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 December 2012

Last WeBS of 2012

Waders on Birkdale Beach 30/12/12

Due to high tides earlier in the month we decided to move the Ribble WeBS to 30th December. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the howling gales today made life difficult for counters. Local ringing legends Dave Fletcher and Brain Hopkins have recently started helping me with the large sector I cover (stretching from Southport Pier south to Pontins at Ainsdale) and the help was most welcome today in miserable conditions. Between us we counted; 4897 Dunlin; 1145 Knot; 420 Sanderling; 2365 Bar-tailed Godwits; 322 Grey Plover; 12 Turnstone; 3675 Oystercatcher; 2165 Cormorant; 3152 Herring Gulls and 270 Great Black-backed Gulls.  Not a bad haul considering. Bumped into John Dempsey and had a good chat, he's off to Thailand soon to spot some rarer waders with some of the areas finest twitchers. Spoon-billed Sandpiper should be on the agenda. I hope they see some, I really do.

Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits, Birkdale Beach 30/12/12
Wader cloud, Birkdale Beach 30/12/12

Christmas and rain stopped play

I spent Christmas with the family down in Hereford. It was great for the kids and we all had a smashing time. Unfortunately the weather was wet and grey, so not conducive to birding and with the flood plains of the Wye and Lugg full, not conducive to getting around either.
Pair of Mute Swans swimming around the King's Meadow in Hereford on Christmas Day.
The Lugg floodplain full up at Christmas
Floods at Bodenham on Boxing Day
Got back home to Lancashire on the 27th December to more grey, dank, wet days; hardly inspiring stuff. I did haul myself out a couple of times and managed big flocks of Whooper Swans at Bescar, Hundred End and Low Meadows. The herd at Hundred End contained five Bewick's Swans and a big flock of Pink-feet there held three Barnacle Geese. A couple of Jack Snipe near Rufford station were worth noting, as were a flock of 21 Yellowhammers nearby. Hopefully some sun soon. Please.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Wild Goose Chase Project

The Wild Goose Chase is a project aimed at filling in and bringing up to date our knowledge on how Pink-footed Geese, Whooper Swans and Bewick's Swans are using land in North Merseyside (Sefton, Knowsley, St Helens) and West Lancashire.

We are particularly interested in how these birds are using the landscape so we can answer questions such as 'Where is a population feeding?', 'What do they need to survive?' and 'What can we do to avoid disrupting them?' This project is supported by RSPB and WWT conservation officers and researchers and the county bird recorder. No need to send records of birds on nature reserves and other protected sites such as RSPB, WWT, LWT or Natural England land. You can always send you records through on a spreadsheet (see the webpage). Please do contriubte your records (including old ones) may well be really useful. Thank you.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Swanning around the Ribble coast and wetlands

Due to various work and family commitments I've hardly been out recently. This morning I really felt the pull of the estuary and headed out at about 9.30. I was briefly distracted by a flock of Whooper Swans on the Burscough Moss side of Curlew lane. Due to the proximity of Martin Mere and it's feeding and roosting potential this area regularly holds good numbers of Whoopers in the winter; 324 were there this morning. I then headed over to the RSPB reserve at Hesketh Out Marsh and decided to have another look for the Bewick's Swans that some other local Ribble patchers have been seeing recently. Colin Bushell, Charlie Liggett and Nick Godden have all reported seeing some lately. Walking along the seawall I could hear a large flock of Swans towards Hundred End; I headed up there and duly found the flock and was able to spend some time counting them, 435 Whoopers, 22 Bewick's and seven Mutes. I'm always delighted to see the Bewick's, the decline of which has been well documented locally. An uncontrolled black Labrador unfortunately flushed the Swans causing Charlie to give me a ring to find out what has caused the flush (he was guiding a walk on the eastern bank); he'd seen a Peregrine. 525 Shelducks and c.350 Pink-footed Geese were feeding in the same general area as the Swans; c.300m form the main fracking base....

Other species noted on the RSPB reserve were a female Merlin, two female Kestrels, a Buzzard, four Little Egrets, seven Herons, 220 Mallard and 315 Wigeon. A decent morning, would have loved to stayed out longer but family duties called and that as that.

Bewick's Swans (six or seven?) mixed with Whooper Swans at Hundred End 16/12/12
Whooper Swans and Bewick's Swans heading towards Hesketh Bank 16/12/12
Whooper Swans flying over the seawall at Hesketh Out Marsh 16/12/12

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Bleak but worthwhile

Sean and Kim Ashton and I met at a bleak Marshside pre-dawn to count the Ribble Pink-footed Goose roost. It was a little disappoining as the usual numbers weren't out on the river and we settled for the odds and ends roosting on the RSPB reserve, with a few more on the saltmarsh and c.800 that we later discovered further up the NNR on Banks marsh; our total was 3457. Banks marsh held c.25,000 Wigeon, most of them close in on the splashes and that's always worth getting out early for. Whooper Swans were a feature this morning, with 28 on the NNR; 307 at Hundred End; 265 at Windmill farm and 190 on Burscough Moss.

Kim and Sean headed to Martin Mere where they were delighted to see the obliging Woodcock in front of the Janet Kear hide. I nipped in there later on as Kim and Sean were leaving, and managed to see the Woodcock again, pretty much where it was yesterday, hunkered down a bramble patch. A male and female Brambling were visiting the feeders in front of the hide, interesting to see that they were both ringed; presumably a result of the fine work the South West Lancashire ringing group were doing at the recent North West Birdwatching festival on site. Lots of Whooper Swans on the mere, I estimated 800.

