Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Three Days Birding

On Sunday I was up at 4.00am to find some early morning birds on Deeside.  First stop the Boat Inn in Aboyne.  This is where Garden Warblers hang out.  On Sunday they were having a lie in.  There was not sight nor sound of them.

Second stop was the Oak Wood at Dinnet.  I was here the Sunday before with Trevor and Alex.  But t was in the afternoon so we didn't expect to find a great deal.  Early in the morning there should have been Redstarts. There wasn't, there were lots of Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches, the odd Great Spotted Woodpecker, a few Roe Deer and lots and lots of Wrens.

Dinnet Oak Wood
 From the car park to the wood you cross the river Dee.  Here is the view from the bridge

Down Stream

Up Stream

The final stop was the Forest of Birse.  I had a short trip here with Alex a few weeks ago but to be honest I didn't really know where to look.  There should be Whinchat and the smallest chance of a Merlin.  I walked a mile o so up the valley and into the grouse moors.  No Whinchat, no Merlin but there were lots of Meadow Pipits.

Meadow Pipit perched on Heather
 Common Gulls were plentiful as were the Rabbits

Rabbit in the Heather
There were Oystercatchers and Lapwing and views

Shooting Lodge

Old Kirk
All this heather and a big shooting lodge and I didn't see or hear a Grouse!

So Sunday was a 200 mile or so trip and not one bird added to the list.  If all the targets had been there I would have been on 199. But I did get some photos.

Monday I got an email responding to my request for information about Barn Owls.  So at 20:30 I set off for the Loch of Strathbeg.  I got settled into a hide and waited.  There was a Whooper Swan just in front of the hide.  It should not have been there it should have been in Iceland.  I waited some more.  The sun was setting so there were more views.

In the deepening gloom the Common Terns were still going back and forth between the sea and the colonial nest site at Starnafin collecting sand eels for their young.  The Mallard duckings were refusing to go to bed.

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Then, as the mist was rising at about 22:00 the first Barn Owl came into view.  It was and remained on the far side of the Loch.  Quartering slowly over the fields and reed beds occasionally it would go head first into the vegetation.  Then after one such dive it made a beeline for an old boat house to meet another owl.  Then both of them started hunting.  Capturing all this on camera was nigh on impossible it was so dark and they were so far away. This is what the camera with a 400mm lens captured

I resorted to digiscoping by hand.  To get any image at all the shutter speed had to be slow so wings are a blur.   Even so the lack of light pushed the ISO to maximum creating a lot of noise.  Here are the best! of the ones I took and they are cropped as well.


If you look carefully at the last one you will see one owl flying and two on the roof.  I didn't see this until I had the images on the computer.

 10 mile round trip max. and one tick.

Today (Tuesday) Tim posted on social media that he had heard a Quail at Longside in the morning.  Alex messaged me to say it was still there at noon.  As I had to go that way, sort of, to get some garden bird food some time this week I thought why not go now.  So I did.  A Quail is a bird that is heard but seldom seen.  I took a video of the field in order to record the sound. So put the speakers on and listen to the strange whip like call of a Quail.  You will also hear Tim as he drove up the road to stop and have a chat.

I have never seen a Quail.  I have heard them on several occasions.  They fly in from Africa for the summer and hide in the grass, or in this case a barley field.  The only way you know they are there is by hearing its call.

20 mile round trip that I was going to do anyway and one tick

Why do I go on these long journeys?

Total on list 197

Friday, 7 July 2017

Good News and Bad News

First the bad news.

Last night I did an audit of the bird species I have seen this year.   In my last post I stated that the total for the year was 195.  It is in fact 194.  The list of birds seen on the right hand side is correct it is just my adding up that has gone wrong.  I don't know when the mistake happened and I am not going to trawl through over seventy blog posts to try to find out.  I suppose the plus side is that I have done the counting now and not after I thought I had reached 200, celebrated and then found I was one short.

