The blog has gone very quiet recently, for no reason other than simply that university life had been all-absorbing for the last few months. I write now with first year already behind me, astonishingly. It’s a particularly peculiar feeling, as a monumental and truly life-changing uni year has finished in which so, so much has happened, yet I can remember eking out two Balearic Shearwaters at Saltcoats a couple of days before moving in as if it was literally yesterday. Christ! Sadly, moving out of uni halls has made me temporarily homeless in Edinburgh, so I won’t be able to patch the new birding homeland for me that is Cramond until late summer; in the meantime I’ll just have to hope that I don’t miss anything major! Anyhow, picking up where I left off last time…
February saw me with the most free time I’ve had all year, so I was able to manage another good long session on site before the month was finished. During the a.m of 18th, wader numbers remained fairly consistent, with at least 140 Barwits, 5 Greenshanks with 230 Redshanks, 160 Oystercatcher, 120+ Dunlin and 110+ Curlew but nothing particularly new on this score along the mudflats. However, 64 Pink-footed Geese were a welcomed but very much expected new species here. A mile out into the Firth of Forth at Cramond Island, the sea was as flat as a millpond. This proved very productive in terms of clocking diver and grebe numbers, with at least 25 Great Crested Grebes and 12 Red-throated Divers noted. Scanning from Barracks Point eventually produced a smart adult winter Black-throated Diver on the sea not far out towards Inchmickery, the undoubted highlight of the day and probably the main patching highlight at this beautiful site so far. Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe would now do very nicely indeed! Other new species here included a single flyover Siskin and numerous Linnets and Meadow Pipits. Since that day more or less, I have been particularly enthusiastic to work this underwatched but uniquely placed little promontory.
March was an exceptionally busy month, hence I only managed one visit! I was determined to make 26th a productive one, with a mind to catching up with early spring species and Patchwork Challenge. The first two Chiffchaffs were noted on site singing towards the Almond Walkway. Wader numbers had dwindled somewhat, yet 3 Greenshanks remained among 185 Redshank, 100 Barwits, c.130 Oystercatcher, 60 Curlew and 40 Dunlin, so not entirely unhealthy apart from on the Calidrid front. As has increasingly become the case so it seems, much of the action again came from Cramond Island. Standing steadfastly against the battering wind from Barracks Point, I was intrigued by a relatively substantial movement of auks to and fro along the Forth, some just frolicking, others presumably heading towards Bass Rock. Mixed flocks of at least 350 auks passed through in c.50 minutes, with a good number of the less distant birds evidently being Razorbills. I felt as if this passage would herald something better and within half an hour 4 Puffins, pot-bellied but not porculent, headed east, briefly landing on the sea mid-way between Cramond Island and Inchkeith but slightly too distant for me to appreciate the wonders of their kaleidoscopic conks. Most of the obvious seabirds made an appearance for the first time, with at least 130 Gannets taking advantage of a good shoal very distantly, as well as numerous Fulmars, Kittiwakes and a partly expected bonus in the form of a cracking male Long-tailed Duck heading east. As I headed back towards the causeway along Western Nook, the song-flights of cascading Linnets and Meadow Pipits echoed along the folds of foliage extending from Tegmalm’s Wood in the encroaching incandescent sunset.
For much of April I was in Norfolk, hence just two visits were managed in the approach to exam season. My visit on 5th was primarily to show friends the area so was thus very quiet, yet I still managed new species in the form of Grey Wagtail at the Almond Mouth, and both Stock and Collared Doves. A proper visit on 29th April was unfortunately both tight and a slight screw up in terms of predicting tide times: by the time I had arrived, half the causeway had already been submerged by the merciless Firth of Forth. The pace that the tide can swoop in at Cramond is frightening, and I am admittedly still learning my craft when it comes to anticipating arrival times in terms of maximising my chances both on Cramond Island and at the estuary mouth. If anything though, this proved beneficial on the day as it allowed for good views of the first ‘true’ spring passage waders on patch. No less than 30 Black-tailed Godwits – a good number of which were in stonking sumplum – shared the increasingly negligible mud flats hugging Long Green Woods with 80 Barwits, at least 120 coming-on-sumplum Dunlins, 150 Oystercatchers, 90 Redshanks and 65 Curlew. It was invigorating to watch these Blackwits in with the Cramond wader regulars, not only because of their beauty but because their presence symbolized the start of my spring passage wader experience here; an omen to more productive times ahead in late summer I hope: Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Spotshank are high on my agenda. This visit was also useful for catching up with the crop of expected commoner warbler species, with 2 Willow Warblers, Blackcap and Whitethroat present in and around the Cramond Walkway, and of course the first terns of the year offshore: at least 6 Sandwich and 10 Commons, as well as a single Arctic being harassed by a couple of belligerent Lesser-Black Backed Gulls.
This May was always going to be particularly pain-staking, as the urge to get to the patch possessed me during revision and exams. To my own academic benefit, I didn’t get out to Cramond until Tuesday 20th, shortly after my exams had finished. As I only had a relatively small window, the best I could manage was arriving within a couple of hours of high tide, thus again preventing me from getting out to the island. It was another productive day for passage waders, however, with my first Ringed Plovers here being a lovely sight. Totals in a 2 hour session in and around the mouth produced: 150+ Ringed Plover in flighty, disparate groups (largest group sat at 58), 70 Barwits, 50 Dunlin, 40 Curlew, 20 Redshanks, 6 Blackwits, 4 Knot, 2 Grey Plover (including one in sumplum shining out of the grey gloom) and another new species in the form of a lone Sanderling in with a few Calidrids on Cramond Sands. 4 House Martins and 3 Swallows were also at the latter spot. Kestrel and Buzzard were the only raptors on show, even though it felt like an Osprey day.
Finally, I headed via Cramond for a final once-over straight after moving out of uni halls on 25th . The visit was short and the tide was exceptionally low, rendering most waders distant. However, a posse of 28 Ringed Plover, 16 Dunlin and 1 Turnstone were close in by the causeway, and at least 80 Barwits were present not too far out. I finally got out to Cramond Island for the first time in what felt like an age. Reasonable numbers of Fulmar, Gannet and Auk sp were moving through offshore, but after half an hour’s bash it seemed pretty quiet. At the last minute I clocked the only new species of day heading north-west, a posse of 23 Common Scoter (5♂ and 18♀ ); given that both the Scoter species are slightly trickier west of Musselburgh and that nigra is oddly the least regular of the two, this was quite a noteworthy finish to an immensely enjoyable first half of the year on site.
In just 9 visits so far, I’ve managed 88 species and 102 points for Patchwork Challenge at Cramond; not that bad a haul and certainly indicative of what harder work and prolonged periods on site will produce in the future. Yearly aims? I’m thinking 110+ species, but it may well surprise me if I put more time in from late summer onwards. The first five months of patching this beautiful area have been far less frequent than I would have liked them to have been, mostly because real life has been very busy. That aside, my immersion into the elements of Cramond’s diverse habitats and birds has been seamless: its hoards of waders on the soft estuarine flats off which shades of light playfully bounce and merge, the beautiful folds of a spring-time Cramond Island and the island encompassed view of the Firth of Forth when seawatching from Barracks Point, are already absorbing themselves into my conscience. The bond grows stronger every visit; therein lies the beauty of patching.
Thanks for reading,