Monday, 28 January 2013

Smew-th Operator

Redhead smew - Freeman's Pools
The redhead smew continues at Freeman's Pools, showing well over the weekend.
I dragged my 'scope down on Saturday and managed to get a few crummy digiscope images, just for the record.
There wasn't much else going on around the parish other than the usual bits and pieces. There are still good numbers of golden plovers feeding in the fields with lapwing, redshank and curlew. The dunlin flock remains in situ at The Flood.

Pink-footed geese over Aldcliffe
I did bump into Tom Walkington who was out in search of the smew. While we were chatting we noticed a positive swarm of geese approaching from the south. There were at least 3000 birds and as they got closer we scanned through in search of anything other than pinkfeet. Unfortunately many headed over toward the Oxcliffe/Heysham area but a few hundred dropped onto Aldcliffe Marsh (though out of view from our where we were watching) and Tom picked up a single barnacle goose through his 'scope as they descended. Using just my bins I couldn't pick it out as they were just too distant and silhouetted against the white sky.  Presumably these geese were part of the flock that has been present on the other side of the river for a few days.   
On Sunday there were loads of fieldfare and redwing around. The latter particularly numerous around Admiralty Wood.
Now that everything's thawing out and temperatures are steadily climbing to something approaching 'mild', we should start to see more changes in and around Aldcliffe.  


Friday, 25 January 2013

Have I Got Smews For You

The 2012 redhead smew (pic by Dan H)
Sorry about the title; I don't have smews for you, but I do have smew (singular).
I managed to get out for an hour or so early afternoon and hopped on my bike and headed to Aldcliffe where my first stop was Freeman's Pools.
Scanning over the partially iced-over water I could see the usual coot, teal, gadwall, mute swan, wigeon and mallard. Then a small duck bobbed to the surface - chestnut crown, bright white cheeks and grey body. Lovely, a 'redhead' smew! The first I've seen for quite a few years and only the third I've ever seen in the Aldcliffe area.
Presumably this is the same returning bird that was been seen at the pools in the winters of 2010 and 2012 (where was it in 2011?). Let's hope it sticks around a while for others to enjoy.

Other aves of note included 2 pairs of shoveler on the Wildfowlers' Pools. There were also 12 meadow pipits feeding with pied wagtails in the wet fields around the pool edges - something of a surprise as I haven't seen any in the area recently.
The dunlin flock on the Flood continues to increase with 53 birds there today. With no rain recently, water levels at the Flood and the Wildfowlers' Pools are really low now and have left lovely large areas of muddy stuff that could well attract passing birds in the coming weeks.

Oh yes, the barn owl has been showing well and on cue in recent days but I have yet to locate where it is roosting...


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Morning Laps...

10 am.
Freeman’s Pool were quiet, the large stretch of water almost frozen over. Slurry spreading on maize stubble brought a number of gulls onto the scene, mainly black-headed. Wildfowlers’ Pool was less iced over and here were 6 Snipe, Redshank, Coot, Moorhen, Teal and Lapwing. Lapwing were a key feature today for me, they were in almost every field I scanned. The Flood saw 40 Dunlin, 7 Shelduck, Redshank, Lapwing, Half a dozen or so Robin and Pied Wagtail. On the marsh the geese were difficult to see as many were on the river. In the field near walled meadow Golden plover were mixed in with some Lapwing, and a solitary Fieldfare. Little Egret 3 on marsh and a handful of Goldeneye on the river. A Peregrine was eyeing things up from the pylons along with raven.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Twite Out in the White Out

I set out late this morning in the hope that a cold snowy Monday might be quiet enough to entice the geese back into the parish. Well, it was quiet alright and the geese were notable only in their absence.
Coot numbers had gone up a bit at Freeman's Pools - presumably pulling in birds from nearby frozen waters. There were 21 present on the main pool. Duck numbers were unremarkable, with the usual teal, gadwall, mallard, wigeon and tufted ducks plus a couple of little grebes, mute swans and several moorhen. The local sparrowhawk was sat keeping an eye on the place.
Along the edge of Freeman's Wood there was a small passerine flock made up of blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, wren, dunnock plus single bullfinch and treecreeper. A great-spotted woodpecker was 'chipping' away in the wood and several blackbirds were scrabbling around in the leaf litter.
Indeed, thrushes were much in evidence throughout the area today with blackbirds, song thrushes and fieldfare all over the place.

