Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012: The year of the aquatic mammal?

Well, 2012 is drawing to an end and I think my wildlife watching account has now closed for the year. At some point in the first week of 2013 it will resume and I'll be participating in the Foot It birding by foot challenge over the month of January. I have set a target of 65 species which I think is a realistic target - we'll just have to see.

Wildlife watching over the last 12 months has been pretty exciting and it would be fair to say that the highlights for me have all been mammalian - African Elephants in Malawi, Humpback Whales off Cape Cod and River Otters in the Outer Hebrides and Edinburgh all being outstanding experiences.

Looking back on the year the birding has been good as well. I saw about 80 species for the first time - mostly in Malawi but a handful in the States as well. The raptors in Malawi were diverse and the seabirds in the States excellent. I also added a few species to my Scottish list including a self-found Wryneck and a local twitch for Buff-breasted Sandpiper(s) in Lothian. I have shots of the latter as the images were on a cf card lying around the house - the others are still in limbo on a crashed disc which may get sorted in the new year...

And finally, what about gulls. Well, 2012 has been a good year for gulls for me with lots of white-wingers in Ireland, the Outer Hebrides and Orkney, more exotic species in Africa and America and a hybrid Herring x LBBG closer to home. My quest to find a YLG or a Caspo in Lothian continues but I have been trying very hard on that front over the last few weeks - I have grilled thousands of Herring Gulls and that is what they have proved to be... well alongside a fair few GBBGs and a single LBBG!

 Here's to 2013 being lucky for Larids in Lothian!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bunch of finches

Thought that it was about time I put some seed out for the birds last Friday. Already the finch numbers have risen from approximately zero to 2 Brambling, 4 Greenfinch, 6 Goldfinch, 2 Bullfinch and about 15 Chaffinch. Not a bad return so far... I was particularly pleased with the Bramblings which only visited fleetingly last winter but were both feeding on the sunflower hearts today.

The photo is of very poor quality but just about shows both Bramblings on the right of this group of Chaffinches.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Gulls in stormy weather

The surf was really up as these Black-headed Gulls dodged the spray at Skateraw last Saturday. Next day it wasn't just the waves pounding - I had slipped a disc and the remainder of the week has been somewhat of a blur. Only today as the pain was subsiding did I remember this dark tailed first winter Common Gull from the same day. I don't think that is a particularly frequent plumage type - I'm hoping for one with a heavily barred rump as well and a nice short bill - i.e. the US species/subspecies Mew Gull...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Feather weather

A lovely sunny spell on Sunday provided just the right conditions for some feather maintenance for this Blue Tit and Goldfinch.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Gadwall, Figgate Park

Pleased to see the Gadwalls still at Figgate Park on Sunday. The 3 males have now been joined by a female - its white speculum giving the game away as it fed. The two males below were keeping a close eye on it and each other. The other male seemed more interested in the possibility of bread! So, 4 Gadwalls in total - probably the most that I have seen in Lothian for a few years and not a species of wildfowl I would normally associate with an urban park pond.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

December Chiffchaff in the Figgate Park

I don't often see Chiffchaffs in the winter months up here in Edinburgh and when I do I am always hoping for a Siberian Chiffchaff rather than a Common Chiffchaff. Today's bird at Figgate Park did not call, but looks spot on for a Common. Despite a hint of a wingbar, the olive and yellow tones in the plumage combined with the bespectacled look and lack of jet black bare parts all combine to give the familiar look of the regular form. Wonder where this bird is from - a local breeder or a Continental bird?... Wherever it was an energetic little sprite rarely  still for more than a second.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Herring x Lesser Black Backed Gull Hybrid?

After wrongly considering Herring x LBBG hybrid (argentatus x fuscus) for a darker Herring Gull a couple of weeks ago I had a much more persuasive bird today at Athelstaneford. I was out looking for gulls and found a few hundred behind the plough in the village that allowed long and good looks. An hour in and nothing other than usual fare, which was enjoyable enough, but just when I was thinking of moving on the plough went home for lunch and this bird dropped in. Presumably the same bird that Stephen saw in the area earlier in the year, I was quite hopeful of a Yellow-legged Gull until I saw the spread wing.

No dark subterminal band on Primary 5 means that YLG is out and YLG hybrid unlikely. Instead the bird looks like a perfect hybrid to me - spot on for the amusingly colour-ringed 'blue KRAP' from Zeebrugge that featured in BB recently. Comments welcome...

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Laughing Gull, Cape Cod

I have (temporarily, I hope) lost pretty much all of my jpegs after a back up error - I didn't back up but copied, deleted, and dropped the portable disk - doh... So, the only shots pre-October are the ones that were on cards lurking around the house... like these lovely Laughing Gulls photographed on a whale watching trip off Cape Cod in the summer. Seems a long time ago now. I have only seen one of these this side of the Atlantic and that really was a long time ago - the bird that hung around a hospital roof in (?) Newcastle in the 1980s... Anyone else see that?

