Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Grass Snake, Roding Valley Nature Reserve

I took a stroll around Roding Valley Nature Reserve this morning and came across this Grass Snake.
It soon became apparent that a predator had attacked it, I'm not sure if the predator had been disturbed or if the snake had managed to survive the attack on it's own. 
I would think the damage to the scales would probably heal in time, But if there were more serious injuries then it might not make it. 

Grass Snake


Bird wise, Most of the commoner species were seen and Great and Green Woodpecker were noted along with Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, and Reed Bunting.

Reed Bunting

Butterflies seen included Peacock, Red Admiral, Large and Small White, Comma, Brimstone and Orange Tip

Monday, 28 April 2014

Dungeness delivers again

Having followed yesterday's sea passage at Dungeness, we decided to head there this morning and hope for more of the same today.
The hide was already full upon arrival, which was not a surprise. so we used the hide as a wind break and sheltered from the strong southerly winds as much as possible.
A scan of the patch produced good numbers of Common Tern, but none of the hoped for Black Terns were found among them.
A pair of Peregrine caused panic among the terns and gulls when they appeared over the patch, but they failed to pick anything off while we were there.
Common Scoter moved through in large numbers, and Arctic Terns were also moving through in good numbers. 
The strong Southerlies were pushing birds much closer to the shoreline than normal and we enjoyed some great views of both Great and Arctic Skuas. Four Red-throated Diver and a single Black-throated Diver were also seen close in as were a small group of Eiders. Single groups of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot were also noted before the end of the session.

A stop at Arc Pit bagged the sought after Black Terns, with two birds seen. A Little Tern was also found here for another welcome year tick.
Moving onto the reserve, we made our way round to Christmas Dell Hide and picked up the two Black-winged Stilts in the hayfield. 



While watching the stilts  a Wood Sandpiper decided to drop in, giving good views at first and then gradually moved into thicker cover and became much more elusive.
On the walk back towards the reserve centre a pair of Raven were watched displaying high over the Southern end of Burrowes Pit.

A brief stop off at Scotney produced good views of a pair of adult Little Gulls, before we made our way to Elmley.
The drive towards the car park produced the expected Redshank and Lapwings, Lapwing chicks were seen feeding among the vegetation trying to keep hidden as much as possible with several Marsh Harriers in the area.


Marsh Harrier

Lapwing Chick

Each time the harriers appeared the Lapwings were quick to fly up and drive them away from the chicks and nest sites.

Yellow Wagtails were again seen in good numbers here, having only had a brief flyover before today it was good to get  much closer views.





A pair of Ringed Plover were also seen and seemed intent on trying to nest on the actual access track. As you can imagine this would be doomed to failure.  

Ringed Plover

Skylarks were also seen in good numbers and a couple of individuals dropped in for a photo opportunity.

Skylark




Friday, 25 April 2014

Rainham Marshes and King George V Reservoir visits

I made a  brief visit to Rainham Marshes on Wednesday morning, taking advantage of the sunshine I headed off on a circuit of the reserve.
Taking the path that runs alongside the Thames, plenty of Sedge and Reed Warblers were heard and seen. Further along the path I stopped to check out the Kingfisher bank, the staff had told us that a pair were breeding here.
Standing behind the mesh curtain that had been put up over the glass windows to screen the public from the birds at the Marshland Discovery Hide I waited for a Kingfisher to appear. Unfortunately none were seen in the time I waited, but I'll visit again and hopefully have more luck.
While walking across a wooden bridge further along the path a Water Vole caught my eye as it swam across the channel and started searching the reeds at the edge of the water.
While standing here watching the Water Vole, the distinctive reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler started up. A very welcome addition to the year list.
Stopping at the Shooting Butts Hide a Sparrowhawk is seen flying across the marsh and heads off over Target Pools. Scanning the pools in front of the hide two Hobbies are seen and one of these decides to land in front of the distant fence line allowing for some great scope views and also giving me another  addition to the year list.
The highlight of the walk back to the reserve centre was two Bearded Tits flying directly overhead and dropping into the nearest reeds.
Marsh frogs were very vocal as were Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Common Whitethroat was also seen. The only waders seen were Redshank, Lapwing a single very brief view of a Little Ringed Plover.
A very leisurely stroll around the reserve with the added bonus of a couple of year ticks to boot.

I also made two short visits to King George V Reservoir. The first was an early morning visit, climbing the bank to find the water surface calm and flat and seemingly very quiet on the bird front. A stroll along the Eastern side produced a few Common Terns but no Arctic or Black Terns were seen.



