Words and images from 23/11/2015
After two days of glorious, albeit chilly, sunshine it was back to reality with a bump today as the cloud and rain which has so typified November returned. Getting wet when wind-chill is below freezing is not my idea of fun so instead we decided to head along the coast to see what we could find. First stop was Dunbar whose combination of ruined castle and intricate ancient harbours immediately endeared themselves to me. I’m sure with a bit of blue sky a little of the ambience could have been captured in these photos but I fear all that comes across is how dismal the North Sea can be during winter.
We couldn’t get across to the outer harbour wall as with the local fishing fleet on the move the only bridge across had been left firmly in the upright position. This was doubly frustrating as not only could we not explore the gun battery there dating from 1871 but we also couldn’t get close to the group of ten or so Eider which were loafing about just the other side of the wall. Fortunately they soon drifted in our direction and we got great views including a little courtship and display behaviour including that characteristic call which I’ve heard described both as a pantomime dame and Frankie Howard. If you’ve heard it you’ll know what I mean.
What I really wanted though was a few Eider in the harbour itself. In my experience this is the best way to see these rugged ducks up close and would you believe it, that’s exactly what we got. As the Atlantic front which had been threatening all morning finally arrived a trio of females and one male swam in through the narrow entrance and set about feeding. In such confined environs I fully expected them to move off as soon as I approached but the male in particular was having none of it. In fact as I crouched down (being careful not to slip in of course) it actually started to approach until it was right beneath me and too close to focus on. In full breeding plumage he was an absolute stunner and well worth giving the camera a brief shower for.
Of course, in keeping with the rest of this holiday so far, Eider weren’t the only birds about. The usual Turnstones, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Cormorants were all present and correct but this time had a pair of Goldeneye for company. I spotted the male first with its distinctive black and white plumage but the female wasn’t far behind. These are our first of the winter and it was nice to see them somewhere other than on the Ogmore estuary for a change. Also about were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers but they vanished almost as soon as we’d found them.
With the rainfall becoming ever heavier we moved on to Sketeraw Harbour which, with Torness nuclear power station in the background, made for quite the dramatic setting. Operating since 1988 its construction unsurprisingly led to huge local opposition. Personally I’m a supporter of the technology but would probably have the same reaction should one suddenly be proposed for the Gower coast. Such is the dilemma of our need for ever more power I suppose.
I hadn’t actually planned to venture forth from the warm cocoon of my car but an unidentified bird flying into the harbour sparked us into action. Boy am I glad we did. It only turned out to be a bloody Red-necked Grebe, and swimming less than ten meters off shore no less. Needless to say the camera went into overdrive as how often does such an opportunity present itself. Rarely let me tell you that. This was in fact only my second sighting of Red-necked Grebe ever and was considerably easier to see than the distant speck we hunted out off Pembrokeshire a couple of years ago.
I could have gone on following the Grebe as it showed absolutely no interest in my presence but instead let it go and we finally lost sight as it headed to the far end of the bay. This place really is turning out to be a gold mine for us. Even a Stoat put in a brief appearance as it shot past chasing a Rabbit into the undergrowth.
To finish off we headed back to North Berwick where the Scottish Seabird Centre’s cafe provided the ideal, heated, location from which to continue birdwatching. Yet more Eider were present, at least fifteen compared to three a couple of days ago, but sadly no Long-tailed Duck this time around. There also weren’t any of the suspected Little Auks which, on reflection, were more likely to be winter plumaged Razorbills after all. It seems we’ve still got a bit to learn when to comes to those less common species.