Wednesday, 22 December 2010

More Activity In And Around The Garden

With the delightful news of school being shut on Monday, I headed out into the garden at around 10:00am that morning to see if I could get any more shots of birds in the garden and any more of the Fieldfares and Redwings. Prior to getting the camera out, I put some bird seed in the feeders and laid a tray of bread on the wall so as to try and attract more birds in the garden. It managed to, and this helped on the photographic front. There were still plenty of the commoner finches and tits about, but surprisingly the expected lot (Chaffinches, Blue Tits etc.) were not the most regular visitor to the feeders. There were a few Coal Tits in the garden, and they seemed to be spending the most time on the feeders. This allowed for a couple of nice shots, although I didn't manage any of them on the feeder.

Coal Tit, Aberdeen (20/12/10)

This beauty was still around as well, perched up on the wall so perfectly that a photo was just irresistible.

Song Thrush, Aberdeen (20/12/10)

It was nice to re-discover the stunning male Bulllfinch again, who was more obliging this time and seemed to not be the only one in the area. Later on that morning, a flock of 4 Bullfinches were seen in flight over the back lane, calling as they went and presumably containing the individual I had seen earlier on. 2 of them, both fantastic males, landed on a tree not too far away from me whilst the other two flew onwards. I was astounded by this total - I was very happy with 1 the day before, but 4!! Fabulous stuff and definitely the highlight of the morning! However, it shows how desperate birds have become in this freezing weather. You'd never get 4 Bullfinches here if it weren't due to the current weather conditions! Below is a photo of the bird I presumed was the only individual taken in the garden, and also a photo of one of the two that landed on a tree in the back lane.

Bullfinch, Aberdeen (20/12/10)

I didn't have a great deal of time as I had made other arrangements for the day, so I spent the last hour or so available round the back lane to try and get some more shots of Fieldfares. Sure enough, there were the Fieldfares again, 6 of them this time on the exact same bush as they were on the day before. I would have got more photos than I did if it hadn't been for a couple of snow showers forcing me to shelter under the roof of a shed! However, I am much happier with these photos than my previous ones, as they didn't require that much brightening at all and the quality of the photos has improved considerably. I can safely say that I don't need any more photos of Fieldfare or Redwing now. Below are the Fieldfare photos I managed.

Fieldfare, Aberdeen (20/12/10)

That was all I had time for, but overall it was a very satisfying couple of hours. This is very likely going to be my last post of the year, so I'd like to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! It's been a sensational year of birding for me, and shortly after New Year I will be releasing my Yearly Review and Round Up, which will appear as a tab below the title picture of my blog.

Best wishes and all the best for 2011,

Joseph Nichols (Aberdeenshire Young Birder)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

In Pursuit of Redwings and Fieldfares

The weather has been ferociously cold in the last few days here in Aberdeen. To excerbate matters, there is also 6-7 inches of lying snow around. As horrible as this may sound, it didn't stop me from braving the conditions and going outside today to try and photograph birds in my back garden and local area. Unfortunately, the light wasn't great, but this didn't stop me either. Well wrapped up, I headed out into the garden at about 1:00pm to see what I could photograph. I was primarily hoping to photograph Redwings and Fieldfares but after about half an hour or so out there it became apparent that this wasn't the best place to be. There were Redwings and Fieldfares in the area, as I could hear them and see them flying over, but they weren't actually landing in the garden. There were however, plenty of other garden birds around, such as Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds and a Song Thrush. All of these birds proved frustratingly hard to photograph, as they were mostly stopping off and then moving on to other gardens. The Blue Tits, however, seemed to be staying in the garden more than the other birds, partly because there was more of them around than any other species. Having said this though, most of them were moving about too much and were too high up to get any decent photos. I was fortunate enough to get a photo of this individual, which was in one of the smaller trees and that stayed quite still for a short amount of time. They are such beautiful things; we should consider ourselves privileged that they are so ubiquitous here in the UK...
Blue Tit, Aberdeen (19/12/10)

At about 1:30, a snow shower suddenly hit. Just as I was making my way indoors to get some shelter, I caught sight of a bird with an intensely bright orange breast dip into one of the trees beside me. I looked round and was delighted to see a stunningly beautiful male Bullfinch, a species of bird that I don't see all too often and only my second ever sighting of this species in the garden. I managed a record shot of it, although the picture isn't great due to the snow that was falling at the time and the fact that it was nestled amongst the branches of the tree that it was in. A lovely thing to have come across in the garden, and, thanks to this photo, a moment that I will remember for some time to come!

Bullfinch, Aberdeen (19/12/10)

The snow shower died down after an annoyingly long half an hour, meaning it was about 2:05 before I was able to get out of the house again and wonder round the local area to see if I could find some Redwings and Fieldfares. I started by having a check of the local parks (Victoria and Westburn Park), but was disappointed to find very few of either species, and those few that I did find were far too high up to photograph. I was a bit unsure of where to go next, but it then occured to me that there was a lane round the back of my street that had a good supply of berry bushes, so I headed there. This is where I should have gone in the first place, as there more Redwings and Fieldfares here than anywhere else. I spent over an hour here, trying my hardest to get some decent photos of both species. Unfortunately the light was fading and generally pretty low, so many of the shots that I took were of poor quality. Early on, I managed a couple of half decent shots of this Redwing....

