Thursday, 14 December 2017

A Chance Of Snow? (13/12/17)

With wet and cold weather forecast for Wednesday this week, I decided to stay in my bed as Nat had already decided to call off because of the forecast. However when I did decide to get out of bed, I discovered that the forecast for the afternoon was actually dry though still cold. I also did a bit of quick calculation and worked out that it might be just about feasible to try for Snow Buntings at Tentsmuir, as long as I managed to catch a bus to get me to Tayport arriving before 1300. That didn't leave me much time to get organised and would also mean that I would be finishing my walk in near darkness. However, my route would hopefully give me a chance of an owl species or 2, so there was a possibility of getting 2 year-ticks for the price of 1 (and some rather sore legs), if successful.

Stonechat

I made it out the door just before 1225 and had just over 15 minutes to make it to the bus station for the Tayport bus. Not many birds were seen on the fast walk down to catch the bus with Carrion Crow, Herring Gull, a few Blackbirds and some Feral Pigeons all that I managed to see. Cormorants were seen on Submarine Rock in the Tay. Jackdaws, Woodpigeons and Starlings were seen as the bus passed through Tayport to the turning circle and the beginning of my roughly 9-12 mile walk - depending on route chosen, though the first 3.5 were the important ones, and the ones where I needed to keep my speed up, or run the risk of any Snow Buntings having already gone to roost when I arrived at their likely location.

With the tide not long having turned I did have to spend a bit of time scanning through the birds on the shore when I got off the bus. I could hear House Sparrows and Starlings behind me but didn't have time to look for them. Gulls, mostly Common, Black Headed and Herring Gulls were stood out on the mud in front of me by, and in, the burn outflow. A flock of Oystercatchers were along the shore to the west, and a few Shelduck were on the mud near them, as well as a line of Bar Tailed Godwits and a single Grey Plover. A Curlew stood nearby and there were a few Mallards on the water. Mute Swans and Wigeon were added before I set off. A Dunnock flew into a bush by the path and the first Stonechat of the day gave me good views as it perched near the track.

The track was rather icy and I quickly realised that ice was going to play a large part along my route. A small charm of Goldfinches landed on the saltmarsh. A flock of Dunlin milled around over the river, and there was some movement of birds from further downriver suggesting the presence of a raptor but I couldn't see anything obvious. I found a Ringed Plover and a Redshank quite close in to the saltmarsh and a flock of Sanderling much further out along the water's edge. Minutes later I found out what had caused the disturbance as a Peregrine cruised by, sending waders further towards Tayport. Ice on the beach left a very narrow strip of sand to walk on and I seemed to be making slower progress than I had hoped.

I spotted a string of Eiders across the river towards Broughty Ferry. There were more Wigeon, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Bar Tailed Godwits near the end of the forest where I cut in along the fenceline to speed up my journey away from icy paths. The woods where I usually find Green Woodpeckers were rather quiet with only a small flock of Siskins, a Blue Tit, a Robin and a single Mistle Thrush seen. The open area just to the south also seemed bereft of birds. Another small flock of Goldfinches were in the dunes a little further on. A Great Black Backed Gull was seen on the beach and a couple of Cormorants flew south over the sea.

Things looked quiet at the Lagoons and as I got closer I discovered why. They were frozen solid. A single Herring Gull was stood out on the ice and a pair of Sanderling flew low along the edge before continuing low across the ice to the forest side of the pool. I spooked a Curlew as I made my way into the dune area beyond the fence line at the southern end of the Tentsmuir Point nature reserve. It was now around 1430 and the sun was creeping lower towards the tree tops. I had to hope that the birds would still be making use of the available daylight, assuming of course that they were still around. They had been seen the day after my previous attempt by the videographer who had been parked next to us that Wednesday, but hadn't been reported via Fife Bird Club grapevine yet.

