Saturday 27th April 2019
After completing our pickups we began the journey north to Scotland and made very good time as we were over the border in time for lunch. The weather wasn’t great with Storm Hannah battering the southern half of the UK and with heavy downpours in the north!
Arriving in the Speyside area late afternoon we had a lovely adult WHOOPER SWAN and COMMON GOLDENEYE on a small roadside pool before heading into the wilderness.
Five BLACK GROUSE were good to see, frequenting a nearby field until they were disturbed by a local farmer checking on their sheep!
We moved onwards and soon our first WILLOW PTARMIGAN were seen, some at very close range. A few male NORTHERN WHEATEARS were seen flitting around the Heather before we decided to head to our base for the week.
On our Journey a male MERLIN zipped over us as it headed north through the valley.
Check-in was quick and easy and we were soon settling into our rooms before meeting for a pre dinner drink in the bar.
Our evening meal went down very well and we headed off to bed after a great but long day travelling.
Sunday 28th April 2019
The day dawned much brighter but with some low cloud over the distant Cairngorm mountain range. A couple of the group explored the hotel garden before breakfast and were delighted to have come across a RED SQUIRREL. After a hearty breakfast we headed off to explore the Cairngorm mountain area and as we arrived, cloud cleared and there wasn’t a breath of wind which is pretty unusual!
A stop at the lower carpark failed to reveal any Ring Ouzels so we drove up to the main carpark where a male RING OUZEL was seen briefly. We then walked up towards mid station noting several more RING OUZELS including some singing males which were good to see.
The walk was a hard slog and we eventually reached an area that gave a good vista for scanning the surrounding area, but despite a thorough search we couldn’t find Ptarmigan. With the recent mild weather, it was thought they had headed up onto the top slopes and just out of reach for us.
The walk down was beautiful with more views of RING OUZELS plus NORTHERN WHEATEARS and lots of MEADOW PIPITS.
Lunch was a little later than planned and it was great to have a rest after the morning’s exertions!
We then dropped down to Loch Morlich where calm conditions made viewing a pair of summer-plumage RED-THROATED LOONS (DIVER) easy, plus EURASIAN TEAL, EURASIAN WIGEON, TUFTED DUCKS and COMMON GOLDENEYE.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent in Abernethy Forest where a male COMMON REDSTART was singing unseen close to the carpark and lots of EURASIAN SISKINS were seen and heard.
The first part of the walk was rather quiet but we soon came across a pine with lots of EURASIAN SISKINS in and on closer inspection, a pair of Crossbills fed on the pine cones. They were particularly heavy billed but not as much as Parrot Crossbills and their call was a deeper ‘Chip’. The Crossbill situation in Speyside is very confusing with Common Crossbills, Parrot Crossbills and something in between occurring, but whatever our birds were they were very interesting and something we don’t see in the south of the UK.
Whilst here at least three CRESTED TIT were seen before vanishing into the forest although we did get some good views.
It was then back to the carpark where several more CROSSBILLS sp. were seen before it was time to leave and head back to base after an exhausting day.
Dinner was once again excellent and we all headed off to bed after completing the bird-list to get some rest.
Monday 29th April 2019
We awoke to find clear, sunny conditions and after breakfast drove to the village of Carrbridge for an obligatory photo stop, where the ancient bridge was well papped! A male COMMON MERGANSER (GOOSANDER) was asleep downstream whilst the song of numerous WILLOW WARBLERS rang out.
Driving to the secluded Findhorn Valley or Strathdearn as it is known by the locals is a fantastic spot to find raptors and with the weather perfect, we hoped to be in luck.
A stop was made along the valley to watch a pair of COMMON TERNS displaying along the river and a little further on, we stopped for a while to watch a pair of nesting WHITE-THROATED DIPPERS plus GREY WAGTAIL. A flyover GOLDEN EAGLE although quite high was a delight, as we could view it well though our binoculars.
We were keen to reach the parking area at the head of the valley but with just two cars already parking was easy. Spending time carefully scanning the area revealed a pair of RING OUZELS in trees plus RED KITE, COMMON BUZZARD, PEREGRINE FALCON, NORTHERN WHEATEARS, MEADOW PIPITS and some lovely MEW GULLS (COMMON GULLS).
