Friday, 30 December 2016

The Last Post

I hope that you have all had a jolly old Christmas and that you are all looking forward to a relatively stable 2017... interesting times lay ahead!

On a less contentious note; what's been happening in the Aldcliffe recording area? Well from what I can see, very little. My recent sorties have been fairly uneventful and despite the not-so-big-freeze yesterday there appears to have been little cold-weather movement of birds.
This morning, a dozen goldeneye on Freeman's Pools was the largest recent count of this handsome diving duck.
Generally, there don't seem to be too many around in the LDBWS region this winter and double figure counts are few and far between. Five tufted duck and a scattering of gadwall, wigeon, mallard, teal and coot continue to reside on the pools. 
A pair of roe deer were present this morning - the first I've seen down there for some time.

Canada geese & wigeon
After an absence of several days the greylags and Canada geese were back on the patch with a large gaggle grazing in the Frog Pond field.
When I was working at Leighton Moss on Tuesday a load of greylags were out on the marsh beyond the Eric Morecambe Pools and with them was a pair of white-fronted geese.
Naturally, I'd hoped that maybe these two 'proper' geese might travel with the greylags (if in fact they are the same flock) but there was no sign of them.
Along with the numerous ringed Canadas and collared greylags was a darvic-ringed greylag that I have never seen here before - it'll be interesting to see where that bird has come from!

Grey partridge
Nearby three grey partridge (increasingly hard to find anywhere in North Lancs) were in the maize fields. I wonder how long it will be before we lose this species here altogether?

Raptors-wise, a peregrine was sat out on Colloway Marsh yesterday while three different sparrowhawks (ad male, ad female & 1stw male) were seen at various spots between Freeman's Wood and Aldcliffe Hall Lane today.  

A kingfisher added a splash of colour at the otherwise quiet Wildfowlers' Pools yesterday and a pair were flying down the Lune at Marsh Point this morning.

There are still tons of blackbirds and a few song thrushes in the hawthorns along the cycle track but the bulk of fieldfare and redwing appear to have moved on.

I'll be working at Leighton Moss again tomorrow (NY Eve) so this will be my last post of the year.
Have an enjoyable and safe New Year and here's wishing for a bird-filled 2017!


Friday, 23 December 2016

The Waxwing Cometh

It's been 10 days since my last day off so you can imagine my delight when I saw the forecast for this morning...
Undeterred, I headed out to for a quick check around the patch before Storm Barbara made her unwelcome appearance.
All was quiet.
Other than 5 tufted duck, a handful of coot and a teal Freeman's Pools was birdless.
Frog Pond was a little busier with c60 wigeon in situ plus another 'tuftie'.
Three smallish groups, totaling around 150, of pink-footed geese came down from the drumlins and landed in the fields to the east of the cycle track. Several people have mentioned that a few hundred pinkfeet have been in the area in recent days, with two pale-bellied brent geese among them on the 19th. It's always worth checking through geese at this time of year - who knows what might turn up among the commoner species! 
I then had a look at the Wildfowlers' Pools and The Flood but they were also quiet.
Along the path good numbers of fieldfare and blackbird plus a few redwing were still taking advantage of the bounty of fruit on the many hawthorns.
It will be interesting to see if the storm brings any notable birds to the area in the next few days; I'll certainly be getting out to take a look!

Waxwings at the White Cross, Lancaster
Despite my being tied up with work, it hasn't been an entirely birdless few days.
Having traipsed off to the Greaves area of Lancaster to catch up with waxwings several days ago, I was delighted when they decided to come and see me a earlier this week.
On Monday morning Gav Thomas called me and said "Have you seen waxwings from the office yet?". I replied no, to which he answered "there's 30 in the trees here".
And so a gaggle of RSPB employees tumbled from Cameron House to gawp at the flock, watching in delight as the birds flew down to a berry-laden rowan by the White Cross pub.
And so they remained for the week, delighting (and bemusing) passers-by, local birders and RSPB staff as the flock fluctuated between 10 and up to 60.
We've been able to keep an eye on the birds from the office window ensuring that waxwing is well and truly on the office list!
Apparently the collective noun for waxwings can be either an 'ear-full' or a 'museum'. Personally, I find those both too ridiculous to bother with so I'll stick with flock for now...

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Thrush Fuss

The past few visits I've made to the Aldcliffe area have been fairly uneventful, to be honest. The mild weather seems to be keeping wildfowl numbers at a low while the lack of harsh conditions allows many smaller birds to go about their business with relative ease and be less inclined to flock in numbers.

Duck numbers are overall pretty unimpressive right now with just a couple of goldeneye, 4 or 5 tufted duck and 30-odd each of wigeon and teal kicking around the pools.
Even the semi-resident greylags seem to have pushed off to somewhere more exciting...

Fieldfare & redwings
The one notable upward change has been the influx of thrushes, particularly fieldfare. So far this winter there have been very few fieldfare around the patch but in recent days there have been sizeable flocks feeding in the hawthorns along the cycle track.  
Redwing too, while having been present in fairly decent numbers have also increased significantly, as have blackbirds. A handful of song and mistle thrushes have added to this thrush-fest.

Derbyshire Dusky Delights

Talking of thrushes, the big news in the last week or so has been the discovery of a dusky thrush in Derbyshire.

Dusky thrush
This very rare visitor to the UK breeds in central Siberia and ordinarily spends the winter in south-east Asia, primarily in China.
Naturally such a scarce bird attracts a great deal of attention from the country's birding community and hordes of listers have descended upon the quaint Peak District village of Beeley.
Local media have gone mad with scores of unimaginative sub-editors opting for that perennial favourite headline "Twitchers Flock To...". Sigh. 

Anyhoo, here are a couple of rubbish shots I got yesterday by sticking my phone in front of my 'scope - the thrush was rather too close to get the whole bird in!
For further info about this fab bird and to see a frankly better photo click on this link from the BBC.



Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Going For Goldeneye

Goldeneyes - Freeman's Pools
Following last week's flying visit by a female scaup, it was another classic winter duck species that dropped in on Monday morning.
A considerable flotilla of 14 goldeneye were present at Freeman's Pools for the first couple of hours of daylight with all but two females having moved on by mid-morning.
It doesn't half make you wonder what turns up and subsequently clears off unseen...

Otherwise the big numbers of birds were concentrated on the flooded fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools fields. Here there were large numbers of probing redshank, along with a handful each of curlew, dunlin, snipe and black-tailed godwit.
Approximately 230 black-headed gulls, and a few common gulls, were also taking advantage of whatever abundant food-source had attracted so many birds. Teal too were notably numerous with in excess of 120 dabbling nervously away.
A single rock pipit was on the marsh near The Channel.
The majority of the wintering greylags were reasonably close to Dawson's Bank as I walked back toward Marsh Point and I was able to read the neck collars of 22 birds. Most of these were familiar individuals but there were a few that I had never seen before.

Pied wagtail roost - Lancaster
Many Lancastrians will be aware of the pied wagtails that routinely roost in the city centre in the winter months.
In winters past, they favoured the trees around the car park between Sainsburys and the old Waring & Gillow building on North Road. 
In more recent years this roost has been primarily concentrated in the two small trees at Horseshoe Corner.
Once again, the birds are coming to huddle in these Christmas-light-festooned trees in the late afternoon and I have estimated there to be somewhere in the region of 300 wagtails there. Give or take one or two...
I may be way off the mark with that very loose count and I would welcome any more accurate estimates!

