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, 24 February 2013

Fylde & Wyre weekend wanderings

Saturday was dedicated to the Edge Hill 'Birdwatching & Beyond' group. We headed over to Marton Mere, near Blackpool,  to see  the two Long-eared Owls which have been on show recently. On arrival at Marton Mere we walked past the hotel and enjoyed a superb Redwing feeding in the leaf littler of the hedgerow. Dave McGrath had emailed me perfect directions  to the birds and his directions did the trick - thanks Dave! All of the group enjoyed decent views of the birds, even if they were a little obscured in the tangle of scrub.

One of the two Long-eared Owls at Marton Mere near Blackpool. 23/02/13.

Although freezing cold lots of birds had responded to the lengthening daylight by singing with Song Thrush, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Dunnock, Wren and Reed Bunting all asserting themselves with strident song. Several Stock Doves were seen on the Little Owl Barn, but no Little Owl. A Water Rail squealed from the reedbeds as we enjoyed views of common dabbling and diving ducks and at the hide Herring Gulls provided an ageing challenge that many of the participants choose to ignore blaming the fact they hadn't done their homework......
Cetti's Warbler inhabit the reedbed and scrub of Marton Mere and Kim Ashton, Julie Houston, John Bowen and I all heard bursts of calling but most of the group will have to come back to this cracking reserve and have another search.

Birdwatching and Beyond participants enjoying seeing Long-eared Owls at Marton Mere. 23/02/13.

I'd been furnished with some information regarding the North Shore Purple Sandpipers by Blackpool birder Stephen Dunstan and we were helped by Stuart Meredith (thanks both) in getting to the exact location which was a rather bizarre go-kart track. We split into two groups to find the birds, Frank Whitney picked them up and the rest of us wandered over to the north side and enjoyed views of two Purple Sandpipers and c.20 Turnstones feeding along the concrete walls of the kart track. A single Ringed Plover and single Sanderling were also seen with numerous Redshanks in the same area. Out to sea c.30 Eiders were picked up, ther highlights being a single Great Crested Grebe, a Grey Seal and very distant Common Scoters.

Purple Sandpiper, North Shore, Blackpool. 23/02/13
After all the fun of Blackpool we decided to head away from the Fylde and north over the River Wyre to the Eagland Hill area to look for a blue phase Lesser Snow Goose that's been in the area for a few weeks. Well, we certainly tried hard, and despite grilling a large flock of Pink-footed Geese for the best part of one and a half hours we failed to find it. All was not lost as a female Merlin, Buzzards, Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings and Tree Sparrows were all seen. At 3.30p.m it was time to head back to Edge Hill and although it was freezing cold day, and in some ways hard work, we'd done okay. If ever you do decide to get over to the Fylde (or north to the Wyre area) do look on the Fylde Bird Club website (link on the blog home page) - it really is rather good.
At home tea was ready and my good pal Jeremy Squire (he of Loch Leven/Isle of May fame) arrived armed with beer. Roast lamb was enjoyed and we headed to the Hop Vine in Burscough to test some of the own brewed ales. Very good it was to. After a few pints of Mere Blonde an idea to head back to Eagland Hill was hatched, and after a Jaegerbomb (yeah, I know - the barmaid made us.....) the plan was confirmed.
So this morning we headed back up to Eagland Hill and searched through all manner of Pink-footed Geese (neck collar LPU as seen), but no blue snow. Corn Buntings were singing and good views of Grey Partridge, Yellowhammers, Barn Owl and Hares were enjoyed. It was great having a really friendly chat with the farmer from Birk's farm - a decent bloke. With time pressing (Jeremy had a cat to feed in Gloucestershire) we pressed on and searched the local area for geese (huge flocks could be seen erupting in to the sky and heading back down again). Near to Cumming Carr Jeremy spotted a big flock of Black-headed Gulls he fancied scoping through and so we pulled over and he proceeded with his larophile activities while I sedately scoped a huge flock of distant Pink-feet (maybe 8000 in one flock). It all came good though, as I picked up the blue snow lurking in the flock and I even managed to take worst dodgydigi shots of any species ever (all this while having my worst headache ever - perhaps Jaeger bombing does cause damage?).

If you look closely you'll see the blue pahse Lesser Snow Goose in this the world's worst ever bird photograph (and lord knows I've given it some competition), near Cumming Carr, Wyre. 24/02/13.

