Friday, 26 March 2010

Wknd 27-28 March

Friday saw a decent gathering of wildfowl on the Blindwells pool, which is quite flooded at present - 3 Shoveler (2m, f - my first for the site), 19 Teal (mainly males), 6 Wigeon, 6 Mallard, 2 prs Tufted Duck, pr + 1 Coot (nest building), pr Mute Swan; also Moorhen recently, and usual gulls, making the best gathering I have seen on this very minor wetland (where I do WeBS). How long many will stay is more debatable due to generally high levels disturbance - Shovelers flushed and circling over for a long period when man with dogs approached water but dropped back in later. 3 Sand Martins feeding over were my first of the year.

Also this morning, an imm male Peregrine powering along low over the sea at least a mile offshore from Cockenzie harbour; always a fine sight when hunting offshore and you can just imagine how the small gulls, LTD, etc feel when they see one approaching. Steady movement of Mipits SW low over the sea, with many more inland, still moving at c. 140/hr over the school at lunchtime. Blustery conditions SW4-5 with drizzle seems conducive to them moving - certainly they like to fly into a headwind - here the coast constrains them to move basically SW - and another theory on the vismig group is they generally like to move in grotty weather when feeding is harder.

Saturday - quick check on Blindwells revealed Shovelers and Smarties gone, a feeding flock of 130 Meadow Pipits presumably recent arrivals. In Garleton Hills (above) the Black-headed Gulls were back at their colony, 30 present, though too early for nests. On Seton coast at dusk a mere 600 Black-headed Gulls to roost, with another 400 still on Gosford Sands - a big decrease on the 3200 at Seton on Wednesday, apparently many birds moving throo at present. No Meds apparent on either date but seems they are all in Edinburgh - report of 5 off Eastfield for Friday evening, would be nice to know age breakdown!

Sunday - a hopeful sea/vis-watch off Port Seton in the afternoon produced just a few more Mipits and no hirundines or terns. "The" Red-necked Grebe remains off the harbour, now in beautiful summer plumage.

Coming back to the hard weather posts and observations of Woodcock over New Year, news from Borders says a shoot was organised on the day before the hard weather ban commenced and 91 Woodcock were shot on one estate. This probably exceeds the total number of records submitted to the atlas for this species during the same period, so is sad in a number of respects. For me, they were a memorable highlight of the winter's birding but it seems others have different "tastes" - and apparently they retail at 47 pence each - for which I would happily have forked out to save them!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Wknd 20-21 March

After some very strong winds on Friday, Saturday turned out remarkably fine, with wind falling to zero and sun out. At Port Seton, on our usual patch, sea duck again covering the bay as far as the eye could see - 640 Eider, courtship cooing audible from well offshore, and c. 900 scoter, with at least one flock of Common Scoter amongst mainly Velvets; smaller numbers RBM, LTD and the single Red-necked Grebe off the harbour, probably the regular bird, with another pair on the sea at Long Craigs. More unusual here were 19 Goldeneye off Wrecked Craigs, beating my previous record count since 2004 by 15! An eye on the sky but a few Mipits were the only vismig apparent.

Chatting with a local on the prom, former ranger, was informed of a recent White-tailed Eagle sighting - on a rabbit in field near Markle about a month ago. No reason to doubt it, let's hope it's refound if still in East Lothian!

Cherry Blossom (Med Gull red-7P8) last seen on Monday, equalling previous last spring date of 15/3, but not found on Wednesday (with Mark) and tide now high at dusk making it harder to find her if she's still present.

Tip off on a fresh Barn Owl on A1 at Macmerry, to be collected later. This is the first for over a month. Collected early hours, another pristine specimen, though only 310g which is on the light side; from ample spots clearly a female:

On way back, nice to see a live one, perched in hawthorn hedge near Redcoll. Daylight shots of Macmerry bird below:

Sunday out around WeBS ponds, down to a solitary remaining Whooper,so definitely a very early departure this year. East Fenton held a single small Canada (Taverner's/Richardson's) amongst 10 feral birds, flanked by a mainly Greylag hybrid in pic below, but its usual tiny friend was apparently AWOL. The regular Icelandic Greylag pair (SFJ & NAX) were back at East Fortune, both shown below, plus some others on water. Full histories since ringing in Iceland July 2000 shows they are often on the Scottish east coast in March - Guardbridge, Lintrathen, Tyninghame, Fenton Barns and now East Fortune.

