2009, it must be said, was a legendary birding year on my part, probably my best ever. The amount of new birds that I saw was just phenomenal, and I saw some great sights that I’d never think that I’d see. This document will tell you about my birding year on a whole - its high points; its low points, and a personal reflection on the experiences which I hope to vividly describe.
Due to the bitterly cold winter and the hectic happenings that took place at school, it was a slow start to the birding year. Inevitably in the latter half of the Christmas Holidays I managed to see the commonest species without having to leave Aberdeen (e.g. Herring and other gulls, Town and Wood Pigeon, House Sparrow, the Tits, the finches), and was quickly up to 16. The first birding trip of the year took place in the middle of the month and the year list increased to 44. All three local patches (Girdleness, Ythan and Strathbeg) produced their common species, all of which felt extra special on the day as they all counted! The most notable of these early year ticks were a group of Red-legged Partridges seen on the road to Collieston in the Ythan area and Red-throated Diver and Purple Sandpiper at Girdleness. The commonest winter waterfowl species (Eider, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Pink-footed Goose, R-B Merganser, Shelduck, Mute Swan etc. ) were all seen including the three commonest birds of prey (Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk), the commoner waders (Oystercatcher, Redshank, Lapwing, Dunlin, Golden Plover) and other commoner species. This was the only time I got out during the month, but I was fairly satisfied with my totals even though most birders would see this as a rather petty total.
February and March:
February was that bit better than January, with some interesting birds seen. Managed to get out birding just once yet again as I was still busy with school work and the weather was still cold. However, before this outing I was blessed with the arrival of one of my favourite winter species outside my house. It had been a great year for Waxwings on all over the country that winter, and I was absolutely delighted when I spotted a flock of 15+ of these birds (4th February) on the cotoneaster bushes in the garden. The past few winters had been good for Waxwings and each year I’d had them visiting these bushes which are ripe with berries that they like to eat, and it was lovely to see them there again. The views were brilliant and, as the bushes ware fairly close to the house, you didn’t have to use the bins to see them, but I used mine anyway. No other Waxwings visited again that month unfortunately, or for the rest of the year.
I got out birding properly a week after my Waxwing encounter, where I spent the day at the Ythan and Strathbeg. Stopping at the Ythan there were no birds to note particularly apart from those I had seen the month before. As I was leaving the area however, I came across a birder looking at a big flock of maybe 200 or so Pink-footed Geese. Getting out the car I asked if he was looking at anything in particular:
“It’s strange that you ask actually. I’ve been watching what I think are two Tundra Bean Geese, but I can’t be sure. I’ve reported it and texted a few people about it and was wondering if you were responding to the report.”
“We didn’t get any reports,” I replied, “We just thought we’d stop by to see if you’ve seen anything interesting. Where about are these Bean Geese then?”
The incredibly strong and cold wind made it hard to view the geese through the scope, but the birder managed to show my Dad and I these geese that he was looking at. As these two geese were right amongst a flock of standing Pinkfeets, we couldn’t see the orange feet which would separate them from Pink-footed. They seemed to be considerably bigger though and didn’t have the frosty blue-grey backs of the Pinkfeets, as well as have longer bills. It would have been easier to identify them if the wind hadn’t blown the scope about, but eventually we all came to the conclusion that they were Bean Geese. To confirm though we would have to wait until the birds were in flight. Eventually, the flock did take off for a second before landing again, with the two geese we had been keeping an eye taking to the air too. It was specifically these two geese that we were watching, and to my delight we found that both geese did have orange feet! This was great news, and meant that I had seen my first lifer of the year. The birder who had spotted them was very pleased with his find and took our names so as to show that he wasn’t the only person to have seen them. We had spent an hour watching the flock with the birder, an hour that was definitely worth it. We weren’t expecting to see the Bean Geese at all. It’s such moments in birding as these that I enjoy, when you just fall upon nice birds without having a clue that you’re going to see them! At Strathbeg I managed to see some useful species that I hadn’t seen as of yet, including Whooper Swan, Reed Bunting, Peregrine Falcon, Gadwall and a fine drake Pintail. I finished the month on a fine 66 species, with Waxwing and Bean Goose being the main highlights of the year so far.
