Monday, 16 February 2009

Wild goose chase

Still in Scotland, I'm heading south-west today towards the Solway Firth - so no prizes for guessing the target birds. But first, leaving Edinburgh before dawn on the scenic A701, a stop at a regular spot at Tweedsmuir, not far from the source of the River Tweed, was well timed - a Dipper was living up to its name well in the swirling currents downstream from the bridge.

The next pit-stop was in the centre of Dumfries, in the riverside car park from where great views can often be had of another torrent-feeder: Goosander. Today there was just one female in sight, but often several drakes can be watched here too fishing in the waters below the weir.

It's a short drive on to Caerlaverock, where thousands of Barnacle Geese always make an amazing sight to a London birder like me. What's more, there's the added attraction of other geese, including the occasional vagrant Canada or Cackling Goose, in among them. Yesterday a Taverner's (Cackling) Goose was again present here, although there was no sign so far today. A minima Cackling Goose had also been seen intermittently, though not since 30 January - so what fantastic timing to be in the Avenue Tower when it was refound with a couple of thousand Barnacles. None of the standard European field guides deal with these small 'Canadas', and even Sibley's excellent North American guide isn't comprehensive - but the supplementary notes on his website, blog and elsewhere go some way to making sense of all the forms (more than 100 subspecies having been named by one author!).

After indulging in some close-up wildfowl photography and finding an Aythya hybrid while checking the Tufted Duck for Lesser Scaup (I'd seen one here three winters ago), I was amazed to bump into Ken Shaw back in the centre - long time no see, and it was good to be able to show him the latest Birdwatch on display which featured the 'Chum Odyssey' article he had co-authored with Russell Wynn.

Having told Ken my plans for the day he gave me some very useful tips on locating two other Yanks further north in Argyll, and a couple of hours later I was carefully checking the fields near Drongen in east Ayrshire for goose flocks. The white morph Lesser Snow Goose seen recently wasn't at its regular location at Treesmax Farm, but with perseverance I found it tucked away with Greylags and a few Pink-feet not far away. Thanks to permission from the farmer at Drongen House to walk his land, I ended up getting decent views of this bird, in a flock numbering some 600 or so grey geese, and with a tag-along contingent of four Whooper Swans.

Heading west, it took more protacted scanning to finally pick out the distant female Ring-necked Duck at Martnatham Loch, finally located in company of a female Tufted Duck and, briefly, a female Common Goldeneye. Several Goosander showed well rather closer, but time was running short so I headed for Troon - arriving too late for the Iceland Gull or anything else of larid interest, but it was good to see the site and adjacent Barassie Shore, which looks to have great gulling potential. Some 265 miles and 13 hours later, I called it a day back in Edinburgh.


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