|A view of Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden|
|Lesser Black-backed Gull - the default gull throughout much of Edinburgh|
Our journey began in Edinburgh, where we spent our first morning at the Royal Botanic Garden, strolling the grounds with a college friend and her husband. The gardens were lovely (fit for a queen, as the name suggests) and contained a variety of habitats, albeit heavily manicured. Our first lifer of the trip was a late Common Swift on our way in, the only one we’d see the entire trip.
|Common Swift - the only one during our trip!|
|Another view of Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden|
|Possibly the ugliest bird I've ever seen|
Common Wood-Pigeons were easy to find here, as at most parks. They’re quite a bit larger than feral pigeons, and were more abundant around Edinburgh than either feral pigeons or Eurasian Collared-Doves.
|Me, totally crushing a Common Wood-Pigeon|
A narrow strip of wetland in the gardens was home to a Eurasian Moorhen family, including several babies and their oversized feet. They all came right up to the edge of the water, so close that most folks were able to get photos with their phones. These are nearly identical to the Common Gallinules we get in America, and the differences are subtle. In the photo of the adult below, you can make out the narrower, more rounded red shield, as well as the more extensive yellow on the lower mandible.
|Eurasian Moorhen moorhenlet|
|Eurasian Moorhen expressing its love for water lillies|
The bird we were probably most surprised and excited to find that day hadn’t even lived in nearly two hundred years. After lunch we headed to the National Museum where they have a really top-rate natural history collection. Among it’s most famous residents is Dolly the Sheep, but equally notable is a Scaly-throated Earthcreeper collected by Darwin himself, during his voyage on the HMS Beagle!!!
|Dolly the sheep!!|
|Scaly-throated Earthcreeper, collected by Charles Darwin himself in Chile, 1835|
Our plan for the following day was to wake up earlyish and start birding at Holyrood Park. The plan was also for it not to rain all goddamn day, but it did anyway. We tried to wait it out by touring Holyrood Palace first, and ended up finding our lifer Jackdaws while walking the palace gardens. We didn’t make much headway into the park but navigated to the nearest body of water, hoping for Whooper Swans. No Whoopers, but quite a number of Mute Swans. We also managed our best looks of Tufted Ducks and a brief flash of Gray Wagtail.
|Mute Swans... countable Mute Swans!|
We explored Edinburgh Castle later on. Not a birdy place, by any means, but we looked out past the castle walls at one point and found a Eurasian Sparrowhawk getting mobbed by at least eight magpies. Or were the magpies getting chased down by the sparrowhawk? They seemed to go back-and-forth, alternating the roles of pursuer and pursued. The melodrama played out for several minutes without any conclusion forthcoming. I should note that I was lugging around our big lens (150-400mm) all day, which got wet despite hiding under my raincoat most of the time. Some moisture got under the glass and started fogging up the inside of the lens. This caused us no small amount of panic, and put the lens out of commission for long stretches while we packed it in rice. It took a couple of days, but eventually got it back in working order.
|Eurasian Sparrowhawk engaged in battle with a mob of Eurasian Magpies|
Orkney was next on our itinerary. However, since that definitely deserves a post of it’s own, I’ll skip ahead slightly to York. I spent three months here doing a term abroad way back in 2001, well before my birding days. We started our first morning in the Yorkshire Museum Gardens and I was able to discover all the birds I could have seen when I lived here, had I only thought to look. Besides Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds, etc. we found our lifer Song Thrush – and all within view of St. Mary’s Abbey.
|Graylag Geese - not domesticated geese, like they are in the U.S.|
|Eurasian Blue Tit|
Our best bit of Yorkshire birding was Staveley Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, the rain never let up here either and we decided to leave our gear in the car, rather than risking a repeat of our earlier misadventure of the waterlogged lens. It was chilly and our binoculars were fogged up, but we were able to settle down in a bird blind, and that’s when our fortune changed. Shorebirds started settling onto a mud patch separating to two halves of a pond that used to be one big pond before this summer’s drought. Eventually we had a European Golden-Plover, a couple of Ruffs, and a dozen Northern Lapwings. A Common Pochard was visible at the very farthest edge of the water. A bad look, but unmistakable among the native waterfowl. Best of all was a Water Rail that popped out from among the cattails, which alternated between skulking and sudden bursts of activity out in the open. Of course we don’t have photos to show for any of this, so you’ll have to take our word for it.
|On our way out of Yorkshire we made a final stop in Whitby, along the coast of the North Sea. Near the abbey ruins we found this European Goldfinch with a half dozen others.|