|Scotland 2014 Tour Report 14th- 18th April|
We stopped several times for comfort breaks, some with ornithological interest. Annadale services has a lake which yielded lots of Black-headed Gull, Mallard, a hungry Mute Swan and Oystercatcher and our first Sand Martin and Swallow. We had fewer than expected Buzzard on the way up, the same was said of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Lapwing and Common Gull- normally quite abundant the further north you go. On the higher routes (A66) we had Red Grouse by the roadside.
A stop by the picturesque River Tay at Dunkeld revealed several pairs of Goosander as well as Grey Wagtail, Sand Martin, Goldeneye and a welcome cuppa. Arriving in Aviemore and quickly settling in to our b+b and apartment, we visited a small local loch to see what we could find and stretch our legs. Lots of noisy Greylag Geese and good numbers of Little Grebe but no sign of any Slavonian Grebe despite extensive searching. Good numbers of raucous Herring Gull and Snipe were also noted. Despite the long journey we clocked 55 species today!
A hearty breakfast prepared us for our onslaught on Cairngorm and our search for Ptarmigan. I have to say given our luck with Slavonian Grebe and Capercaillie I wasn't too optimistic, but the weather was fine, albeit windy and the group made its way up the side of Cairngorm- Steadily ascending we ticked off several Red Grouse and Wheatear-then out of nowhere, near the top of a ridge a male Ptarmigan dropped right in front of us and displayed a little. We stopped and watched as he made his way to a rocky outcrop no more than 20m away. Then we saw a female- awesome, the pair feeding and walking around the bare rocks, totally unconcerned at the delighted group some 20m away observing and clicking away with cameras. Totally elated we left the birds to feed and began our descent- it was only when reviewing the pictures later we discovered there were actually two males, one with a bigger red comb over his eye, plus the female made three birds in total. Our return was enlivened by 2 Raven putting on a bit of show.
Returning to the minibus we retired to Loch Morlich where on the beach we ate our well deserved lunch, looking back up at Cairngorm and tracking our route. The loch itself provided much interest with 6 pairs of Goldeneye, several Wigeon, and a cracking pair of Red-throated Diver. Hawking overhead were 50+ Sand Martin.
Following our lunch we returned to a small local loch looking for Slavonian Grebe- yet again we dipped, first time this site has let me down for many years. However good numbers of large gulls including 25 Herring Gull and 20 Great Black-backed Gulls, 3 Lesser Black-backed Gull plus 13 Greylag Geese, 30 Mallard, 4 Mute Swan with a Peregrine over. We stopped off at Loch Vaa where Little Grebe were numerous, alas no Slavonian Grebe yet. 5 Buzzard were overhead. After a full day in the field (and mountain) we returned to Aviemore for a very welcome hot shower and tasty meal in the Winking Owl.
After a well deserved breakfast we headed north (via Aviemore to purchase lunch and supplies) to the Findhorn Valley, the long meandering road eventually leading to the viewpoint some ten miles in. The car park was almost full, but we snook in and set up our post and proceeded to scan the ridges, skyline and big blue sky for raptors. The weather albeit sunny and bright produced a cooling wind so jackets and lots of hot drinks were in order. On the way down the valley we ticked off 12 Buzzard in total. Stopping several times we picked up a distant Goshawk before it disappeared behind a woodland, as well as Red Kite, with five recorded today. The car park held the usual (same birds for 10 years??) Common Gulls which took a keen interest in our food. After much scanning 2 large shapes appeared to our left, circling over a flat ridge- the long flat wings, huge size and bold white splodges in the wing identified them as immature Golden Eagle-they put on quite a show through the telescopes, wheeling around, before disappearing behind a ridge at speed. It's amazing how much ground these birds can cover in a short time. The valley itself was alive with Curlew and many very noisy Oystercatcher. The raptor theme continued with a pair of Peregrine regularly showing from our vantage point, with Red Grouse making short flights as we scanned the valley tops. Raven were also regularly recorded during our vigil, "gronking" away up and down the valley. Alas we dipped Ring Ouzel, maybe we were too early? Wheatear were not abundant, just three pairs recorded.
Having seen almost everything we could expect to in the Findhorn Valley we decided to make the short drive to Loch Ruthven where several pairs of Slavonian Grebe nest. From the car park we had several Curlew. Walking to the hide we watched an Osprey fishing over the loch, plus another Red Kite. On the loch were several Wigeon, Teal and lone Whopper Swan. Sure enough on cue again as we entered the hide a pair of Slavonian Grebe were swimming by the reeds not far from the hide, again sunlit in all their glory- these really are gorgeous birds. Allowing comparisons were several pairs of Little Grebe, which alongside the Slavonian Grebe, did look a little dull!
Returning via Nethy Bridge we stopped by the Spey and scanning the river picked up Dipper and bobbing Common Sandpiper, two which we had hoped for down the Findhorn Valley. Scanning up and down the river revealed a pair of Goldeneye as well 50+ Sand Martin hawking. As we jumped into the van over 200 Greylag Geese flew up from a nearby field, they are getting abundant these days! After another long day it was back to the b&b and a venture into Aviemore for another deserved meal.
After another fab breakfast we headed NE towards the coast for change of habitat and species, not before stopping off at an upland loch. This a traditional site for Black-throated Diver. We did eventually find a single bird, which showed distantly though-its simply stunning plumage easily seen in the bright sunlight. Around the banks were a totalof circa 200 Greylag Geese, the moor land side of the loch revealing circa 50 Red Grouse, some right by the roadside, displaying. Fishing over the loch was a very close Osprey, unconcerned at the huddle of birders below. Belatedly, in the distance the familiar call of Pink-footed Geese flying high North, back to their breeding grounds, these birds fairly late returners I would have thought.
Arriving at Lossiemouth we stopped near the harbour- scanning from here we found a small flock of Common Scoter as well as 15 Eider. There were lots of rafts of Guillemot and Razorbill, amongst which were several Long-tailed Duck in a variety of plumages. Scanning out to sea produced Many Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Sandwich Tern. Although the highlight was a single immature Great Northern Diver. It was a nice warm spring day so we ate lunch by the beach where some of the group were lucky enough to pick out a Little Egret. From Lossiemouth we retraced our route, but stopped off at Findhorn Bay. From here were lots of Gannet plunge diving not too far offshore. Stopping at the hide by the main road we scanned the tide line- overhead a group of 38 Golden Plover went over, most in spangled summer plumage. A small but noisy group of 15 Redshank also caught our attention. It was here we eventually had Hooded Crow, one very pale grey bird and one suspected dark grey (hybrid). Also in the area were a total of about 30+ Sandwich Tern, several Shelduck all boosting our trip list. It was an hours drive back to Aviemore and our final evening meal of the trip, so back to the Winking Owl for hearty food and a few beers!
All images © Jan Jarrold , Peter Kenworthy & Andy Hirst