Monday, 20 November 2017

Wading In

Great to see a green sandpiper back on the patch this morning. I was beginning to think that we wouldn't have one in the Aldcliffe area this winter. I suspect that it will remain elusive in the coming weeks but we'll wait and see. Today it was on The Flood.
The Flood, along with the fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools, are looking fabulous at the moment. The high water levels of recent weeks have receded and as a result the fields are nicely boggy and seemingly hooching with invertebrates. There were loads of teal dabbling in the muddy shallows this morning along with multiple redshanks, curlews, snipe, up to 11 dunlin and a couple of black-tailed godwits.
It could be well worth keeping an eye on these wet fields as anything could potentially turn up - past winters have seen such oddities as lesser yellowlegs, wood sandpiper, knot and little stint here.

The nearby hedgerows were bustling with blackbirds, despite the relative paucity of berries in the hawthorns. A sprinkling of both mistle and song thrushes along with small parties of redwings and fieldfares were a welcome sight as always. Another feature of this late autumn period is the encouraging number of greenfinches and bullfinches along the cycle track. Greenfinches in particular are comparatively scarce these days so any sign of improvement in the local population is a blessing.
Tree sparrows continue to be seen in the maize fields with plenty of chaffinches and several reed buntings.

A solitary jack snipe was at Snipe Bog and the incoming tide pushed a rock pipit my way.    

Freeman's Pools remain fairly quiet. Coot numbers are noticeably down with just 14 present. A female shoveler was new in while other wildfowl included 5 goldeneye, 7 tufted duck and 19 gadwall plus 3 little grebe.

42 wigeon were on Frog Pond yesterday late afternoon.

Jon

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Whooper Trouper

Had a couple of hours mooching around the patch yesterday (Saturday) morning.

Things were looking slightly livelier at Freeman's Pools with some more goldeneye new in (now 8 birds present) along with 22 coot, 4 tufted duck, 3 little grebe and 19 gadwall. A little egret was on the island.

Checking the Lune at Marsh Point, a pair of great crested grebes drifted by on the incoming tide.

With the maize fields now fully cut, good numbers of corvids, woodpigeons and geese were rooting around in them. Also there were plenty of chaffinches and a few reed buntings and greenfinches searching for food. I could hear tree sparrows calling and eventually tracked two down in the hedge near Darter Pool.

Whooper swan
As I made my way along the cycle track a couple of skeins (comprised approx 70 & 130 birds) of pink-footed geese went over, heading south.

A drake shoveler was on the Wildfowlers' Pools, keeping company with teal and mallard. In the adjacent field a lone whooper swan was with a mute swan. I tried a couple of dodgy digi-scope shots.

Sheep
I was rather pleased with my picture of a sheep... The whooper later took off, flew around in a large circle and landed on the pools with a group of mutes.

All along the track, small numbers of redwing were feeding in the hawthorns and a sprinkling of goldcrests were also seen and heard.

Two grey partridge were in fields near Walled Meadow - always good to see this increasingly scarce bird.

Walking back along Dawson's Bank I came across a single rock pipit amongst 14 meadow pipit & 6 pied wagtails feeding on the tideline.

Jon

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Return of the Goldeneye

The clear winner of the 'Highlight of the Day' category was the pair of goldeneyes on Freeman's Pools this morning. Generally duck numbers seem to be rather low so far this autumn, not only at Aldcliffe but other places too. The cooler air from the north this weekend will have no doubt brought more wildfowl in but on the whole I expect we'll need a spell of prolonged wintry weather before we see any really significant changes. Also with water levels being so high, the traditional ponds are likely too deep for dabbling ducks to feed so flooded fields may be attracting more birds than usual.

Collared greylag
The usual 20-odd gadwall were at Freeman's Pools along with 3 wigeon, a handful of tufted duck, a few coot and 5 little grebes.

The maize was being harvested today so hopefully we'll get some finch and sparrow action in these fields in the next couple of weeks - always worth looking out for brambling, tree sparrow and maybe even an interesting bunting.

Greylags too will congregate in search of spilled corn and it's a good time to check for collared birds. So far I've got the details of 10 of the collared birds I've seen this season but it's not always easy to read the digits when the geese are way out on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Flooded cycle track

A week or so ago I found a single jack snipe along with 4 common snipe at the somewhat appropriately monikered Snipe Bog and my first autumn rock pipit was also there. 11 black-tailed godwit were at the flooded Reedy Corner. This area has once again retained tons of water with the result that the cycle track is submerged again for a good 100 metres or so.

Snipe Bog
Redwings and fieldfares are now an almost regular sight in small numbers but sightings should increase in number and frequency in the coming weeks as birds head west and south.

Good to see that the little owls are remaining faithful to the area they nested in and all being well, should stick around now. Talking of owls, with a good breeding season under their belt we can hope for some barn and short-eared owls on and around the patch this winter - fingers crossed!

Jon   
      

Friday, 13 October 2017

Better Gate Than Never

Boy, where has the time gone? One minute it's early September and I'm looking forward to lots of exciting autumn birding, then it's suddenly mid-October and it feels like I've hardly been out!
Well, that's not strictly true - I have had a few visits to Aldcliffe and environs but I've not exactly come back with a bulging notebook.

North Ronaldsay
Plus, I spent the last week of September on North Ronaldsay, in Orkney. And that was pretty much dawn till dusk birding for 6 days. Our stay on this magical isle didn't coincide with The Big One (that came several days later) but we still found and / or saw plenty to entertain us.
Rustic bunting by Mark Witherall
Highlights included rustic, little and ortolan bunting  olive-backed pipit, bluethroat, red-breasted flycatcher, barred and yellow-browed warblers plus plenty of birds I don't see enough of in this part of the world; great northern diver, great skua, black guillemot, purple sandpiper, Lapland and snow bunting, ring ouzel, grasshopper warbler and common migrants such as redstart and spotted flyctacher. Not too bad really.

