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