Jeremy was pleased and the dilemma of getting to Gloucestershire's hungriest cat seemed to be less of a dilemma. The flock kept flushing and we headed onto the A6 and then M6 south with a brew in mind. Jeremy is a keen reserve lister and suddenly insisted we pull off the M6 to visit the Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve at Brockholes, I explained I couldn't see the attraction but he's a persistent lad and soon we were on site sifting through a flock of c.1200 Black-headed Gulls. It proved to be worth it as I picked up two breeding plumage Mediterranean Gulls in the flock. Not a bad morning, it topped off a decent weekend. Good fun was had by all and as I write this I'm assured that the cat got fed by one of the UK's top Jaegerbombers.
Breeding plumage Mediterranean Gull, Brockholes LWT. 24/02/13

Friday, 22 February 2013

Mersey paradise

This morning I headed out towards Warrington with Frank Whitney. First stop was Moore nature reserve where we searched for the resident male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We didn't wait long as he was feeding in the trees adjacent to the car park (we got there 07.45, LSW on show from 08.10). I managed a couple of distant record shots (see below), but more inportantly I enjoyed watching him go about his business. He flew off towards the bigger wood along Lapwing Lane and could be heard drumming. We had a quick look for Willow Tits at the feeding station but none showed so we headed off over to the northern bank of the Mersey to view the gull roost on Richmond Bank.

Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Moore nature reserve, Warrington. 22/02/13.

Frank admits to never really having paid  much attention to gulls so I was a little worried about taking him along for some dedicated gull watching. Things looked good within five minutes of settling down though as I picked up a fine first winter Glacous Gull, a really big, heavy looking beast, I understand it's been on show most days recently.

First winter Glaucous Gull at Richmond Bank, River Mersey. 22/02/13.
Earlier in the week Pete Kinsella had mentioned that he might be at Richmond Bank today, so it was no suprise when he text to let me know he was there, Frank and I met up with him and it was worth having Pete's sharp eyes as he picked up three adult Yellow-legged Gulls (other observers claimed up to eight Yellow-legged Gulls) anongst the enormous flocks of Herring Gulls. A strange first winter beast was picked up by Pete, a giant of a bird with pale primaries, almost certainly a Glaucous Gull x Herring Gull. It has to be said that I'm getting softer as I get older and I really felt the cold today and was seriously considering jacking it in until Pete picked up an Iceland Gull - a nice second winter bird, a lovely looking specimen. A second Iceland Gull quickly followed (a first winter) and a third, another second winter bird, soon after that. The birds all flushed and I took the decision to head home to try and get warm (Frank came back to Burscough, we left Pete there....). A fantastic three and half hours at Richmond Bank, well worth the effort and getting cold for.
Second winter Iceland Gull (above and below) at Richmond Bank, River Mersey. 22/02/13.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Hawfinch heaven

Nipped over to North Wales with Pete Kinsella yesterday. Started off staring at the sea off Llandulas. Thousands of of Common Scoters bobbing about with small, dispersed groups of Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes, Red-throated Divers,  Razorbills and Guillemots out there. Two Fulmars drifted through, the Common Scoters just couldn't care less, simply bobbing, bobbing and bobbing about. Occasionally they dived, some of the more radical ones flew short distances and some even engaged in display, the males dancing across the water. After 45 or so miutes of staring Pete declared 'Surfie' and of course he was spot on; a fine male Surf Scoter gently drifting through the flock of his more common relatives. Closer inspection revealed a second male Surfie - result. Frozen and scotered out we headed inland to the Clocaenog forest and the mast at Craig Bron Bannog. On arrival me met a couple of local birders who suggested we shouldn't bother as it was a bit misty up there. Ever intrepid we ignored them and headed up to the top. Of course they were right, we had good views of our hands but little else in thick, swirling mist. No Great Grey Shrike and certainly no displaying Goshawks. Nevermind, always next time.
So, off we headed to look for Hawfinches at Llanbedr-y-cennin in the Conwy valley. The usual Ravens and Buzzards were the only birds of note on the journey. We parked up and exchanged pleasantries with a local birder at Llanbedr, agreeing to give each other the nod if we bumped into any Hawfinches. Pete and I searched the churchyard and failed, heading up the road where the local birder beckoned us over; he'd jsut seen six feeding on the deck. Excellent. Eventually we picked a couple up flitting in the trees and one obligingly fed on the deck. Others were calling constanting in a thick stand of yews, and we were delighted to watch one singing (a behaviour tick for me in the UK.....). Three more local birders joined us and I walked up the road a little and picked up at least ten Hawfinches in treetops, these flew  over the valley towards Caerhun, the ten proved to be twelve. These were quickly followd by another eight and eventually three more. Amazingly 23 Hawfinches in total, very pleasing.

One of 23 Hawfinches at Llanbedr-y-cennin, Conwy. 20/02/13.

Assessing our options we choose Llanfairfechan and spent an hour or so scanning the sea with a single Slavonian Grebe being the most notable species, others species observed including Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes, six Eiders and a single Gannet. We picked up a Dipper  diving busily on the stream and declared end of play. Not a bad day out. I'll have to nip back to the mast, I can always combine that with a Black Grouse jolly.....

