Saturday, January 24, 2009

Night Heron, West Hythe, Kent

Lightning struck twice at the Royal Military Canal late last year when a second rare heron appeared at this fish-rich, though otherwise unremarkable, location. Following the Green Heron (see here), a Night Heron was found around two weeks after the Nearctic visitor was last seen, and was even using the same branches and fishing spots. The crepuscular Night Heron is a cosmopolitan species found in five Continents though this bird probably originated from breeding colonies in France or the Netherlands.

This was the first weekend I could manage down there, and despite the inaccurate forecast of clear skies and also no reports for a couple of days, I managed to watch the bird from the same spot I had been in some 11 weeks previously. Most of the time it had its head tucked in while it roosted, as you’d expect at this time of day. About midday it awoke for a bit of stretching but just 10 minutes later it was flushed by some dogs and some locals climbing down the bank behind it. It flew south down the canal and out of sight. I waited around until about 1540h but wasn’t seen again, despite others searching an extensive area. Probably sleeping at a less disturbed locality. The afternoon was fairly noisy with various Neanderthals roaming around with guns though one positive consequence of this was some nice views of a Woodcock flying overhead along the course of the canal. Just a thought... can someone let me know in advance before the Little Bittern arrives to complete the hat trick in the spring?

Larger photos here:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Franklin's Gull at Barassie, Ayrshire

Bruce Kerr found Ayrshire's second Franklin's Gull (a 1st-winter bird confirmed by Angus Murray just before dusk) late on Friday afternoon (16th) at Barassie. This will be the 11th record for Scotland and, interestingly, Ayrshire also hosted the first record from 2-6 July 1980 at Bogside, Irvine (D L Clugston, R G Caldow).

As I needed to go back home to collect some stuff at some point this month, this was the perfect excuse and I managed to get a seat on the overnight bus from London to Glasgow. By the time I arrived at Barassie on Saturday morning around 0900h, the gull roost had long dissolved and departed and most birders had left to search fields and inland water bodies in the hope of discovering a potential diurnal feeding site.

The weather was pretty foul for most of the day and most people enjoyed the other gulls on show, including up to Six Iceland Gulls in nearby Troon harbour and two adult Mediterranean Gulls at Barassie. By three in the afternoon, numbers of Black-headed Gulls were returning to roost on the rising tide. Later, the large gulls came in and by 1600h it was getting dark with no sign of the Franklin's despite a line of 30 'scopes scanning through the 1200 or so assembling gulls. Then at 1615h it was suddenly picked out, perhaps having sneaked in with some Common Gulls long after the last Black-headed Gull had arrived. Needless to say, no photographs were obtained.

This gull, which breeds mainly in inland North America, should be wintering in the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Peru and Chile. I've previously seen this species around Lima with one memorable flock of 1000+ at Reserva Nacional Pantanos de Villas on 16 December 2004.

All of the Scottish records have fallen between May and August so this is the first winter record. This latest Ayrshire bird is also only the fourth bird recorded on the mainland of Scotland, five of them having occurred on Shetland, one on South Uist and one on Canna.

Ref: Forrester, R.W. et al (eds) 2007. The Birds of Scotland. The Scottish Ornithologists' Club, Aberlady.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ayrshire Winter Bird Race 2009

This was the ninth Ayrshire Winter Bird Race (our fourth), the point of which is to find as many species as possible between 0830h and 1630h within the county of Ayrshire in south-west Scotland. As usual the 'race', for me at least, began the night before as I boarded the overnight bus from London to Glasgow in an attempt to get to down to Ayrshire and meet the rest of my team (The Drift Migrants) for the starting call at 0830h.

