Recent sightings mid December to mid March

By Pete Marsh

Spring migrants are on their way.  At least 6 records of Stonechat during the last week and Sand Martins at Pine Lake (from 10/3).  Perhaps best classed as an early spring migrant is a Little Egret which has been roaming up and down the Lune Estuary, favouring Heaton Marsh and also the Conder Green area.  Winter visitors are starting to disappear with the drake Smew last reported on 12/3 and the north Fylde Pink-footed Goose flocks dwindling and increasingly visiting the fields/saltmarshes within the recording area.  This produced fun and games with a “small Canada” at Thurnham being reidentified as a hybrid “Canada  x Barnacle” or even perhaps “(Canada x Canada) x Barnacle”.  Up to two Greenland White-fronted Geese accompanied the flocks and at least one of these was on Aldcliffe Marsh (morning (but not afternoon) of 11/3)

The winter period itself was characterised by persistently strong winds from a westerly direction but with no major storms.  Probably in consequence, the flurry of early December waifs and strays petered out and the winds produced more Kittiwakes, more Little Gulls but no major displacements producing the likes of Little Auk.  The lack of any skua records was rather disappointing.  The other major disappointment was the lack of Waxwings.  They just stayed where they were to the north and east of here.  As a result, the only chance to connect in this area was during the initial arrival last November.  The Long0tailed Ducks remained from the late autumn influx with the Lune Estuary 1st winter male joining the adult female off the Stone jetty.  They were quite elusive but fairly consistently seen around Baiting Knoll on low spring tides (this skeer is not exposed on neap tides) and still present in early March.

Three white-winged gulls were available and I managed to fail to identify one by a matter of seconds and miss the definite Glaucous and Iceland by a combined total of about 8 seconds!  The first was seen flying away from the observer as viewed from the Business Studies Office at Morecambe High School (7/2)  and was either an Iceland Gull or a very similar leucistic “Hessing”.  The other s were a first winter Glaucous present elusively on the Kent Estuary (14/2-19/2) and a first winter Iceland on the Lune/Lancaster Tip (afternoon of 10/3).  Mediterranean Gulls comprised the usual two adults (the Sandylands bird of earlier in the year did not reappear) with the Heysham one departing, as usual,, in early March and the Stone Jetty one still present in full summer plumage at the time of writing.  A mobile adult was with field-feeding Black-headed Gulls on the Lune Estuary during late February and there was a one-day second winter by Lancaster Tip.  Up to two Western Yellow-legged Gulls were on Lancaster Tip during the winter along with a handful of argentatus

Passerine interest was limited to chasing around the Lune saltmarshes on the high spring tides trying to connect with at least two birds which appeared to be Water Pipits (as opposed to littoralis Rock Pipits).  One (of these?) was well into summer plumage when seen on Heaton Marsh (6/3).  Bramblings were difficult to find and limited to ones and twos in the inland valleys (e.g. Littledale).  There were disappointingly no Snow Buntings remaining from a promising autumn passage in 1999.  However, the passage was early, contra 1999 when the arrival was very late in the autumn and birds remained to winter.

The status of Scaup in this area can be very difficult to determine.  Why does a flock of 30 suddenly appear off Bare in late January and reappear in variable numbers and differing sex ratios (including total absence).  Presumably they are visitors from a core population elsewhere in Morecambe Bay and not a series of passage flocks magically finding the same feeding area.  WEBS figures do not give much of a clue as to where this core population is unless it refers to small numbers in the Leven Estuary.  Miscellaneous sightings/comments:  Slavonian Grebe off Heysham Harbour (13/1),  huge escaped Owl, probably Great-horned, at Sunderland Point (1/3),  Ruddy Shelduck at lane Ends (20/2), up to three dark-bellied Brent Geese at Lane Ends (from late December only), wintering Spotted Redshank at the Stone jetty to early Match with another on the Lune Estuary during February (at least), Purple Sandpipers at Heysham and the Stone jetty throughout (but very elusive) and a Ruff at Conder Green (26/2).  Very few Red-throated Divers with no counts of more than two to date and 'yellow-billed' swans were limited to the north Fylde (i.e. none on the Lune saltmarshes) 

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