Back in Lancaster and a trundle around the patch on October 1 revealed the following highlights: 
1 whinchat
5 chiffchaff
1 green sandpiper
17 house martin (appeared to be moving through as opposed to lingering local birds)
7 gadwall
5 tufted duck

Better gate than never
Though perhaps most significant was the appearance of the new gate by Keyline. Will this be enough to stop the increasing number of rat-runners using the cycle track as a short-cut? Let's hope so. 
I can't help but think this is the absolute least that could have been done to solve the problem of unauthorised vehicle use on this track. 
I expect one or two farm contractors will soon 'forget' the lock the gate behind them and it isn't beyond some drivers (such as those who clearly removed the no vehicle signage at the Aldcliffe Hall Lane end) to just cut through the locks. A couple of set-in bollards part way along the track may have been preferable... 
Talking of house martins (see above), there were still 7 birds at the Willow Lane colony on Sunday 8 October. I haven't seen any since so I expect they've finally headed south.
This morning I had a good wander around the area, starting at FAUNA. I was pleased to my first local patch redwings of the autumn (already spotted on North Ron and at Leighton Moss earlier this week) - 3 were with 5 mistle thrush. I coudn't see any little owls in the usual spot.
After the initial promise provided by the redwings the next couple of hours were something of a dreary slog. A lone chiffchaff was the scant highlight from the cycle track while a kingfisher brightened up an otherwise dull Freeman's Pools. 
Other typical odds and sods included sparrowhawk, gadwall, little egret, reed bunting etc. 

Meanwhile, my day job allows me to see regular bearded tits, purple heron, marsh harrier and the like, so I'm not doing too badly. I will try to get down the patch a bit more frequently, and after one or comments about the lack of posts here of late will endeavour to keep Birding Aldcliffe up to date!  

Jon

Monday, 4 September 2017

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Autumn

It certainly felt autumnal again this morning, not so much weather-wise but bird-wise.
A few migrants hinted at the real onset of passage.

Distant whinchat & wheatear
Two redstarts were the highlight, both dazzling males.
The whinchat remains by the Wildfowlers' Pools - I assume it's the same bird I first saw on 27th and again on Saturday, when it was with a wheatear.
I could see 5 wheatear out on Aldcliffe Marsh though I suspect there were more around.
A few other bits and bobs in the hedges included a lesser whitethroat and a male blackcap plus several willow warblers and chiffchaffs. Swallows were moving south in good numbers.

A green sandpiper was on the Flood but given the reported national influx of pectoral sandpipers it wasn't exactly what I'd hoped to find!
Similarly, the mass of waders on the Lune in recent days has yet to attract anything beyond the expected species; lapwing, redshank, curlew, dunlin and the odd golden plover and common sandpiper. Even so, it's great fun scanning through the large gatherings of birds as they feed on the mud or roost on the river bank.
And it's early days of course, so there's plenty of time for something a little bit out of the ordinary to drop in. 

I had a pleasant couple of hours around Fairfield Orchard and FAUNA yesterday morning, leading a bird walk. Although the rather stiff breeze kept most smaller birds hunkered down, the little owls performed beautifully for the group. We also saw common buzzard and sparrowhawk and noted at least 20 rooks still picking their way through the stubble in the arable field.  

Jon

   


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Autumn Beckons

My last few rummages around around the local patch have certainly had a feeling of impending autumn about them.
This morning, the undoubted highlight was a lovely whinchat with 3 wheatears by the Wildfowlers' Pools. Oddly, I didn't find any other obvious grounded migrants anywhere else though overhead, swallows were clearly on the move.
A green sandpiper was on the pools too. There were 2 here yesterday morning.

Kingfisher, Freeman's Pools
Also yesterday, there was a pair of kingfishers at Freeman's Pools though I couldn't see them this morning.
Wader numbers continue to creep up with good numbers of curlew, lapwing and redshank on the estuary. A few black-tailed godwit have been dropping in and ones or two's of dunlin and greenshank have been on the river. Just 3 golden plover have appeared so far.
An adult great crested grebe was on the Lune yesterday, and the resident 10 or so little grebes have scattered around the patch to occupy the various ponds and pools.

A nice find early last week was a juvenile marsh harrier which was hunting around Freeman's Pools on Tuesday morning. It left the pools and headed off toward the river where it spooked everything, sending up clouds of panicking gulls, waders and starlings in its wake.      
That same morning, the hedges were full of migrants; lots of chiffchaffs and willow warblers were flitting around in the hawthorns. At least 3 lesser whitethroat, 2 common whitethroat and 1 blackcap were also seen. My first autumn wheatear was on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Purple heron at RSPB Leighton Moss
And - I can't post on here without mentioning the purple heron currently attracting hordes of birdwatchers at Leighton Moss.
I've been fortunate enough to see this great rarity on a near daily basis but I haven't yet managed to get a decent pic of it.
However, that won't stop me from putting a rather iffy record shot on here! 

Jon

Monday, 21 August 2017

Purple Patch

Well, it's certainly been an interesting few days!
On Friday, shortly before I was due to catch my train to Oakham for the Birdfair a juvenile purple heron was discovered in front of the Grisedale Hide at Leighton Moss. Now, given that the last purple heron at the reserve (and in this area) was back in 1996 (I saw that one too) this was not a bird to be missed.
So, I duly legged it up the Skytower - following intel from Kev Kelly that it had flow into reeds 'behind Lilian's' - and scanned the vista. Kev decided to join me as it was no longer visible from the hide and we had no idea what it was going to do next.

Purple heron (not the Leighton Moss one...)
After a few gruelling minutes the heron rose from the reeds and flew a short distance before pitching down, out of sight once more. It did this a couple more times before relocating to Grisedale, much to the delight of visiting birders who had hot-tailed it to the reserve in the hope of seeing the rarity.
As I write, it's still present and has shown exceedingly well for many admirers over the past 3 days. I hope to get better views and couple of record shots when I get back to work... in the meantime here's an adult purple heron I photographed elsewhere, previously. All being well, I'll have a pic of the Leighton bird here soon!

Birdfair was fun, as always. I spent all of Saturday and Sunday on the RSPB stand, catching up with old faces and meeting lots of new ones.
Among the book signings hosted on our stand, we had Bill Oddie join us on Saturday afternoon.

