Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Migrants Keep Trickling In...

This morning I led a guided walk around the FAUNA reserve in Lancaster. It was the first one that I've done for a while and we had a great turnout. Thankfully the weather behaved and we saw a decent selection of common birds including both common and lesser whitethroat, reed bunting, stock dove and a pair of grey partridge.

Afterwards I went off for a trundle around Aldcliffe to see if anything had dropped in. There were plenty of singing warblers around; willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, both whitethroats, and blackcaps all belting it out.
The highlight was a whinchat in the maize fields, followed by another by Freeman's Pools.  
A few pairs of lapwing seemed to have resettled in the maize fields, along with a pair of oystercatchers. Hopefully they will have some success this time - it appears that the seed went down soon after the muck was ploughed in so they should be able to hatch a brood before any herbiciding takes place.
There are still a couple of healthy looking lapwing chicks around the Wildfowlers' Pools.

I pooped back down mid-afternoon to give my newly repaired bike an airing and the only notable difference was the presence of a couple of smart white wagtails and the dapper breeding plumage dunlin still hanging out at the Wildfowlers' Pools. What on earth that bird is doing, I have no idea..!

It appears that the mute swan pair that built a nest at Reedy Corner have abandoned it. Not too far away, the pair I saw on the canal near Aldcliffe Triangle yesterday had NINE newly hatched cygnets in tow.  

Other birds seen by Aldcliffe birders in recent days include more whinchats and wheatears and a spotted flycatcher.

Meanwhile, my new job at Leighton Moss means I've been getting a bit blasé about spoonbills, cattle egrets, marsh harriers and Cetti's warblers. Any of which would be great Aldcliffe birds (in fact cattle egret would be a patch first - surely it's only a matter of time?).  

Jon

Monday, 8 May 2017

Wagtail Tale & Marsh Hoodie

Yellow wagtail
Yellow wagtails were once a fairly regular feature of an Aldcliffe spring. One or two of these lovely migrants would appear at The Flood or around Frog Pond annually but as the species has undergone significant declines throughout its UK range in recent years, local sightings have inevitably become fewer.
So, it was a real pleasure to find one this morning by Bank Pool. The bird was a female and it was foraging around the reeds at the edge of the pool. Also there was a singing reed warbler and a coot with a brood of 5 chicks.

One other notable feature of the morning was the movement of swallows and swifts through the area. Good numbers were passing through, with many stopping to feed over the fields. A few house martins and a single sand martin were also seen.
Several common whitethroat and lesser whitethroat were seen and heard throughout the area along with multiple blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff. (Of note, I spotted a common whitethroat a couple of days ago that was ringed on its left leg; it would be great to know where that had come from!).
Also present this morning was a single wheatear on the marsh near the Walled Meadow.

This morning was the first time that I had been able to spend a good couple of hours on my local patch for a while. I was fortunate enough to be in Southern California and Arizona for the past two weeks, guiding on a trip for Ribble Bird Tours. The birding was great out there but I was acutely aware that I was away from the patch during peak migration time!

Prior to my visit to the US, I had a pretty remarkable sighting at Aldcliffe. On April 16th I had a wander down in the evening and just about the first bird I clapped eyes on was a hooded crow as it flew low, south over Freeman's Pools!
I ran up the 'hill' and connected with it as it carried on over the maize fields, much to the annoyance of the nesting lapwings. It flew over Dawson's Bank and disappeared. A scan over the marsh a while later failed to relocate it.
This is only my second ever 'hoodie' at Aldcliffe (local youths excepted) - my first was back in 2004 when a bird turned up for a few days in late July.

And talking of nesting lapwings; the maize field nesters have been trashed as usual thanks to the need to plough in manure in advance of growing animal fodder. I noticed a few pairs back in the field today but any new attempts to re-lay will be equally doomed as the seed has yet to go down. Hopefully a pair or two might lay again after the next assault. Just one pair of lapwings has hatched three young at the Wildfowlers' Pools, though only two chicks were there yesterday and I could only see one today... not exactly the best way to sustain a population.
Jon

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Missing Migrants & Punctual Osprey

Fabulous weather and an encouraging breeze from the south(ish) had me out nice and early, thoughts of myriad migrant birds swirling around my brain...
Sadly, as is so often the case, my optimism went unrewarded. A couple of hours checking all the best spots failed to turn hardly anything up.
Only a single willow warbler was found in Freeman's Wood, along with plenty of chiffchaffs and a few blackcaps. The collective ponds were quiet - 2 goldeneye, 6 tufted duck and a pair of gadwall remain at Freeman's Pools while small numbers of teal and a further couple of pairs of gadwall were on other pools.
A lone little ringed plover was at the Wildfowlers' Pools and a pair of greenshank were on Aldcliffe Marsh.
A solitary swallow over the marsh was my first on-patch bird of the year, and a few off-passage meadow pipits were seen here and there, but other than that you'd be hard pressed to find much evidence of migration.

