Caithness Bean’s & Kumlien’s

Jan 29th-31st

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!

Eiders with and without sails

After reading several articles on the possible occurence of Northern Eiders in Britain, i thought i’d have a crack at finding one. However, things aren’t always as easy as you’d hope… The bird above has a nice mustard tone to the bill, but no sails on the back at all. Taken in Montrose harbour in Jan 2012.

 While this bird has nice mustard tones to the lobes (or frontal process – can someone explain to me which is which please!?) and has distinct sails on its back, almost akin to small fairy wings, is this enough to claim it as a borealis? Especially considering that it was very close to the first bird in Montrose harbour. Wish it had of been on Shetland…

The bill on this drake was just ridiculous, almost bright orange. Unfortunately my exposure was out again, so i’ve had to alter the levels a bit which may make the bill appear more orange than it really was, but trust me, it wasn’t far off this! Again, a complete abscence of sails. Montrose, Jan 2012.

This pair were off Ruddon’s Point in Oct 2011 and were my introduction to the confusing world of sailed Eiders. The drake has a great set of sails, but has a very normal colouration to the bill, although individual variation has seen fit to gift this bird a slightly “Roman” nose. I spent ages watching and videoing this bird, only to discover that several of its colleagues on the other side of the point were identical, with decent sails and normal bill colouration.

Another view of the Ruddon’s Point bird.