Thursday, 23 March 2017

Bussing It (22/3/17)

With Nat still unavailable for a midweek outing, I chose to have a slightly longer lie-in and to head out into what was forecast to be quite a cold day. I had no real set plan, other than a start point of sorts. I decided I was going to walk along the coast between Easthaven and Westhaven, preferably with the northeasterly wind behind me, though a lot would depend on which bus I managed to catch. A walk up Craigmill Den was also figured into the plan. With Little Gulls having been seen this week somewhere on the coast by Stuart Green of Angus Birdtours, I hoped I might chance upon one if I was lucky  - though my previous March sightings have always been on inland Lochs, and maybe a Chiffchaff in Craigmill Den too. Having seen Little Gulls in late summer in this area, I hoped that the combination of the beach and Craigmill Den would give me the best chance at the 2 target species for the minimum of effort. Time would tell.
Siberian Chiffchaff
With a bus to catch at around 1010 I headed out at around 0955. With a cold wind blowing, it felt more like December and the birds seemed to be keeping a low profile. Feral Pigeon, Herring Gull and Wodpigeon were still around though and a Blackbird hopped under a parked car as I passed near the Lidl supermarket on Dura Street. While waiting for the bus I added a flyover Blue Tit and a Carrion Crow. A few more species were seen from the bus although the windows kept steaming up which didn't help matters. Oystercatchers on a football pitch, Starlings on a chimney, Collared Dove on a TV aerial, House Sparrows on the apex of a roof were added to the list however. Jackdaws, Rooks and Buzzard were spotted between Monifieth and Barry. A male Pheasant was in a ploughed field as the bus reached the village.

Arriving at Easthaven at about 1055, I found the usually relatively busy car park empty. Goldfinch and Meadow Pipit were both seen flying over, their calls alerting me to them. The exposed nature of the beach meant the wind felt even colder than earlier. I was able to add Pied Wagtail and Linnet on the beach as I walked slowly westwards. Offshore I could see a few Eiders and a few Great Black Backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Cormorants on rocks. A small group of Ringed Plover lifted from the sand as I approached, and a Curlew did likewise much further ahead. A few Mallards could be seen in some of the pools among the rocks as the tide receded.

The first Rock Pipit of the day wandered around on the rocks and a pair of Shelduck took flight into the wind. I stopped to scan offshore and managed to spot Common Gull, Kittiwake and Gannet out over the sea. More waders were seen among the rocks - Redshanks, Oystercatchers, a few Grey Plover and a large flock of Turnstones. There were also a small group of Wigeon in the water where the rocks met the waves. Black Headed Gull was also seen. I sat for a few minutes out of the wind by the Craigmill Burn mouth but it was more of the same. A Kingfisher was heard as it flew off up the burn.

I walked up to the level crossing to cross the railway line to walk up Craigmill Den. A Greenfinch flew over. The Rooks were very active building nests in the tall trees at the southern end of the Den. A Wren was seen flying low along the opposite bank before disappearing into the vegetation. A Skylark flew upwards from the fields, singing as it climbed higher. A Grey Wagtail flew off up the burn and a Robin showed on the fence. There were Blue Tits around in the bushes just down from the weir but not much else.

Wandering up the road at the top end I found a few Chaffinches and a Pied Wagtail feeding by a small puddle beside the car parking lay-by. More Skylarks and a Reed Bunting were seen as I walked down across the fields towards Panbride House. I hoped I might hear Chiffchaffs calling from the grounds but I only heard Dunnocks, and didn't even manage to see them. There were more Skylarks active by the railway line as I walked back along the cycle path to Westhaven. With a 15 minute wait I chose not to venture down to the beach again, and decided to wait instead. A large flock of a few hundred Starlings flew up from the direction of the beach as I waited.

An ADBC text alert had come in saying that a possible Siberian Chiffchaff had once again been seen at Keptie Ponds, having been originally found on Sunday. As I had failed to see Chiffchaff so far it made sense to attempt to see it. Keptie Pond also meant I would add a few more species to the list for the day. From the bus I added Stock Dove to the list as they fed in a ploughed field with Woodpigeons and some corvids. Arriving at the pond around 1315, I could see Herring Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Mute Swans, Coots, a Moorhen and a Goosander on the water. Not a bad start.

A pair of Grey Heron squabbled at a possible nest site on the island. Scanning ahead I could see Blairgowrie ADBC member Doug Milne. A lady stopped to chat and told me about the Heron's nesting and how she goes ringing with an Arbroath resident whose surname she couldn't remember. I had a quick chat with Doug Milne who hadn't managed to relocate the Chiffchaff. He continued in an anti-clockwise direction and I headed further towards the bushes at the south end. Graham Smith of Dundee RSPB was scanning the bushes but hadn't had any luck either. He had re-identified the bird on Sunday after it was initially reported as a Garden Warbler by Mickey Mellon.

