This is part of a mini series of 2 posts charting a long weekend’s worth of birding I did with fellow young birder Simeon Grundy, a good friend of mine who stayed with me in Aberdeen between 8th-11th June. Sim had birded in the area twice before but only very briefly. This occasion was the first real opportunity for me to show him the diversity of Aberdeenshire’s avifauna, and it must be said that the region lived up to its fantastic potential. The first two days of his stay (8th and 9th June) were spent on the coast and will be accounted in this post: Friday 8th was spent doing a round of The Ness whilst the 9th was a more general day’s birding on the north coast. The other two days of the long weekend will be written in a seperate post; enjoy.
Friday 8th June: I picked up Sim from Aberdeen Station at around 1:00pm and as he only had one massive rucksack for luggage we decided to head straight out to The Ness. The allotments did not contain anything of interest, so we proceeded round to the North Bank where a few Kittiwakes were on the water with Herring and Common Gulls in the harbour. Amongst a small group of Eider was a moulting male Goosander, perhaps the same bird that was seen in its decorative full plumage around a month ago here. A late, bedraggled looking male Wheatear was surprising and was the only passerine migrant seen that day. The rest of the North Bank and the Battery were both quiet, but it was good to show Sim the Ness’s passerine mig potential. We combined a pleasant lunch with some seawatching off Greyhope Bay, with the highlight being a group of 40 Common Scoter amongst a largely northward passage of Gannets and Fulmars. We planned to move round to the Coo for a more extended sea-watch via Walker Park, until a mass of fog prevented this from happening. The fog would pervade for the rest of our visit, making offshore viewing impossible and putting a downer on birding as a whole. We decided to head home early evening, the Wheatear giving nice views around the North Bank on the way back. Whilst it was quiet, it had been very enjoyable showing Sim the Ness, enhanced by the dense fog, which made imagining a major autumn fall more vivid for us both.
Saturday 9th June: We were up very early that morning, and would stay out until mid-evening. High on Sim’s trip agenda was the possibility of both King Eider and Surf Scoter at Blackdog, so we started here. There was a massive Eider roost on the beach but not much scoter action offshore, so we duly concentrated on the Eider flock. It proved extremely difficult to pick the King Eider out, despite three scopes grilling the flock, so much so that it wasn’t seen during the couple of hours that we spent there. As we continued to grill different Eider groups a few hundred Scoter started to appear close offshore, but unfortunately this did not contain the Surfie. However at least 15 Velvet Scoters were present. Other action offshore included a dark phase Arctic Skua north and a scattering of Red-throated Divers. As we passed through the dunes around Blackdog Rock a Grasshopper Warbler was heard reeling distantly; a pretty uncommon bird in these parts. Having presumably come in on the fog of the previous night, the bird still remains there today and has apparently been very showy, a nice mig and consolation for our failed efforts to track down the Surfie or the King.
As we were heading off news of both Marsh Warbler and Common Rosefinch came in from Collieston, so seeing as we were planning to bird that general area anyway we made this our next port of call. The Marsh Warbler was apparently in and around the roadside willows at the start of the village, so we parked up here and joined an already assembled small group of birders. No-one had heard nor seen it for some time, and with a gusty wind it was clear this was not going to be easy.
Half an hour later the Marsh Warbler was finally heard deep from within a line of hedges. It had an exquisite song, proving itself to be the master of mimicry that this species is known to be. Perfect imitations Oystercatcher, Pied Wagtail, Nightingale, Blue Tit and many other calls were interspersed with more normal scratchy Acro type interludes. Yet on our first go for this bird it only sang twice and it was extremely elusive, thus despite spending 2+ hours there not all of us connected, although I had managed a very brief glimpse of it atop a bush by the roadside willows. A consolation was coming across a female Redstart in the same area of bushes which others later saw on the wider search for the recalcitrant Marshie. We returned mid-evening when both Sim and Dad managed to connect, initially being treated to a superb bout of song and several flight views, before this was beaten by an idyllic but brief view of it perched atop an area of nettles, a massive relief to us all. Visually it wasn’t the most outstanding of birds but was still fantastic to see and most of all to hear singing so well, especially late on; the undoubted highlight of the long weekend. I managed some footage of the bird singing on our first go. You may have to turn up the volume as the wind slightly drowns out the song.
A stop off at the plantation early afternoon along the Whinnyfold road where the Common Rosefinch had been was unsuccessful for said species, but it was nice to connect with my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year. It was clear there had been a mini fall, as a stop off in the gully just north of Whinnyfold revealed a nice Lesser Whitethroat, albeit very briefly before it darted further into the gully. Our concentration then switched towards seabirds as we popped into Bullers O’ Buchan, where we were treated to great views of 3 breeding Puffins amongst many Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills, lovely to see and particularly delightful to Sim who rarely has the opportunity to see this species in a seabird colony environment. A Perergrine also went north offshore.
Longhaven Quarry did not produce any migs, so we headed up to Strathbeg mid afternoon. The Visitor Centre was remarkably quiet, with a general lack of birds being apparent and the best of it being 2 Greenshanks. We moved around to the lagoon where a nice posse of waders included 7 Sanderling, 2 Knot (1 sum plum), 5 Dunlin and 20 Ringed Plovers. Another 2 Greenshanks were here as well whilst I picked out a 1st summer Little Gull at distance. The plantation was quiet but it was nice to come across a Cuckoo in the dunes around here, my second migging bird in a couple of weeks.
Overall it had been a very successful and enjoyable day’s birding on the coast regardless of early failures, what with coming across a number of nice passerine migrant species, great views of Puffin and topped off by my first Marsh Warbler in the UK. The next day we would head into Deeside, see my next post for more.
Thanks for reading,