Thursday, 10 August 2017

Good Stuff At Guardbridge (9/8/17)

Wednesday is usually a birding day for me, as regular readers of this blog will be well aware. However, this week, I did something other than birding in the morning. I played footgolf with a friend from work at Drumoig. Although I wasn't actually birding or kitted out for birding (no bimoculars or camera), I'm rarely not aware of what birds are around when I'm outside. There did appear to be a nice variety of species around the golf course and nearby. Highlights were probably Golden Plover flock high above a group of 3 soaring Buzzards, and a single Swift, which may yet prove to be my last of 2017. There were also Pied Wagtails, Coots, Little Grebe (heard only), Skylark, Yellowhammer, Linnet, Oystercatchers, Swallows, House Martins, Woodpigeons and a few corvids. As those were from memory, there may well have been others that have slipped my mind.

Osprey (Blue FP7)
The footgolf was enjoyable and we were finished up around 2 hours later. I decided to head to Guardbridge for the afternoon in the hope of spotting a less common wader or two as the tide came in. Having been dropped off at home just before 1220 I was organised and back out again for around 1235. Herring Gull was the only bird seen as I waited for the bus into town. Feral Pigeon and Woodpigeon were added as I hurried to the bus station just in time to catch the 1254 bus to St Andrews.

Cormorant was seen as we crossed the bridge and House Martin and Swallow were seen later though otherwise birds were notable for their apparent absence.I headed into the hide, which was relatively busy with a couple and a teenage son at one window and an older couple from Crail at the other end of the hide. I set up my tripod and scope at my favoured window. There was some discussion about a big bird they could see somewhere out in the estuary. Once I was organised I asked where the bird was, though I had my suspicions as to what it would be. As it turned out, I was correct with my suspicions. An adult White Tailed Eagle far across the north side of the river towards the base. Not a bad way to start the birding from the hide. I let everyone see the bird through the scope before checking for Osprey on the posts out in the estuary. One of the posts did have an Osprey perched on it.

With the raptor duo on the list I started to scan through the likely more run of the mill birds - Redshanks, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Curlews, Black Headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, and a Lesser Black Backed Gull or two. A couple of Great Black Backed Gulls attempted to harass the Eagle but it wasn't particularly concerned, flapping its wings a few times as they swooped low above it. I found a few Grey Herons. I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and spotted it exactly where I expected to see it - over in the conifers hanging onto the highest tree-top. Mallards and Goosanders were next along with Carrion Crow before I spotted the characteristic shape and flight of a tern. Terns are relatively unusual so far up the river though I have previously seen both Common and Sandwich here. My bird was down by the river bend gull roost and I managed to photograph it a few times despite the heat shimmer and the distance. Rather than the more expected Common Tern it appeared to be an Arctic Tern. Another nice bird to get.

The family group left a little later happy to have seen the Eagle and the Osprey. Their place was taken by Art Sangster and conversation about birds and aircraft passed back and forward (Leuchars had an RAF Super King Air in the circuit and a Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter had crossed the estuary southbound. A pair of US Navy MH-60S Seahawks had also headed south over St Andrews Bay - very unusual, though as there is currently a US Navy aircraft carrier somewhere out at sea off Scotland, not wholly unexpected). The feeders were visited by Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch. A Mute Swan put in an appearance and while we were looking elsewhere a party of Canada Geese arrived downriver. I happened to be stood up as a Kingfisher flew low past though no-one else managed to see the bird. We had heard it call earlier as it flew off from the wall below the hide where it had apparently been perched unseen until the loud bump of a camera lens (not mine) falling over onto the windowsill spooked it.

A pair of Linnets flew over and a pair of Collared Doves popped into the bird table outside. The couple from Crail had left, though there space was soon filled by the McPhersons from Peat Inn who were slightly disappointed to discover just how much they had missed already. A Common Gull glided by and as the tide came in it pushed the waders in closer. I scanned through them hoping for a Ruff, or a Curlew Sandpiper or maybe a Spotted Redshank. A single Black tailed Godwit and a Dunlin were as 'exotic' as it got. Two Little Egrets were seen out in the river, having suddenly appeared. As the tide rose higher I heard a Common Sandpiper calling a few times before I eventually saw it flying low over the river.

