Hoodie or Hybrid?

Yes, it’s time to return to that subject which almost always ends in the answer being, “it’s a hybrid.” But, I have a feeling this bird which I photo-ed on patch today may not be so simple.

A very nicely marked individual having a good look about in the field with some of the usual Carrion Crows.


I have photographed another individual on patch before which was in pretty much the same place, this one about 20 metres from this one I photographed back in April.

The general consensus on this bird was that it wasn’t a very striking creature, although it was poor lighting (if I remember correctly this was taken in the late afternoon/evening), and my camera isn’t great. There is pale colouring in the vent but the photos weren’t showing that area very well.

So I was quite surprised when I looked over the fence from the road above the field to see a very obvious Hoodie-type Crow in the field not too far away. Certainly gave a better chance to get some pics with my camera (which I really must replace!).

Here are some crops of the original shots.

Hooded Crow is a description species in Lothian, and rightly so! There are a load of hybrids about, whether 1st generation birds or not no one knows. Very few reports of Hoodies are accepted in Lothian because of this, and also probably because they are pretty rare as pure birds.

So why do I think I’m in with a shout with this bird? Well, for starters it is a well marked bird. Almost slivery, and the flanks are clean, no black feathering there. The vent, while difficult to see here, did not show any black plumage or even darker grey feathers when viewed through my bins. The crow did eventually take flight, giving me a few quick seconds to get my camera on full zoom and take these two shots.


Not amazing images, I’m sure you’ll agree, but the second image just about shows how nice and clean the undertail coverts were. The only really big thing going against the idea of me finding a Hooded Crow on patch is the fact that it is more likely hybrid than not, based on location and the other birds found in the area.

He/she didn’t return to the spot at the top of the field when I made my way back, but I’ll be looking out for this Hoodie-type in the few days before I depart to head north, where I might be more likely to see a pure Hooded Crow on patch. I’ll ask others for their verdict, and be sure to voice your opinion if you happen to be reading if you notice something I’ve missed out.

Going back to April this year, I photographed another interesting corvid which I posted on BirdForum, and I’m sure I got a reply from someone but I can’t find it! Anyway, here’s my best candidate for a Nordic Jackdaw.

Whilst none of these shots show it (my photography showing it’s true colours again), this ‘daw did have the “headlight” look about it when seen face on. The collar was very noticeable and actually made me do a double take as I walked past it in a field about 80m away from where that Hoodie-type Crow was seen. Must be some sort of interesting corvid hot-spot.


After a read on Martin Garner’s post on the “3 Jackdaw types” ( http://birdingfrontiers.com/2011/02/20/3-jackdaws-types/ ) there’s a couple things I’m noticing about this Jackdaw. It differs from the monedula ‘daw on that post in that I suspect this is an adult, given the definitely dark wings (no brownish tones), and the pale iris. Also, the white collar is a far sharper marking on my bird than the juvenile pictured on Birding Frontiers. The latter observation, however, is explained now that I’ve looked at images of adult monedula birds.

So, to recap, that Hoodie-type that I saw on patch today (yesterday now as it’s 00:16) looks like my best opportunity for getting a proper Hooded Crow but I have my doubts just because it’s in Lothian and not in Inverness-shire. The one photographed back in April I’d guess was the same bird but I’ve captured it better here.

The possible Nordic Jackdaw ssp. monedula that I saw in April as well I think looks like a good candidate, and given the frequency at which these Nordic birds are seen in the UK, I think it’s status goes from possible to probable. BUT!… I’m no expert, and I’d rather learn what I’m doing wrong now than get through life thinking I’m right, when I’m not. So feel free to correct me, I won’t take offence!

And to finish off, a couple of definite hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crows. The first from next to Hunter’s Bog in Holyrood Park, this bird very unconvincing as a Hoodie, only showing a touch of grey to it’s mantle and breast.

The one on the ground
The one on the ground

This second one seen just off patch, on one of the golf courses in the Braid Hills. Far better marked, but obviously has black feathers on it’s flank and it did have black undertail coverts. I watched this bird for a while as it was playing with that Starbucks cup lid. It would pick it up on to it’s side and let the lid roll a bit in the wind, hop after it and knock it over again, until it was close enough to get this picture before picking up its toy and returning to the group of Carrion Crows who were messing up the green. Crows are fascinating birds to watch, and attempt to identify!


Hoodie or Hybrid?

Finishing up…

Back out on my usual patch, the Braid Burn Valley and Blackford Hill, for one of the last times before heading up to Aberdeen where I’ll need to find a patch fairly quickly if I’m wanting to join the Patchwork Challenge! Another thing I’m going to hopefully start doing is the University Birdwatch Challenge, run by A Focus on Nature, which will mean I’ll be able to get used to the birds on campus before next year starts.

My patch options up in Aberdeen, after doing some scouting about on Google Maps, seem either quite far away, or limited in the potential species that I’ll get in the area. Loch of Skene looks good, and just this year it’s had Black-winged Pratincole and Ring-necked Duck at least, but it’s 12km away, and I’d be cycling as there’s no public transport that way. In the opposite direction is the coast. To Nigg Bay it is pretty much the same distance, however, I know that other birders use that as their patch and I’m not sure whether I want my own patch or not… either way, I’m sure I’ll be visiting Nigg Bay quite a bit as it’s a good spot for seabirds, some waders and migrants.

Otherwise I’ve not really found anywhere nearer where I’m staying. There’s a “Mill Pond” just by the River Don, which isn’t far away but I’m not sure about access or potential for birds there. I guess I’ll have to play it by ear once I get there!

