The day was spent at the usual locations: Girdle Ness, Ythan Estuary and Loch of Strathbeg. I started off at Girdle Ness in the hope of passerine migrants, where a check of the Battery disappointingly produced 3 Sedge Warblers and 2 Whitethroats. 2 Wheatears and a Ringed Plover were in Walker Park. With conditions unsuitable for seawatching, we headed up to the Ythan briefly. 7 Little Terns (yeartick) were seen distantly downstream from Inches Point. A check of the Snub car park didn’t produce many waders, with 3 Whimbrels being the best of it. Strathbeg was also quiet on the wader front, with 7 Black-tailed Godwits on the Low Ground being the best of it. 3 drake Garganey were the highlight of the day, my second sighting of this species of the year (managing 3, including one female in April). Each of these fantastic ducks were spread out across the Low Ground, but all at fairly close range so great views were had of all of them – always a pleasure to see.
The 14th presented a rare change of scene as we headed up Deeside for some countryside birding. Our principal targets were Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart, all at Dinnet Oakwoodlands near Aboyne. This was my first visit to Dinnet, and as far as I was aware was one of the only reliable sites for these species in the county. The wood was situated just off the road (B979) and was pretty small, so was easy to cover. Conditions were far from great for this type of birding as it was windy, decreasing the chances of them showing or even singing. These conditions proved to be our downfall, with no Wood Warblers or Pied Flycatchers singing, let alone showing. Later on I found out that this was no longer the reliable site for these species anyway – we live and learn! However we were successful with our other target, with at least 4 singing male Redstarts (yeartick) present in the wood, one which was seen briefly. Whilst searching I unexpectedly came across a Red Kite (Scottish yeartick) drifting over the woods, and equally unpredictably flushed 2 Woodcocks (yeartick), both pretty much from under my feet, the first giving me a pretty big shock! Also in the woodland was an obliging Great-spotted Woodpecker, a male Bullfinch (Scottish yeartick), 2 Grey Wagtails and 2 Willow Warblers. On the River Dee just by Dinnet Oakwoodlands, 2 Common Sandpipers (yeartick) were scurrying around and a Garden Warbler (yeartick) was located.
On the way back we stopped at a site in the Forest of Birse near Finzean (pronounced Finnan) where I was delighted to see Tree Pipits (yeartick) in abundance. Overall 10 Tree Pipits were counted, each showing well and many of them seen in their song flight – it’s not often in a year that I see this species so I took great enjoyment in this. Also present was a Cuckoo (yeartick) which I saw in flight distantly, with at least 2 others were singing, a Lesser Redpoll flew over, and Willow Warblers were widespread, with at least 20 present. Despite having missed out on Wood Warbler and Pied Fly, it was an enjoyable and worthwhile day with 6 British yearticks and 8 Scottish yearticks.
A decent, long day’s birding with Alan Knox at the usual locations. We started the day at the Ythan, first checking the mouth of the estuary. On the mussel beds here were at least 60 Ringed Plover and 20 Dunlin. Mixed in with them were 10 Sanderling and a Whimbrel. We walked up to the ternery and looked upstream from the golf hut, at which point Alan got onto the stunning drake King Eider. It was roosting on the bank opposite Inches Point and was distant from where we were, but we managed perfectly good views of it through the scope. It didn’t roost for long, promptly proceeding to swim on the water and showing off its magnificent self in the process, and it was watched for 5 minutes or so doing just that. They are truly spectacular birds, regardless of how many times you see them you can’t help but feel bowled over by their beauty. This was the second time I had seen this individual in the year, yet despite this being the case it was fantastic to see it again. From here we headed up to the Snub, where there was nothing much apart from a lone Pink-footed Goose, presumably a straggler that had failed to make the move back to its northern breeding grounds. As we were leaving the Snub a report came from the text service of 2 Avocets at Strathbeg – a NE Scottish rarity. This would be a Scottish lifer for me so we headed straight to Strathbeg.
On arrival the two adult Avocets (Scottish life and yeartick) were showing very well from the Visitor Centre. They were amongst a small group of Black-tailed Godwits (3) and Lapwings, their beautiful pied plumage standing out massively amongst these other waders. Great views were had down to 90ft as they fed and waded around busily on the nearest pools to the Visitor Centre. They covered quite a lot of ground whilst wading, and never went out of view. It was brilliant to watch them at such close quarters, my first of this species in Scotland. I made the most out of the occasion by watching them repeatedly whilst in the Visitor Centre, getting a few photos whilst I was at it. Below are my best efforts.
