Tuesday, 14 January 2014

What's Good for the Goose

Pink-footed geese
At last, a significant change has taken place at Aldcliffe! The annual arrival of late-winter/early spring pink-footed geese has begun.
Unfortunately some loud, heavy duty log chopping was going on along the tideline so the bulk of the birds were staying firmly on the western side of the Lune. Even at considerable range it was clear that there were at least 500 geese in the fields alongside Heaton Marsh.
During my visit a couple of further skeins came through. The first group contained around 200 birds, and carried on in a southwesterly direction. The second flock, of approximately 100, dropped onto Aldcliffe Marsh.
I doubt I'm going to get much opportunity to 'scope through any Aldcliffe geese in the next couple of weeks as I'll be out of the area, but hopefully someone will get chance to search though for something interesting!
Pinkfeet generally pass though in variable, but usually significant, numbers right through into spring so there's plenty of time for a stray bean goose or a party of white-fronted geese to drop in.

Wildfowlers' Pools
Water levels remain pretty high around the patch with the cycle track by Reedy Corner still unpassable without high wellies, or perhaps a horse.
The familiar boundaries of the Wildfowlers' Pools too have disappeared as the pools have become part of the flooded field. On the plus side, a single black-tailed godwit was feeding there yesterday.
The Flood, of course, is currently more like a lake and does its best to attract lots of curlew, lapwing, redshank and black-headed and common gulls, especially over high tide.

A bit of glamour...
With the exception of the geese, the birding's been fairly repetitive just lately. In fact it has got so dull that I have resorted to taking pics of bloody pheasants!

Of note, a kingfisher was on the canal by Whitecross in central Lancaster yesterday. Almost everyone in the RSPB office nipped out to year-tick it as it sat quietly digesting a small fish in the overhanging canalside vegetation.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Morning Glory

Watching snipe at School Pond, FAUNA reserve
I had the great pleasure of leading a short birding walk in and around the Fairfield Community Orchard and FAUNA nature reserve this morning.
Having been encouraged by the good forecast, I was somewhat dismayed to awake to a very rainy morning. As I trudged toward our meeting place a crack of lightning split the sky, swiftly followed by a rumble of thunder. Not exactly what I'd hoped for...
I was the first to arrive shortly before 8am but before long several of us had gathered and we set off along the path into to the orchard as the sky started to brighten.
The remainder of the walk was rain-free and as the sun rose conditions were soon bright and very pleasant.
All around us there were singing birds; blackbirds, robins, song thrush and mistle thrush were all heard while dunnocks and woodpigeons became increasingly active.
We were out for around an hour and 20 minutes or so, and clocked up just over 30 species in the relatively small area.
The morning's highlights included little owl, redwing, kestrel, jay and snipe along with other common species.
Big thanks to those who came along; I'm already looking forward to our next outing! 

Little egret, Aldcliffe
Just after 10am I headed down to Aldcliffe where I met up with my old chum Greg Potter, former Lancastrian and one-time patch regular.
We spent a couple of hours doing the rounds, seeing all the usual stuff - little egrets, little grebes, single pinkfoot, goldeneye, gadwall, wigeon, etc.
Undoubted highlight was a single jack snipe and 2 common snipe at Snipe Bog.
This is the first jack snipe that I have seen at this traditional site so far this winter.  

Friday, 3 January 2014

Lapwings, Rings & Other Things...

Ringed Canada geese
The forecast rain didn't materialise today and I was able to get out for about 3 hours and give the patch a good bashing in relatively bright, if blustery conditions.
Things started off well at Freeman's Pool where a water rail showed nicely along the southern edge.
Although annual winter visitors to the Aldcliffe area these secretive birds usually only get seen during prolonged periods of cold and icy weather when they are forced out into the open to search for food.
Otherwise the pools were hosting the expected goldeneye, tufted duck, teal, mallard, wigeon and gadwall. A couple of little grebe were also present along with the usual handful of moorhen and coot.
A smart covey of 11 grey partridge were showing nicely in the fields but there was little else to be seen all along the cycle path until I got to the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Here, a couple of hundred Canada geese were bathing in the rather flooded pools.
Scanning through I noticed that a few of the geese were sporting red / orange darvic rings. After a fair amount of scrutiny I was able to read the numbers on all 7 of the rings that I could see.
5 of these I had read previously but it was good to able to add another couple to the total.
The birds were ringed by the RSPCA at Lake Windermere in early July where they had gathered to moult.

The wet fields had also attracted good numbers of lapwing and a few redshank. Later as the tide rose yet more birds settled in the fields and around the nearby Flood, including large numbers of curlew and black-headed gull.
Five rooks, uncommon in the Aldcliffe area, were still hanging around with the local carrion crows and jackdaws.
I spent quite a bit of time 'scoping over the estuary as the tide continued to rise, covering the entire marsh. A small number of snipe were pushed off the marsh but no jack snipe were seen. Equally disappointing was the very small number of rock pipits. Ordinarily a high tide pretty much guarantees decent opportunities to get good looks at these cryptic birds as the feed on the floating tide-rack and debris but I only saw three all day and none were settling within range.
Over the River Lune the impressive sight of thousands of lapwing, hundreds of golden plover and 10s of dunlin were wheeling around with mixed gulls (though nothing 'interesting' in with them) while a couple of cormorants and a single great-crested grebe bobbed along in the choppy waters.


Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year's Ave

As the blustery, wet and relatively mild weather continues, so does the decidedly repetitive avifauna in the Aldcliffe area.
I had a very soggy outing on New Year's Eve and saw pretty much the same stuff that I've been seeing for what feels like an eternity. The same ducks were on Freeman's Pools; the same thrushes in the hedgerows; the same waders on the marsh, etc.
A brief gap in the rain on New Year's Day allowed me and Jenny to get out for a walk mid-afternoon. 
Setting off from home we did a familiar route taking in the main 'easy' Aldcliffe patch and clocked 52 species in about an hour. While we didn't see (or particularly look for, to be fair) some of the common stuff like golden plover, dunlin or even coal tit we did see peregrine, little egret, little grebe and the increasingly tricky greenfinch.
Indeed, a number of local birders have mentioned the difficulty in finding greenfinches nowadays. Until very recently this familiar species could be seen just about anywhere, but in the past few years numbers have declined dramatically. The main cause appears to be the spread of Trichomonosis - a disease commonly found in pigeons and doves. This devastating disease seems to have adapted and made the leap to infect finches. If nothing else, its spread surely emphasizes just how important it is to keep garden feeders clean.
And I expect the rapid and worrying disappearance of this once ubiquitous songbird will give a few anti-raptor campaigners a bit of extra science-free fuel in their rant against sparrowhawks, peregrines, red kites, buzzards, etc, etc...

Flooded section of cycle path, Aldcliffe
With little climatic change forecast for the immediate future, it looks likely that we'll seeing few notable changes around the Aldcliffe area for a while.
A severe cold spell would certainly shake things up a bit, but there's nothing on the horizon as far as I can tell.
The rain has caused a little localised flooding but nothing major. The cycle track has been hit a little bit near Reedy Corner, as usual, but it's not very deep and one can still ride though without getting a drenching.

So, it's simply a case of donning the wellies and waterproofs and getting out and enjoying what there is to see.
Before long the annual pink-footed geese invasion should commence and they'll be dropping in en masse, hopefully dragging an unusual interloper along for the ride!