Trip Reports ______________________________________________________




Scotland (Highlands) 2014

...with Mark Finn

April 20th - 24th

This was the first spring tour of our Black isle Birding programme for 2014. The weather had a significant effect on the birding particularly along the east coast where the winds were distinctly chilly and sea har prevailed on several occasions. Despite this the group managed to enjoy some great birds including an immature Little Gull at Loch Fleet. Good numbers of seaducks were present along the coast at Portmahomack whilst on the west coast Golden and White-tailed Eagles were noted with high numbers of Great Northern and Black-throated Divers. Further north in Sutherland and Caithness the first Great Skuas had arrived on Handa and further north at Durness we found scarce breeding ducks notably Northern Shoveler and Gadwall. The cliffs at Dunnet Head attracted the first Atlantic Puffins of the spring. Our day within the Cairngorm and Speyside area produced very few birds mainly down to cold, murky weather. The highlights were a male Ring Ouzel, at least two Scottish Crossbills and a flock of European Golden Plovers in the Findhorn Valley. Red and Black Grouse were both seen at close range along the Farr Road and Corrimony respectably.

April 20th: Achnahalt, Achnasheen, Kinlochewe, Slattadale, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Aultbea, Laide, Gruinard Bay, Dundonnell.

Weather: Sunny with a cold northwest wind 14 C.

We set off at 0800 hours to visit the vast, empty landscapes and stunning scenery of Wester Ross which is dotted with small villages and communities adjacent to the sea. Our first stop was to check the pylon nesting Ospreys which duly obliged sitting atop their bulky nest near Achnahalt. The shallow loch is always worth checking and on this occasion we located Whooper Swans, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Sand Martin, and in the birch scrub dozens of recently arrived Willow Warblers and singing Mistle Thrushes. A short stop at Achnasheen produced little of note so Kinlochewe was visited. The scrub and trees here added a singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Eurasian Siskin and Common Chaffinch. Slattadale failed to produce anything of note as we headed towards the coastal village of Gairloch. The long indented sea loch hosted Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Turnstone, the commoner gulls, European Shag and distant Northern Gannets. I decided we should spend time checking out Loch Ewe a long, long sea loch which laps the shore at the village of Poolewe. The sheltered waters held good numbers of Great Northern and Black-throated Divers, Goosander, two Pale-bellied Brent Geese and in the dunes Twite and dozens of migrating Northern Wheatears. On a ridge an adult White-tailed Eagle gave distant views with Greylag Geese grazing the fields. The group checked Laide and Aultbea before arriving at Loch Gruinard where two Great Skuas were prospecting. The fields had a party of Common Stonechats. The last stop was the tidal flats of Little Loch Broom at Dundonnell where we picked up Greenshank and Common Eiders near the fish farms.

April 21st: Corrimony, Strathpeffer, Portmahomack, Tarbatness, Embo, Loch Fleet, Bonar Bridge.

Weather: Weather: Overcast with cool southeast winds 11 C.

An early departure today in order to meet up with Simon the warden at Corrimony. Arrived at 0600 hours and drove up towards the lek where six male Black Grouse showed at very close range (the second lek held another 12 birds). Also present were displaying Northern Lapwings and Eurasian Curlews calling from the heather. We returned to Dingwall for breakfast with sightings of Red Kite along the route. Afterwards we made the short drive to the spa village of Strathpeffer where the lochans had up to eight Slavonian Grebes in resplendent breeding plumage. The lower lochan also attracted Barn Swallow, House and Sand Martins, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Teal and in the surrounding trees Blackcap and Willow Warbler. On the upper loch singing Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer and overhead calling Lesser Redpolls. Next on the agenda was the arty village of Portmahomack which has a fine track record of birds over the years. Before reaching the village a stop was made to watch a pair of Ospreys with a feeding Treecreeper on the lower branches and at least two pairs of Grey Partridge, an increasingly scarce bird in the Highlands. In Portmahomack we located the seaducks with hundreds of Common Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks and within these vast flocks single drakes of Velvet Scoter and Greater Scaup. Tarbatness is close by and our next birding stop a peninsula dominated by a lighthouse, gorse and old stonewalls. Meadow and a single Tree Pipit by the fence plus the commoner finches and buntings. Offshore a short seawatch added Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Razorbill and Common Guillemot. Overhead a skein of Pink-footed Geese were moving in a northwest direction. Lunch taken and then onto Embo on the opposite side of the firth. The old jetty is a good vantage point and we quickly located Sandwich Terns, Ruddy Turnstone and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. At Loch Fleet the tide and wind had pushed Black-headed Gulls and a single Little Gull into the loch. In the deeper waters Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers. A short stop at The Mound added Common Sandpipers and Eurasian Teal before we took the back road to Bonar Bridge. The loch had a pair of Black-throated Divers and the river at Bonar Bridge a few diving ducks.

