Trip Reports ______________________________________________________



Scotland (Highlands & Abderdeenshire) 2011

...with Mark Finn

October 8th - 15th

This was the first joint tour taking in the Scottish Highlands and the eastern sector of Aberdeenshire the latter being dominated by a habitat of farmland, coastal sand dunes and several large lochs adjacent to the North Sea. A total of 128 species were recorded during the week including several scarce species for Scotland; Lesser Canada Goose, Spotted Redshank and Ruff. In addition to these species there was a good scattering of divers, grebes and wildfowl with up to 60000 Pink-footed Geese at Loch of Strathbeg. Although the winds and weather were not productive for migrants we saw Pomarine and Arctic Skuas and Arctic and Sandwich Terns the latter two species being scarce in October.

October 8th: Udale Bay, Cromarty Firth, South Sutor, Charonry Point, South Kessock, Nairn, Loch Flemington.

Weather: Showers with a brisk southwest wind 10 C.

I started the day with Jo at the high tide roost which has shifted in recent years at Udale Bay. The tide was rising as we notched up an impressive number of wading birds including Eurasian Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Curlew, Common and Knot. All of these were disturbed by a hunting Peregrine Falcon which flew low over Udale Bay at high speed. In the distance we could pick out the straggly lines of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese. A few passerines were present and included a pass-over of Mistle Thrushes, Chaffinch and European Greenfinch. I then visited the hide at Udale Bay where Jo located a Common Kingfisher in the small burn this is a rather rare species in the Highlands. On the grass and mud we located Northern Lapwing, Black-headed, Common, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and thousands of Eurasian Wigeon. Further down the road beyond Jemimaville another stop produced Slavonian Grebe, Red-throated Diver, Greater Scaup and Red-breasted Mergansers. A quick look at South Sutor and Charonry Point produced very few birds so I headed into Inverness and the South Kessock area with its shallow lagoons. On arrival lunch was taken followed by a short walk along the shore. Eurasian Blackbirds and Song Thrush were feeding on the grass. In the lagoons a few Mallards were joined by Common Snipe, Ruddy Turnstone and a late Northern Wheatear which promptly disappeared behind a wall never to be seen again. Time was getting on as a visit to Nairn was planned. Lots of gulls and waders on the sandy beach including a few Sanderling. Back to Inverness to pick Barbara up from the station and Beryl from the airport although her flight had been delayed from Bristol.

October 9th: Sheildaig, Gairloch, Rubha Reidh, Loch Ewe, Mellon Udrigle, Gruinard Bay, Dundonnel.

Weather: Rain showers and overcast conditions in a southwest wind 12 C.

In the grounds of Cygnus House we observed birds attending the feeders including Tree Sparrow, tits and finches, and overhead several migrating Redwings. Goldcrest was also calling from the elm trees. I decided to head west today in the hope of turning up a few interesting birds. En route to Sheildaig a Eurasian Kestrel was noted hunting over farm land. Sheildaig had a few birds notably European Shag and good numbers of Northern Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Next was Gairloch where the wind made viewing almost impossible so I headed out to the lighthouse at Rubha Reidh. Along the road it was good to find a few Common Stonechats which appear to be recovering slowly after the last two harsh winters. Once at the lighthouse we embarked on a short seawatch into The Minch. Northern Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes passed by but little else of note apart from Rock Pipits flitting around the rock ledges. Retraced our drive to Gairloch with views of Common Raven en route. I decided to visit Loch Ewe in the hope the waters were sheltered from the strong winds and rain. I was proved right on this occasion as our first stop added a returning Great Northern Diver. Near the loch entrance a group of Black-throated Divers were found along with Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a very late Arctic Tern. The highlight however was a large flock of Twite feeding in the sand dunes. Short visits to Mellon Udrigle and Gruinard Bay produced Razorbill and Common Guillemot whilst at Dundonnel the rising tide attracted waders to roost. Back to base after a wind battering day in Wester Ross.

October 10th: Cairngorm, Abernethy, Loch Garten, Findhorn Valley, Farr Road.

Weather: Sunny spells with a southwest wind 11 C.

