Sunday, 28 March 2010

In Search of Early Spring Migrants and Bogey Birds

Ok, ok.... I know I said I wouldn't post again until after I get back from Portland. Afraid not! For a couple of reasons I found myself casually lured to get out birding. Firstly, a period of nasty, misty weather had brought in the first spring migrants at Girdleness. These included Chffichaff, Blackcap and Wheatear, and most notably a Black Redstart. Secondly, there had been a Bewick's Swan seen at the Ythan, which has always been my worst bogey bird and is a rare sight in Scotland. I mean, if you have your worst bogey bird present only 10 miles north of where you live and have some early spring migrants just outside town, what else are you going to do but go out and have a look? So on Friday afternoon after school, I headed down to Girdleness in search of spring migrants. We started our search by checking the Battery, where Mark Lewis had originally seen the Black Redstart which I mentioned. We gave the area a thorough check, but there was no sign of a Black Redstart nor any migrants.

Thinking methodically, my Dad and I decided that the best idea would be to have a walk across from the Battery towards the sycamore tree (nearer the Harbour for those that aren't Aberdeenshire birders). After all, the area is thick with bushes that would likely shelter migrants from the bitter wind and intermittent light rain. I have also seen Black Redstart at Girdleness before, and at the time I saw the bird in the past it was on the rocks which this walk goes past. The walk is of a fairly reasonable length and allows for a thorough check of half of Girdleness for any birds that may be present, so I constantly kept my eyes peeled on the bushes for any passerine that decided to show themselves. Satisfyingly, a passerine showed itself shortly after I started walking - my first Chiffchaff of the year and first spring migrant of the year, showing well. This was later followed by another Chiffchaff towards the sycamore. Besides these Chiffchaffs however, I didn't see any other notable spring migrants with the Black Redstart proving elusive and thus far no Wheatears. By the time I returned from the walk it was about quarter past five, which left me without an hour and a bit to check the rest of the Ness. From the Battery I headed to Walker Park in search of my first Wheatears of the year. There had been some seen here earlier in the day, but when I gave it a careful scan I could see nothing but a Meadow Pipit and an Oystercatcher on here. A look out at sea proved very little save a few Kittiwakes (my first of the year), and checking the rocks between the foghorn which I seawatch at and Nigg Bay there was no Wheatears either. They must have been passing through, presumably. At Nigg Bay there was little to report either, despite a Snow Bunting having been seen for the previous two days there. There was a Kestrel here and a singing Song Thrush though. Overall the early spring migrants that had been seen earlier in the day had proved annoyingly difficult to find. On the positive side though I had seen my first Chiffchaffs and Kittiwakes of the year, which was a sign of spring and meant my year list had increased to 129 species.

Now I only had yesterday (Saturday) morning to search for the Bewick's Swan at the Ythan. Ken Hall had reported it on Wednesday, saying that it was in a field between Waulkmill Hide and the Collieston crossroads with a juvenile Whooper Swan. Whether it was still there or not was for us to find out, so at quarter past 9 we headed to the Ythan. We arrived roughly at quarter to ten, and instead of checking the estuary first we went straight up to check if the Bewick's Swan and the juvenile Whooper which it had been with were in any of the fields viewable on the road down from the Collieston crossroads to Waulkmill. Half way towards Waulkmill there were no signs of any Swans whatsoever and I was starting to think that it had maybe moved off. But I was in luck. About 3/4 of the way there though I spotted two Swans at the back of theclosest field to the car at the time. The car came to an abrupt halt as I exclaimed that I had thought I had found it, and looking through the bins I could see a juvenile Whooper Swan and beside it an adult swan that was visibly smaller. I had found the Bewick's Swan. As I locked onto it I felt a real sense of relief. I had finally set my eyes on what had been the most embaressing species that I hadn't seen before. There was no mistaking this fantastic bird, as it seemed quite a bit smaller and wasn't standing as tall as its commoner cousin , even though the Whooper was a juvenile. It was so easy to compare too. I could visibly see that it had a much shorter and thicker neck than the Whooper, with the Whooper Swan's neck seeming positively thin and very long. As well as this, I also noted that the yellow on the bill was far less extensive and more contrasting than on the Whooper Swan, whilst the black was more extensive (just the opposite to Whooper which has more yellow on the bill). The views were ideal for the aforementioned comparisons, with the birds probably at most 50 yards away from us in absolutely excellent light conditions. The two Swans seemed perfectly happy hanging around together; it was as if they were oblivious to the fact that they were a different species. They spent a majority of their time meandering round the field, stopping frequently to feed or in reaction to any sounds they had heard. We watched them for about 20 minutes, then decided to move on. I felt very happy that I had seen the Bewick's Swan, as not only was it relieving to 'clean up' on what was my worst bogey bird but the views of it were top quality. Here are a couple of distant photos I got of the two birds plus a picture of the field it was in. I think the first one shows the comparison in size particularly well (it is the bird on the right in both pictures).

From here we headed to Meikle Loch, where frankly I didn't expect to see much. I was wrong in my prejudgement. Shortly after we arrived a flurry of wildfowl took to the air. Amongst them I spotted ia big, sandy coloured bird with hugely prominent white wing bars. My initial reaction was 'What the hell?!', but I soon regained my senses and discovered what species I was seeing. It was an Egyptian Goose. It was sort of extraordinary when I latched onto this bird, as I have never seen one in Aberdeenshire before, let alone on the Ythan Estuary or Meikle Loch. There was no mistaking it, and was too big/sandy coloured for it to be the other wildfowl species that has prominent white wing bars - Ruddy Shelduck. It's head was also too pale for Ruddy Shelduck and I could see a shade of green towards the wing. Annoyingly, it flew some way from its originally location on the Loch and landed in the fields behind. Here it annoyingly went of view. However, a few minutes later it flew back onto the Loch, sticking at the very back. This meant views weren't all that satisfactory, but through the scope you could easily see that it was an Egyptian Goose. It stayed near the back of the Loch for another few minutes and then flew off completely, heading south-east. What a strange bird to see! When it had disappeared, my mind puzzled as to why this bird was in North-east Scotland and of its origins. Was it a bird that was part of the established stronghold of Egyptian Geese in southern England and had migrated up to Scotland? Was it an escape? I doubted the latter, as it was incredibly flighty and only stayed on the Loch for about 10 minutes. Later that day I reported the bird on Birdguides and Birdforum and my Dad on ABZ Rare Birds. Just today, I got a response from an aberdeenshire birder on Birdforum who told me that the only other record of Egyptian Goose in North-east Scotland ever was a bird at New Deer in 2009. He told me that this possible made the sighting very significant, which makes me feel quite excited. On the other hand, he did mention that it is hard to know whether the credentials of such a bird would be suitable for one of the birds from the established strongholds in Norfolk and southern England. Having checked Birdguides I have noticed that an Egyptian Goose was seen last week in Shetland, so I'm half inclined to think that it may be the same bird that was seen in Shetland. However, it could also be one of the birds from a small stronghold in the Gosford Estate, Lothian. These are just possibilities. Its actual origins still remain clouded in ambiguity... My Dad and I aren't the only people to have seen it, as one person reported that it was seen on the Estuary itself an hour and a half after we'd seen it fly off. It hasn't been seen since, as far as I'm aware. An interesting one... I did year tick it, which now means that my year list is on 131 species.

