Lothian, Fife & Angus 2013

Mark Finn
October 26th-31st

Our first birding tour to the Scottish regions of Lothian, Fife and Angus was affected by persistent and often strong south-westerly winds that reduced our chanced of interesting migrants from the east. However, highlights included the long-staying Sardinian Warbler at St Abbs and large numbers of wintering wildfowl notably Pink-footed Geese, Whooper Swans and the commoner duck species. Around the coast we enjoyed Common Eider, Long-tailed Ducks, Common and Velvet Scoters and a scattering of Slavonian Grebes. Raptors were thin on the ground with the best being a female Merlin near Dunbar. Waders were well represented with sightings of Black-tailed Godwits at two sites and Greenshanks near Montrose. The only unusual gull was an adult Mediterranean Gull at the Eden Estuary. Another welcome addition was Little Egret at Aberlady Bay and near St Andrews.

October 26th: Edinburgh, Gosford Bay, Aberlady, North Berwick, Dunbar.
Weather: Cloudy with a southwest wind 14C.

After meeting everyone at various spots in Edinburgh we left the city and headed in an easterly direction to Aberlady. A few birds around the airport included a flock of Eurasian Curlews feeding in long grass. Our first stop was the Scottish Ornithologists Club headquarters in the coastal village of Aberlady. A skein of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead and Goldcrests were calling from the nearby sycamore trees. A visit to the sheltered waters of Gosford Bay and the adjacent beaches which are attractive to shorebirds produced Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and several species of the commoner gulls. The mud attracted Northern Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, European Golden Plover, Eurasian Curlew and Knot in reasonable numbers. Further along the coast are the town of North Berwick with views towards the Isle of May and the Bass Rock with the latter still having many Northern Gannets in residence. Checking the shore and rocks revealed Common Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Eiders and a female Velvet Scoter. Before checking into our hotel at Dunbar a sandy beach with a fast-flowing burn attracted Eurasian Wigeon.

October 27th: Dunbar, St Abbs, Dunbar NW Quarry, Barns Ness, John Muir Country Park, Aberlady Bay.
Weather: Morning clear with weak sunshine followed by frequent showers on a southwest wind 14C.

Before breakfast the group went on a short walk towards the rocky foreshore at Dunbar. Vegetation and thick scrub attracted European Robin, Dunnock and Northern Wren in reasonable numbers. In offshore waters Common Eiders were numerous and overhead there was a steady passage of Meadow Pipits. A Rock Pipit was also seen feeding around the rock pools. After an enjoyable breakfast we headed south towards Berwick-upon-Tweed and visited the reserve at St Abbs Head. The nature reserve car park had a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue Tit and a Pied Wagtail on the visitor centre roof. We headed for the Mire Loch which is almost enclosed by woodland and reedy habitats. The crags held Carrion Crow and Common Raven whilst the reeds had Reed Bunting. Our main target was the long staying male Sardinian Warbler which duly obliged at close range as it flitted between cover and giving its distinctive contact calls. Yellowhammers were also present in the gorse. A detour to the lighthouse was made with Northern Gannet and Common Guillemots offshore and a migrant Song Thrush in the lighthouse gardens. Next birding stop was at Dunbar NW Quarry a recently designated reserve. Open water attracted the commoner ducks including an immature Common Goldeneye. Grass around the edges had Greylag and Canada Geese, Northern Lapwing and Eurasian Curlews. By the road a pair of Common Stonechats showed well. Barns Ness was quiet for birds due to weather conditions. On the return route Marilyn found a female Merlin perched on top of a grass bank and we enjoyed some great views. A visit to John Muir CP produced nothing of note so we headed towards Aberlady Bay. Large numbers of geese were coming into roost plus Common Shelduck and numerous ducks on the vast expanses of mud. A bonus was two Little Egrets in a burn and there were some Grey Plovers by the parking area.

October 28th: Musselburgh, Threipmuir Country Park, Aberlady Bay.
Weather: Cloudy with a brisk southwest wind 11C.

After breakfast we headed towards Musselburgh, which is located on the outskirts of Edinburgh and a prime birding location at any time of the year. Our arrival coincided with high tide. An exposed sandbar attracted many gulls including a few Lesser Black-backed which is mainly a summer visitor to Scotland. In the sheltered waters off Musselburgh we located flocks of Velvet and Common Scoters, Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and notable numbers of first year Northern Gannets. The walk around the seawall produced Rock Pipit and Common Stonechat. Close to the shoreline Great Crested and Slavonian Grebes and a party of Greater Scaup were additions to the birdlist. The path eventually heads inland towards the golf and racecourse and a pond plus several shallow scrapes. The latter attract considerable numbers of waders at high tide and today was no exception as we recorded Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Knot and a few ducks notably Eurasian Teal. We returned to the van and headed westwards to Threipmuir Country Park a site that includes lochs, moorland and forest close to the town of Balerno. The car park had a pair of Eurasian Bullfinches feeding on catkins. A short walk down to the loch added a flock of Fieldfares, whilst on the loch we found Mute Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe. Time was getting on as we headed back towards Aberlady Bay and a walk towards the beach line. Very windy conditions made birding difficult although a female Peregrine Falcon showed well on a stunted post. The highlight however was thousands of Pink-footed Geese coming into roost as the light started to fade.

