Monday, 31 March 2014

Trickle of Sand

Hi.  Dan again.

Began my birding day with three hours of Osprey vigil from my high altitude vantage point.

There were to be no raptors exceeding the size of Common Buzzard but it was pleasant enough while I waited. I had packed a pad and paper thinking they would help log a mammoth Meadow Pipit count, but the mipit flow was more modest than in recent days.

Anyhow, the mid-morning vis mig tally was still headed by Anthus pratensis, with 161 pipits heading NE. The trickle was rock-steady with 55 in the first hour, 47 in the second and 59 in hour three.

Sand Martin passage was light but steady too, with 12 NE in the same too. 13 Lesser Redpolls went over in twos and threes. 8 Skylarks, 3 Greenfinches, 3 Siskins and a high-flying Stock Dove added variety.

In the heading-in-the-right-direction-but possibly-just-locals category (yes, that one) were 3 Linnets, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 9 Goldfinches and 2 Chaffinches.

While I was on Aldcliffe Mountain the strains of a Willow Warbler floated up from Freeman's Wood, and both Grey (hooray) and Red-legged (boo) partridges were heard.

Later I did a couple hours of wandering at estuary level with mipit and Sand Martin passage
continuing well into the afternoon. I only made a count of the latter-- a further 11 heading NE.

Four Stock Doves billing and cooing near Aldcliffe village was a pleasing sight, and my first patch Eider of the year floated up on another big tide, but I was most happy with the discovery of 4 Green Sandpipers. One (perhaps the regular of recent weeks) was by Frog Pond, while a party of three were at a large grassy puddle. A nice count for spring.

Chiffchaffs were again to the fore, a Blackcap was singing at Stodday ETW but Goldcrests were down to just two.

A Black-tailed Godwit at The Flood was in non-breeding plumage, in contrast to yesterday's russet duo. LRPs were notable by their absence, As were Pink-footed Geese.

Mammals were represented by one each of rabbit, hare and weasel.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Skein Sunday

Dan here.

Another warm day with plenty of sunshine and quite a few birds.

Two Stock Doves were at Freeman's Pools just after sunrise, with ten Rooks cawing in treetops nearby. A pair of Grey Partridges were near Frog Pond, where 50 Oystercatchers had congregated.
Two Iceland race Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the marsh and 2 Tree Sparrows were at the foot of Aldcliffe Hall Lane.

Goldcrest passage was evidenced by at least ten individuals.  It's been a very good spring so far for Chiffchaffs, with 12 this morning-- including a cluster of six around Stodday sewage works. You could hardly move for pollen horns! Yesterday's Willow Warbler seemed to have moved on.

A Blackcap was singing in the Aspen plantation by the ETW.

Young Guy McLlelland had two Wheatears along Dawson's Bank, and a further four were resting on Trig Point Hill. Guy came across the conspicuously pale-headed Long-tailed Tit that I had a while back. It was building another nest (for another mate?) two kilometres from the first!

800 Pink-footed geese were on Colloway Marsh in the morning. Later in the day they were agitated by the spring tide and the jet skis and took to the air. They circled the area and were joined by a similar number from the south. They rose in a swarm to about 250m above the Overton / Bazil Point area. It was an odd sight, reminiscent of how a Black-throated Diver laboriously gathers height over its breeding loch-- times 1500.
The swarm fragmented and a skein of about 500 formed and headed N over Morecambe at 300m. Next stop Iceland?

This was seen from my drumlin vantage point (permit only) where I put in a couple of hours of raptor vigil in the early afternoon. No luck with migrating trout-hawks, but it was a good spot to observe the NE Meadow Pipit passage which was obvious all day. It peaked mid-morning at around 200 per hour. Two Sand Martins also flitted past, as did 2 Lesser Redpolls. Two drake Goosanders also went over and Sparrowhawk, Buzzards and Ravens were airborne too.

Butterflies were widespread-- the vast majority being Small Tortoiseshells but also two each of Peacock, Comma and Brimstone.


