Saturday, 18 February 2017

Hawfinch Hunt (17/2/17)

There are places that need to be visited every year to get a particular bird on the year-list (hopefully). Usually, there are a few different locations possible, so that if you don't manage to see the bird at one, you might still get it elsewhere. That isn't normally the case with Hawfinches though. Scone Palace is the one place in Scotland where these birds can be found, but it is not often an easy task. Despite their size they do like to loiter at the tops of tall trees and don't make too much noise. You have to work to see Hawfinches. With Nat having managed to see an unusual wintering group of the birds in Speyside very early in the year, I had the option of going on the ADBC outing to try for them, but decided against it. With nothing in particular to try for on Friday, I decided to attempt to get to Scone Palace under my own steam and then try to find the birds on my own.

Hawfinch
I had a delivery to wait in for that was coming between 0700 and 1000. Thankfully it arrived around 0820, allowing me time to get organised and out for around 0930. I had decided to try for the X7 coach to Perth, so headed for the bus station. Herring Gulls, a Jackdaw and a Blackbird were all on the roofs opposite as I left. A Carrion Crow overflew Dens Road and a Feral Pigeon was spotted near Princes Street. The usual Robin was singing near the bus station. I caught the coach with a few minutes to spare. Starling and Woodpigeon were seen as the bus headed first to Royal Victoria Hospital and then Ninewells.

There wasn't much to be seen between Dundee and Perth with a few perched roadside Buzzards and Mute Swans in a field being the sum total before more swans were seen below the Friarton Bridge. Arriving at Scone Palace I discovered that the entrance I'd intended using was marked 'no pedestrians', so I, along with 2 English lady tourists, wandered round to the side gate and entered there. Mallards were on the small pool just inside the gate. I scanned the trees along the driveway adding Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Blue Tit. A pair of Buzzards circled up in the sunshine. The gate up towards the palace was marked 'No unauthorised access', but with the option of a detour of around a mile or more to the main gate and in or the short walk uphill to where we wanted to be, the decision was made to 'sneak in'. The ladies went first as I scanned the trees and eventually having only had a glimpse of a possible Hawfinch in flight, I followed.

The track led to the children's play area and out into the main grounds. I bumped into another birder who had had no luck with seeing the Hawfinches. I wandered on towards the end of the driveway near the northeast corner of the grounds where I've had luck in the past. Great Tit and Treecreeper were added but no Hawfinches. I had a wander along the edge of the grassy area towards the driveway I'd entered by. A Yellowhammer was singing in the trees, and a small flock of Siskins overflew. As I turned to head back I spotted a couple of distant Buzzards. Beyond those I spotted another bird flapping along purposefully. It turned above the trees on the hill to the east and circled round. I took some photos which showed it to be a displaying male Sparrowhawk.

I was joined by a birder from Skipton in Yorkshire who was visiting the area, and we exchanged sightings. He'd had no luck with the Hawfinches either. We wandered back to try the corner area again. A distant Stock Dove flying past was noted. A Great Spotted Woodpecker put in an appearance before I found a single Hawfinch high in one of the trees. It flew to a different tree and we then saw a few more small groups fly in to join it. Unfortunately, the birds were rather restless and moved from tree to tree almost as soon as we found a potential viewing point. Eventually we had good views of a few of the birds including a single bird that appeared to be pulling at bark from the tree it was perched on. I even managed a 25 second video clip of this particular bird.

A Goldcrest flitted around in a tree in front of us and there were more Blue Tits working their way through the trees. A Dunnock showed briefly and a Wren was heard but not seen. I decided that I would head for the bus, so decided to head out the main gate, just in case there was something to add along that route. A Pied Wagtail flew past. I'd heard it earlier but hadn't managed to see it. There were a couple of Mistle Thrushes high in a tree in a field of sheep along the driveway, and a pair of Redwings near the gate. I didn't have too long to wait for the bus and headed back into Perth.

Some confusion with the travelineScotland app led to me eventually deciding to try for the quicker way back of catching the train back to Dundee (I wasn't in the mood of being stuck on the bus for an hour or so). A Rook was seen as I headed for the station. Unfortunately there was a queue at the ticket desk and the lady behind the counter refused to allow me to get a ticket (the lady customer at the counter offering to let me in as I only had 2 minutes before the train was due to leave). I decided  to get a ticket on the train. This proved easier said than done with the conductor not coming back to me after I asked for a ticket (he said he would be back with the ticket machine but never returned . There were a few birds added from the bus, Black Headed Gulls on the Tay, a few Teal in a small pool in a field and a small party of Pink Footed Geese near Invergowrie.

A successful trip but the travel hassles reminded me why I don't tend to travel too far on public transport if I have the choice. Only 32 species seen but the target bird (year-tick in bold) made it 2 additions to the year-list in 3 days.

