Friday, 30 November 2012

Missile Thrush?

Here are a few shots of a Mistle Thrush defending rowan berries from the flock of Waxwings in Musselburgh last weekend. The action was all a little rapid for my lens but the thrush was taking full advantage of the similarities of its flight action and that of a Sparrowhawk. The thrush seemed to be able to fool the Waxwings repeatedly with its hawk-like sallies. At one stage it even adopted a very convincing mantled-wing posture at the top of the tree.

Monday, 26 November 2012

'4th winter' argentatus or herring-LBB hybrid gull?

Some gulls are simply impossible to identify, especially when seen at range like this bird at Musselburgh on Saturday. Even with photographs I think this individual is impossible to pin down with certainty. Like a bird that I saw at Alnwickhill about a year ago its upperparts were a shade of grey in between typical argenteus Herring Gull and graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gull. For those in the know, that's just about bang on for Yellow-legged Gull or a dark northern argentatus Herring Gull or maybe an atypically dark mantled immature argenteus Herring Gull or maybe even a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid! Or could it be a scarily pale LBBG? So lots of options...

The above shot shows the bird in question centre right. The upperpart shade was consistently darker than the other Herring Gulls such as the bird on the left.

This shot shows the mantle shade of Herring Gulls in the foreground, a slightly darker Common Gull on the right and the slightly darker mystery gull at the rear. The white tertial skirt and elongated Lesser Black-backed Gull-like appearance were noticeable in the field.

With the Alnwickhill bird last year, which admittedly I saw at much closer range, I suggested an immature dark northern argentatus. Saturday's bird, on the other hand, maybe looked much more like a pale Lesser Black-backed Gull in structure and it possibly seems to fit the argentatus x fuscus Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid option most closely. But, to be honest, who knows?... After all the flight shots below have a look of northern argentatus about them. Help! Any ideas?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Waxwing, Musselburgh

For once I had the time to savour the Bohemian Waxwings. Thanks to Ian A who tipped me off at the gull and goose feeding area in Musselburgh about the flock in the area near the station. He had made the most of the morning sunshine I would imagine for his photos, but the overcast afternoon made for a softer moodier composition. These were the best views I have had of the species with prolonged close quarters feeding and lots of berry guzzling action.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Divers and grebes at Musselburgh

The classification of birds has changed greatly with the advent of molecular techniques, but Divers and Grebes will always hold a special place for me for being the first two families in my first proper bird books - pages that ended up being well tumbed. A couple of species of each of these two families off Musselburgh today made for a nice winter seawatch. The seawall is a good place to look for grebes in winter and today's flat sea made that job especially easy. No sign of the Red-necked Grebe of a fortnight ago, but the calm conditions brought several Slavonian Grebes close in. On this occasion a Great Crested Grebe sailed by for a handy size comparison.

The day had started with my first Great Northern Diver in Lothian for several years. It drifted past Musselburgh harbour a couple of times fairly close in diving regularly - a frequent sighting on the west coast and the islands but on the east coast they tend to be harder to see in my experience.

The Red-throated Divers have been obvious offshore this month with several good looks again today. Maybe there is some good feeding in-shore at the moment.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Spot the difference

Seeing these two Bohemian Waxwings in the back garden this afternoon reminded me that I had yet to post any shots of Mousebirds from Malawi. I always think that beautiful as Waxwings are, once a flock gets actively feeding on a tree they resemble a swarm of rodents. Well, the Mousebirds are even more rodent-like with hairlike plumage and scurrying movements in the branches.

Speckled Mousebird in Lilongwe.

Red-faced Mousebird in Liwonde.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Unusual banded tail pattern in 1CY Herring Gull

It is not difficult to find 'unusual' plumage patterns in young Herring Gulls. They are so variable that almost every individual seems unique. This young bird photographed at Musselburgh on Sunday had a tail pattern that I don't recall having seen before with extensive black pigment tipped with white bands and scallops. That said, maybe now I have a search image I'll notice more like this.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Gabar Goshawk mobbing Black Sparrowhawk

Another exciting raptor sighting from Malawi. I saw this on my first morning in the country over the campsite in Lilongwe and at the time I didn't realise it was the only time I would see either species. The Black Sparrowhawk was enormous (it is about the size of our Goshawk though looked bigger to me) and in my excitement I somehow unzoomed my lens rather than adjusted the focus - which resulted in a smaller image than would have been possible. At the time I thought the bird following it was a dove of some sort but luckily it banked around and returned to the tree it had come out of - a Gabar Goshawk (below). The other exciting raptor overhead at this site was a Bat Hawk - another brief view, but very exciting nonetheless.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Gadwall and Shoveler

I popped into Figgate Park this morning en route to the coast. It is one of those sites where good views of ducks and gulls are guaranteed, so given enough visits something unusual will presumably turn up sooner or later. Well, today it was Gadwall, with three males sailing around, one of which was quite tame and displaying. I am not sure I have heard its grunting quack before. Male Gadwall are subtly gorgeous birds with their fine vermiculations on their breast feathers.

There was also a Goosander in with the bunch, and I was delighted to bump into Anthony (aka blackpuddingonabike) at what must be his local patch. Apparently he has had a Pintail and a Water Rail at Figgate Pond in the last few days.

