Sunday, 5 October 2014

Wknd 4-5 October

9 Whoopers, including a family of 4 juvs fresh in from their first trip over the Atlantic, in stubble N of Muirton late Sunday; on floods there 98 Lapwing and 10 Teal.

Earlier in the Forth, in one scan at 16:30hrs: 146 juvs and 24 ads/sub-ads Gannets, 3 ad Little Gulls W, dark skua W (probably Arctic), many auks, mainly Razorbill; on the Seton Burn, ad Med Gull red-7P8, Greenshank, 62+ Wigeon and still 13 Sandwich Tern; Gosford Sands: 96 Grey Plover, 52 Dunlin, 14 Sanderling and the leucistic Bar-tailed Godwit.

In Longniddry - Chiffs calling most days, Grey Wagtail very prominent of late, both owls heard, and mewing Buzzards enjoying the Indian summer weather.

Blog neglected of late - just too busy these days!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sandwich Terns, Port Seton

A busy summer with a Sandwich Tern influx on the Forth coast, many ringed with 3 character coloured darvic rings - too great an opportunity to miss and I managed to stop off near high tide most days to read rings; the terns also brought a few Roseates with them which attracted skilled observers with high power scopes (mine is just 27x!) which added to the haul. On average c. 1 in 20 birds had darvics and by 19 August we had recorded 144 codes of which 114 were unique, the 30 others were re-reads [162 codes, 125 unique by 4/9]. c. 25% of the birds were juveniles, apparently resulting from a bumper breeding season on the east coast, and many of these had been ringed, just over 50% of darvics being on juvenile birds. Some details here derived from histories returned by the ringers (usually same day!), along with a selection of photos.

First batch here are the general aspect of terns on the rocks at Wrecked Craigs, on the day of the highest count - 1400 on 7 August (following a roost count of 2000 at Aberlady the previous day, by far the biggest count here for 10 years), and ring-readers in action on 8 August (with Andrew Barker, Dave Allan and Billy Barber, who found the Bridled Tern at same spot in July, photo (c) Michael Welch). Best views are on the rising tide which brings them in very close to the prom wall and on the highest tides eventually flushes them all off, whence they often commence fishing; on windy days and with lower tides they tend to remain further east at Long Craigs rocks and spread along the coast.

They flush quite often but usually resettle nearby as there is virtually no other dry ground between Musselburgh and Craigielaw Point at high tide.

Rings come in various colours (red, dark blue, green, white, yellow and light green), in first below is a light-green darvic (NCV, central) on a juvenile ringed this year in the Netherlands:

In fact four Dutch-hatched juvs were seen up to 18 August, when NA7 was present:

One adult bird from Netherlands was also present on several dates, initially causing confusion by its symmetrical dark markings; this turned out to be blue-NFA which had been dyed yellow (picric acid) to facilitate local tracking in its colony:

Overall c. 60% of the birds were originally colour-ringed at Forvie in NE Scotland with rings starting "E", in five colours, though these did include a few which had previous to that been ringed as chicks in Northumbs. Green and blue rings had been used at Forvie for 2014, just 11 of these were seen, e.g. green-ETP:

The quickest arrival of such was in three days, green-EHS present here on 8 August having been on the Ythan on the 5th.

Most juveniles were however from Northumbs colonies, 40 birds with blue or red rings starting "U", for example blue-UAV, blue-UVL, red-UCJ and red-USS below. Photos such as these are being gathered for analysis of progression of moult on birds of known age.

Northwards dispersal is typical from these colonies, as it is in NE Scotland (to the Moray Firth), an example being blue-UZS, ringed Coquet 12 July, here at Seton on 31 August but at Findhorn on 23 September. This year there were 181 and 105 chicks ringed on Farnes and Coquet, so we had here 17.1 and 8.6% of all those ringed, respectively. Calculations based on resighting rates suggest that the minimum number of birds in the area was approximately 5 times the observed totals, thus getting on for half of the Northumbs birds have perhaps come into the Forth this year. Worth comparing with Roseates too, which have also done well on Coquet, 93 juvs ringed, if they behave in a similar manner we're expect to have seen 8 of them in the Forth - birds have indeed been seen on several occasions, including up to 3 together, as per Sandwich Terns it seems likely the total number of birds involved will have been many more than those seen at any one time.

