Its been a pretty poor year for me so far this year...
having spent the majority of my January in the library working for my exams and my yearlist reflected that as a result. All the while there was a rather lovely Harlequin Duck up in Aberdeen that seemed to be showing incredibly well. Of course, this time last year I had resolved not to twitch where I would have public transport transfers, but times have changed and this bird was tempting.
It had already been there 2 weeks by the time I decided to just go for it. Broken by revision I weighed up my options and got moving to hopefully get my first twitch, lifer and mega of 2015.
My best option was to get the coach up to Aberdeen overnight to give me plenty of time there, as I would arrive at 10, and then train back. Train there and back would arrive at 13.00 and I decided, looking at the birds pattern that I could miss a lot of the action if that were the case.
So my journey started at 21.10 on the Friday night. At 21.55 I arrived at Leeds. We were delayed leaving Leeds, setting of 23.20 to arrive at Manchester 00.35 on Saturday! The day of the duck had arrived. At 1.30 we set off for Glasgow. We hit shocking snow outside Hamilton though, and the bus driver did not seem to care, overtaking the gritters on a snow covered motorway at around 4 in the morning but fortunately still made it to Glasgow for 6.15 to get my 7.15 coach to Aberdeen. I finally, finally arrived at Aberdeen at 10.00 in the morning.
The first birds of the day were the Pied Wagtails at Glasgow bus station, and along the coach trip I year ticked Mute Swan, Graylag Goose, Pheasant, Common Buzzard, Curlew, Goosander and Hooded Crow, the latter being a unfortunately brief view for a bird that I have not seen for a long time.
I arrived in Aberdeen and pretty much straight away got the bus to the park. I arrived in the park and quickly made my way to the site that had been described. Having not been birding much this year I picked up plenty of year-ticks on my journey to and through the park; Greenfinch, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Dipper, Goldeneye, Coot. The highlight of this time was to hear my first ever dipper singing. It was a great call to hear, I was pleased with how the day was progressing.
I passed some birders who informed us that the duck was still showing as of 10 mins ago, but I failed to find it. There were a couple of other birders too and we could not find it. However, further up the river we caught a glimpse of some other birders pointing, and as such we decided to move over that way. I got a lift with those birders.
We arrived on site and headed down to the river. Thats when things started to get a little crazy. I was following one of the birders when he said 'its Chris Packham' and it was. That was the first surreal thing that happened, but decided to just go to for the duck. The BBC were filming for Winterwatch and both Chris and Martin HG were there.
Then the duck showed itself, coming out in the rapids close to the near bank. The view was good but sadly obscured due to branches and trees. Not 10 mins after the bird appeared and I turned around to see Jonnie Fisk and Zac Hinchcliffe, a lovely surprise and very unexpected. Matt Bruce had driven up, so it was nice to see them again. NGB does harlequin duck.
The bird showed well, moving in the rapids and sometimes stepping onto a rock to preen, looking sublime in the process. It showed well and I was able to get some decent photos while chatting to the NGBs. I had a look through Matts Swaro too and got an exceptional view while it was sat out on a rock.
The weather was glorious and the bird continued to look good, the light bringing out its colours so well. We watched and chatted for a while. The BBC then asked if they could film us for a feature on Winterwatch about twitching, where we all rubbed our legs in a Chris Packham type manner and then looked at the duck. So if you want to watch the NGB and I make fools of ourselves, either Wednesday or Thursdays Winterwatch is the one to look for.
While we were with the BBC the bird had moved downstream. Zac had not come with us to the BBC and in the meantime he had had good views of the bird. Jonnie and Kieran went round to sit with Zac while Bruce and I watched from where we were. After a bit the duck decided to head downstream so we casually went round the corner to the others to catch up with it. On our way round we passed a birder who told us that it had just got onto the bank right in front of the others. Incredibly gripped we headed round to find the bird still paddling close to the bank, dipping and diving in the water near to us.
The birders were spread out along the bank, with the bird swimming right in front of Jonnie. without really thinking I moved to go and sit next to Jonnie round the fence, only moving when the bird was down, but in hindsight this was a rather risky thing to do and if I had been thinking about it properly would not have done it.
However it paid off, as I sat next to Jonnie, Kieran also came round and within about 5 mins the bird decided to return to the bank about 4ft away from where we were sitting. I could not believe it. The light kept changing but I was able to get some incredibly good shots of the bird. It sat there for a couple of mins before swimming off downstream. In that time I got some pretty decent shots and views, while Jonnie and Matt both got selfies with it. I could not have got a better view even if I had wanted to, it was an incredible experience and I still struggle to believe it happened.
-The Harlequin and I (Photo courtesy of Zac)
That was the best way I could have got my first lifer of 2015, and made the £130 price tag and the 21 hour travel journey all worth it. Not long after it had sat with us the bird swam off downstream and we decided we could no longer follow it. We decided to call it quits, though I still had a couple of hours before my train, the guys said they were going for some food, so I decided to chill with them for a bit.
The BBC had also called it quits, and as we were leaving Jonnie decided to give Chris Packham a biscuit, a tradition of Jonnies on twitches. So we went to go and see the BBC and while we were at it got a photo with Chris and Martin, as if the day could not get any better.
-NGB meets BBC
And with that we left the site and headed into Aberdeen. Sadly the guys could not find anywhere in Aberdeen and so they dropped me off at the station and headed home. My return journey was long and drawn out, but I got stunning views of Durham Cathedral all lit up, and also had a skein of Pink-Footed Geese go over, which was a nice year tick.
What an incredible bird, What an incredible day.
Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station: Pied Wagtail
Coach Journey: Mute Swan, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Rook, Feral Pigeon, Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Graylag Goose, Jackdaw, Common Pheasant, Common Buzzard, Blackbird, Starling, Curlew, Magpie, Goosander, Black-Headed Gull,
Seaton Park, Aberdeen: Greenfinch, Greater-Spotted Woodpecker, Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Dipper, Goldeneye, Coot, Goosander, Mute Swan, Blackbird, Robin, Herring Gull, Mallard, Black-Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Harlequin Duck, Sparrowhawk, House Sparrow, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon,
Train Journey: Pink-Footed Goose, Herring Gull, Magpie, Jackdaw,