Goodie & Baddie
I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to have a pic with him; the last time I'd done this was several years ago when I interviewed him in Morecambe for The Visitor newspaper. I expect I remember that occasion more than he does.

Back in North Lancs, I had a mooch around the patch this morning.
Freeman's Pools was a bit livelier than it has been lately with the first notable returning wildfowl; 9 gadwall and a pair of tufted duck. The usual little grebes, coots and moorhens were present.

Frog Pond and Darter Pool were quiet. Water levels still being high at the Wildfowlers' Pools, there was little on offer beyond a few mallard. A small number of teal were snoozing near Reedy Corner.
A group of 6 snipe flew over and the tell-tale calls of a green sandpiper were audible though I couldn't see the bird.
A check of the Flood failed to reveal the anticipated sandpiper, just 2 little egrets were picking around the muddy pool.
Yet more egrets were out on Aldcliffe Marsh. It's pretty normal these days to be able to stand in one spot and casually count up to 30 egrets...
With the tide at its peak, the river's edge was punctuated with roosting and feeding redshanks, lapwings, curlew and gulls. Scanning through the birds, I found a couple of Mediterranean gulls (adult & 2nd winter) and a common sandpiper but nothing else.
Out on the river there was a group of 10 goosander and 18 cormorants

Collared greylags
The number of greylag and Canada geese have been steadily building in recent weeks but today was the first time I've had the opportunity (and inclination) to read any collars. I suppose it gives me something to do on those slow winter days!   
Kestrels appear to have had a pretty good season locally (for a change) with up to 6 different birds seen in the area today. They've presumably taken full advantage of the good vole year - I hear that short-eared and barn owls have enjoyed high productivity in the county this year. Hopefully we'll see some on the patch this autumn and winter?
On my way home I spotted the green sandpiper as it flew noisily onto the Flood.

After a spot of lunch I had a walk through the FAUNA reserve and had a look at the little owls. Just two were visible today. The cut arable was filled with birds - lesser black-back gulls, herring gulls, black-headed gulls and one each of common and Mediterranean gulls (the latter and adult with a limp) were feeding alongside jackdaws, carrion crows and 7 rooks. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any stock doves among the mass of wood pigeons and feral pigeons.

Jon

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Caught In A Shower

Aldcliffe little owl
Had a very enjoyable three hours or so rummaging around the estuary and environs this morning.
Freeman's Pools was quiet with just a couple of coot, a moorhen, mute swan, a gadwall and 6 little grebes.
A check of Darter Pool revealed a garganey. It flew off toward Bank Pool where it presumably touched down. After a blank 2016, this was a most welcome bird!
The Wildfowlers' Pools and Frog Pond were fairly birdless. Due to the high water levels we're not seeing any waders dropping in to feed on the pools. That said, the flood looks good with lots of mud and water but it must be pretty food-free as few birds are bothering with it.
A check of the estuary was more productive.
There were around 2,300 black-headed gulls roosting on what was once Gull Bank (now more of a steep terrace following the collapse of the bank during the 2015 floods) with smaller numbers of common, herring and lesser black-backs. As I scanned through in search of Mediterranean gulls I picked out 9 but there may well have been more. That could be the highest count I've ever had of Med gulls at Aldcliffe...?
Also on the Lune were 42 black-tailed godwit feeding frantically away on the exposed mud. Among the gathered lapwing were the first three 'autumn' golden plovers.

Before heading home I checked on the little owls near FAUNA and found them just as another shower set in. I could see two adults initially but no youngster.
As the rain fell I noticed one of the adults adopting what I thought was perhaps a defence pose (pictured right). It dropped its wings and then brought them to the fore. I looked at the other adult and it was doing the same. Then two young owls emerged and also adopted the same stance.
Was this something to do with feather conditioning? Were they literally taking a shower? I'll be looking into this when I get chance; I've certainly never witnessed that behaviour before.

Jon
    

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Little Grebe Collective

Grey partridge
Managed to squeeze in a quick blast around the patch after work this evening. It was drizzly but mild and calm enough.
First port of call was Freeman's Pools where I was greeted by the sight of an impressive 9 little grebes. Nice to see grown youngsters among them. Otherwise, a couple of coot and a lone moorhen were all I could see on the main pool.
A grey heron, a mute swan and a couple more moorhens graced the top pools. A female sparrowhawk was sat on a fence post.
A scan of the gulls on the Lune revealed nothing of note.
Water levels being generally high, the ponds were all pretty cruddy with no muddy edges for anything to lurk on. Hence, they were dead.
A couple of whitethroat were heard grunting in the hedges and a couple of willow warblers were in the track-side hawthorns.
There were plenty of swallows around but only a couple each of house and sand martin.
The Flood was slightly more birdy with a pair of little egret and both green sandpiper and common sandpiper.
Despite the large numbers of black-headed gull and lapwings on the river, I couldn't find anything else among them. A kestrel was hunting over the saltmarsh.
I came across a single well-grown juvenile grey partridge on the tideline near Walled Meadow. Proof at least that they still manage (just about) to maintain a small but ever-dwindling population in the Aldcliffe area...

Jon
 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Field Good Factor

I had an extremely soggy trundle around the patch on Saturday morning, but it wasn't without its rewards.
Freeman's Pools were relatively quiet; 3 tufted duck, a couple of little grebes and a few mallard, coot and Canada geese on the water. A reed warbler was half-heartedly singing but kept typically hidden.
A single green sandpiper was at the Wildfowlers' Pools along with a shelduck and one fledged youngster. The sedge warbler-in-residence was belting it out from a path-side hawthorn.
A lone breeding-plumage black-tailed godwit was also here, freshly returned no doubt from Iceland. Also back in the Aldcliffe 'hood were the first post-breeding greylags of the year - approximately 120 including a couple of collared birds.
Out on the Lune the tide was low and as a consequence the mud was littered with lapwings and black-headed gulls. From among the throng I picked out a dunlin, 4 common sandpipers and an adult Mediterranean gull.
A common tern was fishing in the channel, presumably a Conder Pools bird at large.

The arable field at Fairfield
Sunday, things were generally a lot nicer weather-wise so Jenny and I walked through the Fairfield Orchard, via Aldcliffe village and back along the cycle track to Freeman's Wood.
The arable field was looking superb in the sunshine with the crop gently swaying in the breeze and the belt of wildflowers growing around its borders.

