Sunday, 30 April 2017

Strathbeg - The Hot Spot

Nearly all the birding activity in the NE of Scotland has centred around the Loch of Strathbeg.
On 25th it was reported that a female American Wigeon had been at the Loch for a week and its identity had just been confirmed.  It is very similar 'our' resident Wigeon.  The two differences are that the American one has a wider wing bat seen in flight and it has a whiter 'armpit' or Axiliaries.  I have yet to see the bird or have it pointed out to me.  Needless to say every time I have been to Strathbeg in the last few days many birdwatchers have been closely examining the armpits of female Wigeon.

On 26th a report came in that three Cranes had just landed into Strathbeg.  Despite it being 20.43 I went to see them.  Strathbeg is only minutes away from home.  I met the volunteer warden who had reported them and he showed me where they were.  It was 21.00 and getting dark.  I could just make out the three grey shapes of the roosting Cranes in the distance.

A much enhanced photo of the roosting Cranes

James the volunteer warden left me to it as he thought he has seen a Glossy Ibis come in to land near the Tower Pool hide.

Earlier in the day I made a quick visit to Cairnbulg Harbour.  You may recall that on the 11th April I saw my first Wheatear of the year but could not get a decent photo.  At Cairnbulg I saw my first Wheatear on that site and got a photo'

Wheatear with White Wagtail in the background

On 27th It was reported that the Cranes had left the reserve in the morning going North.  In the afternoon reports came in of the Great White Egret being seen on the Reserve again.

On 28th the Bonaparte's Gull that I saw on the Sunday was back, the Glossy Ibis had been located and that the three Cranes were still around and a Yellow-legged Gull was seen.

On 29th I went to Strathbeg rare birds were reported but I did get two new birds for the list..  I did have a good morning there.  I saw, and was able to photograph, Bearded Tit, Grey Heron, Little Gull, Common Tern, Marsh Harrier and a pair of Otters.

Female Bearded Tit

Grey Heron

Very Distant Marsh Harrier

Common Tern

On 30th I went to Strathbeg again.  This time I went to meet Brian.  The day before I thought I heard a Grasshopper Warbler.  Now my hearing is not a good as it used to be.  On of the effects of the deterioration is an inability to hear birds like the Grasshopper Warbler that is high pitched.  Brian was going to listen to locate the bird so that I could try to see it.  Before Brian arrived at Fen Hide I had a good look round.  The three Cranes were in a field on the opposite side of the Loch so I was able to get a slightly better photo than the one I took in the murk and gloom a couple of days before

No its not much better at all is it.

The two Otters (I am assuming they are the same ones) came closer for a photo

And a Grey Heron came and posed for the camera.

Grey Heron

Then we went tramping though the bog and marsh that is the path between the Fen Hide and the Visitors Centre.  Wellington boots were the order of the day.  Brian kept on saying 'There I can here one' can you'  and I would reply 'No'.  The birds Brian was hearing were not coming out of the rushes or bushes to be seen.  Then, as we were making our way back to the car park Brian said 'Surely you can hear that it is so close'.  And I could.  This was a short burst of its reeling call, it was loud and obviously lower in pitch.  The bird in question then launched out of one low willow bush and dived into the next one.  So we saw as well as heard a Grasshopper Warbler.  Neither of us was able to react quickly enough to get a photo though.  The bird, Brian said started calling again.  This time a much longer reeling and clearly higher pitched as I could not hear it at all.  Later this month I am going to collect some hearing aids.  Hopefully I will be able to hear high pitched birds again and won't have to rely on someone else's ears.
Mission accomplished, I went home to sort out the mornings photos and catch up with writing this blog but not before a couple of other pictures

Roe Buck



Just after lunch Alex phoned.  He was at Strathbeg and was looking at a Green-winged Teal and a Garganey.  He also told me that there was a Glossy Ibis around as well as the Cranes and a Ruff.  So I went back to Strathbeg.  At the Visitors Centre I was told that the Ruff had not been seen for sometime.  So I went off to the Tower Pool Hide where Alex was watching the two ducks.

I found the Green-winged Teal quite quickly. It was telescope distance away so the photo isn't great.

Green-winged Teal

The Garganey could not be found until a mixed flock of ducks, mostly Teal and Wigeon flew in.  The flock contained the male Garganey.  This time it was too far for even a bad photo.  I think it is somewhere in this cropped photo.

Alex and I went back to the Visitor centre which by now was filling up with both birders and casual visitors.  The Cranes, now at least four in number, were much closer than they were at fen hide but in reality still too far for my 400mm lens


 I tried to get a 'closer' shot using a 2x converter but either they aren't very good or I cannot use them very well.  The photos were all totally 'unsharp'

Cranes taken with a 400mm lens and 2x converter

The Bonaparte's Gull came to the front of the Visitors Centre so I called Brain knowing that he wanted it for his year list.  He came and got it ticked.  Birders were looking at Female Wigeon armpits to try and find the American it was seen early on in the day but not by me, Brian or Alex.  Two Marsh harriers were quartering the reed beds, two Great White Egrets were seen, a Glaucous Gull was on the reserve and later on in the afternoon when I had gone home a Little Ringed Plover was discovered.

