Study leave

Yup, I’m on study leave so unfortunately not all my time can be spent birding. I have, however, managed to get out a couple times recently. Here’s my wee report from the 26th (of April that is)

First sighting of note was 5 unidentified birds flying west towards Blackford Hill. They were about Great Tit-sized and had a sort of finch-like call. Probably finches of some sort but it wasn’t a call I recognised. A suspected Brown Rat in a patch of Hawthorn by the field that I call Hopeful Hawthorn as I’m hoping something good turns up there, just looks like the sort of place something good would turn up.

I managed to find the Tree Sparrows at Liberton Tower which hadn’t been seen in a while. Just a couple of them but that’s enough to breed! They were with a bunch of House Sparrows and Starlings.  

  

 Walking along Braid Hills Drive I had a semi-decent view of a Shrew scarpering away from me in the leaf litter by the pavement. A pair of Willow Warblers was also nice to see. 

 Spot the Willow Warbler!

A pale Buzzard flew low per the field beside me, one of the individuals I usually see. And below him/her was two Wheatears in the top corner of the field! That would have been a patch tick had I not found one the day before with James in another section of the field. Nice birds to see nevertheless. 

  Down the Howe Dean Path I always seem to hear a Meadow Pipit call, which is weird as the Howe Dean Path is all mature deciduous woodland. Perhaps they always happen to fly over as I’m going down. At the bottom of the path I was confused at a high flying bird with a long tail, which turned out to be a Long-tailed Tit, highest I’ve ever seen one. Walking back along Blackford Glen Road I was treated to a couple of Blue Tits transferring food from one beak to the other, probably nesting in the Ivy covered bush that they were in.

On to the later on in the day…

Managed to see all three Wheatear that I knew of in the field which was nice. A wee late evening walk with Janes up to the fields by Sevenacre Park (bit further south) revealed at least 5 more Wheatear in the fields thrre, probably more. 

Back to the 26th, walking through the valley alongside the burn I noticed a Sand Martin fly over me, and then another, and another. In total 6 of them flew over heading down down the valley, mate looking for a nest site, maybe just hunting, I don’t know.

A pair of Blackcaps gave nice views as they flitted about in some Blackthorn by the Braid Burn. And I heard a metalli rattling from a boggy area, probably just a Wren but I wasn’t so sure. A Song Thrush shree-ed as it darted over my head across the valley and some Goldcrests were calling by the Scout Bridge.

A slow, boring search around Blackford Hill resulted in 20+ Blackcaps as opposed to the newly arrived Whitethroats that I was hoping for. I did manage to see my first 7-Spot Ladybird of the year on my patch, a Kestrel being mobbed by a Carrion Crow over some houses, and a singing Linnet in the gorse.

Only notable sighting on my walk home was a fish of some sort, I suspect Brown Trout, making a splash just downstream of the Scout Bridge.

Study leave

Patching up

Patching up the holes in my blog, and doing some patchwork too.

Yesterday I went out with James for a wee jaunt on the patch, we were hopeful of something good. Before leaving the house though, I checked the pond, as I usually do, and noticed a white egg lying next to the pond. Undoubtedly a Woodpigeon egg, considering they are (or should that be were?) nesting in the conifer behind the pond.

Anyway, we took the usual route round the field, and checked pretty much every shrub we could, producing not much more than a female Chaffinch, nesting Goldfinches, and a Woodpigeon. Once on the path the through the field we started checking all the tractor tracks down the field for Wheatears as they still hadn’t showed up despite James’ and Geoff’s promises. Eventually at the top of the field James spotted something down one of the tracks and lo and behold, it was a lovely male Wheatear sitting enjoying the sun. We got a bit closer to confirm and to take a picture as proof.

  

Round Liberton Tower we had a little check of the sheep field up there for any more Wheatears that had decided to make an appearance but none did; just Starlings and Swallows. We also had a bit of a check for Tree Sparrow as it’s been a while since anyone had reported them in the area. This search continued up into the small plantation across the other side of Braid Hills Drive, but that only gave us Robin, Blackbird and maybe a few Tits too. I did manage to pick up some Alder cones to help me with my tree ID though.

