Monday, 26 September 2016

Ducktastic Day

Dodging the odd showery bursts this morning, I spent a couple of hours birding around the Aldcliffe area for the first time in a while.
The combined forces of a bust work schedule and a few days visiting family on Jersey have meant that I've had little time to get out and see what's occurring on the patch.
I did manage to see a few birds while on Jersey; migration was in full swing when I first arrived and I was treated to what is a rare sight in North Lancashire these days - flocks of yellow wagtails. 'Vis-miggers' on the south of the island had been logging literally hundreds of these lovely migrants, along with other classic autumn fayre, as they passed over en route to the continent and beyond.
My encounters were more modest but even so, finding groups containing double figures as they fed around the hooves of Jersey cows was quite a treat.
I also came across redstarts, whinchats, wheatears, spotted flycatchers, marsh harriers and other common migrants. Jersey is also home to a few species that are otherwise rare or absent from much of the UK mainland including cirl bunting, Dartford warbler and short-toed treecreeper and all are relatively easy to find if you look in the right places!
Find out more about Jersey birds and the latest sightings from there by visiting the website here.

Now, back to Lancaster and my morning's trawl... a few highlights included an obvious arrival of wildfowl since my last visit.
At Freeman's Pools there were 12 wigeon, 3 tufted duck and 7 gadwall plus the usual little grebes, mallards and teal.
Frog Pond was positively heaving with birds and a further 8 wigeon were there with half a dozen gadwall and teal, a lone tufted duck plus an impressive 12 shoveler.
The Wildfowlers' Pools were quiet; the highlight here was a single wheatear.
The Flood was covered in teal with 62 present (and STILL no garganey!) but only a redshank, snipe and lapwing as far as waders were concerned.
A pair of greenshank were out on Aldcliffe Marsh (later flying on to the Flood) and the only other things of note were a pair of golden plover with the mass of lapwings roosting the edge of the Lune and another 4 wheatear. The adult whooper swan was on Colloway.

The hedges were very quiet with just single blackcap and chiffchaff found among the tit and finch flocks. Chaffinch numbers were certainly up and a couple of reed buntings were kicking around. Four skylarks flew over, as did just one meadow pipit and a small number of swallows and house martins.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Dirty Harrier

Mediterranean gull
I had an interesting couple of hours rooting around on the patch this morning.
I started at Freeman's Pools where a 'new-in' juvenile great crested grebe was snoozing on the water. The female tufted duck was still present along with its youngster - a drake was nearby too.
A small gathering of 50 or so black-headed gulls in Frog Pond field also had a 1st winter Mediterranean gull among them.
Water levels on all the pools remains high and as a result we're seeing very few fresh-water waders in the Aldcliffe area so far this season.
The Flood hosted just a handful of lapwing, redshank and a lone snipe.
Out on the marsh, near Snipe Bog, a single greenshank was feeding in the brackish pools.
Meanwhile, a scan through the many lapwing on the estuary only turned up a pair of golden plover - the first I've seen there this autumn.
Two adult Mediterranean gulls were with the several hundred black-heads and handful of common gulls on the sand.

Marsh harrier
On Heaton Marsh I could see a common buzzard hunting low over the marsh and as I 'scoped it I noticed another raptor sat deep in the grass - a female / juvenile type marsh harrier. After a short while the harrier got up and spent a short while hunting over the marsh before dropping down and feeding on the carcass of a lesser black-backed gull on the river's edge.
It soon took off again but this time attracted the attention of one of the local peregrines which half-heartedly gave it a bit of bother before the harrier drifted off and returned to its manky gull meal.

Migrant songbirds seemed pretty thin on the ground, with the local tit flocks hosting fewer chiffchaffs & willow warblers than juts a couple of days ago. A single lesser whitethroat was near the parking area.


Friday, 2 September 2016

September Song

My recent birding visits to the Aldcliffe area have been rather erratic and have almost always been on days when the weather's not really been 'bird-friendly'. As a consequence, I've not seen all that much in the way of notable migrants and the like.

This morning I spent an hour or two checking the usual spots but with the wind firmly from the south west it was little surprise that I didn't come across anything mind-blowing. However, the following just about made the jaunt worthwhile:
4 Mediterranean gulls (3 adults and a 1st winter) - on the Lune
1 green sandpiper - Flood
2 greenshank - 1 Freeman's Pools & 1 Flood 
Teal numbers continue to build around the whole area (where is my garganey?) and a pair of moulting drake tufted ducks had appeared on Freeman's Pools. Some of the eclipse gadwall are now looking a lot more like gadwall should...
A sense of seasonal change was tangible as a few robins were singing - declaring winter territories or just passing through? 

Last Friday was similarly quietish with just a Med gull in Frog Pond field, 2 greenshank on the Flood and a pair of wheatear by the Wildfowlers' Pools.

A couple of days earlier (25th) things had been much better with some very migrant-friendly weather bringing some warbler action onto the patch.
Freeman's Wood was jumping with birds; one feeding frenzy included at least 12 blackcaps, 3 common and 2 lesser whitethroats plus numerous willow warblers and chiffchaffs. The cycle track had mixed flocks of long-tailed and blue tits that contained multiple willows and chiffs plus both whitethroat species (especially lesser), though notably fewer blackcaps.
A couple of wheatear were also on Aldcliffe Marsh adding to the autumnal feel.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Summertime Blues

I managed a couple of hours mooching around the patch this morning for the first time in several days. I've been down in Oxfordshire working at the impressively massive event that is BBC Countryfile Live. From the RSPB exhibit I spotted a couple of raptor species overhead, both rarely encountered in North Lancashire; red kite and hobby. In that part of the world of course, both birds are relatively common and a treat for us northerners to see!

