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07 April 2012
A spectacle of ducks

If you enjoy watching and most of all listening to our native birdlife, you’ll find rich pickings on the Cromarty shore this week. Eider ducks are paddling in the shallows in abundance. These large sea ducks are easily spotted, as the males’ flashy white and black plumage contrasts sharply with the grey waters. Eiders move mostly in pairs, the dark brown females alongside their mates.

Take  a stroll along the Reed Path, especially at half-tide, and you’ll be greeted by  the lively soundtrack of the male eiders’ courting calls. They intersperse their loud cooing with the deep quack-quack you’d expect of ducks — listen to their calls on the RSPB website.

Perhaps you associate doves with cooing cries, not ducks. But creep a little closer, and you’ll find it’s true. Eider ducks are nonchalant when it comes to calm human interlopers; they’ll let you in on the act.

Eiders aren’t the only ducks that are easy to see and hear in the area this spring. This morning, a spectacular flock of more than a hundred ducks flew noisily in formation over the South Sutor. Silhouetted dark against the morning sky, these common scoter were likely heading from their winter feeding grounds on the Moray Firth back to Northern Scandinavia where they spend the summer.

As we shake off winter and welcome spring, it is also coming time for the tens of thousands of wigeon wintering on the Firth to fly north to Scandinavian shores. Hurry along to Udale Bay to look for these winter visitors before they depart for another year.

Meanwhile, the Cromarty foreshore is thick with dunlin, small brown waders bobbing among the pools and mounds of seaweed left by the receding tide; black-backed gulls dwarf them as they posture on the rocks.

On field margins and in gardens, our male song birds are singing at full tilt. Perhaps none provides quite the surprise that the greenfinch does: at other times of year, it’s drabber and seems less tuneful, but now its green and yellow feathers catch the light with newly reflected colour — and  it’s singing melodies with real heart.

                                                                                                                  Text by Mairi Dupar
Photo of eider ducks courtesy Matrtha de Jong-Lantink (www.flickr.com)