   

 

Back across the road and down the Howe Dean path, we took a different route on to the golf course, maybe we were hoping for Whitethroat… Or Wryneck… But no luck there. A bit of Shrew watching was good though, right beneath my feet pretty much. Despite the Wheatear patch tick, I think we both felt we deserved something a bit better given neither of us needed to be getting anywhere later in the afternoon. So we went to Musselburgh…

Along the road to the car park we had a listen out for Grasshopper Warbler, but to no avail. The Mute Swans on the boating pond looked pretty angry, so we left them and headed to the scrapes. On them were to usual birds: Dunlin, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatchers, Teal, Shelduck, and some Ringed Plover, a year tick for me. There was also the slightly less frequent birds such as a single Canada Goose, a few Snipe, a single lonely-looking Pink-footed Goose, a single Grey Plover and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers. The latter I have seen before at Loch Leven but for some reason I haven’t added it to my life list previous to this. It’s on there now though.

After the scrapes we headed to the seawall to perhaps find Purple Sandpiper to add to my list, but no luck. Did add Turnstone and (finally!) Fulmar. Also further out at sea were a few Eiders and a Red-throated Diver which gave good views. Terns also featured but not sure about species, I thought Sandwich based on what my scope told me. 

Here’s all the good pictures I took…

   

         

   This was a surprise year tick, a Gadwall on the scrapes that I only found when I looked at my pics once home.             

Patching up

Trees

Part of my John Muir Award was that I was going to learn tree identification, or get better at it I mean. After a few months of trying and not really getting that far I decided something had to be done.

 
So I’ve bought this book. Something I never thought I’d be spending money on. Having said that, I have really enjoyed getting to grips with the more common, native trees around my patch and in Holyrood Park. To really get myself into it I’ve made myself a Tree List. It works just the same as my Bird Lists, but they are trees, and I don’t record the date because a tree that I see on the 29th of April is almost certainly going to be there whenever I next look.

I’ve gone out a couple times now, looking specifically at trees. I’ve taken a lot of pictures and had a few moments where I’ve IDed trees without the help if the book, and that’s felt good. 

All this interest in trees found me asking dad if we can go and see the tallest conifer in Europe when we’re on holiday in Findhorn, as it’s not far away; just along the road west of Inverness. So I’m looking forward to that.

Before I show you my tree list I should explain, trees only go on my list if I can pretty reliably identify them when they are in front of me.

My tree list:

Scot’s Pine, Spinus sylvestris

Common Beech, Fagus sylvatica

Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna

Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus

Common Yew, Taxus baccata

Common Ash, Fraxinus excelsior

Elder, Sambucus nigra

Common Alder, Alnus glutinosa

Silver Birch, Betula pendula

Monkey Puzzle, Araucaria araucana

Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra

Horse Chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum

Blackthorn, Prinus spinosa

Cherry Laurel, Prunus laurocerasus

That’s it so far. Just 14 species but that’s more than I could ID before purchasing that heavy book. I’m close to being able to ID and find some sort of Lime tree but I can’t work out what species in particular. I’ll try to update this list as much as I update my Year List, which isn’t that often but I’ll try my best to remember.

  Monkey Puzzle in someone’s garden behind an unidentified conifer.

Edit: the one in front is Western Hemlock

  Elder 

Common Ash

 

 Common Hawthorn

 

 Common Beech

 

 Horse Chestnut

 

 Blackthorn 

 Cherry Laurel

 

 I’m lucky to have some of the oldest trees in Edinburgh on my patch.  Pretty much all of them are native, and a few are well naturalised such as Sycamore and Horse Chestnut.


Trees

Brief post on last weekend…

… In the Moorfoots. Here’s what I posted in the Lothian Birding thread on BirdForum. Just a quick recap.

Moorfoot Valley today, with the sole intention of finding one bird in particular to add to my life list. Before getting into the actual valley, the walk there gave me a pair ofOystercatchers, 1 flyover Curlew, and a lot of whooshing, peewiting LapwingsSkylarks were obviously present, and a few Swallows are in the courtyard of Moorfoot Valley. On one of the drystone walls a wee bird popped up and I knew before getting my scope on it that it was a male Wheatear. A female joined him further along the wall. Buzzards present all day, at one point I had 5 in my field of view. Getting closer to the valley Meadow Pipits started appearing and eventually I got used to the fact that 3/4 birds on the ground were going to be Mipits. A single Mallard was unexpected.Pied Wagtails were also ever present. Quite a few maleChaffinches were outside the wee house just before the valley.

