Bird counting on the eastern shore

The Berwickshire coastline coast looking north from the border at Lamberton
The Berwickshire coastline coast looking north from the border at Lamberton

Every January the Scottish Ornithologists Club organises a bird census along the coast from the border at Lamberton to Gullane in East Lothian.

The coast is divided up into 55 sections and 19 people, often with friends, are designated sections to count within three hours of low tide on an agreed date.

As everybody goes out at the same time on the same day there is little chance for error by counting the same birds twice or missing some individuals. It takes a great deal of organising to get all counters to their start points and picked up again at their finishing points, as it is not feasible in most sections to walk back to a car parked at the starting point.

This annual count has been going on for about the past 20 years and it is now getting to the point where population trends and changes may show up when the figures are analysed.

This year the count was on Sunday, January 17, and we were lucky with the weather - bright and sunny with a very light southerly wind, a super day for a good walk.

This year I walked from the Border to Burnmouth, a stretch of coast divided into two sections. For much of the walk it was relatively flat and easy, following the coastal footpath along the top of the cliffs, frequently looking over and down to the shore and sea to see what birds were to be seen. Only at Burnmouth is there quite a steep descent down to the shore.

The birds counted are those actually using the open sea, rocky shore, cliffs and sea braes close to the shore. Birds just flying up and down the coast without landing are ignored as are the birds inland.

On my walk I saw 24 species and counted 545 individual birds; about average as I saw 472 in 2012 and 624 in 2015. The number of species seen was low at 24 as there were 33 in 2012 and 30 in 2015. Surprising, as the weather was so good, but it may have had something to do with the weather in the proceeding weeks, stormy with strong south east gales and rain.

Fulmars were doing very well as 190 birds were on the cliffs, about the maximum number that there is space for. There was a good colony of jackdaws on the cliffs and 66 birds were counted.

There was a scattering of oystercatchers, curlews and redshank along the rocky shore but Burnmouth is by far the best place for waders which feed on the insects in the decaying seaweed along the beach. Here you can get great views of turnstones and the occasional purple sandpiper. Three herons were standing fishing at rock pools, inland ponds are frozen over and rivers running brown the coast makes for easier pickings. It was also surprising that shags and cormorants were both missing on the sea, I suspect they have moved to more sheltered waters during the south east gales.