Sunday, 29 September 2013

Yellow-browed Warblers in Lothian Sept 2013

One of two Yellow-browed Warblers at Scoughall today
With unprecedented numbers along the east coast of Scotland, we are in the middle of the largest invasion of Yellow-browed Warblers into Lothian. Today Mike H managed to see 9 in total! There have been approximately 19 birds recorded since Wednesday morning in the region with site maxima of 3 at each of Barns Ness old campsite, Whitesands triangle and Scoughall, two seen at each of Torness, Thorntonloch, Skateraw and Dunglass and the single bird that I heard at Seacliff on Friday (now safely confirmed after hearing another 5 birds over the weekend...).  The distribution closely matches the 75 previous records in Lothian. Even more exciting is the real possibility of more arrivals with the wind swinging easterly again today. In addition we may have a run of records away from the coast as the high numbers in the northern isles start to filter south.

One thing that has always puzzled me about the Yellow-browed Warbler is its latin name Phylloscopus inornatus. The genus is understandable as it is one of the leaf-peeping warblers that gleans its insect food from foliage, but inornatus implies a terrible blunder in suggesting that this multiply striped sprite is 'un-ornate'. I literally dusted off the Old Handbook (Witherby et al.) and the answer was supplied. The initial latin binomial was Motacilla superciliosus. Now if we can ignore the genus (Motacilla was used much more widely for passerines in the 18th century) the specific name seems so much better. Unfortunately it soon turned out that another 18th century taxonomist had already used this latin name for another species so the name could not be used for the YBW. Instead an alternative was found in the literature as the Yellow-brow had also been described by Blyth as Regulus inornatus - essentially calling it the 'Crownless Kinglet' or something similar. Further readjustment was to the current genus, but the specific name has had to stick. Well, I'm looking forward to finding a Crownless Kinglet in Edinburgh - maybe the royal parks would be worth a shot?...

Friday, 27 September 2013

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat?, Seacliff

This week has been frustrating bird-wise. I have dashed off to the coast after work on several days to enjoy the amazing fall of Yellow-browed Warblers that have arrived from Asia. Of the 8, 10 and 7 reports over the last 3 days in Lothian I have managed to see precisely none. Site high totals this week have been Barns Ness and Whitesands 6, and Torness, Thorntonloch, Skateraw and Scoughall all with 2 apiece. So, somewhere between 14 and 25 birds perhaps. The sites have tended to be very quiet in the late afternoon and early evening periods that I have managed to visit and it has left me wondering whether the birds have moved on already given the improvement in the weather since Wednesday morning - or whether they are jet-lagged and keeping a central Asian time clock?...

Underside of tail just visible before it disappears into the sea buckthorn
Today I'm pretty sure that I did hear a Yellow-browed Warbler briefly at Seacliff but could not locate - there is quite an area of sycamores to search. Instead the highlight was this Lesser Whitethroat which looked to me to be of the Siberian subspecies blythi although it is not possible to be really sure without much better views combined with DNA testing most likely. Anyway it was a bright brown above (including crown) rather than the more normal dull tones of our subspecies with great contrast between the throat and the flanks. In addition it certainly appeared to have white outer tail feathers with dark shafts. None of these features have come out well in the photos unfortunately. In terms of call a blackcap-like 'tack' but no distinctive churr heard. So one that I think I should pop back and try for again.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Yellow-browed Warblers in Lothian

Spot the Yellow-browed Warbler - in White Sands Triangle wood in 2010

As far as I know there have been 75 records of Yellow-browed Warbler in Lothian. The first record was in September 1976 and it has increased in frequency to the point that it has now been seen every year in Lothian since 1998. Well, it hasn't been seen yet in Lothian in 2013 - but that will undoubtedly change over the next few days with a wave of these Siberian waifs currently heading our way across the North Sea. Both 2005 and 2010 are the stand-out years so far with 13 and 10 records apiece, with the next-best year being 2011 with 6 records. There must be others that have not made it into the record books as the YBW is often fast moving and elusive in the foliage - for example I never submitted a brief view of one in Seacliff woods in 2005.