Now the good news.  The total is up to 195 again.

This evening just as I was about to sit down to some well earned tea I got a message to say that a Red-necked Phalarope was to be seen at the Loch of Strathbeg visitors centre.  Tea was put on hold.  Jill said she would wait till I got back.  (Luckily it was not a cooked meal that would spoil.).  I went as fast as I could, keeping to speed and safe driving limits to Strathbeg.  It is only ten minutes drive away, if that so there was every chance that I would see the bird.

Rushing into the visitors centre, that the RSPB staff had kept open for people to come and see this rarity I was greeted by 'Do you want the bad news?'  The Red-necked Phalarope had only just flown away.  zigzagging apparently towards the main Loch and gaining height.  Birds like this that are 'gaining height' as they fly away tend not to come back.  It seemed that this bird had only stopped at Strathbeg foe a 10 to 15 minute breather before continuing its journey.

After breeding these birds winter in the Pacific Ocean of the coast of Peru some 8,000 miles away.  I wasn't likely to follow it there.  Lesser mortals would have been despondent and gone home for tea.  I didn't.  I decided to stay for a little while to see if it did come back and to see what else was about.

The island in front of the VC was full of Common Terns and their chicks.  There was a constant too-ing and fro-ing of adult birds bringing in sand eels.  There were some good looking Ruff, Shelducks with their young and so on. Nothing to get too excited about. And all the time the RSPB staff and I were scanning around to try to relocate the Phalarope. 

Tufted Duck and Ducklings
Suddenly a shout went up. James had found the bird   No one had seen it return to the same stretch of water it was last seen in.  But sure enough there it was, the first Red-necked Phalarope I had ever seen.

Red-necked Phalarope
No one else seemed to have reacted to the rare bird message that had gone out.  Apart from the RSPB staff I was the only one there.  We watched it for some time.  Occasionally it did the sort of thing that Phalaropes do - pecking at the surface of the water - twirling round in a tight circle like a ballerina doing a pirouette.

Then Brian arrived just as the bird took to the air once more.  This time it did not go very far and Brian got to see it as well.

We stayed and watched it for some time.  It never left the water at one point it skirted along the edge

The one thing that struck was how small it was, bigger than a Chaffinch but smaller than a Blackbird.  On TV the bits I remember are close ups where you don't get an impression of size.  Above you can see it is dwarfed by the common tern.

Here are a couple of flight shots again showing how small the bird is.

So there you have it.  Number 195 a bird that breeds in the high arctic (a few do breed in Shetland and the Outer Hebridies) and winters in the Pacific Ocean.  I didn't think I would ever seen one.  To me it was one of those mystical birds you only see in nature programs on TV.  But there it was just three miles from where I live.

Total on list 195

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

What's Off Shore at Murcar Golf Course

The Scottish Golf Union cites Murcar Golf Course as "one of the most celebrated courses in Scotland".  It has hosted various Scottish and European events.  It lies to the North of Aberdeen and is a links course in sand dunes overlooking the North Sea.

I went there today not to play or even watch golf.  I went to look at the sea or rather to look at the birds on the sea.   This meant walking across the golf course to get to the top of the dunes.  It meant dicing with the risk of serious injury as golf ball fly around.  I found it very difficult trying to work out which direction they would come from.  Fortunately golfers are, unlike participants in other sports polite and courteous so on several occasions I was warned that there may be a ball whizzing towards me.

Having got across the course I then had to tackle the dunes.  There is a sort of path at the top of the dunes on the landward side there is a steep slope down to the golf course.  On the seaward side a vertical drop to the beach.  Every so often the path goes down into a ravine and up the other side.  Not easy when you are carrying a camera, binoculars and a telescope with tripod.

I went through all these hardships to find Scoters.  These are sea ducks that come to this part of the coast at this time of year to moult.  The most common is of course the Common Scoter.  There are thousands of them and they were a long way off shore.

