Ever since I’ve arrived in the beautiful Auld Reekie (more commonly known as Edinburgh), I’ve been trying to scout a local patch within reasonable distance of the city. Back in Semester 1 I had my eyes on another inland patch, Blackford Hill, on the south-western edge of the city. Only twenty minutes from my halls, the place had promise back in the autumn, holding my first Nuthatch in Scotland and decent vis-mig including many winter Turdus and 4 Crossbills overhead back in late October. Despite its productivity on the first two visits though, I didn’t quite feel the urge at the end of the day to work it regularly. After all, I already had Costessey House Private Estate in Norfolk as my inland patch.
It’s time to find a coastal patch, I told myself. One that has the propensity to produce properly decent finds. At the end of last year I scoured potential sites that would fit this agenda. Musselburgh, whilst easily accessible, seemed far too obvious, and I was aware that it is very well watched during peak passage periods. Aberlady, despite being a major consideration, was that bit too far in the end, and someone else was doing it for Patchwork Challenge. I needed an underwatched, coastal site, easily accessible by public transport that no-one else was likely to cover for PWC. Then I found it. Cramond. A look on Google Maps and it fitted the bill: a large estuarine expanse with an island about a mile out into the Firth of Forth, ample potential for Larus, waders and for a wide range of sea-faring species, even migging passerines on the island possibly, but most fundamentally I had gathered that it was underwatched. With that virtual scout of the area I was good to go, and Cramond was submitted for PWC 2014 in the Coastal Scotland and NGB leagues. Mostly importantly of all though, I knew already that I’d found a patch I’d be working for years to come.
To have a look at the habitat at Cramond for yourself and quite literally get a picture of the different parts of the patch that I’ll be talking about from here on in, click here or where Cramond is hyperlinked above. I first visited with a mate from university on 12th January, so it wasn’t solely a birding visit as we were both keen just to discover the area for the first time. However birding still dominated on what can only be described as an excellent start to patching at this gorgeously picturesque new patch of mine. As we turned the corner past the quaint Cramond Inn and numerous bone-white cottages, the Firth of Forth appeared into view and with it the beautiful Almond Mouth, its creeks acting an outlet to the sprawling mudflats beyond. On the mudflats were hundreds of Larus and winter waders, dying to be sifted through. So the scope went up, and patch birding at Cramond began.
One of the first species I get onto is a wintering Greenshank, feeding in the nearest creek to me among large numbers of Redshank. More or less immediately I had been surprised: a relatively irregular wintering wader that I had by no means expected, a very decent start. I began by scanning the waders, and was delighted by their copiousness. Widely dispersed across the mudflats on either side of the causeway leading to Cramond Island, there must have been some 150 Dunlin, 80 Bar-tailed Godwits, 150+ Curlew, 250+ Redshank, 100+ Oystercatcher and 20+ Turnstone. Aside from the Greenshank, a single Knot and at least 4 Grey Plovers were also mixed in, albeit distantly. All the commoner gull species were present, but Black-headed Gull numbers must have sat at least at 300.
Behind the roving groups of waders, at least 70 Wigeon were loafing about off the Firth of Forth, along with some Shelduck and the odd Goldeneye and Eider. In front of them, milling about on their own at the mudflat’s edge, I was very pleasantly surprised to connect with 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese; bonus! They unfortunately kept pretty distant, but in the gorgeous crisp winter light were much enjoyed; it’s always nice to connect with these birds at any site in Scotland, as they’re by no means an easy species to catch up with in these parts. Before I headed to the pub for lunch, a juvenile Peregrine capped things off for now, causing absolute mayhem as swirling groups of Calidrids took to the skies. A pair of Buzzard were also noted over Long Green Woods.
