Friday, 31 December 2010

Review of year 2010

End of the year and time to tot up various lists!

Biggest success this year was the garden list, total 77 species is best yet, and pleased to get 8 additions in 7th year of recording here: Whitethroat, Canada Goose, Blackwit, Coot, Jay, Brambling, Tree Sparrow, Teal and Wigeon (and Hobby pending acceptance). Of these, the calls of nocturnal migrant Coot and Blackwit have to be the highlights, the vismig Jay was also surreal at the time after years of seeing none, and Tree Sparrows are now well and truly rooted in the area, peak count 4. Barnacle Goose record smashed with 310 on 3/10. The only previously annual species not seen was Peregrine. Now on 94 and 100 looks possible with further good targets, particularly for garden vismig. Full records: Excel s/s.

General vismig was good too, with 78 species logged migrating from "Ferny Ness" watch-point, under which are included also records from garden and coast to Port Seton. This takes total vis species here to 100 up (peak counts).

Atlas recording is proceeding well too, now with 134 "species" (out of 138 total) for winter and 138 for breeding (out of 145) in home 10km, NT47. Lothian status.

4 additions for my Lothian (self found) list are all pending LBRC acceptance (Bean Goose, Mandarin, Hobby & Hoodie). The same uncertainty clouds the year list (on Bubo) with 2 further descriptions submitted (BNG & Pec Sand) but even assuming all can be counted will only be 158 for the year, two short of last year :( Two near misses would have matched it - the dark shearwaters E off Ferny Ness in haze on 4 September, the same day Sootie was logged E off Anstruther opposite (and would have been a vismig tick), and the skua I picked up off Ferny Ness on 6 November, called as a Pom by Merv.

Worst omissions are Little Gull - clearly a poor year for this species after so many years of huge influxes (and how many hours spent scanning the Forth, many 10s, and nary a one seen?!) though they were at Muss in small numbers as usual, and Twite - no "self found" and none on vis :( Also lack of Lap Bunt is disappointing given the current unprecedented influx, odd to have got them on vismig the previous year when they were fairly scarce! Still a target for NT47, Ferny Ness looks ideal, but disturbance may be too great? Overall have not competed with the others doing the year list, despite having been out, at least briefly, both days virtually every weekend - but also have not ventured far from home range, only two species (grouse and GND) were located more than 5 miles from home, plus 4 of the description species being 5-10 miles (Hoodie at Scoughall furthest). Perhaps I should just do a patch list next year?

Lists aside, a year with many good memories, roaming East Lothian - 5 Med Gulls together again on the Seton Burn, encounters with various owls, e.g. handling a young Tawny alive, but contrasted with the worst year on record for Barn Owl casualties (20), many I believe associated with hard weather - and this we have also had in unprecedented abundance, with weeks of snow cover and temperatures plunging below -10C on several occasions. Other sad casualties included Hobby and LEO.

Looking ahead to New Year I take on the job of Lothian Bird Recorder so will be increasingly busy with even more bird records (please now send all 2010 records to lothianrecorder @ the-soc.org.uk)! We also conclude the fieldwork for the national Bird Atlas and lots of effort will be needed to plug the last few gaps. Plenty to look forward too. Meantime, Happy New Year and good birding to all readers - thanks for your various contributions, all feedback always most welcome!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas week

WeBS highlights on Boxing Day* included 199 swans at East Fenton (150 Whooper, 42 juv including a new red darvic ASB (ringed in Iceland at Husabakkafloi in Skajafjordur on 1 August 2010), plus usual yellow PL5, UH3, X6C, J3P), 1930 Pinks at Chapel being buzzed by juv f Peregrine, 730 Greylag at East Fortune with 8 Whoopers. Plenty partridge digging in snow - 8 West Garleton, 15 East Fenton, 20 Chapel, 6 Brownrigg. Small birds included 180 Linnet at Drem, 260 Linnet at East Fenton, Brambling at both locations. A lot of Boxing Day shooting going on in the whole area, which considering the number of wildfowl about (total 2900 birds) is in violation, at least in spirit, of current wildfowling ban but presumably enforcement of such is close to zero?

