Monday, 19 February 2018

Prime Perthshire Pickings (19/2/18)

On the drive back from the Red Crested Pochard last Sunday, Jacqui suggested an outing somewhere this weekend, with Glenshee for Ptarmigan her preferred option. As the week progressed, the weather forecast was looking less and less favourable for hiking up a mountain so I looked for contingency plans. Scone Palace for Hawfinch was the simplest, though the birds can be elusive and are far from guaranteed. A visit to one of the glens for both Red and Black Grouse ran the risk of icy/snowy roads. After a brief exchange of messages with Jacqui late in the week I had another brainwave and messaged her back - I suggested heading for Pitlochry & Killiecrankie for a Glaucous Gull and Nuthatch, then popping into Scone Palace on the way back down the road and finally trying for Bearded Tits at the Tay Reedbeds.

Glaucous Gull

When Jacqui picked me up in the morning, we had a quick discussion and then set off for Pitlochry, full of optimism. In addition to the above places Jacqui fancied detouring along to Amulree and Glen Quaich then down the Sma' Glen on the way back to Perth. This would also give me the chance to add Red & Black Grouse at least and possibly Red Kite among other marginally less likely possibilities. By the time I met Jacqui at 0830 she'd already seen over 20 species. I'd managed a total of 6 - Herring Gull, Robin, Blackbird, Feral Pigeon, Starling and Chaffinch. Heading out of Dundee down the Kingsway added another few - Jackdaws, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon and a Sparrowhawk as we approached the Technology Park.

The road up to Pitlochry unsurprisingly was less productive though we did still manage to see Rooks, Lapwings, Buzzard, Pheasant and Mallard before we arrived at Killiecrankie. There was still a little snow and ice in the car park but not too much. We wandered down to the feeders having seen a couple of Mistle Thrushes flying over. The feeders were busy with Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits aplenty as well as Chaffinches, Robins and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and also a Red Squirrel. No sign of any Nuthatches though so after a few minutes we headed down across the small wooden bridge to the other side of the small burn flowing down the hill to meet the river. It didn't take too long to find our Nuthatch with one above the path in a small tree though it moved higher as we stood and watched it. We saw another (or possibly the same) one at the feeders as we headed back to the car.

We drove next to check out The Cuilc, the pond just off the road to the golf course which has harboured a Ring Necked Duck for the past few winters, adding Collared Dove on the way. It was mostly frozen with only Mute Swans and Mallards visible at first. As we were about to leave a Tufted Duck and a Moorhen flew in giving us another couple of day ticks. Our next stop was at Pitlochry Dam to look for a slightly off-track Glaucous Gull. The bird was at least the 3rd in the last decade or so - which seems odd for a bird normally found at coastal sites in the winter months. To me it appears the birds head south following the A9 through the mountains and then stop where they find plenty water and potential food.


We picked up a few Siskins in the trees as we walked to the dam from the car park and a Cormorant flew over us as we walked out onto the dam itself. There were a few Herring Gulls perched on a rail just north of the structure. Mallards and a drake Goosander were added as we scanned through the birds we could see on the river. There was a gull tucked in at the shore a short distance up from the dam on the opposite side of the river. A quick check and we had our second year-tick of the day - a rather white-looking Glaucous Gull. We decided to cross the river for a better look, so we hurried across to a narrow muddy path and headed upriver a little. When we got there we found no bird. It had moved.

Jacqui had thrown some bread from the dam initially to try and entice the gulls towards us but they had all ignored the invitation. Scanning back across the river we could see that the Glaucous Gull was now eating the bread she'd thrown! We crossed back quickly and were rewarded with good views of the bird close in to the dam just below where we were standing. A Little Grebe put in an appearance nearby before we headed off again. This time we intended heading back down the A9 to Dunkeld and then heading further inland past Rumbling Bridge to Amulree and then into Glen Quaich if the road was clear of snow.

Birds were in short supply as we drove along with no sign of any of the hoped for Black Grouse in the fields I've seen them in the past and with the exception of corvids the only bird we saw was a Kestrel just before Amulree. The road into Glen Quaich turned out to be snow free, though there was still some on the verges and further up the slopes to the totally snow covered mountains looming over the Glen. We stopped to scan from the roadside a short way along the road. A covey of Grey Partridges we hadn't noticed flew off low over the field and dropped down the bank at the far side. A male Pheasant wandered away. Jackdaws were relatively plentiful at lower levels and I picked up a couple of Ravens and a pair of Kestrels were found by Jacqui. We'd passed another car stopped by the roadside on our way in that looked like it was probably birders too. The car stopped alongside us - it was Rab Shand and Ali. We chatted for a few minutes about birds, (naturally) while scanning around for more birds though only a Buzzard was added.

