Sunday, 3 October 2010

September Review

My apologies for not being able to post until now, September was a busy month! Since I last posted I've been out birding a few times, but due to how busy I've been and other complications I haven't got out as much as I'd like to. Here is a review of the month - seeming that September come to a close (and excuse disorganised first few paragraphs, blogspot is being stubborn and won't let me make it look normal rather than jumbled up).
3/9/10: The first outing of the month saw me heading down to the very local Rigifa Pool just two miles outside Aberdeen, where a Wood Sandpiper had been seen. This was a species I was needing for the year and one that I was taking an awful long time to get, so it was relieving to see the bird shortly after we arrived. Views were far too distant to get a picture, as it was on a smaller pool behind Rigifa Pool itself. Having finally caught up with this species for the year and noticing that there was a freshening south-easterly wind and fairly low cloud, I decided to head down to my local patch, Girdleness, and steak out the bushes there for any migrants. The south-easterly winds had only just arrived, there had been no rainy weather, and the wind wasn't particularly strong, so there wasn't a great deal. However, there were signs of visible passerine migration, as I managed to self find a Lesser Whitethroat at Walker Palk, not a particularly common migrant here and my first of the year - so quite rewarding. Another Sylvia sp was also seen briefly, but not long enough to secure ID. The south-easterly winds were set to stay for another week or so - possibly a sign of things to come, I thought...
5/9/10: A couple of days later my Dad and I made the decision to do a day's birding outwith Aberdeenshire and headed to Lothian, only 2 and a half hours or so's drive from Aberdeen and worth a shot at with the selection of birds in the area at the time. The main thing that attracted us to this twitching day was the fact that a Semipalmated Sandpiper was sticking around at Tyninghame Bay, 20 miles or so east of Edinburgh, having been there for over a week. Other oppurtunities lay in the possibility of seeing a Pectoral Sandpiper at Cullaloe SWT in Fife on the way, and Red-necked Grebes off the renowned Ferny Ness, a headland looking out onto the Firth of Forth which is renowned for holding over double figures of this species at a time. All these three species as birds to base our day trip on were awfully tempting, so we set out early that Sunday morning hoping that our trip would be worthwile. By 9:00am we were at Cullaloe SWT, a small reserve on the southern borders of Fife just off the main road (A90) and within 15-20 miles of Edinburgh. The main loch, where all the wildfowl is situated, was some way from the car park, and it took a good few minutes to arrive at the Loch. The Loch was fringed by mature woodland and wasn't very sizeable, so if the Pec Sand was there we knew that it wouldn't be too long until we locked onto it. And indeed we did. After a couple of minutes, I locked on to a wader feeding amongst a group of roosting Teal by some rocks, which sure enough was the Pectoral Sandpiper. This was my third ever Pec Sand, with two birds last year at my local patch, the Loch of Strathbeg (the second of which I was lucky enough to have in the same scope view as a Stilt Sandpiper). In comparison to previous viewings of this species though, I must admit that this was the best views I had ever had of the species. It was unfortunately too far away to get a picture of, so I have no pictures of the Pec Sand. My Dad and I watched it busily feeding amongst the Teal and two Snipes for about 20 minutes, obtaining lovely views, and then decided we would head off, having found out when high tide was at Tyninghame Bay not too long away and knowing that our best chance to see Semipalmated Sandpiper was just before high tide. This was a fantastic start to the day, and I hoped that it would be a stimulus to a really good day.
We arrived at Tyninghame Bay on the verge of 11, with high tide predicted for 11:45. We soon discovered that it was a rather massive area to cover, so we looked out for anyone with scopes, presuming that if we saw anyone with their optics trained on a wader flock that the Semi-P would be amongst that flock. Luckily we had a print out of where it had been seen the day before. It reads as follows: 'juvenile east of the footbridge this morning; walk west from the toilet block car park for 1 mile'. So we walked west for around the distance, and sure enough we saw two birders near the waters edge with their scopes locked onto a wader flock, and headed over to them. We asked if they had seen the Semipalmated Sandpiper, and sure enough, they were on the bird. Before setting up the scope, I was kindly given the oppurtunity to have a look through one of the birders scopes to get an idea of where it was, and quickly alighted on a very small, pale wader associating with a group of Ringed Plovers. This was indeed the Semipalmated Sandpiper (!), an absolutely fantastic bird and a lifer for me, but it was at a heck of a distance. Very few features could be made out - if there had been no Semipalmated Sandpiper around and I had casually cast my eyes over that bird, I would have mistaken it as a Little Stint, that's how far away the bird was. Once I was aware of where the bird was, I set up the scope and started watching it. Views weren't all too satisfying, but my Dad and I were able to follow it as it fed and scuttled around with a group of Ringed Plovers for about 15 minutes, and it just felt so rewarding to be watching a bird of such rarity. After this, all of us seemed to lose the bird, and despite trying our hardest to find it, we couldn't relocate it. The tide was coming in quite quickly, and a large group of Dunlin was pushed very close to where we had our scopes set up - presenting me with a fantastic oppurtunity to take some photos of them. Below you will see the results. At least 6 Curlew Sandpipers were amongst this flock of Dunlin, and the views of both species were far better than I normally get! I only managed to photograph one Curlew Sand though.

