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Sunday, 31 May 2015

Scotland Trip part 3, 18th-19th May Cairngorms and Local Specialities

Ptarmigan, male, nr Cairngorm Summit
Monday, 18th May - The first of two full days around The Cairngorms and the nearby forests of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy. There was no rush today as I was heading up Cairngorm and the first train didn't run until 10am.
I slowly drove up the mountain, stopping in a few places along the way. I checked out the Osprey nest at Moormore...all present and correct. There were also one or two Red Squirrels running around but quite shy. From there I went to one of the car parks on the shore of Loch Morlich. As I drove into the car park I could see fine examples of male Goosander and Goldeneye just yards from shore. Further scanning produced a pair of summer plumaged Black-throated Divers on the far side along with a pair of Wigeon and two families of Goldeneye.
Goosander drake, Loch Morlich
Goldeneye drake, Loch Morlich
I continued to drive up the mountain to Coire na Ciste and the Black Grouse view point. I met Andy & Phil from Ullapool and Lincolnshire respectively, who, like me had seen hardly anything. They were also heading up the mountain and we birded together several times over the two days. They drove off to Cairngorm Base empty handed while I scanned the tree tops for the Black Grouse. I found one almost immediately and turned to call them back but they were gone. I looked forward to telling them later. I followed them to the top car park seeing only Meadow Pipits along the way.
I was heading up Cairngorm via the Funicular railway. A ticket was £11.50 and this allowed me to use the railway as much as I liked during the day. This proved to be very useful. If you can tolerate the other users then this trip should provide you with all the Cairngorm specialities. Note that you cannot leave the Ptarmigan (top) station to access the mountain. However, if you climb up then you can then get the train down.
Now the Weather:  Bloody Cold! It was dry at the car park, then it started raining halfway up then...well look for yourself.
Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway
Hmmm, Typical Cairngorm weather?
White Out from Ptarmigan Station
Well it was snowing heavily, luckily the wind remained light all day. We couldn't have picked a worse day. We only saw two species. Pied Wagtail and this gorgeous, male, Snow Bunting.
Snow Bunting, male nr Cairngorm Summit. Now fewer than 10 pairs around Cairngorm Summit.
Spot the Ptarmigan! No? I couldn't either. It is there somewhere because it kept calling.

We gave it up as a bad job, had coffee and cake and decided to come back later in the afternoon as the weather was due to clear. The journey down by train allowed me to see a fleeting Arctic Hare in a transition moult, Ring Ouzels and a juvenile Dipper flying up Cairngorm, up the Allt a' Choire Chais stream at a 45° angle. A strange sight.
I decided to drive back down the mountain but I nearly collected a few new hood ornaments for the car along the way.
Reindeer, Cairngorm. Britain's only free ranging herd.
I then parked at Allt Ban car park near the Glenmore Centre and walked along Allt Ban. A good place for birds and I found male Redstart singing, 5 Crossbills which turned out to be Common Crossbill :-( Tree Pipits and Spotted Flycatchers. Common Sandpipers and Black-throated Divers on the loch.
Common Sandpiper, Loch Morlich
Back up the mountain again. Ring Ouzels, Wrens, Dunnock & Northern Wheatears around the car park and Red Grouse on the slopes.
From the viewing platform the weather was clearer but there was not a sign of any Ptarmigan, only the odd "belching" call. There were however more views of Snow Bunting and distant views of 3 Dotterel north of the Station on Sron an Aonaich. Lots of grumbling from the birdwatchers who knew they would have to come back up the next day.
Tuesday 19th May- Woke at the unholy hour of 4am for no good reason and couldn't get back to sleep. Instead I got dressed and headed for a dawn drive around the Loch Garten area. Red and Roe Deer were everywhere. The primary targets were Pine Martin and Capercaillie. However, I only saw the Capercaillie sitting in a Caledonian Pine about 50 yards from the road. It soon took a dislike to me and disappeared sharpish.
Crested Tit is another bird which has been difficult to pin down but a chat with a photographer (sorry I can't remember your name), from Burnham Overy Staithe no less, pointed me in the right direction. He was dead on! I had been at the spot for about 45 minutes listening to Redstarts, watching Red Squirrels and Common Crossbills. I watched a Coal Tit taking food into nest excavated in a clump of Sphagnum moss. A crossbill call made me look up to see a chunky looking Crossbill sitting in the top of a Pine. I gave it a good scan, turns out there were 6 birds there. It wasn't a Parrot Crossbill but it was perfect for Scottish Crossbill, confirmed by a local birder close by. The family party only stayed for about 20 seconds then they were gone.
I was about to head for the car when what should start feeding in front of me but 3 Crested Tits. Two of the birds were an obvious pair, probably holding territory, and giving the third bird hell. They were rarely still.
Crested Tit, Loch Garten
I was very chuffed as I headed back up Cairngorm to the funicular. Not a lot to see on the way up except that I nearly took another Reindeer out. Santa would not have been pleased.
Remember earlier when I said "We couldn't have picked a worse day"? WRONG. Off the train at the top, through the exhibition, swerved round the shop, bypassed the restaurant onto the viewing terrace and...I was nearly blown over the side! Still snowing only now it had a 60-70mph wind behind it (known locally as a bit of a breeze) and NO BIRDS! Andy & Phil turned up and they had the same result. Coffee & cake and next train down and then back about 2pm.

