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.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Glorious Glos

I've been working down at Slinbridge for the last couple of days and chaired a meeting for most of that time. Some of the subject matter was a little dry, but it was great to have useful discussions on the future of managing captive Baer's Pochards and wether or not they'll contribute to any future conservation breeding projects. Excellent contributions from my ace colleagues made it even more interesting.

Being away from home when a storm rages is a rare occurrence and not much fun, plenty of damage to Burscough while I was away, including our back gates being trashed; at least we didn't have our back door smashed in....

The game at Goodison was cancelled so at least I'll get to go to that game! Sitting having a pint with a Kopite colleague as their score was coming in wasn't ideal to be honest, especially while worrying about the family at home.

The meeting today was lively to say the least and as chair I managed to get one of the best seats - overlooking the Tack Piece, a flooded area of wet grassland. It was seething with huge flocks of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Teal and Wigeon, with a supporting cast of European White-fronts, Bewick's Swans and a group of four Common Cranes. Peter Scott's avian Serengeti in action! These were occasional distractions while discussing the merits of colour marking wildfowl.

Post meeting I was keen to get home prior to the next storm predicted for Friday. However, I took little detour and armed with fine directions from Martin McGill I headed to Shirehill Farm in South Glos to search out the Red-flanked Bluetail that's recently taken up residence alongside Broodmead Brook. I was fortunate to see this amazing little bird (similar size to a Robin) straightaway and although it must be familiar with the hail storms it encountered today, on its Taiga breeding grounds, I'm sure it'd be much happier wintering somewhere in South Asia. It did seem to enjoy the mealworms but down for it though! A beautiful bird and I'm glad I went to have a look at it; the last one I saw was in Finland several years back.

I was able to reflect on its beauty and I slowly trudged up the M5/M6 this evening. Birding certainly does create memories of great birds and great places that can be called on during more humdrum and routine times.

Raven over Shirehill Farm this afternoon


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Keeping it local on World Wetlands Day

Jon Bowen and Martin McDerby met me at home this morning with a view to getting out for a day of local birding. We set off at 8a.m. and had flock on c.120 Fieldfares along Red Cat Lane - biggest flock there this winter. 40 Corn Buntings and 75 Linnets showed well down Curlew Lane, where scanning the regular Whooper and Mute Swan flock failed to reveal a Bewick's Swan, a Black Swan there was hardly consolation!

A cloud of Lapwings, distantly over Martin Mere, betrayed the presence of a predator and sure enough a Peregrine was lazily soaring over the cloud of c.3500 Lapwings. A Merlin whizzed past and a Little Egret flew by as we studied the masses of distant Pink-footed Geese feeding on Tarlscough Moss. Scanning the goose flock revealed at least five Barnacle Geese, presumably some of the 35 I saw at Martin Mere on Saturday (prior to shooting off to Goodison to enjoy a fine 2.1 victory over the Villa; what a superb free kick from Mirallas!). Several Stock Doves scooted about, some hares frolicked and a pair of Grey Partridges carelessly rasped, failing to evade us. A brief trip across Green Lane at Holmes produced Red-legged Partridges, another Little Egret, some Whooper Swans on the big irrigation pond and a very confiding Corn Bunting.

Lock Lane at Sollom and heading towards Bretherton over the Douglas was a little disappointing with views of Reed Buntings and a Nuthatch at the back of Bank Hall were the only birds of note. A fine pair of elderly English Setters had lost none of the aloof nobility this breed exhibits. Lovely dogs.

A breakfast stop at TC's on the bypass was appreciated - nice one Martin! Next productive stop was the beach accessed from Weld Road at Birkdale (although a Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier on the Coast Road was noted). It often amazes me how dopey folk are when it comes to the coast - it's as if folk have no concept of either tides or weather. Some of the cars had been parked in perilous places and the mercy of the tide.

                                                 Time and tide wait for no one

The tide pushed up plenty of small birds out of the rapidly expanding saltmarsh. A flock of 75 Twite was the highlight, they didn't settle but did fly straight overhead calling beautifully. Taffy was keen to get good views of the wader roosts, although the high tide made access a little difficult. He and I waded through one of the tidally filled ponds, getting soaked in the process, much to Martin's amusement (he retired back towards the car park......).