All in all a fantastic day to be at Strathbeg.

Total on list 159

A Day with the RSPB

23rd April

The Aberdeen and District RSPB members group had a day out.  It was planned that we meet at the Linn o' Dee Car park at 10.00 for a bird watching walk.

Brian, Alex and I left from Fraserburgh and took a route that took us to Huntly on to Strathdon and over to Deeside via the A939 and B796 to join the A93 at Balmoral.  This went over open Grouse Moor and sure enough there were Red Grouse aplenty.  We had enough time to stop for photographs.
Red Grouse

Red Grouse looking like a Whisky Advert

We even had time to get some habitat shots

Brian getting close and personal to a Red Grouse
  We also saw a Black Grouse (Blackcock).  Unfortunately it was strategicaly placed behind some fencing.

Black Grouse
When it eventually had enough of us trying to get a clean, fenceless shot it flew off.  Only then did we see that there was a female (Greyhen) as well.
Blackcock and Greyhen in Flight
Unfortunately the A93 was closed due to a very bad accident earlier in the day and we could not get to Braemar and then on to the Linn o' Dee.  All the RSPB trippers were waiting at the road closed sign wondering what to do.  At last a decision was made and we went in convoy the Glen Muick instead.

At Glen Muick we saw more Black Grouse and more Red Grouse,  a Snipe


Lots of Red Deer

A Peregrine - a long way away on top rocky outcrop.

The highlight of everyones day was a flock of Crossbills.  Red ones are males and the green ones female.  There are three types of Crossbills live in this part of the world.  'Common', that can also be found throughout the UK bat are not that common, 'Scottish' that are endemic to the UK and only live in the Scottish Highlands, and 'Parrot' again in the UK these only live in the Scottish Highlands but can be found in Scandinavia.  Parrot Crossbills have much thicker bills than the other two.  Common and Scottish are very difficult to tell apart.  To be sure you would have to take sound recordings of their songs, take detailed measurements or a DNA sample.  None of these techniques were available to us, so these are either Common or Scottish.  As a year lister aiming to see 200 species in 2017 this leave me with a bit of a dilemma.  Do I just list these birds as 'Crossbill Speicies' and count it as 1 for my list or do I say 'this is the right place and the right habitat I'll list it as a Scottish Crossbill'.  I know that if I see a Crossbill outside the Scottish Highlands it will be a Common Crossbill.  So by calling this on a 'Scottish' I will have 2 ticks rather than 1

Male Crossbill

Female Crossbill

Male Crossbill
Female Crossbill

Here are a few more images from the trip.  Great landscapes.....
Looking towards Lochnagar

Field Trip Leader Tony getting in the way of a Loch Muick view

.....more common birds....


Song Thrush



.....and the group

It is Brian looking back at the camera.

But the days story does not end there or even with the trip home.
On the way back I got a message that a  Bonaparte's Gull was at the Loch of Strathbeg.  Other messages came through saying that it was 'now in a ploughed field' and 'not seen for ten minutes'.  Alex and I decided to look for it and there it was in the ploughed field.  I have to say that we only saw it thanks to Paul who had re-found the bird after it had left the Strathbeg reserve. 

Total on list 153

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Talk of a Stork

20th April

'Whatsapp' was nearly as busy as yesterday.  Today it was all about the Stork.  First it was people asking for up-dates.  Then just after midday it was reported circling over Strathbeg.  I went to see if I could see it after all there was last nights report of a Little Ringed Plover to chase up as well.

There was no sign at the Visitors Centre.  The log entry for 12:00 read 'gained height and headed west'.  The bird appeared to have gone elsewhere.

I didn't find a Little Ringed Plover either.  There were a couple of Ringed Plovers, 57 Black-tailed Godwits and the Little Gulls.  I went to try my luck at the Tower Pool Hide.  There was not a lot going on there so I returned to the Visitors Centre.  As I went through the door Alex rang to see if there was an update on the White Stork and to tell me what he was looking at at the Ythan, a Whimbrel no less.  Well, I was saying that the Stork had flown when some one in the VC shouted that they had seen it just minutes ago.  It had flown across the reserve and looked like it may have landed, out of sight in some fields, or it could have not landed and continued on its way.
Alex drove the 30 or so miles from the Ythan to Strathbeg.  I stayed at the visitor centre hoping the the Stork would return.  At 3:15 it arrived and landed some way from the VC but clearly visible.

White Stork

White Stork

 The eagle eyed will have notice that in the top photo you can see that it has a green ring on its right leg.  With a telescope the inscription on the ring could be read 'Z1213'.  With this information the history of the bird could be discovered.

