Thursday, 31 December 2009

Year lists and newsgroups

(Beware - long and rambling New Year edition!)

End of year and time to tot up the species lists! In fact, mine is already done for me on BUBO, as per banner in right menu, a flexible and user-friendly list management service which we debated on LBN about a year ago. My only serious year list is my Lothian self found (BOU) and, hey, I'm the winner (!) - but in truth the only other participant, Geoff, was not able to continue with his list beyond May :( Would have been nice to have others to compare with, though being based nearly entirely on the local area, with zero effort made to go find needed species outside "normal" birding, I couldn't compete e.g. with those who regularly go to the east coast in migration. Indeed I have only two species not seen in East Lothian (GCG – seems very scarce on the sea here, and Green ’Pecker – also apparently now extinct in large areas of northern East Lothian). Two records are included pending acceptance, by LBRC (Gos) and SBRC (YLG). Incidentally, the definition of (the increasingly popular) “self found” may be tricky at times, though the element of “genuine surprise” seems to be key and the punkbirders have laid down some useful ground rules.

On the year list most pleasing for me was finding the family of young Long-eared Owls, having got onto these birds the previous summer but having to abandon as unconfirmed. Stumbling upon the mass arrival of Quails during an owl hunt on 4 July will live long in the memory too, and certainly the number of those fascinating little creatures heard was outstanding, though despite having been within a few yards of a calling bird still haven’t seen one in Scotland!

Worst omissions - Whinchat in summer, of which I had an unconfirmed probable on Garleton (now much regretted!), and Glaucous in winter, plucked out from under my nose on what I consider as my gulls "patch" by Norman (very well done!); indeed I would probably have been able to see it from where I was standing at the time he found it, but it had gone from that spot when I arrived over an hour later, unaware of its finding. Did not feel as bad as it would have were it not for last year's bird at the same location! Closely followed by the second white Snow Goose which had been found twice spanning my visit to the large goose flock at the same place, and moreover would have been a prized “self found” lifer.

In addition to self found, I saw 4 additional species - the regular BNG, the first white Snow Goose, the Yellowlegs and the North Berwick f/imm Black Red last January, so 165 species in all. There is one more list to compare with there, though Tony clearly does not count Feral Pigeon and I suspect has omitted some others (Common Tern?!), so I suspect is the actual winner in that category. Perhaps next year more might join in - all good fun and all the more so if it was a real competition!

Some thoughts on mailing lists and use of information/spammers etc further to recent discussion on LBN. My own view - BirdGuides are a great service, and if you subscribe the searchable records archive is second to none in usability, and I really value access to it (hence I subscribe). And since their basic BirdMap is free to all I have always used them as my main bird info reference - there cannot have been many days in the last few years that I've not checked that map one or several times for info - and whenever I post to LBN any news that had not merited calling in or texting from the field (e.g. after roost observations, or phone had failed) I'm very happy they pick this up, saves me filling in the submission form! The bird info services have all done this for years, ever since the inception of yahoogroups, and there's nothing underhand about it in my opinion - the more news the better, and moreover it is give and take - we all benefit from their info real-time, to some degree, and we also, for example, use the records archive to assist with the Lothian Bird Report species accounts. I’ve always been impressed with RBA who are a highly professional service and always seem to have an excellent understanding of local significance; but sadly I gave up my subs as the web-based records searching facilities were much more limited. Birdline Scotland I would call if I found something good (not too often!) but to the likes of me who is interested in what birds are about but has no need for real-time info to go to see them (the 2004 LSP was my last “twitch”) I don’t feel any need for their telephone news service, and I've never called the hotline since I was a teenager, before there were any alternatives. However, we now have the excellent birdinglothian which provides even more news that is often not accessible on the UK news services (perhaps because some only goes to Birding Scotland?) and personally I welcome that and will support by providing news direct if I can get any. Lothian BirdForum is yet another arena, where good news is shared, and forum groups definitely have an advantage for more discursive stuff, ID queries, (gulls discussion, even – shhhh!!!), etc. Nevertheless my own feeling is that LBN still provides a better focus for all major news, and I prefer to get that by direct email (though you can also "subscribe" to the Lothian BirdForum thread and get any new posts sent by email, in just the same manner; that's fine until it becomes too chatty; no great problem with that on the Lothian forum thus far, it has to be said!). Yet another source of independent local news is provided by the Seabird centre wildlife sightings, a recent example being a Red Kite reported for Peffer Burn, Aberlady, on 23 November, which seems not to have reached any of the other news providers. Finally, news is also kindly provided by text by helpful local birders, and I would hope to reciprocate whenever I can find something worth passing on.

