Tuesday, 28 June 2022

0987 : On The Rocks (22/6/22)

Gannet

Rather unexpectedly, Ian messaged me to see if I fancied a trip to Fife Ness on Wednesday. As the weather forecast was to be a bit too warm for me I had practically written off the chance of me doing any birding before Ian's message came through. It is exhausting walking miles in the hot sun carrying my birding gear and even choosing to travel light doesn't solve all the issues, so I tend to limit my birding outings in the hotter weather of summer. Thankfully, this mostly coincides with the quieter period in the birding calendar year. With Fife Ness being our destination, it would only be a short walk from the car and the likelihood of a cooling breeze off the sea would also mean that I wouldn't end up too hot and irritated. A major plus for me was the chance to get in some seawatching, which is one of my favourite types of birding and something I cannot really do within Dundee's boundaries.

Ian picked me up at 0730. A trio of unidentified ducks (though most likely Mallards) had flown over northwards while I waited for him to arrive. A number of other species were noted before we set off for Fife - Swift, Herring Gull, Hosue Sparrow, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Dunnock, Magpie, Chaffinch, Jackdaw and Feral Pigeon. A Grey Heron was seen stood in the Tay at the Fife end of the bridge. Collared Dove was noted as we passed through Leuchars with Oystercatcher and Mallard, a little further on. Both Swallow and House Martin were seen over Guardbridge. A Skylark was spotted over a roadside field before we reached St Andrews. Rooks were noted in good numbers in one of the fields as we headed out to Fife Ness from Crail.

We parked opposite the static caravans at Fife Ness and got ourselves organised. Yellowhammer, Pied Wagtail and Whitethroat were all seen close by while a number of Gannets could be seen passing by offshore. There were 2 female Eiders in the small bay next to where the car was parked. The rocks to the north held Cormorants, Shags and Great Black Backed Gulls. A Grey Seal was 'bottling' beyond these rocks and a Song Thrush was heard singing from the direction of the 'Patch'. We sat round behind the pillbox and having set up our scopes we began scanning out over the sea. Gannets and a mix of Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins made up the majority of the passing birds to start with before a trio of Common Scoters headed north and a few Sandwich Terns went by closer in, in the opposite direction.

Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common Tern and finally the first few of an eventual total of 11 Manx Shearwaters were added. Heat shimmer from the rocks in front of us was causing some problems so we decided to move down nearer the water to alleviate the issue. This worked out well, especially when we became aware of 'something' heading towards the rocks a little to our north. It didn't look like anything that made any sort of sense but it was definitely being propelled towards the rocks. Eventually it became apparant what it was we were looking at - an Otter carrying a rather large Lobster in its mouth. It clambered out of the water onto a sloping rock which meant we couldn't see the Lobster. I decided to creep closer for a better angle. I was able to get round behind the Otter and proceeded to take some photos.

The camera shutter noise drew some attention from the Otter but it continued to munch on the Lobster which was still hidden from view by the slope of the rock. I took a few more photos with the Otter turning its head to face me once or twice. From the photos it appears that the right hand eye is smaller (or more sunken) than the left, perhaps suggesting an injury and there is what appears to be a scar on the nose too. A Great Black Backed Gull showed up above the Otter and with nothing additional to gain from remaining where I was I attempted to return the way I'd came so as not to disturb the Otter any further as it was tucking in to breakfast. When I got back to my scope I discovered that my movement and the loitering gull had seemingly persuaded the Otter to take its meal elsewhere.

Getting back to the birds we added a few more Manx Shearwaters, Common Terns, Sandwich Terns, Puffins and Fulmars as well as the far more numerous Guillemots and Gannets. A lone Arctic Tern was added eventually. A pair of RAF Typhoons were mock dog-fighting out over the sea which did provide us with another distraction from the Gannets and Guillemot passage. A few Common Gulls and a trio of Redshanks were also noted. Eventually around 1115 we decided to head up to Kilminning for a look about there, though our expectations were realtively low. Ian dropped me off at the top end while he popped back to Crail to buy something for his lunch. There was a large noisy flock of Jackdaws milling around overhead and a Buzzard drifted over a bit higher in the sky above them.

