Saturday, 17 December 2011

Wknd 17-18 December

Not sure if anyone else has noticed but there are loads of Kittiwakes still in the Forth! Checking the Lothian database 1991-2010 there have been a total of 27 previous December records, only one in double figures though (15 Silverknowes, 3/12/06). Today in another brief look from Cockenzie again 20+ were easily visible, at least 50% were 1st-winters. Ystdy could only afford a 10 minute scan but in same period 32 went SW past, full counts. Most of these probably derive from feeding flocks well offshore, amongst even greater numbers of other gulls, mainly BHG, fewer Common Gull. Perhaps there is some unusual food source, or is it simply due to the relatively mild winter, with some contribution from stormy weather? Whatever, I suspect these would all be worth looking at more critically, and note the adult Sabine's Gull reported from Northumbs today (not to mention the Manx, skuas passing Flamborough today, and series of unseasonal Puffin records)!

On Wednesday doing just that, scanning a distant flock of feeding small gulls which were out towards Inchkeith, well offshore (at least a mile), picked up a medium-sized white-winged gull, brief excitement considering possibilities but as it was heading off SW towards Musselburgh, as all good birds ultimately do, it became apparent it was "just" a Med Gull, probably an adult. Nevertheless a sighting of great interest to me as I have long wondered if they feed offshore - we invariably see them on the shore, loafing or arriving for the roost (when direction seen most often from inland), and they are not that difficult to find amongst small gulls in fields near the coast up to a few miles inland, but clearly they may also feed offshore.

This is all part of the puzzle of explaining what it can be that attracts these birds to come over here from places like Poland and elsewhere on near continent, to spend perhaps 9 months of their year at a location some way north of their main breeding areas - and then when they're here spending 16 hours a day out on the sea in a roost at this time of the year. Clearly there is some decent benefit for them, relatively mild climate could be argued, though at present it's only the sea that provides that an environment marginally above freezing (for roost and otherwise), but presumably also good feeding of some sort?

Back to today and a 2nd-win Med was standing in the Seton Burn immediately afterwards. No sign of any arctic gulls, nor at Seton harbour, but a 1st-win Iceland reported from Musselburgh at evening roost gives some glimmer of hope!

Sunday - did not get out till dusk and the Seton Burn held very few gathered gulls, just 350 on shore (including one black-headed Black-headed Gull) + 400 on sea, exceptionally small gathering. At Seton harbour a fishing boat was coming in trailing c. 200 large gulls, 5 Kittiwakes in their midst wheeling over the wake; gulls which had come down on sea behind boat flushed twice so I was on the look-out for a predator and sure enough a really solid looking dark Pom Skua went past W not too far offshore; harried an adult Kittiwake then went round in a great circuit off Prestonpans/Musselburgh and headed back east offshore, there harrying a Herring Gull. Probably a juv but could not exclude a dark adult.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Wknd 10-11 December

Spent some time looking at these Grey Partridge feeding in snow at Seggarsdean on Saturday, pecking at oil-seed rape leaves and weed seeds, covey of 8, 5 more nearby. Must admit I normally just count the flocks but careful examination allows appreciation of how distinctive are male (above) and female (below). 1st-win of each sex probably tough to distinguish in the field, post-juvenile moult fully complete at 16 wks, i.e. at least by late Nov, male retains outer two primaries, with bars on outer primaries less broken and not so reduced as adult, whilst female breast without chestnut, or on a few feathers only; in c. 15% patch as large as average adult female (all per BWP). Fascinating to see them all crouch flush down with snow seconds before a Sparrowhawk whizzed past the car. Both species new for tetrad (NT57G), also added a few at Tyne by Abbeymill where 32 Siskin accompanied by 2 Lesser Redpolls in waterside alders, Goosander on the river.

Sunday did WeBS circuit (a week early by accident!) - first stop East Fenton where c. 250 swans at usual muddy field south-west of the farm, probably still c. 210 Whoopers. With them 470 grey geese, knew there was a chance of interesting interlopers and though distant and in poor light soon got a view of orange legs on a couple. Some shooting started and they flew, departing mainly N 14:30hrs. Photos taken confirmed the dark tail band and narrow white tip on one, i.e. Bean Goose presumed tundra, a patch tick for me in the Drem area, though later found there had been 31 of them there with 140 Whitefronts NW over at same spot a little earlier in the afternoon - oh well, at least have seen various Whitefronts!

On geese well worth a look at this blog post on a bunch of neck-collared Greylags which came over from Scandinavia but have already gone back again, amazing!

Back to Friday had a skua rising up from sea off Ferny Ness, harrying gulls - lucky to catch up with same later off Port Seton harrying a Kittiwake, confirming as a gingerish juv Arctic; reports of individual off Musselburgh at wknd apparently a darker bird, perhaps a few still lingering in Forth in association with late departing Kittiwakes this year? Lucy (LBB) still resident in Seton harbour for 7th winter, also seen offshore, for comparison this typical argenteus Herring on a rock at Cockenzie harbour, a couple of dark flecks in pale iris.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Wknd 3-4 December

Joined the current goose fest seeing just one of the Tundras Bean currently at Luffness Mill House en route to grey goose survey circuit on Sunday. Same plus friends further east at West Fortune Tuesday morning, including two Barnacles, one above, and a very pale leucistic Pinkfoot. Missed the two European Whitefronts found later by Jim at the Luffness Mill House field.

Actually 4 tundras seen but only three together, in foreground above separate from main flock; note the distinctive appearance of mantle on sleeping bird immediately above (left, orange legs), much browner than Pinks, moreover tertials with more distinct pale fringes.

Also on Sunday another Bean Goose briefly in the stubble by East Fortune pond, then cereal east towards Waughton. Presumably also a tundra but view too brief to nail it, just possibly the returning taiga from last winter. 485 Greylag there were only ones found for the survey (also f Merlin like a small rocket over stubble at East Fenton). Looked for this Bean again in quick circuit round early Tuesday but no Pinks in area, though 340 reported early afternoon by Mark, including a pale-bellied Brent - pretty rare inland here and completing set of 6 species of geese East Fortune to West Fortune on Tuesday morning! All part of a remarkable east coast goose influx, with single flocks of 90+ Tundra Beans and 120+ (now 140+!) Whitefronts up in NE Scotland - if lucky we may get a few more later in the winter?

Saturday vismig off Ferny Ness gave great flyby views of GND, 4 ad Whoopers and a juv f Peregrine, full counts. Even better was an SEO past the previous morning, way offshore when picked up but black wing tips confirming species - tracked it NW towards Inchkeith, then veering slightly N towards Kinghorn - presumably an incoming migrant heading W?