Thursday, 30 April 2015

White Stripes

Garganey by Dan Heywood
A last minute decision to quickly pop down to Freeman's Pools before setting off for a meeting up at the Lake District Osprey Project this morning proved worthwhile.
The pools looked quiet but nonetheless there were a small number of birds on the water.
A couple of gadwall, a coot, little grebe, a couple of garganey... a swift double-take.
Yep, a smart pair of that loveliest of dabbling ducks was swimming alongside a gadwall pair. The drake's unmistakable white stripes dazzled in the morning sun.
I called Dan just in case he was in the area and sure enough he was. Within 5 minutes he had arrived at the pools and was soon snapping a couple of long-range record shots.
For a while garganey were seen annually around the Aldcliffe patch, both in spring and autumn, but as far as I am aware the two gracing the pools this morning are the first to be seen here since April 2009!
Other stuff around the pools included a couple of sedge warblers, lots of whitethroats and blackcaps and a female redstart plus the other usual bits and bobs.


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Three Is The Magic Number

A couple of hours spent bumbling around Aldcliffe this morning was a little more productive than of late.
Now, don't get me wrong; I love a bit of sunshine and time spent on the patch on glorious spring days are hard to beat but there's a lot to be said for cloud and drizzle at migration time.
Things seemed much the same around Freeman's Wood and the Pools. Blackcaps, willow warblers and chiffchaffs were all in fine voice while a great spotted woodpecker hammered out its territorial claims.

With the annual lapwing nest annihilation having got underway on Thursday, it was heartening at least to see the muck-spreading going on today, before any birds have had chance to re-lay. Even so, I'm sure the seeding will be implemented just in time to trash a few more eggs yet.
So far I hadn't seen any lapwing chicks in the fields; they must have been so close to hatching. This is a clear demonstration of the kind of appalling farming practice that's at the heart of massive national declines in so many farmland birds. And all for some shitty cattle-grade maize...

Along with the distressed lapwings, there were also several linnets and a single wheatear in the area. Then came my first patch-year tick of the day, a cracking male whinchat on the hedge. Lovely!
The drizzle stepped up a notch and within seconds dozens of house martins and swallows, along with a few sand martins, descended.

I made my way to the Wildfowlers' Pools where the highlight was a pair of dazzling summer-plumage black-tailed godwits.
In the nearby hedgerow I heard my second patch year-tick of the day; sedge warbler. About time too!
The Flood was bereft of birds bar a couple of pairs of shelduck. Where are all the white wagtails this year?
As I walked along the path past Walled Meadow my third and final patch year-tick zoomed into view. A swift bombed by at eye level heading toward Stodday.
For me, the sight of a first annual swift is about as enthralling as birding gets. I actually gasped out loud and my pulse notably raced as this scythe-winged master of the air shot by. Pure magic. 

I detected a distinct increase in common whitethroat activity around the Aldcliffe area this morning, yet oddly didn't hear a single lesser whitethroat.


Monday, 20 April 2015

The White Stuff

A very pleasant couple of hours in the morning sunshine today was certainly good for the soul, even if the birding was, on the whole, a bit dull.
It started out rather encouragingly with what appeared to be a significant influx of blackcaps - birds were singing all over the shop. Freeman's Wood was positively hopping with them and both males and females were seen in good numbers. The now-familiar strains of willow warbler and chiffchaff also filled the air but I couldn't detect anything 'new'.
I checked the pools for garganey (ever hopeful) but drew a blank. Even yesterday's drake goosander had moved on. On the plus side two pairs of gadwall remain along with a little ringed plover...
The migrant-friendly perimeter hedges were bereft of anything notable and there weren't even any hirundines over the water.
The Lune was almost birdless although there were still 4 lingering pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Checking the stubble fields I came across a couple of wheatear, 2 stock dove and the flock of 50-60 linnet. There are plenty of sitting lapwing but no sign of any early young yet - the fields haven't yet been ploughed but I'm sure it's just a matter of days before the egg-smashing machinery arrives on site.
Four more little ringed plover were on the Flood.
Another wheatear was on the tideline by Walled Meadow.
A couple of high-drifting buzzards had me hopeful for the briefest of moments and a grand total of 3 northbound swallows further emphasized the lack of overall movement.