The Forvie-ringed adults have much more complex histories, with 12 (35%) now breeding in Northumbs and two seen this year in the Dutch colonies and another in the German part of the Waddensee. This means that overall 55% of birds have arrived from Northumbs colonies. For example white-EFN and white-EKN, together below, were ringed at Forvie in 2010 and bred this year on Coquet and Inner Farne, respectively:

The oldest few were ringed as chicks 13-14 yrs ago and some have been sighted at many locations over the years. White-EAP below, present on 18 August, was ringed as an adult on the Ythan in 2010, and present there in 2011 and 2012, but in between seen in Namibia on 2 March 2012, 13 March 2013 and 23 February 2014.

Initial northwards dispersal is typical of many birds from Forvie too, though clearly some come south with their young; more complex patterns can occur too, e.g. blue-EDB at Forvie on 18 June, then here on 8 August but was back round at Findhorn by 17 August; by contrast white-EZH, a 2008 chick which breeds at Forvie was at Findhorn from 27 July to 9 August but appeared here on 19 August.

In addition to the above three 2014 juveniles from the huge colony at Blakeney Point in Norfolk were seen (blue-KF3, blue-KF4 and blue-K3D), 50 had been ringed in 2013.

What does all of this tell us? Overall there have been over 1500 resightings of the Forvie darvic ringed birds which for low cost will give good insights into the dispersal and migration strategy of this species. Though many travel huge distances over the whole course of the migration they clearly set off in different directions, and an interesting question is whether those initially heading north use a route overland, e.g. Forvie birds which go round to the Moray Firth then proceed down the Great Glen, or eventually return south down the east coast. Here in the Forth we get nocturnal migrant Sandwich Terns annually, e.g. over Longniddry from early August to late September it is common to hear an apparent south/south-west departure, often on generally damp days or during light rain; sometimes single birds but more usually ad+juv calling to each other, or sometimes small flocks. This year there have been far more than normal (11/9: 1 heard 23:10hrs; 10/9: 3+ ad, juv S 21:00hrs; recent showers, last calls well S; 6/9: 4+, at least 2 sets ad+juv SW 22:17hrs, heavy showers earlier, full moon now through clouds; 1/9: c. 10 group ads/juvs SW 21:50hrs roughly over club house; 17/8: 1+ SW 23:10hrs 17/8 some distance W, last call well S; 2/8: 2+ S 00:15hrs probably retreated; 2/7: 2+ heard 23:00hrs over Gosford saw mill). Common Terns occasionally do the same. Overland dispersal of these species has been studied between Teesmouth and Merseyside (paper), it is likely something similar happens from the Forth and probably further north. The results from Namibia show that some at least travel right to the South Atlantic, but small numbers also winter in northern France and Ireland, and indeed this year we had one in the Forth in January, so there is interest there too.

Finally it is worth mentioning the "cohort" colour-ringed birds from Forvie, a study that ran for 53 year until 2013, c/o Alistair Smith. These are simple colour band combinations, e.g. red over blue below, indicating the year of ringing. A bare minimum of 8 of these birds were logged, two just with single bands remaining, but without unique identification (short of capturing them!) no individual histories are available - they do tell us something about longevity.

Other darvic birds logged in the period were a Whimbrel (yellow-A39) ringed on passage in Wales (on 24 April 2012, at Llanon between Aberystwyth and Aberaeron, one of very few sightings so far on this scheme), and this immature Great Blackback yellow-T:32E from NE Scotland:

As posted on LBN a couple of Peregrines disturbed the terns but put on a stunning display in pursuit of a Turnstone on 16 August. Many waders use the same rocks giving great views, including this Knot with fading breeding plumage:

Other birds logged for the patch were two Greenshank on the shore and an adult Little Gull W past in stormy weather on 17 August, and earlier on last day of July a patch tick Yellow Wagtail (a juvenile based on paler chest, prominent malar stripe, tips on median coverts faded to white):

First Wheatear, a juv, on Saturday 16 August:

Final shots below of terns feeding over the Forth, a misty Inchkeith in the background, and the Seton shore at dusk:

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Wknd 21-22 June

WeBS ponds largely deserted on Sunday but old friend the drake Mandarin showed up again at East Fortune ponds a couple of years absence (previous records 18/7/10, 17/7+16/8/11). Wonder where it's been hanging out since? Seems there have been none in Lothian since late 2011 in Edinburgh, possibly same bird, with one in March 2010 at Haddington also possibly same? Gladhouse birds not reported since a pair in 2008, and female in 2009, perhaps they did not survive there beyond that date?