Anyway, back to my current patch. Headed out at 15:30 into the field, and counted 15 Stock Doves in amongst the Woodpigeons, Feral Pigeons, Jackdaws, Crows and Rooks. Highest number I’ve noted on patch. I headed through the field, taking quite a few shots of the various pigeons to get nice comparisons of them in flight.

Also flying about at Liberton Tower was a 3CY Lesser Black-backed Gull which was clearly having to put in a bit more effort to keep in the air due to it’s moulting flight feathers.


I headed to my usual skywatching bench where I had a bit of joy as I actually saw one bird which was probably migrating. Here’s the totals:

  • Pied Wagtail: 1
  • Feral Pigeon: 9
  • Woodpigeon: 10
  • Lesser Black-back: 4
  • Jackdaw: 5
  • Rook: 6
  • Crow: 2
  • Linnet: 11
  • Black-headed Gull: 3
  • Buzzard: 1 ad in moult
  • House Sparrow: 5

The bird that was migrating was the Pied Wagtail. Quite a few of them about at the moment, never realised they moved south this time of year but I should’ve known really as I never used to see Pied Wags in the school playground during winter. The Buzzard was brought to my attention by pretty much the entire local Corvid population as it had made the mistake of flying over the field. I suspect it was a male based on size.

Just about visible...
Just about visible…

I made my way along Braid Hills Drive, towards the Hermitage Golf Course where I’ve usually had a good go at trying to find something in the shrubs, and that was my original plan but that plan changed as I noted more Starlings flying over the golf course heading south, as I may or may not have mentioned in one of my recent blog posts. Anyway, after a bit more walking, a single bird flew over and once I looked at it through the bins I realised it was actually a thrush, and then realised that all my previous flyover Starllings froma few days ago were actually thrushes heading south! After that observation I decided to have a sit down under where they usually flew over, and I waited. It didn’t take long before another thrush flew over, but this one heading north. I think (or I’ve heard) that Mistle Thrushes head north at this time of year, and that was sort of confirmed after a bit more VisMigging! My first time really VisMigging actually and it’s quite enjoyable, especially when other species join in as well. So here’s the totals of birds that went over:

  • Buzzard >N towards Edinburgh Castle
  • unidentified thrush: 39N – 30S
  • Mistle Thrush: 1N – 11S
  • Meadow Pipit: 2S
  • Pied Wagtail: 3S
  • Swallow: c10N
  • Herring Gull: 1W
  • Black-headed Gull: 3S

The thrushes that weren’t identified I suspect were mainly Mistle Thrush, but there was one group of 14 which were definitely smaller than the Mistle Thrushes. Perhaps Redwing or Fieldfare? I’m not sure though.

The majority of the definite Mistle Thrushes (IDed by call and markings of close enough to me) were actually heading south. The largest flock that flew over was a group of c25 that headed north, and the biggest surprise was when a group of 7 thrushes was followed closely by c10 Swallows! Not the direction I expected to see them going in at all. The Swallows have all but disappeared from my patch now, just the occasional group passing over, but that’s the first time I’ve seen them heading north!

VisMig Mipits and Pied Wags are always nice and that Buzzard was interesting to watch as it eventually became a speck way out over Edinburgh. Here’s some shots I took of the thrushes passing over…

I’ll have a quick look in the Collins Guide to see if I can work out what species they are… Well, the fourth picture matches Redwing but I’m not sure if Song Thrushes maybe move about a bit this time of year? And I suspect the last picture, with the Swallow, does show Mistle Thrushes heading north. Anyhoo, if those are Redwing then they are my first of this winter, exciting!

Onwards we go in my little note book. Next I’ve noted the fact that there are still Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs calling from the bushes on the golf course, which got me thinking. When do the Blackcaps that come across from Germany, etc get here? These must still be our birds that I hear tacking from deep within the Elder and Hawthorn?

I made my way down to the Scout Bridge and started to head in the direction of home, along the, slightly overgrown, path on the south side of the Braid Burn. First bird I spotted was a Nuthatch as it flew across the burn and into the woods, nice to see them exploring a bit. Next bird was a lovely pair of Bullfinches which I studied well so that I will hopefully notice a Northern Bullfinch when I see one! These two were young, with a few young feathers still not gotten rid of yet, but stunning birds nonetheless.


Also in this area I heard plenty more Chiffchaffs and 1 Grey Wagtail flew up from the burn as I walked past. They’ve been passing through at the moment too, and it’s one that I need to get on the garden list actually.

Another Meadow Pipit heard overhead showed birds were still passing over, and once I was on Blackford Glen Road, I noticed there was a lot of Magpies about, including this rather handsome individual sitting on someone’s workshop roof.


And to round off a pretty decent couple hours on patch, 4 Bullfinches were feeding on the Catmint by the side of the road, giving even better views than the other two and allowing me to study them a bit easier.

Didn’t think they’d eat mint flowers
A family group? Male, female and two male juvs
Just as pretty as the males, showing white rump a bit too
Nice shot showing back, if these were Northern, they’d have paler backs.

So yeah, that’s that. Don’t know if I’ll get back on patch before heading off so it was nice to finish on a high! Looking forward to the challenges and new things that Aberdeen will present me with! I’m actually arriving a day before everybody else as I don’t have any way of getting there on the Monday so perhaps I’ll get out late Sunday afternoon to have a snoop about the campus if there’s no bits of paper I have to sign and whatnot!