Last week I followed up a couple of recent reports of little owl in the area and was delighted to find one. Having been resident in the area for ages (I've been aware of them here since the late 1980s) little owls disappeared from the Admiralty Wood a couple of years ago, mirroring a general decline in the wider area.
The really great news today was that I saw not just one owl there again but a second adult and a recently fledged chick. Where they nested, I have no idea. I checked the area regularly during the spring and found no birds on territory. Let's hope they stick around.

Broad-leaved helleborine
Nearby, I noticed that the broad-leafed helleborine mentioned in my last post was still not in flower. Here's a pic of it anyway - hopefully I'll get a shot of it once it's in bloom.

Birds-wise I didn't see anything that I didn't yesterday (green sandpiper, black-tailed godwit, etc) but there were more butterflies around today.

Gatekeeper
Red admirals seemed especially numerous (by this year's shockingly low standards, at least) and I spotted my first gatekeeper of the year.

Butterfly enthusiasts may be interested to hear that Pete Woodruff called me a few days ago to say that he had seen a ringlet near Stodday, certainly a species I can't recall ever seeing in that area. 

Jon

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sunday Summary

A couple of hours spent blasting around the patch today, just as the tide started to drop was reasonably productive.
Once the jet skiers by Snatchems had packed up and gone off to do whatever it is people like that do, the gulls and lapwings started to settle once more around the river's edge.
Scanning through I was slightly disappointed to find just one Mediterranean gull but as it was an extremely handsome adult still sporting it's breeding finery, I was quite happy with it. It was quite distant, hence the terrible dodgi-scoped pic here.

Med gull
Other than a single eider and my first 'autumn' common sandpiper the Lune was as to be expected; little egrets, grey herons, etc.

Highlights from the Wildfowlers' Pools included a pair of eclipse shoveler and 2 green sandpipers. The Reedy Corner sedge warbler was singing its heart out as were multiple whitethroats along the track-side hedges.

Back in 2009 Tom Wilmer let me know about a particular plant that he'd come across at Aldcliffe; broad-leafed helleborine. I wrote this short post about it. Despite checking the same area in subsequent years I have never relocated this attractive orchid. So it was with some delight that I clapped eyes on a pair of plants in the same area last week, although they had not yet flowered - I checked again today and they still haven't.
Hopefully I'll get some snaps of the flowers once they come into bloom.

Jon
    

Monday, 3 July 2017

Green Back

My first green sandpiper of the post-breeding season was bang on cue this evening with a single bird at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
We usually see a few passing through from early July onward and numbers can reach double figures in exceptional years. Of course there's also the chance of the odd wood sandpiper dropping in too; we generally get on one every other year or so.
Other notable stuff from my latish sojourn included a couple of noisy water rails in Reedy Corner (have they bred here this year?), both reed and sedge warblers singing and a little ringed plover. Although I still haven't seen any young plovers so far this year, there's still a chance that there may be a late brood, as there was last year.
At Freeman's Pools the 2 young little grebes continue to grow but other than a few mallard duckling and Canada goose goslings there's been little in the way of successful nesting. The tufted ducks failed to produce anything, no mute swans have nested for the first time in decades and even the lowly moorhen seems to have had a pretty poor time of it. That said, a recently hatched clutch was at Bank Pool while the coots on Frog Pond still had one decent sized nipper with them.

Earlier in the day I had dropped into Leighton Moss briefly and had cracking views of osprey - I've been seeing them almost daily since starting my new job there but I never fail to be chuffed by the sight of these ace birds. At one point, a male marsh harrier and the osprey were in my field of vision at the same time - an almost unimaginable sight when I used to go there as a lad...

Jon

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Tern Up For The Books

With the sun a-blazing it was always going to be about insects today. Having hardly spent any time birding around Aldcliffe lately, I was keen to see if there was much about - and particularly interested to see what dragonflies had emerged.
On the odanata front it was great to see my first emperor dragonflies of the year; four of these monsters were cruising around at Darter Pool. Also here was a lone four-spotted chaser and a few broad-bodied chasers along with multiple common blue damselflies.
Butterflies were seriously lacking and just a handful of speckled woods, and the odd red admiral, peacock and skipper were seen between Aldcliffe and Glasson.

Birds-wise, Aldcliffe highlights included a newly hatched brood of lapwing chicks at the Wildfowlers' Pools. Otherwise the patch was pretty quiet. Talking of lapwings, the post-breeding (perhaps that should be failed-breeding) flocks are starting to build up with large numbers congregating in the maize fields (the scene of the crime...) and the estuary. Similarly, adult curlews have started arriving back on the Lune in recent days.
Although birds have been present on the patch throughout the breeding season I haven't yet had confirmation of successful nesting by little ringed plover.
Wader numbers will continue to build in the coming weeks and we'll start to see the movement of such species as green sandpiper and the like.

Keen eyed visitors to Freeman's Pools will have noticed the appearance of a 'strange' floating platform a couple of weeks back. Well, if you've been wondering what on earth this odd contraption might be - let me put you out of your misery. It is a tern raft.  Probably way too late to attract breeding birds this year, it may might just appeal to passing common terns, or oystercatchers or even little ringed plovers in years to come.
Terns do take readily to artificial nest sites, as evidenced at nearby Conder Pools and notably at Preston Docks.

In other news, some numb-nuts has presumably decided to get around the law by removing a sign along the cycle track. The notice, which clearly states that it is illegal for unauthorised vehicles to drive along the track has mysteriously disappeared.
Odd that.
Especially when the number of vans, cars and lorries 'accidentally' driving along the track between Aldcliffe Hall Lane and the quay has clearly increased in recent months. Anything to do with the number of new dwellings along New Quay Road, I wonder?    
    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Migrants Keep Trickling In...

This morning I led a guided walk around the FAUNA reserve in Lancaster. It was the first one that I've done for a while and we had a great turnout. Thankfully the weather behaved and we saw a decent selection of common birds including both common and lesser whitethroat, reed bunting, stock dove and a pair of grey partridge.

