Sunday, 13 August 2017

Five Raptors and a Humpback Whale

Today (13th August was a RSPB Aberdeen and District Members Group outing to Glensaugh and Glen Dye.

Brian picked me up just before 8 o' Clock.  It was about a two hour drive to the rendezvous at the James Hutton Institute farm at Glensaugh.  The first bit of the journey was straight forward. A952 to the Toll of Birness, join the A90 and follow it through to the other side of Aberdeen to Laurencekirk.  When we got near to our destination I switched on the Google sat nav on my phone.  Mrs Google, I assume that was who was giving us directions took us down all sorts of small narrow roads through farmland.  Fortunately is was early on Sunday morning and farmers were not up to drive their tractors along these roads as well.  

The original plan was to stay in the Glensaugh area however an earlier scouting trip had not found many birds so it was decided to split the day into two with the second half walking through Glen Dye.

Glashaugh is a research farm.  Unlike the vast majority of farms this one welcomes visitors and had a self-guided trail leads visitors on a circular tour, pointing out areas of geographic, social, landscape and historical change. 

We didn't go on this trail but went along one of the other farm paths running beside Slack Burn.  The first bird that was 'shouted' was a Red Kite.  This was a year tick for Brian. Next it was a Buzzard, the first of many.


 Next it was a Sparrowhawk flying high in the sky

We had hardly started and it was becoming a bit of a raptor fest.  

The next birds were Wheatears and Stonechats.

Wheatear (top left) and Stonechat (bottom right)
One bird caused some confusion.  I took a photo of it and from the back of the camera we were told that it was a Redstart.  Unfortunately have got back home and looked at the picture, having given a few tweaks, on the computer screen I have to say that it is a juvenile Wheatear

Confusion bird Juv. Wheatear
 All told the morning walk produced 22 different bird species. Not bad for a place that didn't have many birds.

We than went to Glen Dye.  The road there goes over the Cairn o' Mount.  I had never been on this road before.  Its fame comes from the fact that it is often one of the first roads to be closed by the snow in winter.  It is the main route from the Dee Valley to the South.  At the top the views are fr reaching. I was told that you could see Edinburgh on a clear day.   It was a clear day so I waved to my daughters who live there.  I don't think they saw me.

Glen Dye, in contrast to Glensaugh held very few birds.  A Grey Heron, some Wheatears, Stonechats and Meadow Pipits.  A Wren was heard and a wagtail seen a great distance away and that was about it.  

Grey Heron

The nature highlight was a large herd of Red Deer across the valley.

Red Deer
The lack of bird life was nearly outweighed by the scenery.

Glen Dye
And there the RSPB trip officially ended.  Some people went home, some went to see a nearby Sand Martin colony.  I went with Brian and Trevor to St Cyrus NNR on he coast.  For the last few days a Humpback Whale had been feeding off shore.

For this journey we used Brian,s in car DVD based sat nav. and apart from taking us on an unnecessary tour round the village of St Cyrus got us to our destination.  The reserve car park was full, the roads leading to the reserve were being used as a car park. It was chaos. It was the first time that Brian and I had been here.  Trevor was a frequent visitor and had never seen the place so crowded.  

Eventually we did get a parking place, got all our gear out of the car and made for the top of the dunes.  Straight away we saw the Whale or rather its splash.  


We did after a while see he animal itself but we didn't get any tail slapping or breaching displays.  It was too busy feeding.

'Thar She Blows'
We had a good bit if chat wit the others who were there for Whale watching.  There was a family from Sheffield another from Australia (admittedly there were visiting relatives n the area as well!).  One bloke had negotiated the stony path, the narrow foot bridge and the dunes in a mobility scooter. 

The reserve is a place I will have to go back to. There was a great variety of bird life.  Peregrine and Kestrel were added to the days list of raptors.  


