Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Brown shrike surprise!

Since my return from offshore Ireland I seem to have done an awful lot of local patch birding with very little reward. A merlin and a white-tailed eagle being the only birds of note. No migrants other than mipits, pied wags. a few dunlin and sanderling and the occasional wheatear. On the plus side I have put together 20+ BTO bird track 'complete lists' and also submitted a fair few 'casual records' so it does not feel that my time in the field has been completely wasted. My much anticipated 'west coast' pelagic was a big disappointment with a real shortage of birds and aside from a dozen or so storm petrels, a single sooty shearwater and a single arctic skua were the only birds of note. Eventually my frustration level peaked and I had to twitch a bird! 

First off was a 150 mile drive down to Arisaig to try and catch up with the American golden plover that had been found a few days before my visit. Arriving on site, I was a little surprised to find that there were no other birders present and more worryingly there was no golden plover flock in the field next to Traigh golf course. After 15 minutes or so, I heard a single golden plover calling as it flew in to the field- a little bit of encouragement at least! Two hours later, after working the whole area, I was just getting ready to admit another dip when I noticed a dark bird quite far away from the road and rather far up the incline- this was the AGP feeding in the grass with another golden plover, half a dozen greylags and a few wood pigeons. I got the scope on the bird and enjoyed it for sometime before dashing off to get the ferry over to the Isle of Skye- the previous day a number of Sabine's gulls had been seen in Broadford bay and this was another species I really wanted to see. Unfortunately I did not connect with any but did get good views of a very confiding knot.

American golden plover
American G.P. with European cousin
knot- Broadford bay, Isle of Skye
Having studied the weather forecasts intently over the last week or so I decided to have a weekends birding in Aberdeenshire with fellow birder Marcus (ebirder) Conway. Everything looked pretty good  for finding our own 'sibes'. We left Inverness at 05:30 and headed over to the Forvie NNR/Collieston area- a favourite birding area of ours. I picked up a couple of tawny owls en-route- sat on fence posts at the road side and with increasing daylight a few buzzards, pheasants and wood pigeons provided some entertainment during the drive. Arriving onsite we heard but could not see a barred warbler in deep cover- encouraging though! We also watched a chiffchaff briefly and felt confident as a few migrants were obviously about. 10 minutes later Marcus was quickly onto a yellow-browed warbler in the tall conifer next to the church. Shortly afterwards we had good views of a lesser whitethroat- another tidy bird. We met a couple of 'local birders' and after a brief chat about what was about we went our separate  ways -we headed for the coastal bushes via Forvie and they headed off to work the 'gulley'. Forvie was dead but we had bonus birds of pom. and arctic skua and sandwich tern from the headland. Back in Collieston we saw another yellow-browed warbler in the willows by the old hotel then heard a 3rd calling from a thick hedge. Shortly afterwards we met the 'locals' again as they were 'looking' for a Brown shrike that they had found earlier in the 'gulley'. The bird was apparently very skulky and flighty and was proving very difficult to get onto. We joined forces and after another 90 minutes or so during which time we had brief flight views, the bird was eventually pinned down to a hedge at the back of some cottages. We had good views through the scope and also on Marcus's 'live view' camera. We watched this newly arrived mega catching insects and even disgorge a pellet. By now the news was out and frantic birders were turning up to twitch the bird. The whole scene quickly started to feel a tad  manic and as we had had good views of the now 'very elusive' shrike we headed off in search of some more of our 'own birds'. We didn't find anything to match the mega but the following day we found another couple of yellow-browed warblers- at Cruden bay and Whinneyfold gulley. A brambling was a nice bonus bird. All in all we had a great weekends birding looking for migrants and ending up with a bonus mega as well! 

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