A long weekend in Scotland had been planned and early last Friday morning me, Mark, Paz and Darren our mate from Leeds set off for Speyside, as last year the first port of call was Musselburgh where a drake Surf Scoter was again showing from there, a small group of Barnacle Geese at the river mouth probably had better credentials than others seen this winter and were soon on their way, we started scanning the Bay and the Surf Scoter was soon located amongst the many Velvet and Common out in the bay, there were also quite a few Long Tailed Ducks plus a couple of Slavonian and a Red Necked Grebe as well, a few waders were around again including several Grey Plovers. We carried on our way and at Perth we took the route up the Eastern side of the Cairngorms up to the Ski centre at Glen Shee, there was a touch of rain in the air but at least it was clear this time although finding the Ptarmigan proved harder than we thought, several scans eventually found two pairs and there were also several Wheatear and a male Ring Ouzel just down the road, several Mountain Hares were still looking quite white. It was then up to the North coast just East of Inverness to visit Loch Flemington where the American Coot that turned up at the beginning of the year was incredibly still present, good views were had of this bird and also a few Sand Martins and my first Swallows of the year were flying around. We carried on to Burghead hoping for King Eider and White Billed Diver although there had been no news on them for several days, an adult Iceland Gull in a field on the way was a nice bonus but the sea off Burghead was fairly quiet although we managed to pick out a couple of Black Throated Divers and see our first Sandwich Terns of the year. With the day done we headed for Dulnain Bridge where we had a B&B booked and encountered the final birds of the day when we came across several hundred Pink Footed Geese in some fields, there had also been quite a few Buzzards, Hooded Crows and Ravens seen throughout the day as we travelled between sites.
|Red Deer keeping an eye on us at Glen Shee|
|a couple of Black Throated Divers|
We were up before breakfast and out to Loch Garten for the Capercaillie watch, we hadn’t managed to get any info about any rogue birds so we again had to rely on this site and this morning it was a total no show, the pair of Ospreys were around the nest though, the female having just laid the first egg the night before, we left enough time to get round to Tulloch Moor and at least had three Black Grouse strutting their stuff albeit distantly to justify the early start. After breakfast we spent the morning looking around some forest sites around the Boat of Garten and Abernethy, highlights were at least three Crested Tits from the track out to Loch Malachie, Red Squirrels in several places and a Crossbill that flew over but from its call we deemed it to be just common. In the afternoon we headed to the Findhorn Valley, the weather forecast had stated severe gales over high ground, they weren’t wrong it was incredibly windy with one or two heavy squalls passing through, it wasn’t looking good at first with only a couple of Kestrels braving the elements but a couple of birders returning to their car told us they’d had a couple of Golden Eagles further down the valley, we had only ever scoped from the last car park in the past but we decided the best chance would be to walk out to this area further along the valley, it was a mile and a half or more trudge, heads down against the wind to the area where a couple of valleys branched off either side, another birder already there informed us two Eagles had flown across the valley as we were walking up, with heads down most of the time we’d missed them however after 15 -20 mins one appeared over the ridge across the valley being mobbed by a couple of specks (Kestrels) and slowly drifted along the ridge out to the head of the valley, also one or two Buzzards and Ravens a couple of Wheatears and masses of Red Deer on the hillside up there with Dipper and a few Mountain Goats on the way back. We headed back to Grantown via Lochindorb but it was still extremely windy and apart from a pair of Red Grouse showing well at the roadside there was nothing of note, we ended the day with an evening walk around Grantown Forest hoping to maybe come across a Capercaillie but no chance just a couple of Pheasants being the nearest we got to it.
|Red Squirrel on the feeders at Loch Garten|
|Crestie proclaiming his territory|
|the magnificent Findhorn Valley|
|a few Common Gulls around|
|Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Kestrel|
|also one or two Buzzards|
|couldn't find the pot of gold|
|Red Grouse at Lochindorb|
Up before breakfast again and back out to Loch Garten for another try for the Capercaillie, they had got one in the camera up a tree as we arrived but it flew, they lost it and neither it nor any other was seen thereafter. After breakfast we had been planning to head over to Gruinard Bay on the North-west coast but there was a forecast for heavy rain today, we decided to chance it anyway. It was a fairly bright start and as we passed beyond Inverness several Red Kites and Buzzards were floating around but as we went further West the weather closed in, we made a brief stop at Loch Droma where Darren has seen Black Throated Diver in past years but it was fairly quiet today so we were soon on our way. As we got to Gruinard Bay the rain eased off and we spent the best part of the day travelling around the Bay stopping at several viewpoints, there were a lot Great Northern Divers out there in various stages of moult from winter plumaged birds right through to full summer, also a pair of Velvet Scoter, a Black Throated Diver and a few Black Guillemots out in the Bay and several Hooded Crows and Ravens blogging, fantastic scenery, late afternoon we took a steady drive back and caught back up with the rain as it headed East so we opted for an early finish.
|Summer plumaged Great Northern|
|Anthrax Island, still uninhabitable|
Last day of the Scottish weekend and we were up before breakfast and out to Loch Garten yet again hoping it would be third time lucky with the Capercaillie, as we arrived they had a bird on camera lekking out in the open but it was in an area where it couldn’t be seen from the hides, unfortunately it never moved from that area so although we got some good views of it on the monitor for the first time we failed to see this species in the flesh. We went back for our last breakfast at the digs and checked out, then as it wasn’t going to be a mad dash back to Yorkshire for a certain Martin we thought we’d spend the last morning up Cairngorm. We called in at Avie Lochan on the way and were pleased to find a pair of Slavonian Grebes were back on and showing well, up Cairngorm we were hoping to get more views of Ptarmigan but despite near freezing temperatures and touch of snow in the air they had moved back higher up and proved rather elusive, plenty of Red Grouse around though, next stop home! All in all it had been another excellent weekend trip in good company, I saw around 95 species over the weekend, 11 of them year ticks and it was just my second sighting of American Coot in this country.
|Red Grouse up Cairngorm|
|Paz on the left, searching for Ptarmigan|
|view to Loch Morlich|