From Meikle Loch we headed to Collieston where we stopped briefly for a look out at sea. There wasn't too much going past at all apart from a few Fulmars, some Guillemots, a couple of Gannets and a Kittiwake. The rocks by the sea there regularly provide Wheatears, but there were none there when I looked. From here, we went on a walk from the car park at the north end of the Ythan Estuary and into the Forvie National Nature Reserve, an area of coastal moorland which can provide migrants and the like. Unfortunately there were no migrants present here, but the area wasn't completely devoid of birds. Dozens of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing and taking to the thermals of the area. It was a lovely to see them enjoying the early spring sun. Because the weather was so nice, I thought it would be a good idea to take a few pictures at Collieston and the Ythan. The first two are from Collieston, whilst the latter is a view looking west from Forvie.

Now that really is all I'm going to post in here until I get back from Portland! I hope I have a lot to report to you, as I'll be going to several places in Dorset, Hampshire and on the first part of my holiday, Somerset. Before I go to Portland I'm going to be spending a week in Somerset with family. On one day (maybe next Saturday) I hope to go to Chew Valley Lake, where Ferruginous Duck and Lesser Scaup have been seen recently, and on the other day I hope to go to Ham Wall/Shapwick Heath where a Great White Egret has been seen recently. When staying in Portland it is likely that I'll spend quite a bit of time in the areas round the observatory, but I will almost certainly visit places like Ferrybridge, Portland and Poole Harbour, Arne RSPB, Radipole Lake and Lodmoor RSPB. I may also visit places in Hampshire if Portland is quite quiet (for example Blashford Lakes). I have got my target birds for the trip, but I won't mention these to you until I get back. Anyhow, I'm leaving for England on Tuesday. I'm immensely looking forward to staying in Portland, and hopefully will enjoy reporting back my trip in here.

Thanks for reading and happy birding,


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A March Weekend's birding (20th-21st)

This weekend just passed I decided that I should get out birding again. After all late March is just the time that the first spring migrants arrive on the coast, so what better than to give the 3 local patches a check? We chose the Saturday to do this, but reports on Birdforum from Mark (Fat Paul Scholes) and Andrew Whitehouse’s weekly patrols round Girdleness were not seeming hopeful on the migrant front, with neither them reporting of any migrant activity. Furthermore there were no reports of any migrants from elsewhere in the county on either the local ABZ Rare Birds service or Birdguides, so the chances of Wheatear, Sand Martin and the like being seen was minimal. And it proved to be at Girdleness, which was very quiet. A walk from the sycamore to the Torry Battery and back proved unfruitful, with a few Robins, Pied Wagtails and Blackbirds being the only birds on this walk. Walker Park, a place that regularly holds Wheatears, had nothing in it at all save a couple of Rock Pipits, and the sea was too still for anything to be seen but a few Guillemots passing by. However, there were definitely signs of spring at the Ness, with the songs of Skylarks filling the air. Not only that, but it generally seemed a lot warmer too. A stop at the Ythan also proved very quiet with a scattering of wildfowl and waders such as Mute Swan, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Redshank and Curlew present in good numbers, but not much else.

It’s just before midday, and I’ve already checked two of my three patches. There was still a possible 4-5 hours birding before sundown, but there was little point in birding for more than a couple of hours longer. Arriving at Strathbeg, we were greeted by one of the wardens. As always, we asked him what was about. From the sombre tone of the post thus far, you can probably guess what he said.

“There isn’t too much about today really, but still a nice variety of the common species.”

He was right to think as he did. There really was not much from the Visitor Centre at all, just really those species that we had seen on the Ythan plus a few Herons, Moorhens and what not. A Peregrine, however, was seen sitting distantly in the fields behind the pools. The Pink-footed Goose flock could just be seen through the scope towards the north of the reserve as well. It’s always worth it having a check through the goose flock, so after what was a brief stop at the Visitor Centre we made our way to Fen Hide to have a proper look at the geese. Arriving there we found a nice assortment of the commoner wildfowl, with a few Pochards amongst the copious Wigeons and Tufted Ducks. There were a few Goldeneyes present too, and I particularly enjoyed watching them. There were 3 individuals very close to the hide, consisting of 2 males and a female. It was a fascinating and beguiling sight to watch these 3 individuals as the two males were displaying to the females, both of them tossing their head back such a great distance that it nearly reached their backs and then stretching their necks up with their bill pointing upwards. I have seen this before on several occasions, but it was particularly good to watch it today as the Goldeneyes were no more than 25ft from the hide and I was looking at them through the scope. Looking through the geese we found 9 Barnacle Geese amongst the numerically superior Pinkfeets (c.400 birds). 121 was also a splendid number, and I presume pre-migratory gathering, of Whooper Swans. We sat in Fen Hide for over an hour, just enjoying watching the common species. Yet at the same time I felt that there was a sort of soporific calm and a general languor to the occasion. When there is little of note to see all one can do is watch those birds that are present. Otherwise, they can do little else. It was nearing two thirty when we decided that, having checked the three local patches, we’d call it a day and head back home relatively early. That was the first time this year that I came home early, and the first day that I felt it really was very quiet on the bird front. Oh well, what can you do?

But there is something I’m hiding from you. I was disappointed that we arrived back home earlier than usual on Saturday. Now, what I haven’t told you is that on Friday night the report of a Great Grey Shrike in the moorlands west of the village of Rhynie had come in from Birdguides. Rhynie is situated on the north-western most borders of Aberdeenshire. Here is how the exact details to the bird’s location read:

‘One perched on top dwarf willows 200m southeast of the Forestry Commission car park west of Rhynie, although this was seen yesterday (Thursday)’

Obviously this sounded a bit vague to someone like me who wasn’t familiar with the Rhynie area. On the Friday evening that this Shrike was reported, my Dad and I discussed whether it would be a good idea to go and look for it on the Saturday. However my Dad seemed to think it wasn’t a good idea. Combining the fact that Great Grey Shrikes can be elusive, that no one had seen it on Friday and that Rhynie was a long way off course from any of our local patches, we came to the conclusion that day could easily be wasted if we headed up there. So instead, we opted to check our local patches, which you know provided very little. If we were to go and see the Shrike on the Saturday, it would have to be reported on Birdguides whilst we were out. Despite me checking my phone quite often to see if it had been reported, however, nothing came through. As we headed back home on the Saturday afternoon my Dad said that if the bird was seen that day we would go and see it the next day. I check Birdguides and ABZ Rare Birds when I get home; still no updates on the Great Grey Shrike. I then proceed to go onto Birdforum, where the previous night I heard that a birder living close to the area in which it had been seen was going to have a look for it on the Saturday. This birder (Fiona, known as Tree Sparrow on Birdforum) was my last hope if I was going to go up and see this bird. I checked the ‘Wild in Aberdeen – City and Shire’ thread, and suddenly my sombre temperament metamorphosed into a feeling of pure delight. Fiona had seen it! It was still there after all. What’s more, she even had photographic evidence of the bird’s presence! This was fantastic, so I alerted my Dad and he agreed that we would go up and see it tomorrow, so long as I sort out the directions. That night on Birdforum, to make things even better for me, Fiona very kindly offered to show me and my Dad the bird, and later in the evening I found myself on the phone to her and organising meeting times and being given directions to where to go. After finding out how to get to the exact location of the Shrike, it was eventually concluded that we would meet at 8:30am outside the car park from which the car park was seen. This would mean an early start the next day.

