Thursday, January 14, 2021

πŸ“– Post Lockdown Update Day 10

My first post of 2021 and once again we find ourselves under strict lockdown conditions but this time there are two subtle differences for me. Firstly we are now residing back on 'dry land' in a different country and secondly, unlike the previous lockdown spent on the canal in England during what was a glorious springtime, we're now in the darkest month of January and up here in the north-east of Scotland we'd be lucky to get just over six hours of daylight at this time of year. Also, because of the new restrictions, my almost daily jaunts to the coast are now, unfortunately 'out of bounds'. 

The view over the River Don ~ Just a short walk from home.

Staying positive, there's still plenty of local area's to explore including the nearby River Don, just a mile from the house, the Fetternear Estate, the pools at Dalmiddy Ponds and the hills of Bennachie. 

One of the local Dippers along the bank of the River Don.

So far during the lockdown, I've managed a number of walks along both banks of the nearby River Don which is running quite fast at the moment due to the snowmelt. During my visits and despite the conditions I've now managed to establish the preferred location of a pair of Dippers

A short video of my 1st ever singing Dipper.

Needless to say, I've spent lots of time watching and attempting to photograph the birds and yesterday (13th) I even managed to film one singing using my DSLR. A memorable moment, particularly in the depths of January and I can't help thinking I may well have struggled recognising the song if the bird hadn't actually been directly in front of me.


Both Goosander and Goldeneye are both regulars along the river here but despite the habitat, I've yet to record a single Grey Wagtail. In fact, It's been an interesting learning curve since moving north and in particular, the discovery that certain species I was so used to seeing in the Midlands are not commonplace or are even absent from Aberdeenshire. Examples include Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, Willow TitLesser-spotted Woodpecker, Little Owl, Green Woodpecker, Great Egret, Great Crested Grebe and even Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which move south for the winter. Come the summer I'm told that there's more chance of coming across a Blyth's Reed Warbler than a Eurasian Reed Warbler, the latter a bird I've filmed & photographed many times from the boat window! 

One of the many trails around Bennachie

The hills and tracks around the Bennachie hills provide plenty of good habitat and Crossbills are a regular feature here. I've also inadvertently flushed a few Woodcock during my walks and where the land opens out 1000s of Pink-footed Geese can be found feeding and if your patient enough to search through them you may find a Bean Goose, Snow Goose or White-fronted Goose, sadly only Greylags thus far for me! Whooper Swans pass over on occasions and later in the winter I'm told, the area is known for large groups to congregate along the river nearby, I look forward to that. 

Common Crossbills are a regular species at Bennachie 

During one of my hikes I came across a huge flock of 2/300 Chaffinch and while scanning the birds I managed to pick out at least 3 Brambling, although with the birds very mobile and hard to pin down I'm certain there were more. Bullfinch's are also in good numbers up here, one tree holding at least nineteen birds, my biggest ever count by far. Siskin is also pretty common but Lesser Redpoll is a little more scarce, but they are around. Sadly, this year thus far has not been an invasive year for Waxwings but there's still time.

Bullfinch seems to be reasonably common to the area.

Goldeneye along the River Don

Lesser Redpoll ~ Scarce but can still be found.

Always a joy to see Redwings

Siskins are commonplace around the woodlands


Friday, January 01, 2021

2020 ~ A Challenging Yet Successful Year!

On a personal note and despite all the difficulties that 2020 has brought to us all I would have to say that for Dazza and me its been a pretty successful year.

A Black Wheatear on New Years Day 2020 at Sendero Cerro de la Medialuna Mijas Spain

We actually began 2020 in Spain, having spent the Christmas and New Year period at my friend's villa in Mijas, not arriving back into the UK until January 3rd. Little did we know when visiting Sendero Cerro de la Medialuna in Mijas on New Years Day that this would be our last trip abroad for the foreseeable future, with planned visits to the US, Hungary and more trips to Spain and France all falling to COVID.

Sunset at the marina on Day 1 of Lockdown ~ I can think of worse places to be locked down!

When on the 16th March 2020 Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that all unnecessary social contact should cease we knew things were getting serious. But of course, it wasn't until March 23rd that Boris Johnson told the country that people ‘must’ stay at home and a multitude of businesses must close with immediate effect. I have to say that things changed pretty rapidly for me with the closure of Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve, where I spent many hours both birding and volunteering and our home marina locking down, meaning that all non 'liveaboard' activity should cease. In an instant life had changed quite dramatically!

A Black Tern at Napton Reservoir on day 25 of Lockdown ~ My first here in over 15 years of visiting.

