Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Talk of a Stork

20th April

'Whatsapp' was nearly as busy as yesterday.  Today it was all about the Stork.  First it was people asking for up-dates.  Then just after midday it was reported circling over Strathbeg.  I went to see if I could see it after all there was last nights report of a Little Ringed Plover to chase up as well.

There was no sign at the Visitors Centre.  The log entry for 12:00 read 'gained height and headed west'.  The bird appeared to have gone elsewhere.

I didn't find a Little Ringed Plover either.  There were a couple of Ringed Plovers, 57 Black-tailed Godwits and the Little Gulls.  I went to try my luck at the Tower Pool Hide.  There was not a lot going on there so I returned to the Visitors Centre.  As I went through the door Alex rang to see if there was an update on the White Stork and to tell me what he was looking at at the Ythan, a Whimbrel no less.  Well, I was saying that the Stork had flown when some one in the VC shouted that they had seen it just minutes ago.  It had flown across the reserve and looked like it may have landed, out of sight in some fields, or it could have not landed and continued on its way.
Alex drove the 30 or so miles from the Ythan to Strathbeg.  I stayed at the visitor centre hoping the the Stork would return.  At 3:15 it arrived and landed some way from the VC but clearly visible.

White Stork

White Stork

 The eagle eyed will have notice that in the top photo you can see that it has a green ring on its right leg.  With a telescope the inscription on the ring could be read 'Z1213'.  With this information the history of the bird could be discovered.

The Stork came from Poland where it was injured in a collision with electricity wires.  It was brought to Shorlands Wildlife Gardens to treatment in 2015 after which it became a free flying bird which has wandered around the UK.  Shorlands have other free flying White Storks in the gardens hat have not wandered.  Shorelands posted on their Facebook page on 14th March -

'One of our pairs of White Storks have lined last years nest and we expect the first egg in the next few days.'

Now this information has generated a lot of debate locally.  Can it be counted on the year/life list?

I will be counting it.  It is a free flying bird, and has been since it recovered from its injuries, that has survived in the wild for two years.  It was a wild bird when it lived in Poland.  I know Alex and Brian will be counting it and no doubt John W will be as well.  Purist will not be counting it as it did not come to the UK of its own accord and therefore must be seen as a captive bird that has escaped.  If that is the case I would argue that 99% of White Tailed Eagle sightings are introduced birds that did not come o the UK of their own free will and 100% of the Great Bustard population in the South of England have similarly been introduced.

I am sure that wherever it turns up in its travels bird watchers will be having the same debate.

On a final note the tradition of White Storks bringing babies into the world is alive and well at Strathbeg.  The  Konik ponies introduced to the Strathbeg reserve to eat the rank vegetation and open up the mud that waders like and originally from Poland I think, have a foal.

 Konik Pony and Foal

Total on list 151

Monday, 24 April 2017

19th April the day the rare bird message system went mad

There is rare bird message system for NE Scotland on 'Whatsapp'.  When someone sees a rare bird they send a 'Whatsapp' message that goes to all the other birders on the system.  On the 19th April messages were coming in thick and fast.

The first flurry were all about a White Stork seen at Ythanbank the day before.  Initially a picture of the bird was posted on Facebook.  The first messages alerted birders to the sighting the next ten or so were devoted to trying to find our where the  Stork had been seen.  All this was quite confusing (to me anyway) as in the middle of these messages several were sent giving details were sent about a Nuthatch that was seen in Rora two days before.  Once all that was sorted out notification of a third bird was broadcast on 'Whatsapp'  a Common Crane at the Loch of Strathbeg.

So I set off on a trip around Aberdeenshire to find three birds each of which would be a year tick.

My first port of call was the South end of the Loch of Strathbeg to find the Crane, it was the nearest to where I live.  I could not find it.  The next nearest bird was the Nuthatch.  On the way there I came across my mate Alex.  We debated what to do as the Nuthatch was a bird sen two days ago and the Stork was a more recent sighting.  We decided to go for the Nuthatch.  It was at Rora Kennels.  I had a sort of idea where they were and with only a little difficulty we found them and met the owner who showed us where the Nuthatch had last been seen.  Of course it was not there.  It hadn't been seen on the peanut feeder for two days. No doubt it had had a good feed and had enough fuel to make the journey back across the North Sea.  It was a pale-bellied bird which indicates that it probably came from Scandinavia rather than from further South in the UK where they are quite common.  We did look round the garden and woodland area round the kennels but there was no Nuthatch.  We did see a rather handsome male Siskin on the feeder that the Nuthatch had favoured

I did get a year tick though.  A House Martin was zooming around the kennels.

My next quest of the day was to find the White Stork.   By this time there were two possible locations for this bird.  One had a grid reference and a map, the other seemed to suggest that access was somewhat difficult.  I went to the first but could not see the Stork. The location was a fishing pond created from a gravel pit.  Here is the only photo I took there.

