Friday, 30 May 2014

Week Finish

Dan here, with the main points of interest from a few visits this week.

The south, east and north of our isles seemed to be groaning with scarce migrants this week but if the NW of England was, nobody was finding them---myself included.

Never mind. Vis-mig-wise I mustered two late Sand Martins heading N, and a slightly unseasonal northbound Lesser Redpoll.

A count of 22 House Martins feeding over Freeman's Pools in showery weather was a good one, perhaps thanks to an increase in numbers using eaves in the Willow Lane area this year.

A pair of Arctic Terns has been noted daily, elegantly flapping round the estuary as far up as Marsh Point, and also getting cosy in the thriftier parts of Colloway Marsh south. I imagine rising water levels will scupper any hopes of a tern colony ever re-establishing itself there. Any wealthy conservationist/engineers fancy designing and helicoptering in some concrete nest platforms?

I watched a pair of Peregrines hunt down, kill and eat a Woodpigeon on the low tide mud near Gull Bank. The female was wearing the trousers and ate the majority while the male looked on. It's the first Peregrine sighting I've had here since mid-March.

Young birds are very much in evidence throughout, including five Goosander ducklings (down from 7 on May 13th) in the company of their mother. Recently-fledged birds ranging in size from Grey Herons to Chiffchaffs and Blue Tits are out and about, and flocks of post-breeding Starlings (circa two-thirds juveniles) have been numbering up to 300. Lapwings seem to be faring a little better than last year, with several full-size juvs seen, and two or three adults on eggs. No pitter-patter of LRP chick feet heard yet.

A pair of Grey Partridges looked rather exposed (and dare I say it- forlorn?) in a recently-harvested silage field and I feared that they might have lost a clutch to the machines.

An incubating Oystercatcher was highly agitated by a thoughtless traipser exercising her dogs way out on the thrift-covered saltmarsh. The irony is that at least half of the legion of marsh-wanderers will be animal and nature-lovers, who I picture tuning into BBC Springwatch (increasingly beyond parody!) and weeping at the sight of a Weasel chobbling a Dunnock brood...or something.

The old wildfowlers sign stating 'conservation area-- please keep to the footpath' has recently been re-painted but for many Aldcliffe users, ignorance is bliss.

Black-headed Gull numbers have been building recently with up to 150 adults per visit. I would guess that they are failed breeders taking an early bath.

In large wildfowl news, c100 Greylags have been feeding in and around Heaton Marsh, and the Aussie abomination (Black Swan) is still using Colloway Marsh north.

In one of the few warm spells this week, I noted c30 Common Blue Damselflies (with several pairs in tandem) at Darter Pool, and c15 Common plus 3 Blue-tailed damsels at the shallow pond by the eastern viewing area of Freeman's Pools.


Monday, 26 May 2014

The Aldcliffe Broads

Dan here.

The patch was bank holiday busy this afternoon, and instead of fretting about the next big bird I took it relatively easy and enjoyed the fair weather (a bit like normal people might).

My new camera seemed to enjoy the diffuse brightness too and I like this shot of a male Common Whitethroat taken near Freeman's Wood. Four were noted, and also four Lesser Whitethroats.

Chiffchaffs were of course very early this year so the first four fledged young shouldn't have been so much of a surprise. Other hedgerow bambinos included Long-tailed Tits and Greenfinches.

Bird of the afternoon was for sure the Broad-bodied Chaser pictured above. Although common elsewhere, this is only my 3rd or 4th patch record, and the first away from Freeman's Pools.
This male was at Stodday picnic site. It was perhaps an off-passage migrant, being some way from still freshwater, unless the sewage works tanks fall into their suitable habitat category.

Particularly after yesterday's martinfest, the parish was remarkably hirundine-free during my visit, with just two Swallows seen as they fed over the saltmarsh.


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Wake of the Flood

Hello. Dan here.

This evening I returned to the parish in the kind of rainstorms that would have had Noah phoning out for more supplies.

As the deluges subsided I had a brief look around and to my surprise dozens of Swallows were nattering in the hedgerows. Some were emerging from deep in the foliage and heading off, while others were drying out on more exposed perches as pictured below.

Whether they were passage migrants driven into the nearest cover, or local-ish breeders feeding at Aldcliffe thinking the rains had set in for good and were bedding down, I'm not sure. However, I've not seen spring roosts of this species here before, and a few minutes later they were dispersing (with three or four Sand Martins in the mix too). No House Martins were noted.

