Loch Gilp and Loch Crinan, 22nd February 2014

January’s field trip was a last minute victim of the weather and so the 10 members who assembled in the Corran car park at the head of Loch Gilp had been paying particular attention to forecasts over the previous couple of days. Jim Dickson was in fine fettle having enjoyed a trip to Campbeltown the previous day and had returned with tales of sighting Kumlien’s Gull and the only the second Argyll record of a Yellow-legged Gull. Would the rarities have followed him northwards the rest of us wondered? Whilst the focus at this site would be expected to be waders, ducks and gulls on the mud at low tide a good variety of common garden birds in nearby cover including great tits, blue tits robin and chaffinch were seen and heard whilst a raven flew over towards Oakfield where a buzzard was seen soaring a couple of minutes later. As we moved away from the car park along the Front Green a grey wagtail was foraging on a gravel bank and as it was low tide the regular flock of wintering wigeon had dispersed with only a single bird left close to the shore and with a red knot feeding not far away. Curlew, bar-tailed godwits and redshanks could be identified way out along the water’s edge.

Next stop on our tour of Mid-Argyll was the roadside at Ardrishaig where Jim’s call of “white throated diver” was wishfully heard by a couple of the group as “whited billed diver”. Jim’s unexcited demeanour quashed the mounting anticipation and brought the realisation that the sighting was of a pair of divers of the black-throated species in winter plumage with white throats if that isn’t too much of a contradiction. A red throated diver, also in winter plumage was spotted further over the loch and a single male goldeneye was diving for food towards the pier. Unlike the divers, a tystie was obviously anticipating the arrival of spring being in breeding plumage and a razorbill provided us with good views by searching for food close in to the shore. Whilst looking towards the sea it is easy to forget about the bank of trees behind & whilst a pair of collared doves had probably been calling since we arrived it must have been at least 10 minutes before they were added to the list. Remember to be aware of all your surroundings was one of the many lessons learnt during the day.

The group headed towards the Add Estuary adding house sparrow, starling and a soaring sparrowhawk to the quota en route. At the Islandadd Bridge a pair of little grebes were busy just upstream whilst good numbers of teal and wigeon were feeding and resting in the estuary proper. Jim had mentioned seeing his first lesser black-backed gulls of the year the previous day and whilst the gull rarities hadn’t followed him back north and stayed in Kintyre a lesser black backed gull could be seen amongst other large gulls at the water’s edge. Both common species of pipit, skylark, pied wagtail and stonechat were also in evidence before we moved on.

We headed north over Moine Mhor and then west towards Barsloisnoch in the hope of seeing the small flock of Greenland white-fronted geese that occupies the area. A glimpse was caught of them amongst greater numbers of Canada geese but unfortunately we were not able to linger on the single track road lest the following local traffic be inconvenienced. The trip round the bay to view the estuary from the other side was worth it as two lapwings were viewed in tumbling flight with a total of six being counted. A wheezing greenfinch, coal tit and blackbird were added to the list before heading round to the other side of the Add at the canal swing bridge, a journey that would have been much shorter and quicker at one time by ferry. A bonus of travelling back by road was the sighting of a mistle thrush as we crossed the moss. The crossbills seen near the swing bridge last year weren’t in evidence but jays were heard calling by two members of the party, thus qualifying them for addition to the day’s list.

Our final port of call, literally, was the canal basin at Crinan where 3 great northern divers were seen in addition to another trio of red throated divers to add to those seen earlier. By this time the anticipated rainfall had arrived and the group started to go their separate ways, all the wiser for being in the company of a knowledgeable birder on his home patch. Those heading back to Lochgilphead were assured by Jim that the bird nearly clobbered by his car was a song thrush and returning to the Corran were treated to a good view of a male goosander on the gravel bank where we’d previously seen the grey wagtail. There were a good few common birds that we didn’t see, perhaps due to the continuing mild weather, but a look at the list shows a healthy variety with the lapwings being the highlight for the writer. No particular rarities were seen but the first lesser black-backed gull of the year was an encouraging sign of the spring migrants to come before the next field trip to Gigha in March.

Species seen: Mute Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Greater Canada Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Common Eider, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Great Cormorant, Shag, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Collared Dove, Eurasian Jay, Western Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Common Raven, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Skylark, Wren, Common Starling, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Common Stonecat, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Common Chaffinch, Greenfinch

Malcolm Chattwood