Sunday, 26 February 2017

Round up of the Week

I have only one more bird to add to the list this week. Here it is:-

Lesser Redpoll
This photo is actually one of a pair that were in the garden last summer.  One was in garden briefly on Wednesday.  I wonder if it is one of last years?  They have a great liking for Niger Seed.  The other birds returning to the garden after a winter of absence were a pair of Siskins, they too like Niger Seed but also take Sunflower Seed Hearts.

Two Siskins and Three Goldfinches

The fact that there is only one new bird on the year list is not through lack of effort.  On Sunday I had a good morning at the Loch of Strathbeg, no new birds but a good assortment nonetheless.

On Tuesday I went on a hunt for a Brambling and a Great Grey Shrike.  It had been reported that these were in nearby locations up the Dee Valley near Drumoak.  The Brambling should have been in the grounds of Drum Castle.  I searched two tracts of woodland, one predominantly broad leaf the other coniferous.  Both were quiet with only a few common woodland birds to be found.... and a Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel
I thought I had good instructions about how to get to where the Great Grey Shrike was last located.  I was wrong.  I am sure I started out in the right direction but was hopelessly lost when I was supposed to follow the deer fence.  The directions did not say which way.  I tried both but could not find any of the landmarks the I was told to expect.  I did find a large flock of flighty Reed Buntings and a little gang of Bullfinches.  These stayed around just long enough for me to get a photo.
Six Bullfinches
Another consolation was that I was not so lost that I couldn't retrace my steps and get back to the car.

It was reported that the bird had indeed been seen that day and some different direction were posted.

On Thursday I went with Jill to Fraserburgh Esplanade and was surprised to find a Glaucous Gull on the beach.  One for Jill's life list!
Glaucous Gull

Undaunted by Tuesdays failure I set out again on Friday.  This time the directions made sense.  Park on the road and follow the track down to the locked deer fence (a different one form Tuesdays), negotiate the obstacle, (this meant climbing over a six foot plus wooden fence) and continue along the track to the end where there are ruined buildings under the electricity pylons.  The post also warned about the wet ground underfoot.  I was prepared I had my wellington boots.  Between Tuesday and Friday we had had the effects of Storm Doris. Here in Aberdeenshire it was no where near as bad as most of the other country but it had deposited a sprinkling of snow in the Dee Valley.  As the sun rose it did make for magnificent views

Mither Tap catching the early morning sun

It also made the track I was to follow a little trickier

There was quite a bit of bird life around including Long-tailed Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming, Buzzard, Goldcrests and Bullfinches. Most stayed well out of camera range and view.


I didn't find the Great Grey Shrike and there have been no further reports, but I did find a hole in my wellington boots.  The water in track was cold, very very cold.

Total on list 123

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Little Egret

Short post this one.

Having arrived back home from the Edinburgh trip there were many things to do, laundry, cleaning, shopping and sundry other domestic chores.  I also had a few hundred photos to sort through.  But first things first.  Straight after breakfast on 17th Feb I went to the Loch of Strathbeg to see if the Little Egret that Alex and John had messaged me about was still there.  It was, but too far away for a photograph.  So you will have to wait for that.  If you can't wait visit Johns Facebook page 'Broch Birder Picture Diary'  he has some picture you can see.

Total on list 122

On the Way Home

16th February and I am on the way home.  I ordered a take-away breakfast from the hotel in order to leave early.  The breakfast consisted of an apple, a tropical fruit drink (small) and a strawberry yogurt.  I won't be doing that again.

The main reason for leaving early was to get to Morton Lochs in Fife before 8.00.  The other reason was to avoid the on street parking charges of £1.80 an hour, the hotel did not have any parking facilities.

Morton Lochs is part of Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve located near Tayport, in the north east of Fife and is run by Scottish Natural Heritage.  The main part of the Nature Reserve is pine forest run by the Scottish Forestry Commission.  At Morton Lochs there are some trails through the forest.  The most interesting one the Wild Wood Trail was closed and a fellow birder I met told me it had been closed for some years.  Fallen trees that blocked to trail had not been cleared.  (Interestingly, like Balgavies, part of the path network follows an old railway line.  I wonder how access to these and other reserves would have been provided if Mr Beeching hadn't closed a lot of railway lines in the 1960's.  There is a long distance path that was an old railway line near where I live.  It is one of my regular walks and full of wildlife.  There is a lot of public pressure to reopen the line.  What will happen to the displaced wild life?  Where will the cyclist, walkers and dog walkers go for  safe off road exercise?).  The main interest at Morton Lochs was not the water birds, Mute Swans, Mallards (of course), Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Little Grebes and so on but the Red Squirrels

You will notice that the squirrels come in different shades.  There was an even darker one but it was too quick for me to get a photograph.