The Stork came from Poland where it was injured in a collision with electricity wires.  It was brought to Shorlands Wildlife Gardens to treatment in 2015 after which it became a free flying bird which has wandered around the UK.  Shorlands have other free flying White Storks in the gardens hat have not wandered.  Shorelands posted on their Facebook page on 14th March -

'One of our pairs of White Storks have lined last years nest and we expect the first egg in the next few days.'

Now this information has generated a lot of debate locally.  Can it be counted on the year/life list?

I will be counting it.  It is a free flying bird, and has been since it recovered from its injuries, that has survived in the wild for two years.  It was a wild bird when it lived in Poland.  I know Alex and Brian will be counting it and no doubt John W will be as well.  Purist will not be counting it as it did not come to the UK of its own accord and therefore must be seen as a captive bird that has escaped.  If that is the case I would argue that 99% of White Tailed Eagle sightings are introduced birds that did not come o the UK of their own free will and 100% of the Great Bustard population in the South of England have similarly been introduced.

I am sure that wherever it turns up in its travels bird watchers will be having the same debate.

On a final note the tradition of White Storks bringing babies into the world is alive and well at Strathbeg.  The  Konik ponies introduced to the Strathbeg reserve to eat the rank vegetation and open up the mud that waders like and originally from Poland I think, have a foal.

 Konik Pony and Foal

Total on list 152

Monday, 24 April 2017

19th April the day the rare bird message system went mad

There is rare bird message system for NE Scotland on 'Whatsapp'.  When someone sees a rare bird they send a 'Whatsapp' message that goes to all the other birders on the system.  On the 19th April messages were coming in thick and fast.

The first flurry were all about a White Stork seen at Ythanbank the day before.  Initially a picture of the bird was posted on Facebook.  The first messages alerted birders to the sighting the next ten or so were devoted to trying to find our where the  Stork had been seen.  All this was quite confusing (to me anyway) as in the middle of these messages several were sent giving details were sent about a Nuthatch that was seen in Rora two days before.  Once all that was sorted out notification of a third bird was broadcast on 'Whatsapp'  a Common Crane at the Loch of Strathbeg.

So I set off on a trip around Aberdeenshire to find three birds each of which would be a year tick.

My first port of call was the South end of the Loch of Strathbeg to find the Crane, it was the nearest to where I live.  I could not find it.  The next nearest bird was the Nuthatch.  On the way there I came across my mate Alex.  We debated what to do as the Nuthatch was a bird sen two days ago and the Stork was a more recent sighting.  We decided to go for the Nuthatch.  It was at Rora Kennels.  I had a sort of idea where they were and with only a little difficulty we found them and met the owner who showed us where the Nuthatch had last been seen.  Of course it was not there.  It hadn't been seen on the peanut feeder for two days. No doubt it had had a good feed and had enough fuel to make the journey back across the North Sea.  It was a pale-bellied bird which indicates that it probably came from Scandinavia rather than from further South in the UK where they are quite common.  We did look round the garden and woodland area round the kennels but there was no Nuthatch.  We did see a rather handsome male Siskin on the feeder that the Nuthatch had favoured

I did get a year tick though.  A House Martin was zooming around the kennels.

My next quest of the day was to find the White Stork.   By this time there were two possible locations for this bird.  One had a grid reference and a map, the other seemed to suggest that access was somewhat difficult.  I went to the first but could not see the Stork. The location was a fishing pond created from a gravel pit.  Here is the only photo I took there.

 And finally when it was getting dark another 'Whatsapp' message came through - Little Ringed Plover at the Loch of Strathbeg visitors centre.  I decided to leave it until the morning.  I had been on enough 'not finding the bird' hunts for that day.

Total on list 151

An 'X' rated post

This post is 'X' rated.  For younger people it means if it were a film it would carry a British Board of Film Classification '18'.

This is for two reasons.  The first is that some of the images are of a sexual nature.  Like this one

Ospreys Copulating
The other reason is 'X' rated in the sense that information has been censored.  I am not going to give the location of the above action.

On the 18th April I went to buy some bird food (mixed seed with no cereal) and sunflower seen hearts, in Mintlaw an small but growing village eight miles down the road.

There are quite a few bird feeders in the garden.  That attracts quite a few birds so the feeders run out every day.  It is part of my morning routine to fill them up again.  A count of the garden birds is sent of the the British Trust for Ornithology every week as part of 'Garden Bird Watch'  I would encourage you all to be
part of this volunteer survey.  I try to avoid having bird feeders in my photos but I found this one from a month ago.
Four Greenfinches on Sunflower Seed Hearts
Anyway on this visit I went to a nearby 'reserve'.  It is not an official reserve but the land owner has done a lot of work to encourage birds and has laid out paths for visitors. On this brief visit I saw 17 bird species.  My main aim was to see the Ospreys that I knew had returned to the site to get it as a year tick.



I also to a 'cleaver' photo of the lake.
Total on list 150