Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Going For Goldeneye

Goldeneyes - Freeman's Pools
Following last week's flying visit by a female scaup, it was another classic winter duck species that dropped in on Monday morning.
A considerable flotilla of 14 goldeneye were present at Freeman's Pools for the first couple of hours of daylight with all but two females having moved on by mid-morning.
It doesn't half make you wonder what turns up and subsequently clears off unseen...

Otherwise the big numbers of birds were concentrated on the flooded fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools fields. Here there were large numbers of probing redshank, along with a handful each of curlew, dunlin, snipe and black-tailed godwit.
Approximately 230 black-headed gulls, and a few common gulls, were also taking advantage of whatever abundant food-source had attracted so many birds. Teal too were notably numerous with in excess of 120 dabbling nervously away.
A single rock pipit was on the marsh near The Channel.
The majority of the wintering greylags were reasonably close to Dawson's Bank as I walked back toward Marsh Point and I was able to read the neck collars of 22 birds. Most of these were familiar individuals but there were a few that I had never seen before.

Pied wagtail roost - Lancaster
Many Lancastrians will be aware of the pied wagtails that routinely roost in the city centre in the winter months.
In winters past, they favoured the trees around the car park between Sainsburys and the old Waring & Gillow building on North Road. 
In more recent years this roost has been primarily concentrated in the two small trees at Horseshoe Corner.
Once again, the birds are coming to huddle in these Christmas-light-festooned trees in the late afternoon and I have estimated there to be somewhere in the region of 300 wagtails there. Give or take one or two...
I may be way off the mark with that very loose count and I would welcome any more accurate estimates!

Waxwings - Kendal

And talking of birds in trees (not a unique concept, admittedly) here's a pic of the waxwing flock that I recently saw in Kendal. I reckoned there to be in the region of 65 birds present when I was there.
These dazzling birds seem to be turning up all over the place so, as always, keep an extra special eye out on any ornamental berry-filled rowans or similar, and do pass on any sightings of these nomadic northern beauties.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Scaup Scarpers

I was surprised to see that Freeman's Pools remained unfrozen this morning but as a consequence the number of ducks had increased a fair bit.
Most notably a female scaup had dropped in to join the 12 tufted ducks present. It was present when I checked the pools at at 9.15am but when I returned at 10.40am it had moved on.
Gadwall and teal numbers were up and there were at least 5 little grebes on the pools.
A female sparrowhawk buzzed through causing the ever-wary woodpigeons and redwings to scatter in panic.
Elsewhere it was the same old stuff, the only thing of note being the arrival of a few fieldfare in Freeman's Wood and along the cycle track.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Great Day for a Great Egret

I had a feeling today was going to be a good day.
First thing, I had a merlin flying around over my house - it was uttering a soft persistent call I don't recall ever hearing before, no idea what it was up to!

I then trundled off through Freeman's Wood in the lovely sunlight, scattering multiple redwings and blackbirds. Best bird by far was my first woodcock of the season - always a favourite of mine, these birds have the capacity to brighten any day. In the absence of a photo, here's a drawing I did of one ages ago...

Things were still relatively quiet at Freeman's Pools; 5 tufted duck, 9 gadwall, 2 goldeneye and the usual scattering of little grebes, coot, teal and wigeon, etc.
Frog Pond was hosting a few more wigeon and gadwall plus several redshank and curlew.

A racket drew my attention to a hedge bordering the maize fields. A formidable gathering of chaffinches, blackbirds, blue tits and the odd robin was seriously bothered by something.
After a bit of manoevering I found the source of their excitement - a rather angry looking little owl. Despite their status as regular Aldcliffe birds, this is the first little owl I've seen in the area for a good couple of years. I used to have two guaranteed spots for finding these diminutive hunters on the patch but alas those days appear to have gone. Hopefully this individual marks the return of these fab little predators to the area.

