Scotland Tour Report 3rd- 7th April 2003    
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Gone Birding watching Ptarmigan in 2003

Gone Birding in Scotland 2003 Andy Hirst

male Capercaillie

Capercaillie- Bird of the tour!

Species List
Tour Report

1 B Blackbird

2 BF Bullfinch

3 BH Black-headed Gull

4 BK Black Grouse

5 BT Blue Tit

6 BV Black-throated Diver

7 BZ Common Buzzard

8 C Carrion Crow

9 CA Cormorant

10 CC Chiffchaff

11 CD Collared Dove

12 CG Canada Goose

13 CH Chaffinch

14 CI Crested Tit

15 CM Common Gull

16 CO Coot

17 CP Capercaillie

18 CR Crossbill

19 CT Coal Tit

20 CU Curlew

21 CY Scottish Crossbill

22 D Dunnock

23 DI Dipper

24 DN Dunlin

25 EA Golden Eagle

26 FF Fieldfare

27 GB Great Black-backed Gull

28 GC Goldcrest

29 GD Goosander

30 GJ Greylag Goose

31 GL Grey Wagtail

32 GN Goldeneye

33 GP Golden Plover

34 GR Greenfinch

35 GS Great Spotted Woodpecker

36 GT Great Tit

37 H Heron

38 HG Herring Gull

39 HH Hen Harrier

40 Hooded Crow

41 HS House Sparrow

42 J Jay

43 JD Jackdaw

44 K Kestrel

45 L Lapwing

46 LB Lesser Black-backed Gull

47 LG Little Grebe

48 LI Linnet

49 LT Long-tailed Tit

50 M Mistle Thrush

51 MA Mallard

52 MG Magpie

53 MH Moorhen

54 MP Meadow Pipit

55 MS Mute Swan

56 OC Oystercatcher

57 OP Osprey

58 PC Parrot Crossbill

59 PE Peregrine

60 PG Pink-footed Goose

61 PH Pheasant

62 PM Ptarmigan

female Ptarmigan

Brian Chambers

63 PW Pied Wagtail

64 R Robin

65 RE Redwing

66 RG Red Grouse

67 RH Red-throated Diver

68 RK Redshank

69 RN Raven

70 RO Rook

71 RZ Ring Ouzel

confiding Ring Ouzel

Brian Chambers

72 S Skylark

73 SC Stonechat

74 SD Stock Dove

75 SG Starling

76 SH Sparrowhawk

77 SK Siskin

78 SM Sand Martin

79 SN Snipe

80 SR Great Grey Shrike

81 ST Song Thrush

82 SZ Slavonian Grebe

Slavonian Grebe

Brian Chambers

83 T Teal

84 TC Treecreeper

85 TO Tawny Owl

86 TU Tufted Duck

87 W Wheatear

88 WE White-tailed Eagle

89 WK Woodcock

90 WN Wigeon

91 WP Woodpigeon

92 WR Wren

93 Y Yellowhammer

3rd April The weather the two weeks prior to the tour had been superb. Most unlike March and April, it had been fine, sunny and dare I say it warm. The day the tour kicked off and the weather held and after picking up the minibus and the tour party of 8, we headed north. We arrived in Aviemore (our base for the 5 days), and quickly settled in to comfortable b+b's, a quick muster and the party headed off to Loch Morlich. First highland bird of the tour was summer plumaged Red-throated Diver, the trip had kicked off! Other additions to highland list included lots of Goldeneye, several recently split Hooded Crows, as well as Crossbill. Returning to Aviemore we ate a hearty meal in the 'Winking Owl' was followed by a good nights sleep as an early start the next morning ensued.

4th April A short drive from Aviemore brought us to an area of prime heather moorland, where in the cold grey dawn we observed a pair of Goldeneye, although our goal was something far more spectacular- Black Grouse. Our early morning effort was eventually rewarded when a female flew into the traditional lek site, closely followed by two males. The bubbles and whooshes of the males as entertaining as the jousting. Overcoming a puncture we moved on to spend the final part of our pre-breakfast saunter in the magnificent RSPB Reserve of Abernethy Forest. Here we were rewarded with several Common Crossbill and 2 acrobatic Crested Tits.

