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!