The cheesy cockneyism aside, it was a nice day for ducks on Saturday (23rd June), both with regards to the weather and also literally within Aberdeenshire. By the end of this post it will be clear why this was the case in both respects…
We started at Donmouth on the outskirts of Aberdeen, where the tide was reasonably low. A paucity of waders was immediately apparent, as was predictably the situation for the day’s entirety. There was very little at all, save 10 moulting Goosanders swimming around by the Bridge of Don. We didn’t stick around long, with a sharp shower stopping play and seeing us retreat to the car and heading northwards to the Ythan.
It had stopped raining when we arrived at the Ythan, so we decided to check the mouth of the estuary, walking down to the golf hut and scanning from here. The number of Little Terns on show was far down from when I last visited, with just 3 amongst the other terns. With most terns being in the colony itself, it became obvious there was nothing else amongst them. A nice sumpulm Knot was beside one of the Little Terns, whilst the large number of Black-headed Gull fledglings was noticeable. The rest of the estuary was very quiet, with a Greenshank from Inches Point and a Bar-tailed Godwit being the best of it. At least 2 Ospreys were nice from Inches as well, with presumably the same birds being seen over fields at Collieston Crossroads later on. Before leaving the Ythan area, we popped in to Meikle Loch. The highlight here was 4 1st summer Little Gulls, each hawking at the back of the loch in their usual ceaseless fashion, always nice to see. Two Pink-footed Geese were also notable, though clearly winter stragglers.
It was pelting with rain as we arrived at Strathbeg so we took shelter in the Visitor Centre. A local patcher told us that the drake American Wigeon that had been there for the past week was still around, and once the rain and condensation cleared we located this delightful bird amongst a group of 30 Wigeons. One normally associates this species with beauty and as a scarce winter visitor, but this particular bird didn’t fit either category. I suspect that it is the same bird that oddly enough was around last June, although the state of plumage that this bird was in may cast doubt on this as the bird last year was in full breeding plumage. This individual was in the early stages of eclipse plumage and thus was very dingy, especially around the upper breast which was a patchy pink-orange. The flanks were also scabby, with an elongated orangey red patch replacing the extensive pink wash that breeding plumaged birds would have in this area. Most noticeable on this bird, however, was the almost complete lack of the cream crown and the complete lack of the green sheen across the eyes, making it look akin to a female. In later stages of eclipse, drake American Wigeons develop extensive orange washed flanks and and look generally more neat, hence why it was clear this bird was in the early stages of eclipse.
A very interesting bird, this being the second time that I have seen this species in the UK , though it is probably the same bird from last year. It moved around the closest area of pools with its commoner cousins quite a bit. Towards the end it took a liking to a bank partly concealed by juncus, but beforehand was swimming about in the open quite happily as well as standing alert when an Osprey flew over. This allowed me to get some photos with the DSLR (to my relief this has finally returned from being repaired), which can be seen below.
The rest of the reserve was quiet, with minimal numbers of everything. A few other birds of note were the two above pictured first-summer Little Gulls, a lone Whooper Swan (another straggler), a Water Rail calling from the reedbeds at Tower Pool Hide and most notably on Strathbeg terms a Lesser Redpoll overhead.
Before heading home we popped into Murcar in the hope of some decent scoter action. Things looked good as we arrived when we noticed that thousands of scoters were based not far offshore. However as we were getting set up the majority of them took off and did a very dramatic flypast northwards to Blackdog, becoming extremely distant and thus dampening our hopes of picking up anything decent. After a bit more flying about a flock of several hundred landed at a reasonable distance offshore, so we scanned these with the hope of a couple of Surfies or at a long shot the celebrity Black Scoter. The latter wasn’t to be, but I did pick out a single drake Surf Scoter in the middle of the flock, the white on the head standing out a mile as it roosted. This was a great relief to me after dipping twice with Sim two weeks earlier. The scoters were bobbing about a lot so it was pretty difficult to stay on the bird, and with the distance views were not great. I did manage one view of its stonking bill on full display, but that was the best of it. 60+ Velvet Scoters was also a signficant increase from previous visits.
After 25 minutes rain unfortunately stopped play completely. Despite it being largely quiet and the bad weather, it had been a very enjoyable and great quality day’s birding as a result of the two Neartic ducks. It should now make sense why it was a nice day for ducks!
Thanks for reading,