BIRDING THE LUNE ESTUARY THE FOREST OF BOWLAND AND BEYOND....................................................................................KESTREL AT COCKERSAND IAN MITCHELL

Sunday 3 December 2023

Winners And Losers.

After the first hand report about Snow Bunting and Little Owl at Cockersand on Tuesday, I ended the week having made two follow up visits there to draw a blank on the bunting and the owl. On all three visits the weather was excellent, but Tuesday was exceptional though cold, and with a flat calm sea I reckon it was the best day ever at Cockersand, to be there with the wind speed at nil verges on unique. 

Though I was hoping the fly-past of swans where going to have yellow bills, but the Mute Swans skimming inches over the flat calm sea was brilliant.

I only clocked 2 Stonechat at Cockersand, being the busy pair foraging along the marsh edge. Also of note, 15 Blackbird seen on the circuit and 2 Song Thrush.

Up to 100 Golden Plover were scattered through four fields with 7 Black-tailed Godwit, 9 Snipe took flight out of a ditch along Moss Lane. Passerines seen, 11 Greenfinch, 7 Goldfinch, 5 Reed Bunting, and 4 Wren, 11 Eider were off Plover Scar. The count of swans at Cockersand in two fields now stands at in excess of 300 Whooper Swan

Up to 345 geese dominated Conder Pool on Friday, with up to 235 Greylag and 110 Canada Geese, also 85 Wigeon and 9 Little Grebe seen. The Stonechat pair also put on a show for me. On the Lune Estuary following a tip off, I made haste there to count an impressive at least 2,000 Black-tailed Godwit.

Some you win, some you loose!


Simon Hawtin sent me two excellent upland records of 10 Stonechat, seen as 7 on a circuit of Tarnbrook 28 November, and 3 below Ward Stone 2 December. 

Stonechat 2 December. Simon Hawtin

Lowland Stonechat records to also qualify as excellent, are those of 9 Stonechat at four locations 30 November AC, and 10 Stonechat at two locations 1 December FB....Fylde Bird Club 

Stonechat. Helen Hawtin.
Simon Hawtin sent me an image of a male Stonechat at Grisedale Bridge earlier in the year, it was taken by his daughter with a phone camera. I particularly like the picture as it has the quality of a painting as opposed to a photograph.

Thanks to Ian Mitchell for the header image of the female Kestrel at Cockersand. Ian says....'not a very good picture because looking into the sun'....I don't readily agree with Ian's criticism.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Cockersand News.

Little Owl Abbey Farm 10 November 2014. Pete Woodruff.

At Cockersand yesterday, the amazing record of a Little Owl. Amazing because this is the first record of Little Owl at Cockersand as far as I am aware since I last saw one 9 years ago.

Snow Bunting Cockersand 28 Nov. John Whittle.

Two Snow Bunting were seen off Lighthouse Cottage. Thanks to John for news and image.

1st Winter Merlin Cockersand 12 October. Ian Mitchell.

Merlin seen yesterday also at Cockersand. A female, probably the same bird seen 12 October. Thanks to Maurice for the news.

Sunday 26 November 2023

Chats On The Starter Menu....

....and a raptor to finish with on the sweet menu!

What a lovely sunny if cold day on Friday to find 7 Stonechat, with two found on Conder Pool, two foraging along the marsh by Cockersand Caravan Park, one on roadside fence posts Moss Lane, and two along the bulrushes behind Lighthouse Cottage. AC found the mate of my loner on Moss Lane, so proof of four pairs wintering in the Lune Estuary area.

Stonechat Moss Lane 24 November

Also noted on Conder Pool, 20 Tufted Duck, 5 Goosander, and Little Grebe.

Little Grebe Conder Pool. Ian Mitchell.

Ian Mitchell caught on camera conclusive proof the Little Grebe catch Sticklebacks like there's no tomorrow, and play with them until they can swallow head first so the spines don't snag on the throat.

On the Lune at Glasson, up to 650 Golden Plover and 620 Black-tailed Godwit which was up to half the number seen on my last visit here last Tuesday. A Raven was overhead at close range.