The Gadwall was a Lothian year tick for me, as was a Red-necked Grebe off the seawall at Musselburgh later in the morning. I have not been trying very hard at listing this year given the amount of time I have been out of the country, but still nice to inch the list up a little higher...

I had been hoping to see the Shoveler that had been hanging around the Figgy in previous winters, but there was no sign of that until I popped into Duddingston Loch shortly before sundown. Also there, a Daubenton's bat foraging low over the water giving great in-flight scope views.

So, it turned out that today's two little birding trips around Edinburgh produced sightings of 13 species of ducks: Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Tufted Duck, Eider. Conspicuous by their absence perhaps were Pochard and Scaup both of which were once common in the area but now increasingly difficult to see.

Friday, 9 November 2012

White-necked Raven

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of corvids. This species ticked all the boxes for me in Malawi - large, approachable and with an outsized hatchet of a bill - the White-necked Raven.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Far hiv ye bin ye Clarty-heided Scaffie

This Clarty-heided Scaffie (that's my completely made up Doric name for Black-headed Gull) had dropped into the sewage works at Seafield on Sunday. As usual my digiscoping skills deserted me when I needed them, but the code was very readable through the scope left-black-on-yellow-2XCL. If you haven't guessed it is from Aberdeen - it was ringed as an adult on the Ythan Estuary north of Aberdeen at Newburgh on 2 September. Amazingly, Stephen has seen 2XCN just a few miles along the coast. Ok, so the competition is on to find 2XCM!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Immature African Fish Eagle, Lake Malawi

To continue the theme of posting raptor pics from Malawi, here are a few shots of immature African Fish Eagles that were hanging around near Nanchengwa Lodge on the shores of Lake Malawi.  I am a little unsure of the age of these birds but assume that the wedge of three adult type inner primaries on the right hand wing of the shot below indicates that that individual is probably somewhere between 12 and 18 months old.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Grey-headed Gulls, Malawi

I popped down to Seafield this morning to reacquaint myself with the Lothian avifauna. Nice views of Red-throated Divers were the highlight along with a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull (left yellow 2XCL - ringed in Aberdeen I suspect). [Also, just remembered, a candidate Nordic Jackdaw at the entrance to Craigmillar Castle along with a group of typical Jackdaws - I pulled in, avoided eye contact but the flock still flew before I got the shot...] As always at thecoast, I spent a wee while grilling the gulls - even a small number of Herring Gulls can provide plenty of entertainment for the larid-lover.

Gulls are not a major feature in Malawi. The only species that I saw was the Grey-headed Gull and I only had disappointingly brief and distant flight views. It is a species that I have seen before in Africa but never really within photographic range. Here are a few very poor record shots in flight.

The shots are of a first winter (if that means anything in the tropics) photographed on the Shire River at Liwonde National Park alongside a Whiskered Tern. The dusky underwings are fairly distinctive in the Grey-headed Gull along with the white blaze across the primaries and coverts

Finally, here is one of the Red-throated Divers from Seafield this morning.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

African Fish Eagle, Lake Malawi

This was one of those occasions in birding when everything came together at the right time. 

We had been working hard for a few days on a nursery school renovation, putting in a functioning water supply and drainage system, so could justify an afternoon of R&R to let the blisters on our hands subside. After some lunch and a dip in Lake Malawi to have a peek at some of the cichlid fish I decided to pick up the lens and climb a nearby hillock to enjoy the view. 

A couple of friendly locals gave me some route finding advice and warned against stepping on a puff adder so I set off slowly sweating in the sweltering heat. As I hopped from rock to rock scrambling up the steep hillside I spent more time scanning the rocks for slumbering serpents than looking up for birdlife but as I crested the rise I took the time to peer back through the leafless trees down to the lake. As I did so a branch moved and revealed itself to be a fantastic adult African Fish Eagle

The steepness of the slope meant I had a eye-level view of the high branch in the tall tree that it had chosen as a suitable perch to devour its perch-like cichlid. For once a truly frame-filling view of a large raptor that then spent the next 15 minutes feeding on its fish apparently unconcerned about my presence. In this time the thing that struck me about it's feeding behaviour was the dainty way in which it fed. It seemed to remove tiny morsels of flesh each time it fed. Instead I was expecting much more of a tearing, ripping motion with a guzzling type rapid consumption of the fish. Even with the dainty feeding motion the eagle still managed to drop the fish after a while. It did not retrieve it from the forest floor. 

Later I saw the same adult interacting with a fledged youngster so I wonder whether the dainty feeding behaviour was linked to it still having a dependent youngster. All-in-all a fantastic close encounter.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Martial Eagle, Liwonde, Malawi

I think that this is one of those archetypal birding safari shots - a Martial Eagle glaring down at the camera from its perch. What is difficult to appreciate from the shot is the scale of the bird in question. In life it appeared about the same size as an elephant - in the photo it appears about the same size as a Common Buzzard. The reality is somewhere between the two. If you are struggling to get the scale, just check out those talons...

While this was a very close encounter, and exciting too, especially for those in the party who had never seen such a big bird so close, I can't help but re-post another shot of a hunting Martial Eagle that I took in KwaZulu Natal a few years ago. I love the way it looks bigger than the rhino!