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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Surprises Through My Zeisses / 5, A Bird-Fest! (1 Viewer)

Troubador

Moderator
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You are welcome to join me in this ‘bird-fest’, the fifth of a series of articles taking a look back over my shoulder at some sightings that have not only delighted us but startled and surprised us.

Way back in 1977, when I was toting a Zeiss Dialyt 10x40B (not the BGA I later had for 26 years) we went to visit the mountains of the Cairngorm region of north-east Scotland, guided by many hours of poring over books in my home city’s central library, searching for clues as to where to find Dotterel Charadrius morinellus and Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix. This was well before the internet era and so it was that we based our plans on the flimsiest of information.

Dotterels breed at high altitudes and so it was that we found ourselves slogging our way up the side of 1,050m / 3,400ft high mountain (by the way, in Scotland, no matter how high the summit is, it is always referred to as a hill) and through a permanent snow-field and out onto the summit plateau of our chosen site. Around us was an unfamiliar world with unfamiliar vegetation but with a staggering view, and air that was totally free of the smells of human occupation and activity. It was the first time we had encountered an atmosphere worthy of that cliché “the air was like wine”.

Frankly we were at a loss as to what to do next. How do you search such a huge area while minimising the risk of disturbing the very wildlife you hoped to see? Fortunately, and unbelievably, this question was answered by the appearance about 25 metres away of a male Dotterel and its brood of small fluffy chicks, maybe four of them, the females departing the breeding ground early and leaving the males to bring them up.

We were simply mesmerised by this scene and hardly dared breathe let alone speak. Through my binos the male was a fabulous mix of plumages. It had cryptic patterns on its mantle and wing coverts, but this camouflage seemed totally at odds with its huge pure white eye-stripe and its white cheeks. On its lower belly there was a black patch vaguely reminiscent of a Dunlin’s, while the upper breast and flanks were a warm colour that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a breeding-plumage Knot. And did I mention the white crescent across its upper breast? This was like no other wader/shorebird that we had seen before, or indeed, since.

Suddenly the male stepped forward a little and turned his head to briefly preen his wing coverts, and we had to smile when the chicks tried to copy his actions and staggered around unsteadily on their little legs, not knowing quite what they were trying to do.

We didn’t try to get any closer having had a perfectly wonderful view as it was, and were just about to turn away and start the long trek back down to the glen, when our ears were assailed by the loud, piercing, rasping trill of Dunlin Calidris alpina that flew down out of nowhere and landed at our feet. I don’t mean it landed nearby, it was literally within one short stride of our feet. Shocked, we just stood still and looked at it, hypnotised by its beautiful plumage, and scarcely able to believe it was just standing there, with its head on one side, looking straight up at us. We expected it to perform some kind of ‘injured bird’ distraction display, to lead us away from its nest, but it just ran a few metres and then flew away uttering its stuttering call again. What prompted it to do this? It remains a mystery but also a wonderful memory.

A couple of days later, after dinner in the evening, we left our hotel and made our way up the hill-side, out of the village to the golf course, and continued until we reached where the tended grassland finished, and the birch scrub and moorland began. This was where we waited among the shadows of the birch trees for Black Grouse to assemble for their lek. The light was already failing when we arrived, but within a very short time there was perhaps 9-10 males making their ridiculous and curious calls, parading around while a few hens watched, seemingly unimpressed.

My 10x40s still gave a decent view despite the half-light, but mindful of the trek back to the hotel over unfamiliar ground, we slunk through the trees and left the Grouse to their activities. We had just reached the rough track leading back down to the village when we heard a kind of grunt, followed by something like a squeak in the air above us, and saw a heavy-looking bird flying low over the tree tops with its long bill angled somewhat downwards: a roding Woodcock Scolopax rusticola!

I could go on to tell how, a few days later, we both ran from our BMW R90/5 motorcycle and headed down to hide under the spreading branches of a willow tree on the shore of small lochan in order to answer a desperate call of nature, and while we were ‘otherwise engaged’, how a Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus came swimming through the willow fronds, gave us a passing glance, then swam through the fronds on the opposite side of the tree and gave us the best view of Slavonian Grebe we have ever had. But I won’t bother with that. I will just say that we went home at the end of this holiday still scarcely believing our luck.


Lee
 

Pinewood

New York correspondent
United States
Hello Lee,

Bob Hope's theme song was "Thanks for the Memories." I thank you for your memorable encounters with the avian world.

Stay safe,
Arthur
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Hello Lee,

Bob Hope's theme song was "Thanks for the Memories." I thank you for your memorable encounters with the avian world.

Stay safe,
Arthur
You are welcome Arthur. We have maintained computer records of nature highlights that we have enjoyed and they have somehow survived being transferred from computer to computer over the years and we still have our notebooks going back decades. It has been fun revisiting these and selecting the incidents for the Surprises series.

Lee
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia

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