Monday, 29 December 2014

White-front Wonderland

Another cold night meant more frost and iced-over pools, so I got out nice and early today.

At Freeman's Pools many of the birds were hugging the banks. These included 8 wigeon, 41 teal, 22 mallard, 17 gadwall, 3 tufted duck and 2 little grebes. Coot numbers remain steady at around the 40 mark. The upper pools were frozen over so there was nothing there.

I've been half-expecting a wandering bittern or Cetti's warbler to appear in the reed areas lately; they're my new favourite candidates in the 'Next New Bird For Aldcliffe' sweepstake...

White-fronted geese with greylags & Canada geese
The sound of geese coming off the estuary had me rolling my eyes - I'd decided to give my back a rest and leave the 'scope at home today, given the total absence of such birds over the past two days.
Walking along Dawson's Bank I soon spotted a group of c450 greylag and Canadas grazing on the river's edge.
A quick scan through with binocs and I could just about pick out the 5 Eurasian white-fronted geese among them. Even at range they stood out reasonably well among the larger greylags.
There were few other geese around initially, though a decent sized skein of pinkfeet dropped in later.

The ice cover meant that most of the smaller areas of water were frozen and bird-free. Just a few waders including curlew, lapwing, redshank and dunlin were feeding in the fields near the Flood.
Songbird activity along the cycletrack was fairly minimal with a handful of fieldfare joining the numerous blackbirds in the hawthorns. A party of 5 bullfinch were near the Wildfowlers' Pools along with a scattering of goldfinch, chaffinch and greenfinch.

A real sign of cold-weather movement was the flock of 31 skylarks in the stubble field - it's quite a rare sight to see numbers like this on the patch in winter these days!


Sunday, 28 December 2014

Winter Of Discontent

Following sightings of the 5 white-fronted geese on Christmas Day (Pete Crooks) and Boxing Day (Graham Jones) I headed off to Aldcliffe Marsh yesterday with expectations of getting a few snaps of the birds. Unfortunately, someone had seemingly pre-warned them and the Aldcliffe area was completely bereft of ansers.
Well, not completely - there were 5 Canadas and single greylag. Great.
In fact I probably spent two-and-a-half of the most boring birding hours I've endured for ages. This has got to be the dullest winter since, well, last winter. Even the drop in temperature hasn't been significant enough to drive anything in and the number of birds on the pools has barely altered in weeks.
A few redwing and fieldfare brightened up the morning as they flitted about the hawthorns.
The recent high tides had thrown up a decent rack of stuff for smaller birds to forage in and tideline feeders included goldfinch, chaffinch, pied wagtail, meadow pipit and a couple of reed bunting.

Minus 0 temperatures overnight had me stepping out again this morning, as always in the hope that there might be something 'new in' on the patch. Freeman's Pools were much as I'd left them the previous day; the only 'good' bird was a woodcock flushed from the pathside in Freeman's Wood.
I met Pete Crooks at Marsh Point and we headed along Dawson's Bank once again noting the absence of geese. A couple of small groups of pinkfeet and a small skein of greylags were the only geese seen. Presumably the whitefronts have moved off with the large groups of Canadas and greylags - maybe into the Lune Valley? I expect they may yet return...
On the estuary and the surrounding fields were good numbers of lapwing, golden lover, curlew and redshank plus a few dunlin here and there. We couldn't dig out any Meds from the assembled black-headed gulls and had to make do with getting excited about a couple of sparrowhawks and the occasional little egret


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Good News For Freeman's Wood

The following (in italics) is a summary from a Green Party leaflet posted to Marsh area residents earlier this week.

In 2012 the Friends of Freeman's Wood & Coronation Field (FFW) submitted an application to Lancashire County Council for three footpaths across the field which have been fenced off. The group had gathered evidence from local people who had been using these paths 'as of right' for decades.
Last week (17th Dec) the County Council's Regulatory Committee agreed to take the first step toward adding these paths to their definitive map of public rights of way.
Obviously the land-owner will object and will certainly attempt to prevent the footpaths from being approved. 
The FFW want to hear from others who have used this now fenced-off area for recreational purposes prior to 2011.

I have many years' worth of birding and general wildlife records from this area dating back to the late 1980s. I will be summarizing this info and making it available in an attempt to prevent this land from being developed and would urge anyone who has accessed this great area over the years to also provide details.
Not only has this plot of land attracted such cracking birds as subalpine warbler, yellow-browed warbler, hobby and great grey shrike but also holds a host of nesting species including tawny owllesser whitethroat and sedge warbler plus amber listed breeders including whitethroat and bullfinch. Wintering short-eared owl and woodcock also occur frequently. Mammals include brown hare and roe deer.

If you wish to add your voice to the weight of this campaign to keep the area open for public use you can email the FFW secretary Emily Heath at


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Geese Are Getting Fat

Eurasian white-fronted geese
Following the discovery of 5 Eurasian white-fronted geese on the Lune on Friday, I headed off to Aldcliffe Marsh this morning with the hope that they may still be around. Initially seen from the Golden Ball on the Oxcliffe side of the river, the quintet were apparently associating with greylags, rather than pinkfeet.
I eventually discovered the whitefronts grazing toward the river's edge about halfway between Marsh Point and Aldcliffe Hall Lane.
They were distant, but I managed a couple of digi-scope record shots. Also among the usual mass of Canada geese and greylags were just a handful of pink-footed geese plus at least 6 orange-collared greylags.

Whooper swans
The expected groups of mute swan on Aldcliffe Marsh had attracted a pair of whooper swans - earlier a flock of 7 had passed over but continued on toward Glasson.
Good numbers of redwing and fieldfare were feeding in the hawthorns. In the maize fields 7 stock doves continue to be a regular sight.
In the wet fields black-headed and common gulls were feeding but there no Med gulls among them.
A few oystercatcher and redshank were scattered among 112 curlew, all busily probing the soft earth.

