Saturday, 28 December 2013

Festive Scouting

Aldcliffe Marsh; looking north from The Creek
I hopped on my bike on Christmas Day and popped down to the patch for a festive scout around.
Everything seemed in order; the usual wildfowl on the various pools, bullfinches and winter thrushes in the hedgerows and a couple of peckish sparrowhawks patrolling for Christmas dinner.
The undoubted highlight was the flock of skylarks in the stubble fields - at least 40 birds rising from the muddy maize stumps from time to time, easily the largest number I've seen in the Aldcliffe area for many years. I reckon I'd have to check my notebooks from a couple of decades ago to see if I've ever seen that many here!
The other notable thing was the sight of a pair of whooper swans flying down river. They dropped onto Aldcliffe Marsh briefly but obviously thought that the grazing mute swans weren't quite up to their standard and took off again.

Earlier today (Saturday 28th), I got wrapped up and headed out once more, hoping that yesterday's stormy conditions might have thrown something our way...  after all, similar conditions have brought common scoters, little gulls, kittiwakes and such in the past.
Alas, it wasn't to be and I couldn't find anything windblown of note. The skylark mob was still working the maize fields and the usual gadwalls, tufted ducks, goldeneyes, little grebes et al were all present and correct on Freeman's Pools. Several little egrets were lurking in various boggy corners, and just a single snipe was at Snipe Bog - no doubt more were there before the one-man-and-his-dog had splashed through the area just before I arrived.
In a wet field adjacent to the cycle track I was surprised to find a feeding flock of some 48 meadow pipits. Meanwhile out on the marsh, I spotted at least 3 rock pipits but the low tide prevented me from being able to really scrutinize any.

If you're heading down Aldcliffe in the next day or so, be aware that a section of the cycle track is currently flooded, as per usual near Reedy Corner, so take the upper cinder path to bypass it unless you've got wellies.


Saturday, 21 December 2013

We Will Rook You

Had a good rummage around the patch over the high tide today.
With the continuing unremarkable weather remaining damp, blustery and relatively mild nothing much had changed on the whole.
Freeman's Pools weren't exactly teeming with wildfowl, the tally being just 5 goldeneye, 7 tufted duck, 6 gadwall, 5 wigeon, 12 teal and 7 mallard. A couple of little grebe and 5 coot were also present as was a snipe.
Another little grebe and a female tufted duck were on Frog Pond while 12 moorhen were feeding in the field by Heron Pool.
A single coot was on Darter Pool and 42 moorhen were by the Wildfowlers' Pools.

There has been some work going on near the pathway junction, with hedgerow at the northern end of the upper track having been partly dug out and levelled.
This area is/was usually pretty good for migrant warblers, goldcrests and tit flocks and once held a roosting long-eared owl. Recently it has been popular with lots of redwing and blackbirds.
In the water-filled tractor ruts a grey wagtail was feeding but it seemed pretty nervous and wouldn't settle. This was most unfortunate as the bird was sporting colour rings.

I could make out a yellow plastic ring on the right leg and red one, over a metal ring, on the left leg but no other colour rings - perhaps there was a black ring below the yellow on the right leg that didn't seem obvious?
In these crappy distant shots, you can make out the yellow ring.
This bird is presumably one from the ringing scheme featured on the Heysham Observatory blog site.

A small gathering of corvids in the fields to the east of the upper track was notable for having 5 rooks mixed in. Carrion crows and jackdaws are of course common in the Aldcliffe area but rooks are pretty scarce down here, so they're always a treat to see. In fact ravens are far easier to find on the patch, with one or two almost always to be found around the estuary.

I couldn't find any pipits or finches along the tide line or on the marsh though I did note 11 snipe at Snipe Bog. The usual common waders and gulls were all present and correct and a scan through the assembled mute swans revealed no 'wild' swans. All the geese and egrets were on the other side of the river - just 6 pinkfeet flew over.
The hawthorns along Dawson's Bank were still attracting good numbers of thrushes with plenty of fieldfare and few redwing in the mix.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Winter's 'Tail (or Alba Home For Christmas)

As lovely as the twinkling illuminated trees and buildings around Lancaster are at this time of year, a far prettier cluster of adornments can be found in the city centre on any given evening.
At no cost whatsoever to local council tax-paying folk (and with a significantly smaller carbon footprint than the mass of electric lights), these lovely things can be found in the two small trees at Horseshoe Corner from late afternoon onward - often unseen by the vast majority of passers-by.
A quick count of the pied wagtails roosting at this traditional site reveals somewhere between 350 and 400 birds. Quite a wonderful sight.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Breaking The Bank

Following last week's 'big storm' I was surprised to see relatively little flooding down at Aldcliffe. In the good old days when the seawall was relatively frequently breached during high tides and gusty winds the Wildfowlers' Pools would often become a temporary lake. As a result, duck and coot numbers would go through the roof (even red-throated diver and razorbill occurred!) and as the water subsided the muddy edges would attract good numbers of waders. 