We walked along the path to check the bushes further on, chatting as we went. Graham spotted the Siberian Chiffchaff in the bushes next to us and we had relatively decent views though there were too many branches in the way to get a clear photo. The bird was a very cold grey compared to the more usual olive colours of a Chiffchaff. It was quite tricky to keep sight of at times as it picked around near the water among the tangle of branches. After a few minutes the bird started calling, a very flat short, almost monotone, whistle. This matched the Siberian Chiffchaff call on the Collins Bird Guide app and clinched the ID for us.

The bird came closer to the path which allowed me to finally get a few photos. I also managed to record the call on my phone surprisingly well. A pair of Dunnocks and a Great Tit were in the same bushes. We were joined by Bob McCurley and Doug Milne and we all had very good views of the bird. Another birder arrived and the bird decided it didn't particularly like crowds and flew up and into the gorse bushes on the small rise behind the pond.

Having by now managed to see one of my target species for the day (albeit in a more exotic subspecies than I expected) I had a choice to make. Hang around Arbroath, head back to Dundee or catch a bus to Forfar and try the Loch for Little Gull (I saw my first ever Little Gulls there in 2005) and maybe even a Sand Martin or a Garganey. As there was more chance of running into something good there I decided it was the best option and set off for the bus station via a far more circuitous route than I actually needed to. Thankfully I made it in time to catch the bus and arrived in Forfar at around 1500. Following a quick walk I arrived at the Loch at around 1510. Scanning from behind the now closed Leisure Centre I racked up a number of new species for the day.

A pair of Feral Greylags ran from a dog and the Mallard flock flew into the water to escape. A Magpie flew into the trees behind me. There were Great Crested Grebes dotted around and Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye out on the water as well as a few Goosander. In below the bushes along the north side were a number of Teal. Overall though it seemed rather quiet. Instead of going along the north side first as I tend to do, I decided to go along the south side first. Goldfinches and Siskins were heard but only the former were seen. Blackbirds and a Song Thrush foraged around among the leaf litter. Oystercatchers and a pair of Magpies fed on the ground at the rugby pitch.

Towards the western end I stopped to watch a Goldcrest feeding in the trees and a few Robins showed near the path. Coal Tit and Long Tailed Tit were seen where the burn flows into the Loch, but despite scanning along the reedy fringes I failed to find any sign of an early Garganey. A Mallard and a Cormorant flew in from the west. A few Mute Swans and a raft of Black Headed Gulls could be seen on the water. A detour into the bushes near the small wooden bridge over the small burn resulted in finding a small flock of Bullfinches and a few Siskins. The Siskins seemed unconcerned by me and I managed a few nice shots of a male.

A Yellowhammer called from the trees by the path as I headed back towards the Leisure Centre end. A Reed Bunting male gave me good views in a tree. A few Goosander and Teal as well as Mallard and Moorhen were seen near the small bay near the sailing club spit. The trees and bushes were relatively quiet with only Blackbirds and a few Blue Tits and Robins seen, though another Magpie was heard chuckling towards the eastern end. A quick stop at the small wooden viewing platform added Little Grebe to the list. A Grey Heron was also seen flying off down the Loch from here. A nice male Bullfinch feeding on buds above the path gave me good views though the branches below the bird made getting a clear shot difficult. I also had good views of Teal displaying in the northeast corner of the Loch before I wandered back into town to wait for the bus back to Dundee.

Jackdaws were much in evidence above the roofs at the High Street and gave me something to watch while I waited for the bus to arrive. Heading back towards Dundee I happened to look out the window in time to see a displaying Lapwing over the fields by the road giving me one final addition to the list for the day which stood at 67 species, including 1 year-tick (in bold). A pretty good day out despite the weather, showing what is possible in Angus on public transport. Had I headed out a few hours earlier I probably could have added another location and a few more species.

Shelduck

Mallard

Skylark

Siberian Chiffchaff

Siberian Chiffchaff

Siberian Chiffchaff

Siberian Chiffchaff

Buzzard

Magpie

Oystercatcher

Goosander

Lesser Black Backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Mute Swan, Herring Gull, Goosander 

Lesser Black Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Cormorant

Chaffinch

Mallard

Siskin

Bullfinch

Reed Bunting

Gadwall

Bullfinch

Teal

Teal

Teal

Teal

Coot & Moorhen

Species seen - Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, (Siberian) Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunnock, Eider, Gadwall, Gannet, Goldcrest, Goldeneye, Goldfinch, Goosander, Great Black Backed Gull, Great Crested Grebe, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Grey Plover, Grey Wagtail, Greylag Goose, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kittiwake, Lapwing, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Linnet, Little Grebe, Long Tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Redshank, Reed Bunting, Ringed Plover, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Rook, Shelduck, Siskin, Skylark, Song Thrush, Starling, Stock Dove, Teal, Tufted Duck, Turnstone, Wigeon, Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer.

