Words and images from 22/11/2015
As promised it was an early start this morning with Long-eared Owls our goal and a desire to make the most of what limited daylight hours we were to be afforded given the time of year. Our destination was Aberlady local nature reserve, the very first area to be designated as such in 1952 and today an absolute haven for birds and birders alike. Encompassing a wide range of habitats from beach through to dunes and grassland beyond we were greeted by the sight of hundreds of Wigeon feeding along with a similar number of Teal and a smattering of Shelduck. Mixed in amongst them were several Redshanks and a flash of blue signalling the passage of a Kingfisher, first downstream and then back the way it had come. Curlews and Oystercatchers were also present in good numbers and, standing on the wooden bridge that grants access to the reserve proper, I already had the feeling that this was going to turn out to be a very good day indeed.
Up ahead Sea Buckthorn lined the path on either side and in full berry it was providing more than ample feeding opportunities to a whole host of species. Bullfinches, Reed Buntings, Song Thrushes, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Goldcrests and even a male Blackcap were all taking their fill but it was hard not to be enthralled by at least twenty Fieldfares. For some reason we seem to see this species relatively infrequently but today the light was fantastic, the Fieldfares relatively obliging and I managed to get a few photos of which I’m particularly pleased. You’ve got to love those orange berries.
Fieldfares actually proved to be pretty abundant for much of the day with their squabbling calls often heard well before the birds themselves were seen. Only the open dunes were devoid but there was plenty more there to keep us occupied. First up was the question of those Long-eared Owls but despite scanning the target vegetation around Marl Loch we drew a blank. A combination of elusive birds, thick bushes and a large search area had us beat but any disappointment was short lived as a flock of several hundred Pink-footed Geese flew overhead. The combination of bird and scenery reminded me more than a little of Norfolk.
Casting our gaze out across the water I got my first glimpse of the Forth bridges, a series of structures I’ve wanted to see for many years. Hopefully we’ll be getting a little closer to these before the week is out. Hunkered down in the foreground were three Roe Deer, part of a local herd of which we saw several individuals across the reserve and surrounding area.
To be honest though, all this had just been a mere aperitif to the main course we were about to enjoy. Dropping down onto the beach at Aberlady Bay we immediately spotted eight Sanderling before a passing duck sent my mind racing towards Velvet Scoter. Black body, white wing patches, red legs. There could be no doubt yet having only seen this species once before I wanted confirmation. I didn’t have to wait long. A passing trawler sent a huge flock of birds into the air, hundreds upon hundreds of Scoters as it turned out with a split roughly fifty fifty between Common Scoter and Velvet Scoter with a supporting cast of several hundred Eider. I could scarcely believe it. Racing over to Gullane Point we settled down out of the bitingly cold wind and watched as the flock milled about before finally settling down. Once on the water several sections of birds were close enough that through the scope I could see their white eye markings and yellow bills. Truly stunning birds yet even they were about to be eclipsed.
Also passing through were at least six Long-tailed Ducks, all of them males and in full winter plumage. Though distant to start with we were soon treated to a fly past by three individuals which were hugging the coast tightly giving crippling views of their distinctive plumage and long tail feathers. I was in absolute heaven. Surely a photo was out of the question though? Apparently not. A little further round the coast in Gullane Bay at least three more Long-tailed Ducks were present allowing a couple of distant record shots to be taken. Stunning birds all and surely the best seawatch I’ve ever had the pleasure to participate in.
Even this wasn’t the end though as along with the gathered Turnstones and Oystercatchers I managed to turn up a Purple Sandpiper. I must admit this was pure luck as opposed to any birding nouce but what a stunner and for once not in the shadow of a certain Welsh seawall.
I could have kept watching the Scoter flock for hours truth be told but my frozen fingers and face encouraged a return to our walk. Heading into Gullane village itself Oystercatchers were making the most of manicured lawns and golf greens so I thought I’d do the same. Who said golf was just a good walk spoiled.
The neighbouring farmland held a flock of seven Skylarks which gave us a brief burst of song which seemed incongruous in the freezing conditions. Fieldfares and Reed Buntings were also back on the scene as were a hundred or so Woodpigeon and another Roe Deer. Once again the Sea Buckthorn was a focus for activity with a couple of Starlings also getting in on the action.
Back at the car a solitary Greenshank had joined the Redshanks but another attempt at finding the Long-eared Owls drew a blank. Not to worry as I was still buzzing from those Scoter! Aberlady had one last treat in store for us though. As the sun sank behind the Pentland Hills several skeins of Pink-footed Geese appeared and flew directly overhead. There must have been thousands of birds present and it was a fitting send off for what had been a truly fabulous day.
And, in case you’re wandering what that large structure is on the distant shore, stay tuned and all will be revealed.