Skywatching

So… I’ve been quite busy revising and getting folios finished and organising things for the end of my school career. I know, how sad. I’m not really feeling very sad though. I mean, I’ll probably miss the school I’ve been at for 13 years, but I’m really looking forward to what’s to come in the coming years!
Update on how exams went:

Biology: pretty well I think, think I’ve got a B for that. 

Maths: hard, but easier than expected. Plus a lot of people have said it was far too hard for the SQA not to lower the A grade… Which I wouldn’t mind at all!

Photography: I don’t have an exam for that but I’m very confident that my folio will do well. I put a lot of effort into it and my pictures turned out really well.

Spanish: this coming Friday I’ve got spanish and it should go well 🙂
So, hopefully, I’m going to be heading up to the Scottish Rural College to study Countryside Management. I really cannot wait.
But there’s more to come before that…
I’ve been in touch with Brian from Scottish Honey, and he’ll hopefully give me some beekeeping experience. Another good thing to add to my knowledge, and who knows, it might come in handy!
I’ve even getting more into trees (I’ll do another post on that), and also plants in general. Bugs have also had a look in and I’ve done some manmal-y stuff too. I set out my GoPro as a makeshift camera trap whilst I was out birding and came back after 50mins. See this link to see what I saw: http://youtu.be/wiI5vl8JV2E
Another little experience I had came when I added Tawny Owl to my yearlist (finally!). I was walking out by dad’s house through some of the farmland there. Nice views of Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Skylark, Lapwing, and Oystercatcher. Then I heard an unfamiliar sound coming from the woods on my right. At first I thought Mistle Thrush as it was a sort of rattly screech. But I soon dismissed that as I saw a nest in a Spruce about 20ft up. But then I realised there were screeches coming from lower than that and I noticed a small, white bag on the forest floor. Then I realised that I wasn’t looking at a bag.
I raised my bins just to confirm what I thought. A young Tawny Owl, with feathers only just developing. So immediately I called dad to ask him to check what I should do as I didn’t have any internet connection. Whilst in this call, an adult Tawny swooped down at something which I first thought was just a Rabbit. Then it stood up on it’s hind legs and revealed it’s identity as a Stoat! It was soon seen off by the protective parent.
So after some info from dad and a brief call to the Wild Owl Emergency number, I left the little Tawny Owl at the bottom of the tree where he/she would be as sheltered as he/she could be.

  
Anyway, if I told you everything I’ve gotten up to you’d get bored!
So, today I did my first sort of skywatching session, inspired by morgithology who had a Cuckoo over his garden yesterday. I walked up through the field, saw both of the Tree Sparrows who are breeding up at Liberton Tower in a nestbox; possibly the rarest breeding bird on my patch, other than Mute Swan but only one pair of them can fit on my patch.
I sat myself on a wee bench that overlooks Edinburgh which I’d found about a week ago while out walking. 
Throughout my 2 hour sitting, I had quite a few birds calling behind me, Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Blue Tits and a lot of Starlings on the golf course. They’ve just appeared in huge numbers, presumably the nests have all emptied within the past couple days.
The most counted bird in my skywatch was Feral Pigeon with a high count of 37. And then the next most seen were the Jackdaws, with 29 of them flying past. And coming not far behind them was the Starlings, flying from the field in front of me to the golf course behind me. 27 of them. 
The only real high-fliers were the gulls, mainly Herring and Lesser Black-backed with 15 and 14 respectively. Also two Black-headed Gulls were seen heading north, very high above my head.
More corvids, only 1 Carrion Crow went over. But 3 Rooks went past. I haven’t seen many Rooks in the fields since the slightly warmer weather set in, more of them up at Mortonhall.
Woodpigeons passed every now and then; 6 in total. Goldfinches tinkled overhead quite often and I got 8 of them. The only other finches were 1 Chaffinch and 7 Linnets. 3 Skylarks flying over the field and 1 Swallow looking for flies, of which there were loads. I think they are St. Mark’s Flies, thousands of them about at the moment.
1 Great Tit flew past and my best spot was 2 Stock Doves flying west heading towards the Hermitage. Quite chuffed that I actually realised they weren’t Feral Pigeons without bringing my bins up to my face. It was the flight pattern that gave them away, wasn’t exactly the same as a Feral, couldn’t describe how though!
So that was my first skywatching session. Not particularly fruitful so I think I’ll only report on my skywatching if I get something good, like a Cuckoo!
Speaking of something good, yesterday while walking back home after a bit of evening birding, I decided not to walk my usual route and went from Blackford Hill on to the 8th hole on Craigmiller Park Golf Course. How glad am I that I decided to do that!
I had just gone past a patch of Hawthorn and Elder when I heard a call that I had been listening out for since the end of April. A Lesser Whitethroat! To cut a long story short, I did venture into the shrubs and the bird did call again, plus another possible one calling from further away. But never managed to see one. Also have to admit to trying pishing for the first time, but it didn’t work at all. All I got was a Goldcrest and a Blackbird who I suspect were there no matter whether I’d been pishing or not! 
So that’s my first heard only record on any of my lists. A good tick nonetheless!
Aaaaanyway, I best go and have dinner. Hopefully my  blogging will pick up again as my exams end!