6:30am, and the alarm clock is ringing. Both my Dad and I are out of bed very quickly, and are soon having breakfast. The birding equipment still hadn’t been put away from the previous day and Dad had made some food for us, so after breakfast and getting ourselves washed and our teeth brushed, we were out the house and travelling towards Rhynie by 10 past 7. Travelling past Loch of Skene, I picked up a Great Spotted Woodpecker dipping across the road, which was a year tick and took the year list to 122. Several Buzzards were enjoying the early morning thermals too, and were seen on a majority of the journey up to Rhynie. The drive was very efficient, and we found ourselves in the Rhynie area at around 5 past 8. Finding the appropriate turn off, we soon found ourselves driving right into the heart of the countryside, encompassed by the looming, heather-covered moors, some of which had a small scattering of snow on them, presumably the remains of the snow caused by the previous month’s hard weather. We progressed down the road for what seemed like quite a long time when eventually after 5 or 6 miles we saw the Clasindarroch Forest to our right. To the left was a fairly expansive lay-by where a Land Rover was parked. Beside it stood a woman who had her binoculars fixatedly on the willow bushes in front of her. It was Fiona, and my first impression was that she was watching the Shrike. As we got out the car, we greeted her and she said:

“It’s still there, perched on the largest of the willow bushes.”

I raised my binoculars in the direction of the willows in which she had said the bird was in, and sure enough, perched proudly on the top of the willows, was a fabulous Great Grey Shrike. It was a fantastic feeling to become acquainted with this bird, and so quickly after our arrival too. It was a terrific bird, easy to pick out even with the naked eye due to its diagnostic and distinctive features. No bigger than a Mistle Thrush, it had the archetypal stand out long tail that a majority of Shrikes obtain, whilst its back and the cap of its head were uniformed with a fantastic dove-grey and its breast a clean white. A black mask was also visible around the eye and its cheeks were white. I must say, it was rather sweet. However, bear in mind that this species is a small but efficient killer. Half of the Great Grey Shrike’s prey biomass consists of small rodents, making it, in a way, carnivorous. The fact the bill is hooked in a raptor like fashion would suggest this. It seemed pretty content sitting on the willows there. I presumed it was on the hunt/in search of prey as I could see its watchful, keen and somewhat mean looking eyes staring at the ground below it as it sat on the topmost branches of the willow. About 5 minutes after watching it my thoughts were confirmed as it abruptly rose from the tree and caught what was most probably a flying invertebrate before returning to its perch. It was a fascinating creature, and a lot of the time it seemed to just stay on the same perch, waiting for more food but at the same time being vigilant of what was going on around it. When a group of people returned to the car after about 20 minutes of us watching the bird, it became scared and took off, flying to a more distant willow bush and propping itself in the usual manner on top of its new perch. Whilst it was in flight, I noted the black and white visible on the tail and wings. What a fantastic bird! Having a look at the closest treetops in the Clasindarroch Forest behind us, I was able to connect with a few Common Crossbills and a few Common Redpolls, which surprisingly took the year list up to 125 species. The moorland was alive with the calls of these birds, as well as that of Siskin, the jangling song of Skylarks and the sweet calls of the first Lapwings and Curlews that had come to nest inland for the spring on what was a lovely, sunny morning. Here are a couple of pictures of the Shrike and the bush in which it was perched. Thanks to Fiona for the two pictures of the Great Grey Shrike and to Ken Hall for a picture of the willows in which the bird was seen on. The pictures aren’t that close up of the Shrikes, but I will link you to some closer up pictures of the bird at the end of the post.
As the Great Grey Shrike was more distant now we decided we’d leave it be for a while and head in search of a speciality species that was known to be present in the area – Black Grouse. Now, Black Grouse has always been a species that I have never seen, solely because hitherto my trip into the Rhynie area I had never been anywhere that was fairly reliable for them (yes I haven’t given the Highlands proper justice!). However, now was my chance to connect with this wonderful species. With Fiona hopping into our car, we left the car park, took a turn off and headed down a road in which she said she had seen Black Grouse before. A little way down this road she told us to park up and scan the moors. We did so, waiting patiently and looking meticulously for any medium-sized, sturdy gamebird that decided to venture behind the boggy grass that dominated in front of the tall heather behind. 10 minutes pass... no sign of any Grouses, but a few Curlews and Lapwings. Another 5 minutes pass and there is no change. But wait! Just as we were thinking that we may have to move on a little, I spot the back of a black coloured, medium sized bird behind a piece of bog. I stare through the scope fixatedly at it, and alert Fiona and my Dad of it. I was almost certain it was a Black Grouse, but for confirmation’s sake I needed it to appear from behind the bog. It did so, and there before me stood an astounding male Black Grouse. My reaction as it appeared was one of complete and utter joy. It was a beautifully ornate bird, with an almost fully jet black body. Going down its neck I noticed it had an exquisite, glossy green blue sheen and I could see its blood red, comb-shaped eyebrows, the latter feature being akin to that of the Red Grouse but much more vibrant looking and noticeable. It was an absolutely tremendous looking bird. As I watched flabbergasted at the beauty of the Black Grouse, my Dad pointed out that he had spotted another male not far to the right of the one which I was watching. Zooming out a little on the scope, I managed to get both birds into my field of vision. The one which I had originally been watching was busily feeding, whilst the other was just standing there. It felt almost like a dream to watch them, as not only is Black Grouse my favourite grouse species but one of my favourite birds. They were divine. After about 5 minutes of watching them, they suddenly took to the air. This was a stupendous sight, and I couldn’t help noticing their prominently exposed, long, lyre-shaped tails. I could also clearly see the white flash of the birds’ underwings and wing-bars, which were outstanding due to the darkness of the rest of the birds’ body. Unfortunately, they didn’t stay in flight briefly or not flight far. Instead, they flew completely out of sight. What extraordinary birds!

