It’s now nearing a month since I returned from an amazing trip with my fellow Scouting For Birds lads to Southern Spain, and as you can probably tell, no progression has been made blog wise since then… until now! Exams and excess birding have played a role in preventing me from updating this, but I still promise that when my exams end, I will use the oodles of free time that I have to get this updated. The Spanish trip report will hopefully appear at some point in July. Putting it lightly, there is a lot to cover there!
Aberdeenshire birding has been on a bit of a hot streak of late. It has been of those springs that seems to be producing consistent amounts of local scarce (the first in a few years admittedly) . This has mostly concerned passerines in the last couple of weeks, owing to some tasty fronts and fairly regular north-easterly winds. This was particularly towards the end of last week and into the weekend, which produced good numbers of Red-backed Shrike and a few other typical scarce spring passerines. That period will be accounted for in a separate post, shortly following this one.
I arrived back in Aberdeen on 1st May, and with study leave and the end of school (permanently!) just two days later, I found myself out in the field again on 6th. Durham and Northumberland based young birders Michael Murphy, Kieran Lawrence and Jack Bucknall (2CY Birders) were stopping off in the region on the way back from their trip to Speyside, so I planned to meet them at the Ythan for a wee goose at ‘Elvis’ – the one and only King Eider. Luckily, the old timer (he must be getting on now) had opted to spend the day on the estuary, rather than to meander down to Murcar or Blackdog. He was a little distant at first, on the far bank opposite the golf hut, rather than rock n’rolling opposite the lifeboat station. He wasn’t strutting his stuff at this point either (he does love to woo the local lasses), so the lads and I had to make do with fairly distant views of him roosting. With limited time on their hands, I briefly showed the others Meikle Loch in an attempt to ‘get’ them a couple of flava, but our efforts were unfortunately in vain.
The lads had to dash southwards, so I was dropped back off at the estuary mouth, where I enjoyed fantastic views of the King on the receding tide throughout the afternoon, strutting his stuff and all. This is the final spring that I will be able to enjoy his company, as I move down to Edinburgh in the autumn. Many an enjoyable day’s birding on the Ythan has been spent with him; he will be sorely missed. I worked the rest of the estuary as far up as Waterside Bridge. It was quite lively, holding at least 10 Little Terns at the ternery with the other three Sterna species, and some passage waders in the form of 60 Dunlin, 30 Sanderling, 3 Knot and up to 15 Whimbrel. This made for some perfectly enjoyable birding, but with revision to be done later that day I had to take the bus home mid afternoon.
The repression of revision sunk in during the ensuing week, as I found myself confined to the house and unable to sign up for the boat trip off Portsoy for White-billed Diver; of which there has been an incredible 15+ over the spring. A few other recent complications has meant I have not been able to make it up that way in the last couple of weeks, nor as far as Strathbeg, but birding has been superb enough closer to home. On 10th May revision was rudely interrupted by reports of a Red-spotted Bluethroat at The Ness, in the scrub at the back of the allotments. Within minutes I had coaxed Dad to go for the bird; it would have been rude to have missed such a stunning bird as this on the patch.
Within 20 minutes of the news being put out we were on site. Mark Sullivan, who I had coincidentally met in Spain, had already worked the scrub where it had been reported, but to no avail. At this point it was just the three of us on site, but others quickly appeared. 10 minutes later there was still no sign, but just as folks started to suspect it may have moved elsewhere on site Dad heard the bird uttering a silvery sub song from deep in the scrub. Excitement ensued as eyes scoured the scrub, and the call quickly went up as the Red-spotted Bluethroat presented its gorgeous self on a piece of dung. Bluethroat’s are one of those birds that cause you to say ‘ooh you beauty’ uncontrollably when you first clap eyes on them. This is exactly what happened as I connected. A full adult, it proceeded to show off in front of the admiring group, standing upright, in between making erratic sprints across the shit. What an exquisite bird: its breast a gorgeous assortment of aqua blue, complemented with a flame coloured throat and a lovely creamy super contrasting with jet black lores. With views down to 25ft, it was hard not to get lost in the wonders of this bird.
Soon, the group that had amassed became just a few again. I joined Mark Lewis on a detour to the Battery to see if anything else had come in. It became clear that there had been no fall, so Dad and I returned to the Bluethroat, finding ourselves to be alone with the bird in the newly emerged sunshine. What ensued was some absolutely stonking views of this sibe stunner, down to 12ft on the dung heap again, allowing for some prime photo opportunities. We reveled in these views for some 25 minutes, before the reality of revision hit home and I was whisked back to the house. However, in the company of this Bluethroat, I had blissfully forgotten that I had an exam in just 4 days time. This was my second Bluethroat at The Ness, the first being another svecica in 2001, hopping on the grass at the Battery coincidentally also on 10th May! That was so long ago, however, so watching this individual 12 years to the day later was like seeing one for the first time.
Last Wednesday (15th May), I did a full round of The Ness. Low cloud and occasional spitting rain with light north-easterlies felt promising, but as with the first visit there was no obvious arrival. Birds were sparse, with highlights of 2 Whimbrel giving good views at Nigg Bay, a drake Goosander by Skate’s Nose, a newly in Sedge Warbler, two Sand Martin in with some migging Swallows and a cracking male leucorhoa Wheatear at the walled garden. That however, was that.
Not that I could complain. The Ness had provided some goodness that week, some greatness in fact… proving that, although its often quiet or dead, it can be great!
Thanks for reading,