Day five of the trip dawned overcast and drizzly, but we decided to head north-east where the forecast looked a bit better.
The first port of call was Burghead. We arrived at the harbour and immediately saw a pair of moulting Long-Tailed Duck close in. They showed well, and were both in near full summer plumage…
There were plenty of other birds around the harbour, with a group of waders including Redshank and Turnstone and an abundance of Cormorant.
Offshore, there were some very distant scoter and Long-Tiled Duck, several Eider and a few Gannet. I picked out a diver quite a bit closer in, and quickly identified it as a winter plumage Great Northern Diver. The bird showed quite well, often ‘snorkeling’ and diving.
Another more distant bird was seen off the north of the headland, but it was significantly more distant. There was little else of note on that side other than a large raft of Eider.
At around eleven, we drove back inland towards Duffus castle. After spending a short while searching the fields nearby, we came to a promising area with quite a few finches and buntings. We quickly picked out the Tree Sparrows we had been looking for, and a small group of them showed very well in the hedges around the car.
There were also good numbers of House Sparrow and Yellowhammer, as well as the odd Reed Bunting.
Pleased with the our mornings birding, we moved on, heading back towards the cost and our next stop; Portsoy. Scanning from the harbour wall, we could see a few Eider, good numbers of Long-Tailed Duck and the odd Scoter. A Fulmar and several Kittiwake passed by too, which was good to see.
After about half and hour of scanning I picked out a Diver. It was very distant, but after a while we could see the dark bill and sharp contrast on the neck sides, making this bird another winter plumage Great Northern Diver. I continued scanning and quickly picked out another Diver, this one a little closer than the last. It looked more promising but it was asleep, hiding its bill in the feathers of its nape. Dad headed off to inform the other birders present, while I kept an eye on the bird through the scope. I watched with anticipation as it woke and turned its head revealing the characteristic ivory bill of a White-Billed Diver, and couldn’t help but get a bit excited.
In recent years, there has been a spring gathering of these birds here, and several had already been reported this season. Several other birders arrived, and we watched the bird drift slowly closer, showing the more subtle features of its plumage. There was less contrast between the dark nape and pale throat on the neck side. The bird showed the beginnings of summer plumage too, with some dark feathering around the base of the large, slightly up curved bill, and some ‘white-square’ feathers were visible on the mantle and wings. It continued to show well for an hour or so in good sunny weather, and the sight was enjoyed by all present.
While we were watching the diver, news had come through that the HARLEQUIN DUCK was back on show in Aberdeen, and so we jumped back into the car and whizzed down, arriving just after three. Within a couple of minutes we were watching the bird, and it put on a fine display. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for this one…
With my second British tick of the day in the bag, we worked out our options, and decided to head up the coast towards Rattray head and Loch of Strathbeg to round things off. After another hour in the car, we turned for Rattray head, and drove quietly along the road scanning the fields. As we reached Bilbo farm, we noticed a large gathering of finch sized birds. On closer inspection, we realised that it was a flock of about 50 birds including 20 Tree Sparrow! The rest of the flock consisted of Yellowhammers and the odd Reed Bunting. A larger bird caught our attention and we quickly realised that it was a Corn Bunting! We heard another singing to our right as well, but were unable to see it. The flock took flight and dissapeared over the farm buildings, so we moved on.
A quick scan of the loch produced a couple of Whooper Swan, several Great-Crested Grebe and a few Gadwall and Teal. There were good numbers of Skylark, Linnet and Lapwing in the surrounding fields too.
As the light began to fail we headed home, satisfied with what had been a superb day of birding!