Monday, 28 January 2013

Last Foot It walk brings 2 pairs of partridges

Well, the weather forecast for Sunday was not good, but it was my only real chance for Footing It in this the last weekend of the competition. I dragged myself out of bed convinced I was heading out into the rain for a day where the only target met would be the mileage under the belt. As it turned out there were plenty of breaks both in the weather and the birding and I got three Foot It ticks, finishing the day on 79 species in 97 miles.

Waxwings - just the birds to revive spirits after 10 miles of Foot It...
I started the day experiencing exactly the same situation as Andy just blogged - a fly-over Redpoll that sounded more like a Mealy than a Lesser. I hung around for half an hour or so but it was not for returning... So, either way a Foot It tick but not countable on the views... Heavy rain almost had me turning on my heels after this disappointment but I spotted a loafing flock of gulls on a playing field up ahead and as I watched them padding for worms the skies lifted. Refreshed by a spot of gulling I set off along a stretch of river that has yet to ever provide a Kingfisher and today was no different.

I have walked miles along the burns and checked about a dozen Dippers - all chestnut bellied although this one is taking it to an extreme
But I was re-energised and decided to make a second Foot It ascent of Arthur's Seat in search of the Snow Buntings that had evaded me last weekend. Once again they had been reported mid week and once again they were to prove too elusive for the weekend watcher. It did not turn out to be a wasted journey with a pair of Grey Partridges (species 77) exploding out of a patch of gorse at my feet and disappearing in flight over a ridge. This was a definite bonus species as I had convinced myself that they were no longer present within my walking radius. The lack of buntings was no issue now as I felt I had made up for the redpoll failure.
Arthur's Seat - only have to ascend about 200m from my side - although it is 4 miles away from this part of my patch
I turned and headed a few miles to my newly located gull loafing patch at Little France. In doing so I headed through a urban Craigmillar - an unlikely birding venue although the school pitch there had previously come up trumps with Curlew. This time I had just got beyond the housing when I noticed a movement in a weedy area of ground - a pair of nowhere-near-expected Red-legged Partridges (78). Local mega for me, with only one previous record in the area, and Foot It gold!

Red-letter Partridges - after Jack Snipe (and, err... Redshank) my top Foot It find
I spent an hour chilling (literally) with the gulls, but despite the weather could find nothing unusual. As I left Little France a small group of 4 Waxwings added to the mix. Actually, the first one I saw nearly gave me heart failure as it looked like a Hawfinch out of the corner of my eye. Now that really would be a good patch bird up here.

Waxwing doing Hawfinch impression - well that's what I thought it was out of the corner of my eye!
The Waxwings had done their trick and I felt that I should push on - the next tick might just be round the corner. Well, it was quite a few corners to be honest but at last, in Ellen's Glen, a single Collared Dove popped out of an ivy festooned hiding place and at last joined my last. So after 95 miles or so I finally grip back the Collared Dove to get me onto 79 species.

At last a bl**dy Collared Dove! Looks like this (young male?) is an autumn hatched bird as it still has some unmoulted coverts with pale tips. Maybe that's how it resisted the urge to disappear out of my patch for January...
Presumably that's my last addition, it looks like 75 was too low a target as I have added neither Redpoll, nor Kingfisher (which should be on my list since I managed to walk to the Figgate), I didn't see the Snow Buntings, Fulmars or Merlin reported on Arthur's Seat or the Crossbills reported over the Hermitage, or the Nuthatch that spent some of 2012 in the Hermitage or Green Woodpecker or Mediterranean Gull, both of which should be possible in theory. And with the slim possibility of Bittern at Duddingston then the list extends to 90 species. That of course would be a near impossible target, but I think 80 will be my starting target for 2014!

Post-Foot It? Well back to the corvids and gulls for me... now, is that a nordic jackdaw?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Foot It: heard only quandry...

With the snow I kept an eye on the garden on Sunday hoping that a Redpoll might drop in. No luck there, but a Tree Sparrow briefly at one of the feeders was a real garden mega. Eight Brambling and Siskin brightened things up nicely as well.

