|Scotland 2009 Tour Report 9th- 13th April|
After picking up our brand new people carrier we picked up the tour participants, a small but select band consisting of just the four of us. Hitting the M1 we continued north up the A1 before stopping part way along the A66, conveniently to view a new lake created in a field. This held many Black- headed Gull, as well as Coot, 6 Shelduck, 6 Teal and 2 Shoveler. Driving further north via the M6 and M74 the landscape became more dramatic. The valleys getting deeper and the hills/ mountains higher. Here we began to see Curlew, Oystercatcher and of course many Buzzard. Stopping several times at services we picked up Chiffchaff, Black- headed Gull, Jackdaws and Rooks. Further north Black- headed Gulls gave way to Common Gulls, with dozens following the plough plus Great Black- backed Gull & Herring Gull. At Dunkeld a stop by the River Tay produced 2 pairs of Goosander and a Goldeneye with a Great Spotted Woodpecker & Nuthatch in nearby trees and a small party of Sand Martin over the river. An early House Martin flew over the car. The journey up produced a day total of 55 species! We arrived in Aviemore and checked into our favourite b+b. After a coffee and a shower we wandered in to town and had a well deserved meal and a few drinks at the aptly named and convivial "Winking Owl". We had an early night as we agreed to rise early to search for Capercaillie the next morning.
The alarm went off at an unearthly 04:30, but it had to be done to catch up with Capercaillie. A quick coffee kick started us all as we met in the gloom at 05:00 for the 15 min. drive to Loch Garten, picking up Tawny Owl in the headlights perched by the roadside. Unbelievably we weren't the first there! Waiting for the gates to open we had roding Woodcock. We moved in to the main centre & didn't have to wait long for a male Capercaillie to be seen as the light improved. Arriving early we were in the first group to move forward for slightly distant (75m), but prolonged views of stunning male Capercaillie as he called in an attempt to attract a female. We had a look at the ever faithful pair of Ospreys of which, 'EJ' the female had returned for her 15th year. Having had early success with Capercaillie the group decided to head towards a nearby Black Grouse lek. We were on a roll with 3 birds showing well, with their distinctive bubbling & whooshing noises and a further 4 males further away. Having succeeded here we had time for a quick visit back to Garten Woods to search the magnificent Caledonian woodlands here. The woods were alive with Chaffinch and Siskin. We also heard Common Sandpiper by the edge of Loch Garten. Returning for a hearty breakfast we decided to head into the hills today in search of Ptarmigan. A quick stop at Tesco to purchase lunch and we were off, although the birding continued here with 20 Pink- footed Geese >N. Winding up to the car park at Cairngorm Ski Centre we donned our wind proofs and headed into the hills. Leveling out we heard a tantalizing grating call of a Ptarmigan, we saw a fleeting view of a bird disappear over a ridge. 15 mins later and constant scanning of a ridge we had a male Ring Ouzel as well as our target for the day, a Ptarmigan which flew straight towards us landing no more than 20m away. This was a male in transition plumage. He landed near us on a patch of snow giving great views, before flying up and over the top of the ridge. Returning triumphantly, albeit slightly damp in a hail storm, we picked up Red Grouse. We descended to Loch Morlich and back to brilliant sunshine where had lunch as well as Goosander & Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Wigeon. After lunch we checked out several small lochs and lochens these produced another star bird, a pair of Slavonian Grebe, plus a roost of gulls including 30 Greater Black- backed and Herring Gulls. Another larger loch held just a single Slavonian Grebe, giving a day total of 3, as well as a pair of Red- breasted Merganser. We returned to Aviemore after a very successful day. After a day in the hills we had a very welcome meal in Aviemore and an early night and time to dry out our boots.
Another early morning, but a bit of lie in today, not leaving until 05:45, as we headed back to Abernethy Forest in search of the specialty species within. Chaffinch & Siskin were immediately obvious as the sun rose and illuminated & warmed the woods, this broken by the honking of 15 Greylag Geese >N although a party of crossbills were eventually tracked down and consisted of males & females, the large bills indicated they were Parrot Crossbill, deep bills, flat heads and thick necks, and a slightly deeper 'gyp' call confirmed our identification. 12 Goldeneye displayed on the flat calm & spooky Loch Garten, with 4 more on Loch Mallachie. Returning to Aviemore for breakfast we spot on a roadside pond; Little Grebe, Redshank & 10 Teal. We headed north after breakfast to the Findhorn Valley given the bright, dry, but cool & windy weather. Immediately we started seeing Oystercatchers, many Curlew, 100's of Lapwing, Black- headed Gulls and Common Gulls. A side stream produced Grey Wagtail. Parking up 10 miles down the valley we spent the first hour in the car park enjoying hot chocolate in the biting wind, scanning the valley and sides for any movement. Our efforts were rewarded with several Buzzard and a pair of Peregrine that showed well several times as well as Raven. Although moderately bright, it was cold and windy, this unfortunately kept the Golden Eagles at bay. To warm up we walked up the valley to a watchpoint. Sitting and scanning produced a brief view of Merlin over the brow plus several Wheatear. Returning back down the valley we took a side road over the moors, this produced a few noisy Red Grouse and a few Meadow Pipit, as well as Buzzard. Despite not connecting with Golden Eagle we came away happy and returned to Aviemore for hot coffee and showers, and a potentially hot meal as we headed for the local Indian restaurant there, which was enjoyed by all as we reflected on the days birding.
