Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Having A Nice Chat

I finally caught up with my first stonechats of the year this afternoon while checking the usual haunts in the Aldcliffe area.
There were 2, both females (pictured), feeding on the saltmarsh between Snipe Bog and Cadaver Corner and loosely associating with a flock of around 20 meadow pipits. About time too!

In other exciting bird news, the little ringed plover was again on The Flood.
This is the first time I've seen this bird in well over a week, despite at least 3 visits.
Whether it's been checking out other spots in the vicinity or simply keeping a low profile I have no idea.

Stonechat, Aldcliffe
As the weather continues to chill us all to the bone it looks unlikely that we'll be getting much significant spring migrant action any time soon if the forecasts are to be believed. Maybe a little more wildfowl and gull movement associated with the icy conditions might make up for that and we may even be fortunate enough to see a scarce grebe or something equally enticing turn up somewhere in the 'hood.
I haven't been able to get out much in the last week or so (among other things, all our worldly belongings arrived from Canada on Thursday), but when I did venture out in the positively Baltic conditions there wasn't much to get excited about.
The roe deer quintet have continued to show well around Freeman's Pools and Jenny and I saw a further 3 near Ashton Hall early last week. We also had great views of a pair of amorous brown hares and killer looks at a weasel which responded well to my pishing.

Gadwall pair, Darter Pool
Wildfowl has been somewhat erratic around the pools with varying numbers of common species present. Slightly unusual was the pair of goosander on Freeman's Pools today while a pair of gadwall seem to have taken a liking to the small Darter Pool (pictured).
Now that I have actually found gainful employment my visits to the parish may well be curtailed somewhat but even with April approaching, I'm not sure I'm going to be missing much too until those winds change direction...        

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Little Things In Life...

Little ringed plover, The Flood
Managed to find an hour to get out today and go in search of Guy's little ringed plover from yesterday.
Cycling through the busy industrial estate I kept an eye out for a certain red-tailed bird but unsurprisingly I didn't spot it.
Freeman's Pools were fairly quiet with just the usual mute swan, mallard, teal, coot, moorhen, gadwall and tufted duck present.
There were good numbers of meadow pipit and curlew feeding in the Frog Pond field but the regular flock of wigeon were notable only by their absence.
At the Wildowlers' Pools it was business as usual: little egret, grey heron, teal, moorhen, little grebe, and so on. The 'resident' female goosander is still hanging around and the green sandpiper made its presence known by flying noisily off the pools and heading toward the Flood.
The Flood was conspicuously quiet with none of redshank, dunlin, lapwing, teal or black-headed gulls so often seen there of late. Not even a single moorhen, mallard or shelduck was to be seen. Even the pied wagtails had all but disappeared with just a pair of birds searching for food along the water's edge.

Little ringed plover, Aldcliffe
This wasn't looking too promising... then I noticed a lone wader, picking around in the mud toward the back of the Flood. Bingo!
I managed to get a couple of pretty shoddy pics of the little ringed plover by holding my compact camera up to my 'scope eyepiece, but you can clearly see all the defining features.
So, that's the first 'real' spring migrant to grace the parish this year - what will be next? Sand martin, wheatear, chiffchaff?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

B(l)ack In The Red

One my way back home this morning, after an hour or two scouring the Aldcliffe area for aves of interest, I finally found a bird in a particular place that I've been hoping to find for years.
The quickest route for me to get to Freeman's Pools from my house on bike is via the Lune Industrial Estate. This is not the most glamorous of scenic rides, but it does get me where I want to be pretty rapidly.
A bi-product of cycling through the estate is the fact that it's top-quality habitat for black redstart.
Prior to my jaunt overseas I used to regularly pass through this industrial landscape convinced that one day soon the flash of a red tail would justify my optimism. It never did.
Today however, as I wearily turned the last corner onto the grandly titled Port Royal Avenue a bird flitted alongside me and dropped into the yard of the recycling plant. You guessed it; that flash of a red tail told me that at last my black redstart was in the bag!
I slammed on my brakes and I saw the bird hop up onto a skip briefly before it got involved in an altercation with a dunnock resulting in both birds taking off behind the skip and out of view. I quickly cycled round to try and locate the redstart again, but had no idea where it had gone. I spent about 20-25 minutes searching but came up empty handed. There are lots of lovely grotty spots to entice a black redstart on the Lune Industrial Estate... 
The bird appeared to be an adult female, but the views I had were admittedly brief and so a 1stw male couldn't be ruled out. This bird may have been around, unseen by birders, for several weeks or perhaps had just turned up, but during the week this area is so busy that trying to find it during working hours could prove tricky. Nonetheless, I'll be keeping my eye out as I head off to the patch.