Waxwings - Kendal

And talking of birds in trees (not a unique concept, admittedly) here's a pic of the waxwing flock that I recently saw in Kendal. I reckoned there to be in the region of 65 birds present when I was there.
These dazzling birds seem to be turning up all over the place so, as always, keep an extra special eye out on any ornamental berry-filled rowans or similar, and do pass on any sightings of these nomadic northern beauties.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Scaup Scarpers

I was surprised to see that Freeman's Pools remained unfrozen this morning but as a consequence the number of ducks had increased a fair bit.
Most notably a female scaup had dropped in to join the 12 tufted ducks present. It was present when I checked the pools at at 9.15am but when I returned at 10.40am it had moved on.
Gadwall and teal numbers were up and there were at least 5 little grebes on the pools.
A female sparrowhawk buzzed through causing the ever-wary woodpigeons and redwings to scatter in panic.
Elsewhere it was the same old stuff, the only thing of note being the arrival of a few fieldfare in Freeman's Wood and along the cycle track.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Great Day for a Great Egret

I had a feeling today was going to be a good day.
First thing, I had a merlin flying around over my house - it was uttering a soft persistent call I don't recall ever hearing before, no idea what it was up to!

I then trundled off through Freeman's Wood in the lovely sunlight, scattering multiple redwings and blackbirds. Best bird by far was my first woodcock of the season - always a favourite of mine, these birds have the capacity to brighten any day. In the absence of a photo, here's a drawing I did of one ages ago...

Things were still relatively quiet at Freeman's Pools; 5 tufted duck, 9 gadwall, 2 goldeneye and the usual scattering of little grebes, coot, teal and wigeon, etc.
Frog Pond was hosting a few more wigeon and gadwall plus several redshank and curlew.

A racket drew my attention to a hedge bordering the maize fields. A formidable gathering of chaffinches, blackbirds, blue tits and the odd robin was seriously bothered by something.
After a bit of manoevering I found the source of their excitement - a rather angry looking little owl. Despite their status as regular Aldcliffe birds, this is the first little owl I've seen in the area for a good couple of years. I used to have two guaranteed spots for finding these diminutive hunters on the patch but alas those days appear to have gone. Hopefully this individual marks the return of these fab little predators to the area.

Next, I checked the flooded fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools. A gaggle of garrulous greylags were gathered here along with large numbers of teal. Several mallard, moorhen and a lone female pintail were here too.
Four black-tailed godwits were feeding alongside several redshank. Half a dozen pied wagtails and a meadow pipit were picking around the edges of the wet areas.

A quick scan over the marsh revealed yet more greylags and Canada geese but little else beyond a few black-headed gulls and little egrets.
I walked the tideline to Cadaver Corner but it was pretty quiet with just 4 common snipe coming up from Snipe Bog.
Out on the muddy river edges I could see large numbers of golden plover and lapwing.

I was daydreaming about finding a desert wheatear (as I often do) when I noticed a large white bird flying languidly at mid-height over the marsh. I knew what it was straight away and as I lifted my binocs to my eyes I allowed myself a little smile; my first, long-awaited great egret on the patch. Phew!
I watched the egret as it flew in a direct line toward Freeman's Pools but it carried on and disappeared over Lancaster. I wonder if any sharp-eyed shoppers spotted it? Could be worth checking the roost at Skerton Weir later?
To put in into context, although this was the first great egret that I have seen in the Aldcliffe area (though somewhat ironically I was looking at one yesterday at Leighton Moss...) it isn't the first to have occurred here.
The first was an individual that spent a short time on the Lune near Snatchems back in 2004 (before it moved on to Leighton Moss where I did see it later the same day). And then a second bird stopped by in 2011 when I was in Canada. So, this constitutes the third patch record.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Wintry Tales

For the most part today (Friday) the weather hasn't been anywhere as bleak as forecast (unlike yesterday which was every bit as vile as anticipated). That said, I did choose a period of the morning for a spot of birding that coincided with a short but incredibly horrible hail & sleet storm. Hey ho.
Otherwise, my few hours on the patch were relatively pleasant even if somewhat lacking in exciting finds.
Freeman's Wood was bouncing with blackbirds and redwings but not much else beyond a couple of goldcrests.
Freeman's Pools have been a bit quieter lately with the 200+ wigeon flock having moved on. Even so, there were 20 or so wigeon still present along with the usual gadwall, teal, mallard, coot and little grebe. 6 goldeneye remain on the main pool and the number of tufted duck had increased to 15.
The wet fields by Frog Pond are drawing good numbers of foraging lapwing, curlew and redshank along with black-headed and common gulls.
The hedgerows and fields generally seem to be very quiet passerine-wise with no numbers of common finches or any reed buntings being seen.

Common snipe & duck's arse
The Wildfowlers' Pools and adjacent fields are full of water and sizeable gatherings of snipe, teal, greylags and Canada geese was evident. In previous years these 'feral' geese have attracted occasional groups of pink-footed and white-fronted geese, so it's always worth checking through the gaggle.
A pair of goldcrest were near the parking area and a couple of fieldfare were tagging along with the other more numerous hawthorn-hogging thrushes.
A pair of pintail (relatively scarce on this stretch of the estuary) were dabbling on the marsh near the Creek.
In recent years Snipe Bog appears to have lost its appeal to snipe generally; long-gone are the double figure counts from that small area. I was pleased therefore to discover a jack snipe today (having seen one flushed by the high tide in the same area yesterday). These dinky little waders really do brighten up even the dullest of days!
Also seen yesterday but not today were a couple of rock pipits - another bird that seems far less numerous in this area of the estuary these days...

Highlights from a visit to the area on November 9th included:
11 goldeneye & 7 tufted duck on Freeman's Pools
1 goldeneye on Frog Pond
Kingfisher & goosander at Wildfowlers' Pools

Many local folk will be aware that there is quite a significant pied wagtail roost in the city centre during the winter months but a lesser-known roost of grey wagtails can also be found in Lancaster. The birds routinely appear by the canal near White Cross in the late afternoon and last week we counted at least 17 grey wags coming into the roost. Quite a lovely sight!

And I keep checking those rowans and other ornamental berry-filled trees in search of waxwings. It's surely only a matter of time before some turn up in the area...


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Under Covered

Stonechat - Aldcliffe
I can't believe it's a month since my last post here. How negligent of me!
To be honest, I've barely been out on the patch in the past few weeks so it isn't entirely down to laziness for my lack of input.
And rather frustratingly, bird-wise this has been an amazing autumn so far; goodness knows what I've missed in the Aldcliffe area...

That said, I did abandon the patch in favour of more northerly charms at the beginning of the month when I spent a week on North Ronaldsay, in the Orkneys.
Along with my brother Dave, my chums Mark Witherall and Adrian 'Ziggy' Dawson, I enjoyed several days scouring the small island in search of exciting migrants and wayward vagrants. But while the Shetlands to the north of us seemed to be festooned with mouth-watering rarities, our little North Sea paradise appeared to be less attractive to scarce windblown birds.
Of course, it wasn't exactly dead. Multiple yellow-browed warblers were seen daily, little buntings were seemingly lurking behind every dry stone wall and in every weedy field while a dazzling red-flanked bluetail entertained the few birders on the island. Add to that grey phalarope, snow and Lapland buntings, bramblings, short-eared owl, hen harrier, merlin and purple sandpipers, among other things and it hardly seems like a total washout!

