Saturday, 31 July 2010

Wknd 31 July-1 August

Sunday afternoon - 3 Crossbills SW over house in Longniddry. At dusk, one ad-win Med Gull (unringed) on shore west of Ferny Ness (right, in front of juv Curlew), took flight towards Gosford Sands giving a nice fly-past. 23:12hrs in the evening a Whimbrel calling SW over the house. At 00:18hrs, 6 single "kvik" calls heard from bird moving SW over, a distinctive fairly soft/mellow/"muted" call but as it receded almost with a ringing quality and vaguely reminiscent of a Teal or the sound from gentle push on a child's squeaky toy - exact match to Black-tailed Godwit flight call!

On Satuday went to Gullane Bents on last day of atlas recording to search for breeding evidence - 13 additions to confirmed breeding including Lesser Whitethroat (FL), Pied Wag (FF), Wren (FL, small), Willow Warbler (FL), Dunnock (FF), Song Thrush (FF), Crow (UN/FL) and a family of Bullfinches. A Grasshopper Warbler was still in song at the same spot above the carpark as I'd last heard it in late April. More surprising was a Redpoll in song over the King's Chair, surely it has not been there all season?

The family of Lesser Whitethroat were also in same area where pair sighted in late April, easy to locate with their continuous sharp "tack" calls. This seems to be the first breeding confirmation for the whole of Lothian and Borders. A Greenfinch family was also a new breeding confirm for NT48, though as with Bullfinch can't be sure of tetrad, but taking overall confirmed for the 10-km to 51. Thus, all land tetrads in NT47 & NT48 now have 10+ confirmed, and average for all four Forth coast 10-km squares btwn Musselburgh and North Berwick is now 18 confirmed, summary graphs.

En route back, a nice Greenshank on Aberlady salt marsh just downstream of footbridge.

At dusk, 2 ad-win Med Gulls were by the Seton Burn, including red-7P8, aka "Cherry Blossom", her 7th return, now aged 9+ yrs, earlier than last year though I don't usually start checking very early. Other bird unringed.

This resighting is put firmly into perspective in a report today by one of the Med Gull colour-ring co-ordinators (Renaud Flamant) that he has read 1229 colour and 7 metal rings from 9 countries in 4 days in France, including 398 different colour rings and 4 metal rings on 27 July!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Change of seasons

En route home Thursday passed Tranent cemetery and noted a Grasshopper Warbler still in song there; a key target still to confirm breeding in NT47 so I ventured into the willow herb for an hour or so, emerging only with proof of breeding of Sedge Warbler - occupied nest! Had a few views of Gropper, but what it was up to was not discernible, likely a second brood though, which is more typical in this species than the former.

Then called in at Blindwells and the first returning migrants were apparent with a Whinchat out in the long grass and a Common Sandpiper flying around the pond. Coots have been successful again with 3 large juvs and two very small ones, Little Grebe still in residence. 3 male Reed Buntings were singing against each other and the young Stonechats were still in evidence.

Thus we have passed the barrier of 10 species confirmed breeding in every tetrad in NT47, with results of 4 late visit TTV's still due in. But Gropper will require further effort!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Wknd 24-25 July

In early hours of Saturday morning collected latest Barn Owl off A1 by Beanston; seems to be a juv female, first casualty of the new season [Correction - post mortem reveals adult female!]. More positively, two seen on hunting en route, one at Amisfield over the A199 verge near the A1 junction and one perched on the road sign by West Garleton House. Sandwich Terns (ad + juv) were also heard heading off south inland over Waterstone House, Aberlady.

Later on Saturday we got into Butterdean Wood for atlas top-up and found there families of Treecreeper, Chiffchaff and Wren. 2+ Jays heard. This brings up NT47 to an average of 19 confirmed in all land squares (summary analysis for Forth coast 10kms), with only NT47B below 10. Max species total is 93 in NT47P overlapping Gosford shore.

