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...


Thursday, 16 March 2017

White Arse Works Wonders

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. 


Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Hint Of Spring

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.

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.