Black Guillemot Oystercatcher at Barassie Sunset over Firth of Clyde Lawping over Bogside Eider

 


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 | Ayrshire Winter Bird Race 2006 |


 

14 January 2006

This was the sixth Ayrshire New Year Bird Race, the point of which is to find as many species as possible between 0830h and 1630h within the county of Ayrshire in south-west Scotland. After compiling a target list of around 130 species and the optimal locations covering as much habitat diversity as possible, I came up with an itinerary and decided to enter into the madness along with (after some convincing) fellow team members Lisa Ketchen (the girlbirder) and Alistair Simpson.

To save taking a day off work on the Friday, I travelled up to Scotland on the overnight coach from London. This service was scheduled to arrive in Glasgow at 0715h on the 14 January allowing just enough time to get picked up and drive down to Dick Vernon's (this year's bird race host) in Ayr. Using a different bus company from usual (bad move) the drivers decided to have an hour-long break for some unexplained reason at Keele Services in Staffordshire at 0300h (I'm sure it wasn't for the night-singing Robins - not tickable yet!). And, of course, the bus arrived an hour late in Glasgow and I contemplated changing my team's name from The Drift Migrants to Megabustards.

By the time I arrived in my home county with team members all assembled it was nearing 0900h and missed the regulation race start in Ayr. With my original plan and itinerary now needing some adjustment, Northcraig Reservoir (or what remains of it) on the north side of Kilmarnock was the closest location likely to produce some birds so we hit the dam and into the rushes for Jack Snipe. Of course the Jacks knew it was race day and tried that little bit harder to remain concealed while their larger relatives, Common Snipe, exploded out of the small remaining pools. Common Buzzard was nailed instantly, followed by fellow raptors Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, the latter's presence revealed when the hedgerow passerines emitted their aerial predator alarm calls. Towards the cottage we picked up the first of many common garden birds and continuing on around the reservoir we found Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and small parties of Redwings and Fieldfares. [22 species]

Aiming to catch up with a morning start in the woodlands of Auchincruive we headed down the A77 but first took a detour to get Tree Sparrow in one of their few reliable haunts in Ayrshire. Driving out from Knockentiber towards Cunninghamhead I slowed at the large stubble field at West Plann and immediately a flock of Tree Sparrows flew up into the hedgerow with 23 birds chirping away beside the car - and we didn't even get out. By 1010h we arrived at Auchincruive to target Dipper and woodland birds. River level conditions didn't look good. The River Ayr was running high and usually the Dippers retreat into a small burn which is a considerable walk upstream. We saw none and in fact the birding slowed to dead pace. In 30 minutes we picked up just four species until we headed around the walled garden and a run of nice birds followed including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch, Treecreeper and Long-tailed Tit.  [42 species]

Leaving the woodland habitat reasonably satisfied, we made for the coast at Doonfoot and Greenan, one of the county's top spots and likely to come up with the goods. Oystercatcher was found en route in a field beside the A713 roundabout on the outskirts of Ayr - a sign of high tide. Conditions were beautiful at Doonfoot; flat calm sea, blue sky and fantastic winter sunlight. We enjoyed many nice birds here including Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver, Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneye, Razorbill, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Cormorant and Shag in the sea. Along the tideline we ticked Rock Pipit, Turnstone, Dunlin, Grey Wagtail, Redshank, Teal and Lapwing. Passerine activity was high around the foreshore and fields at Greenan with Twite, Goldfinch, Linnet, and Stonechat found. [66 species]

By noon it was time to head to some serious freshwater habitat and Martnaham Loch is Ayrshire's prime site. After finding Stock Dove in a stubble field at High Greenan House we were soon on the road inland towards Fergus Loch where we ticked the Whooper Swan flock without stopping. At Martnaham we stepped out of the car and instantly clocked a Merlin. This was probably the highlight of the day for me as it proved what an agile hunter this falcon really is as it twice dived off a large hawthorn to flush the Snipe from a small flooded area. Walking along the course of the former railway line (and munching down our sandwiches - yes, we didn't stop), we soon logged Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Pochard and Tufted Duck and some large geese, apparently from Canada, and a real favourite with local birders. Reaching the small bay in front of the house we were relieved to discover the two Smew were still present (after seeing then on the 2nd) but perhaps more spectacular was the flock of 52 Goosanders which nicely completed the trio of sawbills. A Lesser Redpoll was then found as a Water Rail made some weird sounds from a bankside area of reedmace. The walk for the Smew and back to the car had taken some considerable time and, being ever so slightly competitive, we hurried back to the car - well one of us did! [83 species]