On owls it seems this is a bumper year for breeding locally and Long-eareds in particular seem to have produced lots of young. With thanks to various correspondents who have made efforts to look we've had birds at 10 sites in Lothian within last couple of weeks, of which now all 10 have had hunger-calling chicks with brood size up to 5! On Friday, after detecting 3 young birds in pines in hills near Edinburgh, Harry Dott and I were fortunate to watch a couple of young hunting over heather at c. 22:30hrs, remarkably still persistently hunger-calling while doing so. Also a Cuckoo dashing round the same site. Locally I've also had a couple of Barn Owls taking prey to young, and young Tawnys this week at Gosford north wood and Redcoll. However despite it apparently being a good Quail year, with lots of reports particularly in Scotland, some further north than usual, I have failed to find any in the hinterland behind Longniddry, locations I found them in both 2009 and 2011, still time yet though.

On the coast, not many gulls around but the black darvic young Danish GBB was again at Port Seton on Saturday. A ringed Kittiwake stood by the Seton Burn. Many auks feeding out in the Forth, 140+ Guillemot in Gosford Bay Sunday, with Razorbills and 2 Puffins, a Puffin setting off with fish offshore from Prestonpans last week, a long journey to the colonies from there. Also 70 Velvet Scoter and 100+ Common Scoter well out in Gosford Bay Sunday. Nice also to see first returning Goosander, 8 f/imm along the shore, fishing in shallows as they do in characteristic "head in the water" fashion. Also at Seton, 4 Turnstone at dusk on the longest day, which are either very early returning or young birds which never went north. Possibly the latter as none were in bright adult breeding plumage and post-breeding moult is supposed to start late June, and also per BWP "Age of first breeding, Finland, 2 years (Bergman 1946), but (circumstantially) 4 years, USSR (Bianki 1967)". Lots of Common Tern along the coast feeding, courtship feeding and heading west with fish, also 4 Sandwich Tern at Aberlady during the week. [Monday - 130 Common Scoter in bay and 2 Great Crested Grebe at Ferny Ness, also first juvenile Guillemot with parent].

Was also up at Pishwanton on Saturday where pleasing sight of a Spotted Flycatcher FF with large insect prey. Blindwells Mute Swans have 4 smallish cygnets. Finally, not a bird, but my first rabbit in Longniddry, a juvenile behind the play group hut outside the church, a long way - 300+m each way - from safety.

Not current, but of note, Shag red-TSZ here as a juvenile in 2009 subsequently seen in Norfolk (map).

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Wknd 14-15 June

Eider duckling at Port Seton, Wrecked Craigs, my first ever (small one) there though I don't look that often in summer. Aberlady would be the nearest possible source, but breeding is now erratic there. Inchkeith is another possible source, since ducklings are often seen at Musselburgh but have not nested there for many years it is believed that those birds have crossed the sea - approx distances for closest crossings are 3 miles to Leith shore, but 6 miles direct to Musselburgh and 8 miles to Port Seton - quite a journey for a duckling! Presumably the sole survivor from a larger brood and looking pretty vulnerable with large gulls all around, protective mum saw off a second female Eider which was showing an interest, though "aunties" often have a role in caring for creches in this species.

Otherwise - just 137 Eider there, 7 females; sea duck well down overall, a real summer lull with just 35 Common Scoter, 14 Velvet Scoter and 10 Red-breasted Merganser in Gosford Bay/shore, a mere 22 Barwits along the sands.

This might be the answer - 5 Eider ducklings at Kilspindie, Aberlady, Wednesday evening, so looks like they have indeed had success there this year, though no ducklings apparent (yet?) amongst 85+ Shelduck on the salt marsh. I've also been sent a photo of juvenile Woodcocks hiding on the edge of the salt marsh, but from where?! [Postscript - ID error, they were Lapwing!]

Checking historical records it seems that 80-85 Eider nests were typical early 1980's with up to 600 pairs at Aberlady, but significant declines since with many years of poor breeding producing just a handful of young and evidence of failures, e.g. 14 young but 47 eggs predated in 1996, though some years bucking the trend with still 57 young in 1997 and 40 young as recently as 2006. I expect crow predation is a big factor as their numbers can be very high in the area.