This morning we headed south to Cairngorm National Park. Driving over the Black Isle produced a Red Kite. On approaching Cairngorm I was surprised to find several Black Grouse lekking in the open at 10am. This was a bonus before taking the train up into the mountains with Red Grouse by the tracks. No birds from the viewpoint, apart from a Meadow Pipit and a White-throated Dipper so we went back down and visited an area of Abernethy. The forest was amazingly quiet so we went to Loch Garten. The feeders here attracted Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Great, Coal and Blue Tits and eventually Crested Tits by the reception centre. It was starting to be a tough day as the weather had an impact on the birds. Up the Findhorn Valley to the end where we witnessed the spectacle of rutting Red Deer and at least two stags in the river itself – an impressive sight. In the distance we picked up a Golden Eagle hunting a low hillside before it promptly disappeared over the ridge. Ended the day birding along the Farr Road before going back to base.

October 11th: Corrimony, Novar Estate, Bonar Bridge, Strath Carnaig, Loch Fleet, Embo, Loch Eye.

Weather: Sunny spells with a southwest wind 9 C.

An early start today as we headed to Corrimony to meet up with Simon the warden. Arrived on time at 0700 hours and transferred to a 4x4. The two Black Grouse leks held up to 19 birds. The grouse were flighty on our visit suggesting they had only just returned to the lek after the summer months. At the turning circle a calling Eurasian Bullfinch. Next was a late breakfast at Dingwall followed by a visit to the Novar Estate. Parked up and started to walk along the trails searching for birds. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Treecreeper, European Robin and Blackbirds were all fairly common. The older pines attracted Scottish Crossbill and before we left a family of Common Crossbills feeding young in the top of a spruce. A beautiful natural woodland was a joy to walk into. At Bonar Bridge the river area had a single Canada Goose and Northern Lapwings on the fields. The road running along Strath Carnaig produced nothing of note this time so I visited The Mound instead. The area was very flooded with the only island holding six Greenshank an uncommon bird into October. The trees along Loch Fleet attracted a mixed feeding flock including Long-tailed Tits. Down by the parking area Greylag and Pink-footed Geese at close range and in the loch itself Red-breasted Merganser. Embo was busy with people on half-term holidays. The low rocks here attracted Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and a single Knot. We ended the day at Loch Eye where hundreds of Whooper Swans had arrived for the winter to join Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and a few Little Grebes.

October 12th: Roseisle, Burghead, Banff, Loch of Strathbeg, Peterhead Harbour, Balmedie.

Weather: Sunny with northeast winds 9 C.

Today we headed east towards Moray and Aberdeenshire with the first stop at Roseisle, coniferous woodland bordering the Moray Firth. On the entrance track we were surprised to find a covey of Grey Partridges an increasingly rare bird in Northern Scotland. At the picnic site sightings of Coal, Great and Crested Tits in the older trees and a calling Common Buzzard. A short walk brought us to a viewpoint overlooking the Moray Firth a prime spot for seaducks. Careful scanning revealed Slavonian Grebe, Common Scoter, Common Eider and Red-breasted Merganser, further out a steady stream of Northern Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Burghead was next on the agenda with exposed rocks attracting Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank and Eurasian Oystercatcher. Offshore a Pomarine Skua harassing kittiwakes and a small party of Long-tailed Ducks flying towards the Cromarty Firth. We were on our way again towards Banff and Buchan a coastal strip of the Aberdeenshire coast. A short stop at Banff produced little of note so I decided to head towards Loch of Strathbeg an extremely important wetland situated between the fishing towns of Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Lunch taken on arrival with the feeders attracting Tree Sparrows. From the visitor centre we had close views of several waders including Common and Spotted Redshanks, Greenshank, Dunlin and Ruff. A walk to the Tower Hide followed with views over the reserve and surrounding farmland. Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle Geese were widespread and common with ‘the pinks’ numbering several thousands. In areas of open water we caught up with the rarer ducks of Northern Scotland notably Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail. In the reedbed calling Reed Buntings and Eurasian Wrens. Later in the afternoon a visit to the hides at the eastern end accessed through the old airfield. From the Fen Hide we searched through the geese and located a Lesser Canada Goose of the form parviceps a scarce visitor from North America. Also present were dozens of Whooper and Mute Swans, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Common Coot and Common Snipe. Our last stop was at Peterhead Harbour which was literally deserted of trawlers and gulls, a rather spooky experience. It was soon time to head towards Aberdeen and our base at Balmedie.

