Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Harlequin Duck

Monday 9th March

Monday and the weather looked far from promising for birding. A deep low was coming in and winds of eighty to ninety miles per hour were promised with a strong possibility of snow. But we had to get to Aberdeen.

For the weeks before we travelled to Scotland we had been monitoring the Harlequin Duck in Seaton Park. It was to be one of our key targets for the holiday. Then the week before we travelled it disappeared. We assumed that with the weather warming up (a bit) the bird had left and we had given up hope of seeing it.

I don't know where it had been for the previous seven days but Sunday night a report reappeared on Bird Alert and Monday morning we were heading for Aberdeen, whatever the weather had to offer.

First winter drake Harlequin Duck

From Seaton park we walked up the river to where the duck had last been reported but could not find any sign of it. Fortunately heading in the opposite direction we soon came across a small dark duck swimming with a couple of Mallards and we quickly confirmed it as the Harlequin.

It's a duck of fast flowing rivers that is rarely seen in the UK and there are only eighteen accepted sightings on record. It would usually be resident and breeding in Iceland and Greenland.

A dark duck, in dark water, under dark trees, in low light levels, does not make for brilliant picture opportunities, particularly as it favours fast flowing water giving a lot of movement, but in the end I got three decent pictures out of the forty or so I took.

We headed back around the coast avoiding the high roads. The Ythan Estuary looked a great place for birding but when we opened the car door to take a look we saw Goosander, Greenshanks and other birds disappearing into the distance. Perhaps it's still a little too close to the shooting season.

Distant shot of the Greenshank

Coming back along the coast we visited Macduff, Banff, Buckie, and Spey Bay. Despite the gale force winds the ducks were still out on the sea although we did find a couple of Eider in Banff harbour and a Shag just outside Macduff harbour.

Eider - water still rough inside the harbour walls

Shag - scaring all the little children

A great days birding despite the gale force winds

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