Monday, June 25, 2007

Azure Hawker Search

Back up in Ayrshire this weekend, my main aim was to try and locate Azure Hawker in the county. Angus Hogg reckoned he saw one about two weeks ago in the extreme south of the county close to Dumfries & Galloway border and, in fact, not too far away from the well known site at Silver Flowe. Friday’s weather put paid to this idea with the vast quantities of rain falling inland, combined with thunder, lightening and even the odd tornado. The sun did appear in the Loch Doon area at either end of the day, providing 22 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and 12 Large Skippers at one site in Bellsbank Plantation and 10 Large Heath amongst 40+ Small Heath on a bog site near Loch Bradan.

Saturday was much better, on the coast at least, and continuing evidence of the Painted Lady invasion suggests that this year may even top the all time biggest year of 1996. At least 49 were counted on the coast south of Ballantrae, without any systematic counting or coverage. More signs of the advanced spring were realised today with multiple sightings of new generation Small Tortoiseshell. I’ve never seen Small Torts emerge in June in Ayrshire – its usually mid to late July before they are expected. Currarie Port and Donald Bowie had at least 23 Grayling and 2 Dark Green Fritillaries and, unusually, a Large Heath which had probably wandered down Shallochwreck Burn from suitable habitat on Penderry Hill. Pinbain Burn didn’t disappoint with at least eight Northern Brown Argus, 23 Graylings, six Large Skippers, six Painted Ladies, as well as the odd Dark Green Frit, Ringlet, Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Common Blue.
On Sunday it was back to rain around my intended sites. Only Barony Pit provided some butterflies with 67 Ringlets (they don’t mind light rain), 14 Meadow Browns and a few Grayling, Small Heath, Meadow Brown and Common Blue. Now that I’m bank in London, I’ve heard the weather is better.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dawn Chorus Chronologies

In the last week or so I have managed to experience the phenomenon (= darkness, tiredness, stupidity) of the Dawn Chorus in three different area of the British Isles; Kindrogan in Perthshire, Dean Castle Country Park in Ayrshire, and Sunny Hill Park in London. Although this was over a period of a week, you would still expect the dawn chorus to be later in Southern England due to the effects of latitude. The light of the dawn appears first in north-east Scotland, sweeping across the Britain and taking around one hour to reach south-west England at this time of year. It is know that photoperiod and testosterone are the two main factors controlling bird song in the Oscines. Song has the dual function of mate attraction and territorial defence. For the past five years at Kindrogan, I’ve been recording the first instances of song burst for each species at dawn and it appears to be remarkably consistent from year to year.

I decided to try it elsewhere again this year. For convenience, this happened to be the nearest suitable areas after returning from Kindrogan on the 8th. The three areas cannot really be directly compared due to several variables:
i. The Kindrogan site comprises forest edge/parkland habitat and light penetrates easily.
ii.. The site in Dean Country Park comprises a lot of Beach tree cover and therefore it is quite dark in the wood.
iii. Light pollution at the London site means it does not get as dark as it should and in fact Robins sing all night under the street lamps! (though recent research suggests this may be a strategy to counteract diurnal urban noise pollution)

Kindrogan, Perthshire 56 42N, 3 44W1
1. Robin 0307h
2. Song Thrush 0315h
3. Blackbird 0322h
4. Spotted Flycatcher 0322h
5. Wren 0336h
6. Goldcrest 0339
7. Treecreeper 0353h
8. Garden Warbler 0354h
9. Chaffinch 0355h
10. Blackcap 0356h
11. Willow Warbler 0357h

Dean Castle Country Park, Ayrshire 55 37N, 4 29W
1. Robin 0309h
2. Song Thrush 0315h
3. Blackbird 0316h
4. Wood Pigeon 0343h
5. Wren 0347h
6. Goldcrest 0355h
7. Chaffinch 0407h

Sunny Hill Park, London 51 30N, 0 3W
1. Blackbird 0322h
2. Song Thrush 0332h
3. Robin 0333h
4. Wren 0356h
5. Dunnock 0417h
6. Wood Pigeon 0424h
7. Chaffinch 0434h

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wren Sonagram

Wren song, single burst, c6 seconds, recorded at Kindrogan Field Centre, Perthshire, 07/06/07, 0430h (Sonagram created with Syrinx software (

Monday, June 11, 2007


Headed to Ayrshire last Friday on the way back from Perthshire for a break before heading down to London. Having slowed the pace right down last week, taking the time to concentrate and enjoy the most minute details in the natural world, I was jolted back into listing mode when I got the news that a White-tailed Plover had been present just slightly futher south at Caerlaverock WWT for three days... just less than two hours away from Kilmarnock. Saturday's plans were swiftly rearranged! In the evening Lisa and I walked along a stretch of the River Irvine seeing Barn Owl, Kingfisher, and Daubenton's Bats. After that we checked a site for Long-eared Owls but found only a nocturnal movement of Common Toads sitting all over the roads.

Saturday dawned and the lapwing/plover had gone... Feeling pretty tired, having kept strange hours at Kindrogan for bats and birds, together with increasing disappointment that the Asian accidental was not going to show, I lazed around until the late afternoon. In the evening Lisa and I went to the SOC garden party at The White House, home of Roger and Angela Hissett. There we met some happy birders and we met some unhappy birders. A few hours later we were in Dean Country Park at 0250h for the dawn chorus. Grey Herons were breaking the silence of the darkness but it was not until 0309h when a Robin kicked off the dawn chorus that the true songbirds were awakening after a short June night, ending with those lazy Chaffinches at 0407h. To be fair, once Chaffinches do start singing they really do keep up their output right through to late morning, well after the thrushes have given up at this time of year. Two young Tawny Owls attracted a mob of unhappy passerines at 0413h. Later still (at a more reasonable hour) with the news that the White-tailed Plover was at Leighton Moss, it was obvious it wasn't going to head north to Stonechat country in Ayrshire.... maybe to Rainham Marshes then? (remember it's relative the Sociable Plover/Lapwing did spend a fair bit of time there in 2005).

On Sunday afternoon I checked a site on the coast near Barassie for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and scored with a least 10 of these beauties zippping over the heather and coastal grassland. An added bonus was a very confiding Stonechat that allowed me to get a good range of shots for the front of the cover of the Ayrshire Bird Report. Above is one shot, though not the best; that will be revealled in two weeks once the report is sent off to the printers. Shewalton SWT reserve had lots of emerging and maturing zygopterans with Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies. Some Painted Ladies together with more reported on the Ayrshire Birding yahoo grapevine suggest a good season may be ahead.


Last week I was at the Field Studies Council's Kindrogan field centre in Perthshire with an undergraduate field course studying plants, bats and birds. Good birds included Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Short-eared Owl, Redstart and Crossbill. I'll post a full list/trip report on my main website soon.