Sunday 23 February 2014

White-billed Diver, Sandside Bay

A couple of weeks back, I was lucky enough to get a few days birding in Scotland with my Dad, while Suzanne and Jessica visited friends from Canada while they were in Wales. The weather was actually much better than down south, and the quality of the birds was pretty high.

One of the highlights was this White-billed Diver (or Yellow-billed Loon, for any American readers) right up on the far north coast near Thurso. It was showing down to about 20 or 30m (as I’d hoped the Brixham bird might have been in December), and with only a couple of other birders present in the cold sunshine, gave us a fantastic couple of hours. Certainly far and away the best views of this Arctic species I’ve ever had.




As the photos suggest, the bird was feeding in very shallow water around the rocky coast, dabbling and nosing around in the seaweed in the manner of a Shoveler. We never saw it dive, nor bring any food up to the surface. At the time, we just thought this was a bit weird – but by late afternoon the following day, what must surely have been the same bird was found floating on the surface, dead. Very sad… Perhaps the inshore feeding was a consequence of the diver already being either ill or starving, and its apparently inability to feed there just hastened the end?


On a happier note, the rest of our short trip took in a stack of other great birds: rarity highlights included Lesser Scaup, King Eider and some funny Coot or other, while the usual selection of Speyside and Scottish coastal specialities were excellent as usual.