First thing Sunday went back to Fernyness Wood to check up on the Spotted Flycatcher seen earlier; negative, but after failing to prove Treecreeper breeding last time had the pleasure of watching a parent feeding a youngster right in front of me, plus Nuthatch heard.

Later we joined the Wildlife Information Centre outing to Lennoxlove and were educated about various plant and insect species - Joanne finding the fungus "dead man's fingers", plus mushroom Amanita spissa; we also found the escape Maltese Cross (Silene chalcendonica) on waste ground (right). Best bird was a Kingfisher on the Colstoun Water, we also heard at least 2 Nuthatches and saw a juv GSW by the main house, and Jays and Buzzards were about with vociferous juvenile of the latter very audible. A Spotted Flycatcher was also seen.

At end of the previous week an afternoon (work) outing to Glentress, Borders, produced 6+ Crossbill and a female Peregrine passing over. House Sparrow FF in the car park turned out to be first confirmed breeding in NT23!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Wknd 17-18 July

Back to local atlas - after many rain delays getting in final visit to NT47X (Ugston, with 5 Crossbills over SW), thus completing all my allocated breeding tetrads. Also did topping up in NT46Z (Pilmuir - previously just two records logged, but a quick circuit produced 24 species, 7 confirmed, with a Quail in song east of East Blance (new atlas tetrad) and Sedge Warbler in the verge hedge there), and NT57H and NT57N, where I stayed until getting 10 confirmed in each. Also recorded juvenile Buzzards at two locations.

Checked Garleton again for Whinchat, negative, but saw this racing pigeon (SHU 2010 ringed green-6264/blue-20) by road on Skid Hill. Went to the SHU website to report it, thinking perhaps of interest to the owner (and I once had a thank you call from another owner after reporting one) but site displays clear messages that birds are not to be reported unless they are in your possession, how frustrating, who would choose to deliberately not know where their bird had been en route?! Oh well, each to their own.

Sunday headed out around WeBS ponds with expectations close to zero, as they rarely draw in many waders (since the demise of Lochhill at least). Surprise surprise East Fortune harboured a pristine "brown type" Mandarin, a Lothian tick for me and first for the site since WeBS counts began in 1988; that was the easy bit, working out age/sex was a bit more tricky, considering even females are in non-breeding plumage at this time of year, but critical for interpreting the record (juvenile birds are excluded from WeBS counts, and equally could not be logged for atlas if not locally bred, whilst an adult must have been there since at least May as they are flightless in eclipse, an "H" for atlas, first in East Lothian).

Signs of reddish colour in the bill, particularly around base, and orange apparent on glimpse of leg, tips balance in favour of an eclipse drake as both juvenile and non-breeding female usually have duller bill and legs, though this can be quite variable (female with mainly pink bill here); pale streaks apparent on flanks (rather than oval marks of adult female) probably of no value in distinguishing juvenile from non-breeding adults, neither the lack of white stripe at bill base as this is only shown by female in breeding plumage (though last year's eclipse drake in Edinburgh also showed it, so this is a feature perhaps against eclipse drake?!). Certainly makes more sense as an adult though, and is possibly one of the drakes seen on the Tyne earlier in the year; it certainly bore no resemblance to the scruffy female we saw at East Links Family Park in April.

Also en route a Quail calling from barley btwn Chapel and Prora (NT526803) (perhaps same as last year's Chapel Farm bird about 1km NE, but not in cereal now), a juv Common Sand on Chapel resr, juvenile Buzzards are two more locations and a male Sprawk with tiny prey into trees at Drem Ride (FF?). A fledged hybrid crow at Rattlebags quarry unfortunately can't be recorded as first confirmed breeding in East Lothian as there were a lot of young crows there and it may conceivably have come some distance. Small Torts out in great numbers, one of 10+ on thistles at Drem pools below.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Islay, 2-10 July

Another family holiday in Argyll (following Seil and twice on Gigha) took us to Islay this year. Again most dedicated birding time was spent on BTO atlas tetrads, 4 in NR34 around Port Ellen and 4 in NR44 in the small triangle of land behind Ardbeg, both previously given red dots on the "richness gaps map". Concluded on 88 "species" (50 confirmed) and 72 (32 confirmed), respectively, which will hopefully be enough to get squares de-listed!

