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, 28 October 2012

The ageing process

Bumped into Playful Pete, Alan Wright and Dave Nickeas at Marshside on Saturday morning and enjoyed a few hours birding and chatting with them. Birding highlights were a female Hen Harrier, three Merlins, a Peregrine and a distant, though obliging, Great White Egret. Of course the best birds of all were the numerous Pink-footed Geese all around Marshside and Crossens. Playful and I reminisced about derby days past and nonsense we'd got up to on the Scillies, and how we'd never behave like that nowadays. We're older, wiser, more mature.  I suppose these kinds of recollections, fond and otherwise, are part of any birder or football fans ageing process. Talking of ageing, Dave was actually 47 yesterday so I'm sure he's well aware of the ageing process; for his birthday treat Dave decided not to head up the tracks to see his beloved West Ham take in the pie-eaters, instead he graced Haigh Ave and enjoyed the Sandgrounder's 2.2 with Hereford.

Anyway back to ageing. Knowing the age of birds is useful in terms of definitive identification and this can can be applied to conservation science. Knowing a species productivity in any give year helps us to observe and record changes in populations, these changes in turn can help us better understand our environment and the changes to it. As you know I'm involved in counting Pink-footed Geese and I also try to age flocks and work out brood sizes. This data is useful to WWT, RSPB and BTO. Folk sometimes ask  how do you age geese? So, here are a few tips;

In early autumn telling adults from youngsters is fairly easy with good views and practice; adults have broad white edges to the feathers on the upper margin of the flank - it looks like a long white stripe across the flank, this is lacking in juveniles until much later in the winter. The flank feathers on adults are broad, with pale squarish tips contrasting with the small, narrow tipped flank feathers on juveniles. If you look at the coverts on adults you'll notice that that they are squarish with broad pale tips, contrast this with the smaller, narrower tipped coverts on juveniles (most of these coverts aren't moulted until the spring). The tertial feathers on juveniles in the ealry winter are shorter and norrower in juveniles. Juveniles often have less distinct neck furrows and duller bare parts than adults. If you watch a flock of geese carefully and take your time you can often pick out family groups based on behaviuor, next time you're at one of the goose feeding grounds have a proper look.
So, below are some pics of adult and juvenile Pink-footed Geese.

Juvenile Pink-footed Goose (foreground) with an adult (rear)
Juvenile Pink-footed Goose (right)
Typical view of feeding Pink-feet, juvenile (foreground) and adult (rear)
Danish 2SB, a fine adult male Pink-footed Goose, with a juvenile in the backgound.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Halsall Whoopers

Today's dinnertime peregrinations took me to Halsall Moss where I happened upon a splendid herd of whooper swans on a flood surrounded by unharvested wheat fields. I initially thought 400, or maybe 500 hundred birds so I set about counting them. My first count 860, so I checked again and got 863 and again, 863. As the swans were behaving I counted the juveniles, 48 in total with seven broods of one; eleven broods of two; four broods of three; one brood of four and one brood of five. A single ruff was with c.450 lapwings in the same flood. Great to talk to Mr Pilkington who has farmed in Halsall (initially with his father) since 1933 and lived on the same road as me in Marshside for many years. Mr Pilkington likes whooper swans and only scares them off growing crops. A nice man, the swans are lucky.
As I made my way home I drove to the back of Martin Mere and at an elevated spot counted the whooper swans there; 67 in total with two broods of two and two breeds of three. A single tundra bean goose was present with a large flock of pink-feet near to Doehyles. I wish dinnertimes and autumn days were be longer....

Halsall whoopers
Big, long line of whoopers

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Playful & YBW join forces in no show

As arranged I went to pick Playful Pete up from Albert Road early this morning but he didn't show. He later let me know that he'd go himself into a bit of a mess celebrating his teams 1.0 demolition of some relegation rivals or other. Peteless, I proceeding on to Marshside where it was a misty and cold start followed by warm sunshine. Lots of geese to look through and I also enjoyed raptor searching, seeing; x3 Merlin, x2 Sparrowhawk (see photo below), x1 Kestrel and x1 Peregrine. As usual Crossens and Marshside were both packed full of flocks of waterbirds. I nipped to Lytham Road for a spot of breakfast, where I got a message from Colin Bushell that he'd found a Yellow-browed Warbler in Birkdale. I downed my brew, scoffed my bacon and met up with Colin and spent an hour or so with him failing to see the YBW, but enjoying some decent conversation and equisite sunshine. Nice to see The Brick, Neill Hunt and Mikey Boy Stocker there too. I nipped back to Marshside to gaze at geese (a pair of Barnacles with the pinks were the only new thing) and soak up the bird-filled ambience.