May seem strange I have such an interest in bird news if I’m a non-twitcher type – but to me this info the part of the arsenal of the modern birder – far better to go into the field armed with the knowledge of what’s about, and hence what to be looking out for, than completely unawares. A current example – winter redpolls are presently about in our areas again but the latest gen nationally (UK) is the numbers of Mealy (Common Redpoll) are rather low this year, so perhaps they will be harder to find for now. Likewise with Waxwing. Knowing there are Woodcock around in great numbers is a prompt to get out and tick them for new atlas tetrads. Course on the flip side there is a danger in being too aware of what rarities might be around, if it prompts jumping to wrong conclusions, but on balance it has to be an advantage. Another minor hazard is you can potentially undermine your own self-found list if too aware of local news – indeed I would not be able to count the Yellow-legged Gull (if it gets accepted) had I known that Keith had already found it before I arrived a couple of hours later! But not too much of an issue in practice.

Final reflections on “news provision” and whether it’s working – certainly it's better than it used to be but with so many places to look there is potential for confusion and fragmentation so I think it would be great if everyone made an effort to spread news widely, i.e. not just to a single source others might not check. Whilst I fully accept that no-one has an obligation to pass on news – it’s entirely up to them and no-one should feel any pressure to do so - there are still frequent instances where interesting local birds are not flagged up *at the time* on any of these many fora - for example the Hobby at "Longniddry/Seton" for 2 days a couple of summers ago, would have been very interesting news had it been successfully disseminated but it was not mentioned on LBN and does not appear in the BirdGuides archive. I only became aware accidentally over a year afterwards, far too late to be on the look-out and checking the neighbourhood! To be clear, there may have been good reasons why it did not come out, and indeed if the record was withheld as deemed of possible breeding significance then I apologise and withdraw these comments!!! But personally, had I heard of it at the time, I would have been on the alert, and alert observers can only be a benefit. Others still may consider species like Med Gull too “common” to be worth reporting now, and perhaps we are reaching that point, but when submitted and accessible to others via record searching such as the BirdGuides archive then more info just provides a more complete and meaningful picture. Equally with Quail. On a related point many may not share my enthusiasm for colour rings but again more complete info is definitely of value. For example, we now have a decent series of records for Med Gull green-3LV5 which has been at Seton mid-Sept to mid-Dec but there are several other records of “Med Gull” in the same period and it would be interesting to know if others have been seeing the colour ring and ignoring it, or were they different birds?

Regarding harvesting of LBN messages by the newshound (Neil Rigby) for the UK birding forum - I was aware of this - they come higher in web searches than LBN itself, presumably because Google is discriminating free from subscription info – but I don't have a major issue with it. All it's doing is putting the messages in the public domain - it's clearly an automated service and the (remote) hound is not intending to "claim authorship" of the messages. To me, it's just the equivalent to having LBN as an "open access" yahoogroup so all can share (as some others are run), which may in fact be an attractive alternative, but again I'm just happy for news to be out there. Personally.

As for yahoogroups themselves, their service in fixing the message search bug (now ongoing since last March) has been very poor and I have already wasted lots of time looking for messages by other means, including google. So do they deserve to keep our support or should we be upping sticks and using a better-supported service?! This all relates to blogging too - I put all details of stuff I see, e.g. colour rings, ring numbers, plumage variants, on my blog in the knowledge they are Google-able. Blogs are very highly ranked on Google, I can find my own posts via search nearly instantly after they go up. And often enough I find interesting info on other blogs via Google, but you can't find the details if they aren't ever posted anywhere. The advantage of blogging this type of stuff, with tedious details, is you spare newsgroup readers extraneous information they may not be interested in.