I have been popping out to the garden after dark on as many spurious pretexts as I could manage this month - never before has the kitchen waste been taken out so frequently... Eventually the strategy paid off on Tuesday night with a calling Tawny Owl (species 76) while snipping 'just a few more' bay leaves for extra flavour in a casserole. This, of course, is a 'heard only' addition to the list, which I generally have no real issue with especially for such distinctively sounding species.

Today's 'heard only' is slightly less straightforward... In Foot It spirit I have decided to Walk on Wednesdays so far this year. It takes about an hour for me to get to work on foot but despite the route being within Edinburgh I can cut through the Hermitage of Braid which has some decent birding. For example, today I managed Water Rail (both there and back!), Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Buzzard, Waxwings and Roe Deer. The species that is giving me a quandry is White-fronted Goose.

A skein of grey geese came overhead just after I exited the Hermitage and as they called I immediately thought WfG. I made a field note on my phone "Skein geese over hermitage call wfg? Not greylag, not pfg." (pretty familiar with these two as they are both regular here) and I transcribed the call of a single individual as "fi-nuh, vi-nuh". Here is what I'd say is a recording on Xeno Canto that sounds like what I am trying to transcribe.

So, I have two questions - firstly, for those more up on grey goose ID by call than me, is that a diagnostic call of White-fronted Goose?

Secondly given that this would be a patch tick as well as a Foot It tick, would you tick them off given on call only? I did see them, but I'd just put my optics into my bag as I'd come back onto urban streets and by the time I had them through the bins they were definitely ... err.. geese ... and that's about it...

Waxwings in Morningside, Edinburgh, today. Not sure pointing a 400mm lens at someone's front door in the fading light was such a good idea in retrospect!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Foot It in Edinburgh: 76 miles without a Collared Dove

Hit the 100% mark on Saturday during a 14-miler. Started at around 8:00 am - nice and calm with fresh snow underfoot. One of the hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crows from last weekend was on the same rooftop so I fired off some better record shots. As I did so a passerine flew over silently - almost certainly a Meadow Pipit - galling that it wasn't calling as it would have been a Foot It tick...
The now customary hybrid along with a more regular Carrion Crow
All I could think was "flush a Bittern"! One of 3 Fox sightings on Saturday.
Into Craiglockhart Castle Park for nice views of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Kestrel, and then on to Duddingston where I tried in vain to will a Bittern to emerge from the reedbed. Only ever seen 2 here but... A Fox trotting along the edge of the ice and as it could do no better than me I decided to head around to view the open water. A single Pink-footed Goose in amongst the Greylags was unexpected - nice close views, so presumably feral, but could just be lost and disorientated and tagging along with the Greylags?

Pink-footed Goose on Duddingston Loch - feral or wild?
My first Foot It tick of the day - a GBBG in the middle of the ice
Scanning the gulls on the frozen loch I noted a single Great Black-backed Gull (species 72 after my mid-week Little Grebe). After drawing a blank on this species until now, I ended up with 3 sightings before the end of the weekend. As I was watching the gull some calls overhead revealed 2 Skylark heading towards the coast. Soon after 2 Meadow Pipits (73) passed over calling making up for the earlier dip. Satisfied that two glaring holes in my list had been plugged, I decided to go and twitch something unexpected and headed up Arthur's Seat to look for the Snow Buntings that had been reported earlier in the week. After an hour or so combing the various tops I conceded defeat and headed to check the wildfowl on St Margaret's Loch. Nothing new to add here but an impressive concentration of hungry birds and a few handfuls of birdseed were soon hoovered up.