2SB or is it B2S? a Danish ringed pink-foot that Colin Bushell and I have both seen recently was on Crossens outer this morning. A paired male with no youngsters.

A couple of Sparrowhawks catching a few rays on Marshside saltmarsh this morning
Sunrise over Rimmer's marsh at Marshside

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Morning glory

I got to Marshside just before sunrise this morning and the first bird I saw was a superb barn owl hunting in front of the car park and then flying over the road onto Sutton's. c.2200 pink-feet lifted off Rimmer's and headed straight out to graze the adjacent saltmarsh. The Ribble pink-foot roost held c.12100 birds, these drifted inland in dribs and drabs through the morning providing a constant spectacle. I manged to get my first redwing (just one) and fieldfare (two) of the autumn, but other than a couple of goldcrests in the sandworks vis mig wasn't really happening. Two great white egrets dropped on the western end of Banks marsh together and I counted 26 little egrets there, with ten very distant whooper swans on the edge of the marsh. Other birders I enjoyed the company of were playful Pete, Mad Dog and Carlos The Mild.; big Davey Mallett joined us later on. It was the first time this autumn I've managed to see the sexy seven raptors; kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard, female marsh harrier, female hen harrier; at least three merlins and three peregrines - all busily doing there thing out on the saltmarsh, with at least two different peregrines bombing over Sutton's and Crossens inner scaring the life out of the hiige flocks of teal, wigeon, black-tailed godwits and lapwings. A glorious morning with a beautiful sunrise, good company and amazing birds.

Sunrise over North Meols
Mad Dog, Carlos The Mild & Playful Pete at the summit of Mount Clarko
Pink-feet dropping onto Sutton's with Winter Hill in the background

Friday, 19 October 2012

Goose gazing

Managed a goose watching session at WWT Martin Mere this afternoon, it was really rewarding with a spectacular show being put on by the winged wonders. Visitors to the reserve were wowed by the sight and sound of these magnificent birds and I enjoyed helping out fellow birders get onto birds from the United Utilities hide. I reckon a total of c.9700 pink-feet were shared between plover field, the mere and Tarlscough Moss, from where flocks could be seen rising and falling. Amongst the flocks I picked out two leucistic, two orange-legged and two neck-collared (ICT & TTI) pink-feet. Also among the flock were an adult tundra bean goose, a barnacle goose and a Eurasian white-fronted goose (probably a second year bird), it sounds like at least one other white-front was knocking about; how many are there out and about I wonder? Some photos below. I've got some decent video too, but I can't seem to upload it. Marshside beckons at dawn and I've got a pass out for Sunday, so I'm looking forward to more anserine frolics.

tundra bean goose on the mere
Eurasian white-front on the edge of the mere
leucisitc pink-foot on the mere
orange-legged pink-foot on the edge of the mere
pink-feet dropping onto plover field

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

So much to see. So little time.

Spent a small chunk of this afternoon (a long dinnertime, don't worry I made up the time this evening.....) at Crossens and Marshside. The big tide was just dropping and huge numbers of birds were flighting about the place and just waiting to be looked at. I was keen to see the recently reported short-eared owls, I wasn't disappointed, I saw three. Other predators seen were a peregrine, a sparrowhawk and a kestrel. 19 little egrets were roosting on Sutton's marsh, with three more on the outer marsh, where a stoat managed to swim to safety. A great deal of pink-foot movment was happening with c. 6500 on the edge of Crossens outer, 2300 on Crossens inner and 1650 on Sutton's marsh. A single barncle goose was with the pinks and a leucistic pink-foot (see Ribble estuary nature facebook page for some photos) was noted, as was an individual with an all pink bill and neck collar TNS. Numerous black-tailed godwits included two very showy colour-ringed birds and 15 ruff were busily feeding amongst in the flock on Sutton's marsh. If you visit Marshside in the afternoon do try to walk along the seawall (try accessing from Dawlish Drive), the views of the birds really are amazing. Plenty of sunshine, black clouds and rainbows. If only I had more time.

