Monday, 4 September 2017

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Autumn

It certainly felt autumnal again this morning, not so much weather-wise but bird-wise.
A few migrants hinted at the real onset of passage.

Distant whinchat & wheatear
Two redstarts were the highlight, both dazzling males.
The whinchat remains by the Wildfowlers' Pools - I assume it's the same bird I first saw on 27th and again on Saturday, when it was with a wheatear.
I could see 5 wheatear out on Aldcliffe Marsh though I suspect there were more around.
A few other bits and bobs in the hedges included a lesser whitethroat and a male blackcap plus several willow warblers and chiffchaffs. Swallows were moving south in good numbers.

A green sandpiper was on the Flood but given the reported national influx of pectoral sandpipers it wasn't exactly what I'd hoped to find!
Similarly, the mass of waders on the Lune in recent days has yet to attract anything beyond the expected species; lapwing, redshank, curlew, dunlin and the odd golden plover and common sandpiper. Even so, it's great fun scanning through the large gatherings of birds as they feed on the mud or roost on the river bank.
And it's early days of course, so there's plenty of time for something a little bit out of the ordinary to drop in. 

I had a pleasant couple of hours around Fairfield Orchard and FAUNA yesterday morning, leading a bird walk. Although the rather stiff breeze kept most smaller birds hunkered down, the little owls performed beautifully for the group. We also saw common buzzard and sparrowhawk and noted at least 20 rooks still picking their way through the stubble in the arable field.  

Jon

   


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Autumn Beckons

My last few rummages around around the local patch have certainly had a feeling of impending autumn about them.
This morning, the undoubted highlight was a lovely whinchat with 3 wheatears by the Wildfowlers' Pools. Oddly, I didn't find any other obvious grounded migrants anywhere else though overhead, swallows were clearly on the move.
A green sandpiper was on the pools too. There were 2 here yesterday morning.

Kingfisher, Freeman's Pools
Also yesterday, there was a pair of kingfishers at Freeman's Pools though I couldn't see them this morning.
Wader numbers continue to creep up with good numbers of curlew, lapwing and redshank on the estuary. A few black-tailed godwit have been dropping in and ones or two's of dunlin and greenshank have been on the river. Just 3 golden plover have appeared so far.
An adult great crested grebe was on the Lune yesterday, and the resident 10 or so little grebes have scattered around the patch to occupy the various ponds and pools.

A nice find early last week was a juvenile marsh harrier which was hunting around Freeman's Pools on Tuesday morning. It left the pools and headed off toward the river where it spooked everything, sending up clouds of panicking gulls, waders and starlings in its wake.      
That same morning, the hedges were full of migrants; lots of chiffchaffs and willow warblers were flitting around in the hawthorns. At least 3 lesser whitethroat, 2 common whitethroat and 1 blackcap were also seen. My first autumn wheatear was on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Purple heron at RSPB Leighton Moss
And - I can't post on here without mentioning the purple heron currently attracting hordes of birdwatchers at Leighton Moss.
I've been fortunate enough to see this great rarity on a near daily basis but I haven't yet managed to get a decent pic of it.
However, that won't stop me from putting a rather iffy record shot on here! 

Jon

Monday, 21 August 2017

Purple Patch

Well, it's certainly been an interesting few days!
On Friday, shortly before I was due to catch my train to Oakham for the Birdfair a juvenile purple heron was discovered in front of the Grisedale Hide at Leighton Moss. Now, given that the last purple heron at the reserve (and in this area) was back in 1996 (I saw that one too) this was not a bird to be missed.
So, I duly legged it up the Skytower - following intel from Kev Kelly that it had flow into reeds 'behind Lilian's' - and scanned the vista. Kev decided to join me as it was no longer visible from the hide and we had no idea what it was going to do next.

Purple heron (not the Leighton Moss one...)
After a few gruelling minutes the heron rose from the reeds and flew a short distance before pitching down, out of sight once more. It did this a couple more times before relocating to Grisedale, much to the delight of visiting birders who had hot-tailed it to the reserve in the hope of seeing the rarity.
As I write, it's still present and has shown exceedingly well for many admirers over the past 3 days. I hope to get better views and couple of record shots when I get back to work... in the meantime here's an adult purple heron I photographed elsewhere, previously. All being well, I'll have a pic of the Leighton bird here soon!

Birdfair was fun, as always. I spent all of Saturday and Sunday on the RSPB stand, catching up with old faces and meeting lots of new ones.
Among the book signings hosted on our stand, we had Bill Oddie join us on Saturday afternoon.

