The Promise of Autumn

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Well, that was a long time between posts wasn't it folks?
I have to say, despite my not posting anything on here since the beginning of April there's hardly been an outcry from my loyal readers... one or two mentions here and there just about covers it.
So, what's the reason for the lack of input on my part? I don't really know, to be honest. I've been birding around the Aldcliffe area as usual but I've been somewhat uninspired by my wanderings. The terrible weather in spring meant little in the way of passage migrants on the patch and the wonderful summer heatwave was admittedly good for many breeding birds though was dull as far as variety goes.
And here we are, about to embark on autumn - surely the most exciting of all seasons in the birders' calendar. But before we look at the potential joys of September, here are few notable records from the pat few months:
April 13 - marsh harrier
May 5 - very long overdue patch tick came in the form of a red kite (about bloody time!)
May 25 - marsh harrier & 2 ruff
June 25 - first post-breeding green sandpiper back in the area

Little ringed plovers eventually appeared but in lower numbers than in recent years and didn't breed anywhere on the patch.
Lapwings had a better year, thanks to the wet fields delaying ploughing. Several young fledged from the maize fields and a couple got off from the Wildfowlers' Pools.
Oystercatchers fledged at least one young and there were two broods of tufted ducks at Freeman's Pools.
short-eared owl was seen by a dog walker in early July - we occasionally get wandering post-breeders passing through in late summer but they never linger. It would be nice to get a wintering bird on the patch this year.

As autumn proceeds I expect things will start picking up a bit - yesterday I had a couple of flyover meadow pipits and a pair of wheatears on the saltmarsh, so things are looking up! Wader numbers have been pretty dire with just the lone green sandpiper commuting between the pools. A few more duck are dribbling in with 9 gadwall back on patch.  

Jon

Is it spring yet?

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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  

Slow Start to New Year

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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 


  
       

Floods, Ice and Wildfowl

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Wishing all readers of this blog a very merry Christmas and a bird-filled New Year.

Sunset over the flooded Wildfowlers' Pools

My own resolution for 2018 will be to try and post on here a bit more often than I have of late... to summarise the past few weeks: rain, rain, ice, rain, drizzle.

Flooded Wildfowlers' Pools
Nothing much has changed birds-wise beyond a few ducks dropping in here and there.
The high water levels have attracted a few more dabblers than we normally get at Aldcliffe and the Wildfowlers' Pools have seen several pintail (not a common bird on this stretch of the Lune) and a few shoveler too. Teal numbers have been impressive at times and last week there was a mass arrival of mallard with in excess of a hundred birds present.
A few pink-footed geese have commuted over from the Oxcliffe area or stopped off briefly while heading through but as is the norm here at this time of year no big numbers yet.

Whooper swan at the Wildfowlers' Pools
Whooper swans have been sporadic; a family group flew in and landed on the Wildfowlers' Pools this morning while other small parties have come and gone in recent weeks.
Still no short-eared or barn owls in the area as far as I can tell - please let me know if you have seen any. I was pleased to relocate the little owls near FAUNA following their post-breeding vanishing act.
The cycle track is still well under water (probably the best vehicle deterrent there is and certainly more effective than that next-to-useless gate by Keyline).
 
Flooded cycle track
Now, let's hope for another nice prolonged cold spell to get things moving around a bit!

Jon

Wading In

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Great to see a green sandpiper back on the patch this morning. I was beginning to think that we wouldn't have one in the Aldcliffe area this winter. I suspect that it will remain elusive in the coming weeks but we'll wait and see. Today it was on The Flood.
The Flood, along with the fields by the Wildfowlers' Pools, are looking fabulous at the moment. The high water levels of recent weeks have receded and as a result the fields are nicely boggy and seemingly hooching with invertebrates. There were loads of teal dabbling in the muddy shallows this morning along with multiple redshanks, curlews, snipe, up to 11 dunlin and a couple of black-tailed godwits.
It could be well worth keeping an eye on these wet fields as anything could potentially turn up - past winters have seen such oddities as lesser yellowlegs, wood sandpiper, knot and little stint here.

The nearby hedgerows were bustling with blackbirds, despite the relative paucity of berries in the hawthorns. A sprinkling of both mistle and song thrushes along with small parties of redwings and fieldfares were a welcome sight as always. Another feature of this late autumn period is the encouraging number of greenfinches and bullfinches along the cycle track. Greenfinches in particular are comparatively scarce these days so any sign of improvement in the local population is a blessing.
Tree sparrows continue to be seen in the maize fields with plenty of chaffinches and several reed buntings.

A solitary jack snipe was at Snipe Bog and the incoming tide pushed a rock pipit my way.    

Freeman's Pools remain fairly quiet. Coot numbers are noticeably down with just 14 present. A female shoveler was new in while other wildfowl included 5 goldeneye, 7 tufted duck and 19 gadwall plus 3 little grebe.

42 wigeon were on Frog Pond yesterday late afternoon.

Jon

Whooper Trouper

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Had a couple of hours mooching around the patch yesterday (Saturday) morning.

Things were looking slightly livelier at Freeman's Pools with some more goldeneye new in (now 8 birds present) along with 22 coot, 4 tufted duck, 3 little grebe and 19 gadwall. A little egret was on the island.

Checking the Lune at Marsh Point, a pair of great crested grebes drifted by on the incoming tide.

With the maize fields now fully cut, good numbers of corvids, woodpigeons and geese were rooting around in them. Also there were plenty of chaffinches and a few reed buntings and greenfinches searching for food. I could hear tree sparrows calling and eventually tracked two down in the hedge near Darter Pool.

