About Graham Clarkson

Born & brought up in Marshside, I started birding there in the mid 1970s & made my first birding trip to Martin Mere in 1977. I've lived, worked & birdied in Abu Dhabi, Northern Ireland & Gloucestershire & I've spent time working in Kazakhstan & Madagascar. I enjoy birding my various West Lancashire patches, making frequent birding visits throughout the north-west of England and North Wales. I stray elsewhere in the UK & enjoy birding abroad from time to time. I'm particularly interested in wildfowl (especially pink-footed geese) with an interest in waders & raptors, bird counts & surveys & conservation. I'm trying to get the hang of photography & digiscoping - I'll get there eventually.

My degree from Edge Hill University is in conservation biology. I've guided on numerous birding days out & trips & guided birding holidays to Lesvos, Andalucia, Extremedura, Majorca, Camargue, Hungary, Finland & Florida. I enjoy showing people birds & habitats & helping them learn more about birds & enjoy birding. I'm currently involved with the Birdwatching and Beyond course at Edge Hill and a brand new venture; Skein Birding.

As well as birding I'm interested in captive breeding & reintroduction projects & zoos, how they're managed & how they contribute to conservation. I'm a proud Lancastrian & love the Lancashire countryside & landscapes. I'm an Evertonian & also keep up with what's happening at Southport, PNE & Bristol Rovers. Gardening, dogs (I have a Labrador & a Tibetan Terrier) and keeping chickens (especially Marsh Daisys & Scots Dumpy Bantams). Ruth & I have two marvellous boys who both love nature too. I hope you find the blog and subjects covered interesting; please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Brents. So they are.

I was working over in County Down at Castle Espie on Friday. I've made a few work trips there over during the past couple of years. It's always a joy to visit and it bring backs memories of 1991, the year I spent working there.
Although on Friday my primary reason for visiting wasn't related to counting geese, reserve manager Kerry  politely insited I help him with the International Light-bellied Brent Goose census, and how could I refuse my hosts invitation? Kerry coordinates the goose counting on Strangford Lough and counts sectors roughly west of Newtonards along the west coast of the lough down to Mahee island.We counted c.8000 in Kerry's sector, the final count for the lough was 22926 (down on recent counts, some have moved south already). Productivity has apparently been very low this year, I looked closely at a sample of 980 birds and could only find 10 juveniles. Amazing to think that these wonderful little geese migrate to Ireland via Greenland and Iceland (and beyond; some winter on Hilbre Island, Angelsey and in Brittany) and breed in the Canadian high arctic. The wonders of migration.....
We started the count at 8.30 and had finished by 10.45, the rest of the day was spent in the confines of an office, so it was nice to get an early goose fix. Other birds seen on and around the lough included 260 Eiders, Red-breasted Merganser, Little Egret, Greenshank, c.10 Great Crested Grebes, Twite, Chiffchaff and big flocks of waders that contained Dunlin, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits.

Light-bellied Brents grazing zostera on theStrangford Lough mudflats.
A captive Light-bellied Brent at WWT Castle Espie.
The north-western end of Strangford Lough from Castle Espie, looking towards Scrabo tower. Great Brent habitat.
Looking from Mahee, north towards Scrabo
Rainbow from Castle Espie, taken on March 2012.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Flash of blue brilliance

Due to family commitments I spent the weekend in Hereford. The woods and hills around the city can be worth visiting in the spring and winter for some decent woodland birding, it's still a stronghold for birds such as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Tit. The Lugg and Wye valleys are home to some decent floodplains and a few gravel pits which attract migrant and wintering waterfowl. On Saturday I spent a couple of hours birding at Wellington gravel pits, just north of the city. Wellington turns up odds and sods, this year I've seen Osprey and Garganey there,  on Saturday I scanned all the waterfowl flocks and watched the hedgerows carefully for migration action. The migrant highlight was two male Yellow Wagtails overhead and calling with eight Pied Wagtails and 18 Meadow Pipits, the most numerous migrant was Swallow, I counted 185 through. Coot and Tufted Duck numbers are building up on the pits and I counted 28 Great Crested Grebes. A gull roost was made up exclusively of Lesser black backs, 144 of them. As I walked past one of the smaller pits, listening to a Chiffchaff, a flash of blue brilliance sped past me, fortunately I caught up with the Kingfisher and I managed a couple of dodgy didgyscoped shots (see below). Other highlights for me were eight Teal, a female Wigeon, twelve Buzzards, two Ravens and a Green Woodpecker.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Winking all day and all of the night

