Sunday, 23 January 2011


That's right, I spent both days this weekend (22nd-23rd Jan) birding! Prior to yesterday, I hadn't been out for a full day's birding in 2011, meaning that the yearlist remained low. This weekend I was keen to increase on my total of 54, with many very easy birds still to be seen. I spent yesterday north of Aberdeen, firstly at Donmouth to see what I could pick up for the year. A short walk along the beach here produced at least 30 Teal, a drake Goosander, a group of 8 Sanderlings scuttling hither and thither along the shoreline and a Red-throated Diver hurtling its way northwards. All of these were yearticks - a nice little variety of birds to kick off the day. It was then onwards and upwards to my local patch of the Ythan Estuary. I had contemplated checking the dunes at the mouth of the estuary for Twite and Snow Bunting, but decided that I'd rather check the actual estuary itself. Here I was entertained by an assortment of nice birds, mostly notably of which was 2 drake Long-tailed Ducks swimming together quite close to the car at Inches Point. I was also astonished by the number of Bar-tailed Godwit at Inches Point, with 23 counted here alone, quite something considering the time of year. Other year ticks here included a nice female Red-breasted Merganser and a Little Grebe. We proceeded to move further up the estuary, surprisingly picking up a group of 4 Grey Partridges in a field by the road on the way. From our usual stopping place at the second car park north of Newburgh, yet more new birds were seen - a flock of 70 Golden Plover, 80 Dunlin, Lapwing, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose. The latter two species were hanging around together, and interestingly included a Canada Goose x Barnacle Goose hybird bird.

The rest of the day was spent at the Loch of Strathbeg, which in all fairness was quiet. Tree Sparrow was quickly seen in the visitor centre car park, and I counted a total of 80. Now, Tree Sparrow is a very easy bird to get at Strathbeg, but 80 is a pretty exceptional number - perhaps the hard weather from a couple of weeks ago has made them congregate in such numbers. There wasn't much at all to be seen from the visitor centre, but Coot, Gadwall, 3 Barnacle Geese amongst the Pinkfeets, and Whooper Swan were added, the total number of the latter species at 31. The highlight here though goes to a species that you'd never expect to see at this time of year and is an exceptionally early record for this species. 3 Ruffs were on the reserve, and shortly after we arrived I sighted them on the back pools towards Tower Pool Hide. Normally it takes me until April or May to pick up my first Ruff of the year, so this was a pleasant surprise and is noteworthy on the basis of just how unseasonal this sighting was. A trip round to Tower Pool Hide produced very little apart from better views of what had already been seen from the Visitor Centre, so we spent the last part of the day at Fen Hide on the other side of the reserve in the vague hope that the male and ringtailed Hen Harriers reported to have been seen on the reserve would reveal themselves majestically above the reedbeds. 'Dream on', I thought as the sun started to set and I watched the Pink-footed Geese, Goldeneye and other wildfowl go about their buisness. It was a pretty quiet day, but I still managed those Ruffs, constituting to one of 21 year-ticks over the day. This took me up to 78 species.

