Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tues Company

Spent a couple of hours this morning prowling around the patch in the vague hope that something half decent might have magically appeared in the Aldcliffe area. Alas, nothing out of the ordinary was in evidence but it was a pleasant enough way to spend some time.
All was as expected at Freeman's Pools, though an adult little gull flying around off Marsh Point was a pleasing sight.

Spot the bird...
14 fieldfare were feeding in the maize stubble fields.  
Out on the marsh the recently absent greylags were back en masse, with around 150 pink-footed geese keeping them company.
A pair of shoveler were still on the Wildfowlers' Pools but other than a little grebe and multiple coot and moorhen it was pretty quiet there.
Once again there was a jack snipe at Snipe Bog.
Six skylark passed over, in ones and a group of three, all heading south.
A little owl was at Admiralty Wood (pictured).

I came across a nice female stonechat while walking home from the RSPB office yesterday. It was by School Pond in the FAUNA nature reserve in Fairfield, Lancaster. Spring must be on its way!


Friday, 21 February 2014

I'm All Right Jack

The bright skies and sunshine were enough to lure me out onto the patch for the rising tide this afternoon. It stayed dry, but man was it breezy!

First off, I checked Freeman's Pools. The usual mix of wigeon, teal, mallard and gadwall were loafing around on and around the island. A little grebe and couple each of moorhen and coot were paddling around and a couple of drake goldeneye were busy displaying energetically to 5 females, of which only one was paying any attention...
A few black-headed gulls, lapwings and a pair of oystercatcher were also on the island.
Along the cycle track it was rather too windy for much passerine activity, though it was nice to see a grey wagtail in the exact spot as the colour-ringed one a few weeks back. Unfortunately, this bird was unringed.
Talking of which, there's a grey wag roost on the canal outside the RSPB offices at White Cross where Gav Thomas and I managed to see a colour-ringed bird earlier in the week. Information received proves it to be a bird that was caught and shackled at Heysham Observatory in September.
Over on the Wildfowlers' Pools a group of 9 shoveler (3 drakes) were new in.
There was nothing of note among the roosting gulls at the Flood, though 4 tufted duck were on the water. Good numbers of curlew, redshank and oystercatcher were feeding there too.
A quick scan of the marsh revealed nowt, but a jack snipe was a nice find at Snipe Bog.
When I was doing the WeBS count on Sunday it struck me that large gulls were notable only by their absence - today, by contrast there were plenty of herring and lesser black-backed gulls on the estuary. What a difference a few days make!


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Mongrel Duck Creates WeBS of Deceit

On Monday I had a meeting at Sizergh Castle, home of the famous hawfinches. Unfortunately I wasn't due there until 1pm so I held out little hope of actually seeing any. We arrived at the Castle around 12.30pm in the persistent drizzle and made our way to the temporary cafe. Naturally I kept a beady eye out for any chunky finch action and was delighted to find a single bird sat high in a large tree. I alerted my colleagues to its presence and it showed nicely before flying a short distance before landing on the top an even larger tree. Not a bad bird to get while technically at work...    

On Sunday I did my old WeBS count from Aldcliffe to Conder. This stretch is now ably managed by Steve Wallis but he was unable to do it this month and so I was quite happy to reacquaint myself with the survey that I spent around 20 years doing.
And what a day! The horrendous winds had dropped and it was bright and quite sunny. A rare thing these days...
I first did my count at Freeman's Pools, which was pretty unremarkable, before starting the Aldcliffe to Conder stretch. Kicking off at Marsh Point, I walked along Dawson's Bank to Aldcliffe Hall Lane, beyond the Walled Meadow and from then on along the cycle track to Conder.
A pair of adult Mediterranean gulls, including one almost in full breeding garb, were among a large group of roosting gulls on Aldcliffe Marsh. A couple of 1st winter birds were seen further along; one at Gull Bank and another on the river at near Ashton Hall.
The most notable bird of the count was the wigeon that I had hoped to find - that hybrid yank that Dan had last week!