Pink-footed Geese feeding in wheat stubble, Higgin's Lane, Burscough.

One of the fantastic things about living in West Lancashire is the constant presence of Pink-footed Geese from September right through to April. The winking calls of overhead skeins and grazing flocks is comforting and gives me a sense of home. Hearing the distincive, high-pitched wink-wink ang-ang excites me everytime I hear it.  At the moment I can hear geese from my house 24 hours a day, it's fantastic. Large flocks are currently feeding on wheat stubble on the outskirts of Burscough. Yesterday I wandered out at lunchtime to have a look at the flock feeding along Higgin's Lane, c.3600 were there, presumably from the c.12000 roosting at Martin Mere. I spotted a neck collared bird and read the collar, FIA. Kane Brides a colleague from HQ sent me the info on FIA today and I found out that I was reunited with an old friend. FIA was ringed as an adult female on 30/07/99 at Thjorsarver in Iceland and was regularly seen at various Scottish and Norfolk sites, including by me at South Creake in Norfolk on 31/10/01! In subsequent years she was seen in Lancashire a few times, including at Martin Mere by my colleagues David an Estelle Walsh and by Martin Mere regular Lee Bailey. She hadn't been reported since November 2010 so it was nice to bump into this old friend yesterday.

Pink-footed Geese coming in to land at Higgin's Lane, Burscough

Large numbers of Pink-feet winter in Lancashire, and seeing as they're my favourite bird I spend a bit of time looking at them. I also coordinate a team of volunteer counters on behalf of WWT and we work together to ensure we count all of the key roost sites in the county. The first coordinated count this autumn will be on 14th October and we'll count the roost sites at Martin Mere, Simonswood, Alt estuary/Taylor's bank, Ribble estuary, Wyre estuary, Morecambe Bay and Lune estuary. The dedication of the volunteers is superb and they all love Pink-feet, I think the sight and sound of the huge flocks is addictive. If you're interested to know what happened with Pink-feet in Lancashire in 2011 have a read of my account in the Lancashire Bird Report, it's on sale at the Infocus shop at Martin Mere.

Pink-footed Geese with suburban Burscough in the background
Old friend FIA, who I hadn't seen since 2001.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Blue-winged bonus

Arrived at Marshside at 7.30a.m. expecting to meet mad dog, who didn't turn up, funnily enough because he was looking after a new mad dog all of his own. I did bump into Dave Nickeas and he and I spent to c.9a.m. with Dave birding the sandworks, junction pool and Nel's hide. Very pleasant it was to. Lots of the usual suspects on show; a marsh full of birds.

Unfortunately I had to get going as I had to count my WeBS sector on Birkdale/Ainsdale beach/sands lake and had arranged to meet Pete Kinsella at 10. Pete duly turned up and we set about the serious business of counting and searching through flocks of waders and gulls. Our total counts were; Knot 18200; Sanderling 3070; Dunlin 410; Bar-tailed Godwit 275; Curlew 22; Grey Plover 198; Ringed Plover 5; Oystercatcher 3600; Lapwing 11; Little Egret 2;Cormorant 36; Mallard 119; Tufted Duck 56; Shelduck 15; Common Scoter 1290 (with many more further offshore); Coot 18; Moorhen 4; Little Grebe 3; Sandwich Tern 144; Herring Gull 397; Lesser Black-backed Gull 74; Great Black-backed Gull 37; Common Gull 145; Black-headed Gull 393; Med Gull 1. Decent totals of Knot, Sanderling, Oystercatchers, Common Scoters and Sandwich Terns, but disappointingly low counts of Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plovers. A Peregrine did it's spook everything act and I saw a Wheatear near to the old pleasureland site. It was great to catch up with Pete, one of the north-west's more experienced birders, and share some thoughts with him.