So, if you are planning on bumping in to one of these in the next few days you could do worse than pop along to Barns Ness/White Sands Bay area (32 previous records) - the old caravan site and the triangular wood at White Sands are good sites. Further SE along the coast at Skateraw there have been 16 records, with 7 at Torness, 7 at Thorntonloch and 1 at Bilsdean. Alternatively, there are also 7 records from Scoughall but none that I know of from the woods around Tynningham - maybe they just melt away in all that habitat. There is also a surprising general absence of records away from the coast, other than three records (in two different years) from Oxwell Mains. The latter, I assume, shows that hard work on a local patch away from the coast can pay dividends... Maybe someone will find one in Edinburgh if we really do have a bumper crop this year.

Edit: 25 Sept 2013

As widely predicted the first YBW's of the autumn arrived in Lothian this morning with light easterlies and drizzle. A total of eight birds have been reported from all the usual locations as far as I know making today the best single day to see Yellow-browed Warbler in Lothian. I managed to avoid them despite several hours after work in Torness, Thorntonloch and Skateraw... I think that the clear skies and sun later on encouraged the birds to head off as soon as possible.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Not a Nordic Jackdaw?, Craigmillar, Edinburgh

I have seen this Jackdaw several times in and around Craigmillar over the last year or so. When I first sighted it in November 2012 it had a clear pale half-collar and it seemed a reasonable assumption to consider it to be a Nordic Jackdaw. Over the year I saw it again briefly in March but have been surprised to see it in both August and September in the same area. What is more, it is clearly part of a pair.

These first three photos were taken yesterday. I suppose the question is whether this bird is Nordic Jackdaw (monedula subspecies) that has pair-bonded with a local bird or whether it is a male Western Jackdaw (spermologus subspecies) towards the edge of its variation...

Here is the same bird taken with my phone cam out of the car in August - clear headlights...

To try to get an idea of how common Jackdaws with pale neck collars are among our breeding birds I tried to get some shots of representative individuals earlier in the year. Most birds observed showed no collar or if they did so it was very dependent on the angle of illumination. On the other hand a small number of birds seemed to show faint collars. For example, here is a shot of a group of Jackdaws and a Magpie at Duddingston in May. The left hand bird, in particular, showed a faint collar at all angles both in life and in photos. I think that I am now less confident rather than more confident of any of my previous records of the C. monedula monedula in and around Edinburgh, and that any identification of Nordic Jackdaw be resticted to individuals with very pronounced collars along with the other identification criteria (e.g. contrast between wing and body plumage giving Hooded Crow effect).

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Barred Warbler records in Lothian

Here is a Google Map that I made after seeing last weekend's Barred Warbler at Barns Ness - a two-day bird as far as I know. It got me wondering about the number and distribution of Barred Warbler records in Lothian. As far as I know last weekend's bird at Barns Ness would be Lothian's 34th record - although there is an offshore record from 1991 (SOC trip aboard Gardyloo) and it has been sighted on Bass Rock at least twice, but I am unsure whether these count as Lothian?...

From the records I have details of there seems to be a real concentration in terms of time (Aug: 5; Sept: 10; Oct: 11; Nov: 1) and location - note 14 records at Barns Ness, 4 at Torness, 4 at Skateraw and 1 at Thorntonloch - a real hotspot for sure. Other records are 2 on the Bass and singles at Aberlady (2003), Musselburgh (2005), Oxwell Mains (1992), Easter Inch Moss (1997) and Edinburgh (1946).

What really surprised me by this distribution was the lack of records along the North Berwick coastline as far as Dunbar. Scoughall has certainly been reasonably well watched over the years - is it a lack of elder bushes in that area? Could Seacliff be an area that we are missing them?...

Monday, 9 September 2013

Pectoral Sandpipers in Lothian

More of a Speck Sand than a Pec Sand - its the  smaller wader on the left hand side of the group of three with the, err..., distinctive pectoral band... honest!

Dave A has found another yankee wader at Musselburgh - an impressively regular happening. Today's bird is a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. I don't think you'll find any helpful features in the shots that I took of it roosting in among the Redshank at dusk! This is Lothian's most regular transatlantic wader and today's record is Lothian's twenty sixth. Records have been fairly widely spread although Musselburgh and Tynningham/Belhaven Bay account for over half of the records. More than half of the records have occurred since 2000 and this, no doubt, reflects increased observer awareness and improved optics. I'll be replacing my Kowa TSN4 shortly, which has given me many hours of active service, and I'm hoping that my new Meopta will boost my chances of adding this species to my feeble 'found' list...