With their disappearance, we decided that we’d drive on a little and get to an area where there the land was less boggy and the heather was closer to the car. We eventually found somewhere to park, and were just about to set off into the heather when Fiona exclaimed that she had re-found the two male Black Grouses that we were watching earlier. This time, the viewing conditions were far more ideal. Both birds were closer to us, and were not in a field in which they could conceal themselves behind boggy grass; they were right in the open. As a result of this, I found myself watching them for another 15 minutes or so again. Once this time had passed, Fiona and I left my Dad to continue watching them and hopped over the fence next to the road and into the heather. The aim, of course, was to see if we could flush up any Red Grouse. Despite covering a lot of the heather, neither of us was successful. So after watching the two male Black Grouses a little longer we started to head back to the car park to see some more of the Shrike. Just as we were doing so, Fiona told my Dad to stop the car, and she pointed out a female Black Grouse in front of some heather. This was a comparatively dull bird to the males, but was interesting to see nonetheless. I observed just how much smaller this female was than the males, and I could easily see how one could rule out Red Grouse as this bird lacked the rufousy plumage of Red Grouse. Instead, it was a tawny brown colour and was barred all over. It also lacked the exquisite tail that the males obtain. We watched the female for 30 seconds or so before it disappeared behind the heather again. We then continued our return to the car park. Here is a picture taken by Ken Hall of a male Black Grouse that he saw in the area whilst looking for the Shrike. Thank you very much for letting me use the picture, Ken!
Arriving back, we found the Great Grey Shrike back on the perch in which we had originally seen it. I proceeded to look at it through the scope, trying to take a few pictures but failing to do so. Just as I was trying to take a picture, a van pulled up beside us, and out of it came a man with binoculars in his head and a young girl also surprisingly with binoculars. Who could this be? Well, the man seemed to know who I was.

‘Joseph, isn’t it?” he said as he got out the car, “Gus Guthrie, and this is my daughter Alex. You know us off Birdforum.

What a coincidence! I had just bumped into and met the only other young birder I was aware of in North-east Scotland, and the only person that also had a birdwatcher as a child. I greeted them both warmly, and showed them where the Shrike was. They were soon watching it. It was great to see Alex watching the bird, as she is only 11 years old. I think it is special for someone of her age to be so interested in birds and take such delight as myself in seeing the Shrike. We talked quite a lot as we watched the bird, and were very fortunate when the Great Grey Shrike came to the closest willow bush to us. It didn’t stay there long however, and after that disappeared out of view for a few minutes. At this point Alex and Gus left, as they were hoping to go up to Burghead in search of the King Eider. We wished them good luck and at this point set off for a walk in Clasindarroch forest. The walk proved rather annoying, as we surprisingly found ourselves walking in quite deep snow and occasionally losing our footing as our feet sunk deep down into the snow. However, on this walk up to 30 Siskin were noted, as well as a few Redpolls and a few Crossbills. The walk took half an hour or so, so it was just before midday before we returned to the car park to watch the Great Grey Shrike for the final time. Here we met another few birders who had come up from Aberdeen to see the Shrike, and we watched it with them. It was far more distant this time though. After about 20 minutes or so Fiona left, and we thanked her for what had been an incredibly pleasant morning’s birding. We soon followed her, and headed back to Aberdeen very, very content. As we were travelling back towards Rhynie, we briefly saw a Red Grouse scuttling from the side of the road into the nearby heather, which took the year list to 127 species. Anyway, I had not fully expected to see either Great Grey Shrike or Black Grouse to be quite honest, so it was a real surprise and delight to see them both. I think that both species are lovely birds in their different ways, and I couldn’t have hoped for better views of them. It was fantastic. There was a good cast of other birds that I wasn’t expecting to see that day too, including Crossbill, Redpoll, and Red Grouse. And to round it all up, the scenery was spectacular. Here are some pictures of the moorland round the Rhynie area, as well as a link to some top quality images of the Shrike on Birdguides from Alan Sinclair.
I think that my day in the Rhynie area now stands me in really good stead for my Portland trip. And it just so happens that the next thing I will be blogging is that of my Portland trip. I’m really looking forward to the trip, and have written a whole itinerary of target birds and places I could visit. I will hopefully be doing birding in Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset, and my aim is to have seen around 150 species for the year by the time I get back. That should be possible, providing I have a good time. If I do, I’m sure I’ll have lots to report, and with having lots to report, will find myself not up to date with this blog once again!

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Patch Birding in early March

For once, I don't have to write as if I'm describing a birding day that took place two months ago. It's a good feeling! More to the point, back on the 7th March I was out birding, patrolling two of my local patches, namely Girdleness and the Loch of Strathbeg, for those commoner species that I was yet to catch up with on the year and for anything else that may have strayed onto the Aberdeenshire coast. It was an ok day, and saw me reach a useful yardstick year list wise for late winter, namely 120 species. You'll find out what those 3 year ticks were in the course of this post.

My patch patrol began at Girdleness. Now, I have found a generally lethargy to check Girdleness this year. I have found from previous experience that can be very quiet when migrant activity of some sort isn't a foot. However, I knew there were a couple of commoner species that I would have a chance of seeing here. Fulmar, Kittiwake and Common Scoter had thus far eluded me, and I knew Girdleness was probably the best place to see them. Obviously there's going to be no trouble with these species during a year, but it is always good to see them as early as possible. We started checking Girdleness by having a look around Nigg Bay, which held good numbers of Eider, the commoner species of gull, and on the slightly more interesting note, up to 4 Red-throated Divers and a lone Great Crested Grebe. Both these species were of interest to me, as one of the 4 Red-throated Divers struck me as rather strange and interesting. It was basically all dark, with no white on it whatsoever. Black-throated Diver was quickly ruled out due to the fact that this bird was exactly the same size as its fellows and had the archetypal up-turned bill of a Red-throated. The stance seemed all wrong for anything else. In the end, I concluded that it was a Red-throated Diver going through a transitional phase from winter plumage into summer plumage. Also adding to the oddity was the fact that the Great Crested Grebe was at the Ness, as I have never recorded this species at the site before, and I've rarely been told of any sightings. Also from Nigg Bay, I was happy to see my first Fulmar of the year, one of the three commoner seabird species I was yet to see.

Moving on from Nigg Bay, I had a quick check in Walker Park just in case the first Wheatear of the year had ventured onto Girdleness, but as expected no such luck. However there was a nice Rock Pipit here. Meanwhile, from the Coo there were up to 20 Purple Sandpipers, as well few Redshanks, Curlews, Turnstone and yet again plenty of Eiders, but nothing really at all at sea. No Kittiwakes or Common Scvoters. Not even a Gannet. Overall, pretty quiet, but you're not going to see anything at all if you don't check these places. We had spent a good hour checking Girdleness, and we decided that it would be best to head northwards. As we had not seen Common Scoter at Girdleness, we concluded it may be a good idea to Blackdog which from Spring to Autumn holds massive flocks of Scoters, including Commons, Velvets and usually one or two Surf Scoters. It was likely a few would still be out at sea there, and the fact that I hadn't visited the area in many months meant it was probably worth going there. So we did so. Our stop here was very brief, as within a few minutes of arriving down by the beach and looking out at sea did I spot a single Common Scoter zipping past at high speed. It was interesting that there were none amongst the Eiders, as I was expecting that a few would still be remaining from the big flocks of last year. Put this way, our mission was accomplished at Blackdog, so it was straight up to Strathbeg, where we would spend the rest of the day.

Upon our arrival at Starnafin, we found a couple of the local birders staring concentratedly into their scopes, clearly with their eyes on something.

" What may we have here today?" I asked after greeting them.

" Well, we're just having a scan through the pinkfeet flock in the back fields. There's a single Brent Goose amongst them which should be easily locatable. There was a White-fronted Goose with them yesterday, which is what we're looking for. The Bittern was also seen on Friday. However, no result so far."