Redwing, Aberdeen (19/12/10)

There were less Redwings than there were Fieldfares, and it seemed that the latter species was far more obliging as well. After chasing them about for a short while, I was able to track a group of 10 Fieldfares onto a small bush. Luckily for me, they didn't move from that bush for about 20 minutes, so I spent ages standing there and photographing them. The light was fading all the time, meaning most of the shots were pretty bad. Having said that I did manage a few better shots, a selection of which can be seen below. Due to the poor light they had to be brightened up somewhat and thus aren't exactly great quality, but they will suffice.

Fieldfare, Aberdeen (19/12/10)

I was in for one last treat before the day ended. Having returned home from photographing the Fieldfares, I was out in the garden having one last check (partly inspired by seeing the Bullfinch) to see if anything was around. A mixture of Chaffinches, House Sparrows and Blue Tits were flitting hither and thither between the trees, and as I was watching them I noticed a tiny little bird scuttling up the branch of one of the closest trees to me - a Treecreeper. Like Bullfinch, Treecreeper is a species that I don't see regularly, and this was only my third record for the garden ever, so it came as an absolute delight to me. Even though the light was now very poor, I still managed to get a photo, meaning that I had photographed two rare birds for the garden in one day. Below is the photo I managed, made much brighter than it originally was. As a shot of an elusive species, it could be worse!

Treecreeper, Aberdeen (19/12/10)

Overall I am very glad with what today produced, especially considering that I was no more than a few minutes from my house at any point! The quality of my Redwing and Fieldfare photos were reasonably good, but can be improved on. This was mostly due to the light conditions and the time that I went out. I plan to do this again, so next time (at some point in the next four or five days) I am going to get out during the morning and hope that the light conditions are more in my favour. In my next post, I will hopefully have some better photos of both species.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Gull Action

As promised, I got out to do my first bit of birding in absolutely ages today. My aim was to attempt to try and see the Glaucous Gull down by the Harbour at Torry near my local patch, Girdleness, and then head up to Peterhead to see if I could photograph the Iceland Gulls that have been there. The day proved to be partly successful, but not entirely. Luckily, it was successful on the Glaucous Gull front, as, unlike Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull would be a year tick for me. The Glaucous Gull was first seen a week ago, and as it continued to be reported I enquired into the best places to look for it. By today, I was fully 'genned up', and knew exactly the best places to check, which proved to be a big advantage. At around 9:30am I arrived down at Torry, and proceeded to check the area that I was aware it had been seen in. I started checking on the bridge across from Aberdeen to Torry (the Victoria Bridge), where a whole row and mix of Herring and Lesser-Black-Backed Gulls indolently hugged the rocky shoreline and 2 Goosanders + a Goldeneye were fishing. However, there was no sign of the Glaucous Gull. Next port of call was the other place it had been seen regularly, on top of a big white warehouse marked 'ASCO' at the junction between two roads called Crombie Road and Sinclair Road.

On approach, I noticed a group of gulls sitting on it. I scanned them, and hey presto, there was the Glaucous Gull, right at the front of the group, alertly looking from left to right. As I got closer, I couldn't see it's whole body due to the height of the warehouse, but I could see the pale, pink bill with the dark tip and the general cafe-au-lait colour of the bird. Eventually I got too close, and it flew out of view, showing the very pale wing tips as it did so. I continued to walk around the area, hoping to come across it again, and I did on the nearby Sinclair Road about 10 minutes later when I flushed it, with very good views as it flew by in a lumbering fashion. Having had very good views, I was now hoping for photos. I did another circuit of the area, returning back to Sinclair Road, where I sighted it sitting stone still on top of stone, medium height pillar. I slowly approached it, and managed to get within 20ft of it, photographing it and getting my best views of it. It sat there for a couple of minutes, before it was spooked by an articulated lorry. I didn't see it again unfortunately, but I was very satisified with my views and glad with my photos. A very valuable year-tick and a lovely bird to see - only my second Glaucous Gull ever. Below are a few of my photos of it, including it in flight. The light wasn't all too good, so sorry if they appear a bit dark.

Glaucous Gull, Torry, Aberdeen (12/12/10)

After a satisfying start to the day, I was hoping the trend of success would continue at Peterhead. We were there by about 11:30am, and I arrived in the area where they are usually seen, right at the heart of the harbour, to find that there were very few gulls around at all. The time I had seen the Iceland Gulls before, there had been hundreds of gulls in the Harbour. I checked the area for about 20 minutes, then decided that I'd slowly meander along the seaside road through Peterhead and check the gulls on the rocks there. I found several groups of gulls and scoped each of them, but none of them contained Iceland Gulls. After some lunch, we headed back to where we had started off, but yet again there weren't any Iceland Gulls. I was disappointed, but I reassured myself that I could return in January, as it is likely they will winter, and if I saw them then I could try photographing them, and also year-tick them. One thing that always entertains me when at Peterhead Harbour is how tame these little fellas are - this one was only a few feet away from where I was standing...

Turnstone, Peterhead Harbour (12/12/10)

There wasn't much else to do, so I headed down to the Ythan to have a casual check of the Estuary and have a walk in nearby the coastal moor of Forvie NNR. On arrival I met Ken Hall, and we chatted for about 20 minutes, enjoying the tranquility of the Estuary and discussing several photographic and bird-related things. There wasn't too much on the Estuary, with the most notable things being about 35 Dunlins and 70 Golden Plovers. Whilst speaking, it was lovely to witness these three majestic Mute Swans flying very close past us...