That said it wasn't long before I began to take some positives from so many negatives. With the nearby Napton Reservoir now closed as a fishery and the marina closed to traffic and non-residents I found myself completing many of my permitted daily exercises without seeing a soul. The benefit of having no fishing at the reservoir also began to pay off immediately. You can read my full lockdown story HERE but suffice to stay that I managed a creditable 100 species by the time full lockdown ended, several of which I'd never seen at the reservoir in over 15 years!

Aberdeenshire Scotland

2020 was also a huge lifestyle change for us both too and it was all brought about much sooner than we'd anticipated by the pandemic! We'd purchased a property in Aberdeenshire in April 2019 and planned to rent until moving up permanently sometime in the autumn of 2021. However, with Dazza now successfully working from home due to COVID and after discussions with her colleagues it was agreed that this could now become a permanent arrangement with Dazza flying back to Birmingham for a few days every other week. Amazingly our tenants had just given notice too that they intended to leave in mid-September and so the decision was made, we move a year early in October! 

'Quidditch' Our floating home for 16 years ~ Good luck to her new owners!

It was certainly a sad moment when Dazza and I stepped foot off 'Quidditch' our cherished floating home for over 16 years but we felt the timing was right. The memories of our years aboard, particularly in the early days cruising the canals and estuaries of England and Wales will remain forever and our new adventure now begins in the heart of Aberdeenshire Scotland. Details of our new patch can be found HERE. As I knew we would, we've already fallen in love with our new way of life and of course for Dazza its a return to home ground and imparticular Aberdeen, where she was born. 

From a personal perspective and despite the difficulties the pandemic has thrown at us all this has been for Dazza and me a pretty successful, if not challenging year. Oh, and by the way, my final UK birding year-list for the year ends at 206, not a bad effort I think! HAPPY NEW YEAR!! 

A Dozen of My Many Favourite Wildlife Images of 2020...

Playing hide and seek with a Wily Weasel at the marina during lockdown

One of many Yellow Wagtails at Napton Reservoir on Day 42 of lockdown

On Day 45 of Lockdown a cycle ride to Stockton Cutting for a Small Blue butterfly.

Whooper Swans depart the Ythan Estuary at sunset ~ A magical place We've come to love!

The 1st ever Cattle Egret at Brandon Marsh ~ A wonderful but frankly 'jammy' find.

Red Grouse abound ~ Just an hours drive, my 1st visit to the Cairngorms since moving north. 

A Moutain Hare ~ An Iconic species of the Highlands.

A stunning drake Long-tailed Duck ~ On one of my 1st visits to the Ythan Estuary.

Right place, right time ~ Another early morning at Brandon Marsh.

Already an amazing memory ~ Pink-footed Geese over Bennachie from the kitchen window!

Purple Sandpipers coming to roost at high-time ~ Girdleness Aberdeen.

Sanderling at Black Rock ~ Dazzas most favourite wader!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

πŸ“– Pre Xmas Update 08/12/20 ~ 22/12/20

πŸŽ„Since my previous post, I've spent my time birding the Aberdeenshire coastline beginning just south of Stonehaven at RSPB Fowlsheugh and as far north as RSPB Loch of Strathsbeg, where I managed an unexpected year-tick Green-winged Teal yesterday afternoon (Mon 21st). Along the Ythan Estuary, all the usual common waders can be found and out to sea things are pretty settled with little movement currently apart from the odd passing Red-throated Diver, plenty of Guillemots bobbing around and the usual selection of Eider Ducks. I'm still logging small groups of Bottlenose Dolphin and plenty of Seals, both Common & Grey. During one visit to Girdleness, a Weasel ran out in front of me while driving towards the lighthouse, but thankfully I managed to avoid it.

Fulmar at Collieston Harbour 

☃️The most fascinating thing I've noticed during this period has been just how quickly things can change here along the coastline. For example, just a week ago the cliffs were almost deserted but over the past several days, there's been a large influx of Fulmars, which despite the time of year and being mostly pelagic during non-breeding months have already begun to stake out the cliff face. In fact, since moving here permanently in October, you could count the number of Fulmars I've logged during my coastal visits on one hand. 

On water, they’re buoyant and sit very upright, while on land they cannot stand or walk, managing at best an ungainly shuffle.

πŸŽ…Suffice to say I've spent many hours since in the company of these fascinating birds watching them hunt just barely above the waves, seemingly with little effort using their characteristic stiff wing beats. What has also been interesting has been observing the interaction between birds at rest with their throaty chuckling and cackling rising and diminishes in volume, sounding alarmed one second and companionable the next. Apparently, these birds also remain largely loyal both to partner and nesting sites and can often live up to fifty years, they are fast becoming one of my favourite sea birds!