March saw some harder weather with considerable snowfall. School and work for my Dad was also more hectic than ever, with me having to sit and revise for several test. As a result I didn’t make it out once that month and the year list total didn’t rise. It had been a slowish start in the first few months of the year. However, as April arrived so did spring in all its warmth and glory. What birds would it produce?
On the first weekend of April (to be precise the 4th) I was out for my first ‘Spring Birdwatch’, and was hoping to see the commoner spring arrivals (e.g. the hirundines, a few commoner warblers). However I was only out for the morning due to other arrangements that day, which to a degree lessened the amount of new species that I saw. Only five year ticks were seen that spring morning. The first Swallow of the year was a welcoming sight and a real sign of the nicer weather, as was a Chiffchaff viewed just outside Waulkmill Hide and a Blackcap at the second stop off area near the main part of the Estuary. On the way to Collieston for a brief look out at sea a few Grey Partridges took us by surprise as they took a risky and sudden flight across the road as we passed by. At Collieston I managed to see my first Gannets of the year with approximately 35 birds passing in 20 minutes. It was rather embarrassing that we hadn’t seen any Gannets for the first few months of year, so it was a relief to see them then. 71 species of bird had now been seen as of 4th April.
With the arrival of the Easter Holidays a few days later my Dad and I (my Mum and sister were busy with work –related issues) had prepared a trip down to Roadwater in Somerset, a village close to Exmoor National Park. My Dad’s parents own a cottage in this village, and we visit it annually so as to be able to visit them and other relatives (I don’t have any relatives in Scotland you see). I’ve been going there for years, and I must admit it’s a beautiful area, filled with nice woodland and rolling fields. The aforementioned habitats are home to some birds that are difficult to see in Scotland such as Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch. As we were only spending a few days in the area my Dad and I didn’t get out to do any proper birding, but, because of the many beautiful countryside walks you can take from Roadwater, we had outings each day. One particularly long walk across Exmoor was good for birds, providing us with quite a few upland species. At least 5 Ravens were seen and we heard their guttural croaking fairly regularly on the walk. As well as this we managed to flush up a few Common Redpolls from the heather which were nice to see. Other walks proved slightly less interesting but Willow Warbler and Yellowhammer were welcome additions On the way back to Aberdeen my Dad and I thought it might be worth it to stop off at WTT Slimbridge, a place my Dad had I always wanted to show me and that is obviously renowned not only for the wildfowl you get there but its collection of wildfowl too, both of which I saw and greatly admired. However I would comment that the place was a little clogged up with visitors that strayed into the hides after looking at the wildfowl collection. At Slimbridge I managed to pick up quite a few new species for the year, including Shoveler, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose, Black-tailed Godwit, my first Sedge Warbler of the year and up to 5 Little Egrets. The latter obviously aren’t a common sight in Scotland but I see them at least twice a year in places like Strathbeg (these are usual lone birds however), and obviously I see plenty of them when I’m down in England. With this visit to Slimbridge and the long walk up in Exmoor the year list was now at 80 species.
On 26th my Dad and I spent a day at Strathbeg and managed to see a lot of lovely species that hitherto I hadn’t seen that year. The visitor centre, Tower Pool, Rattray and the hides at Crimond Airfield were all checked, and by the end of the year the year list had increased by 14 species and was now on 94. All the birds seen were the expected spring arrivals such Ruff, Sand and House Martin, Sanderling, Common and Sandwich Tern, Marsh Harrier, a stunning Osprey over the visitor centre and a fine male Wheatear. However, there was one species that I saw that day that I haven’t mentioned. This species was a lifer for me, and was seen right at the end of the day. It took frustratingly long for me to see however, as it was only really viewable through the scope and kept on disappearing out of view at points. It was very busy in the visitor centre, with all the visitor scopes being used. Not much was going on for a lot of the time, and people were just watching the wildfowl. Just as were about to leave, however, a cry came from one of the birders:
“I’ve got a female Hen Harrier here! It’s a long way off but is currently quartering the fields towards Savioch!”