October 29th: Dunbar, Scone Palace, Loch Leven, Lower Largo.
Weather: Sunny with a cool southwest wind 8C.

We checked out of our Dunbar hotel and headed up towards Edinburgh and over the Forth Road Bridge towards Perth and Kinross. Our first birding stop was the extensive grounds of Scone Palace a noted haunt of Hawfinch. Access into the back of the grounds has now been blocked by new fencing and gates so we had to use the main entrance. A walk through the woodlands produced sightings of Redwing, Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tits plus a few Goldcrests searching for insects in the conifer trees. Overhead Common Buzzards circled whilst a Peregrine Falcon and a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk flew over the palace itself. Lunch was taken in the grounds before we headed towards Loch Leven. The hides here afforded excellent views with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese particularly common and the shallow waters of the scrapes attracting Mallard, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall and Northern Pintail the last two having a fairly localised in distribution within Scotland. The grassy areas attracted Eurasian Curlews and on the muddy edges Common Snipe. A highlight for us were family parties of Whooper Swans who kept in contact with each other by constant whooping. On Loch Leven the deep waters held Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. At 1600 hours the temperature started to drop so we headed back to the centre where earlier the feeders attracted the commoner birds and Eurasian Siskin.

October 30th: Lower Largo, Broughty Ferry, Arbroath Harbour, Lunan Bay, Balgavies Loch, Montrose Basin.
Weather: Weak winter sunshine followed by cloud and showers. Southwest wind 9C.

We started the day with a visit to the quay behind the Crusoe Hotel. The commoner seabirds were present in good numbers along with the first Red-throated Divers of the tour. Our journey northwards took us through the historic university town of St Andrews and the rather run down environment of Dundee. The first birding stops in Angus were at Broughty Ferry and a coastal location next to the River Tay. The beach attracted Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and a single Sanderling. Heading northwards to the fishing port of Arbroath, a town famous for its herrings with a stop at the harbour. We found little here apart from Rock Pipits so continued to Lunan Bay, a sheltered spot on the coast. A nice find was a party of Stock Doves feeding in a recently ploughed field. On arriving at Lunan Bay the viewpoint platform allowed us to find up to sixty Red-throated Divers, Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and several Common Gulls. Just before Montrose a wheat field held Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese. For lunch we headed inland to Balgavies Loch an important wintering site for wetland species. Open waters here had Common Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot. The remainder of the day was spent at Montrose Basin a vast area with thousands of birds. As the water levels dropped we saw notable wintering species in the form of Black-tailed Godwit and Common Greenshank. Also present on the mud were thousands of European Golden Plovers, Common Shelduck and Eurasian Wigeon. In the deep water channels of the basin we watched flocks of Common Eider and Greater Scaup. The many feeders at the centre held Tree Sparrow and the more common finch and tit species. As dusk started to fall Marilyn found a Water Rail which showed well and to everybody’s delight another three birds put in an appearance. The journey back to Fife took time as the weather worsened with heavy rain.

October 31st: Kilconquhar, Ruddon’s Point, Crail, Fife Ness, St Andrews, Eden Estuary, Cameron Reservoir, Leven.
Final species total: 102.
Weather: Overcast with strong west winds 11C.

After breakfast we made the short road journey to the picturesque village of Kilconquhar and the loch of the same name. A walk through the churchyard gives access to the loch which is bordered by reedbeds. On the loch we noted Little Grebe, Common Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Coot and the common garden birds in surrounding trees and bushes. Next on the agenda was Ruddon’s Point with views into Largo Bay. On the entrance road Eurasian Curlews were feeding on the football pitch whilst Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting rested on the telegraph lines. Largo Bay was extremely choppy and made viewing very difficult. So, we set off for Crail another coastal settlement near Fife Ness. Crail has a good track record for recording scarce or rarer species, but with westerly winds the prospects were not good and our walk through the graveyards and adjoining copse produced two Great Spotted Woodpeckers and the commoner garden birds. At Fife Ness we walked down from the golf club and scanned rocky areas where we found Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Common Redshank. Offshore a steady passage of Northern Gannets plus a few cormorants, shags and gulls. We picked up lunch in St Andrews and headed to West Beach. The sea gave us close views of Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe and Common Guillemot. Along the coast a stop at the Eden Estuary yielded an adult Mediterranean Gull, Little Egret and around sixty Black-tailed Godwits. The weather started to worsen as we visited Cameron Reservoir. Whooper and Mute Swans were on the loch plus diving ducks and Eurasian Wigeon. The heavens opened making a proper look almost impossible, so we headed to Leven hoping to scan into the bay. However, with such poor weather I decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel in Lower Largo for our final night in Fife.

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