Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bitternly cold!

Best birds from Hornsea Mere this morning were Black-necked grebe, Great northern diver, Bittern and Kingfisher. Below are a couple of digiscoped shots.

Bittern - North East corner (opposite bank to small alder trees)
GND (off Kirkholm point nr Swan island)
Black-necked grebe (off Kirkholm point looking south)

Friday, 22 February 2013

Agross the country! Mega trip… part 1!

Day 1... Monday 18th Feb.
The task was set… Shetland and a Pine Grosbeak! Andy and Ciaran bombed up to Edinburgh and we set off for Aberdeen. Little did we know what the trip had in store for us.
We made the ferry in good time and settled down for the long trip ahead. I managed brief views of 2 Bottlenose Dolphin as we were leaving Aberdeen.
Although the crossing was flat calm, sleeping on the ferry wasn’t comfortable (having not booked a cabin).
The weather throughout the trip was remarkably perfect… light winds, bright sunshine and not a hint of rain.

Day 2… Tuesday 19th Feb.
As the Ferry drew into Lerwick we took to deck and clocked at least 4 Otters and countless Long-tailed Ducks, Eiders and Ravens. Ravens made themselves known all over Shetland, particularly in Lerwick with at least 9 devouring the contents of a bin. 
We grabbed a quick much needed breakfast at co-op then picked up the hire car and headed to Collafirth. As soon as we arrived and jumped out of the car a voice shouted ‘if you’re looking for the Grosbeak it’s here’. Bingo! Bouncing branches gave away the big unit of a finch and we locked scopes and bins onto the bird. The bright amber gem of a bird then showed on and off for the next 20 minutes, dancing around feeding and even coming down to drink at less than 10 meters at one point. It slowly worked its way down the side of a small plantation before disappearing deep into the trees. The photos do not do this juicy beast any justice at all and merely act as ‘one for the record’.

Having never been to Shetland before and with only a day on the island we decided to take in a few sights. We headed up to Esha Ness, taking in the spectacular landscape of Shetland and got crippling views of a Merlin devouring a starling by the side of the road. At Esha Ness the conditions were insane as the Fulmars put on a good show. 5 Minutes down the road after leaving the lighthouse Andy pipes up ‘shit where are my bins?’… On a rock back at Esha Ness… Andy! Big Lad maintained a theme throughout the trip… ‘shit where are my car keys?’ ‘Where is my wallet’ etc. etc.

Next on the journey was Scalloway where we had been told the Ring-billed Gull had been frequenting. A few slices of bread later and the 1st winter beauty put on a good show allowing for a few nice snaps in good light.

We then headed for Shetland Catch, a well known spot for white wingers and a few other interesting bits. As we drove up to the quay a stonking brute of a Glaucous Gull stood about 10ft from the car… like it had been waiting for us to arrive. What a massive unit of a Gull! We enjoyed superb views of Long-tailed ducks displaying in the sunshine and totted up 3 (possibly 4) Glaucs, an Iceland, plenty of Mergansers and Eider not to mention the cronking ravens surrounding us on all sides. The perfect end to the perfect day. Fully satisfied we settled back onto the ferry for a pint (not for Ciaran who had given up Alcohol for lent).

Out for a duck! Mega trip… part 2!

Day 3 Wed 20th Feb

Waking up early the following morning Andy cranked up his phone and for some reason we checked RBA… DRAKE HARLEQUIN DUCK… North Uist… and so a short debate started… Should we… Can we… Shall we… YES!

We checked a few travel arrangements and worked out the logistics of the task ahead and off we went. Andy’s sat-nav clearly knew that Ciaran had given up alcohol and took us on an interesting route along the Whisky trail… distillery after distillery shone in the sunshine much to his annoyance.
Stupidly thinking that the only ferry was at 6pm we took a casual drive over, stopping at Asda for supplies. Later we realised that the next ferry was actually at 2pm. It was going to be tight and boy oh boy it was tight… arriving into Uig just as the ferry was pulling into harbour with only minutes to spare. We quickly booked on and settled in and took a quick watch from the deck enjoying superb views of Great Northern Divers and several s/p Black guillies. We discussed plans and directions with a few birders on the boat and checked a couple of maps in the onboard shop. 
With about an hour of light left we disembarked from the boat and headed straight for RSPB Balranald. Upon arrival we teamed up with a couple who had also been with us on Shetland… what an odd game this is! We were greeted at the Balranald visitor centre by the sound of Barnacle Geese in the fields but we had bigger fish to fry and headed straight to the presumed location and began scanning the sea. Merganser… Great Northern… Shag... With no sign of the duck and light fading, Ciaran made a quick call to the warden who thankfully had left his number in the visitor centre. Then after a quick chat with a local man in a 4x4 we all bundled into the vehicle. The man had no knowledge of the duck and seemed bemused at why we were here (especially when we later told him we had been on Shetland the previous day) but he knew the name of the location we had been given and did the sterling task of giving us all an off-road trip in the 4x4.
Almost as soon as we arrived scopes went up and frantic scanning began… Almost the first bird in my scope was a big black looking duck. RESULT! For the next half an hour as the light began to fade we enjoyed good views of this stonking duck. He even gave a little flight at one point. Flapping fast and looking a little portly before he landed and stood on a small rocky outcrop. A showy juv Glauc clearly wanted some attention as it flew over the Harlequin duck at one point, as did two Whooper Swans calling, but nothing could distract our attention from this true northern gripper of a duck. Magical!

Thankfully we managed to find a great little hostel on the island that night. A much needed shower and a good night’s sleep then back for another sesh with the duck... hopefully in better light. 

Day 4 Thu 21st Feb
In the morning we got up early and headed to the roost site to find the duck sitting in exactly the same place we left him. With the sun rising and the clarity improving by the second we took in the sights and sounds of North Uist. As the sun rose and began to illuminate more detail on the distant drake we snuck down onto the rocks for a closer view. The colours and detail in the morning sunshine put the previous nights viewing to shame. A few of us managed to blast of a few shots on the camera, but with a brisk wind the images represent little more than a record… but what a record!

We took our fill of this stunning bird then made a quick lap of the island to see what else could be found. Singing Corn Bunting and flocks of Twite and Linnets fluttered over the Machair and less than 15 minutes later we were watching a fem Ring-necked Duck, which a local birder had tipped us off about. Excellent! What else could this stunning location throw up. 

A little further down the road we logged a stunning Grey Male Hen Harrier, and while scanning the miles of white beaches Andy shouted ‘I think I have a Sea Eagle’. Initially the bird appeared more like a large stocky mammal sat out on the vast expanse of sand. Although distant the size of the bird could clearly be seen, dwarfing a Great black-backed gull which landed next to it. Short wing flaps and flights revealed the massive wingspan of this fishy konk of a bird. On the return ferry journey we enjoyed more views of Great Northern’s and Black Guilles and a distant Golden Eagle soaring high over the hills behind the port at Uig.

All in all, the trip was stunning in terms of weather, birds, company and scenery. Thanks guys! This is a trip we will all remember for a VERY long time! WHAT A TRIP!