Now Mr Engblom, Kolibri Expeditions Peru. I had been getting news from him intermittently for several years, and never had a problem with it. I appreciate that in general unsolicited stuff is not kosher, but personally I welcomed this info on birds from Peru. Indeed, following the recent unsolicited email to some LBN subscribers, and contrary to other responses, I had deliberately opted in to the newsletter to find out more. If this was true spam and purely for profit I would have avoided it, but it seems clear to me the man is passionate about his birds (albeit rather eccentric in his modus operandii), he's working in a tough part of the world, so I'm more than happy to support him and read his news. Benefit to me in fantastic pics from Peru, as well as topical issues! Not quite the same, but others like Birds Korea also provide an excellent regular news service which you can sign up for, flagging up both important conservation issues and bird news, and there are many more equivalents. Others clearly have a different view, but each to their own :)

Now, it's time to start planning the New Year's listing and atlas visits. Perhaps it’s time to try a “non-motorised” (aka “green”) list, with an eye on environmental impact of car-based birding? Much of my summer atlasing and nocturnal birding was in fact done by bike, but in winter with children accompanying this is always going to be less feasible, so that will be the challenge.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year to all, and any comments on above can of course be posted direct on the blog here for further discussion, by any who are interested...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Bleak midwinter

Weather continued cold on Monday (28/12) but bright so visited Tyninghame area to scout out Whoopers in advance of swan census (for some peculiar reason no-one reports these birds on LBN, apart from my posts last report was 31/3/07!). With the tide out, just 11 Whoopers (4 juv) in the inner bay, along with a lot of birds including 600+ Wigeon, 480 Dunlin and 4 Greenshank on the mud, and Jay and Siskin in the pines. The family park was closed due to ice but llamas could be admired over the fence:

In the family park itself was a decent gathering of gulls and corvids exploiting the animal food, plus the usual feral wildfowl, with 2 Swan Geese, an Emperor Goose, and a few domestic Greylags on the pond. Only a few remained of the 2400 Skylarks reported a couple of days ago and the Twite seemed to be down at the south of the salt marsh - c. 90 birds circling but too distant to confirm.

Heading north eventually found 58 Whoopers (14 juv) in cereal by Lochhouses at dusk, with at least 4200 Pinks feeding in the area. The Whoopers commenced leaving to roost at 16:10hrs (25 mins after sunset), just 5 remaining at 16:20hrs, flying SE to Tyninghame. Watching carefully was able to confirm the adult birds led the roost departure. As usual, a good ratio of juvs - 26.1% in these birds, with 29 juvs in 114 on East Lothian WeBS last week (25.4%). By comparison the Drem area ratio last autumn was 21.8% and in 2007 18.0%. All exceed recent UK means of 15.7%, WWT link.

Tuesday (29/12) a frozen Blindwells produced a Woodcock at each end, wintering f/imm Stonechat and Stock Dove. A crow seemed to be eating a rabbit skin on the ice, perhaps from a food cache as appeared to be frozen:

Wednesday (30/12) a quick roving records tour of NT47 produced a few ticks including a female Brambling on the track from Gladsmuir to Butterdean (below). Specific ID of 6 Redpolls on catkins in Campbell Road, Longniddry, not confirmed. At dusk 2 small wader-like birds flushed from verge at Coates were probably Jack Snipe, but need to refind to confirm. One more day to get this species for the year list!

A return trip at night drew a blank on Jacks but further Woodcocks were seen on the verge at Blakney Knowe and Wheatrig (ticks for NT47S/T); the latter bird initially retreated from the headlights but then seemed attracted to them and ran towards the car. Incidentally, the Woodcock map has been transformed in recent days - 12 occupied tetrads in coastal NT27/37/47/48 as of first two winters now doubled to 24, see latest map on BTO regional results. Seriously, if 2 can be found in merely driving five miles or so, how many might be out there in total at present - frequenting ditches, burns and woods in lowland East Lothian - surely hundreds of individuals?

On the last day of the year, with assistance from Abbie, refound the Jack Snipe at Coates - another traditional visitor there (seen last year in May!) but the first for the winter atlas in the whole of NT47 (total reaches 129); also my first of the year (species 161), having failed at my usual site, very timely! Below snipe probing in stream edge (2nd shot from Abbie later) and ethereal conditions as a snow storm moved in, followed by two shots of fleeing Jack Snipe, also c/o Abbie - 4 birds seen!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas wk

An excellent start to the wk with an imm f Peregrine circling over Bankton by the A1 at Tranent whilst en route to work Monday morning. A hard weather influx of 70 Skylark had appeared at Seton (and the previous evening 2 had been seen at dusk coming onshore at Seton Sands, rising up as they approached the coast as they typically do on vismig).

Tuesday saw the first thin covering of snow and Pinks heading SW over Wallyford and King's Buildings during the day.

