Sunday, 24 February 2013

Seeing Green

Jenny and I took a leisurely stroll down through the parish early afternoon today. We walked via Freeman's Wood to the Pools, along the track to the parking area, up Aldcliffe Hall Lane (aka Railway Crossing Lane) and through Aldcliffe village to Admiralty Wood and down to Fairfield Millennium Orchard.
It stayed dry and relatively mild, but was mostly overcast throughout.
A gang of urban teens were trampling around the reserve at Freeman's Pools, fulfilling every stereotype with regulation bull terriers in tow. As a result, the water was pretty birdless with the exception of some hardy coot.
Twenty or so wigeon were on Frog Pond, but there was little else there. Darter Pool was similarly quiet with just coot and moorhen present.
The usual common passerines including goldcrest, long-tailed tit and greenfinch were much in evidence in the hedgerows and field edges.

Green sandpiper
Things picked up a touch at the Wildfowlers' Pools with a green sandpiper showing nicely.
Once again I was unarmed, photographically speaking, so rather than stick an old photo of a green sandpiper on here I have posted another one of my ancient pen and ink illustrations.
You may start appreciating my photos a bit more now that you've seen the alternative!

Other than the regular teal, mallard, redshank and oystercatcher and what-not, it was reasonably quiet at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
The Flood was pretty much devoid of life bar a scattering of lapwing, redshank, shelduck and dunlin. Good numbers of curlew and starling were feeding in the fields.
A scan over Aldcliffe Marsh revealed the usual little egrets and such plus the pink-footed goose flock had increased to some 1,600 birds.
A few fieldfare were seen in the fields as we walked up to the village, though these once dead-cert fields for grey partridge drew a blank. I haven't seen any since I got back and I wonder what the current status is of partridge is in the Aldcliffe area. I expect I will get a better idea in the spring when they get vocal.
Nuthatches and great-spotted woodpeckers were audibly notable at Admiralty Wood but I couldn't pick out any little owls today.


Saturday, 23 February 2013

Winter Limps On...

It's been a funny old week. I've ventured out down to Aldcliffe most days, but it's been a spectacularly unremarkable few days.
I haven't see the redhead smew since last Saturday, despite others having spotted it on a couple of occasions. Lancs Wildlife Trust staff are continuing with the habitat management work, which is of course great but does tend to spook the majority of birds from the pools. Most days there have been just a few coot, mallard and teal present. The wigeon have relocated to Frog Pond, though seem to return to Freeman's Pools to roost in the evening.
Down at the Wildfowlers' Pools, up to 6 snipe have been showing well feeding on the water's edge. A female goosander has joined the mallard and teal for the past couple of days and up to two little egrets have been feeding there.
The Flood continues to dry out as a result of several days without rain but it's attracting little bar black-headed gulls, shelduck and lapwings. Dunlin numbers have dwindled a bit, barely reaching 30 birds most days. Nearby, golden plovers continue to join the lapwings and curlews in the fields. Several of the goldies are starting to moult nicely into breeding plumage.

Reed bunting
Chaffinch numbers have increased slightly in the stubble fields, but so far the only other species to be seen with them was a single male reed bunting this morning. I haven't taken any photos worth posting this week (nothing new there then...) so I dug out an old drawing I did of a reed bunting many, many moons ago.
The stock dove pair continue to appear in the same maize fields periodically.
Out the marsh it's pretty quiet, with up to 500 pink-footed geese hanging around for most of the week. This morning I counted 12 little egrets in one fairly casual sweep, but there was no sign of the recent spoonbill - presumably it's moved on?

On Thursday I cycled over to Morecambe where I had a wander down the Stone Jetty with Shaun Coyle. We couldn't locate any purple sandpipers, but there were around 40 or so knot roosting on the rocks below the jetty end, where a dozen or so turnstone fed busily on the water's edge.      
There were c.190 black-tailed godwit feeding on the beach near the Eric Morecambe which made for a pretty cool sight.
I have to say, I'd forgotten how dull February can be and I really can't wait for the first spring migrants to start trickling in in a few weeks...