Canada x Greylag

Sand Martins were zipping about across the surface picking off any insects that were found, of which there were plenty. Reaching the causeway I decided to carry on round the Eastern side of the Northern basin the scan the fields at the Northern end.
A scan of these fields produced very little, but scanning the reservoir slope did produce another year tick in the form of a single Common Sandpiper and a single Grey Wagtail was also found.



Heading back along the Western side I took the causeway to return to the Eastern side. A good move as my first Yellow Wagtail flew overhead as I was heading back towards the car.

A second visit was made late afternoon on Thursday when again the water surface was very calm. Sand Martins were even more abundant than the previous trip and in among them was a single House Martin  for another year tick.
A House Sparrow was asking to have it's photo taken when it landed on the fence.



The only terns seen were 4-5 Common Terns mostly perched on Buoys or boats. At the Northern end of South basin two Common Sandpipers were found along with a single Little Egret.
On the grass slopes a pair of Wheatear were a nice find and I grabbed a quick photo of the female.

Wheatear




Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dotterel: Kessingland Suffolk

Trying to stay one step ahead of the predicted rain today, We headed for Landguard in the hope of finding a few migrants that may have dropped in.
After completing a circuit all that we had to show for it was a small group of Linnets a single Wheatear and numerous Blackbirds.
While checking out each and every Blackbird hoping one might turn into a newly arrived Ring Ouzel news comes through that the Dotterel had stuck overnight at Kessingland.
Back to the car we head North up the A12 heading for Kessingland hoping the bird stays put.
Arriving around 9am we park up in the caravan car park and head off along the beach. Here we find a small group of birders who are already watching the bird.
A quick scan and the Dotterel is found busily feeding among the short grassy area's among the shingle.
Having tried and failed several times in the past two years to see Dotterel I finally get to add the species to my life list.

Dotterel

Dragging myself away, we head off along the beach and climb the dunes dropping down on the other side of the caravan park among a rough grassy area.
Almost immediately a male Ring Ouzel comes into view, feeding along the edge of a grassy path. We would eventually find 5 Ring Ouzels (3 males & 2 females).
Several Wheatear, Linnets and Whitethroats were also noted from this location. On the return trip to the car we could not resist another look at the Dotterel.


The journey home saw us make a stop off at Minsmere, where there were good numbers of Sand Martins around the sand banks and over the scrape.
A Redshank is found close in along the water's edge giving the chance of a photo.

Redshank

While watching a small herd of Red Deer I hear my first Cuckoo of 2014.

After a disappointing start to the day I ended up with five year ticks and another lifer.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Early morning visit to Lee Valley

Having visited Fisher's Green on Thursday afternoon and connected with Nightingale, I took the narrow cobbled road of Fisher's Green lane and parked up in the small car park just before the bridge.
I then headed off along the riverside path towards Hall Marsh Scrape. As with the Thursday visit Chiffchaffs were seemingly singing from every available tree.
Blackcaps were again numerous but I didn't manage to pull out a Garden Warbler among them.
On the walk round to the hide overlooking the scrape I flushed a Little Egret from the ditch, and it was present on the scrape when I looked out.

Little Egret

The scrape seemed quiet apart from two Little Egrets, two Lesser Back-backed Gulls a few Gadwall and Mallard. Then a scan of the shingle island produced a single Little Ringed Plover. Sitting motionless on the shingle and without the scope it was difficult to pick out.
From here I moved on to Bowyer's Water, where I picked up a couple of singing Willow Warblers among the numerous Chiffchaffs.
On the walk round the lake, every other bird seemed to be either a Chiffchaff or a Blackcap. On the return leg I managed to get views of my first Common Whitethroat of the year.
A tip off from Brian saw me drive round to Fisher's Green and wander round past the sub station, crossing the bridge and heading back up river to a spot Brian had seen and heard a Lesser Whitethroat earlier.
Sure enough as I waited first the song of a Common and then the sound of a Lesser Whitethroat was heard.
The Common was seen straight away perched up in full view, but the Lesser being much more skulky took some finding. I managed a very brief view as it emerged from scrub and then flew across to the next line of bushes.
On the walk back I bagged another year tick in the form of a Reed Warbler, again plenty were heard but it took some time to pin point the location of a singing bird.