My mate and I, a hearty lunch and a couple of very cheap pints later (£1.50, ridiculously decent price for great brews), headed across to Cramond Island, traversing the estuary encompassed causeway. Just the fact that this pathway across the sands existed, that we were literally walking into the Firth of Forth, felt amazing, let alone the magical metamorphosis from the causeway being submerged to suddenly appearing; at high tide, its as if the causeway doesn’t exist. As we first reached land on the beach at Causewayside Nook, I deciphered that this was where the majority of the waders in the area roosted at high tide. We wandered inland, checking out numerous abandoned WW2 barracks and heading through dispersed mixes of sycamore and coniferous foliage, or ‘Tegmalm’s Cover’ as I have come to call it, where I presume the famed Tegmalm’s Owl seen on the island in the 1880s was favouring. In the cover Redwing, Fieldfare and several other commoner passerine species were noted, whilst offshore I clocked a single Great-crested Grebe, a Red-throated Diver and a few Red-breasted Mergansers, as well as Cormorant and Shag. As a promontory for seawatching and diver + grebe watching, this seemed promising. As I was with a mate and it was starting to get dark, I wasn’t able to work Cramond Island as much as I’d have liked and we had to call it a day. For a first visit it had been very productive, however, enough so to get me back there for some full on birding a few days later.
The weather was superb when I returned on 16th January, but unfortunately I’d mis-timed my visit, arriving too late to catch the waders on the rising tide. It therefore transpired that the few hours I spent there were at maximum high tide. This was obviously a downer for waders and meant I could not get to Cramond Island, but through the scope from the Almond Mouth I was chuffed to pick up 4 Greenshank roosting among the Redshank at Causewayside Nook on Cramond Island. Waders completely occupied the nook, though mostly Redshank (200), Bar-tailed Godwit (40) and Oystercatcher (150+) on this occasion. In the very little mud that was left at the Almond Mouth I was also very happy to pick up not two but three hrota Brent Geese: much closer this time, but they were quickly pushed out by the tide and eventually flew towards Dalmeny and South Queensferry. With the little resources I now had I resorted to looking offshore, which proved to be successful, producing a partly expected but much enjoyed patch lifer in the form of 2 Slavonian Grebes along with 6 Great Crested Grebes pretty distantly offshore towards Silverknowes: easily the highlight of the day. As I watched these grebes from Cramond Sands, a Rock Pipit also made itself known. The sea was largely pretty quiet, so after a while I head inland for the first time and established my southern patch boundaries, wandering up the River Almond along the Cramond Walkway. This produced woodland species such as Bullfinch, Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit, and most notably a pair of Goosander on the river; the habitat here looks ideal for Dipper and Kingfisher so I am expecting both these species at some point.
Finally, I made my first February visit to Cramond this Sunday just gone (10th February). Mostly the same fare were in evidence, though there was an obvious lack of Brent Geese. Greenshank numbers really did bewilder me this time round. In the receding tide, 7 Greenshank were lined up together with the ubiquitous Redshanks (150). Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin numbers also reached new peaks, with at least 130 of the former and 200+ of the latter. 50+ Golden Plover late on were a completely new addition, whilst 80 Knot were distant in line with the edge of Long Green Woods nearby 150+ Curlew. Lone Canada and Greylag Geese were also noted – surely its only a matter of time till Pinkfoot makes an appearance – whilst Wigeon numbers sat at around 50. I also made it to Cramond Island for the second time, where a very close Slavonian Grebe was the highlight off Barrack’s Point along with 3 Great-crested Grebes, Red-breasted Merganser, and new species with Guillemot and Razorbill. This little promontory has been very productive so far, so I am hoping it will produce decent seabirding come the right conditions, and maybe a Red-necked Grebe? At the Almond Mouth towards dusk, 2 Little Grebes were a surprise new species, and 4 Goosander and singing Song Thrush were also present. I was there that day for a good 4 and a half hours: as things progress towards spring I hope to spend similar amounts of time at this wonderful site.
So there you have it! Cramond, well and truly my Lothian patch now. In three visits it has already produced 60 species, including noteworthy species such as Slav Grebe, Peregrine, Brent Goose and Greenshank: a very good start indeed. It has already showed its potential to produce quality species, and I am confident that with further persistent sifts through those waders, those gulls and those grebes, something decent will be unearthed. What will it be? Red-necked Grebe? Med Gull? A stint sp. in the spring? Only time will tell, but I can’t tell you how much it excites me that, from those three visits alone, I know it will produce some proper gold soon enough. When? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, BRING IT ON!
Thanks for reading,