As I approached Cockersand along Moss Lane, a Buzzard was close by in a tree, but took offence to me and flew off as I pulled up to grab a pik. My records read, the circuit was a huge success, if only because I found 5 Stonechat here. Otherwise, just 3 Wren, 2 Meadow Pipit, and a lone Greenfinch got into my little black book.

But hey, the visit ended with a bang....As I watched a Stonechat pair foraging the marsh edge, a Hen Harrier ringtail burst onto the scene, it quartered low over the marsh 50 metres out for several minutes before I eventually lost it to view heading to Cockerham Marsh....Heck!

Thanks to Simon Hawtin for his stunning Hen Harrier header image.


Wheatear Cockersand 25 November 2022. Pete Woodruff.

Twelve months yesterday since I found this little beauty on detritus at Cockersand. 

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Eleven Days Later.

When I finally got out yesterday, it had been 11 days since I'd had a wander around the estuary, and in my book the day started well with the sight of a Stonechat in the east corner of Conder Pool. This looks like a bird from a possible 4 pairs set to winter in the area around the Lune Estuary....time will tell. A lone Tree Sparrow was in the hedgerow by the viewing screen.

A stunning female Kingfisher soon followed the chat to oblige and pose for a picture. If the volume in the video is full on, the winnowing call of one of 10 Little Grebe is heard towards the end prior to the Kingfisher leaving the scene.

On arriving at the bowling green to view the estuary, to be honest I was overwhelmed by the sight of up to 5,000 waders in view. Making life even more difficult, there was also a raptor - probably an undetected Peregrine Falcon - in hunting mode. Up to 2,000 Lapwing and 1,500 Black-tailed Godwit, with good numbers of Golden Plover, Curlew, Redshank, and Dunlin. A drake Goldeneye, 4 Goosander, and a Great-crested Grebe were of note, also 4 Shoveler are at best irregular here.

On the canal basin, 24 Tufted Duck and a drake Goosander seen, with not a Goldeneye in sight, a favoured location for the winter visitor.

Driving along Moss Lane with a vehicle behind, I noted c.40 Fieldfare in trees. At Cockersand, I struggled to find 3 Stonechat, two were working their way along the bulrushes in the ditch off Slack Lane, and after two visits to the rough field behind Lower Bank House, I eventually found another Stonechat. I also saw a pair of Chaffinch....Can't remember when I last saw Chaffinch at Cockersand!

Along a length of c.1/4 mile, I estimated at least 2,500 Wigeon in rafts stretching from Plover Scar to the Cocker Estuary. In a field by Abbey Farm, 130 Curlew seen. This winters peak count of 245 Whooper Swan was opposite Gardners Farm off Moss lane.

Whooper Swan Thurnham 19 Nov. Howard Stockdale.

Howard sent me the image of Whooper Swan W43C. Ringed a little over 3 months ago at Miklavatn, Skagafjorour, Iceland, 14 August 2023. Having flown 1,600km to be seen for the first time in Thurnham on 19 November....Thanks Howard, much appreciated. 

Sunday 12 November 2023

Conder & Cocker.

A bit of action on Conder Pool Friday....As I stepped on to the viewing platform, a Barn Owl was disappearing below the far bank and hedgerow, to reappear and do the same again. I never saw the owl after that as I was distracted by the appearance of the Kingfisher which perched on the prop by the sluice. 

The best of three counts on Conder Pool resulted in 14 Little Grebe seen, with 3 Goosander, 2 Snipe, and my first Goldeneye of the winter, later 2 Goldeneye were on the Canal Basin at Glasson Dock.

Stonechat Female Moss Lane. Howard Stockdale.

At Cockersand, I found 5 Stonechat on the visit, two were working their way along the ditch by the junction of Moss/Slack Lane, two more were also working along the ditch off Slack Lane behind Lighthouse Cottage, and the fifth was seen in the rough field behind Lower Bank House. With recent reports and a little inside info, I would suggest there could be up to 5 pairs/10 Stonechat currently looking to winter around the Lune Estuary. 

