16th June 2011 – Rare duck fest including AMERICAN WHITE-WINGED SCOTER

I’m beginning to get worried, I’ve come over all ‘twitchy’ again, maybe I should get it checked. Just ten days after ticking White-throated Robin I felt compelled to go to the northeast coast of Scotland for an American White-winged Scoter. Typically, news of this mega broke on the last day of my 2 week holiday, so I had to wait until my day off this week to go. This gave me plenty of time to research the bird, I’d done my homework thoroughly, and armed with images and plenty of helpful ID tips, began the long journey north. As we approached Aberdeen the weather was superb, far too good in fact, blue sky and sunshine. We’d been advised not to attempt the White-winged Scoter in the mornings due to the sun position so we carried on to the Ythan Estuary at Newburgh where we hoped to see a drake King Eider. In fact this was where I first ticked King Eider many moons ago, but unfortunately our first look off Inches Point failed to locate the bird. So we  drove back through the village and along Beach Road to the car park at the end, and then walked to the mouth of the estuary to look from there. What a gorgeous place this is, and birds everywhere. Soon we had seen Little Terns and 5 Little Gulls amongst the commoner species but the King Eider was proving tricky to find. After a few more scans though I picked out the bird roosting amongst the Eider – and what a stunning creature…. and here it is….

After enjoying the Ythan for some time we headed back south to Blackdog. We followed instructions and parked at the end of the track, and then walked to the beach. From here we knew it was fair old treck south, this walk is definately not for the weak! We kept walking and occasionally scanning with our bins but still no scoters, we passed the black pole in the dunes, but still no scoters. A distant speck on the beach further south looked like a birder so we yomped further and further south. At last after a couple of miles we could see a black ‘smudge’ on the water – scoters.

Passing a whale carcass we clambered up onto the top of the dunes where we were relieved to see a small gathering of birders. We joined them and they said the White-winged Scoter was showing now on and off. A bit of panic then set in, it was a big raft of scoters so where on earth to begin? Despite some efforts by the birders to give directions this was a bird you kind of had to find yourself – ‘it’s just to the left of an Eider’ is not much help when there’s hundreds of Eider present! I got the general area they were watching and kept scanning, there were lots of Velvets present and then I got onto a potential candidate just at the back of the Eiders. Yep, this looked good, and as I watched a Razorbill float past it I heard another birder say ‘it’s by a Razorbill now’. This was definately the bird. In fact over the next 20 minutes or so I got my eye in. In the flesh it was very distinctive and actually quite easy to pick out from the Velvets, and despite diving a fair bit it was reasonably easy to refind. The head profile combined with the bill shape, which lacked bright colour, and browner flanks made this bird look noticeably different to other scoters nearby. It also seemed to prefer to be seperate from the main scoter pack, and quite often was the only scoter in my scope view, usually with Eider alongside it. After watching it for some time I realised that the scoter flock was actually reasonably close and thought that maybe I could get a record shot – kiss of death, as soon as I got my camera the scoters and Eider suddenly flew. Bugger. And they landed further away, the weather was changing too, it had become quite cold, a bit breezy and it began to rain. We continued to scan the flock but I felt that they were too far away to comfortably refind the White-winged, however two drake Surf Scoters were obvious enough, although digiscoping ‘bobbing’ birds at this distance is a bit hit and miss to say the least! Here’s my best efforts…

A few Arctic Skuas chased terns offshore, and also on the sea were a few Red-throated Divers and the odd Shag, but soon we knew we had to begin the long arduous walk back to the car. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived back, proper knackered, but very happy, satisfied birders. As a fitting end to a cracking day, on our journey south a Red Kite flew directly over the car as we sped along the A9 near Stirling. Very nice.

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