Goodie & Baddie
I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to have a pic with him; the last time I'd done this was several years ago when I interviewed him in Morecambe for The Visitor newspaper. I expect I remember that occasion more than he does.

Back in North Lancs, I had a mooch around the patch this morning.
Freeman's Pools was a bit livelier than it has been lately with the first notable returning wildfowl; 9 gadwall and a pair of tufted duck. The usual little grebes, coots and moorhens were present.

Frog Pond and Darter Pool were quiet. Water levels still being high at the Wildfowlers' Pools, there was little on offer beyond a few mallard. A small number of teal were snoozing near Reedy Corner.
A group of 6 snipe flew over and the tell-tale calls of a green sandpiper were audible though I couldn't see the bird.
A check of the Flood failed to reveal the anticipated sandpiper, just 2 little egrets were picking around the muddy pool.
Yet more egrets were out on Aldcliffe Marsh. It's pretty normal these days to be able to stand in one spot and casually count up to 30 egrets...
With the tide at its peak, the river's edge was punctuated with roosting and feeding redshanks, lapwings, curlew and gulls. Scanning through the birds, I found a couple of Mediterranean gulls (adult & 2nd winter) and a common sandpiper but nothing else.
Out on the river there was a group of 10 goosander and 18 cormorants

Collared greylags
The number of greylag and Canada geese have been steadily building in recent weeks but today was the first time I've had the opportunity (and inclination) to read any collars. I suppose it gives me something to do on those slow winter days!   
Kestrels appear to have had a pretty good season locally (for a change) with up to 6 different birds seen in the area today. They've presumably taken full advantage of the good vole year - I hear that short-eared and barn owls have enjoyed high productivity in the county this year. Hopefully we'll see some on the patch this autumn and winter?
On my way home I spotted the green sandpiper as it flew noisily onto the Flood.

After a spot of lunch I had a walk through the FAUNA reserve and had a look at the little owls. Just two were visible today. The cut arable was filled with birds - lesser black-back gulls, herring gulls, black-headed gulls and one each of common and Mediterranean gulls (the latter and adult with a limp) were feeding alongside jackdaws, carrion crows and 7 rooks. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any stock doves among the mass of wood pigeons and feral pigeons.

Jon

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Caught In A Shower

Aldcliffe little owl
Had a very enjoyable three hours or so rummaging around the estuary and environs this morning.
Freeman's Pools was quiet with just a couple of coot, a moorhen, mute swan, a gadwall and 6 little grebes.
A check of Darter Pool revealed a garganey. It flew off toward Bank Pool where it presumably touched down. After a blank 2016, this was a most welcome bird!
The Wildfowlers' Pools and Frog Pond were fairly birdless. Due to the high water levels we're not seeing any waders dropping in to feed on the pools. That said, the flood looks good with lots of mud and water but it must be pretty food-free as few birds are bothering with it.
A check of the estuary was more productive.
There were around 2,300 black-headed gulls roosting on what was once Gull Bank (now more of a steep terrace following the collapse of the bank during the 2015 floods) with smaller numbers of common, herring and lesser black-backs. As I scanned through in search of Mediterranean gulls I picked out 9 but there may well have been more. That could be the highest count I've ever had of Med gulls at Aldcliffe...?
Also on the Lune were 42 black-tailed godwit feeding frantically away on the exposed mud. Among the gathered lapwing were the first three 'autumn' golden plovers.

Before heading home I checked on the little owls near FAUNA and found them just as another shower set in. I could see two adults initially but no youngster.
As the rain fell I noticed one of the adults adopting what I thought was perhaps a defence pose (pictured right). It dropped its wings and then brought them to the fore. I looked at the other adult and it was doing the same. Then two young owls emerged and also adopted the same stance.
Was this something to do with feather conditioning? Were they literally taking a shower? I'll be looking into this when I get chance; I've certainly never witnessed that behaviour before.