Saturday, 29 March 2014

Phyll Under: Beautiful

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) Freeman's Wood

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) Freeman's Wood
Hello. Dan here.
I woke up to the kind of text message I like-- it read 'lots of lovely Wheatears down Aldcliffe'. It was from patch veteran Guy McLelland. He was admiring fifteen of them on the saltmarsh from along Dawson's Bank.
By the time I'd rolled out of bed most of them had moved on (they are migrants after all), but two males were sight for a sore eyes after what has felt like a long wait. They were a bit distant (mingling with a few Oystercatchers and some geese) but I soon got to see some other summer migrants close up.
A bonnie and slightly early male Willow Warbler was my first of 2014. It being March, Chiffchaffs were of course more numerous, with about 7 singers and 2 skulkers dotted around the parish. My friend takes a far better photograph than I, and the subtle beauty of the WW and CCs has been expertly captured above, for your blog-viewing pleasure.
A Little Ringed Plover was on the flood and a Green Sandpiper was on the margins of Frog Pond.
Todays big story was perhaps vis mig,.. a strong NE passage of Meadow Pipits was apparent well into the afternoon and a few Siskins were heard moving overhead. But they weren't assiduously recorded and I'm sorry to say that for most of today I just wandered around in the sun like a bloody tourist.
Circa 800 Pink-footed were seen hazily on Colloway Marsh. A further 200 or so were on Aldcliffe Marsh.
Three Small Tortoiseshells and a Comma were noted but warm sunshine or no, I suspect that today's strong easterlies were keeping butterflies down.
Later I gamely ventured OARA (out of Aldcliffe recording area). I saw two year-tick Sand Martins & the regular Spotted Redshank duo at Conder Green, and yet more steady Meadow Pipit passage practically everywhere.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Rare Blurred Alert

Dan again. Hello.

Long time readers of this blog will know that most Springs I put in a concerted effort to catch Ospreys on migration.

Including a session today, I've sat facing south and conducted 9 hours of vantage point surveys over the past few days, including time at Tithe Barn Hill in Glasson, Stodday picnic area and the top of the bund at Marsh Point adjacent to Freeman's Pools.

Two hours ago (on scan number 247) I was delighted to spot a northbound Osprey from the latter site, my first of the year-- and I 'scoped it up. Sadly for me though, this individual wasn't on course to sail over my head and was c3km to the SE-- I would guess just W of Scotforth.

I chucked my scope and tripod in a bramble bush and hopped on my bike and raced to the where the shared use path crosses the Environment Agency bund to cut down the distance a little so I could get a frame-filling record shot for you, dear readers. Here are my best shots-- enjoy!

As you can see from the topmost portrait the Osprey was by now over the Greaves area of the city and had attracted three adult summer Lesser-black Backed Gulls which were hounding the migrant, which looked to be a 2CY female. Joking about the last part.

A shower was falling over Lancaster and the Osprey flapped on and through it, at some pace.

I contacted Rare Bird Alert and rang a friend who lives just to the N of the city. But the bird wasn't hanging around. I'd say it was travelling at least 30mph, which is not bad considering it was travelling into a 15mph headwind.

Aside from this target species, little else was moving over the patch, with 18 southbound Black-tailed Godwits the second best sighting.

I hoped to spy a martin or two over the pools, but it wasn't to as far as I'm aware summer migrants noted here (or in the case of the fish-botherer from here) so far this spring have been-- in order of appearance:

 1. Chiffchaff
 2. Little Ringed Plover
 3. Blackcap
 4. Osprey


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

And Another Thing.....

Dan again.

Oh yes, the birding!

Could have missed out on a White Stork flypast this morning (or at least a seen-from), as one was responsible for a rash of sightings up and down the Lancashire coast today, as close as Heysham (nice one Jean).

By the time I was able to go out, the only comparably prodigious wingspans were those of Mute Swans, Grey Herons and Great-black Backs.

I scanned the skies for a couple of hours in hopes of seeing it or those fish-bothering raptors I'm keen on, to no avail.

In fact, I could find very little of note. Yet to see any Sand Martins passing through, and no Wheatears either. I felt I'd have more chance of a chat with the Trappists.

550 Pink-footed Goose were on Colloway Marsh, with a further 120 at the north end of Aldcliffe Marsh. A Fieldfare flew N and 3 Goldcrests were noted. About 100 Common Gulls were on the Stodday stretch of the river, washing after scouring the mucked fields NE of Overton, where there were also two Little Egrets following cattle.


In The Lurch

Hello. Guest blogger Dan here.