P.S. In another recent post I mentioned the fact that there was a bunch of Song Thrushes at the bottom of the Howe Dean Path which keep calling and that I might just check Xeno Canto in case they are Redwings. Turns out, they are Redwings, so they must be dropping in as they pass over heading south for a wee bite to eat in the Hawthorn bushes there. The area that I heard them in is directly below the flight path that the birds I saw migrating today were using, so I’ve definitely got Redwing on my 2015-16 winter list! Or I would if I had one of those…

Finishing up…

Raptor Weekend

What a weekend… Plenty of raptorage coming up…

This weekend I was out at my dad’s in Temple, so my patch for the weekend was the Midlothian Reservoirs and Moorfoot Hills. I haven’t yet put together a list for this area but I’ll need to do so soon because I’ve had a few good birds throughout roughly a year of watching, including Green Sandpiper, Black Grouse, drumming Snipe, roding Woodcock, probable Rough-legged Buzzard, probable Red-necked Grebe, and loads of firsts such as Ring Ouzel, Whinchat, Cuckoo, Merlin and all the way back to my first Whitethroat!

Anyway, on with my weekend…

The Rugby World Cup has kicked off so I was trying to watch the good games and get some birding in as well. After celebrating a win for Georgia against Tonga, I set off on my recently fixed bike, which would get me around the reservoirs a lot quicker than if I went by foot.

I headed south out of Temple and went towards Yorkston where I turned right to go down to Roseberry Reservoir. Nothing there except fishermen. So I went on to Edgelaw Reservoir. Again, nothing other than fishermen, plus 6 Mallards.


I only got some decent birds when I stopped off for a break from cycling at one corner in the road before a small valley which I call Norway Glen, due to the huge Norway Spruces. At my little pitstop I heard the dripping call of a Nuthatch in one of the Beech trees above my head and was then treated to in-flight views of a Crossbill as it flew away from me, heading south-east. A nice couple of passerines to start with.

While cycling past all the fields I noted that, above the sound of my own wheezing, I could hear a lot of Pied Wagtails which have obviously dotted down as they pass through. Meadow Pipits became equally common as I got on to higher ground.

Eventually I reached Gladhouse where I planned to sit and have a read of the book that I’m reading at the moment. The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley. If you’re a person who gets lost in the wilds easily, or often, then I recommend this book. Or if you’re just interested in learning more about our landscape, it’s a very informative book! When I got to the car park on the south-west side of the reservoir I found someone else was there camping behind a nice windbreak which is made of sticks and branches. It’s a great spot so no wonder he was camping there. Coincidentally, his number plate was GUS 111. Only bird that excited me there was a single Crossbill flyover, seem to be moving about at the moment.

After checking all the Midlothian reservoirs, I decided to go off-patch, and out of county actually, to pay another visit to Portmore Loch which I visited 2 weeks ago. This time I wasn’t greeted by loads of Jays though, and there was no small finch/tit/warbler flock in the trees by the loch. So I looked up to the hilltops where 2 Buzzards were flying about gracefully above the moorland. A Siskin “tilu“-ed overhead, a Kestrel and 2 Ravens flew over the hillside and disappeared into the woods, and the calls of Buzzard, Jay, and Chiffchaff came from the woods as I wandered about hoping for something unexpected.

An empty Portmore Loch

After picking through a flock of about 30 Chaffinches, I heard a sound which I haven’t heard since last winter. Pink-feet! I tried to get out from under the canopy of the woods I was in but didn’t see the skein, so I decided to head to Gladhouse in hopes that they might have dotted down there for a break.

On the way back to Gladhouse another Buzzard flew over the hills to my right, and a Kestrel flew over Redstart Woods towards Toxside.

But here’s the best sight of the weekend. Happily peddaling along the road to the carpark at Gladhouse, I was being watched by the cows, when I noticed a bird over the rough grassland to my right. “That’s a weird way for a Buzzard to be flying”, I thought. Then I spotted the white rump, and realised this bird was flying far too slow to be a Buzzard. Then I got very excited. I had a quick look through my bins to confirm my suspicions. A HEN HARRIER! I got my camera out immediately and took these rather cr@p shots but it shows what the bird was; I suspect me shaking in excitement didn’t help.

I quickly noted down the features I could see through my bins before the bird rounded the end of a plantation and disappeared. “HEN HARRIER! Very obvious white rump, slightly orangey below, drifting over rough grassland, broad wings.” I suspect, after looking in the book, that it was a juvenile. It fitted the ‘compact shape’ description as well.

One thing that I hated about this sighting was the fact that in almost every direction, I could hear the sound of shotguns. It just reminded me of the dangers that this brilliant bird was bound to come across, and I almost wanted to go and catch it and take it somewhere safer, but I couldn’t relocate it so had to let it go, wishing it luck in its travels.




I don’t think anything could top that experience, not even the flock of about 30 Crossbills that flew out of Jay Woods , or the fact the ducks had started arriving on Gladhouse for the winter. About 20 Tufted Ducks were far out on the water, and the usual MallardsMute Swans and a Coot were all seen near the edges.

Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few more Crossbills later and I was home. How great is patch birding, eh?

The next day, dad had organised something for me as a sort of moving-away treat thing. I guessed pretty quick that it was going to be a wee falconry experience! It was at Dalhousie Castle where Falconry Scotland have their base. The number of birds they have there is awesome. Harris Hawks, Buzzards, Eagle Owls, Barn Owls, Steppe Eagles… It actually offered me an opportunity to study some of the birds’ plumage which was nice.

