Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas week

Back to the Whoopers on Boxing Day, they seemed in good form with 4 or 5 full blown trumpeting displays from a circle of birds, as per above. The mud is no better, some seemed to be filter feeding in a couple of inches wet mud a la flamingos but most happily munching provided potatoes (below). Nevertheless a few fights breaking out and vigorous pecking of other birds which had strayed into a favoured patch!

Better success with darvic rings, and pleased to get old friend yellow-PL5 back for 7th winter with us, swapping in 2006 from Martin Mere (where caught and ringed as an adult on 30/1/01) - pic below. Also yellow-X4R is back, first seen last winter and ringed at Martin Mere on 10/2/10. Finally yellow-Z3K is still present, seen here in early November (no history yet). Have updated the darvic histories document, link right menu.

The Queenstonbank Pinks contained one odd goose with some features that I thought matched juv Whitefront, viewed from the track end at Rattlebags quarry. Thursday update - but how wrong I was, it proved to be a small dark aberrant plumaged Pinkfoot, should always have been the first option - oops! Good I returned though, got grey collar PJH again - ringed Lintrathen 20/11/05, seen at Cullicudden on the Black Isle 4-5/11/06, at Skinburness in Lancs on 28/2/07 and by me at Aberlady 2/11/07, another old friend. Also recounted the Whoopers which were nearly all around flood pools on grass at Muirton, made it 238 this time of which 57 juvs (23.9%). If that is accurate then looks like we have retained more juvs, or gained some in exchanges, as the juv count was only 48 back in November!

Also added three atlas tetrad ticks, 3 breeding confirmations from nests, including a rookery of 39 nests just east of East Fortune New Row (how did we miss that in breeding season?!), and 5 count increases (targets file).

Back at Ferny Ness counting scoter again caught sight of a Great Northern Diver fishing offshore NW, very likely the same bird I got briefly last weekend - but this time lingered just long enough between dives to clearly see the lower neck band, a fine bird. 320+ Velvets but many more out of range.

On Christmas Eve morning, 10 Waxwings in flight over Fa'Side Avenue in Wallyford, viewed from A1, presumably same reported early afternoon nearby on Salter's Road.

Saturday update - trip back from Preston up M6/M74/A701 saw a good showing of Kestrel with 7, versus 11 Buzzard, despite generally miserable weather and plenty rain. Kestrels hunting the motorway central reservation in wind and rain with traffic thundering down both sides, how do they do it?! Highlight was Ravens over Shap. Also added Carrion Crow breeding confirm at NT25U (UN) and Siskin in NT13F.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Wknd 22-23 December

Owling in a break in the weather Saturday evening - Tawny Owls at Limetree Walk, Tyninghame, and in holly by minor road south of Gilmerton House (pics) - but drew a blank at other suitable locations and no Barn Owls seen. Probable Woodcock flushed off verge on minor road between North Berwick and Kingston, at Kilmurdie.

Comments posted to SEScotBirdAtlas group on Barn Owls: "Coming back to the issue of Barn Owl numbers, Ray had commented about signs of a recovery but if so would not seem to apply to lowland East Lothian! There are several indicators of a depressed population in Lothian as a whole, including decline of overall annual total of sites where recorded (increased from 35 in 2004 to 100 in 2008, but closer to 30 again last year, despite atlas effort), observed absence from previous regular hunting sites, fewer occupied breeding sites (dropped 8 to 3, in 11 monitored), fewer road casualties (4 last year, 20+ in 3 earlier years since 2004), etc. On top of this there may be clues that we are suffering more, perhaps a lot more, in the lowlands. As discussed with Mike (McDowall) recently it might not be a coincidence that the 4 monitored nest sites below 100m remain vacant (often more extensive better habitat for them on higher ground). Taken all together and with the difficulty in finding them in traditional areas in lowland East Lothian I'd be surprised if we had even a quarter of what existed earlier in the atlas period, perhaps even down towards 10% or so."