A change of scenery today as we head for the coast around Lossiemouth, although not before another early start as we headed for Abernethy in search of the scarce Crested Tit (hit hard by the severe winter this year). Tantalizingly we heard just 2 Crested Tits with a very brief view of one. We did see a pair of Red- breasted Merganser on Loch Garten. At the bottom of Garten Woods we found more Goldeneye, Wigeon and Teal at Loch Mallachie, with the bubble of distant Black Grouse, with a brief view of a male perched in the top of a Silver Birch. We also had 3 more Parrot Crossbills as we returned for breakfast, where the birding didn't stop as several skeins of Pink- footed Geese were seen whilst munching bacon, sausage, tea & toast. A quick visit to Tesco for lunch items and an hours drive north, stopping on the way to a large loch, this produced at least 2 Black- throated Diver, plus 4 Red-throated Diver. The weather couldn't have been better, it was gloriously sunny & warm, not what we were used to! The moorland around was alive with the sound of Curlew, Skylark plus Raven & Buzzard overhead and 150 Greylag Geese, not forgetting the dozens of Red Grouse as the grumpily warned us off with their 'go-bak' calls. Hitting the coast we headed east towards Lossiemouth and the harbour that produced Rock Pipit, lots of Cormorant & Shag, with passing Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake, Sandwich Tern plus 6 Guillemot on the sea and several Red- throated Diver, although the highlight were several hundred Long- tailed Duck in a variety of plumage's at close quarters. Following this we moved along the coast to the wide Spey Bay. Here we had lunch and mini Easter eggs! The sea produced just 3 Common Scoter but lots of Eider & Long- tailed Duck. On the way we had Hooded Crow. Although the totals were eclipsed by 100's if not 1000's of Pink- footed Geese moving north throughout the day in skeins of 100-1000. After the spectacular Spey Bay we returned along the coast to Findhorn Bay. The high tide had pushed the waders back, but we could make out a group of Bar- tailed Godwit, plus 100's of Lapwing in nearby fields. Other birds here included c50 Redshank with 2 Raven over as well as Shelduck. Looking out to sea produced Razorbill, several Red- throated Diver and Red- breasted Merganser. A day total of 50 Buzzard was impressive to & from Lossiemouth. On the return journey and stopping off by the River Spey we picked up Dipper, more Sand Martin, Snipe & Redshank. A slightly late return to Aviemore, a quick change and a great meal in a local pub, with some nice beer by the River Spey before another early night for most.
Our final day, but not before plenty of birding. A quick visit to Abernethy produced more Parrot Crossbill as well as the usual 100's of Coal Tit, Chaffinch & Siskin . After much searching we heard the distinctive chippering call and behold a pair of Crested Tit taking material to a nest hole. This afforded the group amazing views as they flew back & forth, and just reward for our early starts. Black Grouse were also heard at a nearby lek. Returning for breakfast we picked out a Hooded Crow in Aviemore. Picking up lunch we headed back down the Findhorn Valley for a final couple of hours before we had to head south and home. Typically we had 100's of Common Gull, Oystercatchers & Curlew. Parking at the watchpoint we had Peregrine, Buzzard & Raven again, with 50 more Pink- footed Geese >N. The valley side produced Wheatear. At lunchtime we had to depart and drive south. Calling at a Red Kite feeding centre we arrived at feeding time for them & us. The air full of whistling Red Kites swooping down to snatch food. We counted 11 in the air at once at close range as we munched a late lunch- amazing. The journey back was unremarkable save for several short delays. Typically lots of Buzzard were recorded as well as lots of Curlew and Lapwing. We arrived back in Sheffield in the evening and dropped everyone off, reflecting on another excellent tour to this amazing area, leaving us with lots of great memories of some great birds and locations.