Field Good Factor

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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 Summary

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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
    

Green Back

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
My first green sandpiper of the post-breeding season was bang on cue this evening with a single bird at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
We usually see a few passing through from early July onward and numbers can reach double figures in exceptional years. Of course there's also the chance of the odd wood sandpiper dropping in too; we generally get on one every other year or so.
Other notable stuff from my latish sojourn included a couple of noisy water rails in Reedy Corner (have they bred here this year?), both reed and sedge warblers singing and a little ringed plover. Although I still haven't seen any young plovers so far this year, there's still a chance that there may be a late brood, as there was last year.
At Freeman's Pools the 2 young little grebes continue to grow but other than a few mallard duckling and Canada goose goslings there's been little in the way of successful nesting. The tufted ducks failed to produce anything, no mute swans have nested for the first time in decades and even the lowly moorhen seems to have had a pretty poor time of it. That said, a recently hatched clutch was at Bank Pool while the coots on Frog Pond still had one decent sized nipper with them.

Earlier in the day I had dropped into Leighton Moss briefly and had cracking views of osprey - I've been seeing them almost daily since starting my new job there but I never fail to be chuffed by the sight of these ace birds. At one point, a male marsh harrier and the osprey were in my field of vision at the same time - an almost unimaginable sight when I used to go there as a lad...

Jon

Tern Up For The Books

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
With the sun a-blazing it was always going to be about insects today. Having hardly spent any time birding around Aldcliffe lately, I was keen to see if there was much about - and particularly interested to see what dragonflies had emerged.
On the odanata front it was great to see my first emperor dragonflies of the year; four of these monsters were cruising around at Darter Pool. Also here was a lone four-spotted chaser and a few broad-bodied chasers along with multiple common blue damselflies.
Butterflies were seriously lacking and just a handful of speckled woods, and the odd red admiral, peacock and skipper were seen between Aldcliffe and Glasson.

Birds-wise, Aldcliffe highlights included a newly hatched brood of lapwing chicks at the Wildfowlers' Pools. Otherwise the patch was pretty quiet. Talking of lapwings, the post-breeding (perhaps that should be failed-breeding) flocks are starting to build up with large numbers congregating in the maize fields (the scene of the crime...) and the estuary. Similarly, adult curlews have started arriving back on the Lune in recent days.
Although birds have been present on the patch throughout the breeding season I haven't yet had confirmation of successful nesting by little ringed plover.
Wader numbers will continue to build in the coming weeks and we'll start to see the movement of such species as green sandpiper and the like.

Keen eyed visitors to Freeman's Pools will have noticed the appearance of a 'strange' floating platform a couple of weeks back. Well, if you've been wondering what on earth this odd contraption might be - let me put you out of your misery. It is a tern raft.  Probably way too late to attract breeding birds this year, it may might just appeal to passing common terns, or oystercatchers or even little ringed plovers in years to come.
Terns do take readily to artificial nest sites, as evidenced at nearby Conder Pools and notably at Preston Docks.

In other news, some numb-nuts has presumably decided to get around the law by removing a sign along the cycle track. The notice, which clearly states that it is illegal for unauthorised vehicles to drive along the track has mysteriously disappeared.
Odd that.
Especially when the number of vans, cars and lorries 'accidentally' driving along the track between Aldcliffe Hall Lane and the quay has clearly increased in recent months. Anything to do with the number of new dwellings along New Quay Road, I wonder?    
    

The Migrants Keep Trickling In…

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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

Wagtail Tale & Marsh Hoodie

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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

Missing Migrants & Punctual Osprey

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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  

Renewed Development Threat

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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  

Little Wonder

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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        

White Arse Works Wonders

Posted on - In Birding Aldcliffe
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