Friday, February 6, 2015

Harlequin Duck and Stonehaven

This is the second year running when I have been able to travel up to Scotland to observe the presence of a nationally rare bird.  Last year was American Coot, a moment of self indulgence after a brief spell in hospital monitoring closely the long staying american vagrant.  It made sense.  A quick trip, no fuss or bother at modest expense.

This time round, with a full bill of health, and plans to escape the vagaries of East London my dearest suggested Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire as a weekend break destination.  The flights were booked in nanoseconds.

So onto Aberdeen, driving around the North of the city adjacent to the River Don where the bird had been loitering for the past five weeks, it was no surprise that I could not find the access road that led down to the river.  This was partly due to a road closure near to the site, but seriously, I could get lost in an empty room.

Eventually made it, negotiating a slippery slope that was quite literally that and onto the bankside of the river.  The 1st winter male HARLEQUIN DUCK was located close to the pathway within some vegetation on the edge of the rapids looking relaxed and comfortable in its' Scottish surroundings and showing signs of moult into adult plumage - subtle blue hues on the upperparts.  Such a joy to see this rare vagrant - thankfully a long stayer that made travelling up a little less stressful.

The river also held around a dozen drake Goldeneye and at least three male Goosander, white gleaming flanks with that salmon-pink tinge piercing the gloomy conditions.  The walk through Seaton Park and along the river was particularly agreeable.

Stonehaven is a lovely little town set against the North Sea coastline around 20 miles south of Aberdeen.  The area around the harbour is particularly pleasant, the air was still and a mysterious half-light underneath high layers of cloud strata.

Out on the sea, there were plenty of Common Eider in convivial communities, some of the drakes looking really dapper.

A must see in Stonehaven is the Dunnottar Castle that is within easy walking distance of the town.  Steeped in history, the castle ruins overlook the sea and much of the buildings remain impressively intact.

Within the lodgings were Fulmar preparing for the breeding season and many courting couples were observed.

The final day was spent walking round Loch Kinord within the Cairngorms National Park in glorious winter weather.  Clear blue skies and snow underfoot, much of the loch had frozen due to plummeting night-time temperatures.  There were plenty of duck on the water, Goosander, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal, with other more common species.  A single vocal Greylag Goose flew over the woodland, and a pair of Common Buzzard quartered the idyllic landscape.

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