Sunday, 29 September 2013

Geese again

Grey goose census this weekend but I could only get out for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon; Pinks are counted at roost, my job is just the East Lothian Greylags, passing Aberlady stopped briefly to check if any there - c. 1k Pinks on mud, literally the second bird I looked at from east of flock had bright orange legs! A few seconds later the entire flock were flushed by a couple walking on the salt marsh, who just previously had pointed at the geese, some departed but most re-settled. Very soon found another or same, but now western-most end, obligingly turned to reveal the distinctive broad pale tertial fringes, confirming was a Bean Goose, but then sat to roost and I had to go. Mobile phone was all I had for a camera and even I can't be sure which bird it is in the pic :(

But fortunately, later presumably the same bird was relocated and confirmed as a Taiga Bean, as I had suspected, by Colin (15:35hrs). Taiga Bean was common in Lothian to 1870, records since 1990 are: 8W Hound Point 28/9/95 (presumably this race), 14E Gosford Bay 15/2/03, ad Bavelaw 18/11/06-23/3/07, and the popular adult at Waughton 23/1-26/2/11. So pretty scarce these days and in addition to the 1995 record the only others on autumn "passage" since 1980 were 1 Whiteadder 19/9/90 and 1 Fenton Barns 3/10/83 (and 2 at same 24/10/82).

On to East Fortune, which held c. 250 Greylags last week but only 86 there today, plus the grey individual. Failed to find the rest at Redside, nor any others at East Fenton, Chapel, Scoughall or Lochhouses, etc. No time to search for YBW in coastal trees but clearly I'm doing well to evade them! An optimistic circuit of the neighborhood in Longniddry on Saturday morning produced just one Chiff in the thick shrubbery on the Old Coast Road, singing birds in various places last week.

Atlas-wise, managed to find House Sparrows on third look at West Fenton, 30 in the roadside hedges included many 1st-win transitional into adult plumage, but I think safe as local breeders, confirming NT48V; likewise a good flock in Langside, East Linton, seems safe for NT57Y confirmation. Not many left to look for now, NT58L (Highfield) and NT57S (Hailes Castle) still need another visit for sparrow, then it will be mainly onto nests!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Wknd 21-22 September

This Kestrel at Chapel Farm, hunting from an earth bank, tame but think it's an ad f, not a juv.

An influx of birds to the resr there including 98 Canada Geese, 7 hybrid Greylag x Canada, 3 Greylag (from Musselburgh?), 16 Pinks (many more to and fro over), 136 Mallard, 6 Wigeon, 6 Tuftie, 3 Teal, 2 Pintail, a Snipe, 10 Ruff (4 juv m, 4 juv f, 2 ad m), a juvenile Spotted Redshank (first here), juvenile Greenshank, the latter two with a Ruff and a Redshank shown below, plus a couple of female Ruffs.

Some of the regular wintering Greylags back East Fortune, 244 plus the four white and one grey bird, wonder where they spent the summer? East Fenton had 26 adult Mute Swans, including green-NDP and NLT which I expect have just arrived from Musselburgh moult.

Atlas-wise it was mainly Collared Doves, with breeding proved at Lochhill cottages, Ballencrieff castle (several juvs in 30+ birds visiting stubble with a flock of 130+ House Sparrows), Gullane Erskine Road (10+ ads in village) and Highfield by Kingston. Woodpigeon nest found at East Fenton but just outside NT58F where still needed, also a tatty Speckled Wood along the ride there. House Martins still around nest at Luffness Mains, where also the woodpecker was doing its best to hide:

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Yet more atlassing

Heading out early afternoon on Sunday for an atlassing circuit had a small grain of doubt in my mind as to whether it was going to be worth it with torrential rain and strong wind making even seeing to drive the car a challenge whilst passing Drem! But trusted the weatherman and it soon brightened - first stop at Athelstaneford Mains was thick with young Swallows (2 above) and the very first hawthorn checked for Woodpigeon had an obvious nest - not an unusual occurrence. Mopped up a few other Woodpigeon wherever looked for and missing Swallow confirmations in NT67; last weekend was the first time that I found a farm with hirundines over but none entering, today got to Pressmennan farm and depressingly not a one was in sight, however after a couple of minutes a juv fluttered out of a barn; three years ago we had them in the nest into October so I'm not giving up yet!

Best came last on the bank below Kippielaw Farm near Traprain - a covey of 23 Grey Partridges there was a fine sight feeding in stubble near the road - closer scrutiny revealed it was an ad m & ad f plus 21 young, a minimum of 18 young looked identical so must be a single brood, there were 3 that looked perhaps slightly older which are more tricky - per BWP normally single brooded except in case of egg loss, 20 eggs or more in a single clutch found in 15% of cases in one study, but clutches of 21-29 eggs are often (but not always) product of 2 females. Anyway, whether one source or two a good batch of new partridges there! Noticeable that it was always just the parents alert with heads high, all young kept down most of the time - camera gave out at that point but the proud parent can be seen below.

Saturday at dusk - arrived Seton Burn to see a great gathering of gulls on shore but before even crossing the road they started a progressive flush, always a clue to a raptor, sure enough a female Peregrine with heavily distended crop passing over W; on the sea, 38 Wigeon back and a single pale-bellied Brent remained, not for long as a spaniel plunged into the water and flushed it off the sea, did not see where it went in failing light.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Atlassing overtime

This blog rather neglected recently but have been mainly preoccupied with the conclusion of the local atlas, which is all interesting stuff but not very newsworthy! It's not over yet, but with work commitments about to become dominant again perhaps time for a few reflections.