Heading north to Troon and Barassie for seabirds and waders we stopped on the way at Loans to check the goose flock. A 'scope through the Greylag Goose flock produced, well, Greylags, but a second check revealed the two Pink-footed Geese. Had they been hiding in the ditch? Arriving at Troon Harbour we were greeted by the evocative sound of displaying male Eiders as the flock was crammed right into the inner harbour today with a couple of Grey Seals. A Black Guillemot was soon found and just as I wondered again why those teddy bears were tied to the mast, an adult Iceland Gull floated past. Clearly not the Ayr bird on a day out north to sunny Troon or unfairly giving other teams the run around, this bird was noticeably smaller and settled on the other side of the harbour. I quickly phonescoped it by holding my Nokia 6630 Smartphone up to the eyepiece of the 'scope. We made the short distance along to the Purple Sandpiper area at Ballast Bank and caught up with the only other bird racers we had seen until now. They kindly showed us a Kingfisher feeding in the rock pools (Ten-spined Sticklebacks?) so we thought it only fair to trade our Iceland Gull find. Surprisingly we had dipped on Wigeon until now when a lone bird was found on the sea. Among the Razorbills, Eider, and Red-breasted Mergansers we searched repeatedly for the Velvet Scoter but succeeded in locating only a female Common Scoter. Scanning the sea further out, and finding Guillemot, Kittiwake and Shag, I picked up a surprise in the form of a Puffin heading south. Struggling for Curlew until now, my dad discovered one on the rocks (before a few hundred later at Bogside). After crossing off the Purple Sandpipers we headed round to Barassie for some much-needed shorebirds. [93 species]

At Barassie the Ringed Plovers were expected and five Bar-tailed Godwits and a Lesser Black-backed Gull (a summer visitor this far north) were nice additions. Happy with our healthy total of 96 we wondered if we were in with a chance of winning and we frantically decided what we could go for in the last hour before getting back to Ayr for the finish. Bogside was an obvious choice and we added Shelduck and Peregrine there, but where were the Golden Plover? At this stage we actually thought we were on 99 but a check discovered we had double-counted Meadow Pipit (next time we will use a checklist!). So, as our hopes dropped on 98 species, we made one last try at Troon South Beach and nailed the Golden Plovers, which looked very golden in the fine sunset! With just enough time remaining for the drive back to Dick's, our hopes rested on an outside chance of an owl but it wasn't to be. We arrived in Alloway on a respectable 99 species. [99 species]

The Drift Migrants came in third, just behind Angus Hogg's team on 101 and Mike Howe's winning team on 103. Altogether 120 species were found that day by the seven competing teams. Thanks to Dick and Christine for their hospitality and post-race buffet.

The chronological list

No

Time

Species

Location

01

0901

Common Buzzard

Northcraig Reservoir

02

 

Meadow Pipit

Northcraig Reservoir

03

 

Carrion Crow

Northcraig Reservoir

04

 

Blackbird

Northcraig Reservoir

05

 

Robin

Northcraig Reservoir

06

 

Wren

Northcraig Reservoir

07

 

Blue Tit

Northcraig Reservoir

08

 

Wood Pigeon

Northcraig Reservoir

09

 

Great Tit

Northcraig Reservoir

10

 

Collared Dove

Northcraig Reservoir

11

 

Chaffinch

Northcraig Reservoir

12

 

Yellowhammer

Northcraig Reservoir

13

 

Song Thrush

Northcraig Reservoir

14

 

Dunnock

Northcraig Reservoir

15

 

Common Gull

Northcraig Reservoir

16

 

Rook

Northcraig Reservoir

17

 

Sparrowhawk

Northcraig Reservoir

18

 

Fieldfare

Northcraig Reservoir

19

 

Redwing

Northcraig Reservoir

20

 

Mistle Thrush

Northcraig Reservoir

21

 

Kestrel

Northcraig Reservoir

22

 

Snipe

Northcraig Reservoir

23

 

Reed Bunting

Northcraig Reservoir

24

0925

House Sparrow

Kilmaurs

25

 

Jackdaw

Kilmaurs

26

 

Starling

Kilmaurs

27

0934

Tree Sparrow

West Plann, Knockentiber

28

 

Magpie

West Plann, Knockentiber

29

0945

Feral Pigeon

Moorfield, Kilmarnock

30

0948

Black-headed Gull

Bellfield Interchange, Kilmarnock

31

0949

Herring Gull

Queen's Drive, Kilmarnock

32

1000

Pheasant

Monkton

33

1015

Grey Heron

River Ayr, Auchincruive

34

1017

Coal Tit

Auchincruive

35

1022

Mallard

River Ayr, Auchincruive

36

1043

Goldcrest

Auchincruive

37

1044

Greenfinch

Auchincruive

38

1045

Skylark

Auchincruive (overhead)

