Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Wheatear 'ere

Male wheatear
A post-work trundle around the estuary environs this evening finally had me connecting with wheatear.
Two smart males were on the tide-line at Aldcliffe Marsh - as far as I'm aware, these are the first of the year on the patch.

The single little ringed plover was still on The Flood and at least 2 chiffchaff were in the hedgerow along the upper cinder path, along with a goldcrest.
There were no geese on the marsh and mute swan numbers had dwindled significantly leaving only younger birds on the saltmarsh. The ringed whooper was nowhere to be seen - hardly surprising given the good conditions for departure.

There was nothing to shout about at Freeman's Pools; I was hoping for a dusk sand martin or two to drop in but alas I left the area hirundine-free.
I'd received message that the barn owl was seen again around 6.45pm yesterday but I couldn't track it down this evening.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Going For Gold

I enjoyed a couple of hours bumbling around the patch in glorious sunshine this morning. Many of the common resident songbirds were in good voice, and the lapwings were displaying like billy-o over the stubble fields.

Goldeneye at Freeman's Pools
On Freeman's Pools it was business as usual with snoozing wigeon and gadwall on the still mostly submerged island, and at least 6 little grebes present. A coot pair have got a nest on the go, with one of the birds already sat on it.
A group of 18 goldeneye was a pleasant sight - we rarely get such large numbers on these pools.

The light-bellied brent goose was still consorting with the single barnacle goose on Colloway Marsh. There were approximately 1,000 pinkfeet scattered around the estuary. 
The ringed whooper swan was still hanging with the mutes on Aldcliffe Marsh. This bird, a male, was ringed in the summer of 2011 in Iceland.

The little ringed plover was still on the Flood, though there was little else to be seen. 
The only other 'summer' migrant was a singing chiffchaff along the cycle track.
There was a scattering of off-passage meadow pipits here and there plus a handful of north-bound skylark. There were also singing skylarks over the marsh and maize fields.
49 black-tailed godwit were roosting on the Lune, off Marsh Point, prior to the tide coming in.


Friday, 20 March 2015

Ringing The Changes

Little ringed plover by Ian Nieduszynski
The first returning little ringed plover was back on The Flood yesterday (Thursday) via Sue & Ian Nieduszynski.

Fact fans may be delighted to learn that last year's first LRP at Aldcliffe was also on the The Flood on the exact same date (19th March).


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Docked Whooper & The Darvics

Pale-bellied brent goose
I got a text from Guy McClelland this morning saying there was a brent goose, along with a lone barnacle goose among the pinkfeet on Aldcliffe Marsh.
I managed to squeeze in a quick pre-work visit and found the two interlopers in with around 500 pink-footed geese on the saltmarsh, viewed directly out from the parking area. The brent was pretty active, disappearing into the gullies occasionally and even making a short flight within the flock of grazing geese.
It was a pale-bellied brent, presumably from the Svalbard population.
Having got a good goosie eyeful, I had a brief check of the tide rack beyond Walled Meadow; traditionally the best spot to find the first patch wheatears and stonechats. - two species already turning up at other likely sites nearby.

Whooper swan
Unfortunately the area was migrant passerine-free but I did come across a single whooper swan with the mutes. Better still, this bird was ringed.
If memory serves, and it rarely does if I'm honest, this may well be the first ringed whooper I've ever seen at Aldcliffe - exciting stuff! It took a bit of doing but eventually I managed to read the numbers on the red darvic on its right leg. It'll be interesting to learn of this bird's movements.
Reading birds' rings in the field can often be a major challenge, especially when they're the metal BTO-style ones. But the increased use of coloured plastic leg rings, and in some cases collars, has enabled even pretty incompetent oafs like to me to be able to decipher the odd one here and there, thus adding to the expanding knowledge of bird migration.
It's always a real thrill to confirm a sequence of numbers and / or letters and then later receive details of an individual's movements. Just one more element of birding that makes it all so fascinating!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Clash Of The Tytos

Having spent many a late afternoon / evening at Aldcliffe during recent months, primarily in the hope of finding a wintering owl of some description, I was heartened to see that Jonathan Scragg had connected with a barn owl earlier in the week.
This sighting came around the same time that a pair were spotted late one night in the FAUNA reserve - just a short distance away. It's like that old buses cliche... you wait forever for a barn owl, then three turn up at once.
But, I wonder; are numerous barn owls on the move right now, seeking out new breeding territories as spring looms, or might these sightings involve at least one of the same birds?

I set off to the patch myself on Thursday evening in hope of locating an owl or two but the constant drizzle put pay to any notable crepuscular activity.
I then received an email from another local Aldcliffe regular who had cracking views of a barn owl on Friday so once again I traipsed off there this evening.
Within a few short minutes I picked up an owl hunting around the western boundaries of Freeman's Pools before it headed back along the flood defence bund. I got ace views of the bird hunting over the rough grass and watched it catch and eat a small rodent.
Always a real delight to see, barn owls are, and have always, been one of my favourite birds. And better still when one can see them so close to home.  

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Saved At Sunset

The combination of  fine weather and an early finishing  practical meant I was able to get down to Aldcliffe for the last hour of light yesterday evening. This was my first visit to the patch in nearly a month so I was hoping that birds would have moved about a bit since my last visit, however on this front I was a little disappointed.

