Sunday, 27 January 2013

Wknd 26-27 January

Geese at Gilsland, just outside North Berwick, included a few worth examining; 2 Barnacles visible on Saturday late afternoon, though Mark saw 4, plus a head seen of a bird with a solid white blaze round the beak; back on Sunday in better light, still 3 Barnacles in 1390 Pinks, the white blaze bird was a Pinkfoot on all other features, though pretty deceptive in front view:

Glad I had gone back though as there was also a grey collar, TKR. Finally amongst the other variety of plumages shown by the Pinkfeet was one bird with a white band across breast, also a bit of white round the bill:

Proceeded to Drem area, where a minimum of 1800 Pinks were on grass at Muirton in a very inaccessible location, thus hard to scan. Amongst and adjacent to them were 39 Curlews and c. 137 Whoopers; another 40+ Whoopers were on the ex-landfill, now a quagmire inhabited by black-billed swans (below), but 11 others had ventured west and were grazing in cereal south of Drem pools, apparently an atlas tick for NT57E. The drake Scaup remained on East Fenton.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Wknd 19-20 January

Slim pickings, view from Seton harbour above but the place was deserted by large gulls, seems very few fishing boats coming in this winter - though even when there were, last year with a white-winged gull influx, none of the latter were seen :( Only addition was now two Mute Swans on Seton golf course pond - surely there is nothing to eat in it yet?!

Sunday went out to Longskelly Point at Yellowcraig to see anything could be added to atlas for NT58I (Lamb), expecting very little in perishing cold; on first scan there seemed to be almost no birds on the sea but over an hour of careful scanning found 72+ Common Scoter, with another 65+ west around Fidra, also pr LTD and 1 RTD. 5 Greylags were grazing the grass of the Lamb, one of their winter refuges. Waders on rocks included 6 Purple Sand, 6 Golden Plover. Fulmars back in fair numbers, on ledges on Craigleith and Fidra - amazing to think some species are getting underway with breeding when you are frozen and wondering how anything can survive in that bitter cold. Best was last with a pair of hardy Stonechat along the largely snow-covered upper shore, presumably they get sufficient pickings from seaweed wrack to sustain them.

En route back totalled 345 Barwits and 76 Sanderling on Gosford Sands, not bad totals but falling short of previous (376 31/12/10, 80 1/11/09, respectively) needed for atlas count increases!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Wknd 12-13 January

Went out for WWT swan census and WeBS on Saturday. Plenty wildfowl about, over 1500 geese at East Fortune (some of which above), c. 910 Greylags might be another new high for this site (previous peak 817 on 10/12/10). Continuing wildfowl were 1st-win drake Scaup at East Fenton, getting into adult plumage, and ad drake Gadwall at East Fortune. A male Peregrine again flew over Brownrigg.

Grappled with the swans at Prora, some recent exodus with total fallen from c. 235 to c. 206; I estimated 46 juvs (22.3%) but it was hard work with whole flock only visible from Chapel and many juvs now very white so a close view to see beak colour required, many beaks also caked in mud! Only three darvics seen, juv red-AVJ and ads red-BLX and yellow-46I (shown above together). Latter is particular interesting as this bird had been wintering on the River Blackwater in SW Ireland 08/09, 09/10 and 10/11, first seen with us last winter 11/12 - but seems to have returned! Ringed at Jokuldalsheidi in Iceland as a cygnet in August 2003. Nearby 6 Mutes in cereal included green-NLT, below. Checked Ware Road, Lochhouses, New Mains etc for more swans but only found a Mute flock at Preston, by East Linton, including green-NLD. Perhaps there are no Whoopers wintering at Tyninghame?

At dusk tried again at Inch Wood, Binning, for Tawny (still needed for NT58V for atlas); this was 7th attempt, started after sunset walking into wood, encouraged by vigorous Blackbird alarming at two locations; staked out one but no sign and eventually Blackbirds went quiet - but then at 16:47hrs (43 mins after sunset) hooting started nearby, success at last. Departed south and pulled in at Birkhill, with a minute 3 Woodcock flew over, a single then two in tandem - increase count from one.