After a while we decided to stretch our legs and wandered down the valley, but apart from WILLOW WARBLERS and a flyover LESSER REDPOLL it was rather quiet.
Things soon changed when we watched a PEREGRINE FALCON heading off at high speed towards the moors and a few seconds later, an immature WHITE-TAILED EAGLE appeared giving good scope views in the sunshine.
A little while later an immature GOLDEN EAGLE was spotted and it drifted right over us allowing all the salient features to be noted.
We tucked into lunch beside the river and watched BROWN TROUT and SALMON in the shallows, whilst RED DEER and MOUNTAIN GOATS looked down at us from the rocky crags.
It was beautiful in the sunshine and we didn’t really want to leave but we headed over the Farr Road where WILLOW PTARMIGAN (RED GROUSE) showed really well along with plenty of NORTHERN WHEATEARS.
The remainder of the day was enjoyed at Loch Ruthven RSPB reserve where we had lovely views of three pairs of HORNED GREBES (SLAVONIAN) as they displayed. They were quite territorial to the other birds and chasing them off.
With time ticking on we were keen to see WESTERN OSPREY which often visits late afternoon and one was expertly picked up to the west. Luckily it came closer and fantastic views were enjoyed before it was time for us to head back to base.
We arrived back in good time and a hot shower was very welcome before enjoying another great meal of epic proportions!
Tuesday 30th April 2019
Another bright day and some of the group explored the gardens finding a lovely pair of EURASIAN BULLFINCHES, plus GOLDCREST and a singing male EURASIAN BLACKCAP.
After a superb breakfast we headed towards the coast, making several stops along the way where good numbers of WILLOW PTARMIGAN (RED GROUSE) were present plus COMMON SANDPIPER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and a small party of TUFTED DUCKS.
With high tide around 10.00am we drove straight to Burghead where on arrival, conditions were absolutely superb with no wind and perfect light.
Both RAZORBILL and COMMON MURRE (GUILLEMOT) were present in both winter and summer plumages and a small group of EUROPEAN SHAGS fed on the millpond-like surface.
A large, dark diver offshore turned out to be a summer-plumaged GREAT NORTHERN DIVER and a few seconds later, we picked out a stunning adult WHITE-BILLED DIVER that gave prolonged views as it fed, preened and swam around just over mid distance.
Other species of note included at least two GREAT SKUA that fed amongst a throng of feeding NORTHERN GANNETS plus NORTHERN FULMAR, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE, COMMON SCOTER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, COMMON EIDER, EURASIAN ROCK PIPIT, HOODED CROW, SANDWICH TERN and a moulting BLACK-THROATED DIVER.
Delighted by our morning’s birding, we drove west to Culbin Sands where we took our lunch onto the beach but before eating we thought we would just have a quick scan.
Imagine our surprise when the long-staying drake KING EIDER swam into view with good numbers of COMMON EIDERS. Although quite distant we could pick out the distinctive colours and markings of this Arctic wanderer.
Over 150 SANDWICH TERNS were on the beach plus a flock of around 50 summer-plumaged LONG-TAILED DUCKS including some with long tails!
Back in the dunes were several YELLOWHAMMER plus COMMON WHITETHROAT, LESSER REDPOLL and DUNNOCKS before we headed along the coast to Fort George.
The tide was way out but we still managed to find a mixed party of BAR-TAILED GODWITS, RED KNOT and DUNLIN amongst the more common EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS.
A pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were seen alongside a pair of LONG-TAILED DUCKS and a RED-THROATED DIVER flew into the bay.
On the short turf were NORTHERN WHEATEARS, MEADOW PIPITS, PIED WAGTAILS and COMMON LINNETS.
With some time remaining we popped back down to the local moorland and lochs where we located a superb pair of BLACK-THROATED DIVERS that looked amazing when zoomed to 70x magnification!
Apart from the usual RED GROUSE it was quiet, so we drove back to Grantown ready for an early evening meal.
Afterwards we loaded up the van and drove to the Rothiemurchus Estate where we rendezvoused with Kate who was our guide for the evening in the mammal hide.
