Wednesday 20 March 2013

2013 - March BTO waterbird count, Linlithgow - Philpstoun

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

Thursday 14th March.

Start time 8.45am.
End time 12.30pm

Weather fine. Cool. Overcast. Not wet. A bit breezy. It had been very cold overnight. When I started out the canal was almost completely iced over and I expected to see very little but as I got a few fields away from the town the ice got less and less. The valley that Linlithgow sits in does seem to effect our weather. Frost or snow sometimes lingers when elsewhere it's gone. Or sometimes it doesn't come when elsewhere it has.

canal count notes, pen (on Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2011 invite!)

Flood-field lived up to my expectations. On it today I saw:

mallard - 10
widgeon - 4

snipe - 1 - almost impossible to spot, as always. Only spotted after much scanning with binoculars and thanks to those thick light/dark/light stripes that run the length of head and back.

lapwing - 4
curlew - 15
oystercatcher - 18
pink-footed geese - 1
27 - The closest views of pink-foots that I've had.

pied wagtail - 5+ (hadn't realised until today that wagtails are eligible for Wetland Bird Survey counts)

On the return leg of my journey I stopped and spent half an hour sketching four lapwings that probed the sodden ground for worms and beetles and other invertebrates. As far as I can recall it's the first time I've drawn lapwings.

A wind was blowing and head plumes were flicking elegantly skywards. When the birds faced a certain way the plumes blew out of their expected position and created rather a comical impression. I heard the lapwings give their melancholic 'pee-wit' calls but didn't observe any signs of displaying. The first time we saw the tumbling display flight of a lapwing Jennifer and I thought the bird must be in distress, so plaintive were its calls and so odd its movement.

lapwing sketches, coloured pencil on card, 14.5x21cm

lapwing sketches, pencil on card, 14.5x21cm

Five or six pied wagtails or more were hopping and running around the flood field, constantly bobbing their tails up and down. A kestrel flew over and the wagtails darted up and at it to chase it away.

All other wetland birds eligible for the count:

mallard - 7
moorhen - 4

lesser black-backed gull - 1
common gull - 3
black-headed gull - 2

No swans this count. That's not unusual, sometimes they're there, sometimes they're not. But there's one swan that definitely wont be seen again - a fairly young one, plumage still mostly brown, it's been on the canal in Linlithgow for the last few months. It was killed a couple of weeks ago by an alsatian dog, or similar.

I didn't see the incident but a friend did. The dog walker seemed to do little to stop the attack and continued on their way. The SSPCA took the corpse away. A few times I've seen dogs running through the reedbeds and weedbeds that ring Linlithgow loch - what chance have birds of nesting then?!

All non-count birds seen:

skylark - singing intently, high over the Park Farm fields
tree sparrow
house sparrow

reed bunting

collared dove
song thrush - singing, not seen

blue tit
great tit

coal tit

35 species for the day

flood-field, train passing

flood-field, pink-footed geese

Between the Philpstoun bings, the remains of a bridge. Something I keep meaning to paint. I see it as an impenetrable fortress. A few small square windows for those inside to look out from. (My childhood involved a lot of reading of fantasy books!) 

scarlet elf cup (Sarcoscypha coccinea)  in Philpstoun wood

scarlet elf cup (Sarcoscypha coccinea)  in Philpstoun wood


  1. Lovely close up of scarlet elf cup.. and you should get better counts now the weather's warming up.