Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Meopta and Forest Optic best find - April

Perhaps the rarity drought back in February was a bit of a blip, because so far it has been the only month where we have not had a PWC British Birds Rarity. In January, we had the Gyr, in March a Siberian stonechat, and in April, entering straight to the top end of the Meopta and Forest Optic best find shortlist, A lesser scaup found at Pugneys by Jonny Holliday. Jonny tells us more...

Lesser scaup at Pugneys


Thurs 30th Apr was like most weekday evenings of late, the missus frowns at me drinking during the week these days so I have taken to walking around some local lakes with a hipflask for company. To  create an illusion of normality I sometimes look at the birdlife. On the evening in question I was happily pottering about when I casually glanced at some ducks and immediately felt a sinking feeling when I noticed one with a grey back...i knew it was going to be that most dull of 'floaters' a Lesser Scaup! Obviously, my initial response was to ignore it and walk on but then the Patch Challenge points popped into my head so I dusted of the eyepiece on my scope and checked a few features before texting a couple of locals and making an anonymous call to Birdnet. At this point I took 1 photo with my phone and left, feeling like I needed a shower.


On Thurs 30th Apr I was making my usual rounds of my local patch. This was my 2nd visit of the day and was not really any more productive than the 1st – I could not even locate the 2 Whinchat found by a mate earlier that day. All that changed at 5pm when I checked the ducks on the fishing lake and saw a Tufty sized bird with a grey mantle just as it dived! I was already thinking Lesser Scaup and quickly set up my scope and 'dug in'. A couple of views as the bird actively fed with a handful of Tufted Duck looked very encouraging with a nicely peaked rear crown, purplish sheen to the head, all grey bill with very restricted black nail and a coarsely vermaculated grey mantle. At this point I rang out the news to the locals and put out news of a ‘probable’ as I knew I still needed to see the wing pattern to be certain.
    First to arrive was P Smith, and together we talked through the features and agreed we were pretty happy with the I.D. He then relocated to a different viewing spot and we waited to get a view of the open wing – this eventually took another 90 mins as the bird was now dozing and rather inactive. Finally it managed a bit of a stretch and a flap and the all important white secondary bar and distinctly darker grey/brown primary bar were nailed. Patch 1st!! The rest of the evening was spent getting some recordshots, including the open wing, as the bird again became more active and made several short flights to other parts of the patch, eventually settling in front of the main hide.

As if that wasn't enough, there was another yank that needs a special mention! Niall Keogh tells of how he found PWC's first American golden plover on his patch, Kilcoole...

American golden plover at Kilcoole
Spring is most definitely my favourite time of the year down on the patch. A steady trickle of Northbound waders, intermittent waves of passerines, drifting Raptors overhead and the occasional rare seabird passing by can make for some great monthly tallies. If I get was to get a Ruff, Yellow Wagtail, Hobby & Pomarine Skua out of the above that'd be a month well spent on the patch. However, a nice rare is always on the cards and this was certainly on my mind when I set out down around Kilcoole & Newcastle last Sunday (28th April) with my father, Noel Keogh & birding buddy Brian Porter. 

Plenty of Wheatears, Willow Warblers, Sedgies, the first Whitethroats of the year, a Grasshopper Warbler & a few Swifts around Six Mile Point spurred us on to check out the marshes at Kilcoole where nice flocks of Golden Plover, Blackwits, Redshank & Whimbrel were popping in and out along with smaller numbers of Turnstone & Common Sandpipers. Good migration buzz!

Happy out with this nice selection, a final scan of the 275 strong Goldie flock in Webb's field whilst on the way back to the car revealed a very plain, lead-grey & slim looking bird on the periphery of the flock legging it over a grassy mound and out of sight. A few brief views of its head popping up and down showed it to have a distinct white supercilium very much in the style of a Dotterel (which given the spate of recent records, was a species I was very much hoping for down here!). After a short wait it walked out in full view and there it was for all to see, a nice AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER. 

It stood out like a sore thumb among the breeding plumaged Goldies with very little in the way of colour visible on what few newly moulted feathers it was sporting. The slim, typical yank wader shape made it look even more graceful as it strut it stuff about in the flock, feeding actively compared to its snoozing Eurasian relatives. My initial thoughts on its age was of a 2nd calendar-year bird but I wonder if exact ageing at this stage in the Spring is possible? I'd be very interested to hear opinions from other folk on this.

The bird has remained in the field since and been seen daily by all of the regular patch birders (up to time of writing - 3rd May). This is my fourth AGP on the patch, and the third which has been seen in Spring (previous records June 1996, September 1999 & May 2008). Furhermore, this is now the third Spring in a row now that I've seen a yank wader in Webb's field which ain't half bad....Still searching hard for a Whinchat though!

And one final rarity - easily the biggest of them all, but unfortunately for Mark Newell, not a single point to be gained....

Sperm whales at the Isle of May

At 5pm this afternoon I took a quick gander before heading for the kitchen as I was on cook duty for the evening.  Reaching the Main Lighthouse the wind had got up and I scanned towards Anstruther to see whether the tourist boat was making heavy weather of returning to harbour. In my field of view I thought I saw several blows but put it down to freak gusts causing spindrift.  I persevered and then the blows continued in two groups and even at range I was able to make out the long, log-like backs and very blunt fin-Sperm Whales.  Hasty phone calls got all 5 isle residents to the top of the isle as we followed the whales east past Fife Ness and into the North Sea. It will take a cracker of a migrant to top today.

So, not a bad selection at all, I think you'll agree. Three cherries topping a cake made up of cranes, great white egrets, white-tailed eagles, rough-legged buzzards, and green-winged teals.

What will May bring us?

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