Surfs Up Eventually After A Lot Of Scanning 17 January 2022

Surf Scoter

A drake Surf Scoter - not one seen by us sadly - but they are super birds.

After spending a lot of time scanning the vast flocks of Common Scoter off the North Wales coast in vain for a Surf Scoter on 15th of January we went back to try again. Reaching the low cliff tops the sea was millpond calm and the light beautiful – we could even see gangs of Scoter with the naked eye a drake Surf Scoter would stick out like a sore-thumb surly?

Great Crested Grebe 3

Great Crested Grebes winter on the sea in good numbers off the North Wales coast.

Two other birders were scanning the flocks of Common Scoter, friends of ours Reg and Trevor, and we walked over expecting the greeting “showing well” but no. The guys had not been able to pick out the rare North American visitor amongst the thousands of Common Scoter despite perfect conditions. So now four telescopes were trained on the miles of scoter on the calm sea and it was good to pick out the brown female birds from the jet black drakes surly a bird with white head pattern would be easy to see? Well we scanned, scanned and scanned some more, wonderful views of Common Scoter, Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Fulmars and Shags but not one Surf Scoter.

One gang of Common Scoter, composed of drakes with one poor female, came really close in, so close we could see every detail and even hear them calling! What fantastic views in the sunshine as the males were far more interested in the female to worry about how close to shore they were! More scanning same result no sign of a drake Surf Scoter so frustrating given the ideal conditions. Then Reg spotted one but of so far away it was barely visible even on the highest magnification of the scopes and we soon lost it again, not all satisfying. Then a message from our friend Jonni he had a drake Surf Scoter off Llanddulas Beach about a mile to our east! Scopes were packed up fast and all four of us hiked back the cars and headed to Llanddulas. By the time we got to the beach car park no sign of Jonni and two other birders on site had not seen the bird! Oh no ever get the feeling you are not going to see a bird? We do!

Scopes were set again and scanning resumed but the views here were not as good as we were now more or less at sea-level and could not see the more distant birds well. After about ten minutes it was Reg again who said “got it” and he had! Bit of a panic as we followed Reg’s directions, there would be two pink buoys out there wouldn’t there! But then at last there was the huge white patch on the back of the head of an adult drake Surf Scoter! Yes, thank you Jonni and Reg at last all that scanning had paid off and we had pretty good views of this wonderful American visitor as it steamed through the Common Scoter. The light was good we could even see the orange colour on the bill and we were all thrilled and relieved in equal measure. Another friend Chris joined us he was on his lunch break from work and saw the Surf Scoter almost at once, now that is the way to do it! We would love to put together a custom Birdwatching Trips tour perfect for you please just drop us a line and we can do the rest…

We look forward to enjoying great birds and wildlife with you soon.

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