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!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

A Lakes Escape

The view from the osprey watchpoint at Dodd Wood
Everything came together just nicely earlier this week. We had a great forecast, Monday and Tuesday were my 'weekend' and I was off work, and it was Jenny's birthday week too.
So, we decided to head to the hills and drove the paltry hour and a bit to Keswick in the Lake District.
Jenny was keen to reacquaint herself with Catbells, a place she had walked frequently as a child, and I wanted to visit the Osprey Watchpoint at Dodd Wood.
Add to these obvious and wonderful attractions the lure of some excellent Cumbrian ales and food and voilà! - we have the perfect mini-break.

Jenny on the ascent
We headed first to Dodd Wood and from the vantage point overlooking Bassenthwaite we were able to see the osprey nest in the distance. Even at range we could see the female moving around as she sat low in the large nest and at one point the male flew in from the lake.
Having failed to spot any migrant ospreys at Aldcliffe this spring - there were very few seen locally on passage this year - I was delighted to finally catch up with an English osprey.
For some reason I had never visited this site before despite the fact that ospreys first bred here in 2001.
One of the greatest conservation stories of recent times, the Bassenthwaite birds were the first wild ospreys to breed in the Lake District for over 150 years.
Nice to hear good news concerning birds of prey for a change... 

After a plate full of excellent stodge at our B&B on Tuesday morning we got the boat across Derwent Water to Hawes End from where we proceeded to Catbells.
Blessed with glorious weather it was an enjoyable and easy walk up and along the ridge to 451 metres (1,480 ft). 
On the lower slopes a male yellowhammer was singing away, and as we climbed meadow pipits became increasingly conspicuous. We came across a pair of wheatear on the western slopes and a raven 'cronked' overhead but otherwise it was pretty quiet bird wise. 

Me on the first peak
At the foot of the fell we followed a dry stone wall bordering a classic lakeland oak wood which was alive with the sound of singing willow warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and other common breeders.
I kept my ears and eyes out for redstart, pied flyctacher and wood warbler but I didn't have any luck locating any.

Tawny owl
I did however spot a smart tawny owl checking us out from its daytime roost, allowing a quick snap.
We made it back to the boat launch and caught the ferry back to Keswick in time for a late lunch, after which we headed back home having had a great time re-familiarising ourselves with this beautiful part of the world.


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Here, there and everywhere...

Blimey - I can't believe that I haven't posted anything here for over 3 weeks! That isn't in any way a reflection of the amount of birding that I've done, but more perhaps a reflection of the quality...
It's been a pretty crappy spring as far as Aldcliffe's concerned, or at least it has been in my experience (bar the odd corncrake, otter, etc).
Add to that the fact that my new job has had me all over the place and I've really struggled to find the time to actually sit down and write a post.
The great thing about my peripatetic lifestyle is that I do get to see a few birds here and there that are ordinarily pretty tough to find in North Lancashire. While on the East coast I have seen yellow wagtails, little terns, yellowhammers and puffins amongst other things.

Joining in the Puffin Fest fun...
Talking of puffins, I had the great pleasure of attending the Amble Puffin Festival in Northumberland. Celebrating the nearby colony of the ever-popular auks on Coquet Island, this event was organised by the town in conjunction with the RSPB, who manage the island reserve.
Unfortunately the day I arrived the weather prevented me from taking a trip out to the island, and the following day I was too busy to find the time. Given that the island hosts a remarkable 90% of the UK's breeding roseate terns, this was something of shame!
In recent weeks I've also paid visits to the RSPB's Saltholme reserve in Teeside, Fairburn Ings in West Yorkshire and the newly opened St Aidan's reserve just outside Leeds.   

Courting common terns at Preston Dock
Last weekend I was at Preston Docks where I joined members of the Fylde Bird Club to help raise the profile of the common tern colony there.
These dainty seabirds first bred at this location in 2009 and following the provision of some artificial nesting sites the colony had grown to an impressive 30 pairs in 2012. Over 80 birds were present while I was there on the Saturday but up to 165 had been counted earlier in that week.
An amazing urban wildlife success by any standards, the volunteers from FBC really deserve to be praised for their efforts in Preston.  

When able, I have continued to get down to Aldcliffe pretty regularly but my visits haven't coincided with anything much of note. Another patch worker Dan, did bag a fine adult hobby at Freeman's Wood on May 14. This dynamic falcon can be expected annually in the Aldcliffe area these days but their appearances are at best erratic and unpredictable.  
A few personal noteworthy mentions include an off-passage whinchat on May 20, the reappearance of a pair of drake tufted duck on 28th and the first coot chicks a week ago, while the Freeman's Pool island pair finally hatched 3 young on May 31.
Of course swifts are all over the place now, and sedge warblers are much in evidence around the patch. 

Broad-bodied chaser
Yesterday I dropped by the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides at Leighton Moss for the first time since they were rebuilt and re-opened. Other than the many breeding avocets and black-headed gulls it was pretty quiet. What wasn't so quiet was the Cetti's warbler that was blasting away just outside the Allen Hide! It even showed well, if briefly before disappearing over the railway line to continue its clamorous activities.
On the main reserve I came across my first odonata since returning to the UK. Up to 3 female-type (or newly emerged males?) broad-bodied chasers were showing well alongside the path near Tim Jackson hide. I couldn't resist taking a couple of snaps.
Spotted flycatcher
On my way home from Leighton, I dropped by to see my folks at their home in Hornby. They had told me of a pair of spotted flycatcher that had been visiting the garden and as I hadn't yet seen one this year I thought I'd take a peek. We watched one bird as it repeatedly brought nesting material to one area, so fingers crossed we will be able to observe the successful raising of a brood of these 'red' listed migrants. 

Now that I have finally updated this blog, I will endeavour to keep posting...