Saturday, 30 January 2010

Wknd 30-31 January

After worrying news from Borders of Barn Owls being found dead in nest/roost boxes, and 3 recent road-kills on the A1/A720 (male above), was pleased to see yet another out hunting this evening along the Mill Burn btwn West Fenton and Gullane. Moreover, this was an atlas tick for NT48W - now part of a solid block of about 30 tetrads in lowland East Lothian where recorded in winter atlas. Certainly, they have been faring very well in these areas in recent years, time will tell whether the hard weather has knocked them back significantly.

Earlier, juv Feral Pigeons in nest at Waterston House - eggs must have been laid during the big freeze?!

Previous day (Friday), an unusual record of a Mute Swan high over Claverhouse Drive in Liberton, Edinburgh, first NE, then SE - surprisingly seems to be the first record for the NT26 10km in the winter atlas! 3 Mutes also on Blindwells during wk, and 9 Teal - following melting of most of the ice.

Sunday TTV in NT47U took us to Maggie's Waas Wood, above - first daytime visit, been here often for owls - which delivered most of the expected, with Nutch, Woodcock (new for tetrad), Jays (2), Treep, Lotti (worryingly, just one!), Siskin and a fine female Peregrine powering over. A beauty of a wood, very open and much in common with Gosford with a thick dead leaf layer and many boggy areas, but a significant proportion of the trees are yew, also a few holly and plenty of dead wood. All in all looks perfect for Woodcock, Tawny, woodpeckers, etc.

Thereafter called in at Muir Park Estate, Aberlady to finish the 2nd-hour count. A glance in the stubble field there revealed a large corvid flock and pigeons, and a diving duck on the far resr - more of the same Rooks and Woodies I expected, and perhaps a Tuftie? How wrong I was - 170 Carrion Crows, the largest gathering I've seen inland here, and 32 Stock Doves, equally a record for me. The resr ducks turned out to be f/imm RBM and pr Goldeneye, and completing a productive half hour FLABs in same field included 25 Skylark, 4 Reed Bunting and 4 Yammer, plus Redpoll. Thus concluded with 8 additions for NT47U taking current species total to 69, plus Jay was new for NT47Z.

En route home, 12 Grey Partridge at Craigielaw a warming sight in late winter, and a fairly young juv Wood Pigeon in flock in cereal there - neck marks just emerging but not full size, begging the question when it had hatched?! Sunset over Longniddry shore below, small gulls having a final wash on sea at mouth of Wood Burn (?) before heading out for the roost.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Wknd 23-24 January

Confined to Edinburgh by duties on Saturday did the Holyrood Park swan circuit (30 darvics) and observed this adult female Red-breasted Merganser in the throng coming to bread at St Margaret's (right). In fact it was very adept at this activity, taking a whole slice by swift movement and diving to retain it as the rest converged. Not sure how common this is - though it is apparently now routine for Goosander at Hogganfield and elsewhere in the Glasgow area (Times online article), also nearby in Haddington. NB - this same bird is also featured in a forum post, and the observation was also subsequently featured in Birdwatch magazine (March 2010 issue, p. 23).

Further to above, Red-breasted Mergansers are typically not that frequent at inland waters at all, also preferring rivers to lakes, though there has been a spate of recent report on the Esk and elsewhere, and a record number also on farm resrs where they now seem to be routine in winter, so presumably hard weather drives some inland? This is a bit of a mystery to me, what benefit do they derive unless the sea is rough, which it hasn't been? BWP sheds no real light on either issue.

Also there old Greylag white-4AN - ringed as an adult at Loch Leven in October 1997 and first seen at St Margaret's in October 2001 (and annually in Holyrood Park ever since). Duddingston was still largely frozen, just a single Little Grebe remaining and 60+ Coots, many coming to bread with Jackdaws, amongst which one leucistic bird with pure white feathers in tertials. The corvid roost was rather modest, virtually all Jackdaw, with just 1200 birds present at sunset, all high in tall trees on south bank as usual. Three hours later none were visible in those locations so they must descend for the night roost.

Sunday along the Seton shore - no-one home! Harbour nearly deserted too, just a couple of crows on lobster pots, until a fishing boat came in with a few of the large gulls, c. 20 GBB (below).