On Friday I had my last day in the RSPB office in Lancaster (as of Monday I'll be at Leighton Moss) and we had our first over-office osprey of the season. As usual we were alerted by the sound of agitated gulls (the windows are always open at this time of year for this very reason) and Gav Thomas was first to pick up the bird as it drifted over the city, heading north-west just after noon.
Following a discussion about our first office osprey last year, we checked and discovered that it was the very same day in 2016 (7 April) at 12.30pm! That's what I call punctual.

Jon  

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Renewed Development Threat

It's been a while since I last posted here, mainly due to fewer opportunities to visit but also because there's not been a great deal to report.
The little ringed plover situation on the Flood has been somewhat unusual; after the arrival of the first bird on 21st March, a second bird appeared three days later. But instead of the steady build up of birds as has happened in previous years, there has been little sign of any plovers since. This morning, one LRP was present - to my knowledge the first Aldcliffe sighting for well over a week.
My last sightings of the green sandpiper and greenshank were on 25th March.

Chiffchaffs started arriving en force at the end of March and can now be heard and seen all over the place. A sprinkling of sand martins have passed through and an ever-increasing number of blackcaps are singing in various parts of the patch.
I noted my first swallow of the year near Galgate at the weekend and I finally tracked down a willow warbler this morning in Freeman's Wood.

Development Threat


Talking of Freeman's Wood, there is renewed interest in developing the area and many local residents recently received a leaflet outlining the proposals and inviting all comers to a public consultation.
The plan is to stick 250 houses in the area that is currently fenced off.
This whole area is generally referred to as Freeman's Wood but according to maps Freeman's Wood is actually just the narrow strip that runs parallel to Freeman's Pools and the footpath leading to Marsh Point from the cycle track.
Locals have used this area for generations and the scrub and woodland around the old sports pitch supports a significant number of red and amber listed bird species. These include such breeding birds as grasshopper warbler, song and mistle thrush, linnet, bullfinch, reed bunting and tawny owl. The area is also used by migrating birds in spring and autumn and is an established wintering site for woodcock.
If you want to find out more about these potentially devastating proposals you can attend the Public Consultation on Weds 5th April at The Storey, Lancaster. Further details can be found here.  

Jon  

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Little Wonder

Little ringed plover - Aldcliffe
Mid to late March always has me anticipating the arrival of the first little ringed plover at Aldcliffe. They are extremely reliable here and turn up each year around the same date; March 17th in 2013, 19th in 2014 and 2015 and 18th last year.
So when I clapped eyes on a lovely adult female on the Flood this morning I wasn't the least bit surprised.
These dainty little waders are long distance migrants, returning to the UK each spring from their wintering grounds in Africa. They are as much a herald of spring for me as wheatears, sand martins and chiffchaffs.
(The pic here was taken previously).

Today's morning visit to Aldcliffe followed a few off-patch visits along with fellow birder and good chum Stuart Meredith. First we headed to Sizergh Castle in search of hawfinch. These dazzling and often elusive birds are regular at this site and we weren't disappointed. Arriving around 6.30am we had just a short wait before being treated to superb views of a pair of birds feeding on the ground. Although I have seen this species at Sizergh before these were by far the best views I've ever had of hawfinch. A severe blizzard of hail covered the car park in a carpet of white and signaled our time to leave!
For details of this great site visit: Sizergh Hawfinches

A stop at Leighton Moss (including breakfast in the cafe) added 3 egret species to the day's list; cattle, great (2) and little (enough). Around 50 sand martins were visible from the Causeway Hide as they hawked over the water while water rails squeeled from the depths of the reedbeds. A pair of marsh harriers showed well and 10 pochard (an increasingly scarce sight these days) were on the mere.
At least 8 avocets were on the Allen Pool.

We then headed to Heysham where were looked for the Iceland gull at the Harbour. We soon located it having a snooze on the roof of one of the harbour-side buildings. Not the best of views, but good enough.

After our first drop-in at Aldcliffe we moved on to Bradshaw Lane, Pilling. This area is well known among local birders for the farmland bird feeding initiative that has been running here for many years. The feeding stations attract many species including several that are difficult to find in this region. We were blessed with great views of multiple yellowhammers and tree sparrows plus a single brambling.

A brief return to Aldcliffe (after tea and cake at Ashton Hall) revealed that the little ringed plover was still present.

All in all we enjoyed a good trundle around the area and I added a few new birds to my slowly increasing yearlist and possibly a few new inches to my waistline...

Jon        

Thursday, 16 March 2017

White Arse Works Wonders

Wheatear
Yet more indicators of the coming season came in the form of a smart male wheatear on the tide line on Monday morning.
These long-distance migrants are always a pleasure to see and a real sign that there are tons more birds on their way to our shores!
In case you're wondering, the name wheatear has nothing to do with either wheat or indeed ears.
It is a derivation of the old name 'white-arse' - and if you've seen one flying away from you, you'll know why!
Skylarks have been both passing through and singing over the marsh while meadow pipits continue to make their way north in small numbers. 
Chiffchaffs have arrived in notable numbers in recent days with a few birds singing in Freeman's Wood while others have been feeding quietly in the hedgerows.

