Trip Reports ______________________________________________________
This was the first of our Scottish tours in 2015 which took place in glorious late winter sunshine albeit with a bitterly cold east wind and rain showers later in the week. Goose numbers started to build up with significant flocks of Pink-footed Geese along the Moray Firth and around Udale Bay. A flock of Barnacle Geese in Wester Ross was notable whilst the sea attracted good numbers of Long-tailed Ducks and Common Eiders. We managed three of the four grouse species present including fabulous views of lekking Black Grouse at Corrimony. Slavonian Grebes were already back on their breeding lochans and in glorious summer plumage. A pair of Golden Eagles were found near Gairloch, a female Merlin west of Wick and at least two Peregrine Falcons patrolling the mudflats at Udale Bay. Waders were thin on the ground with Greenshanks at Loch Fleet. At least two Iceland Gulls were seen at Cullen and Nairn the former being an adult. Common Guillemots and Razorbills were already offshore by their nesting sites. Passerines were generally in short supply with Crested Tits at two locations, migrant groups of Fieldfare and Redwing with the latter delivering a short burst of song. The native forest was productive for Scottish and Common Crossbills, Eurasian Siskin and Lesser Redpoll.
In total we travelled 1250 miles through some of the most spectacular scenery in the British Isles.
March 21st: Inverness, Charonry Point, Eathie, Cromarty Firth, Udale Bay, Strathconon, Strathpeffer.
Weather: Sunny with a cool southeast wind 10 C.
Everybody had arrived in Inverness the night before so we set off from the city centre to the Black Isle where I picked Chris up from a remote house in the forest. Before arriving a Red Squirrel was noted sitting on a wooden fence of a garden. Charonry Point was the first birding stop where the sea held Great Cormorant, European Shag, Red-throated Diver and a summer plumaged Black Guillemot. I then diverted to Eathie a back road which eventually leads to the historic town of Cromarty. The pine woodlands attracted Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinch, European Goldfinch and Eurasian Bullfinch plus several Eurasian Linnets singing from trees. We dropped down to the Cromarty Firth where the calm waters held Greater Scaup, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers. A short stop at Udale Bay added hordes of Eurasian Oystercatchers, Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Curlew and the first flocks of Pink-footed Geese. Many of these birds were disturbed by a hunting Peregrine Falcon. A drive over to Strathconon and up the valley in search of eagles (none on this occasion). We did however locate Grey Wagtail, Common Stonechat and several Common Buzzards. I ended the day at Strathpeffer where we watched Slavonian and Little Grebes, Tufted Duck and Common Moorhen.
March 22nd: Achnahalt, Achnasheen, Kinlochewe, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Mellon Udrigle, Gruinart Bay, Little Loch Broom.
Weather: Overcast with southwest winds 9 C.
Today was spent in the vast wilderness of Wester Ross a sparsely populated area dominated by mountains and indented sea lochs. Our first stop at Achnahalt produced a pair of Goosanders, Whooper Swans and Eurasian Wigeon. Achnasheen produced little of note so we headed to the village of Kinlochewe which is close to Loch Maree. The trees here are worth checking with today producing Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest and several Eurasian Wrens. A diversion to Loch Maree produced nothing so I headed towards Gairloch where a pair of Golden Eagles were found displaying above a distant hill top - great views. At Gairloch another stop was made to view the sea loch of the same name with sightings of Black-headed, Common, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, European Shag and Red-breasted Mergansers. The rocks attracted Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtail. Loch Ewe was next on the agenda where sheltered waters held Great Northern and Black-throated Divers, Northern Gannet and Slavonian Grebe. In the sheep fields we delighted with summer plumaged European Golden Plovers plus Greylag Geese and Meadow Pipits. Stops were made at Laide and Mellon Udrigle but strong winds made birding difficult. At Gruinart Bay a field hosted a flock of Barnacle Geese a fairly uncommon migrant in these parts. Little Loch Broom had the commoner waders as the journey home was made.
March 23rd: Corrimony, Novar, Portmahomack, Tarbatness, Rockfield, Embo, Loch Fleet, Lochbuie, Bonar Bridge.
Weather: Sunny with southwest winds 8 C.
