Monday, 6 February 2012

Selkies and razors...

After catching up with some coursework last week I was able to go out for the day (6th). I was in the mood for a good long walk and any birds would be a bonus, but it actaully turned into a pretty good birding day. The weather was perfect, calm, clear and sunny but not as cold as last week. I decided to head over to the South side of the Black Isle, taking in Avoch, Fortrose and Rosemarkie.

I arrived in Avoch about 10:00 and parked at the harbour. I made my along the shore to the mouth of the Burn. Plenty of gulls, Herring, Great Black-backed and Common. Redshank, Wigeon, Curlew and Oystercatcher were present as were the corvids - Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Rook. A pair of Mute Swans flew over head and landed in the burn. On the way back to the car a Rock Pipit was on the tideline.

Mute Swans
Rock Pipit
I then made my way round to Fortrose and Chanonry Point purposely driving past the school playing field as an Iceland Gull had been spotted there recently but no sign this morning. I parked at the point which was fairly quiet and started to make my way down the Rosemarkie side. Straight away off the point I could make out a group of auks but they were too far out for me to identify. There were also Herring and Great Black-backed gulls dotted about. Further on I could see several Cormorants fishing in the bay aswell as Red-breasted Mergansers. Getting closer to Rosemarkie beach and I spotted 2 Shag not far off-shore which were my first for the year. I had another go at identifying the auks but they were just too distant I did however pick out 2 Red-throated Divers.

Red-throated Diver
Carrion Crow eating something
I was now up to the busy part of Rosemarkie beach just after the burn. There was a crowd of people a couple hundred metres away but I couldn't make out what they were doing. Getting closer I realised there was a Grey Seal on the beach and it looked fairly young. There was already too many people so I decided to move on as to not stress it out even more. From here all the way to the end of the beach were more gulls, Cormorants, Red-breasted Mergansers and Oystercatchers. On top of the cliffs I caught a glimpse of a Buzzard and a Red kite. Before finding somewhere to sit for lunch a lone male Eider drifted past quite close.

Male Eider
After eating lunch I decided to make the long way back to the point and the car. I was facing into the sun now so I was walking with my head down and marching along. All of a sudden I caught something moving right in front of me that I would have stood on. It was a seal! Most likely the same one from earlier that had moved to a quieter spot. I had never been this close to a seal before and a strange feeling came over me and gazing into it's big intelligent eyes reminded me of reading about Selkies when I was in primary school. Again to me it looked like an immature Grey Seal but please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I didn't hang around for long as a small crowd was starting to form again.

Grey Seal

I continued making my way back. I watched a Great Black-backed Gull devour a large looking fish and it reminded me of my trip to County Kerry last year when I watched one tackling a large crab on the Magahrees beach. Similar birds seen earlier were still present. A flock of Linnets where in the Gorse bushes at the top of the beach and sadly a dead Common Guillemot had been washed in. Almost half 3 now and I was back at the point, by now the tide was right out and there were Oystercatchers, Curlew and Redshank but more importantly auks, right close in to the shore. There was a small group of Common Guillemots and a group of one of my favourite birds, Razorbills, brilliant, both year ticks. There was 1st-winter and adult-winter birds. I had only seen Razorbills once before again in Ireland last year on the Skellig Islands in breeding plumage. I watched them til they were too far out and some Goldeneye and a Common Seal put in an appearance.

Adult-Winter Razorbill
Adult-winter Razorbill

Common Guillemot
Male Goldeneye
I walked the last hundred or so metres to the car and a small bird flew over and landed on the beach. It was a Pied Wagtail. But what the bird did was draw my attention to a shaded corner or the shore and I noticed a group of birds. Closer inspection revealed Ringed Plover, Turnstone and others mixed in that I wasn't sure of straight away. I moved even closer and I realised they were Knot, a life tick. I moved slowly into position for a photo when a woman who could clearly see me and what I was doing let her dog off which then ran into the birds and scared them all off. The plus side is that the flock of c.100 Knot then took to the air and performed their aerial acrobatics in close formation which looked amazing in the low sunlight.

So what started off as just a long walk turned into a good day of birding with 36 species seen, 4 year ticks and 1 life tick.

Ringed Plover
Knot - Calidris Canutus

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