Hungry Mute Swans on St Margaret's Loch
Heading for the Figgy I bumped into yet another hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow, my sixth while Footing It and my ninth different bird in Edinburgh this winter. There are obviously a few around...
My sixth different hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow whilst Footing It - this one at Mount Castle

At Figgate Park I was glad to see that my two target species were still on the pond and so Gadwall (74) and Shoveler (75) brought me up to 100% of my target. That said, I have walked a bit further than I initially planned to and roamed a little further afield so maybe my target of 75 was too low. In fact, there are three species that I have yet to see on my initial list (Collared Dove, Tawny Owl, Lesser Redpoll). Yes you read that right - 76 miles without a Collared Dove!
One of four Gadwall on Figgate Pond
 I know of three other species that have been reported in the area so far during the month (Crossbill, Fulmar, Snow Bunting). In addition, the following are possible, though unlikely perhaps: Grey Partridge, Bittern, Mediterranean Gull, Long-eared Owl, Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Mealy Redpoll. With one weekend remaining I don't see myself adding much more than Tawny Owl and Lesser Redpoll, but who knows?...
I hit 100% of 75 species with this handsome drake Shoveler

Monday, 14 January 2013

Foot It: redshank, LBBG, curlew, lanner falcon, and a hybrid crow making a snowball

Well Foot It has once again surpassed expectations for me. Falling snow was what I had asked for last week, so I had better get out into it. The Blackcap was at the feeder again and there were Bramblings among the finches in the garden, but I decided to leave the sit-and-wait-for-a-Redpoll strategy for another weekend and headed out with two targets in mind - Woodcock and Skylark - both of which were more on the cards given the weather. First bird was what appears to be my fifth hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow of the year! What is going on?

Not another!

Once I was into Craigmillar Castle Park a Woodcock (species 65) sprang from the very first patch of damp cover that I checked. I didn't see another for the rest of the day - and I was out for 7 hours... That was my wader list completed with the three expected species (and bonus Jack Snipe) under the belt this weekend, or so I thought. Skylark (66) duly obliged half an hour later with a single overhead - presumably shifted by the cold weather. Again that was the only one of the day.

Worst shot of Woodcock on the web? It is the speck flying left over the tree tops. Is my sensor that dusty?

Foot It played a blinder minutes later when I reached my previously unexplored destination of the day. I had always been aware that there were some nice looking fields tucked behind the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary at Little France and this is where I was heading. Well, it turns out that a large proportion of the fields are well under the developer's bulldozer of progress, so presumably will not be open space for much longer. But temporary joy of joys - a gull roost - with waders too! This totally unexpected site held several Lapwing, a single Redshank (67 - and an unexpected species) and in amongst the gulls a single Lesser Black-backed Gull (68). The latter was hoped-for but by no means guaranteed. I'll certainly be back to this site...

This is not a sight I expected to see on my Foot It - a Redshank feeding with Lapwings on a freshwater scrape.
And a gull loafing area - with the unexpected bonus of a LBBG.

After grilling the gulls I headed towards Duddingston and was surprised to come across a flock of 7 Curlew (69 - and also unexpected) feeding on a school playing field.

More waders - now six species on the list when I only dared to hope for three.
I had a good search at Duddingston Loch for Little Grebe and Otter but managed neither. A skein of Pink-footed Geese (70) overhead provided good compensation.

At last, after not being sure of the ID of some grey geese last weekend, these PfGs were greatly appreciated.

Walking further into Holyrood Park I was disappointed to dip on Fulmar on Salisbury Crags, but my jaw did drop when a Lanner Falcon flew past. I assumed it was a falconer's escape but have since read that they are flown over the Scottish Parliament to discourage pigeons - so either it is an escape or 'on duty', but either way it was an exciting moment, though less so for the pigeons perhaps.

OMG - a Lanner! A falconer's bird obviously.
Finally, I headed towards the Hermitage of Braid to meet family and friends for a walk up onto the Braid Hills. This was sociable and uneventful bird-wise until the final leg homeward where this Crow was busy playing with snowballs. And, yes, before you ask, it was another hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow!
A hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow making a snowball!!! Bonkers...

Stats at end of the day: 70 species; total distance so far 52 miles.

