Grillers In The Mist

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Aldcliffe birding's been a bit on the predictable side of late. The last three or four visits have seen me looking at pretty much the same birds, in the same places.

But today was different. Today we had persistent mizzle. Today we had apparent 'movement' of birds.
Things started out as normal; Freeman's Pools was hosting a few tufted duck and goldeneye along with the regular residents. 150 or so pink-footed geese were grazing on the drumlins.

Frog Pond had its attendant wigeon flock - and the drake shoveler, lately faithful to Darter Pool, had relocated to this larger water. In the fields, curlew were feeding and with them a couple of fine black-tailed godwits (my first on the patch this year).
A further 9 black-tailed godwits were frantically feeding on the Flood where a sure sign of impending spring included a flock of 9 meadow pipits.

Two dinky jack snipe were still being faithful to Snipe Bog. A scan over the estuary revealed little and so I opted to walk along Dawson's Bank in case anything was lurking along the tideline or on the marsh.

Eventually, through the mist I could make out a few geese. As I approached I scanned through the flock, regularly wiping my drizzle drenched binoculars with a bit of soggy tissue. I wondered if there might be something else tagging along with the 850 or so pinkfeet present.
Then I spotted it; a lone Canada goose. The conditions were pretty rotten and so I decided to get the 'scope out so that I could give them a good grilling.

Todd's Canada Goose - Aldcliffe
Aware of the Todd's Canada goose that has been seen in Norfolk, and latterly the Fylde, this winter I knew this bird was worth checking out.
Problem was, as I looked at it I realised that I didn't really know what one should look like! Sure, I was aware of some of the features but this thing didn't wholly fit what I thought it should. It certainly had a few characters good for the subspecies but it looked a bit too pale breasted and that head-shape wasn't as 'whooper swan-like' as I'd expected. On the plus side, it appeared to have a dark brownish mantle without any pale fringes to the scapulars, tertials etc, and the neck shape didn't quite look right for our typical feral Canada geese.
I tried to grab a couple of snaps through the murk and decided to go home and have a read up on the identification of Todd's, or interior Canada goose.

Mediterranean gull - Lune Estuary
As I arrived at Marsh Point I had a quick look at the gulls on the River Lune and soon found a smart adult winter Mediterranean gull - a lot bloody easier to identify!
Once I got home I had a look through a few books and a bit of online checking had me baffled even more. So, I called Pete Marsh and let him know about the goose. He called back later to confirm it as the Todd's. Phew.

That's the brilliant thing about birding, there's always plenty to baffle and always lots to learn!


Rare Goose Revisited

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
White-fronted & red-breasted goose, Pilling
I managed an hour and a half or so down at Aldcliffe on Wednesday where the most notable thing was the reduction in the number of geese.  Just c550 pinkfeet were grazing on the drumlins.
A group of 7 adult whooper swans were on bathing and preening in one of the flashes on Aldcliffe Marsh, before they flew off westwards.
There was quite a bit of skylark movement throughout with 1s & 2s plus a flock of 11 going in all directions.
Ultra-scarce this winter, a single rock pipit feeding in the marsh channels was a nice find and the drake shoveler was once again on Darter Pool.

I had a good walk around the patch this morning but it was pretty quiet. The reduced goose flock was still on the hill and the shoveler was remaining faithful to Darter Pool.
Freeman's Pools continues to host a handful each of goldeneye and tufted duck, plus the usual 20ish coot and a couple of little grebes.
The peregrine pair were again keeping sentinel on the marsh.
The drake shoveler was still present and a small number of skylarks were again passing over.

I walked back up through Aldcliffe village and along the patch toward the Fairfield Orchard. The annual influx of redwing and fieldfare was well in evidence with around 120 birds in a mixed flock by Admiralty Wood.
As I trudged along the muddy path the wintering finch flock got up from the arable field and landed in the small tree by the path. A female brambling was among the expected chaffinches and linnets - the first I've seen locally this winter.

After a good dousing by rain and hail I headed home for a warming brew. Suitably refreshed, I decided to pop over to Pilling to have another look at the red-breasted goose which was apparently showing well in fields by Backsands Lane.
As I passed by Conder I was treated to the sight of a great egret as it flew over the road and heading in the direction of Glasson. This bird has been seen in the area a number of times in recent weeks.