Just as I'd given up hope of seeing anything 'new' I heard the soft mutterings of a whitethroat in subsong, and after a minute or two of hedge-scanning I found the culprit. It was soon followed by another, barely 50 metres along in the same hedgerow. Nice!


Friday, 17 April 2015

More Migs

An early morning visit to the patch yesterday (16th) proved to be very productive and yielded a few surprise species amongst the regulars. The walk to the patch got off to a good start with a pair of Coal Tits feeding in the pine trees along the canal, the first time I've seen the species on patch this year. Another first for the year was a pair of Tree Sparrows calling loudly in Aldcliffe village itself, a further 2 were seen flying north later. The mornings highlight came soon after as one of those great spring calls was heard as I walked down the lane, a Tree Pipit heading north, my first of the year.

Down at the Flood there were just 2 Little Ringed Plover present, and just across the path the marsh was pretty quiet however the wintering Greenshank put in an appearance and 8 Pink-footed Geese were feeding near the river. The river itself was quickly filling up with tidal water and it was here that the biggest surprise of the day appeared. I had been hoping for an Eider on patch since January but had failed to find any, so was very surprised to see a group of 18 resting on the river bank including 14 males. 3 Red-breasted Mergansers were also feeding on the river and further down towards Glasson 4 Goldeneye could be seen. The regular pair of Ravens were making their presence known overhead and a pair of Stock Dove were spotted on one of the barns on the far side of the river.

Walking up the cycle path revealed an abundance of singing Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and the first of what turned out to be a constant stream of Swallows barrelled its way north overhead. Over the course of the next hour at least 75 Swallows headed straight through north, being overshadowed be an even stronger passage of Sand Martins with over 100 logged during the same period. In the Stubble Field the wintering flock of Linnet were showing well with about 60 birds present, unfortunately I couldn't find any Twite amongst them, perhaps a little late in the season.

Freeman's Pool was quiet due to work taking place around the margins so I headed up to Marsh Point. The tide was fully in now and a fresh in Common Sandpiper was flying around over the river. 2 Little Ringed Plover appeared from the south and circled the river for a short while before returning back south and appearing to land near the Flood, perhaps the same pair as earlier? A Stoat briefly emerged onto the path before spotting me and scuttling back into the undergrowth.

My patch yearlist now stands at a very respectable 96 species (and I've miss 15-20 species recorded by Jon and Dan!).


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Good To Be Back

After a couple of weeks back at home for the Easter break it was very nice to get back out onto the patch this afternoon, especially with the summer migrants back in numbers. I got off to a good start with the fields either side of Pony Wood being newly plowed thus attracting at least 7 Wheatears my first of the year.

Heading down to the Flood it was great to hear both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing, these proved to plentiful across the whole site during the evening. 4 Little Ringed Plovers were feeding on the flood itself.

The first few Swallows flew overhead as I headed along the cycle path and these were joined by a number of Sand Martins over Frog Pond and Freeman's Pool. A quick search in this area produced my main target for the visit, the 2 cracking male Redstarts that Jon had found earlier. These gave wonderful views as they moved up and down the fence and hedgerow flycatching.

A quick check of the river produced nothing of interest bar a gull which briefly got the heart racing before revealing it's true nature as a hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed.

Like Jon yesterday I made the decision to walk back through FAUNA and like Jon it proved to be a good decision when I came across another 2 male Redstarts feeding along the hedgerow adjacent to the allotments. 4 on patch in an afternoon!


My patch yearlist now stands on 90 species.