A Raft of Common Scoters
This made my task of trying to find the handful of Velvet Scoters, the one or two Surf Scoters and the one White Winged Scoter somewhat difficult.  A task made even more problematical when after you had searched through half of the they all decided to take flight and land further up or down the coast.

Scoters on the move

I did manage to locate two Velvet Scoters.

There was another bonus.  I also found the King Eider.  Known locally as Elvis, 'The King' get it?  He has been visiting the area for quite a few years.  He hangs about with Eiders and in the past has usually been found on the Ythan estuary a few miles up the coast.  For the last week or so he has been seen on this stretch of the coast.

Four Eiders and at the rear One King Eider
There are several hundred Eiders here as well as the Scoters.  I was lucky because Elvis was closer in shore.  Here is the same raft of Scoters three photos above but with the Eiders a bit more spread out in the foreground.

Scoters in the distance and Eiders in the Foreground.
A bit closer still was another bonus.  A Red -Throated Diver

Red Throated Diver
More than likely if I had stayed longer I would have found the elusive Surf and White Winged Scoters but time did not allow for that and I had to run the gauntlet of the golf course to get back to the car and home for lunch.  Next time I think I will take a hard hat just in case.

Total on list 195

Dee Valley. Balleter to Cambus of May and Dinnet

Sunday was an RSPB members nature ramble.  Organised by the NE Scotland Members group, we started at 10.00am on the South Deeside Road at Ballater.  The walk was led by Rob Leslie.  Ten of us set off and I'm sure to the relief of Rob ten of us finished the walk with Lunch at the Cambus o' May footbridge.

Eight of the Ten
It was raining when we got out of the cars.  Someone said that if it is raining at 10 0' clock it will rain for the rest of the day.  Fortunately this weather forecasting tale was not 100% fool proof.  The rain soon stopped and did not return.

At the first stop just a few hundred yards along the road we got a good view of the river and were able to see a few of the specialist riverine birds.

Grey Wagtail

Common Sandpiper
There was also Swifts, Sand Martins, Swallows , House Martins and a Dipper.

As we carried on a Buzzard flew overhead taking some newly found road kill home.


Not long after we left the road and followed the path through woodland and by some paddocks.  Here we found Willow Warbler, Coal Tit, Blackcap, Treecreeper, Tree Pipit, Goldcrest and other woodland species.  Many of the birds were newly fledged young.  Others seemed to be tending nests nearby.  The breeding season was in full swing.

Young Tree Pipit
For most of the walk there was one  moth/butterfly that was abundant but only identified after we all got back home.  It as a Chimney Sweeper Moth.  It was only a couple of centimetres across but its dark colouring and constant fluttering flight made it stand out against the green of the grasses and bracken.

Chimney Sweeper Moth
The other non-bird nature thing that was abundant was the Wood Ant nests.

Wood Ant Nest
They came in all sizes from smaller than a mole hill to the one above that was over two feet high.  Each one was a hive of activity (if that is an expression you can use for ants). Even so the big ones must have taken years to construct. 

A video taken on my mobile phone
We ended the walk at the Cambus o' May suspension bridge.  A peaceful spot for lunch apart from the family on the other side having a great time in the water.  It must have been very cold!

Alex and Trevor at the Cambus o' May Bridge
The official RSPB members walk finished here but I went with Alex and Trevor to the oak woods at Dinnet.  The aim was to find a Redstart and a Green Woodpecker.  We didn't see either of them although we reckon we heard young woodpeckers.  This little excursion became an insect hunt.  Of course there were the inevitable Chimney Sweeper Moths but we also found butterflies -  Speckled Wood, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries and Red Admirals and a Four Spotted Chaser dragonfly

Speckled Wood
Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary
This is my photo of the butterfly.  For some reason I managed to pick what was probably the most tattered one around.  The next photo was taken by Alex and is so much better than mine in so many ways.

Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary by Alex Jamison
Four Spotted Chaser
Total on list 192