I’ve done a lot of local birding since arriving home from my three weeks away, so finding a solution to cover everything all in one post has been tricky. However I have found one, albeit an unconventional one that does not involve day by day accounts. The past month was mostly focused around passage waders, so I will do a species by species review of most wader species I’ve seen recently, before focusing on other birds of note seen in this period. Wader passage was underway here in the last week of July, and ever since I have been checking the Ythan and Strathbeg (as well as other sites) regularly, which have produced good numbers of the commoner species as well as some more interesting stuff.
Golden Plover – In late July GPs started to appear on both the Ythan Estuary and Loch of Strathbeg, though numbers were low at this point with only 20 at Strathbeg and 10 at the Ythan. In archetypal fashion, large post breeding flocks formed as August progressed. By 9th August a flock of 250+ was by Waterside Bridge at the Ythan, which provided a fantastic aerial spectacle as they flew over my head on several occasions, the shuffling noise of the wingbeats audible as they passed over. This had increased to 300+ by 11th, and by last Saturday (18th) peaked at 350+ ; a flock that will no doubt continue to grow as autumn prevails. Numbers have been pretty small at Strathbeg recently, but a healthy flock of 130+ were not far away at Rattray on 18th. 6 headed east over Girdle Ness on 6th.
Lapwing – Numbers of these beauties have varied on the Ythan and Strathbeg in the last month, but have been quite high at points. 200+ were on the Ythan on 29th July, but this had dropped to 80+ by 1st August but then rose again to 150+ on 9th. Recently numbers have varied between the two aforementioned totals at this site. Strathbeg saw the largest arrival of this species on 11th August with 500+ gracing the pools in front of Starnafin.
Knot – Trends in Knot numbers have been akin to Golden Plovers insofar as flocks are continuing to increase. The Ythan has played host to the largest groups, which stood at just 15 on 27th July. At points in early August there were none or very little around on the Ythan, but by this Saturday (19th) numbers were at an optimum with a flock of 120 by Inches Point. 2 were at Strathbeg that day and another 4 were at Annachie Lagoon. Many of the birds still have remnants of their vibrant summer plumage, so its been lovely to see them recently.
Sanderling – Personally, numbers have been pretty low at the Ythan and other parts of the north coast in the last month or so, though other locals have had more success (the beach at Rattray held triple figures in late July). 2 were amongst Dunlins at Cairnbulg on 27th July, and the only others were 8 at Nigg Bay, Girdle Ness on 15th August and 2 at the Ythan on 18th. I haven’t been to better sites such as Blackdog that much, which has held decent sized groups recently.
Turnstone – Numbers have been quite low of this characterful species at the Ythan and Strathbeg. Girdle Ness typically is the place for them at the moment, with many favouring the rocks around Greyhope Bay. 50 were here on 6th August, and this had increased to 60+ by 15th August.
Dunlin – Whilst large numbers are now forming, Dunlin numbers have been personally lower than expected. No more than 15 have been seen on visits to the Ythan and Strathbeg in recent weeks (45 being the highest at the Ythan on 1st August) whilst a few have been at other sites such as Girdle Ness. Numbers peaked on 27th July, with a stimulating flock of 90+ at the Ythan, 25 at Strathbeg and 20 at Cairnbulg.
Little Stint – When I arrived at Strathbeg on Saturday (18th) I was surprised to hear that there was unreleased news of 10 spread out across the reserve on 16th. We quickly made our way to Tower Pool Hide, and located a flock of 6 juveniles amongst the waders here. We delighted in these little gems for a good while; the definite highlight of the last month or so. It is not the first time that I’ve had Little Stint flocks here, having found a flock of 9 on 10th September 2011. It’s clear that Strathbeg has potential to bring in this species in big numbers.
Wood Sandpiper – It was nice to find a single Wood Sand at Strathbeg on 11th amongst the Lawpings on the pools at Starnafin. It spent quite a while roosting, but eventually showed quite well. Hopefully this will be the first of a few this autumn. Below is a poor digiscoped pic:
Green Sandpiper – As with Wood Sand, a single was seen at Strathbeg, concerning a bird calling in flight above the Low Ground before landing in a concealed channel on 27th July.
Common Sandpiper – Numbers have been low but consistent at several sites in the last month. The Ythan held the largest numbers on 27th July with 5 by Logie Buchan Bridge and one at Strathbeg lagoon on the same day. 2 were on the Ythan on 1st + 9th August and also at Annachie Lagoon on Saturday (18th).
