Wednesday, 30 June 2010
A drake Smew at Loch Leven had been reported several times of late and being a bit "Smew-less" last winter I thought it would be nice to try and see it. So after work today I drove from Dunning to Loch Leven, making straight for the Findatie Bay where the bird had been reported the previous day. No sign of anything on the water on arrival so I strolled in the direction of Vane Farm checking any rafts of ducks en route. First few Tufted Ducks didn't contain the "White Nun" but I was surprised to see a spanking Red-necked Grebe all "summered up" (I do like that phrase) with a few Great Crested Grebes. It spent most of its time asleep but stretched a couple of times revealing the red neck, white face and yellow bill with a black tip. A great bird; not one I see very often and rarely in summer plum'!
Loch Leven is a big place and I could see plenty of ducks spread over the middle near the island, but could only pick out a few Pochards with the Tufteds. Sedge Warblers and Willow Warblers were still in song along the bank; very nice but I was relieved to find a sizable raft of Tufties to get my teeth into and even more pleased to find the drake Smew in with 120 Tufteds and 5+ Pochards.
To be honest this eclipse drake (centre behind a drake Tufted Duck and asleep!) was a bit of a grot-job and if it was a Nun it had been up to no good!
I called in at Glendevon on the way back but no sign of the Rosefinch in the short time I was there. Still; Red-necked Grebe and drake Smew on the last day of June - whatever next?
Sunday, 27 June 2010
Not too much to report of late on the moors apart from some cracking views of male Hen Harrier and the odd sighting of Black Grouse here and there.
Back at home last weekend it was quite a shock to see just how dry the Ribble Marshes are at the moment. Very little about with so little water to check and wetland birds must be struggling locally (as well as some upland birds according to the RSPB's latest press release). Still, it was nice to see this Little Owl on the way back to Longton from Marshside on Saturday evening.
I've seen Little Owls in this area before and that's at least 3 birds on territory locally since we moved in south of the Ribble last winter. Not bad considering I've had practically no serious survey time back home this Spring. Maybe next year?
Thursday, 24 June 2010
Yesterday I went back to Loch Leven instead of listening to the footy on the radio after work. No sign of any Lesser Scaups from the north shore at Burleigh Sands, in fact there were very few Aythyas out on the choppy water of this huge loch apart from the 30+ Pochards the rarities had been consorting with the previous day. A gathering of Tufted Ducks and Pochards could be seen near the island in the distance though so a short drive to Kirkgate was required.
Drake Greater Scaup (left) and Lesser Scaup (sleeping) for size comparison, Loch Leven 23 June 2010.
Drake Lesser Scaup (left) and Greater Scaup (preening); showing the former's head shape and latter's size.
Conditions were a little better in the shelter of the island but the birds were still pretty distant. We quickly picked up a pale mantled bird but it was a drake Greater Scaup, diving and generally showing distantly but well. Not long after we located a sleeping bird with a pale mantle and as it drifted past the Tufted Ducks and Greater Scaup it was evident it was one of the Lesser Scaups. Thankfully I was able to see the only missing feature from the previous day's observations and noted the restricted amount of black on the nail of the bill (eliminating the hybrid possibility) as the bird began to feed. A few record shots of the bird was all I could manage; the Ring-necked Duck and the other Lesser Scaup must be out on this massive loch somewhere or in with the moulting Tufties on the Vane Farm RSPB Reserve maybe?
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
It was the longest day and there was still a flicker of light in the skies above Dunning when the phone bleeped with a message of "Ring-necked Duck at Loch Leven" here in Perth & Kinross. So this morning I set off for the loch in super Scottish sunshine with Yellowhammers and Skylarks in full song as I pulled in at the car park on the north shore and Goldcrests and Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the pine trees as I strolled to the edge of the loch. Leven is a big loch and ducks get lost easy here but the first raft of Tufted Ducks held the target bird: a nice drake Ring-necked Duck. The 20 or so Tufties also had a smart drake Greater Scaup with them and all passers-by were in good form with friendly "Hellos". It couldn't get better?
Another raft of diving duck along the shore looked worthy of inspection and despite having to look into the light and distant views I soon picked out a couple of Goldeneye and 23 Pochard in with the 60 Tufties. Two pale mantled birds caught my eye and alarm bells rang as one raised itself slightly off the water and flapped its wings: two-tone wing bar with white on the secondaries and grey bar on the primaries. Two nice drake Lesser Scaups kept me busy for over an hour trying to get all the features and the "boxes were ticked" as the pale mantle, size, structure, head-shape and purplish head sheen were noted. The extent of black on the nail of the bill was difficult to discern but did not cover the tip of the bill for sure.
Vane Farm RSPB Reserve at the southern shore of the loch was also bathed in sunshine and littered in Tufted Ducks; 650 of them in fact, mostly drakes. A nice pair of Greater Scaup were on view, drake Shoveler and several Gadwall made up the numbers.
With a couple of hours to spare before the afternoon surveying shift I called in at Glendevon on the way back to Dunning where the Common Rosefinch was still belting out his song, although he kept hidden. Spotted Fly' still showing well there too. Off to work then .....
My route to "work" takes me through some fabulous Perthshire glens - Short-eared Owls are fairly common (this year at least) but the Turtle Dove I flushed from a small birch-scrub copse was a real surprise. With the longest day only just gone I could still hear Whinchat singing at 10.25pm and 5 Black Grouse on the way back to the vehicle were still not the last birds of the day as we saw Tawny and Barn Owl beside the road after 11.00 pm from the car. And it was still light enough to see them without lamps!
