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! 


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.


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.


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...