Autumn Migration

Autumn migration really kicked off recently with Wrynecks, Barred Warblers, Pied Flycatchers and all the rest turning up all the way down the east coast especially. So what better time to get away from the patch and get coastal, hoping for some lifers.

After converting my lists (life, year, 2 patches, garden) on to my laptop I realised that a few of my lists were missing birds that I had definitely seen. After adding these birds, which included Collared Dove, Velvet Scoter and quite a few others, I discovered I was actually on 195 for my life list, as opposed to 187. This meant I wasn’t far off 200, not an amazing achievement given Mallorca gave me 35 ticks, but still something notable.

What would my next 5 ticks be? Of course winter birds such as Brambling and Bean Goose would put me up quite a bit but they haven’t started arriving in the UK yet so other birds have time to get in there first. My trip to the coast on the 24th of August started off well.

As we (James and I) pulled in by Whitesands Quarry, at Barns Ness, you could already sense that there were goodies to be found.

We went over to the watch point across Whitesands Quarry (which is actually a large man made pool, obviously was a quarry previously) and had a scan across. Ruff was a real possibility considering how many are all over the UK now, but if they were there, they were on the far side and we couldn’t see them. Plenty Greylag Geese, a few Common Sandpipers, lots of Pied Wagtails, and hirundines everywhere. Gulls turned the far bank white and despite scanning all the ducks, I didn’t add Pintail to my year list.

One funny bit of behaviour we observed was a Common Sandpiper being mobbed by Swallows. Quite odd as I wouldn’t have thought either overlapped in their eating habits, the sandpiper doesn’t pose any threat to the Swallows, strange, but added something different.

BarnsNess(Please excuse my terrible Microsoft Paint skills, but it gives you an idea of the area)

Next we went over to the two long pools of water across the road from Whitesands Quarry, where there were a few shrubs, long reedy type plants, and some open bare ground. It looked very good. Plenty birds were flying over, Goldfinches, Pied Wagtails, Linnets, some Reed Buntings, a Stonechat, and one scan of any bush would give you at least 3 Willowchaffs and/or Chiff Warblers. We made our way around the two pools, constantly aware that something nice might fly up from the reeds, but nothing did.

After taking probably 15 minutes to find nothing but the aforementioned Willowchaffs and Pied Wagtails, plus a Robin which made us both jump, a Whinchat appeared on one of the shrubs, and later on another one joined it. Then, as we looked through the phylloscs, one warbler stood out as it sat in it’s Elder bush. It was much larger and wasn’t as active as the others. A thin, white eye ring, very plain looking, short bill… Garden Warbler! Finally I’d got flipping Garden Warbler on my life list! First lifer of the day. Another Garden Warbler joined it briefly as I faffed about with my phone trying to get a record shot, but it then flew off.


A nice way to start off. We stood in the same spot for quite a while, just hoping something else might crop up. Eventually, James spotted a Pied Flycatcher pointed it out to me so I got my second lifer of the day! Brilliant! And a nice bird too.

Piedfly piedfly2

We continued around the pools, no Blyth’s Reed Warblers or Pallas’ Reed Buntings came out of the reeds, but another Pied Flycatcher made an appearance in the woods just next to us, and as we were walking back along the south side of the pools towards the car, a bird flew over. “Is that a… (I nearly said Mistle Thrush)… Wryneck?” It flew over us heading north to the golf course. They were pretty bad views as we were looking into the sun, but we were almost certain. The only thing I got plumage-wise was a dark eye stripe, and that it was pretty much brown all over. It didn’t dip as deep as a Great Spotted Woodpecker does in flight, but definitely wasn’t direct like a thrush. I’m pretty certain it was a Wryneck, but I’m swithering as to whether to add it to my life list. We did go to have look in the pines where it had flown over, but there was nothing to be found except a guy looking somewhat suspicious wandering about in the woods.

On the way back along the road to the car, another Pied Flycatcher popped on to the fence. So that was a total of 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Whinchats, Pied Flycatchers, and 1 probable Wryneck. A good haul, but now we were moving on to the Wire Dump, which was where I got my first Swallow of the year, and near by I witnessed my first big fall of migrants, namely Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, in the woods behind the old camp site.

Not such a big fall on this day, though still some good birds about.

The Wire Dump produced 1 Garden Warbler seen briefly skulking away into some gorse, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Whinchat, 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Chiffchaff and the usual residents; 2 Magpies, lots of Linnets and some Goldfinches.


We moved on to the woods behind the old camp site, where it was very quiet, but 2 Pied Flycatchers were flitting about proving impossible to digiscope. 1 was a nice adult looking very striking with it’s black head and clean white chest.