Woodpigeon, Goldfinch, Wren and a singing Skylark were all noted. A Willow Warbler was heard singing and a Rabbit ran off when it spotted me. Swallows and House Martins swept low over the field to the north of the road. A couple of Meadow Brown butterflies were seen flitting around as well as a Speckled Wood butterfly before Ian arrived back. We drove down to the much changed bottom end which is now owned by the Crail community and is being redeveloped to be more wildlife friendly. Lots of trees have been planted and there has been some landscaping done to limit parking. A wander around added Sedge Warbler and Stonechat down by the fenceline. A Green Veined White butterfly and a couple of very fresh looking Ringlets were seen in a few sheltered spots. Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Pheasant, Blue Tit and Great Tit and a distant male Sparrowhawk with prey were all noted along with a second Sedge Warbler before we had to call it a day to allow Ian to get home for around 1400.

We finished the birding for the day having noted a total of 55 species of which 4 (in bold) were new for my almost forgotten year-list. Two of the five species of butterflies seen were also firsts for the year for me, though the main highlight was undoubtedly the close views of the Otter. Having only visited Fife four times in six months this year, I've managed to get amazing views of Otters in two of these visits, both times with Ian, which have resulted in my best photos of this often hard to see species. When I was a kid this would have been unthinkable. On the down side it has now been many, many years since I last saw a Water Vole anywhere which were relatively common back then. For every species gained there seems to be at least 2 or 3 losses which is not good news. The ready availability of photos and news of sightings on the internet seems to create an illusion of plenty of wildlife. Had the internet (and digital cameras) been around 40+ years ago I suspect there would have been some very noticeable differences in both quantity and quality of wildlife to be seen.


Herring Gull
Guillemot
Sandwich Tern
Manx Shearwater
Common Scoter
Puffin
Otter with Lobster
Otter
Otter
Common Gull
Cormorant
Common Tern
Fulmar
Great Black Backed Gull
Goldfinch
Jackdaw
Buzzard
House Martin
Stonechat
Sparrowhawk
Reed Bunting
Ringlet
Swallow
Sedge Warbler



Birds - Arctic Tern, Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, Common Gull, Common Scoter, Common Tern, Cormorant, Dunnock, Eider, Fulmar, Gannet, Goldfinch, Great Black Backed Gull, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Guillemot, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kittiwake, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Magpie, Mallard, Manx Shearwater, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Puffin, Razorbill, Redshank, Reed Bunting, Feral Pigeon, Rook, Sandwhich Tern, Sedge Warbler, Shag, Skylark, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stonechat, Swallow, Swift, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer.

Butterflies - Green Veined White, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood.

Mammals - Grey Seal, Otter, Rabbit.

Saturday, 25 June 2022

0986 : Completing The Set? (19/6/22)

Nuthatch


Saturday's search for fledged Nuthatches at Balgay Hill had been a success, though not completely, with two of the hoped for three distinct family groups found. There was however no sign of any activity either at, or near the third nest site. This either meant the birds had fledged but I had been unlucky in my search for them, or that the nest had failed. Although there was no way available for me to be able to prove the latter, if I could find a Nuthatch family in the area near the nest then that would complete the set of 3 families. Nuthatches are territorial all year round, so I would be unlikely to encounter either of the other 2 groups in the territory of the remaining family. With the weather forecast broadly similar to Saturday, albeit slightly cooler, I decided to go back to Balgay Hill for a second attempt at finding them.

I was a little later in heading out the door on Sunday morning, at around 0905. It was a broadly similar mix of species seen and heard on the walk to the hill, though I chose to take a broadly similar route to that most often used on my walk to work. Blackbird, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Carrion Crow, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Magpie, Woodpigeon, Jackdaw and Feral Pigeon were noted on the walk past the football stadiums. Starling, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Swift, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and Wren were added on the walk from the top of the Hilltown to the football pitches at Lochee Park.

I'd messaged Lainy to see if she wanted to join me at the hill but she was out of town. Having an extra pair of eyes would have been helpful for keeping tabs on how many individual birds we were watching at any one time, but getting an accurate count of the number of fledged youngsters was a bonus, not the main objective. Proving that the third nest had been successful was my main reason for a return visit. Within a minute or so of arriving at the hill, I heard a calling Nuthatch and it didn't take long for me to actually see a few of the birds in one of the trees near the 'driveway' entrance. There were at least 2 youngsters but the geography of the area in question made it impossible to keep up with the birds as they headed into the trees further up the slope, which required a very circuitous route to be able to relocate them.