Wednesday snow had built up, drifting over a foot deep on many farm tracks; heading out round WeBS sites in East Lothian there were large gatherings of birds everywhere - Skylarks at every stop including 140 at Chapel pecking at vegetation still visible throo the snow, winter thrushes all along the Longniddry to Drem road and a flock of 165 Fieldfare at East Fenton, Pinks all down the valley (540 Drem, 2640 Chapel with 2 Barnacles), great clouds of corvids and gulls (e.g. 280 Rook at Chapel), hordes of pigeons (480 Woodies in brassica at Fenton Barns), 153 swans concentrated at East Fenton, of which 111 Whoopers (28 juv) and another returning darvic (CX9), lots of ducks with 44 Tufties (previous max 25) and the regular pr RBM there too (male flew in from SE), plus a male Stonechat and 2 Raven over, heading off N. Further east towards dusk (pic above) 3 Whoopers were unusual on East Fortune ponds, where Yellowhammer were coming in to roost, followed by a Magpie at Balgone, also perhaps same at Brownrigg recently - may seem unremarkable but this species is pretty scarce in the East Lothian farmland (map) and these were both new tetrad records.

At Tesco's in N Berwick a sad Meadow Pipit was seen *inside* the store, with another under trolleys at the entrance!

Finally, on the way home, the privilege of seeing 2 Barn Owls together along the hedges by Park Hills on the road from West Fortune to Luffness, presumably hunting the snow-covered verge. Tough times, glad I'm not an owl!

Atmospheric along the coast on Christmas Eve, steam rising from the Seton Burn (above) where Skylarks were passing low along the shore. Nearby at Seton Farm Linnet numbers reached a new high of 255, feeding on dock seeds with 15+ Tree Sparrows, 10 Skylarks below, a Goldfinch and a Pheasant. Pics below.

Christmas day a visit to Longniddry c/p 1 at dusk produced a f/imm Red-breasted Merganser "inland" on the tiny Canty Burn and a Woodcock flushed from the side of the track.

On Boxing Day a single Lesser Redpoll found on birch in Campbell Road, Longniddry - new for NT47I. Also, 24 Magpies gathering for roost by the Seton Burn.

Day after Boxing Day saw a Snipe on the Wemyss Burn by Longniddry c/p 2 and an ad graellsii LBB (Lucy?) still present, on Seton Burn at dusk.

Monday 28th scouted for Whoopers round Tyninghame and found 11 on mudflat plus 58 at Lochhouses, with 4200 Pinks. Also on the mud at least 4 Greenshanks.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Family photos

As the year draws to an end time to dig out a few more family oriented photos (our dedicated kids pages having expired with geocities in October). Here's some from our favourite spots along the East Lothian coast from Tantallon and Seacliff round to Longniddry, followed by four from Gigha.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Wknd 19-20 December

It was bleak at Ferny Ness at noon on Saturday, and Great Blackbacks had appeared in greater numbers than usual, 11 on Gosford Sands, a 1st-win shown above, with Cockenzie power station behind and the snow-covered Pentlands beyond. The Stonechat was active as ever but again no Chiff. Nearby a male Blackcap was lurking in buckthorn along the Old Coast Road, new for NT47N.

There was an article published recently summarising the work done on German breeding Blackcaps which have been found to comprise 2 sympatric (geographically overlapping) breeding populations - the original group which migrate SW to Spain and a new bunch which go NW to the UK (BBC summary). The latter are found to have narrower bills, which has been explained as matching their feeding preference of "primarily seeds and fat at garden feeders". However, the latter is rather speculative, as it presumes we know how many are out there not visiting gardens, as per today's bird! The latest local map is certainly indicative of a strong urban correlation (turn on "Major towns", lower left) but given the garden feeding habitat and associated concentration of human observers (cf also the Chiffchaff map, a species which doesn't use feeders) it would seem unwise to draw any firm conclusion on the overall numerical dominance of feeder users. Also, the reference cited in support of British winterers relying on artificial feeding is actually a general study on garden feeding, where Blackcap showed one of the lowest rates of increase amongst the 21 species found to have increased (1970-2000); no reference is made to the proportion using gardens as opposed to more natural sites, though evidence for a trend towards earlier arrivals is also noted. Other aspects of this "incipient speciation" are discussed further on this blog and it is clear that more work will be needed to fully unravel these mysteries. Meantime, let's keep mapping them.

Children's parties again Sunday but called in at Eskside and photo'd some typical immature European Herring Gulls, as per below - 1x 1st-win, 2x 2nd-win, 1x 3rd-win, plus a 1st-win BHG. Also there, pr RBM some distance upstream. At Seton harbour gull numbers had increased again and a large blue-backed Herring Gull was present, i.e. a northern argentatus (right).

