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Natural Connections

Modern life in Scotland is increasingly busy. The connections our ancestors had with nature and the land are being lost. As leisure time shrinks, or is filled with hi-tech experiences, opportunities to experience nature become fewer. And yet it is possible to connect with nature on a day to day basis. All around us, the great web of life continues to hold its shape, and nature continues its eternal cycles. Keep looking, listening, smelling, touching - and keep experiencing natural connections.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Review of 2013: Part 4

A summer holiday in Moray and Aberdeenshire produced many of the best natural connections of the year. The full bird list for the week was 112 species, 26 of which were showing signs of breeding (see here for the details). Missed species included Quail, Grey Partridge, Little Tern, Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier. Highlights were as follows: point-blank views of a Corn Bunting on a fencepost near Buckie, a pair of Oystercatchers shepherding two fluffy young at Cullen, three juvenile Peregrines in a moorland tree near Carbach, at least three Ospreys fishing Spey Bay, five Whimbrels giving their "seven whistles" nearby, Black Guillemot from the Gemini Explorer out of Buckie harbour, a Peregrine on the cliffs at Troup Head (with up to five Great Skuas and a single Arctic offshore), a Dipper on the stream through Elgin’s Cooper Park, a daytime Tawny Owl near there, a glassy hill loch holding both Red-throated and Black-throated Divers and a legion of Tree Sparrows on the feeders at Strathbeg. The most enduring memories of the holiday were of Swift and Corn Bunting: both species are so rare at home but they were remarkably numerous in the Elgin - Peterhead area. Best sites visited were Loch of Strathbeg and Troup Head, both full of birds.
Non-bird highlights included a Pine Marten across the approach road to Spey Bay, Grey Seals near Bowfiddle Rock, Roe Deer and Red Fox at a couple of sites (plus Hedgehog, Stoat and Badger dead on the road), two pods of Dolphins (including one individual leaping completely clear of the water) and beautiful Burnet Moths at Cullen.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A short, lunchtime walk around Murdieston Park produced a Greenfinch, a Moorhen, a Grey Wagtail and two Little Grebes.
Meanwhile, heavy snow in the Highlands produced this fantastic headline:

"More snow than Sochi" - Scots resorts say they are having a great year.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review of 2013: Part 3

The monthly visits to Strathspey which commenced towards the end of 2011 continued throughout 2013. Only September was missed. Daily totals ranged from 17 species in January to 57 in May. Some of the birding highlights recorded in the blog included a flock of around ten Black Grouse flying along beside the train at Drumochter, two Bullfinches quietly feeding on Heather tips along the Tulloch Moor road, two Golden Eagles spiralling over a hillside north of Kingussie, a magnificent White-tailed Eagle over the Insh Marshes, displaying Curlew and Lapwing at Ruthven, two spring Redstart singing from conifers in Drumguish, a possible Red Kite in Glen Feshie, at least five Crested Tits present between Drakes Bothy and Loch Gamhna, a (presumed migrant) Pied Flycatcher singing briefly from woodland next to Dalfaber Road, Aviemore, an Osprey flying up Glen Banchor, a Pied Wagtail's nest AND a Coal Tit's nest in the same tree near Kingussie, a singing Redwing near Kingussie Golf Course, a singing Cuckoo near Creag Bheag, pairs of Lapwings, Curlews and Oystercatcher at Strone, the near-constant sound of singing Willow Warblers in a variety of habitats, a colourful trio of Grey Wagtail, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher in “Calder Glen”, Swift sightings from Kingussie, Aviemore and Grantown, two Common Terns fishing on the Spey near Speybridge, a female Goosander with six tiny ducklings (which scuttled away into cover) to the west of the Nethy Bridge, a male Bullfinch among other finches feeding on the seeds of Wych Elms in the grounds of the Four Seasons Hotel, Aviemore, feeders at the Strathspey Heather Centre alive with juvenile Great Tits, Blue Tits and especially Siskins, House Martins visiting at least two nests on houses in the Lochan More housing estate, a perfectly still Loch Vaa with only the sounds of trilling Little Grebes, “frank”ing Grey Herons and the occasional plop of a rising fish to break the silence, at least four Spotted Flycatchers feeding together at Loch Vaa (the juveniles giving their rasping begging call), an autumn flock of 15-20 Mistle Thrushes on the cattle fields opposite Knock of Kincardine, a female Goosander escorting 10 juveniles beyond Wester Dalvoult, two noisy Dippers on the stretch of the Abhainn Ruigh-eunachan where it enters Loch Morlich, a remarkable "dog fight" involving 14 Ravens and six Buzzards high over the start of the Sluggain Path, nine Whooper Swans taking off from Loch Morlich and repeatedly circling over the forest honking loudly, twenty Redpoll among autumn colour at Tullochgrue, some sizeable flocks of Siskins (some containing Lesser Redpolls too) along the Insh road, three Dippers plunge-diving into the middle of the river and chasing eachother exhuberantly and 33 Wigeon on the Spey just east of Drumuillie (with another 15 on Milton Loch).
Altogether 87 species were recorded as follows:

Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Domestic Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, White-tailed Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Osprey, Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Tern, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow, Raven, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Skylark, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Treecreeper, Wren, Starling, Dipper, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Fieldfare, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Robin, Redstart, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Bullfinch, Lesser Redpoll, unidentified crossbill sp and Reed Bunting, Snow Bunting and Yellowhammer (87 species).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review of 2013: Part 2

One of the best aspects of 2013 was the continuing enjoyment derived from common species seen in ordinary locations. Some additional notes are included below for Grey Wagtail, Swift, Hooded Crow X Carrion Crow hybrid and common warblers. However some of the most notable “home patch” (South Glasgow and Greenock) records included five Whooper Swans flying along Govan Road, an Oystercatcher standing on the roof of the sheltered housing complex in Newton Mearns, a pair of Dippers in the centre of Cathcart (the male singing above the early-morning traffic), two Grey Wagtails, two Dippers, two Kingfishers and a Redshank all together at the Hammils, 15 Waxwings at the Cardonald Place rail bridge, Ravens raising at least three young on the Leverndale Hospital tower, Goldcrest, Siskin and Blackcap all visiting the back garden, four Swifts careering between Greenock tenements, all three hirundines (Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow) at Govan waterfront, a pair of Common Gulls fledging young from a nest on a tenement in the west end of Greenock, a brood of Goosanders under Shawbridge (and another in central Paisley), four Swallows looking like they might be nesting in the Cathcart "Electricity Board" complex, a female Tufted Duck with three small young at Murdieston Dams, a Kestrel across Paisley Road West at Halfway, a pair of Swallows with fledged young at Hillington Industrial Estate, an eclipse drake Red-crested Pochard hybrid on Rouken Glen Pond, a Kingfisher catching a fish and battering it on a branch in Pollok Park, a Kestrel mobbed by roosting Swallows at Arkleston Farm, single Sparrowhawk and Buzzard over Linthaugh Roundabout, two juvenile Gannets flying between the M77 and Silverburn Shopping Centre, Kestrel, Buzzard, Grey Wagtail, Grey Heron and a pair of Teal at Cambuslang, three Fieldfares and a Redwing feeding on berries at close range next to Overton Park, Rutherglen, two Dippers on an urban burn in Croftfoot, an autumn gathering of Canada Geese on Cowdenknowes Reservoir, a Raven alighting on the spire of Coats' Memorial Church, eight Linnets at the mouth of the Cart west of Renfrew (with another three at Braehead Shopping Centre), 50+ Swallows and a single House Martin roosting in waterside saplings at Cowdenknowes Dam and a screeching Jay in the north end of Pollok Park. After a couple of really good years, Grasshopper Warblers were notable by their absence (or maybe I am losing the ability to hear them).
Of particular interest in 2013 was a very obvious increase in Grey Wagtail sightings. Birds were recorded from various sites in south Glasgow and Inverclyde including regular singles along the river through Cardonald and one flying down the middle of Byers Road.

Swift sightings were once again infrequent in 2013. In contrast to the situation encountered on holiday in Morayshire, numbers seen in the central belt were very low. Only two sightings were logged for Paisley (three birds around UWS and four at Forbes Place) and only one for South Cardonald (a single bird over the house). Elsewhere, four were seen in Greenock, one over Hillhead, one over Kelvindale and two over North Bridge, Edinburgh.

Hooded Crow X Carrion Crow hybrids continued to be seen quite regularly, although the total number of birds was probably small as only a small number of sites were usually involved. The most regular sightings were from Greenock, Gourock, Cardonald and Pollok.

Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat all seemed to be commoner than usual in the South Cardonald area. On one day, six Willow Warblers and three Blackcaps were heard singing within a mile of the house. On another, at least five Whitethroats were heard singing between Cardonald and Paisley where there had only been two in previous years. Chiffchaff (two territories) and Garden Warbler (one) were harder to locate.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review of 2013: Part 1

The year 2013 was notable for its unusual weather. A late, cold spring delayed many migrants quite significantly, but the dry summer which followed seemed to be good news for almost all breeding species.
Bird watching activity mostly revolved around monthly trips to Strathspey, a one-week holiday based in Buckie and short trips around south Glasgow (particularly checking out atlas tetrads) and a few forays further afield. The Starthspey and Buckie trips are treated separately here. The first two parts of this review cover all the other sightings.
Some particularly memorable species recorded in 2013 included a female Ring-necked Parakeet near Kings Park, a Barn Owl north of Largs, a single Hawfinch at Scone Palace, singing Corn Buntings behind Anstruther, ten male Black Grouse at a Stirlingshire lek (their unmistakable bubbling calls drifting across the moor), 70 Black-tailed Godwits (moulting into their brick-red summer plumage) at Kinneil, three Black Guillemots in East India Harbour (flashing their white wing patches and red feet as they pirouetted around eachother), 20 or more Wood Warblers along a short stretch of path north of Rowardennan, a Tree Pipit singing and song-flighting in the field in front of Craigend Castle, a fishing Osprey at Longhaugh Point, four Sandwich Terns fishing at the Irvine river mouth, a Stonechat "chack"-ing quietly from a Bracken patch above Overton House, three Ravens and a female Sparrowhawk dog-fighting over Lang Craigs, three Nuthatches in Rozelle Park, two drake Ruddy Ducks on Hogganfield Loch, 15 Barnacle Geese in North Bay, Ardmore Point, four summer plumaged Red throated Divers off Ardmore Point, at least 127 Bean Geese at Luckenburn Fram, several hundred Pochard and twenty Pintail at RSPB Loch Leven, 55 Golden Plover at Kinneil Kerse, a female Sparrowhawk soaring over Crow Road and single Wigeon and Pochard on Mugdock Loch, a Common Sandpiper at Linlithgow Loch, three Stock Doves along the approach road to Kinneil, a Cuckoo calling near Rowardennan, a pair of Wheatears in the "boulder-field" at Lang Craigs, a Woodcock lumbering heavily over the three towns bypass, an Osprey fishing a remote loch in the southern uplands, two Sandwich Terns fishing in Granton Harbour, five Grey Wagtails around "the Colonies", two Greenshanks roosting in Ardmore North Bay, a Grasshopper Warbler skulking in the bushes at Ardmore Point, a Sparrowhawk and two Carrion Crows scrapping beside the railway bridge at the north end of the three-towns bypass, around 200 Greenland Whitefronts at West Freugh (giving fantastic views as they arrived from the north west), large rafts of Scaup and two drake Pintail at Bishop Burn, 88 Brent Geese at The Wig, a Peregrine Falcon flushed from its kill near the old castle on Auchenharvie Golf Course and three Woodcock flushed from damp ground at Abbotshaugh Community Woodland. Unfortunately, Nightjars failed to appear during a trip to the Galloway Forest Park.

Some examples of breeding evidence noticed this year included a pair of Mistle Thrushes dive-bombing corvids in the Paisley Abbey graveyard, Jackdaws entering holes in the wall of Linlithgow Palace, a Tree Sparrow carrying nest material at Bonnytoun Farm, a Rock Pipit carrying nesting material on Steamboat Quay, another Rock Pipit carrying food on the Fife Coastal Path, a Blue Tit taking feathers into the nest box on the south wall of the house, a Mistle Thrush carrying food in Maxwell Park, Swallows entering nest sites at Pollok Stables and several broods of Tufted Ducks on Bingham Pond. 

Some interesting glimpses of bird behaviour were provided by a pair of Pied Wagtails courting around a back court in central Greenock, a Mistle Thrush displaying to its mate from the lower branches of a small tree in Arkleston Cemetery, two male Goldcrests at Mugdock displaying aggressively to eachother and showing off their bright orange crowns, a pair of Stock Doves inspecting tree holes in King's Park and a Red-throated Diver flying around offshore, then belly-flopping into the sea off Greenock promenade.
Non-bird sightings included a Wood Mouse in the back garden, a grasshopper sp which found its way into the house, a ground beetle under the family wheelie-bin, a vole sp running across the road at Arkleston Farm and both Grey Squirrel and Red Squirrel along "The Avenue" at Scone.