I dropped Pete in Formby to catch his train home to look through some Little Crosby Pink-feet and I headed down onto Plex Moss. While driving home I received a text from Alex (Marshside warden), simply saying; Blue-winged Teal at junction pool. Intrigued I headed for Marshside and was met by Neil Hunt (who'd found the bird - nice one Neil), Barry McCarthy, Tony Baker, Alex, Mark Nightingale and a few other local birders. The bird showed well for a short while and I managed a few shots (see below). A discussion regarding the birds age and sex was inconclusive, but I was certainly mistaken to suggest it was an adult female. It certainly looks like a male, but is it eclipse or juvenile? I'd have to see it again to decide, but I'll certainly look at my photos and look through any decent literature. A nice bird to top of a good morning.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Big Green Bus

Didn't really do any proper birding today but did manage to get out and about. First adventure was out walking the dog early doors. I could hear lots of pink-feet from the house and we walked the short distance to Crabtree Lane where they were feeding. Half an hour spent stood behind a beech hedge next to the level crossing was worthwhile, I managed to get a fairly accurate count; 7300. A shame I didn't have my scope and camera. All credit to the dog for staying still while I counted the geese.

The second adventure of the day was a free a bus trip from Burscough to Mere Sands Wood (stopping at Martin Mere, Windmill Farm and Homestead farm). It was great! All four of us on a lovely, green, old double decker and a smashing welcome when we got to Mere Sands Wood; the Lancashire Wildlife Trust had laid on free pond dipping, which Jacob and Samuel really enjoyed.

Pink-footed Geese over Martin Mere (above) and Mere Sands Wood (below) today

Water Boateman at Mere Sands Wood
Jacob enjoying a bit of pond life ID at Mere Sands Wood

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Winged wonders

On Sunday morning my back garden was alive with Small Tortoisehells and Red Admirals. These are common but beautifully coloured, wonderfully patterned, winged wonders. They were getting a fill of nectar from the sedum and reluctant to move. Amazing what you can see in your garden isn't it?

Red Admiral
Small Tortoisehell

Marshside morning with mad dog

I met up with  mad dog (a.k.a John Bannon) at 06.45 on Saturday morning for some early doors vismiging at Marshside. John had been there since 05.45 and had already gripped me with Tree Pipit at he sandworks!  The morning was overcast and completly still and the calm broken by 330 Pinkfeet in scattered flocks, that had roosted out on the estuary, and were drifting inland, happily calling. A 3rd calendar year Marsh Harrier flying strongly south west out on the saltmarsh was a pleaseant distraction to the groups of Meadow Pipits overhead. A fall of Robins was evident with 34 counted up to 10.30. As site record?  Other birds recorded on passing through  included 3 Grey Wagtails, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 35 Golffinches, 2 Chaffinches, a Siskin, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 3 Goldcrests and 5 Whitethroats.
Looking closely at the RSPB marshs we counted 2104 Blackwits, 98 Golden Plover, 8 Greenshank, 5 Ruff,  24 Gadwall, 124 Shoveler (amongst c.800 Teal), and a minimum total of 207 Snipe. Two Merlins, two Kestrels,  a Pegrine and an adult female Marsh Harrier were hunting the saltmarsh mid-morning and two Ravens drifted over high, one spiralling down onto Rimmer's marsh. Other highlights were  98 House Sparrows feeding on Stanley School playing field (adjacent to Marshside Road) and a Kingfisher on Junction Pool. A decent morning in the company of a decent chap.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Golden time

Mrs C went back to work today after six weeks off and young Samuel went to nursery. Jacob doesn't go back until Wednesday, so he and I hung out on the Ribble today enjoying a mixture of cycling, birding, playing on the beach and visiting relatives.