Red-breasted goose
I arrived at the goose-spot and soon picked out the dinky rarity from the flock of pink-footed and 23 Eurasian white-fronted geese. It showed brilliantly in good light and I was able to get a couple of record shots using my compact digital camera held up to my 'scope. My last visit to see this bird was something of a mad-dash and we had distant views of the birds so to see it closer and with more time on my hands was a real joy. I still want it to make its way over to the Lune though...


Goose Influx Excites

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Barnacle goose
An intended quick scout around the patch yesterday morning turned into a longer visit courtesy of a large gaggle of newly-arrived pink-footed geese.
Around 1,400 birds had ditched down in the fields immediately east of the cycle track and I spent a good deal of time scrutinising the flock.
The only birds to stand out from the crowd were a smart barnacle goose and a rather irritating pinkfoot with orange legs and a slightly orangey bill (pictured) which was doing a half-decent job of suggesting rossicus bean goose.

Fox, having a good scratch
Along the hedgeline a dog fox kept the birds on alert but he didn't seem particularly interested in a goose dinner.
Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me so  the collection of shoddy shots here were taken using my phone held up to my 'scope. 

A return visit to the fields today revealed a significant increase in the number of geese. I estimated somewhere in the region of 3,500. My optimism-o-meter went into overdrive.

An hour or so of careful 'scoping later and all I could say with any conviction was there was nowt else among the mass of pinks.
Well, that's not entirely true, the barnacle was still there, as was the orange-legged pinkfoot.

Orange-footed goose...
A lone greylag was also grazing among the geese (an Icelandic bird?) and a particularly dark pinkfoot stood out from the crowd.
Hopefully the numbers will continue to rise and we'll see something really interesting among them...

In other non-goose news: yesterday highlights included a pair of peregrines and the wintering greenshank on Aldcliffe Marsh and a kingfisher at Freeman's Pools.
Today, I didn't really see much else as I was rather fixated on the geese!   


Spellbinding Merlin

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
I toured the patch by bike today and with a bit of time at my disposal ventured beyond Aldcliffe's exalted boundaries.
First stop was an icy Freeman's Pools where the birds were concentrated into one relatively small area of open water. Here 20 coots dived alongside a couple of little grebe and three each of goldeneye and tufted duck. A squad of snoozing teal were on the ice.
Oddly, the smaller Frog Pond wasn't as frozen and 50 or so wigeon were paddling about with a handful of Canada geese.
The cycle track was pretty quiet with the just the usual blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, wrens, tits, dunnocks, goldfinches and a couple of bullfinches seen.
A gaggle of 140 rather edgy pink-footed geese were grazing in the fields to the east of the track. The activities of a couple of wildfowlers on the estuary possibly contributed to their wariness.
The river itself was pretty quiet beyond the expected gulls, waders and ducks.
A fair amount of work was going on in one of the fields near Low Wood. It appears to be another phase of the solar farm... It will be interesting to see if, and how, this affects local wildlife.

Spotted redshank
I carried on down to Conder Green and Glasson Dock stopping frequently along the way. To be honest, the high tide did little to enhance the experience and I hardly saw anything worth mentioning.
One of the few highlights was the wintering spotted redshank roosting at the Conder.
I checked Jeremy Lane for any swans but found only mutes and Glasson Marina offered little beyond a couple of goosander.

Distant merlin!
On my way back to Lancaster along the cycle track I stopped to 'scope a peregrine sat out on Colloway and then noticed a dashing female merlin hunting over Aldcliffe Marsh. She soon sat and I was able to get good views (and a bad 'scope pic!).
As I passed the Wildfowlers' Pools I added a kingfisher to the day's tally.

Earlier, I'd been called by Paul Brady to say that he'd bumped into a flock of 42 waxwings near Skerton Bridge. I later got another call from Ken Green to say that a friend of his had reported the same flock near PC World.

