Hermitage 2 Hour Challenge

On BirdForum, James, a birder who lives near me, posted a sort of challenge for people who go birding in the Hermitage. He managed to see 42 species in 2 hours, so I decided to have a go on Thursday as we had a half day at school.

Started off in the field at 14:50, first bird was a flyover Goldfinch, joined by five flyover Feral Pigeons. Next followed all the birds I usually see in the field. Carrion Crow, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, and Magpie. Other birds I saw at te top of the field were a pair of Rooks, c25 Starlings, 4 Stock Doves, 30 Linnets, some unseen, but certainly heard, House Sparrows, a single Great Tit, 3 Long-tailed Tits, and a singing Robin. Further down the field I found 5 Pied Wagtails, one of which I suspect was a White Wagtail but might have been a female Pied. More Linnets joined them and I saw a Skylark in the long grass, singing with another 2 individuals. 

Starlings 

 Rook 

 Stock Doves 

 Linnets (circled in blue) 

 Pied Wags (possible White on the left) 

 Another Stock Dove  

Linnets 

The last few birds the field provided were a group of c30 Jackdaws, 1 singin male Chaffinch, and 2 Meadow Pipits flushed from the bottom of the field.

Into the Hemitage I was planning to go over the top of Blackford Hill to the pond to add plenty birds. The first bird I saw in the Hermitage though was a Blackbird making sure I was aware of her presence. A Buzzard in it’s usual spot gave me my 25th day tick after Grey Heron and Moorhen were seen in the burn. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew from some large trees towards the middle of the Hermitage while a Greenfinch did it’s scratchy call from some gorse. Wren, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, and Goldcrest were all added while I trekked over the hill towards the pond.  

Juvenile Moorhen  

 Robin in the darkness

Of course the pond gave me all the usual waterbirds I needed: Mallard, Mute Swan, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, and Tufted Duck all added pretty easily. The only non-water bird I managed to see here was a Dunnock picking up bread from around the pond. 

 Hungry Mallard 

 Greylag Goose

 Foundations of a Magpies nest  

Carrion Crow with partial Leucism 

After the pond I went deep into the Hermitage where I was hoping to see some more woodland species, especially Nuthatch! The first bird I saw that I hadn’t already seen was a Song Thrush doing it’s best not to be seen. A pair of Coal Tits in a pine tree gave me species number 41 and number 42 followed much later on as two Mistle Thrushes alerted me to their presence by chasing away some Jackdaws. I’d equalled James’ total, but didn’t know it at the time so kept searching. Back along Blackford Glen Road at the bottom of the field a Dipper started warbling in the burn and my last effort to add a final species to my day list meant going on to the golf course and desperately trying to flush a Pheasant. Mr. Pheasant duly obliged and flew up out some thick grass giving me A. A big fright and B. My 44th species. 

A total that I’m very happy with. Although… I did have a few glaring omissions. Raptors were lacking, no Sparrowhawk or Kestrel. Tree climbing species lacking too, no Treecreeper or Nuthatch. And I still haven’t seen the Braid Burn Grey Wagtails! Despite this I did manage to beat the 42 species mark, but I’m sure someone will beat my total sooner or later. Plenty birds I didn’t see that can be seen if you know what you’re doing. Chiffchaff, Water Rail, Grey Partridge, Red-legged Partridge, Peregrine, Redwing, Teal, all possibke! And when the summer month are here we’ll have even more. Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Yellowhammer, Wheatear, Swallow , Swift, House Martin, loads of then. Aaand there always the birds that turn up every now and then. Lapwing, Tree Sparrow, Little Egret, Osprey, Sand Martin, Kingfisher. I could go on and on… But anyway, I better finish this post here! 

 

Hermitage 2 Hour Challenge

Applicant Day with some birding between

On Wednesday I went to an applicant day at the Scottish Rural College just outside Aberdeen on the Craibstone Estate. I’ve applied for Countryside Management and provided I get 1 B at higher this year, that is what I’ll be doing in September, exciting stuff!

On the way up I saw 9 Buzzards, a weird sighting of 2 male Pheasants flying over the M90, and a Grey Heron fly-over 9 miles south of Dundee. A good, easy year tick was the Pink-footed Geese in fields to either side of the motorway whilst passing Loch Leven.

As I knew about this day for a while, I was secretly hoping that the Harlequin Duck would still be around. Considering it arrived on the 5th of January I wasn’t that hopeful. When we (dad and I) arrived in Seaton Park we were greeted by Oystercatcher on the rugby pitch. Once by the river we walked downstream from the toilet blocks as directed by a nice local on BirdForum. First were, of course, the Mallards which were joined by a single Grey Wagtail. Then I found out that that great, beautiful, awesome duck decided to wait almost 3 months for me to pop into Seaton Park to pay it a visit. So here it is, my latest lifer: a Harlequin Duck

     What a beautiful duck it is, even though he’s a 2nd year male (I think). So I gawked at him for about 10 minutes taking some dodgy shots with my phone through my bins, and then returned back up the River Don to see two Goosander heading towards me. Weird, but turns out they were easing away from a rather boisterous dog having a lot of fun further upstream.

