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.


Friday, 30 December 2016

The Last Post

I hope that you have all had a jolly old Christmas and that you are all looking forward to a relatively stable 2017... interesting times lay ahead!

On a less contentious note; what's been happening in the Aldcliffe recording area? Well from what I can see, very little. My recent sorties have been fairly uneventful and despite the not-so-big-freeze yesterday there appears to have been little cold-weather movement of birds.
This morning, a dozen goldeneye on Freeman's Pools was the largest recent count of this handsome diving duck.
Generally, there don't seem to be too many around in the LDBWS region this winter and double figure counts are few and far between. Five tufted duck and a scattering of gadwall, wigeon, mallard, teal and coot continue to reside on the pools. 
A pair of roe deer were present this morning - the first I've seen down there for some time.

Canada geese & wigeon
After an absence of several days the greylags and Canada geese were back on the patch with a large gaggle grazing in the Frog Pond field.
When I was working at Leighton Moss on Tuesday a load of greylags were out on the marsh beyond the Eric Morecambe Pools and with them was a pair of white-fronted geese.
Naturally, I'd hoped that maybe these two 'proper' geese might travel with the greylags (if in fact they are the same flock) but there was no sign of them.
Along with the numerous ringed Canadas and collared greylags was a darvic-ringed greylag that I have never seen here before - it'll be interesting to see where that bird has come from!

Grey partridge
Nearby three grey partridge (increasingly hard to find anywhere in North Lancs) were in the maize fields. I wonder how long it will be before we lose this species here altogether?

Raptors-wise, a peregrine was sat out on Colloway Marsh yesterday while three different sparrowhawks (ad male, ad female & 1stw male) were seen at various spots between Freeman's Wood and Aldcliffe Hall Lane today.  

A kingfisher added a splash of colour at the otherwise quiet Wildfowlers' Pools yesterday and a pair were flying down the Lune at Marsh Point this morning.

There are still tons of blackbirds and a few song thrushes in the hawthorns along the cycle track but the bulk of fieldfare and redwing appear to have moved on.

I'll be working at Leighton Moss again tomorrow (NY Eve) so this will be my last post of the year.
Have an enjoyable and safe New Year and here's wishing for a bird-filled 2017!


Friday, 23 December 2016

The Waxwing Cometh

It's been 10 days since my last day off so you can imagine my delight when I saw the forecast for this morning...
Undeterred, I headed out to for a quick check around the patch before Storm Barbara made her unwelcome appearance.
All was quiet.
Other than 5 tufted duck, a handful of coot and a teal Freeman's Pools was birdless.
Frog Pond was a little busier with c60 wigeon in situ plus another 'tuftie'.
Three smallish groups, totaling around 150, of pink-footed geese came down from the drumlins and landed in the fields to the east of the cycle track. Several people have mentioned that a few hundred pinkfeet have been in the area in recent days, with two pale-bellied brent geese among them on the 19th. It's always worth checking through geese at this time of year - who knows what might turn up among the commoner species! 
I then had a look at the Wildfowlers' Pools and The Flood but they were also quiet.
Along the path good numbers of fieldfare and blackbird plus a few redwing were still taking advantage of the bounty of fruit on the many hawthorns.
It will be interesting to see if the storm brings any notable birds to the area in the next few days; I'll certainly be getting out to take a look!

Waxwings at the White Cross, Lancaster
Despite my being tied up with work, it hasn't been an entirely birdless few days.
Having traipsed off to the Greaves area of Lancaster to catch up with waxwings several days ago, I was delighted when they decided to come and see me a earlier this week.
On Monday morning Gav Thomas called me and said "Have you seen waxwings from the office yet?". I replied no, to which he answered "there's 30 in the trees here".
And so a gaggle of RSPB employees tumbled from Cameron House to gawp at the flock, watching in delight as the birds flew down to a berry-laden rowan by the White Cross pub.
And so they remained for the week, delighting (and bemusing) passers-by, local birders and RSPB staff as the flock fluctuated between 10 and up to 60.
We've been able to keep an eye on the birds from the office window ensuring that waxwing is well and truly on the office list!
Apparently the collective noun for waxwings can be either an 'ear-full' or a 'museum'. Personally, I find those both too ridiculous to bother with so I'll stick with flock for now...