Avocets, Loch of Strathbeg (21/5/11)
Whilst at the Visitor Centre I was able to pick out a smart summer plumage Curlew Sandpiper (yeartick) with a group of Dunlin on the Low Ground distantly that had been present all day, always nice to see. Having had great views of the Avocets and with not much on the closer pools, we headed over to Tower Pool Hide as most of the waders seemed to be on the Low Ground. Good views of the Curlew Sandpiper were had from here alongside 20 Dunlin – it appeared to not be in full summer plumage. At least 5 Black-tailed Godwits were around (taking the total to 8) as were 6 Ringed Plover. 3 species of raptor were seen from here as well – a female Marsh Harrier, Osprey and Sparrowhawk. The Marsh Harrier was very photogenic, quartering the reeds closest to the hide.
Marsh Harrier, Loch of Strathbeg (21/5/11)
We were near leaving when I spotted a Dunlin fly in with a much smaller wader – a Little Stint (yeartick). Fairly good views were had of it for around 10 minutes as it fed with the Dunlin. It appeared far rustier than the Dunlin with a clean white breast, the latter feature indicating that it was maybe still in winter plumage. Eventually it flew off with the Dunlin and didn’t return; however it was a nice find and meant that I had already seen all 5 of the commoner passage waders for the year at this early stage. Along with the Avocets, the Curlew Sandpiper and other waders, this Little Stint made for a great time at Strathbeg. The final stop of the day was at the nearby Rattray Head. In a field near the dunes here, we were able to count an impressive 68 Ringed Plovers – not sure if this was unusual or not. Also 4 Wheatears were present. The day was rounded off here with a yeartick, albeit common, with 4 Manx Shearwaters past during a short seawatch. We duly headed home after a great day’s birding.
Reports of a Pectoral Sandpiper and an Avocet at Rigifa Pool just outside Aberdeen on 27th saw me out birding the next day. Although a small pool, Rigifa had previously provided me with Temminck’s Stint and Wood Sandpiper, so I knew it had great potential. It was our first port of call, and no sooner had we arrived did I pick out the Pectoral Sandpiper (yeartick) and the Avocet within seconds of one another. What a treat it was to have these two scarce waders in the NE on one small pool in glorious sunshine! It was particularly enjoyable watching the Pec Sand, as it is not often I see these Nearctic beauties – this was my 4th ever. As always with this species, the pale supercilium and pectoral band were very obvious. Great views down to 75ft were had as it fed and waded at the left hand corner of the pool with a few Ringed Plovers, whilst the Avocet was feeding even closer on the right hand side of the pool. Whilst the Avocet never flew, the Pec Sand became quite flighty, disappearing from view on a couple of occasions and sometimes flying back to the very back of the pool. Ideally however, it eventually landed by the Avocet and associated with it, meaning I had feeding Pectoral Sandpiper and Avocet in the same scope view! What a fantastic moment this was, and it went on for some 15 minutes. I made sure to capture it by taking several photos which you can see below, although they are not of great quality – it was a bit distant for photography. We delight ourselves in these fantastic waders for around half an hour, then left for Strathbeg contented. Even though I generally focused more attention on the Pec Sand due to it being the rarer of the two species, the Avocet was actually the scarcer of the two in terms of how many of each species I had seen in Scotland; this was third individual Avocet I had seen in Scotland within a week, compared with an overall 4 Pectoral Sandpipers.
Pectoral Sandpiper and Avocet, Rigifa Pool (28/5/11)
Pectoral Sandpiper, Rigifa Pool (28/5/11)
Avocet, Rigifa Pool (28/5/11)
So satisfied with the quality of birding at Rigifa, I didn’t mind if the rest of the day was quiet as the Pec Sand and Avocet were daymakers in their own right. However, Strathbeg was actually rather productive. 2 drake Garganey showed fantastically on the nearest pools from the Visitor Centre, as always stunning to see. Furthermore on the nearer pools were a total of 4 Little Gulls showing well, 3 immatures and one absolutely stonking sumplum adult so there was plenty of entertainment to be had here. Round at Tower Pool Hide 2 Ospreys were around, but it was quiet wader-wise with just 10 Black-tailed Godwits present on the Low Ground. Having had an enjoyable time here, we headed to the nearby Cairnbulg, where 10 Dunlin were present. I finished the day at Rattray Head, where a dark phase Arctic Skua (yeartick) went past. After a very enjoyable day’s birding, we headed back to Aberdeen.
Although not a great deal of birding took place in May, it was still a very good month’s birding, the Pectoral Sandpiper topping it off on the 28th. However, previous Mays have bettered the quality of this one.
Thanks for reading,