Looking forward to next weekend...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Jack Snipe: Foot It, Lothian and Self-found Lothian Tick

This is what Foot It is all about: lots of fresh air and exercise birding areas that I had never birded before and capping it all with a self-found addition to my Lothian list!

The day started well with six Brambling in with the finches in the garden. As I was watching them this female Blackcap (species 61) appeared at the furthest sunflower feeder. Great to get this species as it could be easy to miss. Although they appear in the garden every winter they are irregular and their visits are often brief - this is the first visit of the winter.

Brambling, female Blackcap, Goldfinch and Greenfinch in the garden

Domestic duties then needed my attention but I manged to encourage the kids to do some of them on foot. They are happy to support the increased fitness benefits of Footing It. As we passed through Inch Park I managed a shot of the hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow that had not cooperated for the camera last weekend (the third out of four).
Hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow at Inch Park

A short spell in a portable hide at the end of the garden after lunch did not get any shots of the Blackcap but a couple of nice finches. I have yet to acquire the requisite mossy stump for aesthetically pleasing shots...

I have had the canvas and wooden pole hide since the 1980s but only started using it last winter! This male Bullfinch enjoyed peering in at me today...
It was 2:30 pm before I was able to get out properly and I decided that I should follow up Mike Hodgkin's Lapwing tip off. He had seen a flock a few days ago just on the south side of the by-pass between Straiton and Lothianburn. This area of wet meadow has been in my sights for waders for a good while but I have never made it - up to now I have always felt it was too far to walk and once in the car the temptation to head to the coast is usually strong. The walk was brisk and enlivened by sightings of a Peregrine and a nice flock of Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting at the edge of Burdiehouse.

The wet meadow area was a bit of a relevation. More extensive than it looks while whizzing past on the by-pass, this area looked good immediately. A dozen Roe Deer and a Red Fox were seen as soon as I entered the area of fields. Once the ground became boggier I started to hope for waders and sure enough a Common Snipe (species 62) soon fled from a wet flush and Mike's flock of 32 Lapwing (63) were eventually located just beyond Pentland Burn. In a wet footed return I flushed 3 more Common Snipe and a single Jack Snipe (64). The latter was not only a Foot It tick, but also a Lothian region tick for me (223). I have managed to resist the temptation to search for Jack Snipe at known localities within Lothian for the last few years as I suspected it was a very good chance as a self find county tick. After banking quite a number of hours of trudging wet fields in and around Liberton looking for this diminutive species, today I was punching the air at long last.

So, that's a total of 64 species - just 11 more to go to reach my target.

Roe Deer near Straiton, Edinburgh, this afternoon. My Foot It mammal list is on 5...

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Green Heron fishing at Wellfleet, MA

A couple of photos taken in July last year at Wellfleet, MA. This Green Heron had positioned a red (oak?) leaf into this shallow water presumably to act as bait for its fish prey. Tool use like this is quite commonly observed in this species. The leaf drifted slowly to one side but the fish came close any way. I watched it for some time but saw no more tool use, but several successful catches. The water level was low as a sluice was being repaired and the concentration of small fish made easy pickings.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Foot It: Wagtail, Waxwings and more Stock Doves

Only two additions over the last two days. A Pied Wagtail at long last on Monday after a couple of hours scouring both suburbia and farmland.

Today a flock of 17 Waxwings heading west over the Hermitage of Braid at dusk. They came right over my head and looked as if they might be heading into the scrub to roost but they continued on towards Morningside. The shot of them below would make a pretty difficult mystery bird pic but it does allow the flock to be counted. A real relief to jam in on these birds - in my experience January is not necessarily an easy month to see them in Edinburgh.

17 Waxwing (honest!) over Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh this afternoon. Don't think they are ID-able in this shot... but thought I'd post the worst Waxwing shot on the internet! Like many, I have had the opportunity to take better shots this winter, such as here.

There were other quality birds in the area as well, with the Water Rail scampering hurriedly away into cover again and 4 sightings of Dippers. And just after posting my first decent picture of a Stock Dove, look what were parading around outside the Hermitage of Braid Visitor Centre today. Looking forward to Footing It again at the weekend.