Once finally in the valley I noticed more Wheatears all over the place, also Sand Martins, about 6-8 of them overhead. Later found out they are nesting in an embankment by the stream. I saw a bird fly to a rocky area, when looking through the scope I noticed a single Mountain Hare being bothered by Mipits.
Finally at the fence that has the gate into the valley, I saw theRing Ouzels that I was looking for, 4 of them. The rest of the valley produced 1 Dipper, 3 more Ring Ouzels, a Raven, aStonechat and a couple Red Grouse.

Gladhouse Reservoir had not much to be seen, lots of gulls and Greylags, a Great Crested Grebe flying about, 3Cormorants joined in, and a probable Osprey which flew to the main island and disappeared behind it. No Chiffchaffs throughout the whole day, but Willow Warblers were everywhere, even some in a tributary valley in the Moorfoots. 

Shrew sp and Vole sp in the grass at the sides of the road when I was walking back home.

   

                 

Brief post on last weekend…

Last days…

So my holidays are coming to an end, and I’m not looking forward to the increase in revision that I’m going to have to do. Less patch birding, probably a lot less lifers than the past couple weeks, and less looking out the window which is something I do a lot by the way.

Yesterday I had a pretty good day. It’ll be a short summary just based on the few lines I’ve written in my notes.

The first significant sighting was the 2 Grey Wagtails which have evaded me all year this far so that was nice to see. It looked like they were sort of displaying above the burn, flapping about a lot.

I then headed up the north side of the valley to look for Buthatches as I hadn’t seen them in a while, a long time in fact. Before getting to their usual haunts I noticed a lot of Grey Squirrels in the trees above me, I counted 9 in total in one small area, about 20 square feet. And then I saw the wee holes where they’d obviously buried and redound their nuts from last year.

My ears then alerted me to a call I hadn’t heard in a while. It was a sort of warbling, almost sounded like the bird was muttering to itself. It was a fair bit away, on the other side of the valley across the bridge I estimated. I wrote in my notes: “Also Warbler sp. heard near Scout Bridge, suspect Blackcap”

I’d never been able to ID Blackcap by call, as last year I’ don’t really gotten into bird calls after most of the summer visitors had left. So I wasn’t confident about my suspicion.

I tried to get to the other side of the valley as quick as possible which meant sort of sliding down a steep dirt bank in front of a family who looked at me liek I was mad.

Once across the bridge I heard the ever present Chiffchaffs and observed one fly catching for only the second time, after seeing them doing it loads on Saturday at Barns Ness.

I heard it again, fainter now and I looked into the gorse to see a bird flitting about quite deep in. Then it emerged for a second, and as I brought my bins up to my face it dived back in. However, I saw enough of the bird to get my hopes up. A flash of silvery grey as it submerged itself in the yellow flowers. A couple more minutes of searching age me this note: “YES! Was a Blackcap (m) in gorse on other side of valley!”

A male Blackcap which I had managed to ID by call from the other side of the valley. Boy was I chiffchuffed, a year tick which I had managed to ID by call from a distance. Anyway, that was good.

I continued along the path to check this side for the Nuthatches, and sure enough I heard a Nuthatch distress call on the other side of the valley. So I turned around and headed back across the bridge and along the path by the burn. Eventually I got to the bit where I’d heard the Nuthatch calling, and there was nothing but a Great Tit. I checked my watch, which told me it was time to wander back home. A Dipper was singing in the burn and as I was snapping pictures of it I was nudged in the leg by a dog, who’s owner, after a short conversation, told me a bit about the Otters, most interesting was that she went on an Otter Walk led by one of the rangers about 3 years ago, meaning I know that I can say that I have found a lot of evidence of Otters along the burn. I wasn’t sure about the secrecy of the Otters along the burn so didn’t want to put it out there for all to know. Anyway, the rangers were giving Otter walks so they must be pretty well known.

