Monday, 3 June 2019

Blue Winger! Monday 3rd June 2019.

We'd had a frustrating start to the Scottish leg of our holiday on Sunday when we managed to miss out on seeing all 5 of our target species on the Moray coast! Perhaps we were still a bit jaded from Saturday's drive north. The only consolation came in some Black Grouse near Tomintoul and a Short-eared Owl close to Lochindorb. A drake Blue-winged Teal had been discovered over 3 months ago in the West Highlands not far from Aultbea and it had been on my radar ever since. Seemingly settled on a small Lochan adjacent to the cemetery it would be just my luck that it'd move on before I got there so the decision was taken to go as soon as possible.

Mellon Charles, where the Blue-winged Teal was hiding out, is 100 mile drive from Carrbridge where we're staying and would take around 2 hours to reach. The weather forecast was generally rain with a few sunny periods, in fact the outlook for the next fortnight was for rain! For the first part of the journey though it was dry but once we reached the higher ground further west the wet stuff did indeed start falling. Not ideal birding weather but we were twitching so it shouldn't hinder us much.

We parked up by the cemetery, looked out over the small reed fringed Lochan and saw nothing! Well next to nothing, there were a couple of drake Mallard's and a Little Grebe. A small posse of Common Terns flew in and bathed in the fresh water but for the next 45 minutes we had no sighting of the target bird. 

Common Tern
I walked around the Lochan as far as I could to gain different angles on the site but still couldn't see the Blue-winger and those familiar doubts began to surface, maybe we'd come to look just too late. But the bird had been present yesterday so it had to be still there, surely? I came across and surprised half a dozen dozing Mallards on a lawned verge which all jumped into the Lochan. As I walked back to the car and to Mrs Caley the Mallards headed for the far corner and swam into the reeds there. An altercation ensued, squabbling over suitable resting spots I supposed. I lifted the bins and there to my relief and surprise was the Blue-winged Teal! It must have been disturbed by the Mallards from its unseen position within the reeds. Relief because now I felt that the holiday was back on course!

Blue-winged Teal, Mellon Charles 03/06/2019
The Blue-winged Teal was the 227th species to make the Old Caley Year List and the 4th that I've seen in the UK after birds in Kent, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. These were however, the closest views that I've had of this rather handsome duck. Blue-winged Teal have a blue head marked with a large comma shaped white patch between the eye and the bill, I pondered why isn't it called a Blue-headed Teal? The rest of the plumage is a Gadwall like brown body with a black rear end and a white circular spot near the tail. The Blue-winged name comes from the pale blue patch on the opened wing which is only seen when the bird flies or stretches. The bill is quite spatulate and similar to the Shoveler, a female of which it had been associating with but of which there had been no sign of, maybe she was sitting on a nest and maybe they'll be some Shoveler/Blue-winged Teal ducklings soon.

The Blue-winged Teal had returned to the sanctuary of the reeds so we decided to head off for a coffee and to look for White-tailed Eagles at the nearby Gruinaird Island area. The weather decided that it would defeat that objective by turning very foul indeed, no Eagles would dare be out and about in those conditions. We checked out a minor road to Mellon Udrigle and were delighted to witness a close flypast of a male Hen Harrier. I couldn't stop the car, get the window down and raise the camera quickly enough to get a photo before it disappeared over a ridge and we couldn't relocate it. We also saw a Merlin in hot pursuit of some Meadow Pipits so at least the birding was looking up!

After our coffee and cheesecake fix we returned to the Lochan and helped ourselves to seconds of the Blue-winged Teal which was now showing much better and more openly albeit still at the furthest end  of the water.

We had a quick look around the Gairloch area where we had seen our first Otter a few years ago but apart from some Seals and a Grey Heron there was nothing doing so we turned for our temporary home.

Grey Heron
As we drove past the well known Osprey spot near Lochluichart on our way back to Speyside, there is an active nest on top of an electricity pylon there, an Osprey flew across the road ahead of us adding that species to our year list (#228). We had spent 2 hours waiting for Ospreys to fish on the River Lossie yesterday with no luck so it was good to see it!

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