Now Hen Harrier, at that time, was one of the biggest bogey birds that I hadn’t seen, and I was desperate to see this ringtail. However, because of the amount of people in the place that were using the scopes, I wasn’t able to catch onto the bird. Just less than a minute after this person’s cry it went down again. Those that were at the scopes had all seen it, including my Dad. I hadn’t however. There was then a long wait for the bird to re-appear. 20 minutes pass. Nothing.... I was becoming very unhappy, thinking that this was going to be my first major miss of the year. But I was relieved when I managed to get onto a scope and the bird rose again. I quickly caught on to it, and watched it as it patrolled across the reeds and showed brilliantly! It was a beautiful bird to have seen, and one less bird to feel embarrassed about! That was how the month ended. Overall I’d say it was much better than February, which was the runner up in terms of quality, not because I saw rarer birds or anything, just because I went to different places than usual and saw some really nice birds. Hen Harrier had now nicked in as bird of the year.
May, it has to be said, hosted not only the best birding day of the year but one of my most enjoyable days birding ever, and is definitely worth an extended account of! This day, which was May 2nd, was once again spent at the Loch of Strathbeg, and it was just phenomenal! The fact the only 10 new species were seen that day makes it sound petty, but oh, amongst those 10 birds were some brilliant species! The reason I had gone up to the Loch of Strathbeg was to see a Great White Egret that had been reported there. Great White Egrets have obviously starting to lose their status as a vagrant nowadays, what with the many reports of this species in the past year or so. Neither I nor my Dad had seen one before, and the prospect of seeing one was very tempting and exciting. When we arrived up there we didn’t go and have a look for it straight away, we checked the visitor centre first. The bird of note on this first visit to the Visitor Centre was a charming Little Ringed Plover. Little Ringed Plovers are a difficult bird to see and was a very useful year tick for us. In fact, it was only my third LRP ever. There were also up to 3 Marsh Harriers quartering the reeds. We then headed to Fen Hide, where the Great White Egret had been seen. As we arrived there we met with a photographer that we’d seen on a number of occasions.
“Presuming you’ve come to see the Great White Egret. Well, it’s just at the back there towards the reeds.”
And he was right. There was a fantastic, very tall all white heron pecking about in the water, viewed down to about 30 metres, the Great White Egret! I had never seen any water bird so magnificent as this in my life. It was just amazing! The conditions (excellent light and very close views) we had were just ideal, I couldn’t have hoped for better! At first it was viewed alongside a Grey Heron (and three Whooper Swans) for comparative purposes, which was rather a treat. When standing it looked hugely bigger and more magnificent than the Grey Heron, that’s for sure! As it pecked about in the water and waded with its hugely long legs, I noted that its bill and legs were basically black but the bill also had a yellowish colour round the base. It was just brilliant watching it; I couldn’t have been more content. We sat there for half an hour (by which time the photographer had some superb photos) just watching it beside the Grey Heron when all of a sudden it took to the air, flying in a very dignified and flamboyant manner into the reeds, where it disappeared. 25 minutes later it reappeared, and was viewed at the edge of the reeds where it walked about a lot. It stayed there for another 10 minutes and then flew back to where we had originally seen it, this time seen catching fish. It was just astounding watching this beautiful bird. My experiences of it are truly unforgettable. This was my third lifer for the year, and my Dad’s first. So within the first hour and a half of birding at Strathbeg I had seen Little Ringed Plover and Great White Egret, how could it possibly get better? Well the answer is that it did get better. We didn’t go back to the visitor centre straight away but headed to the north side of the Loch. Here two separate flocks of 30 Whimbrels were seen, which were lovely to see and was of course was a very useful year tick. Also at the north side of the Loch up to 8 Wheatears were seen and 4 Corn Buntings, the latter of which was a year tick. Rattray was also checked but nothing of note was seen here.