Whilst watching the Stonechat at Lower Bank House, I saw a Red Admiral fly across the field....A note in my records reads, 7 Red Admiral seen 19 November 2022, and I found a record of Red Admiral on 19 December in Rossendale on a search of the Butterfly Conservation website.

Up to 120 Whooper Swan were on inland fields again as seen 25 October. I would have had good views of these birds looking to the north off Hillam Lane. I checked a flooded field at the east end of Moss Lane which held a few hundred gulls, to find a Ruff.


In recent years the Sanderling has been referred to as an uncommon passage migrant at both seasons and a rare winter visitor....The Birds of Lancaster & District 2021

Sanderling. Martin Jump.

On Tuesday 7 November,  I received the report of 15 Sanderling on the shore off Lighthouse Cottage, Cockersand. An excellent record of a wader nothing more than rare north of the Fylde Coast, and certainly rarely if ever recorded on the Lune Estuary in winter. I have never recorded the Sanderling from Cockersand upstream on the River Lune in any season other than during spring/autumn passage.

Thanks to Howard Stockdale for the Stonechat, and to Martin Jump for his monochrome header image of Plover Scar, and the Sanderling from his archives.

My Kind Of Birding.
If I was asked to give an example of what I like about birding. I wouldn't hesitate to show this video of c.2,000 Knot which were seen coming in to land on the beach off Sandylands Promenade last week.

The footage was made in the fading light of Sunday, and the Knot gave an impressive show not least because of the tightly packed flock, with a view of the Stone Jetty at Morecambe, and the Lakeland mountains as a backdrop.

Other than never knowing what's next to be found on the bird front, a pleasant hour in pleasant conditions on the promenade, presented some nice photo opportunities. This image of a group on the shore at Heysham gave the feeling of a relaxing walk on the beach in moonlight.

As the skies cleared behind the stormy clouds, a fraction of the numerous 'love'em or loath'em' wind turbines out in the Irish Sea, gave a slightly surreal feeling, some of which were dropping below the horizon....So the world is round after all!

Sunday 5 November 2023


Well that was exciting....I made two attempts at birding during the week, both of which soon became what can only be referred to as scrappy botched affairs.

Conder Pool still resembles a lake, with the new platform partially sunk again adding to the whole vista currently looking not at all pretty. But a Ruff was with up to 90 Redshank, with a similar number of Teal noted, also two Snipe and 4 Goosander.

On the Lune at Glasson, early winter days, but at least 1,500 Lapwing is my best count to date, also 220 Curlew were below Colloway Marsh waiting to escape the high tide as it rushed in.

Cattle Egret Moss Lane 1 November. Howard Stockdale. 

As I drove along Moss Lane to avoid Wednesdays downpour, 4 Cattle Egret - presumably my 25 October birds - were in fields west of Gardners Farm, and brought to end my double botched birding attempts for the week.

Turnstone Cockersand. Pete Woodruff.

I think the Turnstone is one of the most obliging waders to have a close encounter with. These had no care that I was within a few metres of them.

Thanks to Howard for the Cattle Egret, and to Martin for the header reminder of pleasant summer odonata days....The images are much appreciated.

Ian Mitchell sent me a short video of the beautiful Whooper Swans having returned to winter at Cockersand....Thank You Ian.


Triple-brooded Stonechats.

In years with a 'forward' warm spring, some Stonechats may have three nesting attempts. A notable example was at Sale Fell, Wythop in 1999, when 19 chicks from broods of 6/7/6 were fledged. 

In early April this year, John Callion discovered a territorial pair of Stonechat south of Silloth Dock. Ten further visits to the territory during the summer, had John witnessing seamless timing between clutches which didn't allow for any pair-bond breakdown and replacement of an adult, a behaviour consistent with loyal pairs of breeding Stonechats.

Nest 1. On 17 April, a nest contained 5 eggs which hatched 12 days later on 29 April. The nestlings were colour-ringed on 9 May and fledged 10 days later on 19 May.

Nest 2. On 7 June, John discovered a second nest about 30 metres from the first. This nest contained 6 eggs, of which 5 had hatched 12 days later on 19 June and were duly colour-ringed. These had fledged and were close to the parent birds and nest 10 days later on 29 June.