Can't believe it's nearly June!
These little wind blown ice crystals were everywhere.
What happened next, dear reader, is a mystery because I parked up to watch for Grouse at 11am. Next thing I knew it was 1:45pm. My early morning had caught up with me without warning and now I was paying for it. Two cans of Monster later and I was Buzzing. Back to Cairngorm summit (I can now recite the promotional presentations, from the funicular, word for word).
Back on the viewing platform and I found another Dotterel on Sron an Aonaich then... EUREKA! a pair of Ptarmigan close by. Andy & Phil were made up when I showed them. They were off home soon.

Ptarmigan, Cairngorm
Male Ptarmigan
A busy two days. I had seen almost everything that I had wanted to see. I headed back to the campsite to start packing so all I had to do in the morning was to drop the tent.
Tomorrow entails visits to the Findhorn valley & Loch Ruthven then to head North-west to Scourie for a few nights with visits to Cape Wrath & Handa planned. 


Thursday, 28 May 2015

Scotland Trip 2015 part 2: 16-17 May: Newcastle-nr Arbroath-Aviemore

First of all, if I promised you photographs from a very snowy Cairngorm then please get in touch as I have misplaced the email addresses. I know, I know...what a pillock!
Saturday May 16th- Today I was travelling to my sisters house near Carmyllie, Arbroath before heading up the East coast of Scotland then Aviemore on the Sunday.
I headed for my old stomping grounds from Cresswell to Hauxley early on Saturday morning, stopping first at the cliff top car park south of Cresswell which produced the first sea birds of the trip. Sandwich, Common & Arctic Terns were fishing and a lone Arctic Skua, along with a few Kittiwakes and Razorbills, moved North. Passerines were represented by Common Whitethroat and Rock Pipit.
Cresswell Pond was quite poor, probably due to the low tide, but did have 14 Avocet, singing Reed & Sedge Warblers, and the usual Tree Sparrows, Stock Dove & Stonechat. A pair of Yellow Wagtails were at Bells Farm. Druridge Pools produced Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Barn Owl and a sleepy pair of Garganey amongst a wide range of waterfowl.

Stock Dove, Cresswell
Tree Sparrow, Cresswell
Stonechat, Cresswell
Yellow Wagtails, Bells Farm
Barn Owl, Druridge
After a brief call at East Chevington I stopped at Hadston to see the tiny Sand Martin colony. A large group of Terns on the rocks opposite Coquet Island drew my attention and I could see Sandwich, Arctic & Common Terns and amongst them a single, very smart, Roseate Tern.
Sand Martins, Hadston
My last English port of call was Stag Rock, North of Bamburgh. I scanned the waves from Lindisfarne to Inner Farne picking up more auks in the form of Guillemots and Puffins. A female Long-tailed Duck was present with the large numbers of Eider. Mammalian interest was piqued by Atlantic Grey Seals and several Harbour Porpoise.
Stag Rock, Northumberland
I decided to make at least one stop in East Lothian before heading up to my sisters place near Arbroath. Fingers crossed that the SNP hadn't "beefed up" passport control on the A1 north of Berwick, I drove to Skate Raw, a place held dear since I saw my first Arctic Warbler there in the far and distant past. This quiet little place, despite the imposing Torness nuclear power station close by, has always been a favourite. It didn't disappoint and gave me my only Pomarine Skua, a nice dark phase bird, of the trip. Exceptional views of Gannets fishing and Whimbrel on the shore were also had.
At my sisters house I made myself comfortable while awaiting their return from the isle of Lewis. I must have fallen asleep in front of the telly because the next thing I knew I had two Springer Spaniels standing on my chest giving me a wash and brush up. It was nice to see Christine, her husband Steve and the dogs after so long. The views from their house are amazing.
My canine protagonists: Ed (left) and Hubble: Mad as a bag of cats!
Front view from Traigh Mhor
Sunday 17th: Another early start with some exciting birds in my sights. First order of business though was to find my trainer which Ed, the little turd, had secreted somewhere in the back garden. I got it back after 10 minutes of chasing, swearing and bribery with copious amounts of dog biscuit. Trainer was unharmed but a bit soggy. Cheers Ed.
Off I go then, heading for Aberdeen. Want to guess which bird I was after? what's the point? of course it was Harlequin, a life tick for me. I expected a long search.  I stood on the pedestrian bridge looking at the female Goosander and was about to move off after 5 minutes when I noticed some white flashing on rocks just south of the single track road bridge. I just stood with my mouth open (quite a common occurrence apparently) as I brought the HARLEQUIN into view. Awesome!
I did some manoeuvring and reeled off a few poor pics and a bit of video.
Goosander, female, Bridge of Don
Harlequin, River Don, Bridge of Don
Next stop? you guessed it. Newburgh for the long staying drake King Eider. The duck was sat on the far side of the estuary and was not coming to bread, as some photographs on Surfbirds may suggest. There was also a very large, mixed Tern colony there including Little Tern, new to the trip list as was a single, summer plumaged Knot. A nice Red-necked Grebe was noted at the mouth of the estuary.