So nothing else added to the life list there but it had been a good afternoon.

Once home I reported my sightings to Kris Gibb so he could stick it on Birding Lothian, only to receive this message: Thanks Gus. If your still out there is a Wryneck, 2 Barred Warblers, Pied Flys, Redstarts ect at Torness this evening.

Gutted! We’d been so close but hadn’t bothered heading just a bit down the coast to Torness. Oh well, another time.

That other time was to be 2 days later when James and I went down the coast again. But not before checking in to Musselburgh to tick off some fairly likely lifers.

We went in to the hide furthest to the east first, and it wasn’t long before I’d ticked off Ruff. Plenty of them about, I noted c32 but suspect there were a few more than that. Nice waders with some extreme variation. One was almost all white, others are sort of rufous, and others pretty grey. Amongst them I quickly spotted the Greenshank which had been there for a few days. A bird that is no longer a heard only record on my life list, after the one that flew over the house in Findhorn. But that means it didn’t really count as a tick so still on 198!

The other wader we were expecting to be on the scrapes somewhere was Wood Sandpiper. Plenty of these all over the UK this week or so, I think it was about 70 recently sighted in total. He/she wasn’t being seen from this hie so we moved along one. Plenty Dunlin about, hiding in them were 2 Little Stints, and there was c10 Snipe probing the mud at the edge of the pool in front of the hide.

We scanned the edges of all the pools we could see and eventually I spotted something occasionally appearing from the grass by the pool to our left. Thinking it could just be a Dunlin, I pointed it out to James, and he got better views and confirmed it as being a Wood Sandpiper, nice! I tried digiscoping it but the grass was getting in the way and I couldn’t get the right angle out the hide so we moved along to the next one. From here we couldn’t see it any better, until it flew up and landed closer to us and walked about on the open mud. A lovely bird.

P1130610 P1130616

A quick look through the Black-headed Gulls revealed a single Little Gull who had his head out from behind his wing for once, and with that we headed to Torness!


Unfortunately, Torness was a complete let down. It was too windy to pick out anything in the leaves, I think we might have even struggled to spot a Redstart, never mind Greenish Warbler. So we went back home, slightly unimpressed, but very happy nonetheless as I am now on 199 for my life list! Who knows what my next tick is going to be… autumn is certainly under way and almost anything could turn up anywhere. Red-backed Shrike feels like a real potential on patch as one was spotted on Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh recently, and that’s even further inland than my patch. Another trip to the coast could hold Purple Sandpipers, a whole host of other drift migrants. A couple of Hobbies were spotted yesterday so I’ve been ensuring every Kestrel is just a Kestrel, and I’ve been exploring a new area on my patch which I haven’t paid much attention to in the past.

The area is on the Hermitage Golf Course and it is basically just loads of gorse, with Elder and Hawthorn in there for good measure. I’ve been through there 3 out of my last 5 patch visits. So far all I’ve got from it is Blackcaps, phylloscsGoldfinches and Linnets, plus a misplaced Starling.

I’ve been keeping an eye in the sky at all times, trying to note my last Swift, and taking note of what the hirundines are doing. Here’s what I’ve noted:


  • Still c3 Swifts over Blackford Hill


  • Swift over field w/ c30 Swallows

(At the Moorfoot Hills) 22.8.15:

  • 150+ hirundines at Moorfoot Village, mostly Swallows
  • 5 Swallows >S over hills + Siskin flushed from small bush in valley


  • hirundines increased w/ c 50 over Blackford Glen Road


  • Swifts over Howe Dean Path


  • c40 hirundines over Blackford Hill; mainly Swallows, c15 House Martins, 3 Sand Martins.
  • Swift over Council Depot. w/ 1 GSW

As I type this, I can look out my window over the field and there aren’t any Swallows zooming about, so I’ll get out tomorrow to see whether the majority of them have moved on or not. I suspect there’ll still be at least some but perhaps most of them will have moved on.

Other than hirundines, phylloscs and a female Tufted Duck on Blackford Pond which I mistakenly thought was a Pochard (would’ve been a year tick), there has really not been anything going on on my patch. All the birds that spend the summer here breeding are/have moved out, and the wintering birds haven’t really started arriving yet, and I’m too far inland to benefit from waders moving in. Currently, I’m just looking forward to whenever I can get to the coast, and moving up to Aberdeen. The thought of a completely new patch excites me a lot. I’ll probably just start a campus list at first, and work out where I’d like my new patch to be before starting a list.

