|Scotland 2006 Tour Report 20th- 24th April|
In fine weather the group were collected from Sheffield and Hull, and we began the long drive north, stopping off several times along the way. A roadside flash off the A66 provided a convenient, if not noisy lunch stop with Oystercatcher, Shelduck, as well as Tufted Duck and a noisy colony of Black-headed Gulls. Crossing the border we picked up more and more including Curlew, Buzzard and Oystercatcher.
Arriving in Aviemore, our base for the tour, we sorted ourselves out in the comfortable B+B's. Quickly gathering our optics and shooting off to a nearby loch before dusk. This proved to worth the short drive, with 200 Pink-footed Geese noted >NW, plus 3 summerplumaged Red-throated Diver on the loch, plus numerous Wigeon and Goldeneye, plus Common Sandpiper and Goosander. We also picked up an Osprey as drove around. Despite spending most of the day in the mini-bus, we saw 52 species in the day- not bad. We returned for a shower and off to aptly named Winking Owl for a meal and drinks- although an early night was needed for our early start tomorrow.
Our first full day in this superb area, involved an early start, setting off well before dawn to Loch Garten, in search of woodland species. Before dawn we heard Osprey calling over heads, with several Siskin and Chaffinch around. We awaited the arrival of dawn, the wait continued, we were rewarded by a glimpse of a male Capercaillie- moving to the forward hide, and positioning ourselves in the hide we could see quite clearly this huge turkey-like bird. A stunning male with a huge pale bill, and very well marked plumage. With time before breakfast we decided to go to a nearby Black Grouse lek, although we were not hopeful as the morning was progressing (in Black Grouse terms). We shouldn't have worried as at least 3 males were still jousting, their bubbles & wooshes evocative of this part of Scotland. We returned to our B+B for a well-earned breakfast. After breakfast we decided to go north to a favoured valley for raptors, as today was the best day weather wise. Although it was fine, it was quite breezy and bitterly cold, but with full stomachs we ventured into the wilds of the highlands. Following a single track road we stopped at a likely looking bridge over a burn and straight away had the first of 2 Dippers of the day, followed by 2 noisy Common Sandpiper. Curlew, Oystercatcher, Common & Black-headed Gull were also vocally abundant! and were present all morning. On the rocky slopes were quite a few freshly arrived Wheatears, although we scanned the skies in search of raptors, initially a pair of Raven gronked away, although we quickly picked up a pair of Peregrines that nest in the valley. Braving the biting winds, sustained by frequent hot drinks, we racked up 47 Pink-footed Geese, a f Goshawk and the star birds 2 adult Golden Eagles- just rewards for persevering the cold weather. A walk down the valley produced singing Ring Ouzel. A detour over the moors gave us many Red Grouse, although Hen Harrier were absent, (as a result of few Meadow Pipits returning so far), we did have at least 1, maybe 2 more Goshawk, and several Buzzard. Returning to our B+B we called off a small lochen en-route and were rewarded by 5 stunning summer plumaged Slavonian Grebe that were lit by the late afternoon light-this ended our day fittingly.
Our merry band again sacrificed sleep for an early startto search for Capercaillie, yet again dawn came and went, but this time we were rewarded with better views of 2 males, this time viewable from the main hide, although part-hidden in the long heather. They strutted their stuff and showed well for quite along time, we were also rewarded with Red Squirrel outside the hide at Loch Garten, and with cracking Crested Tit as we made our way back to the car park. With time to spare we had a quick walk into Garten Woods, were we were rewarded with another Crested Tit, this time at the nest- riding our luck we paid a quick visit to the Black Grouse site, and our luck held, with 2 males still present at the lek. Again we returned for hearty breakfast, before heading north to the coast at Lossiemouth, by way of an upland loch. Arriving at Lossiemouth we hit the coast above the harbour with plenty to occupy us on the sea in front of us. Sandwich Terns were obvious, as were a total of 6 Red-throated Diver. Close scrutiny of the rocky shore revealed 5 Purple Sandpiper, and bobbing around were 3 Long-tailed Duck. Also on the water were several Eider, 200 Common Scoter, with many Fulmar & Gannet. A surprise find was an adult Great Northern Diver, beginning to moult into summer plumage. Moving into town we headed for the harbour, and the outer wall, to our amazement the sea was full of sea duck. The majority were Long-tailed Duck and Common Scoter. We estimated at least 2000 Long-tailed Duck present, with 500 Common Scoter in the area. Returning to Aviemore we made a slight detour and picked up 3 stunning summer plumaged Black-throated Diver, albeit in the now very windy conditions. We sought shelterin the gorgeous Abernethy Forest, which afforded some shelter. We searched high & low for woodland species, with tantalising views of 2 Crossbills, although they flew of before we got to grips with them. Then wouldn't you know it, returning to the vehicle, we found a cracking pair of Crossbills, giving good enough views to i.d. them as Scottish Crossbill, these our target birds, as well as 2 more Crested Tits, in the blustery conditions. We returned tour accommodation following another exhilarating day in the field. Following a wash & brush up we headed in to Aviemore to one of the many restaurants.