Back through the park to the car I saw the Oycs again, a Pied Wagtail on the grass, a Magpie (some birds you just never can escape!), and a Buzzard being mobbed by some assorted Corvids

   

My day at SRUC was great. Had a chat with the lady who teaches countryside management, then had a short talk on accepting offers and student loans and whatnot. Once that was done we had a short tour of the halls of residence which were very nice, a lot more spacious than I’d expected, and just around the corner are some nice woodland walks, a key feature for me! Plenty things to be doing around the estate when I’m there in September, which I will be!

On to my favourite bit of the day. We did a more course specific activity which was burn dipping; like pond dipping but in a burn (small stream, not sure if burn is a Scottish word). Found some Stonefly nymphs, Mayfly nymphs, flatworms, Freshwater Shrimps, and then went on to terrestrial creepy crawlers. Found a nice big Centipede (Lithobius variegatus), another different species of burrowing Centipede (Haplophilus subterraneus) and a Woodlouse which turned out to be a Common Shiny Woodlouse when examined under the microscope in the lab when we got back. It may seem that this was all just fun and games (although it probably was a bit), it was to help show how water quality can be monitored and helped me show off some of my identification skills. One technique is called the kick test. You get your wellies in the water and kick the sediment through a net for a known amount of time, then check what has been picked up in the net. It is better than a chemical test in that if you did a chemical test for water that may have been polluted, the chemicals may have washed away downstream and you won’t notice anything wrong. Whereas with the kick test you will be able to compare the number of bugs and beasties you get in your net compared to previous times, and even if the chemical has washed away, you will see the damage it has caused. I hope that all made sense because I’m no typing it out again 🙂

Once my day was over at SRUC, I convinced dad to take me to Loch Skene, which was a fairly short drive down the B979. Once tree I got my scope out quickly as we were a bit pushed for time. Views of Cormorants, Oystercatchers, as Mute Swans all nesting on an island were nice in the fading sunlight.  

 There were actually quite a lot of Mute Swans on the Loch, about 30 I’d say. Lots of gulls too… 

  

  

 The moon was out looking good too. 

 Noticed a few rafts of ducks by the island, turned out to be Tufted Ducks, maybe a few Goldeneye in there too but didn’t have time to check as we had to leave, but I will return! 

  

 

On the car journey back, before it got dark, I spotted 10 Roe Deer in total (6 & 4) , lots of Lapwings heading to roost, as well as plenty gulls too. Possibly some Gannets off the coast heading south past Stonehaven but I couldn’t be sure. Large skein of Geese heading in the direction of the Montrose basin, 1 duck sp flyover and 2 Rookeries finished off my day of birding and exploring.

 And an M&S petrol station dinner finished off my night! 

 

Applicant Day with some birding between

Spring is springing, I hope…

Last Thursday I was in Holyrood Park again doing some John Muir Award stuff, and once again I forgot to blog about it. But I have to report on this one as it was a particularly nice day!

I’m pretty sure the temperature was around 12 degrees Celcius which is relatively warm compared to previous Thursdays in the park. I’d decided to do another count since it was completely different weather compared to previous Thursdays in the park (just to reiterate how lovely it really was).

On my way to my three areas I passed a rather angry looking Mute Swan, a Feral Pigeon who had definitely fallen in the loch while trying to have a bath, and one of the usual Magpies that I see by St. Margaret’s Loch.  

       

I started my first count in the Lilyhill Plantation but before I could start properly counting I was approached by three Carrion Crows whilst I was writing down the details about weather, date, time, etc, etc, etc… 

 The first bird I saw in the Lilyhill Plantation was a male Blackbird who shot out of a Holly bush which they are usually hiding in. Next up was a couple of Goldfinches which are always reliable. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you every bird I saw, just the notable sightings.

Near the start of my transect I noticed quite a kerfuffle between 5 Great Tits, maybe arguing over nest sites, I don’t know. Speaking of nest sites, I spotted a Wren sneaking into a spot at the bottom of a tree with nest material in it’s beak, think I’ll keep an eye on them. 

Also found 3 Magpie nests, all at different stages of construction. More fighting was going on down the path as a pair of Dunnocks darted about in the undergrowth. The Dunnocks were actually very vocal on Thursday, as were the Robins

 

Frogspawn was another sign of Spring’s possible arrival, in one of the sort of ditches that runs through Lilyhill. 