The highlights from a quick trawl round the sites included a smart Grey Wagtail on the canal, a single Black-tailed Godwit on the Flood, 3 Snipe in Snipe Bog and a flock of 30 Meadow Pipit in the adjacent field. The rest of the area was a bit disappointing unfortunately, there were no Jack Snipe in the bog, no Whooper Swans with the Mutes on the marsh (a report of 1 a couple of days ago), no out of the ordinary waders or ducks on the river and nothing of interest amongst the 500 or so Pink-footed Geese on the marsh.

Luckily for me patch birding is nothing if not unpredictable and Aldcliffe decided to remind me why it is worth all the time put into patching it. As I was walking along the cycle path in near darkness a beautiful ghostly Barn Owl flew across the path ahead of me and started quartering up and down the hedgerow in the stubble field, my first owl of any kind on patch. In the process of hunting the owl flushed a flock of 30+ Fieldfare from the field. I was also surprised to see my first dabbling ducks on Darter Pool, 2 each of female Goldeneye and Tufted Duck, with a further 9 of the former being present on Freemans Pool including several displaying males.


Saturday, 7 March 2015

Gull's Liver Travels

Patchy patch addition
A quick routine check of all the prime Aldcliffe spots on Wednesday bore little fruit beyond the regular birds 'in-residence'.
The only thing of note was a striking looking leucistic pink-footed goose in amongst a flock of 600 on Aldcliffe Marsh. It looks remarkably similar to one that was seen at Martin Mere WWT reserve (see pics on Graham Clarkson's blog here) at the back end of 2012 and again in September 2014 (see WWT page here). We've had very pale 'milky-coffee' coloured pinkfeet at Aldcliffe in the past but this piebald effort was altogether a patchier affair as you can see in my photo.

Laughing gull
Today I was working in Liverpool so after a day of mostly being ignored by scousers, tourists and Green Party Conference attendees I took the opportunity to hop under the Mersey and go and have a look at the now long-lingering laughing gull at New Brighton Marine Lake.
With my trusty colleague Jayne in tow we strolled through the mass of people enjoying the early spring sunshine and immediately clapped eyes on the North American vagrant, sat on what has become its favoured pontoon on the lake.
Hardly impressive, it simply sat there throughout, occasionally raising its head to have a cursory look at its surroundings. As I looked at this waif I couldn't help but think 'you're not laughing now, are you?'. I'm sure it'd be better off on a warm sandy beach somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico where it really belongs...    
Although I've seen bucketloads of laughing gulls on the other side of the pond my last British bird was a moulting adult I found on the Lune at, what has been appropriately coined, Gull Bank back in August 2006.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Glorious Gallinagos Galore

This morning we conducted the final coordinated snipe count of the winter in the FAUNA reserve. Conditions underfoot were extremely wet and as a result we found common snipe throughout the site - 75 in total.
A single jack snipe was at School Pond and a further 5 of the diminutive skulkers were in Big Meadow.
Just one woodcock was discovered and we put up a couple of water rail in one flooded section near Cromwell Road.
A flock of 20 redwing came out from Pony Wood, settling in trees in the Fairfield Orchard.

Afterwards I headed off to Freeman's Pools, via a frankly uninteresting Aldcliffe. The brisk wind was whipping up a few waves but alas there were no windblown oddities to be found. In the past these pools have hosted scaup, smew, long-tailed duck and black-necked grebe, among others. However, a marauding peregrine spiced things up as it targeted the roosting birds on the island.
Giving up, empty-taloned, it swiftly headed to the estuary where it flushed a heap of waders and effortlessly snatched an unfortunate redshank from the frenzied flock.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Teal For Two

Due to another planned deer cull protest at Leighton Moss today I spent the day working at the reserve. RSPB staff and volunteers were once again out to counter-argue the anti-cull rhetoric to visitors. The protesters were very few in number and very pleasant, so their presence ultimately had little impact.

Before starting my shift in the visitor centre reception I wandered down to see if I could see the recently discovered green-winged teal at Griesdale Hide. Just one other birder was in the hide when I went in and after a couple of minutes of scanning with my bins I found the bird and pointed it out to the other chap. Better still was the mass of black-tailed godwit right in front of the hide - a sight I never tire of.
As it happens, I saw another green-winged teal over at Saltholme a couple of weeks ago when I was there on RSPB business. And of course during my tenure as a Canadian resident I used to see loads of them; I would spend considerable time and effort scanning through rafts of the North American duck in search of Eurasian teal with frequent success. Despite many hours of checking the teal flocks at Aldcliffe and along the Lune estuary I have yet to find one on the patch. One of theses days...

I've managed a few quick visits to Aldcliffe in the last week or so and Freeman's Pools in particular has been quite interesting. The post-freeze wildfowl numbers have returned to normal with gadwall, teal, wigeon, mallard and tufted duck all well represented. A handful of goldeneye have been hanging around as has a single female red-breasted merganser - the latter an uncommon site on these pools. At least 6 little grebe are present.
Water levels are pretty high at the pools at the moment and the gravel island is all but submerged. Even still it has been attracting sizable roosts of lapwing and black-headed gulls with the occasional snipe thrown in for good measure.
There was a flock of around 60 fieldfare there a couple of days ago and there were also up 1,200 pink-footed geese out on Aldcliffe Marsh. The wintering greenshank seems to have settled into a more reliable routine and was in the same area as it has been the last few times I've been down there.

The Tide Is High
Last week I had walk along the waterline at high tide, from Snipe Bog to Marsh Point. There were at least 6 rock pipit seen (all those seen well were typical petrosis types) along with 2 or 3 meadow pipit and a handful of pied wagtails, a couple of linnets and a small number of goldfinch foraging in the flotsam. Pretty measly stuff compared with the sort of numbers we used to get.