Today was a different sort of day - devoid of many new birds for the year, but those new birds that I did get were of good quality. I started the day with a quick check of Girdleness, which was very quiet. The only real thing of note here was a Great-crested Grebe in Nigg Bay (yeartick). I then decided to try my chances at the Red Moss of Netherley, an area a few miles SW of Aberdeen which has held a Great Grey Shrike fairly recently. The GG Shrike hadn't been reported for two weeks, but I was still keen to look for it as I suspected that it could still be there and that the reason it hadn't been reported was because no-one had checked. I had the directions to the place all sorted out to where it had last been seen - I knew that it was 50/50 whether I was going to see it or not. It was about 11:00am, and we were getting very close. We were within sight of the Moss, and I was keeping my eyes peeled just in case I was to see anything. All of a sudden, I turned to get a split-second view of a small, miniature magpie like bird with a long tail perched on top of a tree right at the side of the road. Impetuously I shouted, 'STOP THE CAR, I THINK I JUST SAW IT!'. Dad, having gone at least 50mph, made the car come to a grinding halt, and just to our luck there was a little layby at this point so we convieniently stopped here. I got out the car, binoculars already in hand, and rushed back to the tree in which I had seen this bird that I suspected to be the Great Grey Shrike. It was still there. I raised the bins, and to my delight I had indeed just re-found the Great Grey Shrike, after two weeks of no-one reporting it!
A feeling of pride and joy surged through me - if I hadn't had made that split-second spot, I would have driven past the bird and likely have never seen it. Dad shortly joined me and saw the bird, but not long after he arrived it flew down from the tree and went into the reserve. We managed to climb over the short fence, and luckily quickly relocated the shrike on a row of fenceposts surrounding an area of sapling trees. Other fences meant that we couldn't get very close, so we set up the Swarovski and were treated to fabulous views of the Great Grey Shrike as it sat there, vigilantly and intently staring at the ground, waiting patiently for any insects that strayed across its path. Occasionally it would dive onto the ground, presumably due to spotting an insect, and then return to its perch. After 10 minutes of good views through the scope, it flew from the fenceposts onto its new vantage point - one of the saplings, looking very long-tailed and flying in a somewhat undulating fashion. At this point I got the camera out and attempted to get some record shots, trying to get as close as I could to it. I managed to get a few photos here, but my presence made it nervous and resulted in it moving to various different sapling trees, until it eventually moved onto a telephone wire. Dad joined me, and we watched it for a while until it then flew away from the Moss and onto some bushes on the other side of the road, conveniently nearby. This was the best opportunity to get some photos, so I proceeded to go up the lane and see if I could get some better ones. At first, I kept flushing it further and further up the lane - mobile and flighty are the perfect words to describe this bird! However, I eventually managed to get within about 50ft of it and get some OK photos. The light was pretty poor, so the photos aren't of great quality. I spent a short amount of time photographing it, and then returned to the car and headed off. This was an immensely satisfying experience, re-finding a Great Grey Shrike that hadn't been seen for two weeks, getting cracking views of it through the scope, and most of all photographing it. Photographing any Shrike, for me, is a very special achievement. Below are the best shots I managed (sufficient record shots!). All but the last one were taken when it was on the other side of the road from the Moss. The last shot was taken when it was on one of the various saplings that it used as a vantage point.

Great Grey Shrike, Red Moss of Netherley, 23/1/11

We continued travelling southwards, our next and final stop of the day being at Inverbervie Caravan Park, where two Pale-bellied Brent Geese had been reported, an uncommon goose up this way. Inverbervie is a small town about 25 miles south of Aberdeen and was about 20 minutes' drive from Netherley. We arrived there at about 1:00, and after some lunch went to have a look for the reported Brent Geese. Walking through the park itself, we came down a path which led down to a stream. Here a large group of Mallards were feeding, and the two Pale-bellied Brent Geese. Unlike any Brent Geese I've seen before, these birds were remarkably tame. I was able to get within about 10ft of them, and they seemed totally unphased by my presence - it was rather fantastic to see these exquisite geese at such close quarters. There was no need for bins at all, thus I spent my whole time there photographing them. Here are the best of the lot that I got:

Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Inverbervie, 23/1/11

To my delight I had managed to see both my targets for the day. There was no else to go that we could think of, and the fact that we'd been birding the day before meant that we ended the day at this point and travelled back home. I must say, I went back being a very happy birder after what was retrospectively (especially due to today) a great weekend's birding. I ended the day on 81 species. If you want to find out which birds constitute to this total, please check out this link - .




  1. Hi Joseph . great post as usual , really like the shrike photos .



  2. Hi Joseph

    A Great Grey Shrike, lucky you. I have never seen a shrike much less photographed one and those are excellent pictures you have there.
    Good Brent Geese photos too, they are hard to get right because of the black and white plumage.


  3. 2 weeks after being reported, that's self-found ;)
    Nice pics of the Shrike and Geese, keep it up!

  4. Awesome one Joseph! Very well written as Always. Great one on re finding the Great grey shrike mate! :D

  5. Hello everyone,

    Thank you very much to you all for your kind words and for complimenting my photos. I am happy with the results for the Shrike shots, I was expecting to get a few poor quality record shots, but I managed some reasonably good ones considering the awful light conditions. Wish the light conditions had been good though, then I'd have got some more memorable shots! And Fay, you are right, Brents are tricky to get good photographs for the very reason you outlined, so I'm happy with the good ones I managed.

    Thank you all and ATB,