October 13th: Collieston, Ythan Estuary, Newburgh, Haddo Country Park, Loch Miekle.

Weather: Overcast with a stiff south wind 9 C.

Our day started with a visit to the coastal village of Collieston an important migrant trap given the right weather conditions. We started with a short seawatch with sightings of Red-throated Diver, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Northern Gannet, Black-legged Kittiwake and reasonable numbers of Common Guillemots. Afterwards a walk towards the church and the surrounding bushes and gardens. Birds seen included Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird probably all migrants from Scandinavia, Skylark, European Greenfinch and Eurasian Linnet the latter two species forming sizeable flocks. It was time to visit the Ythan Estuary as the tide conditions were ideal for viewing waders. I started at the far end by the fisherman’s bothy which is reached by walking down a lane bordered by trees. Two Barn Swallows flew overhead probably the last of the summer. In the trees and bushes plenty of thrushes and finches whilst the river was starting to fill rapidly. With this in mind a visit to the hide was made where we witnessed hundreds of waders including Northern Lapwing, Golden and Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Dunlin, Common Redshank and Ruff. Picked up supplies in Newburgh and headed along a road towards a sheltered bay. This was very productive for huge numbers of Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and waders. After lunch we headed inland to Haddo Country Park a vast estate dotted with stands of trees and small lochs. A difficult place to work well for birds although we added Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Siskin and the commoner woodland species. We ended the day with another visit to Collieston adding Pomarine Skua to the day list and Loch Miekle where two Long-tailed Ducks, Common Goldeneye and a drake Common Pochard were found.

October 14th: Blackdog, Peterhead, Rattray Head, Loch of Strathbeg.

Weather: Sunny with a south wind 15 C.

First stop was at Blackdog a village north of Aberdeen and overlooking a sector of the North Sea. Parked up and checked the trees adding the commoner birds of the area. From an elevated position in the sand dunes we located large numbers of Red-throated Divers, Common Eiders and Common Scoters on the sea plus the numerous gannets and kittiwakes. Mid-morning we headed north to Peterhead and checked the beach and river area by the golf club. Plenty of gulls here mainly Herring and Common plus Dunlin and Northern Lapwings. A walk on the beach produced Ringed Plovers. Today was proving to be slightly frustrating as the weather was good but bird life thin on the ground. Next on the agenda was Rattray Head which is a famed migration spot reached along a very rough track. A check of the gardens here produced a couple of Goldcrests and a Song Thrush. By the graveyard an elevated position looking into an area of Loch of Strathbeg produced literally hundreds of swans and ducks including the scarce Common Pochard. I decided to revisit the two hides by the radio transmitters, an immature Long-tailed Duck was found which delighted a few people in the hide. From the Bay Hide plenty of Barnacle Geese feeding on a field. Last stop was at the visitor centre where the birdlife was distinctly down from two days ago. Black-tailed Godwits were briefly seen in flight.

October 15th: Bridge of Don, Blackdog, Girdle Ness

Final species total : 126

Weather: Sunny with a strong south wind 14 C.

A later start today as we checked out of our hotel and proceeded to travel south to Bridge of Don which is located just north of Aberdeen. The river held Goosander and the commoner waders whilst the beach had a range of gulls, Ringed Plover and Eurasian Oystercatcher. I then headed north again to Don Barracks to check the trees and bushes for migrants. On arrival we walked slowly around the area searching for birds. The most productive area was a line of berry laden trees which attracted Blackbird, Song and Mistle Thrushes, Redwing, Fieldfare and two male Blackcaps. In the mature trees Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Eurasian Treecreeper. Back to Blackdog where the birds were similar to yesterday morning. Travelled to Aberdeen to make the first drop off and then to Girdle Ness an exposed headland jutting into the North Sea. The rocks here attracted Purple Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone whilst offshore we added two rather late Sandwich Terns, Pomarine and Arctic Skuas and the usual cast of seabirds for the Aberdeenshire coast. It was soon time to drop clients off at Aberdeen railway station and the airport where the tour concluded. All in all an excellent tour although the weather was against us at times.

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