At least twenty Swifts were hawking over the patch as dusk began to fall. I checked the pools (old and new) but what few waders I saw were on territory. A rainbow showed up to the south east and Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Chiffchaffs and Dunnocks began to sing.

Steve Ryder of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (which manages Freeman's Pools) e-mailed me to say that two Avocets were present there a couple of days ago.


Monday, 19 May 2014

One Hundred Swallows do not a Summer Make

Dan here with a quick report of my afternoon visit to the parish.

Swallow passage was the dominant theme, with up to 100 per hour noted migrating ENE into a stiff breeze. Associated with this movement were 3 each of Sand and House Martin.

Best passerine was a rather tardy male Garden Warbler which was singing quietly in a hawthorn near Stodday before a brutish Blue Tit chased it away.

A short distance away were a number of fledgling Long-tailed Tits, presumably having recently emerged from the nest built by Chromedome (the pale-headed individual) back in March.

Other fledged young noted included Blackbird, Greenfinch and Robin as many martins, yet to reach their breeding sites passed overhead.

As with other birders, I was hoping that the late afternoon thunderstorms would drop stints and marsh terns on my head-- but I had to make do with raindrops instead. I spied two Whimbrels and 75 non-breeding plumage Bar-tailed Godwits on the estuary at Stodday, but I suspect the latter flock had only travelled a mile or two from Glasson.

Twelve Eiders were noted and two LRPs were at the Wildfowlers Pools.

The flood was devoid of birds, and the field was chock-a-block with sheep-- with around a thousand animals bleating away.

Freeman's Pools were not graced by Temmincks, but rather plagued by tykes. Eight youths climbed the reserve fences to the consternation of Lapwings and Shelducks. Three of the kids braved a swim while their friends rolled jazz woodbines on the banks.

Off to Spain for a few days. Happy birding!


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Acro Action

Blimey, what a difference! This morning's trundle around the parish was delightful; no blustery wind, not a hint of drizzle, it was pretty mild and the air was positively filled with the sound of singing birds.
There were at least 5 sedge warblers in song around Freeman's Pools with a further 2 along Dawson's Bank and another near Walled Meadow. Whitethroat were blasting out all over the place, and a couple of lesser whitethroat were still bothering to proclaim territory. Reed buntings too were in fine voice with at least 3 singing males on the patch. Swift numbers appear to have risen significantly and a couple of dozen birds were wheeling around over the marsh and the adjacent pools.
A lone wheatear was on Aldcliffe Marsh, near Marsh Point but the bird of the day was undoubtedly the showy and very vocal reed warbler at the imaginatively named Corner Pool. This hitherto often overlooked spot shall forever now be associated with last week's magnificent shrike but in the past it has hosted a few other decent birds including garganey, water rail and wood sandpiper. And with that area currently in HLS it may yet become even more productive in coming years.

Out on the estuary highlights included a whopping 26 eider (8 ducks, 18 drakes) and more than 120 mute swans - plus a splash of exotica in the form of the returning black swan.
A female sawbill with a brood on her back had me excited briefly. Up to 3 red-breasted mergansers have been hanging around here lately and thoughts of successful breeding on this stretch of Lune had me rather giddy. However, a quick scan through my binocs soon confirmed that it was a goosander with 7 hitchhiking ducklings.     
A single whimbrel was near Cadaver Corner and little ringed plovers were in situ at the Wildfowlers' Pools and another nearby location.


Monday, 12 May 2014

Can't see the Wood?

Dan here. Took this shot of a rather handsome and very approachable pigeon in a very brief visit this evening.

Highlights were restricted to five or six Swifts, the distant cries of a Grey Partridge and a (possibly new) male Whitethroat singing from a sycamore which has been dominated by a male Blackcap for six weeks or so.

I'll be away for most of the next fortnight, so it's over to Jon, Guy et al till the end of the month, by which time I'm certain the patch will be crawling with Icterine Warblers.



Sunday, 11 May 2014

Back To Basics

After the excitement of Thursday's woodchat shrike we're going to be hard-pressed to make any posts on this site seem all that interesting for some time I expect.
Nonetheless, the show must go on and I had a trawl around Aldcliffe after work today. To be honest, there was a residue of optimism that I may relocate the marvelous midweek Mediterranean migrant but sadly it wasn't to be. Given the weather it's not entirely impossible that the bird may still be around, hunkered down somewhere out of sight, although I do suspect it's rather unlikely now.