As this was our first visit, and the island is inhabited by RSPB staff and a range of eminent and expert birders, with at least two blogs for the western half (Armitage, Brooke), I hesitate to comment on bird status but these are the things that I found of interest. Soon after arriving and wandering out from our cottage at Ballivicar a male Hen Harrier flew right past us, the first of 10+ (daily) sightings in various areas in the south. Probably taken for granted by locals, but a surreal experience for me to actually see one of these beautiful birds, all but gone from Lothian and Borders and I guess I have not seen one in the flesh since childhood in NE Scotland, 20+ yrs ago. What a magnificent creature!

Heading out for first TTV the next day came across 2/3 f/imm Hen Harriers together, suggesting successful local breeding. Also heard snatches of song from a Grasshopper Warbler at Loch Muichart, and a single dusky duckling there confirmed breeding of Tufted Duck, though adults nowhere to be seen (neither any on a return visit).

As ever on visits to the west coast I was struck by the super-abundance of certain species - along the Ballivicar to Kintra road I pushed a wave of birds along the fences, mainly Redpoll, Linnet, Willow Warbler and Mipit, all with young. Willow Warblers were even more abundant in the scrubby areas behind Ardbeg, peak hourly TTV count being 16 - this being an estimate purely of adults, which invariably had several "weeching" young in tow; in short they were present in virtually every patch of cover. Swallows were also thick on the ground, many fledged young out, and birds visiting nests for second broods at nearly every farm; I was impressed by their determination, one day with gale force winds (gusting to 70mph, per BBC forecast) and driving rain they continued their transits to and from nests at our farm, whatever they were finding I can't imagine. Equally House Martins present at many isolated buildings.

Another insect dependent, Spotted Flycatcher, was very apparent in most areas visited - even located in the few isolated sycamores behind Ballivicar farm house, also on the banks overlooking Kilnaughton Bay at Port Ellen and many along the coast throo woods past Kildalton Castle to Kintour, where juvs being fed. Also in those woods were singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap and families of Treecreeper and Long-tailed Tit at large. Fledged Stonechats in 3 tetrads in NR34 but also a female found on her own at Ard Imersay, mate perhaps having perished?
Tetrads in the areas behind Ardbeg equally memorable; en route to Loch Uigeadail by Beinn Sholum 4 separate Grasshopper Warblers in song, the highest on the slopes of Sholum itself at c. 500ft asl, and several Whinchat families, including bird above. Uigeadail itself was desolate, just a Common Sandpiper in residence, but again Hen Harrier was seen, plus Red-throated Diver "FF" N with a
fish (surely this is not an efficient way to feed young - minimum 10 mile round trip with each fish?!) and, most impressively, a Buzzard "FF" with a writhing adder into woods behind Ardbeg! If this was for the young Buzzards (one was heard calling) then I hope the parent "dealt with" the snake before offering it to them.

Breeding success along coast here noted with Eider duckling, Shelduck b6, Greylags 2xb2 on sea, and a Teal family on Loch nan Diol. Also a Peacock family on the main road! 6 adult Red-throated Divers were on the sea at Claggain Bay. Red deer were everywhere, just a single Roe seen and two hedgehog road-kill.

One day with galeforce winds a small tern was seen heading overland from Port Ellen towards Kintra, i.e. cutting off the Oa peninsula, perhaps a regular practice? Juv Arctic Tern and BHG were noted on the small rock at Gartnatra by the main road out of Bowmore.

Nocturnal visits at Ballivicar produced only singing Snipe; the Barn Owls which had formerly bred there (having taken over site in wall of farm from resident Choughs!) apparently now absent, neither any SEO seen here where they have formerly bred.