Once I got back to Merry Olde England it was back to work and wondering what I was missing at Aldcliffe. There were yellow-browed warblers all over the place and one was surely waiting to be discovered in Freeman's Wood or along the cycle track.
My first free weekend was already booked up - a couple of days celebrating my mate Rich Mooney's significant birthday in the Brecon Beacons (a fab time was had, for sure) and when Monday rolled around I forsook my chance to scour the patch in favour of a dash to the east coast.

Yes folks, I went on my first twitch in 13 years. I couldn't help it. The allure of a Siberian accentor near Spurn was just too strong to ignore. It was a world-tick and too cool a bird not to go and see. And while I was there, the discovery of a nearby Isabelline wheatear gave me a second British tick. Madness. Mind you, the 4.5 hour return journey reminded me why I don't like twitching...

Female stonechat - Aldcliffe
So, what about Aldcliffe? Well, I have made two or three visits recently, though despite at least two found by others on the patch, yellow-browed warbler has thus far eluded me there.
One of the most notable things is the amazing number of wigeon on Freeman's Pools - I can't remember ever seeing so many there. There are approximately 200-250 regularly on the pools along with the usual gadwall, tufted duck, teal and mallard.
Other interesting wildfowl concerned 8 barnacle geese in with the mass of greylags and Canada geese on Aldcliffe Marsh on 21st.
Other notable birds seen on my few visits include stonechat (one seen twice, two seen once; male and female pictured here), greenshank and of course the expected arrival of redwings taking full advantage of the glut of berries available.
A pair of crossbills flying over the FAUNA reserve on the morning of the 20th was a nice surprise.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Ducktastic Day

Dodging the odd showery bursts this morning, I spent a couple of hours birding around the Aldcliffe area for the first time in a while.
The combined forces of a bust work schedule and a few days visiting family on Jersey have meant that I've had little time to get out and see what's occurring on the patch.
I did manage to see a few birds while on Jersey; migration was in full swing when I first arrived and I was treated to what is a rare sight in North Lancashire these days - flocks of yellow wagtails. 'Vis-miggers' on the south of the island had been logging literally hundreds of these lovely migrants, along with other classic autumn fayre, as they passed over en route to the continent and beyond.
My encounters were more modest but even so, finding groups containing double figures as they fed around the hooves of Jersey cows was quite a treat.
I also came across redstarts, whinchats, wheatears, spotted flycatchers, marsh harriers and other common migrants. Jersey is also home to a few species that are otherwise rare or absent from much of the UK mainland including cirl bunting, Dartford warbler and short-toed treecreeper and all are relatively easy to find if you look in the right places!
Find out more about Jersey birds and the latest sightings from there by visiting the website here.

Now, back to Lancaster and my morning's trawl... a few highlights included an obvious arrival of wildfowl since my last visit.
At Freeman's Pools there were 12 wigeon, 3 tufted duck and 7 gadwall plus the usual little grebes, mallards and teal.
Frog Pond was positively heaving with birds and a further 8 wigeon were there with half a dozen gadwall and teal, a lone tufted duck plus an impressive 12 shoveler.
The Wildfowlers' Pools were quiet; the highlight here was a single wheatear.
The Flood was covered in teal with 62 present (and STILL no garganey!) but only a redshank, snipe and lapwing as far as waders were concerned.
A pair of greenshank were out on Aldcliffe Marsh (later flying on to the Flood) and the only other things of note were a pair of golden plover with the mass of lapwings roosting the edge of the Lune and another 4 wheatear. The adult whooper swan was on Colloway.

The hedges were very quiet with just single blackcap and chiffchaff found among the tit and finch flocks. Chaffinch numbers were certainly up and a couple of reed buntings were kicking around. Four skylarks flew over, as did just one meadow pipit and a small number of swallows and house martins.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Dirty Harrier

Mediterranean gull
I had an interesting couple of hours rooting around on the patch this morning.
I started at Freeman's Pools where a 'new-in' juvenile great crested grebe was snoozing on the water. The female tufted duck was still present along with its youngster - a drake was nearby too.
A small gathering of 50 or so black-headed gulls in Frog Pond field also had a 1st winter Mediterranean gull among them.
Water levels on all the pools remains high and as a result we're seeing very few fresh-water waders in the Aldcliffe area so far this season.
The Flood hosted just a handful of lapwing, redshank and a lone snipe.
Out on the marsh, near Snipe Bog, a single greenshank was feeding in the brackish pools.
Meanwhile, a scan through the many lapwing on the estuary only turned up a pair of golden plover - the first I've seen there this autumn.
Two adult Mediterranean gulls were with the several hundred black-heads and handful of common gulls on the sand.

Marsh harrier
On Heaton Marsh I could see a common buzzard hunting low over the marsh and as I 'scoped it I noticed another raptor sat deep in the grass - a female / juvenile type marsh harrier. After a short while the harrier got up and spent a short while hunting over the marsh before dropping down and feeding on the carcass of a lesser black-backed gull on the river's edge.
It soon took off again but this time attracted the attention of one of the local peregrines which half-heartedly gave it a bit of bother before the harrier drifted off and returned to its manky gull meal.

Migrant songbirds seemed pretty thin on the ground, with the local tit flocks hosting fewer chiffchaffs & willow warblers than juts a couple of days ago. A single lesser whitethroat was near the parking area.


Friday, 2 September 2016

September Song

My recent birding visits to the Aldcliffe area have been rather erratic and have almost always been on days when the weather's not really been 'bird-friendly'. As a consequence, I've not seen all that much in the way of notable migrants and the like.

This morning I spent an hour or two checking the usual spots but with the wind firmly from the south west it was little surprise that I didn't come across anything mind-blowing. However, the following just about made the jaunt worthwhile:
4 Mediterranean gulls (3 adults and a 1st winter) - on the Lune
1 green sandpiper - Flood
2 greenshank - 1 Freeman's Pools & 1 Flood 
Teal numbers continue to build around the whole area (where is my garganey?) and a pair of moulting drake tufted ducks had appeared on Freeman's Pools. Some of the eclipse gadwall are now looking a lot more like gadwall should...
A sense of seasonal change was tangible as a few robins were singing - declaring winter territories or just passing through? 

Last Friday was similarly quietish with just a Med gull in Frog Pond field, 2 greenshank on the Flood and a pair of wheatear by the Wildfowlers' Pools.

A couple of days earlier (25th) things had been much better with some very migrant-friendly weather bringing some warbler action onto the patch.
Freeman's Wood was jumping with birds; one feeding frenzy included at least 12 blackcaps, 3 common and 2 lesser whitethroats plus numerous willow warblers and chiffchaffs. The cycle track had mixed flocks of long-tailed and blue tits that contained multiple willows and chiffs plus both whitethroat species (especially lesser), though notably fewer blackcaps.
A couple of wheatear were also on Aldcliffe Marsh adding to the autumnal feel.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Summertime Blues

I managed a couple of hours mooching around the patch this morning for the first time in several days. I've been down in Oxfordshire working at the impressively massive event that is BBC Countryfile Live. From the RSPB exhibit I spotted a couple of raptor species overhead, both rarely encountered in North Lancashire; red kite and hobby. In that part of the world of course, both birds are relatively common and a treat for us northerners to see!

