Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Sibe That Came In From The Cold

After getting prolonged views of the firecrest in Freeman's Wood again earlier in the week I thought I'd sussed out its routine. It seemed to be favouring the western area of the unfenced wood and was following what appeared to be a circuit, reappearing in the same area periodically.
Confident that i knew what this little gem was up to I went there today, positioned myself accordingly and waited. And waited. And searched. Nothing. It was lovely and calm, there were flying insects all over the place and yet the firecrest failed to show.
Slightly miffed, I set off to check Freeman's Pools. There wasn't anything new to see - the usual goldeneye, tufted duck, wigeon and gadwall, etc. A water rail called from the pool edges.
I headed along the cycle track toward the Wildfowlers' Pools. A pair of grey partridge were lurking beneath the hedgeline but there was little else around.
As I neared the pools a goldcrest appeared in the hawthorns, soon joined by a chiffchaff. A quick check revealed it to be a common collybita. As I watched it flycatching from a small tree another chiffchaff flew in. It was the Siberian tristis chiffchaff. Of course I was without a camera and it performed better than at any other time that I've seen it, perching out in full view on the hedge tops.
I was pleased to see that it was still here, as I hadn't clapped eyes on it (or any other chiffchaffs) since the cold snap a couple weeks ago. Had these birds moved elsewhere temporarily or had they simply become more elusive?
Checking through the masses of mainly black-headed gulls in the flooded fields I was once again disappointed at the lack of Med gulls - often a fair bet you'll find one or two here when large gatherings take to the fields.
I did find one white-winged gull, however it wasn't really what I was expecting. It was a black-headed gull that was almost entirely white with the exception of its black wing tips. There wasn't even the slightest hint of grey in the upper wing or mantle making it appear oddly dove-like! Very odd.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Return Fire


Guest blogger Dan here.

I've become a fair weather birder in recent years-- with spring and autumn more or less the only times I go spotting.

Anyhow, today was fair so I took my camera for a stroll and ran into this Firecrest (in the SW corner of Freeman's Wood), no doubt the one Jon saw there almost 3 weeks back. What a bonnie bird.


Friday, 15 January 2016

Chuffed By Chiffchaff

Magnificent 7 whooper swans
With the temperature having dropped notably overnight I headed off to the patch this morning, curious as to how the change in conditions may have affected the birdlife.
I spent a while around 'firecrest corner' but once again I was met by just the regular blue, great and coal tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, robins, dunnocks and the expected blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes.
With a little ice cover at Freeman's Pools things looked promising. A scan over the water revealed yet more tufted duck with 26 present. A scattering of wigeon, teal and gadwall completed the picture along with a little grebe and multiple coot and moorhen. Just 2 goldeneye were there and the pochard of a few days ago had done a disappearing act. One each of grey heron and little egret were lurking at the pool edges.

I spent a good hour and a half around the chiffchaff hot-spot by the paths junction before getting a decent view of the still present Siberian chiffchaff. However, once it appeared it performed beautifully! A common chiffchaff was also seen along with several greenfinch and pair of bullfinch.
While I was stood ankle-deep in water a gang of 7 whooper swans cruised in from the north-east, pitching down on the flooded field where the Wildfowlers' Pools would normally be. They spent about 20 minutes paddling around and preening on a submerged mound before flying onto Aldcliffe Marsh where they joined a herd of mute swan.

I then returned to Freeman's Wood where I spent yet more time searching for the elusive firecrest. While I was creeping through the dense vegetation I was reminded of my visit to the Scilly Isles in October when I saw more firecrests than I had ever seen before in my life. They were a daily occurrence, yet despite their dazzling (some may say gaudy) appearance they could incredibly difficult to spot.
Their hyperactive movements and tiny size make them easy to 'lose' as they flit through the understory in search of insects and it's hardly surprising that I have yet to relocate this solitary bird in such a large and tangled area. That, of course, will never stop me from trying...
And, I did find a smart lesser redpoll among the goldfinches so it wasn't a completely wasted venture. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Sibe Of The Times

For the past week I've either been working during all daylight hours or I have been out of the area, so I haven't had chance to get down for any birding around Aldcliffe.
With a day off, that was swiftly rectified today. I really wanted to see if the Siberian chiffchaff was still around as there had been no posts on the LDBWS site referring to it for almost a week.
I wonder what it is about some scarce birds that generate such little interest from local birders?
I bet if there was a much commoner bird such as a smew on the pools or if that firecrest had proven reliable the patch would have been inundated with bino-wielding tourists. But alas, a long-distance migrant lacking in flashy plumage is clearly off-putting to many modern birdwatchers. Shame.

Anyhoo, I spent a good while rooting around and failed to locate the blighter, finding just one solitary common chiffchaff there. I'd also spent a bit of time searching for the aforementioned firecrest but again, came away somewhat disappointed.
Freeman's Pools continues to attract tufted duck with 16 there today, along with a very welcome drake pochard and the usual multiple gadwall, teal, goldeneye and little grebe.
A further 14 goldeneye were on the flooded Wildfowlers' Pools but little else was seen.

The fields to the east of the upper cinder path are absolutely awash with birds at the moment; hundreds of black-headed gulls, lapwing, redshank and starlings are feasting away on the muddy edges of the vast floods. Smaller numbers of common gull, curlew and oystercatcher plus double-figures of pied wagtail can also be seen, making for quite a spectacle.
If a rare wader's going to turn up anywhere in the next few weeks, my money's on these fields!
Given the many 1000s of black-headed gulls seen today I couldn't find a single Med gull among them.

