Saturday, 28 January 2012

Wknd 28-29 January

1st-win Shag green-USS on a small rock on west side of Seton harbour Saturday late afternoon (previously here on 10 September last year). On sea not far offshore one GND.

High tide at dusk made it difficult to check the Seton gulls, but on sea mainly off Longniddry Bents c. 2500 small gulls amongst which a single ad Med (forehead still white) and a dark LBB, off Seton Burn on sea 1 graellsii LBB amongst 80 Herring Gulls. Nothing white all over!

Back on Sunday - the Seton roost was again spread over sea, included various "hooded" Common Gulls such as bird depicted here. Then a fishing boat came in to Seton harbour just after dusk - wheeling over the wake were 4 Kittiwakes, 2 ad, 2 tarrock, 1 ad came right into the harbour and alighted on the wall (depicted below as last bird following the boat into harbour). Also one ad graellsii LBB amongst the large gulls following, presumed "Lucy", she is a fishing boat dependent gull.

Monday, 23 January 2012

SEO ageing and sexing

The White Sands quarry SEO's have attracted a stream of admirers and photographers over recent weeks (I believe 10-12 carloads present on some occasions!). Not been there myself but with so many high quality photos it really ought to be possible to age and sex these birds, even to pin down which is which. Having also recently collected an SEO casualty at Blindwells relevant features can also be illustrated, as confirmed by post mortem details from vet.

So in these shots, the flight feathers (above) provide the first clues being very white below, and inner webs of secondaries almost completely white (albeit overexposed) - these are consistent with a male (female has bars on inner webs, with underwing coverts buff); the tail (below) is sufficient to determine both sex and age, first of all confirming sex in the very few faint bars on inner web of outer feather (female had 3-5 more distinct bars across both webs); tip of central pair of tail feathers gives the age, shown well here with broad dark streak along shaft and obvious dark markings on pale edge panels, juveniles have a tapering narrow dark streak down centre with very limited markings on sides (similar to the outer tail feathers shown here). For reference, the vet made this an "imm m", based on "immature testes black" - so given the plumage features with juvenile tail replaced almost certainly a second-winter.

Applying these features to White Sands birds and others is a challenge as some clues are concealed or hard to see in flight or when perched. The diving shot by Ronald Richardson (halfway down Dec images, dated 18/12/11) shows the upper tail and seems consistent with the juv pattern on central feather - need higher res image to confirm. The flight shots by Mike Thrower and Ron McCombe on BirdGuides thread don't really show any of the above features but are distinguishable in terms of flank streaking and basal colour of underparts, the narrow streaks and pale wash on Thrower images suggest its a male, vice versa on McCombe images is more suggestive of a female. Easier to see, the facial disk of females should also be obviously darker, being "more extensively and deeper buff" on a female. Careful comparison of plumage details of Richardson and Thrower shots suggest they're the same bird, so I (tentatively) suggest this may be a juv male.

Below is another image c/o Abbie, taken 11/1/12, which shows one of four birds present that day; it seems to be a different individual than both those linked above, the very dark facial disk may indicate that it's a female and what is visible of the tail tip is entirely consistent with a juvenile. Reported to be hunting on its own, away from other 3 owls. As ever would be nice to confirm but interesting if at least 2 of the 4 birds are juvs, information elsewhere on the internet (one link here) mentions a bumper breeding season for owls and harriers in Scandinavia last summer, and certainly there was an above average number of SEO reports locally last autumn.

Further to above, if it was known "which was which" other interesting questions could then be addressed, in the mid-air tussling shown in various images who is fighting with who, and who is dominant? e.g. the bird on the left here may be female?

An unrelated aspect which makes me curious is the daily pattern of these birds - if, as reported, they only show sometimes for 15 mins an hour before dusk, then where are they for the rest of the time?! BWP mentions nocturnal hunting being commonplace but of unknown duration/importance. Use of night vision may assist in discovering more but I guess is going to need some very dedicated observer!

Final PS - nice blog post on conditions for good owl food here.

