Friday, 27 April 2012

Local rounds

I have spent a few days re-acquainting myself with some 'local' birding areas. Saturday (21/04) saw me spending a couple of hours walking up the river Broom valley. Plenty of willow warblers about, but that was about it on the migrant front, although a flock of circa 80 mipits were obviously mostly passage birds. A year tick popped up in the form of a lesser redpoll- a bird that was surprisingly scarce over the winter, with this individual feeding in the alders with a pair of siskin. A pair of redwing with a singing male was a good find as a few pairs have been known to breed in the general area. I had good views of all the common woodland species and fly-overs of buzzard and raven.

(22/04) An elusive white-billed diver has been reported over the last couple of weeks at a couple of sites in and around Loch Ewe on the west coast. Sunday seemed a good time to drive down the west coast in the hope of connecting with this bird. Little loch broom turned up a single great northern diver, 1 red-throated diver and 4 black-throated divers as well as 4 shelduck- an irregular species here. The head of the loch at Dundonnell also produced ringed plover, curlew, greenshank and red-breasted merganser. Slightly further on I counted 18 great northern divers dispersed around Gruinard island. It took a surprising amount of time to work through them all carefully as they kept diving just as I got them in my scope. I saw nothing suggestive of a white-billed diver, although one bird had a lighter bill which made me do a double take. 2 Great skuas and several gannets following a local fishing boat gave me a couple more year ticks. Half a dozen black guillemots, 2 cormorants and 4 shags later and the area was well and truly worked.

Little Gruinard had another 6 GND and 1 BTD in the bay, plus another greenshank, several ringed plover, and a very smart male reed bunting in the willow scrub. A small flock of lesser redpolls worked along the back of the beach in the tree line. More GND were seen in on the way to Mellon udrigle. The beach and dunes held a few wheatear, heaps of mipits and a couple of pied wagtails. A very nice Iceland gull flew over the beach which held 15 ringed plover and several groups of walkers. A single GND drifted offshore but the WBD remained elusive!

(23/04) I spent the morning doing 'computer work'- finishing my report from my last job, invoicing, catching up on emails etc. It felt like a waste of quality birding time in all honesty but had to be done! Lunchtime I met up with birding buddy Richard and we headed off to Achnahaird. We had a nice little birding session with common sandpiper, peregrine, sandwich tern, twite and a nice flock of golden plover bringing my year list up to 100. Other birds seen included redshank, greenshank, common sand. wheatear and ringed plover.

Not exactly a migrant-fest but enjoyable birding!

(24/04). The morning was spent driving to Inverness for chores. A couple of red kites over the A835/A9 were a momentary distraction and fuelled my need to get out in the field once again. Leaving Inverness late morning, the rain came on in a way that had me cursing under my breath. I decide that the only option was to visit the hides at Munlochy bay and then Udale bay- both on the Black isle. I only got as far as Munlochy as five minutes after arriving I saw a wonderful great white egret- a self-found lifer! After rubbing my eyes and cleaning my glasses in disbelief I got the bird in my scope and convinced myself that yes it actually was a GWE! Although generally recognised as a 'scarcity', in this part of the world it is a very good bird that requires a written description for acceptance by the Scottish birds rarities committee (SBRC). A few moments later I had sent texts and made a couple of calls to local birders and then put the news out on the national bird news service. Over the next few hours a dozen or so birders turned up to see it. It was good to meet several birders for the first time and put 'names to faces', however I felt rather nervous when one of them sent texts to two previous highland county recorders and the incumbent county recorder! I suddenly had a horrible feeling that maybe, just maybe I had made a horrible mistake and that it was a much more common little egret- but no! everyone watching the bird confirmed that it was a GWE- phew! Fortunately the local WDCS (whale and dolphin conservation society) field officer - Charlie Phillips,  turned up with a nice 600mm lens and got some nice shots despite  the range and heat haze! I drove home feeling exhausted but elated and after sampling a small beer (honestly) I wrote and submitted my description of the bird to the county recorder. The only thing to do then was take great pleasure in updating my UK life list! Later that evening news broke of another potential lifer for me- a cracking red-breasted goose at Brora. I made a plan and went to bed with the intention of getting up at stupid o'clock and going on a twitch!

great white egret (photo: Charlie Phillips).

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