Friday, 11 March 2011

Intense Local Patching

The last couple of weekends saw the weather turn from abysmal to rather glorious, and the fact that I had very little to do meant that I had the perfect excuse to get out and engage in some intense local patching on both of them. My aim of course on these days would be to try and find something unusual, something I am very keen to try and do this year considering I found very little of note last year save a White-fronted Goose at the Ythan and an Egyptian Goose on Meikle Loch. I had birds like American Wigeon, Snow Goose and Iceland Gull in mind as possible finds, but of course I knew in my heart of hearts that the chances of finding any of these was very small. Indeed, I didn't manage to find anything unusual on either of the weekends, but I still enjoyed two nice days out. The first of the two days out was on February 26th, in which I aimed to catch up with a group of Twites that annually winter in the dunes at Ythanmouth and scour the majority of the Ythan Estuary to see what else I could turn up. I arrived at the Ythanmouth car park at around 10:30 and got ready to head off into the dunes. A Song Thrush and 4 Yellowhammers were two welcome distractions and year ticks almost as soon we got out of the car, as were a group of Linnets and a singing Skylark on the way into the dunes - all sure signs of spring and an absolute joy to see for the first time in the year. It wasn't long before we were in the area that we normally see the Twites - a particular grassy and bogey area relatively near the shore that is the only area of the dunes that this almost guaranteed flock of Twites seems to hang around in.

Guaranteed Twite territory..... (image taken in 2009)

Within less than a minute a flock of finches were flushed that immediately revealed themselves to be the Twites when I heard their diagnostic call, surely the shortest time I have ever taken to find them. The flock landed on the ground about 60ft away from us, and I quickly set the scope up and proceeded to count them, getting very good views of them in the process. I managed a total of 38 Twites, the highest count I have ever managed here what with my previous highest total being 35 in 2009. As to be expected the birds were camera shy, flying way off into the distance as I attempted to photograph them and not reappearing. Despite their disappearance from this point onwards, I was still glad to have seen the birds and managed my highest total yet in the area. Job done, so it was onwards to check the mouth of the Ythan. I felt larophilia once again take control of me as I scanned meticulously through several groups of gull, clocking several Great black-backed and Lesser black-backed Gulls amongst the numerically superior Black-headeds, Common and Herring Gulls but nothing particularly interesting. The most success came on the wader front as a long scan of the mouth provided a total of 7 Grey Plovers (yeartick), 11 Ringed Plovers (yeartick), 15 Sanderling and upwards of 25 Bar-tailed Godwits, not bad counts at all. The whole outing took 2 hours and meant it was nearly lunch time by the time we returned to the car. Lunch was had looking over the estuary, where the best either of us could manage was up to 80 Dunlins and a single Peregrine. We rambled on to Meikle Loch, where two Great-crested Grebes and the female Goosander that I had seen there the week before were the most notable birds, the former being a Meikle Loch tick.

Having given the Ythan a prolonged and careful check, we decided we'd end the day by heading up to Peterhead for a bit of seawatching. A brief check of the harbour provided no gulls apart from a few, let alone any white-winged gulls, so it was straight onto Battery Park to see what we could pick up. A few holes in the yearlist were filled at this point, with several Razorbills, 2 Fulmars and 6 Gannets all being new. The highlight here however goes to a more noteworthy bird than the abovementioned species. As my Dad used the Swarovski, I caught onto a large, dark diver going north at medium range in my old Opticron scope. It was immediately obvious that this was my first Great Northern Diver of the year, and I quickly got Dad onto it. He had the privelige of seeing the bird better than I did, but I was still pleased with this spot and was glad to catch up with what has proved to be quite a tricky species to get for the year in the past. The day ended on the note, and I went home glad to have caught up with a nice array of commoner passerines and seabirds and also to have successfully seen the Twites at Ythanmouth and the Great Northern Diver at Peterhead. This outing took the yearlist up to 109 species.

To all intents and purposes, the 26th was quite a quiet day despite the number of year ticks I had managed. However, last Saturday's birding (5th March) was as dead a doornail in comparison to the 26th. The day started with a check of the Ythan, which provided very little apart from a total of 40 Golden Plovers and 60 Dunlin amongst the copious Redshanks, Lapwings and Curlews. The Great-crested Grebes from Meikle Loch the week before seemed to have disappeared; however there was now a total of 2 female Goosanders rather than just the one. Next stop was St Fergus and Scotstown head, an area where I don't normally visit. My aim was to have a check of Annachie Lagoon, which has held quite a good number of noteworthy birds in the past. Near the gas terminal we sighted a very large group of around 800 Pink-footed Geese and proceeded to search for any other geese species that might be amongst them. Unfortunately I wasn't able to eek out anything else from amongst the masses of these elegant geese. Plenty of Buzzards were enjoying the sun as I headed towards Annachie Lagoon - one was even seen eating a rabbit amongst the geese! Annachie Lagoon itself wasn't that lively, holding a few Common and Black-headed Gulls. However, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits were nice here. A check off the sea from this point resulted in 2 Red-throated Divers close offshore plus a larger group of divers much further offshore that could have been Great Northerns but were too distant to ID. A late lunch was had looking over the Loch of Strathbeg from the south end, where yet another very large group of Pinkfeets was checked but proved to have nothing else in with them. The only yeartick of the day was had here however, with lovely views of 4 Stock Doves feeding near the car. Finally, a check of the pools from the Visitor Centre at Strathbeg, which held a similar variety of birds to the last time I had been there - several Pintails, 4 Shovelers, 6 Gadwalls and a nice selection of other wildfowl. Otherwise, however, it was very quiet, so we headed back home early after a rather unproductive day. What can you expect at this time of year, though?

I am unlikely to be out birding for a little while now as I am going to be busy in the coming week or so. When I do get out though I hope to go up to Rhynie in the north-west of Aberdeenshire to see if I can connect with some moorland species - particularly Black Grouse, a species I have only ever seen once before, and at that location!

Thanks for reading,


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