Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Wednesday 10 May 2023

A Twitch Tup North - Saturday 6th May

With a full week of work to endure, it wasn't until the Saturday 6th May that I was able to drive north for the long list of mega birds which were present, namely the Grey-headed Lapwing in Northumberland; Stejneger's Scoter and White-winged Scoters off Fife, and lastly, the dodgy drake Hooded Merganser in the Lakes. 

Despite all plans being in place on the Friday for the twitch, an Iberian Chiffchaff in Sussex (a proper one at long last) meant I had to get down there on the Friday evening, before returning back to Alton, where I only had an hour before embarking tup north. 

Iberian Chiffchaff at Abbot's Wood

Thankfully I had company (Tommy and Emily who both work at Naturetrek) for the 23-hour journey, first picking up Emily close-by, then Tommy at Basingstoke Train Station before driving pretty much non-stop to a fog-bound Northumberland coastline. Not ideal conditions when searching for what was presumed to be a distant bird, but it slowly dissipated and our first mega of the day, the Grey-headed Lapwing, was stood motionless out on a bit of wetland. An excellent start and a major relief after a long and tense week, but the scope and flight views certainly made the stress worth it. Ian Bennell was present and we would later meet at Fife.

a squinting view of the Grey-headed Lapwing (centre-right)

We soon left the site and continued north, via a breakfast stop. The stop was due to near-hunger, but also, I had a lazy, but cunning plan, as I knew Ian was going for the scoters, so this breakfast stop would mean we could just rock up and hopefully be put straight onto the birds, without spending too much time/effort in finding... old age is catching up with me! Anyway, we eventually arrived at a windless Lower Largo in Fife, spotted a gathering of troops, and low and behold, the Stejneger's Scoter was there - plan worked! This was a world tick for me and my main target for the day. It showed fairly well in the scope amongst a large gathering of Velvet and Common Scoters, and with a zoom eyepiece, it was fairly straightforward to find.

A short way up the coast were another swarm of scoter, so we went about finding the two White-winged Scoters and Surf Scoters by ourselves, which we duly did with some ease. There were also two sublime Long-tailed Ducks close inshore. A random dog then took a certain liking to us, and despite initially thinking it was a birder's dog, it became apparent that the dog was actually a lost dog. At one stage the friendly lad even climbed into my boot and made itself cosy and warm, until a couple came up and basically nabbed the dog off of us, phoned the owner, and were reunited. For some reason I felt I had to inform them I wasn't trying to hijack the dog, despite the looks I was getting... hey ho. 

White-winged Scoter (top right) taken by Tommy

I never did get its name

The excitement of Fife was all too much, so we departed and made our way swiftly across the base of Scotland and headed back down the M6, soon arriving in the Eastern Lakes to Whinfell Tarn where a smart drake Hooded Merganser was present. It's probably a dodgy one, but my first drake anywhere in the world, bar the zoo, but it probably has the same credentials! 

Hooded Merganser taken by Emily

After a quick swift half in Kendal and watching some Goosander, it was time for the final leg of the journey, arriving home at about 9.30pm. I clocked in at just over 1000 miles of driving, but thanks to the decent company, it wasn't as tiring as one may think.

Watching the lapwing