Having read up a little about Siberian Chiffchaff, I'm not completely convinced that the bird is 100% a 'pure' Siberian Chiffchaff. There is a very slight difference to the call, though it seems very subtle - possibly someone could compare sonograms of the call. I think there is a possibility of it being an intergrade/hybrid between 'our' Chiffchaff and 'tristis' subspecies, either way it is still a Chiffchaff and a year-tick for me.

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Worthwhile Exercise (19/3/17)

Despite having been off work since Tuesday evening, a combination of variable weather and general mood meant that I did not do any birding on my days off. Being unable to sleep on Saturday night meant I was wide awake at 0500. With a reasonable weather forecast and the Black Redstart at Mains of Usan having been reported the day before, I figured that I probably should get up and make the effort to go and try to see the bird. It would be a year-tick and I would get some fresh air and exercise.
Black Redstart
I headed out at around 0750 to walk to the bus station to catch the X7 to Montrose. With not many folk around there was plenty of activity form the birds. Herring Gulls and a Goldfinch were first onto the list, with a male Blackbird seconds later. A Woodpigeon on a lamp post, a flyover Carrion Crow and a pair of Starlings on a chimney were next. A Feral Pigeon flew past and as I headed down Dens Road a trio of Magpies flew across the road and into the trees. A Blue Tit was seen near Victoria Road and a Dunnock was singing loudly near the bus station.

From the bus I added a few more species. Lesser Black Backed Gull was seen near the bus station and Black Headed Gull, Common Gull and Oystercatchers were on the football pitches near the Claypotts junction. Rooks were seen as we neared Arbroath and Cormorants were on the harbour breakwater. On the way to Montrose, Jackdaws were seen near Pie Bobs on the way out of Arbroath, where we see them regularly. A male Pheasant was in a roadside field further north and a Skylark fluttered upwards from another field as we neared Montrose.

I walked up through Ferryden to the road out to Usan, adding House Sparrows to the list and as I left teh village a Collared Dove flew into a tree behind me across the railway line. A few Yellowhammers and a number of Skylarks were seen. Five Pink Footed Geese headed south from the Basin. Passing a derelict house I spooked a pair of Grey Partridges from what had been the garden and they flew off before settling in a field beside the railway line. A Great Black Backed Gull headed over next as I walked down towards the walled garden where I added a Tree Sparrow to the list. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming but not seen.

Reaching Usan, there were a few Mallards and Moorhens on the pond, while on the wires by the gatehouse were a Coal Tit and a Blue Tit. A large ploughed field was full of birds. Woodpigeons, a few Stock Doves, Yellowhammers, Starlings, Skylarks, Rooks, Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and a Buzzard perched on the wall watching them all. Heading down through the farm I added Linnet and Reed Bunting to the list before I stopped to talk to ADBC member Mickey Mellon who told me the bird was showing and that ADBC grapevine contact Mark Caunt was watching the bird. As we chatted a Grey Wagtail flew past. Mickey warned me how muddy the field was.

I could see the Black Redstart perched on the lobster creels so I took a couple of photos but walked away from the bird and the muddier parts of the field and down onto the beach to skirt round past the bird to where Mark was sitting. Unfortunately, as I passed along the beach the bird flew off. A Pied Wagtail was seen. Rock Pipit was seen among the rocks. There was no sign of the Black Redstart however. Mark went for a walk to see if he could find it while I stayed put and scanned around. Offshore were a number of Eiders. There was a large flock of Starlings in the field along with a smaller flock of Linnets and they were all flushed by something unseen. Pink Footed Geese lifted from a field to the north, before circling back round and landing.

A short while later I turned round just in time to see a Sparrowhawk go shooting over the field behind me. A few minutes later I happened to look up and saw a bird struggling into the wind. I thought it had to be an early Sand Martin so fired off a few photos for a record shot. It wasn't a Sand Martin, which is usually the first of the hirundines to return each Spring. It was a House Martin almost a month earlier than usual (checking Angus & Dundee Bird Report 2012 the earliest record was 12th April that year). Rather unexpected, and the second year tick of the day. Mark arrived back from his wanders, he had missed the Sparrowahwk but had seen the House Martin. He decided he was going to head off but I decided to wait and see if the Black Redstart would return.

