On Wednesday I went to an applicant day at the Scottish Rural College just outside Aberdeen on the Craibstone Estate. I’ve applied for Countryside Management and provided I get 1 B at higher this year, that is what I’ll be doing in September, exciting stuff!
On the way up I saw 9 Buzzards, a weird sighting of 2 male Pheasants flying over the M90, and a Grey Heron fly-over 9 miles south of Dundee. A good, easy year tick was the Pink-footed Geese in fields to either side of the motorway whilst passing Loch Leven.
As I knew about this day for a while, I was secretly hoping that the Harlequin Duck would still be around. Considering it arrived on the 5th of January I wasn’t that hopeful. When we (dad and I) arrived in Seaton Park we were greeted by Oystercatcher on the rugby pitch. Once by the river we walked downstream from the toilet blocks as directed by a nice local on BirdForum. First were, of course, the Mallards which were joined by a single Grey Wagtail. Then I found out that that great, beautiful, awesome duck decided to wait almost 3 months for me to pop into Seaton Park to pay it a visit. So here it is, my latest lifer: a Harlequin Duck.
What a beautiful duck it is, even though he’s a 2nd year male (I think). So I gawked at him for about 10 minutes taking some dodgy shots with my phone through my bins, and then returned back up the River Don to see two Goosander heading towards me. Weird, but turns out they were easing away from a rather boisterous dog having a lot of fun further upstream.
Back through the park to the car I saw the Oycs again, a Pied Wagtail on the grass, a Magpie (some birds you just never can escape!), and a Buzzard being mobbed by some assorted Corvids.
My day at SRUC was great. Had a chat with the lady who teaches countryside management, then had a short talk on accepting offers and student loans and whatnot. Once that was done we had a short tour of the halls of residence which were very nice, a lot more spacious than I’d expected, and just around the corner are some nice woodland walks, a key feature for me! Plenty things to be doing around the estate when I’m there in September, which I will be!
On to my favourite bit of the day. We did a more course specific activity which was burn dipping; like pond dipping but in a burn (small stream, not sure if burn is a Scottish word). Found some Stonefly nymphs, Mayfly nymphs, flatworms, Freshwater Shrimps, and then went on to terrestrial creepy crawlers. Found a nice big Centipede (Lithobius variegatus), another different species of burrowing Centipede (Haplophilus subterraneus) and a Woodlouse which turned out to be a Common Shiny Woodlouse when examined under the microscope in the lab when we got back. It may seem that this was all just fun and games (although it probably was a bit), it was to help show how water quality can be monitored and helped me show off some of my identification skills. One technique is called the kick test. You get your wellies in the water and kick the sediment through a net for a known amount of time, then check what has been picked up in the net. It is better than a chemical test in that if you did a chemical test for water that may have been polluted, the chemicals may have washed away downstream and you won’t notice anything wrong. Whereas with the kick test you will be able to compare the number of bugs and beasties you get in your net compared to previous times, and even if the chemical has washed away, you will see the damage it has caused. I hope that all made sense because I’m no typing it out again 🙂
Once my day was over at SRUC, I convinced dad to take me to Loch Skene, which was a fairly short drive down the B979. Once tree I got my scope out quickly as we were a bit pushed for time. Views of Cormorants, Oystercatchers, as Mute Swans all nesting on an island were nice in the fading sunlight.
There were actually quite a lot of Mute Swans on the Loch, about 30 I’d say. Lots of gulls too…
The moon was out looking good too.
Noticed a few rafts of ducks by the island, turned out to be Tufted Ducks, maybe a few Goldeneye in there too but didn’t have time to check as we had to leave, but I will return!
On the car journey back, before it got dark, I spotted 10 Roe Deer in total (6 & 4) , lots of Lapwings heading to roost, as well as plenty gulls too. Possibly some Gannets off the coast heading south past Stonehaven but I couldn’t be sure. Large skein of Geese heading in the direction of the Montrose basin, 1 duck sp flyover and 2 Rookeries finished off my day of birding and exploring.
And an M&S petrol station dinner finished off my night!