As we departed Wardneuk on the stroke of 8:30 am, a Collared Dove was already singing in the garden, and Robin, Jackdaw, and Black-headed Gull were logged before the doors of the car even closed. In a bird race, all birds are equal, so a sparrow is worth just the same as a Ring-necked Duck! We initially wasted some time in Bonnyton of all places, trying to locate some of the Waxwings which were present just a week ago. Still, our first location proper was a rich farmland habitat where Tree Sparrow is almost guaranteed - a species that is difficult to locate elsewhere in Ayrshire at the best of times. As we walked along the disused railway line from Springside towards Knockentiber we observed several good passerines including Tree Sparrow, Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer, and Bullfinch before heading to the nearby wetland at Capringstone [25 species].

Capringstone farm at Bourtreehill on the edge of Irvine has one of the best small wetlands in central Ayrshire and several interesting wildfowl were logged here including the long-staying Green-winged Teal among its Eurasian relatives, four Shoveler, and the usual flock of 300 or so Wigeon [36 species].

Nearby at Warwickdale, we trudged into the juncus rush marsh in the hope of some Jack Snipe. Though we only managed to ruffle up some Common Snipe, the recently discovered Green Sandpiper did us a favour by remaining for the bird race. I would have missed one of the best birds of the day (head fixed to the ground for Jack Snipe) if my dad hadn't been taking in the wider view when a fine male Hen Harrier flew up in front of us before circling around the site [40 species].

Next we headed south to some mature woodland at Auchincruive estate via the more interesting route on the back road from Crossroads to Sandyford. Of course none of last weeks 'checked' species were in place today - not even the road-loving pheasants which had probably all been shot out! The riverine woodland strip at Auchincruive was pretty much dead but at least the Dippers performed with a courting pair engaging in some midwinter duetting! Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker were also logged before we got stuck in Ayr for around 30 minutes due to a combination of football and racing (of the horse kind)! Still, a prize awaited at Rozelle in the form of Ayrshire's most recent colonist, the Nuthatch. We had to wait around a while for it, but after six species had visited the 'doggy' bin for seed, a Nuthatch appeared briefly. Angus and Don's team then turned up with an example of the length some bird racers will go for a tick... some peanuts for the Nuthatch! And it reappeared again. While they went off to tick the dodgy Wood Duck, we departed for Sessionfield to tick the dodgy Snow Goose [53 species].

After optimistically mentioning that the weather was not as bad as the forecast had predicted, the wind increased to near gale force and the rain came down. We searched through the geese at Sessionfield, finding Greylag Goose, Pink-footed Goose, and the white one. Shortly after at Martnaham as we tried to hold down the tripod and 'scope long enough to find the loch's specialities we logged Ring-necked Duck, Goosander, Great Crested Grebe, Goldeneye and Raven in the dreich conditions. At this stage we knew it was going to be yet another year with a low total - we hadn't even been to the coast yet and it was getting on for 1330h [66 species].

Giving Doonfoot a miss, we headed straight up the coast to Barassie and Troon harbour where the weather conditions looked set to remain on the rough side for the day. Still, a few waders were accounted for including Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone and Ringed Plover. In the shelter (?) of the harbour the Eider flock was dodging the Grey Seals and we saw both 1st-winter and 3rd winter Iceland Gulls though in actual fact there had been three juveniles present! Black Guillemot and Shag were ticked before we risked being blown into the harbour [79 species].

We had now reached that point in the day, approaching three in the afternoon, when the light starts to fade... and we get desperate! Three pairs of Gadwall were bagged (not literally) on the main pit at Shewalton and we ticked the Drybridge Whooper Swan flock though the rain-streaked windows of the car. By 1530h, some teams were already seen packing up for the day and retreating to the Ship Inn. This may have been the more sensible approach. At this stage, Bogside was barely visible from Irvine harbourside but Red-breasted Merganser was added before some fruitless attempts at Irvine Bay and the Magnum pool. With 40 minutes to go we started driving north. I'm not sure why but maybe I thought we could make it to Auchenharvie and back with Scaup and Pochard on list. About half way there my dad suggested we turn back as it would probably be too dark to see anything... Lisa, you did pack the infra-red 'scope didn't you? We arrived at the finish line of the Ship Inn to one of the best turn-outs for bird racing in Ayrshire with eight teams assembling which just goes to show that Ayrshire birders take this sort of weather in their stride [82 species].

