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...