Later, presumably same Peregrine took a Woodpigeon at Muirton at 16:00hrs (17 minutes after sunset) and set about consuming it voraciously, biting off large chunks and occasionally wiping feathers from bill with talons, a magnificent creature to observe; two crows approached but only to 10m, then thought the better of it! She finished eating suddenly, flew up then alighted again near prey, then off rapidly east at 16:25hrs presumably to roost. The carcass looked like a heap of sprout leaves, with breast, neck and one thigh entirely consumed, a raw version of a Christmas dinner! Residual weight of pigeon 190g, assuming a typical weight of at least 500g (per BWP), and allowing for a few uneaten bits of sprout, the Peregrine took c. 300g = 12g/s. BWP states feeding time as 10-30 mins, exceptionally 1 hour and daily food requirement of 141g for female, so this feed should keep it well nourished for a good day or so.

Monday, back at Chesters, Jays calling and 8 Lotti out in the snow, both tetrad ticks, and 8 redpolls flew over. 470 Pinks were feeding on oil-seed now revealed in the thaw on summit above Lochhill, also 180 Feral Pigeon and 800+ Woodpigeon around Spittal. Abbie tells me there were 2k+ Woodies in the area the following day.

Tuesday back to the Forth coast, usual haunts along Seton shore, a fair gathering of sea duck with 280 Eider and 56 RBM mainly off Seton harbour and 280 Velvet Scoter mainly in Gosford Bay. 6 Goldeneye, always scarce here. Meagre gathering of gulls at dusk by the Seton Burn but did include an unringed adult Med Gull, dark mask smeared up onto crown.

Wednesday went to do intertidal (low priority) tetrads in NT77 either side of Torness, NT77N and NT77W. Just completing former viewing out to sea from Chapel Point when a head-on bird appeared out of mist well offshore, not a gull but an owl! Intercepted by Herring Gulls before it reached the shore but fortunately kept on basically the same course S and flew right over our heads, revealing solid black wing tips, thus Short-eared Owl; most likely a migrant down the coast rather than a fresh arrival over the North Sea. Then we moved down to Cove where accessing the tetrad at Reed Point was rather precarious. 27 Wigeon were on the sea and again just before concluding spotted a fishing Great Northern Diver, proceeding steadily NW into Lothian. En route 40+ Waxwings over the A1 south verge just west of Beltonford.

Thursday, probably same ad-win Med Gull on Seton shore at dusk, has a bad leg; apparently 2 there on Tuesday so I clearly missed one. Only 1250 birds in roost by 16:30hrs, exceptionally low and seem to be missing many of the Common Gulls. Also one 3rd-win graellsii Lesser Blackback present. Earlier small flock Redpolls in Longniddry birches, departed before had a chance to check them.

Friday, Gosford Sands well covered with waders including c. 940 Knot and 376 Barwits, new 10km peaks for atlas. At dusk off Seton a f/imm Goosander fishing in the shallows around Long Craigs rock was unexpected and the first coastal record for the atlas in NT47.



* Technical note - Boxing Day refers here to 26 December, though strictly it probably was 27 December this year!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

A Christmas Day visit to the Chesters Hill Fort (above) found thrushes gathered to feed on apples in snow, and Great Spotted Woodpecker was a tetrad tick. Stunning views of f Sprawk alongside the car for 500m up to west Garleton, hunting thrushes in hedgerows, doing 35mph slightly uphill then accelerating to a burst of at least 40mph. The Newton text mentions top speed as 30-40 km/h, reaching 50 km/h in short bursts, but does not distinguish sex which must make a difference. At dusk, 4 Waxwings were at rowan berries on our road.

On Christmas Eve, family photo after Michael had starred in "Snowman at Sunset", Gilmerton New Church; outside a Collared Dove in a nest, but seemed to be eating snow rather than any breeding activity!

