|Scotland 2005 Tour Report 14th- 18th April|
The weather forecast was not great, but the Gone Birding Scotland Tour 2005 headed north. The long journey was improved by quite a few birds, notably Oystercatcher and Buzzard as we crossed the border. Several breaks were taken, but before too long the 400 mile journey ended at Aviemore. We quickly unpacked our gear in our delightful, and comfortable b+b, grabbed our optics and headed off to a nearby Loch before dusk. On the sandy foreshore of the loch were a noisy party of Pied Wagtail, but what we were really after were floating serenely across the middle of the loch, some 200m away- 5 Red-throated Diver. Along the loch edges were about 10 Goldeneye, frantically displaying, with a pair of Goosander nearby. A few Siskin were noted in nearby trees, with good numbers of Sand Martin hawking insects. Tired and hungry we returned to Aviemore for a meal in the appropriately named 'Winking Owl', although the journey back was enlivened by a noisy skein of 330 Pink-footed Geese moving NW.
An (optional) early start was needed on our first full day, for a pre-breakfast trip to RSPB Loch Garten for the Capercaillie lek, but the weather was far from ideal. We arrived at RSPB Loch Garten at 05:30, in dark, grey, damp conditions (I'm really selling this tour to you aren't I!). Our first birds were roding Woodcock over the car park. The Ospreys had already returned, a pair, plus an interloper, which entertained us as we looked for Capercaillie. Unfortunately we drew a blank, but returned to our accommodation via a traditional Black Grouse lek. Sure enough we were entertained by 7 males as the 'whooshed' and 'bubbled' at the assembled females. Cheered by this we returned to Aviemore for a hearty Scottish breakfast.
After breakfast we decided to head north to a valley renowned for raptors, as this was to be the best day weather wise. We arrived midmorning, and it was bitterly cold, and non- too bright, not ideal for raptors at all. But we stuck it out, picking up Dipper and lots of Common Gulls. Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gulls, as we drove to the head of the valley and the car park. We kept our eyes peeled scanning the the ridges and valley sides for raptors. Buzzard and Raven put in appearances, as did a Peregrine, but a long wait ensued as we waited for Golden Eagle. Sure enough in the distance our perseverance paid off as 3 large birds drifted slightly nearer. To our relief they were 3 immature Golden Eagles, which soared around for a good 10 minutes in a clear patch of weather. Leaving the car we walked down the valley picking up Hooded Crow, Wheatear, Golden Plover, but surprisingly no Ring Ouzel as in previous years. The group returned to Aviemore (via a dentist for ADH!) and went into the Abernethy Forest, not before picking up Red Kite over the road,just outside Aviemore. Our quarry was the resident Crested Tit, which delighted us no end, as at least 3 birds were picked up close to the car park,. which quickly drew a crowd of appreciative birders. There was a supporting cast of various Tits and finches, with plenty of Siskin buzzing around, although it looked like being another poor Crossbill year. Our journey back to Aviemore was broken with 20 Goldeneye at a roadside lochen. After a wash and brush up we enjoyed some fine local beer and cuisine in a local restaurant, followed by an early night, in preparation for another (optional) early start.
