Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wknd 26-27 March

A fresh Tawny casualty, Edinburgh bypass, aged as an adult (4cy+) so likely part of a pair breeding nearby, perhaps in Dalkeith country park? A rufous morph, easiest clue on age is the smooth bands towards ends of flight feathers, well spaced near tips, contrast the narrower spacing and distinctive wavy subterminal band on juv, some of which are retained into 2nd-winter (see earlier post on 2nd-sum grey morph).

Made a trap for heffalumps when I went to get camera to take these photos; a while later heard Jackdaw alarms outside and a growing crescendo of calls; thinking perhaps a good raptor was around dashed out only to find nearly 30+ corvids swirling high over the Tawny laid out of the grass - well spotted!

5 Waxwings flew low over house 10:30hrs Sunday, first for a while, and Mipit passage well underway SW over.

A look at Gullane Bay in the afternoon eventually produced 28 Red-throated Divers, also 15 Slav Grebes in mixture of winter/breeding plumages, 255 Common Scoter, and just 2 drake Long-tailed Ducks. A wood mouse came out to forage in the dunes - extremely tame but still a challenge to photograph!

At Seton, the roost totals were way down and most of the adult gulls, Meds included presumably, have clearly now gone throo - the end of another season!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Wknd 19-20 March

At last, a Cormorant darvic, white-HAN, from Grampian Ringing Group (ringed as chick at Forvie, 15/6/08); on Seton harbour wall where I had missed one previously; got disturbed and flew off strongly west. By curious coincidence within an hour had a ringing return from the very same group, for Golden Plover DD59907, seen at the very same site, also on a Friday afternoon (ballet run), just 3 months previously; ringed as a nestling at the Lecht on 23 May last year. Not been to the Lecht since skiing there on school trip nearly 30 years ago! Also 4+ Slavs on sea, one full summer, and one RTD.

Back at work news of a White Stork came out, had been over KB in the morning at the same moment that I was dashing from my office to a lecture - missed it! Since it was in a field that I occasionally drive past on way home, just in case anything (like a Stork) is about, we made the detour and called past - a fine beast too (better pic by Ian). Nice to see it for myself, having previously had a split second view (from train) of what must have been the same bird on 3 May 2009, in a similar field just 2 miles north-west at Queen Margaret University.

Surely this is the same as the wanderer we have had in previous springs most notably at ASDA in Dunbar, where a photo was taken showing a closed metal ring on the same (left) ankle (same immediately before that at Blair Drummond safari park). Further digging suggests it may well be one and the same as the individual which has been roaming central Scotland since at least January 2001, when a bird with a red ring was at Ayrshire Central hospital; ring noted again when at Mersehead/Caerlaverock in spring 2004 when BirdGuides reported "this bird is ringed and is one of the free-flying birds from Harewood House, West Yorkshire". Harewood has a "stork and heron" enclosure, where White Storks have nested (2005 pic); more digging found more evidence of Harewood birds at large elsewhere, mainly Yorks but also Durham & Northumbs, including this one at Ossett, south of Leeds, in March 2009, so presumably it winters south of the border? Summary in LBN post.

[Postscript - same Stork had been seen at Ormiston, the night before, 17/3; by 27/3 it seems it may have relocated to Pilling, Lancs - same ring but plumage features inconclusive, so perhaps another from same collection? From obvious plumage features, and reported narrow red/metal ring on left leg, the same then appeared at in Banchory on 13-14 April, where it roosted on top of a car park light at Tescos (moving upmarket!); into May it relocated to Devon (photos); a further summary of its spring travels here, does get around a bit!]

Was getting dark by the time we reached the Seton Burn, but in the gloom amongst c. 2700 small gulls out on the shore was the unmistakeable profile of a Sandwich Tern; eventually showed nicely as it flew and alighted deeper in the throng. Was curious to know if it would go out on the sea with the gulls but there was still a crowd on the shore at 19:20hrs when it was far to dark to make out what was what. Seems it could be the first in Scotland this spring. Reminiscent of a previous March record here also amongst the small gulls, LBN post.

