Monday, 20 June 2011

Saturday 6th June 2011 - Murcar GC, Aberdeens

The WHITE-WINGED SCOTER had been showing offshore all week but sightings were dependent on the right light and tide conditions. I started to plan a trip up to there for the weekend but all week, a wet, windy day had been forecast, and I didn't fancy trying to see the bird in these conditions. PJ decided to opt out of the trip, and so that just left CJW, GAS and myself. It wasn't ideal for CJW, as he was finishing work at midnight on Friday, and therefore wouldn't be getting any sleep before we were due to set off.

By Thursday, I was beginning to have big doubts about the trip as the forecast was not improving. By Friday, after much discussion, I was virtually certain that the trip was off. The only problem was that it could be up to 4 weeks before we could go again. My concern was that I thought the "shelf life" of this duck was not going to be long, and I had visions of walking along the coast for 2.5miles alone searching for the duck in July!

On Friday dinner, after checking every single forecast I could think of (all saying the same - wet morning up to possibly 13-00hrs, stronger wind and a larger swell than earlier in the week), I sent a text to SR to ask if he was going. He certainly was going up, and whats more, he said according to the Met Office website, the forecast was for a dry, cloudy day. That made my mind up - the trip was on.

We arranged to pick CJW up at 02-00hrs on Saturday morning. Due to the location on the East coast and looking into the rising sun, there had been no early morning sightings, with the first ones usually at about 10-00hrs. Therefore, by setting off at 02-00hrs, we aimed to get there for 08-00hrs ish, in plenty of time for the first showing. Also high tide was at 15-29hrs, and this was the best time to see the Scoter flock as they all came in closer.

I walked out of the house at 01-50hrs and received a text from CJW. He had arranged for someone to come round and pick his dog up as we were probably going to be out all day. However, the person had not turned up. CJW was walking up and down the street looking for anyone to who could help, but, not surprisingly, there was no one about. Reluctantly, having waited to see if the dog sitter turned up, at 02-30hrs we had to set off without CJW.

The journey up was straight forward, but we hit heavy rain just south of Perth. We still had a long way to go North, and we hoped we would drive out of it. However, when we arrived on Murcar GC at 08-25hrs, it was still raining. We made contact with SR and we already knew that the WWS had been seen. We headed out to the dunes to stand with the crowd on the 4th tee, overlooking the flock. Moments after I arrived, the WWS was spotted again. It was down from the red boat, just left of the two GUILLEMOTS. I scanned frantically, but I just couldn't find the Guillemots. The sighting was brief and I had missed it.

While quite a few of the birders who had connected earlier wandered off, we stayed on the 4th tee to try and relocated the WWS. It was raining persistently now, but fortunately GAS had bought his umbrella with him. We learnt from our mistakes we had made at the very wet ALDER FLY twitch, and we put his scope in a bin bag to keep it dry. My scope was under cover.

For the next 6+ hours, we stood in the rain, continually scanning the flock. Conditions were appauling. When it rained heavily, visibility was further reduced and the Scoter flock would become black silhouettes. The swell was heavy, and duck would simply disappear in the waves and you wouldn't pick them up again. There were two drake Surf Scoters in the flock, but you could loose these birds and not see them for half an hour at a time despite continually scanning. If it was easy to lose one of these, what hope had we in seeing the WWS.

Then, at just after 14-00hrs, a small miracle happened. For about ten minutes, it actually stopped raining. We even dared to put the umbrella down. But it soon started again. The flock now was coming in quite close, as we were nearing high tide. SR, AA and JA had come back from seeing the KING EIDER, and so we walked down and stood with them. It was still raining on and off but conditions had slightly improved nevertheless. A small group of birders headed off down the dunes to view the main flock from a closer position. We followed them. After about 1/2 mile, we stopped and started scanning again. Times like this I find its useful to people watch as well as birdwatch, and I was soon aware that a birder to my left was on to something. SR was alerted as well. SR was soon onto the WWS as well, and it was quite close in, in with a group of four Scoter. I asked for directions, and was told the WWS was next to two Great C Grebes. I could see the flock through my bins, but for the life of me I couldn't find the grebes. I couldn't believe I was going to miss the WWS again after all this time. Directions were repeated. It was now swimming away from the small flock on its own, and then I picked up the 2s AMERICAN WHITE-WINGED SCOTER. It was side on and the head/beak profile was clearly visible. I moved away from my scope to let GAS had a look, but he couldn't see it. The WWS was spotted again in with the Eider, but despite its location being shouted out (off the right hand end of the boat), I couldn't get onto it again.

The crowd watching the WWS in the afternoon

Mixed emotions then at finally seeing the duck, but GAS had dipped. We were cold, wet and hungry, and at 16-00hrs, we finally hheaded back to the car. I had also seen two drake Surf Scoters, 30+ Velvets, 5+ Red-throated Divers, four Red-breasted Mergs, a Great Skua, five Arctic Skuas plus endless auks, Gannets etc.

We got changed into our dry clothes (again learnt from the ALDER FLY twitch) and headed up the coast to Newburgh. We soon found the King Eider, asleep on the sand bank. In fact, I only saw it lift its head twice. Oh well!