After my wee chat with the lady I saw a Dipper only fleeing a dog at the last second, a Treecreeper calling from the Howe Dean path, and a riverside Wren acting like a small rodent.

Today wasn’t particularly good, Otter spraint, Chiffchaffs, Linnets, and Mallards. My next post will probably be on the weekend 😦

Last days…

Falling…

The birds that is. I’ll explain…

James had kindly offered to take me out to a coastal spot that I hadn’t been to on Saturday. That place was Barns Ness, and what a place it was.

Before even leaving the house I spotted 2 Sand Martins flying low over the field, a good garden tick. I was hopeful that the rest of the day would be more of the same.

First though we checked the crags in Holyrood Park for Fulmars as James knew I didn’t have it on my life list, but they decided not to show. I’ve seen them reported there a few times on BirdTrack but haven’t seen them yet, unfortunately.

So we continued on to Barns Ness, just past Dunbar. I’d checked the weather before leaving and it said light showers all day. When we arrived by Whitesands Quarry it was quite nice, bit cloudy but bright. Another birder said there were Wheatears, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs down on the beach so we moved on to the beach and boy was that a good idea.

We first checked the “wire dump”, an infamous spot for migrants and vagrants, quite often producing Wryneck and rare Warblers. For us it produced a Robin, a Song Thrush, and a Swallow which quickly disappeared round the corner. A very quick year tick. Again I was hoping the rest of the day would be just as good. Next up was the tree line behind the sand dunes, and the first bird there was a Chiffchaff, and so was the second, and the third, and the fourth. There were loads of them, the pine trees were crawling with Phylloscs. And sure enough, there were some Willow Warblers amongst them with their longer “pp” (primary projection). An easy year tick as there seemed to have been a fall of them. I’d estimate there was about 50 birds there in total, not including the 2 Goldcrests, 2 Coal Tits, and 4-5 Goldfinches.

We spent a while looking for something good, perhaps an Eastern Crowned Warbler or Arctic Warbler. You never know… But all our search produced was more Willowchaffs and Chiff Warblers.  

    

On we moved to the beach where James pointed out the wreck that usually has the Rock Pipits, Water Pipits and Snow Buntings around it. The first bird I thought I’d seen on the beach was a Snow Bunting, a lifer. But it turned out to be the first (of MANY) Wheatear, a stunning male in all his finery. He hopped about in the rocks as I faffed about setting up my camera on my scope. Of course he disappeared as I turned the camera on. But never fear, the Wheatears were here. There were loads, and we came across another handsome male further along the beach. 

  

Also on the beach were a few Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks over the dunes, and gulls and Gannets out at sea flying above the Eiders

 

A couple of the gulls were adult Great Black-backed Gulls, not the pale juveniles that I saw of Gullane Point a few weeks ago. We also decided to have a quick look at the gulls out on the rocks and the one on the right caught my eye as being pretty pale but couldn’t be sure of Glaucous or Iceland. 

 

After looking at more Wheatears on the beach and also another Reed Bunting and a lone Starling, I added another lifer. This time it was a rather less colourful bird, a Rock Pipit. Still a very nice bird to see, especially after reading all the sightings on the Birding Lothian website. So I digiscoped him/her for a bit and we moved back along the beach as the clouds were looking quite threatening. 

  

 

Passing the wreck a Lark of some sort flew past, I called it as Skylark but it didn’t look quite right. At that point it had started raining quite heavily and I was trying to hide my scope under my puffer jacket as I hadn’t brought my cover; typical. So we pegged it to the car, or at least hurriedly walked. About halfway to the car James said, “Is that snow we’re about to walk into?” And as I looked up my face was struck by hundreds of hailstones. I called back, “No, it isn’t,” but I don’t think James heard me over the wind and hail. 

Eventually back in the car the hail stopped pretty soon. I got my raincoat on as I should have done when mum told me to, and we pulled up by Whitesands Quarry again. The attraction here is a large body of water which is the result of rain filling in the quarry. As I joined James at the viewpoint the first notable thing I saw was some hirundines flying about low over the water. As they got closer my bins told me that they were Sand Martins, and James’ bins agreed. Or at least the two closest to us were, maybe the others could have been more Swallows, but not confirmable.