King Eider, Ythan Estuary
Mixed Terns fishing, Ythan Estuary
House Martins collecting nesting material, Ythan Estuary
Time now to head up to Portsoy to look for Divers. I checked the coast from Portsoy to Cullen only finding one Great Northern Diver and a flyby Black Guillemot. Thousands of Auks, Gulls other sea birds though.
It was now time to head to the Rothiemurchus camp site and my only other stop was at Lochindorb where I spent ages looking through the Common Gull colony. The biggest surprise of the day was at the campsite in Coylumbridge. I was chilling after putting the tent up when a huge noise exploded behind me and approached very quickly. I looked up and saw a large black and white basketball flying at break neck speed through the pines. Capercaillie! A great way to end the day.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Scotland Trip 2015 Journey North to Newcastle 15 May Day 1

Snazzy eye make up. Red Grouse, Cow Green Res.
1. Car packed.
2. Energy drinks & mars bars in the front seat.
3. Satnav set.
4. Binoculars & camera within easy reach.
5. Sod it if I've forgotten anything.
I really needed this break. To catch up with close family and visit the less well watched sites in North West Scotland. In 10 days I clocked up in excess of 1500 miles, 172 species of birds and 15 species of mammal / rodent. I did take a moth trap but I was unable to use it due to the vagaries of the Scottish weather. Too cold, too windy, too snowy or, more usually, all at the same time!
I'm used to losing tents to the Scottish weather, 3 tents in 2 visits to the Western Isles saw to that. However, I was given a North Ridge 2 man (1 Jim) tent for Christmas. It never budged or leaked for the whole of the trip. Below is a map of sites visited on that journey North.

I only had one planned stop during this part of the trek but it was very good. I picked out a lot of common species along the A17 & A1 but at Scotch Corner I hung a left and headed for my sites in Upper Teesdale. I stopped briefly at part of the Tees Way but hardly saw anything other than Blackcaps & Chiffchaffs. I did, inadvertently, stray too close to a Goldcrest nest and was scolded for my clumsiness.
Goldcrest, Tees Way, Barnard Castle
I continued my drive up Teesdale and then up the road to Cow Green Reservoir. It was a windy day and cold up here. I stopped by a burn on the way  and had great views of hirundines, Dippers, including a confiding juvenile, Common Sandpipers and Song Thrush. The latter two birds were some of the commonest of the trip.
Linnet, Middleton-in-Teesdale
Juvenile Dipper, nr Langdon Beck
I carried on toward Cow Green but saw very little. However, in the car park were a pair of very confiding Red Grouse. The drive down to Langdon Beck was also more fruitful with displaying Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew and Lapwing.
Whiskey anyone? Red Grouse, male, Cow Green
Red Grouse, female, Cow Green
Red Grouse
Golden Plover on territory, Cow Green
At Langdon Beck I began a search for Black Grouse and it wasn't long before I found them. Three Black Grouse together in a field. As I watched, more and more walked, almost in single file, up the incline toward the top of the field. Scanning other nearby fields revealed other birds scattered about.

Black Grouse, Langdon Beck
Next stop? Blanchland, in the Derwent Valley. ten minutes by the bridge and alongside the river produced Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Nuthatch and female Goosander.
Grey Wagtail, Blanchland
Dipper, Blanchland
Time marches on and so my final stop was at Derwent Reservoir to see the reported Ospreys. They duly appeared, despite the rough weather, and showed well, often tangling with the local Common Buzzards. There was very little else to see other than Common Sand, Curlew and a shed load of mixed Canada & Greylag Geese.
Osprey, Derwent Reservoir
Staying with parents tonight and looking forward to some home cooked food. The next portion of the trip is from Newcastle to Arbroath (Wednesday 27th).