Black-tailed godwits
Highlights from the morning included a flock of c170 black-tailed godwit on the Lune just off Low Wood. Some of the birds were well into moult and their orange-red heads and necks really stood out amongst the otherwise grey mass.
A female pintail dabbling around at Snipe Bog was a nice treat. While they may be common at other nearby sites, pintails are generally scarce around Aldcliffe so it's always a pleasant surprise to find one here.
The green sandpiper was at the Wildfowlers' Pools, seen from the metal gate on the cycle track. 
Large gulls continue to increase in number, as they always do at this time of year. Back in the days when the Saltaire Tip was in operation the adjacent river and marsh would be positively teeming with larids and most years we could expect to see Iceland and glaucous gulls appear among the throng. Unfortunately the mounds of decaying trash are no more and gull numbers today are pitiful by comparison. Still, it's always worth scanning through the herring and lesser black-backed gulls loafing on the mud just in case an odd white-winger drops by.

Roe deer (doe left, buck right)
The Freeman's Pools roe deer seem to be in rude health at the moment and the regularly seen trio has multiplied into five animals. Yesterday morning they were all grazing in the field just to the north of the pools (photo) and today they were in the dense vegetation by the pools themselves.
Some twit had let their mutt run around the edge of the pools, which kept the deer on full alert for several minutes.


A little ringed plover was on the flood at around 4pm. From memory, this bird may be a little early returning compared to most years.



Friday, 15 March 2013

Getting The Abbey Habit

Pied wagtail
There was lots of activity at Freeman's Pools today, with wigeon and black-headed gull numbers particularly notable. The small number of 'resident' wigeon had been joined by those from Frog Pond and as a result over thirty were present.
Twenty-eight black-headed gulls were hanging around the gravel island make it look for all the world like an emerging breeding colony. Let's hope not.
There were still 6 tufted ducks in the area plus the usual multiple teal and mallards. There was no sign of any gadwall or shoveler.
The mute swan pair continue to stay on the upper pool, a little egret was patrolling the main pool edges and the ever present coots and moorhens were dotted around the site.
I didn't see the green sandpiper today but it was on The Flood yesterday and the Wildfowlers' Pools most days during the week.
Up to 12 lapwings were displaying over the maize fields in the afternoon sun. They often nest here before the ploughing and 'napalming' commences and lose their first clutches. Thankfully some pairs re-lay and so some lapwing chicks do fledge most years.  

Meadow pipit
Pied wagtails and meadow pipits seem to be everywhere at the moment but I've only seen a single rock pipit in recent days.
One wagtail on The Flood on Wednesday looked very much like a white wagtail, but that would be an extremely early date and therefore highly unlikely. Without my 'scope I wasn't able to clinch it either way. We usually get a few of these passage migrants through in April and The Flood tends to be the most reliable place to find them locally.     

Jenny and I paid a visit to Cockersand Abbey yesterday, stopping briefly at Conder Pool en route. It was high tide and there was little of note to see on the river itself. Of note, a lone greenshank was roosting on the pools and a single whooper swan was feeding with a small group of mutes at the back of the pool.

Jenny, wet and cold at Cockersand Abbey
We checked the fields along Jeremy Lane and out to Cockersands but we didn't find any further yellow-billed swans.
The high tide wader roost at Plover Scar contained a few oystercatcher, a handful of knot, a couple each of dunlin, grey and ringed plover and 108 turnstone.  


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Bunting Hunting

Snow bunting, Morecambe
For one reason and another, Jenny and I had to go through to Morecambe this morning so I thought I'd make my visit really count.
Once we'd finished doing what needed doing we stopped off briefly by the old lifeboat station on the promenade where a snow bunting has been showing well for a couple of days. It didn't take long to find the bird, and I was soon getting great views of the rather tame individual as it picked through the sand and rocks in search of seeds.

