Sunday, 25 September 2011

A twitch to remember

It was Friday evening and BirdGuides was still showing that the Sandhill Crane was still present up in Aberdeenshire at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB. I was unsuccessful in my search for a lift to see the bird on Friday but it mattered not as it was looking like the bird was going to be there on Saturday anyway. The message was put out from BirdGuides the bird had flown and and roosted on Friday evening at Strathbeg so it was looking good. Alan rang me and informed me that he thought it would be best to drive up during Friday evening and be there for first light on Saturday morning, I agreed this would be a good idea. I was picked up at 10.30 and myself, Alan, and a Yorkshire Tom were on our way to Aberdeenshire. We arrived at around 4.30 in the morning and we all settled down for some shut-eye. We woke about 6 and drove the 30mins or so to Loch of Strathbeg RSPB, the long winding drive down saw birders walking swiftly along the bank to the hide where the Sandhill Crane could be seen from. We got our of the car and wrapped up in our winter gear (it was cold!) and made our way along. The very friendly girls at the visitor centre informed us it could be seen from the window. We entered and looked through a kind gentleman's scope and.......RELAX. There it was my first view of the Sandhill Crane.

We then made our way along to the hide where the bird could be seen far better than from the visitor centre. The hide was packed but about 30 of us were tall enough to be able to stand on a small hill next to the hide and scope the bird. What a stunner!!!!!! It seemed pretty settled and was going about its business, the local Mute Swans clearly unhappy by its presence, but then when have you ever seen a Mute Swan not threaten an outsider species of around the same size? The local Grey Herons also fancied their chances but the Sandhill Crane soon put an end to that! The bird hung around for about 45 minutes but wasn't really on view for the last 15. It then took off when thousands of Pink-footed Geese lifted to start to move off to daytime feeding areas. We watched the impressively sized bird fly off into the distant toward St Combs, we presumed to its favoured field.

We went off to try and relocate the bird, rather than to go and sit in the Cafe and have breakfast like some Midlands birders standing next to us suggested. It's ok, we'll go and find the bird you sit down and chill out.  It took about 45 minutes but we turned down a track to search the area when a car approached to say that the Sandhill Crane was sitting in the field. The bird showed well, but only its head and body as it was working it way down into a dip in the field. I found this interesting as I was reminded that Common Cranes do exactly the same thing when its windy, they sit in dips in fields etc to keep out the wind. After a short while it then flew and headed N/NW and appeared to land again in some distant fields. Cracking views of the bird were had this time both in flight and on the deck. We decided we best go off and try to refind the bird....again. It was good fun I must confess.

We stood at a good vantage point and waited.....a woman pulled up in her 4x4 and informed us she had seen it fly over the golf course out to sea, only for it to return back inland and she lost where it landed. Although we scanned the fields thoroughly we couldn't see the bird. Alan said we will give it until about 11 before we headed off for the long drive south. A nearby small crowd headed back to their cars and so did we, I looked over a distant farm when I was heading back and called something along the lines of; "There it is! Sandhill Crane." The crowd stooped walking, turned around and looked to where I had located the bird in flight. It was coming in to land a mere 2 fields away. As it descended I could see the RSPB staff member at the top of the field and the Sandhill Crane landed in the field right infront of where she was standing! We made our way up the field with the others, I will say that the farmer had took in the crop from the field and no damage was caused. It turns out the field where it landed was one of its favoured ones and it spent a prolonged period of time in the same field the previous day. When we got to the top of the hill there it was sitting at the other side of the field. WOW! What a view, the bird wasn't particularly bothered by our presence and spent about 20 minutes walking about feeding in the field.

Click on any images below to enlarge, they have changed Blogger so now it is easier than ever to view photos in a large format! 

 (Sandhill Crane - © Andrew Kinghorn)

  (Sandhill Crane - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Sandhill Crane - © Andrew Kinghorn)

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(Sandhill Crane - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Could it get any better? It eventually decided to take off and it flew off left of where it was standing and then turned around and headed straight for us! Myself, Tom, and Jospeh (a mate from Aberdeen) were among the 10 or so fortunate people it flew over. As it approached I put my bins down as I didn't need them to enjoy views of this fabulous bird as it was so close! As it flew over it started calling. Another wow! Actually hearing the Sandhill Crane calling in the UK as it had just flown over our heads. That is a moment I won't be forgetting anytime soon! I lifted my bins up as soon as it had gone over and enjoyed close range views and watched it as it got more and more distant, it flew off way into the distance and I remarked it was probably heading toward Loch of Strathbeg RSPB. Turns out it was as it was seen there after we left for long journey south. 

Brilliant bird and definitely one of the best birds I have ever seen in the UK.

Until next time, Foghorn out!


  1. Yeah but it really doesn't count unless its on one of the the northern isles !

    And what's this stooped walking that the crowd were getting in to ? I might try this myself if it attracts birds of that calibre, do you need any special equipment to help you drag your knuckles along the ground ?

  2. You would have loved yesterday Stringer. People standing in front of the sensibly distanced crowds, photographers trying to get closer to the bird, birders standing around talking all the time instead of watching the bird etc. Was brilliant.....but I went for the bird. Glad I went :)

    Have to agree that the epic Orkney twitch you lads did must have been fun!

  3. Great bird Andrew and I have a feeling that overnight twitches are going to become regular!