Sunday, 9 April 2017

Garden bird log for Longniddry, Lothian

This is a log of the more interesting species seen and heard in, and flying over, a small garden on Douglas Road, Longniddry, Lothian, Scotland (map), since August 2004. The garden is in an estate within 500m of high water - Firth of Forth. Unfortunately there is no view out to the sea, or indeed anywhere beyond the neighbouring houses in the estate.

Annotated species list
Detailed records (spreadsheet) - updated 1/1/17


Pinks have remained all autumn commuting over most days - 3480 NE to Aberlady at dusk on 9 December, 1080 at 16:05hrs and c. 2400 at 16:30hrs.

Extensive Blackbird sub-song heard most calm days since mid-Oct, but full song briefly at dusk on 3 December; also a treat earlier with the only songster in the "dawn chorus" being a Mistle Thrush; Robin, Great Tit and Collared Dove also during day, last Woodpigeon song was a couple of weeks ago.

1400 Pinks SW over dawn on 20 November.

Bright cold morning on 11 November, thought I'd started too late but Siskins ramped up after 9 with c.70 in an hour, now ranking third after Spurn and Durlston for this species in Nov;P Finished week with a new high of 45 species recorded, up on 43 last week, missed 3 easy ones: Buzzard, Fieldfare and Feral Pigeon.

Another shot for Hawfinch on 5 November, less passage with just one Crossbill of note (counts), but just before packing up at dusk an alert on phone of one W over Kings Court which is 800m SW and on same flightline - how did I miss it?!

Beautiful morning on 4 November, constant passage of small groups of Siskin and two groups normal sounding Crossbills; also 34 Lapwing N (counts). 43 species seen/heard from garden this week, dedicated vismig watching would certainly add more.

With news of first irrupting Hawfinch seen on vismig in Scotland thought I'd start ironing early Sunday 29 October - expecting not to see one but wondering if may see something else. A good start at 07:30hrs with a diver sp. heading due NW some distance to north, Shag sized bird but distinctive flight on stiff wings, view of pale belly and dark vent - RTD is the only realistic option. Later at 08:18hrs excellent view of a Little Egret heading low SW down Gosford Road, good view of dark legs and yellow feet, dark bill - second record for garden. Potentially better was yet to come, standing at kitchen sink at 09:13hrs looked up to NW to see a line of all white adult swans proceeding SW at a modest height - but quite unlike all previous swan sightings here these looked more like giant geese, short necked and compact, with blunt bill. Flung open door and watched them for a few seconds through bins before lost to sight behind rowan, bills seemed all dark but no calls heard, unfortunately - should probably have stayed listening but instead dashed upstairs for further view from kids room as came into sight over Old Douglas Road further west, counted 10 and attempted to video on phone, but nothing visible on footage. Kicking myself for lack of proof, but feel sure these must have been Bewick's, WWT sat tracked birds are currently in Latvia. Kept watching and at 09:27hrs a bunch of Whoopers flew NE, these clearly totally different, big lanky birds with long bills, honking regularly - 6 in total, ads at front and back flanking 4 juvs. Later towards dusk a further 9 ad Whoopers ESE over some distance south - roughly Longniddry school - again unmistakable, unlike this mornings batch. Got video and photos of these latter but even at 10 times zoom they are mere specks and proof of nothing, so perhaps was futile from the start - no time to set up digiscoping gear for transient migrants! Anyway, clearly a day for swans in transit. PS - 15 Whoopers (4 juv) reported on sea off Muss 12:33hrs and understandable that people will doubt above record!

Also during 29 October, 8 Mistle Thrush over, which is equal second high count with 8 on 30/10/11, peak 11 on 6/10/15. Final day list 34 species.

Warblers in our rowan mid-Oct - Chiff on 15th, Blackcap on 14th, ses dad "wow, a Blackcap in the rowan!", daughter comes running, dad impressed, she's finally showing an interest in birds, "can't see it", "there it is, hopping about behind that branch"...after a minute of peering into tree turns out she thought I said a "black cat"!