I added a pair of Stock Dove perched high in a tree as I tried to refind the Nuthatches. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into a tree-top that proved impossible to get a clear view of. I cut my losses with the third group and headed for the general area of the western nest site. Unlike the previous day, I failed to find any sign of the Nuthatches there. Coal Tit and Great Tit were seen though. After an hour or so of searching the general area I headed back to the eastern half of the hill. A Buzzard soared up above the observatory but again there seemed to be no trace of the previous day's Nuthatches. I did add Bullfinch and a Grey Squirrel to the list, and I was joined once again by the 'tame' Robin and one of the juveniles as I checked out the site where I'd watched the Nuthatches feeding in the sun the previous afternoon.

A Blackcap was heard singing nearby and a Goldcrest appeared in the tree above me. There was still no sign of any Nuthatches. I did manage to add a Treecreeper as one was seen ascending a tree trunk down by the path. Probably the same bird was seen a little later in a tree near where I was standing. A pair of Jays put in an appearance and a Woodpigeon decided that it wasn't going to waste any effort flying away from me, as I shooed it away from the food I'd put out to try to tempt in the Nuthatches. I suspect it was probably the same Woodpigeon I'd played the same 'game' with on a previous visit nearby. It would walk away then turn back when it thought I might not be watching and head back towards the food, only for me to walk towards it, and it to turn away again with no great sense of urgency.

I eventually left the food to the Woodpigeon (and Magpies, Carrion Crows and Jays) and made another effort to find some Nuthatches, preferably the third group. As I was walking along the path, I spotted a Nuthatch at the base of a mature tree. I then spent the next 20 minutes or so watching a minimum of 6 birds flitting around, with two adult birds each being pursued by a begging youngster. At one point a Treecreeper landed on a tree near me and I grabbed a photo. A Nuthatch then landed on the same tree trunk giving me an unusual photo opportunity of both species together, which is something I've only seen in artwork in older bird books and a search on google images failed to find a similar photo. I actually thought I'd missed the opportunity as I lost sight of the Treecreeper but checking the photos at home later, it was still there. A second Nuthatch joined the first, and the Treecreeper, making for an even more unusual photo.

I missed out on a photo of 3 youngsters together on a short branch as they settled for a split second before deserting the perch rapidly one after the other. I had a youngster land a metre or so in front of me and proceed to indulge in a spot of preening. Unfortunately the light was relatively poor but I was still pleased with the resultant photos. I spoke to a few passing walkers (and a runner) who asked what I was seeing, and gave out a few cards with the web address for this blog, so hopefully you're reading (and enjoying) this post if you were one of the recipients (though it is a little further delayed than expected). The birds disappeared quickly as I was chatting to a runner and failed to return again, so as the time neared 1600 I called it a day and headed for home, adding a few House Martins feeding above the tree-tops on the south side of the hill.

As with the previous day, it was another successful birding outing, with (eventually) plenty of photo opportunities too. The total number of species seen or heard was only 30, 4 down on the previous day's total, but building a large list wasn't the purpose of the day's trip. A conservative estimate of the total number of young Nuthatches seen is around 10 - made up of a 4 and 2 lots of 3. The real total may be higher however, as Nuthatches typically lay between 6 and 8 eggs apparently. Hopefully, when these youngsters disperse over the next few months they will establish territories in the likes of Camperdown Park, Caird Park and maybe even Baxter Park. Riverside Nature Park might even see one passing through. Fingers crossed that what has been a very successful couple of years for Nuthatches becoming established in Dundee continues over the next few and Nuthatches become almost as common a sight as the Magpies are now and I will get questions about what the small bird walking headfirst down a tree trunk was from colleagues at work, and interested walkers around the city.


Nuthatch
Stock Dove
Carrion Crow
Bullfinch
Robin
Goldcrest
Woodpigeon
Great Tit
Chiffchaff
Wren
Coal Tit
Blackbird
Treecreeper
Blue Tit
Jay
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Treecreeper & Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Grey Squirrel


Birds - Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Jay, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Magpie, Nuthatch, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Starling, Stock Dove, Swift, Treecreeper, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Mammals - Grey Squirrel.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

0985 : Check-Up Time (18/6/22)

Robin


June is always one of my quietest months for birding. It tends to be a bit too warm for me to go anywhere and there is a bit too much foliage on the trees even when it is a bit cooler. Waders and even gulls are very few and far between and migration is more or less over for the 'Spring' movements. There are however plenty of newly fledged youngsters around, though they are not always easy to see. Hearing them calling constantly is the easy part, and watching the adult birds can often help to find out where the noisier youngsters are hiding. As with last summer, myself and Keith Edwards have been keeping an eye on the Nuthatches at Balgay Hill here in Dundee. Last year the one nest that we were aware of proved successful, though we were unsure how many birds had fledged.