Saturday update - checked Eider off Seton harbour for sails, total 315 birds present and 70+ males confirmed with no sails. The earlier bird is looking like beginner's luck! The gull roost was quite impressive, with birds stretched all along the coast, c. 2k on Seton Sands, 1k on sea, 300 on Longniddry shore and 700 on Gosford Sands. 3 Meds were gathered fairly close off the caravan park, with another on the east end of the beach, 2/3 unringed; all in full-summer, one still with some white flecks. The pale-backed Common Gull was near the latter bird, but overall BHG were in the ascendancy with perhaps 3k in total, a surge of migrants. 7 ad graellsii definitely the most this year. No further sign of Sandwich Tern. Other b&w birds included 20 Sanderling on Longniddry beach and min 65 Pied Wags over SW in small groups after sunset (cf. 66 over SW on 19/3/08); presume these roost somewhere around Musselburgh, but have not noted the Esso roost recently.

Back to Seton Sunday to check for wagtail passage and try to get a proper count - negative, just a single, so birds ystdy may have been migrants looking for a roost, now moved on? Quick look on the harbour wall for the Cormorant also negative but amazed to see two darviced imm GBB standing next to each other there! Seven years of looking and only a single previously, which same as the first Cormorant darvic had flown off before I could read it. Well these two promptly did the same, faced with two to read I'd hardly started when they went. But lucky the harbour was busy and eventually got both, orange-WC7T (ringed at Pitsea by North Thames Gull Group on 9/1/10), above, and yellow-E29 below (ringed as a chick in Berriedale, Caithness, on 22 June 2009). Also 6 Purps on the harbour wall and viewing down the shore to Seton Sands a single adult Med could be seen before a spaniel flushed the majority onto the sea.

Monday morning - ad Med and 19 ad LBB with gulls following plough in fields at Old Craighall just south of A1.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Wknd 12-13 March

Late afternoon Saturday saw 20 Whoopers (1 juv) resting on sea in Gosford Bay; whooping started and they flew at 17:25hrs, passing Longniddry c/p 2 in a single line; no darvics were apparent, at least on left legs! Proceeded SW along coast towards Cockenzie powerstation. After Lesser Blackback, the second species seen on active migration this spring - numbers in East Lothian plummet every March but I rarely catch them in motion; will find out on WeBS tmrw how many remain locally.

Sunday update - at noon a flock of 37 Whoopers at Ballencrieff (6 juv, no darvics in 34 standing), in cereal (first seen here, though once previously nearby at Mungoswells; hard to say on origins, as had gone at 13:15hrs and no sign in scanning from Garleton, just possibly genuine migrants); still 146+ at Muirton and 4 at Waughton.

[Postscript - further evidence of passage with news from Mike of 30+ over his house in Penicuik on Sunday evening, then a sighting of 23 on Blindwells by George on Monday afternoon; also 3 past Coates on Saturday!]

Sunday evening, a nice full summer Med Gull on the Seton shore (unringed); stalked to get a shot and was mystified by an insistent and distinctive "yow" call amongst the noise of calls until throo scope I saw it was the Med; called loudly until it took flight, then continued in flight, a new experience for me. Also a very white-backed leucistic BHG on the sea. Presumed same Med again on shore on Monday.

Nothing to do with Lothian I found this interesting blog for Midway Atoll in the Pacific which documents the impact of the Japanese tsunami on the breeding albatrosses; amongst them "Wisdom", a ringed Laysan Albatross of age 60+ yrs, has apparently survived with her chick.

More local, another blog post worth noting is this recent pic of one of the remaining Night Herons at the zoo. All the information we have points to this being a chick banded in 1987 or earlier, thus approaching at least 24 years old, far exceeding known longevity records for this species (17 yrs - Europe, 21 yrs - North America).

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Only gulls

Only gull stuff in this post, others can ignore!