Crummy pics but first proof of Barnacles over garden, several among c. 3k Pinks over on 13 October, including flock of 11 in lower image:

Barnacle Geese heard over, perhaps E, 20:55hrs on 9 October. First Redwing detected, very late, in the morning.

Crossbill sp. SW over 09:07hrs on 8 October, also upturn in finch passage, Siskins. Many Pinks over, flock 800 NE at dusk.

Sandwich Terns can be heard daily in late summer, logged in 10 weeks out of last 12, but biggest apparent movement was late, on 25-26 September, 3 groups heading S over at one point. Still 40 on coast earlier.

Evening 16 September a rare coincidence of geese, Canadas low E (Muss-Gosford to roost?), Greylags low SW (Gosford to stubble?) and Pinks high S, and at same time Sandwich Terns audible to N while House Martins and Swallows calling over in the gloom.

At last, I can hear them, Pinks over on evening of 14 September, many more to follow no doubt!

Swift suddenly disappeared on 8 August, but one low SW over on 28 August. Previous last Swift dates here 14/8/16, 22/8/15, 10/8/13, 14/8/14, 27/8/12, 18/8/11, 23/8/10, 29/8/09, 20/8/08, 20/8/07, 20/8/06, 13/8/05, 14/8/04.

Dawn chorus on 27 August - rich crooning calls of Woodpigeons from all over, topped off with Robin and Swallow song, and the odd bit of Collared Dove, very pleasant on the ears. Also 29 noisy House Martin very high over, barely visible, perhaps getting ready to move, though at least one active nest still in Glassel Park Road.

Probable Snipe heard over 22:40hrs 10 August - spot on for call but just one and with possibility of some extraneous source matching this call will not add to the garden list!

August started with Sandwich Tern low over house at 00:45hrs on 1 August, often audible from coast but heads inland normally from mid-August. Redshank and Dunlin calls into early hours of 10 August.

Hedgehog chomping through stuff in garden in early hours of 31 July, seen here most years even though access via neighbour's not easy for a hog.

Thrushes on berries may generally be a winter thing, but our local Blackbirds normally make a quick start on our garden rowan and clear the bulk in August - the tree seemed to be early ripening up this year, turning proper orange red towards end of July, and sure enough first Blackbird scoffing them on 29 July, let's see how long they last.

Several nocturnal calls from a single Dunlin S over 23:25hrs 24 July, 5th record, first since 2012.

More showers wknd 22-23 July produced further congregations and movements of Swifts and hirundines, these also spread all along coast and over Fernyness Wood where minimum 400 Swifts swirling on Sunday evening (tip off from Willie). Poss highest Lothian count since 2004; coastal concentrations not unusual historically, peak 8000W in 1 hr at Aberlady 29 July 1982.

Dunnock second brood calling from nest 21 July.

40 Swift SW in small groups in the hour before rain arrived from NW at 12:30hrs 9 July, a typical July move. Checked a few rumps.

Another Coot, 10th record, low over calling 00:48hrs on 8 July (now 3 Apr, 3 May, 2 Jul, 2 Aug).

Pipistrelle bats are a frequent sighting on any nocturnal trip around local area but never seen more than singles over the garden - then on evening of 5 July a party of 5 rotating round and round up to neighbour's eaves, presumably a local colony. On evening of 6 July 3 in line heading in from SW at 22:11hrs, joining Swifts and singing Swallows slightly higher up in the sky.

18 June - local Blackbird kicking off for dawn chorus at 02:59hrs.

20 Greylags W 11 June, perhaps start of post-breeding to and fro seen last couple of years.

Dawn chorus from 03:01hrs on 11 June, several Blackbird underway by 03:05hrs.

More bumbler pics, 85 present on 10 June.

Dusk on 9 June - first post-breeding Starling flocks hurrying west, heading for the western hills?

9 June - probably "peak bumble", 75 of them on our buddleia bush but some flowers now finished, and new record of 13 Tree Bumblebees.

Pleasing to hear a clear set of 3 quic-ic-ic calls from a migrant Quail over house, probably not far off to east, at 02:19hrs on 9 June, 3rd record after 1/6/07 and 10/7/12; an overcast night but a bit of brightness in the east and a strong moon behind clouds.