Treats, however, were harder to find while birding at Aldcliffe today... hardly surprising really as mid-summer can often be a bit dull in the birding world.
Even so, highlights included the following:
Freeman's Pools - female tufted duck with young, 5 ad & 3 young little grebes, 40+ swifts overhead.
Wildfowlers' Pools - 2 tree sparrows, 1 green sandpiper, 4 common snipe, 6 teal.
Elsewhere the usual little egrets, greylags, cormorants and such were all present and correct. A female sparrowhawk was patrolling the cycle track hedges and a grey partridge was seen with just one well-grown youngster in tow.


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Unseasonal Whooper Swan Highlight

A few notable highlights from the past couple of days include the arrival of a very unseasonal whooper swan and the annual mass influx of geese.

For those of you who don't know, the geese that turn up at this time of year are UK 'residents' and their appearance on the Lune estuary is part of the post-breeding dispersal that takes place every summer. From studies, many of these geese are moving a relatively short distance from the Lake District where a number of birds have been individually marked.

The greylags are fitted with orange collars; each sporting a unique 3 letter code. Of the 450 or so geese in the field by Frog Pond today I could see 13 greylags with collars.
I have sent these to Kane Brides at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust who will be able to determine their origins. Interesting eh?
With a little movement around the Lune, and up into the Bay and Leighton Moss, some of these identifiable individuals will doubtless be spotted several times in the coming months. 
As for the random whooper swan, has this bird also been hanging around the Lakes over the early summer and simply tagged along with the geese?

The green sandpiper count at the Wildfowlers' Pools was up to four today (an increase of two since yesterday) and a pair of greenshank were flushed off the river by one man and his dog. They flew off high toward Conder. Later, a third bird was flying around Aldcliffe Marsh calling.
A trio of snipe were also at the Wildfowlers' Pools but the Flood was sadly lacking in any waders bar a single lapwing.
At Freeman's Pools the proud tufted duck mum continues to nurture her lone duckling and from a brood of 8 cygnets, just one young mute swan remains with its parent here.

Yesterday I counted a hefty 38 little egrets along the river between Stodday and Aldcliffe. The adult and juvenile peregrine were once again engaged in hunting training over Colloway.

As the returning waders and wildfowl make themselves know, it was the departing birds that were making a fuss yesterday evening. A veritable swarm of approximately 80 swifts were screaming and swirling in a tight flock near my house at dusk - a reminder that they will soon be off back to Africa...


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Solitary Sandpiper

The Lune at low tide
Had a half-decent morning on the patch today thanks to some dry, bright weather and a few new birds trickling through.
Frustratingly, still no passage waders or post-breeding garganey at Freeman's Pools but it was great to see that the lone tufted duck duckling was still doing well.
Both parents are still in attendance and this constitutes the first ever breeding of this species (to my knowledge) in the Aldcliffe recording area.
Also present were a pair of moulting wigeon and 5 eclipse gadwall. Winter's here folks...
Other succesful breeders included a couple of little grebe chicks and just one cygnet with an adult mute swan. Newly hatched moorhens were in evidence along with several well-grown youngsters from earlier broods.
A reed warbler was sen foraging in the waterside vegetation.

Black-tailed godwit
I walked south along Dawson's Bank, noting good numbers of little egret along the way. A juvenile peregrine was having a go at hunting on the other side of the river and was soon joined by an adult.  This experienced bird soon snatched a starling and gave it to the youngster in a nifty aerial pass.
An adult Mediterranean gull flew up from the river and headed inland. A scan of the gulls loafing on the Lune sands revealed a further 4 Meds (3 ads & 1 second winter).
Also seen here were 5 common sandpiper and a fine breeding-plumaged black-tailed godwit (pictured).
A flock of approximately 30 wigeon flew through heading toward Glasson.

The Flood was quiet - the 3 remaining lapwing chicks all seem in good shape.

A common sandpiper and a solitary green sandpiper were at the Wildfowlers' Pools.

Insects were relatively low in number (with the exception of those lovely horseflies), despite the sunshine.
As far as dragonflies were concerned I just saw singles of emperor, brown hawker and common darter plus the usual damselflies.
Common butterflies (peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, meadow brown, speckled wood etc) were all present but not in any great number.
Brown hare was the only wild mammal.



Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Great Weather For Ducks

Had a quick spin around the patch after work this evening.First stop was at Freeman's Pools where I noticed a drake tufted duck moulting into eclipse plumage. That in itself wasn't especially notable - but with it was a small duckling.
A few weeks ago I noticed a pair of tufted ducks arrive at the pools but they soon disappeared - have they simply been keeping a low profile while nesting at the site? If so, I think that this may be the first record of successful breeding of this species in the Aldcliffe recording area.
In other bay bird news; the four lapwing chicks at the Flood continue to thrive while a couple at the Wildfowlers' Pools seem to be in rude health. A brood of at least 5 shelduck were also at the Wildfowlers' Pools along with 1 common and 2 green sandpipers.

Earlier in the day I had visited the common tern colony at Preston Docks (video from today attached) in advance of spending the day there tomorrow.
I'll be there chatting about how these amazing birds have been encouraged to breed at this inner city site and I'll hopefully be encouraging local people to want to learn more about the wildlife on their doorstep!
Fylde Bird Club's Paul Ellis and Paul Slade were instrumental in providing nesting areas for these birds at the marina and a joint project that includes input from the local council, Preston Docks and the RSPB has enabled the growing colony to exceed 130 pairs in 2016.
It's well worth a visit if you're in the area in the next couple of weeks.