Off shore there was a large raft of Red-breasted Mergansers and a smaller number of Common Scoter.  There were plenty of Gulls and Terns and a few Arctic Skuas.
She? was making her way South so we decided to go further into the reserve and down onto the sands to get closer views and photos.  By the time we got there she was nowhere to be seen, presumably she had gone from the North Esk estuary to the South Esk Estuary which is on the other side of Montrose.

From the hide to the South of the reserve we found Dunlin, Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, more Gulls and Terns, Mallard and Canada Geese etc, etc. 

Brian finds some Common Sandpipers

We saw 26 different species on the reserve and there is a potential for many more. 

There are also some good landscape photo opportunities as well

Ship Wreck

Total on list 200

Friday, 4 August 2017

Target Reached. Bird No. 200 seen on 1st August.

The end of July and I am on 198 birds just two short of the target.  Its time for a big effort to get two more birds.

So on 1st August Alex and I set out on a 'Big Trip'
My aim was to get two new birds to take me to the 200.
For Alex, who already had 200 birds, the aim was to crack a bogie bird - a Mediterranean Gull that we had both failed to see so for this year. At various time throughout the year it had been seen at several places round our local coastline.  The latest occasion was just the week before at Cairnbulg.  He also wanted some Red Kite photos and of course anything else that was around.

What was around was a Rose-coloured Starling way up north at Embo, but just about in range for a day trip.  

We set off bright and early.  Our first stop was Lossiemouth.  The target here was a Mediterranean Gull that had been around for a few days.  Apparently it hung around with other gulls in a regular morning and evening roost.  Well it wasn't there in the morning.  We stayed until it was clear that the dog walkers, (the dog actually, but the blame if there is any lies with the walkers who let their dogs run around chasing gulls) were going to make it impossible to find one gull among the constantly disturbed flock. 

I took this photo in January but its not changed since then

So onwards and upwards.  

We proceeded to Embo, crossing the Kessock Bridge and heading north to the other side of Dornoch.  Now I had spoken to Ian at McIntosh the butchers in Fraserburgh about going to Embo.  He just said 'Ah Grannie's Heilan Hame'  and the conversation didn't go any further.  Did he mean that his grandmother had a second home there?  I didn't know.  We talked about it on the drive.  Alex suggested that it was a tourist shop selling tartan this and that.  I thought it might be an old croft turned into a museum.

It turned out to be a caravan park
Grannie's Heilan Hame
 Quite a good one by the look of it, swimming pool, crazy golf, play park, entertainment centre and so on. 
But we were not there for all this fun the serious stuff was finding the Rose-Coloured Starling.  As we drove into the village I saw a man with a camera and long lens walking up the road.  I stopped and asked it he had seen the Rose-coloured Starling.  'Yes', he said 'its just over there' pointing to the side of the road where I had stopped the car.  And sure enough it was - tick 199 for me.

Rose-coloured Starling
 This is a bird I have wanted to see for a long time.  I was reminded a few days ago that when I was a young boy looking through bird books this was one of the birds I thought had a wow factor.  But this was a bit of a disappointment.  For a start there was no challenge to find the bird.  There it was, pointed out to us and in the open.  No real birding skills were required to see it and photograph it.  It was not in a wild sort of place but next to houses and neatly kept gardens.

Rose-coloured Starling
Worst of all, it was all hunched up and not looking at all well.  It was not the confident, inquisitive, aggressive bird that is constantly on the move that I was expecting.  Perhaps it was feeling lonely, they normally spend their summer in the Balkans, some 2000 miles away in tight breeding colonies. They spend their winter in large flocks in India and tropical Asia over 4000 miles away.  It certainly would have been feeling the cold and no doubt finding it difficult to find its favourite food - Locusts. Why this one decided to spend its summer in Scotland at a holiday caravan park we will never know.

We had lunch, over looking Grannie's Heilan Hame, it was the closest we could get to a view of the sea, and went on our way.  As we went past the spot where we had seen the bird it was not there.  Someone was using the nearby bench to tie their shoelace so presumable had scared the bird away so it must have been more active than we thought.

