An extremely rare Slavonian Grebe, of which only 30 nesting pairs exist in the UK, is believed to have been blown off course before it found freezing in snow outside McDonalds in Westhill.
Thankfully passer-by Linda Milne spotted the frozen and exhausted bird and took it straight to The New Arc’s rescue centre in Auchnagatt, where is was found to be underweight and in need of warming up.
It was the first time New Arc owners Keith and Pauline Marley had seen such a rare bird, and at first failed to believe Ms Milne’s predictions of it being a Slavonian Grebe, sometimes known as a Horned Grebe.
“It was quite a surprise,” Mr Marley said. “It’s our most unusual and rare visitor to date.
“We doubted it would be a Slavonian Grebe when we got the call, we were expecting a guillemot.
“It certainly caught me out.”
In summer the bird transforms from its black winter appearance into an unrecognisable beauty with gorgeous brown and golden plumage,” Mr Marley added.
“In the winter it would be easy to mix it up with other birds which have similar colours in their winter plumage.
“Usually they’re found in the Moray Firth but can be seen for a small part of the year when 700-800 of them emigrate to Scotland about this time of year. It’s a real rarity altogether to see one, never mind in the McDonald’s at Westhill.
“It must have got blown off course during the high winds a few weeks ago.”
The entire European population of the species is estimated at less than 5,000 and in severe decline due to habitat destruction.
About the size of a Moorhen, the bird feeds on small fish and crustaceans. They’re estimated to have a short life-span with the oldest on record being just five-years-old.
“It was an extremely rare find, and the first we’ve ever had at the centre,” he added.
“It was a little underweight and was in desperate need of assistance, but after a little rest a large consumption of small fish the now very lively bird has been released back to the sea at Newburgh beach.
“I’ve still got a smile on my face now.”