In the last month or so I’ve managed a few visits to The Ness. From my own experience it tends to be quite decent at this time of year, even if conditions aren’t right for a strong passage of Little Auk or a Desert Wheatear. Considering that conditions were pretty bog standard, things went better than expected on each occasion.
My late October visit on 28th was the first time I had been in a good month or so, having missed out on the best mig action of the year there due to spending so long in Norfolk. It was only a brief stop off , fitting in a short seawatch off the Coo around what light remained that day. There had been a flurry of Little Auks the previous day, but from the surprisingly calm conditions it was this clear it wasn’t happening this time around. Nevertheless, we stuck around for half an hour in the hope that may be one or two would be moving. Things weren’t seeming hopeful after 15 minutes with not a hint of any auk passage whatsoever, and light starting to make things tricky. Ironically enough, I can recall saying ‘we’re flogging a dead horse here’ just seconds before I got onto something miniscule far out in front of one of the stationary boats. Whopping the scope up to maximum zoom revealed a tiny, tubby auk in veering flight. The familiar feeling of frustration metamorphosed into relief ; a Little Auk at last. We would have felt cheated not seeing at least one after what had happened the day before. The bird pounded north at a heck of rate; making views at best satisfactory and short lived. In the past I’d never been available enough to connect with some of the larger passages off there, so it had acquired the notorious patch bogey status. One was enough, finally settling my grudge with this sporadic species at the Ness. Before we left, a selection of waders were noted at Greyhope Bay, including at least 17 Purple Sandpipers.
My first November foray here was more thorough; a stop in in the morning before heading northwards on 3rd. I fancied that a few late migrants might be moving through after a night of light southerlies and rain, and was glad to be proved right in this respect. It was underwhelming quality wise, but numbers were higher than I’d expected, including at least 12 continental Robins from the allotments to Greyhope Bay, and a single Chiffchaff by the sycamore. Perhaps the highlight of the morning was 2 Siskins which stuck around briefly in the allotments before heading south; not by any means a regular patch species. Activity was very sparse otherwise, with 10 Ringed Plovers at Greyhope Bay the best of it, but I was able to to appreciate the bleak beauty of the Ness in the glorious, crisp morning sun.
For the next week or so birding opportunities were pretty sparse due to school work related pressures. A long weekend saw a little gap in my annoyingly tight schedule, and with freshening southerlies I dedicated the day (13th) to the Ness. Whilst the Desert Wheatear of my wildest imagination wasn’t there, the session turned out to much better than I’d anticipated. Things seemed unerringly quiet up as far as Greyhope Bay, the best I could muster being 35 Turnstones on Skate’s Nose and a Red-throated Diver whilst I studied some locally colour ringed Shags.
The wind had picked up somewhat by the time I had got to the Coo to seawatch, making conditions rougher offshore. This proved to have its benefits. Gannets were moving in reasonably good numbers, with at 100+ N from 13:15-14:15. Tagging along with these were a few niceties, including a drake Long-tailed Duck in winter plumage and 11 Common Scoters north, whilst a pair of Goldeneye south were particularly interesting from a local perspective. 2 Great Northern Divers were of further interest heading north very close in, a species only personally recorded a couple of times beforehand at ‘The Ness’. This was eclipsed by a single Little Auk south, veering strongly as it struggled against the wind at close range and thus allowing for far better views than my first a few weeks previous. Yet even at close range, this rotund little fella was a dot surrounded by a tempestuous sea. Also noted were 4 Red-throated Divers north.
This had been the most interesting seawatch I’d had in a good while at the Ness, so I continued my circuit satisfied with how things had gone. The South Bank and the cover round the sewage works were typically quiet, as was the golf course as I headed back towards the northern edge of the headland. By the time I’d worked Greyhope Bay and the Battery again, light was starting to go. With no more than half an hour light left, I headed speedily back along the North Bank. As I neared the first breakwater an almighty squeal sounded as I flushed something from right under my feet on the path. This delicate bird headed quickly for the cover with legs dangling; long bill, gleaming undertail coverts and heavily barred flanks on display; a Water Rail. I climbed up onto the bank in an attempt to flush it again. A few muffled squeals were heard, but it proved to be typically recalcitrant despite being in dead cover, evading me entirely. This was a bit of a patch mega, with just 4 previous records I can find to date. To put this in context, this is probably as rare as Desert Wheatear at the site. A much appreciated climax to a rather more productive day than originally expected. As I headed towards the bus through Torry, a couple of Peregrines were performing aerial antics over Victoria Bridge.