Well, the sea defences held out on the whole and the fields remained unflooded. Just a section of footpath along Dawson's Bank near Marsh Point had collapsed, causing a small amount of water to enter the northern most maize field. 

Of course, the tide rack had shifted up several metres, even covering the cycle track in places between Aldcliffe and Stodday. I was hoping for some hot passerine action along here but as yet no finch flocks have arrived to pick through the tideline debris. 

On Sunday I noticed some pink-footed geese in one of the fields to the east of the path but I couldn't get a good look as they were mostly obscured by the hedges. Yesterday they had moved to the field by Frog Pond and I was able to count 126 pinkfeet along with a scattering of greylags
Over on Freeman's Pools tufted duck numbers have increased to a barely impressive 5 while the regular gadwall, wigeon and little grebes were all still present. 

Pink-footed geese
Good numbers of redwing, fieldfare and other common thrushes could be found gorging on the hawthorns all along the cycle path between Freeman's Wood and the parking area at Aldcliffe Hall Lane. Bullfinch have been showing nicely along here lately too. 
I'm still impressed by the large numbers of moorhen in the Aldcliffe area these days; I counted 42 at the Wildfowlers' Pools yesterday. 

At dusk I headed back down to Freeman's Pools to see if there was any woodcock or wintering owl activity to be had. Sadly I didn't see either, but I was quite surprised to spot a couple of bats - not sure what species they were but they appeared too large and 'slow', with a direct flight, for pipistrelle or soprano bats. 
Incidentally, while I was keeping a dusky vigil here Dan was up river checking the egrets coming into roost at Ashton Hall. Earlier we'd had a conversation about whether anyone had been looking to see if the Sunderland Point great white egret had been looked for coming into roost there. He counted 39 little egrets, but no sign of the larger species. 


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Rings Around The World

Back in mid-October I noted 3 Canada geese out on Aldcliffe Marsh that were sporting red darvic rings on their left legs, and standard BTO rings on their right legs. A bit of digging around revealed that these were likely part of a scheme being run in Windermere by the RSPCA in association with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust to determine the movements of the Lake District geese.
Today I came across 8 such birds and managed to read the numbers on 5 of them. The info has been sent on to those involved in the research and I will post on here any interesting feedback that I get concerning these geese.

I've been scouting around the Aldcliffe / Freeman's Pools patch a fair bit recently but it's been fairly unremarkable in many ways.
Wildfowl numbers seem pretty low on the whole. Gadwall numbers seem to be sticking at 5, although there were 9 present one day last week. Teal are averaging around the 50 mark while at least 94 wigeon were on Frog Pond for a day, boosting the usual 20+. A first-year male tufted duck has arrived on Freeman's Pools in the past couple of days, joining the female that's been there for a while and a single goldeneye has been in residence for a day or so.
Coot are down with fewer than 10 birds present, and just a couple of little grebe are sticking around at the moment.
A lone drake shoveler has been hanging around at the Wildfowlers' Pools and up to 3 goosanders have been on the river. 
The majority of geese in the area comprise the feral masses; greylags and Canadas. Today there were just 9 pink-footed geese in total on the ground, 5 in the fields and 4 on the marsh. A skein of c180 headed north.
I suppose things will change significantly once we get a decent cold snap.

Ring-billed gull - not at Aldcliffe...
The hedgerows are still bustling with fieldfare although last week's flock of up to 90 birds has dwindled down to around 40. Several redwing too are feeding on the rapidly disappearing hawthorn berries alongside multiple blackbirds and handful of song and mistle thrushes.
A few goldcrest can be found in the hedges too, along with flocks of long-tailed tits.
A small flock of 9 meadow pipits were in the fields near Frog Pond this morning and another 3 were on the tideline with pied wagtails.
A single siskin was in Freeman's Wood this morning, close to the cycle track near the Freeman's Pools watchpoint.

Wader numbers continue to remain pretty stable with lapwing, golden plover, curlew, redshank and dunlin all present on the Lune - though it looks as if we may have a blank year as far as over-wintering green sandpipers goes. I haven't seen one since October 16th, but it's possible one's around somewhere off the beaten track?

An adult Mediterranean gull on the river at high tide this morning, was almost certainly the same bird that I saw feeding in nearby fields with about 600 black-headed gulls on Friday. Given the possible ring-billed gull seen at Torrisholme recently I scrutinised every common gull but they all turned to be just that.
I've attached a pic of a ring-billed gull that I took in Canada a while back just in case you need reminding of what to look out for!