Although the forecast for the weekend was for rather windy conditions, I figured that as I would be out of the sun in below the trees at Balgay, I might as well try and see if there had been any breeding success again this summer. This year we were watching three nests - one in the same area as last year, one further east and one in the cemetery half of the hill. The fact we had three nests did suggest that we might have underestimated the number of fledged birds in 2021. Trying to watch and count a number of very mobile birds in the trees isn't easy and we chose to err on the side of caution. This time around it would just be myself attempting to find and count any fledged Nuthatches, at least on Saturday.

I headed out at around 0800. The wind was quite strong but thankfully it wasn't overly cold, nor overly warm. Herring Gull, Blackbird, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Starling, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Feral Pigeon and Jackdaw were all noted on the walk up past the football stadiums. Woodpigeon, Swift and Carrion Crow were around near the start of Byron Street before I diverted up towards the Law. Goldcrest, Goldfinch and Blue Tit were added on the walk to the hill where a Whitethroat was displaying near the small car park. A family of Greenfinches were on the steps behind the toilet block and a few Magpies were around at the top of the hill. I checked Cox's Stack for Peregrines but drew a blank.

The walk from the Law to Balgay Hill added Bullfinch and Chaffinch and a Grey Squirrel to the list as well as a singing Blackcap in the trees by the Friary. A House Martin was hawking for insects over the grassy slope at the eastern end of the hill. The walk along the wooded hill-top paths towards the Observatory gave me Wren and Chiffchaff as well as the local Buzzard which I inadvertantly spooked from its perch in a tree near the path. Robin, Siskin and Great Tit were also noted in the same general area. I decided I would check up on the western nest first and work my way back to the others. Surprisingly it didn't take too much effort to find Nuthatches in the area to the north of the western nest. There were at least 3 youngsters and at least 1 adult bird. I was able to get very close views of one of the youngsters as it foraged on a tree stump by keeping a gravestone between me and the bird.

As with last year, it proved tricky to keep tabs on all the birds as they constantly moved around with only the high pitched incessant contact calls to help refind them. There were a few young Bullfinches around also though they were a lot more wary than the Nuthatches which at times showed down to a metre or so in branches above me - often too close for photos. I spent a couple of hours watching this group. At one point, three of the youngsters even flew up onto one of the roofs of the houses beyond the wall. Eventually I headed back to the eastern half of the hill to try to find out if the other families had successfully fledged or not. There was no sign of activity at, or even near, the first of the two nests. I hoped that signified success rather than failure.

Moving on to the area near the third nest, which was the one we discovered last, I added Treecreeper, Jay and Long Tailed Tit. I also managed to locate a larger family group of Nuthatches with at least 6 birds foraging in the trees close to the path. I was able to get lots more photos as the birds kept busy. A Sparrowhawk passed overhead. I had another wander to see if I could find the third group of birds that I hoped would be around but I was unable to find any signs. I did however stumble upon an area where the Nuthatches were feeding in good light. This made a pleasant change and I spent an enjoyable hour or so watching the birds at close range as well as Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Robin and Blackcap. Woodpigeon, Carrion Crow, Wren, Magpie and Jay were all nearby too. The Buzzard put in another appearance.

It proved hard to tear myself away from the sunny spot but I eventually did to try again for the third family. Once again I drew a blank but as it was now after 1500 I decided to head for home. A stop at the Law added a Willow Warbler to the list for the day taking the number of species for the day to 34. As the purpose of the day's birding was to try and find if the Nuthatches had bred successfully or not, it had proved to be a successful day out. As is often the case with the Nuthatches at the hill, I had taken a few hundred photos of the birds which at times seemed almost completely fearless. Once again I had managed to improve on my previous best photos of the species with ridiculously good views in sunshine and I may yet post a very photo-heavy "Nuthatch special" blog. All in all, mission accomplished, though with the unanswered questions of "just how many youngsters are there this year?" and "Was the remaining nest successful, or not?".


Siskin
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Coal Tit
Nuthatch
Dunnock
Nuthatch
Bullfinch
Buzzard
Magpie
Bullfinch
Tree Bumblebee
Treecreeper
Jay
Blackcap
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Robin
Blackcap
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Nuthatch


Birds - Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Jay, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Long Tailed Tit, Magpie, Nuthatch, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Swift, Treecreeper, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Mammals - Grey Squirrel.