Whooper swan
As I made my way along the cycle track a couple of skeins (comprised approx 70 & 130 birds) of pink-footed geese went over, heading south.

A drake shoveler was on the Wildfowlers' Pools, keeping company with teal and mallard. In the adjacent field a lone whooper swan was with a mute swan. I tried a couple of dodgy digi-scope shots.

Sheep
I was rather pleased with my picture of a sheep... The whooper later took off, flew around in a large circle and landed on the pools with a group of mutes.

All along the track, small numbers of redwing were feeding in the hawthorns and a sprinkling of goldcrests were also seen and heard.

Two grey partridge were in fields near Walled Meadow - always good to see this increasingly scarce bird.

Walking back along Dawson's Bank I came across a single rock pipit amongst 14 meadow pipit & 6 pied wagtails feeding on the tideline.

Jon

Return of the Goldeneye

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
The clear winner of the 'Highlight of the Day' category was the pair of goldeneyes on Freeman's Pools this morning. Generally duck numbers seem to be rather low so far this autumn, not only at Aldcliffe but other places too. The cooler air from the north this weekend will have no doubt brought more wildfowl in but on the whole I expect we'll need a spell of prolonged wintry weather before we see any really significant changes. Also with water levels being so high, the traditional ponds are likely too deep for dabbling ducks to feed so flooded fields may be attracting more birds than usual.

Collared greylag
The usual 20-odd gadwall were at Freeman's Pools along with 3 wigeon, a handful of tufted duck, a few coot and 5 little grebes.

The maize was being harvested today so hopefully we'll get some finch and sparrow action in these fields in the next couple of weeks - always worth looking out for brambling, tree sparrow and maybe even an interesting bunting.

Greylags too will congregate in search of spilled corn and it's a good time to check for collared birds. So far I've got the details of 10 of the collared birds I've seen this season but it's not always easy to read the digits when the geese are way out on Aldcliffe Marsh.

Flooded cycle track

A week or so ago I found a single jack snipe along with 4 common snipe at the somewhat appropriately monikered Snipe Bog and my first autumn rock pipit was also there. 11 black-tailed godwit were at the flooded Reedy Corner. This area has once again retained tons of water with the result that the cycle track is submerged again for a good 100 metres or so.

Snipe Bog
Redwings and fieldfares are now an almost regular sight in small numbers but sightings should increase in number and frequency in the coming weeks as birds head west and south.

Good to see that the little owls are remaining faithful to the area they nested in and all being well, should stick around now. Talking of owls, with a good breeding season under their belt we can hope for some barn and short-eared owls on and around the patch this winter - fingers crossed!

Jon   
      

Better Gate Than Never

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Boy, where has the time gone? One minute it's early September and I'm looking forward to lots of exciting autumn birding, then it's suddenly mid-October and it feels like I've hardly been out!
Well, that's not strictly true - I have had a few visits to Aldcliffe and environs but I've not exactly come back with a bulging notebook.

North Ronaldsay
Plus, I spent the last week of September on North Ronaldsay, in Orkney. And that was pretty much dawn till dusk birding for 6 days. Our stay on this magical isle didn't coincide with The Big One (that came several days later) but we still found and / or saw plenty to entertain us.
Rustic bunting by Mark Witherall
Highlights included rustic, little and ortolan bunting  olive-backed pipit, bluethroat, red-breasted flycatcher, barred and yellow-browed warblers plus plenty of birds I don't see enough of in this part of the world; great northern diver, great skua, black guillemot, purple sandpiper, Lapland and snow bunting, ring ouzel, grasshopper warbler and common migrants such as redstart and spotted flyctacher. Not too bad really.

Back in Lancaster and a trundle around the patch on October 1 revealed the following highlights: 
1 whinchat
5 chiffchaff
1 green sandpiper
17 house martin (appeared to be moving through as opposed to lingering local birds)
7 gadwall
5 tufted duck

Better gate than never
Though perhaps most significant was the appearance of the new gate by Keyline. Will this be enough to stop the increasing number of rat-runners using the cycle track as a short-cut? Let's hope so. 
I can't help but think this is the absolute least that could have been done to solve the problem of unauthorised vehicle use on this track. 
I expect one or two farm contractors will soon 'forget' the lock the gate behind them and it isn't beyond some drivers (such as those who clearly removed the no vehicle signage at the Aldcliffe Hall Lane end) to just cut through the locks. A couple of set-in bollards part way along the track may have been preferable... 
Talking of house martins (see above), there were still 7 birds at the Willow Lane colony on Sunday 8 October. I haven't seen any since so I expect they've finally headed south.
This morning I had a good wander around the area, starting at FAUNA. I was pleased to my first local patch redwings of the autumn (already spotted on North Ron and at Leighton Moss earlier this week) - 3 were with 5 mistle thrush. I coudn't see any little owls in the usual spot.
After the initial promise provided by the redwings the next couple of hours were something of a dreary slog. A lone chiffchaff was the scant highlight from the cycle track while a kingfisher brightened up an otherwise dull Freeman's Pools. 
Other typical odds and sods included sparrowhawk, gadwall, little egret, reed bunting etc. 

Meanwhile, my day job allows me to see regular bearded tits, purple heron, marsh harrier and the like, so I'm not doing too badly. I will try to get down the patch a bit more frequently, and after one or comments about the lack of posts here of late will endeavour to keep Birding Aldcliffe up to date!  

Jon

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Autumn

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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

   


Autumn Beckons

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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