Monday, 21 June 2010
The box containing a bottle of Black Grouse carries this emblem; a bird that's always fascinated me and that I've been very fortunate enough to see plenty of since moving to my temporary home in Scotland this summer. They've all but stopped lekking now but small gatherings can still be found on the moors in the early morning and late evenings.
Last weekend Angie and Callum paid me a visit in Scotland so we did a bit of local site-seeing. Our first stop was the picturesque town of Comrie near Crieff where Angie's father spent much of his childhood.
Our next stop was the Famous Grouse Experience in Crieff where we resisted an hour long tasting tour (I was driving) but we did purchase a bottle of the new Black Grouse; only because it's a campaign to enlighten the public about the threatened Black Grouse you understand. Naturally.
Tail feathers from Black Grouse found on moorland near cleared birch scrub and conifers, Perth & Kinross, June 2010.
The flat was pretty quiet once the Bushells headed off back south so I took the car for a spin for a late afternoon spot of birding. Osprey at nest, Redstart, several Buzzards, Goosanders, Red Kites, Peregrine, Short-eared Owl and best of all a Goshawk narrowly missing its Woodpigeon supper!
I was hurriedly cleaning up the flat ready for the arrival of Mrs B and Callum when the phone rang.
"There's been a male Rosefinch singing its heart out at Glendevon near you for the last couple of days! Look in the garden of the Tormaukin Inn."
So I dropped the vacuum cleaner and headed out to Glen Eagles, stopped at Glendevon and popped into the pub to see the landlord to let him know I'd be "loitering with intent".
It was nearly an hour before the Rosefinch burst into song in the tall trees above the car park and having amused myself with Spotted Flycatcher and my apparent inability to "twitch" anything successfully until this rosy gem appeared.
A great start to the weekend then? I even made it back to Dunning in time to get the flat in order and watch the second half of England v. Algeria over the pub. Oh well, it couldn't last could it?
Plenty seen during the week - lots of Short-eared Owls (must be a better "vole year", surely?), Merlin and Red Kites.
Sunday, 13 June 2010
I picked Mrs B up at the station in Perth last Friday morning and we headed up the A9 for a long weekend in Speyside. We didn't have an intense birding trip in mind (I'm getting enough of that during the week), but we enjoyed some fantastic highland scenery and some great birds, even if the weather was a little unkind.
Mrs B got all "arty" with the camera, snapping away at Wigeon and capturing some rays of sunlight hitting the water on Loch Garten after we'd checked in to our B&B in Aviemore.
Of course we bumped into a few Ospreys and it hit me just how times had changed: last time I was here it was a rare event, but with 200 pairs in the UK Osprey is now a frequently seen bird by most travelling birders. Around Loch Garten we encountered the customary Siskins and the odd Great Spotted Woodpecker with Goldeneyes using the nest boxes on the lochs. We heard crossbill sp. (apparently you have to be very careful when assigning calling birds to species here nowadays) and a male Redstart burst into song briefly. Mrs B's first ever Crested Tit (and my first for near 30 years) was very welcome indeed; I must get up here more frequently - 30 years - disgraceful!
Angie below Cairn Gorm in the "Wonderful scenery; always wanted to come here and hasn't disappointed" stage.
In the afternoon of Saturday 12th we parked below the ski-lift above Loch Morlich. With no train in service and the weather OK "ish" we decided to take a walk below Cairn Gorm. We didn't get too far and there were a lot of walkers around so we failed to see any of the high altitude birds, but we'll be back.
The next day the weather was foul so Mrs B and I spent a day "touring", visiting Culloden Moor where the last hand-to-hand battle took place between the Jacobites and the Government in the eighteenth century. A Scottish National Trust site, I can recommend Culloden Moor for a day out if near Inverness using the interactive GPS / personal tour gadget (on reaching a point on the moor a recorded message describes the scene and its historical significance) and interpretation centre. Oh, we saw a Red Kite drift over in the rain too.
Back to work with Hen Harriers, Black Grouse, Wood Warblers, Whinchats and Tawny and Barn Owls on the way to a dawn visit this morning.
Friday, 11 June 2010
I'm very fortunate to have some excellent birds on my temporary local patch at the moment. The other day I visited a small local loch that often has a Black-throated Diver in residence as long as there's no fishermen out in their boats.
But on this particular day there were two! They spent a lot of time "snorkeling" (above) and even a bit of display involving some "snake-necking" (below). However every time they drifted off to a quiet corner of the loch they were mobbed by the Common Gulls and then retreated to the centre where they continued to feed or just loaf.
In fact as I sat at the edge of the loch the divers approached quite close with the absence of any boats on the loch, allowing superb views of a species I rarely see in breeding guise or at such close quarters. Privileged indeed.
Spending a bit of time at this locality was quite productive with visits from Osprey, fly-over Crossbills, nesting Common Sandpipers and a Grasshopper Warbler popping out from the Juncus.
In the local glen there are at least 6 pairs of Ring Ouzels (one with fledged young), Whinchats, Black Grouse and plenty of Red Grouse. The entertainment started before I'd even left the car the other day with a pair of Short-eared Owls mobbing a Buzzard as a Red Kite coasted overhead. Male Hen Harrier was the icing on a very large slice of cake.