Afterwards I went off for a trundle around Aldcliffe to see if anything had dropped in. There were plenty of singing warblers around; willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, both whitethroats, and blackcaps all belting it out.
The highlight was a whinchat in the maize fields, followed by another by Freeman's Pools.  
A few pairs of lapwing seemed to have resettled in the maize fields, along with a pair of oystercatchers. Hopefully they will have some success this time - it appears that the seed went down soon after the muck was ploughed in so they should be able to hatch a brood before any herbiciding takes place.
There are still a couple of healthy looking lapwing chicks around the Wildfowlers' Pools.

I pooped back down mid-afternoon to give my newly repaired bike an airing and the only notable difference was the presence of a couple of smart white wagtails and the dapper breeding plumage dunlin still hanging out at the Wildfowlers' Pools. What on earth that bird is doing, I have no idea..!

It appears that the mute swan pair that built a nest at Reedy Corner have abandoned it. Not too far away, the pair I saw on the canal near Aldcliffe Triangle yesterday had NINE newly hatched cygnets in tow.  

Other birds seen by Aldcliffe birders in recent days include more whinchats and wheatears and a spotted flycatcher.

Meanwhile, my new job at Leighton Moss means I've been getting a bit blasé about spoonbills, cattle egrets, marsh harriers and Cetti's warblers. Any of which would be great Aldcliffe birds (in fact cattle egret would be a patch first - surely it's only a matter of time?).  

Jon

Monday, 8 May 2017

Wagtail Tale & Marsh Hoodie

Yellow wagtail
Yellow wagtails were once a fairly regular feature of an Aldcliffe spring. One or two of these lovely migrants would appear at The Flood or around Frog Pond annually but as the species has undergone significant declines throughout its UK range in recent years, local sightings have inevitably become fewer.
So, it was a real pleasure to find one this morning by Bank Pool. The bird was a female and it was foraging around the reeds at the edge of the pool. Also there was a singing reed warbler and a coot with a brood of 5 chicks.

One other notable feature of the morning was the movement of swallows and swifts through the area. Good numbers were passing through, with many stopping to feed over the fields. A few house martins and a single sand martin were also seen.
Several common whitethroat and lesser whitethroat were seen and heard throughout the area along with multiple blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff. (Of note, I spotted a common whitethroat a couple of days ago that was ringed on its left leg; it would be great to know where that had come from!).
Also present this morning was a single wheatear on the marsh near the Walled Meadow.

This morning was the first time that I had been able to spend a good couple of hours on my local patch for a while. I was fortunate enough to be in Southern California and Arizona for the past two weeks, guiding on a trip for Ribble Bird Tours. The birding was great out there but I was acutely aware that I was away from the patch during peak migration time!

Prior to my visit to the US, I had a pretty remarkable sighting at Aldcliffe. On April 16th I had a wander down in the evening and just about the first bird I clapped eyes on was a hooded crow as it flew low, south over Freeman's Pools!
I ran up the 'hill' and connected with it as it carried on over the maize fields, much to the annoyance of the nesting lapwings. It flew over Dawson's Bank and disappeared. A scan over the marsh a while later failed to relocate it.
This is only my second ever 'hoodie' at Aldcliffe (local youths excepted) - my first was back in 2004 when a bird turned up for a few days in late July.

And talking of nesting lapwings; the maize field nesters have been trashed as usual thanks to the need to plough in manure in advance of growing animal fodder. I noticed a few pairs back in the field today but any new attempts to re-lay will be equally doomed as the seed has yet to go down. Hopefully a pair or two might lay again after the next assault. Just one pair of lapwings has hatched three young at the Wildfowlers' Pools, though only two chicks were there yesterday and I could only see one today... not exactly the best way to sustain a population.
Jon

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Missing Migrants & Punctual Osprey

Fabulous weather and an encouraging breeze from the south(ish) had me out nice and early, thoughts of myriad migrant birds swirling around my brain...
Sadly, as is so often the case, my optimism went unrewarded. A couple of hours checking all the best spots failed to turn hardly anything up.
Only a single willow warbler was found in Freeman's Wood, along with plenty of chiffchaffs and a few blackcaps. The collective ponds were quiet - 2 goldeneye, 6 tufted duck and a pair of gadwall remain at Freeman's Pools while small numbers of teal and a further couple of pairs of gadwall were on other pools.
A lone little ringed plover was at the Wildfowlers' Pools and a pair of greenshank were on Aldcliffe Marsh.
A solitary swallow over the marsh was my first on-patch bird of the year, and a few off-passage meadow pipits were seen here and there, but other than that you'd be hard pressed to find much evidence of migration.

On Friday I had my last day in the RSPB office in Lancaster (as of Monday I'll be at Leighton Moss) and we had our first over-office osprey of the season. As usual we were alerted by the sound of agitated gulls (the windows are always open at this time of year for this very reason) and Gav Thomas was first to pick up the bird as it drifted over the city, heading north-west just after noon.
Following a discussion about our first office osprey last year, we checked and discovered that it was the very same day in 2016 (7 April) at 12.30pm! That's what I call punctual.

Jon  

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Renewed Development Threat

It's been a while since I last posted here, mainly due to fewer opportunities to visit but also because there's not been a great deal to report.
The little ringed plover situation on the Flood has been somewhat unusual; after the arrival of the first bird on 21st March, a second bird appeared three days later. But instead of the steady build up of birds as has happened in previous years, there has been little sign of any plovers since. This morning, one LRP was present - to my knowledge the first Aldcliffe sighting for well over a week.
My last sightings of the green sandpiper and greenshank were on 25th March.

Chiffchaffs started arriving en force at the end of March and can now be heard and seen all over the place. A sprinkling of sand martins have passed through and an ever-increasing number of blackcaps are singing in various parts of the patch.
I noted my first swallow of the year near Galgate at the weekend and I finally tracked down a willow warbler this morning in Freeman's Wood.