Dusk on 8 June as I dashed to polling station 21:55hrs a distant buzzard was heading over west, pursued by corvids, flap-flap-glide, deep beats (though it was dusk), did make me pause considering the time of year, but no bins!

At dawn on 7 June after 30 hours solid of rain I was surprised to note dawn chorus on as usual - Song Thrush and Blackbird undeterred, not sure if Robin was still involved due to the noise of the downpour.

Buddleia globosa out earlier than usual with 70% in flower by 29 May, Tree Bumblebee present again (first seen in 2016 when peaked at 7). New record of 8 Tree Bumbles, amongst 60 total, on 4 June, then 12 in 40 on 5 June! First Red-tailed (lapidarius), a queen, on 3 June, also a queen Buff-tailed (terrestris). Here's a Tree, Buff-tailed and Early (pratorum):

Young Starlings out in force, 41 on a tiny patch of our tiny back lawn on 30 May!

2+ noisy Sandwich Terns over SW 23:35hrs 27 May, unusual in spring.

Coot calling over to north 00:22hrs 26 May, matching late May records in 2015 and 2013, only 9th record but must miss loads. Moorhen more frequent. Much Barn Owl noise 02:40hrs, encouraging sound just after getting back with latest dead one off A1.

Late May, dawn chorus now starting just after 03:00hrs, with night Robins joined by Swallow at 03:10hrs, the Blackbird, Song Thrush and dawn Robins at 03:20hrs, often accompanied by main arrival of large gulls from colonies by 03:30hrs. Also Greylags audible departing their roost at 03:15hrs. On 26 May also Skylark song audible around 03:15hrs, song detected here previously only in 2005/6 and 2009/10, what a privilege to hear.

Swift at last, Sunday 7 May.

Moorhen low over house, very close just north-east, 03:52hrs 29 April (annual since 2011, mainly late spring).

Easter Saturday - Orange tip butterfly out in garden, Swallow low over, 2 Herons passing NE perhaps to Gosford nests?

Again 27 species during ironing 9 April, including first House Martins (8W in one group), other westbound migrants included 18 Siskin and 16 Goldfinch; very impressive lightening quick male Sparrowhawk having a shot at our local Blue Tit (which has been collecting down from a phragmites head I had left out for it, presumably nest lining) proving that even small garden birding can be exciting - Blue Tit escaped and sang repeatedly. Also a Small Tortoiseshell out in the sun, first seen near open back door of garage, and likely the one which overwintered there clinging to the wooden ceiling.

27 species during an hour of ironing, 11 in song including Buzzard, with first LBB, Mipit and Skylark of the spring, 5 March. Also recently Magpie song.

Crossbills SW over early on 26 February - early post breeders? Hint of an early spring movement some years.

Large gulls commuting SW over at dawn on 22 February totalled at least 1180 from 07:00hrs, including 4 ad GBB; probably more than usual due to WSW4 wind, but many will have been missed. Also one possible LBB, first seen locally at Seton on 4 February.

Rolling Nuthatch call nearby in last week January, second record and much closer than first.

Another 10+ Waxwings in berry tree at entrance to our small cul-de-sac, 15 January. Regular flocks of Fieldfare over from Longniddry Bents.

Started well on New Year's day with 5 Waxwings and the first Kestrel in over a year, hunting golf course to north. 13 Waxwing on 5 January.


[Overview of the year 2016

73 species recorded is above average, boosted by three additions to the list, long-expected Nuthatch and Yellowhammer, along with a surprise Wheatear, overall total now 102. 57 species are now recorded every year (listed below for reference*), so just the 16 "scarce" logged of the 45 not recorded annually - these included nocturnal migrants: Moorhen (gave two replies to its call on xeno-canto!), Ringed Plover (3), Whimbrel, Common Sand (2), Dunlin, Sandwich Tern (recorded in 9 wks), and also third records of Pheasant and pr Stock Dove, Waxwings in late autumn and several Sand Martin in spring. Tree Bumblebee was new. The number of targets for additions is diminishing but still expected are: Snipe, Yellow Wag, Tree Pipit, Raven and Reed Bunting, with a few other long shots still possible (falcons, other pipits/buntings).
* Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Blackback, Great Blackback, Sandwich Tern, Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Common Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch

Full records: Excel s/s.