Sunday, 17 February 2013

That Sterling Moss

View from the Public Hide at Leighton Moss
The most notable thing about my cycle from Freeman's Pools to Conder today concerned the movement of two very different bird species.
Having seen none so far this winter, skylarks were very much in evidence along the Lune estuary throughout the 3 hours I was out. Primarily in ones and twos, most were moving in a southerly direction although a couple were simply circling around at height over the marshes. Breeders returning from winter sites to establish territories?
The other birds that seemed uncharacteristically numerous were common buzzards. I appreciate that these birds are widespread and relatively common along the lune these days, but I saw at least 7 individuals between Aldcliffe and Ashton Hall. Three of these were headed purposefully south, at height. Perhaps it was just a good day for buteos to get out and declare their intentions, as opposed to this being actual movement? 
Aldcliffe was a little quiet for most of the week from what I could see. I got out most days at one point or another; some days were pleasant and mild, others were absolutely horrendous.
The redhead smew remained faithful throughout at Freeman's Pools. It relocated to one of the small satellite pools in the north west corner while the Lancashire Wildlife Trust staff were on site doing some major habitat management courtesy of Environment Agency diggers. In fact it seemed to be about the only bird that wasn't completely freaked out by this intrusion!
One highlight included a pair of lesser redpoll feeding on rosebay willowherb seeds at the cutting just south of Snipe Bog on Thursday. Redpolls are generally pretty scarce in north Lancashire and are barely annual in the Aldcliffe area.

Looking out from the Griesdale Hide
Yesterday (Saturday) I tore myself away from the patch and headed out to Leighton Moss. I first visited this expansive RSPB reserve as an 11-year old, back in 1878. It was February then too, and the meres were all frozen. I had 7 bittern sightings that memorable day, but I went home somewhat disappointed as I'd really wanted to see a grey heron...
Anyhoo, the reserve was nice and quiet when I arrived and I had most of the hides pretty much to myself. As I headed out to the Griesdale Hide I was accompanied by the almost incessant squealing of water rails emanating from the dense reedbeds. From the hide itself it was fairly standard fayre with a couple of cormorants sat up in a tree and good numbers of wildfowl including teal, wigeon, mallard and gadwall. The two little egrets elegantly fishing in the shallows would have been a remarkable sight not too many years ago but now they are to be expected.
Birds visible from the nearby Jackson hide were much the same, with pintail, greylag and mute swan added to the mix.
Lilian's hide provided a few more birds, including common gull, black-headed gull, tufted ducks and my first pochard of the year. Another year-tick came in the form of a marsh harrier sat preening in a distant willow.

A robin - what's not to love?
I then walked over to the Public causeway where I soon heard the cacophonous sound of a Cetti's warbler exploding from the reeds. It was fairly close to the pathway so I decided to hang around and see if I could catch of glimpse of the famously skulky bird. A reed stem moved and was followed by a brief flash of the bird's tail. The warbler continued to call, moving all the time but keeping well hidden from view until a blue tit arrived on the scene. The Cetti's seemed to become slightly agitated by the other bird and flew up toward the tit before plunging back down in the reed stems. Oh well, not the best views I've ever had of the species, but nice to see nonetheless!

Long-tailed tit poses nicely.
I stopped at the Public hide for a quick scan before carrying on along the causeway.
More water rails squealed and I heard the not-too-distant 'ping' of a bearded tit but failed to catch sight of the dapper parrotbill. As I trundled along the path to the Lower hide I bagged a fly-over siskin, had views of a great-spotted woodpecker and plenty of other common woodland birds.  
One of the great things about a place like Leighton Moss is that one can get pretty good views of lots of common birds. Most active birders, myself included, tend to ignore the more familiar species as a matter of course, but it's quite hard to ignore even a robin or chaffinch at arm's length. Then the camera inevitably comes out. So, forgive me for posting these shots - I just couldn't help it!
Also, bare in mind that I've been 'starved' of many of these common birds for the last 3 years and am sort of looking at them through 'new' eyes... (my Canadian pals will appreciate them at least!). 

Having added snipe and great-black backed gull to the day-list I took the path that leads to the 'blue-gate' by the road stopping to take a few shots of a very confiding (ie stupid) pheasant.
The walk back to the reserve was uneventful, but pleasant enough thanks to the bright, mild conditions.
Things have certainly changed since my inaugural visit to this large reserve back in the late 1970s, but one thing remains the same - it's a wonderful place where members of the public can get close and cosy with nature. And that can only be a good thing.

Just to prove that I haven't turned into a total dude, I did stop at Warton Stock Car track (located at the glamorous location of Carnforth Slag Heaps) on my way home to see if I could see the black redstart that's been hanging around there lately. I haven't been to this area for at least 20 years, and had forgotten just how horrible this place is. Anyway, I had the place to myself and soon found the bird, a smart but flighty individual, it appears to be first-year male.    


Monday, 11 February 2013

Bongo Bird

Having missed the spoonbill on the Lune estuary last summer, I was rather thrilled to hear that Pete Crooks had found one yesterday on Colloway Marsh.
Of course Colloway is on the other side of the river but as far as I'm concerned if one can see a bird from the Aldcliffe area, then it counts as a patch bird.
And so it was that I headed along the cycle track this morning in pursuit of the big white 'bongo bird'. I'd bumped into Ray Hobbs at the parking area, he wasn't aware of the spoonbill's discovery and he joined me in searching for it.