Presumably the same green sandpiper I saw last Sunday was again present at the Wildfowlers' Pools this morning. These cracking waders used to be regular during winter around Aldcliffe but the last two years have been poor - presumably water levels play a significant part in suitability of habitat.
Black-tailed godwit have also been thin on the ground around Aldcliffe this winter so a flock of c150 flying down the Lune earlier in the week was notable. 15 including 2 in dapper breeding plumage were present today, feeding by Frog Pond.
Two reports of avocet on the Lune last week were typical; these early migrants are already present at RSPB Leighton Moss in double figures.  
This morning a jack snipe and 3 common snipe were lurking in Snipe Bog.
If previous years are anything to go by, the first little ringed plovers should arrive back in the parish this weekend. Looking at the forecast however, they may be slightly delayed...

Regular scans through the gulls on the river have so far failed to turn up anything interesting; not even any Med gulls.
Several hundred pinkfeet are still hanging around, commuting regularly between Aldcliffe Marsh and the Heysham / Oxcliffe area.
Duck numbers are dwindling  on the whole with far fewer wigeon and teal around. Up to 20 tufted duck remain in the area and at least 10 goldeneye can still be seen at Freeman's Pools.
 
Cattle egret
In a rare bit of non-Aldcliffe birding, while interviewing at Leighton Moss earlier in the week, I casually managed to add sand martin and green woodpecker to my year-list. More importantly, I squeezed in a spot of drive-by twitching and had a quick look at the cattle egret at Yealand Storrs. Although I've seen this species in many parts of the world and in the UK before this was the first cattle egret that I have ever seen in Lancashire. It's still a very rare bird in our neck of the woods so it was well worth having a peek at!

* The pic here is not of the Yealand cattle egret, but one I took elsewhere previously. 

Jon

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Hint Of Spring

Stonechat
With cool, overcast conditions it didn't seem much like spring down at Aldcliffe this morning. But the sound of multiple singing birds certainly hinted that change was in the air.
Oystercatchers were noisily pairing up and proclaiming potential territories while a few lapwings were already staking their claims in the maize fields.
Small numbers of meadow pipit were passing over and a handful of 'new-in' reed buntings were evident around the patch. A small group of linnet were feeding on the tideline.
Other new arrivals included a female stonechat at Marsh Point and a green sandpiper at the Wildfowlers'  Pools.
Around 1,200 pink-footed geese on Aldcliffe Marsh, plus several fieldfare and redwings along the path hedgerows, were reminders that winter is still very much clinging on...
The regular greenshank continues to hang around on the marsh flashes.

On Thursday I came across my first butterflies of the year; a comma was at Aldcliffe and a small tortoiseshell was in FAUNA. The blast of welcome sunshine clearly triggered an instinct to emerge.
Notable birds seen that same day included a couple of siskins feeding in the Freeman's Pool alders, a female merlin hunting on the marsh and four common buzzards displaying over the drumlins.


Griffon vulture
Last week Jenny and I escaped to Spain for a few days for a spot of R&R. Having previously seen most of the birds that can be found in the Iberian peninsular, this was a relaxing affair with just one species on my 'wants' list; the very rare Spanish imperial eagle.
We started off at the lovely town of Ronda where were noted red-billed choughs, black redstarts, singing serins and heaps of Sardinian warblers, before heading up to Cordoba. En route we saw good numbers of griffon vultures and around the city we saw some classic common Spanish birds including lots of spotless starlings.

Spotless
At dusk as little and great egrets headed up the Guadalquivir River to roost, night herons flew out in the opposite direction. Cetti's warblers blasted from the waterside vegetation and as bats emerged from the old stone bridges a kestrel took advantage of this crepuscular food source and engaged in an amazing display of aerial hunting.
We then headed to Sierra de Andújar in search of the eagle and hopefully Iberian lynx. Unfortunately we didn't see any lynx despite our best efforts (mammals did include red and fallow deer and otter) but I did manage to catch up with 5 imperial eagles.

Azure-winged magpie
Also seen were lots of other great birds including golden eagle, booted eagle, more griffons and 3 black vultures, Iberian grey shrike, blue rock thrush, hoopoe, wryneck, short-toed treecreeper, great spotted cuckoo, red-rumped swallow, crag martin, Iberian green woodpecker, crested lark, rock bunting, rock sparrow & hawfinch as well as more azure-winged magpies than you could shake a stick at.
We finished our trip with a couple of days in Granada before flying home from Malaga. All in all, a great short trip with tons of fabulous wildlife, scenery, architecture and food, plus lots of rioja.