As I hadn't yet seen any sign of birds wheeling around above the dunes I wasn't holding out too much hope. However, within a minute or two, I heard the quiet flight calls of Snow Buntings and spotted three birds flying towards me from the south. I had made the mistake of once again trying out the new gizmo on my camera and so failed spectacularly to get any in focus flight shots. As they circled round they were joined by more birds from in the dunes and then another small group. I could see and hear three together over the beach and could also hear at least one other bird calling from the group to the west of me. Unfortunately the low sun made everything appear to be a silhouette at best. I made the initial assumption that they were all Snow Buntings and my text to Fife Bird Club reflected this. However, as the birds still wouldn't settle I finally managed flight shots of the larger group and found that they were Linnets, so I sent a second text correcting the information in the first. A minimum of between 3 and 5 Snow Buntings, I think.

With my target bird in the proverbial bag I carried on southwards along the beach. Out on the water I could see the usual Scoter flock, which appeared to be Common Scoters (as expected). It still took the best part of another 20 minutes to get close enough to check the birds properly, though by now a large (snow?) cloud had blotted out the sun making things that bit harder. The birds I could see were Common Scoters for the most part. I searched for signs of Velvet Scoters but couldn't see anything too obvious, though I was really looking for Surf Scoters and any Slavonian Grebes or Divers among the flock. As it turned out there were only a handful of Common and Herring Gulls and some Red Breasted Mergansers to be seen. I took a lot of photos to check at home just in case there was anything hiding in among the hundreds of birds. As it turned out there were Velvet Scoters but nothing else unexpected, or unseen to be found on the photos.

I debated whether to head for the Goosepools and in through Reres Wood or to take the road back to the track through the forest to Earlshall Muir, and settled for the latter, which shaved a bit off the length of the walk. I would still arrive back at Leuchars in darkness but my chance of seeing Woodcock at least, would be increased. A small group of Chaffinches flew up into a tree in the car park though they were difficult to make out in the gloom, with the sun hidden behind the trees. Goldcrest was added in the trees near the barrier along the access road and a flash of white which caught my eye opposite the house on the bend just beyond turned out to be a male Bullfinch. Long Tailed Tits were heard further on but not seen.

By the time I made it to the 'coastal path' route through the trees the sun had set and the light was rapidly fading. A few Goldcrests were heard but it was otherwise rather quiet. Nothing was seen between the edge of the forest and the boardwalks. As I headed west along the fence-line I stopped at regular intervals to scan. A small group of corvids were seen chasing a similar sized bird which may have been an owl, but as it was at least half a mile away I can only guess at what it might have been. Another bird (or possibly the same one) went in the opposite direction towards Reres Wood a few minutes later. Again it was too far away to identify, though the style of flight suggested Grey Heron as a possibility, but the light had diminished much further than I had hoped it would have.

A few minutes later as I stopped at the end of the final section of boardwalk, I heard a relatively quiet bird call, that I suspected might be Woodcock and turned round just in time to see a hint of movement against the silhouetted trees. I managed to get the binoculars onto the bird and was able to just make out a brownish colour to the bird. I'm pretty confident that it was actually a Woodcock (having checked the calls of the species). A large-ish silhouetted bird flew out from a tree near Earlshall Castlebut I failed to see where it went. By the time I made it back to Leuchars the stars were visible in the dark sky above. I was very lucky with my timing as there was a bus approaching the bus stop as I arrived.

All in all, a worthwhile afternoon's birding, despite the rather low total number of species with only 42 seen (1 year-tick in bold). I was actually over-dressed with too many layers on but better that than the opposite. I might try again between and New Year for a better look at the Snow Buntings and the other birds around, with an earlier start and a more sedate pace.