Nest 3. This third nest was discovered between the two previous nests, and only 15 metres from the first. On 10 July it had 5 eggs, of which 4 hatched and were subsequently colour-ringed 20 days later on 30 July, and had fledged by 6 August.


This extract from John Callion's summary....

Excluding pairing and nest-building, the pair studied had either eggs or young between 11 April and 20 August, by which date the final brood became independent. They were therefore in the breeding process for a total of 132 days. If the time to pair-bond and nest-build is added, it seems likely that these and other Stonechats can potentially be in breeding condition for more than 5 months....Ref: John Callion in Lakeland Naturalist

This article was an education for me, and the summary that the Stonechat can potentially be in breeding condition for in excess of 5 months is a revelation. I am grateful to John Callion for allowing me to publish extracts from his article in Lakeland Naturalist.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Short But Sweet!

The highlights of another spell of pleasant birding around the Lune Estuary, which started well when I found 2 Stonechat in the tall rough at the east end of Conder Pool, they were very busy, and I had feelings of three birds, but it didn't develop any further than that. Five Goosander were the only other birds to highlight here, but I did see a dragonfly too distant to ID, but a Migrant Hawker to record towards the end of October would be my bet against that of a Southern Hawker.

As I turned into Slack Lane at Cockersand, five white objects seen in the top corner of the field opposite Lighthouse Cottage, turned out to be 4 Cattle Egret in company with a Little Egret....Nice!

A walk along the headland produced a nice late October Wheatear, and looking inland from here, I found that at least 120 Whooper Swan had arrived back on their wintering grounds distant in the Thursland Hill area. When I reached the caravan park, I found the first of 2 Stonechat, one in the rough field by Lower Bank House, then the second one seen from the path to Bank End.

This was the Stonechat that can be seen and heard calling in the video which I found interesting. The alarm call is probably related to my presence, though in my experience the Stonechat never give the impression that they are agitated or alarmed by humans outside the breeding season, and certainly not during the winter period. The only other explanation would be of a ground predator around, or maybe just territorial. Incidentally, with regard to the Stonechat singing, only the male sings, and both male and female are virtually silent during the winter. 

October Chats.

It's good to see the upland Stonechat back at lowland sites, where my interest is with those around the Lune Estuary. Andrew Cornall and myself have found a total of 11 Stonechat at Conder Green/Jeremy Lane and Cockersand, I've also collected records of 85 Stonechat from 35 locations during October, predominantly from the Fylde Bird Club sightings page, where the most interesting one was of 9 Stonechat at Fairhaven Dunes 23 October.


I was pleased to hear, John Callion and his dedicated team in Cumbria, have ringed 160 Stonechat nestlings this year....Many Thanks for passing on to me news of this excellent achievement John & Co.   

Wednesday 25 October 2023

The Cockersand Merlin.

Ian Mitchell's sighting of a Merlin on Slack Lane 16 October, is the epitome of 'right place, right time' to take full advantage of what was being seen, and to achieve footage of a bird not only grounded in a winter stubble field, but then seen taking a bath, and then on a fence post. The result of this amazing spectacle is a well deserved ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ video by Ian Mitchell.  

Copyright Ian Mitchell

The Show Goes On.

Regarding my bird found at Cockersand on 12 October, I was contacted by Ian Hartley who found a Merlin at Cockersand 3 days later on 15 October, describing the bird as an adult female. Reading Ian's report on the LDBWS sightings page, and having already found a 1st winter Merlin in the same area of Cockersand, brought about a comment from me on Birds2blog....'In my opinion, the same bird has been seen on two ocassions since my first sighting on 12 October when I aged/sexed it as an immature/female, my description being based on immature Merlin not being separable from female in the field'.

Having seen the post on B2B, Ian offered some explanation about his description, telling me that having compared the videos of my 1st winter Merlin with that of the bird he saw 3 days later, he was convinced they were two different birds. Going on to explain, Ian said 1st winter and adult females can be separated with good views as was the case on 15 October.

