Saturday, 29 October 2011

Wknd 29-30 October

Starting on Thursday, one pale ad Pom Skua heading slowly SE in across Gosford Bay in a brief look from Seton in morning. Big gull roost at Seton in evening, c. 4.5k, but mainly on sea and well spread out, just one ad Med Gull detected plus an intermedius LBB (below). 355 Pinks passed over Crookston NE at dusk, seemed to follow the A1 passing over Bankton then Seton Sands.

Friday morning, a little vismig was on with flock 24 Fieldfare and 2 Crossbill low over house. At high tide an ad Great Crested Grebe was feeding very close in at Seton Burn (above), quite unusual for any grebe species here. This species is barely annual on this stretch of coast now, I recall seeing 3 in September 2004 but ever since no more than a single, except for a period in December 2007 with two off Seton harbour. Two were reported again in December 2009, though I saw none that year. Suspicion may be that these are returning birds, like the Black-necked, but why so few when decent (though rapidly declining) numbers can still be seen off Edinburgh coast? Peaks at Silverknowes have been 39 in 2010, 49 in 2009, 105 in 2008, 288 in 2007, 261 in 2006; further back there were up to a thousand wintering in the Forth (standard LBR species text); we certainly seem to be witnessing a collapse in numbers locally.

Saturday over at Haddington located a flock of Pinkfeet in stubble by Seggarsdean, total c. 3100 with 88 Barnacle. Had a good look at nearly all and no collars or oddities spotted. Up on Garleton another 2300+ Pinks included a new leucistic bird, originally found by Abbie at Bangly Hill in the morning, this one nearly white on back (central in image below). Towards dusk the GCG was still at the Seton Burn, in a brief look 5 LBB and at least two ad Med Gulls amongst the gulls on the sea, but a heavy shower commencing and poor visibility.

No sign of Crestie Sunday, though I note 2 GCG reported from Musselburgh, perhaps it moved down there?

Monday morning, the "nordic" (?) Jackdaw back on the same bit of pavement on Niddrie Mains; had this been the first sighting I would have been tempted to declare it a fresh arrival from Scandinavia, in peak Jackdaw migration period. As with the "northern" Eiders previously referenced on these pages it would be nice to get some quality images of these individuals, for reference, but I suspect the interests of local bird photographers do not extend to these dubious subspecies :(

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Raven roam(ance)ing

Coming back from a meeting in Hamilton I found myself with a half hour spare at the exciting venue of Bellshill railway station, Strathclyde; after a few minutes looking around I was pondering how tough inland birding can be, semi-industrial and unremarkable landscape as far as the eye could see - yet we know even scarcities like YBW are not infrequently picked up inland, they're out there but a needle in a haystack to say the least. No, no chance of spotting anything of even remote interest right here, I thought.

No sooner, but I picked up two apparently large birds approaching from the south, almost glued together; no bins and hard to judge distance but by flapping action clearly something "big"; as they came close thoughts of raptors or herons vanished as I could see they were clearly a pair of Raven, albeit too high to really discern the wing and tail shapes. Over the next 20 minutes they were in view continuously, until the tiniest of specks that I could barely discern, a good few miles north. Throughout, they flew in formation, circling, occasionally changing direction to do a figure of eight, never more than a couple of metres apart and most of the time nearly touching. No true aerobatics, but it was quite apparent these two were close, seemingly enjoying the tightly synchronised flying.

Turning to the trusty BWP, where so many fascinating insights can be found under the various headings on things like social behaviour (many clearly derived from a lifetime's study by the cited author), I noted the following relevant comments:

"Monogamous. Almost certainly pairs for life (e.g. Heinrich 1990) ... Pairs remain together throughout year and occupy same territory year after year (e.g. Harlow 1922). Members of pair readily recognize each other individually and transmit modified vocal information directed only at mate, even over long distances (Gwinner 1964). ... Behaviour interpreted as play often reported. Studies on semi-captive birds reveal much more complex play repertoire than reported for any other bird (Gwinner 1966), including hanging upside-down, and sliding down sloping surfaces. Play sequences prone to great individual variation and group-specific play combinations arise by mutual imitation."

Another valuable reference, the BTO bird facts, tells us the max recorded age of a wild bird was 17 years. Another source states 25 years for a captive bird. Wonder how long those two I saw today have been together?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Wknd 22-23 October

"vismig" on Saturday, 21 skuas in 2 hrs, including great views of juv Pom Skua just offshore, 13 Whoopers past too, full counts.

Seawatch from Dunbar Battery (first visit!) afternoon produced at least one more juv Pom Skua (several probables) and an adult Long-tailed Skua drifting N, full counts; think this is my first ever complete set of skuas :} No other sea-watchers and was not sure where the usual watchpoint is, climbed out of the battlements to get to a spot on front rocks shielded by a wall; on way back discovered that was rather unnecessary with the path round the side! Also tried sitting just below the main battlement wall, but soon found the problem with that, for some reason people seeing a high wall can't resist going there to spit over it - missed me, but not long after got a shower of pebbles from small children. Will take a hat next time.