Friday, 18 April 2014

Baikal Teal finally found

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to Fen Drayton hoping to get a view of the Baikal Teal and with it bag an insurance tick just in case.
The only problem being the bird chose the previous evening to do a bunk. Having spent 4-5 hours searching for the bird, it was re-found a relatively short distance away. The only problem being that by the time it was found again I was almost back home some 60 odd miles away!

Before heading towards Cambridgeshire this morning, Brian having received a tip off about Lesser Spotted Woodpecker activity at a site in Hertfordshire was keen to follow this up. In fact we were all very keen to check it out having missed this species completely last year.
After parking up and taking a short walk a LSW was heard drumming, a small movement within the foliage and a male LSW was found. A cracking bird that gave us our best views yet of this species

Lesser-spotted Woodpecker

Leaving Hertfordshire we continued onto Pymoor in Cambridgeshire in search of the Baikal Teal.
On arrival we parked up close to Four Balls Farm and climbed the grass bank where a small group of birders were already present.
Between climbing the bank and reaching the top the bird had disappeared back into the cover of the reeds!
The flood was distant and the wind was blowing hard into our faces, making viewing difficult, but after several minutes the target bird finally swam out from the reeds and everyone managed to get reasonable scope views. 

From here we made the twenty mile trip across to Lynford. 
On arrival the double wooden gates to the house were open and the owners were kindly letting birders inside to view the small drinking pools.
We watched as several Common Crossbill dropped down to drink. Having wandered away to check out the trees just outside I managed to miss a probable male Two-barred that flew into the trees near the drinking pools.
Leaving the pools we headed off down the path and after crossing the bridge heard and then found a single Hawfinch perched up in the top of a nearby tree.
While watching this a Lesser-spot was heard drumming. Following the drumming along a riverside path we managed to get brief flight views of our second LSW of the day.
At a nearby drinking pool a Grey Wagtail dropped in to drink and Brian found a Goldcrest busy nest building.
On the walk back towards the car park, another group of Crossbills were found and amongst this group was a stunning male Two-Barred.
At first it stayed hidden among thick scrub but soon separated from the main group and flew to the top of a nearby tree, giving cracking scope views.

Two-barred Crossbill (B Anderson)


A great days birding, 4 year ticks and a possible armchair life tick if the Teal is ever accepted onto the list.



Nightingales: A brief visit to Lee Valley

Thursday 17th April

I made a brief visit to Fisher's Green in the Lee Valley hoping to connect with Nightingales.
Upon arrival I went to an area that has been productive in recent years but all was quiet. So I continued down the path heading towards the sub station.
Chiffchaffs seemed to be calling from every tree in this area. Blackcaps were also very vocal but still no Nightingales singing. 
Further along the path I bumped into Marco who told us he had just heard one singing from the other side of the bridge.
Sure enough after reaching this point a Nightingale started to sing. As usual it proved difficult to pin down it's location. Eventually it was seen very briefly among the thicker scrub before it disappeared and was not re-found.

Nightingale

On the walk back towards the car park, I took the path towards the weir and  heard another 4 Nightingales singing along this stretch of scrub.
Not much time today to explore much further than this small area, as time was limited.
On the walk back a Grey Heron hung around long enough to grab a couple of shots, before it took off and headed up river.


















Sunday, 13 April 2014

Ring-necked Duck at Abberton gives us the run around!

With time limited today, we decided to head for Abberton and search for the drake Ring-necked Duck that was reported on Saturday.
The last report yesterday was Ring-necked Duck "drake still at Northwest end of Layer Breton Causeway late afternoon but mobile with 6 Pochards".
Feeling much more optimistic about this bird sticking around overnight than the 2 Black-winged Stilts from Friday, it was still a relief when having travelled 30 of the 50 miles the pager announced that the duck was still present.
This early report had the bird viewed from East of Layer-de-la-Haye Causeway. On arrival we drove passed the reserve centre and onto Layer-de-la-Haye causeway. To find no cars and no birders present here.
Thinking the bird maybe have been posted on the wrong causeway we continued round to Layer Breton Causeway where several birders were already scanning the area.
After scoping both sides of the road there was no sign of the target bird, or for that matter any Pochards. A chat to one of the local birders see's us back in the car and driving back round to Layer-de-la-Haye Causeway.
We then meet the birder who had put the news out this morning. He tells us he saw the bird from here first thing still with the Pochards, but the Pochards had disappeared and with it the Ring-necked.
He told us "find the Pochards and you will find the Ring-necked"
A scan of this area failed to locate any Pochards, so back to the car and a short drive along the road. Turning into School Lane to scan the Eastern side from the passing bay.
From this location the area was a little easier to scan, with the sun now hitting the water side on rather than directly into our eyes.
Plenty of Tufted Ducks present here along with Shelduck and Wigeon,  But after another thirty minutes of scanning there's still no sign of the target bird. For a bird that was reported as present at 7.30, There had been no sign since and it was now 10.30.
Returning to the causeway we were met by the local birder who told us that the bird had been re-found at Hide Bay.
Again back to the car, and a drive round to the reserve car park. After paying a donation to enter, we set off along the pathway towards the bay.
Reaching the bend in the path, two birders have there scopes trained on a distant group of ducks. A quick scan and the group of Pochard are found. Seconds later the Ring-necked Duck pops back up to the surface!
Time to relax and enjoy the bird, Although too distant for any photos it gave good scope views and eventually stopped the constant diving and started preening on the narrow strip of vegetation.
A Common Tern appeared low over the water and then landed on a buoy for another year tick and a third tick was added when a Swallow was spotted perched up on a telegraph wire.

