Thursday, 30 May 2013

In search of Scotland's specials, Scotland Birding Trip 2013

Day One: Friday 24th May

Having made my first ever trip to Scotland last year it was always my intention to return again this year.
That opportunity came along when a four day trip was booked for the 24th May.

An early start on Friday, saw us at Stanstead Airport for 6am, for an 8am flight into Glasgow. Arriving at Glasgow just after 9am.
Picking up the hire car, we were on the road in good time and heading up the West coast past Loch Lomond and on towards Oban.
As we approached the harbour, The first addition to the year list was in the bag before we had even parked the car. Two Black Guillemots were visible on the water as we drove down the hill towards the car park.

Black Guillemot

Before we left Oban a total of five birds were seen mainly on the water, but also a pair seen on the jetty when the ferry returned and pushed them in shore.
Our first Hooded Crows of the trip were also seen at Oban. A couple of birds foraging among the exposed rocks and then seen again at the far end of the harbour.

Hooded Crow

Continuing Northwards a stop at Lochaber just North of Roybridge produces two more year ticks in quick time. Firstly a Tree Pipit is seen perched on top of a small conifer, and along the waters edge two Common Sandpipers are found. 
Before leaving for the airport Brian had informed us that we had booked into what  he called a "shed". A worrying thought. But once we had made the journey along the whiskey trail and into Dufftown near Keith, these fears proved completely unfounded.

Pulling off the road we get our first view of Meikle Conual Lodge. A wooden chalet like structure that looked very welcoming, especially after the 200 mile drive from the airport.
Inside, the lodge was very well furnished, and the welcoming pack was very thoughtful and greatly received.
A quick visit from the owner to welcome us, and it's time to eat and turn in for the night.

Day Two: Saturday 25th May

Saturday morning and an early start, sees us heading towards Loch Garten. Capercaillie is my target bird this year having missed it last year.
Driving the narrow roads around Nethy Bridge and the Abernethy Forest doesn't produce any sightings. A short drive along a gravel track and we arrive at Forest Lodge. Walking the trails in search of Crested Tits, we manage to hear a couple of birds calling but  failed to get any views of the birds.
By 9am we were back at Loch Garten car park and while waiting for the reserve to open (10am) we spent the time watching the feeder and immediate area around the car park.

A couple of Red Squirrel's entertained us by coming down to the feeder, then a Crested Tit is heard calling again close by. This time it lands close to the feeder and gives brief views before it's gone from view again.
With the reserve now open, it's off for a look at the Ospreys.
Upon entering the hide one of the volunteers informs us that Odin the male Osprey had just delivered a fish to EJ the female.
While watching the Ospreys a third bird appears close to the nest. EJ reacts by leaving the nest and joins Odin in forcing the intruding bird out of the immediate area.
The eggs are now visible on the TV monitors and it's pointed out that one of the two eggs has got a small hole in it. A sure sign that the hatching process has begun.


With clear blue skies and the forecast good for the entire day we decide it's the perfect opportunity for a trip to the Cairngorms.
Arriving at the car park we decide to take a walk up to the half way point. Stopping frequently and scanning the ridges and slopes. I spot through the bins what looked like a Dotterel on the move heading upwards.
But after turning away from the bird to set the scope up, I was unable to relocate the bird.
So unfortunately it will have to go down as a possible sighting, rather than a definite sighting.
Further up the path, I hear the sound of a Ptarmigan, and shortly afterwards it calls again. Scoping the slopes from where the calls where coming from didn't produce any sightings.
On the way up we passed an unleashed dog, I would not be surprised if it was this dog that had flushed the Ptarmigan.
We walked for an hour and then decided to head back down and take the Mountain Railway (Funicular) to the top.
After paying the £10.30 for a day ticket, we boarded the train and eight minutes later had reached the top. Walking up through the restaurant and out onto the viewing platform we were delighted to find a ranger had a female Ptarmigan in his scope.
After a few points and directions I was looking at my first ever Ptarmigan. It was amazingly difficult to see among the snow and rocks.
Luckily it was made slightly easier by the fact that the bird was actively feeding for the majority of the time we spent watching it.
I lost count of the number of people that looked through my scope to get a view of that Ptarmigan, but I was so pleased to have seen it myself I didn't care in the slightest.
Hunger was now setting in, so we retreated to the restaurant and after first and second choices were not available we had to settle for a smoked Haddock in batter.
I'm not one for eating much fish normally, and this combination is not something I will be trying again any time soon.
The morning so far had produced Crested Tit, Osprey, Ptarmigan and Red Squirrels. Keen to add to this list we headed for Lochindorb. A moorland habitat with a Loch that has a ruined castle on a small island.
A pair of Black-throated Divers were located along the edges of the island, and the sight of four Ospreys in the air together over the loch was a wonderful sight.
The roads around the loch held numerous Red Grouse and also Curlew and Lapwings along with a Cuckoo.

Red Grouse (female)

While here we again bumped into the Burton Boys, A birding group surprisingly enough from Burton that we had met on a few occasions already in the short time we had been in Scotland.
From here we decided to try for Black Grouse at Tulloch Moor. After a bit of a search we managed to find the viewing screens, and got lucky when a single bird flew in and started to call and display.

