Sunday 1 March 2020

Surf Scoter, first tick of the year... decade

For me, colourful birds fall into two camps; Summer... think pheasants, pittas, birds of paradise, or Boot... ducks. The former are often challenging to reach then even harder to see well when you do. In other words very rewarding. Whereas the latter are the personification (birdification) of in-your-face ostentation. If you're under the impression ducks aren't my favourite group of birds, fair enough. I'd point out there are two exceptions though, the eiders and the scoters, honorary seabirds rather than ducks in my book and therefore several rungs higher up the ladder of likability. Sawbills aren't bad either.

Despite some top birds in the country along with rock bottom flight prices due to Covid-19, I went for the honorary seabird option. The main reasons being the Chinese Thrush (new for Japan) was a one-day bird as far as I'm aware, the Bald Eagle is playing really hard to get and there'll be a closer Red-throated Thrush one day. And when it comes to the closeness factor this bird is the nearest to Kansai I've ever heard of a Surf Scoter being. We get hardly any of the commoner species down here let alone a Surf!

The drive up was unstressful and I arrived on site bang on my ETA of 6am. Right as the guy was openning the car park. You've got to love that this Scoter frequently sits just off the car park. Miles of coast you might have to walk along in all weathers and it sits the other side of the windscreen.

Several other people were arriving at about the same time as me and after confirming the Scoter wasn't just off the car park they proceeded to walk way, way down the beach to where there was a large gathering of several hundred scoter. I got back into the van for a comfortable breakfast and as I was approaching the satisfied coffee stage I could see, even with the naked eye, that one of the scoters now in front of me was flashing a white-headed appearance. Great timing. The scope was already trained on almost that exact spot so it was only a matter of sliding off my seat, slightly adjusting the direction and tick. Mission accomplished. So much better than my failed Fieldfare attempt in near gale force hail and sleet a couple of days earlier. Sleet should be illegal.

Apart from one local on his scooter (he told me parking is too expensive to come by car) I had the bird to myself. As yet it wasn't fully light as the early (slightly lightened) images show but unfortunately as day broadened the birds drifted slightly further out. Too far for my 400mm lens to handle at least, but I couldn't complain because the bird remained one of the nearest scoters, birds in fact, on the sea throughout the time I spent there and gave cracking scope views.

On leaving, I had to agree with the local I'd talked with earlier; the car park was expensive.

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