Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Scaup of Udale Bay

With a raging westerly gale blowing I reasoned that somewhere sheltered on the east coast would allow some sort of birding. Not only that, it was a Saturday and the favourite haunts of the Cairngorms would probably have plenty of visitors. So, having consulted Gordon Hamlett's excellent Best Bird Watching Sites of the Scottish Highlands, I decided that we would give the Black Isle a go. There is a regular visiting American Wigeon and it had been seen the previous day. I was aware that the numbers of Wigeon can be large at this venue, up to 10,000 and that was going to be a lot of scanning with the scope. Unfortunately I failed to read the book carefully and missed the bit about getting there before high water. When we arrived the tide was full and a couple of thousand Wigeon were roosting on the banks of the bay. With not a hope of finding the bird we decided to leave and have a brew in the layby a mile east of Jemimaville. A good move as when we parked up we could see what is perhaps the largest over wintering flock of Scaup in the UK. At the peak probably 400 birds but today a modest 250 plus, more than I have ever seen before.

A raft of Scaup - a good distance away

These birds are just as nervous as the PFG, cars travelling along the shoreside road causing them to swim a good distance offshore, to return only when things quieten down. The passing of the local bus had them apoplectic and the flock fragmented, none of them flying, just swimming for all their worth. So we hatched a plan, with Liz driving and me in the passenger seat, we waited for the flock to drift into the shore. A quick drive along the road - click, click, click. Not the best photographs but at least we managed to get closer. At the end of the bay I jumped in the back on the other side and we repeated the process. Perhaps I ought to invest in a hide.

Even the info board in the layby mentions the ducks.

Cromarty Bay looking toward Nigg and Cromarty - from the Ivy Cottage layby.

Cromarty Bay looking toward Invergordon

Having had success with the Scaup I was determined to find the American Wigeon so we revisited on Monday, timing our arrival as the tide was just making. Out in the bay a large flock of PFG and a huge number of Wigeon. Plenty of other species to be seen and it was great to see the birds being slowly pushed towards us. Success, I finally found the AW just as the birds were going to roost - no photograph as it was too far away but stupidly I tried. I unshipped the scope and mounted the camera on the tripod. In this short time I lost the bird and failed to relocate it.

A large expanse of mud with plenty of birds

Incoming tide causes the birds to walk towards you.

 If you visit this reserve you will find that the hide is a bit of a chocolate fire guard - better to stand in the layby for the best views and the birds don't seem to care as long as you don't approach the shoreline.

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