 And finally when it was getting dark another 'Whatsapp' message came through - Little Ringed Plover at the Loch of Strathbeg visitors centre.  I decided to leave it until the morning.  I had been on enough 'not finding the bird' hunts for that day.

Total on list 150

An 'X' rated post

This post is 'X' rated.  For younger people it means if it were a film it would carry a British Board of Film Classification '18'.

This is for two reasons.  The first is that some of the images are of a sexual nature.  Like this one

Ospreys Copulating
The other reason is 'X' rated in the sense that information has been censored.  I am not going to give the location of the above action.

On the 18th April I went to buy some bird food (mixed seed with no cereal) and sunflower seen hearts, in Mintlaw an small but growing village eight miles down the road. 

There are quite a few bird feeders in the garden.  That attracts quite a few birds so the feeders run out every day.  It is part of my morning routine to fill them up again.  A count of the garden birds is sent of the the British Trust for Ornithology every week as part of 'Garden Bird Watch'  I would encourage you all to be
part of this volunteer survey.  I try to avoid having bird feeders in my photos but I found this one from a month ago.
Four Greenfinches on Sunflower Seed Hearts
Anyway on this visit I went to a nearby 'reserve'.  It is not an official reserve but the land owner has done a lot of work to encourage birds and has laid out paths for visitors. On this brief visit I saw 17 bird species.  My main aim was to see the Ospreys that I knew had returned to the site to get it as a year tick.



I also to a 'cleaver' photo of the lake.
Total on list 149

Monday, 17 April 2017

Swallow and Rainbow

I went on the Invernorth walk this morning.  It was cold, there was a frost in sheltered places, the sun had just risen and bathed everything in a beautiful gold light. 

The first thing I saw stepping out of the front door was a female blackbird posing on a fence post catching the early rays.

There were another four on other posts along the road.  Song Thrushes chose higher perches.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush

Their singing was loud in the still air and carried even further from the tops of poles and trees.

A buzzard was even higher, not for singing but for surveillance. 

 It saw me coming and made for a tree top a little further away from the road.


 Other birds enjoying the early morning sun included a Robin

a Yellowhammer


and a Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting
but most exciting of all was my first swallow of 2017

Swallow with Pied Wagtail on the left

It looked pretty exhausted and bedraggled.

Then the rain came in producing rainbows.  At first they were little bits of rainbows

Then full arcs, unfortunately I only had my telephoto lens so could not get the full picture.  The colours in the morning light were as intense as I have ever seen.

total on list 148

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Bearded Tit and Little Gull

Todays' morning walk was basically a long route round Cairness House.
(The Pevsner Architectural Guide for Aberdeenshire North and Moray states that "Cairness House, by James Playfair 1791-97, is of international importance as the only house in Britain the design and construction of which reflected and evolved with the rapid advances in French Neoclassicism towards the end of the C18" and that "its survival is the more precious as so many of Playfair's other designs were either not built or have been lost or altered".)
It is privately owned so I do not go into the grounds.
Today the walk was remarkable for two reasons. It was the first time I had seen Canada Geese on any of these morning walks.
Six Geese a walking
 And it was the first time I had seen a Glaucous Gull on the walks.

Glaucous Gull

Off to join other gulls in a field of newly sown carrots

I did think I had a third 'new' bird and got a bit excited because it would have been a year tick as well.  Despite the white stripe on its crown it was a Curlew not a Whimbrel.
There were more Bullfinches and Long-tailed Tits than I had seen before, a Roe Deer, lots of Rabbits and a total of 41 bird species

Roe Deer

The walk was also of note because of the great light for photography.

Just before lunch I went for a short visit to the Loch of Strathbeg.  Here I found two new ticks or the year list.  At Fen Hide a Bearded Tit.  I only caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye as it descended into the reeds so I would really like to get a better sighting and a photo at some point.  From the Visitors Centre a Little Gull.  It was quite a way off and looking away so again I would like a better sighting and a photo.  The species count for this visit was 42 making 64 for the day which isn't bad.

Total on list 147

Friday, 14 April 2017

An Early Morning Start

I was up well before the lark yesterday.  The alarm was set for 3.00 am.  The plan was to pick up Alex at 4.00 and be at Glen Muick for 6.00 in the morning.  The mission was to see a Black Grouse lek.

And that is what happened.  However the wildlife watching happened before we parked the car.  On the way up the glen there were tens perhaps over a hundred Red Deer just at the road side.  The photos are rather grainy because the light was poor and the ISO cranked up to get a good exposure.

Red Deer

Mostly the deer were standing around in loose groups and not posing as one would have liked.  There were exceptions

Three Red Deer

One or twice we got one of the stags to strike a classic 'Monarch of the Glen' pose.

Red Deer Stag
Interestingly all the stage seemed to be sporting their 2016 antlers although it is this time of year that they are discarding then to grow the 2017 updates.