By mid afternoon we arrived back at the Visitor Centre, where we found a good number of birders all with their eyes on a particular species of bird. ‘What now?’ I thought to myself excitedly.
“Whilst you were elsewhere on the reserve,” said one of the wardens that had seen us earlier, “A Green-Winged Teal joined the teal flock. It’s easily viewable through the bins and scope just in front of the hide with the other teals here. It’s a drake, and is easily recognisable from its commoner relatives by a white stripe down the side of its body. You’ll see it there once you get set up.”
Green-Winged Teal was yet another lifer, and when I looked through the scope at the teal flock I could clearly see the white stripe down the side that the warden had mentioned. Quite frankly it wasn’t a lot different from the teals, but was a beauty of bird to watch as the Common Teal is a fine-looking bird in its own right. It was mostly roosting but at one point it did show its face and stood by the other teals. That was now two life ticks in a day plus a Little Ringed Plover. It was a fantastic today so far, it really couldn’t get any better. Or could it?
“It’s been a great day here at Strathbeg,” said one of the wardens, “On top of this teal and the GW Egret there are two Snow Geese and a Pectoral Sandpiper at Tower Hide as well.”
‘This is just surreal!’ I thought, ‘How can it get better than this?’ With this news we headed straight to Tower Pool Hide. Once we arrived there we met once again with the photographer who had been photographing the two Snow Geese for the past hour or so, and checked the Pink-footed Geese flock (still sizeable for the time of year at over 200 birds) for the Snow Geese. With help from the photographer, we soon found them nestled at the core of the flock. They were outstanding things, one being a blue morph and the other a white, and were both together contentedly feeding with the Pink-footed Geese. This was the third ever time I had seen Snow Geese in Scotland, and the first time at Strathbeg. Most of the time we watched them they were just on the ground, but it was some sight when they took the air with the other geese as a Marsh Harrier sent them up. It was interesting when in flight actually, as they stuck close together and never strayed apart from one another. It was rather lovely actually to watch them in the skies together, both the blue morph and the white morph together. After a good look at the Snow Geese we turned our attention to the reported Pectoral Sandpiper that was also in Tower Pool Hide. Pectoral Sandpiper, unlike Snow Goose, was actually a lifer for me. The photographer told us that he hadn’t seen it for a good hour or so and that it had flown off, and that if we wanted to see it we would have to be patient. That wasn’t to say it hadn’t flown back in, however, so we had a careful check of the whole area for it. However after 15 minutes solid searching there was no such luck, so we continued to look at the Snow Geese and other birds, with one notable bird being a fine female Spotted Redshank. Having spent well over an hour in Tower Pool, we were about to head off back home for the day when all of a sudden the photographer said:
“Ok, the Pectoral Sandpiper has just flown in roughly in front of the Savioch Tower.”
Sheer delight! Using the scope, I managed to locate the Pectoral Sandpiper amongst a small flock of Dunlins. A fine looking bird it was too, clearly that bit larger than the Dunlins with a short, slightly decurved bill that was slightly paler than the Dunlins, a grey-brown back and grey, streaked breast that extends further than a Dunlin’s. I also noticed a prominent, creamy supercilium grey breast is sharply demarcated and stops at the centre of the breast, leaving the belly a pure, unmarked white. All the above is characteristic of a Pec Sand and is essential for differentiating them from Dunlin’s in the field. The Pec Sand generally seemed a lot paler and a good bit bigger than the Dunlin’s. If I had been the first to see it they would be the two main grounds to my conclusion. The views of this Pec Sand could have been better but it wasn’t exactly distant, and it was a nice looking wader.
