Within a minute of arriving we have our quarry sighted - Britain's third ever Sandhill Crane. Over the next 45 minutes we watch it chasing Herons, Lapwings and anything else that comes too close. Thousands of Pink-footed Geese are flying in and out and the wild sounds are breathtaking as the flocks whiffle their way into the fields. Suddenly the Crane takes flight and for a while circles around with some Pink-feet. It heads off low to the north and we are soon in pursuit hoping to find it feeding in the local stubble. We check out the area where it spent yesterday afternoon and using the Land Rover's off-road ability check all manner of minor roads and tractor trails. We head back towards Starnafin and bump into a birder coming the other way. He tells us the bird has just been relocated and we follow him through the village to a car park. Sure enough out in the stubble field the Sandhill Crane is feeding. We manage to get closer by following a footpath and gradually the birders begin to gather. The sun came out showing off the beautiful subtlety of its brown and grey plumage and highlighting its red crown and pale face. A really superb bird.
A local, walking her dog accidentally flushes it and away it goes over the town. After a further 30 minutes driving and scanning we opt for a return to Loch of Strathbeg. A cup of hot chocolate was most welcome and a scan of the pools from the visitor centre reveals a few smart Greenshank and a Spotted Redshank. Checking a small group of Dunlin I pick out a Pectoral Sandpiper, a scarce American wader, and point it out to Gary and Paul. As I do so it flew across the pool and putting the scope back on the flock I find not one but two Pectoral Sandpipers! They showed quite well in super light before walking out of view. Scanning the flock of Pink-feet reveals five Barnacle Geese in the distance and the reserve is alive with duck, Golden Plover and Lapwing. A female Peregrine flew over and a female Merlin was seen nearby. What a beautiful place and the RSPB staff were fantastic - thank you.
We decided to begin the long drive south, stopping at the wonderfully named Blackdog just to the north of Aberdeen. This site gained fame earlier this year when Britain's first White-winged Scoter was found. The day after it disappeared a Black Scoter was discovered alongside up to five Surf Scoter in the huge rafts of Common, Velvet and Common Eider. While the White-winged had long-since departed the Black Scoter, its almost as rare american cousin, had stayed for the summer. After some considerable effort scanning through the rafts of sea duck, Guillemot and Red-throated Diver (some still sporting summer plumage) we located the drake Black (my second new bird of the day) and watched him courting the female Common Scoters. Try as we might we couldn't locate a Surf Scoter, but a single Velvet and a Red-breasted Merganser were picked out. This is a stunning stretch of sand dune coastline and I can honestly say I have never encountered such friendly golfists - smiles and hellos replaced the usual moans and groans. Beautiful sunshine and stunning scenery, with huge numbers of loafing sea duck made for a most enjoyable afternoon.
At 15:20 we headed for home enjoying the spectacular scenery around the Firth of Forth and the Dundee coasts, through the southern Uplands, before the sunlight faded. A consistent 10 hour return journey and we were all very tired, but very pleased with our short-long adventure.