Development Threat


Talking of Freeman's Wood, there is renewed interest in developing the area and many local residents recently received a leaflet outlining the proposals and inviting all comers to a public consultation.
The plan is to stick 250 houses in the area that is currently fenced off.
This whole area is generally referred to as Freeman's Wood but according to maps Freeman's Wood is actually just the narrow strip that runs parallel to Freeman's Pools and the footpath leading to Marsh Point from the cycle track.
Locals have used this area for generations and the scrub and woodland around the old sports pitch supports a significant number of red and amber listed bird species. These include such breeding birds as grasshopper warbler, song and mistle thrush, linnet, bullfinch, reed bunting and tawny owl. The area is also used by migrating birds in spring and autumn and is an established wintering site for woodcock.
If you want to find out more about these potentially devastating proposals you can attend the Public Consultation on Weds 5th April at The Storey, Lancaster. Further details can be found here.  

Jon  

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Little Wonder

Little ringed plover - Aldcliffe
Mid to late March always has me anticipating the arrival of the first little ringed plover at Aldcliffe. They are extremely reliable here and turn up each year around the same date; March 17th in 2013, 19th in 2014 and 2015 and 18th last year.
So when I clapped eyes on a lovely adult female on the Flood this morning I wasn't the least bit surprised.
These dainty little waders are long distance migrants, returning to the UK each spring from their wintering grounds in Africa. They are as much a herald of spring for me as wheatears, sand martins and chiffchaffs.
(The pic here was taken previously).

Today's morning visit to Aldcliffe followed a few off-patch visits along with fellow birder and good chum Stuart Meredith. First we headed to Sizergh Castle in search of hawfinch. These dazzling and often elusive birds are regular at this site and we weren't disappointed. Arriving around 6.30am we had just a short wait before being treated to superb views of a pair of birds feeding on the ground. Although I have seen this species at Sizergh before these were by far the best views I've ever had of hawfinch. A severe blizzard of hail covered the car park in a carpet of white and signaled our time to leave!
For details of this great site visit: Sizergh Hawfinches

A stop at Leighton Moss (including breakfast in the cafe) added 3 egret species to the day's list; cattle, great (2) and little (enough). Around 50 sand martins were visible from the Causeway Hide as they hawked over the water while water rails squeeled from the depths of the reedbeds. A pair of marsh harriers showed well and 10 pochard (an increasingly scarce sight these days) were on the mere.
At least 8 avocets were on the Allen Pool.

We then headed to Heysham where were looked for the Iceland gull at the Harbour. We soon located it having a snooze on the roof of one of the harbour-side buildings. Not the best of views, but good enough.

After our first drop-in at Aldcliffe we moved on to Bradshaw Lane, Pilling. This area is well known among local birders for the farmland bird feeding initiative that has been running here for many years. The feeding stations attract many species including several that are difficult to find in this region. We were blessed with great views of multiple yellowhammers and tree sparrows plus a single brambling.

A brief return to Aldcliffe (after tea and cake at Ashton Hall) revealed that the little ringed plover was still present.

All in all we enjoyed a good trundle around the area and I added a few new birds to my slowly increasing yearlist and possibly a few new inches to my waistline...

Jon        

Thursday, 16 March 2017

White Arse Works Wonders

Wheatear
Yet more indicators of the coming season came in the form of a smart male wheatear on the tide line on Monday morning.
These long-distance migrants are always a pleasure to see and a real sign that there are tons more birds on their way to our shores!
In case you're wondering, the name wheatear has nothing to do with either wheat or indeed ears.
It is a derivation of the old name 'white-arse' - and if you've seen one flying away from you, you'll know why!
Skylarks have been both passing through and singing over the marsh while meadow pipits continue to make their way north in small numbers. 
Chiffchaffs have arrived in notable numbers in recent days with a few birds singing in Freeman's Wood while others have been feeding quietly in the hedgerows.

Presumably the same green sandpiper I saw last Sunday was again present at the Wildfowlers' Pools this morning. These cracking waders used to be regular during winter around Aldcliffe but the last two years have been poor - presumably water levels play a significant part in suitability of habitat.
Black-tailed godwit have also been thin on the ground around Aldcliffe this winter so a flock of c150 flying down the Lune earlier in the week was notable. 15 including 2 in dapper breeding plumage were present today, feeding by Frog Pond.
Two reports of avocet on the Lune last week were typical; these early migrants are already present at RSPB Leighton Moss in double figures.  
This morning a jack snipe and 3 common snipe were lurking in Snipe Bog.
If previous years are anything to go by, the first little ringed plovers should arrive back in the parish this weekend. Looking at the forecast however, they may be slightly delayed...

Regular scans through the gulls on the river have so far failed to turn up anything interesting; not even any Med gulls.
Several hundred pinkfeet are still hanging around, commuting regularly between Aldcliffe Marsh and the Heysham / Oxcliffe area.
Duck numbers are dwindling  on the whole with far fewer wigeon and teal around. Up to 20 tufted duck remain in the area and at least 10 goldeneye can still be seen at Freeman's Pools.
 
Cattle egret
In a rare bit of non-Aldcliffe birding, while interviewing at Leighton Moss earlier in the week, I casually managed to add sand martin and green woodpecker to my year-list. More importantly, I squeezed in a spot of drive-by twitching and had a quick look at the cattle egret at Yealand Storrs. Although I've seen this species in many parts of the world and in the UK before this was the first cattle egret that I have ever seen in Lancashire. It's still a very rare bird in our neck of the woods so it was well worth having a peek at!

* The pic here is not of the Yealand cattle egret, but one I took elsewhere previously. 

Jon

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Hint Of Spring

Stonechat
With cool, overcast conditions it didn't seem much like spring down at Aldcliffe this morning. But the sound of multiple singing birds certainly hinted that change was in the air.
Oystercatchers were noisily pairing up and proclaiming potential territories while a few lapwings were already staking their claims in the maize fields.
Small numbers of meadow pipit were passing over and a handful of 'new-in' reed buntings were evident around the patch. A small group of linnet were feeding on the tideline.
Other new arrivals included a female stonechat at Marsh Point and a green sandpiper at the Wildfowlers'  Pools.
Around 1,200 pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh, plus several fieldfare and redwings along the path hedgerows, were reminders that winter is still very much clinging on...
The regular greenshank continues to hang around on the marsh flashes.