[Refs: Birds of the Western Palearctic, Javier Blasco's Identification Atlas of Birds of Aragon]

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Wknd 21-22 January

Staggered out full of lurgy on Saturday, had a look at the Eiders huddled in at Wrecked Craigs, Port Seton - 66 ad m, 66 f, 18 imm m, one ad m had obvious sails and a couple of the others had hints of sails.

Peering at the gulls sheltering from gale around Long Craigs rocks at dusk, no white-wingers apparent of course, an ad m Peregrine suddenly appeared heading W - gizzard bulging, must have fed well and heading to a roost - this was 16:50hrs, 30 mins after sunset.

Further afield worth noting an unprecedented move of Blue Fulmars past Flamborough in recent days, e.g. 19 Jan, deemed to originate from Bear Island. Given this form is much less than annual in Lothian now might be a good time to look for them off North Sea coast. Unfortunately I can't get there just now!

Blackbirds now in song home and work, first was Tuesday 17/1 - none singing before New Year this year despite mild weather. Still, mid Jan is on the early side, historically I expected to hear them from around last week of January.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Wknd 14-15 January

Old faithful Med red-7P8 aka "Cherry Blossom" back on Seton shore Friday afternoon - after deserting us for Edinburgh (Seton Oct, Muss Nov, Seafield Dec) - welcome back! Initially by Seton Burn with another (presumed) old faithful, ad graellsii LBB "Lucy". No other hoped for species of gull :(

Not much offshore either, 21 Goldeneye on the sea was noteworthy, though hundreds can be seen off Edinburgh.

Another look on Saturday, decent numbers of large gulls on calm sea round fishing boat off Seton harbour, and several hundred small gulls on Seton Sands opposite caravan park entrance, only "white-winger" visible was an adult Med Gull amongst latter, unringed.

Sunday - quick look off Ferny Ness, tide out but fairly calm, min 27 Slavs and 1/2 RNG. Then went to complete E Fenton and Chapel WeBS, found the Whoopers in cereal at latter, 95, then flew to join mates at Prora (above). At E Fortune geese were in stubble south, c. 150 Pinks, 1 Euro Whitefront and the Barnacle Goose with the Greylags, no Beans detected.

Back down at Seton 2 ad Meds on shore opposite caravan park entrance, neither was Cherry Blossom. A boat brought in a good couple of hundred large gulls at dusk, 10+ GBB but again no white wings in there. Best came last, out in the gloom well offshore the unmistakable profile of a solid skua in rapid flapping/glide progress SW past, no doubt the same Pom that was seen before Christmas. Tracked it past Inchkeith, showed brief interest in a few Herring Gulls, then continued in towards bay off Musselburgh where finally lost to sight (bang goes the roosting further east theory, the only thing I can deduce from most recent obs of what is presumed same resident bird is it hunts till late so must still be hungry!).

Monday, 9 January 2012

Wknd 7-8 January

Whilst driving down Eskside on Saturday spotted the tundra Bean Goose nibbling grass just a few feet from the pavement, ignoring passers-by. Others have much better photos, it was after sunset, but proof of food source here! Any other year and the temptation would be to quickly write off any other rare goose amongst tame "feral" Greylags and Canadas (37)!

Sunday made a quick trip round WeBS sites (week early by accident!), Whoopers still on Prora, c. 226, then at East Fortune large Greylag flock was unusually twitchy, first west of ponds, flew to ponds, flushed to fields south, finally settled NW of Waughton cottages (NT560805); breakdown was 652 Greylags plus usual white domestic goose and grey presumed Greylag x domestic Swan Goose hybrid, 4+ Tundra Beans, one ad Whitefront, one Barnacle, 1 Pinkfoot, my first 5 species flock here where Greylags are the standard fare; might have been 5 Tundra Beans, certainly not as many as 10 as reported earlier.

Monday - one Little Auk W past Seton harbour and 1k+ small gulls feeding down middle of Firth of Forth; ad graellsii LBB on Seton Burn, presumed "Lucy".