First bird we (me and a guy called Lee) flew was Brennan the Harris Hawk and he was very friendly, and next up was a nice big European Eagle Owl who’s name I can’t remember. A very nice experience as the birds were all so… cool. I won’t tell you too much, you’ll have to go and experience it for yourself!

After that, we went home and started to watch the Wales v Uruguay match, which I quickly grew bored of and decided I wanted to see a Merlin, after seeing the Merlin at Dalhousie Castle so close up.

Back on my bike, and off to Gladhouse where I’d seen Merlin a couple times over the moorland there. On the way I passed a small pool of water in one of the fields, which held a few Teal and Jackdaws.


A scan of the moorland to the east of Gladhouse produced nothing other than the usual Kestrel and a Roe Deer. So I headed around to the other side where I got distracted by some Treecreepers, and I sat watching them for a bit.

Tricky to photograph

I realised that I had run out of time if I wanted to get home to see the start of the New Zealand v Argentina game, so I cycled back home. Again, I got lucky with a raptor, as a male Merlin flew up from the drystone wall at the side of the road as I cycling past, and dipped over the horizon as I stopped to look through my bins.

Target met. Very nice.

In other news, my book arrived! I’ve had a read through most of the sections of Challenge Series: Winter already and I’m thinking it’s going to come in handy when I’m up in Aberdeen. A lot of the birds covered are visitors from further north, which I suspect I’ll have more luck finding up there than down here, such as Northern Bullfinch and Icelandic Redwing. I better not give too much away though, the only other thing I will say is that it’s great inspiration for finding out more about the birds you see when out and about! The only downside is that now I really want Autumn as well…


Raptor Weekend

Chiffchaffs and more…

Just felt the need to do a small post on Chiffchaffs as the possible tristis that I heard at Musselburgh got me interested. I’ve been trying to get photos of any Chiffchaffs that I’ve seen recently and in 5 trips I’ve managed to photograph 2 Chiffchaffs, despite hearing loads. They just aren’t as showy this time of year, but still nice and vocal, hweet-ing away deep within an Elder or high up in a Willow.

“Siberian” Chiffchaffs differ from your everyday run-of-the-mill Chiffchaff in few ways. As I said in my post on Musselburgh last week, the call was different. Not the rising “hweet” of the ones I hear on patch. It’s a less happy sounding call; “hii(e)p”, check out Xeno Canto to see what I mean ( http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Phylloscopus-collybita?query=ssp:%22tristis%22 ).

Otherwise the features are tricky to pick out. Generally a brown-greyer appearance on head and back, with perhaps a greenish tinge coming through in the wings and rump. The supercillium is completely buff, and has no yellow in it at all, as is the case on it’s breast flanks.

Combining both call and plumage features is the only way to confidently identify a ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaff, says Collins. That’s all very well, but what if the bird you are looking at will not call, as was the case with this remarkably brown individual that was in the shrubs by the burn on my patch.


When first seen, this bird definitely popped the idea of Reed Warbler into the brain, especially given it’s very upright position as it sat on the branch, however that was because it was preening it’s breast and had adopted that position to balance. Still, the brown-ness of this bird seemed unusual, but it wasn’t particularly grey, and after a bit of moving about, and tail dipping and wing flicking, it was just a Chiffchaff after all.


The change in lighting revealed the green/yellow tones coming through, and then it “hweet”-ed and even “chiff-chaff”-ed a bit. So I went home. Hopefully I’ll find something better as a challenging ID so I can really go in depth, as this really definitely was just a Chiffchaff, but it’s good to be optimistic! Here’s the only other Chiffchaff I managed to photograph over the last few days.


Actually, now that I look at those photos I think I managed to photograph the same bird on 2 different occasions!

So, what else has been happening on patch… Well, the field has just been harvested, attracting it’s fair share of Woodpigeons and Corvids, and that in turn has attracted people with guns who were shooting the pigeons a couple days ago, *sigh*. Linnet numbers have also risen, with as many as 50 being present in a nice bouncy flock today, along with about 20 Goldfinches on the thistles by the field. In other finch news, I finally saw signs of Siskins migrating, as 1 flew over heading south-west as I thrashed about in the bushes on the Hermitage Golf Course, frustrated that all I could hear was Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.

Not many thrushes about except at the bottom of Howe Dean Path where a good number of Song Thrushes have been particularly vocal every time I’m gone past. Presumably migrants, although I haven’t seen any of them so I’ll have to make sure they aren’t Redwings.

Just along the path, passing the council depot, I heard and saw a Red-legged Partridge calling from on of the horse fields there. I wonder if they’ve bred or not.

Balsam Valley (a section of my patch so called due to the excessive amount of Himalayan Balsam growing there) was very busy with Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock and Wren all foraging in and below the shrubs. A few small flocks of Starlings passed over the golf course heading south at regular intervals today; migrating? Or moving to another territory or feeding area?

Black-headed Gull numbers have risen at the pond, and on Craigmillar Park Golf Course, as I see them regularly feeding on the fairways, and the last notable sighting of today was seeing that Buzzard with the pale patches at it’s wingtips.


I had a look on @morgithology’s blog recently, and saw that he’d photographed almost certainly the same bird in 2011, and had said it was likely a 2nd year bird, which means it is now around 6 years old and still hanging about the Hermitage. Nice to get to know a bird!

In non-patch news, I recently ordered Birding Frontiers’ “Challenge Series: Winter” which I’m really looking forward to having a look through. I’m currently getting into more advanced identification (as you might have seen from my Buzzard and Chiffchaff spraff) so this book is really appealing at the moment and perfectly timed as our Redwings are due to arrive soon so I can pick out the ‘Icelandic’ ones amongst them and try to work out where my first Snow Bunting has come from!