Later up to Gifford for bird feed c/o Mike, stunning scenery and a few hardy birds out. Waxwing in hawthorns at Ballencrieff and 8 Grey Partridge at West Garleton digging vigorously in snow for food. In the hour after dusk against the orange sky skein after skein of Herring Gulls came north over Garleton summit heading for coastal roosts at North Berwick, total 770+; from flightpath apparently from south of Lammermuirs, possibly from the Langlee tip by the A68 south of Jedburgh, giving a transit of c. 32 miles each way, not unusual for this species (BirdLife factsheet mentions foraging distances of up to 100km for Danish breeders); very hardy birds!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Wknd 18-19 December

Friday afternoon on shore by Seton harbour one Golden Plover with metal ring, apparently BTO DD59907. Submitted and will see if such a bird exists! 45 Fieldfare at Longniddry golf course. Fresh Barn Owl casualty at Blindwells, a very white male. More photos added, showing paleness of plumage; web search reveals relatively few similar examples, one bird that is more likely leucistic and a pale captive individual. BWP says "Some birds have tail very pale: t1 cream with traces of some dark bars on basal half ... other feathers virtually white except for some dusky specks or blotches", this is an example of such. For contrast see the opposite extreme in next pic of imm female from Wallyford, Oct 2005. Also the recent Tawny off the A1, this a rufous morph juv.

Have since heard of another Tawny casualty per Mike McDowall and as discussed in earlier posts, owl mortality clearly increases in this type of severe weather, snow on the ground for nearly a month now and night-time temperatures well below zero for an extended period. Who knows how they are now fairing, though recent report from Jim of a Barn Owl at Ferny Ness, new for my home tetrad (NT47N) despite frequent excursions in search of them, is perhaps indicative of one seeking refuge near coast? Also throughout the whole period we have had very calm conditions and this may have benefited them; in recent days with full moon also amazingly light nights, with a sort of perpetual twilight right throo the night - moon casting strong shadows and it was as light in our garden as it was in the kitchen with lights on dim (see photo from midnight, no artificial light or image edit). Whether this is of any benefit to an owl with all rodents below the snow is another matter. Only time will tell whether they can recover from yet another severe blow.


Saturday, Seton pre-roost was nearly entirely Common Gull, very few "hooded gulls" - most gone west/south? Looked carefully at "hooded" Common Gulls after recent debate about a hooded individual at Seaforth, and noted 4 in 600-odd with hoods that were mainly dark, but streaks still apparent, I think this is a typical ratio in mid-winter. At least one very similar to the Seaforth bird, first below. I previously had a bird with a very neat total hood, though the colour was much lighter. Shot added showing apparent variability in mantle shade, this is probably mainly down to angle to light (from west, left) but also reflects genuine variation.

Sunday not according to plan due to weather - a few inches fresh snow; some decent sized Skylark flocks low S over, 20+; at Redcoll a minimum of 1600 Woodpigeons were feeding in snow where some vegetation still protruding. 350 SW over at dawn on Monday.

4 Waxwings back on the Tranent A1 roundabout in Wednesday morning.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Wknd 11-12 December

Friday afternoon saw 26 Great Blackbacks around Seton harbour, including this imm marked with red bands; given lack of a metal ring this may perhaps be a bird trapped e.g. by a fisherman and thus untraceable?

Lucy (returning graellsii LBB) was also there again with her friends.

A Lapwing lay freshly dead on the shore, casualty of hard weather.

Saturday, 15+ Waxwings still at Harelaw and several Brambling at beech trees by Garleton Lodge.

In the afternoon the kids went to see Mother Goose at Musselburgh so I went to Eskside and tried to read BHG metals rings, got two, BTO EL00334 (first bird below - inset left, do ringers put rings on upside down to test us!?) [Postscript - ringed as chick, Loch Urr, D&G 7/6/04] and a foreign one, 6158812 (second bird below), with a word written vertically downwards at the start, apparently "Norway", see example. Reply within a few hours from Stavanger Museum, the bird was ringed as an adult at Frogner Park in Oslo on 1/4/2000 (no joke!), and has not been seen since! See Johan Bos's article "The Origin of Black-headed Gulls Wintering in Edinburgh" published in Lothian Bird Bulletin No. 1 2004 for context (pdf), roughly 30% of our wintering birds are from Norway. A long way to go to catch up with Johan's impressive 100+ ringed individuals identified.

Something I occasionally ponder when reading rings, what is the optimum balance of ringers and ring readers, i.e. considering recovery rates is time sometimes better spent reading rings than applying them? I have added a new list of ringing histories, right menu, will add more species including gulls in due course. Some have other worksheets which don't display in the scribd preview - can also download as Excel.

