I’ve finally done it. After feeling for the past year that I’ve been in the wrong place, and experiencing a far greater satisfaction every time I visit Scotland, I’ve finally moved there. Last weekend I drove 568 miles and upon arrival collapsed exhausted, filling the house with bags and suitcases. But over the past few days it’s finally started to sink in that I live in the Highlands now.
The reason I can tell I’m in a much better place is I already feel a connection to the landscape, so much so that I’ve assigned myself a local patch for the first time. Back in Hertfordshire I never felt closely attached to any wild place, and even if I had there was nothing within walking distance of where I lived. Now I can walk for less than two minutes and reach the sprawling north side of the Burghead peninsula, known by the Brochers (Burghead residents) as the backshore. This is my new patch. Not only is it teeming with birds – attracting twitchers from across the Highlands as a result – but it is home to many species I don’t know, which will make the process of monitoring my patch even more rewarding. Having never been in regular contact with marine and coastal habitats before, my knowledge of gulls, ducks and waders is almost non-existent. I’ve been visiting my patch for three consecutive days now and have already learned to recognise six new birds: turnstone, redshank, rock pipit, goldeneye, curlew and long-tailed duck. When I stand on the bank scanning the waves, I think I see around a thousand dolphins breaking the surface, but the ocean is known for playing tricks. As the old saying goes, the harder you work the luckier you get. There are around 130 resident bottlenoses in the Moray Firth, and I’m determined to see some on my patch soon.
Having a local patch is a great way to get to know an area intimately. By regularly recording not only the species but also the weather conditions, time and date of visits, you begin to detect changes and ultimately learn wild animal behaviours. On Sunday I went at 4pm and watched waders and gulls foraging amongst the rocks. Yesterday I went at 11am and the tide was completely in, so the waders were absent but there were still ducks and cormorants diving in the shallows. A marine patch is particularly intriguing because it changes drastically in a short space of time. In just a few hours the habitat is transformed, and new birds appear to take advantage of the conditions.
I’ve already met other birders at the backshore, including Steve Reddick from Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safaris, who had the added benefit of a scope. He was keen to see purple sandpipers, which are often here during the winter. I learnt most of my six new birds from Steve, and now wish he could help me with a mystery diver I keep spotting. It’s too far away to make out clearly through binoculars, and to my untrained eye the three species of diver seen here – red throated, black throated and great northern diver – all look very similar in winter plumage. Hopefully with a few more sightings I’ll learn the differences and be able to identify them with confidence. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing their summer plumage, which is not only easier to recognise but also stunningly beautiful!
It’s fantastic to have my passion for birdwatching renewed. I’ve been in a slump for months, so to finally be in a place that inspires and challenges me is both a relief and a privilege. I can’t wait to discover new species this year, not only on the backshore but all over the Moray coast.