Gannets at last

After a morning of emails and grouting I decided to head out, though the weather was somewhat grey! I had been looking for an excuse to visit the RSPB reserve at Loch of Strathbeg, as I’ve never been there, but reports of a green-winged teal over the last few days made the decision for me.

Loch of Strathbeg is on the very north-eastern tip of Aberdeenshire, between Fraserburgh and Peterhead, and before going there I spent a little time sea-watching at Cairnbulg, where – along with more red-throated divers and eider – I finally caught up with my first gannets of 2023. These magnificent seabirds have been severely hit by bird flu, and I had been wondering if a lack of them so far this year was indicative of this: I think it probably is, so it was great to see a dozen or so today, and I hope the population can recover over the next few years.

Northern gannet (photo taken 2013)

The visitor centre at Loch of Strathbeg was totally deserted, so I setup my telescope in the observation room and started to scan through the teal on the pools in front of me. Green-winged teal is the north American version of the Eurasian teal that is common over here. There are quite a lot of records of this species each year in the UK, but I’ve only seen one three times before in the UK – at Cley in 2019 and at Caerlaverock in 2015 and 2012.

On the male there are distinctive vertical white bars on the sides of the breast, where the Eurasian teal has a horizontal white line along the upper sides. I found this male quite quickly and took a bit of video. It’s distant, and taken through the glass windows of the observation room on a rather grey day, but hopefully you can see the vertical white lines on the green-winged teal!

My first night looking after the moth trap sadly didn’t produce any moths – far too cold for them I think!

Brenda writes: “I love the way things suddenly appear in the flower world. Last Sunday there was just grass and a few red deadnettles by the gate in Wells churchyard and then, while I was away in Aberdeenshire, suddenly there’s a patch of sweet violet which flowers in the same place every year. Beautiful!

sweet violet

And the red deadnettle is now getting into its main flowering period, forming carpets of dusky pink along the grass verges. I marvel at nature’s internal time clock. Again and again I will see something for the first time in a season and then it’s suddenly everywhere – on the same day.

red deadnettle

One of the issues this project is flagging up for me is the difficulty of assessing whether something is really a ‘wild flower’. So there were crocuses in the grass in Aberdeenshire and I’m seeing them here too. There is no way of knowing whether these are cultivated crocus or wild. The field guide says for early crocus, which is pale lilac: ‘Introduced. Naturalised as escape from cultivation throughout Britain.’ So I think we can add that one. And then there’s the daffodil. This is a native species and, although many will have been planted, there is no way of telling which are which. Suffice to say, I saw these in all their glory on my way out to my first service this morning.


So I’ve added three to my list today and am looking forward to seeing something that is totally uncontroversial, like lesser celandine or wood anemone, soon.

New species for February 19th:
Birds: gannet, green-winged teal
Flowers: sweet violet, early crocus, daffodil

Birds = 129
Moths = 4
Wildflowers = 19