Thursday, 22 December 2011

To Cromarty and back again, a birder's tale...

I had decided yesterday evening to check out some areas on the North Side of the Black Isle. After waking up a look out the window showed the weather to be very wet and gloomy but I didn't want to waste the day and decided to go out anyway.

After filling up at Tesco in Dingwall I headed back across the Cromarty Bridge and took the first left towards Cromarty. First stop was to check the fields around Findon Mains. I have been hoping to see some White-fronted and Pink-footed geese this winter and this was one of the places I was advised to check out by a fellow member of the Highland & Moray Birds Forum. Unfortunately there was no sign so I moved on.

The second stop of the day would be Newhall Point (NH 70952 67152). The weather was starting to brighten up a bit by this point and on the road down to the point I noticed a flock of approximately 50 Curlew feeding in a field and stopped to have a quick look in one of the passing places. Whilst parked a Sparrowhawk swept over a nearby hedge and flew straight up the road towards the car and over the top, a great view. 20 minutes spent scanning the area around the point produced a handful of Redshank, 2 Carrion Crow, 1 Oystercatcher, 1 Herring Gull, 4 Mallard, 12 Wood Pigeons, 1 Robin, 1 Fieldfare and a handful of Blackbirds.

Whilst standing at Newhall point I could hear a racket as the numbers of geese were building up at my next stop, Udale Bay. Whilst making my way along the road to Udale, more Redshanks and Oystercatchers were seen on the shoreline as well as Blackbirds and House Sparrows in the hedgerows and a Pheasant crossed the road in front of me.

Udale Bay is an RSPB reserve five miles West of Cromarty. It is an extensive area of mudflat, saltmarsh and wet grassland and attracts thousands of birds especially at this time of year. The best time to visit is an hour or two either side of high tide and today I had timed it just right. Views of the reserve can be obtained from the layby (NH712651) but there is also a hide if you wish. There was masses of birds on the reserve as the tide was going out including the hundreds of Geese heard earlier. Unfortunately the geese were too far away for me to ID with just binoculars but I was informed by another birder there that it was pretty much all Greylags and Pink-footed. A couple hours spent watching produced good numbers of Grey Geese spp., Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Redshank, Dunlin, Lapwing and Bar-tailed Godwits. There was also Mute Swans with juveniles, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Starlings, Herring Gull, Greater Black Backed Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull and Black Headed Gull. A count of 66 Curlew were in the field across the road from the layby. I am confident there were more species but without a scope it was difficult.

Udale Bay RSPB Reserve
I then made my way to Cromarty, parking at the habour and having a quick spot of lunch in the car. There was a mass of gulls in the Harbour and 10 Jackdaw. A small number of House Sparrows, Chaffinch and a Robin were in the hedges. I headed East from the Harbour along the beach. 16 Oyster Catcher were huddled together on the tide line and a little further on and a closer look produced a flock of 43 Ringed Plover.

View from Beach of Sutors of Cromarty
Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus

By the time I had reached the end of the beach I had counted 5 Cormormants and 1 Red-Breasted Merganser feeding out in the bay and 2 Pied Wagtails on the shoreline. A single male Eider duck flew East out towards the North Sea. I retraced my steps back along the beach snapping a few of the gulls to test my ageing skills later on when something caught my eye about 50m from the shore. It was a group of superb looking Long-tailed Ducks. A group of 5, 4 males and 1 female. This species was a life tick for me and made the outing to Cromarty more than worth it. To top it off, two grey seals were also making an appearance in the background.

Male Long-Tailed Duck - Clangula hyemalis
Long-Tailed Ducks - 3 Male 1 Female

By now the clouds were getting very dark again and the wind was picking up. I made my way home via Dingwall so I could have a quick check at Ferry Point. A half hour spent scanning the shore produced c100 Greylag Gees, c80 Wigeon, 42 Redshank and c200 Dunlin. There were also Oytercatcher, Mute Swans, Mallards and 4 Goldeneye. The usual gull species were about and songbird species hanging around the carpark.

All in all a good day, a day I very nearly surrendered to the weather but I am very glad I didn't.

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