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.


  1. Hi Stephen

    I saw one feeding offshore a few weeks ago off Musselburgh and was also intrigued. I ended up googling a couple of studies carried out in Portugal that indicate that Med Gulls are offshore feeders and may also be nocturnal feeders. Pretty interesting and maybe chimes with the amount of loafing that we see them doing at the coast.

    All the best


  2. Lots (sorry, I'm not a counter) of Kittiwakes feeding far offshore near Inchkeith on Friday - noticed mainly as I tried to string a Sabine's out of a 1st winter!
    Interesting re the Meds - never seem to see the same combinations in the same place twice.

  3. Flock of 50+ Kittiwakes off Gullane Pt today as well as several single individuals. I did notice that there seemed to be more present offshore than is usual at this time of the year, however I was surprised on just how unusual this is by the stats that you produced.

  4. Thanks Calum, Stuart - doubtless heavily under-recorded but I do know from atlas efforts last year, when I was specifically looking for them to add to tetrad lists, that they can be quite hard to find even in November. The proportion of 1st-win seem unusual too.

    The stats for January are similar - 30-odd reports, nearly all singles, but some higher totals in the last week, peak 18W Yellowcraig 30/1/93.

    Presumably the continued presence of skuas is not a coincidence, though Gannets and Bonxie seem to be thin on the ground as usual in Dec.