Angelic Upstarts

Little ringed plover
As I walked toward Freeman's Wood this morning swallows were already making their presence known, flying over the football pitch and heading north.
The songs of willow warblers, blackcaps and chiffchaffs accompanied me as I headed toward Freeman's Pools. It was little cooler than I would have liked but it felt as if it might be a decent enough morning.
The pools were still fairly quiet. The great crested grebe had moved on, though the merganser had been joined by a second bird. Five pairs of gadwall were back on the water and a pair of oystercatcher were once again on the island, along with a lapwing and couple of lesser black backs.
A feeding group of around 60 sand martins and swallows were actively hawking for insects but still no sign of any house martins.
I checked the hedgerow and woodland around Roase Cottage for migrants. This area has turned up pied and spotted flycatchers, ring ouzels, whinchats and redstarts with some regularity over the years so it's always worth a good look.
Sure enough an angelic male redstart flitted out of the hedge to snatch a passing insect. It was soon joined by another and I spent some time watching the dazzling pair flycatching from the hawthorns.
After that exciting start it went somewhat downhill!

Tufted duck
The next hour and a half were relatively unproductive and any other 'new' migrants eluded me. Another couple of pairs of gadwall were at the Wildfowlers' Pools and the lone tufted duck drake was still sitting pretty on Darter Pool (has he got a duck sitting on eggs somewhere nearby?).
There were 6 little ringed plover on The Flood, along with 4 shelduck, 2 redshank, 2 oystercatchers and a single white wagtail with two pieds.


Monday, 13 April 2015

Seeing Red

Male redstart at FAUNA
Mid April? Southerly winds forecast? A day off? Sounds like an opportunity not to be missed!
However, the three or so hours I spent birding Aldcliffe this morning were sadly, not as productive as I'd have liked...

The only really obvious change since my last visit was the increase in willow warblers; they were all over the place along with multiple chiffchaffs.
A few swallows moved through at leisurely pace in ones and twos and a few meadow pipits were grounded here and there. A single sand martin flitted over the marsh heading steadily north.
Three pristine male wheatear were out on the marsh while another was in the stubble fields. Just three little ringed plover were on the Flood along with a pair of smart white wagtails.

Freeman's Pools were curiously quiet with the majority of the regular ducks and little grebes absent; oddly replaced by 'scarce-to-these-pools' visitors - a great crested grebe, a red-breasted merganser and 2 frantically fishing cormorant.
Nearby, on the Lune 5 goosander were seen with a couple of lingering goldeneye.
Presumably feeling left behind following the departure of the Cockerham whoopers the black swan was back on Aldcliffe Marsh again, hanging out with non-breeding mutes. The c50 pinkfeet still seem reluctant to leave.
Two pairs of grey partridge were seen.

A last minute decision to walk home via the Fairfield Orchard and FAUNA reserve rewarded me with a cracking male redstart. A lovely sight poorly captured on my compact point-and-shoot camera and heavily cropped for your viewing pleasure.

Butterflies included peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma.

A late afternoon revisit to Aldcliffe revealed little change bar the sudden arrival of around 30 hirundines (roughly 2/3 sand martin to 1/3 swallow) at Freeman's Pools as a light shower blew through. Within a couple of minutes of the rain ceasing, the birds were gone.  


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Phantom of the Ospreya

Dan here.

After eight fruitless sessions... a good one.


Osprey 1
Merlin 1
Redpoll 1
Swallow 4
Linnet 2
Goldfinch 6
Sand Martin 6 (more later on-- see below)
Meadow Pipit 323

This was the only hour for which I kept a count. MPs and hirundines kept moving all afternoon, with c60 more Sand Martins in twos and threes.

A second Merlin which momentarily perched in a tree also continued N!

Willow Warblers and Blackcaps in Freeman's Wood AM.... also noted a Green Sandpiper, 2 LRPs, 4 Goldcrests and an influx of Chiffchaffs- 17 seen.