As this is a birding blog I had better put up images of some of the Morton Lochs birds
Grey Heron


Mute Swan

Little Grebe
From Morton Lochs I want to the small town of Tayport, mainly to find some food to supplement my take-away breakfast.  In the harbour there was a Red-breasted Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
My next stop was the Forestry Commission Car Park at Tentsmuir Beach.  The only reason for this stop was to see the Scoters out at sea.  There were certainly Common Scoter but they were so far out it was impossible to see if there were any 'Velvets' or 'Surfs' among them and too far for any meaningful photograph.  So only one addition to the year list.

I then went to find the Eden Estuary (in Fife I hasten to add not Cumbria or Kent).  Trying yo find somewhere to park the car and get access to the estuary prove to be a problem.  A fortunate one as it turned out as on the road to St Andrews I came across a fills with Mute Swans and Light-bellied Brent Geese, the second year list tick of the day.

Mute Swans and Light-bellied Brent Geese
I turned round on the outskirts of St Andrews to see if I had missed a way of getting to the estuary and came upon a sign 'Eden Estuary Centre'.  They must be able to tell me how to get there.  The centre was actually a bird hide overlooking the estuary.  As bird hides go this on was at the top end of luxury.
Facilities included heating, comfy seats and a toilet as well as  information about the estuary.  Just outside were some well stocked feeding stations.  There wasn't a great deal in the was of bird life for the hour I was there.  Redshank, Curlew, Gulls on the mud and in the water,  Finches, Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders.

Talking to the other birders in the hide I was shown, way out towards the sea, the two posts that are used by White Tailed Eagles to hang out.  They are not there on a daily basis and the hide log recorded them last seen on 19th January.   A kingfisher is often seen just outside the hide as are a variety of waders.  This is somewhere to return to if only to have lunch, as I did, talk to local birders and have the chance of seeing some interesting bird life in a degree of comfort.

There are a few other bird hides up and down the UK that offer more than just the wooden hut, wooden benches and slot style windows.  The visitors centre at the Loch of Strathbeg is another 5* hide.  The Gillian Hide at Leighton Moss is quite good.  I am sure there are others.  Someone should organise a 'Good Hide Guide' or open up a public vote to fine the top one hundred hides in the UK (or even the world).  Another list could be the 'Hides of Shame' for those at the opposite end of the spectrum.  It may even lead to improvements!

Total on list 121

Auld Reekie

15th February.  Today was a day for the children and grandchildren.  But as we had planned to meet at 10.00 I had time to do a bit of Edinburgh birding.  My hotel was just across the road from the Botanic Gardens but they did not open until 10.00 so I had to look for birds elsewhere.  Breakfast at 8.00 and off to Duddingston Loch in Holyrood Park.  I had been told how to use my phone as a sat nav system (pity no one told me about that the day before) so finding it was not a problem.  Getting access to see what was on the Loch was a problem though.  At Balgavies the day before there was a path all round the Loch.  Here the only way I could find to get near gave a view of just part of the water and no way of getting round.  I walked round one side and found a locked gate and a sign saying that the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve of Bawsinch was not open to the public.

I was able to see some of the bird life.  There was an impressive heronry.  The nests were low down some only a few feet off the ground.  There was a lot of nesting activity.

Grey Herons
I took the opportunity to photograph some more common birds
Mute Swan

The top bird however as not on the water.  It was way up high soaring over Arthurs Seat being chased by a Jackdaw.  It was a Raven
Raven and Jackdaw
At around 10.00 we all met at the Dalkieth Country Park.  It has a very impressive play area build on a steep river bank that allowed the designers to incorporate slides, tunnels and climbing apparatus into the landscape.  The tree house has four stories!
'Fort Douglas', Dalkieth Country Park
 After lunch they went back to the play area and I went on one of the woodland walks.

 I had hoped to find a Nuthatch.  I have read that they are in the Botanic Gardens, in the city so surely they must be in the ancient oak woodland.  If there were I did not see or hear them.  I did see a Dipper and a Kingfisher

And a rather impressive bridge
Montagu Bridge, Dalkieth Country Park
No new birds but a great day out.

Total on list still 119

Friday, 17 February 2017

14th Feb. Coots and Kites

On 14th I went to Edinburgh for two nights to meet the newest grandchild, Casper, and the other five grandchildren.  There was a bit of a family gathering.

