After I had booked my return flight to Inverness, anxiety set in. Six days still to go before departure, this long-stayer couldn't possibly leave the idyllic surroundings of the Scottish Highlands? These highly charged perturbations I surmise are the emotions that drive adrenaline fuelled twitchers round the country chasing rare birds. I'm sure the bird itself has something to do with it.
The bird was still present when I boarded the easyJet flight from Luton Airport. A foggy morning but no delays, an hour and ten minutes later and ahead of schedule, the shoreline of the Moray Firth emerged from beneath the cloud as we started the final approach into Dalcross, and I started to twitch.
Trouble-free and expeditious, I picked up the hire car and headed towards Loch Flemington, a mere two miles from the airport and well signposted. Finding the layby with the white stones, and skillfully avoiding the Mute Swans that greeted my arrival, I scanned the loch, but no Coot.
Well actually, it only took five minutes to connect with the AMERICAN COOT as it emerged from vegetation viewed from the right of the layby. An interesting bird, a relief to see it, it looked much different to our Coot with evident two-tone colouration, its' neck appearing darker than the body, the black band visible on the bill, and white undertail observed when the bird had alighted onto one of the islands. Also present on the loch were around 15 Goldeneye including 8 drakes, and 21 Oystercatcher.
Having spent just over an hour with the bird, and mindful that I should maximise my twenty-four hour stay here, I headed up to Burghead in search of seabirds. This was a beautiful spot. The weather was fair, light winds and high cloud. The sea looked peaceful, as did the village that it cohabits. Scanning just offshore produced what I had hoped; nine drake Long-Tailed Duck dressed in their winter finery, a pair of Red-Breasted Merganser, six flyover Siskin, a raft of around 50 Common Scoter, three Goldeneye including two displaying drakes, around ten Common Eider, and large flocks of Bar-Tailed Godwit flirting against the low-tide. A wonderful place.
Moving onto Findhorn Bay, I was once again taken aback by the beauty of the landscape. Parking the car just shy of the village, I followed the path that skirted the bay toward the beach. Along the way, six Long-Tailed Duck were gliding their way along the channels, with a drake Red-Breasted Merganser, a pair of Goldeneye, six Wigeon, around 40 Pintail, and numerous Redshank occupying the exposed muddy areas.
The highlight however was the beach area, and at low tide, the sand stretched out as if in reverence to the sovereign skies.
The night was spent in Nairn at the Waverley Hotel. With a few hours left before the lunchtime flight back to Luton, a repeat visit was made back to our American Coot.
A great 24 hours, it felt I had been away longer.
Below are video highlights of the trip featuring the American Coot of course, and other sightings including Long Tailed Duck, Red Breasted Merganser, and Goldeneye.