Long-eared Owl and Surf Scoter

Wednesday, December 09, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It’s just over a week since our return from Edinburgh and already it feels like a lifetime ago. The pace of modern life seems to leave no time to dwell on those rare moments of enjoyment before it’s back to the carousel that is my nine to five. Add in the impending doom of Christmas and the morning of Friday 27th is something I look back on with fondness and a renewed resolve to increase the regularity of those special moments next year (can I hear a New Year resolution on the horizon?). The weather forecast for the day was pretty dire with a heavy weather front moving in from the East so it was a pleasant surprise that after saying farewell to our cottage the sky still showed a little promise. Occasional breaks amongst fast moving cloud allowed glimpses of blue sky and as we pulled into the car park at Aberlady the light had a most pleasing quality indeed. With the tide out there were plenty of feeding opportunities for the gathered flocks of Teal, each bird picked out in such clarity that they positively shone. Redshanks busied themselves along the river channel and even our cautious early morning footsteps couldn’t help but disturb a wary Curlew, its angry calls cutting through the still morning air like a knife.

P1160687 - Aberlady

P1160691 - Teal, Aberlady

The Sea Buckthorn was still dripping in berries but initially it seemed that the quarrelsome Fieldfares had moved on. It was only when nearing Marl Loch that we finally caught a glimpse but the flock refused to show themselves above the thick mass of vegetation. Perhaps their wariness was wise as looking closer at our surroundings I spotted several branches plastered with feathers, the sure sign of Sparrowhawk plucking perches. Enclosed on all sides the narrow path must make an ideal hunting ground with only a lucky few making it to the open space beyond. We probably shared the same sense of satisfaction as shadow once more gave way to sunshine but I doubt they would have been as eager as us to connect with a Long-eared Owl. If you’ve been reading this series of posts from the start then you may recall that a trio of these birds arrived at Aberlady on the same day as us but despite much searching we sadly had to leave empty handed. With just an hour or so to spare I didn’t rate our chances this second time either so was surprised to hear Emma call out that she’d found one! In truth my scanning had been less than thorough but I quickly rushed over, followed her directions and then did a double take. We’ve all been there trying to convince ourselves that a thick reed is in fact a Bittern and I didn’t want a repeat here, ticking off a shaded branch instead of my last British Owl species yet to be seen. Then its head swivelled and I found myself looking into those beady eyes and there could be no doubt. Strangely Emma still wasn’t sure and it was only once I’d showed her my appalling record shot (judge for yourselves below) that we realised that neither of us was looking at the same spot. Somehow her directions had led me to another part of the thicket entirely and by chance exactly to where the Owl was sat. I’m claiming it therefore as my find no matter what she says.

P1160703 - Long-eared Owl, Aberlady

Despite trying to get a better view there was literally only one spot from which the Owl could be seen and after that initial movement it sat stock still until we’d left. What a cracking find though and hats off to whoever located the birds in the first place. Literally like looking for a needle in a haystack.

P1160710 - Aberlady

With one success, and a lifer no less, under our belts the obvious next thought was, let’s add another! Our second dip of the week had been the long staying Surf Scoter off Musselburgh and with another confirmed sighting on Thursday we had fingers firmly crossed that our luck would hold. Unbelievably, it did! Within less than a minute of rocking up at nearby Joppa we’d found the Surf Scoter a good way off shore but with that white back of the neck it stood out a mile from the three Velvet Scoter with which it was associating. The group stuck together as they drifted slowly off towards Edinburgh until, as the first drops of rain began to fall, they finally became too distant to keep track of. In a vain attempt at preserving the moment for prosperity I attempted another record shot which if anything managed to eclipse even the one above for epic badness. Such a shame they didn’t come any closer as the Surf Scoter truly was a fine looking beast.It also goes without saying of course that Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks were present as they had been all week.

P1160720 - Surf Scoter, Joppa

I’d have loved to linger a little longer along the Firth of Forth but with conditions rapidly deteriorating and a long drive home ahead of us, sense prevailed. There was just time for a very brief and soggy visit to the Falkirk Wheel before we bade Scotland farewell once more. This trip may have come about through the sad loss of a friend and family member but as a result we have discovered another wildlife rich area of the British Isles to which we are sure to return to many times over the coming years.

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