By the time I had left Tower Pool and started to head home it was about 5pm. It had been the most ridiculously good birding day ever, and really an unforgettable one. I had 3 lifers that day: Great White Egret, Pec Sand and Green-Winged Teal, as well as my third sighting ever of a Little Ringed Plover, two Snow Geese, 30 Whimbrel, 3 Marsh Harriers, 4 Great Crested Grebe and a female Spotted Redshank. As a result of this day the year list was now over the 100 mark on 105 species. It was absolutely unforgettable! Would future days in the year beat the quality of 2nd May?
On the 11th May my first Swifts of the year were seen outside the house, and a walk by the River Dee on 17th May provided me with a useful amount of year ticks including Garden Warbler, Dipper, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pochard and Whitethroat. On the search for a possible Pallid Harrier the weekend afterwards at Forvie Sands near the Ythan proved unsuccessful but did produce me with a cracking migrant in the form of a Lesser Whitethroat. I ended the month on a respectable 113 species. This cracking month was just a taste of the great birds I would see in the coming months of the year.
June was host to a full two days of birding in succession of one another during a weekend, starting on the 13TH. At the start of the first day I headed back up to Strathbeg to have a look at 3 Spoonbills which had been showing well in front of the Visitor Centre. These wouldn’t be my first Spoonbills, as I had seen two previous to this. When we arrived there we located these birds instantly. The views were astonishing at no more than 20 metres away. All of the birds were in fine adult plumage, and spent a majority of time roosting in the summer sun. However the best moments of viewing these birds was when they stopped roosting and started walking around the place, with one bird ‘spooning’ using its extraordinarily fine spatula-shaped bill. We spent the whole of our time at Strathbeg watching these birds, and also came across a Little Gull, an unexpected year tick that was clearly much smaller than the Black-headed Gulls it was beside. The rest of the first day was spent down by the cliffs at Bullars of Buchan in search of Puffins. After a good walk and a good deal of searching we managed to find 6 of these birds, 3 of which were on the water close to the cliffs and 3 wedged amongst the far more abundant Guillemots and Razorbills. After a nice first day, the second day of the weekend was spent in the countryside west of Aberdeen in search of moorland species. Spending most of our time in the Clachnaben and Cairn O Mount area, Cuckoo was both heard and seen, and 3 Spotted Flycatchers and a Whinchat near the top of Clachnaben were pleasant surprises. A family of Red Grouse shooting up through the heather at Cairn O Mount was also a good and needed addition, and my second party of Redpoll of the year was also seen. These two days were the only two birding outings of the month but had proved very useful, and took the year list up to a nice 137 species.
As I had joined Birdforum and made a blog on the site you can get more information on the happenings of two attempts I had at looking for the Little Bittern at Ham Wall via the link at the end of this monthly account. If you want to know more about any other details from this point in the year onwards they will also be linked. The monthly accounts will also be shorter as the actual days have been blogged.
July of course is the month in which Spring truly comes to the end and the birding world quietens down slightly. However this July was a cracking month for me and a good month for Aberdeenshire with some top quality birds seen. On the 8/7 a mega rarity in the form of a Stilt Sandpiper was spotted by warden David Parnaby at Loch of Strathbeg. The Stilt Sandpiper is a very rare vagrant from America and had only been recorded 17 times prior to this bird in the UK, so as soon as the weekend came (10/7) we headed up to see it, and were successful. Lots of people were there to see it and were obliged with fantastic views of the bird. This Stilt Sandpiper really looked most like a mixture between a Curlew Sandpiper and a Snipe. I noted a rufousy head to bird, clear diagonals down back a striped belly, and an overall brown impression. It had a habit of stretching its neck upright in which it revealed its curled bill, but most of the time it was just roosting and feeding quite happily. Even better was that at points it was feeding beside a Pectoral Sandpiper which was also present on the reserve, my second ever. Comparing these two waders, I concluded that the Pectoral Sandpiper was actually a good deal bigger than the Stilt Sand, suggesting that Stilt Sandpiper isn’t as appropriate a name as it might suggest.... Of course, like with any mega-rarity that one sees, I felt a feeling of immense satisfaction and pride at seeing the Stilt Sandpiper. It just felt sensational to see a bird that had only been seen 18 times ever in the UK! Not only that, but it was great to see it beside the Pectoral Sandpiper, a bird I had only first seen back in May. On the same day as the Stilt and Pectoral Sandpiper, Manx Shearwater was added to the year list when visiting Rattray and at the Ythan a cracking Little Tern was seen. Unfortunately the day after we saw the Stilt Sandpiper a Caspian Tern made a brief appearance for a couple of hours at the Ythan, showing very well in front of a handful of serendipitous observers that happened to be in the area at the time. A link to a picture of the Stilt Sandpiper is below.