The Wildfowlers' Pools were unremarkable with just the expected mallard, teal and moorhens around the place. A pair of shoveler were back on the pools and a lone oystercatcher was parading around the edges while a couple of redshank probed in the thawing mud. A common buzzard was sat on a fencepost by the upper pool.
Wader activity on the Flood was minimal with just a few redshank and the dunlin flock now numbering 29 birds. Lapwing, curlew and golden plover were all feeding in the fields. A couple of pied wagtail were searching for food around the icy perimeter.

c500 greylag were in the field by Railway Crossing Lane with just a dozen or so pinkfeet among them.
I scanned through a sizable bunch of wigeon grazing on the marsh near the Channel. After spending the last 3 years regularly searching through American wigeon flocks in search of their Eurasian cousins (and often finding them) the tables have now completely turned and I was hoping to locate a yank here on the banks of the Lune. Naturally, that didn't happen...
All the typical marsh birds were present: little egret, mute swan, Canada goose, etc.

Making my way along the seawall back toward Marsh Point I came across a finch flock feeding on the tideline. The majority were goldfinch but there were also twite mixed in. I assume that these were the same birds that I saw the other day as there appeared to be 8 present. On closer inspection, I realised that I may have been over zealous with last Tuesday's '8 twite' claim as there were actually 7 twite and 1 linnet in the flock. In my defence I didn't see the birds on the deck last week.
Talking of which, I did get to observe them both on the strand line and perched up in the path-side trees today and noticed that 2 were colour-ringed. They were both sporting 'Heysham' blues on the left leg but unfortunately I wasn't able to determine the other colour before they flew off. Trying to see these bands on birds feeding in tideline debris is pretty tricky, and the light didn't help when they were briefly perched up. I'll try and get to grips with them another time, assuming they stick around.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Bean Counting

Bean goose
Saturday saw a huge increase in the number of geese in the Aldcliffe area. All the birds were grazing in the fields to the east of the cycle path and most of them were relatively easy to scan through. I estimated there to be around 3,500 pink-footed geese, c600 greylags and the 60 or so 'resident' Canada geese.
I scanned through the pinkfeet in search of ringed birds, plus any other species.
I only found one collared goose (LCT) - it'll be interesting to see where else this bird has been seen.
Searching through a mass of feeding pinkfeet my eyes were dazzled by a pair of bright orange legs, and within seconds the distinctive head of a bean goose loomed into view.

Bean goose
Barely annual in North Lancashire, bean geese are always a treat to find in the Aldcliffe area.
Of course, the worst thing about finding a bean goose is having to figure which bloody type it is; fabalis (taiga) or rossicus (tundra).
The latter is the most likely in our area, but both can occur.
This particular bird didn't strike me immediately as any one in particular, but now that I've had chance to look at the cruddy pics I got I'm definitely leaning toward rossicus.
Anyhoo, here are those same cruddy dodgi-scoped shots so please feel free to weigh in with any comments.
Incidentally, I had a look on Sunday afternoon and all the pinkfeet had cleared out.

Common snipe
The other minor highlights from Saturday included 6 dunlin on the Flood (22 there on Sunday) plus fields filled with lapwing, curlew and golden plovers. Snipe were present at the Wildfowlers' Pools, Flood (pictured), Darter Pool and Freeman's Pools.
I returned to the area later in the day where the barn owl once again made an appearance right on cue.


