Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Real Lark Of A Time, Yet Again!


A couple of days after my insane evening's birding at Girdleness on 30th September, I was out birding again, with a storm and south-easterly winds that Friday afternoon that I was hoping would bring in some good birds the next day. However, I was quite worried that my hopes may be drained at about 9:00pm the night before, as I noticed that the storm had phased away and that it was a clear night, meaning that it might not be so good as I was originally thinking. I was right. I started the day at a new place to me, Cove Community Woodlands - just outside the village of Cove and a couple of miles south of Girdleness. Here there was a good scattering of common migrants, including 5 Song Thrushes, 3 Mistle Thrushes, 1 Blackcap, 1 Willow Warbler and most notably a rather fine Lesser Whitethroat, my third sighting of this species for the year, and a significant fall of Robins, with at least 30 in the Community Woodlands alone. This was a nice start to the morning, and we decided to stop off at Girdleness before heading further north. A quick inspection of the Battery and the Allotments respectively showed that there had been a complete clearout from Thursday, with no Goldcrests at all and just a couple of Song Thrushes being the best I could do on the entire check - and definitely no Short-toed Lark! Whilst walking round here, a news came in on the local SMS system of:

'Shore Lark - Donmouth - Two on the first fareway on the golf course taking the path northwards from the Donmouth car park'.

Ideal! As Donmouth was only a few miles up the coast, it seemed like a good bet to go and have a look for them, as I had never seen Shore Lark before and I knew the area that they had been seen in relatively well. We were there by mid-morning, and we were soon there and by the golf course. We met a birder who said that he had seen the two Shore Larks on not the first but the second fareway shortly before we had arrived, meaning they had moved further up and more walking was required. He gave us directions, and we followed them, keeping to the edge of the golf course when there was people around so as to avoid getting hit, but it was surprisingly quiet, and we were able to cut across it at various points. It was a fair walk to the area we had been told about, maybe 3/4 of a mile to a mile, and despite regular stops taken to scan the golf course, there weren't any Shore Larks pecking around. We walked quite a way, and then decided we would turn back, not giving up but taking an alternative route back to maximise our chances. At one point on the way back we were given two alternative paths to go on, either due south or a little bit east then south again. We went for the latter option, and blimey did that pay off! Walking a little way down that path, I flushed two birds from in front of me, and low and behold, getting onto them on the bins as they landed no more than 20ft away revealed that they were the Shore Larks! They had landed in some vegetation, one popping just out of sight, but the other moving about in the vegetation but keeping visible. The bird that I kept on was a stunning little bird - with its striking black and yellow head pattern shining out in all its glory. I proceeded to frantically photograph the bird whilst it was in the vegetation, taking about 40 shots (only one which is really worth showing you!), and eventually got to close that I flushed both of them up, and they flew further down onto the golf course. Being quite high up, we quickly relocated them further down on the golf course. They seemed perfectly happy, scuttling around and showing no intention of moving off unless golfers were to come along. This was a prime oppurtunity to try out my new telescope, a Swarovski ATM 80HD with a 20-60x Swarovski eyepiece, and on 60x zoom, viewing was just sensational - the birds were distant, but through there it was like viewing a bird that was far closer in perfect condtions! Shore Lark was the first species I was to see in my new scope, and that statistic will always stand. We watched them through the new scope for about 10 minutes, obtaining absolutely fantastic views despite the birds being quite distant, until they were flushed by golfers and they disappeared round a corner. We walked round that corner and duly relocated them again, having not moved far at all. Aside from their striking and diagnostic head patterns, these two beautiful birds were recognisable through their smaller size in comparison to Skylarks, brown-grey plumage above and their pale bellies, as well as different shape. One of the birds had a particular habit of sitting down erratically on the grass, which I found interesting. After another 5 minutes or so of very pleasant scope viewing, I knew that these birds won't going to be moving anywhere fast and weren't going to move far unless flushed by golfers, and thus knew it was my chance to get some good record shots of both birds. So I travelled down the hill, onto the golf course at the bottom, and slowly but surely approached them, getting within very close quarters (no more than 10ft of them) and started clicking away. I must have taken over 70 shots before I finally stop photographing them, most of which weren't really that great, but I kept about 8 shots that were particularly good. Below are the best photos I managed to get of these graceful Shore Larks. I have put the images on my Flickr and on Birdguides, where viewing of them will be better as the images are bigger. ( - birdguides + - Flickr).
I probably spent about an hour and a half watching these birds in total, and it completely made my day, as the views were so fantastic and the fact that I was able to get so close and photograph such a lovely species and a lifer for me was so satisfying. No-one else from this point onwards saw the birds as far as I am aware, so I am glad to say that the follow shots are record shots of some short stay Shore Larks.

Shore Lark, Donmouth, 2/10 (single bird in vegetation)

The Two Shore Larks on the Golf Course, Donmouth, 2/10

The rest of the day was pretty quiet, with a check of the Ythan wader wise producing little more than 40 Golden Plovers and a Black-tailed Godwit, a search for a Barred Warbler seen at the nearby Sands of Forvie NNR proving unsuccessful but providing a few Goldcrests, and a seawatch at Collieston with both scopes (new and old) resulting in merely a single Arctic Skua. Seeing the Shore Larks however, and using the new scope to watch themw as so enjoyable in itself that the quietness of the day aside from the Shore Larks didn't matter. I have quite literally had a 'lark' of a time recently, with two scarce Larks in a couple of days - if you had told me a couple of weeks ago that I was going to see Short-toed Lark and Shore Lark (plus Lapland Bunting) within two days of each other, I wouldn't have believed you, but it turned out that's the way it was, and I am delighted! I am not sure that I'll be getting out birding again before I go to Fair Isle, so expect my next post to be on my Fair Isle and Shetland trip, which I am very excited about!

For now, thank you for reading,


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