The truth is, having taken closer looks at Ian Mitchell's footage, the best feature regarding plumage detail, is that the bird is noticeably much more heavily streaked than an adult female would be, and also less rufous on upperparts which tend to be seen as a richer brown.

I would like to point out, it is generally accepted that most winter Merlin seen in lowland Britain are juvenile/immature/1st winter - take your pick for description -  which adds to my surprise that an adult female had been found at Cockersand in mid-October

It is important to note, there was never any intention to indicate doubt about Ian Hartley's sighting, the post made no such mention of any doubt. In the end, my opinion....'the same bird has been seen on two ocassions since my first sighting on 12 October' now invalid.

Thursday 19 October 2023

The Twite Return.

Monday is best described as sunny and chilly with a flat calm sea at Cockersand. It could also be described as the best mid-October conditions I ever experienced here.  As the coaster Silver River passed the lighthouse, 8 Eider were drifting in the foreground, and as I watched this pleasant and atmospheric scene, waders gathered on Plover Scar at high tide.

Dunlin/Ringed Plover Plover Scar. Pete Woodruff.

I counted 105 Turnstone, 55 Dunlin, 25 Ringed Plover, and a lone Grey Plover. Also of note here, up to 40 Meadow Pipit, and my first 30 Twite of the winter which I'm tempted to suppose are possibly the same flock in the same number as seen several times last winter at Cockersand, 110 Pink-footed Geese were over >south.

I made my third circuit of Cockersand this month, which again resulted with little of note, but in one field a lone Black-tailed Godwit was with 34 Curlew and a similar number of Lapwing, 35 Teal, and 10 Wigeon were on a flood. On a post by Slack Lane, a Kestrel and later 2 Red Admiral seen.

On Conder Pool, I regarded 2 Reed Bunting as unusual here, also 4 Greenshank and 10 Redshank, with a decent count of 24 Tufted Duck and 6 Wigeon, the Little Grebe were uncounted today.

Amongst the few hundred gulls on the Lune Estuary, I picked out 7 Mediterranean Gull, seen as four adult and three 2nd winter, also 3 Greenshank on the south shore.

The Cockersand Merlin.

In my opinion, the same bird has been seen on two ocassions since my first sighting on 12 October when I aged/sexed it as an immature/female, my description being based on immature Merlin not being separable from female in the field. It was seen three days later on 15 October at Cockersand as an adult female, and seen again two days later on October 17 when it was described as a female-type, seen to fly from Sunderland Point to Crook Farm in the Cockersand area, and return to Sunderland Point.  

Ian Mitchell had similar good fortune as me and grabbed some footage of the Merlin at Cockersand on Monday. It was on a fence post following a wash and brush up....I'm pleased you saw the bird and many thanks for sharing this video with me Ian.

Sunday 15 October 2023

Two Favourites And Some Other Birds

My day was already made up when I emerged from the motor by Lighthouse Cottage, and as far as I'm concerned Cockersand delivered once again....Bring it on!

Until I set eyes on the bird perched on the bench near the Lighthouse Cottage, I could have had no idea my circuit of Cockersand was going to start with my favourite raptor the stunning little immature/female Merlin, maybe the bird I saw over Conder Pool 25 September....Three minutes after I got the footage of the Merlin, it took out a wader on Plover Scar and flew inland with the prey.  A couple of hours later, the circuit ended with my favourite passerine, a female Stonechat on Slack Lane, being the first returning bird probably set to winter here.

The walk along the headland didn't produce anything, including no Wheatear which I was hoping for. When I arrived at Bank Houses, up to 350 Black-tailed Godwit were on the shore. As I continued the walk along Moss Lane, a Common Darter flew across the road at shoulder height. 

As with my last visit to Cockersand my notes on the circuit were a bit thin, but as I approached the line of Willows along Slack Lane, I saw a small mix of around 12 Blue Tit, Great Tit, and Long-tailed Tit working their way through, and were eventually seen to have a Chiffchaff tagging along with them.

On Conder Pool, 8 Greenshank, 10 Redshank, a Goosander, 4 Wigeon and a Migrant Hawker. Four Red Admiral were seen on the day.