Day Three: Sunday 26th May

The third day of the trip and we set off towards the FindhornValley in search of eagles.
Heading up the A9 we park the car in Lay-by 151 and are rewarded with  a pair of Ring Ouzels. Having had a few disappointments in locating any back in England this year I was very pleased to add them to my year list, and we spent an enjoyable hour watching them feeding on the hillside.
An added bonus was the presence of a couple of Mountain Hares feeding on the same slopes.
A quick stop on route at Findhorn Bridge added Dipper to the trip list, and a drive along the Farr Road added Wheatear and numerous Meadow Pipits and more Red Grouse.

Red Grouse (male)

Next stop was Lake Ruthven, home to summer plumaged Slavonian Grebes. Reaching the hide four birds were quickly seen. Unfortunately they never approached close enough for anything other than a very poor record shot.

Slavonian Grebes

On the walk back towards the car, a lady birder stopped us to ask if any were showing. She informs us that she had visited the site on four occasions and had yet to see a single Slavonian Grebe.
Very surprised at this I quickly told her that today she would see them. Excited she headed off towards the hide.
We reach the Findhorn Valley and after eleven miles park the car in the car park. The weather is not so good today but it doesn't stop us walking into the valley in search of birds.
On the slopes another Ring Ouzel is found, this time it's a female. As the weather shows signs of brightening up a Peregrine appears and then I catch sight of my first Golden Eagle. It's being mobbed by three Buzzards and the size difference is very obvious.
Upon returning to the car park, we start scanning the ridges for more eagle activity. It's not long before two birds appear to the West. The distinctive white tail and black tail band of juvenile Golden Eagle very clear in the scope.
After four hours we decide to head back towards Loch Garten.
Parking up off the road and taking a stroll along one of the tracks produces close up sightings of three Crested Tits.

Crested Tit
A great ending to another excellent days birding.

Day Four: Monday 27th May

The final day of the trip had arrived, and we still had not had any luck with the number one target bird.
So it's up at 3.30am and after breakfast and packing the cases into the car, it's a quick clean of the accommodation (not that it needed it, as we spent very little time inside it during the trip).
We head again for Loch Garten in search of a Capercaillie. Driving through Nethy Bridge, down to Forest Lodge and back produces no sightings.
Heading back towards Nethy Bridge we drive passed a couple on foot and a guy parked up in his car at the side of the road.
Turning the car round and heading back the way we came proves a very good move.
As we draw level with the guy (Mike Doughty) in the car he points into the forest and calls Caper! Brian gets on the bird straight away, but being in the back of the car I can't see the bird.
With panic setting in, Brian edges the car forward past the nearest tree and I have my first ever view of a male Capercaillie.
All I can see is the head and part of the neck, and if you wasn't looking for it you would just think it was a log.

At that moment Lee Evans comes round the corner with his group in tow. They had seen the bird emerge from the opposite end of the road.
The bird starts to call and moves higher up onto a small ridge in the forest, some fifty metres away from us.
I grab the camera and take a few shots, thinking the bird is going to disappear any minute.

But in fact it's not bothered by us in the slightest and we watch it feed, call and even get a brief display.
Those three hours watching the male Capercaillie will live long in the memory and will take something exceptional to beat it.

If that wasn't enough a small party of Scottish Crossbills are seen briefly in a tall pine and then seen again in flight calling as they flew overhead.
Luckily Lee Evans and his group were still around to help with the id.

It was time to head down towards Glasgow Airport. Stopping off on the way at The Falls of Falloch.
With heavy rain having started soon after leaving Loch Garten the waterfall was looking fierce when we arrived.
The main aim of the stop off though was to try to locate a Spotted Flycatcher for the year list. Dad came up trumps when he spotted one in trees close to the car park.

 An amazing four day trip.
Three lifers and thirteen for the year list.

Thanks to Brian who did all the driving with the help of dad's satnav. (which Brian found so helpful) :D he also did the cooking.
Thanks to dad for his company, and his purple patch of bird spotting will be hard to forget. Especially that Spotted Flycatcher.

Thanks also to Mike Doughty, without whom we may never have seen that Caper.

A special mention and thanks must also go to Gordon Hamlett, who wrote the book "Best birdwatching sites in the Scottish highlands" and also e-mailed me with further help before the start of the trip.
The book has proved an  invaluable companion on the two trips I have taken to Scotland. To go to Scotland without it would be unthinkable.
I cannot recommended this book highly enough.

Here's to the next trip, wherever that might be.


  1. Cute creatures! These are just one of the amazing things that you get to see and experience in Oban. Have you seen dolphins oban? They're really amazing and when I saw them myself, I was dumbstruck.

    1. Unfortunately I haven't had the time on my visits to Oban.
      I am normally visiting Oban on my way up from Glasgow airport on route to my accommodation in Inverness.
      Only having had long weekends in Scotland so far, I tend to bird dawn til dusk each day. Leaving no time for anything else.