Views of wader flocks on Birkdale Sands
If you look closely you can see how damp Jon's legs are

Channel draining the Green Beach at Birkdale. 

             Male Stonechat on the Green Beach at Birkdale (taken with iPhone through telescope).

The jolly onto the sands was very productive and well worth the trek and soaking. Martin was waiting back at the car and we headed off to Lunt for our last stop of the day.

Lunt is a small village close to the River Alt and partnership project between Environment Agency, Forestry Commision and Lancashire Wildlife Trust has created an interesting flood relief area that doubles as a nature reserve. The site became famous recently due to a range of Neolithic artefacts being found during excavation. Lunt Meadows is watched over by a dedicated band of local birders and wildlife photographers who have been finding and documenting an interesting range of species over the past couple over years. We certainly enjoyed our visit late this afternoon with the highlights being a ringtail Hen Harrier, eight Kestrels, six Buzzards, two Sparrowhawks, a Barn Owl, a Short-eared Owl, three Little Egrets and numerous skeins of Pink-footed Geese. A wonderful site and it'll be great to see it develop.

A motley crew at Lunt Meadows (L-R Phil Boardman, Jamie Tookey, Bri Jones, Martin McDerby, Jon Bowen - and Chins Jamie's dog)

Poor record shot of this evenings ringtail Hen Harrier (Jon Bowen got some good shots). 

So, all in all a pretty good day. Good fun, good birds. Thanks to Jon Bowen for driving and Martin McDerby for catering).




Saturday, 25 January 2014

Swanning about taking it easy

First bird action of the day was a female Blackcap in the garden, only the second ever winter record here; the first being a a male last week; they seem to love the fatballs.

I set out birding and headed to Curlew Lane to look for two Patchwork Challenge targets species; Grey Partridge and Bewick's Swan.  The first birds I saw and heard were a group of Corn Buntings, Curlew Lane is an excellent, year round site for this local speciality. the next species heard was a group of rasping Grey Partridges, I stood still next to the car and sure enough a covey of twelve revealed themselves in a weedy carrot field across the road on Burscough Moss - lovely birds, another local speciality. As I watched the Partridges a flock of 65 Skylarks flew past and a large herd of a Whooper Swans was constantly growing up at the Rufford end of the lane. 

   Pair of Grey Partridges. Burscough Moss. 25/01/14. 

At the top end of the lane the Whooper Swan where in the usual place,  grazing on winter wheat. I scanned through and was delighted to pick up my second target bird, a smashing adult Bewick's Swan, presumably the same bird that has been visiting the local WWT for free wheat handouts and stinky potatoe meals. Nice to see it in the 'wild' though, along with 256 Whooper Swans and 16 Mute Swans. One of the  Whooper Swans was orange-legged, rarer than Bewick's Swan which it obligingly stood next to.

Bewick's Swan with Whooper Swans near Rufford. 25/01/14.

Orange-legged Whooper Swan and Bewick's Swan near Rufford. 25/01/14.

After enjoying watching the Swans I headed over to Mere Sands Wood for a walk.  Nothing rare or unusually there, the usual species in the usual places. I enjoyed watching the ducks, and it was fascinating to watch a young Grey Heron literally and metaphorically make a meal of a frog. 

 Grey Heron trying to eat a frog at Mere Sands Wood.

Drake Eurasian Teal at Mere Sands Wood. 

Female Goosander at Mere Sands Wood. 

After Mere Sands Wood I dodged the heavy downpours and took Marty out across the local stubble field (off Red Cat Lane) and we flushed a superb total of 67 Yellowhammers. 

The final birding of the day was a very brief visit to Martin Mere to look for Tawny Owls, I did see one,  albeit poor and briefly.  Beaten by the cold and wind I popped into Infocus to see Andy and compare Patchwork notes.......

I shall try again tomorrow! 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Quicky in the sun

Nipped out for a few minutes this morning while the sun shone. I parked down Curlew Lane and soked up the singing Corn Buntings on the telegraph wires - a lovely sound from a rather dull, if enigmatic bird. As usual plenty of Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese on both Tarlscough Moss and Burscough Moss; no time to look through them though. Good to chat to Andy Bunting who pulled over. Andy gave me some ideas regarding the patchwork challenge recording area. Cheers Andy! 