Sunday - took a walk along the Back Burn past Ustonrigg to Woodside ponds and back via Hopefield and Letham Mains. Highlight was a female Merlin dropping from edge of ponds and streaking off across the field N towards a flock of Linnets, came up through the flock but missed; these were c. 120 Linnets, another 240 were perched a little further along perhaps already alerted to the Merlin. 3 Woodcocks flushed, probably many more in the area if I had covered more ground around ponds. 6+ Jays and 11 Bullfinch, both good counts. Finally there was a gathering of 45+ Waxwings by the A199/B6363 roundabout south of the A1 junction.

BirdTracked all the sightings by tetrad, discovered only the Merlin was new for atlas, increased counts of perhaps 5 others. Additions are expected to be slow at this stage in the project - by the modelled species accumulation curves fit for our 10km (NT47) in the atlas trial (see LBR06 write-up, p. 96) we expect of the order 2% addition to species lists in the 4th hour of fieldwork, which with species lists already of order 50 equates to one addition. Each subsequent hour provides rapidly diminishing returns (in theory), approximately 1/3 of the previous hour. Spent about 2 hours today and each tetrad may already have had 2x2hrs of visits, so one addition is in the right ball park, already well covered. Suspect the theory may be less applicable with various permutations: different observer (goes to different places/sees different things), different date in season - some movements missed, and especially year-on-year variation - mild winter may bring new species, e.g. lots of recent Mute Swan additions, in fields which they could not have occupied with snow cover. Overall now 128 tetrad ticks in East Lothian this final winter, with 7 weeks to go to final termination, these may well represent 100s of hours in the field. We must be getting close to reasonable maps!

On Monday, finally a Tawny Owl at New Winton, kewick calls in response to hooting imitation from New Winton Wood NE of main square, atlas tick for NT47F (after 6 negative visits!).

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Year

New Year, new camera! Amazing what you can get for a reasonable budget these days, Fujifilm Finepix T350 on offer at Mr Tesco has 14 Mpixel with a 10x optical zoom, found the power of the latter immediately useful on these Lapwings at Harelaw (Gosford sawmill behind), one of my first shots. 330 Pinks and 59 Greylags at same location, latter going onto grass immediately behind the cottages, nearly a garden bird! Early on Sunday also had a look at Prora Whoopers for rings, got juv red-AVJ and ad yellow-P4C again, one other ad red ring, so still at least 6 ringed birds there - but muddy black legs and bills generally the order of the day, as per below.

Back to Saturday and a Sandwich Tern on the Seton Burn at 13:20hrs may well turn out to be bird of the year; sadly I missed it, passing at 12:20 my scope was still in rucksack from previous trip on bike, and by 14:20hrs it had gone (turned up at Gullane on Sunday!). One nice ad Med Gull on the Seton Sands upper shore, very dark legs, dusky forehead. Also a Crossbill alighted in the pines by burn, was hopeful of a tetrad tick but found I had logged one at Blindwells in November 2008!

Friday went to Harelaw, confirmed Feral Pigeon at the stables there, used nest (UN for NT47N); also 455 Pinks with 35 Greylags in the flooded harvested potatoes fields immediately NE.

Thursday cycled to the beach c/p 1, scoping sea at dusk found an adult Med Gull with dusky mask up onto forehead not far offshore in Gosford Bay, presumably one of the two reported from Seton on New Year's day. A quick stomp in the bog at c/p 2 produced a Woodcock, a Moorhen and 3 Pheasant, latter a tetrad tick for NT47I. The Woodcock exploded from the burn by the bridge, immediately out of sight, ID only via the diagnostic dark brown subterminal band on tail.

Wednesday did the BTO winter thrush survey to Cottyburn, "core count", status quo with just 8 Blackbirds. Nuthatch in the wood at Setonhill was a new one for me, also a tetrad tick for NT47T, along with 3 Yellowhammers at Redhouse Wood, finally added to home tetrad NT47N. But no Grey Partridge, still needed :(