Dunlin, Tyninghame Bay, 5/9

Group of Dunlins, Tyninghame Bay, 5/9

Distant Curlew Sandpiper, Tyninghame Bay, 5/9

After what was a rather pleasant photographic interlude, the tide was approaching very fast and we knew that where we were standing would soon be immersed in water, so we walked on, all the way to the footbridge and hopefully much closer to where the Semipalmated Sandpiper would be. By this time, the amount of birders that had joined us had increased to around 5 or 6, but none of us were able to find the Semi-P despite getting a lot closer to where we had last seen it. A couple of the birders decided they would go off the bay and onto the grass by the wooded verge, walking quite away from where we were. It so happened that once they had set up and checked that the waders from their position that one of them signalled to all of us to come over, as they had re-found it. We all made our way up there, and sure enough, there was the Semipalmated Sandpiper again, this time amongst a mixed flock of Dunlins and Ringed Plovers. The views now were so much better, and I was able to make out the defining features of the bird. It struck me as like a miniature Sanderling, very pale and lacking the obvious V's that you see on a juvenile Little Stint, and short-billed. The rufous round the face also suggested to me that it was a juvenile bird, as adult Semipalamated Sandpipers lack the rufous round the face. At first it was roosting, so I didn't get to see much of the face. It was clearly much smaller and paler than the Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and Curlew Sandpipers (there were 5 more of this species here) around it though . After about 5 minutes, I got fantastic views through the scope of it scuttling along the shore, and then standing briefly. I had now gotten very good views of the bird, and after about 25 minutes or so of watching it again I headed off for Ferny Ness in search of Red-necked Grebe, leaving incredibly satisfied and chuffed to have seen such a rare wader and lifer. It was turning out to be a fantastic day, with two Nearctic waders already having been seen.

We arrived at Ferny Ness at around 2:30, and scanned the sea in the expectation that at least a few Red-necked Grebes would be dotted around the bay. After a couple of very meticulous scans, I was surprised to find that no Red-necked Grebes were sitting on the sea AT ALL. We kept on scanning, but we had no success. It really surprised me how the previous day 25 Red-necked Grebes had been seen off the area, and that the next day all those birds had disappeared and there was now none at all. We duly knocked it on the head, and head down the coast a little way to Musselburgh Lagoons, one of the key places to visit in the Lothian area with its mixture of seabirds off the sea wall and passage waders on the lagoons providing the main interest for birders. We were down there by about 3:30, and decided to have a look off the sea wall. An initial scan through the scope produced at least 60 Velvet Scoters and 8 Common Scoters, 5 R-B Mergansers, and a group of 6 Great Crested Grebes. Futher scanning for didn't produce a great deal more for about 15 minutes, until I alighted on 3 Slavonian Grebes that simply hadn't been there on previous scans, a pleasant surprise and find, and only my second sighting of this species this year. They were all juvenile birds, all looking very scruffy, but the views in the scope were lovely. They were just about close enough to get a very distant picture of - the reason they don't seem like specks is due to intense cropping!