Somewhat depressing, but worth monitoring and documenting, one day they will surely be back. Meanwhile turned to the other mid-winter staple when birding becomes tough, the wintering Whoopers. Some nice mounds of potatoes now provided on the ex-landfill near Prora, but unfortunately the whole area a sea of mud effectively defeating attempts at ring-reading (3+ still present, probably including juv red-AVJ). Presumably happy with this food source as many were roosting on the feeding ground by late afternoon. Same problem with seeing the entire flock for a proper count so waited for the roost flight - commenced 16:13hrs (33 minutes after sunset) and proceeded in dribs and drabs, 5 to 30 birds every couple of minutes until typically the largest group was the final batch of 48 birds at 16:37hrs (58 minutes after sunset). A real challenge to get an accurate count at 1 mile range in poor light but the estimate of 237 was 12 more than had achieved in the distant flock count whilst many still massed around food mounds. All seemed to go down to Chapel Farm resr to roost, avoiding having to rise over the railway into the strong wind to reach East Fenton. So again a good number overwintering here, long may it continue. The next challenge will be the WWT census on 15 January which requires an age breakdown! Geese also apparently still around in reasonable numbers too, totalled 1630 Pinks in ploughed fields north of Rattlebags, East Fenton, viewed from Queenstonbank.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Wknd 15-16 December

In reverse chronology - towards dusk on Sunday a small bunch of Waxwings milling over centre of Aberlady village; sensing a chance to track their roost flight pulled in at Gosford bothy and within 5 minutes spotted them (12) striking out across open fields towards Gosford woods, flew in over bothy; can't say how far they were going though! (Appeared again in Douglas Road 08:4hrs Monday).

Aberlady at high tide was covered in wildfowl, well over 1000, of which 275 were Shelduck (rest too tedious to count in failing light!). Other ducks on WeBS were a 1st-win drake Scaup at Chapel and the ad drake Gadwall remaining at East Fortune.

Still 450+ Greylags at potatoes, and the Reed Bunting shown above. Whooper red-BLX remained at Prora where swans gathered at a mound of provided potatoes. Negative on hybrid gulls round Athelstaneford, 42 Golden Plover headed E over Kilduff.

Early afternoon scanned a glassy flat Gosford Bay, totalled 45 Slav Grebes, 55 Long-tailed Duck, 625+ Velvet Scoter, 29 RBM, 4 RTD, most interesting was an all dark apparently larger diver but headed off before I could clinch it. Just shows how much there can be out there when you can see it for once!

Saturday - 12 Waxwings again around west end of Douglas Road, perched in tall birch by tennis courts then going to berries in back gardens south of the road. At least 9 Cormorant and 22 Shag gathered on Cockenzie pier to roost with 8 Common Scoter on the sea there slightly unusual (atlas count increase from one!). Very high tide with water breeching the rebuilt upper shore and spilling onto main road at Seton Burn, much to the delight of a great flock of Black-headed Gulls feeding on debris in the sea.

Back to Friday when there was a bit more wind - scanning off Seton harbour early afternoon, what may be a regular wintering Red-necked Grebe was on the sea with 2 Slavs, also passing: 5 Gannets (4 juvs W), 1 Kittiwake E, 5 Goldeneye W and RTD W/E. 2 Purple Sandpipers on the harbour wall.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Wknd 9-10 December

Friday started well with Waxwings visible from the house, initially 4 then 16 in back gardens further west down Douglas Road; beautiful light briefly but they flew before could get an image - not that my contribution is needed on this front! Early afternoon scanned the Forth from Seton harbour and soon after commencing a distant black speck with characteristic flight action of a medium skua appeared high over mid Forth approaching from NE; tracked it west for 10 mins, it is a tiny speck east of West Lomond (552m) highlighted in image above. Did not engage in any chasing, but not many gulls feeding in the Forth, 40 BHG went west and 20+ were feeding well offshore - certainly less activity than this time last year.