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Wknd 12-13 December

Med Gull green-3LV5 remains at Seton, on the shore mid-afternoon.
Also at Wrecked Craigs at dusk, Lucy (LBB) still present (also feeding in the harbour mid-week) and another very pale 2nd-win Herring Gull, pictured (could this be a Nelson's?!), and an imm male Peregrine did a great fly past over the harbour, flushing the gulls off the rocks. [Post-script - turns out a missed a 2nd-win Glauc seen at same spot "mid-afternoon", though I did look throo all birds there for 3rd time this wk! Still present Monday, great pics here.]

Earlier, negative again on Chiff at Ferny Ness c/p but f Stonechat still in residence, roving around the whole area and never still for more than a few seconds.

With very little wind either day also visited several sites for Tawny Owl hoping to plug atlas gaps, but again none at Woodside by Gladsmuir (NT47R), Hopetoun Monument in Garleton Hills (NT47Y) or Seton Chapel (NT47C). After several fruitless visits to some of these beginning to think they may be genuine gaps!

Also on Saturday, 32 Mutes (10 juvs) at Abbeymill Fm, Amisfield, Haddington, this time got 3 darvics (including pen JDY which nested on the Tyne nearby last spring and JPY which two winters back appeared at East Fenton, then Waughton in spring and back to East Fenton).

Two more shots of the pale "Herring Gull" follow - if indeed a "Herring" then from the bill this must be a 2nd-win though no sign of grey on mantle, which may be suggestive of an argentatus; also contra Nelson's it lacks the obvious bulk of many individuals of this hybrid combination and primaries are very dark with very little evidence of pale fringing. However google turns up presumed Nelson's with reasonably dark primaries, in Shetland and Texas but former is a dark bird overall and latter would be an American Herring cross, a different species! The lower hybrid bird on this page from Finland also has some similarities, but primaries are paler. The Nelson's versus pale argentatus theory is also discussed by Newell and Offereins. In favour of pale argentatus is their known variability, e.g. in these pale 1st-wins from Finland, and this bird is not to dissimilar to an early 2nd-win individual from Sweden in Olsen & Larsson pic #345. Based on the above, and quality of my image, it would probably be dangerous to conclude anything with confidence, but more comments very welcome!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Wknd 5-6 December

Sunday afternoon saw the Whoopers feeding at Fenton Barns (photos above c/o Abbie again!) finally getting a view of legs to confirm 5 ringed, returning PL5 (photo), UH3, J3P, and a new bird P9P. PL5 was ringed at Martin Mere in 2000 and was annual there till 2005 and has been annual in East Lothian since. UH3 ringed Iceland 2001 and has wintered in East Lothian ever since, apart from a visit to Inch Levels in Oct 2002. His mate UF9 was last seen at Fenton Barns on 18/2/07, and has not returned with him for 2nd year running, possibly dead? This is a welcome return of J3P, ringed Iceland Aug 2007 and present with us that winter but not last year. Finally, a right-leg metal ring only, perhaps same as at Samuelston 1 March 2009. Full histories here. Also, an hour after sunset, 25 Mute Swans (8 juvs) back in rape at Amisfield, Haddington.

Earlier, presumed returning RNG off Port Seton harbour (2 there Dec-Mar last 2 winters, also perhaps same 2 in Feb 06 and single Dec 04), wintering f Stonechat at Longniddry c/p3 (but negative on reported Chiff there).

Saturday - negative on Chiff at Longniddry c/p3 in pouring rain late morning, though Stonechat heard. pr Grey Partridge at Dolphingstone was new. At least one vocal Tawny was audible from the car park in Butterdean Wood at dusk, also new for tetrad.

Friday afternoon saw a large gathering in Seton harbour with 400+ large gulls (19 GBB, 1 LBB, 0 white-wings), and the usual Eiders and Cormorants; 11 "Purps" tucked in on harbour wall, catching the last light of the day whilst preparing to roost.

The LBB was a graellsii adult, perhaps same as seen in ploughed field at Hoprig by Gladsmuir on Wednesday, and possibly is Lucy, seen on Seton Burn with another ad LBB late Nov. Some narrow dark markings on head, very pale eye, but a little odd in having pink feet and rather flesh coloured legs:

Final odd gull of the wk this presumed 2nd-win HG in Seton harbour - eye looks rather small and dark for this age. If it's a 1st-win it is remarkably white-headed, though argentatus birds from the east can appear like this (cf. Olsen & Larsson pic 332).