Monday, 11 February 2013

A couple of hours on North Uist

The drizzle began to clear, the fence had been repaired and the requested agenda emailed off; so it seemed like a good time to go and look for the reported small Canada Goose at Balranald. 15 minutes later I turned into the access road towards Balranald stopping en route to scan Loch Scaraidh which had been home to an immature, female Ring-necked Duck. Originally being found on Loch Hosta in early November 2012 this stray from America moved to Loch Scaraidh sometime in January during a particularly cold spell that left Loch Hosta mostly frozen. Sure enough she was still present and bobbing around amongst a growing flock of Tufted Duck. Neighbouring Loch nam Feithean held plenty of wildfowl too with over 100 Teal present as well as 7 Shoveler, Wigeon, Mallard and Tufted Ducks although it was strangely bereft of geese. Scanning across the machair from the road didn't reveal many geese either so I headed to Hougharry, just around the corner. The bay was nice and sheltered today and so the calm conditions made locating the distant, immature, male Surf Scoter reasonably easy. This bird also arrived in November 2012 being found on the freshwater, Loch na Reivil at Hougharry. Even in juvenile plumage the large, bulbous bill appeared to show a faint hint that it might develop into something a lot more gaudy with time. 

Immature Surf Scoter, Loch na Reivil, December 2012
 It still doesn't have the colourful bill of an adult but there does appear to be some colour developing and the pale, face markings have now disappeared. The plumage is largely black and at one point today I did think I saw a goasting of a white nape patch although it was distant and even with the scope on 60x magnification it was difficult to pick out the bill pattern.

Now it was time to try my luck with the goose. I drove along the rough track leading to Aird an Runair and soon became aware that there were a lot of geese scattered over the machair. Mixed flocks of Barnacle and Greylag Geese could be seen all over the place. Just then an immature Peregrine came hurtling across, low to the ground. It landed on a fence post for a while before its excited head bobbing led to an unsuccessful  dash at a large flock of Rock Doves. Twite, starlings and doves scattered everywhere, filling the sky with panicked birds before calm was restored and the Peregrine left the scene. I began concentrating on the geese once more but no amount of scanning was revealing the quarry. I could see that there were some Barnacles just over a rise not far away. I parked and walked carefully across to a gate to be greeted to my delight by a reasonably close Richardson's Canada Goose. Well at least that's what some people call them whilst others would say that there's so much interbreeding between them that you can't safely assign them to race.

 It was certainly small with a short, stubby bill and sqaure-looking head. Birds resembling this individual in structure, appear most years in North Uist and are always seen associating with Greenland Barnacle Geese. Hybrids between Canada and Barncale Geese, showing mixed feature are also occasionally picked up in the islands. Descriptions are submitted to BBRC and there's quite a file of pending indiviuals of various races building up. Maybe a suite of characters may enable them to make decisions in the future but what-ever they decide these are pretty good looking for Canada Geese. 

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