Thursday 4 May 2023

Looking for lifers at Long Nanny, Lower Largo and Whinfell tarn - 2nd & 3rd May 2023

 We don't get many new birds in the UK these days and usually make a point of properly birding the site. However, in view of the locations and species we made an exception and decided to go on a proper two day twitch. We had been resisting going for the sea ducks up in Scotland, but when a bird that we're unlikely to ever travel for turned up, we thought we'd lump the whole lot together. There was even a fourth bird, perhaps unlikely to be accepted as wild due to the numbers in collections, but the distance back from there wasn't much different to what we'd travelled up so we just opted to go for it.

Tuesday morning started with a 5:30am get up and beans on toast. Then on the road. We'd travelled a fair way in the direct of Long Newton, Northumberland. before there was confirmation that the bird had been relocated at Long Nanny. The first for Britain is a long way from Japan/NW China and may be the individual previously recorded in mainland Europe. There have been three earlier records.

Poor record shot of Grey-headed Lapwing. 
Scope views were much better.

Then on towards the border with Scotland. It was 5:30pm by the time we reached Lower Largo. A group of birders were viewing the flock from next to the Crusoe Hotel and we parked and joined them. It was wonderful to watch a flock of mainly Velvet Scoter with Common Scoter in the minority. It was also a long time since we'd seen Surf Scoter, a couple also present. We viewed until just after 8pm and managed to get onto one of the White-winged Scoter. The Stejneger's Scoter would have to wait for the following day. For the first time in a very long time we had two life ticks in one day and both in the UK.

We were back at the quay by 6:30am the following morning. The sea was very calm and even though the high tide wasn't until 2pm some birds were quite close. It wasn't long before we'd seen White-winged again and then the Stejneger's also appeared. He was quite easy to identify in profile with the odd protrusion on the bill. He was paying a lot of attention to an unattached female Velvet Scoter and was often seen to do the courtship neck stretch. It wasn't clear how keen the lady friend was, possibly just intrigued by the strange looking suiter. Again, distance and misty conditions were too challenging for my camera.

A scope was a must to observe and identify the scoters.

So, we had had decent views and went back for an excellent breakfast at the Upper Largo hotel before setting off for Cumbria at 10 'o'clock with three ticks under our belts.

When we arrived at the location of the Hooded Merganser (the available technology for navigating unfamiliar roads really is such a boon), we found that it was clearly visible from the road. A little distant, but really no need for people (and by people I am chiefly talking about photographers) to trespass on land clearly marked 'Private, keep out' and giving a bad name to birders in general.

Male Hooded Merganser, Whinfell tarn

This bird may not be accepted as wild but three of four would not be a bad result.

Twitching is a rare activity for us and this one will stay in my memory along with my two favorites, Little Whimbrel at Salthouse in 1985 and the Golden-winged Warbler, Larkfield February 1989. This one was a particular challenge as it involved quite a lot of running and my youngest son was born just two weeks later.