This is now the 17th species of gull to feature on my blog - if I recover my disk I'll post the Heerman's Gull pics that never made it on to here...

Monday, 3 December 2012

More otter shots

This interaction was easily the highlight of my weekend - a Black-headed Gull swooping in to see whether an otter at Duddingston Loch had left it any fish scraps. The answer seemed to be no...

While this was an exceptionally prolonged view of an otter in Edinburgh, it wasn't the best view of an otter that I have had this year. Here is another shot from that encounter on Berneray during the spring. I am now very glad that I took this iphone shot of my imac screen to text to a mate - as I have since lost the original jpeg on a crashed disk :(. That is a scorpion fish by the way.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

More Edinburgh mammals...

I dropped by Duddingston Loch this morning to see if yesterday's otters were putting on their show again. Nothing doing on that front but I did stop en route when I saw this red fox sunning itself in a field near to Craigmillar Castle. It did not seem to enjoy the photoshoot as much as me and slunk off around the hill. A careful approach of the next field using a wall as cover allowed me to watch it hunting in the frosty grass for half an hour. Whilst watching it I became aware that there were three roe deer browsing in the background. Not a bad safari for a city...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Otters and Black-headed Gulls at Duddingston Loch

Watched a couple of otters fishing in Duddingston Loch this morning. One was in view for several hours - which was fantastic - especially since these were my first Lothian otters! This one caught a decent sized fish (any ideas?) and that brought the gulls in hoping for scraps.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Missile Thrush?

Here are a few shots of a Mistle Thrush defending rowan berries from the flock of Waxwings in Musselburgh last weekend. The action was all a little rapid for my lens but the thrush was taking full advantage of the similarities of its flight action and that of a Sparrowhawk. The thrush seemed to be able to fool the Waxwings repeatedly with its hawk-like sallies. At one stage it even adopted a very convincing mantled-wing posture at the top of the tree.

Monday, 26 November 2012

'4th winter' argentatus or herring-LBB hybrid gull?

Some gulls are simply impossible to identify, especially when seen at range like this bird at Musselburgh on Saturday. Even with photographs I think this individual is impossible to pin down with certainty. Like a bird that I saw at Alnwickhill about a year ago its upperparts were a shade of grey in between typical argenteus Herring Gull and graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gull. For those in the know, that's just about bang on for Yellow-legged Gull or a dark northern argentatus Herring Gull or maybe an atypically dark mantled immature argenteus Herring Gull or maybe even a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid! Or could it be a scarily pale LBBG? So lots of options...

The above shot shows the bird in question centre right. The upperpart shade was consistently darker than the other Herring Gulls such as the bird on the left.

This shot shows the mantle shade of Herring Gulls in the foreground, a slightly darker Common Gull on the right and the slightly darker mystery gull at the rear. The white tertial skirt and elongated Lesser Black-backed Gull-like appearance were noticeable in the field.

With the Alnwickhill bird last year, which admittedly I saw at much closer range, I suggested an immature dark northern argentatus. Saturday's bird, on the other hand, maybe looked much more like a pale Lesser Black-backed Gull in structure and it possibly seems to fit the argentatus x fuscus Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid option most closely. But, to be honest, who knows?... After all the flight shots below have a look of northern argentatus about them. Help! Any ideas?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Waxwing, Musselburgh

For once I had the time to savour the Bohemian Waxwings. Thanks to Ian A who tipped me off at the gull and goose feeding area in Musselburgh about the flock in the area near the station. He had made the most of the morning sunshine I would imagine for his photos, but the overcast afternoon made for a softer moodier composition. These were the best views I have had of the species with prolonged close quarters feeding and lots of berry guzzling action.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Divers and grebes at Musselburgh

The classification of birds has changed greatly with the advent of molecular techniques, but Divers and Grebes will always hold a special place for me for being the first two families in my first proper bird books - pages that ended up being well tumbed. A couple of species of each of these two families off Musselburgh today made for a nice winter seawatch. The seawall is a good place to look for grebes in winter and today's flat sea made that job especially easy. No sign of the Red-necked Grebe of a fortnight ago, but the calm conditions brought several Slavonian Grebes close in. On this occasion a Great Crested Grebe sailed by for a handy size comparison.

The day had started with my first Great Northern Diver in Lothian for several years. It drifted past Musselburgh harbour a couple of times fairly close in diving regularly - a frequent sighting on the west coast and the islands but on the east coast they tend to be harder to see in my experience.

The Red-throated Divers have been obvious offshore this month with several good looks again today. Maybe there is some good feeding in-shore at the moment.