Thursday, 12 January 2012

I've developed a twitch...

Wednesday forecast looked fairly dry so I decided to finally make the trip up to the Loch Fleet area to see the Greater Yellowlegs. It's been there for over three weeks now but I was a bit wary of going up because I hadn't done anything like that before and I wasn't familiar with the area. But it had gone on long enough and I knew if I didn't at least give it a go I would regret it. I decided to make a day of it by taking in some other sites in the area.

I left the house just after 8 and filled up in Dingwall first. Some fantastic views of several Buzzards on the way up and I arrived at Dornoch Beach just as the sun was rising and there wasn't another person to be seen. I took a stroll West first, it was a beautiful morning and the sea was calm. There wasn't much of note straight away, a couple Carrion Crows and 16 Oystercatcher at the point. I made my way back when a lone White-fronted Goose flew over, the belly had very obvious bold black patches, Greenland perhaps? Anyway another lifer for me, great start. I now headed East of the carpark. As I headed along the beach I noticed more and more birds out on the sea. Spent almost an hour watching Common Scoters (another lifer), Common Eiders and Long-Tailed Ducks, the two latter both year ticks. Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls were also present. As I was looking through my scope something caught my eye just in front of me that on first impression looked different. I looked up after fumbling for my camera and they had gone but just to my left were 2 Turnstone (year tick) and I assumed thats what I saw. A couple minutes later the birds appeared on top of the rock in front of me again, two Purple Sandpipers! Another lifer and very obliging for photos. As I started to make my way back to the car I spotted a Red-Throated Diver and you guessed it, another life tick.

Red-throated Diver - Gavia stellata

Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Purple Sandpiper - Calidris maritima
What an excellent morning and a good indicator, I hoped, for the rest of the day. As I headed back to the car there were 2 Yellowhammer in the Gorse bushes another year tick. I decided now to check out Embo so I headed North to Embo pier. Again there was a good number of birds out on the sea, this time all Eiders. Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Cormorant (including a dead one on the beach) were present. From the pier itself a Red-Breasted Merganser and another Red-throated Diver were seen. On the way out of Embo, 6 Greylag were spotted in a roadside field.

Cormorants - Phalacrocorax carbo

Deceased juvenile Cormorant
It was now time to head off to the South Side of Loch Fleet near Skelbo to see if I could connect with the Greater Yellowlegs, I must admit I was quite apprehensive. A decent sized flock of Lapwings were seen on the way there. I made it to the location near the entrance to Coul Farm and checked all the reported places it had been seen (several times by the time I left) but no luck, just a few gulls and pheasants. There was however a massive flock of finches which consisted mostly of Chaffinch but with good numbers of Greenfinch, Linnet and Brambling! The Brambling has been one of my favourite birds ever since I saw one for the first time when a lone male appeared in my garden early 2010. I hadn't managed to see once since so to see them in such numbers was excelllent.

Brambling - Fringilla Montifringilla

I ventured down the track to the South shore of Loch Fleet to check the inlets for the GY just incase but again no sign of it, there was however a noisy restless flock of small birds moving about on the shoreline and closer inspection revealed them to be Twite, a bird I first saw on a beach in Northern Ireland last year. I left this area and checked the flooded field near Coul Farm one last time just incase but with no luck, so my first real twitch was a fail but at least I tried. I then headed on further round the road to a roadside carpark just beside the ruins of Skelbo Castle with views right across the loch.

Skelbo Castle ruins
A half hour spent watching from the carpark produced numbers of Wigeon, Mallard, Oystercatchers, Eiders, Curlew, Redshank and a Little Grebe. There were also some Common Seals watching me closely just offshore.

By now I was starting to lose light so I called it a day and what a brilliant day it was and probably my last full day of birding til around Easter. 38 species seen, 4 life ticks and another 10 year ticks, not bad. Now it's time to crack on with all this coursework, for real this time!

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