Mallard, Common Gull, Herring Gull & Black Headed Gull

Oystercatcher, Bar Tailed Godwit & Shelduck

Dunlin & Shelduck

Ringed Plover

Redshank

Stonechat

Peregrine

Peregrine

Peregrine

Sanderling

Stonechat

Wigeon

Grey Plover

Dunlin

Siskin

Mistle Thrush

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Linnet

Snow Bunting

Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Common Gull & Herring Gull

Herring Gull, Common Gull, Common Scoter & Velvet Scoter

Common Scoter, Red Breasted Merganser & Herring Gull

Common Gull, Common Scoter & Red Breasted Merganser

Common Scoter & Red Breasted Merganser

Species seen - Bar Tailed Godwit, Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Common Gull, Common Scoter, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Eider, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Black Backed Gull, Grey Plover, Herring Gull, Jackdaw, Linnet, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Peregrine, Red Breasted Merganser, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Sanderling, Shelduck, Siskin, Snow Bunting, Starling, Stonechat, Velvet Scoter, Wigeon, Woodcock, Woodpigeon, Wren. 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Cold Afternoon (9/12/17)

Despite the cold weather forecast for below zero temperatures all day, I decided that I couldn't just sit in all weekend which is very easy to do at this time of year. Despite this plan I didn't get up until much later than intended so it was noon before I was ready to venture out into the cold, though I was well wrapped up and thankfully the winds were much lighter than originally forecast which meant that I wasn't as cold as I thought I might be. It can be hard to stand around looking at birds in a bitingly cold wind with your fingers feeling like they are going to fall off, and your body shivering making holding binoculars or a camera steady rather tricky, which is why I prefer to try to avoid those conditions when possible.

Bar Tailed Godwit
It was a minute or two to noon before I got out the door. A Woodpigeon on a nearby roof kicked off the list for the day and a couple of Feral Pigeons flew over seconds later. A Herring Gull was stood atop another roof. I was headed for a frozen Swannie Ponds first to check for ringed birds. It is much easier to read rings when the birds are stood around on the ice, and with decent light, it can be easier to get photos showing the characters on the metal rings. A Starling flew onto a small bird table in a front garden of a tenement on Court Street, while a Jackdaw peered out from the gutter on another roof edge. A pair of Magpies flew up from a garden further up the road, with one landing on a roof, and the other choosing to land in rather unorthodox manner on the vertical edge of the corner of the tenement, more like a Blue Tit would than a corvid.

Carrion Crow and Blackbird were added on Clepington Road, followed by both Black Headed and Common Gulls flying over. A detour via Mains Loan/Mains Terrace produced a single flyover Chaffinch and a couple of perched Woodpigeons only. Arriving at the ponds, they were both mostly frozen over as expected. Mallards and 16 Tufted Ducks shared the one area of open water. A single Coot was further over and a Moorhen appeared on the island a while later. The Mute Swan family were at the lower pond. There were a few interesting looking Herring Gulls including a very darkly plumaged bird with an almost solid coloured belly which made me think of American Herring Gull as a possibility but a look online failed to find anything quite so similar.

There were a few Common Gulls around among the Black Headeds, though as almost always it was the latter which held the ringed birds. I found at least 5 ringed birds on the ice. Two metal ringed birds - EY?????, and the upside down ringed bird which now appears to read EY?7591, as well as Scottish ringed yellow 2XLD, and regular wintering Norwegian ringed pair White J4U2 and Green JN69. A Robin flew up into the lower branches of a small tree as I passed, and as I was about to leave the ponds a small flock of Siskins overflew. A Blue Tit was in a garden as I headed for Eastern cemetery to check for winter thrushes. A large flock of Mistle Thrushes and Redwings flew towards Baxter Park almost prompting me to change direction.

As I neared the cemetery I spotted a distant bird rather high in the sky. The flight was distinctive and I was certain it was a raptor so out came the binoculars and I eventually got a topside view which confirmed it as a Sparrowhawk. Entering the graveyard a single Goldfinch flew over and within a few minutes I found a number of Redwings and Mistle Thrushes but still no Fieldfares. They were mostly perched high in the taller trees and flying down to feed on the Yews. I managed a few close encounters but had to make do with more distant photos. A Wren scolded loudly from a small bush by a gravestone. As I watched the Wren I spotted a Buzzard fly into land on top of a tall conifer and attempted a stealthy approach somewhat spoilt by thrushes flying out from almost every bush and tree, before the Buzzard did likewise.