Collared greylag
At Freeman's Pools there was a slight increase in the number of tufted duck, now numbering a barely impressive seven. Half a dozen wigeon, 19 gadwall and the usual teal and mallard were also joined by a single goldeneye.
Several of the little grebe seemed to have moved out, leaving just a couple on the pools.
The lone Canada goose with the pink ring seems to have succumbed; its lifeless form was being methodically picked over by a couple of carrion crows on the island.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Distant Drum(lin)s

With an eye of the high mid-day tide I headed off for a spot of Aldcliffe birding late morning.
The most two most notable things today were the numbers of winter thrushes and finches and the presence of several hundred pink-footed geese in the fields.
For the first time in quite a while I was coming across actual flocks of chaffinches; starting with 20+ along the footpath from the Millenium Orchard up to the Admiralty Wood near Aldcliffe hamlet. There was a report of brambling from here yesterday on the FAUNA blog but I couldn't locate any today. I did notice that that were 3 linnet and a couple of greenfinch among the chaffinches and that they were feeding in the weedy areas of the arable field. An area well worth keeping an eye on over the winter.
All the way down Aldcliffe Hall Lane and along the cycle track and into Freeman's Wood there were yet more chaffinches, linnets and greenfinches in varying numbers. More notable still were the many blackbirds, along with smaller numbers of song thrush, redwing and fieldfare.

Pink-footed geese on the Aldcliffe drumlins
Up on the drumlins there were around 800 or so pink-footed geese but as I only had my bins with me a thorough scrutiny was out of the question. At that range, in good light, at least I could see that there was nothing as obvious as a barnacle goose lurking among the ranks, but the odd beans or even whitetfront would be tricky to say the least. If they stick around I may get chance to 'scope them tomorrow...

At Freeman's Pools it was business as usual with no new arrivals to excite a local patch birder.
Nearby 6 skylarks were buzzing around the maize fields while 4 grey partridge were feeding in an adjacent field. Another small covey of 4 partridge were also in fields up nearer the village.
Just a lone common snipe was at Snipe Bog and the dearth of rock pipits was in no way compensated by the single meadow pipit by The Channel.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Red Rings Read

Freeman's Pools at Dusk
For a number of weeks now I have been making regular dusk visits to Freeman's Pools in search of owls. So far, I haven't had any success but it's still early days. At the very least I'm hoping for a wintering barn owl, while short-eared owl also has a good track record at the site. And of course, a repeat of the long-eared owl action we witnessed back in 2009 would be most welcome!
Dusk is an interesting time even still with many species still very active into darkness. A kingfisher was attempting to catch one last meal of the day in very poor light and both kestrel and sparrowhawk were putting in plenty of effort. The kestrel struck lucky with a field vole, while the sparrowhawk failed an attempt to snatch a starling from the mini-murmuration taking place over the pools. Meanwhile a stoat was snaking its way through the waterside vegetation.
A few more cold nights and we may well see an migrant owl or two appearing on the patch as they head for food-rich coastal areas.

Frosty Freeman's Pools
The frosty start to the day made quiet a welcome change this morning. However, I think we'll need a few more days of sustained cold conditions if we're going to see much wildfowl movement in the Aldcliffe area.
Things were much the same on the ponds and pools this morning, with the usual number of coot, gadwall, mallard, tufted duck, teal and little grebe present. A single goldeneye was on one of the upper ponds and a kingfisher was again at the sluiced pool. A pair of reed bunting were busy extracting seeds from the reed heads.
Elsewhere, a great-crested grebe was on the Lune off Marsh Point and the wintering greenshank was out on the marsh.
Four grey partridge were feeding in the fields and a common buzzard was cruising around searching for something to eat. 3 siskins flew over toward Freeman's Wood and a party of 4 bullfinch were in the hawthorns along the cycle track. All the expected winter thrushes were seen in varying numbers.
Several hundred geese, presumably pinkfeet, were wheeling around in the distance somewhere over Oxcliffe / Heysham, while the usual gaggle of greylags and Canada geese were scattered around the marsh. The bar-headed goose was among these.

Talking of geese, there were two Canadas on Freeman's Pools today, each sporting both a BTO metal and a red darvic ring. Whether the original lone goose of recent weeks has been joined by another ringed individual, or the lone goose has gone and been replaced by two 'new' ringed birds I cannot say. Regardless, I was able to read the letters on these two birds' rings and will doubtless discover their origins to be no further than than Windermere, where a ringing project has been in place for some time. 


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Snooping For Snipe

FAUNA Nature Reserve, Lancaster
On Monday morning I joined in with the monthly snipe flush at the FAUNA nature reserve in Lancaster.
During the winter months a small number of volunteers (usually just 2-3 people) systematically walk the boggy areas of the reserve in order to put up any snipe so that they can get an accurate count of the number of birds using the site.

We started off well, flushing 3 woodcock in an area of Upper Sowerholme where this species has been seen in the past. The presence of three woodcock here strongly suggests that this could be a regular wintering area for a small number of these elusive birds.
Next we worked our way through School Pond, putting up an impressive 47 common snipe and a single jack snipe. There were also 20 teal here.
A further 23 common snipe and another jack snipe were flushed from Big Meadow.

As temperatures drop and winter sets in, it seems likely that could see notable increases in the number of snipe roosting here. It will certainly be interesting to see how many birds are found on counts in January and February. I for one, will be more than happy to join Graham, Glenys and Paul on their future snipe quests.