Saturday, 17 October 2015

Birds of September

Above: a lovely juvenile curlew sandpiper, only my second ever, and my best views to date.

September is a great month for adding species to the list. Lots of migrants are passing through, many summer visitors are still here, and more visible, as they feed up in preparation to migrate, some switching from gleaning insects to berries - sitting out in the open, gorging. However, having moulted, many are less brightly coloured, and from a photographic point of view, less interesting.

Above: a male velvet scoter.

One spot down the coast that often turns up passage migrants didn't fail to disappoint, with two very rare species for these parts - a pair of barred warblers and a wryneck. The former only stayed for a day, and I was lucky to see them; the latter, much more interesting to me, hung around for quite a few days, and I was able to return for better photographs than I'd managed to get at my first encounter.

Above: barred warbler. Below: wryneck.

Back in Scotland, I visited Musselburgh for the first time since the winter, and it did not disappoint. Excellent calm conditions and good light meant seawatching over the Firth of Forth was productive even for a novice like me, and I got a record shot of a Slavonian grebe and plenty of photographs of velvet scoters. A curlew sandpiper at the lagoons there showed very well, and although not a lifer, it was by far the best view I've had of this species. A couple of days later, I went to a spot a little further east to seek a surf scoter that has been there for some time. Alas, conditions this time were poor - choppy waves, overcast with poor light. No scoter (nor on a subsequent visit in better conditions a week or two later), but my first red-necked grebe was a nice consolation prize.

September 2015
7 species (6 lifers) - year total 163
Barred warbler
Curlew sandpiper
Red-necked grebe
Slavonian grebe
Velvet scoter
Yellow-legged gull

Below: two species I'd not expected, red-throated diver still in part breeding plumage, and sandwich tern - not new for the year list, but a treat nonetheless.

Birds of summer

Above from top: my first fulmar and kittiwakes; gannets at Bass Rock.

Summer is a poor season for seeing birds, whatever some people might say. Between the spring and autumn migrations, far fewer rarities turn up, and all the breeding migrants and resident species are either busy raising young or moulting. Either way, along with the increased foliage density, they are hard to see.

Above: my best view of a corn bunting; below: a surprisingly mellow ring-billed gull.

With that in mind, I've lumped together the three summer months, especially in light of having seen no new species at all in June. July was little better - two, both heard only. August is the last chance for early-departing birds like cuckoos (mostly their offspring), but also the start of the return migration, so more unusual species can turn up - albeit not in their best breeding plumage. Garganey are another summer stray, fairly regular, but they are often very hard to see. Luckily I just managed to catch both - a juvenile cuckoo took up residence in a very prominent location, and a few garganey popped up here and there, though I almost missed them.

Seabird colonies are an exception to the summer lull - this is the best time to visit them. I took a trip out to Bass Rock, and managed to see four lifers, although just a week too late to catch any puffins on a neighbouring island. It was my first visit to the Scottish Seabird Centre, and my first boat trip, and I strongly recommend both - Bass Rock especially is a breathtaking experience (up to a quarter of a million gannets in one place!), and it's surprisingly inexpensive. Next year I'll do one of the more adventurous trips - to the Isle of May, most likely.

Above: a shag on Craigleith; some gannets on Bass Rock.

I was lucky in that a few species I'd never expected to see or hear turned up locally - quails sang in a field for a few days, and a lesser yellowlegs (the only one in the country, I believe) hung around the saltmarsh at the far northern end of the local bird recording area. Similarly the ring-billed gull, another American stray, has been seen at Preston Dock for a couple of months now.

Above: a glimpse of a garganey taking off.

June-July-August 2015
13 species (7 lifers) - year total 156
Green woodpecker (heard only)
Lesser yellowlegs
Marsh tit
Quail (heard only)
Ring-billed gull
Sandwich tern