The other encounter on this road was with a Mountain Hare.  It stopped just by the road but was off before Alex could get a photo out of the passenger window.  We were not to know that this would not be our only Mountain Hare encounter so were cursing our missed photo and consoling ourselves that it was in any case too dark to get a decent image.

 Both Alex and embarked on this adventure for the day in the hope that we would see some birds to tick on our year list.  Alex has the same ambition as me - to get to 200 birds by 31st December 2017.  Like me this is the first, and possibly the only time we will do such a thing.

Neither of us expected that our first tick of the day would be a Red-legged Partridge.  But just as we had seen to grouse in the bottom of the Glen we saw two RLPs close by.  (Not to be confused with LRP birders abbreviation for a Little Ringed Plover or indeed LRPs which in the days of vinyl records that are making a comeback is a Long Playing Record)
Mostly they spent their time with us scurrying round in the tussocky grass trying not to be seen.

Red-legged Partridge

But they clearly decided that the only way to stop us looking at them was for one to come out into the open and give us a good photo opportunity before they disappeared.

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge

I have always thought of the RLP as a bird of lowland farmland.  On the drive to Glen Muick Alex and I wondered where we could find one for our 2017 list and came to the conclusion that it would have to be one of those birds that was seen as a matter of luck rather than careful planning.  So our luck was in and in a most unexpected place.

So on to our main goal for the day.  This was to be a tick for Alex but not for me.  I had seen a Black Grouse on 29th January (see the blog post 'Sundays Big Trip').  This would be my first male Black Grouse of the year and the first time I had visited the lek for some time.

First I have to make it clear that this is a well known lek and is in a wardened area, second that we kept our distance in order not to disturb the birds.  The following photo was taken with a 400mm lens and as you can see they are a long way off.  A Lek by the way is an area where male birds meet to display and on occasions fight to determine which one has the right to mate with the females.  It is however the female bird that makes the final choice.  Several bird species do the mating thing in this way.  Black Grouse Lek for muck of the year but April/May is the key time of the year.

Black Grouse at the Lek
Here are some heavily cropped photos, so the quality is not that good.

Black Grouse Squaring Up
Sometime more than two birds are involved

Black Grouse Displaying
Red Deer also seemed to have got the bug and a couple were playing at the rut in a halfhearted fashion.  As you probably know the rut in earnest is an Autumn spectacle.

Red Deer

Yesterday morning at one time we counted 17 birds on the Lek.  All the black grouse we saw were males.
By 8.30 the lek was over.  The birds were drifting away from the display area leaving the glen floor to the Lapwing, Oystercatchers, Curlew,
Greylag Geese and Common Gulls.  The Red Deer having already left.


Common Gull
Greylag Geese

Red Grouse were all around us, mainly up on the mountain sides.

On the way back to the car we got a bonus of a Wheatear, another tick for Alex.

A better photo of a Wheatear than the one I didn't dare put on my blog post of 11th April 'The Egg Thief' but it could be better still.

From Glen Muick we decided to go in search of another two year list ticks at Glenshee.  Glenshee is a ski resort some 2,000 ft above sea level.  We hoped to see snow buntings and Ptarmigan.

The Ptarmigan, pure white in the winter would have shown up well as there was no deep snow.  In the spring they start to moult into their brown and grey summer plumage.  This made then the same colour as the rock strewn mountains with a pockets of thin snow.  We did not see a Ptarmigan despite and extensive search with telescope and binoculars.  The only snow bunting we saw, was like the Ptarmigan donning  more brown and grey than its white winter winter feathers on a distant fence post but nevertheless a year tick for me.

The other creature changing from winter white to summer grey and brown was the Mountain Hare.  There were so many of them that only the most casual of glances would miss them.  They were constantly on the move which instantly gave them away.  We could have watched them all day but had to remind ourselves that we were looking for Ptarmigan.  But that didn't stop us from going a long way to filling the cameras' memory card with cute pictures.

We eventually gave up trying to find the Ptarmigan and headed back down towards Braemar and back down the A93 to Aboyne to cross the river Dee and have lunch at Glen Tanar.  We than went on a four or five mile walk on the three bridges route and saw very little, on Crossbills, no Capercallies, but lots of Chaffinches.The only bird of note was a Bullfinch.....


....until we got back to the car at the stables car park.  Last time we were at Glen Tanar see blog post for 28th March 'The Beast') Trevor told us that the fields by the stables were good for Green Woodpeckers.  We spent some time scanning the fields and came up with Blackbirds, Starlings, Song and Mistle Thrushes and Pied Wagtail.  We then heard the unmistakable yaffle of a Green Woodpecker coming from over the wall behind us.  Thank you Trevor, at the time I was a bit sceptical but you were right.  It is a good spot for Green Woodpecker.  Unfortunately it remained behind the wall and went unseen.  Of course it means we will have to go back at some time.

Lets leave this blog not with wild life but with some scenery

Loch Muick

Little Waterfall, Glen Muick

Little Waterfall, Glen Tanar

Total on List 145