Saturday, 31 March 2012

Wknd 31 March-1 April

4 Smarties following the plough (!) at Prestonmill just outside East Linton on Saturday. Blackcap in song at Belhaven Bay, no other migrants seen though.

Interesting to see a drake Pintail on pond at Scoughall but it came out onto bank to reveal a blue closed ring 10...AYF.

Also quiet at Aberlady, Peregrine in favourite spot on salt marsh, probable imm f.

Nests built all over the place, can't really log "used nest" (UN) any more so poised to add various as "occupied nest" (ON) shortly, though leaves will soon obscure many. Breeding atlas starts again tomorrow!

Sunday - back at Ferny Ness, finally got a Sand Martin heading W past, also a hybrid crow (one of the normally-plumaged shore residents depicted above); less easy to view sea with some wind and duck numbers down: 160 Velvets, 57 LTD, 47 RBM, 15 Common Scoter, 6 Wigeon, 6 Slav; on Gosford Sands, 190 Oyc, 143 Barwit, 46 Curlew and a Shelduck. On land Small Tort(s) and Peacock at large.

Finally, last weekend's Barn Owl from Tranent bore BTO ring GC42727, ringed locally as one of 5 pulli at a site near Haddington (c. 10 miles east) on 7 July 2007, so had presumably survived the two tough winters preceding this one, only to perish in this sad way in its 5th winter. This is third ring found in 62 recovered, amongst 115 casualties total; the two previous ones from further afield at Drumnadrochit (Highland) and Largo (Fife).

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Wknd 24-25 March

A thick sea haar descended on the coastal strip from dawn Friday. Figuring this would make Fife hard for migrants to see I spent some hours on the local coast hoping for early returners, but apart from a surge of Mipits on Saturday (unusually going mainly NE in the fog), and an abundance of bumbles bees (+ Red Admiral) little was seen, counts on trek.

Rooks in Fernyness Wood seem to be in great numbers this year, now 94 nests (86 in wood, 4 station c/p, 4 Kitchener Cres (photo), 3 of latter in a tall Highclere holly, which seems an unusual choice but 63 tree species have been used per BWP); this compares 54 nests on 12 March, 18 on 7 March, 10 on 16 Feb, with nest building in full swing throughout (a couple still incomplete). Comparing historical counts here these are unfortunately patchy but 86 nests in 1992, 65 in 1994 then my own counts of c. 30 in 2005, 35 in 2006, c. 30 in 2007, 33 in 2009 (3 Kitchener Cres), 40 in 2010 and 57 last year (when c. 39 in sycamores, 6 elm, 4 beech, 3 dead sycamore; 3 in birch in Kitchener Cres). So why the great expansion?

Around the area other local stuff included: Mute Swan on nest at Blindwells (first breeding there as far as I know, after years of residence), Shag darvic blue-ZPL at Seton, Stock Dove in song in great sycamore in front of Longniddry primary (occasional over, but this is first seen in the village in eight years), pr Mallard on burn by community centre again, and a dead male Sparrowhawk (above) at same location, lying in the burn, with House Sparrow feathers on adjacent bank; this was freshly dead overnight so I was curious of cause of death, there is nothing apparent so will send off to vet [Postscript - diagnosis was collision injury, skin inside right thigh torn with bleeding and bruising, ventral abdominal wall bruised with some internal bleeding; small passerine prey in gizzard consistent with House Sparrow, so injuries perhaps sustained in chasing it? Whatever, a sad end to a fine bird, though quickly replaced by others]

Also on Friday minimum 36 Slav Grebes off Longniddry beach, many in breeding plumage, and pr Goosander fishing in shallows at Gosford Sands on Saturday.

Back at Ferny Ness Sunday, nothing new, only 31 Slav Grebes off Longniddry beach by 18:00hrs, 83+ LTD, 173+ Velvet Scoter. 2 RTD flew NE towards roost late afternoon.

Finally, c/o tip off by Tom a new Barn Owl casualty on A1 near Overhailes, a beautiful and pristine specimen, presumed juv male (below); careful examination of last week's from A720 at Newton suggests it's a 2nd-win male, completely white below and only p7 is apparently replaced in primaries, excluding a juvenile. It had been crushed with a mouse, i.e. mouse fur and teeth outside owl, could it have been struck on prey?