Mute Swans, Ythan Estuary (12/12/10)

Once I had spoken to Ken, I had a small walk on Forvie Moor, which produced more or less nothing. However, I went home satisified with the views and shots of Glaucous Gulls I had obtained - a day-maker in its own right.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A School Tick and More Waxwings

I thought I'd quickly drop in a post to say that my 'urban birding' is still coming on strong. There have been a reasonable number of Waxwings about in the city within the last week and a half or so, with the biggest flock being c.50 over Rose Street on the 30th November, and since December has started the largest flock I have had was 30 on Osborne Place on the 3rd, the first flock in a while that I had seen perched up on top of a tree rather in flight. Despite enjoying the very close views I was getting, the flock got spooked by a Sparrowhawk after about 5 minutes, bombing it southwards, so I didn't have too long to enjoy them.

The highlight, though, has to go to an unexpected school tick on the 3rd. I was sitting in Biology (on the top floor) at 1:00pm. I sat there, staring out the window as I waited for the lunch bell to go, when I noticed a medium-sized, plump looking bird zoom past. I rose to my feet to see what it was, knowing that was something interesting, and discovered that it was a Woodcock. I watched it as it went westwards, erratically zigzagging back and forth at high speed, propelling it further and further away until it became a mere dot and then disappeared. I sat back down, delighted and pleasantly surprised to have come across a bird that I rarely see in the city, let alone in school. I am pretty certain that this individual had been brought into the towns due to the bitterly cold and harsh conditions that we are experiencing right now. A very nice school tick indeed!

This weekend I'm hoping to get out and do some birding. There has been a Glaucous Gull near Girdleness in Torry, which I am hoping will stick around so I can have a try for it. I am also hoping to go up to Peterhead Harbour, where a couple of Iceland Gulls have been recently. It's not so much a trip for year-tick purposes (seen Iceland already this year), but photography purposes. My aim would be to get up close and get some close range shots of them. I have heard the best way to do this is to have a substantial supply of bread at hand to lure them in... I think I will have a search in the bread bin to see if there's any old bread worth using... if not, I'll have to go up to the shop and get some!

Thanks for reading, hopefully I'll have some Iceland Gull shots to show you when I next post, and maybe even Glaucous Gull shots if I'm lucky.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Waxwings in Aberdeen (And a Tiny Bit Of Patch Birding!)

Since I have returned from Fair Isle (a report of the trip is soon to be written and will be on a separate page marked 'Fair Isle 2010' underneath the title picture of the blog once finished), patch birding has annoyingly been at a bare minimum for me. This is all in reason though, as I was up to my knees with my revision for my recently finished exams in an attempt to avoid what hopefully won't be impending failure! In the past few weeks I have pretty much had to dedicate all my free time to meticulous study. However I am now free from exams, and I will be able to catch up with my blog and do some birding! Birding hasn't been totally non-existent by any means in the last month or so though, despite the fact I have only been birding outside of Aberdeen City once since I got back. I have had to resort to 'urban birding', and, I must say, it has been very satisfying! Of course, my 'urban birding' has manifested itself in my pursuit of seeing the ever-present (although decreasing now) Waxwings. Waxwings are definitely my favourite passerine species that visits the UK in winter. They are one of nature's more beautiful creations, and when in the UK their over-elaborate and unique plumage makes them seem rather out of place in comparison to a lot of our passerine residents. They are adorned with a soft, silky pink plumage, a prominent crest that is reminiscent of a punk hairstyle, a black throat, a small black mask round the eye, yellow and white in the wings, red wing tips and a yellow-tipped tail - they almost look like something out of a painting. During some winters, Waxwings will be a rare sight in Britain. However, some years (called 'invasion years'), they appear in very large, unprecedented numbers, with many thousands seen all over the country's cities and towns. This sudden phenomenon is known as an irruption, with Waxwings being the prime example of an irruptive species. With Waxwings, 'irruptions' are most likely spurred on by a combination of a good breeding season (thus resulting in lots of birds) and a failure in the berry crop in their breeding grounds of Northern Europe.

As you will be aware, Waxwings have had a very successful invasion year in the UK. The invasion became apparent in the last couple of weeks of October, with sizeable numbers being seen in Northern Scotland, which then gradually pushed their way eastwards down towards Aberdeen. Aberdeen is arguably the first major stop off point and the best place for Waxwings during an invasion year in the UK (certainly in the initial parts of an invasion) and when they stop off here they can ubiquitous, with many hundreds, sometimes even thousands in and around the city alone. You can see them absolutely anywhere - I have had them in my garden and at school on several occasions before. They were first reported in the city on the 25-26th, with separate flocks of 30 or more dotted all over the city. By the 27th-28th numbers were increasing dramatically, and it was clear that the invasion had fully kicked off, with the largest total of 500+ on the 28th on the suburbs at Kincorth and 200+ at Allenvale Cemetery in the centre of the city. At this point I knew it was only a matter of time before I was going to connect with the invasion, and the next day (29th) I did. 8:35am, and I'm on the way to school (down Belgrave Terrace), not thinking about birds in any way whatsoever, when all of a sudden I hear several birds trilling above me, and I look up to see a flock of 20 Waxwings. Result! These exquisite little passerines flew at pace to the east of where I was standing, wheeling very briefly round in the golden sunlight in a mesmerizing fashion before descending into a garden and out of sight. This was a fantastic experience, but I didn't have much to ponder over it as the start of the school day was beckoning. After school that afternoon kept an eye out for more, and sure enough, I heard the diagnostic trills once again. They weren't coming from far away, but as far as I could tell they were coming from behind a house. Looking back along the street I was walking through, I noticed a little back alley, and decided to take it. As I did so, the trilling got louder, until eventually a flock of 12 flew just feet above my head and landed on a tall tree in a nearby garden. Unfortunately, it had turned out to be quite a cloudy and windy day, so as they sat on the tall tree their most magnificent features weren't properly picked out and they kept on being blown by the strong wind, but they were still very close and views were fantastic. I stood there watching them for 15 minutes (I regretted not having the camera!), and then headed towards home. Walking down my street, I was lucky enough to chance upon another 2 as they bombed eastwards across my street. In total that day, without properly trying, I had managed a total of 34 Waxwings.

