The weather system at the start of October brought some of the best autumn birding for a few years. Force 6 southerlies on 2 October delivered an astonishing number and range of seabirds into, and past Freswick Bay. All four skua species (a probable Caithness ‘First’) plus the first Balearic shearwater since 1995 amongst the passage of Manx and Sooty shearwaters, and a spectacular feeding frenzy of kittiwakes numbering 3 – 4000 made for an unforgettable Caithness seawatch… well for one particular birder anyway. Patchwatch enthusiast Dan was right on cue yet again to score well at Skirza.
And so after a quiet day in between (apart from a record flying flock of 6 Slavonian grebe coming in to land on the loch) the 4th October dawned and I decided it might be a good idea to go and check through the mass of Tufted ducks that had appeared overnight. It looked like a lot. And so it was – somewhere around 750. In amongst them 20+ Scaup and a heap of Gadwall and a Pintail – which fortunately DB needed for his Dunnet list.
Extreme birding – DB takes a well-earned break 4/10/14
Ring-necked duck (adult eclipse male) St. John’s Loch 4/10/14 D Brown
WIth the breaking strain of a Kit-Kat, DB did a 180 and drove back to St John’s. A few minutes later, having successfully added Pintail to the Year list, the call goes up “Ring-necked duck in fairly close”. Correct – but not easy to pull out of the heaving mass of diving ducks.
The afternoon was simply amazing: Pinkfeet almost constantly going by, and in amongst them, tens of Barnacle geese; Tufted ducks arriving for about a couple of hours and pushing the total way beyond anything I’ve experienced on St. John’s. A record breaking Gadwall gathering and on top of that, the most Slavonians I’ve witnessed here.
3 Bewick’s swans heading south over Ham 4/10/14 D.Brown
BEWICK’S SWAN 3 – probables south over Ham with Pinkfeet 4/10/14. A (sort of) New species – viewed from the loch not from the house. This group was picked up at a great distance but importantly, tagged on behind a long string of Pinkfeet. This is quite unusual, but the ‘jizz’ of the birds and their speed of wingbeat and flight, pointed very much towards Bewick’s. We both concurred that the ID was debatable but that Bewick’s was almost certainly the right call.
Tufties – just part of the >1000 bird flock on St. John’s Loch 4/10/14 D Brown
Tufted duck >1000 – St John’s Loch 4/10/14 RECORD COUNT for this site
Greater scaup 52 – St John’s Loch 4/10/14 Max. count 120
Barnacle goose 82 – south over St John’s Loch 4/10/14
Pinkfeet 4936 – south over Dunnet Head to Ham 4/10/14
Gadwall 32 St John’s Loch; 70 Dunnet Bay 4/10/14 – Possibly some duplication but a county record in Dunnet Bay
Ring ouzel 1 – Brough 4/10/14 (DB)
Slavonian grebe 7 – St John’s Loch 3/10/14 – RECORD COUNT for this site with 6 or 7 on 5th October
YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER 1 – Most probably the second bird here this autumn on 7th and 9th October – calling infrequently and hardly getting close to giving itself up. Very frustrating.
Blackcap 3m/2f – in same studio tree on 8/10/14. RECORD COUNT for this site plus Chiffchaff at the same time
Garden warbler 1 on 8/10/14
Brambling 6 on 8/10/14
Redwing 20-30 on 6/10/14