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:
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,