Waxwing, Lancaster
Around 3pm I popped along and soon found a group of waxwings in the trees adjacent to the cycle track just by Skerton Bridge.
As I walked around trying to assess the size of the flock they took off and headed over the road toward the Kingsway Retail Park. I tracked them down to a small rowan that miraculously still had lots of fruit on offer - the last berried rowan in town?
Here a group of 20 or so fed happily at the entrance of the Bathstore car park as two lanes of traffic passed by just feet away; the waxwings and commuters were seemingly completely oblivious of one another.

Don't forget - it's the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend. For more info about this massive countrywide event see here: Big Garden Birdwatch and to find out what's happening in the Lancaster area click here.
If you're taking part, keep an extra eye out - you never know you might have a waxwing drop by!


Canal King

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Kingfisher near Whte Cross, Lancaster
There's been little change in the bird life of the Aldcliffe area over the last few days, as far as I can tell.
Highlights have included the arrival of a solitary drake shoveler on Freeman's Pools (yesterday) and a mini-influx of pink-footed geese with a whopping 80 in the fields this morning.
Hopefully goose numbers will increase substantially over the next few weeks - do keep an eye out for any odd stragglers among the commoner species. The Fylde still is still hosting thousands of pinkfeet, plus several Eurasian white-fronts, both taiga and tundra bean geese, barnacle geese and a Todd's Canada goose and the much-twitched red-breasted goose.

Tawny owl. Can you see me? Can you see me now?
I've added a few patch 'year-ticks' in the past couple of days such as kestrel and stock dove while a Sunday stroll along the canal rewarded me with corking views of a kingfisher near White Cross.
A quick check of a known roost near Lancaster Castle gave me my first views of tawny owl for 2017.

Last week while in Lancaster there were 4 waxwings feeding in the white rowans off Bulk Street, behind Dalton Square. A male blackcap was also seen feeding on the berries there.
Most of the city's berry-filled trees have been well stripped now so finding waxwings locally will doubtless become increasingly difficult from here on in; up to 12 were still in the Scotforth area yesterday (Sunday).


Time & Tide

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
I finally found a chiffchaff this morning, the first I've come across this winter. It was in the company of a goldcrest (interestingly, I saw more of these today than I have for quite some time) feeding at the far end of Lucy Brook at the northern edge of Freeman's Wood.

I spent a good 3 hours rummaging around the area altogether but little else of significant note was to be found.
Freeman's Pools continues to host a few goldeneye, tufted duck, teal, gadwall and wigeon while a gaggle of greylags and Canada geese remain faithful to Frog Pond field.

A couple of jack snipe were with a pair of common snipe at Snipe Bog and good numbers of waders were on the estuary; lapwing, golden plover, redshank, curlew and dunlin.
The regular greenshank was on the Aldcliffe Marsh flashes.
A flock of some 900 pink-footed geese were grazing in fields between Heaton and Overton. At range, I couldn't pick out anything else among them and when a farm vehicle flushed them I scanned through them in flight and nothing stood out as different.

Yesterday, I managed to get down to Aldcliffe during the high tide. And what a high tide it was, with the saltmarsh mostly submerged.
Once again, I was surprised that I couldn't find any rock pipits.
I checked the tideline between Stodday and Marsh Point and didn't find a single pipit. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable - what has happened to them? Given that we believe that all the birds that winter on our estuaries are of Scandinavian origin, as opposed to sedentary British birds, what has changed to reduce the number arriving here?


Goose Tales

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
Well, it's certainly been an interesting week.
On Monday, news of a somewhat elusive nearby red-breasted goose filtered through; it was with a large flock of pink-footed geese in the Cockerham area. Although I was at work, its discovery came (rather conveniently) at a time that allowed for a quick dash during lunch. And so it was that a small contingent of the RSPB's Lancaster office made their way out to try and locate the goose flock. Within minutes we were scanning through a gaggle of grazing geese and enjoying views, albeit fairly distant, of the rather dazzling rarity plus at least 4 white-fronted geese (Russian race albifrons).
Ill-equipped as I was (I don't always have my bins with me at work) I was most grateful for the loan of Lancashire birding legend Maurice Jones' scope, kindly provided while he sat in his car eating lunch.
This was only the second time I've seen red-breasted goose in Britain (my first was at Caerlaverock back in the 90s) and so it was quite a treat to add it onto my Lancashire list. Not that I actually keep one...

