Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bird Race 2006

Yesterday saw this year's bird race - a keenly contested team competition to see how many species can be seen/heard in 24hrs in the Lothians (ie Midlothian, West Lothian, East Lothian & City of Edinburgh council areas).

The weather forecast was pretty dodgy, but midnight saw us meet up in calm, clear conditions and the beginning of our quest. Bizarrely, it was very quiet and we didn't get our first bird (Sedge Warbler) till 1am! This however was quickly followed by several others including Grasshopper Warbler and Whimbrel, both tricky species some years. No Barn Owls seen, which is pretty unusual, but we heard one near a known nest site.

3.30 saw us parked beside one of East Lothian's best woodlands to await the dawn chorus and a rush of new species. That's when the other team arrived! So we headed up the valley ahead of them, hoping to get a few they'd miss. An hour or so's walk and we'd added a good number of birds including Redstart & Garden Warbler, although we didn't get Jay which we'd hoped to add.

Unfortunately, by this stage, the wind had got up and the rain had started.

A fruitless half hour search for Yellow Wagtail preceded us hitting the coast for high tide and a big increase in our list including Brent & Pink-footed Goose, lots of seabirds including Manx Shearwater & Arctic Skua, lots of waders including Sanderling, Grey Plover & Bar-tailed Godwit, Shoveler & Wigeon. A brief inland foray brought Peregrine & Raven, and Tree Sparrows at our usual site were very obliging, but back at the coast the Surf Scoter that had been around for a week or two was not co-operating. It was about 1pm and we'd about 105 species.

Where were you yesterday when we needed you?

Into Edinburgh, and the first of two Green Woodpeckers, then the Pentland Hills where an hour's walk gave us Dipper, Cuckoo, Whinchat and excellent views of Ring Ouzel. That was the planned itinerary about finished, so it was time to decide what to do next. Our list was at 119, there were 3 hours daylight left and the weather was still a bit damp and horrible.

We decided to head for the Lammermuir Hills to go for Red Grouse, Golden Plover and hopefully, Short-eared Owl. Got all three very quickly. Two hours light and back to look for the Yellow Wagtails that we'd missed 12 hours previously. 45 mins later and it became pretty obvious that we just weren't going to see them, so it was back to the coast to try to get a last few new ones, including Red-throated Diver that we'd missed previously.

No joy. Two of us saw Arctic Tern but that didn't count (three of each team need to see/hear each species). No divers. One more site and we managed to add Long-tailed Duck, but the rain was now getting heavy. We called the other team and suggested an early finish, as it was pretty obvious we weren't going to add anything else and we were tired, wet, cold and bloody starving!

10.30 and we met the opposition in continued pouring rain to find out the winner. We had managed 123 species in fairly poor conditions - not bad when the record is 129. They had managed 124. Shit!!!

So the trophy goes to them. They had seen a fair few that we'd missed, including Red-throated Diver, Arctic Tern and Yellow Wagtail, but we had a few they didn't. We reckoned that the combined total seen was at least 140 species, which given the weather was an amazing total. But we lost by one...

May 19th next year, we'll get the trophy back.


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