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|
|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.