 A distant Buzzard near the end of that transect gave me my first raptor of the day, and I also found another Wren nest according to my notes but I don’t remember where. 

 And yes, I have got a black dot on my lens, I think it must be on the inside of the lens as I can’t wipe it off. 

Some springtime love was also in the air as this Woodpigeon tried to court an unimpressed friend. Poor guy. 

My favourite sighting of the day came as I was walking back down the road to start my count in the Whinny Hill plantation. I thought I’d seen some Dunnocks arguing again in the gorse and for whatever reason decided to have a look with my bins despite being just across the single lane road. Once I had found one of the birds it became apparent that it’s legs were far too pink to be a Dunnock. Then it hit me, I had a feeling I knew what it was. As the rest of it’s body emerged from behind a twig it started singing, confirming my identification. A Chiffchaff! First one of the year for me, and a lovely little celebratory song was chiffed and chaffed by the lovely warbler. What a nice end to a good count.  

 My totals for the Lilyhill are as follows:

  • Blackbird 8
  • Carrion Crow 5
  • Blue Tit 5
  • Great Tit 10
  • Woodpigeon 19
  • Chaffinch 8
  • Goldfinch 10
  • Robin 7
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
  • Dunnock 8
  • Wren 5
  • Bullfinch 6
  • Goldcrest 3
  • House Sparrow 8
  • Magpie 4
  • Buzzard 1
  • Pheasant 1
  • Greenfinch 1
  • Chiffchaff 1
  • Collared Dove 2

  Onto Whinny Hill, I was really hoping for Coal Tit as I’ve only recorded it once in this area despite it being full of conifers. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, first bird was a reliable Robin. I was treated to some close views of Goldcrests picking about in the gorse, which was pretty much in full bloom, and smelt great. 

Had a pair of Sparrowhawks fly over as well as a single Grey Heron, probably heading to Dunsapie Loch. Two more springy sightings were of Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies sunning themselves. 

Totals for Whinny Hill were as follows:  

  • Robin 1
  • Goldcrest 4
  • Goldfinch 4
  • Wren 3
  • Chaffinch 3
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
  • Woodpigeon 3
  • Magpie 1
  • Dunnock 1
  • Blackbird 1
  • Grey Heron 1
  • Sparrowhawk 2
  • Blue Tit 2
  • Long-tailed Tit 2

Must say I’ve been surprised at how few species this area has given me but I’ll have to wait and see what crops up in the summer months.

After that count I was quite hungry so I went up the hill and sat by Dunsapie Loch to eat my lunch and just enjoy watching the birds enjoy the sun. 

While sitting in my spot I noticed an ex-duck nest below a shrub at the side of the Loch, and a Chaffinch so hinging in the shrub less than 5 feet away. Despite not seeing a Kingfisher I did see a bird catch a fish.  

 

Starting my count around Dunsapie I had 2 Meadow Pipits fly from Dunsapie Crag to the main hill and one flyover Pied Wagtail. Sid and Sally again followed me around the Loch as the Lesser Black-backeds kept a watchful eye on me from the rocky crag. Not much out of the ordinary around Dunsapie to be honest, the usual ducks and gulls all hanging out.

My best sighting came in the form of a bird that I noted down as being “larger than a thrush, dark, like small oystercatcher, continuous fast flapping”. This bird I saw whilst leaving Dunsapie and walking back down the hill. When I got back to the Historic Scotland HQ I mentioned it to Robbie, one of the rangers, and he suggested Woodcock. Hit the nail on the head. Don’t know why I didn’t think of that! It was probably from Bawsinch, a private wildlife sanctuary on the other side of Duddingston Loch.

A good way to end the day! And to end my post 🙂

  

Spring is springing, I hope…

Rugby trip

So I’m on the bus to Glasgow for another 7s tournament and I’m bored so I’ll report what I see. So far I’ve seen 4 Fieldfare at Hermiston Gait and 1 Goosander on a pool by the motorway, quite nice to see. Also a flock of Lapwing flying over a field somewhere between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

One Grey Heron over the motorway.

Plenty gulls, some Lesser Black-backed amongst the Black-headeds.

1 Kestrel hovering by the motorway just before we entered Glasgow and I forgot to mention a Buzzard, quite a dark one, on a lamp post somewhere around halfway.

Getting close to the pitches now so I’m gonna plug my earphones in and get my game-face on. A short report but pretty good day list considering I’m supposed to be doing anything but birdwatching!

Cormorant on the Clyde with multiple gulls too!

