SInce news first broke of this on Feb 16th, bird nerds up and down the land like myself have been salivating at the prospect of seeing this little Canadian beauty. Myself, Nick Crouch and Carl Cornish (aka the Folkbirder from now on, just incase he ever gets himself a blog and calls it that) decided to play it cool and made the nice jaunt over to Wales this morning. Arriving on site, i must admit to being a little suprised at just how close many people were standing to the clump of brambles the bird was skulking in. Unsuprisingly, it didn’t come out. I don’t think it was bothered by the entourage, but it certainly wasn’t going to give great views with folks so close it. I should know, I tried going over there as well…
Over the course of the next few hours, it gave brief and mostly obstructed views as it did a small circuit of the large hedge and bramble patches it favoured today. Almost always on the floor, it could run mouse-like through the leaf litter and between grass tussocks. Eventually we all managed decent views, but these were achieved by standing back and scoping. I even managed a couple of quick videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/Frenchy1290?feature=mhee#p/a/u/0/26K7IL2K0c8 and http://www.youtube.com/user/Frenchy1290?feature=mhee#p/a/u/1/yBHZHXiTA4s. What a little cracker, and my first Yankee warbler in Britain. Happy days!
No surprise there then. Many gulls can cause problems, but not all of them make you double take when they fly past and land on the small area of grass infront of you. This beast did such a thing in Highland the other week, and i think you’ll agree that there is a superficial resemblance to Slaty-backed Gull. Unfortunately, it is only a superficial resemblance. Primary pattern is wrong (although note the hint of “moons” inside the black tips), orbital ring colour is wrong and trailing edge to the secondaries is not broad enough, among other issues. So what was it? Hybrid Herring x Greater Black-back? Runt Greater Black-back? Answers on a postcard please.
For the second time this month, I thought a trip around the northern coast of Scotland would be a good idea. The 5 hr drive from Aberdeen to Thurso was uneventful, and dark. I was hoping to spend the day reaping the rewards of birding the underwatched area of Caithness for gulls and gooses. Lochs Calder, Scarmclate and Watten were disappointingly devoid of American wildfowl, but a nice flock of Snow Buntings in fields around Loch Watten were a surprise. The highlight was finding a flock of grey geese on one of the back roads between Loch Watten and Wick. In among the omnipresent Greylags were some Euro White-fronts, but more importantly 29 Tundra Bean Geese were also in the flock. Now, Bean Goose is something I’ve only ever found on a couple of occasions before, so It’s always a red letter day when I do. Most of them were bog standard Tundras, but a couple were slightly more aloof from the flock, preferring the company of Greylags. The orange on the bill was more extensive, and they were subtly bigger. However, the key word I think is subtly. My ideal vagrant Taiga beans would be graceful swan-necked things with loads of orange on the bill, but I still think these could have been Taigas. Bean Geese occupy such a vast and remote range, does anyone really know what’s going on with them? I’ve got some crappy video to upload, so watch this space…
A single Iceland Gull was the only winger present in Wick harbour, but things started to pick up in a ploughed field at Bower with 3 Icelands in with the large flock of commoner gulls. Interestingly the 3rd win could have been a very pale Kumlien’s, but was just too distant to nail properly. I needn’t have worried about dodgy distant Kumlien’s, as I arrived in Thurso to be greeted with a stunning frame filling 3rd win Kumlien’s, together with a juv Iceland. After a bit of bread was thrown in the mix, gulls just appeared from nowhere and included another juv and an adult Iceland. Then a second ad Iceland appeared, flying close in front of me back and forth calling plaintively for food. It took me a minute to realise that it actually showed thin grey bars on the outer primaries and was actually a second Kumlien’s! Two Nearctic stunners in the same view, and I was on my own enjoying this spectacle. Magic!
What more can you say really? Two Humpbacks have been seen regularly between Aberdeen and Collieston in NE Scotland since last autumn, and more info on this can be found at http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=195931 , especially the later posts. A twitch is definitely on the cards with these fantastic beasts, but I was incredibly lucky to get calm seas and a couple of breaches on Jan 28th. I only saw the one animal, and its clearly quite a young one, but it was very close inshore off the Ythan estuary mouth at Newburgh.