We were joined by yet another regular, Neil Redpath, and a Fife Bird Club lady member whose name I'm not sure if I know. She was the one who spotted a Sparrowhawk carrying prey circling up higher into the sky, before we all managed to lose sight of it. By now the tide was in and it was a case of scanning the water mostly. I found distant Eiders and Red Breasted Mergansers and we watched a distant Osprey well out over Balgove Bay. A Common Sandpiper with a swollen foot showed well on the wall down from the hide. A Buzzard flew into the Coble Shore reserve. Everyone except myself and Neil headed off soon after. A Coal Tit popped into the bird table and I eventually managed to add Tree Sparrow to the list for the afternoon when a pair stopped by at the table.

An Osprey with a blue leg ring which appears to read FP7 attempted to hunt above the river, eventually disappearing over the trees to the south of the hide. A second Osprey which I initially thought was the same bird, but photos showed otherwise (this one was unringed) also scouted out the river in front of the hide giving us decent photo opportunities before it too disappeared over the trees and out of our view. A Wren showed down among the rocks in front of the hide. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew over to the conifers before a small flock of gulls dropped in to the water just 'round the corner' opposite the hide. Surprisingly these were mostly Kittiwakes, not a species I can recall having seen here before.

With the time just before 1700 I called it a day and myself and Neil headed out to catch our respective buses home. I added Jackdaws in Leuchars and Rooks near St Michaels to the list, taking my afternoon total to 44 species. Despite not picking up any year-ticks it had been a worthwhile outing with some pretty good birds seen.
White Tailed Eagle

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Arctic Tern, Mallards & Goosander

Arctic Tern & Mallard

White Tailed Eagle & Great Black Backed Gull

Little Egret

White Tailed Eagle

White Tailed Eagle



Canada Goose

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper


Osprey (Blue FP7)

Osprey (Blue FP7)




Species seen - Black Headed Gull, Black Tailed Godwit, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Canada Goose, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Eider, Goosander, Great Black Backed Gull, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, House Martin, Jackdaw, Kingfisher, Kittiwake, Lapwing, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Linnet, Little Egret, Mallard, Mute Swan, Osprey, Oystercatcher, Red Breasted Merganser, Redshank, Feral Pigeon, Rook, Sparrowhawk, Swallow, Tree Sparrow, White Tailed Eagle, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Whole Lotta Rosie? (2/8/17)

With the rain playing a disappointingly large part at the weekends lately (and a wee bout of illness on Sunday putting paid to provisional plans for the day) I really wanted to ensure I got out somewhere on Wednesday this week. With sunshine forecast for most of the day things looked rather promising. As luck would have it, a couple of Roseate Terns were found at Westhaven on Tuesday by Stuart Green of Angus Birdtours with a third individual discovered by Stuart along the coast at Elliot on Tuesday evening. That settled the question of where I was going, as well as what I was looking for.

Sandwich Tern
I headed out shortly before 0745 to walk to the Arbroath Road to hopefully catch the 0755 bus to Carnoustie. A single Starling was slightly unusually the first bird onto the list for the day. More typical were the ones that followed - Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon and Lesser Black Backed Gull. The bus journey to Carnoustie was relatively productive with Carrion Crow and Woodpigeon along the Arbroath Road first then House Sparrow and Oystercatcher in Broughty Ferry. A single Mute Swan was glimpsed on the Dighty Burn near Balmossie. A Blue Tit flew into a tree on the outskirts of Monifieth and a Siskin was perched on wires opposite the caravan park between Monifieth and Barry. Rooks were also seen here and a Swallow swooped low over the fields. Collared Dove was seen in Barry and Carnoustie.

I walked down a narrowing street and through an underpass below the railway line which took me out near the Leisure Centre. I wandered down to the wall to check the end of the beach and out across the bay. A Black Headed Gull glided by. A small group of Linnets were in the weeds by the path and Pied wagtails scurried around on the grass. Sandwich Terns provided a soundtrack to my scanning with a few from a group resting further along the beach flying past where I was searching from. There was a group of Eiders offshore. I took my time scanning the rocks on the beach near the terns, adjusting my position regularly to counter both the dips between the rocks and the position of the sun which was still more to the east.

Among the rocks on the beach were a few Curlews, Redshanks and Turnstones. The tern flock also contained a few Common Terns as well as outlying Common Gulls and Kittiwakes. A few Gannets were fishing off towards Barry Buddon. A pair of distant Shags were spotted offshore. As I wandered along towards Westhaven I added Cormorant to the list. I heard Common Sandpiper and spotted a single bird low along the shore. A Grey Heron was partially hidden among the rocks. Arctic Tern was another addition before I wandered along the beach to Westhaven.

