Last Saturday (17th) saw me birding closer to home than usual. Often I spend most of the day birding Northern Aberdeenshire. For a change, I birded a number of sites within the vicinity of Aberdeen before checking the Ythan Estuary, the latter which is no more than 10 miles north of the city.
I started the day at Girdle Ness. It was a gorgeously sunny day, so I made the most of this by walking along the North Bank as far as Greyhope Bay. It was very quiet, the best I could muster being a single Dunlin feeding on the second breakwater with Redshanks and a female Red-breasted Merganser near the largest breakwater. The Eider congregation by Skate’s Nose (first breakwater) numbered over 45 birds. I was semi-hoping for the first early migs of the year, perhaps a Wheatear or a Sand Martin, but my hopes were not fulfilled. The rest of the Ness was similarly quiet, although there was a substantial congregation of Guillemots and Razorbills off Greyhope Bay and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser in Nigg Bay.
I made the transition from the south to the north side of Aberdeen, stopping off to have a check of Donmouth at Bridge of Don as the tide receded. I did not walk up to the sea, instead scoping the close shore towards the Bridge of Don itself. This was relatively productive, holding a possy of 20 Teals, 15+ Dunlin, and an adult Lesser Black Backed Gull. The most surprising bird here though was a winter plumaged Sandwich Tern, roosting amongst a group of Oystercatchers. This is by far the earliest date I’ve seen this species in the region, and with it being so early it was delightful to see. I assume this record relates to a bird which was first seen at Girdle Ness on 8th March. It was then seen the next day after my Donmouth sighting back at Girdle Ness, so it is clearly quite a mobile bird.
Blackdog was our next stop to catch up with the Scoter flock. The flock in question numbered roughly 50 Common Scoters, but no Velvet Scoters. Providing further entertainment were a pair of Wigeon with Eiders, 2 Red-throated Divers and a smart Great Northern Diver, the latter quite regular in the region at this time of year.
The majority of the afternoon was spent comprehensively checking the Ythan Estuary, which was largely quiet but held a few items of interest. A healthy number of 30+ Bar-tailed Godwit were present on the upper reaches of the estuary towards Logie Buchan bridge, as were similar numbers of Dunlin. An astonishing number of Pink-footed Geese were around, both in the fields by the estuary and further inland; there was at least a few thousand spread out across the area. Amongst the flocks closer to the estuary were at least 25 Barnacle Geese, but no visible signs of any Beans or Whitefronts. A degree of success was had later in this respect when 2 European White-fronted Geese were picked out in a large flock by the road near Meikle Loch. Meikle Loch itself was quiet, as was Collieston although it was nice to see the Kittiwakes back on the cliffs. Finally, we checked from the Snub car park where the highlight of the day was swimming about in the form a redhead Smew. It was with a group of Goldeneye and was diving almost constantly, making a digiscoped photo too difficult to get. Nonetheless it was a lovely bird to see and a valuable Ythan Estuary tick; its hard not to get a kick out of these superb sawbills.
So all in all, a nice day’s birding relatively locally despite it being largely quiet. On other bird news, I have continually been seeing T:224, the colour ringed male Herring Gull, at school during break and lunch times; he seems to be a regular.
Thanks for reading,