Saturday Waxwings were still present, probably 18+. Then had another look into the Forth, c. 105 Velvet Scoter visible from Ferny Ness, not many grebes though. A few waders on Gosford shore including 296 Barwits, 153 Lapwing, 150+ Knot, 115 Curlew, 53 Dunlin, of which Laps/Curlew were improved counts for atlas; also improved Rock Pipit to 2, this is species 104 for NT47P winter; also added one confirmed breeder with remains of a Magpie nest in the buckthorn.

Then off on ICG goose census - c. 2k Pinks Fenton Barns, c. 1k Prora (stubble)/West Fortune (winter cereal), with 110+ Whoopers at Prora and perhaps 100 at Muirton on grass. c. 380 Greylags at East Fortune, also a drake Gadwall, and 14 Coot the highest count there since 1997. 6 Whoopers on Lochhouses pond but no other Greylags found - none on Gosford shore over an hour after sunset. Definite highlight of the trip was an adult male Peregrine flying up from ploughed field at Brownrigg.

Meanwhile Geoff made a great discovery in identifying and documenting an apparent hybrid Herring x Lesser Blackback at Athelstaneford, surely the same bird I had seen there in February and quite possibly the source of some of the other "YLG" type birds we're seen in the area in recent years. Proof therein of the wisdom of the SBRC policy, in some other areas where Yellow-legged Gull is not rare this type of hybrid could be easily overlooked and reported as the genuine article!

Latest Barn Owl (Whitecraig A1) shown above, quite pale and spotless, may be a male. Whilst standing in Waverley station on platform 19 on Wednesday I was surprised to see directly opposite me on the track a freshly dead Tawny Owl, obviously a casualty struck by a train somewhere outside the station but must have fallen off as it slowed to a halt. This is the first proof I have seen of this, though had heard anecdotal evidence that it is common for Barn Owl, third hand report from railwaymen of "27 Barn Owl casualties on main line through to Drem", passed on to me in May 2007, presumably relating to line from Waverley but have no idea of duration. One report made the paper too.

Sunday - now 466 Greylags + 4 white and 2 grey on potatoes at East Fortune; dusk stake-out at Binning NE for Tawny (again!), negative but a Woodcock flew out to feed 16:10hrs. A Barn Owl perched on hedge by A6137 at Byres 17:20hrs.

Monday morning - Waxwings still present on Douglas Road, heard early morning, then 7 flying around a little later.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Wknd 1-2 December

Gosford shore above, where spent a couple of hours in perishing cold Sat/Sun. Not a lot new but added Rock Pipit to NT47P and watched a Goldcrest feeding in buckthorn, pecking below branches and leaves for whatever remains of last summer's insect life. A Herring Gull was feeding in a novel manner by pecking the underside of the outflow pipe, apparently at the crustaceans. 75 Knot and a few Grey Plover arrived to perch on a tiny bit of exposed pipe at high tide, no Ringed Plover still needed for atlas. Wouldn't even a small manmade island be a valuable addition for waders here? A Crossbill went S.

On Saturday found 1900+ Pinks in harvested potato fields at West Fenton. A careful look revealed just one grey collar (LXB, right - probably ringed in Iceland in 2000, as per various other L codes) plus a light brown leucistic bird with some nearly white tertials. Latter previously at Coates 28/11 per Abbie, at still at West Fenton with 2100+ Pinks on Sunday.

Earlier on Sunday, after a gap of a few weeks since last, a graellsii Lesser Blackback appeared on the Seton Burn, a notably small bird with small rounded head and bright yellow eye - looking suspiciously like "Lucy" - if so her 8th return.

Did the thrush survey again on Sunday, just 7 Blackbird this time, 38 Greylags flew high S over perhaps not locals? Met Fred who told me 11 Waxwings had alighted on the railway walk 150m south of Cottyburn on Friday. At dusk today a Tawny Owl was the focus of much scolding from small passerines around the ivy trees and ruin beside the carpark bridge.