The Drift Migrants finished third equal with Angus and Don's team, just behind the Goatsuckers on 83 and Cumnock Crew, the winners on 84. Yep, we should have carried on to Auchenharvie!!

The full species list can be found here:

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Short-eared Owls

Two Short-eared Owls were hunting around Bogside racecourse this afternoon between 1530h and 1615h in some nice midwinter light. A ringtail Hen Harrier also made a brief appearance. I couldn't locate the Slavonian Grebe at Stevenston Point though at least 22 Common Scoter were present.

The pond in Kay Park pond, Kilmarnock had 94 Mallard (mostly wild birds), the male Tufted Duck, 19 Mute Swans, eight Coot and two Moorhens. There was also a, presumed feral, male Gadwall x Mallard hybrid. A brief check in Bonnyton, produced a single Waxwing in Munro Place, before it flew along the disused railway line towards the station. A Mistle Thrush guarding a rowan tree in Kilmarnock for the past two weeks at least has been aggressively seeing off not just other thrushes and berry-eating birds, but all other species including Chaffinch and Blue Tit.

Sadly today marks the end of my two week trip back home to Ayrshire - heading for the Big Smoke tonight.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Nearctic Ducks

This morning 6 Waxwings flew over the A77 at Hansel Village while I was picking up my brother from the airport. No sign of yesterday’s flock in James Johnston Place, Kilmarnock. Bumped into Graeme and Sam Taylor at Capringstone and they had seen 11 on the disused railway line at Bonnyton this morning. Capringstone had its Green-winged Teal, along with 74 Eurasians, 52 Wigeon, 3 Shoveler (ad male, 1st-w male, and female). A Jack Snipe was feeding out in the open around the edge of the patch of remaining unfrozen water. East Road in Irvine had at least two Waxwings, though were feeding out of sight in gardens behind the MOT test centre for most of the time. Got the Ring-necked Duck at Martnaham Loch along with 22 Goldeneye, 51 Tufted Duck, 12 Little Grebe, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 500 Greylags overhead and 232 Canada Geese on the deck. Later at Bogside racecourse, two Short-eared Owls were hunting between 1630h and 1640h before it got too dark to see.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Farmland birds

This morning there were 30 Waxwings in James Johnston Place in Kilmarnock. There appeared to be several paired birds in the flock with berries being passed between birds and short, quiet buzz calls being uttered.

A cycle into some slightly more productive farmland today in the Crossroads to Sandyford area produced Tree Sparrow (4) at Coldcothill; Chaffinch (300) at Mossbog, Wood Pigeon (1400) and Chaffinch (180) at Barmuir plantation; Greylag (107) over Boghead; Pink-footed Goose (15) in stubble near Adamhill; just two Tree Sparrows at Fail Mill; Whooper Swan (19) in wet pasture at Mid Foulton; Golden Plover (87), Lapwing (63) and House Sparrow (140) at Sandyford.

The best area was four large barley stubble fields between Mossbog Cottage and Cofthead Cottage on the north side of the B744 with Skylark (450), Reed Bunting (18), Starling (300) though just two Yellowhammers. Winter thrushes were widespread in low numbers with the best counts being 85 Fieldfares at Dallars and 68 at Mossbog Cottage.

Heading home via Shewalton produced the Gadwall along with Goldeneye (6) and Little Grebe (8). The falcons did better today with a final raptor score of Buzzard 22 – Kestrel 6. One Buzzard was feeding on a dead fox at the Barassie exit on the A78.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Waxwing Sonogram

The Kilmarnock Waxwings at Bonnyton are now down to just three. Yesterday was very foggy so I made some sound recordings of their calls - such a great sound! The first sonogram shows the trills of three birds as they take flight. The second illustrates the difference between perched and flight calls; slightly low pitched and longer in flight. The third sonogram is an enlargement of the flight call, lasting around 0.7 seconds.