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!   


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?
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!


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).


Monday, 16 January 2017

Time & Tide

I finally found a chiffchaff this morning, the first I've come across this winter. It was in the company of a goldcrest (interestingly, I saw more of these today than I have for quite some time) feeding at the far end of Lucy Brook at the northern edge of Freeman's Wood.

I spent a good 3 hours rummaging around the area altogether but little else of significant note was to be found.
Freeman's Pools continues to host a few goldeneye, tufted duck, teal, gadwall and wigeon while a gaggle of greylags and Canada geese remain faithful to Frog Pond field.

A couple of jack snipe were with a pair of common snipe at Snipe Bog and good numbers of waders were on the estuary; lapwing, golden plover, redshank, curlew and dunlin.
The regular greenshank was on the Aldcliffe Marsh flashes.
A flock of some 900 pink-footed geese were grazing in fields between Heaton and Overton. At range, I couldn't pick out anything else among them and when a farm vehicle flushed them I scanned through them in flight and nothing stood out as different.

Yesterday, I managed to get down to Aldcliffe during the high tide. And what a high tide it was, with the saltmarsh mostly submerged.
Once again, I was surprised that I couldn't find any rock pipits.
I checked the tideline between Stodday and Marsh Point and didn't find a single pipit. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable - what has happened to them? Given that we believe that all the birds that winter on our estuaries are of Scandinavian origin, as opposed to sedentary British birds, what has changed to reduce the number arriving here?


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Goose Tales

Well, it's certainly been an interesting week.
On Monday, news of a somewhat elusive nearby red-breasted goose filtered through; it was with a large flock of pink-footed geese in the Cockerham area. Although I was at work, its discovery came (rather conveniently) at a time that allowed for a quick dash during lunch. And so it was that a small contingent of the RSPB's Lancaster office made their way out to try and locate the goose flock. Within minutes we were scanning through a gaggle of grazing geese and enjoying views, albeit fairly distant, of the rather dazzling rarity plus at least 4 white-fronted geese (Russian race albifrons).
Ill-equipped as I was (I don't always have my bins with me at work) I was most grateful for the loan of Lancashire birding legend Maurice Jones' scope, kindly provided while he sat in his car eating lunch.
This was only the second time I've seen red-breasted goose in Britain (my first was at Caerlaverock back in the 90s) and so it was quite a treat to add it onto my Lancashire list. Not that I actually keep one...

More brief birding fun was had yesterday when a short visit along the causeway and in the Causeway Hide (the hide formerly known as Public) at Leighton Moss allowed for a few jammy year-ticks. As we idled along the path, I was asking Kev Kelly about recent bearded tit sightings when one dutifully gave itself away with its loud pinging call to our right.
Better still, within minutes of sitting down in the hide a bittern flew in from the left and landed on the water's edge - it was fairly distant but clearly visible with binocs as it crept along the reed edge. A marsh harrier then drifted across, adding another classic Leighton bird to the tally.
With good numbers of wildfowl on the reserve including lots of pintail and shoveler, plus local goodies as marsh tit and redpoll the reserve has tons to see at the moment.

Today, though it was back to the patch and I spent a blustery couple of hours around high tide trying to find some interesting Aldcliffe birds.
As I walked along the Freeman's Wood path I could hear the distinctive sound of pinkfeet in Frog Pond field and was hopeful that a sizable flock might be sheltering there. A scan revealed just c160 geese there and nothing out of the ordinary among them. Yep, you guessed it - I'm secretly hoping that the red-breasted, or any other scarce species for that matter, might drop onto the patch while heading north. There's plenty of time yet, so it's always worth checking the geese from here on in.
Freeman's Pools were pretty quiet with just 5 goldeneye, 9 wigeon, 2 teal and a lone female tufted duck riding the waves.
Another 4 tufties were on Frog Pond.
In the fields between the cycle track and the Fairfield drumlins a flock of around 600 starlings were foraging. Accompanying them were 100 or so fieldfare and 20ish redwing - now clearly resorting to invertebrate food now that the hawthorns have been stripped of fruit!

The tide had covered Aldcliffe Marsh and I was hopeful of finding some rock pipits along the strand line. Unfortunately, it would seem that wintering pipits are all but a thing of the past on this stretch of estuary. Not too long ago, one could expect double figures of presumed Scandinavian rock pipits at high tide but these days ones and twos are notable.
Similarly finch flocks were regularly encountered as they searched for food along the tideline - today (as is the norm now) I didn't see a single tideline songbird between Snipe Bog and Marsh Point.
The wintering greenshank was wading in the marsh pools and masses of black-headed gulls were picking food items from the surface of the water but I couldn't dig out any wind-blown little gulls from among them.
Later, walking back through Freeman's Wood I added woodcock and jay to the Aldcliffe yearlist (currently 71).  


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year, New List

The past couple of days couldn't have been more different.
Yesterday (Mon 2nd) was sunny, crisp and cold while today was damp, overcast and with a biting chill in the air.
This difference however didn't seem to have much of an impact on the birds around the estuary or the wider Aldcliffe area.

I spent about 3 hours yesterday morning crunching through the icy puddles, hoping for some serious cold-weather movement in wildfowl but alas, it wasn't to be.
Highlights at Freeman's Pools included the usual small numbers of goldeneye, tufted duck, gadwall, wigeon and the like. A little grebe was the first I'd seen there for a while and a buzzard wheeled over, pursued by a garrulous black-headed gull.
The fields held feeding curlews, redshank and lapwing plus the flock of wigeon remained faithful to Frog Pond.
Other than the semi-resident greylags & Canada geese the area appeared goose-free.
The most notable thing was the lack of thrushes - a few blackbirds were all I could find. The once-fruit-filled hawthorns have been well stripped and consequently the winter thrush flocks have moved on.
A couple of birds of interest included a jack snipe at Snipe Bog and a great-crested grebe on the Lune.
One particularly active tit-flock in Freeman's Wood had a single goldcrest in the mix. Still no chiffchaffs anywhere on the patch this winter (compared with last year when they were relatively easy to find, along with the site's first Siberian chiffchaff).

Today, the ponds were even quieter. One new-comer was a female shoveler hanging out with the wigeon at Freeman's.
A skein of pink-footed geese came over but carried on north. By contrast a trio of adult whooper swans came south passing overhead by the Flood.
the best birds of the visit were on the river; a greenshank at Marsh Point and good numbers of mixed waders including plenty of dunlin and golden plover.

So, without making a massive effort, the Aldcliffe 2017 yearlist currently stands at 66 species. We finished 2016 on 126.