Snow bunting, Morecambe
It was flushed once by a couple on the beach walking dogs but the bunting soon returned to feed just below the railings as people, unaware that a scarce bird was just a few feet away, strolled by.
The morning was gloriously bright and I was able to get a few decent snaps of the smart Arctic visitor.
As we proceeded along the seafront we made a quick stop at Teal Bay to check the high tide wader roost. It was heaving with oystercatchers.

Mixed waders roosting at Teal Bay
Mixed in were a few black-tailed godwit, dunlin, redshank, knot and curlew plus the expected gull species. Paddling around the rocks were a few shelduck and half a dozen pintail; the drake pintails looked simply amazing in the brilliant sunlight.

As it was such a lovely day and I still have a week and a half until I start my new job we decided to go to Arnside and take a stroll up Arnside Knott.

Looking toward Morecambe and the Bay
I haven't been up Arnside Knott for several years (2001?), so I was keen to see what birds I might encounter. Last time I came up here I found a lesser spotted woodpecker in with a winter tit flock, so you never quite know what might turn up.
After a spot of lunch and a fortifying pint of Golden Newt in The Albion we headed for the Knott.
The views over the Kent Estuary and Morecambe Bay were absolutely spectacular.

Looking north from Arnside Knott
Unfortunately the birds were less exciting! It was pretty quiet overall, hardly surprising given the fact that it was early afternoon. 
The highlight was a small flock of dazzling siskins, otherwise it was just common woodland birds such as great tit, blackbird, wren and robin. We also had excellent views of both raven and common buzzards cruising over the slopes.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian waxwing, Lancaster
There is something undeniably alluring about waxwings. Their nomadic lifestyle, exotic beauty and relative tameness all add to their unquestionable appeal. In eruption years we all hope to find our own waxwings and it seems that no matter how many we've seen in the past we will always make time to go and look at these enigmatic wanderers when they appear in our region.
I missed the first big wave in the autumn and so by the time I returned to the UK in December most had passed through the North West. There was even a considerable flock of up 85 birds present barely 30 metres from my house in mid-November.
I have caught up with, or bumped into, a small number of waxwings since my return but I was pleasantly surprised to discover a flock of 22 near the Millennium Orchard this morning.
I first heard their distinctive trill, then noticed the birds as they flew a short distance to a birch where they sat for some time before heading off once more. After an hour or so, I came back to the spot armed with my camera and manged to get a couple of half-decent shots as they fed on some berries on an ornamental shrub in a garden on Sunnyside Close. There were only 5 waxwings present at this time.

Cedar waxwings, Victoria BC
In North America this species is known as Bohemian waxwing, and on Vancouver Island they are a scarce visitor best looked for among flocks of the much commoner cedar waxwings. The latter species is easily found in BC and had I known just how often I would see them in Canada I may not have bothered twitching that one in Nottingham back in 1996!
After all, seeing cedar waxwings greedily feasting on winter berries or flycatching from a Douglas fir certainly seems more appealing than watching on while standing outside a pork pie factory on a busy main road in the east Midlands...

In other news, it's been a fairly slow week down at Aldcliffe. The smew seems to have prematurely vacated Freeman's Pools. In 2012 and 2010 it hung around well into late March, so it may well yet make a reappearance. Otherwise a pair of shoveler turned up midweek and were still there today along with 3 gadwall, 18 teal, 1 tufted duck and a pair of dapper little grebes looking resplendent in their summer garb.
The green sandpiper seems to have settled into a routine at the Wildfowlers' Pools for now and can be seen relatively easily from the metal gate on the path or from Dawson's Bank.
The barn owl has been putting on a decent show too, though it has been a little erratic in its arrival time on a couple of occasions.
On the mammal front, I've seen a couple of brown hares and a billion brown rats. Oh, and a weasel showed well on the path near Walled Meadow on Wednesday.
With the weather turning decidedly wintry once more it looks like we'll have to wait a little longer before we see the first returning spring migrants. Sand martin, northern wheatear, chiffchaff and little-ringed plover should all turn up before the end of the month if conditions allow.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Seaside Sightings

Inspired by the lovely bright morning I hopped on a train and headed out to Morecambe for some sea air today.
It was low tide when I arrived around 10.15am and I strolled down the Stone Jetty checking the exposed sands and channels for waders.
Curlew, redshank and oystercatcher were present in good numbers and a handful of turnstone (pictured) were picking through the seaweed-strewn rocks off the jetty end.
Further out a group of around 160 black-tailed godwit were probing the mud while up to 1,000 knot rested on the banks of the main channel.

