Saturday, 9 February 2013

2013 - February BTO waterbird count, Linlithgow - Philpstoun

My monthly BTO WeBS count along the Union Canal, Linlithgow to Philpstoun,

Saturday 9th February.

Start time 8.45am.
End time 12.30pm

A misty day. At no point did sun break through. Airngath Hill was hidden in the mist, making Linlithgow appear as if it may not be situated in the dip of a valley at all. No wind. No rain.

Spring is coming and birds are starting to sing. The song of the chaffinch is one I've been noticing most, I heard them start up about a week ago. Have a listen here, under 'audio', halfway down on right-hand side.

As often, the flood-field was the highlight. Today on and around the water there were:

mallard - 10
widgeon - 125
curlew - 13
oystercatcher - 35
common gull - 3
black headed gull - 204
greylag geese - 5

All other water birds eligible for the count:

mallard - 5
mute swan - 6
moorhen - 2
oystercatchers and widgeon, flood field

assorted grey geese

All non-count birds:

greylag and pink footed geese - 720+, in huge flock that spread across a field to the east of Park Farm, on the other side of the Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line from where my canal walk takes me. It's very difficult to count large numbers of birds and I spent a long time trying to get as close to accurate as possible. It seemed easiest to count them in batches of ten. The undulations of the field made it extra hard and I'm confident that my total is an under-estimate.

The geese were were greylag and pink footed, although I'm not 100% certain of the pink feet - there are also bean geese, which are possible here, though unlikely. Looking through all my books the beans are similar to the pink footed but a little larger in size, taller in stature, and with a significantly larger beak. Both are quite distinguishable from greylag - they have darker and brown rather than grey heads and necks, and lots of darkness on the beak compared to the carrot-orange wedge of the greylag)

During the rest of my walk skeins of geese were quite regularly flying in towards this one field. The largest skien comprised 140 birds, in two or three rippling V-shaped lines.

None of these geese can be included in my WeBS count as I only record birds using the canal, or on field-width on either side of it. We have to strictly stick to the same rules every month.

redwing - but only one, in the woods at the Philpstoun Bings. Funny, because yesterday evening in Real Foods I bought an RSPB redwing pin badge.

tree sparrow
house sparrow
collared dove
song thrush - as with most of the songbirds, thrushes are starting to sing territorially, in preparations for courtship and mating. In the trees above our house one sings each morning, from really early early. I want the windows open to hear the song even more clearly. Jennifer prefers to have a decent sleep, so we compromise. (i.e. some nights I leave it ajar without telling...)

blue tit
great tit
coal tit
goldcrest (heard not seen)

35 species for the day.

canal count notes, pen on card

And ivy and fungi: 

In the small stand of beech wood just beyond Philpstoun my eye today was caught by this strand of ivy. Fascinating how the creeper slowly crawls up a host tree, securing itself with caterpillar-feet tendrils no more than a few millimetres long.

The small slug-like fungal growths that I looked at last month seem to have grown a little:


  1. Hello Leo. I've just come across your blog and have spent the last hour enjoying all of the stories in your posts. Thank you, it is terrific! Came to you after buying some of Kittie Jones' cards and enjoying her website and wonderful blog. So love your work. Have seen your pieces at the Line Gallery. Gosh, you have a way of distilling everything down to simple lines while still conveying such atmosphere. Your sketches and paintings remind me of what Dan Pearson, the lovely garden designer, calls a sense of place. I have given up a corporate career for a more creative life and am so enjoying the freedom of using my hands instead of my head! Your blog (and other artists' too) will be a daily dose of inspiration. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Jo. Really glad you've enjoyed my blog. Add your email address in the box at top left of blog and you'll automatically be informed when I write new posts.

      If you'd like to be on my mailing list to hear of forthcoming exhibitions at the Line Gallery etc, please send me a message through the 'contact' page of my website -

      Just had a look at Dan Pearson's website. Yes, what beautiful work!