Spoonbill. No, really.
A 'scope along the marsh north of the pylons failed to locate anything other than a few little egrets, and so we continued down to the horse paddocks at Low Wood. 
'Scanning over the marsh on the opposite bank I soon found the spoonbill just south of the pylons, loosely keeping company with at least 5 egrets. It was quite active, wing-stretching and preening.
Through bins it was just another distant white blob and a 'scope was a definite necessity from this side of the river.
As you can see from the amazing photograph (almost as definitive as those infamous images of the Cottingley Fairies) the bird was some way away...
Anyway, it was an Aldcliffe tick for both Ray and I, so that's all that really matters!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

There's No Bunting, Like Snow Bunting

With some time on my hands today, I decided to hop into the motor and head off to pastures not-so-distant.
So, I started off with a stop at Conder Pools. The tide was high in the creek and a quick scan revealed a greenshank on the banks. The pools were relatively quiet with just 3 little grebe and the usual scattering of wigeon, teal, tufted duck, mute swan etc. A couple of snipe were visible in the waterside vegetation and at the back of the pools there was a feeding flock of 20 black-tailed godwit.
I then headed along Jeremy Lane where a quick stop to go through the large herd of mute swans only came up with a pair of whooper swans among them - and adult and a juvenile bird.

Whooper swans
As I continued along Moss Lane toward Cockersands I came across another mass of swans.
Pulling over, I could hear the distinctive honking of whooper swans and was soon looking at almost 200 wild swans grazing in the roadside field.
Scanning through, I could see a handful of Bewick's swans among them.

Bewick's swan among whooper swans

After taking a few pics I carried on toward Plover Scar. The tide was pretty much at its peak by now, though it was not an especially high tide so there were some areas of saltmarsh visible.
I walked toward the fishing skeer where a small selection of roosting waders included ringed plover, turnstone, oystercatcher, knot, redshank and curlew.
After a couple of minutes I came across the long-staying snow bunting picking its way through the rocks and marsh.

Snow bunting
This is the first snow bunting that I've seen in the UK for quite a few years - the last I saw anywhere was last May in Canada, where I am pleased to say that they do actually call them snow bunting and not something like 'Frosty longspur'.

On my way back I stopped off at Conder once more. The pools were even quieter now, even the godwits had gone.
In the creek there were the usual numerous teal and mallard, redshank, little egret and other assorted common stuff.

Spotted redshank
A pair of spotted redhank were, erm, spotted and I even managed a digi-scope snap of one as it snoozed on the creek bank and a lone grey plover was in with some lapwing.
From the bridge I scanned through the wigeon, hoping for a yankee interloper but it wasn't to be. A mobile flock of 12 reed bunting were moving from tideline to marsh and everywhere in between. A single rock pipit flew over.

Next stop was good old Aldcliffe. There wasn't a great deal going on to be honest and I struggled to find anything worthy of mention. The 30-40 fieldfare that have been a feature of the last week were still in the area and there were c400 pink-footed geese on the marsh but little else.
A quick check of Freeman's Pools saw the return of the redhead smew and a handful of goldeneye back on the main pool.


Friday, 8 February 2013

Thank Godwits Friday

I couldn't locate the redhead smew at all today. As it happens the pools were still hosting plenty of dabblers but there were no diving ducks to be seen at all. Gone were the goldenenye, gone were the tufted ducks and gone too was the smew. It was a mild and bright day, and there were lots of dog-walkers around so perhaps someone had been less than sympathetic to the 'please keep out signs' and been lolloping around Freeman's Pools' edges, as quite occasionally happens...

Black-tailed godwits on the Lune
On the plus side, there were 52 black-tailed godwit roosting on the river by Marsh Point at low-tide. They were joined by a many lapwing, looking resplendent in the sunshine, along with redshank, curlew, dunlin and a selection of gulls including lesser-black backed and herring.
Near the Wildfowlers' Pools I came across a goldcrest among a party of long-tailed tits, the first 'crest I've seen since my return.

Nearby a pair of bullfinch played hide and seek, giving their presence away with their lovely soft, somewhat melancholic call. I managed a quick snap of the male before they bounced off, white rumps waving me goodbye. 
Around the pool edges were a dozen or so feeding pied wagtails, which were joined by 6 meadow pipit. Also here were the usual snipe, teal, moorhens and little grebes etc. Everywhere I looked I saw little egrets today; the Flood, Freeman's and Wildfowlers' Pools, Snipe Bog, Aldciffe, Heaton and Colloway marshes. By contrast I saw 2 grey herons. My how time shave changed!
Out on the marsh there were a couple of hundred pink-footed geese.