Black-headed gull
 Shelducks and cormorants were scattered around and all
the expected gulls were seen; common, herring, lesser and great black-backed as well as the ever-present black-headed gulls (pictured).
A single grey wagtail was heard passing overhead. 

Later in the day I found time to pop down to Aldcliffe just before dusk and found the green sandpiper slowly making its way around the water's edge at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
The barn owl appeared a little later than yesterday (when it emerged just before 6pm) showing up around quarter past. Once again it showed beautifully, if briefly, in the lingering light.
Sunset by the River Lune

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Attractive Blonde at Aldcliffe

Leucistic pink-footed goose (top right)
Thanks to the mostly mild and bright weather this week my forays into the birding world have been very pleasant, if somewhat unremarkable.
Most days I've managed to find time for a visit to Aldcliffe but as is often the case in late winter there's a sort of sense of déjà vu, with little variation from day to day. At least the fine and sunny days have urged a few birds to indulge in a little early spring behaviour with singing robins, chaffinches, song thrushes and greenfinches all in good voice.  
Lapwings have been displaying over the maize stubble fields and the glorious sound of skylarks is becoming increasingly heard over the marsh.
Out on the marsh the number of pink-footed geese has fluctuated slightly throughout the week peaking at around 3,500-4,00 birds yesterday (Saturday). I had a good scan through them in the morning before the heat haze caused them to meld into a shimmering, honking mass of unidentifiable grey blobs but I couldn't find any other species among them. A single leucistic pinkfoot was particularly interesting; I expect that its distinctive 'blonde' appearance will have ensured that it's been tracked as it moved around the country during the winter. I managed a terrible 'scope shot which at least shows just how pale this bird is.
The redhead smew finally made a reappearance on Friday when it returned to Freeman's Pools along with a couple of goldeneye and 6 tufted duck. I hadn't seen the smew for several days despite checking the pools regularly and I still have absolutely no idea where it disappears to when AWOL.

One really lovely development this week involved the appearance of a huge pile of (what I think is) asbestos that was kindly dumped on the cycle track by some generous individual. Not content with simply fly-tipping this car-sized mound of poisonous waste on a public pathway the carefree dumper also managed to cover half of the track just to prevent farm traffic from being able to go about its business. What a champ.
I expect that the offender is making a nice profit on the renovation they're doing; I for one am delighted that my local taxes are being used to clean up after them. Not. 
Should you happen to see someone doing this kind of thing and you can safely get a vehicle registration number or photo of the act, I urge you to do so.
The number to call to report fly-tipping incidents to Lancaster City Council is (01524) 582491.

Pied wagtail numbers continue to grow with up to 40 birds around the Flood and the Wildfowlers' Pools. The green sandpiper was feeding in one of the channels off the Wildfowler's Pools today (Sunday) and snipe have been putting on a good show lately with up to 7 feeding out on the pool edges.

Lancaster Castle viewed from FAUNA nature reserve
Snipe are also a feature at the recently established Fairfield FAUNA nature reserve.           
When Jenny and I were walking by this suburban sanctuary midweek we noticed a couple of the cryptic waders feeding in the boggy grass. On closer inspection there were actually 4 present, all just about visible in the accompanying pic.
I'll be trying to keep an eye on this place in the coming weeks. In the past, before the habitat 'improvements', this area regularly attracted a suite of interesting spring migrants including whimbrel, redstart, whinchat and cuckoo. Even wood warbler and pied flycatcher have passed through.

4 snipe - go on, find them.
With a favoured hedgerow no longer present and a footpath that now bisects the site it may prove less appealing to some migrants...
Even the once obscured pool that regularly hosted a range of passage waders including common and green sandpipers is now totally exposed and way too close to the new path to attract birds for more than a short visit. 
Nevertheless, with plans afoot to secure further land adjoining the reserve it really has the potential to become quite an important green space on the city's edge. Even if the birds don't like it as much as they used to, at least it won't get lost to development and surely that can only be a good thing.

The Admiralty Wood at Aldcliffe
In nearby Admiralty Wood the resident little owls continue to be seen. We spotted a snoozing bird snuggled tight against the trunk of a large tree as we strolled by a couple of days ago. They can be really tricky to locate here so it's always a treat to clap eyes on the wee predators.