Equally, I was also keeping an extra special eye-out for the turtle dove reported by visiting shrike-seekers on Friday. For several years this has been my odds-on favourite for 'next new bird for Aldcliffe'... though I'd started to rethink that choice lately in light of the massive decline this species has suffered in the UK. 

Stuff actually seen today included a smart whimbrel that was feeding alongside a curlew in the fields above the upper path, giving a nice comparison for those who like that sort of thing.
Any lapwing and oystercatcher nests which may have survived the first assault of the maize fields (or consequent second layings) would have been well and truly hammered today as the full plough-treatment was inflicted upon the Darter Pool field. Only a handful of foraging wheatear and a few gulls and jackdaws seemed pleased with the change to the landscape.
The wind was keeping a lot of stuff down, so passerine activity was minimal. House martins, swallows and swifts were much in evidence, whizzing around and feeding at low levels.
One of the little ringed plover nests is still being carefully attended; youngsters should be out and about any day now.


Friday, 9 May 2014

Aldcliffe TV

Aldcliffe Woodchat from Dee Hay on Vimeo.

Dan here. Vimeo is higher quality for this high quality bird. It was seen again early this morning.

Below is my footage of yesterday's passage Ruff feeding with a resident Little Ringed Plover. The soundtrack is provided by Chiffchaff, Blackbird and Goldfinches and the rumble of camera motor...

Aldcliffe Ruff from Dee Hay on Vimeo.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Woodchat Shrine

Dan again, with a rare but wholly justified second blog of the day... dedicated to the loveliness of this adult male Woodchat Shrike. Or perhaps it should be a Woodruff Shrike-- it was found by (birder-blogger of some renown) Pete Woodruff as he prowled along Dawsons Bank early this afternoon.

The birding grapevine worked well and soon myself and Willow Lane's best bird photographer Jo Bradley (top three pics) were admiring and snapping it as it hunted the hedgerows just inland of the bank.

As well as being a bonnie bird, it is of course a rare one too. This bird (a first for Aldcliffe) is one of the scarcest passerine species to be seen in the parish. The last local Woodchat was in Bowland back in 2009. For the previous area records (an adult at Heysham and a juv. at Leighton) we're talking latter years of the last millennium...

A overshooting spring migrant, this one will be hard-pressed finding a mate much closer than Toulouse, the species being most common in the Mediterranean. It certainly didn't look best pleased when a hefty dose of cold Lancastrian rain began to fall just after these pictures were taken, and it became a little elusive... sulking beneath bushes as the next bedraggled birders began to arrive.


Ruff Patch

Dan here.

I thought that spring wader-finding would be the name of the game today, and I checked most of the area's muddy fringes this morning. Two small grey-backed waders at Freeman's Pools had the temerity to be Common Sandpipers (and not stints), and this Ruff had the nerve not to be....well.. I'll let it off because; a) it's so good-looking-- and b) Ruffs are scarce here in spring.

It was on 'the flood' where the local Little Ringed Plovers and another Common Sandpiper were also feeding. I got a few pics with my new camera which just about do it justice.

To expand the wadery theme Guy had an impressive flock of 29 Whimbrels flying over this evening. The biggest party in Lancaster and district so far this year?

A passerine influx was evidenced by 3 'new' Sedge Warblers (in addition to the 2 Freeman's Pools males) four Wheatears and a Garden Warbler by Freeman's Pools--the latter was a welcome and slightly overdue year-tick for Aldcliffe. A Chiffchaff singing in the scrub just NW of Keyline also seemed to be new in.

Up to thirty Swifts and fifteen House Martins were hawking low over the patch early on and c15 each of Sand Martin and Swallow headed north.

A Stock Dove was seen twice mid-morning. Is it my imagination or is this species seen here more often these days?