   The Bass Rock in the distance 
 Isle of May in the haze

Skywatching

Year List Pt. 11

Right, let’s just get straight into it.

A trip to some friends up in Scotlandwell on 6.4.15 also meant driving past Loch Leven, which added:

93. Whooper Swan

The start of spring migration gave me:

94. Sand Martin – 2 over Liberton Tower; 8.4.15

95. Willow Warbler – loads in trees at Barns Ness; 11.4.15

96. Swallow – 1 in Wire Dump at Barns Ness; 11.4.15

97. Wheatear – everywhere at Barns Ness and Torness; 11.4.15

98. Rock Pipit – 1 on beach at Barns Ness; 11.4.15

99. Common Sandpiper – 1 in Whitesands Quarry; 11.4.15

100. Common Redstart – 1 at Torness; 11.4.15

A trip into the Moorfoot Hills on 18.4.15 gave me:

101. Ring Ouzel

A trip to Musselburgh on 25.4.15 gave me:

102. Little Ringed Plover – 2 on the scrapes

103. Fulmar – 1 off seawall

104. Ringed Plover – 5+ on scrapes

105. Turnstone – 10+ off seawall

106. Gadwall – 1 on scrapes

A wander around the Midlothian reservoirs on 2.5.15 gave me:

107. Osprey – 1 at Gladhouse

108. House Martin – several at Edgelaw

A random walk through the Braids gave me an unexpected:

109. Swift – 2 over Braid Farm Road; 5.5.15

And my latest trip to Barns Ness in search of Wryneck gave me:

110. Sedge Warbler – 3 by burn near Torness; 9.5.15

111. Yellow Wagtail – 1 at Torness; 9.5.15

And yesterday, a lovely patch pick was a:

112. Spotted Flycatcher – 1 in Hermitage; 10.5.15

Onto mammals, few additions…

8. Pipistrelle Bat – flying over Braid Burn; 10.4.15

9. Bank Vole – 1 in grass by field; 10.4.15

10. Mountain Hare – 1 in Moorfoots; 18.5.15

11. Weasel – 1 by farmland near dad’s; 2.5.15

Trees… I might need to make another post for this as I’ve learnt a lot, thanks to Nutcracker on BirdForum, or Sciadopitys on Flickr. I’ve started a wee cone collection which is on 11 now I think. Helps that I’ve found an Arboretum at Mortonhall, not far away from my house 🙂

Sorry for the lack of posts, I have been out but when I’m not out I’m usually trying to revise as I’ve got my exams looming. Biology in 2 days and maths a week after that. So I better go and get revising now!

Year List Pt. 11

Evening around Temple

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, temple is the village my dad lives in. It’s about a 25 minute drive from Edinburgh, near Gorebridge. And also near Gladhouse, but that’s not where I went this evening (1•5•15).

Dad was watching TV so I just went out for a little potter around the farmland around the village, also planning to go and check out some trees in Arniston Estate which I wanted to identify.

