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.

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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.

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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.

HH

HH2

HH3

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.

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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.

TC
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…

CSW

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Raptor Weekend

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