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 


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