39

1047

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Auchincruive

40

1054

Bullfinch

Auchincruive

41

1055

Treecreeper

Auchincruive

42

1055

Long-tailed Tit

Auchincruive

43

1104

Pied Wagtail

Auchincruive

44

1115

Oystercatcher

A713 -A77 junction, Ayr

45

1123

Lapwing

Doonfoot/Greenan

46

1124

Grey Wagtail

River Doon, Doonfoot

47

 

Turnstone

Doonfoot/Greenan

48

 

Dunlin

Doonfoot/Greenan

49

 

Linnet

Doonfoot/Greenan

50

 

Teal

Doonfoot/Greenan

51

 

Redshank

Doonfoot/Greenan

52

 

Rock Pipit

Doonfoot/Greenan

53

 

Goldfinch

Doonfoot/Greenan

54

 

Goldeneye

Doonfoot/Greenan

55

 

Stonechat

Doonfoot/Greenan

56

1131

Mute Swan

Doonfoot/Greenan

57

1132

Razorbill

Doonfoot/Greenan

58

1132

Cormorant

Doonfoot/Greenan

59

 

Red-breasted Merganser

Doonfoot/Greenan

60

 

Shag

Doonfoot/Greenan

61

1134

Eider

Doonfoot/Greenan

62

 

Great Black-backed Gull

Doonfoot/Greenan

63

1136

Long-tailed Duck

Doonfoot/Greenan

64

1140

Red-throated Diver

Doonfoot/Greenan

65

 

Black-throated Diver

Doonfoot/Greenan

66

1157

Twite

Doonfoot/Greenan

67

1210

Stock Dove

High Greenan House

68

1227

Whooper Swan

Fergus > Martnaham

69

1233

Merlin

Martnaham Loch

70

 

Great Crested Grebe

Martnaham Loch

71

 

Little Grebe

Martnaham Loch

72

 

Coot

Martnaham Loch

73

 

Pochard

Martnaham Loch

74

 

Tufted Duck

Martnaham Loch

75

 

Canada Goose

Martnaham Loch

76

 

Moorhen

Martnaham Loch

77

 

Raven

Martnaham Loch

78

1252

Goosander

Martnaham Loch

79

1255

Greylag Goose

Martnaham Loch

80

1306

Smew

Martnaham Loch

81

1308

Lesser Redpoll

Martnaham Loch

82

1316

Water Rail

Martnaham Loch

83

1357

Pink-footed Goose

Loans

84

1408

Black Guillemot

Troon Harbour

85

1410

Iceland Gull

Troon Harbour

86

1420

Kingfisher

Troon/Ballast Bank

87

1421

Wigeon

Troon/Ballast Bank

88

1426

Puffin

Troon/Ballast Bank

89

1428

Guillemot

Troon/Ballast Bank

90

1431

Curlew

Troon/Ballast Bank

91

1432

Common Scoter

Troon/Ballast Bank

92

1439

Purple Sandpiper

Troon/Ballast Bank

93

1444

Kittiwake

Troon/Ballast Bank

94

1456

Ringed Plover

Barassie

95

1500

Bar-tailed Godwit

Barassie

96

 

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Barassie

97

1525

Shelduck

Bogside

98

1526

Peregrine

Bogside

99

1555

Golden Plover

Troon South Beach

 

 

The Drift Migrants team members: Fraser Simpson, Lisa Ketchen & Alistair Simpson

 

   

 

 

Other goodies present in Ayrshire at this time included the Lesser Scaup at Kilbirnie Loch, Water Pipit at Hunterston and the Brent Geese at Maidens. Other teams logged Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Barn Owl, Gadwall, Shoveler, Great Northern Diver, Crossbill and Brambling amongst others.

 

Ayrshire Winter Bird 2010 Race (87 spp.) 06/03/10 (2nd)

Ayrshire Winter Bird 2009 Race (82 spp.) 10/01/09 (3rd equal)

Ayrshire Winter Bird 2008 Race (83 spp.) 05/01/08 (1st)

Ayrshire Winter Bird 2007 Race (82 spp.) 20/01/07 (3rd)

Ayrshire Summer Bird Race 2006 (97 spp.) 24/06/06 (1st)

Ayrshire Winter Bird Race 2006 (99 spp.) 14/01/06 (3rd)

 

 

 


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