What an unseasonably barmy day it was up here today, as it seems to be country-wide at the moment. An extremely sunny day with barely any wind and temperatures exceeding 15C, perhaps as warm as 17-18C. What could possibly be better on a day like this in early March than go and see a mega rarity at Strathbeg? The option was irresistible. A Greater Yellowlegs, almost certainly the same bird that displayed itself to the masses at Druridge Bay in Northumberland and then Loch Fleet in the Highlands was initially seen a couple of Saturday’s back flying over the Visitor Centre at Strathbeg. It was relocated on the pools on Friday afternoon, and since then it hasn’t moved far. Yesterday I was painfully unable to get to Strathbeg due to work commitments, but today I took advantage of a free morning and went for the bird in question.
When we arrived we had a quick check from the Visitor Centre to see if it was viewable distantly from the pools, but unfortunately we couldn’t pick it up from here. We headed round to Tower Pool Hide where it has been best seen from, and arrived to a hide full of birders who were all on the bird. Quick directions saw me quickly connect with the 1st winter GREATER YELLOWLEGS, wading at the edge of some reeds on the very right hand edge of the Low Ground pools. This beautiful Nearctic wader with was difficult to see at first as it was obscured by the reeds it was feeding in front of. Eventually it came out into the open somewhat, and at this point it took to the air. The square shaped white rump was immediately obvious and distinctive; on a Greenshank the white rump continues up the back as a V shaped wedge. It was also heard once at this point, sounding almost identical to a Greenshank but slightly higher pitched. It soon landed a lot closer, allowing for some superb views through the scope for about a minute or so before it flew back to the general area it was in beforehand. The long bill was particularly striking at closer distance, as well as the strong contrast between the heavily streaked upperbelly and clean white underparts. Whilst structurally being very similar to Greenshank, it noticeably smaller than this species. When it returned to the area it had been in originally, I managed the following two dire digiscoped record shots. Hopefully these will be improved on if it stays around, at least the yellow legs are still obvious!
Over an hour and a half was spent watching this notional first for North-East Scotland, although it is actually the second ever seen in the county. Unlike the first one this bird was found alive rather than dead! It was initially thought that when this individual disappeared from Loch Fleet after being seen carrying a leg injury that it might have died, but when refound at Dornoch a few weeks ago this clearly wasn’t the case. It seemed very healthy as it fed away busily and it was carrying no visible signs of injury, implying that it had recovered from any previous injuries; it was great to see it doing well. In terms of views it could have been more obliging. After another 25 minutes or so it flew right to the back of the pools and remained very distant for the rest of our time there although almost always on show. It had a habit of feeding just in front of the reeds, only venturing out into the open on a couple of occasions. When in the open it had a wash amongst some Curlews which was quite entertaining, and early Ruff nearby provided a nice comparison. Despite how distant it was, I took great enjoyment in watching the Greater Yellowlegs; a truly fantastic bird and a great regional rarity. Lets hope it stays around for a good while.
Also providing entertainment whilst watching the Greater Yellowlegs was the 3cy male ringtail Hen Harrier giving close views outside the hide. It is starting to develop a lot more of its adult male feathering now, with grey feathering not just visible on the tail but on much of the underparts and parts of the face. 15 Snipe exploded from the reedbeds in front of us at one point, and around 90 Whooper Swans, plenty of Pinkfeets and a few Pintail provided secondary entertainment. Most entertaining though was a Fox which wandered straight out onto the pools for a short while; neither it nor any of the birds seemed fazed by this which was quite amusing. At about 13:00 we headed home with school work beckoning. A Greater Yellowlegs and great weather in March; it can’t get much better for this time of year!
Thanks for reading,