Was also surprised to see one of the smaller race Canada Geese, which are often seen at East Fenton and surrounding area, there in the throng (38 Canada Geese); from photo comparison I don't think it is the smallest such bird though, the bill looks slightly longer, but may well be one of its mates.

Back at Eskside Sunday afternoon, in search of the "foreign" BHG, no show but reconfirmed the BTO bird and got one new BTO, EL63898 (pic above) [Postscript - ringed as chick, Coquet Island, Northumbs 2/6/06]. Same 38 Canada Geese, and various hybrids, one grazing Greylag x Canada below showing flecks on back of neck, which are not always shown by this hybrid combo (but don't think it's x domestic Greylag, as lacks structural features). Another hybrid present seemed to also have domestic Greylag influence (but also a hint of the black neck sock from Canada), with hanging belly (second below), but perhaps it's within the variation of Canada x Greylag, or some kind of triple hybrid? More pics on flickr.

4 Waxwings flew over west. No change at the rivermouth with dog walkers releasing their hounds to flush every last feeding wader and duck off the shore, unfortunate considering the current wildfowling ban (10-23 December), possibly there should be a ban on deliberate dog disturbance too given they probably have more impact on wild birds than fowlers, certainly locally?

Monday driving to work, two more Barn Owls dead on A1, this is now definitely the worst autumn on record for casualties [Postscript - correction, one was a Tawny! Other unconfirmed.]

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Yet more hard weather

Another battle to get in and out from work in Edinburgh on Tuesday, with some backroads virtually impassable and snow still lying to 40cm at the nursery in Gilmerton. Min temp at Edinburgh airport -16C, so all snow frozen solid and ice everywhere.

Not much time for birds but noted first report coming in of Red Grouse incursion to lowlands (Haddington), reminiscent of the widespread influx earlier in the year (see map, though several reports have not (yet) been submitted to the atlas); this follows recent reports of higher numbers in peripheral areas in Borders (Greenlaw, Eildon, Gordon) and as per the severe weather last winter the relative lack of wind may well be a major contributory factor - snow is lying deep and has not been blown off vegetation. On the other hand, a lack of wind might help owls, seeking prey by sound, and they need all the help they can get right now.

Wednesday morning still perishingly cold, 25 Waxwings seen off by a Mistle Thrush at rowan in Forthview Road, Longniddry.

Wednesday evening en route home at 17:20hrs, one of my saddest observations as a birder, under the A1 bridge at Old Craighall where the Feral Pigeons nest and roost, a Barn Owl down on the road at a pigeon. Stopped and recovered the owl, it had been struck but was still alive, the pigeon also was warm but the neck had been eaten; initial hypothesis was that in the continuing sub-zero temperatures, with snow still lying deep in all surrounding areas, the owl had gone to the pigeon roost in search of food and successfully taken a pigeon there. Possibly taken in flight or pigeon killed on the ledges below the bridge and then dropped to the road surface below. In great hunger owl immediately began to scavenge the pigeon where it lay on the road and with cars passing at two or three every minute it would soon have been dazzled then struck on the road, only the face (and feet, where presumed gripping prey) had visible blood. This must have happened within a couple of minutes of my arrival as the bird flapped when I took it into the car, but I had to lie it down and it did not move again.

More careful examination at 19:00hrs showed owl still quite warm and body flexible but pigeon now stiff and barely warm, so change of hypothesis to pigeon being an earlier road casualty, and owl scavenging. Later at 20:50hrs the owl was in a similar condition to the pigeon as first found thus supporting conclusion that the pigeon was a fresh road casualty from early afternoon, c. 14:30hrs, at least prior to going to roost and before the owl was likely out, and thus it had been discovered later. If this were the case it would be of interest as scavenging is virtually unknown in Barn Owl, just one mention in BWP (Dunsire, C & Dunsire, R (1978) "Barn Owl on dead Hedgehog", Scottish Birds, 10, 56). Will send both birds to vet for post mortem and this may confirm cause of death of pigeon. Also weighed owl, 285g, on the light side (especially if female, as spots suggest, mean winter is 313g, male 298g), but still above starvation weights (one from Borders dead in shed was 233g, another local casualty in poor condition was 247g, BWP gives starvation weights as 220g, n=33, max 248g).

