Christmas birding and the year of the Snow Goose

Nothing like a couple of weeks off to plan to get out and see some wildlife after a busy few months with work. And I thought I would just share what I have been seeing over the Christmas and New Year break.

Taking a walk from my house in Menstrie and I see the Kestrel is back hunting and she is a beauty. No chance of taking her by surprise as she follows me with her piecing glare and then she is off.

There are lots of different birds around today, the ground is frozen and they are competing a bit harder for any good food going. As I walk along the cycle path towards the river they are all on the look out – Yellowhammer atop his perch, a Redwing’s eyes peeled, a beautiful Tree Sparrow, a Goldfinch singing, a flock of Siskins busy feeding, a female Bullfinch sitting proud – not a bad count for only 200 meters or so.

As I approach the river a female Goosander is pulling some expressive moves and then settles down to its more usual serene glide.

I leave the cycle path and head downstream along the River Devon. I am scanning a distant field of Black-Headed Gulls when a Grey Heron flies in front and lands, returning to a grey statue once again.

A few bends later and I disturb a Hare from the edge of the field and it sprints away, then turns and doubles back, ears pointed to the sky, legs moving like train pistons.

Walking home I spot a couple of pigeons in the field, these look a bit smaller and “stockier” so I raise my binoculars and am pleased to see they are indeed Stock Doves. A nice bird for my home patch and not one I see too often here.

Someone has reported an Iceland Gull in Stirling on BirdGuides and whilst I have seen one this year I have never seen one in Stirling so it seems worth a trip. I head into town where it was last seen. I am looking for an all white Gull with no black in the wings. After 5 minutes looking around at roofs and lampposts and seeing only Black-Headed and Common Gulls I decide to run some errands at the nearby Sainsbury’s. And there on a lamppost in the middle of a busy supermarket carpark is an all white Gull. I fire off a few pictures. When I get home I post the pictures on the local birders group and the verdict comes back unanimous that whilst this is the previously reported bird it isn’t an Iceland Gull but in fact a leucistic Herring Gull. It was a good learning point for me and others in the group.

After Christmas we pop out to Loch Leven for a few hours. The feeders at Vane Farm are popular. Greenfinch, Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin, Chaffinch all put in an appearance.

Heading down to the hides there isn’t much nearby. On the Loch I scan with the scope seeing Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Goosander, Pochard, Mute Swan, Cormorant – but all too distant for photographs.

A Buzzard sets up on a nearby post, scanning the field in front.

Before we continue a Little Egret flies in and stalks the channel. These white herons are getting more common in the area, I even saw one in Menstrie a couple of weeks back.

It is New Year’s Day and I am keen to start my year list with something decent. I recently read a book about someone’s big birding year and they had the habit of naming the year after the first bird they saw.

I kept the windows closed as I made my coffee not really wanting this to be the year of the Feral Pigeon. I scanned BirdGuides and felt the best bird around was a Snow Goose near Drymen. With any luck 2023 could be my year of the Snow Goose. I kept my eyes on the ground as I left the house not looking for the Magpie chocking from across the road. An uneventful drive with a bit of snow and I refused to identify the many Corvids on my route. Probably a Rook but could have been a Crow. Probably a Jackdaw but it could have been a tiny Crow with a grey head… honestly! Probably a Magpie but it could have been a jackdaw that had a battle with Tipp-Ex before growing some extra tail feathers out of shock.

And there they were. Loads of Greylag and Pink Footed Geese with one White Beauty in the middle. A glorious Snow Goose.

It should have been with the Pink Feet if it wanted me to take it seriously as a proper natural bird but it was keeping rather poorer company with the Greylags. I checked for black in the wingtips which was present which confirm this as a legit pale morph Snow Goose rather than the more common farmyard white Greylag. Still after my incident with the albino gull you can’t be too careful.

I am now only 15 minutes from Loch Lomond so I decide to carry on for the Mandarin Ducks at Balloch. The males are stunning but I actually prefer the more understated females with their beautiful eye stripe. I add Goldeneye, Mute Swan, Black-Headed Gull to my growing year list for 2023.

I head down to the south side of the Forth and Kinneil Lagoons. It is approaching high tide and the Godwits are up. Mostly Black-Tailed but I do see a few Bar-Tailed as well. Their swirling patterns are mesmerising as is the gentle roar of their wings when they fly overhead.

Lots of Teal are around too and I add these to my year list. Along with a scoped only view of a Greenshank and several Wigeon.

Continuing to the pools themselves and more Godwit, along with some Redshank, working the mud.

I decide to try some more arty shots and deliberately over expose the Godwits to create some higher key images.

Turning it up even further so the water almost disappears and it looks like the Godwits are on white paper. I like this one the best.

Heading back to the car and a frozen pond is being inspected by two species of Wagtail. A solitary Grey is accompanied by a few Pied cousins.

Heading back towards home I decide to pop into Skinflints too. As I get out the car Fieldfare are chatting away in the nearby tree. There are a lot in the area now.

At the reeds there must be two dozen Reed Bunting around, most in winter plumage but one male still has an impressive black head.

At the pools there isn’t a huge amount to see until a couple of Ravens show up, making themselves heard.

On the sea wall itself I scan the mud Shelduck, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Lapwing as far as the eye can see. Then something white nearer by and I decide to go over and look. A recent storm has washed up a dead dolphin (I think Common but happy to be corrected in comment below). It is quite far gone and has been providing food for something.

A lone Dunlin is pecking along the shore nearby and allows a closer view and photo.

It is 2nd of January and my year list is now up to 60.

Hopefully the year of the Snow Goose will be a good one with lots of happy wildlife sightings for you all.

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