It was pretty light as we wandered down the track noting a few RED DEER along the way and once inside we made ourselves comfortable, ready for the evening ahead.
A couple of EURASIAN WOODCOCK were seen roding over the trees and a few PIPISTRELLE BATS hawked moths in front of the floodlit hide.
It didn’t take long before our first EUROPEAN BADGER came in and began to feed on the food put out for them. A few minutes later two more came in and started fighting with the original badger and the noise and sight was not for the faint hearted!
The original male scuttled off and all was calm again until around 10.15 when a male PINE MARTEN appeared and put on a real show for us, where he gave exceptional views for several minutes.
After a while he ran off into the woods and we were delighted to have seen this reasonably scarce animal so early in the evening.
A TAWNY OWL called from the west side of the hide and we watched several BANK VOLES and WOOD MICE scuttling around.
The remainder of the evening was very much a Badger fest with at least 4 different badgers coming in making our total for the evening seven.
At around 11.00 we called it a night, we said our goodbyes to Kate and wandered back up the track to the van.
We arrived back at the hotel just before midnight after a very successful day and evening in the field.
Wednesday 1st May 2019
We met for a later breakfast after the previous night’s excursion and afterwards loaded up and drove the short distance to the local woods to spend the late morning exploring this fantastic area.
COAL TITS and EURASIAN SISKINS were very much in evidence and in a small clearing, we found a singing male TREE PIPIT which performed its parachute display flight.
Further along a pair of RED CROSSBILLS were seen before flying off and several male COMMON REDSTARTS showed fairly well on top of pines and further down a RED SQUIRREL was seen moving from tree to tree.
Walking along the main track, imagine our surprise when in a hollow we could see the head of a male WESTERN CAPERCAILLIE! These shy birds are very prone to disturbance and with numbers at an all-time low we didn’t expect to see one. It was quite oblivious to mountain bikers, ramblers and dog walkers coming past!
Although distant, views were adequate as it preened and fed on small heather shoots. After a while we left and discussed how lucky we were to see such an amazing bird!
We then returned to the van and drove via the Speyside Steam Railway where one of the trains was just pulling out of the station, much to the delight of some of the group.
Lunch was enjoyed down at Loch Garten RSPB reserve where we spent an hour or so enjoying a coffee whilst checking out the feeders. A couple of RED SQUIRRELS were seen plus a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER was heard but otherwise the woodlands remained rather quiet.
On the loch were several COMMON SANDPIPERS and a single RED-THROATED DIVER.
With time remaining we drove to an area where we watched a distant WESTERN OSPREY on a nest whilst COMMON REED BUNTING, COMMON GOLDENEYE and GREAT CORMORANT were also seen.
We rounded off the day at another site with superb views of a pair of WESTERN OSPREY at close range, which was simply a delight. We also had the added bonus of RED-THROATED DIVERS, COMMON MERGANSERS (GOOSANDER), SAND MARTINS and a distant flock of MUTE SWANS.
By now the skies were darkening and we drove through rain on the way back to base after what had been a very good day indeed.
After time for a shower we met for dinner which was lovely and after completing the bird-list, some of the group stayed for a ‘wee dram’ whilst listening to live music in the bar.
Thursday 2nd May 2019
Finally the weather broke and we could see grey, wet conditions as we headed down for breakfast.
Afterwards we packed our lunches and headed west where we hoped for drier, brighter conditions. We drove through quite miserable weather and stopped off for a toilet break where a single male EURASIAN BULLFINCH was noted briefly.
As we motored west a pair of BLACK-THROATED DIVERS were seen on a small loch, then we moved on towards the small town of Dundonnell where we spent time scanning over Little Loch Broom.
Another BLACK-THROATED DIVER was seen plus several GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS, RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, DUNLIN, WHIMBREL and COMMON GREENSHANK.
Our next port of call was overlooking Gruinard Bay where a brief stop produced another BLACK-THROATED DIVER plus around 30 GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS in varying degrees of moult from winter through to full summer plumage.
