nested nearby this year? A pair certainly hung around Aldcliffe well into spring... 

Langden Valley, Bowland
On Wednesday of last week, I had the great pleasure of joining two of the RSPB's front-line Bowland staff for a walk up the Langden Valley.
I was accompanying a new member of my team, who will be working within the region in coming months, and who better to put her in the picture than Bowland Wader Project Officer (and killdeer finder extraordinaire) Gavin Thomas and Bowland Project Officer Jude Lane.
Gavin and Jude expertly put into context the struggles and successes of working within the Bowland area and answered all our questions with obvious passion and enthusiasm.

Adult dipper
Of course, we didn't see any hen harriers (Langden used to be my guaranteed year-tick site for this species along with short-eared owl but alas no more) but we did get ace views of a pair of another Langden speciality; ring ouzel - with the female in particular showing really well.
Add to that the spectacular landscape, plus up to 3 pairs of stonechat and a dipper with a recently fledged youngster and the time spent was not only educational but also genuinely exhilarating.
Sometimes I really, really love being back in Britain!