On the way back I managed to see a Red Fox by the side of the M8, in a spot that I saw 2 Buzzards on the way into Glasgow (forgot to mention that before). Further out of Glasgow whilst heading home we passed a small wetland area, a few Teal on there and some Mallard. 4 Roe Deer were also present. Another Buzzard on a wire nearish to the motorway gave me my last significant bird sighting of the day! 

Forgot to say that about 30 Fieldfare flew east over the pitches and also spotted 2 Collared Doves between the games. Plenty Magpies present too!

And by the way, we won! 34-10 to us in the final, very happy 🙂

Rugby trip

Happy morning

Just a short post as I’ve had a very happy morning due to two things.

The first thing is that I played my last match of rugby for the school today; quite sad but I’m very happy to have had such a good school rugby career over the past 8 years. This game also gave me a few nice “day ticks”. The first being a Sparrowhawk which flew high over the playing fields before the game and then returned back to the gardens this time flying very close to the ground and only just missing the top of a fence.

Next up was probably my first good flyover ID; a Meadow Pipit. What gave it away was the call which made me look up and seeing it bouncing off in a north westerly direction. Some Goldfinches added to the flyovers and then the Oystercatchers came in to land on one of the pitches that weren’t being used. During the game I spotted some very distant Ducks flying about over Edinburgh, probably Mallard based on size.

Once home I had a look out the back window out at the field and saw the pair of Magpies taking twigs up to their best which I can actually see quite clearly from the house. The top of the dome pokes out from the leaves. Then I scopes the other Magpies that were hoping about in the field and noticed what looked like maybe a Rabbit or some smallish brown thing. A harder look on a higher magnification revealed that I was looking at two Grey Partridges! A great garden tick and I think I’ll add it to my patch list as they are in the Braid Burn Valley… technically…

Ran downstairs to get my camera from next to the computer and then proceeded to take as many pictures as possible. Posted in the Lothian Birding forum on BirdForum to let people know incase they wanted to check them out.

A very happy morning for me 🙂 (pics to come)

Happy morning

Late recap

Once again I’ve let time role on without posting about my weekend,or at least my Sunday. So here’s a very brief recap.

Heading south out of Temple with dad to see what he thought was a squashed newt on the road, and sure enough it was indeed a Newt, at some point. Dad then returned home and I continued on up the road. Had a Great Spotted Woodpecker flyover and had a good look at the Rooks bringing nesting material into their stand of Scots Pines not far from the village.

Further down the road and taking a right, there’s a nice view of a medium sized pond which held the usual Teal, 7 at first which became 11 after also seeing 2 Mallard, 1 Buzzard, and 1 Moorhen. I’m certain there are Snipe in the reeds around the pond but I’m not going to go down to the pond and flush everything off of it. No Shelducks that day but I guess they were at Gladhouse which I didn’t manage to get out to.



Back on to the road that I was first on, I was heading for a patch where I was sure had another pond on it, in the middle of a field. The only reason I hadn’t managed to get there before was that the last time I tried I was chased off by a rather angry cow. This time I got there and was slightly disappointed to have only seen 1 Grey Heron. However, there was another pond in this field which I hadn’t noticed before as it’s hidden amongst some long grass. This gave me another group of Teal, about 10, some of which were displaying and calling. Nice to see. Another nice addition to a new year list of mine was a European Hare which darted up one side of the field and disappeared into some long grass (more about that year list in the next post).

Further again down this road I passed a field that I’ve seen Lapwing and Oystercatcher in, no luck this time. But a flock of about 50 Fieldfare with another 30 or so Starling was nice to see. 3 Redwing tsee-ed from a tree to my right and a Pheasant strutted across the field as some Chaffinches fed by the side of the road.

Another two March Hares gave me a nice digiscoping (or phonescoping) opportunity while hey sort of flicked their paws at each other and cleaned themselves in the sun. 



Finally at the end of the road I turned right and on my right is a boggy patch which I guess is there as all the rain runs off the sloped fields above it. This produced 2 Mallards and another Hare. On my left over some field was a flock if c30 Jackdaws and some gulls, mainly Herring Gulls but also some Black-headed Gulls with their hoods econing ever more obvious. I turned right and headed up the hill towards Roseberry Reservoir for a quick check to see what was there, as 4 Goldfinches flew over and I heard a very distant Curlew which I didn’t have time to go out and find amongst the fields towards Gladhouse.

Roseberry was pretty empty other than 6 Mallards, the first farmland Oystercatchers of the year for me, 2 Black-headed Gulls, and one very lonely looking Mute Swan which I felt very sorry for. 

The walk back up from Roseberry gave me another distant calling Curlew, which I scanned for but could pick out in the fields.

My walk back home didn’t really give me anything other than a flyover Buzzard and another look at the squashed New. An alright day of birding in my opinion! 



Late recap