More brief birding fun was had yesterday when a short visit along the causeway and in the Causeway Hide (the hide formerly known as Public) at Leighton Moss allowed for a few jammy year-ticks. As we idled along the path, I was asking Kev Kelly about recent bearded tit sightings when one dutifully gave itself away with its loud pinging call to our right.
Better still, within minutes of sitting down in the hide a bittern flew in from the left and landed on the water's edge - it was fairly distant but clearly visible with binocs as it crept along the reed edge. A marsh harrier then drifted across, adding another classic Leighton bird to the tally.
With good numbers of wildfowl on the reserve including lots of pintail and shoveler, plus local goodies as marsh tit and redpoll the reserve has tons to see at the moment.

Today, though it was back to the patch and I spent a blustery couple of hours around high tide trying to find some interesting Aldcliffe birds.
As I walked along the Freeman's Wood path I could hear the distinctive sound of pinkfeet in Frog Pond field and was hopeful that a sizable flock might be sheltering there. A scan revealed just c160 geese there and nothing out of the ordinary among them. Yep, you guessed it - I'm secretly hoping that the red-breasted, or any other scarce species for that matter, might drop onto the patch while heading north. There's plenty of time yet, so it's always worth checking the geese from here on in.
Freeman's Pools were pretty quiet with just 5 goldeneye, 9 wigeon, 2 teal and a lone female tufted duck riding the waves.
Another 4 tufties were on Frog Pond.
In the fields between the cycle track and the Fairfield drumlins a flock of around 600 starlings were foraging. Accompanying them were 100 or so fieldfare and 20ish redwing - now clearly resorting to invertebrate food now that the hawthorns have been stripped of fruit!

The tide had covered Aldcliffe Marsh and I was hopeful of finding some rock pipits along the strand line. Unfortunately, it would seem that wintering pipits are all but a thing of the past on this stretch of estuary. Not too long ago, one could expect double figures of presumed Scandinavian rock pipits at high tide but these days ones and twos are notable.
Similarly finch flocks were regularly encountered as they searched for food along the tideline - today (as is the norm now) I didn't see a single tideline songbird between Snipe Bog and Marsh Point.
The wintering greenshank was wading in the marsh pools and masses of black-headed gulls were picking food items from the surface of the water but I couldn't dig out any wind-blown little gulls from among them.
Later, walking back through Freeman's Wood I added woodcock and jay to the Aldcliffe yearlist (currently 71).  


New Year, New List

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
The past couple of days couldn't have been more different.
Yesterday (Mon 2nd) was sunny, crisp and cold while today was damp, overcast and with a biting chill in the air.
This difference however didn't seem to have much of an impact on the birds around the estuary or the wider Aldcliffe area.

I spent about 3 hours yesterday morning crunching through the icy puddles, hoping for some serious cold-weather movement in wildfowl but alas, it wasn't to be.
Highlights at Freeman's Pools included the usual small numbers of goldeneye, tufted duck, gadwall, wigeon and the like. A little grebe was the first I'd seen there for a while and a buzzard wheeled over, pursued by a garrulous black-headed gull.
The fields held feeding curlews, redshank and lapwing plus the flock of wigeon remained faithful to Frog Pond.
Other than the semi-resident greylags & Canada geese the area appeared goose-free.
The most notable thing was the lack of thrushes - a few blackbirds were all I could find. The once-fruit-filled hawthorns have been well stripped and consequently the winter thrush flocks have moved on.
A couple of birds of interest included a jack snipe at Snipe Bog and a great-crested grebe on the Lune.
One particularly active tit-flock in Freeman's Wood had a single goldcrest in the mix. Still no chiffchaffs anywhere on the patch this winter (compared with last year when they were relatively easy to find, along with the site's first Siberian chiffchaff).

Today, the ponds were even quieter. One new-comer was a female shoveler hanging out with the wigeon at Freeman's.
A skein of pink-footed geese came over but carried on north. By contrast a trio of adult whooper swans came south passing overhead by the Flood.
the best birds of the visit were on the river; a greenshank at Marsh Point and good numbers of mixed waders including plenty of dunlin and golden plover.

So, without making a massive effort, the Aldcliffe 2017 yearlist currently stands at 66 species. We finished 2016 on 126.