Yet another fresh casualty on A1 by Macmerry Ind Estate on Monday, heavily spotted, presumed juv female, photos below. Still another reported from A199 in Tranent, on Tuesday, apparently crushed in centre of road. Interesting that there were no casualties in spring last year and now 4 within a fortnight - we've already exceeded last year's record low total for casualties.

Comparison of the Overhailes and Macmerry individuals shows how distinctly different they can be, these mainly male/female differences though also age related [postscript, post mortems confirm upper bird as an ad male in good physical condition, containing two field mice; lower one is a young ad female (mature inactive ovary, uterus pregravida) also in good condition but containing no prey.]

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Wknd 17-18 March

Started Saturday with vismig at Gullane hill top, a few Mipits moving, of which two went direct over the Forth, but not much else.

Then looked for Whoopers and found only an empty space; thus the decline has been:

255 on 25/2
174 on 3/3
c. 170 on 10/3
117 on 11/3
None 17/3

Who knows were they are now - perhaps staging in the Hebrides or some already en route over the sea or even in Iceland? Coincidentally the same morning Chris Smout has already logged 51 migrants at Carnbee, and later at least 70 more migrants were logged in Fife. Despite these being due N expect likely mainly Welney birds coming up the east coast. We once had a wintering bird (yellow-CX9) reported from Kinnordy on its way north, 3 March 2010.

How magnificent it would have been to have witness the main departure, perhaps one evening during the week? This is described briefly on the Martin Mere blog. Presumably the old timers and experienced birds lead off, not sure this has ever been documented?

Sat pm an opportunistic first visit to the Bavelaw, Threipmuir & Harlaw resrs; not surprising that no sign of 7 Whoopers reported the previous day, just 182 Pinks in grass by Bavelaw. Also 190 Curlew feeding in grass. On resrs 32 Tufties, 28 Teal, 21 Wigeon, 10 Goosander, 9 Goldeneye, 6 Cormorant (which headed off to roost 17:30hrs) plus 25 ad graellsii LBB, presumed resting migrants. Wonderful scenery, rather a lot of people there with some very productive dogs (Rangers logged 1191 poos in the short track from c/p to visitor centre since last August, hmmm...).

Sunday - got to Seton too late after dusk but one 2nd-win Med (very little progress towards a hood) amongst 1900 mainly Common Gulls at burn mouth. The BHG's were segregated as is typical particularly once into breeding plumage, a huge raft of 1700 of them on sea off Longniddry c/p1, including a single full hood ad Med Gull not far offshore, likely more if I had been able to grill them properly. Apart from the change of roost make-up and breeding plumage even with eyes closed you could easily tell we are into those distinctive spring passage roosts with the high-pitched squealing of the excited BHG, much more subdued in winter!

Finally to complete usual species set - a fresh Barn Owl casualty on A720 Edinburgh bypass at Newton by the A68 entrance slip, c/o tip off from Abbie; an interesting looking live owl was seen crossing Millerhill Road at exit to Sheriffhall roundabout - flew N throo trees and not seen again, species not determined but seemed a bit dark above for Barn Owl.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Wknd 10-11 March

Sunday update - only 117 Whoopers remaining on grass at Muirton, after an hour of observation concluded only one bird ringed, the right leg red darvic not confirmed before; after another hour still only had first and last letters. Probably last chance for this year. Whilst watching observed courtship btwn two juveniles, depicted above; per BWP "Pair-formation slow. Courtship occurs in winter flocks, but more often in non-breeding herds where most pairs formed, with engagement period lasting at least until following season."

Saturday - an early morning foray to the Whoopers for darvics, before they leave en masse, was not successful - all 180 remaining were on grass at Muirton, all seated perhaps from a morning roost there/night feeding, so no legs visible even if stalked. Summary doc of this winter's observations with 9 darvic histories here. Most interesting is the one finally cracked as yellow-46I, ringed as juv f in August 2003 in Iceland but wintering recently in southern Ireland (Fermoy, Lismore, Co. Cork 2008/9; Ballyduff, River Blackwater, Callows, Co. Waterford 2009/10 and Ballynerron, River Blackwater, Co.Waterford 2010/11).

