Friday, 18 May 2012

Speyside and beyond

Today Loch Garten is the destination. On the way we stop off at Laggan Dam and after a few minutes we hear and then see the target species. It a Twite and there are a pair flitting around the small bushes on the opposite side of the road.
Forty miles and the best part of an hour, we reach Loch Garten and after parking the car and paying the £1 entrance fee we are heading up the path towards the observation hide. We meet a few birders along the path and they tell us that the Caper has been showing well, but that it has just flown and has now disappeared from view. It's not the news we wanted to hear, but we carry on to the hide and speak with the warden. He tells us that the caper has been sitting in a tree right in front of the hide for around thirty minutes prior to our arrival. It's the first piece of bad luck of the trip, But that's birding for you! 
Loch Mallachie
We scan the area in front of us without any luck until it reaches 8.30am and the warden closes the hide and asks us to make our way to the car park. Walking back with the warden we ask about Crested Tit sightings, He tells us that they are not seen as much at this time of year as they will be egg laying and rearing young, and that in the winter months they are everywhere and practically feeding out of your hand.
It doesn't sound promising, But we drive down to the first car park and take the nearest path. Chaffinches are everywhere and there's plenty of Willow warblers calling. There's also Crossbills calling high up in the treetops, But I'm not certain of which species of Crossbill so they go down with a question mark against them and don't make the year or life lists.
Abernethy Forest
Further along the path we pick out what sounds like the call of Crested Tit. A small bird flits across the path into the trees on the opposite side of the path. Brian gets his bins on it and calls "CRESTED TIT". I'm now worried that I may have missed my one chance of Crested tit as well as Capercallie. It's a few minutes before another bird comes into view, this time I'm ready and my bins get straight onto it. It's my first Crested Tit and I stay on it long enough for some fantastic views.
With Crested Tit in the bag, Dipping the Caper is lessened slightly, Although it's still painful knowing that it was sitting in a tree some five minutes before we arrived.
A quick scan of the loch provides good views of three Red-throated Divers as they fly across the loch calling and then land on the water. There's also a pair of Common Sandpipers feeding along the edge of the loch.
The hide is now open again, So we make our way back up the path and into the hide. Through the slots of the hide I can see the osprey nest and through the scope I can just make out the head of the female. There's a small bank of t.v monitors in the hide trained on the ospreys and we can see the male bird perched in a tree. Suddenly it takes to the air and then lands on the bare tree that holds the camera overlooking the nest. We get some great views through the scope.
Red Squirrel
On the feeders in front of the hide there are plenty of Chaffinches and Siskins. Then we spot another target species, This time it's not a bird, But a Red Squirrel. I've wanted to see one for many years and now there is was sitting on a feeder right in front of me. I walk outside to try to get a better view and get lucky when it comes down and sits on a log quite close. I grab a couple of shots and hope I have them in focus. (auto focus on my old lens doesn't work with my new digital camera body) so it's manual focus and hope.
We admit defeat on the caper front and make our way back to the car. No Capercallie, But Crested Tit and Red Squirrel bagged. I'm happy with that.
We hear of a White billed Diver that has been around Burghead for a while and decide to try for it. Directions are vague to say the least but we find the road and scan the sea for any sign. It's not surprising that we don't find it but it was worth a try. We do add Merlin to the trip list which is very welcome.
On to Findhorn Valley, Where we are hoping to add Golden Eagle to the life list. We keep driving until we can't go any further and park the car in the car park at the bottom of the valley. There's already a couple of birders present and they have had a few glimpses of eagles. It's around ten minutes after arriving that I get my first ever view of a wild Golden Eagle. It's disappears from view all too soon and I'm left hoping it's not the only sighting I'm going to get. While scanning for any more signs of eagles we spot another raptor over the ridge, This is smaller, but still quite powerful looking with Pointed wings, It's a Peregrine and it lands on the eastern mountain slope and gives us decent scope views.
The weather which was cold but dry when we arrived turns to rain and then hail, Luckily it doesn't last long and with the weather now bright and dry it's not long before we spot two large raptors drifting high up over the mountain ridge. I get the scope onto them and they are unmistakably Golden eagles. Huge flat plank-like wings stretching out, They stay in the air for a good five-ten minutes then disappear below the ridge and out of sight. 
On the return journey we make a quick stop at Insh Marshes. There's an impressive viewing platform not far from the car park and underneath this is an even more impressive hide. With large full windows to view the marshes below. It's only a brief visit so we scan the area immediately in front of the hide. There's a few species present with Goldeneye, Curlew, Lapwing and Siskin all seen. There's also a large herd of Red Deer feeding on the marshes.
Red Grouse
Heading back down the road towards our accommodation, Brian spots a bird flying away from us and calls it as Red grouse. He's the only one who has seen it before it flies around the back of the car and vanishes. We stop the car and scan the area, It's not long before I spot another Red Grouse among the heather with just it's head and neck visible. Three birds are found before we move on happy with the views we've had and another lifer added to the list.
The day started with the disappointment of dipping Capercallie but with Crested Tit, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Osprey, Red-throated Diver, Merlin and Red Squirrel plus Red and Roe Deer seen it's another fantastic day.
Back at the cabin it's time to get everything packed up and ready to check out early in the morning.

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