Another book that I actually bought at Vane Farm when I was there with my gran is “Seabirds, an identification guide” by Peter Harrison. Whilst slightly out of date and missing a few species which have been split, I think this book will help me to get into sea watching when I’m up in Aberdeen, picking out Pomarine Skuas and Balearic Shearwaters hopefully!

Anyway, I best go to bed and stop rambling on about what a Chiffchaff might look a bit like, or how old a Buzzard is. G’night.

Plenty Stock Doves in the field at the moment, with a distinctly white-winged Crow as well.

Oh, forgot to mention, I’ve emailed someone who might be able to train me to become a ringer when I’m up in Aberdeen. Even more to look forward to!

Chiffchaffs and more…

A Focus on Buzzards

I’ve decided to have an in depth look at a few Buzzards, inspired by one that I saw on patch today.

I always like seeing Buzzards, they represent the fact that raptors can live alongside us if we allow them to do so. Also, the Common Buzzard is a remarkably variable species. Perhaps not as much as others but it’s a good bird to start off understanding moults and aging and so forth.

This Buzzard that I saw today was a very pale individual which I spotted sitting on a fence post (typical) by the field which was being harvested. Before I could get a shot of it on the post, it took off and headed towards Howe Dean Path where it perched up high in a Sycamore.

I think I know one of the Buzzards on my patch fairly well. An adult which has very typical plumage by is missing a couple of primaries in it’s left wing. I see it from time to time and suspect it is one of the pair that bred this year. This was not that bird.


Here it is in centre-shot, with the council depot in the background. One feature which I haven’t observed on other Buzzards is the white feathers which  think are on primary 2 on each wing? In fact, I’ll go and find a diagram which shows the various feathers in a Buzzard’s wing…

Here’s a general bird wing. I’m completely new to the whole numbering of primaries. I know some basic feather anatomy; primaries, secondaries, rump, tail, the basics. So this is a step up and hopefully I’m going to learn something here…


So this pale Buzzard that I saw had a white patch covering parts of the P8s, P9s and P10s (correct me if I’m wrong) which is something I’ve not seen before, so I’ll have to look out for that on other birds. Another thing I notice about the outer primaries is that they vary in length, better illustrated by this shot…

Buzz crop
Moulting flight feathers, pale patches at wing tips

Here, on the bird’s right wing, it’s alula is visible, and then P10 is full length, P9 slightly shorter, and the rest of the flight feathers are sort of varying a bit in length/age. This means the bird is moulting (or towards the end of a moult?) and is therefore an adult, which I know after doing a bit of browsing of the interwebz.

However, the white base to the tail says otherwise; this bird is a juvenile. But I’m thinking this is just a feature of this individual’s plumage, and the white does spread into the rest of the tail as opposed to being restricted to just the base. The tail is also quite short and square looking which says adult.

Clearly square, short tail

Going back to the wing, the dark trailing edge is just about visible in this shot, and the wings are also quite rectangular which are both features that confirm this as an adult Buzzard.

The next Buzzard I actually spotted just after I’d photographed that pale Buzzard. It was brought to my attention by the corvids which had had been feeding on the recently harvested field. Unfortunately too distant to see any defining features but nice to see 2 Buzzards on patch at the same time.

It’s one of the two birds that are at the bottom of the picture. The on that’s above the other one.

One thing that surprised me was the size of that particular Buzzard. I’ve always known that Ravens are about the same size as Buzzards, and therefore Buzzards are larger than Carrion Crows. This wasn’t the case here, as a Rook (the bird below the Buzzard in the pic above) was very nearly the same size as the Buzzard it was mobbing, and I think some of the Ravens that I saw in Findhorn Valley were larger than this Buzzard. Not sure how much Buzzards vary in size, and perhaps I’m not judging this Buzzard’s size right but I was pretty certain this Buzzard was only a tad longer-winged than the Rooks.

Raven from Findhorn Valley

Anyway, another Buzzard passed over later on, quite possibly the same one that I saw being mobbed, and I managed to get some silhouette shots of it.

Two of my shots were timed badly as I caught the bird mid flap:


Despite this, there are still features that can help me age this bird. That tail for starters is very obviously less square shaped than the other bird; this Buzzard is much longer, and perhaps slimmer, tailed.

Another feature that is also different to the other bird is that the flight feathers form a fairly straight edge, so they aren’t being moulted and are all the same age. The primaries are bunched together though, which may mean that the gaps are not being shown. But the secondaries are not bunched together and show a nice straight trailing edge to the wing, telling me this is a juvenile.

Unfortunately my pic which shows the bird gliding is not crisp, is is in fact very poor quality so any gaps in the primaries can’t be picked out. However, the wing shape (combined with those same-age flight feathers) is enough to fairly confidently say that this is a juvenile Buzzard.


The much more pronounced bend in the wing (at the carpal joint (just showing off my new-found knowledge)) is further evidence that this Buzzard that flew over me today was a juvenile.

So, I hope you didn’t find that too boring, reading about me learning about Buzzard aging and feather anatomy. I might just have a quick look through my Flickr page for better shots of Buzzards which may illustrate the features I’ve been looking at here…


This Buzzard looks good for adult (dark trailing edge in wing, short tail), although isn’t showing any signs of moulting. I’m assuming (remember I’m completely new to this) that Buzzards don’t moult all year. That sounds right to me… Despite this, I think this bird is a juvenile, and here’s why: there is no dark terminal band on it’s tail. You may say that my photography skills haven’t exactly captured the colours well, and you’d be right, but having had a fiddle about with brightness and contrast, I still can’t see a dark terminal band. So I’m putting my neck on the line and saying this is a juvenile Buzzard, or maybe just young? Maybe second year? I haven’t found any resources on aging a Buzzard beyond juvenile or adult yet so maybe I’ll have to do another short additional post after a bit of research.