A few days after seeing the Stilt Sandpiper I found myself back down in Roadwater, Somerset for the second time that year, this time for a much longer period of time than before, thus not only giving me the chance to look for some of the typical English woodland species that you don’t get in Scotland and also allowing me to have a couple of days at Ham Wall RSPB, where a long-stay Little Bittern was being seen and twitched by many people. Several walks in the countryside round Roadwater were very useful and managed to provide me with Nuthatch and Green Woodpecker, my main targets in the woods round the area. A Tawny Owl also flew across the road one night on the way back from a nice pub dinner. Searching for the Little Bittern at Ham Wall RSPB did prove to be unsuccessful, but amazingly I managed to see 4 life ticks, all of which were bogey birds. These were a Bittern, Cetti’s Warbler, my first ever Kingfisher (which was so relieving as it was my most embarrassing bogey bird at that point!) and a stunning Water Rail. Reed Warbler was also a useful year tick here. As I had joined Birdforum and made a blog on the site you can get more information on the happenings of two attempts I had at looking for the Little Bittern at Ham Wall via the below link. If you want to know more about any other details from this point in the year onwards they will also be linked. I ended the month having had a total of 5 lifers and the year list on the total of 149. I must admit it was a fantastic month, and was incredibly satisfying!
A few days into the month a trip up to Strathbeg provided me with a good amount of new waders for the year, most notably Wood and Green Sandpiper, as well as Common Sandpiper and Snipe. Hooded Crow was also seen here. I was not out again until very late in the month due to arriving back at school and other plans. I went just a couple of days after my 15th birthday on 27th, and had a couple of real birthday delights. These were my first ever views of the juvenile White-tailed Eagle that had been hanging around in Strathbeg for the past year and had hitherto eluded me. Seeing it was the most breathtaking experience I had ever witnessed (read more on link), I even saw it taking a wash! Not only this but I had slightly distant views of a definite marsh Tern that turned out to be a White-winged Black Tern but was originally thought to be a Black Tern. The latter would have also been a lifer but I was very glad to hear that it was actually a White-winged Black Tern! A link to the account of the latter day, which I’m sure will interest you more than the first, can be seen below. By the end of August the year list had reached 159 species.
September, of course, is known to be one of the best months of the year for birds, with migrants flooding in from the continent elsewhere with the odd rarity amongst them. However, this is providing the wind conditions are right, or in other words in an easterly direction. I was out a lot that month to maximise my chances of seeing migrant passerines/whatever else may turn up, but the winds were in the west for the whole month, meaning it was pretty quiet! Grrr! I had to really eek out birds, and those new birds for the year that I did see weren’t any species of passerines. It really was an appalling month for the little blighters! On the 5th my Dad and I managed to spot 2 Curlew Sandpiper and 3 Little Stints at the Ythan, two very useful birds for the year. However these were the only new year ticks that day. I was next out on the Scottish Birdforum Bash, where Birdforum members from across Scotland (and sometimes England) meet up in a certain Scottish location and spend a few days birding together. Where they meet is decided on Birdforum itself, and it was decided that this Birdforum Bash would be held in Aberdeenshire. As I had now been a member of the forum for two months I pounced on the chance to go as I was eager to meet the people. Also the more people, the more chance there would be of seeing some good birds. The outcome of the weekend (12/13th September) in terms of birds didn’t consist of anything overly amazing, but we managed to tot up a total of 104 species in two days, which wasn’t bad. Also it was lovely to meet each and every one of the Birdforum members. The highlights of these include fabulous views of Red Kites at Loch of Skene, good views of the White-tailed Eagle at Strathbeg and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ythanmouth. For more info on the day see these two links (each day of the Bash has its own entry):
From this point onwards I wasn’t able to make any full days out as I was very busy with school work, but I was able to make it down to Girdleness on a good number of occasions after school for some sea-watching. On these trips I managed good numbers of Manx Shearwaters, Brent Geese, and other things each time, but unfortunately nothing rarer than those two species. If you go back to go back to my first post on this blog (linked below) you can read more if you wish:
The month ended rather disappointingly and I hoped October would be better. By the end of September the year list had risen to a respectable 166 species.
