Sunday, 28 April 2013

All White Now

Singing willow warbler
It seems that spring is well and truly upon us, despite the very tardy start. And although they may be later and yet to arrive in true bulk, many of our common migrants are finally present in decent numbers. Swallows are all over the place, while multiple willow warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, common whitethroats and lesser whitethroats can be seen and heard around the patch. In the past few days I have also seen my first swifts of the year, plus a couple of common sandpipers

Recent highlights as follows:

A trawl around on Saturday:
1 common sandpiper, 1 little ringed plover, 2 white wagtail, 4 gadwall - Freeman's Pools
1 white wagtail - Frog Pond
2 little ringed plover - Wildowlers' Pools
1 little ringed plover - Reedy Corner
4 little ringed plover, 8 white wagtail - the Flood
1 common sandpiper, 2 wheatear - the Creek

Common and lesser whitethroats were scattered throughout the area, their bursts of song a treat to my ears. The linnet flock discovered the day before was still in the stubble fields but better still were 2 grey partridge.
Almost as good as the arrival of any summer migrants, the sight of this cryptic pair really cheered me up. Distressingly, they are the first grey partridges that I have seen on the patch since my return in December; I was starting to think they'd finally succumbed to local extinction, much like corn bunting before them.

Scanning over the river I noticed a smart drake eider come by, and then I spotted a further 3 drakes and a duck roosting up on the marsh at Colloway - local breeders, all being well.

Friday morning, I was not terribly optimistic given the non-migrant-friendly weather...
Still, the highlights included:
1 grasshopper warbler seen well creeping around in Freeman's Wood
Flock of 18 linnet in stubble field - been very scarce over the winter, so a nice discovery.
4 wheatear were on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Yet another little ringed plover pic...
Little ringed plovers continue to be seen around place with birds on Freeman's Pools, Wildfowlers' Pools and The Flood (5 in total).
1 single snipe was also at Wildfowlers' Pools
4 gadwall (no wigeon - finally gone?) were on Freeman's Pools with a few remnant teal and the 4 tufted ducks. A pair each of oystercatcher and lapwing seem to be on territory here too. Several shelduck have been roosting on the island lately.
Again good numbers of swallows moving through with plenty of sand martins, plus a few house martins and swifts.
Just c.30 alba wagtails were still on the Flood; they were all white wagtails from what I could, bar two pieds.

White wagtail
Having spent 4 days on a residential course with the RSPB, I arrived back in Lancaster  around 3pm on Thursday. I quickly headed for Aldcliffe where over the course of 2.5 hours I recorded the following:
Several swifts (my first of year) plus both house and sand martins and swallows moving through.
Apparent fall of blackcaps - at least 10 seen mostly in and around Freeman's Wood.
A garden warbler showed uncharacteristically well, along the path by Freeman's Pools.
On the marsh there were 11 wheatear & a male whinchat .
After spotting a lone white wagtail at Frog Pond, I was amazed to find a flock of 42 feeding on the Flood with just 6 pied wagtails. What a sight! Unfortunately, they were feeding so actively that a sharpish digi-scope snap was pretty much out of the question, hence the fuzzy effort here. 
The ever present little ringed plovers were much in evidence with a pair on the Flood and 1 at Wildfowlers' Pools (incidentally, another was displaying over a grotty gravel area on Lune Ind Estate last week).
Pair of gadwall & 7 wigeon were still at Frog Pond. 5 Tufted duck and 1 female goosander were seen on Freeman's Pools.

To tie in with last week's local influx of Arctic terns and little gulls, I was fortunate enough to come across a flock of 26 Arctic terns near the creek during a brief (and breezy) visit on 21st.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Bibbed Blackbird Brings Birthday Bonus

Yet another Freeman's Pools pic...
Having spent last weekend working up near Penrith, I took Monday off (it just so happened to be my birthday) and I found a couple of hours to have a good look around the patch.
With the wind having changed direction a few days earlier things were definitely starting to feel a little more spring-like!
The undoubted highlight came as I neared the end of my walk and on a whim decided to check the hedgerow behind Freeman's Pools - in the past this has turned up such spring goodies as whinchat, redstart plus both spotted and pied flycatchers - and came across a cracking male ring ouzel. This, perhaps surprisingly, was only my second ever Aldcliffe ouzel, the previous one being an autumn bird.
My occasional visits to the patch in recent days have proved reasonable with continued arrivals of swallows, sand martins, chiffchaffs, willow warblers and wheatears being the main arrivals, plus the odd blackcap or two.
A few 'winter' wildfowl are hanging in with up to 7 wigeon still around Frog Pond and a pair of gadwall commuting between there and Freeman's Pools.

