Monday, 31 August 2015


[NOW UPDATED at end for JUL-AUG]

Just a few images to document the evolution of the Blindwells site, part of my extended local patch for PWC2015. Sometimes bleak, but a dawn visit in spring can give more attractive impressions at this former open cast coal mine, the entrance area shown above with some regenerating birch. This area typically supports multiple territories of at least six species of warbler (2015 arrival dates): Grasshopper (23/4), Sedge (30/4), Willow (16/4), Chiffchaff (12/3), Blackcap (24/4) and Whitethroat (26/4), occasional visits of others (Garden Warbler - silent migrant 3/5/15, only previous was Apr-May 2009, and Lesser Whitethroat - 23/5/04, 2/5/09, 19/6/10, 17/5/13); many inhabit the abundant rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), e.g. on the west bank, and hawthorn scrub along the north bordering the main east coast railway line.

The reedbeds at the minewater treatment scheme (MWTS) have also developed nicely in the four years since they were established, with the first reed harvest on the top tank in March 2015:

Now providing a little open water again:

Fortunately the harvesting activity did not approach the active swan nest on the margin of open water at the further east end of the site (easily overlooked), pen sitting tight on 26 April.

Young had appeared by 20 June, young taken to the middle tank which has more vegetation and learnt to feed by dunking heads below water:

Next four pics are the middle tank, in March and April, and looking north and south, respectively:

Finally the bottom tank at the west end:

Reminder of the views of open water back in April 2011:

Overall a very welcome creation of new habitat, albeit subject to future harvesting etc, and I suspect already an important breeding area for a number of species. And how could I forget the young Dipper which wandered here far from its natal area in summer 2013?! There are also important odonata and botanical interests around the site, newts are abundant on pond margins. On birds, I have picked up most of my expected summer migrants for the patch as usual, including a remarkable 13+ Common Sandpipers together on 24 April, all but one feeding along the south shore margin and particularly amongst the boulder piles there and into the adjacent short grass. Decreased to 7 on 26 April, down to 1 on 2-3 May and none left on 6 May. I'd had only one previous multiple count on 24 April 2010, but aware others have had up to five in the last 15 years or so. With water levels dropping again may hopefully still bring in one or two other species, missed Wood Sandpiper here last year though that seems a bit optimistic!

Other late spring sightings were pr Shelduck on 28 April & 14 May, regular White Wagtails and Wheatears, a fine ad m Yellow Wagtail on evening of 30 April (seemed to vanish though just as I was getting out my camera!), a Cuckoo heading W along the A1 at Bankton just off site on 12 May, a couple of Little Egrets flying low SW over the open area on 27 May, a young Black-tailed Godwit feeding voraciously at the west end on 29 May (above, demonstrating its flexible bill), Coots ON 12-27 May with 3 chicks on 31 May (with a second brood on top tank early July), and 65 Canada Geese resting on the south bank on 1 June, presumed moult migrants.

Despite all the interesting sightings the site does always leave you with mixed feelings - so much potential but it unfortunately suffers a lot from disturbance, a constant stream of people walking the path past the south of the pond which usually flushes many of the wildfowl and any waders if present, but probably of more concern is the impact of their dogs on potentially breeding birds, several wildfowl must nest in the vicinity of the main pond. The site is also regularly used by scrambler bikes, which do not stay only on the mounds/circuits but roam over the whole area even including the muddy shore of the main pond. But all of this is probably irrelevant in the longer term as it is expected that the designated new settlement will eventually get under-way (up to 6000 houses are envisioned!) and there will then be no hope of protecting the rarer breeding birds and the special open area inhabitants (Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Grey Partridge, Kestrel, Buzzard, Barn Owl, etc) will all lose their favoured breeding and feeding areas.

I ceased regular visits in June as the west end was taken over for the latest settlement tests, new earth banks being created, unfortunately eliminating the area with resident and presumed breeding Grasshopper Warbler. By July the main pond was very close to drying out, Swan family and Coot on a second nest in remaining area of water:

Into August and water level dropped further, down to c. 10% of original area, though some flood pools appeared after rain:

I resumed regular visits in hope of a few crumbs falling off nearby Musselburgh's table (where daily reports of a multitude of wader species, including some rare ones and extended stay of 2 juv LRPs and a bunch of Ruff) - both finally materialised (2 juv LRP on 1/8, 1 juv m Ruff on 23/8) along with a couple of fly-over Green Sandpipers (also 23/8), latter a good record for the site with only previous apparently the one on 3-13 August 2002. Also with the routine disturbance of dog walkers substantially diminished, a flock of Lapwings took up residence, some present for over a month and 40 peeling off a flock of 180W coming down to bathe and preen. No joy on Wood Sand though despite the widespread UK influx!

Less good for the breeding wildfowl, the swans losing their brood one by one until all had gone at the end of the month - presumed fox predation with insufficient water for safety, and Coots down to b2. The swans had earlier tried to walk out to St Germains, but left only flattened vegetation and many feathers at the eastern perimeter fence, before briefly visiting the MTS tanks where hatched, the first 2 cygnets vanished at this stage, then for some reason returning to remains of main pond. Just one brood of Mallard and Moorhen also at MTS, total failure of wildfowl at main pond likely due to spring disturbance, including scrambler bikes, churned up mud visible in above photos. A more worrying issue is the impact of the drying out on the population of amphibians - 30 newts under one small board in May (below). An adult Grey Heron has also been resident for a month or so, compounding their problems! It would be nice to see a better water management scheme here, as the nearby MTS stream has often been in spate but is all channelled away down to the sea via the Seton Burn.

Apart from the pond other local breeders worth a mention are hirundines, with a Sparrowhawk bringing out 60+ Swallows from St Germains, and 40+ over Seton East including many juveniles (though farm shop owner reported a dead one in July), then on 1 September a large movement of Swallows with a long stream totally 365+ passing NE in 40 minutes just as a rain storm came in, in the middle of which a brown type Merlin appeared, buzzed the ponds back and forth, then chased a few Swallows over the open area (possibly a juv male), only my second record there after another f/imm bathing and resting on bales on 26 July 2008.

One more encouraging fact to conclude, with confirmed breeding of Reed Warblers in the MTS reed bed - despite regular checks (after one reported in May 2013) a single bird first spotted on the margin only on 13 July, and song was heard briefly only on that date, when a bird with food and two juveniles were also seen. These have since proved to be extremely elusive, with brief glimpses on only two more dates despite lots of effort, though the reed bed is fairly big. Though the Reed Warbler are mentioned in William Turnbull's 'Birds of East Lothian' (1863 & 1867) as being "present" in West Lothian bogs these old records seem very doubtful, presumably a mis-identification for Sedge Warbler, and conflict with the picture of spread north as far as Yorkshire only by the end of the 19th century (Holloway, The Historical Atlas). Despite a recent increase in records of singing birds (territorial bird(s) at Seafield pond/Tyninghame in 2010 and isolated records from Aberlady in 2012 & 2013) there has been no previous confirmed breeding in Lothian up to 2014.

PS - 2016 proved much better for breeding birds with up to 3 pairs of Reed Warblers with young fledged again and an upturn for breeding waterfowl, following less disturbance at main pond, some info in a new post.