|Scotland 2010 Tour Report 14th- 18th April|
After picking up our new people carrier we picked up the various tour participants en route, a select band from Dinnington, Rotherham & Sheffield. By 10:30 we were heading north via the M1. We continued north up the A1 before stopping partway along the A66, conveniently to view a new lake created in a field. This held lots of Black-headedGulls. Several Shoveler were flying around, as were several Shelduck, Greylag Geese, Redshank & Teal were also seen here adding to our tally. The scenery over the A66 was splendid, with snow noted on the tops of the Pennines. Continuing up the M6 and M74 we stopped at Annadale Water services. Here we had a pleasant picnic lunch by the lake, picking up Sand Martin over the lake. We continued north, lots of Black-headed Gull & Common Gulls in the fields, plus many Buzzard, Curlew & Oystercatcher. Stopping by the River Tay in Dunkeld produced more Sand Martin as well as Red- breasted Merganser (Bird Of The Day) on the river. A final push up the A9 noting the mountain tops had a thick layer of snow on top. 18:30 saw us arrive at our b+b in Aviemore. After settling and refreshing we went to the Winking Owl for hearty meal and some local Cairngorm beer. Although it was to be an early night for most as we had to be up early for a pre- breakfast trip to Loch Garten for Capercaillie.
05:00 saw the group gather at the car following a 04:30 wake up- with much needed coffee to get us all going!, but we had to do it if we wanted to catch up with creatures like Capercaillie. Arriving at the RSPB Loch Garten Centre, we were not the first there, but 10th- what time had the others arrived??!! The gates opened and in the gloom we made our way to the visitor centre. Unfortunately this was one of the rare days when a Capercaillie wasn't seen, but for a change it was mild. Undeterred we we knew we still had several mornings in which to try. The breeding Ospreys were nice to see though. We left in time to search Garten Woods, we did hear Crested Tit, but went unseen, with a single Crossbill over. The highlight was Redstart calling amid the myriad of Chaffinch & Siskin. 20 Sand Martin were seen over the Loch Garten. Returning for a deserved breakfast we saw Goosander on a roadside pond as well as Hooded Crow. By the Boat of Garten we saw Redshank, Snipe and 10 Wigeon. Whilst loading up after breakfast a timely skein of 50 Pink- footed Geese noisily flew >N. A hearty breakfast was needed as today we decided to scale the valleys in Cairngorm in the fine weather in search of Ptarmigan. We drove to the Ski Centre and made our way upwards. Quite a few Red Grouse and Meadow Pipit were seen as well as Wheatear and a pair of Ring Ouzel. Reaching a scree slope we stopped to scan... and scan... and scan. After an hour of constant scanning we thought we'd dipped. It was time for Phil to get out the lucky hat! Beginning our descent we followed the edge of a scree slope, then suddenly between two of the partya pair of Ptarmigan shot out of a green patch. They soon stopped and began feeding, offering amazing views for well over half an hour, as we left them there. Elated by our good fortune our return seemed less arduous. Raven put in appearance with 3 over calling. We quickly returned to the centre and onto Loch Morlich for a scenic picnic lunch and a warm up. Here were dozens of Goldeneye. After lunch we went to a Slavonian Grebe site, sure enough a single bird offered amazing views. After a full day in the field we returned in the early evening for a welcome meal. After the log we had another early night in anticipation of an early start tomorrow and a return visit to Loch Garten.
Another 05:00 start but well worth the effort. Loch Garten held hundreds if not thousands of Chaffinch, but it wasn't these we came for. This time we had a secret weopan, Phil had his lucky hat!After a short period of scanning from the hide, in the early morning light a female Capercailliewas found. In total we had 1 male and 2 females- an excellent morning, with quite good views offered, eventually. We returned by a piece of moorland, which helda lek of Black Grouse, which were still whooshing away. We counted 11 birds in total with a good mix of males and females. Goosander was also picked up on the way back to Aviemore. Returning to breakfast, Aviemore produced Hooded Crow, with a sprinkling of garden birds whilst having breakfast. Boarding the van we had 8 Crossbill over, which looked pretty hefty, so they went down as Parrot Crossbill. Our destination today was the Findhorn Valley, with raptors the focus of the day. The weather couldn't have been better, bright and sunny, with a somewhat stiff breeze. Buzzard were numerous c6 today here. Driving down the valley we had Common Sandpiper, hundreds of Common Gull and Oystercatcher by the dozen, plus Dipper along the river and under a bridge. Parking at the end we set up scopes and whilst scanning the ridges and skies had a welcome hot soup, coffee and chocolate.Peregrine was quickly recorded, aswas Raven, with more Buzzard and Kestrel. But the yell went up "Raptor!", quickly locating the birds we saw two Golden Eagle, but wait, one was slightly bigger, darker with a short white tail- indeed it was an adult White- tailed Eagle interacting with an adult Golden Eagle. They continued to fly at each other before disappearing behind a ridge- amazing!!. We walked down the valley picking up Ring Ouzel and more Wheatear, before returning for a welcome lunch break. On the way to Farr we had a Red Kite and presumed same bird on the tops. We also had Osprey here as well, flying towards the valley below, although the commonest bird were Red Grouse and Meadow Pipit. On the way back to Aviemore we called off a small loch which produced Great Black- backed Gull, 12 Goldeneye and 20 Herring Gull, plus Little Grebe and 6 Tufted Duck. A leisurely wash and brush up before we hit the bright lights of Aviemore, and a early night once the log had been completed. Phil's lucky hat did the trick.