Very small pre-roost at Seton Burn, including a 3rd-win argentatus Herring again and a 1st-win still begging from parent (fairly frequent observation even this "late" in the year), but then located the small gulls (c. 1800) feeding on the sea - taking some small items off surface - offshore from Longniddry c/p 1. One adult BHG with full hood, and a single adult graellsii LBB, presumably Lucy. The usual roost movements oberved, with Velvet Scoters heading up the Forth (where do they go - once asked this on LBN but no reply!) and large gulls heading for the islands.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Wknd 16-17 Jan

Most of the snow gone along coast by Friday and Pinks again in winter cereal at Redcoll, towards dusk total 2440 with 3 Barnacles, amongst which an intriguing dark stocky "grey goose" (upper right in pic) which went unidentified - certainly not a Whitefront as had a band on bill near tip but not a particularly good match for Taiga Bean either and too dark to make out bare part colours properly.

Two fresh Barn Owl road-kills, one on the bypass at Newton perhaps same as bird seen over the road at Old Craighall a couple of weeks back, that night hunting over snow-covered fields, and another on A1 by Dolphingstone. Have collected a few of these in last few years, over 40 now, and got "used to it" to a degree, but the former, a near perfect specimen, is one of the saddest such instances. The only positive is that having successfully collected it we will get an insight into its diet during those snowy days, c/o post mortem from the vet. From totally unspotted appearance it's an adult male.

Another "one which got away" in 3 grouse-shaped birds in scrub at the top of Blindwells in the morning but silhouetted and no sign when checking later. Hunters were out a Redhouse Dean - a Woodcock emerged and flew into the small wood towards Spittal House.

International Swan Census this wknd 16-17 Jan - all sightings of Whooper needed! Email me and I will enter on forms if needed.

Saturday swans - c. 372 swans found in northern East Lothian (262 Whooper/110 Mute), of which 273 in the "Peffer Valley" (Drem pools, Fenton Barns, Muirton, East Fenton and Upper Mill Burn) and 99 at Lochhouses, where last birds left for roost at 17:06hrs. Photo above in rape with Mutes and Woodies near Drem sewage works. Unfortunately flying around a lot in both areas so these are minimum numbers and overall juv/ad ratio uncertain, though it seems to be high (20%+).

Also, on WeBS, record influx of sawbills (6 each Goosander/RBM) on resrs (rubbish photo - but shows ID of distant females can be obvious just from impression of head/mantle colour, Goosander (left) showing constrasting grey back, RBM (right) "merged"), plus f Scaup, f Goldeneye and the hybrid Canada x Barnacle back at East Fenton (last seen in Musselburgh). 2 Coot there, exceptional here - second record since 1999! 330 Greylags at Lochhouses included the domestic variants previously from September at East Fenton, Gosford and East Fortune, acting as a tracker on this bunch. Magpies at East Fenton and Chapel also exceptional - first record for either site. Another Woodcock at Lochhouses at dusk, probably 2 or more.

Great to see a surviving Barn Owl at Kingston cottages on way back, and even better Tawnys hooting near Luffness Mains, much needed NT48V tick at last (map).

Sunday had another look at Pinks past Redcoll - variation extended to one with an obvious white shield and the small dark individual depicted but all were well and truly Pinks as ystdy's bird must have been! Samuelston and Amisfield were checked for swans but only a further 21 Mutes found, JPX shown, last 2 shots c/o Abbie.

Back in Drem area similar numbers of swans (177+ Whooper, 74 Mute), latter with red, orange, green and white darvics, but a roost count proved impossible as the majority stayed on Muirton pools after sunset. The hybrid Barnacle x Canada is shown below, fewer sawbills. Finally, the day's Woodcock was provided by a bird over West Fenton on the way back.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Hard weather impacts

Locally, a number of reports of displaced Red Grouse have surfaced in the last couple of weeks - including in Lothian at Townhead by Gifford, Moreham Bank, Saltoun Forest, Skid Hill and Bangly Hill in Garleton Hills, Chapel Farm and at Tyninghame estuary [updated - subsequent records Brownrigg (in flight) on 17/1, and again there on 19/1, and another beside Berwick Law 18/1, one Redhouse, Longniddry 25/1 and various reports from Holyrood Park in Edinburgh], with similar reports from Borders - in particular, 200 on hawthorns at Abbey St Bathans, where they have not been seen previously, nearby at Reston and Fleurs Farm at Coldingham, also a "good number" on hedges around Greenlaw and one on roof of house in Summerfield area of Earlston (photo) [and later a flock of 54 Red Grouse at Dowlaw on burnt heather on 17/1, where not seen for years, 1 in a roadside tree north of Longformacus near Wrunk Law same day (pic) and 1 at Auchencrow on 12/1]. Latest maps: Lothian, Borders.