Here hare, here.
I haven't seen the green sandpiper since April 11, though I did bag my first whimbrel of the season on 14th.  Just one pair of little ringed plover remain on the The Flood.
Other winter remnants included an impressive flock of 82 redwing on the 11th feeding in the fields in the company of a lone male wheatear.
A couple of strolls through the nearby Fairfield FAUNA reserve while on my way to and from the office were rewarding with up to 5 wheatears present as well as a stunning male whinchat yesterday (Thurs).
Mammals wise I haven't seen any roe deer lately but brown rats continue to be ever-present, plus low numbers of brown hares can be found occasionally (and photographed at long range...). 
My work schedule currently has me all over the place, so my updates here may continue to be a little erratic for a while - though I'll try and make more effort to maintain regular postings!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Mipit Show

Little ringed plover (pic by Steffi Carter)
The only real downside to my having started a new job with the RSPB is that I’m no longer blessed with having the luxury of loads of time on my hands.
As a consequence my daily Aldcliffe visits have been seriously curtailed.
However, given the tediously slow start to spring I doubt that I’ve really missed all that much.
The times that I have managed to get down to the patch for a root about have been almost migrant-free in the past couple of weeks. The major exception has been the impressive run of little ringed plovers that have stopped by. The most that I have seen at any one time is 6 (5 on the Flood, 1 on the Wildfowlers’ Pools) but Gavin Thomas counted 10 in the Aldcliffe area on one visit!
It will interesting to see how many pairs set up territory this year, and more interesting still to see how many young are fledged.

There have been a couple of wheatears seen on the marsh, including one spotted by my brother Dave and his wife Steffi who were visiting from Wales over the Easter weekend. But really, only 2 wheatears reported into the second week of April? Sheesh.
Male wheatear (pic by Steffi Carter)

Perhaps more interesting still was the dead manx shearwater that Dave and Steffi found near Marsh Point – only the second record for Aldcliffe that I am aware of. That previous bird was also a tideline stiff. Incidentally, Dave and Steffi have their own blog, highlighting their exploits in Wales: Borderline Birding.
Yesterday I nipped down to the Parish after work and finally bagged my first chiffchaff of 2013. Once again, I can’t recall ever seeing my first one of the year so late in the season. Once those winds change direction (the latest forecasts suggest that will finally happen this coming weekend) we can expect the floodgates to open a touch and all being well, we should be awash with freshly arrived migrants from the continent.
The only significant movement thus far has been that of meadow pipits; hundreds of birds have been pouring through in the past week or so with many stopping off to feed in the fields and saltmarsh around Aldcliffe and Fairfield. The few rock pipits that I have been able to get decent looks at around the marsh have all been well-defined littoralis birds with distinct supercilliums, discernible wing-bars and pale outer tail feathers.
Fieldfare are still very much in evidence around the patch, just to remind us that summer is still a long way off. A group of 8 of these fab thrushes have been kicking around in recent days and I was surprised to see   around 30 feeding in the fields adjacent to Aldcliffe Hall Lane yesterday.

The view (with avocet) from Marshside's Sandgrounders Hide
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outside the area in the last couple of weeks, including a day spent at the RSPB’s Marshside reserve near Southport. The place was positively jumping with birds; streams of meadow pipits passed through while some were engaging in flight displays and singing their heads off. Similarly, impressive numbers of skylarks were belting it out from on high.
Good numbers of elegant avocets paraded in front of Sandgrounders Hide alongside moulting black-tailed godwits.
A long-staying spoonbill (see badly digiscoped image) played hide and seek throughout the day but occasionally showed well, though somewhat distantly.

Scanning over the marshes there were wigeon, shoveler and pintail to be seen as well as  few lingering pink-footed geese. Several ruff were busily feeding in the shallows with dunlin, oystercatcher and the ever-garrulous redshanks.
With news breaking of a Lancashire’s first record of killdeer this week, I was rather delighted to find myself scheduled to spend the day today at the excellent Beacon Fell Country Park in Bowland – just a few minutes away from the location of the American vagrant’s discovery. The bird was found by the RPSB’s own Gavin Thomas, who ironically found a killdeer in Ireland recently – quite probably the same bird he came across on his home patch of Alston Reservoir in Longridge!
This killdeer has been extremely elusive with more people dipping on it than actually seeing it and after my hour-long visit this evening I can now include myself in that unfortunate club. It’s not exactly a big deal for me as killdeer is one of those birds that I was seeing on a near-daily basis during my 3 years in Canada.