Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas etc

Season's greetings to all! 

Here's looking forward to a bird-filled 2013.

What surprises will the new year bring?
Will the lesser yellowlegs be relocated in the Aldcliffe area?
What new species, if any, will make it to the Aldcliffe list?

Click on the tab above to see which species have been recorded on and around the patch and see if you can predict the next 'new' bird...
I'm thinking turtle dove, hen harrier (way overdue), bee-eater - maybe even another yank wader or an American wigeon?
Or perhaps we'll see the first Aldcliffe breeding by little egret or avocet?
Only time will tell - good luck and enjoy the birds!


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Life On Marsh

Despite the many pressing things that I find myself having to do as Jenny and I continue our repatriation, I am still finding a couple of hours most days to get out and refamiliarise myself with the neighbourhood birds.
On Monday I was on Aldcliffe Marsh for the high tide once again and it was another big one.
As on Sunday, lots of geese were grazing in the adjacent fields along with good numbers of curlew, lapwing (pictured), redshank and black-headed gulls.
The tideline by Walled Meadow had attracted a decent little feeding flock that contained chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, robin, wren, pied wagtail and 11 rock pipits. As I walked along the seawall up to Marsh Point and Freeman’s Pools I came across at least another 9 rock pipit. Checking through them, there was nothing to suggest they were anything but petrosus types, although one bird with a distinctive supercilium was certainly suggestive of littoralis
The European white-fronted goose was with greylags on the marsh opposite Snatchems.
Freeman’s Pools, now thawed, were starting to attract a few birds including common goldeneye, tufted duck and a pair of mute swans.

Bits of a little owl
On Tuesday I visited the marsh again, though walked via Aldcliffe village and down Railway Crossing Lane. As I passed Admiralty Wood I checked for little owls and eventually located a snoozing bird (pictured here). Nuthatch, treecreeper and great-spotted woodpecker also put in appearances.
I bumped into Steve Wallis in the village; he was on his way home having completed his WeBS count. After a good chat about what Aldcliffe birds I’d missed in the 3+ years I’ve been away and what changes had been observed around the patch we continued on our respective ways.

Late afternoon at Aldcliffe Marsh
The tide peak was considerably lower today and as a result there wasn’t much pushed off the main river. A handful of little egrets were scattered around the saltmarsh and once again there were loads of redshank and lapwing, plus a few dunlin, feeding around The Flood.
I can’t recall ever seeing quite so many moorhen as seem to be around at the moment – have they just been steadily increasing or are there simply a lot in the Aldcliffe area this year? Coot have certainly colonized in recent years (my first record was in the late 1980s and concerned a freshly dead bird along the seawall. I was quite excited.)
Talking of modern additions to Aldcliffe’s avifauna, as I bumbled along the pathway back to Willow Lane alongside Freeman’s Wood I noticed a little egret on the path ahead of me. It was searching for prey in the wet ditch and looked a bit out of place so close to the edge of town. They’ll be nicking koi carp out of garden ponds before we know it…   

This afternoon (Wednesday) I had to go to Morecambe and managed a quick walk down the Stone Jetty. There was nothing much going on offshore, and wader numbers were pretty unremarkable around the shore. Species present included the expected curlew, dunlin, redshank, turnstone, oystercatcher and knot.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Tide Is High

European white-fronted goose
With a midday tide forecast at over 10 metres today, I trundled off down to Aldcliffe to see what might get pushed out of the creeks and into plain view.
The fields either side of the cycle track were filled with hundreds of squabbling geese, the vast majority being greylags. A reasonable number of pink-footed geese and a couple of decent sized flocks of Canadas were also present. Scanning through I managed to find the previously reported European white-fronted goose and rattled off a couple of dodgy-scope pics.
The fields were also hosting good numbers of lapwing and redshank. Ever the optimist, I was hoping that the post-thaw returning redshank would bring back the yellowlegs and wood sandpiper but so far that doesn't appear to be the case. Have these two strays moved on altogether, or might they still reappear? Only time will tell.

Little egret
The Wildfowlers' Pools were pretty quiet, with the exception of a couple of dozen redshank, lots of moorhens, a few teal and 5 shelduck. A single little egret was creeping around the pool edge (pic).
The Flood was awash with roosting black-headed gulls and yet more redshank, plus a couple of dunlin and common gulls.
The distinctive squeal of a water rail alerted me to the presence of two birds lurking in the vegetation on the flooded lower path, with one showing well briefly. A couple of little grebe were also fishing here.

