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

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