Sunday, 3 October 2010

Working the Abbs

After three birthdays and a wedding I've been feeling a little stir-crazy; a need to get back out, breathe some air and find some birds. Keen too to have a little conversation that didn't involve kids, honeymoons or alcohol consumption I hastily rang around a few likely candidates last night to see if they were interested in a jaunt.
By the second call I was beginning to think that I had a hotline into an old folks home the number of back complaints I was coming across, however fellow blogger and a man with more crack than a New York whorehouse, Stewart, was up for a morning in the field.
With Holy Island sinking under the combined weight of birders and tourists, I'd hatched a plan to strike a little further north this morning. We crossed the border into Scotland, intrigued by the Gaelic on the welcome signs which seems to say something about Pied Wagtails though not too sure what.
Our first destination was a location we have both visited at separate times for different birds over the years, SS for Red-flanked Bluetail and a King Eider for me; though neither of us have birded there looking for migrants. Whatever the birding the one thing about doing it somewhere like St. Abbs Head is you can be sure that you feel like you're somewhere special.

 The view north from the small car park is superb, even the dull grey skies and dreek drizzle that lay waiting for us this morning couldn't dampen down the feeling you're birding somewhere special. These cliffs buzz with breeding seabirds in the summer, though a few distant Eider and some Cormorants on those lower rocks were all that remained this morning.

Look inland and south and Mire Loch with its surrounding gorse scrub and small wood is prime migrant habitat. This morning was no exception, within minutes SS had stumbled on a Barred Warbler  though what was likely the same bird darted into the deep scrub minutes later, never to be seen again despite two good searches. Further along the track a Ring Ouzel exploded from a small Rowan. A decent sized mixed flock at the far end near the old boathouse lifted hopes of something decent but a single Willow Warbler amongst the 4-5 Chiffchaff were as good as it got. A Common Buzzard flew over mobbed by several corvids, Sparrowhawk across the loch landing on the other side; single Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher in the wood, neither showing particularly well. Two other birders arrived and we headed back to the north end flushing a Pipit sp. that went up did a few circuits and dropped back in without calling as we went. Back at the north end more Chiffchaff, three Siskin and SS had a Reed Warbler whilst I was embedded higher up the scrub.
With the rain incessant contrary to our expectations we moved south to St. Abbs village. A single Wheatear moved up the fence aside the road as we departed.
St. Abbs is small, the bushes around the church provided a little cover, although 2 male Blackcaps were all the blackthorn and elderberry held. The big walled garden of Northfield House running north from the back of St. Abbs looked interesting so we walked along the footpath behind it. A huge amount of cover could have held anything behind the high wall, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Goldcrest were all we eked out. The small rocky bay directly north of here was Rock Pipit heaven with probably up to ten mixing it on the rocks and beach. Stewart said ''we should check the beach for Black Redstart'' which we both duly did, barely seconds later I shouted ''Black Redstart'' with Stewart almost immediately adding a second.
Next stop Burnmouth, a female Merlin cut across in front of the car before pitching onto the bare earth of the nearby field just long enough to get the bins on it.
Burnmouth, remembered by SS as once having had Isabelline Shrike, is a steep scrubby ravine dropping into a small harbour and few cottages. It could be a Cornish landscape, 6-8 hirundines with both Swallow and House Martin hawked overhead the cotoneaster clad slopes as we picked our way along a steep path bordered by plump blue/black sloes. Whilst it proved migrant-less, it's certainly a site worth dropping into if you're passing that way. The rain continued to fall and being old and wet we headed back south, a brief foray to the shore at Fenham breaking up the journey back.

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