It was about to get much, much better. As it was the weekend (30th-31st), I decided I was going to go in hot pursuit of Waxwings. That night, I read of the larger numbers that had been seen around the city. The car was unavailable so any larger flocks I wanted to see had to be in walking distance, and to my luck, c.150 had been seen on Primerosehill Drive that day, only about 25 minutes to half an hour’s walk away from the house. The next morning (30th) I was out there, in the Primerosehill Drive area in pursuit of this flock. I was lucky, and got my first taste of big numbers of Waxwings. On walking round the area once, I was lucky enough to chance upon a flock of about 35 on a street called Greenmore Gardens - some on a tree in a garden, and others perched on top of various house satellite dishes. Unfortunately they were very brief, and as I was rummaging into my bag and getting my camera ready, they flew off. Damn! I did several circuits of the area after this, and after a while it was starting to seem as if that was my lot. However, I was in luck. On my intended last circuit of the neighbourhood, I heard them on Primerosehill Drive, and looked up to see the largest flock I had seen yet fly over my head. The flock split into two groups and went in different directions, both staying in flight for long enough for us to count them - I followed one group, in which I counted a total of 44, and my Dad counted 66 in the second group. This meant that, when together as a single group, there was a total of 110 Waxwings! For me, this was the largest total I had seen in a very long time, and I was delighted. However, I was unable to get any decent photos whatsoever. I was also aware that around 150 Waxwings had been seen a couple of days before at Kittybrewster, an area about 15 minutes walk from Primerosehill. We decided to have a stroll down there in a more casual pursuit for more Waxwings. We got very lucky, as when we were walking past the Retail Park at Kittybrewster the trill sounded again and a very large number - larger than the flock at Primerosehill - flew fairly low over our heads, sticking close to each other and not spreading out much at all. In excitement, my Dad and I immediately and tactically took to counting them. This flock stayed in the air and in view for about a minute, splitting slightly from one another then joining up together again, although they were quite distant, but constant binocular views whilst they were in flight allowed us to count them effectively. The total that we came to was 130 Waxwings, no jokes! This meant that the cumulative total of Waxwings for the day was 240 Waxwings, more than I had ever seen in a day before! A feeling of intense joy and astonishment surged through me, and I went home delighted and eager to share my numbers - and ultimately very, very privileged to live in a place that is so good for Waxwings! The only unsuccessful parts of the outing was on the photographic front - due to the mobility of both flocks no half decent photos were taken, and no prolonged views of the birds were had either. This was hardly anything to feel fed up about though, I had plenty more opportunities for photos and prolonged views!

I was gifted with such an opportunity that Halloween, in what I would describe as the most memorable day + experience with Waxwings ever in terms of numbers and views I have ever had. It all started when I was walking up to the corner shop to get some food, taking my bins just in case I was to see a flock on the way up. About half way up my street, I hear their trilling call, and approximately 15 flew low over my head. They, however, disappeared out of view behind one of the houses quite quickly. Once I had got the food, I headed back towards the house. As I approached my street again I started to hear their trills, this time seeming louder and more frequent. I turned the corner, and one of the trees was filled with Waxwings. I quickly got my bins on them and started to count them, gaining good views in the process. They stayed confidingly still, and I managed to count a total of 75 birds - the 15 I had seen earlier presumably being part of this same flock. I watched them for a couple of minutes, severely regretting not having my camera, and then they flew off. Once back at the house I had a look out of the window and spotted the birds again on the street opposite mine - View Terrace.