A change of scenery today as we headed north to the coast east of Inverness, checking out Lossiemouth, the Spey and Findhorn Bays. Not before another pre breakfast jaunt. Another visit to Loch Garten produced the usual pair of Osprey and another male Capercaillie, having had good views we departed for Garten Woods in search of Crested Tit, which have suffered in the bad winter this year (seven feet of snow fall!! this winter). The obligatory myriad of Chaffinches were seen and heard, but just a brief Crested Tit seen, although called loudly from the middle distance- we had hoped for better. We 3 Crossbill also flew over the wood, which also held good numbers of Goldcrest, Siskin and and Coal Tit. We returned via Boat of Garten, which held several Teal & Coot. After breakfast we drove north stopping at a large upland loch. Almost immediately we had a pair of Black- throated Diver. We also had Common Sandpiper and Stonechat here, 3 Golden Plover, lots of Meadow Pipit and Red Grouse, plus 2 Raven over. After 45 mins we arrived in Lossiemouth, We parked near the harbour and scanned the sea having completed our tally Buzzard on the way. We seawatched and saw about 20 Common Scoter, but no Velvets, although numbers were generally down. There were however plenty of Eider. There was a modest passage of seabirds with Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, and 100 Long- tailed Duck recorded. From the harbour the high tide pushed many waders onto the sea wall, here we had single Greenshank amid the many Redshank and Turnstone, with a small party of Purple Sandpiper on show, if you looked carefully. Rock Pipit was also recorded. From here we drove along the coast to Spey Bay, here we looked at the mouth of the bay and seawatched, this added to our tally of Red- throated Diver, as well as adding Goosander to the days list with many Gannet past. We moved on to Findhorn Bay,. Moving onto the front we set up our scopes and did a bit of seawatching. Fulmar was seen, with plenty of Red- breasted Mergansers on the sea. A total of 5 Sandwich Tern were also seen, although somewhat distant, although the highlights were small groups of Velvet Scoter, with a total of 10 birds recorded and 2 Whimbrel over calling. The mouth of the bay held a good number of waders as the tide began to fall. Bar- tailed Godwit were counted, as were 4 Dunlin amongst the 59 Ringed Plover. Out of the hide we counted over 300 Pink- footed Geese, which were presumably on their way further north. c100 Redshank were also counted. Shelduck were also plentiful. From here we made the hour long journey back to Aviemore for a deserved rest before our last meal in aptly named Winking Owl. Phil's lucky hat coming to our rescue again.
Our final morning in this superb area, before the long drive back home. Our final pre-breakfast jaunt saw the group in Garten Woods hoping for better Crested Tit. We did have Chiffchaff, although a heavy snowfall made it feel more like winter than spring and hampered the birding slightly. Somewhat disappointed we returned for our final hearty breakfast. A quick turn around and we packed our bags and spent our final few hours back in Garten Woods. By now the sun had come out and the sun was shining, and low and behold it did the trick, not far from Loch Mallachie a pair of Crested Tit put on a bit of a show, at times quite low down, trilling away. The lucky hat working for us again! Elated at finally nailing good views of these after several fleeting glimpses during the tour, we could return and head off south knowing we had cleaned up on the specialty species of this area. The journey down was long, but many breaks helped. Lots Of Buzzard and Curlew were the highlights of the journey home. We arrived back in Sheffield at 19:00 after reflecting on another excellent and memorable Gone Birding tour to this magical part of the UK.
All images © Andy Hirst, John Gallagher and Duncan Bye