All this follows the prolonged period of deep snow lying in the Lammermuirs with very little wind to remove it from vegetation, with subsequent reports of large gatherings of Red Grouse by the picnic area at Whiteadder, and also suggestions of large numbers of fatalities. Some Whiteadder birds reported taking catkins, whilst in the lowlands birds have been seen on haws. BWP mentions that in conditions of snow cover catkins and buds are taken, first preference being willow followed by birch (presumably none of the former at Whitadder). No mention of haws.

There are apparently precedents for out of range grouse in recent years at Aberlady and St Abbs head, but also historically in the severe winters of 1962-3 and earlier (1955, 1943?) birds were recorded in particular in Co. Durham, "in the big gardens of Victorian villas in Darlington, as well as feeding on the hawthorn hedges surrounding arable fields" (12+ miles from normal range) and also taking hawthorn berries in East Yorks. Apparently there have recently been large packs of grouse in Glen Clunie (a phenomenon I recall observing myself in early childhood, sometime in the mid-1970's - with a notebook record of having seen "1001"!) but no reports of significant fatalities there at present. And one encouraging comment from 1963 - in spring many of the grouse returned to Wemmergill and the subsequent shooting season was a "good average one".

Further afield, following last week's observations of thrushes on the coast and note of arrival of Lapwings in Newfoundland, and their expectation that an arrival of European thrushes and other species might be imminent, the first report of Redwing in Newfoundland has now come throo. From further reports from southern Ireland - Co. Cork & Kerry - it seems that many of the birds that arrived there were already in a very poor state, so the chances of any others now making it across the Atlantic would look to be slim. Plenty of discussion on IBN.

Have also debated with local birders whether any of our recent hard weather birds, including Skylark and Woodcocks, have been arrivals from the Continent. I'm not convinced many have, though certainly many Skylark have been coasting, i.e. moving up and down the coast looking for suitable feeding. I did see 2 coming "in-off" at Seton on 20 December, but these were arriving across the Forth presumably from Fife, or even just from further NE on the Lothian coast. Would be interested in any other recent observations of apparent arrivals in-off the sea.

Meanwhile, the thaw is now well underway locally, despite further flurries of snow today, and areas further inland are beginning to clear. 1220 Pinks were in cereal at Cantyhall by Longniddry this morning, apparently including no collared birds or interlopers, some flinching at the sounds of a bird scarer nearby - perhaps intended to discourage the mass of pigeons which had appeared in the rape field nearby. Also encouraging to have a rare visit of a Goldcrest to cypress hedge in our garden, maybe not a coincidence, this bird perhaps having arrived from further inland where it has been colder? Some more conventional visitors gobbling the food at our garden feeding station below:

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Wknd 9-10 Jan

Desperate times for many bird locally, with lots of evidence of hardship now - coastal strip stuffed with birds, e.g. at Seton Burn this afternoon, 90+ Fieldfare in small buckthorn patch, some foraging on shore where rock pools frozen (above), male Stonechat still there observed eating buckthorn berries [normal diet almost entirely insectivorous, but BWP does state "exceptionally seeds", only other plant matter mentioned being blackberries], Lapwing in horse field just inland feeding under trees where some exposed grass, Dunnock and Linnet at stream on upper shore, Tree Sparrow, Yammer and Bullfinch also present where normally scarce. On the shore, ad graellsii LBB (Lucy) and 3 male Goldeneye on sea.

At Prestonpans, Skylarks in Lidl c/p and Woodcock in the small bush patch in grassy area at The Humlocks (had spotted a gap in map for this species, so said to my son let's have a look in those bushes - before even reaching them a Woodcock was visible in a small clearing near the edge; tetrads now complete along the coast from N Berwick to Musselburgh).