Slavonian Grebes, Musselburgh, 5/9

Whilst I was watching the Slavonian Grebes, I caught sight of a few other Grebes that I also hadn't noticed before behind them. Scanning them I picked up 4 Great Crested Grebes, briefly acknowledging their presence and not feeling too excited before I locked onto on the bird just in front of them - a Red-necked Grebe! There was absolutely no dobuting it, and I immediately identified it, the smaller size, shorter, red-neck and dusky tonality to the plumage immediately noticeable. Fantastic! I felt rather chuffed to have managed to found this bird, as well as 3 Slavonian Grebes, within a couple of minutes of each other! I had all three grebe species in the same scope view at one point, but most of the time I was just following the Red-necked Grebe as it associated and bobbed along with the Great Crested Grebes, making the most of the really good views I was getting of it through the scope. What added to the beauty of watching the bird was that it was still partly in summer plumage and the red-neck was still very much apparent, always how I have wanted to see a Red-necked Grebe. Unfortunately it was a bit too far away to get a picture of. We watched it for about 15 minutes, and then went off to check the Lagoons. Here a nice scattering of passage waders were present, with at least 2 Curlew Sandpipers, 4 Ruffs, 5 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Greenshanks. I was hoping for Little Stint, as I had noticed there had been one here the day before, but I wasn't too bothered when I couldn't find it. This was very pleasant in that one of the Greenshanks and one of the Ruffs came within close range of the hide, allowing me to get some pictures. The Ruff was more distant, hence the more blurred quality of the photos. It was about 5:15 when we finally left back for Aberdeen, and on the way out I couldn't help but photograph a Mute Swan having a wash on the pool near the car park, and a Black Swan beside it (although the latter was obviously an escaped bird). It had been a sensational day, and well worth the effort, with 3 year very valuable year ticks and two lifers!

Ruff, Musselburgh Lagoons, 5/9

Greenshank, Musselburgh Lagoons, 5/9

Mute Swan, Musselburgh Lagoons, 5/9

Black Swan, Musselburgh Lagoons, 5/9


Perfect! Driving rain, strong south-easterly winds piling in that Tuesday, set to clear slightly in the morning but with winds perservering. It only seemed wise to get out the next day in search of passerine migs. So, I pulled a sicky, and managed to get out with my Dad for the whole of that Wednesday. I had high hopes of seeing a few commoner migrants, as well as one of the 'commoner scarce migrants' perhaps, with Barred Warbler particularly in mind. By about 9:00 that morning I was down at my local patch of Girdleness, checking out the bushes around the Battery. There was a visible fall of birds, with plenty of Robins, 4 or 5 each of Whitethroat and Blackcap, a few Willow Warblers and up to 3 cracking little Redstarts, with views of the latter just being of their mesmerizing red flashes dipping into a bush, apart from a juvenile individual that showed quite nicely on the Battery Wall for a few seconds. This was quite pleasant and got me feeling hopeful, and a walk from the Battery to the sycamore tree provided me with another Whitethroat, two Chiffchaffs and up to 6 Wheatears. A Reed Warbler was a first in North-East Scotland for me, only ever here really when there is a fall in autumn, and this bird was roaming around in the sycamore, showing reasonably well on and off. In the bushes round about the sycamore, a Garden Warbler was lurking. Whilst walking up to the allotments I was told by another birder that they had just seen a BARRED WARBLER at the back of the allotments. With this news, I headed round to the back of the allotments at quite of pace, having been told they were in the willows there, and stood by the willows for about 10-15 minutes in the hope that it would appear. Oh dear.... 10-15 minutes passed, and we hadn't seen it. I managed to pick up a couple of warblers very briefly dipping into the allotments themselves and duly out of sight, and one of those warblers could have been the Barred Warbler, but on such fleeting and crap views there was no way I was making any ID on either of the warblers, let alone IDing one of them as a Barred. I left the allotments feeling pretty frustrated, although a single female Redstart and 3 Wheatears in the allotments slightly eased the pain. Once we had been round most of the Ness it was about 11:00, time to move north. It had been a reasonably good start to the morning, with 4 Redstarts and a Reed Warbler being the highlight so far.

