Saturday, 10 January 2015

Histrionics on the Don with a Harlequin

I picked up Dave at 3am this morning and by 3:15am we'd collected Ray and were on our way to Aberdeen, 350 miles to the north and a good 6 hour drive without a stop.

It was far from a pleasant journey, in darkness all of the way, we had heavy rain, strong winds and lorries swerving around in the road and kicking up so much spray that at times it was like driving through thick fog or in one particularly bad moment like a white out in a snow storm. In fact for most of the journey it felt like we driving through a tunnel, with little or no motorway lighting and just blackness on either side of the road, and it wasn't until we reached the outskirts of Aberdeen that we started to see beyond the edge of the road. Only the road signs gave us an indication that we were making progress, Glasgow, Stirling, Perth, Dundee, all passed in complete darkness and they offered little comfort as we headed further and further into the teeth of the storm.

However by 9:15am we had emerged from darkness and were standing on the car park at Seaton Park, on the banks of the River Don, in pleasant winter sunshine. This is where the first mainland Harlequin since 1996 and the first mainland male since 1965 had been found last Sunday. We set off down to the river, passing another St Helens birder Keiran Foster on the way. He'd beaten us to it and had already seen the bird! It didn't take long for us to see it either, in fact almost as soon as we arrived on the banks of the Don we saw the Harlequin flying down the river towards us, and amazingly it dropped onto the water right in front of us. Result! Big sigh of relief. It's a long way to go to dip, and it was nice to see the bird almost immediately, it really took the pressure off! Daylight hours are a big issue at this time of year, and I've read a couple of reports by other birders who needed a couple of attempts before they saw the bird. Despite being fairly approachable, it's ranged quite a long way up or down river from Seaton Park, and has been difficult to find at times.

Over the next few hours we watched it as it battled against the torrent of the Don and often dived under the water to feed. Somebody said it was behaving a bit like a dipper, and that was a pretty accurate description. Like dippers, harlequins feed on aquatic invertebrates which cling to the bottom of rocks or stems. Occasionally the bird would emerge from the water and perch up on a rock, often at very close range. It was a 1st winter drake, mainly brown but clearly showing signs of its blue adult plumage, particularly on its head. A fantastic bird, behaving just like a Harlequin should!

We left Seaton Park and headed up to Black Dog, but apart from a few red-throated divers and eiders it was quiet on the sea. At 13:45 we started back, and this time we had to battle our way through snow showers and hail stone, before finally arriving home at 20:15. A round trip of 720 miles in 17 hours.

The harlequins Latin name is Histrionicus histrionicus from the latin word histrio which  means actor.

UK Life: 405 (Harlequin)

Harlequins have large powerful feet, specially designed to allow them to power their way through torrents.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Damian, I think the weather was probably worse on Friday. My main concern was snow on the way back, but it didn't really materialise, it was enough to get us down to 30mph over Drummochter Pass but no worse than that.


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