Treats, however, were harder to find while birding at Aldcliffe today... hardly surprising really as mid-summer can often be a bit dull in the birding world.
Even so, highlights included the following:
Freeman's Pools - female tufted duck with young, 5 ad & 3 young little grebes, 40+ swifts overhead.
Wildfowlers' Pools - 2 tree sparrows, 1 green sandpiper, 4 common snipe, 6 teal.
Elsewhere the usual little egrets, greylags, cormorants and such were all present and correct. A female sparrowhawk was patrolling the cycle track hedges and a grey partridge was seen with just one well-grown youngster in tow.


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Unseasonal Whooper Swan Highlight

A few notable highlights from the past couple of days include the arrival of a very unseasonal whooper swan and the annual mass influx of geese.

For those of you who don't know, the geese that turn up at this time of year are UK 'residents' and their appearance on the Lune estuary is part of the post-breeding dispersal that takes place every summer. From studies, many of these geese are moving a relatively short distance from the Lake District where a number of birds have been individually marked.

The greylags are fitted with orange collars; each sporting a unique 3 letter code. Of the 450 or so geese in the field by Frog Pond today I could see 13 greylags with collars.
I have sent these to Kane Brides at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust who will be able to determine their origins. Interesting eh?
With a little movement around the Lune, and up into the Bay and Leighton Moss, some of these identifiable individuals will doubtless be spotted several times in the coming months. 
As for the random whooper swan, has this bird also been hanging around the Lakes over the early summer and simply tagged along with the geese?

The green sandpiper count at the Wildfowlers' Pools was up to four today (an increase of two since yesterday) and a pair of greenshank were flushed off the river by one man and his dog. They flew off high toward Conder. Later, a third bird was flying around Aldcliffe Marsh calling.
A trio of snipe were also at the Wildfowlers' Pools but the Flood was sadly lacking in any waders bar a single lapwing.
At Freeman's Pools the proud tufted duck mum continues to nurture her lone duckling and from a brood of 8 cygnets, just one young mute swan remains with its parent here.

Yesterday I counted a hefty 38 little egrets along the river between Stodday and Aldcliffe. The adult and juvenile peregrine were once again engaged in hunting training over Colloway.

As the returning waders and wildfowl make themselves know, it was the departing birds that were making a fuss yesterday evening. A veritable swarm of approximately 80 swifts were screaming and swirling in a tight flock near my house at dusk - a reminder that they will soon be off back to Africa...


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Solitary Sandpiper

The Lune at low tide
Had a half-decent morning on the patch today thanks to some dry, bright weather and a few new birds trickling through.
Frustratingly, still no passage waders or post-breeding garganey at Freeman's Pools but it was great to see that the lone tufted duck duckling was still doing well.
Both parents are still in attendance and this constitutes the first ever breeding of this species (to my knowledge) in the Aldcliffe recording area.
Also present were a pair of moulting wigeon and 5 eclipse gadwall. Winter's here folks...
Other succesful breeders included a couple of little grebe chicks and just one cygnet with an adult mute swan. Newly hatched moorhens were in evidence along with several well-grown youngsters from earlier broods.
A reed warbler was sen foraging in the waterside vegetation.

Black-tailed godwit
I walked south along Dawson's Bank, noting good numbers of little egret along the way. A juvenile peregrine was having a go at hunting on the other side of the river and was soon joined by an adult.  This experienced bird soon snatched a starling and gave it to the youngster in a nifty aerial pass.
An adult Mediterranean gull flew up from the river and headed inland. A scan of the gulls loafing on the Lune sands revealed a further 4 Meds (3 ads & 1 second winter).
Also seen here were 5 common sandpiper and a fine breeding-plumaged black-tailed godwit (pictured).
A flock of approximately 30 wigeon flew through heading toward Glasson.

The Flood was quiet - the 3 remaining lapwing chicks all seem in good shape.

A common sandpiper and a solitary green sandpiper were at the Wildfowlers' Pools.

Insects were relatively low in number (with the exception of those lovely horseflies), despite the sunshine.
As far as dragonflies were concerned I just saw singles of emperor, brown hawker and common darter plus the usual damselflies.
Common butterflies (peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, meadow brown, speckled wood etc) were all present but not in any great number.
Brown hare was the only wild mammal.



Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Great Weather For Ducks

Had a quick spin around the patch after work this evening.First stop was at Freeman's Pools where I noticed a drake tufted duck moulting into eclipse plumage. That in itself wasn't especially notable - but with it was a small duckling.
A few weeks ago I noticed a pair of tufted ducks arrive at the pools but they soon disappeared - have they simply been keeping a low profile while nesting at the site? If so, I think that this may be the first record of successful breeding of this species in the Aldcliffe recording area.
In other bay bird news; the four lapwing chicks at the Flood continue to thrive while a couple at the Wildfowlers' Pools seem to be in rude health. A brood of at least 5 shelduck were also at the Wildfowlers' Pools along with 1 common and 2 green sandpipers.

Earlier in the day I had visited the common tern colony at Preston Docks (video from today attached) in advance of spending the day there tomorrow.
I'll be there chatting about how these amazing birds have been encouraged to breed at this inner city site and I'll hopefully be encouraging local people to want to learn more about the wildlife on their doorstep!
Fylde Bird Club's Paul Ellis and Paul Slade were instrumental in providing nesting areas for these birds at the marina and a joint project that includes input from the local council, Preston Docks and the RSPB has enabled the growing colony to exceed 130 pairs in 2016.
It's well worth a visit if you're in the area in the next couple of weeks.


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Wading In...

Highlights from a few hours birding around Aldcliffe yesterday included my first green sandpipers of the season. These migratory waders usually arrive back on the patch from July and are best looked for around the various pools and the Flood.
Yesterday's birds were found at Freeman's Pools and the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Other waders of note included at least 6 common sandpipers on the Lune near Gull Bank and a single adult little ringed plover on the Flood.
The two lapwing broods continue to be doing well.
On the estuary post-breeding curlews are staring to gather with a flock of c50 on Colloway Marsh.  

Other notable sightings around the area included a pair of stock doves and a singing reed warbler at Freeman's Pools.
The breezy conditions kept dragonflies down but there were plenty of butterflies around including speckled wood, meadow brown and a single comma.

At Conder the avocet pair were present with their single chick while the common terns were very active - both adults and their two fledged young showed well.


Saturday, 9 July 2016

Little Wonders

Highlights from a couple of hours getting drenched around Aldcliffe this morning included a 'new' little ringed plover chick at the The Flood.
The plover was with an adult and appeared to be fairly recently fledged. Also present were 2 adults with a well-grown youngster - presumably the same ones that have been around for a while. A lapwing with two sizeable chicks made for a pleasant sight.
I could only see two of the lapwing chicks at the Wildfowlers' Pools but the vegetation was pretty dense and could easily have been hiding one or two others.
Little grebe breeding success seems unremarkable thus far with just a single chick being fed by an adult at Freeman's Pools. A lone stock dove and little egret were the only other birds of note there.
It was fairly quiet all around the patch, as is to be expected at this time of year, with this kind of weather.
Hopefully we'll start to see more post-breeding waders starting to move through in the coming weeks; green sandpipers have usually made an appearance by now and there's always the chance of a wood sandpiper or something scarcer still. And it's worth checking the gulls on the estuary as Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls could show up among the commoner species.

