All rigged out for hard birding at Nigg Ferry (Carol Miller)
With 13 attending the trip and the weather decidedly mixed and cold, the omens weren’t exactly favourable, but we all made the Arabella rendezvous in good spirits, Sparrowhawk already seen, though no swans or geese in the fields. The first arranged stop was at Nigg ferry where the waters were very choppy and some of the hoped-for grebes and sea duck were distinctly missing. However, Red Kites, Buzzards and a Raven all hung up above the cliffs in the wind and Razorbill and a few Gannets on the water were claimed quickly. A nearby walk to the beach for passerines produced very little, so it was off to the RSPB Nigg Bay hide as high tide approached. It fairly belted down, but we were soon ensconced in the hide and there were clearly many hundreds and eventually thousands of birds moving about and showing well, though the light was often very dull. Pintail – especially the males – were showing well and two groups of Brent Geese, totalling 52, took the eye. Waders were to the fore, passing in substantial groups, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Oystercatchers and eventually Dunlin allowing good views. Given the very high tide and the suitable habitat it was surprising that Teal and Snipe were absent. Quite a few of our number said that this had been their best-ever visit to the site, so we left for Balintore well satisfied. There, from the large car park, we looked out to a very active watery scene and little was easy to nail down, but a Long-tailed Duck was at distance and two Snow Buntings passed in front, with Rock and Meadow Pipits also present. No sign of Purple Sandpipers, but Angus’s recommendation of the harbour being a likely spot was taken up and we soon were enjoying superb views of the Purps being drenched by spray lashed up over the harbour wall, plus good numbers of Turnstones and a few Ringed Plovers. Dave’s spotting of a very late Arctic Tern at the same place was perhaps the most remarkable bird of the day, it drifting off after 5 minutes.
Tarbat Ness Lighthouse and party at Tarbat Ness (Carol Miller)
It was time to head for Portmahomack and in the front car park we saw some 7 Red-throated Divers, but little else. Lunch was uppermost on folk’s minds, so we drove to Tarbat Ness for a late one. Nothing much doing from the car park, but the wind-blown walk to the point gave us Yellowhammers, a showy Stonechat and a very fine Merlin rounded the lighthouse. We gave the sea a 30-minute watch and had our only Black Guillemot, juvenile Gannets and little else. A walk back, past the plantation and down to the bothy, didn’t really get us much more bar Linnets as the wind was up at its highest, but it had been dry far more than it seemed likely to be. Chat back at the cars revealed that most of us had unknowingly driven past 200+ Whooper Swans before Portmahomack, so we ended the day with a slow drive back to the relevant fields behind Sue and Hugh and, for the majority, the last of our 57 species for the day.
Mixed waders, Ringed Plovers and Purple Sandpipers and a lone Purple Sandpiper (all Al McNee)
We are the Highland branch of the Scottish Ornithologists' Club!