This is our 6th breeding season, and most required fieldwork was down in Borders with the completion of the TTVs; in Lothian we already had broadly reasonable coverage, particularly in central East Lothian, but looking more closely there were actually patches with poor breeding confirmations, which then show up as declines on "change" maps, which are potentially misleading if simply due to less survey effort. The main ones were highlighted on our traffic lights map. Once most of these were done and efforts were also focussed on any remaining "lowland" (approx the Blackbird breeding zone) tetrads with less than 10 confirmed we were approaching a more even coverage across Lothian with all but one 10km square finally having an average of 15-30 confirmed species per tetrad and only 4 tetrads with fewer than 10 confirmed. Nevertheless many hectads west of Edinburgh still have 10-15 species per tetrad fewer confirmed, which predominantly affects moderately common species and will be revealed as declines. It is now apparent that the main reason for these is phenomenal coverage in some of them in the last (1988-94) atlas, e.g. NT17 with confirmations A-U being 46,36,50,47,34,46,35,40,40,31,34,21,44,40,40,20,30,37,38,37. Even with lower numbers in the final 5 tetrads (V-Z) in Edinburgh no hectad in Lothian has matched these in the current atlas.

Personally I made 5 trips to the west (photos above arriving NT17E at dawn on 20/8, House Martin confirmed at large factory complex, Headrig) and collectively I think we reduced the deficit by c. 20%; to have made up the full shortfall would clearly have been a huge effort. I also continued, indeed increased, effort through August, which I always found an excellent period for atlassing but in previous years have been more distracted by returning gulls, colour rings etc. Despite the fact that it is too late for some species, the abundance of young and peak breeding activity for certain species means it can be a very productive time, indeed far better than April; I think we have missed a trick in not deeming it a part of the main survey period, though clearly necessary for TTVs for consistency with other atlasses.

Late summer this year has certainly been superb for Wrens with young families apparent right into the latter half of August, and many late successes also with warblers, more squealing young Buzzards than I can ever remember, but now as we move into September we're down to the core of classic late breeders - waterfowl including Mallard & Moorhen, all gamebirds, all pigeons/doves, hirundines, sparrows and most finches. Below are map comparisons before current season and to date for Woodpigeon, Swallow and House Sparrow. All can be compared with last atlas results online, Woodpigeon, Swallow and House Sparrow. Woodpigeon is certainly improved but still well short of the blanket confirmations achieved last time in the west. Swallow and House Sparrow have come on very well though, the former has dramatically increased within the confines of Edinburgh since our last atlas, whereas the latter is very sparse in many urban areas though with still a few pockets of abundance. Click and toggle images below:

For House Martin we have rather a lot of "possible" codes, particularly in the west, and now is a good time when nest can be more easily located via visiting birds. Another of particular relevance now and coming on well is Tree Sparrow, a lovely little domed nest, "NY", located in a beech hedge at East Fortune last week.

To upgrade Woodpigeon, young birds are now everywhere and an easy means of confirming when small and weak flyers, but also very useful is the used nest "UN" - find some suitable hawthorn or thick scrub and view from inside, there are few places in Lothian where you don't find a nest with a little searching! I tried this today (Sunday) for Bullfinch where I'd seen them recently on Setonhill avenue off the Longniddry railway walk and located 15 nests in 250 m of hawthorn hedge. A couple were Woodpigeon, with one occupied "NY" by a medium sized squab, also a probable Goldfinch, most/all of the rest were thrushes, e.g. Song Thrush first group below and Blackbird, first one a Bullfinch lookalike but too much moss for the latter species. Some Blackbird have very little mud in the cup, but all are deeper than Bullfinch.

Back to the other half of Setonhill on Wednesday added another 10 or so nests, several more thrushes added to group above (upper group Song Thrush, lower group Blackbird), another Goldfinch and 3 more Woodpigeon, including one with two eggs, one freshly hatched, certainly the smallest Woodpigeon I've ever seen:

Another abiding memory of atlassing will unfortunately be the volumes of rubbish deposited in our countryside by thoughtless residents. Especially in the west some have gone to great lengths to fly tip even deep into woods and in the most unlikely places. A classic example round Dalmahoy last week, the black plastic bags of builders waste dumped at intervals of c. 100m along miles of roads, what a job for someone top recover that mess and how more costly to us all in the long run. Worse in some ways, because it is so needless, is the number of bottles and cans, on many smaller roads it is dozens per 100m stretch, way more than the average of 4 plastic/3 drinks on trunk roads, often half drunk - I really struggle to imagine the mentality of these folks for whom it must be routine to heave your waste through the car window, leaving someone else to pay for tidying it up (£20 per person per year in Scotland), instead of the simplest of tasks, putting it in your own recycling box! In course of my atlassing I remove what I can, several recycling boxes full of plastic and drinks cans, added to a couple of sacks of rubbish I clear along the burn in Longniddry - even here the children visiting the community centre seem to thing the best place for their cans and bottles is in the burn outside. You do learn about society in atlassing, the apparent lack of basic education, decency and respect for others that seems to blight so many, maybe a deposit returns scheme would help it could all be so much simpler...