An astonishingly hot and summery day spent birding on the coast yesterday produced a pleasant mix of winter visitors and early spring migrants. Temperatures were said to have reached 22.8 celsius at Fyvie Castle in inland Aberdeenshire – the highest ever March temperature recorded in Scotland. It was certainly at least 20 on the coast, making for very pleasant conditions to bird in and seeing the more wintery birds feel oddly out of place!
I started by paying my first visit in a few weeks to the isolated lagoon at Strathbeg. In the surrounding fields a good 500+ Pink-footed Geese were present, one group containing a couple of smart Barnacle Geese. As we got out the car a miniature raptor zoomed overhead; a female Merlin. This little beauty proceeded to land on a fence post not far off, where I got the crappy digiscoped shots below before it started chasing an understandably distressed Skylark. Always a nice bird to see, this was my second Merlin of the year and a year first for me in NE Scotland. There was nothing on the actual lagoon save four Shelduck, but a plethora of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks in relentless song flight provided a sweet harmony to the serene surroundings and reflected the joy we too were feeling in the lovely weather.
We popped in to the Visitor Centre where it was nice to catch up with Gus from Angus and to my pleasant surprise a young birder called Matt who I got to know when I stayed on Fair Isle in 2010 – it was fantastic to see them both again. We headed into the Visitor Centre, where 3 Black-tailed Godwits were on the closest pools, my first of the year. In terms of species diversity, it was pretty quiet here with no more than the usual commoner duck, wader species and other usual suspects. To liven things up considerably, the GREATER YELLOWLEGS made a brief appearance from here, saving the walk round to Tower Pool Hide and showing at closer quarters than it had done on occasions when I first saw it. It was on show for about 5 minutes, hurriedly feeding for a while before disappearing behind juncus. It was very nice to see it again; always special to see a species that’s been recorded under 30 times in the UK.
We soon headed round to check the loch itself, starting on a low when Gus text me within minutes of my arrival stating that the elusive Bittern – a bird I annoyingly still need for Strathbeg and the NE – had just flown across Fen Hide into the reeds at the back. We spent half an hour there but the bird in question did not materialise; there’s always another time. It was extremely quiet from Fen Hide, whilst Bay Hide was a little better with 2 Great Crested Grebes swimming about not far out and a pair of Pintail. As we headed back to the main road along the airfield, a Stock Dove was flushed, my first of the year.
We stopped off at Annachie Lagoon and Scotstown Head, a few miles down the coast from Strathbeg near St Fergus. I don’t often check the site and have seen very little there before, but yesterday it pleasantly surprised me. A group of 20 Sandwich Terns were amongst a mixed group of commoner gulls, and not far off a group of 5 Black-tailed Godwits were feeding together. With the Sarnie Terns screeching away and the Blackwits feeding nearby – one which was in the first stages of developing its summer plumage – in the glorious weather it felt very spring like and was a nice reward for the half a mile walk. I had a quick check off the sea back at Scotstown Head, which held a nice drake Long-tailed Duck and 3 Red-throated Divers offshore. A pleasant and worthwile trip to this underwatched area.
As the fest will soon be over, I popped into Peterhead for a bit of white-winger action for the first time in a good while. It was certainly a contrast to the birding at Annachie, with 3 Iceland Gulls – two second winters and a beautiful adult – present in the twenty minutes I was there. The adult was doing a constant round flight circuit by the lunar factory, which was very entertaining as it kept on flying right overhead. I was interested to see that it had a missing central tail feather, as shown in the photos below.
On the way home we briefly passed through the Ythan, checking a very quiet Meikle Loch and the similar quiet estuary itself which was unfortunately at high tide; 10 Red-breasted Mergansers from Inches Point was about the best of it. The final stop of the day was Blackdog where I had a quick look offshore. Only 15 Common Scoters were amongst the Eiders, whilst 4 Red-throated Divers were dotted around and a massive congregation of gull was taking place a long way out. Things ended nicely, with a pair of Stonechat flitting around the reeds by the footbridge; my first in the NE this year and always delightful to see considering the battering they’ve had in recent winters. Once again a very enjoyable days birding, although it was pretty quiet aside from the stand out birds.
Thanks for reading,