An early departure today for Corrimony where we met up with Simon the reserve warden. A drive into the reserve had us looking at lekking Black Grouse in perfect light at two lek sites. The stillness of the air allowed us to listen to this extraordinary bird on its display grounds. All of us were captivated by the display in stunning surroundings. Other species recorded at Corrimony included Red Grouse, Eurasian Curlew, Goosander, Grey Wagtail and Lesser Redpolls. Back to Dingwall for breakfast and then onto Novar a large estate with a good percentage of natural trees. A walk along the trails was a wonderful experience as we watched the commoner woodland species and displaying Eurasian Siskins. The best was to come when we found a pair of Scottish Crossbills feeding on a Caledonian pine which afforded close views. Nearby in large larch trees we could compare Common Crossbills with their scarcer cousins. The tide at Portmahomack was exceptionally high so I continued down to Tarbatness where we consumed lunch. Around the car park we noted the scarce Eurasian Magpie, skeins of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese, and on the feeders tits, Dunnocks, Yellowhammers and Eurasian Linnets. A diversion to Rockfield was good as it was sheltered from the strong winds. On the sea a single Red-throated Diver, Northern Gannet and Razorbill. The group then travelled north towards Embo where the tide was starting to drop. Offshore a sprat flock was attracting gulls, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemots and seaducks including Common Eider. On the old jetty roosting Ruddy Turnstones and Purple Sandpiper. A drive along Loch Fleet and onto The Mound where we found a group of Common Greenshank at the far end among roosting Eurasian Curlews. I took the road past Lochbuie and towards Bonar Bridge where little of note was seen.
March 24th: Tain, Brora, Helmsdale, Wick, Dunnet Bay, St John's Loch, Dunnet Head, Scrabster, Broubster Leans.
Weather: Rather mixed with southwest winds 8 C.
This morning the group travelled into Sutherland and Caithness in Northern Scotland with the first stop at Tain. A scan of the river mouth revealed the commoner ducks plus a pair of Northern Pintails. Gulls were numerous but no sign of the reported Iceland Gull from yesterday afternoon. Next on the agenda was the sea-front at Brora a noted area for birds. Offshore groups of Long-tailed Duck and Common Eider, Razorbill, Common Guillemot and the common gull species. On the rocks we noted Common Knot, Sanderling, Rock and Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails. A short stop at Helmsdale harbour had little of note so we proceeded to Wick. On arrival at the campground a group of Redwings were seen in the trees with some birds giving short bursts of song. The river held a pair of Goosander, Mallard and Eurasian Wigeon. Time was pressing a little as we exited Wick and travelled towards Castletown a village en route to Thurso. Luck was with us as Tony located a Common Buzzard on a post and close by a female Merlin which gave excellent views before flying off, no doubt an Icelandic bird. Dunnet Bay was strangely quiet today with few birds about apart from a Black-throated Diver. St John's Loch had high numbers of Whooper and Mute Swans, Tufted Duck and Common Goldeneye. From the hide a pair of Gadwall were noted a scarce bird of the north. Dunnet Head was next the most northerly point of mainland Britain where the towering cliffs held good numbers of Northern Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwakes, offshore Common Guillemot and Razorbill were gathering in loose flocks. The group passed through Thurso and onto Scrabster Harbour where the dock gave us close views of Common Eider and Black Guillemot. On exiting the area a Peregrine Falcon was seen over the cliffs. We ended the day at Broubster Leans with brief views of a female Hen Harrier, Common Raven and a few Whooper Swans. Back to base at Cygnus House with a Barn Owl perched by the owl box a fitting end to a great day in the north.
March 25th: Cairngorm, Abernethy, Loch Garten, Farr Road.
Weather: Sunny with west winds 6 C.
Today I went south passing through the Black Isle with migrant Fieldfares and Redwings on telegraph wires. Arrived at Cairngorm and took the train up to the restaurant area which was busy with skiers and snowboarders. Careful scanning revealed a male Rock Ptarmigan feeding on the snow field. Stops were made near Loch Morlich for woodland species and then onto Abernethy an area of native Caledonian forest. The woods were extremely quiet so to Loch Garten where the feeders attracted Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal, Blue and Great Tits and Chaffinch. Nearby a walk into another area of forest finally produced a single Crested Tit feeding high up in the pines. We finished the day by driving slowly along the Farr Road with excellent views of Red Grouse.
March 26th: Portsoy, Cullen, Loch Spynie, Lossiemouth, Burghead, Roseisle, Nairn.
Weather: Overcast with cold northwest winds 6 C.
Portsoy in West Aberdeenshire was the destination today an excellent area for seabirds. On arrival at the harbour a scan of the cold North Sea produced Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and on the many rocks Ruddy Turnstone and Rock Pipit. No sign of the reported White-billed Divers. A short stop at Sandend before scanning the beach at Cullen. Luck was with us as a splendid adult Iceland Gull showed well on the sandy beach. At Loch Spynie the cleared forest had singing Eurasian Wrens, Dunnock and European Robin, and near the hide lots of Reed Buntings feeding on seed. The loch held Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Teal and displaying Common Goldeneyes. On the return walk up to two Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a singing Yellowhammer. Lunch taken at Lossiemouth where we found Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and Eurasian Wigeon. Burghead and Roseisle followed with the now familiar birds offshore plus a few Velvet Scoters. We ended the day at Nairn where another Iceland Gull showed up before flying off eastwards.