Tuesday, New Year's Day, had a good start to the year - scanning from Seton harbour a "black & white" diver flew past, solid bill, curved boundary between light and dark on neck but no lower band, feet big but not huge, surely a Black-throated! Fortunately it came down on the sea off Cockenzie harbour where I got it in view for just a couple of seconds, but rear white flank patch clearly showing, then dived and despite viewing from Cockenzie for a while no further sign. The Red-necked Grebe still on the sea off the harbour, and an adult Scandinavian Herring Gull on wall at the harbour mouth. Better still at dusk with a magical view of a Barn Owl silhouette against a deep orange sky, floating down over the A198 between St Germains and at Seton Chapel, commencing to hunt the remaining rough area at the edge of the new golf course. Have seen it hunting there not long ago, as well as in previous years, wonder what impact of reduced foraging area with the golf development, hopefully still plenty of space for it - though it would be better in a way if its regular feeding area was further from a busy road!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Review of year 2012

Above pic is not a great shot but nice reminder of a good patch at Seton from mid-August, with a large tern influx including ringed Roseates, then Black Tern and also a new high count of 7 Med Gulls at the Seton Burn. Abundant rings to read on Shags, gulls, terns, etc! These were surpassed in the gale of 25 September which brought Leach's Petrels (2?) and various other good seabirds to Gosford Bay (and the Forth in general), an event that might not be repeated here for many years.

99% of birding confined to usual haunts in East Lothian, did not even manage any viewing at Musselburgh or Dunbar this year, just one nocturnal foray to West Lothian where we saw LEO. Much of this again towards local atlas, also usual WeBS, grey geese and swans surveys, etc. Concentration in local area perhaps the reason for lowest bubo total in four years at 155 (Lothian self found). c. 70 species logged on trektellen in 18.5 hrs timed counts included fire Marsh Harrier, plus the Pilot Whales, another memorable event. Garden annual total matched last year's low of 72, but did add Osprey and a remarkable nocturnal migrant Quail (2nd record), plenty of Waxwings recently too. 9 local Barn Owl casualties (all on A1/A720 between East Linton and Fairmilehead) is low, with only two in autumn, but an increase on last year; species remains very depressed locally based on owling excursions for atlas.

Being effectively confined to patch birding have decided to give patchwork challenge a shot and defined a 3km2 "patch" along the Seton shore to Ferny Ness, with excursion past Seton Chapel to Blindwells. Totted up 137 species for this same area for 2012, which gave me 177 points by their scoring system. Might not expect to match this with several locally scarce birds in 2012 but it is a target. Some others locally are going for Foot-it, but this requires time input in January which I will be short of! Patch or not, I now log my records in BirdTrack at tetrad level, as used in atlas, knowing how much more useful this type of info is when we come to plot general maps like those on the local atlas website for 1991-2006 LBR & BBR records.

Lists are OK per se, a bit of fun, but also of interest to see what is missing, even on a yearly basis. By pasting my bubo lists to a spreadsheet I can see I missed Green Woodpecker, Stonechat, Lesser Whitethroat and Brambling in 2012, but had first local Yellow Wagtail since 2008. My combined total seen *in and from* the 3km2 "patchwork" area is 169 species. Of species not yet seen there are historical records for the following: White-billed Diver (1955-56, 1991), Storm Petrel (1993, 2004), Black Stork (1946), Common Crane (2000), American Wigeon (1995-6), Western Sandpiper (1997), Turtle Dove (1992, and bred many years ago), Corn Bunting (to 1987), plus the following not (yet) submitted/accepted: Balearic Shearwater (2012), Red Kite (2007), another Black Stork (2010); from local records archives other more expected species which I'm yet to connect in the patch area include: Little Egret, Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Little Tern and Long-eared Owl. To this I would also add Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Raven which may have occurred and I think there is a chance of seeing, plus Hobby having seen at least two over the garden! Also more optimistically, perhaps King Eider, Water Pipit, Grey Phalarope and some rarer gulls including Yellow-legged. But realistically it would take many more years watching to reach 180 species.

In the wider area, inland in NT47 I can add 6 scarcer waders plus Dipper, Yellow Wag, Cuckoo (179 species), then Mandarin, RLP, LEO, Turtle Dove and Raven in NT58, and further beyond in East Lothian also Balearic Shearwater, Garganey, Goshawk, Red Grouse, Redstart, Red-backed Shrike and Hooded Crow (193 species). All based on "self-found", so Surf Scoter and Smew also remain targets.

Concluding this brief "review" with two sunset images, and wishing good birding to all readers in 2013!