Next, I checked the flooded fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools. A gaggle of garrulous greylags were gathered here along with large numbers of teal. Several mallard, moorhen and a lone female pintail were here too.
Four black-tailed godwits were feeding alongside several redshank. Half a dozen pied wagtails and a meadow pipit were picking around the edges of the wet areas.

A quick scan over the marsh revealed yet more greylags and Canada geese but little else beyond a few black-headed gulls and little egrets.
I walked the tideline to Cadaver Corner but it was pretty quiet with just 4 common snipe coming up from Snipe Bog.
Out on the muddy river edges I could see large numbers of golden plover and lapwing.

I was daydreaming about finding a desert wheatear (as I often do) when I noticed a large white bird flying languidly at mid-height over the marsh. I knew what it was straight away and as I lifted my binocs to my eyes I allowed myself a little smile; my first, long-awaited great egret on the patch. Phew!
I watched the egret as it flew in a direct line toward Freeman's Pools but it carried on and disappeared over Lancaster. I wonder if any sharp-eyed shoppers spotted it? Could be worth checking the roost at Skerton Weir later?
To put in into context, although this was the first great egret that I have seen in the Aldcliffe area (though somewhat ironically I was looking at one yesterday at Leighton Moss...) it isn't the first to have occurred here.
The first was an individual that spent a short time on the Lune near Snatchems back in 2004 (before it moved on to Leighton Moss where I did see it later the same day). And then a second bird stopped by in 2011 when I was in Canada. So, this constitutes the third patch record.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Wintry Tales

For the most part today (Friday) the weather hasn't been anywhere as bleak as forecast (unlike yesterday which was every bit as vile as anticipated). That said, I did choose a period of the morning for a spot of birding that coincided with a short but incredibly horrible hail & sleet storm. Hey ho.
Otherwise, my few hours on the patch were relatively pleasant even if somewhat lacking in exciting finds.
Freeman's Wood was bouncing with blackbirds and redwings but not much else beyond a couple of goldcrests.
Freeman's Pools have been a bit quieter lately with the 200+ wigeon flock having moved on. Even so, there were 20 or so wigeon still present along with the usual gadwall, teal, mallard, coot and little grebe. 6 goldeneye remain on the main pool and the number of tufted duck had increased to 15.
The wet fields by Frog Pond are drawing good numbers of foraging lapwing, curlew and redshank along with black-headed and common gulls.
The hedgerows and fields generally seem to be very quiet passerine-wise with no numbers of common finches or any reed buntings being seen.

Common snipe & duck's arse
The Wildfowlers' Pools and adjacent fields are full of water and sizeable gatherings of snipe, teal, greylags and Canada geese was evident. In previous years these 'feral' geese have attracted occasional groups of pink-footed and white-fronted geese, so it's always worth checking through the gaggle.
A pair of goldcrest were near the parking area and a couple of fieldfare were tagging along with the other more numerous hawthorn-hogging thrushes.
A pair of pintail (relatively scarce on this stretch of the estuary) were dabbling on the marsh near the Creek.
In recent years Snipe Bog appears to have lost its appeal to snipe generally; long-gone are the double figure counts from that small area. I was pleased therefore to discover a jack snipe today (having seen one flushed by the high tide in the same area yesterday). These dinky little waders really do brighten up even the dullest of days!
Also seen yesterday but not today were a couple of rock pipits - another bird that seems far less numerous in this area of the estuary these days...

Highlights from a visit to the area on November 9th included:
11 goldeneye & 7 tufted duck on Freeman's Pools
1 goldeneye on Frog Pond
Kingfisher & goosander at Wildfowlers' Pools

Many local folk will be aware that there is quite a significant pied wagtail roost in the city centre during the winter months but a lesser-known roost of grey wagtails can also be found in Lancaster. The birds routinely appear by the canal near White Cross in the late afternoon and last week we counted at least 17 grey wags coming into the roost. Quite a lovely sight!

And I keep checking those rowans and other ornamental berry-filled trees in search of waxwings. It's surely only a matter of time before some turn up in the area...