The Week In Review

On Tuesday I had a quick cycle around the main Aldcliffe locations to see what things were doing in the sub-zero frosty, sunny parish. Well, it was going to be a quick cycle until I got a puncture at Stodday which of course resulted in a leisurely stroll back along the path to Freeman's Wood and Pools.

Snowy Lake District mountains loom over Aldcliffe Marsh
The fields were attracting good numbers of black-headed and a few common gulls plus lots of waders including impressive numbers of lapwing and golden plover. Mixed in were curlew, redshank, dunlin and even 5 knot - not a bird I expect to see in the Aldcliffe area all that often, never mind feeding in fields.
A small flock of 8 twite were near the walled meadow but they were very flighty and unfortunately I couldn't see if any were colour-ringed.
Otherwise, it was pretty much business as usual with the expected wildfowl species, egrets, common buzzard, sparrowhawk and what-not. There were 5 common snipe roosting at the Wildfowlers' Pools.

In the late afternoon I returned to the Pools in search of the barn owl and once again it appeared just before 5pm. I went again on Wednesday (trying to figure out roughly where its roost might be) and I got great point-blank views, but better still picked up a woodcock - it flew in from Freeman's Wood over the pools and across the river, presumably to feed on the defunct tip.


Friday, 18 January 2013

Hitler Reacts to Missing Hoary Redpoll

OK, so it's 'out of area' but this has been doing the rounds on North American birding forums and is very funny indeed...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Barn Stormin'

Freeman's Pools at dusk
I've been determined to go down to Freeman's Pools on a reasonably fine late afternoon with the hope of seeing what, if any, owls might be hunting around the area.
I've heard from several dog walkers that barn owls have been showing fairly regularly and after that brilliant spell back in early 2009 when we had barns, short-eared and long-eared owls all present it was definitely got to be worth a good look.
I also wanted to see if any woodcock were flying in from Freeman's Wood to feed at the pools, as they often have in winters past.
As it happens, I got down there a little too early for owl-action and so happily checked the Wildfowlers' Pools, the Flood and everything in between.

The Aldcliffe drumlins viewed from the Flood
There were still quite a few pinkfeet up on the drumlins, but they were feeding low in the field and many were obscured by the hedges, so an accurate count wasn't possible.
Other wildfowl in and around the Aldcliffe area included the usual mute swans, shelduck, mallard and teal plus good numbers of coot and the large numbers of moorhen.
I have noticed that the number of adults to 1st year moorhens suggests that 2012 was a very productive breeding season. I don't know what numbers are like at Leighton Moss and elsewhere, but there are at least 50 moorhens on the Aldcliffe patch at the moment.

Moorhens, moorhens everywhere...
I had the good fortune to bump into Ray Hobbs at the parking area, who was in search of snipe for his year-list. We had a good natter, but after a while I had to scarper as the light was starting to fade and I had owls on my mind.
I headed up along the track to Marsh Point and started scanning over the western edge of Freeman's Pools - traditionally good owl habitat.
Within a few minutes a barn owl dutifully appeared as it hunted over the rough ground, giving pretty decent if somewhat distant views. I continued to check around the pools for signs of any other species but I couldn't locate any other owls, and I also dipped on woodcock.
A merlin dashed through in the fading light, chasing a lapwing which managed to escape its speedy pursuer. 


Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Waxwing Cometh

Bohemian waxwing
With no rain in the forecast Jenny and I decided to take advantage of the momentous occasion and walk along the cycle path from Aldcliffe to Conder today.
It was cold and overcast but calm, which made a gentle trundle quite pleasant.
We saw much the usual stuff along the route; wigeon, cormorant, grey heron, little grebe, pink-footed and greylag geese, redshank, curlew, lapwing and what-not.
Passerines were unremarkable with the highlights being 2 grey wagtail, 3 rock pipit and a couple of ravens seen along the way. There are absolutely loads of goldfinches around at the moment, easily the most numerous finch along the estuary.
We saw at least 7 little egrets en route - presumably the tip of the iceberg as far as real numbers of these wee white herons is concerned.