The same bird, with a Jackdaw

Here’s a Buzzard which I saw floating above the Moorfoot Hills whilst I was looking for Whinchats.


This bird made me jump a little as it looked very much like what I’d expect a Harrier to look like, but my bins said no. The shape of the wings match with juvenile Buzzard but I think this effect is created as the Buzzard was hovering, or floating, by using the strong winds on that day. So I don’t think I can age this Buzzard.

Here’s a shot that I took back when my camera hadn’t had so much abuse, so the pictures were slightly better quality.


First thing I’ve noticed is the lack of a clear dark trailing edge on both wing and tail. The tail is also quite long, and there’s no evidence of moulting in the flight feathers. I also remember taking this photo and it was after the breeding season last year. So this one I’m calling a juvenile.

Right, last one. This picture was taken last year at Gladhouse Reservoir, very close to a nest site.


The flight feathers are slightly scraggly-looking and the tail feathers are all ragged-edged, so I’d like to think this is an adult. But there’s a lack of a dark trailing edge and the tail is quite long. I’m thinking this is a recently fledged juvenile with it’s feathers still growing in.

The same bird
The same bird

This picture clearly shows no defined dark trailing edge so I think this can safely be called a recently fledged juvenile.

If you think I’m wrong (which is very probable) then feel free to send a message on Twitter (@PinkfootedGus) to let me know what I’m doing wrong! I’d rather know I was wrong than learn things incorrectly. So if you’d made it this far, cheers for reading! Hopefully I’ll get on to gulls next… Or maybe Dunlin if I have enough photos of them to go through.

A Focus on Buzzards

A Rainy Day at Musselburgh

Last night I decided I was going to Musselburgh today, no matter what, because I hadn’t been to the coast in a while and nothing much is happening inland.

Prospects for this day, hmm… Well a Snow Bunting had been seen recently, as had Curlew Sandpiper. Skuas were being picked up out over the Forth with Manx Shearwaters too. An early Brent Goose had been at the River Esk mouth and a Short-eared Owl had passed over. Looks good!

It wasn’t looking good on the weather front, however. Quite a rainy day ahead, and as I was making my packed lunch, it began. Just lightly raining on me as I made my way to the bus stop. As I’ve said in posts before, the bus I get to Musselburgh is the number 30, and it takes a very frustrating route to get to where I want to go. Anyway, I got there in the end.

I walked from the high street to Fisherrow, where I set my scope up and had a quick look at the birds on the sand as it was low tide. I eventually picked up something other than the usual gullsternsOycs, Redshanks,and Curlews. 3 Sanderlings were probing about amongst a small group of Redshanks. Quite a nice bird to start off with. I wandered along through the playing fields towards the River Esk mouth as Pied Wagtails flew up from all around me. Loads of them about at the moment.

I had a look at the gulls on the shingle in the river and as they all flew up, I picked up a gull which clearly had a bigger beak than the rest of the Black-headed Gulls that were surrounding it. It was a juvenile so I wasn’t too sure about identification. A quick check in the Collins confirmed 1st winter Mediterranean Gull. Very nice indeed!

I continued around to the other side of the river mouth and had a seat on the sea watching bench there. A good scan through the gulls failed to produce another Med but a couple of juvenile Kittiwakes snuck in there, and 3 Wigeon were my first of this winter/autumn. Otherwise it was just gulls, Gannets and a few terns. I say “just gulls”, but I really shouldn’t. I can’t even identify juveniles that well, so I took a picture of two groups of assorted gulls. I’ll attempt to identify them now…

P1130839Left to right (excluding ad HG): ad LBBG, 1st winter LBBG, 1st winter LBBG, 3rd winter LBBG, juv GBBG, ad GBBG, 1st winter HG

P1130842 Left to right: (excluding ad HG): ad LBBG, juv GBBG, 1st winter HG, 1st winter HG, 3rd winter LBBG, ad LBBG, 3rd winter LBBG (?), and the last one I’m not sure about. I’d say GBBG but not sure on age. Perhaps 2nd year moulting to 3rd winter due to dark carpal bar/mid-wing panel? Feel free to advise me! Just getting into gulls and hoping to continue enjoying the challenges they present. Means there’s always something to do!

I continued round the seawall, raining quite heavily now, so heavy in fact, that I couldn’t look through my scope without it being covered in drops of water or being all fogged up. This meant it was very tricky to decide whether I’d found a Red-necked Grebe off the seawall, but some time spent looking through the bins proved it to be a Slavonian Grebe, which was later joined by a Great Crested Grebe.

A surprise as I got on to the path to the scrapes was this young Grey Heron staring into the grass and then at me.


