Monday, 13 February 2012

Scotland The Full Story 5-11 February

Well back at work after a great week in Scotland, so time to make sense of it all.

After Spending Friday and Saturday night with our daughter who lives in Edinburgh. We carried on up to Braemar which was to be our base for the next 6 nights. There we were joined late Sunday afternoon by my Wife's sister (Jo) and partner (Jimmy) who have been mentioned in dispatches in previous blogs and who are our partners in crime when we go birding further afield.

So what did we get upto?
Monday 06/02
The first day Monday we had glorious sunshine but it was cold, so we headed to Glen Tanar near Aboyne, where there are some good walks and 'guaranteed' Crossbills, plus the chance of Capercallie. We got off to an excellent start, right by the A93 was a fishery at Tullich and sitting on his own with a host of Mallard was a single drake Goldeneye we viewed for a few minutes, then set off again.

After turning off onto a B road to get to Glen Tanar we were driving along the River Dee, when a single 'duck' was spotted on the river. So we stopped just in case.
We weren't sure at first, but as she swam closer we were able to confirm a female Common Scoter, a lifer for all 4 of us! Brilliant. When she had drifted away out of sight we carried on and had only gone about 400 yards when we saw two more 'ducks' on the river. Again we stopped, thinking they might be more Scoter and indeed they were, but not Common, 2 female Velvet! What were they doing there? Another Lifer! I was so excited that I missed the turn to Glen Tanar, so went on a bit further and found a turning at a bend in the river, so we stopped for a coffee. (This is a theme in all my blogs. Coffee stops are regular and essential!)
Whilst sipping our Coffees, we bagged a Dipper, Grey Heron and loads of Mallard, sadly no more Scoter!

We duly arrived at Glen Tanar and scanned the pine trees, but no Crossbill, we then decided to go for a walk along one of the shorter trails but not much about, just Tits, Chaffinch and a Buzzard.

So drew a blank with the Crossbills yet again!
We then drove to the Linn of Dee to see Red Deer and back on to the Glenshee Road, hunting for White Mountain Hare. At least both of these turned up! I'm beginning to think that Crossbills are made up and don't really exist!

Tuesday 07/02
Today we decided to drive over the Lecht for Snow Bunting andfor the spectacular scenery, then head down to Boat of Garten for Crested Tit and Red Squirrel, and anything else we can find along the way!

The Snow Bunting duly obliged, they can always be found to the left of the Ski School or on the Ski Centre Roof, sorry the pics aren't great!
En route a Red Grouse obliged us by sticking his head up:
Then a female:

We drove through Garten and went to the RSPB Osprey Center as we know that at this time of year we are pretty much guaranteed Crested Tits and no one else will be there!
So here's a few shots from Garten:

So success! No new species at Garten, but we just loved watching the Crested Tits and Red Squirrel (plus we have never seen so many Coal Tits in one go!
So back in the car, back across the Lecht and back to Braemar, this resulted in another couple of firsts for us. We have been up to Scotland many many times over the last few years and Black Grouse and Ptarmigan must go into hiding when we come up, but we must have caught them by surprise this time! We had a great Black Grouse sighting, 3 in one spot, but I couldn't get my Camera ready in time and ended up with a distant shot at dusk. The Ptarmigan was a Grey Speckled youngster, but a good distance away, so for the record a black grouse (No shot of the Ptarmigan)
Wednesday 08/02
A long trip today, up to Loch Strathbeg RSPB, north of Aberdeen. It seemed to take forever to get there and was bitterly cold with a fierce wind when we did. Thankfully the Visitor Centre was open and allowed us to relax a bit with a good view of a good part of the Loch before venturing out to the hides.

Because of the strong winds the smaller birds weren't about. No Buntings or Yellowhammers to be seen. The geese were all out foraging apart from a good gaggle of Brent in a field the opposite side of the Loch.
There are 3 hides at Strathbeg, one near the visitor centre but with a better view across the Loch and 2 more over the other side. These you have to drive to across the disused Crimond Airfield, that was interesting as you have to zig zag through obstacles to get to the RSPB car park. The wather had turned distinctly dull and horrible, photography was out, I took a few shots but because of the light and distance they are poor to say the least, but it was all worth it as from the second hide, just when we thought there wasn't much about that we hadn't seen from the visitor centre, 2 female Scaup swam into view from behind the reeds! There may have been a 3rd but we weren't sure. But anyway another Lifer!