The weather was dull, so following a substantial breakfast and after acquiring lunch, we altered our plan of Ptarmigan, Cairngorm 04/04/03 -M. Garwelllooking for raptors, and instead headed off to the hills looking for Ptarmigan. This was a wise choice. We parked in the ski centre car park at Cairngorm, the low cloud, although clearing did make viewing difficult therefore looking for raptors was a none starter. After climbing several hundred feet over a few miles we came to a scree covered spur. Several false alarms of flying Red Grouse on the ascent resulted in careful scanning of the rocks, which revealed a solitary female Ptarmigan, much to the delight of the party- the uphill walk had been well worth the effort. Several of the party attempted to digi-scope the bird (the 'Digi-men' as they became known) in the poor, but improving light conditions. The rest of the party fanned out and over the next hour notched up 3 males and 6 females, the majority in transitional plumage, midway between pure white and mottled grey/brown. Several birds showing down to a few feet, others giving the unmistakable grating calls. Following a deserved lunch break in the car park we headed north into wild moorland- our target was a pair of Black-throated Diver. Careful scanning initially was unproductive, the air punctured by the warning 'Go Back' calls of a multitude of Red Grouse. Then the cry of Black-throated went up, as eight pairs of eyes focused a pair of stunningly elegant Black-throated Divers, swimming and diving, giving the occasional haunting wail or 'mad woman's cry'. Returning to Aviemore via Nethy Bridge we notched up Dipper, before the twitcher in all of us took hold as we checked out the long staying Great Grey Shrike, near Mondhuie. An initial scan failed to locate the shrike, however in the distance a thin pale shape perched on top of a dead branch turned out to be the missing Shrike.

5th April An early pre-breakfast jaunt to the world famous Loch Garten reserve was verymuch an anticlimax. The dull, cold grey morning was enlivened by the display of Capercaillie, it was live, but alas only via the monitor and speakers in the centre, the actual lek some distance away from prying eyes. Disheartened we returned for breakfast- perhaps time in one of the deep valleys looking fCelebrations- gripping views of Ptarmiganor raptors would lift our spirits. Whilst buying lunch several in the party noted a skein of Pink-footed Geese, flying north, as well as several Sand Martin feeding over the River Spey. Driving down the mouth of the Findhorn Valley is always exciting- the anticipation of a day filled with exciting raptors. The weather couldn't have been better. The cold, grey morning gave way to brilliant warm sunshine. Dippers on the burns were welcome, but raptors were the quarry. Several Buzzard (tourist eagles) set a few hearts beating momentarily. The journey down the valley also produced a few Wheatear, as well as Raven, these dwarfing the other corvids. Parking at the end of the valley and several Ring Ouzel were heard, then a huge shape over the distant moor tested the mettle of the party, was it just a Buzzard with it's wings held down?, no, the wings were very long, held straight and flat, yes, it was a definite adult Golden Eagle, as it turned the golden head highlighted by the sunlight. It that wasn't enough an immature was also seen, with large white patches in the underwing giving it away. A chance encounter with Roy Dennis (renowned authority on Ospreys and Scottish birds) proved invaluable, he told us an immature White-tailed Eagle had wintered in the valley!, armed with this knowledge we walked further along the valley, another sub-adult Golden Eagle was located as was a pair of Peregrines, although a confiding male Ring Ouzel gave the 'digi-men' ample opportunity to perfect their art of digi-scoping. The walk further along the valley did produce another Golden Eagle, as well as Dipper, Wheatear and more Ring Ouzel, however the walk back to the minibus was more memorable as a large raptor flying along the ridge of the valley was keenly spotted by one of the party, was identified as the immature White-tailed Eagle, this bird topping off a brilliant seven hours in this magnificent valley, in magnificent weather. A triumphant end to a day which had started off so poorly at Loch Garten, truly the highs and lows of birding. We celebrated in style with a hearty Indian meal.

6th April Another very early start at Loch Garten that had to be more productive than the previous day- hadn't it? The same grey murky dawn greeted us, but undaunted we listened to the patter of the RSPB official- again, only this time he was interrupted as a Capercaillie was observed from the hide, the activity of the Capers was unprecedented. Over the next hour and a half we saw females, we saw males, we saw males and females together, we saw capers display, we saw them fly, we saw them perched- the climax was a pair actually sat on

female Caper in Osprey nest @ Loch Garten!

Brian Chambers

the Osprey tree, the female actually in the nest. The finale to these were classic Scottish Crossbill and Parrot Crossbill, just to add to our tally. We were kicked out at 08:20, totally we elated we returned for breakfast on a massive high.

The day had kicked off superbly, how could we match the Capers?- well we really couldn't, but a walk around Abernethy did produce many Crested Tits, some very close indeed. We ate lunch in Abernethy in the sunshine. We went Slavonian Grebe hunting next, scanning a favoured lochen we found a single adult, in full summer plumage. It kept the digi-men quiet as it dived frequently. To top the day off we went looking for harriers over a moor which held them in the past. An hour of stopping and scanning produced many Red Grouse, but undeterred we continued scanning, eventually we were rewarded, a male Hen Harrier flew along the ridge of the moor, several minutes later a second more obliging male flew across the moorland, enabling everyone to have good views of a stunning male- the end to a spectacular day.

7th April A return pre-breakfast jaunt to the Black Grouse lek produced the faithful 2 males a female, and true to form they whooshed and bubbled away! This was our last morning, so following breakfast we nipped into Loch Morlich to get one last view of summer plumaged Red-throated Divers- which we did before heading home, this rounding off a very successful tour indeed.

lunch in Abernethy

The trip was a stunning success and bookings are being taken for Scotland 2004!

Images provided by: Brian Chambers, Martin Garwell & Andy Hirst, who retain the copyright

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