Recent ring recoveries now added via files "Rings" on right bar, divided by species (each is a spreadsheet with each bird on a separate worksheet).

For BHG, link, the Musselburgh birds last Dec had been ringed as chicks at Coquet Island, Northumbs (now 5th-win) and Loch Urr, D&G (now 7th-win!), plus the Norwegian bird, ringed as an adult in a park in Oslo on 1/4/00 (none had previous resightings).

Med Gulls stuff is derived from Johan's site but with some incipient analysis. Includes latest sighting of red-PJU6 (c/o Dave), previously at Seton on 11/9/09.

Latest Herring was the returning orange-1787 last autumn but more interesting was the Isle of May chick from 24/7/91, feeding on the grass at Gullane Bents c/p within sight of its birthplace (over 18 years later). Must have another look for that bird, metal ring only, quite worn.

Anyway, two Meds in the roost on the sea tonight (Sunday), one with near full hood and other with just a narrow mask ending in a wider mark. Unfortunately tide quite high and dog walkers as usual running their hounds at the whole flock to make sure none left on the shore, so all attempts to refind Dave's Polish bird futile. Dave had 3 other ads on same day and 4 also last wknd. Also the leucistic Common Gull out in the roost, and a single LBB, plus 73 Herring Gulls remaining beyond dusk.

The previous week, had done final winter atlas TTV in NT47I (Longniddry Bents) and within a minute of starting an adult Med flew SW along Longniddry shore, alighting at the Seton Burn. Already logged for all these tetrads but nice to get in the timed count. The previous day as more useful record with single adult Med with small gulls in grass at Wellington Farm, Millerhill, fortunately just inside NT36, thus a 10km tick for atlas. Flushed and flew to the nearby flood pool at Newton. The following day similar flock at same place but no time to check.

Back to the previous wknd and only single adult Meds were located on shore on 17 & 18 Feb, dusk both days. So the increase to 4 birds by the end of Feb, plus appearance of the Polish bird, may be indicative of a "return" passage; we have never previously had the Polish birds beyond mid-March, so they are not likely to stay long; question is, where do they go mid-winter, it seems they must proceed west (red-7P8 last seen 20/11/10) but we have never had any resightings from elsewhere.

Sailing by

Credit to Morg who reminded me it's worth looking for "sailed" Eiders, this was the second bird I looked at on arrival at my patch at Wrecked Craigs, Port Seton. Though the sail has been identified by some (Garner et al.) as the key feature of the northern race (borealis) this individual seemed to lack any obvious difference in bill/leg colour, not to mention the shape of the lobes and processes (nothing to do with the ears!).

There are various articles out there on this "race" (Ireland, Shetland) but the most interesting I have seen is the note by Gibbins & Maggs in NESBR 08* describing "sailed" birds on the Ythan, which have been proven to include a bird ringed as a chick there in mid-1980's and a recent breeding adult female. The remarkable observation of two populations ("sedentary" and "migrant") breeding adjacent to each other at same site (Milne & Robertson, 1965**) may be purely coincidental but with resident breeders displaying sails there is clearly much we still need to learn about the status and distribution of borealis Eider, and more genetic work has been called for.

Having re-read the Garner article it seems the greener bill is not inconsistent with borealis, this being a clinal feature and more typical for birds from Iceland or Svalbard, contra the orangey colour of the New World birds.

Previous observations have been made in Lothian in 2007, also in spring, with drakes at Scoughall on 18 Feb & 29 Apr, and at Aberlady on 1 Apr (I believe with BBRC). We have also had a decent number of Eider in the Forth recently with 2k+ off Gullane, given this was the second bird I looked at (out of 10 drakes total) there are no doubt more out there and we need to be looking more carefully!

* Gibbins C & Maggs H (2009) "The intriguing case of North East Scotland's sailed Eider", North East Scotland Bird Report 2008, pp. 108-110
** Milne H & Robertson FW (1965) "Polymorphisms in egg albumen protein and behavior in the eider duck", Nature 205:367