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23/24 September 2009

By Stephen Burch, England

This is a short trip report, covering one evening and the next day's birding on the Aberdeenshire coast, on 23/24 September 2009. Unlike my previous recent trips to this area, the weather was actually quite good - almost completely dry with even some sun from time to time!

For this visit, I generally visited similar sites to my February visit, but the different season made for some interesting variations in the bird species seen.

This trip turned out better for bird sightings than photography, but those few pics shown below were taken with my Canon EOS 50D camera and EF400mmf4 DO lens, usually with a x1.4 extender. See this page on equipment for more details.

This is a site just to the north of Aberdeen that I have visited briefly many times before - usually in the late afternoon before catching a return flight from Aberdeen airport - it is often possible to year tick both Eider and Common Scoter in the distance without even leaving the car! However, this time I spent longer here on both the evening of the 23rd, and the late afternoon of the 24th. On both occasions the light was good, with the sun behind me, and I walked down to the shore, and 'scoped the massed flocks of Eider and Scoter from the crest of the dunes. On the 23rd, in windy conditions, the highlight was a few passing Arctic Skua, with plenty of Kittiwakes and a few Gannets. I was also surprised to see a Great Northern Diver, in addition to the more expected Red-throated. There were also a few Sanderling and Dunlin on the beach.

On the 24th, it was calmer, and a more prolonged study of the sea duck flocks revealed eventually the adult male SURF SCOTER in the extreme distance (first picked up in flight), as well as several Velvet Scoter also seen in flight. So all three Scoters in one go! There were also a few Auks in with the Eider flock.

Loch of Strathbeg
This is an RSPB reserve that I visited with some success in February. This time, I went straight to the visitor centre, but found any attempts at further Tree Sparrow photography thwarted by a cordoned-off section of the car park, and too much greenery around the feeders. It was nice to see the birds still present though.

There were huge numbers of distant Pink footed Geese viewable from the visitor centre but little else, so I decided to walk the seemingly long 700m to the Tower Pool hide, which gave somewhat closer views of the Geese, especially those flying by:

Pink-footed Goose at Loch of Strathbeg (click to enlarge)

Careful scanning of the massed ranks of Pink feet (several thousand) eventually revealed in the white phase SNOW GOOSE - right at the back of all the flocks! There were also 2+ Barnacle Geese around. So even in the 3rd week of September the geese can be around in force.

Also seen from this hide was the immature White-tailed Eagle, which is apparently directly from the Tayside re-introduction scheme and hence hardly tickable! Nevertheless an impressive bird, but again too distant for any good pics.

Distant introduced White-tailed Eagle at the Loch of Strathbeg A humble Curlew on the Ythan Estuary

Ythan Estuary
Again I just viewed the estuary from the convenient lay-bys on the A975, on the north/east side. There was a large flock of Pink footed Geese, and various common waders including a single Knot, the odd Bar-tailed Godwit and a large flock of Golden Plover.

This site just outside Aberdeen was quieter than most of my previous visits, with little of note on the sea. There was the odd Wheatear about, the usual common waders, but no sign of Purple Sandpipers (maybe they arrive later in the season?).

So all in all a trip with good birding and some photography, made more pleasant by the good weather (for a change!).

All pictures copyright Stephen Burch

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