 A couple of blinged black-tailed godwits on Sutton's marsh this afternoon
A pair of pink-feet enjoying the sunshine on Sutton's marsh this afternoon
Sutton's marsh is a grazed, wet, bird filled paradise

Monday, 15 October 2012

Nearly 80,000 Pink-feet in the Red Rose County

The total for yesterday's Lancashire pink-footed goose count was 77683. Totals for each site were; Wyre estuary 7300, Cocker’s Dyke 2650, Pilling 29082, MMWWT 6150, Ribble estuary 8801, Alt estuary/Taylor’s bank 20200, Simonswood 3500. Thanks to volunteer counters; Graham Stirzaker, Stuart Piner, Chris Batty, Nick Godden, Jean Roberts, Warren Braid, Tom Clare, Alan Bedford, Kim Ashton, Sean Ashton and Paul Culley. It'll be interesting to find out how how many were at the numerous Scottish sites and in Norfolk. Carl Mitchell from WWT who I coordinate the Lancashire counts for tells me that in contrast to last season the percentage of young seems to be fairly high at 15-20%. So, hopefully last years decline was just a blip and the Icelandic pink-foot population will stabilise.
Pink-feet amongst seeding Sea Aster on Marshside saltmarsh
Rainbow over Marshside sand works 15/10/12
Storm clouds gathering over Southport pier 15/10/12

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Altered images

This morning the first WWT coordinated nationwide pink-footed goose count of the autumn. We try to get to the roosts pre-dawn so that all birds are counted as they leave the roost; much easier than trying to count them as they arrive to roost. I counted the Alt roost that covers the mouth of the Alt estuary and Taylor's bank, out from Higntown (between Crosby and Formby on the Lancashire coast). Dave Mallett normally covers this roost but was busy elsewhere. I counted 20,200, while Alan Bedford, Kim & Sean Ashton counted 7581 on the Ribble, with Nick Godden & Jean Roberts counting 29,000 from Pilling. Counts from Martin Mere, Simonswood, Cocker's Dyke and the Wyre estuary aren't in yet, but it looks like it's going to be a decent count for Lancashire. Hopefully this'll also be the case elsewhere and the Icelandic/Greenlandic population will have made some recovery from recent worrying declines. We'll only know that once all of the counts have been collated for the whole of the winter. As you can see from the images below it was a beautiful morning. A joy to be out and about.

Pink-footed geese leaving the Alt roost just after dawn this morning
Pink-feet at dawn
River Alt at Hightown
After the goose count I was joined at Birkdale by Kim & Sean Ashton who helped me with the WeBS count there. Rather low numbers of waders with highlights being; Knot 1550; Dunlin 1250; Sanderling 165; Grey Plover 385; Bar-tailed Godwit 1700; Snipe 2; Turnstone 2; Curlew 18; Oystercatcher 2650; Cormorant 620; Common Scoter 6. Other birds of interest included an adult Peregrine, a female Kestrel, two female Sparrowhawks, a migrant Great Spotted Woodpecker and five migrant Coal Tits in the velvet trail scrub.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Enjoying a Ribble morning

I Enjoyed a few hours at Crossens and Marshside this morning. The highlight for me was the 16000 pink-footed geese that left the estuary roost in dribs and drabs from 7.30, with the last birds leaving the roost at 10ish. Several thousand flew in to feed on Crossens inner and Sutton's until Tom walked out onto the marsh to check the cattle; off they went. With excellent visibility I could see another 4500 drop in on the other side of the estuary, beyond Lytham. Lots of wigeon and teal on the marsh, providing a real spectacle. Raptors on view were a juv Marsh Harrier, two Sparrowhawks, two Merlins and a Kestrel. I checked for migrants along Marine Drive seeing only a Chiffchaff, six Goldcrests, nine Robins and eventually a Wheatear that I enjoyed watching with Pete Allen, Mad Dog and the Kelly brothers at the sandworks. I walked back to my car at Crossens while the other four headed to Hesketh golf course, where they found a Yellow-browed Warbler! Fair play to them. I ran out of time and had to get home so couldn't go and see it; nevermind, I'd enjoyed the wildfowl spectacle, sunshine, fresh air and some good laughs. A good morning.

Pink-footed Geese overhead at Crossens this morning
Pink-feet leaving Marshside after being flushed by the tenant farmer
Thousands of wigeon were grazing at Crossens and Marshside this morning
Big flocks of pink-feet on the move this morning
Wheatear showing well at the sandworks