Robin

Treecreeper

Sparrowhawk

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Mistle Thrush

Redwing
Species seen - Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Hawfinch, Herring Gull, Jackdaw, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Mute Swan, Pied Wagtail, Pink footed Goose, Redwing, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Rook, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stock Dove, Teal, Treecreeper, Woodpigeon, Yellowhammer.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Feels Like Spring (15/2/17)

Having not had the best of weeks so far, for reasons I'm unable to go into on 'social media', I was really in need of having a good day out on Wednesday. However, I slept far longer than I should've - 3 and a half hours extra. My intention had been to get up at 6, and head out to Tentsmuir in the hope of finding Snow Buntings before there was any likelihood of disturbance from dog walkers. By the time I eventually decided to head out it was almost 1125. I wasn't feeling too great but decided to go for it anyway.
Red Breasted Merganser
A Blackbird and one of the local House Sparrow flock were first onto the list, with a Herring Gull and a flyover Goldfinch added as I walked down the road on my way to the bus station. Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon and Blue Tit were added on Dens Road with a singing Dunnock on a wall and a singing Robin in the tree above added as I neared the bus station. Carrion Crow and Collared Dove were seen as the bus headed through Tayport to the turning circle. Starling was seen when I got off the bus. It was quite misty over the Tay still though the sky was rapidly clearing. I scanned the mud adding Curlew, Redshanks, Oystercatcher and Shelduck. I had a brief chat with Ranald Strachan, the Fife Countryside Ranger who I sometimes see at Guardbridge hide who asked what I was hoping to find.

A Chaffinch sung loudly as I passed the old RAF weather station area. A female Wigeon flew past. Among the Herring Gulls were a few Common Gulls. A Meadow Pipit showed just before I turned to head into the forest. With the tide still well out there was little to be gained by following the shoreline to the end of the trees. There seemed to be plenty of birds active in the trees, with snatches of song and calls along most of the route. Goldcrests and Coal Tits were very visible and a Wren was spotted low in the vegetation. I heard but didn't see a Mistle Thrush and a flyover Pink Footed Goose. I did manage to see a Skylark flying over though. I had good views of a male Red Squirrel with a large mouthful of nesting material for a drey. He posed nicely for me, before shooting up the tree he was in at pace and out of sight behind the trunk.

From the end of the trees I scanned out across the river adding Eiders but there was nothing along the water's edge. A party of Long tailed Tits foraged in the trees just around the corner. Nearing the deciduous trees where I hoped to see Green Woodpecker I spotted a couple of Mistle Thrsuhes flying back to the forest. There were more Long Tailed Tits plus Blue Tits and Coal Tits and Goldcrests working their way along through the trees at a little over walking pace. There was also a small party of Siskins higher in the trees. No Green Woodpecker was seen, though I did hear one yaffling from the main forest.

I headed to the edge of the beach to scan. There was a single Ringed Plover facing me halfway down the beach, with a party of Grey Plovers further out on a sand bank. A Great Black Backed Gull flew past. I cut back in to check the small group of trees near the green metal shed on stilts. There were a few Linnets here, but not much else, though a small flock of Goldfinches were in the dunes nearby, along with another Meadow Pipit. The first Stonechat of the day perched up in customary fashion atop some grasses.

There were decent numbers of gulls on the 'lagoon' and I managed to find a way across the channel without getting too wet and without spooking any of the gulls. They were mostly Common Gulls and Herring Gulls but there was also a single Black Headed Gull with them. A Red Breasted Merganser female was actively hunting the pool. Out on the surprisingly wild sea (the Tay having been like a mirror) I could see more Eiders and a small group of 4 Common Scoters headed south low above the waves. A male Long Tailed Duck went in the opposite direction much closer in. A Reed Bunting flew ahead of me from the dunes. I stopped to scan the area where the Shorelarks had been in December and January but as most of their preferred feeding ground was now under water I wasn't expecting to have any luck. I didn't have any luck.

A flock of birds lifted from in the dunes and circled around. Rather than the hoped for Snow Buntings, these were Linnets. They were joined by another small group which weren't Snow Buntings either. This group were Chaffinches. A Cormorant headed north as I trekked south along the edge of the dunes. Ahead of me I could see that there were lots of people walking, so I figured that rather than continue on, Although there were no Shorelarks there did saeem to be plenty of Skylarks, with birds lifting from among the dunes at regular intervals. Photos showed that one of them had been ringed but the photos weren't clear enough to read anything from the ring. I would double back on myself as the search for Snow Buntings was looking increasingly futile. There was now a pair of Mergansers and a few young Great Black Backed Gulls at the lagoon as well as a Redshank.