Redshank – Numbers have been healthy on the Ythan since late July, with 130+ kicking things off on 27th. Only 80 were present on 29th July, but this has since recovered itself with numbers consistently in triple figures. A conservative estimate of 200+ have been on the estuary in recent weeks. Smaller groups have been seen regularly away from this site.
Spotted Redshank – 2 were accompanying the Redshanks from the Snub at the Ythan on Saturday (18th). The birds were moulting into winter plumage, but looked far less dingy than most I’ve seen in this transitional phase, with quite a bit of their black summer plumage still intact; always lovely to see.
Greenshank – This species has been recorded on every visit to the Ythan and Strathbeg since late July, but numbers have never exceeded 10. The highest total was 9 at Strathbeg on Saturday (19th), but otherwise numbers at these two sites have ranged between 5-8. Singles were also at Annachie Lagoon on Saturday (18th) and heading west over Meikle Loch on 1st August.
Black-tailed Godwit – These beauties have been less frequent than Greenshank, but numbers have exceeded 10, with 12 on Saturday at Strathbeg. 8 were at the Ythan on 27th July, whilst 3 were here and 4 at Strathbeg on 11th. Earlier in the month, a flock of 300+ spent the day at Strathbeg, but not seen by me.
Bar-tailed Godwit – The Ythan has produced good numbers, with a peak of 7 on Saturday (18th). Numbers otherwise here have consistently sat at 2-3. Away from here, a single was at Annachie Lagoon also on Saturday.
Curlew – Several hundred have consistently been on the Low Ground at Strathbeg, whilst numbers on the Ythan have been similar. Away from these traditional sites, 76 were at Rigifa Pool on 6th August.
Whimbrel – A few have been seen on the Ythan for the last month, with numbers peaking at 6 on 1st August. A flock of 20 at Cairnbulg on 27th July were lovely to see and the largest flock of the passage I’ve seen so far, whilst 2 were at Rattray on Saturday.
Snipe – There have only been two records thus far, concerning 9 at Strathbeg on 11th August and 5 at Inches Point, the Ythan on Saturday.
Ruff – Ruff have been consistently at Strathbeg, peaking at 15 on Saturday, whilst 9 were here on 11th and 6 on previous dates. The first of the year on the Ythan arrived on Saturday, with 6 around the Snub. 2 did however head east over the nearby Meikle Loch on 1st August.
Surf Scoter – A pop into Blackdog on 21st July produced a female Surfie amongst the main scoter flock. This was the first female I’d seen, so it was watched for a while. It was originally picked out whilst roosting due to the two pale patches on the side of its head and pale nape patch; it soon stopped roosting and revealed its ridiculous bill. An educational bird that was much enjoyed.
Goosander – The moulting flock at Girdle Ness arrived in late July and has since grown to around 50 birds, with 49 noted on 6th August.
Sooty Shearwater (+seawatch) – I went to Girdle Ness on 6th August with the hope of some Sooty action, and was rewarded. 9 (7N, 2S) headed through on a two hour stint from 15:50-18:00. With the sea being calm and a NW breeze these charismatic birds showed well and at close quarters; always a joy to see. On the same quite productive seawatch 3 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Bonxies, 2 Puffins and 11 Common Scoters headed north, whilst hundreds of Gannets and Kittiwakes were feeding offshore and a briefly surfacing Minke Whale was a major highlight.
Merlin – A juvenile caused brief excitement as it flew over the B&B garden at Rattray on Saturday before heading south; my first of the autumn.
Little Gull – The 4 birds (3 1s, 1 sub ad) round the Ythan and Meikle Loch provided regular entertainment on visits to these sites, but seem to have finally cleared out as of Saturday.
Redstart – A male briefly gave a tantalizing flash of its red tail from the roadside willows at Collieston on Saturday but unfortunately did not grace itself afterwards.
Wheatear – Dispering early birds have been juveniles at Strathbeg on 11th and 1st August at Meikle Loch.
Willow Warbler (ssp. acredula) – Two very pale, greyish individuals were in the garden at Rattray on Saturday. The lack of uniform olive upperparts and yellow underparts indicated that these birds were of the northern acredula race.
It has been a month largely dominated by waders, but also with other decent birds to keep things rolling such as Surf Scoter and Sooty Shearwaters. Last Saturday was arguably the best day of the monthly period accounted here; surely a sign of better birding to come. I am going to be down in Norfolk for my 18th this coming weekend, and then in a couple of weeks I’m off to Shetland for 5 days; stay tuned for accounts of those upcoming trips.
Thanks for reading,