As James went back to the car to get his scope I had a wee scan and only noticed some ducks (later turned out to be Wigeon), some gulls (probably Herring and Lesser Black-backed), and more of these unidentifiable hirundines. Once he got back, pretty quickly a good bird appeared. A Sandpiper. Yas! No Sandpipers on my life list except Redshank and Dunlin. Turned out to be a Common Sandpiper. A nice little bird which I’m hoping I’ll see more of this year. So that’s 3 lifers that Barns Ness gave me. Awesome. 

  

Also by the water were loads of Wheatears, more than were on the beach; Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. A Buzzard made an appearance and a Carrion Crow made sure that appearance wasn’t a long one. Before we left we noticed some Shrews squeaking in the grass by the viewpoint.

Next up was Torness, or the fields around Torness Power Station, to check if any of the wintering geese were still about. No luck, nothing there other than 2 more Wheatears, and a pair of Oystercatchers.

So we checked in at Torness, the bushes around the car park there have produced Siberian Stonechat, Bluethroat, Greenish Warbler and Firecrest. It was efinitely worth a look, and also means I now know where it is, incase I want to go there again which I no doubt will.

We got out the car and checked the field right next to it, which I thought has Woodpigeons in it but tat was the suns glare putting me off. They were in fact Curlew, or at least mostly Curlew… One of the ones I was looking at had buff colouring in it’s breast, had a completely black bill, and just didn’t look like your average, everyday, normal Curlew. James also saw something that made him jump. But of course, Sod’s law, they flew off once I had my scope set up. 

We went round to the other side of the field where we’d see them better, encountering possibly over 50 Wheatear on the way, and lots of Pied Wags, a couple Skylarks too. Once in position we looked at each bird on the field but none jumped out at me. Oh well…

On the way back around the field we stopped so I could get some nice shos of the many Wheatears and a couple of Pied Wags

      

Whilst scanning through the birds finding nothing but Wheatear, a Dunnock, and 2 Blue Tit; I came across a bird that made me incapable of speaking. It was a  Redstart of some sort and at the time we thought Black Redstart. It was too early for a Common… Or was it? Upon review of my pictures it turns out it was a Common Redstart, possibly the first one recorded in Scotland this year! Not to mention being another lifer. 

  

Our original plan was to go back to the car and head home at this poin, but as James pointed out, you don’t have days this good that often, so we checked out the sea wall. After wading through the swathes of Wheatears we got to the sea wall, had a brief look out to see what we could see see see, which was nothing but the big, blue sea sea sea… And a few waders which we decided to leave unidentified just so I didn’t get too many lifers in one day. 

Another possible year tick was a possible Shag but it was a Cormorant, who posed nicely in the sun for me. 

 

What a brilliant day that was. I really hope I can get out over the next few weeks to places like Barns Ness and Torness and Tyningham to see all the common migrants and rarities that will definitely be showing up. I’m staying hopeful for Hoopoe! I’m sure I forgot something but there’s plenty there for you to read 🙂

Falling…

Patch Catch-up

I’ve not updated my blog in a while, and I’ve been out a lot, pretty much exclusively on my patch. So here are some key sightings that I’ve had…

Common Kestrel: seen the male a lot, in fact a couple days ago I saw 2 makes having a wee face-off on the golf course. 1 sighting of the female.

Common Buzzard: quite a few sightings, one day produced 4 individuals so looking good for breeding this year. Unfortunately I wasn’t happy seeing them at some points as I was looking for the next bird…

Osprey: there was a fly-over reported straight over the top of Blackford Hill, and another reported over Duddingston Loch so that one probably passed pretty near my patch too. Very frustrating, still haven’t seen one.

Bank Vole: heard a lot of these as I’ve been staying out quite late recently. Finally saw one hiding in some long grass. Also heard shrews and probably some mice. A make-shift camera trap gave me a lot of action behind the camera so just a bit of noise in the background.

Common Pipistrelle: had great views of them hunting over the Braid Burn. Threw some seeds up on front of one of them to see their echolocation in action.