In the afternoon at around 3pm, my Dad and I decided to take the dog for a walk in an area (the Hilton area, fairly near where I saw 110 at Primerosehill yesterday) that we knew was good for Waxwings. It was about 20 minutes from the house, and it immediately became apparent that Waxwings were present, with small flocks flying about regularly. We expected there to be a larger flock somewhere close by, and we were trying to find where the smaller flocks were landing, so we headed northwards a bit, and to my astonishment we eventually did find a large flock of well over the amount seen at Kittybrewster, all huddled together on one line of trees in the back of someone's garden (don't worry, I didn't disturb the residents of the house!). The size of this flock seemed almost unreal, and I had rarely felt so astounded in my life - there were hardly any parts of the trees that didn't have a Waxwing occupying them, it was truly packed with them, and their constant trilling reverberated throughout the quiet street (Hilton Street). These birds also seemed quite confiding, and about 10 minutes after we had found them a flock of c.50 more joined them on the tree. At several points I was lucky enough for groups of 30 or more to leave the tree and land on the rowans on the side of the road where I was standing, and I was gifted with close views as I managed to get within 8-10ft of them. The camera was on me the whole time this time, and I managed to get loads of shots of the birds, both on the trees in the garden and also when they came onto the rowans at the side of the road near me. The problem was that light levels were getting low and poor, so almost all pictures just showed the birds as silhouettes - however post-upload editing solved this problem a little for those photos worthy of uploading. The photos aren't fantastic quality by any means due to the really poor light conditions, but they are still a good record (see below). We watched them for about 25 minutes or half an hour, in which time we were able to come up with a figure of 280 Waxwings. The photos below don't manage to fit in the whole clump of trees, and thus not all the birds on the trees at the time, as I was photographing different clumps of tree and different groups of Waxwings at different points. This was an experience that was more than just very memorable, but something that will stay with me for a long time - I have never seen such large numbers of Waxwings before in my life, and to see whole trees teeming (or infested if you like!) with these impeccable, ornately plumaged little birds was like a dream, and the views that I got of them added to this sensation! As a result of the 280 here and the 75 on my street that morning I had seen a total of 355 Waxwings that day (31st October). For me, this is an exceptional total, a total that I won't be able to rival for years to come and my best total ever. This was a truly unforgettable day. Below are pictures of the 280 Waxwings on Hilton Street, each including different groups of the overall flock (both on tall line of trees in the garden and on the rowans on the road).

I continued to see Waxwings all over the city every day that week (, keeping totals of individual flocks that I saw each day, although some of the flocks I saw would have definitely included the same birds. The largest flocks seen that week in Aberdeen by anyone was a fantastic 1000 at Bridge of Don, 800 at Kincorth and 700 on Cornhill Road, with several other totals of 100 and over elsewhere in the city. My totals of course couldn't quite match these! On Monday 1st November, when walking back to school from where I do P.E, I encountered a large flock of Waxwings near Aberdeen University, with a flock of around 40 on Linksfield Road which then flew off and joined a much larger flock of 75 on the very nearby Orchard Street. I had time to count these birds, and this allowed for me to reach a cumulative total of c.115 Waxwings. Almost all the other times I saw Waxwings that week were very local. Although I never actually saw this many birds together in my area, there was probably a flock of about 120 or 130 birds mobile between my street and my school (Aberdeen Grammar School), the latter being five a minute’s walk from my house. Of the two areas I mentioned they particularly favoured the school - everyday that week flocks of 70 or more would fly over the school, sometimes landing on a tall tree that they favoured at the back of the school. The biggest flock that I had there that wasn't seen briefly in flight at the school was 110 on the tree that they favoured on the morning of Wednesday 3rd, with 90 on the same tree on the afternoon of the 2nd. On several other days that week smaller numbers of 80 and below were seen whizzing over my street and school, and a flock of 45 were seen on Hilton Street on Saturday 6th. This is the beauty of Aberdeen during Waxwing invasion years - you can be going about your everyday life without properly birding, and they are here en masse, outnumbering Starlings. They will appear on a tree outside when you are sitting in class at school, fly by when you're walking into town... whatever you are doing during these times, you will almost always see some! I feel very privileged to live in a place where this is the situation!

On the Sunday of that week (7th), I finally managed to get out for some patch birding! However, I aimed to spend the start of the day briefly checking some of the better places for Waxwings in the city. The Primerosehill, Hilton Street, Aberdeen University and Kittybrewster areas were all checked, but it was clear numbers were much lower than the week before as there were none present at any of these locations. I was quite disappointed, until, as we were heading through the Bridge of Don on the suburbs of the city, I spotted a large flock of Waxwings on some trees. Luckily, we entered a housing estate and parked here, and went to the road where I had seen them (Ellon Road near the Army Barracks). The birds were keeping very still, and were placed across a long line of trees. My Dad and I stood there quietly and counted them as they- at first a goodish total of about 85 Waxwings was counted, but about 10 minutes later they were joined by another 40, which all landed a few trees apart from the other 85, allowing for systematic and thus easy counting. These two groups put together totalled 125 Waxwings on Ellon Road, my 3rd largest total of the invasion. After counting I spent time trying to photograph them, but they were mostly too high up to get decent photos of. The two groups, after about 25 minutes, split and flew off in total different directions from one another. My Dad and I then headed off towards my local patch of the Ythan Estuary, stopping off at the Esso petrol station close by to where we had seen the Waxwings, and there was one of the two groups again! This was the group of 85, and this time they were in smaller trees and some were VERY close. This was the prime opportunity to get some much better Waxwing photos. I did my best, but unfortunately the flock flew off after about a couple of minutes. However, I did manage some shots that I am proud of in that short space of time. Below are pictures of Waxwings that were part of that 125, including birds on Ellon Road near the Army Barracks and the near pictures being of the birds nearby Esso.
My check of the Ythan, as to be expected, wasn't that productive. On the Estuary itself the highlights were: 35 Dunlin, 20 Golden Plover and a single Peregrine. Taking photos provided a lot of the entertainment here, with this beautiful little Kestrel 'windhovering' just feet away from the car as we stopped off at the layby at Inches Road....

And this Oystercatcher nonchalantly feeding on the mud nearby, who seemed to have a bit of a muddy bill....