This afternoon a man with a lurcher was trying to catch hares. This hare in fact. He must have sensed that he was being eyeballed as he worked the fields south of Aldcliffe Hall Lane, because he later sidled up and asked me if I was watching him! He told me about Mollie (his accomplice) and showed me snaps of the tattooed (!) and muzzled pit bull terrier he had at home, which kept his one-year-old Harris Hawk company. All in all, we got quite chummy. Then I shopped him to the police.

This area is quite popular with amateur hare coursers. Brown Hare is now fairly scarce around here, and this illegal pastime is only making them more so. So, dear readers, if you see somebody engaged in this pursuit I suggest you do what I did and dial 101-- and Lancashire's finest will send someone out.

The fellow's lurcher was under quite tight control, which is more than can be said of many of the pet dogs along the estuary these days. I have more respect for these bloodsport hobbyists than those who let their canines run loose on the saltmarshes and mudflats disturbing the wild birds again and again.

The former has good fieldcraft, some awareness of the local wildlife... and a goal. The latter are doing just as much damage to important fauna and flora for little reason other than their own sense of entitlement.

Today I was watching 550 pink-footed geese as they washed and drank in the river. They were scared off by four off-lead pets bounding along the waters edge. The owners were walking along a sliver of marsh with no access. The wild birds have come all the way from Iceland. The dogs had come all the way from semis in Galgate, via Conder Green.

The geese were at least able to feel safe on Colloway Marsh, on the western side of the estuary which has no easy access.

It's been pointed out to me that dog-walkers are using unofficial footpaths and seeking out new areas for exercising their pets because of an increase in cyclists on the multi-use path. It's true and I hadn't realised the correlation until recently.

Some cyclists aren't as courteous as they should be along here, but it is only a moment's inconvenience to get one's dog under control, and not a valid excuse to abandon the designated public right of way.

The estuary and its saltmarshes are of course part of Morecambe Bay SPA. SPA is one of the highest designations of protection in Europe. And Pink-footed Goose, as well as Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank and many other species that use the patch (and are disturbed daily by some dog walkers) are a big part of the reason for this and we should do our best to leave the birds in peace.

Aside from the footpath on the bund Dawsons Bank which runs along the edge of the marsh from the foot of Aldcliffe Hall Lane to Marsh Point, the only right of way is the 'cyclepath'. Apart from paid up members of the Morecambe Bay Wildfowlers Association, no-one else has permission or good reason to set foot on the saltmarsh. With a little skill all of the birds that use these habitats can be seen from the shared use path. And in a tidal area, surely it's better that people steer clear for safety's sake too.

It would be helpful if signs stating this and the international significance of the SPA could be erected in appropriate spots, so that people can be made aware of the issues and the negative impact of seemingly innocent behaviour. Perhaps the signs could be jointly funded by the local bird club and the Morecambe Bay Wildfowlers Association, both of which surely have an interest in keeping the area special for all.

Footfall and pawfall in the locality is only going to increase as the new estate along the quay road is finished, and the new residents and their dogs come along, and follow the poor example of the current users.

Sadly it's not just the marshes that are under growing pressure. Farm gates are left open for weeks at a time so that occasional visits by tractor drivers can be made unimpeded. In years gone by, it was drummed into visitors to the countryside that gates should be kept shut at all times. As a boy, I was forever afraid of being shouted at by Farmer Giles any number of small farmland indiscretions. Now, like everyone else, I have nothing to fear from him.

As a result we're all seeing an increase in people walking their dogs in the fields themselves. On several recent occasions I have seen a middle aged couple exercising their setters in the improved fields by Aldcliffe village. While I'm sure they mean no harm, I have seen them flushing hares and Grey Partridges. In decades past dogs ran free on the streets and were put on leads in the countryside, nowadays the reverse is true, and our wildlife is really suffering as a result.


Monday, 24 March 2014

The Flood Mud Comes Good

Spent a couple of hours this morning trawling around the patch in search of early migrants. It was pretty quiet on the ground, with just multiple singing chiffchaffs to imply that spring is on the way. A very light trickle of meadow pipits in 1s and 2s were passing over plus a grounded feeding flock of 8 near Freeman's Wood.