Stonechats, Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches were seen on the way back to the small wood but again there were no Green Woodpeckers. I did manage slightly better views of the Siskins this time and a small flock of Lesser Redpolls flew over. With the sun having dipped behind the clouds again the light wasn't great and with the time around 1530, there was only an hour or so of daylight left anyway. With high tide around the same time as sunset I chose to walk along the beach isntead of through the forest. There were huge numbers of Eiders out in the river, with thousands of them out in mid-river and others hauled out on the large shingle island, along with Cormorants and Oystercatchers.

I scanned out across the river as a ship headed upriver towards Dundee docks. A bird closer in than the Eiders was clearly a diver but was surprisingly not a Red Throated. It was however an unexpected year-tick for me, in the distinctive shape of a Great Northern Diver. Once again, something showed up late in the day to lift the day's mood. Ahead of me I could see there weren't too many birds on the way back to Tayport. A small group of Mallards were the exception. As I neared the end of the track however I could see that just offshore from the burn and all along in front of the caravan park were hundreds of gulls, mostly Common and Herring  Gulls. I scanned through them as best I could in the fading light but failed to see anything that was Iceland/Glaucous or even Mediterranean looking.

Beyond those and in a line out from around the harbour were even more Eiders. Given the calm conditions, a scope would've been handy for scanning through them for a King Eider hidden amongst them. There are records of the species here from the 90s I think. I cut off the track to check the ploughed field by the gate to the weather station. There were crows out on the poles and wires and a rather nice female Sparrowhawk stood on the fence post at the corner. She spotted me and flew low along the fenceline and into the base. Despite the low light I managed some passable shots of her.

At the mouth of the small burn I spotted a pair of Little Egrets roosting with the Shelducks and Curlews. The setting sun briefly broke through the grey sky and illuminated the Egrets nicely for a few seconds. I had another scan through the gulls but failed again to find anything unusual before I heaed off to catch the bus back to Dundee. Not as successful a day as I'd hoped but a year-tick (in bold) kept me still around 7 species ahead of last year's total at the same time. The lack of wind and the sun shining made it feel more like a Spring day than February and the bird song certainly added to the effect.
Red Squirrel

Meadow Pipt

Ringed Plover

Goldfinch

Chaffinch

Skylark

Common Gull

Great Black Backed Gull & Herring Gull

Red Breasted Merganser

Meadow Pipit

Stonechat

Stonechat

Cormorant

Linnet

Meadow Pipit

Siskin

Wren

Goldfinch

Redshank

Great Northern Diver & Eider

Great Northern Diver

Carrion Crow

Mallard

Curlew

Sparrowhawk

Little Egret

Curlew, Little Egret & Shelduck
44 species seen - Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Common Scoter, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunnock, Eider, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Black Backed Gull, Great Northern Diver, Grey Plover, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Little Egret, Long Tailed Duck, Long Tailed Tit, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Oystercatcher, Red Breasted Merganser, Redshank, Reed Bunting, Ringed Plover, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Shelduck, Siskin, Skylark, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stonechat, Wigeon, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

There's Always Something (8/2/16)

As with last year, my mid-week outings with Nat are on hold for the next wee while owing to her having other commitments. With less than favourable weather forecast (strong winds, cold temperatures and the chance of rain) and the best birds being out of reach via public transport, it meant that if I wanted to get out and about I would have to weigh up my options. After checking the weather forecast again when I got out of bed I decided that I would head to the coast to search for an off-course Iceland Gull in one of the gull flocks along the Angus coast.

Peregrine
It was after 1030 when I headed out. Birds were few and far between. A few Herring Gulls were seen hanging in the wind above the houses but only a single Woodpigeon in a bare tree was added before I reached Swannie Ponds. I had decided to start my gull search there and then head to Arbroath Road to catch a bus to Balmossie, then on to either Arbroath or Westhaven. There were plenty of Black Headed Gulls, some Herring Gulls, a single Common Gull, the Mute Swan family, five Goosanders (one of which was a drake), Mallards, Tufted Ducks, a pair of Coots and a Moorhen. The only ringed Black Headed Gull appeared to be white J4U2.

I didn't hang around in the cold, instead I set off for the Arbroath Road. A Blue Tit was heard from a tree behind me, but I didn't stop to see if I could see it. There were two Carrion Crows on chimneys, and a singing Chaffinch in a small tree in a garden was a surprise, given the conditions. I made it to the bus stop just in time to catch a bus which was only going as far as Dobbies Garden Centre. As I was only going as far as Balmossie initially, this wasn't a problem. Feral Pigeon and an Oystercatcher in flight over Dawson Park were added from the bus.

