Ghostly visitor from the land of ice

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Bird watching can be a funny old game. Years ago, I used to make an annual pilgrimage to the Hirsel near Coldstream to add nuthatch (picture, top of page) to my annual list, as that was the only place they occurred in the Borders.

Now I have them daily in my garden. Similarly, a special trip to the Nisbet area used to be required to get tree sparrows on to the list, but during the past couple of weeks a small colony has moved into my neighbour’s garden and I am treated to regular visits at my bird table.

In birders’ parlance, “lifer” means a bird species you see for the first time ever. When you get to my age, such events are few and far between, but already this year (and we’re only into the second month) I have had two lifers locally.

The first was the previously mentioned great grey shrike at Lindean Reservoir and I managed number two at the weekend on a stroll round Tweedbank.

For some weeks now, there has been lots of traffic on the local birders’ website about a strange gull which has turned up on Gunknowe Loch, amongst the hordes of other black-headed and herring gulls. Lots of theories were banded about as to its identity. Some thought glaucous gull or even an albino herring gull, but it looks as though the experts have settled for Iceland gull.

Wandering round the loch, I thought I would have no chance in seeing, never mind identifying this rare visitor, but I was wrong.

Sticking out like a sore thumb among the other gulls resting on the ice, was a large ghostly-white gull with a dark tip on its beak – our Icelandic visitor! Apparently, it feeds along with thousands of other gulls at Langlee rubbish tip and comes to Tweedbank for a bath.

The tip has also attracted some local birders to study these gulls and it has emerged that there is definitely more than one Icelander in our midst. According to those who know about such things, the one I saw was a second winter bird, but I was just glad to get it onto my list!

A huge influx of Iceland gulls in January was typified by exceptional numbers on the Outer Hebrides, with at least 74 counted at Stornoway Harbour, Lewis, on the 24th of the month, so it appears that the Borders, too, has had its share.

Yes, this year has got off to a great start. Let’s hope it continues.