On Thursday I came across my first butterflies of the year; a comma was at Aldcliffe and a small tortoiseshell was in FAUNA. The blast of welcome sunshine clearly triggered an instinct to emerge.
Notable birds seen that same day included a couple of siskins feeding in the Freeman's Pool alders, a female merlin hunting on the marsh and four common buzzards displaying over the drumlins.


Griffon vulture
Last week Jenny and I escaped to Spain for a few days for a spot of R&R. Having previously seen most of the birds that can be found in the Iberian peninsular, this was a relaxing affair with just one species on my 'wants' list; the very rare Spanish imperial eagle.
We started off at the lovely town of Ronda where were noted red-billed choughs, black redstarts, singing serins and heaps of Sardinian warblers, before heading up to Cordoba. En route we saw good numbers of griffon vultures and around the city we saw some classic common Spanish birds including lots of spotless starlings.

Spotless
At dusk as little and great egrets headed up the Guadalquivir River to roost, night herons flew out in the opposite direction. Cetti's warblers blasted from the waterside vegetation and as bats emerged from the old stone bridges a kestrel took advantage of this crepuscular food source and engaged in an amazing display of aerial hunting.
We then headed to Sierra de Andújar in search of the eagle and hopefully Iberian lynx. Unfortunately we didn't see any lynx despite our best efforts (mammals did include red and fallow deer and otter) but I did manage to catch up with 5 imperial eagles.

Azure-winged magpie
Also seen were lots of other great birds including golden eagle, booted eagle, more griffons and 3 black vultures, Iberian grey shrike, blue rock thrush, hoopoe, wryneck, short-toed treecreeper, great spotted cuckoo, red-rumped swallow, crag martin, Iberian green woodpecker, crested lark, rock bunting, rock sparrow & hawfinch as well as more azure-winged magpies than you could shake a stick at.
We finished our trip with a couple of days in Granada before flying home from Malaga. All in all, a great short trip with tons of fabulous wildlife, scenery, architecture and food, plus lots of rioja.
   
 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Grillers In The Mist

Aldcliffe birding's been a bit on the predictable side of late. The last three or four visits have seen me looking at pretty much the same birds, in the same places.

But today was different. Today we had persistent mizzle. Today we had apparent 'movement' of birds.
Things started out as normal; Freeman's Pools was hosting a few tufted duck and goldeneye along with the regular residents. 150 or so pink-footed geese were grazing on the drumlins.

Frog Pond had its attendant wigeon flock - and the drake shoveler, lately faithful to Darter Pool, had relocated to this larger water. In the fields, curlew were feeding and with them a couple of fine black-tailed godwits (my first on the patch this year).
A further 9 black-tailed godwits were frantically feeding on the Flood where a sure sign of impending spring included a flock of 9 meadow pipits.

Two dinky jack snipe were still being faithful to Snipe Bog. A scan over the estuary revealed little and so I opted to walk along Dawson's Bank in case anything was lurking along the tideline or on the marsh.

Eventually, through the mist I could make out a few geese. As I approached I scanned through the flock, regularly wiping my drizzle drenched binoculars with a bit of soggy tissue. I wondered if there might be something else tagging along with the 850 or so pinkfeet present.
Then I spotted it; a lone Canada goose. The conditions were pretty rotten and so I decided to get the 'scope out so that I could give them a good grilling.

Todd's Canada Goose - Aldcliffe
Aware of the Todd's Canada goose that has been seen in Norfolk, and latterly the Fylde, this winter I knew this bird was worth checking out.
Problem was, as I looked at it I realised that I didn't really know what one should look like! Sure, I was aware of some of the features but this thing didn't wholly fit what I thought it should. It certainly had a few characters good for the subspecies but it looked a bit too pale breasted and that head-shape wasn't as 'whooper swan-like' as I'd expected. On the plus side, it appeared to have a dark brownish mantle without any pale fringes to the scapulars, tertials etc, and the neck shape didn't quite look right for our typical feral Canada geese.
I tried to grab a couple of snaps through the murk and decided to go home and have a read up on the identification of Todd's, or interior Canada goose.

Mediterranean gull - Lune Estuary
As I arrived at Marsh Point I had a quick look at the gulls on the River Lune and soon found a smart adult winter Mediterranean gull - a lot bloody easier to identify!
Once I got home I had a look through a few books and a bit of online checking had me baffled even more. So, I called Pete Marsh and let him know about the goose. He called back later to confirm it as the Todd's. Phew.

That's the brilliant thing about birding, there's always plenty to baffle and always lots to learn!

Jon 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Rare Goose Revisited

White-fronted & red-breasted goose, Pilling
I managed an hour and a half or so down at Aldcliffe on Wednesday where the most notable thing was the reduction in the number of geese.  Just c550 pinkfeet were grazing on the drumlins.
A group of 7 adult whooper swans were on bathing and preening in one of the flashes on Aldcliffe Marsh, before they flew off westwards.
There was quite a bit of skylark movement throughout with 1s & 2s plus a flock of 11 going in all directions.
Ultra-scarce this winter, a single rock pipit feeding in the marsh channels was a nice find and the drake shoveler was once again on Darter Pool.

I had a good walk around the patch this morning but it was pretty quiet. The reduced goose flock was still on the hill and the shoveler was remaining faithful to Darter Pool.
Freeman's Pools continues to host a handful each of goldeneye and tufted duck, plus the usual 20ish coot and a couple of little grebes.
The peregrine pair were again keeping sentinel on the marsh.
The drake shoveler was still present and a small number of skylarks were again passing over.

I walked back up through Aldcliffe village and along the patch toward the Fairfield Orchard. The annual influx of redwing and fieldfare was well in evidence with around 120 birds in a mixed flock by Admiralty Wood.
As I trudged along the muddy path the wintering finch flock got up from the arable field and landed in the small tree by the path. A female brambling was among the expected chaffinches and linnets - the first I've seen locally this winter.

After a good dousing by rain and hail I headed home for a warming brew. Suitably refreshed, I decided to pop over to Pilling to have another look at the red-breasted goose which was apparently showing well in fields by Backsands Lane.
As I passed by Conder I was treated to the sight of a great egret as it flew over the road and heading in the direction of Glasson. This bird has been seen in the area a number of times in recent weeks.