I spent a couple of days up at the Malham Cove peregrine watchpoint earlier this week. The two youngsters have now fledged and they often put on a great show as the adults show the growing falcons how to hunt. A decent supporting cast includes multiple redstarts, spotted flycatchers and green woodpeckers among other things.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Dragons Emerge In The Sun

The past few visits I've made around the Aldcliffe area have been pretty interesting, one way of the other.
On the sunnier days, the highlights have definitely been insect-related; dragonflies and butterflies have been much in evidence.
Relatively recent colonists such as black-tailed skimmer appear to be settling in nicely with mating pairs and individuals on Frog Pond (where the photo here was taken) and Darter Pool.
Dazzling emperor dragonflies can now be found on all the pools and I was pleased to spot a broad-bodied chaser at Darter Pool a couple of days ago. Hundreds of common blue and blue-tailed damselflies too are prolific on warmer days.

Good news (if such low productivity can be hailed as 'good') from the Wildfowlers' Pools concerns the appearance of a brood of 4 lapwing chicks. A pair behaving like 'new parents' in the one of the maize fields also looks promising but given the number of pairs that initially settled in to nest this is pretty dire stuff. Hardly surprising that the numbers of lapwing have decreased massively in England recent decades.
The reappearance of little ringed plovers on The Flood last week wasn't much of a surprise. A pair of adults with a well-fledged youngster implies local-ish breeding but as far as I'm aware there were no nesting pairs on the patch at all this year. I suspect that these birds nested not too far away in some un-watched grubby industrial spot. 
In other baby-bird news; I accidentally flushed a pair of grey partridge the other day, revealing a brood of tiny, recently hatched chicks. Let's hope that some of these make it to adulthood to prop up the dwindling local population.  
The pair of avocets seen on the Lune off Aldcliffe Marsh last week were presumably not those currently nesting further down river.


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Quail Fail

My few visits to the patch have been pretty unremarkable over the past few days; a pair of tufted duck have appeared on Freeman's Pools and the mute swan pair have actually hatched eight cygnets (not seven as I said in my last post).
The first returning greylags and Canada geese dropped in too - numbers of both these 'resident' species should increase significantly in the coming weeks. Similarly, lapwings have started gathering in the fields - these all presumably failed or non-breeders. I have yet to see a single youngster around the Aldcliffe area this season...

Given this dearth of avian thrills, I headed out to Fluke Hall, Pilling yesterday morning in search of something of a nemesis bird. A quail has been singing in fields in the area for several days and I was quite keen to go and have a listen for it and hopefully to catch a glimpse of this often secretive gamebird.
Quails are long-range migrants and are scarce summer visitors to the north west. This species is what we birders call a 'bogey bird' for me. I have heard them on several occasions throughout the UK and I have seen them on the continent and in their wintering grounds in South Africa, but it is the only breeding British bird that I have never seen on British soil. And given David Talbot's superb shots of the Pilling bird on the LDBWS website (click here) I was feeling optimistic.

I arrived at the spot and was soon marveling at the sight of a smart corn bunting (now sadly extinct as a breeding bird at Aldcliffe) and several tree sparrows. What a difference a few miles and a few arable fields make...
On a slightly less exciting note there were also lots of red-legged partridge in the fields, along with lapwings and an oystercatcher. The hedgerows were filled with whitethroat too, many of which were carrying food to noisy begging youngsters.
But alas, no singing quail could be heard.
I had a walk along the seawall, spotting 8 grey plover out on the sands and a large flock of knot by Cocker's Dyke. I estimated around 2000 birds present, several in dazzling brick-red breeding garb. A scan through (secretly hoping for a broad-billed sandpiper or something of that ilk) only revealed 3 smart summer-plumaged dunlin. A painted lady was seen along the path.
I returned to the 'quail-zone' and once again the air was bereft of its distinctive 'wet my lips' song.


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Flaming June by the Lune

Crikey, it's been a month since I last posted here. What a slacker.
I do have a half-decent excuse, as I've been in Canada since May 20th guiding a group of Brit birders in BC. We had a great trip and saw almost 200 species of bird in two weeks, plus all manner of mammals including orca, grey whale and black bear. I was there with North West-based company Ribble Bird Tours and our itinerary included a range of habitats in the Lower Mainland, Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island. An account of the trip will be posted here soon, so if you're keen to find out more about birding in Western Canada please check back shortly.

So, I had a quick scout around the Aldcliffe patch in the flaming June sunshine today to see what was occurring. There were plenty of birds in song including summer visitors such as blackcap, chiffchaff, sedge warbler and whitethroat.
Down at Freeman's Pools it was good to see that the local mute swan pair had hatched 7 cygnets. A lone near-fledged oystercatcher chick was feeding on the muddy edges of the upper pools while a well-grown brood of 4 mallard were also present.
As I walked along Dawson's Bank I spotted a common tern fishing by the Lune and over the saltmarsh pools (my first on the patch this year).
Another local 'year-tick' came in the form of a couple of reed warblers, both of which were singing from the small reed-fringed Bank Pool. One of these fine birds showed well as he belted out his fabulous song from high up in the waterside vegetation.
Potential good news from the maize fields; at least 6 sitting lapwing and an oystercatcher bodes well following the earlier nest trashing...

Thanks to the balmy temperatures there were plenty of butterflies around including speckled wood, small tortoiseshell and my first painted lady of the season.
At Darter Pool I added another year-first in the form of a dazzling emperor dragonfly while the poolside was positively alive with hundreds of blue-tailed damselflies


Friday, 6 May 2016

What A DIfference A Day Makes

I spent four hours rummaging around on the patch this morning, covering just about every key area.
To be honest I wasn't too impressed initially, there seemed to be a serious lack of newly arrived migrants and there was no evidence of visible migration at all.

Common toad - Freeman's Wood
The first sign that things had changed slightly came in the form of a couple of common whitethroat that were singing at one another near Darter Pool.

This theme continued throughout the morning, implying a major arrival of the long-distance travellers. There seemed to whitethroats in every hedge and small tree; I even found one lurking incongruously in the tideline debris near the Channel.
By contrast, I only saw or heard around 5 lesser whitethroat between Freeman's Wood and Stodday ETW.

A grasshopper warbler was reluctantly reeling from an area of dense vegetation in the cutting just to the south of the Aldcliffe Marsh metal sheep access gate by Cadaver Corner.

A pair of peregrines were over Colloway Marsh and the only other notable birds on or around the river included 7 eider, 2 goosander and a whimbrel plus the usual multiple little egrets.

On the Flood a pair of little ringed plover were in residence while another two were with a small flock of dunlin on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Female whinchat
As I walked back along the seawall I came across the first evidence of passage migrants all morning (there weren't even any hirundines on the move).
A couple of wheatear were feeding with a pair of whinchat along the tideline. They always kept their distance, the male whinchat in particular remaining just too away far to get a pic.
A check around the upper ponds at Freeman's Pools revealed an apparent influx of sedge warblers with at least 4 singing away in close proximity.

