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

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