Monday, 26 September 2011

Loch of Strathbeg, Ythan Estuary and Blackdog (24 September 2011)

Saturday 24 September 2011: After an overnight drive David Cooper and I arrived at the Loch of Strathbeg Visitor Centre car park just before 7 am to find 8-10 cars already there.  The very friendly RSPB staff told us the bird was being seen from the Visitor Centre but it was full and we'd do better to go to the Tower Hide.  This we promptly did and although it was full a nearby mound gave an excellent view of the area.  We started scanning and soon found the crane.  The light soon improved, although was never good, allowing excellent views of the bird. It was quite aggressive to nearby Grey Herons and Mute Swans.

Sandhill Crane at Loch of Strathbeg, early morning
 The crane flew off north at 07.45 am and after enjoying the spectacle of 10-15,000 Pink-footed Geese.  Also seen were 2 juvenile Whooper Swans, a Barnacle and 4 Grey Lag Geese, 12 Ruff, 3 Greenshanlk, a flock of 13 Lapland Buntings that flew over calling and 3 Tree Sparrows on the walk back to the car.  We then drove north to look for the crane again.  We decided to wait by the stubble field it had been favouring the previous day and after a short wait picked the crane up flying towards us from the north.  It dropped out of sight into a nearby stubble field and we and about 15 others were soon watching it feeding.  It seemed a little concerned by what was described by one of the wardens, in giving directions to someone at the visitor centre, as the big crowd on the hill and always kept at the back of the field often disappearing behind hay bales.  After half an hour it flew back over our heads towards the reserve.  Another dozen of so Lapland Buntings were seen in small groups around a couple of the stubble fields.

Sandhill Crane in one of its favoured stubble fields north of Loch of Strathbeg

Sandhill Crane flying back towards Loch of Strathbeg
We left Strathbeg and drove south to the Ythan.  Here nearly 1000 Eider were around the mouth of the estuary but despite careful scanning we couldn't find anything of note with them.

Ringed Plover and Sanderling on the Ythan
Our final stop was Blackdog where very impressive numbers of birds were on the sea along the coast for as far as one could see.  I estimated there were at least 50 Red-throated Divers, 2000 Eider, 200 Common Scoter, 200 Kittiwakes and 300 Guillemmots along the mile of so of coast we looked at.  We also saw the male Black Scoter well, although it dived a lot and was then sometimes hard to pick up in the troughs.  I saw a single male Velvet Scoter and a Great Skua.  The latter forced a Herring Gull into the sea where it appeared to drown it.  We left Blackdog at 5pm and started the long drive home.  A very enjoyable day even if I would have clocked up almost exactly 1300 miles by the time I got home.

One of the very many Eider at Blackdog

Two weeks after the trip I received an invoice for parking in some service station on the M6 for more than two hours on our way home.  We'd not noticed any signs and had fallen asleep for a couple of hours while there.  Somewhat outraged that we were bring fined £40 rising to £120 for overstaying by an hour a two hour limit in an almost empty car park I did a few internet searches and discovered that despite the official sounding letter it was unenforcable and best ignored.  To proceed they needed to know who was driving and I was under no obligation to tell them.  I held my nerve and left two subsequent letters from them unopened for almost a year.  No threats were proceeded with as it was clear their busioness model revolved around scaring enough people into paying and not following through on threatened proceedings they couldn't win.  I took great satisfaction knowing that it would have cost them a few pounds in buying my registration details from DVLC (althougth it is a scandal that DVLC were subservient to what is barely more legitimate than a scam) and the admin and postage.

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