At Balmossie, there were a few House Sparrows around in the gardens and a large-ish flock of Starlings in a tree, along with a couple of Woodpigeons. I found the tide already quite far in, so there wasn't too much to see, with Black Headed and a Common Gull along the edge of the water, with an Oystercatcher roost further along the beach. There was little point in hanging around, so I headed back to try and catch a bus to Arbroath or Westhaven, though Arbroath looked to be the better choice given the tide state already. A pair of Magpies flew over as I reached the bus stop, with a small flock of Goldfinches going in the opposite direction as the bus arrived a few minutes later.

There were Curlews on the practice golf range as the bus left Monifieth. A small group of unidentified finches lifted from a stubble field as the bus passed, and a few Jackdaws were seen. A male Pheasant wandered through the stubble next to the first house in Barry village. There was a much larger group of finches (or similar) seen behind the houses further along the road and another smaller group went unidentified in Carnoustie. An unexpected Great Black Backed Gull was hanging around beside the fast food restaurant as the bus headed into Arbroath, after turning off the main road.

I walked down to the harbour area from the bus station, picking up the first Blackbird of the day on the way. There were Herring Gulls and Great black Backed Gulls dotted around with Black Headed Gulls to the east of the harbour. The sea was rather wild, so I stood well back and scanned, but there were only the gulls to be seen. I found a pair of Cormorants in the harbour before setting off to walk along to the cliffs. A party of five Redshanks were joined by a single Turnstone, and a Curlew was seen a little further on. Out on the sea, and above the waves, there appeared to be nothing to see. A group of six Linnets dropped in to land on the sea wall. A single Guillemot flew low and fast eastwards just in front of the breaking waves, and another group of Redshanks and a single Turnstone were also seen. I was careful not to spook a roosting flock of Oystercatchers and Black Headed Gulls.

Nearing the cliffs, there was an area of fairly calm water where a small group of Eiders were added to the list. A Rock Pipit scurried along the path ahead of me. Two Knot dropped in close to the sea wall but I chose to leave the camera in my backpack. The light was poor, and the bird seemed rather wary, so I kept walking. Yellow ringed Herring Gull T:524 was in the exact spot I've seen it in the past, on the corner of the wall at the ramp down to the shore near the cliffs. Heading uphill, there was a single pair of Fulmars on the cliffs, but it was difficult holding the binoculars steady to scan out over the sea. Movement seemed limited to the odd gull. A Skylark was flushed from the stubble field, followed by a Meadow Pipit. I walked on a bit along the cliffs but there was appeared to be no point in continuing much further as there was still nothing to see out on, or above, the water.

Heading back down the gradual slope towards the esplanade, I stopped to scan and found a Red Throated Diver and a Guillemot out on the water. I managed to take a few photos of both (to illustrate this blog) and as I was about to continue on, I spotted a bird above me. A Peregrine, and not too high above me. It was hanging almost stationary in the wind, and I attempted to get some photos. As usual in colder conditions, the camera/lens combination decided it didn't want to cooperate. I managed a few photos but the next batch were all out of focus. The bird then went into a bit of a stoop, disappearing beyond the cliff edge at the corner of the field. When it appeared again, it had been joined by a second Peregrine.

The pair drifted slowly overhead again, and there was a spot of interaction between the pair, allowing me to get both birds together in a photo or two. Eventually the birds climbed higher into the sky above the field behind me, before then dropping down out of sight to the northeast. A rather nice surprise to see both so close, and it made up for the lack of birds so far. Looking at the photos at home I was surprised to see a pinkish tone to the undersides on both birds. I soon realised it was dust from the red sandstone cliffs where the birds had no doubt been perched. I found a second Red Throated Diver and another Guillemot offshore along with a pair of Eider before I walked back along the esplanade. Rock Pipits, Eider and gulls were all that were seen on the way and I tried again around the harbour, drawing a blank, though adding a Pied Wagtail to the list. I headed to the bus station and decided to head for home, rather than my original plan of Westhaven.

37 species seen, and not many photos taken, but I've certainly had less interesting days and the Peregrine encounter was quite probably some of the longest views I've had of the species in the air, and it was especially nice to see them so close. It shows that no matter how unpromising a day might look, there is always a very good chance that there will be something worth seeing if you do get out and about.
Red Throated Diver

Peregrine

Peregrine

Peregrine

Peregrine

Peregrine

Fulmar

Guillemot

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Great Black Backed Gull

Great Black Backed Gull

Eider

Pied Wagtail

Species seen - Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Common Gull, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Eider, Fulmar, Goldfinch, Goosander, Great Black Backed Gull, Guillemot, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Knot, Linnet, Magpie, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Peregrine, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Redshank, Red Throated Diver, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Skylark, Starling, Tufted Duck, Turnstone, Woodpigeon.