Trip reports

RSPB Outing

RSPB Outing
RSPB

Saturday, 9 February 2013

It was drizzling as we set out from Edinburgh. By the time we reached Kirkcaldy in Fife it was still drizzling and a thick mist had descended. 'Not a good day for sea-watching' I said to myself. But as we approached Leven the sky began to lighten from the east, and indeed the mist had lifted as we arrived at the RV on the promenade by the mouth of the Leven River, and the drizzle faded away. It was very encouraging to find that some 20 members, including a couple of new ones, had braved the weather, and we were all to be rewarded with an excellent day's birding.

A very active group of Goldeneyes were close under the promenade, the males throwing back their heads in spring display, whilst several Turnstones foraged on the shingle amid the resting gulls. A Dipper was briefly seen by the bridge, and a Grey Wagtail proved equally evasive. The tide was still some way out, but a distant Red-throated Diver was found, and several members saw their first Long-tailed Ducks. Common and Velvet Scoters were out there too, as were a couple of Razorbills, but all were thinly spread on the very calm sea. So we eventually decided to move on to Lower Largo, wending our way down past the tiny harbour and the statue of Alexander Selkirk. In the bushes behind the car park Chaffinches and Robins were singing, and after another short session of sea-watching (in which we obtained good views of a Black-throated Diver, which we were able to compare to the Red-throated we had seen earlier), a brief foray along the Fife Coastal Trail gave us Goldfinches, three Yellowhammers, and a Kestrel, to add to the Long-tailed and other Tits and House Sparrows we saw in the village.

We then moved on to the car park at the entrance to the Elie Holiday Park at Shell Bay, where we had a quick lunch stop: even that was rewarded by sight of a Snipe and a Reed Bunting. We then walked through the rather empty conifer wood to the edge of Cocklemill Marsh, and followed the burn down to the bay. This was our first look at this marsh, which covers a large area: we saw almost nothing, but there is clearly potential to explore this more thoroughly. So we walked on down to Ruddon's Point, which lived up to its excellent reputation, particularly when Toby found the elusive Surf Scoter, a rare North American vagrant which does seem to return almost annually to this spot. Initially a long way out, it did move in close enough for everyone to get quite good views through the many telescopes. (To think, when I joined this Group some 20 years ago, there were probably no more than a couple of 'scopes in the entire Group!) And only about 200 yards offshore, by now in excellent light, a dozen male Long-tailed Ducks yodelled as they competed for the attention of a rather disinterested female. And there were more delights: a Red-necked Grebe was found offshore, whilst on a small rocky islet we found an intense concentration of waders waiting for the now-high tide to ebb: we counted nine species packed densely together!

But the light was beginning to fade as clouds gathered, and it was time to move on. We decided not to visit Kilconquhar Loch as originally planned, since the viewing stand there is rather limited. Instead we opted to go to Loch Gelly on our way home (perhaps because a pair of Smews had been reported there?) These stunningly beautiful birds breed in the northern boreal forests of Scandinavia and Russia, and only a handful find their way to Scotland each winter, so this was an opportunity not to be missed. They did not disappoint, albeit only seen distantly on the far side of the Loch as the light faded. Although we had seen some 64 different species during the day, this was a very special one on which to end a very special day.

Mike Betts