Washington & Lothian Weekend - 22-24 February 2013

26 members & friends boarded the coach at the Guild early on Friday morning, ready for our driver Lauren to take us to our first stop, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Centre at Washington, Tyne and Wear. This was a new site for most of us, so there was the usual eager anticipation to find out what it had to offer.

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As with most WWT centres, it has a collection of wildfowl together with wild areas, and in this case these were made up of wetland and woodland. The collection was the first port of call (after the loos/cafe) and most people were impressed by the close views of Common Crane and the variety of geese and ducks, resplendent in their full breeding plumage at this time of year. Some members managed to see the Asian short-clawed otters being fed.

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The wetland area was a little disappointing, with Shelduck, Teal, Tufted Duck, Lapwing and Redshank on the main pool, though it was good to see the nesting Grey Herons in the trees behind, and Goosander on the river boosted the sightings. However the highlight of the centre for many was the woodland hide, where there was constant activity as birds came and went; the many Bullfinches were a delight, as were the Siskins, providing really close views. They were joined on the feeders by Long-tailed Tits, Blue, Coal and Great Tits, while Robins, Dunnocks & Pheasants fed on the ground below. A Great Spotted Woodpecker put in an occasional appearance but never seemed to want to stay around for long!

We continued north and made a short stop at Budle Bay where the mudflats uncovered by the receding tide held lots of feeding birds. A large group of Brent Geese on the far side of the bay were much better seen when they took to the air, while two Red-breasted Mergansers made their way up the channel. Waders included Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit. It was then back on the coach for the remainder of the journey up to Haddington, and we arrived in good time to freshen up before dinner.

It was pleasing to see that at least 20 of the group were up before breakfast the next morning to take a stroll down to the river, and they weren’t disappointed. Most of the group had fantastic views of a number of male & female Goosander at the footbridge, and a short walk up to the bridge over the weir gave more good views of Dipper and Grey Wagtail, though the hoped-for Kingfisher failed to show.

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After a hearty breakfast (well, we’d earned it) we set off for our first stop of the day at Musselburgh. The incoming tide was pushing the waders towards us, and we soon had good views of Curlew, Turnstone, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover. There were plenty of Goldeneye at the river mouth, but we turned our attention to the open water. As we walked by the sea wall, calm conditions meant that we were able to watch Velvet Scoter well, noting the male’s white mark under the eye and white patch in the wing which would distinguish it from the Common Scoters that we were going to see later. Quite a few Slavonian Grebes bobbed around on the water, and Eiders caused a few questions, the first year males looking very different from their immaculate male elders. There are lots of beautiful ducks, but the male Long-tailed Ducks in their winter/spring plumage really take some beating, and we were able to scope a number of individuals to see their black and pink bills and elongated tail feathers.

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Our next call was Aberlady Bay, where we started our walk to Gullane via Gullane Point. There were plenty of Wigeon in the bay and an obliging Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew, but the walk to the point was pretty quiet; a Buzzard and Stonechat were the only birds of note. Once at the point, we soon found small rafts of Common Scoter and one or two accommodating Red-throated Divers, Razorbill and Shag coming close in to shore, though a Black-throated Diver was only seen briefly and didn’t stay around. The most surprising bird of the weekend, though, was a Sandwich Tern found by Steve as it fished the bay south of the point. It seemed very early for a migrant, so when I got home I checked for any recent records, only to find that one had been reported in the same area on 6th January, so it appears possible that a bird might have overwintered – very unusual so far north. We continued our walk to Gullane and had a nice flock of Fieldfares as well as both Kestrel and Sparrowhawk before we got back to the coach. After another short stop on the coast, we returned to our hotel.

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Sunday morning dawned very differently from Saturday, and there was a thin covering of snow on the ground when we opened the curtains, and more snow in the air. This no doubt reduced the group turnout to a hardy few, and even they were wondering why they had ventured out as the snow became heavy and they sheltered under the bridge. Dipper and Goosander were again in evidence, but the Kingfisher still failed to show. After breakfast, we were all ready with our luggage but the coach stubbornly refused to start. With a great deal of coaxing, it was eventually persuaded into life, but then wouldn’t go into gear. It was a worrying few minutes before the coach was eventually persuaded to crawl away!

Our first stop of the morning was to look for the Common Crane which had been reported west of Dunbar over the previous few days. Our initial searches proved fruitless, and we carried on to Belhaven Bay where there were a variety of waders, Eider and our first Meadow Pipits. Returning to the area where the Crane had been seen, we looked from a different road, and it was only a short time before Lydia found the bird in the corner of a field. A telescope was trained on it, and those who wished came to the front of the coach to view the bird, a juvenile.

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Moving up the coast, we next visited North Berwick, home of the Seabird Centre. Here, we had a good look at the Purple Sandpipers on the rocks by the water’s edge, while further out there was a constant movement of Gannets going to and from Bass Rock, and occasional Fulmars gliding low over the waves. At Yellowcraig, a short walk though the woodland and dunes brought us to the shore where there were more Purple Sandpipers; Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits fed along the tide line, and Ravens moved between the offshore island of Fidra and the rocks offshore. The toilet stop in nearby Dirleton added Pink-footed Goose to the list as a sizeable skein flew north towards the Forth.

We then followed the coast road back through Gullane and Aberlady, heading for our final stop of the day at Prestonpans. A Black Guillemot had been seen nearby which initially proved elusive, but with help from a local birder (and after a bit of a wetting from rain/sleet) the bird was eventually located, telescopes trained on it, and reasonable views were obtained of a bird which is not common on the east coast.

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So we set off for home, having seen around 90 species over the three days. Thanks are again due to all those who contributed to the organisation of the trip, and of course to all who went and made it such an enjoyable weekend.

Photos by Elizabeth M and Robert D

Brian D

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