 A typical West Lancs drive past view of Corn Buntings.....

A very quick walk (more exercise than birding) around Mere Sands Wood was great in the sun. Bird highlights were the usual gathering of wildfowl and a Chiffchaff roving about with a big flock of Long-tailed Tits, which also contained Goldcrests and a Treecreeper. Bull finches were showing well at the Lancaster hide and I managed a couple of reasonable shots (for me anyway!). Bumped into a lad who works at Tesco in Burscough, he was carrying a pair of bins and so I pointed out the Chiffchaff to him. Turns out he's on a conservation course at Myerscough College and is doing a study of the Red Squirrels in the wood -ace! He was telling me he's from Kenya, nice chap, hope his studies get him out of Tesco.... 

Male Bullfinch

Female Bullfinch

Male Chaffinch

A new dog breed for the year in the wood; a pair of Gordon Setters. Also a Manchester Terrier as I was driving home through Rufford; 85 on the dog year list - sad but true. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Wonderful WeBS day

As I was driving across the moos to the count site this morning I was distracted by a spindly legend jogger - it was my old mucker Sinesy.  I pulled over and he mentioned an funny animal he'd seen dead on the pavement up the road.  We set off to look for it and duly found and particularly we'll rotted and rancid medium sized mustelid.  We had a good look at it and concluded it was a Mink - have a look at the photo and see what you think.

Rancid Mink? Or some other rotting mustelid?

I dropped Jim off and headed across New Cut Lane counting 180 Whooper Swans on the moss there,  couldn't stop though - waders to count.

It was truly beautiful weather today on the Lancashire Coast at Birkdale; I'm not using the dodgy 1970s rebranding " The Sefton Coast", either the Lancashire Coast or Southport Coast for me! Anyway, little wind, no rain and warm sunshine makes for good WeBS counting weather and also good weather for locals to get out and about walking dogs.  

Chris Hughes joined me on my BIrkdale sector and Dave Fletcher headed towards Southport Pier and Brian Hopkins took care of AInsdale.  A group of 60 PInk-footed Geese on the rapidly expanding green beach were typical of a growing trend and a male Stonechat was good to see. 

Chris and I headed south along the beach enjoying the warm sunshine in our faces and enjoyed watching the growing wader roost we were tasked to count.  Count we did,  the following totals adding to an enjoyable walk;  Dunlin 5130,  Knot 2780,  Sanderling 173, Grey Plover 374,  Bar-tailed Godwit 230 and Oystercatcher 745. No Cormorants was a major surprise give the regular four figure counts over the past couple of winters, but I did notice reports of big numbers in the RIbble counted on the Fylde side by Stephen Dunstan recently. A Merlin blasted through putting all the waders up and I was pleased to see a couple of dog walkers show real restraint and stop their dogs charging through the flocks - made a nice change.

One of the dog walkers leaving the wader roost alone today

Waders coming into the roost thick  and fast


Post counting I drove Marshside and regretted not being able to marvel at the water bird spectacle (I see Chris Fyles had two drake Hen Harriers there this afternoon),  I felt the same way as I drove down Fish Lane noticing thousands of PInk-feet on Tarlscough Moss - can't count everything or look through every flock through eh? This did remind me though what a bird rich are I'm in the middle of; I wouldn't swap it for anywhere in the world.

Headed out again with the family this afternoon and took a walk down Southport Pier. Lovely. 

from Southport Pier looking south

Pier tram

Mrs C and the rascals

Marine Lake bridge

Looking towards Marshside from the Pier

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Piscivores Park

Hesketh Park is one of my old 1970s playgrounds, a great place for a good mess about then and now. The only scarce bird I've ever seen in there was a Yellow-browed Warbler found by Dominic Rigby back in the late 1980s. I still nip,in there from time to time usually with the kids, as their is a decent and clean playground. Anyway, I was on an errand is Southport yesterday so I had half an hour pottering in the park, I was keen to see the Goosander that's been on the lake since November; it wasn't hard to find - tucked up on the bank, fast asleep with mallards. 