Venturing into the RSPB areas, we got to the Oa, seeing more Hen Harrier hunting in beautiful scenery, and Loch Gruinart/Ardnave (photo top) where in a few short minutes we were treated to a summer plumage Great Northern Diver just off the coast by Tayovullin, rasping Corncrake, and Choughs swirling overhead. Shot of the diver right, I decided not to disturb anything by venturing off the track for a better photo and left it to its fishing.

The final morning we went back to Kintra again - auks were confirmed breeding on coast to west, including small juv Guillemot on the sea and 30+ Black Guillemots with "FF" to cliffs. 58 moulting RBM on sea.

The final highlight was the return ferry crossing - having had blustery and drizzly conditions on the way out we were lucky to get a flat sea and sunshine exiting the Sound of Islay on the 15:30hrs Port Askaig - Kennacraig ferry, in defiance of the dire weather forecast issued the previous day. The sea was covered with auks and shearwaters over a mile off the southern tip of Jura - estimated 2500+ birds in the main zone, of which majority Guillemot but also many Razorbill including young, 2 juv Puffins and 300+ Manx Shearwater. A single dark Arctic Skua was approaching from the north and a porpoise was showing. Many more auks were on the sea off Gigha and we enjoyed the different views of beaches we had visited on the previous holidays.

Finally as we entered West Loch Tarbert past Ardpatrick Point I was surprised to see a medium-sized white-winged gull over the sea just NE of Eilean Traighe. As we drew closer it became apparent it was indeed an adult Mediterranean Gull, always a stunner, and in a plumage I rarely have the privilege of seeing, a great conclusion to the trip as it flew alongside the ferry briefly [NB - with their continuing increase in numbers, Med Gull breeding has fairly recently spread to Northern Ireland and they have progressively increased in mixed gull colonies in northern England; singles have also been present in various Scottish gull colonies, and for all I know they may already be breeding here somewhere!]

The heavens then opened for one final downpour, all the way home! Back in Lothian reminded yet again just how different our avifaunas are, with, it often seems, virtually every flying bird you look up to see being *yet another* Wood Pigeon (very scarce on Islay), and Magpies all along the trunk road verges suddenly and briefly being noticeable, plus the resident Swifts overhead that we just take for granted here. But when will I ever see a Hen Harrier, Corncrake, let along Chough, in Lothian?!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Bird surveys 1 July

Finally free to complete outstanding surveys headed out at dawn on Thursday to do BBS at Whitekirk and last tetrad visit in NT58 (at Waughton, NT58Q). Unfortunately coincided with a sudden change in the weather, after weeks of glorious sunshine with me mainly stuck at a computer, but rain eased off after a while.

Described the BBS square here on "early" visit; today's was a good one with breeding confirmed for Wheatear, a regular on the early BBS visits with migrants on the short turf of the golf course above Whitekirk. Today bumped into an adult male fleeing into a gorse patch near top of course and round the other side of same patch sure enough a fairly fresh juv down on the ground; not a common breeding species in "lowland" East Lothian, the only other pair I know being at Abbie's traditional site in a stone wall on Bangly Brae. Also a Quail calling in barley btwn A198 and Peffer Burn SW of New Mains was only second record for the BBS, after one calling on higher ground of golf course 19/6/05. Otherwise fairly typical numbers, Yellowhammers putting a good showing with 10 males in c. 1km on golf course.

The Waughton tetrad is not very exciting but holds the isolated Waughton resr with plenty bankside vegetation - new to me here was breeding Tufted Duck (9 small ducklings) and Coots carrying nest material. A Sedge Warbler was also in residence. Family party of Great Spotted Woodpeckers around dead trees in Stonelaws shelter belt probably a second family for the tetrad. Viper's bugloss, Echium vulgare, growing in crop right. Finished on 21 confirmed and 55 species.