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Joseph's Blog of Birding (plus a bit of animal action!)

Posted Sunday 30th August 2009 at 20:21 by Joseph N
Updated Monday 31st August 2009 at 17:28 by Joseph N
August has been a month pretty much devoid of birding for me; having only been out 3 times this month. However, that is understandable due to school.

Since I lasted posted in here I have actually been out twice. The first time was a couple of days after I posted in here last, when my Dad and I went in search of the Surf Scoter for the 5th time this year. However, we failed yet again; despite a look carefully through all the flocks. But even though we didn't see it, we did see a flock of 75 or so Velvet Scoter, seperate from the nearby Common Scoter flock. I don't think we are going to try again for the Surfie. But lets put the Surf Scoter behind us for now, and focus on yesterday's birding.

29th August 2009:

Last week was one of the best weeks of August bird-wise in the UK, with reports of rare Shearwaters and petrels out at sea and quite a few American waders turning up too, what with the remnants of Hurricane Bill. With all these reports, my Dad and I thought it would be best to go out birding this weekend. We decided that Girdlness was the best place to check first, as the North-east of Scotland coast had had reports of numerous Sooty Shearwater and even a Pomarine Skua the day before, and there was a chance that a similar passage may be taking place.

Arriving at Girdlness mid-morning, we were greeted by a fine female Wheatear sitting on the rocks near Greyhope Bay. We then headed up to the Coo for a spot of sea-watching, where we would spend an hour. However, that hour didn't turn out to be particularly fruitful, with a passage of 60 close in Gannet. Meanwhile, on the concrete projection just by the Coo there was a party of 8 Knot, a Sanderling, 2 Ringed Plover and a few Redshank, which I thought was quite noteworthy. However, it was disappointing at the Ness, so my Dad and I set out towards the Ythan.

We arrived to find the tide was just going out. Most of the waders were by the car park near the bridge, and we set out to check them for any slightly more unusual species. Most of them turned out to be Lapwing and Redshank, with around 200 Lapwing and 100 Redshank. There were also good numbers of Dunlin, a few Greenshank, and a Knot amongst them, but nothing more than that. We then had a look at Waulkmill Hide, where a similar mix of waders were seen, plus a Common Sandpiper. Having now checked the main part of the Ythan, we then decided to head up to the Loch of Strathbeg, where things would get quite a lot better. Just as we were leaving the Ythan, we spotted a fine adult Peregrine sitting on the side of the road near Meickle Loch with some prey. Just as we were about to get our binoculars on him he then flew off, and discovered that he was eating a Redshank when we saw a pair of red led legs dangling from the Peregrine's talons.

It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at Strathbeg. In the Visitor Centre there was a generally loud atmosphere, as a kids wildlife club were visiting, and were making rather a lot of noise. Not many people were watching Starnafin when we arrived either, and we were soon to discover why.

" Due to a bit of flooding on the pools in front of the visitor centre, the waders and other birds have moved to the pools down by Tower Pool Hide, so its probably best you go down there for better views. Amongst the waders there was a Spotted Redshank, but I don't know if it is still there. We did also have a ring-tailed harrier over the reserve this morning. I'm going to head up there again fairly soon, so I expect to see you there." said the warden David Parnaby.

So after 10 minutes of staying in the Visitor Centre, we then headed off to the nearby Tower Pool hide, to find no-one there. As David had rightly pointed out, all the birds were here rather than round the corner at the Visitor Centre. It was teeming with bird life; amongst the copious common waders there were over 10 Ruff, 5 Greenshank several Knot, a big flock of 100 or so Teal, a small group of Pink-footed Goose (including a Barnacle Goose), a few Shoveler and a couple of Hooded Crows. Marsh Harriers also patrolled the area every now and then, sending the waterfowl up; up to three were seen at once at one point. Buzzards and Sparrowhawks also patrolled the area. One of the sparrowhawks landed on the fence just in front of the hide, a fine female showing absolutely superbly. It stayed there for a few minutes, before abruptly taking off and diving into the reeds, as if it had seen something.

These birds of prey acted as distractions to the task at hand; which was searching the wader flocks. Just as we were getting back to looking at the waders, almost every bird in sight suddenly took off; the waders, the flock of teal, the Sparrowhawk from the reeds, the three Marsh Harriers and even the Buzzards. What on earth could put up birds of prey as well as the ducks and waders? In reaction to this, my Dad and I were determined to find the source of this sudden but intense havoc, and we did.

