SPECIES TO LOOK OUT FOR
Visiting from breeding grounds as far away as the Arctic Circle, there is no mistaking the long tail and predominantly white plumage, with dark wings, of a male ‘longtail’ in its winter finery. These neat sea ducks are usually seen in flocks, with unpaired birds often choosing the wintertime to find a partner before they head north.
Breeding in tiny numbers up in Scotland’s Flow Country, the vast majority of overwintering scoter will have come from northern Europe and Russia. The all-black males have a small patch of yellow on the bill, in contrast to the dark-brown females, however, only a few select locations will host large rafts of this sociable sea duck.
One of the sawbills, these long-bodied and longnecked diving ducks have distinct wispy crests, coloured either dark green or reddish-brown, depending on the sex. Often encountered in smaller flocks than the sea ducks, these birds tend to be found closer to shore, as they constantly dive for their fish prey.
Great northern diver
This heavy-looking diver with a dagger-like bill and distinctive ‘double bump’ to its crown will have flown south from breeding grounds as far away as Iceland, Greenland and Arctic Canada. The waters off northwest Scotland seem to be the preferred location for the majority of the estimated 2,600 individuals that spend the winter around the British coast.
Most birders will be far more familiar with the ‘Slav’s’ black-andwhite winter plumage, than the colourful breeding finery, as the Scottish population is now tiny. The resident birds are then boosted by immigrants from Iceland and Scandinavia in autumn, with over a thousand now residing in our coastal waters each winter.
The great northern diver tends to be solitary. Bottom left: common scoters.