Red-breasted goose
I arrived at the goose-spot and soon picked out the dinky rarity from the flock of pink-footed and 23 Eurasian white-fronted geese. It showed brilliantly in good light and I was able to get a couple of record shots using my compact digital camera held up to my 'scope. My last visit to see this bird was something of a mad-dash and we had distant views of the birds so to see it closer and with more time on my hands was a real joy. I still want it to make its way over to the Lune though...

Jon   

Monday, 30 January 2017

Goose Influx Excites

Barnacle goose
An intended quick scout around the patch yesterday morning turned into a longer visit courtesy of a large gaggle of newly-arrived pink-footed geese.
Around 1,400 birds had ditched down in the fields immediately east of the cycle track and I spent a good deal of time scrutinising the flock.
The only birds to stand out from the crowd were a smart barnacle goose and a rather irritating pinkfoot with orange legs and a slightly orangey bill (pictured) which was doing a half-decent job of suggesting rossicus bean goose.

Fox, having a good scratch
Along the hedgeline a dog fox kept the birds on alert but he didn't seem particularly interested in a goose dinner.
Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me so  the collection of shoddy shots here were taken using my phone held up to my 'scope. 

A return visit to the fields today revealed a significant increase in the number of geese. I estimated somewhere in the region of 3,500. My optimism-o-meter went into overdrive.

An hour or so of careful 'scoping later and all I could say with any conviction was there was nowt else among the mass of pinks.
Well, that's not entirely true, the barnacle was still there, as was the orange-legged pinkfoot.

Orange-footed goose...
A lone greylag was also grazing among the geese (an Icelandic bird?) and a particularly dark pinkfoot stood out from the crowd.
Hopefully the numbers will continue to rise and we'll see something really interesting among them...

In other non-goose news: yesterday highlights included a pair of peregrines and the wintering greenshank on Aldcliffe Marsh and a kingfisher at Freeman's Pools.
Today, I didn't really see much else as I was rather fixated on the geese!   

Jon
     

Friday, 27 January 2017

Spellbinding Merlin

I toured the patch by bike today and with a bit of time at my disposal ventured beyond Aldcliffe's exalted boundaries.
First stop was an icy Freeman's Pools where the birds were concentrated into one relatively small area of open water. Here 20 coots dived alongside a couple of little grebe and three each of goldeneye and tufted duck. A squad of snoozing teal were on the ice.
Oddly, the smaller Frog Pond wasn't as frozen and 50 or so wigeon were paddling about with a handful of Canada geese.
The cycle track was pretty quiet with the just the usual blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, wrens, tits, dunnocks, goldfinches and a couple of bullfinches seen.
A gaggle of 140 rather edgy pink-footed geese were grazing in the fields to the east of the track. The activities of a couple of wildfowlers on the estuary possibly contributed to their wariness.
The river itself was pretty quiet beyond the expected gulls, waders and ducks.
A fair amount of work was going on in one of the fields near Low Wood. It appears to be another phase of the solar farm... It will be interesting to see if, and how, this affects local wildlife.

Spotted redshank
I carried on down to Conder Green and Glasson Dock stopping frequently along the way. To be honest, the high tide did little to enhance the experience and I hardly saw anything worth mentioning.
One of the few highlights was the wintering spotted redshank roosting at the Conder.
I checked Jeremy Lane for any swans but found only mutes and Glasson Marina offered little beyond a couple of goosander.

Distant merlin!
On my way back to Lancaster along the cycle track I stopped to 'scope a peregrine sat out on Colloway and then noticed a dashing female merlin hunting over Aldcliffe Marsh. She soon sat and I was able to get good views (and a bad 'scope pic!).
As I passed the Wildfowlers' Pools I added a kingfisher to the day's tally.

Earlier, I'd been called by Paul Brady to say that he'd bumped into a flock of 42 waxwings near Skerton Bridge. I later got another call from Ken Green to say that a friend of his had reported the same flock near PC World.

Waxwing, Lancaster
Around 3pm I popped along and soon found a group of waxwings in the trees adjacent to the cycle track just by Skerton Bridge.
As I walked around trying to assess the size of the flock they took off and headed over the road toward the Kingsway Retail Park. I tracked them down to a small rowan that miraculously still had lots of fruit on offer - the last berried rowan in town?
Waxwing
Here a group of 20 or so fed happily at the entrance of the Bathstore car park as two lanes of traffic passed by just feet away; the waxwings and commuters were seemingly completely oblivious of one another.


Don't forget - it's the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend. For more info about this massive countrywide event see here: Big Garden Birdwatch and to find out what's happening in the Lancaster area click here.
If you're taking part, keep an extra eye out - you never know you might have a waxwing drop by!

Jon
  

Monday, 23 January 2017

Canal King

Kingfisher near Whte Cross, Lancaster
There's been little change in the bird life of the Aldcliffe area over the last few days, as far as I can tell.
Highlights have included the arrival of a solitary drake shoveler on Freeman's Pools (yesterday) and a mini-influx of pink-footed geese with a whopping 80 in the fields this morning.
Hopefully goose numbers will increase substantially over the next few weeks - do keep an eye out for any odd stragglers among the commoner species. The Fylde still is still hosting thousands of pinkfeet, plus several Eurasian white-fronts, both taiga and tundra bean geese, barnacle geese and a Todd's Canada goose and the much-twitched red-breasted goose.

Tawny owl. Can you see me? Can you see me now?
I've added a few patch 'year-ticks' in the past couple of days such as kestrel and stock dove while a Sunday stroll along the canal rewarded me with corking views of a kingfisher near White Cross.
A quick check of a known roost near Lancaster Castle gave me my first views of tawny owl for 2017.

Last week while in Lancaster there were 4 waxwings feeding in the white rowans off Bulk Street, behind Dalton Square. A male blackcap was also seen feeding on the berries there.
Most of the city's berry-filled trees have been well stripped now so finding waxwings locally will doubtless become increasingly difficult from here on in; up to 12 were still in the Scotforth area yesterday (Sunday).

Jon