Day six was the last day of birding on the trip, and I decided to make the most of it, planning a trip to the Dornoch, Beauly and Moray Firths in the north.
I set out just before seven, arriving at Tain (on the Dornoch Firth) a short while after dawn. There were large numbers of wintering ducks present at close quarters in the bay. There were more than 1000 Wigeon alone, and similar numbers of Teal. I began sifting through them, and after the best part of an hour, I came across the bird I was looking for. A drake American Wigeon was on the water less than 20 metres offshore – a new species for me, and a very smart bird. Its apricot coloured flanks and pale head with metallic green eye-stripe and cream forehead meant identification was easy.
Also present here were good numbers of Shelduck, eight Shoveler, 16 Pintail, several Redshank and good numbers of Curlew.
I stopped in at the Edderton bay area next, where a few more waders were seen including Lapwing, Dunlin and Knot. The hoped for Scaup were not present though.
It was now 10:30, and so I began the drive south towards my next stop – Dingwall. An adult Ring-Billed Gull has wintered here for several years, but after spending an hour or so at its usual haunts – the boating lake and academy/library grounds – I had no luck. As I left, I decided to give the academy field one last check, and was relieved to see that it was back. It showed well over the next ten minutes, feeding down to a range of 10 metres. The relatively heavy bill with a broad black ring, and the yellow iris in the eye were seen well.
Pleased with this success, I continued south towards Beauly. A Snow Goose had been reported here, but unfortunately there was no sign of this bird. However, there was a wealth of other winter wildfowl including a remarkable 52 Whooper Swans on the river Beauly. There were several hundred Pink-Footed Geese in different flocks around the estuary, and plenty more Wigeon and Teal. I also came across a large flock of winter thrushes – Redwing and Fieldfare – in a stubble field nearby, and a number of Red Kites were in the area too.
As the sun began to set, I followed the southern edge of the Beauly and Moray Firths, making my next (and final) stop at Nairn. The winds were very strong and bird activity was at a minimum. The highlights here were five Red-Breasted Merganser, a distant flock of Common Scoter, two juvenile Gannets, a Fulmar and a few Hooded Crows. A quiet end to a very enjoyable days birding, with 58 species seen. Not a bad trip over-all either!