Stock Doves up close and personal for the second time this Foot It. Considerably smaller than the Woodpigeon - which is presumably why they would be used for stock?...

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Foot It Day 2: More hybrid crows

Spent the morning and early afternoon Footing It by following the Braid Burn downstream rather than upstream. Immediate success in the form of Grey Heron (species 50) and Grey Wagtail (51), with 3 or 4 of the latter. Another two Dippers added excitement along the river.

Grey Wagtail in the Braid Burn at Cameron Toll shopping centre car park. No Pied Wagtails yet though...

Into Inch Park and another hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow had me thinking that this was a different bird to either of yesterday's. Then a pair of Stock Doves put on a nice show of bowing and strutting and posed for photos - this species normally seems to be very shy - maybe with the nice weather they were thinking about other things.

Stock Dove posing in Inch Park

At Duddingston Loch, Teal, Goldeneye, Canada Goose and Cormorant provided easy pickings but the unexpected absence of Little Grebe stalled me temporarily on 55 species. I scanned the margins repeatedly and wished that I had shouldered my scope but instead accepted a salmon-pink fly-by Goosander (56) as compensation. With Raven (57) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (58) also appearing at this site I returned home. No new species to come I did see Sparrowhawk number three and hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow number four in Craigmillar.

My fourth Foot It hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow - how many until I can tick Hoodie!...

While I always keep an eye out for these hybrids to see 4 in 2 days is a little surprising. I think that I have now seen enough Hooded Crow genes while Footing It to make a whole - just unfortunately not all in the same individual bird!

So with 58 species already recorded (89% of original target of 65), I have decided to revise my target upwards by adding all of my possibles to my probables to my new target of 75...

Saturday, 5 January 2013

First day of Foot It

Being away for New Year I had been vicariously enjoying the Foot It blog but frustrated not to be able to join in until today. So, feeling that I was playing catch-up, I set off from home this morning at first light and was glad that the weather was calm. The common corvids, gulls and finches started appearing as I headed into the Hermitage of Braid and with over 20 species by 9:00am I started to relax. I was glad to get both winter thrushes early as I hadn't noticed many of either species around this year. The first real goodie was a Water Rail streaking away like some sort of two-legged rat deep into a thick tangled patch upstream of Howe Dean bridge. I have only seen this species in this area on three previous occasions and was delighted to see it on my first attempt this year. A Dipper zipped past - it is regular here and is always a pleasure to see.

Next a couple of stake-outs. Tower Farm area for Tree Sparrow but not the 'dead-cert' Yellowhammers. Back home to check the back garden feeder for Brambling, which obliged - fortunate that one of the ones that arrived in December is still hanging on to the free hand-outs. A male Sparrowhawk then put in an appearance and flushed the finch flock so I was glad to have headed home when I did.

After a restorative coffee I was quickly back out and back up towards Alnwickhill. Yellowhammers put in an appearance and the Stock Doves were in their usual fields around Mortonhall. Mistle Thrush and Treecreeper were handy additions in this area as they have taken a few days in the past to find them around here in January. A bite to eat at Klondyke and Linnets and Reed Buntings were in their usual areas at Broomhills and Liberton Kennels. The fields did not yield partridges or snipe despite a couple of hours of effort - snow, please... Best bird in this area was a smart hybrid Crow and then another different bird a few fields away an hour later.

Hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow at Alnwickhill, 5 Jan 2013
Second hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow, Tower Farm, 5 Jan 2013

Only dip of the day was a skein of grey geese that I didn't get on to quickly enough, so I had to content myself with some Greylags and other assorted wildfowl at Blackford Pond. Before heading back home over Blackford Hill. Highlight here was my fourth raptor of the day - a nice Peregrine Falcon flypast.

So, since the hybrid doesn't really add a 0.5 the tally ended up at 49 which is 75% of my target. Not bad for a 9 mile walk... More tomorrow hopefully.