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Ribchester

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FIRST SIGNS OF SPRING

THE CALLS OF CURLEWS ECHOED ACROSS THE VALLEY at Ribchester today, the first birds returning from their wintering grounds nearer to the coast. There have been oystercatchers around pretty much all winter as well as a few lapwings but I always associate the return of the curlews with the first signs of spring along with Snowdrops in the church yard and the earliest bird song. Today's walk along the river to Red Bank and back produced two new birds for me here. The first was Dipper, a long awaited prospect, one flew from the river up the stream past the Roman Bath House first thing. I know they have been see further up this stream but this is the first time I have seen one by the river. The second was a Greylag Goose, flying west down the valley (before today I had seen more Greenland White-fronts here than Greylags!). A Green Woodpecker calling loudly at Red Bank was probably a visitor from the woods at Hothersall Hall, where they are more regular.  Oystercatchers have increased to 32 on the meadow by the river opposite Red Bank and other signs of spring were birds, which are now singing including Chaffinch, Dunnock and Wren. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers was in the wood at Red Bank, where the male was drumming. The morning's total was a very respectable 56 species, only 3 off my highest total and although some trickier birds like goldeneye, sparrowhawl and skylark put in an appearance other regulars like kestrel, Little Egret and kingfisher were missing.

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MERLIN BRIGHTENS DULL DAY!

A FEMALE MERLIN DASHED ACROSS THE RIVER heading north over Boat House, with the trajectory of a missile, in hunting mode, its fast wingbeats powering it on. Only the second I've seen in Ribchester (the first was over the house) but the first I've seen on my regular birding walk, which takes me along the riverbank from St Wilfrid's School to Red Bank and back via Boat House and Lower Barn. Today's total was 57 species, 7 over par for this winter's walks and although it did not include some regulars it also included another two new ones for this winter - Canada Goose (a small flock of 33 that flew over the village and was later feeding on the fields opposite Red Bank, which also included a Pink-footed Goose) and Tawny Owl (calling from Hothersall Hall in mid morning).

A Peregrine was screaming at a buzzard by the power lines above Red Bank, I think the large number of starlings has attracted it and so far Peregrine has featured on over half of my walks. Eight buzzards were logged today, as well as a pair of Ravens, two kestrels and the (?) Little Egret. A Teal flying upstream at Red Bank was only my second record this winter, only one Little Grebe was seen at Red Bank but the Kingfisher was back by the school in Ribchester. A major feature of today's observations was a southward passage of Woodpigeons, totalling 134 and easily my highest total of the winter, maybe ahead of the cold front on the way later today. Starling numbers had increased to c.740 and Fieldfares to 73 and Black-headed Gulls were also up at c.960.

Goosander was absent again and the general lack of sightings might be owing to persecution. I've only seen it on 4 out of 7 counts this winter. This figure used to be 100%. The bailiff tells me that RADAC has a license to shoot them and cormorants. It is a shame that the aims of one group of conservationists is at odds with that of another. I am sure they do some good work in maintaining habitat along the banks of the river but I wish they would not shoot birds.

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EAST LANCS NEW YEAR

THE NEW YEAR STARTED OFF VERY WET INDEED. I got soaked three times on New Year's Day taking part in ELOC NYD listing. Although I saw some interesting birds like Snow Bunting on Pendle Hill, Pintail and Pink-footed Goose at Stocks, Little Egret, Little Grebe and oystercatcher at Ribchester and finally a brief adult Glaucous Gull in horrible conditions at Fishmoor Reservoir I was still 20 behind the Breakses total as usual. The time taken on Pendle kills the chances of enough small birds and I was rained off twice when I planned to look for them. I caught up five on my first day back at work on 2 January including a male Brambling, which has been on the office feeders this week.

In contrast the first Sunday of the new year was freezing cold and icy. An all day effort produced a similar total between Pendle, Ribchester and Fishmoor. Highlights included two Snow Buntings over Pendle Summit in a freezing cold wind before dawn. I gave up taking landscapes when my camera lens frosted over. This never even happened in Ladakh!!! The wind chill was very severe indeed this morning. The walk around my BTO birdtrack location at Ribchester produced 52 species including Peregrine, 7 buzzards, 4 ravens, 10 oystercatchers, 3 Little Grebes, 4 Goosanders and record totals of Stock Dove (6!) and Long-tailed Tit (19). A skylark flew over the village calling, a scarce bird around Ribchester in midwinter. Finally the late afternoon Fishmoor gull roost in Blackburn produced a terrific 2cy Glaucous Gull by Mark and Jack and what was almost certainly an adult Caspian Gull in rapidly fading light by Pete.

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HARD WEATHER MOVEMENTS

Pendle regular Martin Naylor searching for Snow Buntings on the Downham slope

Pendle regular Martin Naylor searching for Snow Buntings on the Downham slope

The last couple of Sunday morning walks on the riverbank have been quite productive, last Sunday saw a record 59 species, including Little Egret. It is still present today ranging between Hothersall Hall and Lower Alston Farm and today was another respectable 50 species. Single Common Snipes have featured on both weekends too, both flying over, presumably displaced by the hard weather. Other birds on the move at the moment were Herring Gull (163 on 3 December - usually around 10-30) and Northern Lapwing (168 on 10 December). The Little Grebes continue on the river at Red Bank and up to three oystercatchers appear to be wintering on the same stretch. Another weather related record was a flock of 18 Meadow Pipits by the sewage works . In contrast, numbers of birds presumably pushed out by the snow have fallen like Goldfinch (41 week 46 to only 6 on 10 December) and Chaffinch (45 week 47 to only 14 on 10 December). I am planning to keep up the counts as long as I can this winter following the same route more or less and for the same length of time and it will be interesting to see the results.

After over 30,000 steps on Pendle Hill and only two Snow Buntings flying over I'd had enough. Well at least it was good exercise! A Meadow Pipit flying low over the summit on Monday morning was also part of the hard weather movements. They are rarer than Snow Bunting up there at this time of year.

Little Egret at Ribchester. Not much you can do at 8000 ISO!

Little Egret at Ribchester. Not much you can do at 8000 ISO!

Frozen Snow Bunting food in the dotterel area on Pendle Hill

Frozen Snow Bunting food in the dotterel area on Pendle Hill

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