A Christmas Catch Up

One of my favourite things about this time of year is meeting up with friends. As some of you know, I am a Shorewatch volunteer for WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation). This means in my free time, I go to sites along the coast of Scotland and do short scientific watches for whales and dolphins. All the data I collect goes into a big database, which can be used to help with the conservation of these species. Last weekend it was the Shorewatch Christmas Social – so I packed a bag, hopped in the car, and headed up north. 

I was staying with a friend on the Moray coast, so there was lots to do and see over the weekend. In the evenings we kept an eye out for the aurora (Northern Lights) but sadly it didn’t appear – it was quite cloudy so star watching was also out of the question! On the Saturday, we planned to go to join some other Shorewatchers to look out for whales and dolphins. However, we checked the weather and it said it was going to be really windy – this not only makes it very cold for us watchers, but also makes it very hard to spot dolphins. So I have to say….we gave in, and went birdwatching instead. Later on, we caught up with the other watchers, and they had all had a lovely time, watching the waves and eating mince pies. Just goes to show you can never quite predict the weather!

As I say, we went birdwatching and I was really happy to see two species that visit in the winter: redwings and fieldfares. These birds come from colder countries, like Norway, Russia and Iceland, where they spend the summer. I haven’t seen either of these species for years, so it was great to get a glimpse of them through the binoculars. The best thing was, we didn’t even have to get out of the car to see them (although we did have to stop watching sooner than expected, as we had to get out of the way of other drivers!).

Male wigeon © Catherine Leatherland

On the Sunday, we decided to have another go at birdwatching before I needed to travel back home. I like ducks and other water birds, so we headed down to the local estuary. Here we could again watch from the car (parked, with the engine off). This works really well; not only does it keep you warm, but it prevents you from disturbing the wildlife you’re trying to watch. We saw my favourite duck species: wigeon. I watched them through my binoculars, admiring the male’s cute toffee stripe and blue bill, and listening to their equally cute whistles. We also saw teal, black headed gulls, crows and even a little grebe. One of the black headed gulls came really close to the car (probably hoping for some scraps) so we were able to get nice photos of it.

Black headed gull – winter © Catherine Leatherland

We then headed to a local nature reserve – RSPB Loch Spynie. This has a little wooden hide, where you can sit quietly and watch the loch. We see lots more gulls, including a glaucous gull (helpfully pointed out to us by another birdwatcher). Also on the loch were: mute swans, whooper swans, goldeneye, cormorants, and mallards. The other side of the hide looks onto some birdfeeders, and as we checked them a great spotted woodpecker happened to be digging in to the peanuts! I don’t often see woodpeckers, so I was delighted to watch this beautiful little bird, and take a couple of photos. 

Great spotted woodpecker © Catherine Leatherland

All in all we had a brilliant weekend of birding, and socialising with our fellow whale and dolphin watchers. As I travelled back home, I thought about how much I had been outside and how little I had been inside or on my phone; I hadn’t even missed it. The perfect way to have a Christmas catch up – with friends, and my favourite wildlife.

Find out more about WDC and Shorewatch on their website here