Jon
    

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Little Grebe Collective

Grey partridge
Managed to squeeze in a quick blast around the patch after work this evening. It was drizzly but mild and calm enough.
First port of call was Freeman's Pools where I was greeted by the sight of an impressive 9 little grebes. Nice to see grown youngsters among them. Otherwise, a couple of coot and a lone moorhen were all I could see on the main pool.
A grey heron, a mute swan and a couple more moorhens graced the top pools. A female sparrowhawk was sat on a fence post.
A scan of the gulls on the Lune revealed nothing of note.
Water levels being generally high, the ponds were all pretty cruddy with no muddy edges for anything to lurk on. Hence, they were dead.
A couple of whitethroat were heard grunting in the hedges and a couple of willow warblers were in the track-side hawthorns.
There were plenty of swallows around but only a couple each of house and sand martin.
The Flood was slightly more birdy with a pair of little egret and both green sandpiper and common sandpiper.
Despite the large numbers of black-headed gull and lapwings on the river, I couldn't find anything else among them. A kestrel was hunting over the saltmarsh.
I came across a single well-grown juvenile grey partridge on the tideline near Walled Meadow. Proof at least that they still manage (just about) to maintain a small but ever-dwindling population in the Aldcliffe area...

Jon
 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Field Good Factor

I had an extremely soggy trundle around the patch on Saturday morning, but it wasn't without its rewards.
Freeman's Pools were relatively quiet; 3 tufted duck, a couple of little grebes and a few mallard, coot and Canada geese on the water. A reed warbler was half-heartedly singing but kept typically hidden.
A single green sandpiper was at the Wildfowlers' Pools along with a shelduck and one fledged youngster. The sedge warbler-in-residence was belting it out from a path-side hawthorn.
A lone breeding-plumage black-tailed godwit was also here, freshly returned no doubt from Iceland. Also back in the Aldcliffe 'hood were the first post-breeding greylags of the year - approximately 120 including a couple of collared birds.
Out on the Lune the tide was low and as a consequence the mud was littered with lapwings and black-headed gulls. From among the throng I picked out a dunlin, 4 common sandpipers and an adult Mediterranean gull.
A common tern was fishing in the channel, presumably a Conder Pools bird at large.

The arable field at Fairfield
Sunday, things were generally a lot nicer weather-wise so Jenny and I walked through the Fairfield Orchard, via Aldcliffe village and back along the cycle track to Freeman's Wood.
The arable field was looking superb in the sunshine with the crop gently swaying in the breeze and the belt of wildflowers growing around its borders.

Last week I followed up a couple of recent reports of little owl in the area and was delighted to find one. Having been resident in the area for ages (I've been aware of them here since the late 1980s) little owls disappeared from the Admiralty Wood a couple of years ago, mirroring a general decline in the wider area.
The really great news today was that I saw not just one owl there again but a second adult and a recently fledged chick. Where they nested, I have no idea. I checked the area regularly during the spring and found no birds on territory. Let's hope they stick around.

Broad-leaved helleborine
Nearby, I noticed that the broad-leafed helleborine mentioned in my last post was still not in flower. Here's a pic of it anyway - hopefully I'll get a shot of it once it's in bloom.

Birds-wise I didn't see anything that I didn't yesterday (green sandpiper, black-tailed godwit, etc) but there were more butterflies around today.

Gatekeeper
Red admirals seemed especially numerous (by this year's shockingly low standards, at least) and I spotted my first gatekeeper of the year.

Butterfly enthusiasts may be interested to hear that Pete Woodruff called me a few days ago to say that he had seen a ringlet near Stodday, certainly a species I can't recall ever seeing in that area. 

Jon

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sunday Summary

A couple of hours spent blasting around the patch today, just as the tide started to drop was reasonably productive.
Once the jet skiers by Snatchems had packed up and gone off to do whatever it is people like that do, the gulls and lapwings started to settle once more around the river's edge.
Scanning through I was slightly disappointed to find just one Mediterranean gull but as it was an extremely handsome adult still sporting it's breeding finery, I was quite happy with it. It was quite distant, hence the terrible dodgi-scoped pic here.

Med gull
Other than a single eider and my first 'autumn' common sandpiper the Lune was as to be expected; little egrets, grey herons, etc.

Highlights from the Wildfowlers' Pools included a pair of eclipse shoveler and 2 green sandpipers. The Reedy Corner sedge warbler was singing its heart out as were multiple whitethroats along the track-side hedges.

Back in 2009 Tom Wilmer let me know about a particular plant that he'd come across at Aldcliffe; broad-leafed helleborine. I wrote this short post about it. Despite checking the same area in subsequent years I have never relocated this attractive orchid. So it was with some delight that I clapped eyes on a pair of plants in the same area last week, although they had not yet flowered - I checked again today and they still haven't.
Hopefully I'll get some snaps of the flowers once they come into bloom.

Jon