On the sandy beach ahead I could see a couple of figures sat with scopes pointing towards the rocks, and a couple of dogs. The two figures were Roddy McKenzie who sat a little further along the becah from the first figure. This was Stuart Green who had found the Roseate Terns the previous day. I enquired as to whether he'd had any luck so far today. Not yet. I sat down and scaned through the numerous groups of Terns on the rocks. A few Dunlin flew in onto the beach and Stuart found a Teal that I managed to miss, though he did manage to get me onto a single Knot among the rocks. After a while he had to head off but said he might be sea-watching later at Usan if I fancied it. It wasn't definite but if he was going he would give me a text and pick me up somewhere.

With no luck among the tern flocks nearby I decided to wander along towards the Craigmill Burn in case the Roseate Terns were there, Roddy decided to join me and we wandered along the beach at first before heading up to the edge of the field and much easier terrain underfoot. A number of Mallards were spotted and there were gulls roosting in the burn ahead of us. I succeeded in picking out a Little Gull duo which I managed to get Roddy onto. There were also plenty of Great Black Backed Gulls. There were still more flocks of terns on the rocks as the tide rose. These were generally a mix of Commons and Arctics which meant careful scrutiny of the bills and the shade of grey on the backs and wings. Still no Roseates.

I had close views of 3 Dunlin by the burn and found a very narrow channel meant I was able to jump across the burn keeping my feet dry. There were more Starlings and Pied Wagtails on the beach and hundreds of more terns to scan through. A few more Little Gulls were seen  but frustratingly still nothing resembling a Roseate Tern though there were a number of 'false alarms' but these were mostly due to the angle of the birds and the strength of the sunlight. With the time approaching 1140, I was nearing Easthaven. I had considered continuing along the coast here to Arbroath, but knowing there was a bus due before noon, I decided to hurry to the bus stop and to jump ahead to Elliot. There was a possibility that there would be more terns on rocks between Easthaven and Elliot but having a plan to continue on as far as the cliffs at Arbroath, I decided it made sense to cut a few miles from the journey.

A Tree Sparrow flew past as I waited for the bus though there were no new additions from the bus, though I was distracted from looking out of the windows by Jacqui messaging me to ask if I'd had any luck yet. At Elliot I headed for the end of the burn where it met the beach. There were a number of gulls, mostly Herring but also a single Kittiwake. No terns though. A few Sandwich Terns could be seen further out to sea and there was the odd Gannet too. Walking down to the shore I added a pair of Sedge Warblers and a Reed Bunting. Among the pebbles on the beach was a small mixed flock of small waders - Dunlin, Ringed Plover and a pair of summer plumaged Sanderling. With still no sign of any prospective Roseate Terns I continued my walk towards Arbroath harbour first.

I checked for Mediterranean Gull on the shore where an adult bird had been seen recently but drew a blank with very few birds around here, only a couple of Black Headed Gulls and a Dunlin. Round behind Pleasureland and the back of Gayfield football ground I spotted a couple of gulls. One was clearly a Black Headed Gull and the other I thought might be a Mediterranean Gull, though not the black hooded adult which had been around previously. There was some black on the wings and just a smudge behind the eye. The back-lighting made it tricky to pick out much detail on the bill and I chose to zoom in on a less than ideal photo which made me think I was looking at a slightly odd Black Headed Gull. Only later at home did I confirm my original identity - it was a Mediterranean Gull, a 2nd year bird.

At the harbour I spotted Alex Shepherd photographing Sandwich Terns from the sandy beach within, so I wandered down for a quick chat. He'd had no luck with Roseate Tern or the Mediterranean gull adult. I mentioned my odd gull in the passing  before I headed on towards the cliffs. Jackdaw and Rock Pipit were seen as I walked along the mile or so to the foot of the cliff path. There were a few more tern flocks which needed sifting through. Still no luck. There were lots of Green Veined White butterflies by the path up to the cliffs and I wandered up to scan out over the sea. There was a single fluffy Fulmar chick still on the cliffs and an adult came in to feed it after a few minutes. I picked up a lone Guillemot out on the water and a few Gannets passed by.

A solitary Sand Martin zipped around me briefly before I headed back down the hill to head back towards the harbour area. It was now after 1400. Stuart had said it would probably be around 1400 if he was going sea-watching that he'd be in touch. I was in the process of scanning through another tern flock when an elderly couple stopped to chat about birds. As I was talking to them Stuart phoned. I managed to cut him off as I attempted to answer but I managed to call him back and a pick-up was arranged back at the far side of the harbour. This was actually a bit further than I thought it was and my legs were already feeling the strain but I made it just as Stuart arrived and we headed for Fishtown of Usan to meet up with Chris McGuigan.