My next stop was at the bushes round the back of the Beach Boulevard near Donmouth at Aberdeen, which had always look promising in the right conditions - so it seemed like a good idea to check out a new area. I did so, my Dad going in one direction and me going in the other. I turned out to be more successful with him. Whilst noting a mig flock of 15 or so Meadow Pipits on the grass, I alighted on a cracking Spotted Flycatcher, sitting there on the top of a bush in the open for about 10 seconds, whilst my Dad had walked off in the other direction. This was a nice sight, and re-invigorated me. I slowly headed towards my Dad, and in doing so got fleeting views of yet another Redstart, a juvenile bird from the less prominent red flash, diving into the gorse, and shortly afterwards another Wheatear. That was your lot for the bushes behind the beach near Donmouth, as my Dad wasn't able to pick up on anything else. This was quite a pleasant little stop, and fairly rewarding for a new place.

We were a bit stuck as to what to do next, until it was decided that we would head up to the Loch of Strathbeg and have a look in the plantation for any passerines that may have come in there... So much for that plan when as we were driving along it started sheeting with rain! We started getting worried that the birding day would be postponed, but as we headed southwards to our replacement port of call, Collieston, it seemed to be brightening up, as if it hadn't hit that part of the coast yet. On arriving at Collieston we met local birder Daryl Short looking into some willows by the road near the parish church, and he said:

'There was a Wryneck here this morning, and a Barred Warbler shortly before you arrived . Right now though there is a Pied Flycatcher in here though'.

Hmm, frustrating , especially the fact there had been a Barred Warbler in those bushes minutes before we had arrived, and that this was potentially the second Barred Warbler of the day that I had missed out on - how typical ! We parked up and joined them in watching the bushes, and even though the chances were that it had gone, we searched for the Barred Warbler as hard as we could. In doing so we caught onto the Pied Flycatcher that we had been told about - a splendid looking female bird that was pretty obliging, giving good views. This was the first of this species I had seen this year and my first year-tick of the day, and to be honest I felt quite relieved to have finally seen one for the year as I was afraid that I might miss out on it. This hung around and showed most of the time that we spent in the area, but unfortunately there was no sign of the Barred Warbler. However a Garden Warbler and a Willow Warbler were found about 5 minutes after I arrived, showing that things were passing through the willows quite frequently. Then about 15 minutes through, when catching onto the Pied Flycatcher again after a short period of time of not seeing it, I spotted another one beside it, a bird that definitely hadn't been there before and presumably had newly arrived, and almost simulataneously Daryl caught onto a Lesser Whitethroat, which made itself very nicely visibile and great views were obtained. This second Pied Fly was another female, and it was interacting with its fellow, moving around the bush alongside it - a pleasure to see. Once about 25-30 minutes had passed since we had arrived, and seeming that we had already checked the bushes round about, we decided we'd move off onto a road to the north of Collieston towards the village of Cruden Bay )which has plenty of scrub and bushes for holding migrants on it) and check the bushes along there.

We stopped a total of 3 times, and in the first two times there was very little unfortunately, apart from a single Chiffchaff, which was slightly disappointing. As we drove to our last stop on this particular road, it became immediately apparent how many Wheatears had come in. It was rather extraordinary - with up to 15 birds counted that were flushed by the car from the road side on that three of four mile narrow road to Cruden Bay. Never before I have seen so many Wheatears in such a short distance! In stopping at our final destination, we saw a birder on the edge of a massive clump of gorse with his bins on something. We found a way down, and joined him to ask what we had his eyes on. It appeared he had seen what he thought was a Barred Warbler dive into the gorses a couple of minutes before we arrived... Due to our already bad run of dipping on Barred Warbler that day, despite looking for it with him we were destined for the dip, and did so. At one point I had a split second view of a definite Sylvia warbler flitting from one bit of gorse to another, but it was no good for identification purposes. I had now dipped on 3 Barred Warblers in a row! Good views of two Spotted Flycatchers of the day were nice, but weren't enough to make up for the burning frustration inside me on having missed out on 3 Barred Warblers by mere minutes! The rain was starting to come on again when we left, and our last port of call at Meickle Loch. A small reward came here in the form of 3 Whinchats, at the time the most common species I hadn't seen that year, so it was a relief to finally catch up with this species as they flitted about in the scrub in front of the Loch, showing well. That was that however. It had been a day of frustration, in that I had managed to just dip on 3 Barred Warblers, and when I got home I immediately became further frustrated. According to Birdguides it had appeared that 2 Barred Warblers had been seen at Girdleness after I had left, that a Greenish Warbler and Red-backed Shrike had been at Strathbeg in the morning, and that a Frigatebird species had been seen off the sea just up the road at Peterhead whilst I was in the Collieston area! Grr! But overall, from the totals, it wasn't too bad on the common migrant front in terms of totals:

Pied Flycatcher (x2), Redstart (x6), Lesser Whitethroat (x1), Wheatear (x25), Spotted Flycatcher (x3), Whinchat (x3), Reed Warbler (x1), Garden Warbler (x2)


This was an ordinary day of birding, with no year-ticks or particularly good birds. The day started at Collieston, where we decided we'd do a bit of seawatching. Nothing much was going past at all, with the best we could manage being two Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Skuas in about half an hour. Then it was down to the Ythan, where an hour or so's wait for the tide to be high enough to push most of the waders on the Estuary up close proved to hold very little apart from about 10 Golden Plovers, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a Ruff and noticeably small Dunlin numbers (no more than 15). Next it was up to Strathbeg, where the pools from the Visitor Centre provided a nice few passage waders in the form of up to 14 Ruff, 2 Greenshanks and good views of my second Wood Sandpiper of the year, as well as non waders such as 1 Peregrine and Marsh Harrier. It was nice to see the Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans back as well. The final stop of the day was at Rattray Head, as there had been a Sabine's Gull seen off here earlier in the day and conditions seemed good for seawatching. It was quite a bit better than at Collieston, with totals of 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 5 Manx Shearwaters, an Arctic Skua and hundreds of Gannets and Guillemots passing through. The day had to end here due to dedications at home. In its way the day was quite enjoyable, but the two Sooty Shearwaters and the Wood Sandpiper were really the best it had to offer.


The South-Easterlies were back, and with a storm the previous night they had brought in some great birds locally, espeically at my local patch of Girdleness. Getting home from school that afternoon, I was greeted by my Dad, who said there had been both Great Grey Shrike and Short-toed Lark at Girdleness. In hearing that I was out of my school stuff and unpacking my bag in a flash, and was on the way to Girdleness within 20 minutes. We arrived at about 4:30pm, and used the Torry Battery as a place to start off our check of the area. There were disappointingly small numbers of warblers in the Battery, which I was surprised about due to the conditions there had been the previous night, with singles of Blackcap and Whitethroat being the best I could do, even for the whole evening! There were however plenty of Goldcrests, with 5 seen in the Battery and undoubtedly a lot more lurking at the bottom of the gorse, as well as 5 Song Thrushes. From here the aim was to do a round circuit from the Battery, up the north end, past the sycamore, round the allotments, across the Golf Course and back to the car at the Battery. We proceeded with this route in mind, with 3 Goldcrests and a Wheatear seen along the North End. The bushes round the sycamore ended up being rather productive, with a whole group of 12 Goldcrests here, making that 20 of this species in total that day already. I was, however, quite annoyed by the sheer lack of commoner Warblers, and Flycatchers and Redstarts, which I was half expecting. It seemed that it was mostly Goldcrests and thrushes that had come in as a result of the weather yesterday. The fact that there had been two rarities that day gave me some hope, but not much as it was a lovely afternoon and I suspected that they could well have gone. We were confronted by various bird-watchers, who told us that they hadn't seen either the Short-toed Lark or Great Grey Shrike, and to be frank I wasn't expecting to see either species. The allotments held a few things, one of which lightened the day up, a single cracking Brambling, my third sighting of this species this year, sitting on a post at the back of the allotments before diving into a nearby bush. There was also a single Wheatear here.

