Sunday, 12 February 2012

West to East

Drove around to the east coast today with Ullapool birder Richard Rafe in the hope of seeing a few different species as the west coast is particularly quiet at the moment. Following the drive to Elphin we headed east for Lairg, picking up buzzard and kestrel on the way but not much else, with all the small lochans being frozen over. We checked a known crossbill site but that came up negative, with this species tending to be rather mobile throughout the general area. Loch Shin in Lairg produced a single drake tufted duck, at least 5 little grebes and a few goldeneye

By the time we got to 'the Mound' we were bathed in glorious sunshine and had splendid views of teal, shelduck and a dozen or so redshank. The tide was way out on Loch Fleet so having scanned the fields to the south for the recently seen tundra beans (no sign- but several splendid cock pheasants) we parked up and walked the track along the channel out to the sea. A solo great northern diver and a red-breasted merganser were watched briefly. At the estuary mouth there was a nice flock of 120 or so knot and these gave lovely views when they took flight in the sunshine. The sea gave distant views of long-tailed duck, common scoter and eider. Much of the far shore held mixed flocks of oystercatcher, curlew and the odd dunlin. The shingle near the dunes produced a small flock of ringed plover
distant common scoter & eider

A short drive later we were at Embo pier enjoying similar species but with considerably closer views of l.t. duck and c. scoter. Another, similar sized flock of knot as that seen at Loch Fleet were present, with 5 dunlin and a single ringed plover. Two distant red-throated divers were scoped offshore and a couple of razorbill swam just of the rocks. Although this site used to be good for purple sandpiper I have not recorded any here for some time now. Time was getting on so I decided to give Dornoch point a miss and headed down the A9.

On to the Nigg bay hide we bumped into local BTO man Bob Swann doing his webs count. A sparrow hawk had flushed the waders just prior to our arrival and we were treated to an aerial flyby of an estimated 3500 knot doing wonderful turns over the bay. Bob advised us that he had seen bean geese at Loch Eye earlier and as I had missed this species all winter we headed off for a look. On arrival at loch Eye the geese proved difficult to scrutinise as they settled a few fields away from us, spooked and flew off when we attempted to scope them. A small number of geese remained after the main flock had flown and Richard amazingly got his scope onto the heads of two tundra beans stood nervously watching us from over the crest of the next rise-brilliant! We spent 10 minutes going through what geese could be seen in the failing light and picked out a few pink feet with the greylags. I was delighted to see some beans at last bringing my year list up to 85. A couple of mute swans on the loch were a distraction during the walk back to the car as this is a species rarely seen in the Ullapool area. A single red kite at Contin was noted as we headed back up to Ullapool. Upon arriving home I checked the Highland and Moray bird forum to find that a probable Buff-bellied pipit had been found at Dornoch and we had driven right past it! The joys of birding!!

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