I was up bright and early and aimed to get to Balgavies Loch at about 8.00.  I was a bit late because the AA route instructions at one point read 'slight left'.  What it meant was turn left and its not a 90 degree turn but about 45 degrees.  Anyway I went straight on and got the the Loch via Forfar.  The Loch is a nature reserve run by Scottish Wildlife Trust.  There is an island in the loch and in the summer a pair of Ospreys nest in the pine.  On my visit the island was occupied by Cormorants and a Carrion Crow.

One of the target birds for this trip was a Coot.  Believe it or not I had gone the first six weeks of 2017 without seeing one.  There were about fifty here along with other common water birds like Mallard, Goldeneye and Greylag Geese.

There is a path that circumnavigates the Loch.  Part of it is an old railway line. It still has some of the old railway buildings

There is also a bird hide overlooking the Osprey island.  It has some feeders front of the hide and some seed and fat balls in the hide.  I was the only one around at that time so I filled the feeders best I could.  I don't know whether I was supposed to or not.  When I visit again I must remember to take some bird food to leave.  There was the usual array if Tits, Finches, a couple of Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds and a small pack of Brown Rats hovering up the food on the ground.

Long-tailed Tit

Brown Rats

Last time I pointed out Brown Rats to someone at a nature reserve they got all upset and said that they would have to do something about it.  I hope no one from SWT reads this and decides to eradicate the Rats.

I had another visit planned before going on the Edinburgh, Argaty Red Kite Centre.  I arrived about an hour before the guide takes visitors up to the hide and the food is laid out for the Kites at 1.30.     Just enough time to consume my packed lunch and look around the centre. I hadn't expected to see any of the birds until 1.30 and was surprised to see half a dozen or so circling  round the centre when I entered the car park.  They were keeping their distance.  There are four in this shot.

 At 1.00 I got my first message about a Little Egret back home at the Loch of Strathbeg, it was from Alex.  I picked up the second message, from John just before 4.00.  Nothing I could do but hope that it stayed around until I returned home.

One of the good things about these organised events is that you meet the other people having the same experience.  The couple from Derbyshire with there three children were up visiting friends.  The enthusiasm (and knowledge) of all the family about all things to do with wildlife was amazing.  The guide had to up his game when explaining the work of the centre to them.

The Kits were amazing as well.  I was not expecting there to be so many.  Certainly more than forty circling and swooping down for the food.  So many is was difficult to get a clear photo.  The crows got in the way as well.

It was also difficult getting a decent shot of a bird without wing tags.

I know that it is important to monitor these rare birds and that the wing tags enables the researcher to get a lot of very useful information but from the point of view of a photographer they are ugly and can ruin a good photo.

But I did get some in the end.

Now it has taken me some time to look through all the images of Red Kites that I took.  There were times when I put my camera on burst mode and took pictures at six a second.  The guy next to me had his camera on burst mode all the time and was shooting 14 every second.  I don't think I want his job of sorting through them and deciding which to keep and which to delete.

To sum up a great days birding - and the star of the show?  Coot or Red Kite?  Both added to the year list.  No it was meeting Casper of course.

Total on list 119

Monday, 13 February 2017

Black Redstart

Today has been a hectic one.

First off, well after breakfast anyway,  was to get the shopping.  As well as going to supermarkets I always go the Ian McIntosh the butchers in Fraserburgh.  I have to say it is the finest butchers for miles around.  Ian is a fiddler.  Not about the meat or the prices but with a violin.  Recently the group he is in have been preforming at Burns Suppers.  Ian is often asked to be one of the main speakers as well.  So you get some good chat and learn a bit more about the area when you go there, and you get excellent meat.

Then a bit of packing, I am going to Edinburgh for a few days to see children and grandchildren.

Lunch and then to the vets, our cat has developed a dry cough and has an infected ear.

Then follow up two bird leads.  One from Alex told me about a Black Redstart in Peterhead which I found and photographed.

It is not black, its tail or 'start' (derived I think from the Anglo Saxon word 'Arse') is not really red   The books tell you that although relatively common in mainland Europe it is scarce in the UK and confined to urban areas in the South. It is about the size of the more familiar Robin.

The good thing about chasing up these leads is that you get to places that you don't normally visit and have the opportunity to see the birds that live there.  I recorded 18 different species around the Ugie estuary today.  I also got an opportunity for some fairly close up images of more common birds.


Male Eider


Pied Wagtail

Little Grebe

The second lead was a day old and I didn't hold out much hope for seeing the Brent Geese that Kenny had seen at the South end of the Loch of Strathbeg.  But as it was sort of on my way home I went to have a look. There were plenty of geese at the location but very distant.  I could only see Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese. The ruin of St Mary's Chapel are there as well.  I took this photo of it a few years ago.
St Mary's Chapel
Total on list 117