Once at the scrapes I attempted to count the more significant birds as my scope was just blurring all the Oystercatchers and Curlews together:

  • 2 Ruff
  • c10 Teal (no Garganeys)
  • c20 Dunlin
  • Bar-tailed Godwits
  • 2 Grey Partridge

And one of the birds I’d come for didn’t take too much effort to pick out amongst the Dunlin. My first Curlew Sandpiper. A juvenile with it’s unmarked breast, peach wash on it’s chest and obvious white supercillium. A bit of an average looking bird compared to the birds it was associating with, but a nice little bird nonetheless. Anyway, it got very wet and windy at this point so I decided to get out the hides and for some reason I went and sat out in the open at one of the seawatching benches. Not very logical looking back. My scope just wasn’t having it so I had to use my bins. Gannets flying and diving about constantly, the majority of them juveniles or gugas should I say; gulls passed by close to the sea wall quite often, the majority Black-headed or Herring, 4 Great Black-backed Gulls provided some interest; Common and Sandwich Terns passed now and then; and eventually I picked out some unfamiliar shapes. Familiar in that they didn’t flap much, like Fulmars, but unfamiliar in that they were very dark on top and white beneath… Manx Shearwater had finally been seen clearly (after my possibles up in the Moray Firth), 2 of them heading east. A couple minutes later another 2 (or the same 2) flew west, slicing the tops of the waves with their expert knowledge of the wind. And I hadn’t even needed my scope to pick them out! I suspect the rain over the Forth had driven them slightly closer in which was lucky. What else would be pushed in by the wind and rain?

P1130837 Grim.

I decided to head back to the scrapes as it was high tide and the weather had let up a bit; I could vaguely make out Fife on the other side of the Firth of Forth. I was about halfway back when suddenly there’s loads of noise from the scrapes as about 200 Oystercatchers, 30 Greylag Geese, and all the other not-so-noisy birds lifted up from the scrapes. What the f**k has done that?! As that thought went through my head I noticed a woman ahead of me clearly shouting for her dog. That really put me in a bad mood. I don’t mind dogs, I love them. But I really dislike people who can’t control their dogs. So there was nothing to see there, and I headed back along the sea wall towards the Esk mouth.

About halfway along, I’d seen Velvet and Common Scoters and Eiders out on the water, and all the others I’d been seeing on my seawatch, but no more Manxies.

I was coming up to the ash dump where there’s another seawatching point. I decided that I’d sit and wait for something to appear, perhaps a skua or another shearwater. Time passed… I hadn’t really got anything that good except a 3rd winter Great Black-backed Gull. But then, out of the retreating mist came a shape, quite high above the water, and heading towards me. Some Crows also saw this shape and headed straight for it. I knew what it was once it was about 100m away from me; a ____-eared Owl! Now I just had to find out what that first word was… It went over me about 40m to my right and went straight for the ash dump.


I rushed along the sea wall and came across not one, but 2 owls being mobbed by Crows and Jackdaws.


I had a feeling the word I was looking for was “short” but I couldn’t be sure. Then one of the owls evaded all the unwanted attention and came down quite low over the heaps of dark ash. It disappeared down the side closest to me, so I hopped over the gate and had my scope and camera ready to digiscope the owl…


It was on a fence post just along the track from me, clearly in sight but I couldn’t quite get a picture in which the grass or thistles didn’t obstruct a clear view of the owl’s face. Nevermind, it was clearly a Short-eared Owl, a lifer for me! Brilliant.

So after that I went back to the wader scrapes, hoping that the birds would have returned. As I got closer I saw a huge flock of Oycs flying about in the distance. FOR F**K SAKE! In the hide I found the culprit. A large, black dog trotting about quite merrily on the scrapes, and the same woman I’d seen earlier on the other side of the scrapes shouting at him. Some people…

Despite the disturbance some birds were still on the scrape furthest from the dog. The same birds were present as earlier, plus a few additions. A couple more Ruff, about 10 Bar-tailed Godwits were now there, and a Greenshank was having a snooze at the back with a couple of Redshanks, of which there was more of as well. One of the Bar-tailed Godwits was particularly pale, almost looked leucistic.

The Dunlin were still about and it didn’t take too long to find the Curlew Sandpiper which gave me some better photo opportunities in the nicer weather.

A good day! 3 lifers and a new experience: seeing something come “in-off”! I headed back along the sea wall as another birder had informed me that he’d seen a few auks close in to the sea wall, and gugas on the beach by the river mouth. Before getting there I noticed there was definitely a small fall of Chiffchaffs as the trees around the scrapes and boating pond were alive with hweets and another call which I don’t think I’ve heard from Chiffchaffs before. Actually, having just looked it up, the call I was hearing fits with P. c. tristis (Siberian Chiffchaff) and the plumage features that I can remember fit pretty well as well. No green-ness to the plumage and certainly a buff supercillium with no green or yellow. Hm, possible, but not really confirmable when I’ve had little experience with warblers other than our usual breeders. There were quite a few with the strange call. A single, short note, which I’ve transcribed as “chee” and Collins has down as “hii(e)p”. I’d say close enough? But I’m not counting that as a subspecies tick, no matter how possible it was!

Anyhoo… sure enough, there was 1 guga on the beach but no auks. The ducks were nice though.

A good day, and the bus journey home wasn’t too long either. A good dinner and then straight to typing this up. I better go and add my ticks to the lists they need to be added to. Cheers for reading!


A Rainy Day at Musselburgh

A Change of Scenery

For three days I’m up in Dollar staying with my gran who I think was my inspiration for getting into birds and the outdoors.

Yesterday we went to lunch in Kinross at The Courthouse which was very nice. Afterwards I took her dog, Monty, a miniature dachshund, for a walk up the hills behind Dollar. The road I walked along is called the back road by my gran but I forgot to check what it’s actual name is (it’s called Upper Hillfoot Road, just checked). I wandered along, Goldfinches joined by the occasional Siskin in the Sitka Spruce plantation by the road. Every now and then a car would pass and I’d have to pick Monty up as there is no verge, the drivers all grinning at the cute little sausage dog as they went by.