We hauled ourselves out of bed at 04:30 for another jaunt to RSPB Loch Garten for the Capercaillie watch. Again it wasn't ideal with fresh snow on the ground. Woodcock again provided the pre-dawn chorus in the car park. In the gloom a skein of Pink-footed Geese could be heard. After an hour in the hide it look set to be another blank Capercaillie morning, then the shout went up that a female could be seen sat up in a tree, although slightly distant, and only visible from a of section of the hide a female was indeed on show, and stayed put for about 20 minutes, allowing everyone to had modest views. We hurried back to the b+b for our hearty and well deserved breakfast. We would need this as today we would head of into the hills looking for Ptarmigan. The weather was far from ideal, but we had to make the best of it, as we parked at the Ski Lodge half way up Cairngorm. Climbing up we were walking through quite thick snow, which made looking for white birds tricky! Our ascent produced many Red Grouse, which created a few false alarms, although we knew the Ptarmigan were only found on the higher slopes. The weather took a turn for the worse and we gave serious thought to turning back, but it held off long enough for us to see 3 birds fly in front of us- yes they were Ptarmigan, although they quickly disappeared behind rocks and out of view, but at least we had seen them. Looking at the weather we decided to head back down, but not before hearing the unmistakable grating call of male Ptarmigan, not too far away, alas he remained hidden and we returned to the car park, picking up more Red Grouse, Wheatear, and Snow Bunting in the car park. We had lunch here hoping for more Snow Bunting, in the now improving weather. The afternoon was spent looking for ducks and divers, a brief stop on the way from Cairngorm produced 2 more Red-throated Diver, in stunning summer plumage, illuminated by the now shining sun. Through Abernethy we continued north to a large upland loch, which had in the past produced Black-throated Diver. Before we got there a stunning Short-eared Owl quartered the moor in front of us, as the air was filled with the bubbling calls of many Curlew. An initial scan of the loch proved fruitless, but a second scan revealed 2, then 3, then 5 Black-throated Diver, all swimming in very close proximity- Brilliant! Also on the loch were several Wigeon, with Redshank on the shore, plus the usual Oystercatcher. The moorland was worth a good look, with Stonechat, Buzzard, Raven and more Wheatear noted. We returned via a short detour to several bodies of water that had yielded Slavonian Grebe in previous years. Our initial pond failed to produce the goods, but we were rewarded at the second with 2 pairs of Slavonian Grebe swimming across the pond in their dapper summer plumage, accompanied by Tufted Duck and Goldeneye. Following our exploits today we thought we deserved a special meal, so it was curries all round at the excellent Indian restaurant in Aviemore, washed down by local beer- a good end to an excellent days birding.
We awoke to modest overnight snowfall, which made looking for Capercaillies a non-starter, but we went anyway and sure enough drew a blank, but the highlight were brief views of a male Parrot Crossbill perched in front of the hide. Nearby 4 male Black Grouse perched in a tree were almost as good, the air punctuated with 6 Curlew displaying. The weather forecast wasn't great so after a welcome breakfast we headed over to RSPB Loch Ruthven, via a mountain road, which was productive, although the cold weather prevented us from finding Hen Harrier. Red Grouse were however in abundance, as were Hooded Crow and Buzzard. A chilly RSPB Loch Ruthven greeted us. We made our way to the hide noting several Slavonian Grebe on the water. Also on the water were a pair of Goosander, and quite a few Goldeneye, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, although the highlight were 5 Slavonian Grebe, which came very close to the hide. A search for a previously reported Ring-necked Duck proved fruitless, so we headed back to Abernethy to search for more woodland gems. This confirmed our fears that it was another poor crossbill year. But there were plenty of common woodland birds, such as Goldcrests and Siskin. More local food and beer cheered us up, before retiring for our final day.
We awoke again at 04:30 for the now familiar drive to RSPB Loch Garten for the Capercaillie watch. It wasn't too long before a male was picked up by the wardens in the forward hide. In orderly fashion we were lead to the hide to pick up a male Capercaillie just lounging around sat half way up a Caledonian Pine- at last we had seen both male and female, but it took some effort, with 04:30 starts 4 mornings in a row. Elated we made our way to the nearby Loch Garten, picking up Common Sandpiper, Wigeon, Osprey and Goldeneye. We returned via the Black Grouse lek for our final 'fix' of these magical birds, which again performed admirably. We sampled our final breakfast and packed our gear. Before spending the morning in Abernethy Forest we purchased somefine ale from Aviemores own brewery. Our final fling in Abernethy was a pleasant walk in sunshine, which produced our first Willow Warbler, although amongst the myriad of Goldcrests, Coal Tits, Chaffinches and Siskin were a pair of Scottish Crossbill, which showed extremely well and proved to be a fitting end to another great Scottish tour. On our journey south we kept our eyes peeled and again picked up many Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Hooded Crow, Ruddy Duck and Raven.
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