A change of pre-breakfast venue saw the group at a Black Grouse lek, getting out of the van we were immediately rewarded in surround sound of Black Grouse males calling away. In front of us were 4 or 5 birds, but behind us some distance away, but clearly audible & visible were a further 8 birds , including several females. They put on quite an exclusive show for the appreciative crowd. Our substantial breakfast was needed today as we planned on climbing into the hills and look out for Ptarmigan. Luckily their wasn't too much snow, as we pulled into the car park at the Cairngorm Ski Centre. The centre was very busy, although as we began to climb into the hills we lost the crowds and were on our own, except for the harsh 'go back' calls of Red Grouse and Meadow Pipits. Typically it was cool in this mountain environment, although warm clothing kept us warm, we quickly chilled when we stopped for drinks or to scan. We reached the spot where we expected to see our goal- Ptarmigan, unfortunately we drew a blank, viewing the rocky slopes took a lot of time, patience and a keen eye for the smallest movement. We moved further along the scree, and again scanned. About to give up and move on the shout of "I've got 2" went up- The Ptarmigan proved frustratingly difficult to locate, as the white plumaged birds merged well with the pale snow covered rocks, and only became obvious when they wandered across a patch of grass & heather, much to the delight of all. We ended up with a count of 5, some seen, some heard- tantalisingly close. The slog up the mountain side had been worth it, as we enjoyed good views of these birds, although we began to chill and thought about retracing our steps. Arriving back at the car park we enjoyed our lunch and hot drinks, and a sit down! Following our exertion we decided to head north to a track over the moors in search of more upland species, plus it meant we could have a sit down. Our perseverance paid off as a huge female Goshawk was observed, plus 6 Buzzard and lots of Kestrel and Wheatear, although no Hen Harrier were seen, as we thought , there was still a lack of prey for the Harriers to feed on (Meadow Pipits). We returned to Aviemore and treated ourselves to a meal in an Indian Restaurant- which was delicious!
Our last day saw us pass on the pre-breakfast jaunt in favour of an earlier breakfast, allowing us to get away and drive south. We packed our gear, and following a visit to a local brewery for some liquid souvenirs www.cairngormbrewery.com (recommended), we headed south, although we diverted to the west coast at Irvine, as a mobile, but long-staying King Eider was too good an opportunity to pass up. We arrived at Irvine just after lunch, and scoured the harbour mouth and the channels in to Irvine. An intensive 2 hours failed to produce the elusive King Eider, although we did seem to entertain the locals with our wild duck chase. We parked on the beach front car park, but were literally sand blasted by a very strong winds and half the beach. Several other birders were there and they reported the grim news "it had not been seen all day"- the words all birders dread. We had picked up Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Gannet, loads of Mute Swans in the harbour, Shelduck & lots of Eider. We had to make the decision to continue our journey south. We dropped off the last of our party and bid our fond farewells in the late evening, following an uneventful drive south- the long journey allowed us to recall what a brilliant trip it had been, covering a variety of pristine habitats, which revealed some truly spectacular and impressive species and numbers, with excellent food & accommodation. Here's to the next Gone Birding tour to this remarkable part of the UK.