I passed a path that said “Dollar Glen 1/2mile” and it rang a bell, as I’d seen Green Woodpeckers had been seen there. I walked past it but then gave in to temptation and headed back and up the path. Goldcrests and tits fed in the Norway Spruces and small finch flocks flew over now and then. There’s a nice, big house up there with some interesting trees, firs and a couple cedars took my interest.

Once up on the hill, after heading up a track to what used to be a plantation, quite recently all cut down, I enjoyed picking out Redpolls amongst the other finches which just about included all that species you’d expect. Most numerous were the Goldfinches, and then Chaffinches and Siskin, and in total I picked out 6 Redpolls and heard 1+ Crossbill(s) in a distant stand of Scots Pines. Quite nice getting into finch calls, I never completely got to grips with Redpoll and Siskin but that walk helped me. Speaking of Redpolls, I ordered Martin Garner’s “Challenge Series: Winter” book which I’m really looking forwards to. Finding anything different excites me, even if it’s a species I’ve seen before. Even Jackdaws, Crows and gulls can be made more interesting by looking at subspecies and moult variation. Then there’s Woodpigeons, which have  either been understudied or they are all the same, and incredibly boring.

Monty flushed a Roe Deer from the grass right next to the path, and quickly retreated to behind my legs as the deer bounded off around the hill. Back down the hill and home. A nice dog-walk-turned-birdwatch.

Today, or this morning, we went along the River Devon to find a spot that one of my grans friends mentioned. The walk along the old railway gave us nice views of Robins who’ve started singing now, as I’m sure you’re all aware. All the usual common birds were nice and active. Then we reached the area we were trying to get to. We sat at the side of the river and watched a family of Grey Wagtails flycatching and chasing each other. A Dipper sang from just up river where we couldn’t see it, a Buzzard was mobbed by crows overhead, and a single Siskin joined the Goldfinches on the thistle heads. Chiffchaffs appeared to be the only warblers about until a smaller sylvia appeared in some Hawthorn. A quick look turned Whitethroat into Lesser Whitethroat as I spotted it’s black legs. A very nice bird.


Later we headed to Loch Leven which I was looking forward to despite the wildfowl not all having moved in yet. Before we’d got there, on the way there we turned off the main road on to the turn off for Drum. As we did so, a small mammal ran down the side of the road, and it could only have been a Red Squirrel! Finally, after being up north in Findhorn, and being down south in Mallorca, I’d year ticked one of these lovely little critters. Apparently they are spreading around Dollar which is promising as it means they are getting closer to Lothian!

Anyway, we got to Vane Farm and my gran took Monty for a quick walk while I got to the hides. The first hide gave me some birds on the feeder to the right, Greylag Geese and Mute Swans out on the water with a raft of Tufted Ducks joined by a couple of Cormorants further out. Then I spotted 2 birds of prey interacting over the wetland and after getting my scope set up I spotted at first an Osprey and then a Buzzard, both had perched on fence posts. Nice! The Buzz had interesting markings, a dark belly, but it wasn’t a juv Rough-leg.


Next hide gave me another Osprey on another fence post. There’s a few around the loch at the moment which I assume is because Loch Leven is a good place to stop over on their trip south from the various breeding sites further north. I got up and headed back along the path to see where my gran had got to and met her as I rounded a corner. We returned to the hide I’d just been in so she could have a sit down. The Ospreys were still there, and we had nice views of Grey Herons and Lapwings.


I decided to look back out at the Tufted Ducks and Cormorants. The first 2 birds I got on to were a pair of Great Crested Grebes, and then I realised I should have scanned the Tufties for my first Pochard of the year, which I succeeded in doing! A pale brown female Pochard was at the back of the raft as they headed NW.

P1130760 Pochard is the one between the 3rd and 4th Tufties from the left.

Next hide. This was a good one. There was a couple in there already scanning. Pied WagtailsBlack-headed Gulls, a Mallard, a couple of Moorhens… and then I heard what I first thought was a slightly off Common Sandpiper, something moved on a post across the lagoon. I got my scope on it. KINGFISHER! You people further south have to bare in mind we don’t get so many Kingfishers, and everybody needs to know that that’s my second Kingfisher, my gran’s first which I was desperately trying to find for her, and it was a year tick which I’d also desperately been looking for. I pointed it out to everyone in the hide and we enjoyed watching him/her fish successfully and then depart.


As I was trying to get a Garganey out of a female Teal, the couple spotted a Water Rail skulking in the reeds on the other side of the lagoon. I got on to it but it disappeared in typical Water Rail fashion, so my gran didn’t get to see it, but she was very happy with the Kingfisher. That Water Rail was a British and Irish tick for me which was very nice and I thanked them for calling it out.

We headed home after that, no Red Squirrels on the way back but 4 Ravens in a field by the main road was very nice, plus the usual Buzzards over the hills.  Tomorrow we were considering going to RSPB Black Devon which isn’t fully fenced and pathed and signposted yet, so I think I’ll suggest to go back to Loch Leven where I might get to year tick Pintail… I fear there’s no hope for Wood Warbler on my year list unless I follow them to Africa! Dollar Glen or the woods around Castle Campbell (might both be the same place, I’m not sure) are a good place to go in the breeding season for woodland species. Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Jays, Green Woodpeckers, Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers all nest, quite a nice selection there!

Anyway, I best be off to bed if I’m going to go out tomorrow morning for a quick wander, maybe get in some more finch call practice, or get the Green Woodpeckers…

A Change of Scenery