Other stuff of note seen included 2 pairs of grey partridge, 3 gadwall, lots of blackcaps, chiffchaffs, a few willow warblers, linnets, 3 stock doves, and sparrowhawk. And while I don't normally take much notice of pheasants, I couldn't help but be struck by this rather fine male in a field of dandelions. Sorry about that...

* In other news; Aldcliffe regular Jane McVickers had great views of a short-eared owl by Freeman's Pools on evening earlier in the week. 



Tuesday, 3 May 2016

A Swift Visit

Managed an hour on the patch before work this morning. Felt like an age since I'd been birding around Aldcliffe and I was keen if there had been any notable changes since my last visit.  I had my mind set on garganey, swift or yellow wagtail...

Apart from the fact that there was a lot more greenery, it was disappointingly quiet.
Freeman's Pools were almost birdless. A couple of coot and mute swans were the only things on the water while a pair of Canada geese on the island were joined by a cormorant, grey heron and a brace of oystercatchers.

As I scanned a bird-free Frog Pond I looked up and noticed a couple of distant swifts - my first of the year! They came closer and eventually passed overhead moving in a north westerly direction. A scattering of swallows and sand martins were moving through is irregular small flurries.
Other than the vocal blackcaps in and around Freeman's Wood there wasn't too much else singing. An occasional common whitethroat muttered half-heartedly from the hedgerow but I didn't hear any lesser whitethroat at all this morning and I have yet to hear a sedge warbler on the patch this spring.
Only a couple of willow warbler were bothering to declare their presence; at least the chiffchaffs were making slightly more effort.

The first round of the annual lapwing nest-trash had taken place in recent days, with the spreading of horse manure around the maize fields. Once again, the clutches would have been just days from hatching. Compared to last year the number of birds attempting to breed here this year is frighteningly low with probably only 6-7 pairs present. With such high nest failure rates I suppose its hardly surprising that numbers are sharply declining... 
Two drake gadwall and a drake teal were at the Wildfowlers' Pools, as was a fine adult peregrine which was sat pulling a freshly dispatched moorhen apart.

Unfortunately there was no splash of yellow to brighten up the small group of alba wagtails on the Flood, but 2 smart white wagtails were some compensation. A pair of little ringed plover were present along with a lone redshank and a little egret.

Scanning the far bank of the Lune from beyond Walled Meadow I could see 7 loafing eider, while closer in a couple of whimbrel were on the saltmarsh.
As I headed off to work I noticed a further group of 7 swifts over the FAUNA reserve.

Spring might well be here, but some days it really doesn't feel much like it...


Monday, 25 April 2016

Got Wood

Singing wood warbler, Stodday
As a few migrants continue to trickle through, we birdwatchers always hope to find something that little more unusual among the commoner species. That can mean something unusual in a real sense or simply in the context of the patch.
My best finds of late have included nothing more than the expected but always welcome whimbrel, lesser whitethroat, common whitethroat and the like.
However, Dan H came up trumps on Saturday morning when he came across a fine wood warbler at Stodday Effluent Treatment Works. This not-so-glamorous sounding spot has a habit of turning up decent birds from time to time and it's only down to the efforts of a handful of local birders that they get recorded. Over the years it has hosted such birds as yellow-browed warbler and black redstart and it has a fair track record for attracting yellow wagtail - an increasingly difficult bird to find in North Lancs.
Dan's wood warbler was singing intermittently and he managed to get a couple of record shots, one of which is reproduced here.
Unlike most other long-range migrants, wood warblers hardly ever turn up at well-watched coastal bird observatories so finding one off-passage is always a thrill for local patch birders. Also, these dazzling migrant warblers have, like yellow wagtail, become very scarce in parts of the UK where they were once relatively common and it's a number of years since one was seen around the Aldcliffe area.

Monday, 18 April 2016

More migrants...

Willow warbler
My work and non-birding lives have conspired lately to keep me away from Aldcliffe. In the past week or so I've seen copulating ospreys in the Lakes, hunting peregrines in the Yorkshire Dales and a smart male ring ouzel in a bleak Pennine valley but none of these are equal to a first-of-the-year migrant on my local patch!

I did squeeze in an hour or so late on Sunday afternoon where the few highlights included:
5 whimbrel - flew in calling 
6 little ringed plover and 2 white wagtail on the Flood
7 goldeneye still at Freeman's Pools
2 grey partridge near Walled Meadow
With a day off today and no pressing chores in wait, I headed off for a couple of hours checking the area. Admittedly, the weather wasn't quite what I'd have hoped for; a brisk westerly with a few squally showers may be OK for coastal birding but alas, not much cop on the estuary.
At Freeman's Pools there was a nice feeding flock of around 40 swallows with a handful of sand martins thrown in for good measure. Swallows were something of a feature of the day with birds trickling through at regular intervals.
A couple of blackcaps were singing in Freeman's Wood along with several now well in-situ willow warblers and chiffchaffs.
At the Wildfowlers' Pools there were 3 pairs of gadwall plus a couple of 'spare' drakes. Other than a small number of teal it was pretty quiet. On the nearby mud there were 3 little ringed plover, with a further 6 on the Flood. Also at the Flood were 7 white wagtails with 5 pied wags.
My first lesser whitethroat of the year was in occasional song along the upper cinder track.
Six eider (4 drakes, 2 ducks) were loafing on the banks of the Lune opposite the Channel.
Once again a pair of grey partridge were near Walled Meadow while another pair were by Heron Pool.

Later in the day I fixed a puncture on my bike and decided to go for a quick spin around the patch... the wind had dropped a bit and I felt the need to go and have another check.
Soon after arriving at Freeman's Pools a fabulous, beautifully lit short-eared owl came into view, with a carrion crow hot on its tail. The crow soon got bored of the chase and the owl briefly quartered the pools edges and rushy field beyond before disappearing from sight.   
All 9 of the earlier little ringed plover were on the Flood, noisily courting and chasing one another.  A notable increase in alba wagtails since my morning visit resulted in 26 birds being present. It was  hard to be sure of the exact ratio as they were extremely mobile and I had only my bins with me they seemed to be mostly pied with at least 7 white wagtails among them.


Monday, 11 April 2016

More Spring Things

Managed a quick stroll around the patch after work on Sunday late afternoon / early evening.
Freeman's Pools was fairly quiet with just a drake tufted duck, 6 wigeon and 5 goldeneye in the 'interesting' wildfowl department. A few sand martins were hawking over the water along with 3 swallows.
Singing birds were few but a handful of chifchaff and a couple of willow warbler were half-heartedly announcing their presence.
At the Wildfowlers' Pools there were just 2 pairs of gadwall - most years more of these wintering birds stay much later into the spring, tempting me to hope for a breeding attempt - a lone pair of shoveler and a scattering of teal.
I bumped int Steve Wallis who had seen 6 little ringed plover on the Flood. I was able to add a further two birds to his tally making an impressive 8 in total. A coupe of little egret were also fishing on the Flood with another on the Wildfowlers' Pools.   

