Our target, a first winter drake Harlequin Duck, has frequented the River Don on the north side of Aberdeen since the turn of the year.
We made good time, as usual on the relatively traffic free Scottish roads arriving at Seaton Park in Aberdeen shortly after 9am. The immediate news wasn't good. The duck had been present first thing, but had flown off up river. Recent intel suggested that is favoured a set of rapids about half a mile up the river so off we set. The walk was pleasant enough, made more so by a chorus of Dippers in full song, and we eventually made our way through a building development to view the only section of river not cordoned off by tall metal meshed fence panels.
Relief, as we got on the the Harlequin feeding on a smooth stretch stretch of water with some 8 Goldeneye and a Goosander. On seeing us, he made his way over to the far bank for a preening session. Once spruced up after 10 minutes or so we were a bit disappointed when he just up and off, flying strongly out of sight around the next bend. Now this is where those bloody fence panels proved awkward, because, try as we might, there was no real way to access the area the bird had gone into. We wandered well upstream to a footbridge, seeing more Dippers, Goldeneye and Goosanders but no histrionicus.
After an hour or so, Alan suggested we try Meikle Loch about 12 miles to the north, for an American Wigeon present on the 25th. This was doomed to failure as every duck on the loch was about a mile away, backs towards us, facing into a now blustery, icy wind off the Cairngorms.
I suggested our time would be better spent waiting for the Harlequin to drift back into viewing position so off we went back to Seaton Park. Again we walked along about a mile of river without joy. By now it was 1.45pm and we had kind of given up, thanking our lucky stars for the short audience we had earlier. Then I noticed a lovely drake Goosander hauled out onto a distant rock over the stream. In the glowing afternoon sunshine, he looked magnificent and I commented this to Alan who scrutinised it with his bins. He then turned to me and said 'The Harly is on the same rock!'
Sure enough, there he was, sat out, catching some rays before the cold evening set in. We moved along the bank as far as possible where we enjoyed nice views, but could never have hoped for what happened next.
I said to Alan that it would be great if it swam a bit closer for some photos. The words hardly left my mouth when another Goosander seemed to irritate young Harly and he jumped into the fast flowing stream.This directed him into the current heading straight for me. Sitting down, back into the bushes for cover, I waited, disbelievingly as the bird ended up not 20 feet from my toe end! I looked back at Alan a few yards further along to see him mouthing something like 'clucking bell', I couldn't make it out over the river noise.
Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus, is species 405 on my British list. Although I have seen good numbers in Iceland, this was a great one to pull back after missing the two birds in Ayrshire many years ago. So, all in all, a fantastic trip with good weather, good company and a great bird. Cheers to Alan Tilmouth and to Aberdeen!