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.