We decided that we'd head round to the back of the allotments and check if there were any migs in the willows, and as we walked up through the very tip of the southern end of the allotments and on a bit of gravel path that fringes the allotments, I flushed up two Pied Wagtails, and a very pale looking passerine from in front of me. I tracked the pale looking passerine, and it landed no more than 30ft away. CRAP! It was the Short-toed Lark, which hadn't been seen all afternoon since its report late morning! Dad caught onto it shortly after me as I told him of its presence. It was very obvious, being a sandy, brown colour above and very pale below, noticeably smaller, less long tailed and far chunkier than Skylark. There really was no mistaking it, as it scuttled around on the grass with a couple of Pied Wagtails no more than 25ft away. It was A birder we knew vaguely was close by on top of a small hill, and in finding it my Dad signalled to him frantically so he knew that we'd got it. He noticed us, looking down and spotting the lark, and came down the hill at quite a pace. I had come very unprepared for this moment, thus meaning I hadn't taken the cases and such like off my camera and lens, so I desperately removed all the cases and covers off them both as quickly as I could so I could get a record shot of the bird. At one point it came particularly close, perhaps 15ft. I tried my hardest to get up to the bird and photograph it without it flying way. But as I did so it flew over our heads and around the corner further onto the golf course at the back of the allotments. We hurriedly went around the corner, and re-found it amongst a group of Pied Wagtails and 5 Wheatears. Views were more distant now and too distant to photograph, but still reasonably good, as it scuttled very actively amongst the many other passerines on the fringes of the golf course at the back of the golf course. All three of us stayed on it for about 2 minutes, then my Dad proceeded to phone Andrew Whitehouse, who was in the area and we told we'd inform if we got onto anything, and the other birder said he was going to go back to the car and get the scope. Whilst my Dad was on the phone and the other birder was getting his scope, I saw the bird go behind a verge, and at this point panicked. I moved a little to try and see over the verge, but despite meticulous scanning it wasn't in sight, and shortly afterwards most of the Wheatears and Pied Wags had cleared out as well!

It was as if very rapidly the Short-toed Lark had done a runner, as despite meticulous searching for the next half an hour around the golf course all 4 of us (Andrew was with us now) were unable to relocate it. The important thing was, however, that we had seen the Short-toed Lark, and I was feeling rather shocked and chuffed to have re-found it and been one of only 4 people that day (the finder, birder with us, my Dad and I) to have seen it! The sun was starting to set now, and the whole insanity of the occasion was about to step up a notch again, when my Dad went wondering off briefly and flushed up 4 birds, pointing to the sky as they were in flight to alert their presence to us. The 4 birds flew right over our heads, and proceeded to land in the grass. Get them in the bins, and I have got absolutely cracking views of 4 Lapland Buntings! They were no more than a few metres away, and I could see the finely marked heads of all four individuals. I watched them in the bins for about 10 seconds, then opened my bag and got out the camera again. Focusing was hard in the fading light, and literally as I was about to click the button, the most unlucky thing had to happen - the camera ran out of battery! I instantly came to regret not charging my camera beforehand, and wasn't able to get a photo of them in the end. However, for about a minute views were absolutely sensational of these fine Lapland Buntings through the bins, and was the ideal to catch up with a long needed British tick, as well as being a fantastic reward for not being able to re-find the Short-toed Lark. Surprisingly, Short-toed Lark was not a British tick, and in this case the commoner bird was, as I managed to get poor but tickable views of a Short-toed Lark at West Runton in Norfolk last October. So, a fantastic evening's birding, probably my best ever evening's birding. It had started quite quietly and I wasn't expecting too much, when all of a sudden, within the space of half an hour, I had seen Short-toed Lark and 4 Lapland Buntings! It just goes to show how unpredictable but exciting birding can be, and I went home that night very satisfied!

So, there is your month's summary. Future posts, I assure you, won't be as long as this, its just been a busy month and there has been a lot to catch up on! It was a fantastic month in the end though, with some great birds.


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