I’ve had a wee scout about on google maps and Loch of Skene looks good (hosted the Black-winged Pratincole) but it’s quite far away. The River Don isn’t too far away, and there’s a nice pond called the Mill Pond which looks alright, but I’ll need to check it out, anyway, I’d like to include some coastal birding on my patch for once. However, my campus and where I’m staying is about 5 miles from the nearest bit of coast. From what I’ve seen on the interwebz, Girdle Ness and Nigg Bay are good spots for coastal birding. Quite far away, but I suppose I’ll just have to see what’s possible once I’m up there!

For now I’m just looking for my 200th bird…

Autumn Migration

Hoping for Migrants

Well, back from Mallorca and straight back out on patch. Here’s what I noted on the 13th…

Started out nicely with a Sparrowhawk over the Montessori Art’s School. I don’t see them very often except around this time of year when the youngsters are about, learning how to hunt more successfully.

First passage of any kind that I noticed was a large group of Feral Pigeons flying north past the King’s Buildings and then going NW over Edinburgh. Not really passage but then came some nice big numbers.

I was slowly making my way along Hopeful Hawthorn (a patch of shrubs on my patch that just looks like the right place for migrants) when I realised that there a lot of gulls heading over, predominantly Black-headed Gulls. Having been in Mallorca for the past week and a bit I haven’t been here to notice the gradual increase in gulls inland, so it was quite a shock seeing 100+ gulls flying N over Liberton. Amongst the BHGs were a few Lesser Black-backeds, 3 Herring Gulls, and 1 Common Gull. Also making their way through the gulls was a flock of ~20 Starlings. I’ve been scanning Starlings carefully in case any Crossbills have joined them, as I’ve read a couple reports of them doing that.


Anyway, back to the Hopeful Hawthorn, a Chiffchaff and 3 Willow Warblers were passing through, plus 3 juv Greenfinches sat in the open. Not great migrants but positive.

Passing Liberton Tower I noticed that all the corvids weren’t present and assumed they’d moved on to somewhere else. A few Goldfinches were perched precariously on thistles. I’m looking forward to mixed finch flocks becoming the norm as I did quite enjoy scanning through those last winter. Although I’ll be putting in more effort around Gladhouse this winter as I missed out on Twite, Brambling and Lesser Redpoll, the latter of which I added a month or so ago to my life list. But the other 2 are yet to be seen!

My first Dragonfly on patch was seen as I made my way to my Skywatching bench, which I’m now referring to as my vismig point on patch, although I suspect the top of Blackford Hill may be a better point. I’m not very experienced with vismig so might have to ask someone to take me on a wee vismig session.

A skywatch from 16:29 to 16:39 gave:

Jackdaw: 20+

Swift: 45+

Swallow: 7


Woodpigeon: 5

House Martin: 2

Kestrel: 1 fm

BHG: 1

Feral Pigeon: 5

Sparrowhawk: 1 imm fm

Goldfinch: 1

Not terribly productive but the Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were nice, especially since both were spotted a long way off. The Sprawk came from the direction of Craigmillar Castle and the Kestrel from Duddingston/Holyrood. I’m assuming that, at this time of year, birds of prey expand their range and sort of drift from one hunting ground to another. Especially in a city where perhaps one area isn’t enough to support 2 adults and however many juveniles they’ve produced? Just a theory.


So, no passage migrants from my supposed vismig point so I moved on. Once I got to the top of Howe Dean Path  saw a large number of birds swirling around above a plantation on Blackford Hill (which I call Red Oak Plantation, there’s a single Red Oak in there). It consisted of BHGs, LBBGs, Herring Gulls, and also some corvids, namely Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. I couldn’t really tell what they were doing as none of them were landing and feeding on anything, there were no birds of prey that they were mobbing; perhaps feeding on flies in the air? It was quite warm that day (16°C) so the queen ants were appearing from pavements everywhere. Perhaps that’s what they were feeding on? When I looked at some of the BHGs through my bins they did appear to crane their necks every now and then. But despite scanning a lot of them, no Med Gull patch tick.

From the path by the Council Depot. I spotted a scraggly Sprawk flying amongst some Swifts at the top of the Howe Dean Path. Definitely a different individual to the one I’d seen earlier, as this one was male.

Walking further along the path I was suddenly very excited to see a bird flycatching above the path, and then immediately disappointed when it turned out to be a Willow Warbler. I do like Willow Warblers though, almost any bird that presents some semi-challenging ID interests me. Speaking of which I’ve been trying to get into gull aging… I’ll let you know how that goes…

One bird I’m certain will turn up over my patch at some point is Raven, but on that day I had to make to with a moulting Jackdaw which looked like a mini Raven as it’s outer tail feathers were shorter than the middle ones. There were few funny shapes made by the Jackdaws, including ones with barely any feathers on their head and one with a squint tail, possibly not due to moulting.