[Interesting that the skua flow rate there was not markedly different to in the Forth recently; average rates in Forth has been c. 15 birds/hr (100 birds, 6.5hrs counts, 3/7/19/20/22-Oct), with 43% Arctic, 15% Bonxie and majority of rest Pom; at Dunbar rate c. 12 birds/hr (24 birds, including a few south), far more Bonxie at 45%, Arctic only 15%. Can also compare with Hound Point count on Sunday, 88 birds in 6.5hrs, 58% Pom, 31% Arctic, 8% Bonxie and 2 juv LTS - suggests most of my "skua sp" are Poms! Obviously there are loads of factors, like wind, which will render attempts at comparisons nearly meaningless!]

Also Saturday - Whoopers were at Rattlebags (by East Fenton) and New Mains (by Whitekirk), flew to roost towards Tyninghame 18:15hrs (photo of arrival there the previous weekend). Sunday - confirmed 100 Whoopers back at East Fenton, in favoured stubble by Rattlebags, 23 juvs (probably six families, b5, b5, b4, b4, b3, b2?), 23% juvs ratio (can do that with no calculator!) which is very typical. 3 darvics, 2 new, i.e. yellow-H9U and yellow-S53, latter ringed and released at Loch Leven (Findatie) on 1st February 2007 after being in care at SSPCA, Middlebank (taken there from Muthill, near Crieff on 7th November 2006 in a weak condition); only other report was near Gressingham, Lancashire (SD5469) on 15th December 2008 (c/o Allan Brown), great survivor then! Previously we've had S54, ringed at Muss, and S55, ringed as a juv on the River Tay at Flukie Fishing Lodge, Kinfauns, near Perth on 29/1/10, also rung by Allan & Lyndesay; seem to be gathering a matching set of their darvics!

Passing Aberlady noted a couple of Greenshanks and juv Ruff still by Peffer Burn, also an adult Med Gull (unringed). Off Ferny Ness, now 35 Long-tailed Ducks, majority beautiful males, showing well close in; 3 Red-necked Grebes, 2 Slav, could not see our little friend (returning BNG) again though.

2 ad Med Gulls by Seton Burn towards dusk, beautiful light but no camera with me!

[Several Shag darvics read at Seton and Dunbar, details to follow.]

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Wknd 15-16 October

Above is a small part of a flock of c. 9500 geese in stubble btwn Muirton and East Fenton, filling the fields there mid-afternoon Saturday. Having started counting by 10's found them an indigestibly large number so tried again by hundreds and made it 9600. A series of 16 digiscoped photos of whole flock, like one below, enabled me to try again at home and after an hour with the clicker and a spreadsheet it came out at 9502! I'd still say plus or minus a thousand or so (would be interesting to know the official Aberlady count!).

Mainly Pinks obviously, but also 178 Barnacle Geese; just a single grey collar shows that they are quite rare now; remarkably, an adult male Peregrine was down on prey in the midst of the geese, plucking something with pale feathers, perhaps a gull, flock came with 20m of it! Finally I spotted the dark goose visible in images above (can you see it amongst the c. 680 Pinks?), but I wasn't fooled as I recognised it as the dusky Canada that had been at East Fenton last month (originally thought it was an aberrant or had some hybrid influence but now wonder whether just stained?) When the guns started and the whole flock flew this individual circled forlornly before finally going into East Fenton to join its friends.

Other geese included a few Barnacles on Gosford shore, 291 Greylags at East Fortune including one of our old domestic hybrid friends (previously speculated is Greylag x domestic Swan Goose, like this) shown below.

On the swan front had estimated 40 "cygnus sp" in the same stubble from the Intercity train on Monday so it seemed something of a coincidence to find 39 Whoopers (2 juvs) on Chapel resr - these were initially feeding in cereal at Fenton Barns.

Elsewhere, 2 RNG, 3 Slav, 6 LTD and several skuas (mainly Arctic) off Ferny Ness, also f/imm Stonechat there; 480 Lapwings Drem; drake Pintail East Fortune; another Pintail, resident Little Egret and 4 Ruff at Aberlady, where high tide coincided with dusk (below).

A rare trip to Tyninghame on Sunday, generally quiet birdwise (one Crossbill, one Chiff in Links Wood) but this dragonfly was a surprise on the beach, was not sure what it was but have been informed it might be a Vagrant Emperor (imm m?). This is a species resident in sub-Saharan African, and very rare vagrant to Britain, it would apparently be the 3rd or 4th record for Scotland! More info in this BirdGuides article (has also reached Iceland, the Caribbean and recently, Canada, not bad for an African dragonfly!)