Thursday - just two Eider ducklings diving round towards Greencraigs bay; later at dusk hunger calls of a juvenile Tawny Owl in Gosford Estate wood audible from the A198.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Wknd 7-8 June

Local birding again this weekend, close to home juvenile Tree Sparrows found along the Braid Burn past the community centre, first young I have seen in the village following first breeding season records this spring of birds flying over garden. Less positive in Fernyness Wood where negative again on Spotted Flycatcher, but 4 singing Chiffchaff there. A nocturnal visit produced a wavering hoot Tawny Owl but no young heard.

10 years ago today - the 8th of June was my first proper day birding here in Lothian, visiting to view a house; started at Longniddry station from the last train doing a night walk to Aberlady - first birds logged were juv Tawny Owls calling from the Tollbar Strip along the coast road past Gosford, then nocturnal song of Grasshopper Warbler on Aberlady salt marsh; on return via Craigielaw a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the buckthorn at Harestanes Wood, and a Sedge Warbler at the Old Coast road bridge in Longniddry; then on to Seton where Grey Partridges at 3 locations and a Spotted Flycatcher in the Dean, followed by Sedge Warblers again at Blindwells. A great place to live I thought! Looking back that was not a bad haul for early June in places I'm now very familiar with, the owls are still here fledging young in Fernyness Wood most years [PS - juv calling Gosford, near ponds, 18/6], Grey Partridge still cling on at Seton though three prs in a morning would be good now, whilst I've only twice since seen Spotted Flycatchers (Fernyness Wood 23/5/10 and Seton Chapel 3/6/10).

I may post some other reflections analysing my general records here in due course - c. 35k bird records logged for Lothian totalling c. 2.5 million individual birds, probably several times that actually seen when including gull roosts done weekly or daily at times but not counted, and of course the Bass Rock! A total of 196 (self-found) species recorded locally (98 from the garden), plus a few more hybrids, escapes, etc, these confined to places I've been by bike in northern East Lothian, with a couple more elsewhere in Lothian and another handful of species "twitched". 1000+ colour rings read, and a massive atlas project completed. Some happy memories, as well as a few that got away!

Dusk at Gosford Sands below, 22:30hrs, in fact pale blue can still be discerned in the northern sky even at the darkest part of the night at this time of the year, weather permitting.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Wknd 31 May - 1 June

Into June and onset of summer birding - cycling round the area as far as Macmerry produced a few of those increasingly valued rural species, Grey Partridge, Kestrel, Stock Dove, 2 Oycs, Swift and stacks of Tree Sparrow, also Barn Owl; but negative on Quail and Spotted Flycatcher and also blank at Penston where territorial Yellow Wagtail in 2012, brief look only last year. One find was an occupied GSW nest in a tree full of holes between Chester Hall and Greendykes, a species I failed to nail for NT47H in Longniddry Dean last year, so a late atlas confirmation (increase from 6 to 23 confirmed in East Lothian north of the Tyne).

A crepuscular trip on Monday via Redcoll, Cottyburn and Spittal again yielded no Quail, in places occupied in previous years, but one Sedge Warbler, two hooting Tawny Owls and two more Barn Owls, one of which first spotted on a road sign c. 23:15hrs, then hunting over cereal, plunged to make a kill then flew over my head with prey in one foot, a strong clue to breeding.

May patchwork total now 115 species (137 points) which is already 94% of last year, mainly because last year I was elsewhere a lot of the time for atlas. No comparison with the amazing achievements of John on Tiree!

Down at the beach very little on Gosford Bay or Sands, 10 Greylags roosted, but report of 2k Common Scoter off Musselburgh so it seems many of our remaining sea duck have moved down there - leaving me to wonder how the Queen Eider got past here!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Wknd 24-25 May

1st-sum GBB black-JYK05 was on Seton harbour wall on Saturday morning, ringed as a chick on an islet off Frederikshavn at the very northern tip of Denmark on 2 July 2013 (movement map).

3+4 Manx Shearwaters flew east past offshore. Seems "our" Common Scoters have gone to Musselburgh, just 14 RBM inshore, and only a handful of Velvets visible too (checked those of Seton prom but unlike last year they were all Velvets, Surfie habits must have changed). Only 32 Sandwich Terns on Gosford Sands Sunday evening, some courtship feeding still occurring, also 22 grey geese, presuambly Greylags, at Craigielaw Point which flew off north over the Forth.