Spot The Greenshank
As I made my way to Stodday, the tide was coming in and a large redshank roost was forming near Sluiced Channel. Included among them was a greenshank. It can be seen at the far right of the pictured group (about 5 birds in from the end).
En route I counted a measly 3 rock pipits. It would seem that the days when there would be well into double figures feeding on the tideline are well and truly behind us. It was great fun to sift through the birds trying to identify littoralis (Scandanavian) vs petrosus (British) pipits and keeping an eye out for the almost annual water pipits. Sigh.

The track leading from the Stodday picnic area to the sewage works is well flooded; I just about made it through in my wellies. An un-ringed grey wagtail was in the works but I couldn't see much else in there - not helped by the recently added wall extension panels between the tanks.
As I waded along the path a pair of chiffchaff appeared in the rank vegetation by the track side. They were both common collybita birds. A couple of goldcrests showed well, but eluded good photography (as proven here by my fuzzy shot).
Unfortunately I found no lingering yellow-browed or Pallas's warblers...


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Fun with Phylloscs

I managed to catch up with the then 'putative' tristis chiffchaff yesterday morning and again today.
Yesterday I was able to get much better recordings of this intriguing bird and while it doesn't give a classic Siberian chiffchaff call it certainly appears to be well within the range of variation.

I also got some better looks at the warbler and as it was often joined by two common chiffchaff the plumage differences were more than apparent.
Jeff Butcher got a couple of shots of it and one can see just how pale it is, with no hint of yellow in the underparts (bottom picture).

I managed a few iffy record shots this morning too (attached) and it's amazing how different it can appear in varying light conditions. It does, however always appear pale and washed out.
When seen against a dark background (such as feeding on unvegetated earth) it looks almost grey and white with some notagble olive tones in the wing, rump and tail - almost Bonelli's warbler-like!
Similarly, when in grass or perched in brambles etc, it can seem all plain pale browns.
Of note; yesterday it called frequently, especially when it was on its own whereas today when it was mostly with the two collybitas it called just twice in a 2.5 hour period.

General consensus is that it is indeed a Siberian chiffchaff. Thanks to Chris Batty & Pete Marsh for their comments.

Pic by Jeff Butcher
Adding a bit of further interest today, was a Cetti's warbler. While I was watching the Sibe chiffchaff I heard the Cetti's calling from the base of the hedge and got brief but clear looks as it made its way along just above the water line. This is only the second record of this species for Aldcliffe; the first was in October, just 30 metres away from the location of today's bird. Has it been here, undetected, all along? Probably.
A kingfisher perched in the hedge by the flooded cycletrack was another addition to the yearlist.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

Crests & Sprite Delights

Following a morning's birding in deepest darkest Fylde with my chum Stuart Meredith (more of which later), I decided to pop down to Aldcliffe to see how many species I could get to kick off my patch year list.
No sooner had I set foot on the path to Freeman's Wood (from the Willow Lane end) than I came across a tit flock. A quick scan revealed the expected regulars; great tit, blue, long-tailed tit, coal tit. A jay made an appearance and a great-spotted woodpecker called from the dense shrubbery somewhere near the football pitch. Not a bad start.
Then a small greenish bird dashed out of the willows and dashed back in again. Goldcrest? It reappeared on an exposed branch no more than 3 metres away - a dazzling firecrest! It was presumably a male, its appropriately fiery crest ablaze.
I was well chuffed - this is (to my knowledge) only the second record of this scarce visitor on the patch, the last being one I found back in 2007. Dan H did locate one on Milking Stile Lane in 2008, so given our propensity for being somewhat elastic with the patch boundaries, it probably counts as the third!
The flock melted away and despite my searching I didn't re-find the bird. I'm sure it'll stick around and some careful scrutiny of the area in the coming days or weeks should reward the patient birder.

The second big surprise of the afternoon came when I discovered that 'the' chiffchaff near the Wildfowlers' Pools was in fact two chiffchaffs. One, looks and sounds like a standard collibyta while the other is slightly drabber and has a very odd call indeed. It didn't strike me as a typical Siberian chiffchaff (if such things as 'typical' Sibe chiffs exist) - it wasn't quite that drab.
A quick call to Pete Marsh coupled with a check of my Collins app and I was frankly non-the-wiser. I spent some time following the highly active sprite, trying to get a decent look at it but frankly I wasn't entirely convinced by what I saw. It was plain pale brownish on the head and mantle, with olive tinges to the wings, tail and rump. It wasn't as buffy below as I'd expected and I was sure there were yellow tinges to the underparts (at times, the light wasn't great and my colour perception changed considerably as I watched the warbler). The supercilium didn't seem especially broad or bright and in fact the bird looked notably 'plain-faced'.
I did manage to get a poor recording of its call - not quite so flat and monosyllabic as all the recordings of tristis I've listened to consequently but certainly nothing remotely like that of a 'normal' chiffchaff.
I'll try and figure out how to get the recording into a format that can be played on here, and I'll certainly be going and having another look and attempting to get some pics and better sound recordings of the bird tomorrow.
In the meantime, anyone who fancies enjoying a troublesome hour or two chasing around after a potentially cracking bird (and at worst a very interesting and instructive bird!) the area to check is where the cycle track and upper cinder path meet near the Wildfowlers' Pools. I expect anyone with more more experience of tristis than me will conclude swiftly either way. You'll need wellies and possibly a fair bit of patience.

Naturally with the firecrest and the chiffchaff, my yearlisting was put on hold. Even so, I did rack up 54 species while I was there.

Earlier, I had joined Stuart M for a spot of easy-eared-owling on the Fylde. We started off with excellent views of short-eared owls at Fleetwood, dipped on purple sandpipers at Blackpool (though the sizeable rafts of common scoter offshore were a treat to see), got terrible views of roosting long-eared owl at Marton Mere and a right eyeful of peregrine in Lytham.