Here is a chart showing arrival dates of new birds (black bars) and longer stayers (open bars). Note that each month is divided into thirds. The average length of stay recorded is 4 days, though 10 birds were recorded on only one date.

             July                     August                September                October                 November 

All four July birds were adults and all records later in the year have been juveniles. All records that I can find on SOC and LBRC webpages are listed below.

Tynningham/Belhaven Bay: 7 records
(10 Sept 1961, 16–18 Sept 1983, 14–15 September 1999, 24–25 August 2005, 2–4 October 2005, 3–10 September 2006, 22 September 2011)
Musselburgh: 6 records of 7 birds
(4–5 September 1987, 19–20 September 1996, 15–23 July 2004 (2), 12–17 July 2007, 13 September 2010, 9– September 2013)
Aberlady: 2 records
(10 Aug 1948, 16 Oct 1954)
Gladhouse: 2 records
(19–28 September 1997, 16 October–9 November 2003)
Gosford: 1 record
(19 Nov 1955)
North Berwick: 1 record
(16 August–1 September 1974)
Cobbinshaw: 1 record
(11–14 October 1975)
Linlithgow: 1 record
(16 October 1977)
Bavelaw: 1 record
(10–12 September 2004)
Lochhill Flood, Spittal: 1 record
(25 September 2005)
Cramond: 1 record
(26 July 2009)
East Fenton Farm: 1 record
(19 September 2010)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ring-necked Ducks in Lothian

Ring-necked Duck with Teal behind and to the right and Mallard in front. Tufted Duck in foreground. Note headshape of Ring-necked Duck, pale band on bill and pale wedge at front edge of grey flank. Photos taken last weekend.

My most recent Lothian tick has been the moulting male Ring-necked Duck that has been hanging out in White Sands Quarry since it was found in late June. It took me two months to have a look given other commitments over the summer, but sure enough, if you are willing to look long and hard enough it can be picked out at distance among the flock of moulting Tufted Ducks. Almost as rare are the couple of Pochards that are also in the flock.

Extensive black area on vent and hind belly

Viewing the lake is not easy. There are two options and both are distant. To get the best light try from the lay-by just past the turn off to White Sands bay beach car park in the morning. Towards the late afternoon try from the birding screen. Hopefully, if this site is developed for both birds and birders some sensitively designed viewing hides could be installed with concealed walkways to allow a closer approach...
Grey wing-bar visible when wing flapping

Whichever time of day many of the ducks will be either actively diving or roosting on the water or around the edge. The Ring-necked Duck is becoming more distinctive as the grey flanks and white wedges are beginning to become striking. The pale band across the bill is another feature that can be distinctive at distance. If the bird flaps its wings then the grey wing-bar is diagnostic. Finally, one subtle feature of the bird out of the water is the shape and extent of the black around the tail and vent area - just seemed more extensive black on the rear belly than a tuftie to me anyway.

This is only the eighth record of Ring-necked Duck in Lothian. With five of these since 2000 it certainly seems to be detected with increasing regularity. Initial sightings have been well spread through the year with Feb (2), March, April, May, June, July and October being the months that birds have been found. It seems that any large waterbody is worth checking with records from Linlithgow (2), Whiteadder, Seafield Pond, Gladhouse Res, Duddingston and Drem/East Fortune all having records.

Ring-necked Ducks in Lothian

22 June 2013–  male, White Sands Quarry
12 October 2008 juv, Whiteadder
19–22 July 2008 male, Linlithgow
26–27 April 2006 male, Seafield Pond
12–16 May 2002 female, Gladhouse Reservoir
26 Feb–16 March 1989 male, Linlithgow
24 March 1982 male, Duddingston
6 Feb–9 May 1977 female, Drem and East Fortune

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Wire dump warblers

Warblers at Barns Ness today included this record shot of a Barred Warbler found by Jeremy W in the wire dump. Me - I could only manage a Sedge Warbler though it was very elusive and got the pulse rate quickening for a wee while... Here it is with a Stonechat