Tuesday, 15 October 2013

2013 - October BTO waterbird count, Linlithgow - Philpstoun

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

(NB my September 2013 WeBS count has not yet been blogged, despite being referenced later in this post.)

Thursday 10th October 2013.

Start time 9am
End time 12noon

Bright sun, hot sun (when walking fast) - cold if you stood still - a strong northerly is blowing, bringing us Arctic air. No rain.

Still no flood-field?:

It's looking like the farmer's efforts to drain the field might have worked. We've had some rain recently but not even a puddle has accumulated. My waterbird counts are probably going to become a lot less interesting in terms of species and numbers. Today in the field - crows, rooks, jackdaws and cows.

count notes 10.09.2013

The count:

Today's weather conditions were about the worst possible. I don't like to do the count on sun shining days because it glares into my eyes from forwards right, exactly the direction I need to look to see the canal. Unless I walk backwards. Which I don't. Even a peaked hat doesn't solve the problem - the sun still reflects up from the surface of the water.

Gulls were in evidence but only ever far overhead, not eligible for the count. I saw moorhens, mallards, two swans and something unusual - a large flock of waders, large for here anyway. On a freshly planted field. Fairly far off and awkwardly lit. I'm not good at most of the waders but I thought of golden plovers or dunlin. Crouching against a section of towpath wall and using knees as an elbow rest I counted the group and took down as much detail as I could see through my binoculars. They were very round little things, fluffy-like. Warm white/light cream under and a beautiful golden-green on top. The low autumn sun accentuated the gold. They had stubby black beaks and I wanted them to have dark legs too - I think that's what golden plover have - but I couldn't see. There were 73, give or take a few. Some were preening, most just resting, heads tucked under wings.

Suddenly I was hearing a low plaintive whistling and a second group of the same birds were sweeping back and fore above the field. They seemed to want to land but never quite managed, nearly touching down before en masse swooping back up, wing a flutter. They flipped side to side in the air, showing uppers then unders, uppers then unders. Uppers were entirely dark, unders entirely light. Their legs were dark! There were 25 in the flock, give or take a few. Once they passed directly over my head and I heard the swoosh of their wings.

Rory, who I meet almost every time I'm out on this count, came up. He's retired, cycles or walks his dog along here most days. We chatted about what we'd seen, about his daughter in Australia and my brother in Australia (Not together. See Roan's excellent blog here - queenofnothingkingoftheworld.blogspot.com.au ) and about my exhibition that opened in Glasgow the week before last (see the exhibition online here - www.leodufeu.co.uk). Rory expressed shock that I couldn't definitely identify this group of waders. I asked him not to tell the BTO. I spotted a kestrel fly past, scimitar wings, long straight tail, like other birds of prey. We looked back to the waders - gone. Scared off by the predator.

Now that I've written-up the encounter I'm going to consult the books...

(5 minute pause - if this was live I'd say make yourself a cup of tea)

Golden plover! (Pluvialis apricaria) There's nothing quite like the satisfaction of knowing a bit, observing and jotting down everything that might help, then getting to your books and searching through the birds. They weren't grey plover because they hadn't black armpits. Dunlin are far smaller. This is the golden plover's call in flight - www.xeno-canto.org/87693 Grey plovers' in flight sound a more definite 'pee-oo-ee' - www.xeno-canto.org/145310

Golden plover i.d. notes

All water birds eligible for count:

moorhens - 8
mallards - 8
mute swans - 2 (both green ring, black lettering. Female LPJ. Male PFB.)
golden plover - 98

All birds seen:

mute swan
golden plover
house sparrow
blue tit
great tit
collared dove
gulls (unidentified)

24 (+) species

and a red admiral butterfly.

In the woods:

The Philpstoun woods were less abundant in fungi than last month, when I did the walk during a much wetter period. The little spheres clustering together on the mossy fallen tree have now darkened and some were bursting to reveal and release their dark green spores. I had my fungi book with me this time - Stump puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme). My favourites, Candle snuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) were growing, standing to attention to scrappily formed ranks.

Stump puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme)

rude Stump puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme)

Candle snuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

a bug stuck to a discus seed

Not in the woods:

a dredger, churning the water traumatically

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