On the way we added House Martin, Yellowhammer, Goldfinch and Kestrel and a Great Tit and another Yellowhammer were seen before Chris arrived. The sky had grown ever greyer as the afternoon had progressed and rain was forecast for late afternoon. As I hadn't actually been planning on being out in the rain, my denim jacket wasn't ideal but as long as my camera was kept dry I wasn't too fussed. We settled down to scan out over the sea. There wasn't a great deal of movement close in, and my scope struggled to pick up the more distant birds that Stuart and Chris were seeing soo I missed a couple of probable Bonxies and a couple of Manx Shearwaters though I did eventually manage to pick up one heading north.

A Razorbill was just offshore and a Whimbrel flew over. Things were disappointingly quiet so we decided to give up not too long after the rain began. I did manage to contribute a single southbound Common Scoter before we did so. Stuart suggested we head back to Arbroath and Westhaven to check the terns with the possibility of a check at Elliot if the rain allowed. We had no luck near the cliffs so continued along to the other side of the harbour. No luck there either, so we moved round to behind Pleasureland. A few Little Gulls were seen among the Sandwich Terms before Stuart found an adult Roseate Tern which appeared to be the same bird he'd found the night before a mile further west at Elliot. Result. After taking a few photos, I headed back into the car. Stuart was struggling to keep his umbrella steady as he tried to digiscope the bird so he asked me to hold the umbrella while he did so.

As I held the umbrella to shelter more from the wind than the rain Stuart realised that the juvenile tern just in front of the adult bird was in fact a juvenile Roseate Tern. Two for the price of one, and taking the total number of Roseate Terns on the Angus coastline to 4 in 2 days! I put word out on the ADBC grapevine crediting Stuart with the find, rather than having my name against it. Although I hadn't found the birds myself it did feel like all the effort scanning through the hundreds, possibly thousands of terns earlier hadn't been a waste of effort. I realised later that I probably should have taken the opportunity to shoot a bit of video of a species that I don't yet have video of, this being only my second ever Roseate Terns. With the rain showing no sign of abating, and my target in the bag, Stuart dropped me ahead of a bus back to Dundee, so he could head for home too, and I made it home rather wet after the half mile walk home in the rain from the bus stop.

A worthwhile day out with lots of practice at trying to identify terns, and a bonus self-found Mediterranean Gull, though I clearly need to do a bit more studying of the younger birds. The strong sun in the morning had made it rather a tiring walk, especially on the soft sand between Craigmill Burn and Easthaven and I discovered via Google Earth that I had actually walked just short of 9 miles carrying slightly more weight (the small scope) than I usually do. A total of 57 species including a year-tick (in bold). Eight species of gull and four of terns too.

Common Tern

Sandwich Tern & Arctic Tern



Great Black Backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Black Headed Gulls & Little Gulls

Little Gull & Arctic Tern

Carrion Crow & Ringed Plover



Mediterranean Gull & Black Headed Gull

Sandwich Tern






Great Tit


Roseate Tern, Common Tern & Sandwich Tern

Roseate Tern

Species seen - Arctic Tern, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Common Sandpiper, Common Scoter, Common Tern, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Eider, Fulmar, Gannet, Goldfinch, Great Black Backed Gull, Great Tit, Grey Heron, Guillemot, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Kittiwake, Knot, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Linnet, Little Gull, Mallard, Manx Shearwater, Mediterranean Gull, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Pied Wagtail, Razorbill, Redshank, Reed Bunting, Ringed Plover, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Rook, Roseate Tern, Sand Martin, Sanderling, Sandwich Tern, Sedge Warbler, Shag, Siskin, Starling, Swallow, Tree Sparrow, Turnstone, Whimbrel, Woodpigeon, Yellowhammer.    

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Out Came The Sun (26/7/17)

Although heavy rain had been forecast to last most of the day on my midweek day off this week, I realised that it might be possible to squeeze in a bit of birding for a few hours from around 1400 when the rain looked like petering out and there was even a chance of some sunshine. By paying attention to an almost real-time radar map of rain, I was able to see that if I headed out for about 1400 I could watch the tide rise at Guardbridge. I hoped that there might be an interesting wader or two among the increasing numbers of waders.