Otherwise: 6 Greenshank on Tyne Sands beach, 3 more (or same) by the embankment. A fantastic display by a young Peregrine. Offshore c. 3300 Kittiwakes feeding over the sea in area east of Bass Rock, a single skua having a field day in the midst of them! 14 Barnacle Geese on estuary and 27 Whooper Swans (family of 5 juvs, below), all unringed, flew to roost in estuary 17:20hrs.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Wknd 8-9 Oct

Towards dusk on Saturday, in miserable weather, an adult Little Gull having a preen on Seton shore at Wrecked Craigs (rare here, my second Seton record in 8 yrs!), and a 1st-win Med in a quick look at Seton roost. Also at Wrecked Craigs, Shag green-SPJ, ringed as a chick on the Isle of May on 12/6/08 and seen previously Oct 08 an Sept/Oct 09 (photo below). At noon 30 Barnacle Geese N over Longniddry primary, then 4 more NE - poor visibility.

At usual patch at Port Seton on Friday afternoon, but limited to 90 mins (daughter's ballet class!), a lot to see - on Wrecked Craigs, Shags included red-LLZ (ad f, ringed as chick Isle of May 19/7/05, previously here 8,18,30/8/09) and 100+ Golden Plover were all European.

Caught sight of an unusual jizz seabird moving away into Forth, smallish with dark mantle but white below, very buoyant flight, then dipping and occasional plunge revealed it was Black Tern; further sightings over the period of presumably same bird eventually gave better views (first for patch!).

Meanwhile virtually every fresh scan of the Forth, in crystal clear visibility, was picking up more skuas heading W, some nice views of mainly dark Arctics, one Bonxie, close in, but most resolutely ploughing up the Forth mid-channel - a few Bonxies in particular at some height, max group four. A juv Pom gave reasonable views not too far offshore, noticeably so much more bulky than the dark Arctic just behind in, whilst a couple of bulky pale adult skuas mid-channel likely also this species. Total for the periods was 41W (17 Arctic, 12 Bonxie), plus 1 Bonxie E (full counts). [Would be interesting to compare with Hound Point for the full day, at these rates several hundred would be possible!]. Also one Manx Shearwater went west, well out.

Sunday - more yapping heard, no surprise with so many Barnies at Aberlady (3200), not to mention another 1200 at Tyninghame - I guess this is a record influx (beating e.g. 2300 Tyninghame, 630 Aberlady, 379 Barns Ness on 30 September 2009)?

Blackbird in extended periods of subsong.

40 swans Muirton-East Fenton (from train) were intriguing, with no Mutes on last week's goose circuit - will have to check out to see if they are the vanguard of the Whoopers. Incidentally East Fenton 5-yr average for this species has now reached 212, thus it becomes a site of international importance (per latest WeBS report)!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Wknd 1-2 October

Nothing new, another Med Gull, though the one above was at a new site for me - Aberlady - moreover was accompanied by another 1st-win early afternoon on Sunday; yet another 1st-win was at Whitekirk on the golf practice range later in the afternoon, also unringed. The previous evening a 2nd-win flew in at 18:00hrs to join a very modest roost on sea off Seton Burn (also unringed!) and an adult was on the sea off Longniddry c/p 2.

Grey goose count was nearly a dismal failure, a trawl of Gosford, Aberlady, Muirton, East Fenton, Chapel, East Fortune, Redside, Waughton, Scoughall, Lochhouses, Newbyth etc drew a blank on Greylags! So tried again after sunset and a great gathering was on the sea off Gosford entrance, several hundred. Suspect they had been hidden in behind Gosford woods, as many Pinks came out of that area late afternoon.

On Saturday evening in steady rain, negligible wind, 25+ Redwing calls (some groups 2 or more) 21:25-23:40hrs Saturday, passing W in rain. Some of same reported from further west by Ian at Musselburgh, also a single down in Borders by James. During same period plenty entertainment from local Tawny Owls, initially hooting over golf course but then probable youngster(s) along burn trees just over the road from us, comical calling and loud wailing. Sunday evening ad+juv Sandwich Tern calling over 22:30hrs, directly over house apparently W.

Further miscellaneous sightings: fresh Barn Owl casualty Blindwells, 560 Golden Plover on Seton shore and 5 RTD off Ferny Ness on Saturday; on Sunday, 8 Slav, 6 RNG at Ferny Ness; 6 Pintail, 2 Curlew Sand (flew in from west), 1 Greenshank and 1st-win Wheatear (depicted) at Aberlady; several Red Admirals all over; Blackbirds in winter song Gosford, 2 or 3 vocal Nuthatch in ponds area; c. 20 Swallows Spittal.