No sooner had we started off along the road again Jacqui spotted a Red Grouse just the other side of the fence so we stopped for a few photos. A Mute Swan was on the Loch and we stopped at the far end to scan some more. Oystercatchers and a few Jackdaws were in the field while at the water's edge a couple of Lapwings shared their spot with an unexpected Golden Plover. Out on the Loch was a pair of Tufted Ducks with a few Mallards closer in to shore. We could hear geese honking but couldn't see them. Jacqui had something to eat while I wandered a little. I found a distant flock of finches or buntings in a field but they flew off as I tried to get a photo to ID them and I failed to see where they went. We had more views of Kestrels and a distant gliding raptor that could have been almost anything before we headed back down the Glen. A Goldeneye was seen on the Loch and we found the vocal Greylag Geese in a sheep field across the far side. A male Red Grouse was seen perched near a grit tray before we headed out onto the main road again.

The Sma' Glen proved to be rather disappointing with only a Kestrel seen before we turned off to take the road that runs parallel to the Crieff-Perth road. I hoped we might get Red Kite along this stretch. We did manage to see a small flock of Fieldfares with Starlings in trees by a field and then Jacqui spotted a few Red Legged Partridges in another field further on. Another year-tick for me. I got out to take photos while Jacqui drove on to a safer place to stop. A skein of Pink Footed Geese flew eastwards high above. We were headed towards Perth and then to Scone Palace. Jacqui had just mentioned that we hadn't seen a Magpie when 1 was seen flying over the road ahead of us.

Arriving minutes later at Scone Palace, we found a Black Headed Gull circling over the car park with a half dozen Jackdaws much higher in the sky. We heard a Hawfinch calling from a tree not far from the Palace and I found it perched high in the tree and got Jacqui onto it, just before it flew off. We wandered down the tree-lined driveway that runs from the palace to the main road to try and get some photos of Hawfinch having failed with the single bird. We stopped and checked for birds in the tree tops but saw none. We were headed for the northeast corner of the grounds where the garden waste tends to get dumped and where the public doesn't tend to go. This is the area of the grounds where I've had most success in the past when looking for the birds.

We found a small party of Bullfinches just in the trees before we caught sight of some birds in flight above the tallest trees. There was a flash of white from the wings as they caught the sun that was visible even without binoculars. They had to be more Hawfinches but they disappeared over the trees before we got a definitive view. A few minutes later we saw a few pairs fly in and land in the top of a tall tree, giving us good views of 2 in particular for a minute before they too flew off, confirming my suspicions. A Wren was seen zipping around among the understorey of vegetation. It was still only 1400 so we discussed where we could squeeze in on the way back to Dundee, finally settling on a visit to the Tay reedbeds in the hope of Bearded Tits, though as the wind had picked up chances were relatively slim. We stopped to watch Long Tailed Tits and a Treecreeper on the way back to the car.

We arrived at the reedbeds at around 1455, giving us roughly 45 minutes of potential birding time before Jacqui had to think about heading for home. Roe Deer were seen in a field on the drive down. A Yellowhammer called from a roadside hedge as a Blackbird foraged below as we walked along the edge of a field. A flock of Curlews eyed us nervously from another nearby field. A Grey Heron flew slowly by. A bit of effort was needed to get through a barbed wire fence to where we wanted to be but we made it through to the rather muddy track on the other side. A Song Thrush flew out from a bush as we scanned for Beardies. No sight or sound of them. A Common Gull flew upriver and a single Linnet flew over us but as it didn't look like we were going to be successful we called it a day and headed back to Dundee. I added a Goldfinch in the City Centre as I walked up to catch a bus home.

A very good day out with a total of 56 species of bird seen including 5 year-ticks (in bold), as well as 2 mammal species. With a little more luck we could have added a few more, but can't be disappointed in the slightest with the birds seen.

Nuthatch

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

Little Grebe

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

Red Grouse

Golden Plover & Lapwing

Jackdaw

Raven

Red Grouse

Red Legged Partridge

Pink Footed Goose

Peacock

Bullfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

Species seen - Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Cormorant, Curlew, Fieldfare, Glaucous Gull, Golden Plover, Goldeneye, Goldfinch, Goosander, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Grey Heron, Grey Partridge, Greylag Goose, Hawfinch, Herring Gull, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Lapwing, Linnet, Little Grebe, Long Tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Nuthatch, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Pink Footed Goose, Raven, Red Grouse, Red Legged Partridge, Redshank, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Rook, Siskin, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Treecreeper, Tufted Duck, Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer.