There was only a couple of hours to spare before the sun started to set, and with a brisk south-easterly wind and reports of Little Auks all over Scotland, it seemed appropriate to have a seawatch off the nearby Collieston. Unfortunately there were no Little Auks, but plenty of Guillemots were going past. The highlight, however, came in the form of 2 Great Northern Divers very close offshore, as well as 3 Long-tailed Ducks north and a late pale phase Arctic Skua also going north. This was your lot in what was frankly quite a quiet day's patch birding, but it was very nice to be out nonetheless and I was very glad with the photos I got.

I haven't been out birding since then. Furthermore, numbers of Waxwings in the city are dwindling as many birds have moved southwards, and in the last week or so I haven't been seeing them everyday. The largest flocks I have had in the last couple of weeks was a flock of 60 over my street this Thursday just gone and 40 over Union Street right in the city centre on Sunday 21st. For the last couple of days, I have seen none. I reckon a maximum of a few hundred remain in the city. I am still hoping that at some point a reasonable number will land in the garden as they have done on previous years - I don't see why not with the freezing conditions and snow that we are experiencing right now! As for when I next get out patch birding, I am not sure, as my Dad isn't around - I will make sure I get out though whilst he isn't around though!

Thanks for reading, tune in next time for more,


Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Yes, you'll have noticed that this blog has undergone a change in identity! Originally it was a photography blog, but now it is going to be a general birding blog, with the added extra of photos!

One of the advantages of this new blog is the use of pages, situated in tabs below the title picture. These pages allow you to move away from the main page of the blog and check out other things to do with my birding, including trip reports. The advantage of including trip reports is that I can write them and simulatenously keep up to date by writing about birding days locally that have taken place after the trip, thus stopping any way of getting out of date. Right now, I still have to write up a trip report, as well as keep up to date with birding locally, so this is where pages really come in handy.


I hope you enjoy the new blog, I will post about my recent local birding exploits (since Fair Isle) in the near future.

All the Best,


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Migrants Galore And A Nice Passage Wader

Ah, its always pleasing when yet another fall takes place locally, whether it includes that scarcer migrant amongst many commoner migs or just the commoner stuff. A moderate south easterly wind on Friday and plenty of murk and mist was sure to cause a fall, I thought, so out my Dad and I went on the equally murky Saturday morning, starting our day checking the plantation at the Loch of Strathbeg, which had had a fall the previous morning. On the way down in the car through the track that takes you through towards the plantation, a Buzzard was perched on a fence post. We kept on sending it up, and it would move on slightly, before landing again and then very quickly taking off again. Eventually I managed to get a picture of it mid-take off - it wouldn't keep still! Not bad seeing that it was taken in the car.

Buzzard on road past Coralhill Farm, 9/10

To get to the plantation, a mile or more's walk is usually required from the village of St Combs' through many rough fields, but on taking the track down which I photographed the Buzzard, we cut off about half that walk, if not more. As soon as we parked up and got out the car, I was immediately on to two Robins, which was a good sign as we hadn't even reached the plantation yet, and they were most certainly migrants. Shortly after we started the walk down, I heard an odd call that I vaguely recognised, scanned the immediate field I was in, and saw two small passerines dip into some low lying dead vegetation not far in front of me. I proceeded to scan the area in search of them, and I couldn't quite believe my eyes! No sooner had I started checking the vegetation did I see a whole flock of Lapland Buntings feeding together! They kept themselves pretty well hidden, but to my astonishment, after close inspection I was able to count 19 Lapland Buntings in all! And to think that only a couple of weeks ago I had never seen Lapland Bunting before, when I was now watching 19 of them only 25ft or so away from me! I started to get the camera equipment out, and did so efficiently, but it was very difficult to get photos due to the vegetation not allowing for great views. I tried to get a bit closer to maximise my chances, but as I did so I inevitably sent the whole flock up. It was a magnificent sight to see these lovely little passerines take to the air together, calling as they flew and wheeling round several times. Eventually they disappeared from view. Magical stuff!

On approaching the plantation, there was the immediate impression of a fall. Scanning a single bush quickly produced a single Blackcap and 2 Robins, and in the trees above Song Thrushes and Blackbirds were regularly bombing it from one tree to the next. We decided we'd check the fringes of the plantation before going further in, and in doing so it also become apparent that Goldcrests were present en masse when we alighted on a whole group of them, and with the presence of lots of Goldcrests, there was a good chance of a Yellow-browed Warbler amongst them, especially when two had been seen in the plantation the previous day. Everywhere you looked, there were migrants, and our bins were pretty much consistently up trying to check them as they flitted between tree tops. Almost the entire group of the smaller passerines that we were on were Goldcrests, with maybe 12 or so of them there alone but for a milli-second my Dad thought he saw the back of what could be a Yellow-browed Warbler disappearing from view as the whole Goldcrest group moved away from the fringes of the plantation and went slightly further in.