At Conder we walked along the track beyond the bridge a short way before being diverted by the distinctive sound of a calling spotted redshank. It soon appeared, flying up from the creek and over the bridge out onto the estuary.
We then bumped into a couple who had just seen 5 waxwings in the pathside hawthorns. We had a quick look but couldn't locate them, so set off to The Stork for some lunch. As we walked along the road a greenshank flew by, again betraying its presence with its diagnostic call.

Just as were were watching the wader drop down beyond the bridge I noticed a small group of starling sized birds flying in. A scan with bins revealed a grey rump as they vanished into the hedgerow. We wandered back up to the path and and got great views as the 5 waxwings fed on hawthorn and rosehips by the track. Unfortunately the horrible flat light made getting decent photos an absolute non-starter, but that never stops me from trying! As you can see, the results were barely worth the bother.
We celebrated with lunch at the aforementioned Stork, washed down with a fine pint of Black Sheep bitter.
The walk back to Lancaster was pleasant enough, despite the rather limited birding highlights. 


Monday, 7 January 2013

Super Whoopers & Half Snipes

Whooper swans at Conder Pools
After making the lofty proclamation in my last post about how I don't really care about year listing I have found myself mentally noting every new species I spot to my supposedly non-existent year list. Looks like I do keep a year list of sorts after all.
OK, I don't have a clue what my best ever year was, or even how many species I see in an average year but I suppose I'm guilty of being fully aware of the birds that are new in any one year. I came to realise this grim reality when I caught myself actually thinking 'year tick' when I came across a couple of whooper swans on Conder Pools on Saturday.

Having been out of the country for just over 3 years, I expect that my excitement is based less on the fact that these majestic northern swans were first for the year as simply the first I'd seen in ages. I took the rubbish pic here using my little point-and-shoot camera.

The Conder estuary
I'd picked up a new bike the previous day and decided to cycle along the track from Freeman's Pools to Glasson, stopping occasionally to see what was lurking around the Lune estuary and adjacent fields. The day was lovely and sunny and bright, and despite the volume of traffic on the cycle path it was an enjoyable ride. 
To be honest, I didn't really see that much but it was great to get back out on the cycle track and refamiliarise myself with the route.
Highlights included a significant increase in wildfowl in the Aldcliffe area. The pink-footed goose flock had grown substantially and now numbered around 600 birds.
Mallard and teal were particularly numerous on both the Wildfowlers' Pools and Freeman's Pools. The latter site also hosted 14 gadwall and after my observations that little grebe had disappeared from the area, at least 2 were back on the pools. Another little grebe was on the Wildfowlers' Pools.
The stock dove duo were once again in the stubble fields at Aldcliffe and I had a grey wagtail at Stodday Sewage works.

Freeman's Pools from the eastern viewpoint
On Sunday Jenny and I did our regular Aldcliffe walk, but once again it was relatively quiet bird-wise. The most notable thing was that the tufted duck flock at Freeman's Pools had swollen to an impressive 34 birds.
Of course, when I say 'quiet' I really mean that there was nothing out of the ordinary - the 'ordinary' being 100s of golden plover, lapwing and curlew, numerous little egrets and grey herons, cormorants, Eurasian wigeon, fieldfare, raven, etc. Some may consider that far from quiet...

This morning (Monday) Jen and I found ourselves at Jubilee Towers and despite the drizzle we heard the distinctive calls of red grouse almost as soon as we stepped from the car. We clambered up the worn stone steps to the top of the tower and were soon rewarded with the sight of 4 grouse in the near distance. Another, dare I say it... year tick! In fact I'd added another, somewhat less satisfactory 'new' bird 20 minutes earlier when 3 red-legged partridge launched a failed suicide attempt in front of the car.