Across the reeds, being mobbed by crows, I spotted a White-tailed Eagle swooping across Savioch and into Tower Pool. My Dad and I watched in absolute awe as this magnificent bird flew a long. It was absolutely huge; its wings were the size of a barn door (to use the phrase) and its sheer size was just astounding; it positively belittled the Grey Herons which squawked in fear as it passed them, and a Grey Heron is a big bird in its own right! I reckon this is the biggest bird I have ever seen in Britain! This White-tailed Eagle, named 'Ralf', is a long stay bird, but is generally quite elusive; you have to be lucky to see him. He circled the pools for a while, and then decided that he was going to land. At this point all the birds became slightly less worried, and settled down on the pools again, but the Marsh Harriers continued to patrol the reedbeds. On the ground, the White-tailed Eagle looked still looked huge, far bigger than any of the other birds. He sat there proudly, taking in the landscape around him as Lapwings attempted to mob him in anxiety. Such a beautiful sight it was; so unforgettable... 'Ralf' then proceeded to wash himself in the water, which was rather extraordinary! Water was splashing too and fro as he ruffled his feathers, raised his wings back and forward and shaked water onto himself. He did this for around 10 minutes, which enabled us to really examine him. He's a juvenile bird, quite scruffy in his way, and very dark coloured. His massive beak and talons really stand out; a very prominent yellow colour. It's a truly tantalizing experience to see Ralf, truely unforgettable. After his wash, he then took to the skies again, sending all the birds up and getting mobbed as he was before. For a moment he hesitated and landed on a post (where he still looked absolutely huge), before then flying out of view.

The White-tailed Eagle had been such a distraction and so awe-inspiring that we actually stopped birding for a couple of minutes just discussing the experience of seeing him. However, we did get back to watching the waders. Soon after the warden David Parnaby arrived as he said he would, and we checked the waders together. After half an hour or so of careful searching, there were no uncommoner species amongst them. We were about to leave Strathbeg altogether, very happy with what we had seen; but something kept us there.

As David looked at the waders through his very powerful scope, he spotted something on the loch.

" I think I've got a juvenile marsh tern of some sort flying on here," he said.

This attracted our attention. He told us where he could see it, and we tried to find it, but I only had my bins, and they couldn't see that far, and my Dad's scope didn't quite have the range to make it out either.

" Its now disappeared towards the south side of the Loch," said David, " I think I may go and have a look to see if I can find it again. I take it you will be doing the same?"

" Yes."

We then made our way to the southside of the Loch, rather excited. We arrived there to find David wasn't there yet, so we set out to see if we could see this mysterious marsh tern. Sure enough, after a couple of minutes of scouring the Loch, there was a marsh tern, which we identified as a juvenile Black Tern. For me, this is a British tick. However, the views were minimal, as it was a long way off and I was looking through my binoculars. But it had all the characteristics of a Black Tern; an arctic flew beside it which looked very white compared. The tern had a dark back and shoulders and an extensive black cap on its head, archetypal of a Black Tern. David arrived a few minutes later, and confirmed it was a Black Tern. The bird was seen again today at the same place. So despite a rather bad start to the day, it actually turned out to be fantastic!

Now, in the title to this particular thread, you may have noticed I mentioned a bit of animal action. Well, earlier today, my Dad and I found a hedgehog just outside the house crawling about by the curb and on the pavement. It was ridiculously tame, and absolutely adorable. I managed to get a video of it, which can be seen below.

I also have pictures:

Thanks very much for reading!

PS (31/8/09): Just got news that the marsh tern we saw at distance on Saturday has just been confirmed as a White-winged Black Tern. So in the end I actually had an even better day! As quoted by the RSPB Loch of Strathbeg sightings website:

'The marsh tern that was seen distantly on Saturday was slightly more obliging Sunday evening and its true identity came to light - it was the reserves fourth white winged black tern. It roosted on the Loch on Sunday night and has spent most of Monday feeding on the Loch.'
Total Comments 5


extremely good as usual joseph!! great one on the Eagle aswell, thats one bird i have always wanted to see

p.s great footage and pics of the hedgehog!!
Posted Sunday 30th August 2009 at 20:43 by tjbirdofprey tjbirdofprey is offline
Joseph N's Avatar
Thanks very much, tj! I was chuffed to see both the Eagle and the hedgehog! I am rather excited right now, as people are saying that the Black Tern my Dad and I might have been a White-winged Black! But I'm not entirely sure, and happy either way.
Posted Sunday 30th August 2009 at 21:39 by Joseph N Joseph N is offline
Joseph N's Avatar
Fantastic news! The marsh tern I saw distantly has been confirmed to be a White-winged Black Tern, a lifer for me! Read the blog entry for more!
Posted Monday 31st August 2009 at 17:29 by Joseph N Joseph N is offline
brilliant stuff again. I've yet to see Ralf (but I did see a whole family of WTEs on Mull, so I'm not too bothered. I'm planning on going that way tomorrow, a bit of sea watching at St. Combs, then round the reserve.
Posted Monday 31st August 2009 at 19:39 by Ken Hall Ken Hall is offline
Joseph N's Avatar
Thanks Ken, my Dad and I were going to go to Mull earlier this year to try and see some White-tailed Eagles but the trip was cancelled. Happy you saw some there, and good luck with your birding at Strathbeg and the St. Combes area.
Posted Tuesday 1st September 2009 at 20:58 by Joseph N Joseph N is offline
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