Nuthatch: heard twice from the edge of the woods. I haven’t really been into the woods, just keeping to the field, and the Hermitage upto the edge of the woods.

Treecreeper: also heard, but next to Agassiz Rock, two of them. I suspect they are breeding.

Chiffchaff: they are common as Robins now. One day I heard 7 different birds calling.

Mallard: they’ve been flying about quite a lot, all over the place. Only 1 female, lots of males.

Teal: 1 very high fly-over.

Sparrowhawk: few sightings, 1 of the female over Liberton.

Meadow Pipits: hundreds of them in the field. They head to roost at about 8:30pm, not sure where. Possibly on Blackford Hill as they head in that direction.

Skylark: they’ve been singing all week. Long may it continue! Sounds lovely

Linnet: suspect they are nesting in the gorse at the top of the field.

Sand Martin: had quite a few nice sightings of them. 2 up at Liberton Tower at the top of the field, 1 past the house, and this morning had 2 feeding over the field. Nice views through the scope.

Tracking: I’ve been trying to get to grips with some animal tracks and signs. Best find was Otter spraint by a waterway on the patch. Quite a lot of it, but after discussion on Facebook with people on the Animal Tracks & Signs group we’ve decided the Otter was taking advantage of the frogs spawning there. This was particularly obvious when I looked carefully at the spraint as there were loads of bones, frogs’ bones.

Brown Rat: I was quite happy to see this as it was an addition to my mammal year list. I saw something under the water in the burn going downstream and then it disappeared into some plants hanging over the water’s edge. I chucked a wee stone into the water to see if that made whatever it was move and out swam a Rat towards me.

Melanistic Pheasant: a strange sighting, the melanistic pheasant strutted around the perimeter of the field past the garden.

Fieldfare: 1 individual in the field yesterday, I suspect it’ll be the last one I see on my patch for a while…

Wheatear: despite searching every day at the top of the filed where James and Geoff have told me they turn up, I haven’t seen them. But they still might turn up, along with the Willow Warblers and Swallows! 

Some great reports of falls of migrants down south so hopefully we’ll be getting some more appearing here! And hopefully I’ll find them myself 🙂

Patch Catch-up

Year List Pt. 10

I really need to update this more…

So this is going back to the beginning of March, I’ll put the species,where I saw it, and the date 🙂 and of course the number.

80. Grey Wagtail – St. Margaret’s Loch; 5.3.15

81. Yellowhammer – Near dad’s house; 7.5.15

82. Stock Dove – field behind house; 16.2.15

83. Chiffchaff – Lilyhill plantation, Holyrood Park; 19.3.15

84. Pink-footed Goose – fields by M9, near Loch Leven; 25.3.15

85. Harlequin Duck – Seaton Park, Aberdeen; 25.3.15

86. Gannet – 6 flying west past Gullane Point; 4.4.15

87.  Red-breasted Merganser – 2 flying east past Gullane Point; 4.4.15

88. Red-throated Diver – 1 in Scoter raft off Gullane Point; 4.4.15

89. Great Black-backed Gull – few juvs off Aberlady/Gosford; 4.4.15

90. Great Crested Grebe – 1 couple in Scoter raft off Gullane Point; 4.4.15

91. Slavonian Grebe – 1 with LTDs in Gosford Bay; 4.4.15

92. Snipe – 1 on moorland in Moorfoot Hills; 4.4.15

You’ll notice I had a recent trip to do some sea watching at Aberlady/Gullane/Gosford Bay. I’ll post about this ASAP but going through all the photos takes a while! 

So 92 for my year list, almost catching up with my 122 total life list! Probably end up going over that benchmark this year with all the summer visitors that I now know to look out for. Ring Ouzels in Moorfoot Valley, Lesser Whitethroat in the Hermitage, Grasshopper Warbler near Gladhouse; plenty to go looking for and to add to my various lists!

On a side note, I’ve started a mammal year list to try to force myself to get to know mammals. So far it’s looking like this…

1. Roe Deer

2. Grey Squirrel

3. Red Fox

4. European Hare

5. Rabbit

6. Common Shrew

7. Brown Rat

Hopefully this will go up as I expand my knowledge. I’m also going to buy a book called Animal Tracks and Signs by Gerard Gorman. Looks like a good book, and I’ve joined his Facebook group and am following his blog so gaining knowledge there. 