With nothing happening nearby I scanned out over the sea. Cormorants were stood on the rocks with a few Great Black Backed Gulls. I spotted a Red Throated Diver go south. A short while later I wandered down onto the beach, spooking a couple of Redshanks off the rocks. Back on my seat, I picked up a second Diver and a Fulmar. As I scanned I caught a glimpse of a Bottlenose Dolphin fin as it disappeared underwater again. Thankfully I was able to see the culprit when it surfaced again. There were at least 2 adults and possibly a youngster and they spent a short while hunting offshore before heading back to the north.  Another nice surprise.

A pair of Meadow Pipits flew over and scanning up towards the fence I picked up a Chaffinch with a few Yellowhammers and a Reed Bunting male. However there was still no sign of the bird I wanted better photos of and I contemplated heading back to Montrose Visitor Centre to see what I could add there. I hunted around nearby for a few minutes but having drawn a blank I wandered up the muddy field. I spotted a bird on the wall in front of the big shed which turned out to be the Black Redstart. No wonder I hadn't seen it for 2 hours. I clambered over the gate and looked for it. There were a few Yellowhammers on the ground as I looked around. My next glimpse of the bird was it disappearing back down the field to the lobster pots where I had just came from.

Back I went, cautiously and I was able to spend almost the next hour with the bird relatively close for most of the time, though at one point I did succeed in spooking it from round the back of the small shed I was sat at the side of. Neither the bird or I knew the other was there so when I peered round the corner, one surprised bird few off, thankfully not too far, and it was soon back down feeding on the beach. I was able to lie on the beach with my hood pulled up over my head and photograph the bird as it perched on the lobster pots just feet away from me. The Linnets were bathing in the small stream which ran down the beach while the Starlings were feeding en masse in the field. Around 1300 I decided to leave the bird to its feeding and headed back up the hill in a better mood than I had been an hour earlier.

A Greenfinch was seen in the trees near the cottages as I headed out of Usan, and a Wren was spotted further on. I arrived at the Visitor Centre around 1345 and scanned out across the basin. Most birds were quite far away but there was a decent mixture. I chatted to Ron Marshall and the girls from the centre. As well as Mallards and Eider, I managed to find Wigeon, Goldeneye, Pintail, Red Breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and Scaup all out on the water. There were a number of Pink Footed Geese towards the northwest corner of the Basin and Shelduck were dotted around. Waders were around in good numbers with Black Tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Curlews making up the majority. A small group of Turnstones picked around on the shore and a couple of Dunlin weren't far away. I found a single Greenshank off to the west of the centre and a Grey Plover well out on a sandbank.

The feeders were relatively busy with Tree Sparrows, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Woodpigeons and Pheasants. With the time approaching 1515 I decided to pop down to the Bank of Scotland hide for a quick look. With the bus roughly a 15 minute walk away and due at 1545, I only had around 10 minutes to spend. There hadn't been anything obvious from the centre, so I wasn't expecting anything. However, having had a quick scan around and not seen anything I opened a bag of crisps as I was by now rather hungry. A bird popped out from the reeds to the right of the small pool directly ahead of me, made a short flight across the pool and ran into the reeds. As it was in flight I lifted my binoculars and succeeded in getting on the bird just as it was about to run in the reeds. A Water Rail, and my third year tick of the day.

With the bonus Water Rail on the list, I packed up and headed back towards Rossie Island to catch the bus back to Dundee. A Robin was added in the car park and there were a number of Teal near the railway bridge, but nothing else new was seen while waiting for the bus or on the way back to Dundee. I did contemplate stopping off in Arbroath for a Chiffchaff that had been seen at Keptie Pond but as I won't struggle to see the species  over the next few weeks at least (and possibly up until October or so) I decided against it.

All in all a very successful day with the target species photographed well eventually and 2 good bonus birds giving me 3 year-ticks (in bold) among the 62 species seen. The Bottlenose Dolphins were also a nice addition.
Yellowhammer

Pheasant

Coal Tit

Blue Tit

Moorhen

Carrion Crow

Herring Gull

Stock Dove

Yellowhammer

Buzzard

Black Redstart (initial view)

Grey Wagtail

House Martin

Red Throated Diver

Linnet

Bottlenose Dolphin

Cormorants & Great Black Backed Gull

Linnet

Common Gull

House Sparrow

Meadow Pipit

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

Pink Footed Geese

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

Greenfinch

Pink Footed Geese

Herring Gull

Species seen - Black Redstart, Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Black Tailed Godwit, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Eider, Fulmar, Goldeneye, Goldfinch, Great Black Backed Gull, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Grey Partridge, Grey Plover, Grey Wagtail, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Linnet, Magpie, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Pink Footed Goose, Pintail, Red Breasted Merganser, Redshank, Red Throated Diver, Reed Bunting, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Rook, Scaup, Shelduck, Skylark, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stock Dove, Teal, Tree Sparrow, Turnstone, Water Rail, Wigeon, Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer.