Monday, 27 June 2011

Wknd 25-26 June

A family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and 2 families Lotti were out in Fernyness Wood, also Buzzards still in nest there and Chiffchaff finally added as confirmed. An Oystercatcher incubating in a very exposed position in stony area by Gosford Saw Mill, within 30m of main track - also new for tetrad. 8 herons on the Gosford shore included 4 juvs, presumably fledged from the ponds nests. Altogether 4 additions for NT47N (my home tetrad), now 35 confirmed, at least 10 to go. Confirmed breeding of wild boar too!

Less positively still sign of Spot Fly at either location, after what turned out to be a transient sighting in Fernyness Wood on 23 May last year, and at the Saw Mill on 30 May the previous year; before that my last local (NT47) bird was Seton Dean 8 June 2004, several repeat visits in intervening years failed to refind. Very scarce, probably still diminishing, in these parts (widespread losses, particularly in Lothian, since last atlas: change map).

In Edinburgh, Swift still at Nigel Loan, Liberton - "confirmed" after a stake-out, flying in with bulging throat (pouch containing bolus, example photo) at about 20 minute intervals, leaving cavity again after several minutes inside. Actually rather naive about Swift parenting behaviour and was not sure when I would expect it to emerge! The first one entering I never saw emerge until a second entered twenty minutes later; one bird emerged 6.5 mins after that - may actually have been first. Nothing in BWP on visit duration, but found an illuminating paper* which includes a graph showing average visit duration (in minutes) as function of chick age (in days), 83 (1-5), 32 (6-10), 13 (11-15), 6 (16-20) and 4 (20-25). So, chicks of some sort in there for sure!

* Dell'Omo G., Alleva E., Carere C. (1998) Parental recycling of nestling faeces in the common swift Animal Behaviour, 56 (3), pp. 631-637.

Also Chiff and Goldcrest in song more frequently again at KB, presumably starting second brood.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Wknd 18-19 June

A single breeding plumage Red-necked Grebe on the sea off Seton Sands in the afternoon caused me to reach for BWP where I learnt this species is mature from 2 yrs and is "doubtfuly distinct from adult breeding" (basically duller) in 1st-summer plumage. Doubly doubtful at the range I saw it, but most likely this is an "immature" and one of the two seen in May, rather than an early returning adult.

Scanning in the other direction over Gosford and Fernyness Wood revealed about 120 Swift & 100 House Martin feeding, this coastal wood always a great attraction to hirundines on muggy summer days; certainly can't all be locals, often wondered where they all materialise from!

Very exciting also to see a Swift slipping in below the eaves of a neighbour's house, the first such sighting in our seven years in Longniddry, though a handful of resident birds are present every summer. Suspected the same house last year with a pair often over but suspicions strengthened two weeks ago with one apparently coming down to same house as if to roost 22:00hrs and then a persistent screaming party of 4 a few days ago. Similar to above, perhaps noteworthy that age of first breeding of Swift is thought is between 2 and 4 years (Perrins 1970), but many immatures of all ages travel with breeding adults and establish pairs at one year old, when may also occupy sites and build a "nest". How fascinating to think that these birds might even be breeding for the first time after travelling to and from Africa for up to four years; having an annual mortality of 15-20%, and an average lifespan of 9 years, we ought to really appreciate the flocks of 120+ as seen today!

[One postscript note - these behaviours make it doubly challenging to obtain proof breeding for atlas, it is not sufficient just to see bird regularly entering cavity, some evidence of young or feeding is also needed; no chance of directly observing feeding either, another of the amazing facts about Swifts are that the juvs will leave the nest alone on their first flight, typically early morning and they never return, roosting aerially thereafter. Within days they will be powering south on the first migration; thus they are continuously airborne from leaving the nest until their first breeding attempt, which as per above may not be the following year, and first-summer birds also known to roost mainly aerially.]

At the opposite end of the speed scale this little chap rescued off Glassel Park Road earlier in the week. Another was found by the P3 kids on their outing to Fernyness Wood.

Sunday - continuing recent trend plenty Puffins visible out in Forth, small groups flying in both directions and some very close in feeding off Port Seton; perhaps I've been unobservant in the past but do not recall such an abundance of feeding Puffins before, though with 10's of thousands breeding at mouth of Forth no surprise if we do see them when conditions suit them. Quite a trek to carry food back to their burrows, 10+ miles! Also, one RTD NE past, and Buzzard finally confirmed breeding in my home tetrad.

Evening excursion by bike in hope of pinning down last week's Barn Owl site; half way there the rain came on and nearly turned back but pressed on and after a trek was in situ with a good view out over best area just after 22:30hrs; within a minute the bird came into view and a fine sight too with prey dangling below silhouetted against the fading sky. Waited 10 minutes but did not return so headed off back but it probable same, or mate, passed again with more prey 22 minutes later! At that rate it could be taking 20 mice per night for its family. BWP mentions pr bringing 17 prey in 2hrs so might be possible. Rain then strengthened, got home like a drowned rat and would have made an excellent meal for a young owl :(

Monday - with Common Sand on main pool, Blindwells gets a wader at last - just when I thought we'd had it for spring; but maybe we have, this is surely more likely a failed breeder, so autumn passage gets underway! Also confirmed breeding of Blackcap there with a family in the NW corner, but Groppers (7+ territories) at St Germains were less obliging. Good view of an adult moving in vegetation though.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Wknd 11-12 June

WeBS on Sunday produced very little save for yet another "candidate" Yellow-legged Gull, this in fields south of Chapel Farm. Deja vu of similar bird at same spot on 22 June 2008 (LBN post). This one, as depicted, had bright yellow legs and bill, smokey grey mantle, blocky head and long primary extension (beyond P6), but primary tips details were not well recorded in photos.

Earlier in the week nocturnal excursions targeting gaps in the Quail map met with success at Ballencrieff & Myreton (NT47Z), Blindwells MTS (NT47C) and the fields between Kingslaw and Tranent Mains track (2, NT47B), all new for atlas. In these instances a sharp peak in song after sunset, some then falling silent beyond 23:00hrs. Blindwells bird notable in being my first for the site and also in grass, all others in cereal as usual. Together with other recent additions the East Lothian map is now looking rather more complete, though the suspicion must be that there are many more unrecorded, particularly south of the Tyne.

On same trips singing Gropper making a resurgence with at least 4, probably 6, in song btwn Seton Mains the top of Blindwells behind St Germains, plus one in the new plantings btwn Harelaw and Redhouse Wood in Gosford. Fantastic to hear the near simultaneous evening song of Quail, Groppers, Grey Partridge and Reed Bunting!

More good news on confirmed breeders with a Barn Owl carrying prey into a new site and the Lesser Whitethroats on Craigy Hill now feeding 2 juvs (per Abbie). Collared Dove on a nest at Meadowmill, below the A198 roundabout, was also a good new find for NT47C (now 36 confirmed). Tawny Owl was also new for NT47C, not for want of trying, but when finally located gave excellent views perched on railway wires opposite Seton Chapel.

Earlier in the week a brief look offshore on Tuesday produced 3 more Manx NE past Craigielaw.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Wknd 4-5 June

A circuit of Redcoll to Cottyburn and back home by bike (repeat of last week) produced 3 calling Quail in the early hours. First was by Redcoll limekilns, responded immediately to a whistled "whit whit" call. Negative at locations of late May records, Setonhill and Wheatrig, making me wonder whether these all relate to same - wandering a kilometre or so must be likely?

Another heard from railway walk in large cereal field E of Redhouse Wood, also responding to whistled call. Had three "probable" snips of call here on 29 May but a breeze got up and prevented confirming - a while listening at Redhouse the following day, late afternoon, was negative (even in calm conditions, whistle prompt tried). Persistence is clearly required, plus visit at right time of day! This now definite bird is a great first record for my home tetrad, NT47N (plugs an obvious gap).

Back at Longniddry railway station a Tawny was heard from Setonhill and two more then started up noisy calling towards Harelaw. Remarkably this seemed to trip another Quail to sing, from fields south of the station, east of Longniddry Farm. Perhaps this is where the Quail first heard south of Lorne Bridge has relocated, having again been negative at latter location on two more tries, but also within 1km? Or, maybe there are many more undetected and there's one at both locations!? Whatever, my smug feeling at being able to call up Quails by the quality (not) of my whistle mimic of their call rapidly evaporated as it dawned on me that probably any loud call/noise at night is going to set them off, even that of a predator! Indeed I was reminded of the Ballencrieff birds from 2009 which I noted then were immediately triggered by the first notes of a Skylark in the dawn chorus at 03:18hrs - I did wonder at the time whether this was a coincidence but I'm now certain it wasn't. Abbie also tells me loud music and car alarms had set her birds off!

A final observation was that my whistle call Quail impression also set off at least three Song Thrushes in different places; I also noted this on last week's excursion. This is another species sleeping with one eye open and ready to strike up at the drop of a hat, even in the darkest phase of the night.

B'day party duties Sunday landed us in Seafield, Edinburgh - set up scope and on first scan picked up a Bonxie offshore flying low N; tracked it for 15 minutes as it headed strongly N gaining height past Inchkeith and ultimately somewhere off Kirkcaldy where pursued by a gull; showed every sign of continuing due N but guess it would have continued to head round the Fife coast. Had it perhaps arrived overland from the Solway?