"Anything else around besides these geese?"

" Well, I strangely had a Barn Owl down at the Fen Hide earlier this morning."

With this, the birder took out his DSLR and showed us some fabulous photos of the Barn Owl he had been talking about. Anyhow, it was sounding quite good at Strathbeg today, the right place to be. Having been shown the photos, we set up our equipment on the geese flock, and scanned through each bird. In total, I'd say there were maybe about 350 Pink-footed Geese there, which is a reasonably good number. Whilst scanning, I managed to pick out around 20 Barnacle Geese, and sure enough, the Brent Goose amongst them. Both species were stand out amongst their more copious cousins. The Barnacles were widely spread amongst the flock, whilst the Brent was roughly situated in the middle of the flock. The latter of the two species, was a year tick, and meant that I had reached my yardstick of 120. It was of the Pale-bellied variety, and was feeding contently beside a Barnacle which it seemed somewhat smaller than. It was a satisfying and pretty bird to watch. Apart from these 21 geese, they were all Pinkfeets.

" I reckon that if the White-fronted Goose is on the reserve that it'll be in the fields towards Rattray," said one of the birders.

He had a point, so, as no-else had checked, we quickly headed off to drive down the road towards Rattray to check if any geese flocks were present. About half way towards Rattray, we sure enough spotted a big group of Pinkfoots in the fields. However, they were quite distant, and the scope was needed to make out if there was a Whitefront amongst them. Yet again, the majority were Pinkfoots, with maybe 10 Barnacle Geese amongst them this time. The flock as a whole was a lot bigger too, with 1000+ birds in all I'd say. Finding a single White-fronted Goose would be hard. However, we checked nonetheless, and after around 20 minutes of meticulous searching, there seemed to be no sign. We were just about to leave for a check of Fen Hide when suddenly a huge racket came from the fields. The geese were taking to the air. Why, I wasn't sure, but it was a majority of them. It was a fantastic site, seeing all these wonderful birds filling the afternoon sky, filling the previously quiet fills with a cacophony of noise. We kept an eye on them, hoping they would come our way and land on the field closest to us. And bingo, they did, although the field in which we were by was expansive and some geese landed further away than others. Nonetheless this made for fantastic and much closer views, thus increasing our chances if there was a White-fronted Goose amongst them. But alas, despite some wonderful views and having checked every goose in the field, we could still not pick out a White-fronted Goose. It simply wasn't there. It was going to be difficult anyway.

Fen Hide was our last stop of the day, and it was here that we decided to sacrifice the last couple of hours of our birding day. Yes, that's right, we were looking for the Bittern once again. As expected, it wasn't showing on our arrival, and so the long wait commenced. An hour passes. Niente, rien. Why do they have to be so elusive? I guess it's just the way of the game. During this hour, however, a fine ring-tailed Hen Harrier makes a brief appearance, and the diagnostic piglet-like squeal of the Water Rail was heard on a couple of occasions in the reeds in front of us, but didn't show. Also, several Whooper Swans, winter wildfowl and geese are present on the Loch, with 25 Greylag Geese amongst the numerically superior Pinkfeets. Another half an hour passes. Still, nothing. The sun was starting to set... Just perfect for the Barn Owl which the local birder had seen earlier that day to come out. We wait another 20 minutes to see if both the Barn Owl and the Bittern show themselves. But no. It was time we headed off. The Bittern had eluded us once again, but who's to say there won't be another chance to see one later in the year? On the way back to the car from the Fen Hide we flushed a Woodcock from the undergrowth by the path, a surprising and strange sight.

On that note, the day ended. I have not been out birding since, but hope to get out birding again this weekend. However, on Sunday I took a walk in a local wood just outside Aberdeen, and stumbled across a couple of Jays, which has brought my year list to 121. I'll probably just check the local patches again this weekend, knowing me. If I'm lucky, a few of the early spring migrants may be at Girdleness. We'll see what the day holds, and I'll post in here about my day regardless, even if I see very little. The next big birding event is my trip to Portland, where I'll be from the 6th April to the 12th after staying in Somerset for a while with family. I now have a whole itinerary of target birds and places to go. Hopefully I'll see a good amount of birds in Portland and the surrounding birding places there, and be able to kick start the spring.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Late January and February Birding

With a strenuous but pleasurable Lothian trip having been completed, I decided it would be good to take a weekend off birding and do something different. So a weekend passed with no birding, although a Dipper was a year tick on a walk by the River Don at Seaton Park. By the end of the next week though, I was itching to get out again, and asked my Dad if it would be a good idea to get out in the upcoming weekend. He obliged, and on Sunday 31st January, the last day of the month, we headed northwards for some birding. A Great White Egret had been spending a few days down on the River Ugie towards Peterhead, and a Mediterranean Gull had been seen up at Fraserburgh, so we thought we'd try to catch up on these two species, as well as check Strathbeg. The weather at this point was bitingly cold and there was quite a lot of snow present. However, the roads were relatively good and the weather reports for that Sunday suggested that it would be fine, so it looked OK for us to get out.

Our first stop, which intended to be fairly brief, was at Peterhead. On what was a rather delayed drive to this area due to slowish traffic and weather conditions, we came to the conclusion that it may be worth stopping at Peterhead Harbour to see check if there was any white-winged gulls about (Peterhead is good for white-winged gulls). Even though they hadn't been reported in a while, it was probably worth a try. By about 11:00am, we were down by the harbour's edge, where a mass of gulls mostly consisting of Herrings congregate each day in search of fish. As we we approached the area, we saw a man with a massive DLSR camera and lens in carefully photgraphing some gulls. He was definitely a birder, so we winded down the window. I asked if there were any white-winged gulls of any sorts about:

"Yes, there are. If you look just to your right at those gulls on edge of the harbour quay you'll see a second winter Iceland Gull at the very right-hand end."
Christ, this quickly? That was my reaction when I heard this. Taking the bins from below me, I raised them and scanned the side of the harbour wall, and sure enough there was a completely stand out Iceland Gull! There was no mistaking it. It was completely white with no blacks on the wings or back and no visible grey on the bird. It was quite a dirty white colour though. This was a life tick for me, and my second white-winged gull species that I had ever seen. For about 30 seconds my Dad and I had it through the bins on the quay, no more than 60 feet away and showing well. However, it quickly flew out of sight.
"It's most likely that it will have gone round the corner closer to the sea. It's often on the crossing there towards the very edge of the seawall. There's also an adult winter Iceland Gull hanging around somewhere here too, and another darker second-winter. I haven't seen the darker second winter yet today but I have seen the adult. Both birds are proving a bit elusive today though. I haven't seen the adult in a while. " the birder told us.