A very productive weekend, which started with the 2 Black-winged Stilts at Bower's Marsh on Friday, A Hoopoe at Stodland in Kent on Saturday and ends with a Ring-necked Duck today.



Saturday, 12 April 2014

Hoopoe, Stodland: Kent

Having bagged the Black-winged Stilts at Bower's Marsh last evening, we thought it about time we had a go at catching up with the overwintering Hoopoe.
First reports of this bird were back on the 24th November when it was reported from Sandy Lane.
So it was well over due a visit, and today was the perfect time, as Brian was working and he had already seen the bird earlier in the week.
So myself and dad set off on the 45 mile trip at around 7am. An hour later and we were parked up in the Oastpark Golf course carpark.
Following Brian's directions, we headed off through the metal gate and back onto a small private road. A short distance North of here was a public footpath that lead along the side of the farm house and which gave views of the farm's garden.
Standing alongside the fence and looking back up towards the top of the garden the bird was seen without even having to raise my bins.
It was probing the ground for any food items, and didn't seem bothered at all by our presence.
We spent the next 2 hours watching the bird, mainly feeding, occasionally it flew to a small tree nearby only to return shortly afterwards to resume feeding.
The only time it seemed alarmed was when a Peregrine flew directly overhead, The Peregrine suddenly went into a dive and it wasn't looking good for the Hoopoe.
Luckily the Peregrine had a different target in sight and went down in the field North of the farm.

Hoopoe






Before we left there were several other birders that arrived, two of which had spent a couple of hours searching the golf course, having already tried the garden beforehand with no luck.
They were quite pleased to have finally found it!
Black-winged Stilt and Hoopoe, two nice year ticks in two days.

News this morning that the two Black-winged Stilts had not stuck overnight, disappointing but not  altogether unexpected.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Black-winged Stilts, Bowers Marsh

Arriving home today I was met with the news that two Black-winged Stilts had dropped in at the RSPB site at Bowers Marsh in Essex.
From my own past experiences with this species it's a good idea to try to get to the site the day they drop in, as invariably they don't seem to stick overnight too often.
On arrival we find the access track to the reserve is just as uneven as last year and more pot holes had appeared.
The reserve is open at all times, but the gates to the reserve car park are locked at 5pm, arriving at 5.10, sure enough the barrier was locked.
We parked up just outside the barrier and headed off towards the main lagoon.
My only other visit to this site was shortly before the official opening last year for a very showy Red-Backed Shrike.
The walk from the barrier to the main lagoon hadn't got any shorter or easier. Reaching the end of the track we quickly located the two Stilts some way out.

Black-winged Stilts




Good scope views were had of the two birds feeding and preening, but the camera struggled with the distance and the sun position didn't help either.
It's always good to see a few familiar faces and tonight it was Harry and Barry who arrived shortly after us to enjoy the Stilts and then move on to try to bag a pair of Garganey that were meant to be showing from the cemetery grounds, and then on the walk back towards the car we bumped into Lee B who hopefully saw the birds as well.














Friday, 4 April 2014

Scotland Birding Trip: Ospreys, The return of the Old Lady

Monday 31st March: Day 4

Another dawn start on the final day of the trip.
Not wanting to waste the time left, we decide not to go looking for the Black Duck and instead plan to start the day around the Loch Garten area and gradually work our way back South to Glasgow Airport late afternoon.
A couple of circuits in the car around the Nethy Bridge and surrounding roads looking for Capercaillie but it doesn't produce any sightings of the huge Grouse.
We park up and take a short walk along one of the trail paths, Coal Tits are seen and heard frequently along with Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is constantly drumming nearby.
Then the sound of Crossbills flying overhead, a brief flight view and they disappear through the trees. On the walk back towards the car three Crossbills land in the tops of the pine trees closest to where we are standing.
2 males and a female bird start to feed on the cones. I grab a couple of photos.  The photo below was the only time one sat up for me.