The list for Strathbeg:

Blackbird, Blue Tit, Brent Goose, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Common Gull, Coot, Dunlin, Fieldfare, Goldeneye, Goosander, Great Black-backed Gull, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Kestrel, Lapwing
Magpie, Mallard, Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose (We waited until dusk for these to come flocking back), Red-breasted Merganser, Redshank, Robin, Feral Pigeon, Rook, Scaup, Shelduck, Starling, Teal, Tree Sparrow, Tufted Duck, Whooper Swan, Wigeon,

Thursday 09/02
After the 5 hour round trip from yesterday a quiet day today, a short drive to Glen Muick for a circular walk to the Loch. This is really a birding site, but we did see Siskin there last year and hadn't seen any so far this year, so that would be a bonus. The main thing here is Red Deer. As it happens we didn't see any Siskin! The Warden said they haven't been around yet, but the Crossbills have been in her Garden regularly. But not today! So we saw plenty of Red Deer, Red & Black Grouse (typical don't see any then twice in 2 days, (not complaining though!), Treecreepers and then 4 Dippers on the same 400 meter stretch of river!

 As you can see the cloud was low, but no wind, the loch was so still, not even a ripple:
 This UFO did go past though, I couldn't find it in the Field Guide:
 Looks like we were having fun:

 Tina & Tom
 Jo & Jimmy
On a more serious note I was doing a lens change here and dropped my 300mm lens, now the auto focus won't work and manual focus is possible but very stiff. Good job its insured.
He's not impressed and neither was I!
 Two more posers:
 Dipper River: (River Muick)
 Spot the dippers, there are two in this very misty photo:

Friday 10/02
We hadn't decided where to go today, the weather was again misty, low cloud, cold and damp. Lovely!
We looked at the map the night before and found a reservoir (Blackwater) a Loch (Lintrathen) and an RSPB reserve (Kinnordy) all just to the east of the Spittle of Glenshee, so we thought we'd give it a whirl. After about half an hour we found the Reservoir it was frozen solid, not a bird in sight. So we drove on to the Nature Reserve at Loch Lintrathen again frozen solid, just 6 sad Mallard sitting on the ice. We did see a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees, but otherwise the place was like a graveyard!
So onto Loch of Kinnordy, this was a bit better, there was some open water in the middle and all the birds were congregating there, just visible through the murk!
We managed, Robin, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Pheasant outside the hides, on the Loch:
Mute Swan, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, 2 Goosander and a Drake Smew! (Bonus!)
You can see what the weather was like:
See if you can find the Smew, the Goosander is easy!

As it was so murky and cold Jo suggested after looking at the map, heading over to Montrose Basin. So in for a penny in for a pound, why not. So off we went.
We first went to the visitor centre to see whats what and from their we saw:
Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Blue Tit, Robin, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Siskin, and on the water, tons of Eider! So a couple of year ticks there.

We then drove around to the Old Mill Car Park and walked to the closer of the 2 hides (Wigeon Hide) that are accessible from there as it was getting late. The hide was aptly named, there must have been 2-300 hundred Wigeon on the shore, plus 200 Shelduck, 200 Teal, 100 Curlew, 50 Oystercatcher, 50 Lapwing, 2 Pintail, 12 Goldeneye, 1 Grey Heron, 20 Great Black Backed Gull, 100 Starling, a few Eider and a Buzzard doing his rounds.
This is certainly a place to go back to when the weather is better. There were 4 other hides around the basin, but we didn't have time to visit any others.
So back across the fields, where we flushed 4 Grey Partridge, then had 7 Roe Deer come out of nowhere and run across our path. Oh and a few Pied Wagtail around as well.

Saturday 11/02
Well time for the long drive home, but not without a stop on the way.......
We had booked in at the Argaty Red Kite Centre just off the A9 and was it worth it!!
We were treated to the most fantastic display, our guide Dean Bricknell was brilliant, friendly, informative and helped me with my photography too!
Again the weather was poor, misty and dull, but I wacked the ISO up, put the camera in Shutter Priority manually focused on where the food was put out and fired away! So the shots are a bit grainy but it gives you the idea!

 The Buzzard legs it as 2 Red Kites swoop in

 Buzzard v Red Kite

 Dive, Dive, Dive

And a short Video Clip:

Plus we heard those Bl@@dy Crossbills again but didn't see them.
Also at the centre:
Crow (plenty of those trying to dig in amongst the Kites), Raven, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Robin, Pheasant & Dunnock

We did see a gruesome sight as we were leaving Agraty. The farm has a field of black pigs next to the track, not sure of the breed, as we were driving out we saw them catch a cock pheasant that had wandered into their patch and tear it to pieces and eat it!

So that's it our haul for the week: 72, including 6 Lifers and that brings us up to 95 for the year.

Our next major trip is the Somerset Levels in April, we are also going skiing somewhere in Europe in March, so we might pick up 1 or 2 things there. But otherwise back to our local patches for a while.


  1. A great post of your holiday in Scotland. An interesting read and the images are splendid especially the views of the Lochs, such calm and clear water. The Crested Tit and Red Squirrel pics are brill, I have yet to see a Crested Tit. A pity with the Crossbills though, you will have to take a visit to Eymore Wood again.

    1. Thanks Pam.
      Yes a good time was had by all. As I said in my blog, I'm beginning to think that Crossbills are a figment of everyone else's imagination!

      We certainly will be heading to Eymore again soon. So fingers crossed when we do.