Birding returns to BirdingWithGus

It’s been a wee while as all my typing has been focused on handing in work! (birding more towards end, but you might as well read the other stuff, eh?)

Therefore, this is just a quick catch-up from the past while. To start off with we’ll head back a few weeks to Tyrebagger Forest where I was meeting the North East Scotland project officer for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels. Steve took a wee group of us around Tyrebagger, West Woods and across to Kirkhill Forest where there were various hair traps already in situ.

Hair trap for squirrels

The idea here is that a squirrel (or Pine Marten) will climb up (or down) the tree to grab a snack. When they open the lid of the feeder their head/neck will rub on a sticky bit of plastic, depositing hair for us to send away to be DNA tested so as to work out whether we’ve got Reds or Greys (or, again, Pine Marten). I’ll keep you updated as to what’s going on with this project. I think we have to check the traps every couple weeks… I should probably find out… And then send away the sticky plastic bits from each month for each trap.

Just a wee note here, possible Pine Marten Martes martes tracks in West Woods. They were about the right size but not very clear so I’d rather not say these are marten tracks.

Next up, Elrick Hill, where I was removing gorse 2 weeks ago. This may seem an odd thing to do as gorse is native and provides habitat and all that good stuff, but the habitat that the gorse was taking over is quite a unique habitat this close to Aberdeen (gorse also fixes nitrogen but I’ve forgotten why this is a bad thing). The majority of Elrick is covered in Heather Calluna vulgaris, Cross-leaved Heath Erica tetralix, and Blaeberry Vaccinum mytillus. Within this heath are Rowans Sorbus aucuparia and Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris dotted around with a few Silver Birch Betula pendula. This is a great habitat that the rangers want to conserve, but it’s quite difficult given some of the other species that are taking over: Rhododendron, Lodgepole Pine, Bracken, Gorse, spruces… seems everything is against them! Good thing there’s a group of us that help with the removal of such plants that can completely dominate an area.

Apparently there’s a few Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus about

Next, more voluntary! Thinking about it now, if I was even paid minimum wage for each hour of voluntary I do, I’d probably be able to afford a new camera so you guys aren’t subject to my wee compact camera that has pieces of leaf inside the lens!

Anyway, yeah, Sands of Forvie NNR where I was helping with putting up the tern fencing. This is fencing that goes around the ternery there so as to keep out Foxes, dogs, people, Badgers, etc. so there’s actually 2 fences that go up. One is a general sort of netting fence and the other is just two slightly electrified lines to add some extra dissuasion.

Suspected Peregrine Falco peregrinus kill site

In total they have 900 metres of fencing to put up so I think we helped a fair bit when we pitched up half way through the day after letting the other volunteers start the job for us. We actually finished pretty much just in time as the snow became very, very heavy and cold and grim. A good day of work though.

The Little Terns Sternula albifrons tend to nest on the rocks to the left of the pic below, although the rangers were saying that, being Little Terns, they’ll nest on the rocks outside the fence and below the waterline. Nevertheless their ternery is growing in size, with Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea being the only ones that have plateaued to a breeding population that isn’t increasing. I’ll be back once they’ve all returned and started breeding as I’m told it’s quite the spectacle!


Getting back to botany stuff, briefly, I doubt that I’m going to be finding many flowers out until I head back down to Edinburgh as the snow hasn’t really stopped yet, with the occasional layer being added every few days. Although I did get my first Bumblebee of the year at the window on a particularly sunny day, and my first spring migrant in the form of a Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (quite a dark one) on my walk to Lidl!


Returning to that Mountain Hare Lepus timidus skull that I picked up ages ago; it looks great and smells not so bad now! Plus I cleaned my mates Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus skull that he picked up at Forvie. I didn’t really want it because its nose had been snapped off so the incisors were missing.

Right, here comes the return of birding to! A nice thing to watch has been the various pairs of Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus that have returned to campus and been feeding in fields all around, but one pair in particular have been feeding behind my halls so I get great views from my window. At one point I noticed a crow was pestering one of the pair and the other one came in and said, “I’ve got your back,” so to speak.


Over the weekend I took a break from work and decided to venture out into the local area, as I almost always do. This was very, very productive in terms of raptors as I had, in total, 2 Buzzards Buteo buteo, 3 Sparrowhawks and the last raptor species comes with a wee story because it was a lifer… In fact, due to the status of this species I reckon I’ll skip the story as it might give away details of where it was, not that I think any of my readers are the sorts who would cause harm to a Goshawk (!) but I’d rather not risk the information getting into the wrong hands. But Goshawk, what an awesome bird! Think I had two displaying over the trees beyond me, couldn’t quite tell, so I had to run through in wellies so as to get these two rather blurry shots of my first Goshawk Accipter gentilis (male).

I always think that the scientific name for this bird is so ironic as they really aren’t very gentle at all. As a gamekeeper (boo, hiss) once told me, “You always know it’s a Goshawk kill because of all the feathers everywhere, absolutely everywhere.” I suspect I may have found the site of a Gos kill in the area I saw this one/these two and there were feathers absolutely everywhere, but that really just deepens my interest in this perfectly adapted predator.

Here’s a better pic of the Goshawk’s smaller cousin, Accipter nisus, and the two Buzzards that were enjoying the warm thermals that we’ve been lacking so much recently.

Finally, to finish off, I’d like to commend Birdtrack on the terrific job they’ve done with the recent update. I decided to update the app on my phone today as I feel I’m not keeping to my resolution to do more recording, and after one session of sitting at my window just counting whatever went by, I found myself not wanting to stop! Anyway, highlights from 15mins at my window were…

  • 106 Herring Gull, 18 Common Gull, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull (the Lidl bird?) all heading inland
  • 10 Fieldfare, 2 Yellowhammer, 2 Stock Dove, 2 Collared Dove and a Grey Heron (Patchwork Challenge 2016 tick!) all flying high over the campus
  • 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Jay, 1 Buzzard and 1 Sparrowhawk all travelling around on the campus

Speaking of Patchwork Challenge, I can recommend the monthly podcasts! I was listening to the March podcast whilst typing this up!

Typical hybrid, with the dark flanks and undertail coverts. Maybe a 2nd or 3rd generation hybrid considering how dark it is in these areas. Notice the flecks on the lens of my camera.
Birding returns to BirdingWithGus

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