Saturday, 16 April 2011

Boney Fide

Yes.... I know I said that next time I posted on here I would be writing about my very recent birding trip to Norfolk and Suffolk. However I am afraid that will have to wait a little as on Friday 8th April, the day I was due to leave the area, I found myself birding at the Ythan once more. With reports of the King Eider and Iceland Gull on the estuary plus a Scaup at the nearby Sands of Forvie NNR I could not resist going to the area.

I arrived at the area at 11:00, commencing my local patch birding by checking if the King Eider could be seen from Inches Point. In the process a total of 7 Long-tailed Ducks were counted (4 of which were drakes) and several Red-breasted Mergansers, but despite careful checking of each and every Eider in view the King Eider could not be found. I concluded that the best bet for this bird was yet again by checking the Eiders from the mouth of the estuary, but decided to give the part of the estuary just to the south of the Waterside Bridge a cursory look in the event that it was with the Eiders there, as well as the Iceland Gull which had been seen here. There were a scattering of Eider here but hardly as many as there were at Inches Point, and as to be expected there was no King Eider amongst them. There was a good number of gulls present here as well, but this did not include the Iceland. the However it was very interesting to see 3 Tufted Ducks (two drakes and a female) here - a rare sight so far downstream on the estuary. On the way to the mouth of the Ythan I was delighted to pick up two Swallows (yeartick) over flying over Newburgh village, my first of the year and yet another sign of spring. On arrival at the mouth I alighted on a large group of swimming Eider showing well on by the Grey Seal colony, with 10 Sand Martins flying about close by and 50 Sanderling roosting on the shoreline being nice to see. If it was here, this flock is where it would be. Unfortunately a quick scope check revealed that it wasn't amongst them. I was now starting to feel that I would never see this bird! I was right... well at least that day! A walk down to the fisherman's hut did not provide any other sizeable Eider flocks, just little groups of 6 or so scattered widely across the area, and it wasn't amongst them. However, upwards of 50 Sandwich Terns now appeared to have returned to the tern colony here, which helped lift the sinking feeling I was experiencing in knowing that the King Eider was nowhere to be seen.

Time was limited as I had to get back to pack mid-afternoon, so we left checking the estuary from the Snub car park till another time and headed staright up to the nearby Sands of Forvie NR, where a female Scaup had been seen on Sand Loch. Sands of Forvie is a coastal heath and tucked within it, although not a great distance away from the visitor centre, is Sand Loch. It's not a very big loch - during my past visit it has held hardly anythign except the common duck species. Once at the visitor centre, we walked down there and soon found ourselves by the Loch. The sun was shining brightly on the water, making viewing difficult, but this didn't provide much of a challenge in locating the female Scaup. A group of 5 Tufted Ducks were at the west end of the Loch, right in the sun. A clearly larger individual was amongst these birds. I got the scope on it and as expected it turned out to be the female Scaup, the white band at the base of the bill immediately obvious even in the blazing light. I proceeded to watch the bird for 2 minutes with the plan of staying longer, as this was my first Scaup in Aberdeenshire since 2009. That soon went out the window when I read the following message on my phone from the local rare bird text service at 1:30:

'Bonaparte's Gull on the Ythan by the Snub car park at 1pm today'

Oh, how much I regretted not having checked from the Snub car park now! I was no more than 5 minutes drive away, so my Dad and I soon found ourselves legging it back to the car and abandoning the Scaup for this Bonaparte's Gull, presumably the same bird that was seen for one day in early March here. We hurtled it down to the Snub car park and were there within minutes of leaving Sands of Forvie. On arrvial we met Chris Gibbins, a birder that specialises in gull ID and has a specific interest in them. He had not found the bird and was without his scope, so he asked if he could use our scope. Being a gull expert we willingly let him look through the scope with the confidence that he would locate it. Within a couple of minutes he said: 'I think you'll probably find it's this roosting gull here. It's to the left of two Herring Gulls and a couple of Black-headeds. ' He talked us through the features of the bird, which I could see whilst watching it roost were clearly different from the other gulls: the darker grey upperparts, and smaller size in comparison to the nearby Black-headeds. Providing this was the bird, the pink legs and face of the bird could not be seen as it was very deeply asleep. After explaining the features of this bird Chris told us he had to go and wished us luck. It was now just a matter of the bird raising its head, and shortly after Chris had left the gull popped its head up and stopped roosting briefly, revealing a short, black bill (noticeably) shorter than Black-headeds bill) and pink legs. This was indeed the first winter Bonaparte's Gull!

No sooner had it raised its head did it start roosting again, meaning Dad did not see the bird when it had its head up. Shortly after confirming the ID a few other birders arrived, and we got them onto the Boney's, including Ken Hall. We all waited for the bird to stop roosting, and after about 10 minutes it finally did. All the diagnostic features seen whilst waiting for the bird to stop roosting were now more prominent, with other diagnostics noted such as the lack of a dark patch on the head, the dark patch on the head being a feature which you always see on a first winter Little Gull, and a distinct black trailing edge to the wing. From this point onwards good views were had of this fantastic, delicate looking Boneparte's Gull as it fed and moved about with the two Black-headed Gulls beside it around 200ft away in perfect light. We all delighted in the Boneys for about 5 minutes until it suddenly took to the air with a Black-headed Gull, wheeling round Waulkmill Hide then flying right past us and downstream towards Inch Geck. Prolonged binocular views were had at this point, and we all noted the erratic and somewhat tern like flight. After flying around near the edge of Inch Geck for some time it was finally lost to view as it continued to head downstream. That was that, and I had to go home.

I can't tell you how lucky and delighted I felt and still feel to have been in the area at the time and moreover how lucky I was to see the Bonaparte's Gull - what a fantastic bird! I made the choice of going out, and it paid up with a quality rare at my local patch, which for me is something that cannot be beaten in the birding world! I was hoping that this Bonaparte's Gull would be a fantastic start to a great few days birding ahead, what with my Norfolk and Suffolk birding trip literally about to start.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned to read about the first part of my Norfolk and Suffolk holiday,


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