A very confiding Snow Bunting right in front of the car was a pleasant surprise!

❄️On Saturday Dazza and I had to travel to Fraserburgh to pick up a few things for Christmas and while here stopped just outside the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses to enjoy a takeaway coffee & to watch the many Shags heading off to roost. There are good views of the sea from here while sitting in the comfort of the car. However, while enjoying our coffee a slight movement in the gravel took the eye and turned out to be a Snow Bunting, a wonderful find and completely unexpected. Good job I carry my camera everywhere I go!

A Few More Images of the amazing Fulmars...

Just holding in the wind above Slains Castle, Cruden Bay.


The cliff-face at RSPB Fowlsheugh near Stonehaven.


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Monday, December 07, 2020

πŸ“– Girdleness Aberdeen 🌨 2C ~ Wind ↘NW @2mph ~ 07/12/20

🌊 High Tide ~ 05:59 @3.07m ~ ☀️ Sunrise 8:33am Sunset 3:27pm 

GIRDLENESS ~ ABERDEEN HARBOUR

A bitterly cold dreich visit to Girdleness today but rewarded with my first 'white winger' Iceland Gull since making the move up to Aberdeenshire.

Iceland Gull at Girdleness today


A juvenile, I think perhaps 1st winter bird was preening on the rocks just below the allotments. 


The bird stayed around for a good half hour before flying off with other gulls and lost to sight as it flew towards the harbour. 

Also of note today ~ There was a short period of Dolphin activity on my arrival but unfortunately, the weather wasn't conducive to taking any decent images. I also noticed during a short Seawatch that Razorbill activity had increased with at least a half dozen birds mixed in with the Guillemots just below the lighthouse. There were also more Gannets passing through than of late but nothing unusual to report. Despite the weather, it was another enjoyable visit.

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Thursday, December 03, 2020

πŸ“– Ythan Estuary ☀️1C ~ Wind ↑ S@ 4mph ~ 03/12/20

🌊 High Tide ~ 14:55 @4.19m ~ ☀️ Sunrise 8:27am Sunset 3:29pm 

It was another beautiful day but before setting off to the Ythan Estuary I spent my breakfast sat at the kitchen window, camera at the ready! My aim over the last few mornings has been to capture one of the many skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying across the now gibbous setting moon, which was just sat like a gorgeous orb floating above the Bennachie hills.


Success ~ Pink-footed Geese across the setting moon

They say patience is a virtue and it finally paid off when at last one large group veered off and across the moon, a wonderful moment but all over in an instant!

The mouth of the Ythan Estuary at Newburgh on my arrival

Half an hour later I was at the Ythan Estuary once more, which was again bathed in the beautiful winter sunshine. Today I parked at Newburgh and decided to head south along the beach and then take my return journey back alongside the sand dunes. It was such a lovely day I did, in fact, spend most of it just enjoying the Estuary before heading off to the Waulkmill Hide to enjoy another magical sunset.

What follows is a pictorial of my day..




Newburgh, of course, is famous for its Seal colonies and within minutes of arriving this morning, these lovable characters were already offering some excellent photo opportunities.



Some large numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers winter around the Ythan Estuary and today I counted over 30 birds, with more arriving as the tide came in.


As you walk along the beach you just can't help being mesmerised by Sanderling. The batteries never run low in these charismatic birds and catching one at rest is a task in itself. 



Among a varied selection of waders seen today Red Knot could be found feeding along the shallows and there was a good number passing through just prior to high tide.


Dunlin (top) Redshank (middle) and Turnstone (bottom) make up the largest numbers of waders currently around the estuary. 


Eider Ducks winter all around the north-east coast of Scotland and breed close by at Forvie. This area holds one of the largest populations in the UK but I could never tire of seeing these colourful sea ducks and they are always the first bird I look for during any visit.

Common Gulls can be found here in large numbers, along with Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. Surprisingly Lesser Black-backed Gulls are rare to the area in winter and I've only managed a couple of sightings since moving here last month.

Whooper Swans at Sunset ~ What a magical place this is!

On route to the Waulkmill Hide, a large flock of Golden Plover was on the fields just prior to the turn on the A975. At the hide feeders 20/30 Tree Sparrows, Coal Tit, Chaffinch and Yellowhammer but the large Linnet flock noted yesterday were across the fields and more distant today. Also of note Buzzard, Kestrel and a single Snipe flew up from the nearby reeds. The icing on the cake of another magical day was the skeins of Pink-footed Geese overhead and the amazing sight of thirteen Whoopers Swans heading out of the Ythan around sunset.