We decided we'd wait a little before, as we were keen to see if the other second-winter and the adult were showing. There were also tons of Grey Seals in the winter just in front of us. They were fantastic; maybe 12-15 in all. The birder had some bread at hand, as was throwing slices into the water for them. When he threw them in, the seals would suddenly go into a frenzy, diving towards the bread at high speed. This also attracted a hoard of Herring and Black-headed Gulls, but they were too slow and too afraid to risk diving down amongst the seals. It was lovely watching the seals and the gulls together. I managed to get several pictures of the seals, and I took a video of the whole scene. After about 15 minutes of doing this, we then headed round the corner to see if we could get better and more prolonged of the Iceland Gull we had seen on the quay earlier. Locating the crossing towards the sea wall he had mentioned, we found it again, huddled up against the side with a couple of Herring Gulls. The views from here were brilliant. It rarely moved, save for flying a short distance to another part of the crossing, which made it ever more enjoyable. It was never more than 20 yards from us, making for nice views through the scope. As I watched it I noted that it was more of an ivory white than the grey white of the commoner gulls, and was distinctly smaller than the Herrings. It also seemed to have more of a friendly expression in comparison to the Herring Gulls, and had dark eyes and a dark bill. We watched it for a good 20 minutes. After this time had elapsed, it started to snow quite heavily so we took cover in the car. Luckily, it didn't persist for too long, and it cleared again with in 5 minutes. At this point we then left and headed towards where the Great White Egret had been seen a few days earlier. I was delighted to have seen the Iceland Gull, despite not seeing the other two that were there. I prefer the second winters to any other form of Iceland Gull; its amazing how white and arctic like they look. They're also just great birds, and I felt very fortunate that we had decided on the way to the River Ugie to stop for a look at the gulls. Imagine if I hadn't seen them after all? It was also fantastic that they we saw one within a few seconds of our arrival at the Harbour. Here are some pictures I got of the seals, plus a link to my video on Birdforum of the seals and also a link to the post commenting on the Iceland Gulls that day in the birder who was with us at the time's blog, including pictures of the Iceland Gulls. The first picture, if you click the link, is of the second winter Iceland Gull I saw, as is the 4th and the 5th.

Now I knew that only a few people had seen the Great White Egret, as well as knowing that it hadn't been reported for 5 days or so, so the chances of seeing it were fairly unlikely. However it was worth a check anyway, as any area like the Ugie Estuary is rather underwatched. It had been seen from the small bridge just south of Peterhead that has a view down to the Ugie from the road. We had to go across the bridge in order to make our way to Strathbeg, so there were no problems whatsoever in locating the area in which it had been seen. Because this area is quite a risky place to stop, we had to back off the road slightly and my Dad made me go out and check if there was any Egret viewable from the road. I checked the end in which you look towards Peterhead. No sign of any massive white egret as far as I could see. However a Red-legged Patridge rather convieniently came into the open as I was checking, which was a surprise year tick. I then scanned the river from the other side of the bridge, but yet again no such luck. It wasn't anywhere to be seen that was accessible from the road and it was very likely that it had gone anyway, so my Dad and I decided we head straight up to Strathbeg. But something was about to go wrong... Not long after we arrived at Strathbeg, it started snowing very heavily. And the problem was that it only stopped once for a minute or two... Very quickly the visitor centre windows became thickly condensated, meaning you could see virtually nothing out the windows whilst the snow was falling. It was more or less impossible to birdwatch. During the 5 minute or so break in the snow shower we managed to clear the windows of the condensation slightly, and managed to look out onto the reserve. A short time after we did so all the birds that were present on the reserve took to the air, flushed up by a hunting Peregrine (year tick) that was zipping in amongst the waders at high speed. There wasn't a great deal of waders; mostly Dunlins, Redshanks and Lapwings. A few Whooper Swans were present too, and the Pink-footed Geese flock was a mile off in the fields just beyond the edge of the reserve (weren't properly seeable through the scope). Having managed a brief check, it started snowing heavily again, and this time it didn't stop at all; it was continous. Quickly we decided that we would abandon mission, and get back to Aberdeen before the roads got too bad... It was a pity that the day was abandoned, but it was worth it for the Iceland Gull. Fab bird! With this outing, the year list was up to 108 species.
On the 6th of February, I found myself out birding for the first time in the month. However, I wasn't in the local area this time. During the week between my last birding outing and the 6th February, I had been noticing on Birdguides that a good deal of bird activity was taking place at Forfar Loch in Angus, about 45 miles south of Aberdeen. A Black-throated Diver, a drake Scaup and 1 each of Bean and White-fronted Goose had all been reported at the Loch, and I was tempted to go there in search of these species. With my mum being busy with work-related issues that day, I managed to convince my Dad that we should take a drive up there to see if the 4 species reported were present. When the day approached, however, the weather was annoyingly bad. The snow had cleared off, but it was grey and murky with fairly consistent light rain. This rain did stop at points, but even when it it remained very grey and sodden. The drive up to Forfar Loch was about an hour long, and was fairly smooth. We did have trouble, however, finding the turnoff to the Loch, but managed to eventually with the aid of a map. After getting parked up and getting our equipment, we set for a walk round the loch.
Forfar Loch is popular amongst its locals as a walking venue, and we could see this as many coated people trudged along the path with their dogs. It's a rather lovely area actually, with a nice mixture of woodland, grassland and freshwater loch habitats as you progress on the walk. The loch and its walk is about two miles long in total, and we started it from the south end, walking up to the north end and then in a circle back to the south end. All over the Loch, I could see huge concentrations of Anseriformes, mainly ducks, and of all sorts. There were big concentrations of Tufted Ducks particularly big at over 150 birds I'd say), Goldeneyes (80), Teals (50), Wigeons and Mallards, as well as surprisingly big numbers of Goosanders (25 maybe), Pochards (15), Shoveler (10) and Gadwalls(8). There were no geese present at the south side of the Loch, so I presumed we'd have better chances for the Bean and White-front at the north side. Our progression was fairly slow up to the north side, as we were checking the ducks meticulously for the single drake Scaup and also for the Black-throated Diver. Both of these birds were proving annoyingly non-existent though, particularly the Black-throated Diver which was said to have been the easiest to see. If the Diver was there it would have been obvious, and as we neared the northern edge of the Loch, I was starting to doubt that it was there. As well as the duck numbers, I was also relieved to see my first few Goldcrests of the year, with a few flitting about in the woods around half way up the Loch. It took us at least half an hour to complete the first half of our walk and get to the northern-most end of the Loch, which was more far more deserted than the southern-most parts. However, the fact that this side of the Loch was very close to the A90 meant that it was not by any means tranquil. However, that didn't scare off a host of winter wildfowl present on this part of loch. Nor did it scare a winter flock of 25-30 rather sweet Siskins that we found on the Silver Birches near the waters edge, showing well and moving hither and thither from tree to tree, calling loudly. Seeing these Siskins was a pleasant surprise, and a useful year tick for me too. Checking the wildfowl from here, the Black-throated Diver still wasn't to be seen. For me, that was our last hope, and now I was pretty much convinced it wasn't on the Loch. We had checked a majority of the loch for it, and despite thorough searches each time we stopped to look for it, it just wasn't there.
