Monday, 2 April 2018

Is it spring yet?

Welcome to the most uninspiring spring of all time. Which is quite fitting I suppose, given that this winter was possibly the dullest I can remember as far as birding around Aldcliffe is concerned.
The lack of posts here has been solely down to a lack of enthusiasm on my part - I've been out around the patch on plenty of occasions but the birds have barely differed from one visit to the next.

In summary:
There was loads of water, the pools were high and the cycle track was flooded for most of the season. Water levels have now dropped. Of note, the smaller rear pool at the Wildfowlers' Pools has been 'de-vegetated' and re-landscaped for the benefit of ducks but little else.  

Duck numbers were relatively unremarkable although we had a decent mix of species. Highlights have included double figure shovelers and up to five pintail throughout and a pair of pochard for a couple of days and a high count of 29 goldeneye in early March.
Goose numbers were disappointing on the whole with no real large peak of pinkfeet (fewer than 3000) and as such no attendant scarce species. 

Ringed plover
At least one jack snipe was present for most of the winter and up to four were at FAUNA.
Other wader records worth noting included occasional green sandpiper, multiple (up to 90) black-tailed godwits, an incredibly 400 or so dunlin on The Flood on March 5 along with 20 snipe and local patch scarcities knot (1) and ringed plover (3) by the Wildfowlers' Pools the same day.
Also in the area were around 100 golden plover. These unusual wader numbers came in the wake of the so-called 'Beast From The East' or as I like to call it, 'weather'. 

Peregrine, sparrowhawk, buzzard and kestrel have all been present here and there along with occasional sightings of a female merlin out on the marsh. 

Tideline passerines have been very thin on the ground with no finch flocks to speak of and no twite or redpoll (other than odd flyovers of the latter) as yet. A wandering group of c25-35 linnet have been in and out of the maize fields frequently.
One notable event on March 3 involved a flock of 32 skylarks; common enough here in small numbers but these days a grounded flock of that size is exceptional. The same day a single rock pipit was also seen nearby - both presumably pushed onto Aldcliffe Marsh by the high tide.
The first stonechat I clocked was a single bird on March 5 with a further three present on 12th.

Stonecat
Chiffchaff wave trickled in but given the state of the weather at the moment it's hardly surprising they've been slow to arrive.
Yesterday (April 1) saw my first, late, wheatear of the year and the arrival finally of the first little ringed plovers with a pair on The Flood.
Given the arrival dates for these dinky shorebirds for last few years have been March 17th in 2013, 19th in 2014 and 2015, 18th in 2016 and 21st last year, these were well overdue!

Other odds and sods include a fabulous barn owl which has shown well regularly and another unusual species in a strictly patch context, red-legged partridge which I have seen a couple of times in the past couple of weeks, yet unusually I haven't spotted any grey partridge yet this year... 

With a promising change in the forecast, I think we can hope to see a few more migrants heading our way shortly.  The lingering winter visitors will head off and our resident birds can get on with the job of nesting. Let's hope that we have a memorable spring for all the right reasons.

Jon  

Monday, 29 January 2018

Slow Start to New Year

I've never been very good at making New Year's resolutions. And it turns out, I'm not that good at keeping them. My intention was to ensure more regular updates on the Birding Aldcliffe blog during 2018  but I haven't exactly got off to a good start...

I do have some excuses; the first two weeks of January saw Jenny and I heading off to Cuba for a spot of post Christmas respite. A spot of winter sunshine and a handful of new birds seemed most appealing. Despite some unseasonal rain and rather cool conditions on some days, the overall trip was great with relaxation and exploration enjoyed in equal measure.
And yes, I saw a few 'new' birds. Highlights were of course the endemic species, such as Cuban tody, seen here in my short video:


As well as the endemic and near-endemic specialities, Cuba is also the wintering site for several species of North American warblers and so seeing a multitude of dazzling 'Yank' warblers was a daily treat. I do enjoy birding overseas, and I must admit that I often find my return to the local patch a little underwhelming when I get back from a trip somewhere.
After black-throated blue warblers, magnificent frigatebirds, Cuban emeralds, great lizard cuckoos and the like it's hard to get excited about dunnocks and coots.

Nonetheless, I have been out to scour the Aldcliffe patch a couple of times in the past week or so. Frankly, little has changed since December. The Wildfowlers' Pools are still flooded, as is the cycle track. Last week I had a look and there were seven shoveler there. This morning I could see just a pair but a further three were on Darter Pool. Four goldeneye were present on the Wildfowlers' Pools along with eight tufted duck. Another six goldeneye were on Freeman's Pools and a pair were on the Lune. Also on Freeman's Pools were around 40 wigeon and 20 gadwall.
A buzzard was floating around the fields, much to the annoyance of the carrion crows.
A couple of hundred pink-footed geese were grazing on the drumlins before settling on Aldcliffe Marsh.
A scan through the gulls on the river revealed nothing of note - we see far fewer large gulls on the Lune since the closure of the tip and as a consequence such finds as glaucous and Iceland gull are now a thing of the past.
Not so just a few miles away; Heysham Harbour continues its enviable track record as the place in our region to locate such scarce beasts. Both Iceland and glaucous gulls have graced the site in recent days. The long-staying chough too is still hanging around over there... For details see here: Heysham Bird Observatory
Closer to home, the black-throated diver remains faithful to Blea Tarn reservoir near Hala. I actually found time yesterday to nip out and have a look at it. This s a very rare bird in our neck of the woods and I suspect I haven't seen one in Lancashire for about 20 years!
The windy conditions made my attempts at getting a pic through my 'scope even more pitiful than usual. After a couple of fuzzy head-shots and several pics that looked like those Loch Ness monster shots from the 70s, I managed the following snap.

Black-throated diver
Back at work, things have been pretty good at RSPB Leighton Moss in recent weeks with an impressive starling murmuration pleasing the crowds most evenings.
Added to that very frequent otter sightings along with great white egrets, marsh harriers, bitterns, Cetti's warblers and bearded tits there's rarely a dull moment.
Check out the Leighton Moss blog for the latest news.

Jon