Another field guide I’m going to buy is Trees of Britain and Europe which is a Collins Nature Guide. Hopefully I’ll be able to expand my knowledge of identification into trees and that might open up pathways into other plants, always useful to be able to do as many surveys as possible, appeals to an employer! 😉 Or so I’ve been told.

P.S. That mammals list would be probably 2 longer if I could identify bats! Seen loads of them! I’ll need to do some more reading…

Year List Pt. 10

Late in the Moorfoots

When I suggested going to look for Black Grouse to my dad at 6:30pm I wasn’t hopeful. But God works in mysterious ways, and dad said ok.

I had thought Black Grouse did their lekking at dawn and dusk but I have a feeling it’s just dawn, or at least mainly dawn… Here’s how the trip went.

On the way to the Black Grouse a large number of Fieldfare flew from one of the trees by the side of the road, nice to see they are still around.

Up in the hills we parked up outside a gate and the first bird was always going to be a Red Grouse. Surprisingly that was the only one we saw. The usual Kestrel was flying about over the moor, didn’t look like it was catching anything but perhaps it just didn’t want to show off. We walked back down the road to where we saw them last time and went along a sheep trail to get away from a guy who had a huge, multi-coloured parachute out, definitely not ideal when looking for Black Grouse.

Plenty Meadow Pipits and Skylarks about, singing and tseep-ing. Also making a noise were what I think were Snipes, sort off piping from the heather. We scanned across a lot of land and unfortunately only saw Mole hills and a Carrion Crow on a fence post. No luck with Black Grouse here. So we turned and headed back to the car, and as we turned around a Snipe flew up from right beside the path and circled around a couple of times. First of the year for me! Other waders heard were lots of Curlew and I think a couple Redshank. One displaying Lapwing over the moorland was nice to see, especially after seeing Springwatch at Easter last night with Simon King’s segment on Isla.

Nearly back at the car my attention was drawn to a bit of a commotion on my left. A Carrion Crow (typical) mobbing a much larger bird, a Raven. It was a particularly nice sighting as it meant I could compare Crow with Raven, the larger bird being much larger with back swept wings; a more protruding head; and longer, wedge-shaped tail. Lovely.

  

Driving back homewards bound, potential Black Grouse sightings turned out to be more mole hills, weirdly lit grass tufts and Carrion Crows.

More corvid action as some Rooks were feeding in a field and more Crows flying across the road to roost, getting my hopes up for my first Tawny Owl of the year on a couple of occasions. Then dad said why don’t we go looking for owls. He usually sees them cycling in to work, and thinks he sees a Barn Owl at one spot. So we headed there, adding Bat sp. to my mammal year list as we passed a farm.

Unfortunately our owl search gave us nothing other than some distant screeches, rustling in the roadside vegetation, and at least 2 species of Bat. I have no idea how you’re supposed to identify bats so I can’t yet, but will hopefully gain this skill at some point in the future. A Common Toad crawling across the road as we went back to the car added another species to our evening list. At this point it was about 8:30 by the way.

On the way home we saw another Toad on the road and a pretty certain Owl sp flying off the hedgerow beside the road. It was at least a bird sp and I’d assume, given the time and the wing shape, that it was an owl. Frustrating that I couldn’t tell what sort of owl it was but oh well.

1 Common Frog on the road outside the house was my last sighting of the night. 

   

Late in the Moorfoots

Overheating in Holyrood

Living in Edinburgh, I’ve come to realise that you sort of have to dress assuming it’s going to rain soon. Most of the time I don’t bother and end up getting cold or wet. So yesterday I did what I should have done very other time. I had my hoodie, my big gilet jacket and my waterproof in my bag with a pair of gloves. Of course, the weather was lovely. Warm, sunny, not all that breezy. A very nice day relative to the last few windy days we’ve had. I was trapped in my warm clothes for the whole day. That being said, it was a good day of birding and other activities.

