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!
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 - http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=190592 .