As we circled round to the other side of the Loch and started heading southwards again, we managed to find a small congregation of geese by the bank of the loch and decided to check them. They were close by, about 20 of them, almost all of which were Greylag Geese. However, there was one goose that was a different species, and it wasn't a Pink-footed or Canada Goose. Swimming beside a Greylag was a clearly smaller and darker goose, with a short dark, orangey bill. There was no mistaking the Bean Goose, even though it was in the water. It was a very pleasant surprise for us to have come across the Bean Goose, as it was arguably the most difficult of the four target species to see. It felt kind of ironic too that we had found it before the other 3 target species (Scaup, B-T Diver and W-F Goose) which we thought would be easier to find. It was a fine looking bird, this Bean Goose. It was clearly a rossicus (Tundra) type Bean Goose, having a very short dark bill with a small orange patch towards the tip, a very dark head and shortish neck. It spent a couple of minutes in the water, and with the Greylag it had been beside, then came out and sat on the river bank, where it revealed the orange legs that are diagnostic of a Bean Goose. On the river bank, it spent a lot of its time feeding, occasionally stopping as it stood upright and alert in response to sound or to preen. Despite how busy it was, it showed superbly, at down to 30ft, and you could see each and every one of its features through the scope. The views were definitely better than the two I had seen the previous February at the Ythan, as the weather at that time was horrendous and both birds were jam packed amongst a big flock of Pinkfeets. It was lucky that we had seen this particular Bean Goose without any Pinkfeets being present, as it made it considerably easier to identify. If it was amongst a large flock of Pinkfeets, we might have been able to miss it. If I had had my camera, I would have been able to get a picture of it, but the fact that I left it at home meant I couldn't. A pain! Nonetheless, it was good to see this Bean Goose. It was a very useful year tick, one that was not guarenteed!
After about 10 minutes of watching this goose, we progressed further southwards, checking for the 3 other target species as we went. About half way back, there was no sign of the Black-throated Diver still, meaning there was no doubt that it had eluded us. No other geese appeared to be amongst the wildfowl either, and the White-fronted Goose was most likely to be with them. This meant that was minimal chance of seeing 2 of the target species. However, when we were nearing the final quarter of our walk we came across a small group of Tufties. Amongst these we were happy to find the drake Scaup, obvious as it was with no tuft on its head and grey rather than white on the baBoldck. Scaup had managed to elude me last year, so it was a nice feeling to catch up on this species again. As we were watching the Scaup, a familiar, diagnostic high pitched, short whistling call came from close by. Taking our eyes off the Scaup, we turned to see 2 fantastic Kingfishers zipping away from us across the Loch, leaving a glint of azure as they passed. These beauties never fail to impress me. After about 30 seconds they went out of sight, and we left the Scaup to continue the final quarter of our walk. On this final quarter there wasn't much of note, but we spent quite a bit of time admiring the commoner ducks, each with their assortments of multi-coloured plumages. It looked as if a lot of the ducks plumages had been finely painted on them... its just something to watch ducks, whatever species. Undoubtedly one of my favourite families of birds. The walk round the Loch had taken just under two hours, and I must say was a very enjoyable one, even though we missed out on Black-throated Diver and White-fronted Goose. We had managed two of the species, as well as 3 year ticks that I hadn't expected in the form of Goldcrest, Siskin and Kingfisher. In total, there were 5 year ticks, meaning after this trip the year list was up to 113 species. As well as managing to see some nice year birds, it was a lovely walk anyway. I also really liked the contrasting habitats, the abundancy of the ducks on the Loch, and how well the ducks were showing. It was fantastic. On the way back towards Aberdeen, we stopped off at Montrose Basin to give it a small check. However very few birds were present close to the hides, and considering the size and length of the Basin, those birds that were on it were a very long way off. The most notable species here was 3 Little Grebes. We were back in Aberdeen in time for a nice cuppa.
It was a couple of weeks before I went out birding again, and I'm very glad to say that this next day was my most recent birding outing, meaning I'm going to be up to date by the end of this post and will be able to post things soon after they happen. It was on the 20th February that I was out again,in search of a few species but that had been present in the county over the last week or so. Due to snow the week before and the ice caused by this as it melted a Bittern had been showing on and off outside Fen Hide at Strathbeg, and a good number of Great Northern Divers had been seen off Rattray Head. More importantly still, all over the UK a mini-invasion of Waxwings had taken place, which still continues as I write this. Aberdeen has always been a good place for Waxwings, and a small number of them, maybe 35 or so, were being reported in different parts of the city. The nearest flock to me were reported less than a 20 minutes walk from the house, in the Upper Hilton area, Hilton Campus being part of Aberdeen University. The streets around here are rich with cotoneaster berries which the Waxwings love to eat, and a flock of up to 17 had been reported around this area. Part of the aim of the birdwatch was to see if we could see these Waxwings, as well as go up to Strathbeg to look for the Bittern and check what else was about. We did not start the day in either of these places though, we started at the Loch of Skene, a smallish loch a few miles west of Aberdeen. The countryside around Loch of Skene holds a number of re-introduced Red Kites, and these kites often stray to the Loch itself. I thought the area might be worth a check as I hadn't been since the summer, and also I was hoping to see Red Kite and a few woodland species such as Jay, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Treecreper for the year. We arrived at the Loch of Skene at 10:00am after a bit of hassle getting out of town. There is a place you can park which is a very short walk down to the loch side, and as ever, we parked here and found ourselves quickly by the Loch side amongst the pine forest that fringes the Loch. The forest and the Loch were looking very nice, with snow thinly coating the ground and the trees and the sun shining brightly. Here are a few pictures of the loch.