Passing the stables on Blackford Glenn Road I was greeted by the erumpent tinkling of ~40 Goldfinches bursting from the Creeping Thistles by the road. A few Greenfinches interspersed amongst them, those finch flocks looking like they’re on their way.

Also a lot of Phylloscs in the trees and shrubs by the burn was nice to see. One of the Chiffchaffs was in Hawthorn that I distinctly remember seeing my first Redwing of last year in. They’ll be on their way soon, already seen 6 reported somewhere down south.

Another flycatching bird didn’t get my hopes up so much as his bright red chest gave him away as soon as I spotted him, and that concluded that day. I was out again yesterday (I’m typing this at 00:46 on the 15th by the way) as it had been raining since the night before and I was hoping that something may have dropped in to shelter.

To cut it short, nothing had dropped in, but a handful of nice sightings.

From the vismig point I did get 1 bird before deciding it was too wet to sit around. A single thrush flying high and N, likely a Mistle Thrush I’ve been told as they tend to head N this time of year. After walking all the way to the pond, in hopes of Garganey or Shoveler, and all the way back, I was treated to a short song from a Dipper. I haven’t had Dipper on patch since I saw a juvenile on the 3rd of June! I’ve got no idea where they went, or whether I just haven’t bumped into any of them, but I had seen at least one every day before seeing that juv. But nice to hear that familiar chinking song echoing off the running water and the rocks. Deep water that is, as the burn was very full, it must’ve been raining for about 15 hours. The stream down Howe Dean Path was running more than I’ve ever seen it run. Often it’s just a dry, small gully but it was definitely vying for stream status.

ducks flew over me at the bottom of Howe Dean Path. No idea on species but I’d guess most likely Mallards, I haven’t bothered studying my pic yet. Ducks give a few potential ticks on patch, with Mallard, Tuftie, Teal, Goosander and Pochard being the only ones that I’ve had. Apparently there’s a record from quite a while ago of 16 Garganey on Blackford Pond? Not sure that’ll happen again any time soon. Just 1 Garganey would be nice though. Or a Shoveler, I don’t mind which.


The Gold/Greenfinch flock was again at the stable, and I suspect something else was in there too but never found anything other than a Robin wishing they would all get out his bush. A large number of Swallows were out above the field too, probably ~30. Definitely not just the ones from the stables and Liberton Tower, others had joined them. And my last note was that the corvids were still about, lots of Jackdaws and Carrion Crows were bathing in puddles on Blackford Glen Road and all scorned me as I interrupted them.


No good migrants yet, although I think it’s foggy tonight. Can’t really tell as it’s dark so I’ve got my window open a fraction in case any Dunlin or Redshank decided to call as they pass overhead.

In other news, I’m planning on buying a new camera as my current one is only good because it’s pocket sized and fits on to my scope. It’ll almost certainly be a bridge camera, just once a sell my bike which I’ve been meaning to do for about a year now.

Hmm…. Anything else I want to spraff about… Well, there’s the media at the moment. I haven’t yet voiced my outrage at the cr@p that they published about gulls, but I best not as I tend to end up putting myself in a bad mood. The attack on these “killer snakes that are set to invade Britain” (adders, native to Britain and have always been here) is utter rubbish as well but unfortunately some people don’t have a clue about such matters and believe everything they hear. Anyway, hopefully it’ll all pass just like most things do…

I’ve just successfully garden ticked Ford Focus as one is alarm calling outside somewhere right now, probably up the road. On a more serious note I did have a possible Lesser Whitethroat in the garden last night, tetting from the bushes below our Dawson Plum tree, but it remained elusive as I searched with my head torch. May have just been a shy Blackcap. I did garden tick Chiffchaff today though, a boring bird but nice to get it ticked off!

OH! Forgot to mention, I saw one of the 7 wonders of my patch. The hundreds of Swifts that gather above the field and Craigmillar Park Golf Course every year, thanks to a tip off from @morgithology. Brilliant seeing them all streaking through the air. Once I got halfway up Blackford Hill I estimated 200+ flying about, Awesome stuff. Here’s a blurry picture with that camera that I use.


Out again today probably, unless it’s as wet as it was yesterday.My trousers still aren’t dry. And that Ford Focus hasn’t stopped alarm calling…

Hoping for Migrants