Hybrid Eurasian / American wigeon (far right)
I must admit, when I first spotted it at the mouth of the Conder I couldn't really see why it wasn't a pure American wigeon but with no field guide and only my dodgy memory to consult I really couldn't be sure.
Thankfully Ian Hartley came along and between us we pretty much determined that it was likely iffy.
A flying visit by Stuart Piner confirmed our thoughts and we left at least happy to have seen such an instructive bird.
Looks like I should have paid more attention to the many 1000s I saw while living in Canada!
Anyway, here's a rather crappy snap that I managed to get of it before my camera batteries helpfully ran out...
The count in full:
Mute swan 36
Pink-footed goose 732
Greylag 6
Shelduck 96
Mallard 40
Pintail 2
Wigeon 1028
American wigeon hybrid 1
Teal 2
Goldeneye 8
Goosander 4
Little grebe 2
Cormorant 25
Little egret 14
Grey heron 2
Moorhen 30
Coot 11
Oystercatcher 394
Golden plover 462
Lapwing 2290
Dunlin 230
Redshank 577
Spotted redshank 1
Black-t godwit 3
Curlew 334
Snipe 1
Black-headed gull 1188
Common gull 18
Mediterranean gull 4
Herring gull 8
Lesser black-backed gull 35
Great black-backed gull 2

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Music To Watch Gulls By

Spent a couple of hours around the patch this morning, thankful that the forecast wind and rain had held off.
There was quite a bit of activity at Freeman's Pools with plenty of teal, wigeon and gadwall present along with smaller numbers of goldeneye and tufted duck plus a single little grebe.
A couple of grey partridge were in the fields but the pinkfeet had all cleared out.
The flooded Wildfowlers' Pools were quiet with just moorhen, coot, mallard and another little grebe on the water. A couple of oystercatcher were feeding on the edges.
40-plus curlew were busy probing in the wet fields by the Flood. A large concentration of gulls was roosting by the Flood itself. The majority were black-headeds with a few common gulls mixed in. A scan through revealed a smart adult winter Mediterranean gull while in the fields behind a 2nd winter little gull was flying around with more black-heads. A handful of herring gulls and a couple of lesser black-backed gulls joined the throng and a great black-backed gull even flew by just to complete the set.
Aldcliffe marsh was carpeted with waders; golden plover, lapwing, dunlin and curlew were all present in good numbers. Just 4 common snipe were seen at Snipe Bog.

All this talk of gulls reminds me - as I arrived at Bay View Garden Centre at Bolton-le-Sands on Sunday morning I spotted a 1st winter little gull in the fields by the shore. It was with a small flock of black-headed gulls briefly, before taking off and heading into Morecambe Bay. It was then that I thought to myself, I really should be out birding today...
Later that day I received a message from Jenny to say that my mate Rich Moonie had called from Woking, Surrey to tell me that there was a Ross's gull at Leighton Moss! I was 10 minutes away and unable to leave until 4pm at the earliest!
I hurtled along to Leighton as soon as I could only to arrive minutes after all the gulls had flown off to roost. Arse.
Now, I'm not too disposed to twitching but I do like to see rare birds within the Lancaster & District recording area and the last time I saw a Ross's gull was 20 years ago at Rossall Point, Fleetwood so this would have been a real treat to see locally. And now that I've seen Chris Batty's excellent photos of this bird (it was a cracking pink adult) I'm even more gutted to have missed it!
Ironically, I had just emailed off my Birdwatch column copy to The Visitor newspaper in which I remark upon the lack of unusual birds currently in the area this winter.

The sharp-eyed among you may have spotted the new tab at the top of the page 'Goa & Karnataka, 2014'. On this page you will find some bird and critter pics from mine and Jenny's recent trip to India. A written report will be added to the page shortly.


Friday, 7 February 2014

Half A Yank

After a couple of weeks enjoying the dazzling sights of stork-billed kingfishers, Brahminy kites and crimson-backed sunbirds in southern India I returned to the patch last weekend to find things, well, much as I'd left them.
Freeman's Pools were still hosting the usual selection of wildfowl; goldeneye, gadwall, wigeon, teal etc.
The ongoing wet weather had ensured that the flooded cycle path was even more flooded while the Wildfowlers' Pools had expanded somewhat to cover most of the fields. The Flood itself was certainly adhering to its name.
Despite this excess of water, there are still comparatively few birds really using these temporary 'lakes'. In past years when water levels have been high we have seen notable influxes of wildfowl and waders but the continued mild and damp weather just doesn't seem to be moving birds around.
A few pink-footed geese are still kicking around the Aldcliffe area with around 650 grazing in the fields between the track and the drumlins. Yesterday (Thursday) at least 1,000 more were up and down on the other side of the Lune - in the Heysham bypass area.
The big news from yesterday however concerned a bird discovered floating along the river at Stodday. Aldcliffe regular Dan had found a curious anas duck which he identified as a hybrid American/Eurasian wigeon.

Eurasian & American wigeon - Victoria BC
I've been optimistically scanning through the Lune wigeon flocks for years hoping to locate a vagrant yank wigeon but this at least comes close! I'll be keeping my eye out for this dodgy looking individual, and who knows, maybe one of its parents is close by?
This completely mirrors my activities in Canada where I would regularly spend hours sifting through American wigeon flocks in search of their Eurasian congeners...