As it is actually my John Muir award day, I couldn’t just sit at Duddigston Loch watching birds all day so I only did that for about and hour. Highlights there were all the Chiffchaffs making it feel like a lovely summer day, meeting the hybrid Greylag x Canada Goose again and having a wee catch-up, and just looking out across the water at all the wildfowl minding their own business. There were a few times I heard Moorhens and mistakened them for Water Rails, and the Coots were a lot of fun to watch being territorial across the other side of the Loch. Unfortunately I didn’t see the Great Crested Grebe that has apparently taken up residence but never mind, another time. The only raptor I saw there was a Kestrel hunting over the hill.

   First Chiffchaff of the day

  Carrion Crow admiring the view with me

  Hybrid Greylag x Canada Goose  Duddingston Loch Mute Swan 

Pair of Grey Wagtails    LBBG  Greylag thought he was a Canada Magpie Dunnock feeding in car park

I then headed up the hill to Dunsapie Loch to start some tree counts. Meaning I was working out which trees were in my areas so I can see if there area relationships between the birds and the trees, which I’m sure there are. For example the Siskins that I’ve seen have only been in the Alders, and Coal Tits only near Scot’s Pines. It’s also helping me broaden my range of identifiable things 🙂

Dunsapie, however, doesn’t have many trees. There’s one spot with Scot’s Pine, Birch and Alder where I see quite a lot of Goldfinches, some Greenfinches and Bullfinches in amongst the brambles. Easy to explain, the finches eat the seeds from the Alder Cones and it’s suitable nesting habitat with the thick shrubs on the ground.

Of course the usual birds were in the area too and I was also (as I always am now) looking for signs of mammals. Loads of vole runs amongst the long grass on Dunsapie Crag, and I think I found a Weasel hole next to the path I was on. 

  Lesser Black-backed Gull  Dunsapie Loch  Suspected Weasel hole Rangers ranging

Once finished at Dunsapie I headed towards Lilyhill to count trees, seeing plenty Greenfinches. 

 

Checked a little puddle that’s formed under an Elder bush which I’ve seen birds bathing in before. Had good views of a female Chaffinch and a couple of House Sparrows having a lovely time.

But the real bathing highlight was later on when I looked in one of the drainage ditches at the frogspawn and a male Sparrowhawk flew up out of the same ditch a bit further along. 

 I stood still for a while and he realised I was letting him finish his bath. So he flew back down and gave me great views as he got everywhere washed, including behind the ears. Wasn’t very easy to get a picture between all the branches. 

  

After standing for over 5 minutes I figured he must’ve had enough of a wash so I moved on a bit along the path towards him. He flew up into the branch again so I stopped and let him ruffle his feathers a bit and dislodge some of the water, before continuing through the woods and he flew off between the trees. Thank you Mr Sprawk!

Here are a couple of the other pics I took. 

 Magpie in Scot’s Pine 

Bullfinch (male) 

Once I was done there I went into the Whinny Hill plantation which is mainly Scot’s Pine, some Birch, and lots of Gorse and Broom.

I decided to sit in an open grassy patch and do a few sketches. I didn’t have my 2B pencil with me but made do with my mechanical one. My first sketch wasn’t very good, a Robin. But without colour or shading it doesn’t really look that good. Next I sketched the Magpie that was in the Scot’s Pine and then I sketched my view across the Firth of Forth. 

   The word in the middle is “Euronay” which was what it said on the sir of the ship in the middle of the Forth. Whilst I was sitting there I had quite a few fly-overs. Loads of gulls, a Grey Heron, and a Peregrine, which really made my day.

After my sketching I got up and walked all the way round the hill and then cut through the centre if the park past Hunter’s Bog where a couple of photographers were taking photos of the resident Pheasant while I took more interest in all the crows and found a hybrid Hooded x Carrion amongst all the Carrion Crows who had gathered around the water’s edge. 

 Hybrid in centre shot 

 Big Crow calling from some rocks above me.

My attention then turned to a Magpie who was running along the path in front of me, and I figured since I hadn’t used any of my bird feed to entice mammals out of their homes, I might as well give some to this Magpie who thanked me and I left him to enjoy his dinner then headed home to enjoy mine.

   

Overheating in Holyrood