I continued onwards in the direction of the Stannergate adding a House Sparrow near the shops at the foot of Craigie Avenue. A Curlew was on the beach with a few Carrion Crows and a Grey Heron was roosting out near the end of the harbour area. Another Grey Heron flew from the end of the pipe a bit further east onto the beach as I was nearby allowing me a few photos. A Cormorant was fishing around the same area and another went upriver. Much further along I added a single female ider to the list for the day before finding a pair of Oystercatchers nearby. A large skein of (presumably) Pink Footed Geese were seen out over the sea off Tentsmuir. Another lot went upriver a while later. A Mistle Thrush was seen perched in the top of a tree near the yacht club. The first Redshank of the day was spooked by a dog on the beach near Douglas Terrace and a Dunnock showed reasonably well in a small bush by the road.

Along towards the lifeboat station a second Curlew was seen, with one of each of Black Headed, Common and Herring Gull in close proximity, while a Cormorant hunted just a foot or so offshore. A Rock Pipit was heard and then seen at the eastern side of the lifeboat station. There was only a single pair of Mute Swans and a relatively small number of gulls on the shore at Beach Crescent, though a Great Black Backed Gull was on the water just offshore and a few Turnstones picked around among the pebbles. At least three Pied Wagtails were feeding along the pavement but were scared off by a number of walkers. A Cormorant and Grey Heron were on the rocks by the castle and a pair of Eiders were on the river near them.

A single Linnet was seen on the beach with Starlings and House Sparrows before the whole lot were flushed by a Spaniel being exercised on the sand. I headed into the small nature reserve where I found another small group of Linnets which landed in a tree by the railway line. A few Blackbirds were seen, as well as a Blue Tit and a small party of Long Tailed Tits. By now the sun had set and the light was starting to fade, but I was determined to add a few waders to the list along the shore. Bar Tailed Godwits were around at their usual area of beach, and a number of Ringed Plovers and Turnstones were a bit closer in. The gull roost didn't seem to hide anything unusual. I passed a birder with a scope at the small car park who appeared to be going through the gulls.

More Ringed Plovers were on the beach along with a number of Dunlin. More Bar Tailed Godwits were by the water's edge and I found a Grey Plover stood looking rather nervous near them. The first Wigeon were nearby, along with some Mallards. I added Goldeneye and Goosander offshore by the burn mouth, as well as a second Grey Plover. Unfortunately by now the light was making identifying birds rather tricky so I called it a day and headed for the bus. A Wren was feeding on the ground by the footbridge ramp. Luckily for me, I decided to check the travelineScotland app on my phone as I walked to the bus stop and found a bus was due, so I ran the short distance to the road where I arrived at the bus stop about 20 seconds before the bus.

All in all a decent enough afernoon's birding with 47 species seen, though nothing particularly unusual among them. With a similar route most likely on January 1st, weather permitting, it gives me an idea of what I can expect to start 2018 with.

Black Headed Gull (J4U2)

Herring Gull

Black Headed Gull & Herring Gull

Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull (2XLD)

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

(rather dark) Herring Gull

(rather dark) Herring Gull

(rather dark) Herring Gull

(rather dark) Herring Gull

(rather dark) Herring Gull

Black Headed Gull (J4U2)

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Black Headed Gull (JN69)

Mistle Thrush

Redwing

Blackbird & Robin

Redwing

Redwing

Wren

Buzzard

Grey Heron

Carrion Crow

Curlew

Black Headed Gull

Oystercatcher

Redshank

Starling

Great Black Backed Gull

Pied Wagtail

Eider

House Sparrow

Bar Tailed Godwit

Pink Footed Geese

Dunlin & Ringed Plover

Wigeon

Goosander

Mallard & Goldeneye

Species seen - Bar Tailed Godwit, Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Common Gull, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Eider, Goldeneye, Goldfinch, Goosander, Great Black Backed Gull, Grey Heron, Grey Plover, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Linnet, Long Tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Pied Wagtail, Pink Footed Goose, Redshank, Redwing, Ringed Plover, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Tufted Duck, Turnstone, Wigeon, Woodpigeon, Wren.