High tide
Back up on the Lune, the tide finally peaked around noon and I walked the high water line in the hope of flushing a jack snipe or two. I didn't. I did, however flush a few common snipe and come across at least 4 rock pipits.
Talking of jack snipe, I found the fresh remains of an expertly picked-apart bird up by the Wildfowlers' Pools a couple of days ago, so there are (or, perhaps were) some around...
Scanning over the river to Colloway Marsh large numbers of gulls, wigeon and roosting waders including dunlin, redshank, curlew, lapwing and golden plover were being occasionally bothered by a couple of peregrines and a sparrowhawk
A small flock of 15 pintail flew down river, not a particularly numerous bird on this part of the estuary. 
Plenty of blackbirds and song thrushes continue to feed in the hawthorns throughout the area with smaller numbers of redwing and fieldfare joining them from time to time.  Other common passerines include the dwindling chaffinch flock in the stubble fields plus occasional pied wagtails, robins, dunnocks and wrens.
Freeman's Pools were bereft of birds, presumably due to the fact that it is still pretty much frozen over.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


On Tuesday morning I hopped on the train for the short 10 minute journey to Morecambe. I was heading to the newspaper offices to catch up with some old colleagues and also meeting my mate Shaun Coyle, who had just returned from yet another month-long sub-Saharan birding trek.
Of course the first thing I did was take a walk along the Stone Jetty and peer out across Morecambe Bay to the Lakeland hills. Although it was bright and frosty, a low haze hung over the horizon rendering the snow-topped mountains all but invisible.

The tide was just starting to drop and a few waders were rousing from their roosts and gathering along the exposed shore and rocks. Lots of oystercatchers were loudly announcing their presence and flying around in loose groups while ruddy turnstones were assembling on the jetty end. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any purple sandpipers amongst them.

Offshore a couple of local fishing boats were attracting large numbers of gulls, mostly herring and black-headed - I scanned through the feeding mass hoping to spot the tell-tale white wing flashes of a Mediterranean gull but there were none present. When I covered this area on a daily basis Med gulls were a regular feature most winters, with one individual returning for many years.

I couldn't pick up any notable birds out on the flat calm water with my bins apart from a couple of great-crested grebes.
A solitary grey heron was with the redshank, oystercatchers, curlew and a lone dunlin on the 'Bubbles' groyne.
Yet more waders were busily feeding on the receding tide edge and as I looked through the medley of shorebirds I heard the chattering of black-tailed godwits. Looking up, a small flock of approximately 30 flew in and dropped onto the beach.
Not a bad way to start any day! 

Black-tailed godwits, oystercatchers & redshank

Monday, 10 December 2012

Monday Meanderings

River Lune at low tide, looking toward Aldcliffe Marsh
It was another gloriously sunny, crisp cold day today and once we'd taken delivery of a new fridge/freezer (life doesn't get any better than that, does it?) I donned my wellies, grabbed my bins and 'scope and walked out to Aldcliffe.
With the exception of a great-spotted woodpecker and twinkling charms of goldfinches it was fairly quiet along the path by the now inaccessible Freeman's Wood but there was a fair bit going on at Freeman's Pools.
Scanning out over the water I could see tufted ducks, wigeon and teal plus 17 gadwall. Hugging the edges were the expected moorhens while coots and little grebes fished busily.
A little egret was preening on the banks - funny how we've become so blasé about these recent colonists. It's not all that long ago that the discovery of one of these exotic herons in this part of the world would have caused something of a twitch.
I checked through the larids on the estuary, finding just the usual suspects: black-headed gull, herring gull, common gull and lesser-black backed gull. A gargantuan great black-backed gull came by - I'm often surprised by just how bloody massive and menacing these bird are at close range!
Good numbers of lapwing were present and few redshank were picking their way along the river's edge.
As I trundled along the seawall path I noticed a common buzzard in the stubble fields. It was on the deck and soliciting a fair bit of interest from the local carrion crows. Several jackdaws and a handful of rooks looked on. The latter species isn't always easy to find in the Aldcliffe area, so their presence usually attracts a fair bit of interest from local patchers.
Out on the marsh I could see a couple more little egrets and good numbers of geese. Bearing in mind the albifrons white-fronted goose found by Pete Crooks a couple of days ago I spent a bit of time 'scoping through the birds but I couldn't locate it among the mass of greylags grazing on the marsh. Approximately 60 pink-footed geese were also present along with the usual shelducks, Canada geese, dodgy farmyard ganders and a just 5 mute swans. It's not all that long ago that Aldcliffe hosted herds of 100+ mute swans in the winter, which of course regularly attracted whooper and Bewick swans.
On the other side of the river large skeins of pinkfeet, totalling approximately 2000 birds, were moving around.

