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:


  1. Very interesting reading. I recall seeing a Red Grouse on the grass just West of Cockenzie power station about 20 years ago during a similar period of severe (for us anyway) weather.

  2. Cockenzie, amazing! As it happens I just went throo the LBRs back to 1980 tonight and it seems grouse has been competing with Pheasant for most underrecorded bird in Lothian - most years just a handful. Of relevance: 80 in deep snow Fasney 3/3/05, 1200 in snow Darent House to Whiteadder 2/3/86 and 3 in stubble Threipmuir 20/9/80. No coastal records and hardly any others into 3 figures. Meanwhile the Borders Bird Report (07+08) just out mentions a male at St Abbs Head on 25/6/08, and in passing "there are analagous records in Lothian with Red Grouse turning up at Aberlady Bay - miles from the hills". Still trying to trace the latter record(s).

  3. on 3rd Jan saw a Red Grouse fly out over the sea at Longniddry car park, changed its mind turned round [thought it was going to try and land on the water for a minute!]and came back to shore.
    First time I've seen a Red Grouse like this since 1971 when I saw one behind the dunes at Abelady.

  4. Thanks for comment - most interesting indeed, a grouse over the sea - whatever next?! That's the location where I do my vismig/seawatching and I'm pretty sure there will have been very few grouse reported on trektellen! Just checked, indeed it's one of the few species not on the entry list.

    Incidentally, I received this account too: "a stalker at Spittal of Glenmuick told me he saw a grouse pack landing on the waters of unfrozen Loch Muick during a period of unusually deep hard snow and a day of poor visibility and fog. Most managed to take off, but a few drowned and were washed up on the beach. He thought the birds might have thought the black loch was heather with no snow on it."

    Grouse still at Brownrigg on Tuesday, per Abbie.

  5. David - can you please reply with surname/by email - editor would like to use this in the forthcoming account of unusual bird behaviour: