Tuesday, 31 January 2012

1st winter Iceland Gulls, Galway

With at least 8 Iceland Gulls being reported at a landfill site in West Lothian today, maybe the Iceland Gull invasion is about to reach us in Edinburgh. There have only been a couple of reports of singles along the coast, but it would be great to catch up with this species again soon. In the meantime here are some pictures of a variety of first winter birds from Nimmo's Pier in Galway at the beginning of the month.

This last bird is a nice dark, coarsely marked individual.

Although I have not managed any Icelands in Lothian this year so far, I did manage a couple of larid year ticks last weekend - Kittiwake and Little Gull both viewed distantly feeding at the sewage works outfall at Seafield. Best bird of the weekend, however, was the female Blackcap that appeared in the garden in time to be logged for the garden birdwatch - the first I have seen there all winter!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Smew and Wood Duck at Linlithgow

Last weekend I decided to take a stroll around Linlithgow Loch. A lovely location and a spot of great historical importance, my motivation was related more directly to the presence of the female Smew (just visible above), which has wintered at the site for several years. A Lothian tick for me, I did feel that I owed it a visit.

Also of interest at the loch side was this (presumed escapee) female Wood Duck. The ring has appeared on its leg since its arrival at the loch apparently.

A male has been seen not far away apparently - here is one photographed in California in 2010.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Colour ringed Black-headed Gulls at Alnwickhill

I have been searching for readable colour rings on gulls at Alnwickhill for over a year. In that time I have only managed a single read - a Herring Gull in November 2010 (ringed in Gloucestershire). Other than that I have seen unreadable Herring Gulls and and some partially read Norwegian Common Gulls. Yesterday I had already had a typical encounter with a white-ringed (Norwegian?) Black-headed Gull on the Aberlady shore - it was too flighty and distant for its code to be read.

It was with a little shock then later at Alnwickhill that I noted that one of the nearest Black-headed Gulls was white colour ringed. As I set up my scope I was confused to see that the ring had suddenly changed both leg and colour! Wow, two colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls...

So, it turns out that the white-ringed JHR4 (on the right of the pictures) was ringed in Oslo, Norway, in March 2011 and the blue-ringed 2C13 (on the left) was ringed at Killington in Cumbria in June of the same year. Interesting that they should both be spending their time in winter in Edinburgh and a great surprise for me to find both at the same time.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Lothian year list hits 100 with Water Rail

I have been lucky to manage some great birding over the last couple of weekends, and as a result my yearlist topped 100 today. I started the day on 98 and headed first for Duddingston to listen for Water Rail and maybe fluke a Bittern. No luck on either so I nipped into Figgate Park. Four Goosander and a singing Dipper were nice, but no sign of the Kingfishers or Shoveler, my two target species, so no additions to the year list there.

En route to Aberlady Bay, I had a quick seawatch from Ferny Ness. Some Long-tailed Ducks were showing well, but the water was a little choppy and four kite surfers were doing their wildlife-scaring best to reduce our local biodiversity. A quick stop at Seton failed to produce any Mediterranean Gulls but a group of about 25 Golden Plovers were whizzing around - a nice surprise 99th Lothian species for the year.

As I pulled into Aberlady Bay, I felt sure that I would soon hit the 100 mark. The tide was extremely far out so I decided to leave scanning the estuary for another time. Instead I thought I could head towards the dunes. As I hit the sea buckthorn tunnel I thought about the number of times I had walked through it always in the hope of stumbling upon some unusual avian waif. Well I wasn't expecting a Water Rail but there it was in the middle of the path as I rounded a corner. It scuttled into the buckthorn and I assumed that was it, but in fact it seemed quite happy for a few minutes as it wended its way deeper and deeper into the tangle. Not great views, and certainly not great shots, but a great bird to hit the hundred with!

Well, that's what the slog is for, eh?, views like that!...

There were three more year ticks ahead today. The trek out to the dunes was rewarded with several Sanderling on the beach, a family walk later in the day added a Lesser Redpoll at the Union Canal, and finally at dusk a cracking winter adult Mediterranean Gull heading East past Seafield Road. It was not quite the white-winger that I was hoping for (a Glaucous Gull had been reported earlier) but I was certainly not complaining!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hybrid Crow at Burdiehouse

Spent an hour at Burdiehouse today looking through the flocks of corvids, pigeons, finches and buntings that are currently feeding in the stubble. A great concentration of granivorous birds, and one that must be bringing in more raptors than the single Sparrowhawk I managed.

Highlight for me was this hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow as it was by far the most 'Hooded' individual that I have seen in the area. The features that distinguish it from a pure Hoodie are the black feathers in the vent, scapulars, rump and axillaries. Certainly this bird is much closer to the Hooded Crow end of the spectrum than Carrion Crow!

Friday, 20 January 2012

2nd winter Iceland Gull, Galway

Like many of the Iceland Gulls of this winter's invasion into north-western Europe, this big 2nd winter bird was clearly hungry and showed little fear of me. Almost Glaucous Gull-like in character, I assume from its size that it was a male bird.


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Water Pipit at Barns Ness

Just a few poor shots of one of the Barns Ness Water Pipits photographed last Saturday. I think that there were probably two, but could not be sure as I couldn't manage both in view at the same time.

This bird seemed very relaxed for a Water Pipit - it certainly did not disappear over the horizon as soon as it was spotted, which is a trait that often seems to come to the fore with this species.


Here are some shots of (possibly the same?) Water Pipit at Barns Ness on 31 March last year... Very poor shots, but some indication of how much the plumage will change in the next few months.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

2nd winter Ring-billed Gull, Galway

Having seen the adult Ring-billed Gull, I was scoping Galway Bay briefly with Dermot Breen. I commented that I was hoping to find one in Lothian. His comment was pretty much, "Oh funnily enough, here's one!" And there it was right in front, a cracking 2nd winter Ring-billed Gull. Sometimes I really wonder how much I miss...

I watched the bird through the scope for a good while, trying to etch its image into my brain. I am really hoping to put this search image to good use. After absorbing these distant views I wandered onto the upper shore and threw some bread to see if it would come any closer... From these photos, you can see that it did. Looks like a male to me, with that heavy bill.

This bird was seen at Waterside later on by Tom Cuffe. He noticed that it had unusually blue legs. How cool!

Sunday, 15 January 2012


A nice selection of winter wildfowl today - almost all of it astonishingly close and unperturbed by close observation.

I am sure I must be the last Lothian birder to connect with this Tundra Bean Goose at Musselburgh - it is feeding next to the road with the feral Greylags. This is not a species that is well known for giving good views.

This Pink-footed Goose has also been hanging around Musselburgh. Today it was at the gull-feeding site at the electric bridge. It does not look too healthy...

The other close-encounter was with Goosander at Figgate Pond. One male (above) and two females were snapping away for crusts of bread. The other wildfowl were very keen to keep away from those serrated bills!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Short-eared Owl disgorging pellet

Today I had one of those mornings of birding that was full of interesting sightings. So I headed for home, sated and happy, having had my fill of Red-throated Diver and Water Pipit, not to mention a fantastic flock of hundreds of Herring Gulls close at hand to sift through for an hour.

As I drove out of Barns Ness and Whitesands I passed the posse of birders waiting for the Short-eared Owl to perform. Despite not having seen the bird this year, I resisted the urge to stop again. Manuel had flagged me over earlier after he had watched it quartering the rough grass, but I was soon distracted by the arrival of a group of Greylags followed by three European White-fronted Geese. After my wild goose chases of the autumn and early winter they pop up when I am not even looking for them! Their arrival put me an hour behind schedule straight away...

So after getting my fill of the albifrons, I applied a steely grip on the steering wheel and decided not to pause for 'just five more minutes' at the owl site. The Short-eared Owl of course played a blinder. Not only did it intercept me as I drove away, but it then landed on a fence post opposite a passing place, where it sat and disgorged a pellet as I watched! Fantastic birding moment.