We leave and head for Lochindorb. The Loch has a ruined castle, once the haunt of the 14th century outlaw The Wolf of Badenoch. The name Lochindorb comes from the Gaelic for "Loch of trouble". 
The castle and Loch are surrounded by mile after mile of moorland, home to many Red Grouse and it doesn't take long to locate plenty of them. 





Meadow Pipit are plentiful and the surrounding moorland is home to a colony of breeding Common Gulls.

Meadow Pipit

No Ospreys spotted around the Loch this year, and no Black-throated Divers were found on the Loch itself.
Plenty of Oystercatchers and Lapwings around, but apart from the Grouse and Common Gulls the area was pretty quiet.

Common Gull

With time quickly passing, we left this area and headed further South. Turning off at Dalwhinnie for petrol allowed me to add Grey Wagtail, when one was spotted from the bridge.
Having not seen an Osprey my last chance of an Osprey sighting on this trip comes when we call in at Loch of the Lowes Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve.
The timing was spot on, The male having returned days earlier and upon entering the reserve centre we were told that the female had made her return that very morning.
The female known as "lady" has returned for her 24th year, in that time she has laid sixty plus eggs and raised 50 chicks.The male with her this year is her 4th mate, and their was plenty of mating taking place while we were there.
The reserve staff told us that another female was on the nest when she returned, but she quickly saw the other bird off, and they don't except to see the other female around the Loch again.
I will be watching the live webcam broadcasts with even more interest this year. You can follow Lady's progress here. Loch of the Lowes Ospreys.
I highly recommend you take a look. You will get to hear the Ospreys calling and the sound of wingbeats as the birds land and take off from the nest site. The camera also has infra red for night vision. The bird sounds around the Loch are well worth tuning in for.


The reserve centre staff could not have been happier and news quickly spread of the birds return. The next people to arrive were the Scottish Television crew.
The hide was by now getting quite crowded, but room was made for the cameraman to get his shots of the birds for the news bulletin later that night.
The nest site at this location offers much better views of the birds than the one at Loch Garten, here you get to look across and into the nest rather than just get a view of the top of a bird's head at Loch Garten.
Pairs of Goldeneye and Goosanders were also on the Loch but it was the Ospreys that stole the show.
You can follow the Loch of the Lowes Blog here: Loch of the Lowes Blog

Goosnader

A fantastic end to our 4 day birding trip.

The trip produced 1 British Lifer, and 17 additions to the year list.
A total of 91 species seen

I can't wait to return.







Thursday, 3 April 2014

Scotland Birding Trip: Black Duck fails to show

Sunday 30th March: Day 3

Another dawn start, and with the Corran Ferry not crossing until 8.30am, we take the long scenic way round and a drive along these narrow single track roads produces plenty of close views of Common Buzzard.

Common Buzzard


 The first year tick of the day comes in the form of a single Greenshank, which is found among numerous Oystercatchers, Lapwing and Greylag Gesse.
Eventually we reached Strontian and began another search for the Black Duck. A scan of the bay failed to deliver so it was back to the car and a drive up river. A search along the river and also the small ponds in the gardens failed to locate the duck.
The village shop and cafe informed us that the duck had recently started sitting up on the crofts about a half mile further along the Loch.
We drove round, parked up and took the downhill path towards the beach. Having reached the beach and after another search it again failed to deliver any sight of the target bird.
At this point we decided to head off towards the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse.
On route plenty of Redwing and Fieldfares are found close to the roadside busy feeding up inside the hotel grounds.
Having passed Sallachan point we passed a field of sheep and noticed one entangled in the fence.
Not wanting to drive passed without trying to let somebody know, We took the next right turn to the nearest farmhouse. Where we found the only person at home was a 90 year old guy who wasn't in the best of health.
The only thing to do was help him in the car and drive him down to where the sheep was trapped.
Having helped him pull the sheep from the fence the sheep just lay on the ground in front of us motionless. After another  5 minutes the sheep finally recovered and joined the rest of the flock. relief all round!
All that was left to do was repair the fence and drive the guy back to the farmhouse. Good deed done for the day.
A stop at Ben Hiant produced A hunting Common Buzzard, Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammer and a single Black-throated Diver in the bay below.
Moving on we made a brief stop and search of the fields around the Kilchoan ferry crossing, rewarding us with great views of a flock of Twite.