A pleasure to see displaying Lapwings back on territory there, definitely my favourite wader. No sign of any eagles or kites, again, in this area, though I am assured the Red Kite "comes in to roost" at the smallholding cottages each evening! [Postscript - was actually Fortoun Bank, no wonder I never connected].

Friday, 12 March 2010

Wknd 13-14 March

Start of the wknd with idyllic conditions along the coast, pic above from the Longniddry shore with Arthur's Seat in the distance. A smaller roost at Seton Sands saw c. 2500 small gulls on the shore, with 100 Herring Gulls and a couple of LBB in pre-roost, amongst which re-located old faithful Med Gull "Cherry Blossom", red-7P8. Still very white on forehead but no doubt soon to depart back to Poland for another breeding season. Previous last spring dates have been 6-Mar-05 (then in Poland 22-May-05), 4-Mar-07 and 15-Mar-08. Also in Poland on 16-May-04 when first ringed. All other interesting gulls apparently vanished (though a yellow-legged bird with rounded head, similar to that photo'd here last wk by Keith, reported from the Eden Estuary on Sunday).

Saturday - mainly domestic duties, but back at roost in the evening failed to find Cherry Blossom (found again on Monday so must have missed her - this therefore equals her previous latest departure date); LBB increased to 8 in pre-roost.

Sunday - apparent Whooper clear-out with a mere 12 located, pictured preening. On the other hand, Gannet numbers building rapidly, view of their Rock below from Rugged Knowes c/p at North Berwick; also shot of a Ringed Plover on the shore there.

Another ethereal sunset on Gosford Bay.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Wknd 6-7 March

Along the Seton shore on Saturday, now 3 adult LBB, Lucy showing well at the fish market (above).

Flat calm sea with c. 1200 scoters spread out in Gosford Bay, the vast majority being Velvets, many in courting groups; also 55 Gannet on sea round a fishing boat off the harbour, more passing offshore, and 12 grey geese on water well offshore.

The Seton roost held an adult Med Gull, with fairly dark hood but whiteish forehead. Later heard from Keith that he'd seen both our regular red-7P8 Med and a new bird, white-3H11. The latter was ringed as a chick in Belgium on 27/5/00 as green-3CT6, and I had one previous record of presumably this bird here on 18/12/04, 5 days after a confirmed sighting at Musselburgh. Since then, further records have been from Lunan Bay (Angus), Seafield (Edinburgh) and again at Muss in Novembers 05, 06 and 07, respectively, so this is the first record here for 3 years - well done Keith! Later heard that this bird had been seen since at Beddington (Johnny Allan, 21/2/08) and the Netherlands, Belgium and France in Feb/Apr 08 and Apr/Aug 09, so quite well travelled overall (full history).

Sunday first walked out past Kilspindie at Aberlady, getting a good display from a Peregrine and my (very belated!) first Meadow Pipits of the year, coasting. A male Wigeon (pictured) sporting the prominent green eye flash that is often apparent on this species.

At Craigielaw, rather more hazy than ystdy but a nice Black-throated Diver offshore; 1190 Eider were in courting groups all over the sea; back at Wrecked Craigs, Port Seton, a further 350 Eider made the total 1540 in the Bay, the sea still well covered altogether with the continuing mass of courting scoter, 100+ Long-tailed Duck, 50+ Red-breasted Mergansers, 20+ Razorbill, several Slavonian Grebe and Red-throated Diver, 2 Red-necked Grebe off Wrecked Craigs, not to mention 4300+ gulls assembling towards dusk. Sunset over Seton harbour below.

Rise in small gulls following wk with 5.5k on 9 March and Cherry Blossom (Med red-7P8) again on the shore in pre-roost 10 March.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Lesser Blackback return

One of the most obvious aspects of migration in these parts is the annual return of Lesser Blackbacks, commencing in numbers in late Feb and rapidly increasing into March. As per last post, our wintering bird "Lucy" (above), was joined at Seton by a second adult on the last day of the winter atlas period. 1 March dawned with glorious conditions and a complete change in the weather, and I saw two more adults on the way to work, in Edinburgh at Danderhall and in Gilmerton. A report on the vismig group of 200 high N over NE Penines on morning of 2 March showed that many more were on their way and by the end of the wk a pair together at Danderhall and the first back on the "breeding grounds" at King's Buildings, with others along Liberton Road and Gilmerton Road.