Counters have been sending me Pink-footed Goose counts throught the day; Nick Godden and Jean Roberts counted 20,300 at Pilling; Graham Stirzaker counted 3650 on the Wyre (seven Eurasian White-fronts there too); Tom Clare counted 9950 at Martin Mere (most of these seemed to be feeding near my house in Burscough early this afternoon); and lastly Dave Mallett counted 110 off Hightown on Taylor's bank. The counts for Simonswood, Cocker's Dyke, Low Meadows will get to me in the week and I'll publish the counts in due course.

Male Brambling on the feeders in front of Janet Kear hide at Martin Mere today.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hither & tither

I was working down at Slimbridge on Thursday and early Friday morning and managed an hours birding on Thursday afternoon. The meeting I was at was in the McNiece room, above the swan observatory and it was really inspiring to see four Common Cranes fly past the window! Always good to see Bewick's Swans and I counted c.110 scattered around, with many dropping onto the rushy pen late afternoon to join flocks of Pintail, Tufted Duck and Pochards dining on there. The tack piece is a superb piece of wet grassland just beyond the rushy pen and it was full of birds; Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing, Dunlin, Ruff, Redshank, Golden Plover and Black-tailed Godwits - a bit like a mini Marshside. A Peregrine blasted through spooking everything,  including two Buzzards. I picked up the 'resident' Long-billed Dowitcher in a flock of passing Black-tailed Godwits heading to an outer part of the reserve. The reserve and its diverse habitats at Slimbridge is well managed by Dave Paynter and Martin McGill, their assistant James Lees and an excellent team of hard working volunteers; the work they do can really appreciated when the birds put on a show.
Friday morning in the freezing dawn was a treat as the four Common Cranes, 18 Eurasian White-fronted Geese and numerous Bewick's Swans flew right overhead - an antidote to the three hour M5-M6 drive later that morning.

Steve Sweetnam and I birded Martin Mere this morning and enjoyed the Whooper Swan spectacle (great to see visitors enjoying the new fed time at 10.30) and the throngs of other waterfowl species. I counted a couple of species with 98 Ruff and 485 Lapwings being of interest. I missed the male Hen Harrier that was around, but did see the adult female Marsh Harrier, four Buzzards, two Kestrels and a Woodcock (skulking in front of Janet Kear hide). We checked the titmouse flocks and managed four Coal Tits, two Treecreepers and two Goldcrests. A single adult Eurasian White-fronted Goose grazing with a small group of Pink-feet at the back of the mere was nice to see but the highlight of the morning was the clouds of Woodpigeons between Geldhey and Bescar; I estimated 37,000!

A drive down Curlew Lane and Mere Lane produced 14 Corn Buntings and at least eight Yellowhammers. A brief visit to Mere Sands Wood was worthwhile with a Water Rail from the Lancaster hide and 1190 Teal and 56 Shoveler from Marshsall hide. Cold, hunger and family responsibilities caused a 3p.m. finish but I'll be out at dawn - it's the last coordinated Pink-foot count of the year. Bring it on.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Whopping Whooper count

I was housebound this morning except for a brief excursion round the corner to check if the Waxwings were present; they were atop a tall poplar along Red Cat Lane and flew off west at about 10.30. When Ruth returned home I was given the green light to get out from under her feet and hastily made my way to WWT Martin Mere to have a look for the Bewick's Swans seen yesterday. I popped into Infocus to get an update from Andy and then headed for UU hide to look through the massed Pink-feet, c.7000 were present, with much coming and going. No other species were with the flock but the 'pied' pair did put in an appearance and neck collar PHP was there. I took the opportunity to do some counting; Shelduck 920; 265 Wigeon; 1630 Teal (the drake Green-winged Teal was with them); 12 Shoveler; 16 Pochard;  840 Coot; and 225 Lapwing. I counted 43 Ruff but Andy has counted 63 earlier in the day.  Three Buzzards were lazing about and an adult Peregrine scared in the living daylights out of all the Teal before alighting in it's usual post.

From UU I could see a distant female Aythya and closer inspection proved it to be the female Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid that has spent the last fw winters on the mere. As the light faded it was clear to both Andy and I that big numbers of Whooper swan were piling onto the mere. I proceeded to count them a got three counts of between 2400 and 2500, we settled on the average which was 2480; a reserve record! More pink-feet arrived and the total at dark was 11600. I never did see any Bewick's though.......

Whoopers being fed in front of Raines observatory at 3.15
The female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard Hybrid with Pochards in front of the Infocus shop at dusk (below)

One of the lazy Buzzards

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Great intentions

I had planned to get out onto the estuary this morning to find some Bewick's Swans. One of the kids was poorly and that soon put a stop to that cunning little plan. I did manage an hour at Tarlscough Moss looking at geese mid-morning but that was it - family duties called. Mid-afternoon I took the dog for a stroll; just out of the house I heard some Waxwings and saw five of them at the top of a tall poplar along Red Cat Lane. I nipped back home, dropped off the dog, picked up the camera and tried to get a better look at the Waxwings (incidentally some had also been seen this afternoon just up the road at WWT Martin Mere). I relocated the birds (total of six) further along Red Cat Lane at thier 'regular' haunt feeding in an ormamental Rowan (the variety with the pale pink berries) and was soon joined by Graham Jones and his partner Amy and later by Frank Whitney, Lousie Wisniewski and a couple of other local birders. Everyone seemed to enjoyed decent views and I managed some okay snaps (I'm fairly new to his photography game so please be gentle and patient). Turns out that a couple a Bewick's turned up at the mere today - they'll be out on that estuary somewhere.

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