Twite

The short grass fields just before the traffic lights approaching the car park to the lighthouse looked ideal for Wheatear, and a scan delivers double figures of this species. Unfortunately the males were staying out of range of my camera.

Wheatear

A single Whinchat sitting up on a roadside fence adds another year tick, and there's a showy Stonechat close by as well.
A brief seawatch from the lighthouse was a disappointment with only a single seal and several gulls found. An appearance of a Rock Pipit sitting up on a rock was all to brief.
The drive back on the single track roads produces the bird of the day. A ringtail Hen harrier is watched hunting low across the moors giving fantastic views as it drifts past.

Hen Harrier 


Taking the shorter route back towards Fort William,  gave us views of Red Deer, Eider and Red-breasted Mergansers.



Back in Fort William and after being fed and watered in was an early night ready for the final day in Scotland.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Scotland Birding Trip: American Coot, Loch Flemington

Saturday 29th March: Day 2

Dawn on day two and we set off from Fort William heading for Loch Garten. On route taking a quick detour to Tulloch Moor.
A first scan across the moor seemed devoid of any birds, But perseverance eventually paid off when Brian spotted the head of a single bird some distance away from the viewing screens.
From here it's a short drive round to Loch Garten. Unfortunately at this time of year the reserve is not yet open to visitors. Sadly it was due to open on the 1st April, the day after we would have returned to London.

So no views of the Osprey's from the hide and no early morning Caper watch this year. That left Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbills as our main targets.
The car park seemed the best place to start our search for Crested Tit, the trees around the Western corner of the car park had several feeders hanging from the trees and were attracting Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Siskins on a regular basis.
As we scanned the feeders a single Red Squirrel appeared and proceeded to dominate the peanut and suet feeders.








Always entertaining, but it seemed we were to miss out on Crested Tit. Then just as we were about to move on and try one of the forest paths dad spots two Crested Tits land on a lower branch of a nearby tree.
A walk around Loch Garten failed to turn up anything of interest with only a single Little Grebe seen on the Loch itself.

Trying to fit in as much as possible in the short time period we had, it was time to hit the road and travel the 36 miles to Loch Flemington in search of the American Coot.
Parking up close to the lay-by with the white stones we quickly located the bird emerging from the reeds. A British lifer for all three of us.
Frustratingly it stayed feeding among the reeds for most of our time here. Great views through the scopes were had, but it remained out of range of the camera.
After an hour or so it started to drift a little nearer and the photo's below were the best I could manage.

American Coot



Time was disappearing fast, so back to the car and after a drive of around 25 miles we were pulling into the parking area at Findhorn Valley.
Timing was perfect, the 4-5 birders present told us they had just had an eagle drifting across the top of the nearby ridge. As we scanned the ridge the bird re-appeared and then drifted right over our heads.

Golden Eagle

A mountain Hare was then pointed out close by on the slopes and gave superb views through the scope. It's white winter fur starting to show signs of being replaced by the brown summer coat.

One of the Scottish birders present we had met on last year's trip and it was good to catch up with him again this year. 
After a couple of hours and with no more eagle sightings it was time to take the Farr road to Loch Ruthven.
The drive along this road is always good for Red Grouse and a chance of Merlin or a Goshawk. On this occasion we only saw Red Grouse.
Parking up at the car park at Loch Ruthven we headed off along the footpath towards the hide. The paths leading to the hide were covered with Toads. The one below wasn't moving for anyone.

Toad


The first birds seen from the hide were a pair of Goldeneye, followed by four Little Grebes. Then the target bird was spotted, a single Slavonian Grebe in full breeding plumage drifted across the Loch.
This was turning into a superb days birding and it was about to get even better.
A raptor appeared above the trees in the distance, It didn't have the look or flight of the Common Buzzards we had been seeing so often.
If the sight of a Golden Eagle drifting over our heads earlier wasn't good enough we now had a Goshawk displaying right in front of us! It stayed in view above the treetops for around five minutes treating us to our best ever views of a Goshawk
The return trip along the Farr road produced many more Red Grouse sightings and a single Mistle Thrush perched close to the roadside.

Mistle Thrush


 The first full days birding draws to a close, with just another 75 miles left ahead of us to return to our base in Fort William.