Little ringed plover
Skylarks were singing over the marsh and the stubble fields and lapwings were half-heartedly displaying in the morning sunshine.
On the Flood, single little ringed plover, green sandpiper and black-tailed godwit were alongside several feeding redshank and oystercatcher.
Out on Aldcliffe Marsh there were still c700 grazing pinkfeet.
With the weather forecast looking unhelpful for the next few days, it looks likely that we'll have to wait a little longer for any major arrivals. Evens so, the odd wheatear and hardy sand martin or swallow should still battle through, so it's always worth getting out and having a look.

Late morning, I decided to head out to RSPB Leighton Moss as I had a marquee to drop off there. Of course I made the short detour to the Allen Pools where I enjoyed the sight of multiple avocets and a mass of feeding black-tailed godwits. I'm still not completely used to seeing so many avocets at Leighton; it's not all that long ago that this species would have caused a great deal of excitement among local birders...
After a spot of lunch in the cafe I had a quick walk down to Lilian's Hide. Scanning out beyond the squabbling black-headed gulls I could see the long-staying female long-tailed duck mucking about with a handful of goldeneye. A cracking male marsh harrier soon drifted by causing alarm among the teal and as I watched a couple of sand martins zipped through.

I quick return visit to Aldcliffe around 5pm revealed the green sandpiper and little ringed plover still on the Flood. An optimistic scan over the marsh and around the Walled Meadow alas proved fruitless as far as wheatear were concerned... several have been seen along the nearby coast today (Heysham, Carnforth, etc) but it would seem that none have filtered up the estuary as yet.         


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Stop in the Name of Plove

Guest blogger Dan Haywood here. Happy March to you all.

A few small signs of Spring on the patch this afternoon, most notably the first Little Ringed Plover of the year on The Flood. Looked to be a male. What a handsome devil.

Not for the first time, this summer visitor seems to have beaten fellow early-starters Wheatear & Sand Martin back from Africa. No sign of either of those two on (or over) the patch so far this month.

A flock of eighteen Linnets was by Darter Pool. My highest 2014 count of an Aldcliffe species perhaps best described as a partial migrant. They can occur here in Winter but are more regular as the sap rises, being a scarce breeder and common vis-migger.

A total of nineteen Gadwalls were around the various pools. At least 8 Lapwings were on territory in the maize stubble fields and giving a Carrion Crow a bit of a battering.

Around 500 Pink-footed Goose were on Heaton Marsh today.

Over the past week I've been enjoying the work of a pair of Long-tailed Tits. Starting base-first, their domed nest is now almost complete, woven into a track-side bramble bush.

It appears to be final touches at the moment, with appliqué lichen scraps (and even gossamer) on the exterior and feathers being appropriated for the lining.

Please inspect my snap of one half of the pair at the foot of this posting. It seems to me an unusually pale-bonced individual. Obviously not in the caudatus race category, but much less badger-headed than most, including its partner. Any thoughts?

Speaking of stripy head-sides, the hybrid Eurasian Wigeon x American Wigeon I had on the patch on February 6th has quit its subsequent haunt of Glasson and has re-appeared up the hill at Blea Tarn Reservoir, 4.5 kilometres to the NE.


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Super Duper Whooper

Unfortunately I've been somewhat infested by an unpleasant hacking cough & banging headache ailment and had to reluctantly take today off work. I don't suppose it would do to go spreading my vile malady to the general public...
On the plus side, fresh air was very much in need and I took a morning stroll around the Aldcliffe patch. The optimism created by last week's lovely weather was rather diminished as the cool westerly breeze and menacingly overcast conditions reminded me that spring hadn't truly sprung.
That said, I did hear at least four singing chiffchaff on my rounds, so it's good to see that a few summer migrants are braving the elements. Sadly, my target bird - wheatear - was nowhere to be found. Looks like I'll have to wait a few more days...
The only other things of note passerine-wise were a handful of meadow pipits moving through and a few skylark here and there, including one feeding in Snipe Bog.
There was still a wintry feel all round to be honest, with around 1,300 pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh and up to 30 fieldfare bouncing along the hedges.

Mute swan and whooper swan
A pleasant surprise came in the form of an adult whooper swan sat among a small group of mutes on the marsh. This is only the second one that I've seen here all winter (one back in November - details here) so it was a most welcome sight.
Not too many years ago Aldcliffe was just about the most reliable site in the area for wintering wild swans, often hosting good numbers of both whooper and Bewick's swans. Nowadays, either species is a good find on this stretch of the Lune. The majority of birds visiting our region in recent years end to favour the Cockersands/Glasson area.