In the evening I popped back down to Freeman's to see what the barn owl was up to. Same as usual as it turned out, appearing just after 5.30pm and showing beautifully.
Both yesterday and Wednesday, the smew was parading around on the main water at Freeman's Pools much to the delight of visiting birders.
Also yesterday I had a peak count of 104 dunlin on the Flood. A couple of dazzling sulphur-bellied grey wagtails at Stodday Wastewater Works certainly brightened the day.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Green, Green Sandpiper of Home

I finally came across a green sandpiper down on the patch this afternoon - the first I've seen since I returned to the area.
Although primarily a spring and late summer/autumn passage wader in much of Britain, green sandpipers have been regularly over-wintering in the Aldcliffe area for several years. As such, this is usually one of the best places in Lancashire to 'year-tick' them early in the year.
The high water levels following the exceptionally wet summer and autumn (so we hear...) has presumably rendered the site unsuitable for much of the winter. Perhaps it's no coincidence that this one has appeared as the muddy areas around the flood and Wildfowlers' Pools are expanding as the water recedes.
Having spent the last 3 years getting to grips with solitary sandpiper it's great to see a green again, and check out all those features.
It was pretty horrible out there today; the blustery winds, hail and showers made being outdoors a trifle unpleasant.

A fraction of the gulls in the fields
Out on the marsh there were about 1000 restless pink-footed geese, but they were keeping their distance and I wasn't able to get a chance to go through them well. Easier to view were the 800+ black-headed gulls feeding in the newly slurried fields directly south of Aldcliffe Hall Lane (aka Railway Crossing Lane). Rather amazingly, I couldn't locate a single Mediterranean gull among the mass of birds. Where the hell are the Meds? I haven't caught up with one of these cracking larids since getting back - looks like I may just have to pop over to Heysham and get one in the bag.
There were a few common gulls and a handful of herring gulls mixed in, but nothing else of note.

On Freeman's Pools the redhead smew was still lurking around on the small sluiced pool to the west of the main water. It's been hanging around here for the last few days and can be extremely tricky to see as it appears to prefer hugging the invisible edges. Consequently, a few visiting listers have dipped on it.

Black poplar
While checking the smaller pools, take a moment to admire the rather rare and magnificent old female black poplar (pictured) that you have to pass along the path up to the Marsh Point viewing spot.   

I was pleased to see a brown hare a couple of days ago, again my first since I stepped foot back on British soil. I was beginning to worry that the lurcher-loving poachers that frequent the Aldcliffe area from time to time had wiped them all out, so it's great to know that their local extinction is still on hold.
Talking of such things, I couldn't help but notice the four 'sportswear'-clad weed-toking identi-kid youths emerging from a gap in Freeman's Wood's defences at the weekend. Their .22 rifle complete with sights had me secretly thinking that that fence around the wood isn't altogether a bad thing...


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Lack of Little Larids

Earlier in the week Jenny and I had to go to Morecambe, so we took advantage of our short visit and had a stroll along the promenade and down the Stone Jetty.
The tide was incoming but it was pretty calm, unlike the following couple of days when gusty winds would have made the whole venture far more interesting. The only things close offshore were a handful of great-crested grebes (actually the first I've seen since being back in the UK).
I checked through the turnstones roosting on the shore near the Bubbles groyne but sadly there was no purple sandpiper huddled among them. There was quite a nice gathering of waders though, including several dunlin, 6 ringed plover and a knot. On the groyne itself, masses of oystercatchers mingled with a few curlew and redshank as well as the ubiquitous black-headed gulls.

Snoozing smew at Freeman's Pools.
Meanwhile back at Aldcliffe it's been business as usual for the past few days. The redhead smew continues to lead some local listers a merry dance by 'hiding' from time to time, but it can be reliably found at Freeman's Pools as some time or other most days.
Yesterday (Friday) it was actually hauled out on the island, snoozing among the dabblers.
Although I've seen lots of smew over the years I'm pretty sure that this is the first one that I have seen out of water! It was pretty distant, and you can see from the cruddy pic here how easy it could be to overlook this bird. In this position it really resembles a mini female goosander (common merganser to my Canadian and American chums).
Elsewhere the lone linnet continues to hang out with the tideline goldfinch flock but the twite appear to have moved on.
Despite the high winds midweek, I haven't found any little gulls among the throng of black-heads. Heysham has had a few of course (see the Heysham Obs blog for details) and Aldcliffe often picks up the odd one or two in these conditions.
The other bird I've been hoping to find on the patch but has so far eluded me is stonechat. Pete Crooks had one near Freeman's Pools a short while ago, but I have yet to come across one of these classic early migrants. I have checked the traditional sites and all along the tideline but the little sods are playing hard to get. Oh well, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.