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

In Order of Appearance:

Dan here with a mid-season list of which summer migrants we've recorded in the parish so far. In order of appearance:

11th  Chiffchaff
19th  Little Ringed Plover
25th  Blackcap
27th  Osprey
29th  Willow Warbler
30th  Wheatear
31st  Sand Martin
3rd    Lesser Whitethroat
4th    Ring Ouzel
15th  Swallow
15th  White Wagtail
15th  Tree Pipit
15th  Yellow Wagtail
16th  Whitethroat
16th  Common Sandpiper
17th  Sedge Warbler
17th  House Martin
22nd Whimbrel
24th  Whinchat
24th  Redstart
25th  Cuckoo
5th    Swift
5th    Arctic Tern
8th    Woodchat Shrike
8th    Garden Warbler

For the sake of simplicity, purity and argument I've only included classic summer migrants and not proto-, partial-, hemi- and demi-migrants such as Stonechat and Greenshank...

Ring Ouzel, Cuckoo and even Yellow Wagtail are not always annual at Aldcliffe so we've been lucky with those, but we've usually recorded Grasshopper Warbler & Garden Warbler by now--particularly in a spring with plentiful observer coverage like this one.

Hopefully there are plenty more spring additions to come and perhaps I'll complete the round-up towards the end of June.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014


Dan here.

There was quite a bit of bird action in the NW of the patch at dusk, and luckily I was there to see it.

At least twenty Swifts and forty Swallows were feeding over Freeman's Wood after sunset, and the rustling sound of Sand Martins was heard over Freeman's Pools.

A male Wheatear (pictured below) was feeding at Marsh Point, as were two Common Sandpipers. The Arctic Tern pictured above flew downstream here.

Evening birdsong included Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats-- but no Sedge or Grasshopper Warblers were heard.


Monday, 5 May 2014

Just a Swift One

Hello. Dan once more.

I'm sure most readers of this blog will have seen Swifts somewhere or other in the last few days, and I had my first few over the patch this evening. Three worked slowly (by swift standards) east as I headed out to Stodday picnic site to scan for ibises in flight.

No repeat of the other night, but as I waited in the dampening gloom a year-tick Arctic Tern lazily winged its way downstream and had a butchers at Colloway Marsh, site of a tern colony in decades past.

The estuary resounded with the cuddly cooings of Eiders, with at least four drakes and two ducks noted.


Sunday, 4 May 2014

7 & 7 is?

Dan here.

Everyone was expecting more rain than materialised today-- I was out dead early in the drizzle thinking it a lull in heavier precipitation, but the day was mostly dry.

My plan was to quickly spot a Swift circling around in the murk (had a few over town two days ago) go home, type a blog entitled 'Just a Swift One' and go back to bed. But the Swift never showed, the weather dried out and I searched for migrants for a couple hours more.

The main feature was Wheatears. First thing a party of four was mingling with similarly-sized Lapwing chicks on the maize fields, with a further six being chased around by doggies on the marsh.

When I checked the flood an hour later (M & F Little Ringed Plover) ten Wheatears were frolicking with lambs at the waters edge. Surely not the two flocks consolidated? The marsh birds were gone.. I grabbed my notebook to up my morning tally to fourteen. Scrub that-- maize birds no longer present.. Krazy times.

That's about all for today-- save to mention two Sedge Warblers singing and also a Stock Dove at Freeman's Pools-- more mathematical mysteries soon.


Thursday, 1 May 2014

Early 'Start

Dan here. Happy May to you all.

A quick look out of the window at half five revealed the kind of damp and miserable conditions I should be out in.

I soon found that the patch was hardly Fallcliffe, but then again it wasn't eff-Allcliffe either.

A lovely (is there any other kind?) adult male Redstart was singing in the rain in a sycamore at the foot of Aldcliffe Hall Lane, and the Willow Warbler singing feebly by the walled meadow smelled new.

A new Sedge Warbler was chattering a few hundred yards to the south (although any of its kin at Freeman's Pools were silent) so signs of mid-spring passage migration seemed to aided rather than hampered by the early drizzle.

The only Wheatear I could find was a male, and not the ten hands at the shoulder 'definite Greenland' that everyone's on about these days, even though it was standing up straight (probably to have a peer at me)...

A Whimbrel was quietly feeding by cadaver corner, and a scan of the Lune estuary west marshes revealed precisely no ibises, and an impressive fifteen Eider.

The Long-tailed Tit nest I've had half an eye on by the sewage works is still active, as is a nest-building Chiffchaff.

My snap below is dedicated to all the local dog-walkers who see me scanning Freeman's Pools and ask me if I'm looking for deer (no mate, I'm grilling the habbo for an overshooting Sylvia!)...enjoy!