Goosander, Hesketh Park, Southport. 15/01/14. 

Cormorants are are one of those birds that seem to split opinion; folk either seem to love them or loathe them. I'm okay with them, they bring back happy childhood memories of counting them on the breakwater in Southport Marine Lake when I was a lad. They're certainly doing well locally, WeBS counts of well over 2000 in the Ribble nowadays, I expect to see over 1000 in my sector on the beach at Birkdale during the WeBS count this coming Sunday. Great to see some in the park, I guess they and the Goosander are finding plenty of fish in the lake. 

One of the happy and fulfilled Cormorants on Hesketh Park lake. 15/01/14. 

The final fish eater showing on the lake was a fine breeding plumage Grey Heron, no doubt looking to be fit for the soon to commence laying season. 

Grey Heron, Hesketh Park. 15/01/14. 

The park also proved, as ever, to be popular with dog walkers and I added Wire-haired Fox Terrier, Shar pei, Akita, Yorkshire Terrier and German short-haired Pointer to my canine year list - just over 60 if you're interested! 

A very brief stop at Marshside on the way home provided me with distant views of the Lind staying first winter Ross's Goose and the most amazing bird spectacle, with thousand and thousands of waterfowl covering the flooded fields of Marshside and Crossens. 

 Ross's Goose RSPB Marshside. 15/01/14. 

A small part of the Marshide spectacle

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Funny ducks, funny day

Nipped down the road to Martin Mere again today for work reasons. I had a chat with a couple of the staff about a neurotic crowned-crane and a young flamingo. Generally all good though. I took a couple snaps while I wandered around, while doing so I noticed a familiar hybrids duck that I've seen on Southport Marine lake a couple of time and also at Martin Mere earlier this winter. He's a funny looking beast and I'm certain he's a mallard x red-crested pochard hybrid. 

Drake mallard x red-crested pochard hybrid (free-flying and not of WWT origin) Martin Mere 14/01/14. 

Captive drake bufflehead. My favourite duck species, beautiful, tiny and full of character. I've seen them in the USA a few times. 

Juvenile drake comb duck (captive, Martin Mere).

Grey crowned-crane (captive, Martin Mere).

As usual when I'm at Martin Mere I nipped into the Infocus shop to say hello to Andy Bunting and get the up to date reserve info. Andy was otherwise engaged but it was a pleasure to bump into Chris Galvin from Opticron (top man - a birding Evertonian!) who was demonstrating a new Opticron product - a tiny ED zoom scope. I had a look at it and I have to say I was very impressed. Do take a look when you're next in Infocus. 

Chris Galvin showing off his brilliant new Opticron product. 

I finished my duties at Martin Mere and headed over to Mere Sands Wood for a lunchtime walk, adding pied wagtail, great black-backed gull and chiffchaff to the Patchwork Challenge year list. Plenty of goosanders, gadwalls and over 400 teal present so a pleasant walk. Also had nice views of nuthatch, some of the other common woodland birds and a cracking Dandie Dinmont Terrier (dog year list now on 59) 

Nuthatch at Mere Sands Wood. 14/01/14. 

Monday, 13 January 2014

Fatballs, hoodies, spuds and mud

I looked up from my computer screen this morning and noticed some movement on my fatballs out in the garden; a male Blackcap was eagerly picking away at the fatballs, much to my delight. I've had a couple of singing spring migrants briefly in the garden but this male was the first winter record for the garden in over ten years of being here. Nice. 

Male Blackcap (taken through conservatory glass)

Late morning I nipped down the road to Martin Mere to meet with staff there and discuss some work stuff. I took the opportunity to use my dinner break there and enjoyed watching the captive Hooded Mergansers displaying - mentalists! 

Drake Hooded Merganser doing his stuff

Same Hoody, different angle

After enjoying the Hooded Mergansers I popped into the Infocus shop for a chat with Andy Bunting to discuss Patchwork Challenge. Then on to have a look at the Whoopers from the Hale hide. Lots there feeding on waste spuds donated by local farmers. Some of them get rather dirty....

Filthy faced Whooper.

King of the castle?