The Last Post

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
I hope that you have all had a jolly old Christmas and that you are all looking forward to a relatively stable 2017... interesting times lay ahead!

On a less contentious note; what's been happening in the Aldcliffe recording area? Well from what I can see, very little. My recent sorties have been fairly uneventful and despite the not-so-big-freeze yesterday there appears to have been little cold-weather movement of birds.
This morning, a dozen goldeneye on Freeman's Pools was the largest recent count of this handsome diving duck.
Generally, there don't seem to be too many around in the LDBWS region this winter and double figure counts are few and far between. Five tufted duck and a scattering of gadwall, wigeon, mallard, teal and coot continue to reside on the pools. 
A pair of roe deer were present this morning - the first I've seen down there for some time.

Canada geese & wigeon
After an absence of several days the greylags and Canada geese were back on the patch with a large gaggle grazing in the Frog Pond field.
When I was working at Leighton Moss on Tuesday a load of greylags were out on the marsh beyond the Eric Morecambe Pools and with them was a pair of white-fronted geese.
Naturally, I'd hoped that maybe these two 'proper' geese might travel with the greylags (if in fact they are the same flock) but there was no sign of them.
Along with the numerous ringed Canadas and collared greylags was a darvic-ringed greylag that I have never seen here before - it'll be interesting to see where that bird has come from!

Grey partridge
Nearby three grey partridge (increasingly hard to find anywhere in North Lancs) were in the maize fields. I wonder how long it will be before we lose this species here altogether?

Raptors-wise, a peregrine was sat out on Colloway Marsh yesterday while three different sparrowhawks (ad male, ad female & 1stw male) were seen at various spots between Freeman's Wood and Aldcliffe Hall Lane today.  

A kingfisher added a splash of colour at the otherwise quiet Wildfowlers' Pools yesterday and a pair were flying down the Lune at Marsh Point this morning.

There are still tons of blackbirds and a few song thrushes in the hawthorns along the cycle track but the bulk of fieldfare and redwing appear to have moved on.

I'll be working at Leighton Moss again tomorrow (NY Eve) so this will be my last post of the year.
Have an enjoyable and safe New Year and here's wishing for a bird-filled 2017!


The Waxwing Cometh

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
It's been 10 days since my last day off so you can imagine my delight when I saw the forecast for this morning...
Undeterred, I headed out to for a quick check around the patch before Storm Barbara made her unwelcome appearance.
All was quiet.
Other than 5 tufted duck, a handful of coot and a teal Freeman's Pools was birdless.
Frog Pond was a little busier with c60 wigeon in situ plus another 'tuftie'.
Three smallish groups, totaling around 150, of pink-footed geese came down from the drumlins and landed in the fields to the east of the cycle track. Several people have mentioned that a few hundred pinkfeet have been in the area in recent days, with two pale-bellied brent geese among them on the 19th. It's always worth checking through geese at this time of year - who knows what might turn up among the commoner species! 
I then had a look at the Wildfowlers' Pools and The Flood but they were also quiet.
Along the path good numbers of fieldfare and blackbird plus a few redwing were still taking advantage of the bounty of fruit on the many hawthorns.
It will be interesting to see if the storm brings any notable birds to the area in the next few days; I'll certainly be getting out to take a look!

Waxwings at the White Cross, Lancaster
Despite my being tied up with work, it hasn't been an entirely birdless few days.
Having traipsed off to the Greaves area of Lancaster to catch up with waxwings several days ago, I was delighted when they decided to come and see me a earlier this week.
On Monday morning Gav Thomas called me and said "Have you seen waxwings from the office yet?". I replied no, to which he answered "there's 30 in the trees here".
And so a gaggle of RSPB employees tumbled from Cameron House to gawp at the flock, watching in delight as the birds flew down to a berry-laden rowan by the White Cross pub.
And so they remained for the week, delighting (and bemusing) passers-by, local birders and RSPB staff as the flock fluctuated between 10 and up to 60.
We've been able to keep an eye on the birds from the office window ensuring that waxwing is well and truly on the office list!
Apparently the collective noun for waxwings can be either an 'ear-full' or a 'museum'. Personally, I find those both too ridiculous to bother with so I'll stick with flock for now...