Older records (to end 2016)

Monday, 13 March 2017

Regenerating Scots pine in Glen Lui

Saturday 12 March took Michael and I to Glen Lui on the Mar Lodge Estate to do an outstanding pine seedling count on a plot my father can no longer get to. The trek in to the site takes you past a landscape of the ancient pines many of which are now on their last legs and the interest is in the rate of regeneration, starting with seedlings such as the one above. We also passed a team of workers doing "ring barking" in an adjacent plantation, a practice designed to thin the forest and thereby promote the growth and health of the remaining trees (as described in Gus's blog, and on the SRUC conservation field trip from last year).

Arriving at the plot we were thankful for GPS or we would have been struggling to find the remains of the pegs. Two Blackcock were flushed and flew to the adjacent wood, and droppings on the plot itself suggested they had been there and may have even been grazing on seedlings, though we could not prove either point. With young helper we counted a minimum of 285 Scots pine seedlings and 8 larch on the 4x15m plot, pro rata that is 5 million pine seedlings per 1km square, or 500 million per hectad - they are regenerating for sure! But the tallest was only 47cm, some may have been grazed.

No raptors were spotted and indeed the only other large birds on the BirdTrack list were a pair of Mallard, though we had seen flocks of Curlew, Oycs and the odd Lapwing on our way up through Glen Clunie. Most pleasing was the sighting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying across open moorland heading for the wood where the ring barking had been done, in fulfilment of Gus's prediction last year!

My father has handed over the further monitoring of sites in this valley to SNH, after 40 years of study so far, so in theory we won't need to go back. The long terms study will now be written up, with the benefit of one final data point for the last site. On related topics, and perhaps of interest for any botanist readers, he has two recent publications on the impact of grazing and lack of burning (for 50 years) on the evolution of moorland vegetational composition, from a set of seven sites (on Deeside and in Glen Clunie) that I am very familiar with, having often accompanied him to them in earlier years, recording birds along the way. Note, only abstracts of these papers may be available outside institutional subscriptions.

[Photos (except 3rd last) copyright Michael C. Welch, aged 10 yrs]

Sunday, 1 January 2017


1/1/17: Another year completed, and not much to add to last year's "patchwork" report below - after an excellent start to the year in January 2016, with some wind in the Forth, the year ended in a similar fashion to most, with December being only blank month, annual totals hardly changing: 2016 140sp/178 pts; 2015 142sp/175pts; 2014 140sp/174pts; 2012 139sp/180pts.

Some nice breeding birds, with multiples of Reed Warbler and Gadwall, and plenty of rings read (180+ Sandwich Tern codes, gulls of 6 species, Shags). But after last year's speculation actually failed to add any species, Gull-billed Tern being someone else's find. Particularly regret failing to find what would have been my first mainland YBW, being able to afford time for just a few cursory trips round the Bents when they seemed to be being found all over the country ;( Always bad timing with start of teaching semester. Also missed Pom Skua, Jay and Woodcock, suspect latter not in normal haunts due to mild weather, Poms are often distant here and it needs lots of time to get them close enough to confirm. Fell even further behind adjacent patch at Aberlady, credit to Mike for turning up even more goodies there, and others on coast here have been in a different league in terms of rare birds. Will keep up local BirdTrack logs, when I can, and ring-reading, but suspect effort to squeeze out a few more species from patch is not really justified so will give patchwork a miss this year.

4/1/16: Not managed to post much of late, but time for a quick year end review and look ahead. Due to various constraints, and WeBS excepted, nearly all my "birding" is now done locally along Seton, Longniddry and Gosford shore, with regular Blindwells visits as blogged here for 2015. Having gone over fully to BirdTrack I can now extract some stats on records logged, just for this patch in 2015: 2854 records totalling 41164 birds of 135 species over 148 lists; subset at Blindwells was 1054 records totalling 6712 birds of 81 species over 44 lists. 7 more species recorded but not in BirdTrack (offshore/flyovers and the owls), so patchwork total 142 species. Whatever, it is small beer compared to many of the top BirdTrack-ers and patch listers but probably more than I had time for as it stands! Considering I tend not to log roost counts it tells me that altogether I must have seen/scanned through well into the 100,000+ birds here during the year. BirdTrack also gives you a graph of species accumulation for selected sites and species per month, a rather slow start! Added graphs for Eider, Velvet Scoter, Oyc and Med Gull:

Competing in the "patchwork challenge" has been an eye opener in many respects, even when "streamed" by removal of the best hot spots to a dedicated "islands league" it is very hard to keep up! In fact it was only the comparative league (handicapped based on previous years) that I was any good at, and unfortunately mainly because I was busy with atlas in 2013 so had a poor list then hence an advantageous handicap. This is obvious from the final annual totals of species/points: 2015 142sp/175pts; 2014 140sp/174pts; 2013 123sp/149pts; 2012 139sp/180pts (having just added Feral Pigeon, previously overlooked, to all these lists!!!). So 2015 was a new best total for species, but could not match 2012 points. I am aware of two species seen by others on the patch in 2015 that I missed, Willie's Quail at Blindwells, and Lesser Whitethroat at same location and per Jim at Longniddry Bents. I narrowly missed Cuckoo which was seen flying along the A1 just off patch and was disappointed also to fail on Pomarine Skua, not enough time in November :(

Particularly interesting this year with Mike Hodgkin competing on the neighbouring patch at Aberlady (I had to borrow his Peregrine for my own list for much of the year!) - I think he found 20 species which I missed, including 6 I have never seen on my patch (Pintail, Hen Harrier, Water Rail, American Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Greenshank, Roseate Tern, Little Tern, Black Tern, LEO, SEO, Kingfisher, Tree Pipit, Stonechat, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Mealy Redpoll, Twite, Lapland Bunting); visiting Aberlady on Christmas Day and seeing the array of 250+ Shelduck floating in the inner bay, a species I would be delighted to see a mile west, reminded me it can indeed be a magical spot!

With now 11 complete year lists for this patch it is also interesting to look at a yearly species accumulation list. It was good to add five new species this year (LRP, Green Sand, Ruff, Jack Snipe and breeding Reed Warbler) though it has to be said that three of those were probably a consequence of the main gate at Blindwells being closed in late spring so that disturbance from dogs at the main pond was diminished, something which is unlikely to apply in future, indeed the whole area may become a building site! So have now recorded 177 species here and inevitably it will be increasingly hard to add any new ones. What might they be? Having dug into local records I note the following 20 species which have occurred historically (last/only dates):

  1. White-billed Diver (31/7/91)
  2. Black Stork (29/5-2/6/46)
  3. White Stork (8/4/96; 12/4/03)
  4. Crane (23/4/00)
  5. Storm Petrel (30/8/93; 14/11/04)
  6. Bean Goose (15/2/03)
  7. American Wigeon (17/12/95-18/3/96)
  8. Hen Harrier (18/11/14)
  9. Pallas's Sandgrouse (June 1863) "A small number settled in some fields near Longniddry … remained there 2-3 weeks"
  10. Western Sandpiper (24/8/97)
  11. Spotted Redshank (15/10/95)
  12. Wood Sandpiper (20/5/14)
  13. Forster's Tern (21/2-10/4/95)
  14. Turtle Dove (20/5/92, but former breeder)
  15. Long-eared Owl (26/6/11)
  16. Common Redstart (25/4/08)
  17. Icterine Warbler (5/7/95)
  18. Rose-coloured Starling (5/7/95)
  19. Twite (regular!)
  20. Corn Bunting (8/3/96, but former breeder)

In addition there are several others that I am aware have been reported but not yet with accepted records: Balearic Shearwater, Red Kite, Hobby and Water Pipit. I'm not sure if a King Eider has ever been seen between Aberlady and Musselburgh, but must now be a possibility, with other potential candidates being Snow Goose, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Gull and Raven. So, looks like more of the same is needed, peering at those Seton gulls may still be my best bet, though after 11+ years of regular weekly visits, or more, and so far only a single Iceland and Glaucous to show for it, I suspect it will be hard work...