Common snipe - Wildfowlers' Pools
At the Wildfowlers' Pools there was no sign of either of the recent 'celeb' birds. We birders all know how luck can often play a part in our avian adventures, but I can't believe just how fortunate I was where the lesser yellowlegs and wood sandpiper are concerned. Considering just how long they've been hanging around, they pretty much disappeared immediately after I saw them! Today, barely half a dozen redshank were present, plus 3 common snipe (pictured).
Given Aldcliffe's reputation as a near-guaranteed site for wintering green sandpiper, I have been amazed not to come across one in any of the usual spots. Perhaps, along with the wood sand and lesserlegs they're all just feeding somewhere else for the meanwhile and will reappear on-and-off throughout the winter?
At 'snipe bog' I flushed 7 common snipe but failed to find any jack snipes.
Passerines were generally unremarkable during my 4-hour trek, with just common stuff such as greenfinch, song thrush and the like being seen. A couple of redwing and fieldfare were great to see in the hawthorns, but the tideline was bereft of activity. It was low tide, so there were no pipits and just a couple of pied wagtails kicking around.
Curlews and more lapwings were feeding with starlings in the wet fields at Stodday.
Returning along the cycle track I added little to the day's tally, so I took a last-minute diversion via the newly created FAUNA Nature Reserve near my house. I used to regularly bird this area before it was a 'nature reserve' and it was pretty productive from time to time. A long mixed hedgerow attracted spring migrants such as redstart and whinchat (as well as hosting many breeding birds), wheatears and whimbrel would often feed up in the sedgy meadow and a couple of small pools appealed to waders including snipe and green sandpiper. Now that the hedgerow has been removed and a path stuck right through the place I expect we can wave goodbye to this site being of any interest to anything but wood pigeons and magpies (both of which were about the only birds seen there today).
I'm a big believer in protecting green spaces and I hope to be proved wrong about this once diverse spot, but the 'improvements' don't seem to be much to get excited about unless you're walking a dog or going for a jog.  


Friday, 7 December 2012

My tringa ling(ers)

After 3 years living in western Canada I returned to Lancaster earlier this week and in between various essential domestic chores I managed to squeeze in a few brief visits to my favourite local patch in the known universe - Aldcliffe.
Of course I was well aware that a lesser yellowlegs has been hanging around the area, and despite the fact that I just came from a place where they're pretty much 'trash birds' I was eager to add this American vagrant to my Aldcliffe list. Perhaps more interesting still in a national context was the highly exceptional presence of a wintering wood sandpiper at the Wildfowlers' Pools.

Wood sandpiper
Thankfully I managed to catch up with both; the lesserlegs on Monday and the sandpiper on Wednesday when I manged to get some terrible digi-scoped pics in the bright morning light.
Today (Friday) I met up with old Aldcliffe regular Greg Potter but we came away without sight nor sound of either bird.
For me, the thrill of re-connecting with common birds I used to take totally for granted has been a real highpoint. Even such naff birds as robins and blue tits have been giving me a little tingle, while the soft call of a bullfinch or sight of a bunch of lapwings roosting on the estuarine mud has had me in near rapture!  

Redwings, fieldfares (pictured), little egrets, tufted ducks, kestrels, sparrowhawks and even moorhens have been competing for my attention.
And I've really been scrutinising those coot undertail coverts...   
I was also fortunate enough to see a couple of (Bohemian) waxwings at the end of my street a couple of days ago. Not exactly on par with the sizeable flocks doing the rounds this winter but a pleasure to see nonetheless.
As the weeks go by I'm sure the novelty of the commoner species will wear off as I encounter them on a near-daily basis, but for now I couldn't be enjoying the birds of Aldcliffe and beyond more.   

And I must thank Guy, Steve and Dan for maintaining this blog and keeping us all up-to-date with the avian goings-on at Aldcliffe.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012


A possible goshawk was seen briefly but very clearly down at the flood this morning. It was very large (almost buzzard sized), barred chest and broad winged. It passed over Aldcliffe Hall Lane where I was able to ascertain it wasn't wearing any falconers jessies (I think that's the term).
It's good to see a posting from Jon Carter, the founder of the Aldcliffe blog, on the LDBWS website. It's even better that he has seen the wood sand and lesser yellowlegs today and that this big beast didn't take either of them.

Guy (with thanks to Dan for suggesting the today's blog title)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Winter bliss....

Blue skies and frost. Lesser yellowlegs on wildfowlers’ pool with up to 8 snipe. A merlin was in the area. Reed bunting, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, bullfinch along track. Fieldfare, redwing, song thrush and blackbird present. A peregrine was near the pylons. On the river 2 whooper swans came up on the tide, goosander, goldeneye and great crested grebe also on the river. Freeman's Pool gadwall, coot, tufted duck, teal, goldeneye, mallard, grey heron and mute swans.