Best sight of the weekend was an adult Peregrine with a decent sized kill, perhaps Feral Pigeon or Jackdaw, flapping vigorously as it headed on a course for it's nest, if I'm right a journey of over five miles, quite a feat. BWP states "In north-east Scotland, most prey seems to be taken within 2 km of nest-cliff, though hunting range may be extended to 6 km or more when ♀ begins to hunt too (Weir 1978a); in continental Europe, breeders may feed up to 15 km or more from eyrie (Glutz von Blotzheim et al. 1971)."

Monday - a Grasshopper Warbler reeling at dusk from a field edge south of Longniddry farm, no Quail heard there or Redcoll/Hoprig. Another Gropper still reeling very sparsely, presumably paired, on the bank at the west end of Blindwells main pond. Also on Monday Canada Goose broods b8 (small), b8 (medium) and b5 (large) at Duddingston, their numbers must be shooting up at a fair old rate now! Counts/range now ~ Greylag in 1988-94 tetrad atlas, we can probably expect a local population of many hundreds in 20 years time.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Wknd 18-19 May

Gosford Bay dusk Sunday now deserted inshore with clear out of northern breeding ducks, just this couple (pair?) of Red-necked Grebes out on glassy sea with a tanker closer to Craigielaw than I've ever seen. Per BWP "Pair-formation starts on migration or on breeding waters.", so they could indeed be a pair, but since migration is always nocturnal overland but may be diurnal along coasts I guess it depends where they're going whether they will be able to remain together. Further out, still c. 110 Common Scoter in two groups, 87 Velvet Scoter with just 13 Red-breasted Merganser and a single drake Long-tailed Duck remaining in the shallows, also a pair of Shelduck which seem to linger every year and may possibly nest in Gosford? [Last weekend it was 320 Common Scoter, 220 Velvet, 20 RBM, 3 LTD and 1 RNG, also 2 Puffin, 1 RTD; 129 Bar-tailed Godwit on Gosford Sands.]

At Blindwells in the afternoon an odd singing Chiffchaff with double-units occurring in song every second or third element, but nothing else beyond that. Perhaps a mixed singer of some sort? Unfortunately mobile phone recordings failed. Also there 2 male Wheatear at the MWTS (1 male and 1 female last week, breeding possible?) and Grey Partridge in song a belated patchlist addition (species 114). Mute Swan nest, above, this year on the top MWTS tank, plenty of construction materials there!

A quite different nest, the lichen dome of Long-tailed Tit at East Fortune ponds - survising from last year - not an atlas tick as had detected young there but nice to confirm they had bred there. Very little on WeBS ponds, Mute Swan AWOL at Drem pools, where main pond now ringed by electric fences contra otters.

Stopped at 4 places on the way back from North Berwick to listen for Quail and had just one calling east of Rattlebags quarry, 21:50hrs. By contrast a good haul of Grey Partridge sightings recently, 1 in song from cereal behind Tesco at North Berwick, pr over road at the Heugh, 1 singing Fenton Barns, 1 on Drem airfield, 1 singing Seton East, 1 on track by Prestonpans railway station Thu/Fri, and 1 singing at Hoprig on Monday!

Not a complete post without a gull, this 2nd-sum LBB was scoffing tourist scraps in Princes Street gardens. Some 2nd-sum visit breeding colonies perhaps to learn the ropes, they may attempt to breed (gull-research).

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Wknd 3-4 May

On Saturday still 7 Long-tailed Ducks off Longniddry c/p 2, pair above with Inchkeith behind and a male below, also roosting with BHG. Hirundines passing at 25/hr.

During the week Sandwich Terns continued to gather on Gosford Sands on the falling tide at dusk every day reaching 182 birds by 2/5 (no further sign of the little one), with a large gathering of Common Scoter fishing remarkably close offshore, 260+ (140 m) on Wednesday, when also 77 Red-breasted Merganser fishing the shallows and 12 Long-tailed Ducks, some of the latter feeding amongst the scoter, and 2 Puffins (species 109 for patchwork, ended April on 129 points).

Dawn on Sunday saw the 10th anniversary of my BBS count at Whitekirk NT5981, pleased with two firsts - Jay in Barebanes Wood and a displaying Lapwing over fields E of A198. Wren now back up to pre-2010 numbers with 6 in song in the first 200m transect where many trees also felled. Grasshopper Warbler reeling by the Peffer Burn and a new rookery at Whitekirk village. Finally the bizarre sight of three Mallards in a mating scrum in the middle of the main road in Whitekirk!