I started off by heading out the top end of the village and into the fields there, where I immediately stumbled upon two Redshank by a marshy patch in a field. My first inland Redshanks. A great way to start off my walk! This was followed by a productive pile of manure, first just a pair of Chaffinches, but soon a couple Tree Sparrows joined in the foraging and a stunning male Yellowhammer also made an appearance. In the pine plantation by the field I could hear Goldcrests calling and see a Goldfinch, plus a Carrion Crow on the nest. While all this was happening, I was being serenaded by at least 3 Blackbirds and possibly a Song Thrush too. The Tree Sparrows appeared to be nesting in a Hawthorn bush, with another pair also present.

Into the next field I spotted another wader, a single Lapwing this time who was very concerned about a Crow being quite close to where I assume the nestsite was, so he quicky warned the big shadow of a bird away. Above the field I noticed a particularly flappy bird, a male Sparrowhawk. He soared round over the field, dodging some Herring Gulls and the returning Carrion Crow. Once I was in the next field I turned around to witness the Sprawk diving straight down, and heard the shrill peeps of a Meadow Pipit as it escaped the clutches of the bigger birds talons. A good experience.

One observation I made throughout my walk was that I heard no Chiffchaffs but did hear quite a few Willow Warblers. Unsuitable habitats? Too much competition between the species? I dunno.

As I was taking my camera out to takes picture of a Buzzard sitting on a Spruce branch, I heard the grass tussock in front of me rustle… But I took little note of it and moved closer to the Buzzard, about halfway across a field. I’ve I had sufficient numbers of not particularly high quality shots, I decided to take note of the Buzzard so I could blog about it later. After searching all 6 possible pockets I found that my SRUC (Scottish Rural College) pen was not with me. And then it clicked, when I took my camera out my pocket I’d dropped my pen Ito the tussock if grass, making it rustle. SO I headed back to the grassy knoll… And then realised that about 7 of them all looked exactly the same.

I spent about 15 minutes searching the same 7 tussocks before a glint of silver caught my eye. 

   
    Well, finding my pen did raise my spirits a bit. And it also meant I could note down that within my 15 minute searching period I’d had 2 Sand Martins flyover plus pairs of Oystercatcher and Greylag Goose.

Heading round the final edge of the fields I come across some rather gnarled-looking Scot’s Pines, complete with pair of Coal Tits.   

More Wheatears at the edge of the field, I counted at least 4. This is a bird that, until just over 3 weeks ago, I hadn’t seen before in my life. Now I’m almost being plagued by them, but it’s an OK plague, because they are nice-looking birds which pose for photos.

A male Roe Deer wandered out the woods on my right not far ahead of me and didn’t really take any notice. So I took some pictures and let him be on his way. I also started taking pictures of tree bark, which I’ll post here tomorrow as I’m currently typing with a phone that lags about 10seconds behind me, and I’m not even exaggerating.

   Beech
  

Scot’s Pine  Hawthorn  Larch  Sycamore Yew

I could see the trees I wanted to get to. They are in Arniston Estate, which is a large estate just down the road from Temple. While walking along the road to the entrance of the Estate, I passed a bit of the ten foot high wall that had been knocked down by a car or a tree or something. Being the lazy guy I am, I decided to climb over this bit of the wall and get to the trees even quicker.  

 Once over the wall I heard a Meadow Pipit in the trees behind me, but strange. I came across an abandoned path which was actually a very nice walk.  

   Anyway, on the way to the massive tree that I could see above all the others, I passed a tree which had had it’s bark sort of stained by the colour of the mud it was growing in. I think it was an Ash but I can’t remember. 

   Finally at the tree, I picked up some of the cones from beneath it. Very round, not like any other cones I’d seen. And the trunk was absolutely massive. And the height of the thing, wow. A massive organism. After some looking in my book at a couple of the trees I’d suspected it was, my suspicions were confirmed. A Giant Sequoia. Not a native tree, but a brilliant one to have so close to home. 

   On my walk out of Arniston I passed some other huge trees and admired them for a bit… Then realised these weren’t the same species as the one I’d already seen. I’m still unsure as to what they are, but I think they are some sort of Cypress.  

   The rest of my walk home gave me territorial Robins, those two Greylags flying back to where I’d seen them fly away from, and not much else. 

A very good day walking amongst giants.

Evening around Temple