Our next stop on this trip was to Tollie, an RSPB site where Red Kites are given some supplementary food at 14.30 every day.  There were four Kites at the feeding station, and countless numbers of Herring Gulls. 

Magda Stocking Up The Red Kite Bird Table

Chunks of meat are put onto a large bird table, by RSPB volunteers.  The kites don't stop.  They swooping and pick up a piece of meat eating it on the wing.  The Gulls come in and land on the table to get their share of the food.  One of Magda's tasks was to keep the Gulls away but let the Kites feed.

Red Kite and Herring Gulls at the Bird Table
Red Kite Feeding on the Wing

Before and after the feeding session the Kites perched in their favourite tree

Red Kite

Red Kite

Red Kite
Just before we left Tollie Magda told us about a Loch that had a Slavonian Grebe with chicks that was nearby.  When we got there the weather was so bad that we couldn't leave the car let alone look for a Grebe.  Somewhere to come back to?

We broke the long journey home with another stop at Lossiemouth to see if the Mediterranean Gull was around.  This time there were even more Gulls than in the morning.   Another birder told us he had seen the bird and it had the habit of sitting on the opposite grass bank further up the estuary.  It was a bit of a trek, scanning all the Gulls as we went. Not too far up stream as it turned out one of our 'stops and scan' sessions revealed the Mediterranean Gull.  The end of a long quest was over and it was bird 200 for me. I had reached my target.  Getting a good photo of the bird was not possible.  Here is the best I could do.

Mediterranean Gull

The Gull was visible though a telescope.  Looking through the camera view finder I could not see it.  The grassy area was somewhat featureless so it was a question of pointing the camera in the right direction and hoping that you got it in the frame.  The Med Gull is the one standing up. It has a black eyebrow and a carrot coloured bill and no black on the wing tips - a adult bird going into winter plumage.

If you had asked me when I set off which of the target birds I would want to e number 200 I would have said the Rose-coloured Starling a bird I have always wanted to see and thought was out of reach.  Now, given the slight disappointment of the sighting I think it is more fitting that it was the Mediterranean Gull.  I have looked through many a flock of Gulls for this bird all round the Buchan coastline.  It felt that, like the Cappercallie, it would be a bird that I would not see this year.  

So what now?  I have reached my target of 200 birds and there is still five months of the year to go.  I will not as some have suggested raise my target.  However, neither will I stop bird watching.  But I will do so in a much less frenetic way, I will be more relaxed about it.  I certainly won't be going on 300 mile trips to see a bird that has been unfortunate to be off course (unless its a really good one!).  There are a few birds that are not on my list that for various reasons should be.  The Cappercaillie as an iconic bird of the Scottish Highland should be on every ones list and on mine.  Whinchat and Redstart have so far eluded me as have Shearwaters.  Woodcock is a bird that every birder I know has seen but I have never seen one, to me it is a myth.  
Over the next few weeks the wader passage will get underway with lots of wading birds leaving their breeding grounds bound for Africa and using the UK as a fuel stop.  Later on the smaller warblers and other passerines will be making their journey to Southern Europe and Africa, with some stopping here briefly on their way.  With these large scale movements there is always the chance that the odd rare bird not on my year list will turn up.  If its not too far away I will go and see if I can find it.  In the meantime I will enjoy the daily coming and going of common and garden birds trying to take decent photos of them.  So I will carryon with this blog to let people know how I am getting on and to share the photos.