Early evening an eared owl giving a great display hunting under the Raceland floodlights at Gladsmuir, surprisingly tough to nail the ID though! Concentrated on wing tips but could not get conclusive details in the difficult light; given nocturnal hunting suspected LEO was more likely, assuming owl does not perceive the artificial light as anything more than an assistance to nocturnal hunting, but on consulting texts SEO is not unlikely as a nocturnal hunter, moreover is said to hover more than LEO, which his bird certainly was doing. Lack of ear tufts when perched may also be indicative but probably not conclusive either!

Post mortem back on 3 recent A1 owl casualties:

* SEO, Blindwells, 13/12/11, imm m, weight 318g, body score 3/5, gastrointestinal tract empty; all signs of a young bird in poor condition

* Barn Owl, Abbey Mains, Haddington, 9/11/11, juv f, weight 320g, body score 4.5/5, well filled intestines, gizzard contained common shrew

* Barn Owl, Monksmuir, Haddington, 4/1/12, young ad f, weight 326g, body score 5/5, well filled intestines, gizzard containing common shrew, bank vole and short-tailed field vole

Latter two as per many previous are young female owls in excellent condition, the running total is 77% female - reflecting presumably not that female owls are more susceptible to collisions but that they disperse more and further from natal areas.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Review of year 2011

No time for any great analysis - fairly static on year list at 159 (assuming descriptions accepted, cf 157 in 2010, 160 in 2009), all about 50 species off the pace of best local year listers, i.e. consistently poor! But all were self-found, only extras beyond that being Aberlady Little Egrets and Dunsapie Iceland Gull seen in passing, and all were local, Firth of Forth and local haunts, one exception being an adult LTS on a rare trip to Dunbar. Notable omissions are Red-legged Partridge (how could I have missed them?!) and Shoveler, and found by others in my areas, Brent Goose around East Fenton/Brownrigg and Twite at Blindwells both missed, and BTD another bad omission given hours scanning Forth :(

Most memorable feature for me must be the best skua passage I've seen in the Forth, trek tells me this was 48 Arctic, 17 Great, 9 Pom and 35 skua sp (nearly all Arctic/Pom, most the latter), not including resident birds in the Forth which persisted into 2012. The massive influx of formerly very scarce geese, viz Tundra Beans and Euro Whitefronts, will long be remembered and I was also lucky to get in on the Curlew Sand influx, pick up a single Black Tern and also to get a tiny share of the Mealy Redpoll influx early in the year. Other obvious highlights were the juv Sabine's Gull on local patch off Cockenzie, a fortuitous Turtle Dove at Auldhame during atlas trawl for Collared Dove fledged young, and returning Mandarin at East Fortune.

83 species logged on "passage" via trektellen, taking overall total here to 110 species (full list, 23 non-migrants are subtracted). Particularly pleasing to add Sooty Shearwater off Cockenzie, having let a couple slip throo my fingers the previous year, not to mention adding Sabs!

A "good" year for road casualty owls, record low of only 3 Barn Owls logged Oct/Nov, BUT, this probably means there are less of them around, though perhaps also that it's been mild and they have not needed to move. Fewer other raptor casualties too though results are awaited from the first SEO casualty.

In the garden, 71 species logged, back to more typical after the bumper 77 in 2010, particularly pleasing to add both Woodcock and Short-eared Owl; omissions include Kestrel, less than annual previously though, and surprisingly Lapwing. A decent passage of Crossbill was logged, 38 in total including some in the mid-summer movement along with Siskins, and the single flock of 10k Pinkfooted Geese is also a new record for peak counts (of any species).

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Christmas to New Year

Happy New Year to all - have had a blog holiday though tried to disseminate a few bits of stuff via LBN and birdinglothian, so this post just a few reflections on the last couple of weeks.