A quick search of literature for observations of Barn Owls at carrion, or on road surface reveals some interesting comments on Barn Owl Trust report, "Barn Owls and Major Roads" (pdf). A sighting of a Barn Owl standing in a road perched on a road casualty Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus is mentioned (Mikkola, H (1983) "Owls of Europe", Calton: T & AD Poyser) but this is presumably derived from the same Dunsire report above. Approx 10 other reports in several thousand observations of the species standing on road surface. From my own observations, one record of owl on the B6363 just south of Longniddry, sitting in middle of road at 03:44hrs on 23/04/06, in a few 10s of live sightings here, so perhaps it is not quite as rare as suggested. Have seen this more than once from Tawny Owl, though one such case may have been a stunned bird.

My son, age 4, was sad too and commented: "Bloomin person drive right over a owl; but owls are very nice" (i.e. people should be careful not to hit them).

Thursday George tells me of another Barn Owl casualty on A1, by Torness (recovered and is unringed) - last year's pattern is repeating and again we find relevant info in the Barn Owl Trust report which discusses (under A.16) the reasons advanced by Newton et al. (1991) relating poor condition (which may correlate to hard weather) and a) spending longer hunting, b) hunting in places where accidents more likely or c) being less able to avoid collisions. Whilst the overall results of Barn Owl mortality studies, also found thus far in Lothian, is that many casualties are in excellent condition, and overall no worse than average, a focus on severe weather cases may give a different result?

Friday morning, 817 Greylags at potatoes at East Fortune (where I recovered my mobile phone, frozen in the snow since Sunday!).

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Wknd 4-5 December


Friday night at 18:00hrs, over two hours after sunset, found Seton harbour full of gulls, 130+ Herring and 2 GBB in the basin; have suspected previously some stay all night rather than going to the roost islands off North Berwick but rarely check; perhaps it is related to the ongoing hard weather?

Saturday did a bit of atlas roving in lower reaches of NT47 still covered in a thick blanket of snow; no sign of yesterday's Greenshank at Samuelston; Red-legged Partridge would have been a 10km atlas tick but was dead and half eaten (hence cannot be counted!), though its footprints in snow nearby! 2 Bramblings and 7 Lotti at Boggs. 300+ Jackdaws heading to the Clerkington roost at dusk (see sky in photo right). En route home a hunting Barn Owl over B6363 by Longniddry Farm, 17:00hrs.

Sunday afternoon, around the grey goose survey sites this afternoon a few large congregations of geese, swans, corvids and Skylarks feeding in the snow at various places.

At East Fenton, 117 Whoopers (34 juv) including darvics PL5, UH3, J3P and X6C;
the latter is new, the others have been regular for 4/5 yrs now (full histories), and 31 Mute Swans. Taking rotten potatoes and fresh cabbage leaves. c. 900 Woodpigeon on railway hawthorns there, and 40+ Yellowhammer, 10+ Reed Bunting and 2 Brambling (latter tetrad tick).

Stubble fields at Brownrigg hosted 500+ grey geese, 12 Whoopers (went W) and 130
Skylark; f/imm Merlin was departing the area N with prey, seemed to be a Skylark.

New Mains, Whitekirk held another 49 Whoopers, 41 Mute Swans, 450+ grey geese,
again in stubble. 8 Waxwings on roadside hawthorns just NE past the church.

Gleghornie to Auldhame had 1500+ grey geese, with another 180+ Skylarks amongst
them.

Total c. 386 Greylags (including 4 on Gosford shore) & c. 2k Pinks, 178 Whoopers
& 72 Mutes, 340 Skylark, all minimum counts.

Monday morning with more snow falling opened front door to hear the trill of a Waxwing, then a Heron went low over the house heading inland. After a struggle to get to work and back again with more snow falling arrived home to find more Pinks (130) heading low SW over house after dusk and a Skylark calling overhead. The view down to the Forth from the Gladsmuir road (B6363) below, those are the "Barn Owl" hedges; perhaps the lack of wind so far will save a few, and I recall analysis of casualties after severe weather last winter showed many were in good condition and had been feeding well. No idea how!