Saturday, 21 January 2017

Pacific diver, hooded merganser and ring-billed gull

I love it when a plan comes together, and today several plans came together!. I was picked up by Ray Banks at 5.45am and we headed north, 220 miles north in fact to the RSPB reserve Lochwinnoch near Glasgow, where there has been a stunning drake hooded merganser for the past few weeks. It ticks all of the boxes for a genuine wild vagrant. It arrived in the country at the same time as a few other American birds, it's extremely wary, unringed and apparently elusive at times.

Within about 20 minutes of arriving we had found the bird on the opposite side of the north bay of Barr Loch, about 150 - 200m away from where we were standing and about as close as it gets. It was a beautiful sunny morning and we saw the bird well through the telescopes, and watched as it threw its head forward and fanned its crest in display. A really cracking bird, the highlight of an exceptional day even though this wasn't even a new bird for me. Also on the loch many wigeon, goldeneye, teal and goosander. Then the merganser swan into a bay and was lost to sight, and that was our cue to leave. 

The superb hooded merganser was seen displaying, I think to female teal, although there were plenty of other ducks on the loch including goldeneye which I believe the species is known to occasionally hybridise with.

Barr Loch

We headed back south for about 30 minutes, to Strathclyde country park. There's been an adult ring-billed gull here for are a week or two, and fortunately we found it straight away, sitting on a bridge at fairly close range. This was too easy! We'd seen our two main target species really well and it still wasn't quite 11am!

I know how you feel mate....

Decision time, what to do next? A Pacific diver at East Chevington in Northumberland was calling my name from afar because it was a new bird for me, but Ray had already seen one and it would add another 140 miles to an already long journey. We needed a quick decision, we made a quick decision and set off for Northumberland.

On the way we got some slightly worrying reports from the site, first of all the diver had flown towards the sea and then returned and then it had moved to a different lake at nearby Druridge Bay Country Park. Was it planning to leave before we arrived? However at least it seemed settled again and at least we wouldn't have as far to walk at Druridge Bay. We drove past Edinburgh, Berwick-upon-tweed and Lindisfarne, and even contemplated for a moment calling in at Goswick for a look at the black scoter but decided this was a bird too far. Finally at 13:30 we arrived at Druridge Bay CP. The diver was showing ridiculously well! It was swimming around and fishing 15 feet in front of us at times. A fantastic bird, and my 5th new bird in little over a month. We arrived home at 17:45.

UK Year: 149 (Hooded merganser, ring-billed gull, Pacific diver); UK Life: 422 (Pacific diver).

1st winter Pacific diver. Note the faint chin strap, the dark ear coverts, the slim bill and the lack of a white flank patch.

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