We started off at RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh, which was quicker to get to than usual, thanks to the newly tarmaced access track (except the last bit which still has a few holes to catch out the unwary). Four juvenile Marsh Harriers were on show, two hunting over the marsh and two thermaling and heading towards the Fylde. Other raptors seen were two Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk and five Kestrels. At least three Yellow Wagtails headed over and Jacob enjoyed learning the calls of Greenshank (four present) and Green Sandpiper (one calling in the inland ditches). A Raven cronking overhead caused some questions and comment; "Dad is that Huggin or Munnin?" and "let's check your tattoo and see which one it is". The Raven headed off inland and was ignored by the 28 Carrion Crows on the reserve.

Over at Old Hollow we counted 270 Golden Plovers (see photo below of one there today), 680 Wigeon, 640 Teal and an Avocet. A juvenile Merlin and a juvenile Peregrine flushed the waterfowl, creating a smashing spectacle for my youngster to enjoy.

Jacob enjoying Hesketh Out Marsh.
We had our bikes on the back of the car and parked up at Marshside and cycled up to Southport pier. Scanning out to sea we could see numerous, distant flocks of Common Scoters heading north out in Liverpool Bay, heading towards Blackpool. I estimated 5500 Scoters, difficult to get an accurate count given the distance and shimmer. As Jacob played on the beach, on a dropping tide, clouds of flying waders changed shaped and began to land on the shore, I counted c.3600 Knot.
After the beach we cycled back to Marshside to visit my Uncle and Aunt for a brew. Post brew we headed for the seawall and counted 46 Pink-footed Geese and nine Little Egrets on Sutton's marsh and marvelled at the wheeling flocks of Black-tailed Godwits. Definitely golden time. Priceless.
Some of the 46 Pink-footed Geese that have been on Sutton's marsh for the past three days.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Local peregrinations

Steve Sweetnam and I birded the splashes on the Ribble NNR from the seawall at Old Hollow farm in Banks early afternoon. Despite no Pec, Curlew Sand or Little Stint being on show it was an hour well spent. The highlight was two juvenile Peregrines sat on the saltmarsh, busily surveying the bird life. Eventually one of them succumbed to temptation and took a Starling, heading far out on the marsh with it's glossy prize, upsetting the massed throngs of waders and wildfowl as it went. A distant juvenile Marsh Harrier upset many gulls as it lazily drifted towards Crossens. A lone Avocet and a lone Ruff were amongst the c.1500 Teal and I counted 640 Wigeon on the splashes. The huge flock of Canada Geese out on the marsh contained three Barnacle Geese and a single Pink-footed Goose. The ducks and geese will do well to avoid the wildfowlers who were making thier way out onto both Banks marsh and Crossens outer marsh; the 'season' starts today.

Three Yellow Wagtails, a male (see the blurred photo below  - it was miles away!) and two females, four White Wagtails and c.50 Pied Wagtails busily caught insects in the cattle poached mud out from the seawall and other passerines included c.70 Linnets and numerous Meadow Pipits, Swallows and House Martins. An elderly couple from Kirkham, who were visiting especially to see the absent rarer waders, were delighted to see the Peregrines and Yellow Wagtails that Steve and I showed them. Lovely people.

We stopped briefly at Crossens getting great views of a juvenile Merlin hunting across the out marsh. Rimmer's marsh was productive with 86 Shovelers amongst numerous Teal, while over on Sutton's marsh 46 Pink-footed Geese (my first flock of the season) grazed quitely amongst the long grass and prominent thistles. An adult Peregrine flushed hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits from both Rimmer's and Sutton's and they scattered enthusiastically away from the threat of the aerial menace. A good afternoon watching local wildlife in good comapany. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe football results...............