October was probably the best month of year, but in far different ways in usual. I spent very little time birding in Aberdeenshire that month, as in the October Holidays I first spent a week in northern Suffolk, taking a day’s birding in North Norfolk, and also spent a week in Corsica. Before all this though, I went to see a cracking Glossy Ibis that was in a field just outside the village of St Combs near Strathbeg. This bird was a juvenile, and showed very obliging at less than 20 feet. It was my 11th lifer of the year.
The week afterwards I was down in northern Suffolk, and visited North Norfolk on the 15th. Here I visited Cley Marshes, West Runton, Holkham Pines, Thornham Harbour and Holme Dunes. The day was fantastic with a cracking 3 lifers (Short-toed Lark, Grey Phalarope and my first Barn Owl, the latter of which was a real bogey!) as well as a cracking Black Redstart, several Bearded Tits, a Cetti’s Warbler and a Spotted Redshank all at Cley and a ringtail at Thornham Harbour (plus much more!). It was an unbelievable day and was one of the best days of the year. After this visit to Northern Suffolk my Mum and I then headed abroad to the mountainous island of Corsica where I stayed in a hotel just outside Calvi on the north-west coast of the island, where I spent a week. Each day was spent birding, and for the trip I was in search of specialities such as Marmora’s Warbler in the abundant maquis shrub of the island, Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Audouins Gull, Corsican Citril Finch, and most importantly the endemic Corsican Nuthatch. In the end I managed to fail on seeing all the aformentioned species but I saw some really lovely birds including absolutely loads of Red Kites, 4 Black Redstarts, Dartford and Sardinian Warbler, Eurasian Crag Martin, and a world lifer in the form of two cracking Cirl Buntings in Asco village. Despite missing out on the target birds the sights and places I saw were just breathtaking and such fun, and I saw some great birds anyway.
Arriving back in Aberdeenshire after what had been a brilliant two weeks away I found that I had missed a fall of rare passerines. This was very frustrating, as I managed to miss the biggest fall of Firecrests ever recorded in Aberdeenshire, as well as quite good numbers of commoner rarities such as Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas’s Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and very annoyingly a Radde’s Warbler at Girdleness. How ironic could it be that all the passerines turn up when I’m away? However, on Halloween I was very happy to go down to Girdleness and see a Richard’s Pipit that had been spotted there. This bird showed well and was yet another lifer for me. It made me feel better as it meant that I hadn’t missed all the migrant passerine activity! I ended what had been a fantastic month’s birding on 173 species for the year (which of course is minus all the birds I saw on Corsica!). What a month in comparison to September! I won’t forget October 2009, that’s for sure! If you haven’t read about it already, go the Archives here on my blog for more information on October’s birding, including a full account of the Norfolk Day and all 7 days spent in Corsica.
