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.
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.
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…