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Dawn, distraction, dusk

Today was the last coordinated Lancashire wide pink-footed goose count of the winter and I made sure I got to Marshside to count the Ribble roost before dawn. A beautiful, cloudless, windless, frosty morning with a superb birding to match. A couple of grey partridges were shouting in the darkness, with numerous oystercatchers squabbling across the road on Rainford's lagoon, this was drowned out by the incessant, eager whistling of drake wigeon - one of the finest sounds of this part of the Lancashire coast. As dawn broke pink-feet began to leave the roost at the mouth of the Crossens channel, most of them drifting less then a mile onto the NNR at Banks, I ended up counting 2725. Another species very much in evidence on the estuary mudflats was cormorant, two roosts at the edge of Marshside contained 1520 birds; these had all dispersed, mostly out to  sea, by 07.30. The local great white egret lazily flapped past me at 07.40. Carl Winkley joined me and we enjoyed good, but distant, views of both male and female hen harriers over Crossens outer marsh, as well as a buzzard and two merlins. A flock of c.1300 golden plovers, along with numerous black-tailed godwits, wigeon and teal put on the usual stunning aerial spectacle; Marshside at it's best.

I needed to thaw out and at 09.30 I nipped for a brew to Uncle John's in suburbam Marshside and while there recieved a call from Martin McDerby regarding a 'funny grebe' a pal of his had seen on Fairclough's pool. Soon after RSPB warden Alex text me she'd just seen a female long-tailed duck on Fairclough's; 'funny grebe' ID solved. I nipped down and enjoyed good views of the duck, along with several othe local birders; Colin Bushell, Neill Hunt, Mike Stocker, John Mercer and latterly Ron Jackson (see Ribble Estuary Nature facebook page for some excellent video footage of the bird filmed by Ron). The long-tail (don't say that on the Isle of Man) seems to be the Fairhaven bird and was first seen by novice birder Alan Spencer - thanks Alan! A pleasant distraction.

Female long-tailed duck Rimmers marsh, RSPB Marshside, Lancashire. 17/02/13
Rumours of local waxwing sightings had me head along Marine Drive towards Crossens, amazingly I saw five perched next to the roadside near to the 'Welcome to Marshside' sign on the Crossesns/Marshside border (a very real border to those of us who went to school locally....). I parked up and went back to look for them, but alas, they'd moved on. Nevermind, nice to see then even if it was from inside a car at 50mph.
Not very good photo of a distant male hen harrier, Crossen outer marsh, Lancashire. 17/02/13

I managed to get out again late afternoon and headed up the road to Martin Mere. Concious of the fading light I had a quick look from swan link and counted 73 oystercatchers and 9 avocets. I headed to Millers birdge and checked the gull roost; 2450 there - eveyone a black-headed. 91 ruff and 8 black-tailed godwits were mixed in with the gulls and 760 lapwings were flushed over woodend marsh, distantly 3 buzzards and a marsh harrier headed to roost. Alone, I enjoyed watching the pink-feet whiffle in during a spectacular sunset. Dusk descended with a soundtrack of thousands of watefowl. Bliss.

Black-headed gulls flushed on Vinsons marsh, Martin Mere. 17/02/13
Whiffling pink-feet over Sunleys marsh. Martin Mere. 17/03/13

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Slimbridge Festival of Birds

I've been busy all week and not had a chance to get out birding, but I enjoyed last weekend helping out down at the Slimbridge Festival of Birds. It's an annual festival, that's always well put together, well attended and is a great oppurtunity for WWT staff and volunteers to come together and show lots of people lots of birds. I presented my talk 'Birding the Ribble Coast & Wetlands' on both days and spent the rest of the time heping out showing birds to visitors; no great hardship with that! I really enjoyed spending a bit of time with some good friends and it was ace having sunshine on Sunday. Birding highlights were a couple of Bitterns, three Tundra Bean Geese (two adults and a 1st winter), 216 Eurasian White-fronted Geese, 200 plus Bewick's swans and a the usual Dumble and Tack Piece waterfowl show. A great place for some winter birding, if you haven't been this winter get yourself down there soon before the White-fronts and Bewick's start to head back over the North Sea.....
 One of the Slimbridge Bitterns. 27/01/13

Bewick's Swan on the Rushy Pen, Slimbridge. 27/01/13
Treecreeper, Slimbridge. 27/01/13
Rainbow over the Tack piece, Slimbridge. 27/01/13
Two Tundra Bean Geese with Eurasian White-fronted Geese at Slimbridge. 27/01/13
Drake Aythya hybrid, probably Ferruginous Duck x Pochard, Slimbridge. 27/01/13