Sunday at similar locations - m Stonechat still surviving on shore by Seton Burn, and ad LBB still there in pre-roost; down around Cockenzie conditions improving with most snow gone on grassy areas, but Song Thrush still on beach and more waders out of place, the Goldie below by the track on Seton west harbour at dusk, standing right next to car.

Also, amazing report per Abbie of 2 Red Grouse at Coates in Garleton Hills on Tuesday, perhaps unprecedented? Certainly none have been reported from there in recent years, 1991 onwards at least, map. Heard later that a few had been seen the same day at Skid Hill, in NT57. Latest tetrad map (scroll down and click W).

Tuesday 11/1 an unusual record of Goldcrest in the garden.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year

No birding on New Year's Day but en route to the Seabird Centre one Short-eared Owl along the Fenton Barns to Kingston road (above on verge), last seen over Rattlebags Quarry.

On way back, 2 Woodcock flushed from verges near Dirleton, ticks for NT58G/H. The latter hovered over the road in front of the car - on the stretch btwn the village and Linkhouse Wood, and returned to road after flushed by other vehicles. Former was by Newhouse Wood resr track.

Saturday, Pinks on grass at Cantyburn, Longniddry - viewed throo hedge:

A Magpie was nest-building at Seton Farm, so obviously not badly troubled by the weather. At Seton harbour between snow showers, one lost Pinkfoot offshore associating with sea duck, a male Stonechat on the shore (unusual), and Lucy (LBB) present amongst generally low numbers of large gulls (below, on wall). Many Herring Gulls now going into breeding pluamge, beginning to lose winter head streaking, some already very white, examples of variation shown below.

Sunday did another atlas roving tour of the snow-covered hinterland, pictured, picking up a Woodcock in flight down Castle Road, Windygoul, Tranent - last seen heading SW over Co-op. Lots of useful atlas ticks and good views of birds battling in the weather - 80 Skylarks digging for food in a few inches snow at Muirpark, with partridges there also digging vigorously with feet, tossing out plant matter from deep under; but how many of each species must get predated when they are so obvious in the vast white expanse? Greenfinches on rosehips, Linnets still on docks as per Christmas wk. Jays at New Winton and Redcoll limekilns.

Down at Seton harbour, unusual visitors included a Snipe was on the tiny burn in the west basin, a Golden Plover on the beach and 2 Skylark feeding on the shore. Longniddry c/p 2 produced 2 more Snipe and a tiny patch of beach at the burn-mouth held single Ringed, Grey and Golden Plovers, Lapwing, Redshank, Pied Wag and 2 more Skylark, all feeding on tideline.

Had a shock whilst driving along the coast road and spotting a hooded gull in flight with Common Gull wing tip pattern; stopped and found the bird shown on beach, this being a more extreme example of the fairly frequent winter-plumage variant of this species, which can have extremely dark streaking on head and nape; more typically the dark streaking also extends onto sides.

Monday (4/1) saw a Grey Wag on Longniddry shore with a large gathering of thrushes still in buckthorn, plus 4 Bullfinch. Herring Gull in snow at Seton harbour, I reckon this is a candidate for a 3rd-win argentatus, cf. gull-research pics, but might actually just be an advanced 2nd-win argenteus, like these.

On Tuesday (5/1) another Woodcock over Redcoll - think that's 9 now spanning 9 different tetrads (NT47ABIMST, NT58CGH) since Christmas day! 600+ Woodpigeons in fields behind Longniddry, digging for food in snow. Afternoon view from Bangly Hill below, where a Reed Bunting was still present on a dung heap in snow. With fresh snow lying a final foray into Longniddry Dean in evening produced the best of all Woodcocks hovering in light from torch over the burn, a truly memorable experience. 10 up on the Twelfth Night (2 missing?!), of which 7 were atlas tetrad ticks. Together with records from elsewhere the coastal squares map has been transformed in a few days, latest online here.

Wednesday - 16 Skylark still surviving at Redcoll, digging in deeper snow, several inches, and Barn Owl over road btwn Old Craighall and Wellington Farm on way home and another at 22:10hrs hunting the verge at Gosford Sands.

Thursday - Snipe in flight over Wellington Farm, Old Craighall, in morning.

Friday - negative on reported "Crested Tit", Elcho Road, Longniddry, in morning!