Seeing that my Dad had possibly had a Yellow-browed Warbler already, it seemed quite a wise idea to depart from him and venture into the plantation slightly at the nearest oppurtunity as the Goldcrest flock hadn't gone far. Fairly quickly, I left him to check the fringes and headed into the plantation itself. I soon was around the Goldcrest flock, which I wasn't seeing particularly well but was hearing above me - a cacophony of high-pitched monotone calls. I craned my neck as I got onto several of them up high in the trees, but there were no other smaller passerines amongst the higher birds, and craning the neck got painful after a while. Other Goldcrests and several Song Thrushes were keeping to the vegetation lower down, but no sign of anything other than this until I got onto the back of a plump, greeny coloured passerine; a warbler. I waited for it to turn round, and to my absolute delight I was presented with a Phyllosc with a whacking great yellow supercilium, 100% a Yellow-browed Warbler! I relished the two second view I got of this beautiful bird as it sat itself on a tree stump, before it flew and moved further into the plantation. This was fantastic, and confirmed that the possible back of YBW my Dad had had minutes earlier was indeed what he thought it was. An absolute cracker, and only my third ever sighting of this lovely species!

After a couple of more minutes of scanning the immediate area that I was in, I decided I'd catch up with Dad and give him the news. I did so, and he was happy to hear that I had seen it and confirmed the sighting previous to that. He hadn't had much on the fringes apart from more Goldcrests, so we both headed a lot further into the plantation We spent over a couple of hours in the plantation, as there was so much to do, and we managed to get some very nice totals of commoner thrushes, warblers and such like (see below). About half way through our check was one of the most productive periods, with one little area producing 5 Chiffchaffs, 2 Blackcaps, a migrant Treecreeper and a split second views of a cracking female Redstart. Shortly afterwards there was a bit more quality again, when, to my frustration, my Dad got very brief views of a Yellow-browed Warbler amongst a couple of Chiffchaffs, which I missed by mere seconds. Whether this was the same bird that I had seen earlier or a different one it is hard to tell, so I would put it down to one or two Yellow-browed Warblers that we saw. At several points Yellow-browed Warbler was heard as well - a disyllabic, drawn out, high-pitched and surprisingly loud 'tseeweeeet', very distinctive and easily told from the monosyllabic, lower-pitched call of the Chiffchaff - so it may well have been that there was 2. Not very long afterwards, at a point where my Dad and I were both together, we were alerted by the call of Lapland Bunting yet again, this time from above the plantation. I was astonished when I had seen the 19 together, but when I looked up this time I was even more gob-smacked. A total of 31 Lapland Buntings were flying over the plantation, wheeling round and calling regularly a few times before eventually going out of view! I was completely taken aback by this, as this was a massive total and something I wasn't expecting by any means! I am pretty sure that the group would have included the same 19 I had seen earlier, but there is the outside possibility it was a second, seperate flock.... It is hard to tell! Really, even though the abundance of commoner migrants was exciting in itself, it was the Yellow-browed Warbler and the Lapland Bunting numbers that were the highlights of the check for me. It was just astonishing to see so many of the latter together, it really was! We met one of the wardens whilst in there, and told him of our totals. So, a fantastic trip to the plantation that was absolutely teeming with birds. Here are the mig totals in the plantation:

75+ Goldcrests, 50+ Robins, 31 Lapland Buntings, 25+ Song Thrush, 20+ Blackbirds, 7+ Chiffchaff, 5+ Blackcap, 5+ Redwing, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Redstart, 1 Treecreeper 1 Fieldfare, at least one (possibly two) Yellow-browed Warblers.

On the way back to the car at around 2:30pm a text came through of a possible Blyth's Reed Warbler at Rattray Head, just a few miles south of Strathbeg. In getting that report, we headed straight down there to find a good number of birders with their eyes on a particular bush. It occured that most of the more important birders in Aberdeenshire (County Bird Recorder etc) were there, and they immediately told us 'Sorry to send you on a wild goose chase, but its a Reed'. Oh dear! I did see the Reed Warbler, only my second of this species for North-East Scotland (any Acro is notable here!). I must say I could see how it looked strange, it was noticeably paler than most Reeds I've seen and seemed to have a shorter primary projection tha your average Reed. I cannot, however, be bothered to go into the factors to why it was re-identified as Reed, that's slightly beyond me! Also in the bushes here there were many Robins and Goldcrests like at the plantation. Oh well, Reed Warbler was a nice bird for the day as it was. We then headed to check the pools at Strathbeg itself. Nothing much at all was going on here, with 19 Dunlins and 2 Greenshanks being the only things providing any sort of interest, plus several hundred Wigeons and Pink-footed Geese. The final stop of the day was at Cairnbulg Beach, just 5 or 6 miles north of Strathbeg. There had been a Little Stint a couple of days ago here, a bird I was yet to see for the year and was keen to catch up on. After about 10 minutes or so of looking, there it was amongst a group of 40 Dunlins, a cracking juvenile Little Stint. Fantastic views were obtained of it through the Swarovski, and it was a relief to see one for the year at last. This was a very nice end to what, retrospectively, was a very good day's birding. Unfortunately no other photos were taken, as the Little Stint was seen in poor and fading light, and the passerines at the plantation were just too mobile for photos!

The next time I post I will have spent 5 days on Fair Isle and two days twitching in Shetland. What I see is down to the luck of the draw, but one things for sure is that I am excited! Tune in next time for a trip report.



Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Real Lark Of A Time, Yet Again!