A trawl around the patch on Tuesday was notable only for a few vis-mig siskins, meadow pipits and pied wagtails plus my first chiffchaffs of the year - one in song in Freeman's Wood the other busily feeding.
A cracking male linnet was singing by some prime gorse in the wood, and reed bunting were singing their hearts out at Freeman's Pools and Darter Pool.
A single rock pipit was near Snipe Bog and 8 grounded meadow pipits were feeding in Walled Meadow.
The green sandpiper was on the upper pools at Freeman's Pools again while 3 black-tailed godwits were at the Wildfowler's Pools.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

It's Not Easy Seeing Green

After a day slogging away at nature's coalface, I managed to find some time to pop along to Freeman's Pools for a dusky wind down this evening.
All the usual stuff was present and correct, though tufted duck had increased to 10 and gadwall numbers had risen to 16.
A little egret was fishing on the upper pools but the real surprise came in the form of a green sandpiper. Anyone familiar with Aldcliffe or indeed this blogsite, will likely be aware that the area is traditionally one of very few places in the north west where this species regularly over-winters. However, thus far they've been completely absent in recent months with my last sighting of green sandpiper at Aldcliffe being October 16, 2013.
A trio of goosander were on the river and I could hear and see good numbers of pinkfeet out on the marsh.

Yesterday, Jenny and I went for a walk in Dunsop Valley. Given the time of year and the bright forecast I was hoping for some raptor activity. Unfortunately it was just a bit too windy for much in the way of displaying but nonetheless we still saw the expected commoner species; sparrowhawk, common buzzard and kestrel. Just as I'd given up hope of anything more interesting a male goshawk made a brief appearance, lazily and half-heartedly having a go at a display flight before dropping out of sight. It soon reappeared but then quickly abandoned its showy efforts but gave decent views as it flew back over and then into the wood.
There were no crossbills seen or heard - again I expect the wind was not entirely blameless... a couple of red grouse were the only other things worthy of note. 


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Easy Ansers

Pink-footed geese
Spent a bit of time pre-high tide rooting around the Aldcliffe area this morning.
To my delight the goose numbers had continued to build and there were approximately 1600 pink-footed geese grazing in the fields. For a change I'd actually bothered humping my 'scope along with me and I was able to scan through the mass of barely-honking birds pretty thoroughly, thanks in part to the fact that they were relatively close.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find any other species mingled in amongst them. That's not strictly true, there were 6 greylags in the gaggle but sadly no stringy (or otherwise) bean geese, white-fronts, barnacles or anything else. Not even a dodgy snow goose...
Equally disappointing was the lack of rings or neck-collars on any of the birds.
Hopefully we'll see yet larger numbers moving through in the next few weeks, and among them something to make scrutinising the flock a little more worthwhile.

Elsewhere around the parish it was business as usual. The expected ducks and waders were all evident in varying numbers. Oystercatchers and curlews are especially numerous at the moment and lapwing have finally started showing an interest in displaying over the stubble fields.
Similarly, a skylark was singing over Aldcliffe Marsh further adding to that feeling that spring is definitely a step closer.

Spotted redshank (left) & common redshank
At high tide I headed to Conder where I first had a look on Conder Pools to see if any waders were roosting there. It was pretty quiet really, with a few redshank snoozing on the far bank. Close by, however was the over-wintering common sandpiper, picking its way slowly along the shoreline.
A female goosander was asleep while the usual assortment of ducks and a couple of little grebe were bobbing about on the water. 
Scanning through yet more redshank huddled around the flooded estuary I picked out a single spotted redshank. Later I saw another, or perhaps the same one having moved, from the bridge.

Sunset on the Lune: looking towards Heaton
With the very welcome calm, clear days we've been having lately I've been making a point of making a few dusk visits to Freeman's Pools. My main focus has been on trying to determine whether there are any eared or barn owls, or woodcock in the area this winter. So far, I've drawn a blank only hearing the occasional tawny owl calling from within the wood.
The best things I've seen during my crepuscular visits involved a kingfisher coming in to roost in the reedmace, a grey partridge pair getting rather amorous and the sight of roe deer emerging from the dense vegetation to graze in the twilight.