Sniggering behind the back of Storm Doris

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Ceaseless advisorys not to travel unless absolutely necessary, 90mph winds, blizzards and torrential rain masquerading under the name of Doris meant just one thing:
It was time to hit the road with Neill and Trops, as their orgy of year listing began to get seriously competitive, and seriously fun.
So what if the Hooded Merganser hadn’t been reported since Sunday last? Sometimes you’ve just got to believe.
Neill picked us up yesterday morning at 5am and we headed north through the worst weather we experienced over the last two days – sheets of sluicing rain that turned the M6 into a washing machine of brake lights and zero visibility – if it was this bad then, how bad would Storm Doris be when the sun rose up in Scotland?
Answer: Doris never showed up!
As Merseyside was given a damn good thrashing it was cool and calm up north.
No wind, and the rain eased, so by the time we swung into Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway and pulled up at Carlingwark Loch conditions were really rather nice.
As was the fine male Ring Necked Duck tootling round the flat calm loch with a flotilla of Tufties.

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We watched it for about half an hour before getting back on the road up through the beautiful backroads of Dumfries and Galloway, then Ayrshire, past Red Kite and a steadily increasing drizzle, until the first snow hit us at 9.45am, right on cue.
Still no wind though as we trudged through the Lochwinnoch slush to scope Barr Loch for the distant, but groovy drake Hooded Merganser which has been there all winter.

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About as good as one of these things gets, it was undeniably handsome as it steamed up and down against a wall of reeds, diving and often disappearing into the vegetation.
Potentially plastic maybe, but the Hooded Merg did have the common decency to arrive in a hooley last autumn, its arrival coinciding with a number of other Yankees – so who knows???
A quick look at Castle Semple Loch from the excellent RSPB Lochwinnoch visitor centre revealed Siskin, Brambling, stacks of Goosanders, Pochard and Goldeneye, but no sign of the redhead Smew.

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The blanket of snow thickened as we headed northwest to Gourock Bay, where the Bonaparte’s Gull was hiding too, but we did have Black Guillemot, 2 Med Gulls, Shag and Eider.
From there we headed slowly south east, past Edinburgh and down the east coast until we pulled up at the Trap Inn in Broomhill, Northumberland, where we crashed on Thursday night.
Plenty of food, drink and even a meeting of the local astronomy society which allowed us to make endless bad jokes about a certain duck-egg blue planet as the beer kicked in.
No, not Pluto, the other one.
Brilliant – and best of all it was only a few minutes drive from East Chevington, so that when we stumbled out of bed today into a flat calm and blue sky morning, we were only minutes away from the wintering Pacific Diver and Slav Grebe on the north pool there.
Both were distant, but cool enough and gave great ‘scope views – it has been awhile since I watched the first Pacific for the UK back in 2007.

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There was Scaup, Goldeneye and Goosanders galore on the blue winter water here too.
It was the start of a splendid day of year ticking frenzy, next stop Prestwick Carr, once we’d found the place, and a Great Grey Shrike, which put the fear of God into the local Reed Bunts as it hunted from trees and bushes.

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All shriked up, we scooted off to North Shields and the fish docks by Tynemouth for a showy Glaucous Gull and an Iceland Gull on the fishing shed roof.

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The local Eiders were point blank, and Turnstones and Rock Pipits scurried around the dock.
Up at the harbour/breakwater at Tynemouth, Purple Sandpipers probed the jetty and Fulmars were back on nesting cliffs in warm sunshine.

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All very springlike.

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Smiles all round then as we arrived in the bleak wasteland beside the sinister walled necropolis of Spion Kop Cemetery in Hartlepool to say “howdy” to the wintering Shorelark on the barren ground above the shore.

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Spiffing, but the clock was ticking so we drove on to Saltholme Pools, past flocks of Eurasian Whitefronts dropping out of the sky into the weird landscape, dominated by industry and the transporter bridge.
We didn’t get a chance to play on it today, instead we headed south to Skinningrove to finally catch up with the tame Eastern Black Redstart on the beach there.
Pretty, pretty, it didn’t let us down.
Occasionally the Black Red even broke into a quiet song as it sat amongst the rocks.

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We even had time to year tick Red Grouse during a quick pitstop at the highest bit of the A66 on the way home as the light was fading at 5.15pm.
Finally I have to thank my two friends for 800 miles of laughs and birds, and Neill for all the driving of course.
It was a great two days.
Just one question: “Has anyone seen Uranus?”

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