April 22nd: Udale Bay, Cairngorm, Loch Morlich, Abernethy, Nethybridge, Findhorn Valley, Farr.

Weather: Overcast with mist on a southeast wind 11 C.

Outside Cygnus House a reeling Grasshopper Warbler was the first of the spring. Before heading south we checked the mud and grass flats by the hide at Udale Bay. Good numbers of Pink-footed Geese were around plus the commoner waders. We passed Inverness and Aviemore before stopping at the lower ski station at Cairngorm. Not much here so we travelled up in the railway to the summit. At the top low cloud and mist made birding impossible. Back down again to find a male Ring Ouzel near the alpine garden. Loch Morlich held a drake Common Goldeneye. Our destination was the Caledonian woodland of Abernethy Forest. The weather was cold and this did affect the birds as the forest was quiet apart from two Scottish Crossbills calling and showing in flight. At Nethybridge a stop by the river added a pair of Dippers. Time was getting on a bit as we headed up the Findhorn Valley stopping at a field where Northern Lapwing, European Golden Plover and Eurasian Curlews were feeding in the lush grass. At the end of the road a single Kestrel was hunting the slopes. We ended the day by watching Red Grouse along the Farr Road..

April 23rd: Ullapool, Kylesku, Scourie, Handa, Balnakiel, Durness.

Weather: Sunny with a warming southeast wind 17 C.

The first of two days spent in Sutherland and Caithness, the most northerly of Scotland's historic counties, began with a visit to Ullapool on the west coast where the shingle spit held the usual gulls and commoner waders. Short stops at Kylesku and Scourie added Common Snipe and Lesser Redpolls and a few Ringed Plovers on the sandy beaches. At 1230 we were on the boat to Handa Island a superb area for nesting seabirds and skuas. On Handa we quickly found the first of many Great Skuas, Northern Wheatears and Meadow Pipits. At the end of the boardwalk you reach the Great Cliff where we had close encounters with a male Red Grouse. On the cliffs Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes and offshore the usual array of auks. Back to the mainland with a Black Guillemot for company and then north again to the settlement of Durness. We walked to Balnakiel Farm a great place for birds. Careful scanning brought us Rock Pigeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Teal and Little Grebe but no rarities or scarce migrants on this visit. Back to the bay with resting Great Northern Divers, Long-tailed Ducks and Sandwich Terns.

April 24th: Kyle of Durness, Balnakiel Bay, Loch Eriboll, Hope Valley, Scrabster, Dunnet Bay,
Dunnet Head, St John's Loch, Broubster Leans.

Final species total: 117

Weather: Sunny with southeast winds 16 C.

A pre-breakfast check of the Kyle of Durness and Balnakiel Bay produced nothing new for the list. Loch Eriboll was next on the agenda a very long indented sea loch dominated by mussel farms. We watched Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Slavonian Grebes, Common Eider and Redbreasted Mergansers. On turning into the Hope Valley a pair of Red-legged Partridges by the road. The birch woods were alive with the sound of Willow Warblers and the commoner finches. We stopped and scanned the ridges for Golden Eagles and were rewarded with distant views of two birds. Back on the main coastal road we travelled to Thurso the largest town in Caithness with a diversion to Scrabster Harbour. The harbour held large numbers of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, Common Eider and Black Guillemot. Picked up supplies and headed to Dunnet Bay for lunch. This sheltered spot always produces birds with all three divers, Long-tailed duck, Common Scoter, Great Skua and Sandwich Tern. St John's Loch added a drake Common Pochard a rare bird in these parts. From the hide we watched the active Black-headed Gull colony plus Little Grebe, Northern Lapwing and Eurasian Oystercatcher. In the quieter parts Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler. Eurasian Wigeon and Common Moorhen. Another diversion to Dunnet Head duly delivered a few Atlantic Puffins below the high sea cliffs. Last stop of the tour was Broubster Leans where we found several Whooper Swans, Common Snipe, Common Raven and several Grey Herons. Then back to Cygnus House, down the A9 after an enjoyable few days in northern Scotland.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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