Dunlin & Turnstone
I headed out at around 1345 to catch the bus into town, hoping to catch the St Andrews bus around 1400. It was still raining when I left and birds were keeping a low profile. A Blackbird was first onto the list as I waited for a bus, then a Woodpigeon and Herring Gull were seen from the bus. A Lesser Black Backed Gull and Feral Pigeons were watched around the bus station. Cormorants were seen on Submarine Rock, with a Carrion Crow on the grass verge at the Fife end of the Tay bridge. Jackdaw was added as the bus passed through Leuchars.

A Swift zipped over as I got off the bus and with the sun shining now I headed into the hide. I had hoped that the work going on beyond the fence to the north of the hide would have been rained off, but found that it was still ongoing, limiting the likelihood of birds coming in close to the hide. I had chosen to bring my scope and tripod with me so that I would be able to identify birds at distance, as most were likely to be. Thankfully the birds at the feeders didn't need a scope to see them and within the first few minutes as I unpacked the scope etc I had already seen Great Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Tree Sparrow and Blue Tit.

I opened the window once the scope and tripod were set up. A Black Headed Gull was gliding around above the river. A couple of Lapwings were on the far bank, and a Grey Heron waded along further downstream. There were a trio of Mute Swans on the water and I scanned the shoreline opposite finding a few Oystercatchers and a Curlew or two. A large flock of Lapwings wheeled around to the south of the bridge before drifting out of sight again. A Common Sandpiper flew low over the river in characteristic fluttering style. A Cormorant fishing had drawn the attention of two large and hungry Great Black Backed Gulls. The large flatfish the Cormorant had surfaced with looked rather too big to swallow easily. However, the aggressive attentions of the gulls hastened the departure of the fish down the throat of the Cormorant and the gulls swam off, leaving the Cormorant to attempt to get the fish further down its neck and into its stomach.

There were a number of Mallards and a few Goosanders alongside the Herring Gulls and Black Headed Gulls down near the bend in the river while up towards the bridge were a large flock of Redshanks. There was nothing obviously different among the ones I could see from the hide but I hoped that as the tide rose the birds would relocate to where I could see them better. More scanning with the scope found a pair of Shelducks with only a single youngster in tow. There were a couple of very distant Red Breasted Mergansers and a few Eiders well downriver. A trio of small waders landed on the mud at a similar distance. Size and behaviour suggested Dunlin, but the light and distance meant i couldn't be certain.

I didn't have to wait too long to find a few Dunlin, with a small group appearing opposite along with increasing numbers of Redshanks moving from upriver. A Swallow swept low over the water. A few miles out I could see the distinctive white shapes of Gannets diving in St Andrews Bay. A small group of Linnets flew over the hide and a Common Gull glided past. I was joined by a couple of regulars in the hide, the McPhersons from Peat Inn, who I run into here quite often and who are always chatty. As we chatted I found a Turnstone among the Dunlins and Redshanks across the river from the hide. Unexpected but not unprecedented. A Pied Wagtail was on the grass behind the pub.

I happened to be looking down the slope below the hide just as a Kingfisher flew past low over the water. A Sand Martin circled round a few times before disappearing westwards over the hide. More scanning as the water levels rose gradually found the orange of a Black Tailed Godwit catching my eye. We later found another four. A Little Egret was spotted out on the salt marsh among the Curlews. We heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling a couple of times but failed to see it. A pair of Magpies flew across the river and into the former papermill site.

As the tide rose further the Dunlin numbers increased as did the Redshanks but apart from a slightly different looking Dunlin there didn't appear to be anything out of the very ordinary among the wader flocks. A pair of Common Sandpipers showed across the river as the waders moved round the bend and a second, and then third Little Egret were found on the saltmarsh . The McPhersons left around 1630 and I headed for home around 15 minutes later. A House Martin was one final addition from the bus home from the City Centre.

A decent enough couple of hours birding even though there was nothing particularly unusual and not many good photo opportunities to be had, with a total of 41 species seen.

Cormorant & Great Black Backed Gull

Cormorant & Great Black Backed Gull

Turnstone & Redshank

Dunlin, Redshank, Black Tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Black Headed Gull & Little Egret

Dunlin, Redshank, & Curlew

Redshank & Dunlin

Dunlin & Redshank

Dunlin & Redshank



Species seen - Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Black Tailed Godwit, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Common Gull, Common Sandpiper, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Eider, Gannet, Goosander, Great Black Backed Gull, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, House Martin, Jackdaw, Kingfisher, Lapwing, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Linnet, Little Egret, Magpie, Mallard, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Pied Wagtail, Red Breasted Merganser, Redshank, Feral Pigeon, Sand Martin, Shelduck, Swallow, Swift, Tree Sparrow, Turnstone, Woodpiegon.