A couple of days after my insane evening's birding at Girdleness on 30th September, I was out birding again, with a storm and south-easterly winds that Friday afternoon that I was hoping would bring in some good birds the next day. However, I was quite worried that my hopes may be drained at about 9:00pm the night before, as I noticed that the storm had phased away and that it was a clear night, meaning that it might not be so good as I was originally thinking. I was right. I started the day at a new place to me, Cove Community Woodlands - just outside the village of Cove and a couple of miles south of Girdleness. Here there was a good scattering of common migrants, including 5 Song Thrushes, 3 Mistle Thrushes, 1 Blackcap, 1 Willow Warbler and most notably a rather fine Lesser Whitethroat, my third sighting of this species for the year, and a significant fall of Robins, with at least 30 in the Community Woodlands alone. This was a nice start to the morning, and we decided to stop off at Girdleness before heading further north. A quick inspection of the Battery and the Allotments respectively showed that there had been a complete clearout from Thursday, with no Goldcrests at all and just a couple of Song Thrushes being the best I could do on the entire check - and definitely no Short-toed Lark! Whilst walking round here, a news came in on the local SMS system of:

'Shore Lark - Donmouth - Two on the first fareway on the golf course taking the path northwards from the Donmouth car park'.

Ideal! As Donmouth was only a few miles up the coast, it seemed like a good bet to go and have a look for them, as I had never seen Shore Lark before and I knew the area that they had been seen in relatively well. We were there by mid-morning, and we were soon there and by the golf course. We met a birder who said that he had seen the two Shore Larks on not the first but the second fareway shortly before we had arrived, meaning they had moved further up and more walking was required. He gave us directions, and we followed them, keeping to the edge of the golf course when there was people around so as to avoid getting hit, but it was surprisingly quiet, and we were able to cut across it at various points. It was a fair walk to the area we had been told about, maybe 3/4 of a mile to a mile, and despite regular stops taken to scan the golf course, there weren't any Shore Larks pecking around. We walked quite a way, and then decided we would turn back, not giving up but taking an alternative route back to maximise our chances. At one point on the way back we were given two alternative paths to go on, either due south or a little bit east then south again. We went for the latter option, and blimey did that pay off! Walking a little way down that path, I flushed two birds from in front of me, and low and behold, getting onto them on the bins as they landed no more than 20ft away revealed that they were the Shore Larks! They had landed in some vegetation, one popping just out of sight, but the other moving about in the vegetation but keeping visible. The bird that I kept on was a stunning little bird - with its striking black and yellow head pattern shining out in all its glory. I proceeded to frantically photograph the bird whilst it was in the vegetation, taking about 40 shots (only one which is really worth showing you!), and eventually got to close that I flushed both of them up, and they flew further down onto the golf course. Being quite high up, we quickly relocated them further down on the golf course. They seemed perfectly happy, scuttling around and showing no intention of moving off unless golfers were to come along. This was a prime oppurtunity to try out my new telescope, a Swarovski ATM 80HD with a 20-60x Swarovski eyepiece, and on 60x zoom, viewing was just sensational - the birds were distant, but through there it was like viewing a bird that was far closer in perfect condtions! Shore Lark was the first species I was to see in my new scope, and that statistic will always stand. We watched them through the new scope for about 10 minutes, obtaining absolutely fantastic views despite the birds being quite distant, until they were flushed by golfers and they disappeared round a corner. We walked round that corner and duly relocated them again, having not moved far at all. Aside from their striking and diagnostic head patterns, these two beautiful birds were recognisable through their smaller size in comparison to Skylarks, brown-grey plumage above and their pale bellies, as well as different shape. One of the birds had a particular habit of sitting down erratically on the grass, which I found interesting. After another 5 minutes or so of very pleasant scope viewing, I knew that these birds won't going to be moving anywhere fast and weren't going to move far unless flushed by golfers, and thus knew it was my chance to get some good record shots of both birds. So I travelled down the hill, onto the golf course at the bottom, and slowly but surely approached them, getting within very close quarters (no more than 10ft of them) and started clicking away. I must have taken over 70 shots before I finally stop photographing them, most of which weren't really that great, but I kept about 8 shots that were particularly good. Below are the best photos I managed to get of these graceful Shore Larks. I have put the images on my Flickr and on Birdguides, where viewing of them will be better as the images are bigger. ( - birdguides + - Flickr).
I probably spent about an hour and a half watching these birds in total, and it completely made my day, as the views were so fantastic and the fact that I was able to get so close and photograph such a lovely species and a lifer for me was so satisfying. No-one else from this point onwards saw the birds as far as I am aware, so I am glad to say that the follow shots are record shots of some short stay Shore Larks.

Shore Lark, Donmouth, 2/10 (single bird in vegetation)

The Two Shore Larks on the Golf Course, Donmouth, 2/10

The rest of the day was pretty quiet, with a check of the Ythan wader wise producing little more than 40 Golden Plovers and a Black-tailed Godwit, a search for a Barred Warbler seen at the nearby Sands of Forvie NNR proving unsuccessful but providing a few Goldcrests, and a seawatch at Collieston with both scopes (new and old) resulting in merely a single Arctic Skua. Seeing the Shore Larks however, and using the new scope to watch themw as so enjoyable in itself that the quietness of the day aside from the Shore Larks didn't matter. I have quite literally had a 'lark' of a time recently, with two scarce Larks in a couple of days - if you had told me a couple of weeks ago that I was going to see Short-toed Lark and Shore Lark (plus Lapland Bunting) within two days of each other, I wouldn't have believed you, but it turned out that's the way it was, and I am delighted! I am not sure that I'll be getting out birding again before I go to Fair Isle, so expect my next post to be on my Fair Isle and Shetland trip, which I am very excited about!

For now, thank you for reading,