On the Loch itself there was a fair amount of winter wildfowl, all of which were congregated a long way away. This group mostly consisted of Goldeneyes, with a good number of Teal, Wigeon, Mallards and Tufted Ducks amongst them too, as well as a small group of Greylag Goose and a couple of Pochards. After a check of the wildfowl, we then proceeded to scanned the circumference of the Loch and its countryside for Kites. We did so slowly for about 10 minutes, but with no success. In the woods around us, no Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers or Treecreepers were present, just a few Goldcrests and some Blue, Coal and Great Tits. Another birder turned up shortly after our look for the Kites, asking if anything was about. We told them there was nothing besides the usual, but said we were in search of the Kites. He told us that he had seen one close to the nearby village of Monymusk a couple of days earlier, and that it was probably worth a drive round the countryside near the Loch of Skene to maximise our chances of seeing any Kites. Thanking him, we took his advice and went for a drive round the area. During the drive we drove slowly so as to ensure that we'd miss very little. We had several stops to check birds of prey that we found sitting on various posts, but these all turned out to be Buzzards unfortunately. It was nice to stop in the area, however. From here, we decided that we'd move on, and go in search of the Waxwings in Aberdeen.

It was about 11:15am when we found ourselves in the Hilton area in search of the Waxwings. We intended to check a majority of the streets in the area, with Hilton Street (the area they had mostly been seen in) being our first try. If we failed here we would head to Picktillium Avenue and Cattofield Terrace, where they had also been reported. Hilton Street is the biggest and most busy of the streets where the Waxies had been seen, and as you go down it you can see the Hilton Campus of Aberdeen University to your left. As you go past the gates surrounding the Hilton Campus, you will see a row of trees and cotoneaster bushes ripe with berries, and it is in this area that the Waxwings had been seen feeding in the past. The flock were said on birdguides to have been mobile, moving between their food source on Hilton Street and the nearby streets. Luckily the traffic on Hilton Street at the time was very quite, meaning that as we approached the cotoneaster bushes we were able to drive very slowly. As we meandered down, I made sure I checked every true and each part of the bushes for any signs of Waxwings. About three quarters of the way down the row of cotoneasters and trees, no Waxwings seemed to be present, and I was starting to think we should head to the surrounding streets in search of them. Just as we were about to give up on Hilton Street however, and we reached the final couple of rows of cotoneasters and trees, I saw a group of rather plump, crested birds sitting high on top of one of the trees. Bingo, it was the Waxwings. There were 18 of them, each sat their proudly and calmly with all their beautiful diagnostics showing brilliantly... their reddish buff colour, the large crest on the crown, the narrow black eye-mask, the narrow yellow tip on the edge of the tail... They're wonderful birds to behold. The fact that any sign of movement such as backing up or getting out would scare them off meant that we had to crane our necks slightly to see them and weren't really able to use our binoculars, but due to how close they were I could still easily make out their diagnostics. In the past, I have had many encounters with this species, having had very good views in my garden, on my street and at school on good winters for the species. The fact that there has only been a small invasion this year made this sighting of Waxwing particularly worthwile, as there was a big chance that I wouldn't have seen them this year, and these birds were one of the only flocks present in Aberdeen. After a minute or so of watching the Waxies from a position that would, after a while, cause repetitive strain injury (yes it was quite sore!), I came to the conclusion that one of us would have to get out of the car so we could get views of them without feeling uncomfortable and through the bins, as well as get a photo. So, as quietly I could, I opened and closed the car door. Just as I did this and was about to get my bins on them, they very suddenly took off from the tree, wheeling round onto the other side street and then turning back and over the Hilton campus gates, calling that archetypal, pleasant Waxwing trill as and twisting and turning in a Starling like fashion as they went. Damn though, why did they have to fly off when I got out? I guess I was just a bit too loud for them, the mobile little critters... I wasn't even able to get a photo of them.Nonetheless, even though the view of the Waxies was very brief, I was satisfied, as we had found them very quickly, and they're fantastic looking birds. Due to the quick sighting of these birds, we were able to get travelling towards Strathbeg by 25 past 11.

It was annoyingly 1:00pm before we reached Strathbeg, as we stupidly took what, with out snow, is the fastest route to Strathbeg as very few cars go down it, but it proved slower as the roads hadn't been gritted. We didn't head straight to Fen Hide, but spent some time at the Visitor Centre, which was pretty much devoid of people, save one of the old wardens who we had a nice chat to. There wasn't too much going on from the Visitor Centre either, what with a majority of the pools being frozen over. However, where there it wasn't frozen there were birds, namely a few Black-headed Gulls, some winter wildfowl and some waders. Apart from that though, there wasn't much going on wildfowl wise. At one point however, we were gifted by fantastic views of a ring-tailed Hen Harrier which we first spotted a long way off towards the actual Loch. Gradually, it flew closer to us, going to the pools at Tower Hide, and eventually flying at the very most 20ft away from the visitor centre windows! It was so close. Magical. Without looking through the bins, the views were fantastic. I could see its eyes, its features, everything. I was stunned by my views; definitely my best Hen Harrier views ever. I tried to get a picture of the bird as it was going past, but it appeared as a blur due to how fast the Hen Harrier was going! Just shows had bad my photography skills are... Anyway, after about half an hour here, we headed through Crimond Airfield, parked up and went to Fen Hide. Someone else was clearly at the hide, as they left tracks all the way to the car park and by foot. Entering the hide we found a local birder that we had met on man occasions staring out onto the hide. He greeted us as we came in:

" If you're looking for the Bittern, its nae showin. Been here a few hours now and it haven't seen it once," he said in a broad Doric acent.

Hmmm, not good news. Well, it's always a matter of patience with Bitterns, so we would have to wait. As we waited, my Dad and I both took a wholesome lunch and watched the winter wildfowl on the Loch, mainly consisting of the commoner duck species, and a few Whooper Swans. What provided the most entertainment on our stay at Fen Hide though was not 1, not 2, but 3 ring-tailed Hen Harriers, all quartering the reeds at the back of Fen Hide. It was a great sight. They didn't fly together that much and were spread out, but on several occasions they were all up together. This kept me very much entertained, but I was still kind of annoyed that the Bittern wasn't present. During my time there a few bittern like birds were spotted in flight, but despite the hope that they were all the bittern they ended up all being Grey Herons. After about an hour and a half, we headed off, leaving the birder that had been there before us behind, to the nearby Rattray Head. After risking going down the extremely potholled and slippy track to the area, we made it , the commoner seabird species which I hadn't seen (Fulmar, Kittiwake and Common Scoterafter an annoyingly long time. The aim here was really to have a brief look out at sea and see if we could catch up on a few of the seabird species that had thus far managed to elude us for the year, with the main target being Great Northern Diver. Surprisingly, even after nearly 20 minutes of seawatching) weren't passing at all. Instead, it was the slightly more notable species that were passing, with at least 10 Long-tailed Ducks passing during the 45 minutes or so that we were out there and 2 Red-throated Divers. But what of Great Northern Diver? Well, I am happy to say we quickly located at least 5 birds of this species sitting on the sea not far offshore. They clearly weren't any other species of diver, as they had very thick bills, were very dark billed, and compared to a nearby Shag, and one of the Red-throated Divers that passed, they were considerably bigger. Great Northern Diver is one of those annoying birds for me. Last year, for example it managed to elude me, and when I have seen them in the past, they are only lone birds seen briefly in flight. The fact that a good number of them were sitting on the sea not very far offshore meant I was really able to get good views and watch these rather nice Divers for some time. It was a pleasant experience, and meant that I had seen two of the 4 main targets for the day. It was about 4:15 by the time we'd finished sea-watching, and we decided that on the way back to Aberdeen we'd stop off at the Ythan. Here I was surprised to get two year ticks in very quick sucession, one in the form of a Canada Goose and the other in the form of two Grey Partridges in the fields near Forvie, making it 4 year ticks for the day. This meant that by the end of what had been a decent day, I was on 117 species for the year, and I still am to this very moment. I very much enjoyed the day; the weather was nice and it was fantastic to see the three Hen Harriers together, as well as the Waxwings and the Great Northern Divers The next day I decided I'd take the dog for a walk back up to the Hilton area to see if I could get any pictures of the Waxies, and I succeeded, although they were rather far away. I had to use the zoom, hence why its quite hard to tell that they are Waxies. See below:

So that my friends, is me FINALLY up to date. I can now post things quickly after they take place, rather than talk about birding days that took place a month or more before! With that, you can also expect quite a lot of my posts to be quite a bit shorter, unless the day in which I'm writing about is a fantastic one. On Sunday, I should be going out birding, so expect a post then or a couple of days afterwards if not. Next month, I will be staying in Portland, which will probably the next major thing I write about in here, and in May I will be going to Norfolk. So in the coming months I should still have a lot to write about and a lot to see! Stay tuned if you wish to keep up to date with my birding adventures.

Thanks for reading,