Notes from a morning's birding in and around Aldcliffe from Thursday (7th):
A willow warbler was singing in a garden on Milking Stile Lane - my first of the year. 
Aldcliffe and up to FAUNA/FLORA included:
Chiffchaffs - lots singing all over the place!
Willow warbler - another one singing in the hedgerow along the cycle track.
Little ringed plover - 2 on The Flood
Greenshank - 1 on Aldcliffe Marsh
Wheatear - 12 on the marsh near The Channel & 6 in newly ploughed field at FLORA
Sand martin - one north at FAUNA

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Ringing The Changes

Spring is certainly well and truly upon us. Recent bouts of birding at Aldcliffe have revealed quite a bit of activity; wintering birds are thinning out and breeding species are revving up nicely.
On calm days skylarks and lapwings can be seen and heard over the marsh and maize fields respectively while singing chaffinches, goldfinches and wrens are busy proclaiming territories all over the place.
Up to 12 lesser redpoll continue to mix with the goldfinch flock along the tideline.

We've had the first real arrivals of true spring migrants in recent days too with freshly arrived chiffchaffs aplenty - I counted 12 yesterday (Saturday) between Freeman's Wood and Aldcliffe Hall Lane. I could only find 2 wheatear on the marsh but they were nonetheless a very welcome sight.
Aldcliffe regular Manjeet Lamba struck lucky earlier in the week when he came across a firecrest in the newly relayed hedges by the Wildfowlers' Pools on Tuesday morning. Given the large numbers of firecrests in the country in recent days this was almost certainly a new bird, as opposed to the Freeman's Wood one out on manoeuvres.

Drake pintail
Wildfowl numbers have dropped off a touch with the relatively long-staying pintail no longer on site and even the tufted ducks have moved on. Up to 7 goldeneye remain at Freeman's Pools along with a handful of wigeon and teal while up to 3 shoveler and half a dozen or so gadwall are still hanging around the Wildfowlers' Pools.
As the water levels continue to drop here the numbers of birds are similarly dropping. However, a feeding flock of c260 redshank have been at Frog Pond along with the ubiquitous little egrets.

Little ringed plover
The solitary greenshank is still to be found most days out on the Aldcliffe Marsh pools.
Little ringed plover seem firmly settled in at The Flood with 3 present there today.
I keep looking up in the hope of picking out the first patch passage osprey of the season but so far the only raptors winding up the gulls have been common buzzards and sparrowhawks.
Every day at this time of year one can hope to add another new bird for the year as long-distant migrants arrive and short-range ones move through - it's just a case of putting the time in and (often) being a bit lucky!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Return of the Irish Plover

Black-tailed godwits
Spent an hour or so before work yesterday morning checking out the usual spots around the Aldcliffe patch.
I must have been channeling Mystic Meg while writing my last post, as I had so accurately predicted the arrival of the year's first little ringed plover. One was on the wet fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools alongside a group of dunlin. In fairness, it was a fairly safe bet that one would arrive around now as the first of these diminutive long-distance waders usually appears a day or so either side of St Patrick's Day.
Also in the area were at least 4 pintail (commuting between the WP's and The Flood) and a dozen or so black-tailed godwit.

Quite a bit of hedgerow improvement is underway around the Wildfowlers' Pools at the moment.
Naturally, this does cause a little bit of disturbance but the majority of birds don't appear to be overly bothered, simply moving further toward the centre of the fields.
On the plus side it really has opened up viewing of the pools from the cycle track, though the short-term downside may be that it will be too 'open' for some birds to deal with. Time will tell.


Monday, 14 March 2016

Fired Up

Having spent countless hours thrashing around in Freeman's Wood over recent weeks in fruitless search of the firecrest I was surprised to practically bump into it today when I least expected it.
It was actively feeding in a scrubby patch of woodland just to the south-west of the football pitch, within the fenced area. It showed well for a couple of brief minutes before melting away into a dense patch of brambles.
(Gav Thomas and I had another look for it late afternoon / early evening but other than flushing a woodcock we came away pretty much birdless).

Snoozing drake pintail
With a fair amount of much-needed hedge-work going on by the Wildfowlers' Pools, the area was a bit less birdy than it has been of late. Few waders were on the flooded fields (just 3 black-tailed godwit and few redshank, lapwing and oystercatcher) though there were still some wildfowl hanging in there. Around 30 coot were in the deeper water while a peak count of exactly 30 gadwall (an Aldcliffe record?), 3 shoveler and a pair of pintail were the notable highlights.
A singing common chiffchaff was in the hedgerow but again, the Siberian chiffchaff was nowhere to be seen.

Given that little ringed plovers have returned to Aldcliffe on the same date of March 19th for the past two years (March 17th in 2013), it's fair to expect that given the calm weather forecast we may well get our first of 2016 in the next few days. With so much appealing habitat available at the moment, my bet is that one will show up on the Wildfowlers' Pools before the weekend. Mind you, I'm a terrible gambler so don't set off to Ladbrokes just yet...

I walked back along Dawson's Bank but there were no geese (see Jean Roberts' post from a few days ago here) or much else for that matter. Even the reliable redpoll were absent.
A singing 1st year male reed bunting was at the still very flooded Bank Pool. Given the glorious weather I was surprised that no lapwings were displaying over the maize fields today. As futile and unsuccessful as it will doubtless be, thanks wholly to the farming practices employed here these days, it will be interesting to see how many nests we have here this year.
Maybe, just maybe, the birds will actually hatch some chicks before the tractors roll in.

Freeman's Pools were fairly quiet with no sign of the recent drake scaup. There was still a decent number of wigeon and a pair of goldeneye present, along with half a dozen tufted duck and a couple of little grebe.

As I neared home, a pair of dancing small tortoiseshells represented my first butterflies of the year. It would seem that spring has officially arrived!

* Ex-Aldcliffe regular birder and latter-day citizen of the white-rose county, Greg Potter, sent the following highlights from his visit to the patch on Wednesday:
45 mute swan, c550 pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh
5 goldeneye, 15 gadwall, 4 shoveler, 3 pintail & 80 BT godwit at the Wildfowlers' Pools
18 redpoll with 22 goldfinch & 2 greenfinch on Dawson's Bank
5 tufted duck, 20 wigeon & 2 goldeneye at Freeman's Pools
Cheers Greg!


Monday, 7 March 2016

The Sound Of Music

Snowy Lakeland mountains over Aldcliffe Marsh
That rarest of things happened today. My day off coincided with the best weather forecast for the week. And so it came to pass; it was cold and crisp, bright and sunny and still. Perfect.
I headed off for a scour of the Aldcliffe patch early doors and pretty much had the area to myself (one of the benefits of working at weekends is that I get days off when there are fewer dog-walkers, cyclists and what-not around).

Freeman's Wood was alive with the sound of music; birds were singing all over the place. Song thrushes, robins, dunnocks, wrens, great tits, blue tits and goldfinches were all belting it out.
The wildfowl at Freeman's Pools had diminished a bit with no diving ducks present on the main pool at all. Around 40 wigeon were there but were rather unsettled by the incongruous sound of firework rockets going off from somewhere near the Lune Industrial Estate.  
Little grebes were 'singing' and a pair of oystercatcher seemed settled on the island - they regularly nest here. A cluster of 12 snipe were also on the island. A pair of tufted duck were on the upper pools.

