Nine SOC members assembled at Burghead Harbour, despite a forecast of persistent rain, and at first it was dry and calm allowing careful scrutiny of the assembled ducks in Burghead Bay. Black specks resolved into numerous Common Scoters but Velvets were more difficult to pin down until they flew, showing their gleaming white secondaries. Long-tailed Ducks were abundant with a few Eiders and a Red-breasted Merganser but a solitary Slavonian Grebe was at the very limits of our visual acuity. We then moved round to the east bay where conditions were challenging – a cold east wind and rain – but were rewarded with a couple of Red-throated Divers, a few Gannets and distant Kittiwakes, Razorbills and two Purple Sandpipers doing their best to hide with the turnstones behind the seaweedy rocks. On sensing that the troops were getting restless - or, more accurately, becoming speechless through cold – I suggested a visit to a nearby coffee shop, a proposal quickly adopted. In the warmth, with tongues quickly refound, I learnt how to tell a nighthawk from a cow pat but have forgotten already which bird resembles black knickers with an embroidered red rose. Sometimes it is the social aspects of birdwatching that tie SOC membership together!.
Rejuvenated, we proceeded to the Lossie Estuary where a superb adult Iceland gull was seen rather distantly but flew in to land and bathe right in front of us. Al McNee then surprised us by finding a Lesser Black-backed Gull but soon we decided that waiting for the mass arrival of gulls coming to roost was a mug’s game in the persistent rain so we headed off to Spynie Loch where we all just managed to squeeze into the hide. Close views were enjoyed of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Tits and a Red Squirrel on the feeders but the legendary Water Rail was just that. A drake Scaup amongst the Tufted Ducks was a bonus but the previous day’s Pochard also remained legendary. Although we’d scrutinised every visible duck several times, it was a pleasant surprise when Al came up trumps again with a female Shoveler. Singing Dabchicks gave a promise that spring is maybe not too far away but the time came when we decided to call it a day. A final stop at Forres on the homeward journey for an “easy” Kingfisher didn’t pay off, leaving a day total of a respectable 60 species which wasn’t bad considering the weather.