Contrary a year ago when we were in the grip of the snow, with a Woodcock influx and hard weather movements, what a difference with the ongoing goose bonanza and unseasonable seabirds. The latter have not been apparent in abundance but right up to the year end Pom and Arctic Skuas were logged in the Forth, and Bonxies in the North Sea. Only the Pom seen by me, a dark presumed juv proceeding into the Forth again soon after dawn on 27/12, heading for the distant concentration of feeding small gulls off Edinburgh. Given a very similar looking bird went E after sunset on 18/12 led me to speculate may be roosting on sea towards mouth of the Forth, but who knows? The Arctic was logged off Kinghorn on 30/12 (another today S off Girdleness), which was interesting as on 1/1 a huge feeding flock of small gulls (3k+) off Kinghorn were repeatedly flushed, presumably by a skua but at the range (10 miles, they were behind Inchkeith) simply impossible to see the dark skua, at least with my scope! Those same small gulls I presume responsible for the continued presence of these skuas, surely there must be some unusual food source out there? [Postscript: birdinglothian now tells us a dark Pom was off Seton again on 2/1 for 15 mins, whilst I was off reading swan darvics, typical!]

Also of interest at sea, 5 Great Northern Divers W in just 10hrs watching in December, with others reported in same period off Muss and Gullane, this seems rather more than usual. How many would have been logged in dedicated watching like some of the east coast sites enjoy? Again without any proof I speculate that some of these had got into the North Sea and were heading back W, where the vast majority of GND overwinter in Britain & Eire, though perhaps some would end up inland?

These and others all logged on trektellen, including a count for today 3/1 when above pics taken from Cockenzie - wind a steady storm force 10 at the time, occasionally must have been gusting to violent storm 11 and I was becoming concerned the car might be blown over the way it was bouncing around. Not expecting to see any real seabird passage, just curious what could cope with a force 10 wind, found that both GBB and Herring Gull were capable, even a Turnstone that was using the troughs of the waves; Shag, Cormorants, Oycs, Razorbill and even a Feral Pigeon all made valiant attempts but eventually either ditched in the sea or blew down wind. All birds ditching in the sea, even gulls, went in with a great splash! Pan tiles smashed all over Seton High Street, sadly my hat also blew away, soon exceeding the speed limit down the main road :(

Now to the geese; it would be tedious to list all the details but 21/12 was a memorable day with a chance encounter of 59+ Bean Geese at Harelaw in my home tetrad (NT47N) on a non-birding trip. Mixed feelings though, after making a careful count had to dash home to get camera and "put out the news", wasted a few minutes on that and on return every last Bean had gone, leaving only the Greylag hosts and 3 Pinks (presumed flushed by a chap going for walk round same field, never seen a living soul in same field previously, or since!). Writing the "description" presented a few challenges, but I have no doubts there were at least 59 Beans there, almost certainly 60 and perhaps one or two more hidden, if accepted this would currently be a record count for Lothian. A few other double figure counts elsewhere since so perhaps they subsequently fragmented? The same Greylags were in same area a little north towards Gosford saw mill on 2/1, no surprise to see the 2 ad Euro Whitefronts here amongst them. Geese at same spot on 3/1 but not checked.

Finally, brief comment on swans - the "western East Lothian" flock have all converged on dumped potatoes on Prora ex-landfill, counted 223 though a few flying around so definitely a minimum. Amusing to see them behaving like toddlers, a couple squabbling over the remains of a particular rotten potato, whilst standing next to a great mound of them! Got only one darvic from gate where view is very restricted, but site is alarmed and has CCTV, fortunately got to speak to site manager and able to approach a bit closer, getting 3 of 4 yellow darvics (PL5 shown, ringed as cygnet at Martin Mere 30/1/01, returning there till 2005 but regular here since 2006); frustratingly no sign of red-ASB (half read at Rattlebags earlier in year); may not have chance now to try again!

PS - with my recorder hat on it is of course record submission time of the year, and a few have arrived (many thanks); if still using the Excel s/s I have an updated version using current Scottish list names (common names, saves typing "Eurasian" all the time) and also what I find to be a handy weekday lookup (minimises date errors, certainly for me) if anyone wants one, indeed will link here shortly. I appreciate all correspondence received, I'm really struggling for time though, especially with a very busy teaching semester just starting, not to mention family duties etc, so please bear with me for replies to emails and don't be offended if they are rather brief and to the point!