Lesser redpoll
I walked along Dawson's Bank toward Aldcliffe Hall Lane, scanning Aldcliffe Marsh as I went. To my left, a few pairs of lapwing were displaying over the maize fields.
The flooded Wildfowlers' Pools were still busy with waders but the morning light was against me and most of the birds flushed before I got chance to check through them all.
There were certainly fewer birds here today than on my last visit, the bulk being redshank and black-tailed godwit.
A foraging finch flock on the tideline comprised 30+ goldfinch and at least 9 lesser redpoll.
I got fabulous views of a hunting stoat who was rather ambitiously stalking a couple of wood pigeons near Walled Meadow.

Drake scaup, Aldcliffe
The only duck on The Flood was the drake scaup! In fact other than 6 shelduck and 4 redshank there was nothing else doing at all. After a while the scaup flew off and headed for the Wildfowlers' Pools.
In the hedgerow near the Pools the Siberian chiffchaff was busy catching invertebrates while nearby a common chiffchaff was singing intermittently in the warm sunshine.

Late morning I headed to FAUNA for our monthly coordinated snipe count. Along with a record count of 153 common snipe (though some may have involved re-counts) we also counted 7 jack snipe and 2 water rail. 13 teal were in School Pond and a brown hare was in Big Meadow marsh. Not too shabby.


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

'Scoped Scaup Scoop

Drake scaup with wigeon
Following a report of a drake scaup from the flooded Wildfowlers' Pools on Monday (courtesy of Javier Caletrio via LDBWS site), I trundled down to the patch to see if I could relocate the scarce duck this morning.
First I checked Freeman's Pools but there were few ducks there; twenty or so wigeon, 4 gadwall, f few each of mallard & teal and a couple of goldeneye. Three little grebe and a little egret were also present but no diving ducks.
A pair of tufted duck were on Frog Pond, and the Siberian chiffchaff was in its favoured haunt.

There were fewer black-tailed godwit on the W Pools today, with around 140 busily feeding in the shallows. At flock of at least 200 redshank made for an impressive sight, while just 30ish dunlin remained.
A pair of shoveler were 'new in' while teal numbers had gone down since my last visit a couple of days ago.
A few gadwall were dabbling in the deeper water but other than a pair of goldeneye there was no sign of any monochromatic diving ducks.
I walked along Dawson's bank back down to Marsh Point, stopping to 'scope the couple of hundred pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh. Checking the flooded fields from the bank revealed little more than I had seen from the cycle track.

Drake scaup, Freeman's Pools
A scan through the gulls at Marsh Point was uneventful but the sight of a group of tufted duck on the upper Freeman's Pools at least gave hope. A quick look proved them all to be tufties...
Yet more tufteds were with a small number of wigeon at the eastern edge of the pools and a brief binoc view came up trumps. There, among the commoner aythyas was a handsome drake scaup. Lovely.
These birds are genuine rarities in the Aldcliffe area (indeed in the Lancaster & District recording area) with very few records locally. A drake was on the Lune in October 2015, while a couple of long-stayers included females in 2012 and 2008.


Sunday, 28 February 2016

Knot Hot Spot

Highlights from a 3+ hour trawl around the Aldcliffe patch on Friday included the still present Siberian chiffchaff showing superbly again near the Wildfowlers' Pools.

Black-tailed godwits
As the water levels continue to drop many of the fields are starting to revert to something close to normal.
Of course the Flood is still flooded, but then it often is (hence its name). And the Wildfowlers' Pools looks absolutely fantastic as newly emerging boggy islands and large areas of shallow water are attracting masses of waders.
A feeding flock of 136 black-tailed godwit were frantically feeding alongside the more regular redshank.

Among these birds was a lone knot - quite a scarcity in these parts. That said, you don't have to go very far to see tens of thousands of these easily overlooked shorebirds but they rarely stray so far up the estuary to Aldcliffe.
In other interesting wader news, a greenshank was on one of the saltmarsh pools.
Scanning the far side of the Lune at high tide, I could see 4 pintail (2 males, 2 females), another bird that doesn't occur on the patch too regularly.

Blonde pink-footed goose (right)
Among the 1200 or so pink-footed geese grazing on Heaton Marsh I could see a distinctive leucistic goose (pictured). Birds similar to this (or indeed the very same goose) were seen at Aldcliffe in mid-Feb 2012 and early March 2013. A rather striking orange-legged pinkfoot was also present.

Jenny and I took a stroll out again today (Sunday), taking in part of the patch. Three visiting birders were looking for the chiffchaff but hadn't seen it. I had a quick look but there was no sign of it while I was there.
However, I did spot a neat water rail rummaging around in the vegetation at the fringes of the still flooded cycle track.

The Wildfowlers' Pools continues to host tons of birds and a quick count revealed at least 270 black-tailed godwit plus the lone knot. These fields really do look amazing. Well, I'm sure the landowners aren't quite so impressed but from a birder's perspective it's something else!


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Sorting the Chiff from the Chaff

Siberian chiffchaff
I really have spent too much time trying to relocate the Freeman's Wood firecrest.
I've blamed everything from wind and rain for the lack of an appearance and now I can add perfect calm, bright conditions to the list of reasons for a no-show...
Whether it's still actually there I haven't a clue, but in the several hours I've spent attempting to re-find it I have at least become more familiar with many of the wood's other residents. Bullfinches are easy; treecreeper and great-spotted woodpecker a doddle; goldcrest and jay, not a problem. Today I even spooked a couple of woodcock as I crept around in search of the cryptic 'crest. (Freeman's frequenter Bill Myall mentioned that he too had flushed a couple of woodcock there a week or so ago).

Anyhoo, the day was glorious and I spent a good three and half hours rooting around the Aldcliffe patch.
Freeman's Pools held the usual mix of tufted duck, goldeneye, wigeon, little grebe, coot, etc. The only notable change here being the deliberate removal of some fencing to allow the horse of dubious ownership into the reserve to graze. It would seem that some people just do exactly as they please.
As I walked along the cycle track the liquid calls of northbound skylarks became evident. A group of five flew by while a few minutes later a flock of twelve passed over.

With water levels at the flooded Wildfowlers' Pools dropping daily the birds using the area is changing frequently. Last week this site and nearby fields was full of waders. A feeding flock of some 140 dunlin, 200+ redshank and 60+ curlew were all head-down enjoying the delights of mud-dwelling invertebrates. Today, just a handful of redshank, oystercatcher and lapwing were present along with the usual gadwall, coot, mallard, teal and goldeneye.

Siberian chiffchaff
Good news came in the shape of a lovely little warbler; the Siberian chiffchaff put on a great show in the glorious sunshine and I couldn't resist getting another couple of snaps of this subtle beauty.
I headed on to Stodday ETW seeing little of note en route. The expected estuary birds were all seen, many gathering on the far bank as the tide peaked. A flock of 120 or so golden plover came in to roost with the more numerous lapwings.

I couldn't find any chiffchaffs of any description at the sewage works, though a dazzling pair of siskin were busy bathing and preening near the works entrance (photo). A single grey wagtail flew over calling.
The walk back to Freeman's Pools was fairly uneventful. I flushed a pair of grey partridge from the tideline, a group of five lesser redpoll were in the small tress along Dawson's Bank and several hundred pink-footed geese were on the other side of the river.

I had another go at hunt-the-firecrest on my way home but unsurprisingly that ended in failure.