Mammals - Red Squirrel, Roe Deer

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Valentine's Day Ring(s) (14/2/18)

I'd been paying close attention to the weather forecast for today to see if there was much chance of getting out birding. Snow and heavy rain seemed to be the default condition for most of the day over Fife and Angus. I even looked into taking the train to Edinburgh to try for Ring Necked Parakeet (around Merchiston) and Nuthatch, with a possibility of a trip out to Musselburgh as well to add a bit more variety to the day. When the alarm went off this morning, I checked the weather forecast and even Edinburgh was now forecast to get rain/snow, so I went back to sleep.

Black Headed Gull (J4U2)

I got up around lunchtime to heavy snow outside and a rather white and grey view from my window. However within a couple of hours it had relented and I decided I would take the opportunity to pop up to Swannie Ponds to look for ringed gulls and maybe something exotic (Iceland/Glaucous/Mediterranean) among them. At around 1415 I headed out. There was a coating of a couple of centimetres snow at most but the sky was still a bit grey, though temperature-wise it wasn't overly cold. There didn't seem to be any birds on the wing though. A hunched up Woodpigeon in a tree, a Herring Gull on a chimney stack and a Carrion Crow on a TV Aerial started off the list. The first birds in flight seen were a few Feral Pigeons.

A Black Headed Gull was atop a lamp post on Clepington Road and a couple of Jackdaws flew past as I headed for the ponds. Unsusrprisingly, when I got there I found them mostly frozen with a slushy look to them. A pair of Mallards stood on the path, while out on the ice stood a mix of Black Headed Gulls, Herring Gulls and a couple of Common Gulls. A single Moorhen was wandering around on the path further round. The one little area of unfrozen water had a couple of Tufted Ducks and a few Mallard on it.

I scanned through the gull flock for ringed birds and found Yellow 2CA6 first, followed soon after by White J4U2. I'd brought some food with me to try and tempt a few more birds in and it seemed to work. When I scanned again after feeding I found Green JN69 and Yellow 2XLD. All 4 are regulars in Winter at the ponds, so none was a surprise. Nor was it any real surprise that there was nothing exotic hiding among them. A single metal-ringed bird was also seen but the light wasn't great for trying to read the ring number.

I had a quick look at the lower pond where the trio of Mute Swans were, along with a single Coot, and a pair of Goosander. The mix of gulls was similar to the other pond though I failed to find any ringed birds this time. There was a Black Headed Gull with a noticeable pink flush to its underparts. I wandered back to the top pond and heard a rather quiet bird call and looked up to see where it had come from. A pair of small birds were flying over the ponds from the north and I rattled off a few photos. I was rather surprised to find that they were Meadow Pipits - regular enough in Autumn as they migrate over, but unexpected in February. Another fly-over was a single Collared Dove. A Magpie chuckled from the island before popping up onto the top branches for a minute or two. A Robin hopped around on the path.

I decided not to head for Eastern Cemetery, instead I'd go to City Quay. A Goldfinch flew over as I waited to cross the road from the ponds. In Dalkeith Road I added a few more species around the gardens - Blue Tit, House Sparrow and Blackbird, and a Starling in a tree. I heard Collared Dove from one of the gardens just before I reached the side gate to Baxter Park. I decided I might as well pop in and see if there was anything around.

There was a rather large flock of over 100 finches flying around rather restlessly and settling from time to time in the treetops. I thought they would be mostly Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but they turned out to be predominantly Linnets, with some Greenfinches, Goldfinches and at least 1 Chaffinch. A flock of Fieldfares, Redwings and Mistle Thrush flew off south down the park as I searched around for anything else I could find. Grey Squirrels could be seen in a few of the trees but other bird species proved harder to find. I did succeed in seeing a few Blackbirds and Redwings picking around among the leaf litter and a few Blue Tits by the small stream. Woodpigeons roosted up in a few trees. With the light beginning to go, owing to the still rather grey skies, I headed for home at around 1600.

A decent enough wander with 29 species seen including the unexpected Meadow Pipits and Linnets all within a mile of home on a rather unpromising looking day.

Black Headed Gull (2CA6)

Common Gull

Black Headed Gull (JN69)

Black Headed Gull (2XLD)

Coot

Goosander & Mallard

Goosander

Black Headed Gull (pink flush to breast/belly)

Black Headed Gull (2CA6)

Black Headed Gull (JN69)

Meadow Pipit

Herring Gull

Collared Dove

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Tufted Duck

Magpie

Black Headed Gull

Linnet & Goldfinch

Linnet, Goldfinch & Greenfinch

Linnet & Greenfinch

Linnet & Goldfinch

Fieldfare & Redwing

Fieldfare

Redwing

Redwing

Species seen - Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Coot, Dunnock, Fieldfare, Goldfinch, Goosander, Greenfinch, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Linnet, Magpie, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Redwing, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Starling, Tufted Duck, Woodpigeon.