I finally got around to repairing the tear in my wellies yesterday. I've been squelching half-heartedly along the marsh just lately, so I really needed to get these sorted in order to properly get stuck into finding some jack snipe. 
Within a few minutes of trampling around Snipe Bog (location no. 10 on the Aldcliffe map) I flushed 5 common snipe and 2 dinky little jack snipe. I moved along to another similar area nearer The Channel and flushed another jack snipe - this one let out that soft 'grunt' call that they occasionally do.
So, all in all something of a success; 3 jack snipe and warm, dry feet!


Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Year, New Year List

Freeman's Pools viewed from Marsh Point
Many birdwatchers look forward to the start of a new year as a way to add a little boost to their daily birding. With autumn migration but a distant memory, winter can drag on a bit sometimes and the arrival of a new year means the commencement of a new year list. Which of course means that those 'boring' common species can suddenly transform into exciting new ticks to be pursued with rare vigour.
Personally, I'm not too bothered about year lists these days and am happy just pottering about looking for birds whatever the season.

As to be expected I've been spending any spare time checking out the Aldcliffe area in recent weeks and the relative paucity of blog posts actually reflects a lack of exciting birds to report, rather than a lack of activity on my part.
That said, I did get an interesting call on Christmas Day concerning a barn owl that was behaving rather oddly. The owl was found by regular dog walkers Linda and Gordon at Freeman's Wood. The bird was unusually approachable and reluctant to fly far even when being inspected by the dog. Apparently the owl was hanging around the same area for most of Christmas Day and concerned walkers assumed that the bird was injured.
I had a good search on Boxing Day but came out empty handed.
From a conversation I had with Linda about its behaviour, I suspect that the owl may well have been an ex-captive bird that had either escaped or been released.
Wild barn owls do occur in the area from time to time so maybe it was one of these, weak through starvation - persistent rain can make hunting very difficult for owls.

In other Aldcliffe owl news, I've been seeing the regular little owl at Admiralty Wood recently.
When my brother Dave and his wife Steffi were visiting over the festive period we went out to see these diminutive hunters but couldn't locate them that day. Dave and I discussed how long we'd been seeing little owls at this location and we reckoned that we'd been aware of them in this small wood for well over 20 years. The now-present nuthatches certainly weren't to be found back then, nor were the little egrets that I have seen flying over the wood recently.

Pink-footed geese
Highlights from my often soggy visits around the parish just lately include a flock of 9 black-tailed godwits feeding at the flooded Wildfowler's Pools plus the usual ducks, waders and gulls.
At least 260 pink-footed geese are still grazing on the drumlins though the bulk of the greylags (presumably with the white-fronted goose) seem to have temporarily left the area.
Rock pipits, pied wagtails and goldfinch continue to pick along the tideline debris, while handsome bullfinches continue to be heard and seen along the cycle track and at Freeman's Wood.
A pair of stock dove were a nice sight in the stubble fields, making a pleasant change from the many wood pigeons and feral rock doves.
Tufted ducks at Freeman's Pools
On Freeman's Pools an arrival of 16 tufted duck were notable, and post-thaw gadwall numbers have built up to a healthy 9 birds. Goldeneye, wigeon and teal are also present on the pools but little grebes seem conspicuously absent.
Perhaps the remains of a significant amateur fireworks display might be responsible for the relative dearth of birds on the pools in general.
Despite my hearing rumours to the contrary, it appears that roe deer are still very much present around Freeman's Pools, with 3 sighted a few days ago.

Steve here, just to add I saw 18 Fieldfare on the track and a pair of Bullfinch. A Buzzard was perched on the fence posts on the hillside. The river was busy with a couple of thousand Lapwing, Golden plover and Dunlin mixed in. 3 Little Egrets. Two large groups of gulls on the mud bank, didn't have my scope with me. A pair of Ravens near the pylons.