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Thrush Fuss

The past few visits I've made to the Aldcliffe area have been fairly uneventful, to be honest. The mild weather seems to be keeping wildfowl numbers at a low while the lack of harsh conditions allows many smaller birds to go about their business with relative ease and be less inclined to flock in numbers.

Duck numbers are overall pretty unimpressive right now with just a couple of goldeneye, 4 or 5 tufted duck and 30-odd each of wigeon and teal kicking around the pools.
Even the semi-resident greylags seem to have pushed off to somewhere more exciting...

Fieldfare & redwings
The one notable upward change has been the influx of thrushes, particularly fieldfare. So far this winter there have been very few fieldfare around the patch but in recent days there have been sizeable flocks feeding in the hawthorns along the cycle track.  
Redwing too, while having been present in fairly decent numbers have also increased significantly, as have blackbirds. A handful of song and mistle thrushes have added to this thrush-fest.

Derbyshire Dusky Delights

Talking of thrushes, the big news in the last week or so has been the discovery of a dusky thrush in Derbyshire.

Dusky thrush
This very rare visitor to the UK breeds in central Siberia and ordinarily spends the winter in south-east Asia, primarily in China.
Naturally such a scarce bird attracts a great deal of attention from the country's birding community and hordes of listers have descended upon the quaint Peak District village of Beeley.
Local media have gone mad with scores of unimaginative sub-editors opting for that perennial favourite headline "Twitchers Flock To...". Sigh. 

Anyhoo, here are a couple of rubbish shots I got yesterday by sticking my phone in front of my 'scope - the thrush was rather too close to get the whole bird in!
For further info about this fab bird and to see a frankly better photo click on this link from the BBC.



Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Going For Goldeneye

Goldeneyes - Freeman's Pools
Following last week's flying visit by a female scaup, it was another classic winter duck species that dropped in on Monday morning.
A considerable flotilla of 14 goldeneye were present at Freeman's Pools for the first couple of hours of daylight with all but two females having moved on by mid-morning.
It doesn't half make you wonder what turns up and subsequently clears off unseen...

Otherwise the big numbers of birds were concentrated on the flooded fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools fields. Here there were large numbers of probing redshank, along with a handful each of curlew, dunlin, snipe and black-tailed godwit.
Approximately 230 black-headed gulls, and a few common gulls, were also taking advantage of whatever abundant food-source had attracted so many birds. Teal too were notably numerous with in excess of 120 dabbling nervously away.
A single rock pipit was on the marsh near The Channel.
The majority of the wintering greylags were reasonably close to Dawson's Bank as I walked back toward Marsh Point and I was able to read the neck collars of 22 birds. Most of these were familiar individuals but there were a few that I had never seen before.

Pied wagtail roost - Lancaster
Many Lancastrians will be aware of the pied wagtails that routinely roost in the city centre in the winter months.
In winters past, they favoured the trees around the car park between Sainsburys and the old Waring & Gillow building on North Road. 
In more recent years this roost has been primarily concentrated in the two small trees at Horseshoe Corner.
Once again, the birds are coming to huddle in these Christmas-light-festooned trees in the late afternoon and I have estimated there to be somewhere in the region of 300 wagtails there. Give or take one or two...
I may be way off the mark with that very loose count and I would welcome any more accurate estimates!

Waxwings - Kendal

And talking of birds in trees (not a unique concept, admittedly) here's a pic of the waxwing flock that I recently saw in Kendal. I reckoned there to be in the region of 65 birds present when I was there.
These dazzling birds seem to be turning up all over the place so, as always, keep an extra special eye out on any ornamental berry-filled rowans or similar, and do pass on any sightings of these nomadic northern beauties.