It was then on to the small hamlet of Mellon Charles where we soon connected with a drake BLUE-WINGED TEAL that promptly disappeared into the reeds with a female NORTHERN SHOVELER!
Luckily it wasn’t long before they reappeared and started feeding in the centre of the lochan where they put on a good show. We found singles of LITTLE GREBE, TUFTED DUCK and a singing male SEDGE WARBLER. On the way out of the village we stopped to overlook a jetty with a mixed colony of COMMON and ARCTIC TERNS nesting, plus further down the road were three summer plumaged BLACK-THROATED DIVERS.
The cold wind had chilled us so we headed to a nearby cafe only to find it was closed! Luckily a few minutes away was a community cafe in the local church and what a gem it turned out to be, with not only great tea and coffee but also scrummy cakes and a warm welcome!
It was then off to lunch in beautiful Mellon Udrigle where we sat on the sand dunes noting lots of NORTHERN WHEATEARS plus MEADOW PIPITS and a pair of SONG THRUSH.
Afterwards we wandered down to the beach where a single WHITE WAGTAIL, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, GREAT NORTHERN and RED-THROATED DIVERS and three GREAT SKUA were seen.
On the way back we located three TWITE feeding on the short turf which gave some lovely scope views before flying off.
We then retraced our steps noting a small group of pure ROCK DOVES along the way before we stopped at the sheltered Little Gruinard beach. Offshore was another BLACK-THROATED DIVER plus a small party of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS.
Just as we were about to leave an adult GOLDEN EAGLE appeared putting on a great show as it was mobbed by a pair of local NORTHERN RAVENS, before landing on the top of a ridge where excellent scope views were had.
With time getting on we made another stop overlooking Gruinard Bay and this time found several BLACK GUILLEMOT plus a very, very distant WHITE-TAILED EAGLE.
It was then a long drive back to base where it was good to have a hot shower after an excellent but rather chilly day.
Friday 3rd May 2019
Another chilly day with cloudy conditions as we had breakfast and afterwards loaded up, but by now sleet was falling quite heavily as we made our way up to the Moray Firth.
By the time we arrived at Chanonry Point the sun was out but the northerly wind was biting to say the least. We set up on the beach and waited patiently, eventually picking up a small pod of BOTTLE NOSE DOLPHINS in the distance, but they were quite elusive in the choppy conditions.
After a while they turned and put on a real show as they leapt out of the water numerous times much to the oohs and aahs from the group! After disappearing again we decided to leave them and head to nearby Fortrose for a very welcome cuppa and a piece of cake which went down brilliantly.
We then moved to the RSPB reserve at Udale Bay where a group of PINK-FOOTED GEESE fed on the marsh and three RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS rested on the shore. A pair of NORTHERN LAPWINGS were with chicks in the nearby field whilst EURASIAN SKYLARKS sang overhead.
It was then down to Cromarty where we noted COMMON EIDER and a pair of LONG-TAILED DUCKS offshore, before we drove up to the Sutors of Cromarty where we had lunch in the sunshine. A BANK VOLE was seen plus YELLOWHAMMER, WILLOW WARBLER and COMMON BUZZARD before the next squall came through.
Driving round to the southern shore we stopped along the coast and found five GREATER SCAUP out on the water but they were quite distant. Several skeins of PINK-FOOTED GEESE flew over making a fantastic sight.
We rounded off the day at a site where three male BLACK GROUSE fed in a field before indulging in a little display which was enjoyed by everyone.
It was back to the hotel for a hot shower and warm up before meeting for dinner which was really good. After completing the bird-list, we headed off to bed for a good night’s rest whilst heavy snow started to fall outside.
Saturday 4th May 2019
We awoke early to find a covering of snow and after loading up the van, had an early breakfast and began our journey home.
Apart from the WHOOPER SWAN that we saw on the way up, it was pretty uneventful except for singles of WILLOW PTARMIGAN and a PINE MARTEN that scooted across the busy A9.
The snow had cleared by the time we reached Perth and the traffic was pretty light.
We arrived back in Hertfordshire and Essex and dropped everyone off after this fantastic tour to Scotland, with lovely weather (mostly) and some fantastic wildlife, all spent with a great group of clients!