Of course, further south in the UK/Eire this species is present year-round and apart from vismig observations the return may be harder to discern. Colour-rings can help, used to establish that the first returning adult in the Guernsey colonies arrived back this year on 15 January. It is said that good colour-ring readers are routinely reporting over 100 readings per day in locations in SW Britain where many birds are ringed (see entry for 15 December on the pembsbirds blog) - if only we could get some more of these in Lothian!

A final snap below of Lucy with some of her rather larger friends in Seton harbour, and right pictured well offshore with Eider, flying, which she had been attending on the sea in early February. My suspicion is that Lucy herself breeds somewhere well NW of here, perhaps the Faroes or Iceland, and she herself may soon be on her way, though she did linger as late as May when she was aged as a 2nd-summer, final sighting on 6 May 2007.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Posted 7/11/09: Well outside our area, but what a pleasure to see an update on the Sandhill Crane story with the pic from France from 11 October. Having been discovered on Orkney on 23 September it departed on 29 September and the account of its interception on the Scottish mainland and tracking down the coast was the most remarkable of birding exploits, see story and map. After it was lost from sight at Brora we all hoped it would be picked up again somewhere further south, but as the days went by it seemed to have given UK birders the slip.

It now transpires that the French sighting followed within a fortnight, but the bird was initially dismissed as an escape, and news only leaked out a couple of wks later - what a pity that it had not been possible to alert all French birders to the possibility of this bird, the language barrier presumably intervening!? Hopefully this is still not the end of the story, but how will the bird cope, and where will it go, if it attempts return migration next spring?

Update for 1 March 2010 - how exciting to see presumably same bird relocated again at the wknd in Spain, just south of the Pyrennes, amongst its common cousins, photo on reservoirbirds. This sighting was later discredited, may relate to an aberrant Common Crane.

Wknd 27-28 February

Final wknd of the month coincided with the end of winter atlas (year 3 out of 4) so most effort again on chasing missing species, despite continuing atrocious weather. Around areas east of Tranent on Saturday, several ticks now bring up all NT47 tetrads to at least 37 species, though all with one or two remaining obvious omissions, still including Wren at New Winton where failed again. Despite some snow cover, good numbers of Fieldfare in crop, with c. 600 in flocks (190+160 Liberty Hall, 120+20 Jersulem Fm, 80 Redcoll, etc).

Sunday saw the highest tide I have ever witnessed along Seton coast, with Seton harbour wall fully engulfed and waves crashing over promenade path onto grass, normally the domain of dog walkers. Lots of wood in the sea, and gulls feeding on storm debris along upper shore, first LBB back to join overwintering Lucy who was still at the harbour. Nice to record a Stonechat again by the Seton Burn. Offshore, Gannets ticked in several tetrads and plenty Fulmars sheering on the strong wind.

Finally, got the latest batch of owl post mortems back, 5 out of the 7 collected mid-Jan to mid-Feb, all of which would have perished during pretty severe conditions weather-wise, with snow lying for a long period prior to most being found - so had wondered if they would have been in poor condition. Quite the contrary, all 5 were adults (3 female/2 male), all with a top body condition score (for fat and muscle bulk) of 5/5, all a decent weight (minimum 317g) and moreover, all 5 had well-filled intestines and most had been feeding well, e.g. gizzards of the two collected on 15/1 contained 4 short-tailed field voles (Dolphingstone A1) and 2 small rodents (Newton A720), respectively.

It fairly straightforward to determine sex in all these cases, the illustrated male from Newton A720 being very pale above, and completely spotless below, equally with the Sheriffhall A720 male (recovered in crouching position), as shown in two more pics below:

This specimen was pristine with no external signs of injury, but cause of death was a ruptured atrium and liver, so it had clearly been struck, but perhaps not died immediately.

The females are distinguishable in more distinct and darker upperpart markings (i.e. bars on flight feathers, plus grey on mantle and hindneck), obvious spots below, and the buffish colour on the sides of the neck, all shown well in further pics below of Whitecraig A1 bird:

Pics in the earlier post clearly show dark grey on mantle and hindneck, and buff neck sides, though spots are relatively small. The final two pictures show the Mungoswells B1377 female, which had more distinct and larger spots spread right across underparts:

Based on these features, it should be possible to sex many owls in the field/from photos, though BTO guidance (leaflet 23) suggests that only about half are easy and 10% can't be sexed in the hand, so some caution is still needed with any intermediate birds.