Hi all, sorry for the lack of posting in recent times. I have just finished exams which occupied much of my time in the last month or so, but now I have plenty of time to update the blog. To break the tedium of revision, I have managed to get birding on a few occasions locally, but not really that far afield. The following post accounts part of my local birding in the last month, with another post on some even more recent local birding to follow.
21st April: This was effectively the last full day’s birding I had before the exam blew possibilities of this out the window. My dad’s cousin and his partner were up for the weekend, both avid birders (it does run in the family to an extent!), and we birded several sites, mainly the north coast. However things started at Girdle Ness to the south where we popped in early morning to see if any passerine migs had made landfall after a night of blustery rain and easterlies. Disappointingly nothing really seemed to be going, the best we could dig out being two Chiffchaffs around the allotments and 5 Wheatear in the walled garden. A stunning summer plumaged Long-tailed Duck in the harbour did liven the spirits somewhat, purely on the basis of its aesthetic appeal.
We made the long journey to Portsoy in very northwestern edge of Aberdeenshire for the long-staying summer plumaged White-billed Diver, although had arrived by just after 11 due to our extra early start. On setting up at the raised area of ground at the western end of the harbour, we became acquainted with a nasty and unexpected offshore wind; not good signs for being able to pick this bird out. Indeed, this wind proved to have a detrimental effect on seeing the White-billed Diver, so despite an hour and a half meticulous scanning it was not picked up. There was a good deal of entertainment otherwise, with an elegant dark phase Arctic Skua heading east and at least 50 Long-tailed Ducks were spread out on the sea, many showing off their summer plumages and a few Red-throated Divers. However, the highlight here was a superb summer plumaged Black-throated Diver heading east about half way through the visit, black throat, silvery grey head and chequered black and white mantle all outstanding despite it being distant; not a bird you often see in the region.
After a nice lunch in Porstoy, we meandered eastwards to Strathbeg, where we hoped to catch up with the Strathbeg’s celebrity Tringa. This was relatively easy as we were treated to comparatively close views of the GREATER YELLOWLEGS to the great distance it normally shows at from the Visitor Centre, although it was still a bit far away for photography. Later we managed rather good views from Tower Pool Hide, where we were also treated to absolutely fantastic views of ‘Patch’ the Short-eared Owl. The latter was sat on the nearest post to the hide for about 10 minutes straight. Had my compact digital camera not ran out of battery, I would have managed some pretty decent pics. A couple of easy yearticks here included my first House Martins and Common Terns of the year, and more notably a ‘pure’ Hooded Crow, another year tick; most Hoodies up here are manky hybrids so its always good to catch up with the occasional pure one. Aside from an array of the commoner wader and duck species, it was all pretty quiet at Strathbeg. From here, we headed back for a hearty dinner in Aberdeen.
28th + 29th April: During this couple of days I managed to nick in a little of birding whilst out doing other things. We popped in briefly to Girdle Ness on the way to the local tip to have a look for a Wryneck that had been seen during the previous two days. It was no surprise that we dipped here as the skies were blue and the bird inevitably had moved on. 2 Willow Warblers were the only migs round the South Bank, whilst 3 Wheatears were in the walled garden. The highlight of our brief visit was 11 Red-throated Divers in Nigg Bay (6 sumplum), the most I’ve ever seen in the bay. Meanwhile 45 Sandwich Terns were on the rocks. The next day we popped in to Loch of Skene on the way back from dropping a friend off out that way. There was no sign of the two Ring-necked Ducks seen there the day before. However my first Osprey of the year put on a dramatic show as it came within close quarters, and a Swift amongst a mixed group of hawking hirundines was my first of the year.
11th May: After my first exam I popped into a few local sites as a reward. ‘The Ness’ was once again the first stop, but as largely expected it was quiet. 2 Whitethroats were noted at the South Bank whilst a Whimbrel on the rocks at Nigg Bay was my first of the year. 8 Wheatears were recorded, 6 in the walled garden and two on the golf course by the battery. One of the birds on the golf course was a beautiful leucorhoa – the Northwestern subspecies of Northern Wheatear – a noticeably larger bird sporting a stronger supercilium than the nominate oenanthe beside it and a much buffier and extensively orange breast, this intense breast colouring extending down well beyond the flanks. A number of good northwestern Wheatears have been at the Ness this spring but this was by far the most obvious individual I’ve seen.
Rigifa Pool held nothing apart from the usual breeding Lapwings, so we headed up to the Ythan. A stop off at Inches Point revealed my first Little Terns of the year with at least 10 seen distantly amongst the tern flock. Also distantly were 3 Whimbrels amongst a group of Curlews, as well as a group of 20 Ringed Plovers and 25 Dunlins. We moved up to the Snub where two pairs of Gadwall was a noteworthy record for the estuary, and of similar interest were a pair of Pintails. A large group of Larus was viewed distantly but there appeared to be nothing apart from the commoner 5 species amongst these. Meikle Loch provided the highlight of the day as we were treated to the spectacle of up to 400 hirundines hawking the loch. These included 200+ Swallows, 120+ Sand Martins and around 70 House Martins. This is the largest mixed hirundine flock I’ve seen anywhere, and probably the largest amount of House Martins I’ve ever seen together; fantastic stuff. Finally we popped in to Blackdog on the way back, which was chock-a-block with Red-throated Divers – numbering 40+ – and included about 200 Common Scoters.
Following this post will be an account of a recent day’s birding by foot at Girdle Ness which will deal with a rather interesting Sterna I had there. Tune in for that over the next few days.
Thanks for reading,