Total on list 200 


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

I was asked why I hadn't done a blog recently

Someone asked me the other day why I had not done a blog for a few weeks.  I have to confess to being a bit flattered.  I didn't know my #My200BirdingYear would be missed.  
All the excuses I that sprang to mind seemed a little weak.  I had a cold at the beginning of July (no that was probably in June).  My sister and her partner visited ( not a good reason as we did some bird watching.  Jill's Buchan Birds and Beasts Studio was open to the public last week end and I was doing lots of work to help her prepare (not good enough - that week I saw a Green Sandpiper that was a new tick for the year list)
I think the real reason was that I had spent a lot of time going to places and not seeing the target bird (Green Sandpiper being the exception) so a blog would have been 'went there, didn't see a lot, came home' and quite boring.
So when I didn't have a cold at in the middle of the month I was going on my morning walks and seeing the usual sort of birds and wildlife 

Spotted Flycatcher


Female Bullfinch
Juv. Dunnock

When my sister visited we went to the Ythan and the Bullers of Buchan
Common Seal


Juv. Kittiwake
Arctic Tern
Sandwich Tern

During the month everyone seems to have been seeing Manx Sheerwaters off the coast so I have spent the odd half hour at Kinnaird Head looking out to sea through my telescope and not seeing any at all.  
The other bird I did not see in July was a Mediterranean Gull.  Word came out the Margaret had seen it at Cairnbulg Harbour.  I go there nearly every day when I go to get the daily paper and hadn't seen one.  I was making special trips to the harbour to find it on 'my patch'.  On one occasion it was to meet Margaret who had just seen it.  No luck no Gull.  Later it came through the internet that it had been seen just a couple of miles  (if that) down the coast at Inverallochy Golf Course.  I had a few more goes at finding the bird in both locations without success.  I gave up when a report came through that it had been sen at the Loch of Strathbeg Lagoon on the 27th.  No one has seen it since.  On one of the days I did get a good Arctic Skua photo
Arctic Skua
The other birding thing to report is that I found a few colour ringed birds at Cairnbulg.  One was a Sanderling - third bird from the left in this photo.


 I have reported the sighting and been told that it the white one with a little flag could be an American ring.  I haven't had any feedback yet.

I found two Black-headed Gulls with rings.  One was a juvenile the other an adult, with a long lens and a heavy crop it is possible to read the lettering on the ring. 
Ring on an Adult Black-headed Gull
I have had feedback:-
'This bird was ringed by Grampian RG as age at least 2 years, sex unknown on 17-Jul-2014 23:00:00 at Ythan Estuary, Newburgh, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, UK'

The one success has been the Green Sandpiper.  On 23rd (the same day I took the Arctic Skua photo) I got a message from Jimmy that there had been a 'possible' sighting of one at the Loch of Strathbeg.  When I got there the visitors centre was shut, I had to peep through the artistic screen to see what was on and around the Starnafin Pool.  Here is an image of the screen I took a long time ago.

Trying to find one of those cut-outs at the right height for a telescope is not easy.

Not long after I arrived Alex turned up.  He had got the same message from Jimmy.  It was staring to get gloomy.  A midst was coming down and we were not finding the Green Sandpiper.  From the scene there was one patch of ground that we could not see.  It would have been foolish if we had left and not tried to find a view point that covered that bit.  We did find such a place by skirting round the barn and trampling through the undergrowth to a fence that provided the vantage point we were looking for.  But the Green Sandpiper was not to be seen.  Visibility continued to deteriorate.  We were just on the point of calling it a 'lost cause' when Alex saw the bird fly into the very patch of ground we had moved to cover.  It was not there long enough for either of us to get a photograph.  It flew further away to one of the islands in the wet ground beyond Starnafin Pool.  That flight was enough to confirm that it was indeed the Green Sandpiper, its white rump and two tone body clearly visible.   Again it did not stop there long but flew even further away.  There it settled down and there we were able to get a photo albeit leaving a lot to be desired.

Green Sandpiper
 Alex and I were able to leave Starnafin with a bit of a smile on our faces.

As is the way of these things the following day several people went to Strathbeg to see the Green Sandpiper but were not successful.  And as id the way of such things over the next few days I saw the bird on three different days during my early morning walk round Lonmay.

Total on list 198