At Aberlady an imm Peregrine perched on salt marsh and 80 Pinks straight N over, another 25 past Berwick Law.

Afternoon, WeBS to Blindwells picked up the two drake Shoveler found early in the week by David, still feeding voraciously in the western "mangrove". Down at Cockenzie harbour a larger diver sp. past, big feet, straight neck with solid bill, 99% sure BTD though it did two "neck lifts" within the period it passed by, not the typical head wobble of RTD. Flew in towards Musselburgh. A solid 2nd-win Herring Gull at Seton harbour, below.

Nests under construction all over the place! Rooks were down to just a handful of old nests at trad site by Longniddry station a couple of weeks ago, presumably more lost to storms this year, including all of those formerly in Kitchener Crescent, but count today of 42 of which two were still half built, plus an offshoot over the road with a new nest over station c/p right by floodlight. Many Woodpigeon nests very exposed, one obvious bird sitting here in birch on Douglas Road.

Previous Thursday - 2nd-win Med Gull on Seton shore at dusk with 5 ad graellsii LBB.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Wknd 3-4 Mar

Saturday - first success in virtual recording via Seabird Centre cameras - pr Peregrines seen at Bass Rock lighthouse, think female perched and male coming in to alight beside her; a probable male perched on Fidra, up on a rock platform facing SE, then on lower cliff edge with adjacent gulls holding fast but keeping an eye on it. Also managed to read 4 Shag darvics on SW rocky coast on Isle of May, red-HFJ, red-HFT, red-IDN and green-JUZ. Letters on HFJ worn to a white patch on one side so perhaps an older individual. First and last feature on Seabird Centre sightings as breeders there.

It's all over for the Prora potato-eating Whooper Swans, a plough was turning over the whole site along with whatever remains of the potatoes; 174 (40 juv) were at East Fenton with 6 flying in at dusk, this left 70 missing from last week, either dispersed or still feeding somewhere a bit further a-field. No rings read with birds on water but have received latest return from WWT and updated the histories summary spreadsheet, now 121 ring reads in East Lothian of 30 confirmed individuals, histories extend to 240+ records. A few more unconfirmed, very nice to get the 4*I ring confirmed as 46I in last return!

In Athelstaneford area - stacks of gulls for miles around in recently ploughed fields, but no further sign of last week's with yellow legs.

During the week - a Short-eared Owl casualty on the A1 at Dolphingstone, just over a mile west of the Blindwells bird in November (new one another male based on few bars on outer tail feather [per BWP: female "t6 more heavily marked with 4 (3–5) bars on both webs, sometimes rather irregularly shaped (♂ has 2–3 narrower bars, mainly restricted to inner web)"], but age tricky/impossible as central tail missing! [per BWP: Juvenile "probably best distinguished by t1: 10–15 mm of tip of t1 uniform buff or white, except for black-brown shaft streak which tapers to point at tip, frequently with some fine speckling in middle of pale tip or at border of shaft-streak (in adult, broad pale tip heavily marked dusky or tip almost completely dark, except for narrow pale fringe; dark shaft-streak, if present, not tapering and not quite reaching tip))"]. These are the first two casualties I have recorded of this species, searching the Lothian database I found only one other record since 1991, one on A1 at Dunglass on 2 February 1993; the only other in LBR's (1979 to date) was "single Macmerry (dead)" sometime in 1989, likely a casualty but no info on that. These recent casualties therefore consistent with an exceptional influx last autumn as suggested by records of live birds locally and in wider area. More positively, a Barn Owl hunting at the regular spot by Harperdean road up to Garleton from Haddington on Tuesday evening, Tawny calling at Seton Dean on Wednesday.

Friday - a sooty BHG by the Seton Burn, probably same individual first seen two weeks ago and presumed stained not melanistic as it was with a second bird. Plenty Herrings on shore (450+) but no sign of yellow-T:115 reported there last week (ringed as ad f on 22/07/11 in Aberdeen harbour, caught by hand). Several Kittiwakes and Gannets out in the Forth.

At dusk on Sunday c. 3000 small gulls at mouth of Seton Burn, with just a handful of large gulls, still only one ad graellsii LBB; careful scan revealed nothing else but at last light a white-winged bird went past NE to join a sub-group of 200 on Gosford Sands, presumed Med Gull. Nice sunset though.