When November arrives the hecticness of the autumn dies down and turns gradually into winter. Throughout November I could feel the winter weather coming and the birding world starting to lie low. However November was a great month in its own right. I managed to get out birding on two occasions, and one of these, as you will have probably read, I was involved in the case of the misidentified Dove that was first thought to be an Oriental Turtle Dove but actually ended up being a Turtle Dove. Despite the dove not being the rarer species, I was incredibly happy to see the Turtle Dove as it was only my second ever, and my first in Scotland. It was a very valuable year tick too. On the same day as this Dove I got fantastic views of 8 Snow Buntings at Girdleness and a Black-throated Diver was a welcome addition. On the latter of the two outings that month I simply went in search of some Twites in the dunes at Ythanmouth and was successful, seeing a flock of up to 30 of the birds. It was getting very hard to see new birds for now, and I had now reached 178 species for the year. My aim for the year was 180, would I reach it?
The last month of the year also just had two birding outings but each day was pleasurable in there different ways. The first was spent at Strathbeg in search of Long-tailed Duck, a bird I hadn’t seen that year. I unfortunately didn’t see this species there but did manage to see my second Kingfisher and Water Rail ever, getting fabulous views of the latter species. As Christmas passed my Dad and I could only find one way that we could achieve our aim for the year. There had been a King Eider reported in Burghead, Morayshire, about 95 miles north-west of Aberdeen. We decided, on the 27/12, that we would take a day trip and go up to see this bird. Long-tailed Duck was also more or less guaranteed here. I’m delighted to say that on our arrival we saw both of the two targeted species, getting unimaginably good views of the King Eider and seeing several Long-tailed Duck! That was the last time I got out that year, and I had managed to achieve my aim to the exact number 180! It couldn’t have finished better for me!
Overall, I must say 2009 was my best birding year on record so far. I recorded a total of 17 lifers, a phenomenal record for me, (18 plus the Cirl Bunting in Corsica) and saw such a wide range of fabulous species from all different sorts of habitats. Visiting Corsica, Ham Wall RSPB in Somerset and North Norfolk all contributed immensely to the year total and were all beautiful places too, particularly Corsica, which was just astounding! However, in terms of the best birding place I went this year it had to be Strathbeg. Time and time again that I went it produced quality birds. I managed to see 8 of the 17 lifers that year there alone. The Ythan and Girdleness also produced some lovely birds too. Which bird though, really stood out for me that year? And what was the best day of the year?
It’s obvious that the rarest bird I saw was the Stilt Sandpiper. Well, I enjoyed seeing a lot of birds that year. Some lifers were less exciting than others (take Pec Sand, WWB Tern and Green-Winged Teal) The Bean Geese were great to see early in the year, as were the Waxwings in the garden (waxies weren’t lifers though), and the two ringtails I saw through the course of the year. The Snow Geese (also not lifers) were also fantastic to see, as were the Lesser Whitethroats at Forvie Sands, the 3 Spoonbills at Strathbeg, the Stilt Sandpiper of course, the Water Rails that I saw, the Bittern, the White-tailed Eagle sightings, the Glossy Ibis, the Barn Owl and Grey Phalarope in Norfolk, the Richard’s Pipit and the King Eider... But it must be said, out of all those birds, there was only one bird that really stood in terms of the joy I experienced in seeing it and the views I got, and that goes to the Great White Egret. It was just such a beautiful, elegant bird, and the views were just so close! Yes, the experience of first seeing the White-tailed Eagle ran it close, but it didn’t quite have enough to beat the pleasure of the Great White Egret sighting! As for the best day of the year, well there can only be one winner. Yes, the day on 2nd May, where I saw Great White Egret, Snow Goose, Green-Winged Teal, Pectoral Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover all within one day! It was just a phenomenal day and was completely unforgettable. The Norfolk Day was definitely the runner up, but it didn’t quite have the joy and sheer chaos of the day at Strathbeg in early May. I will leave you with a few stats and a link to my full 2009 year list. Thanks for reading what has been a long Review of the Year!
Aim: 180 species (TARGET ACHIEVED)
Bird of the Year (Rare): Stilt Sandpiper
Bird of the Year (Most enjoyable year): Great White Egret
Number of Lifers: 17 (18 + Cirl Bunting)
Day of the Year: 2nd May (Highlights: GW Egret, GW Teal, Snow Goose, LRP, Pec Sand)
Year List - http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=146699