March 27th: Nairn, Grantown, Nethybridge, Findhorn Valley, Ness Islands.
Weather: Rather mixed with cool northwest winds 7 C.
Back to Nairn this morning with the tide being much lower than yesterday afternoon. On the beach Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and the first Sandwich Terns of the year. It was time to head towards Grantown and an area of woodland. In the car park views of Scottish Crossbill and Eurasian Siskin and afterwards a slow amble through the forest. Birds were quiet again with the exception of singing Mistle Thrush and parties of Coal Tits. In an area of old trees a pair of Crested Tits gave us great views as they foraged for food on lichen covered branches. Nethybridge and the Findhorn Valley were very quiet probably due to the strong winds and cold so I headed back to Inverness and the Ness Islands. The common woodland species were around and a pair of Eurasian Treecreepers were observed searching for food in a mature tree. A singing Common Chiffchaff was our final species before dropping Tony and Helen at Inverness airport.
This was the second tour of the season concentrating on the Scottish Highlands and the extensive areas north and west of the Black Isle. The week was dominated by low pressure systems which brought rain showers and unseasonal cool winds. Despite this handicap we managed to locate a superb White-billed Diver in full breeding plumage off Portsoy and a steady passage of Great Northern Divers off the west coast. Whooper Swans had started to nest build in a few areas confirming their colonisation of northern Scotland. Slavonian Grebes were also seen at a traditional spot and allowed exceptional views. White-tailed and Golden Eagles were noted in Sutherland. Waders were scattered with the best being eight Dotterel on the top of Cairngorm. A lingering Iceland Gull in Scrabster Harbour was notable whilst on Handa both Great and Arctic Skuas were seen in numbers. Most of the migrant passerines had arrived including a beautiful Wood Warbler in birch forest. A late Redwing was found near Durness whilst Scottish Crossbills showed well at Novar in Easter Ross.
May 9th: Ness Islands, Loch Flemington, Nairn, Cromarty Firth, Udale Bay.
Weather: Rather mixed with a northwest wind 11 C.
The first destination of the tour was Ness Islands which is close to the city centre of Inverness. The fast-flowing river soon gave us views of Dipper and Grey Wagtail whilst the light woodland attracted Long-tailed Tit and the commoner species. Above the city a few Common Swifts were seen, being the only ones of the tour. Loch Flemington is close to the airport and a short stop added Tufted Duck, Common Chiffchaff, Willow and Sedge Warblers. Nairn was next on the agenda but the beach was busy thus limiting the birdlife although the jetty had migrant White Wagtails. On a sand-spit a few Sandwich Terns were noted. After making the final pick-up I crossed over the Kessock Bridge and into the rolling countryside of the Black Isle. At Udale Bay which backs onto our garden we found the last flock of Pink-footed Geese, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew and a hunting Eurasian Sparrowhawk. In the deeper waters the wintering flock of Great Scaup were still present although distant. Back to Cygnus House where the feeders were attracting Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin and good numbers of House and Tree Sparrows.
May 10th: Strathpeffer, Achnahalt, Achnasheen, Kinlochewe, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Gruinard Bay.
Weather: Rain showers on a southwest wind 13 C.
The weather looked bleak as the group set off for Wester Ross a huge under-populated area with mountains and lochs. Strathpeffer was our first stop where the lochans held at least two pairs of Slavonian Grebes. Over the water Barn Swallows and Sand Martins were hawking for insects. In the reedbeds singing Sedge Warblers and in birch scrub Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting. On approaching Achnahalt an Osprey was noted sitting on a pylon next to its huge nest. On the loch a pair of Eurasian Wigeon, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and a singing Tree Pipit. Further along the road at Achnasheen a pair of Black-throated Divers were fishing on a loch - great views. On the road towards Kinlochewe the fence posts attracted Common Stonechat, Common Cuckoo and its favourite host; Meadow Pipit. The rain was getting steadier as we approached Gairloch. In between the showers we found Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Red-breasted Mergansers, Arctic Terns and a few Red-throated Divers offshore. Lunch was taken at Loch Ewe which is long, and protected from the worst of the Atlantic weather systems. A Dipper was seen in flight before disappearing under a bridge. Great Northern Divers were dotted around the loch and the roadside fields attracted European Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Lesser Black-backed Gull and a flock of Skylarks. Short stops at Laide and Gruinard Bay had little of note in the now heavy rain conditions. Headed back to the Black Isle with a Grey Wagtail on the track to Cygnus House.
May 11th: Cairngorm, Portsoy, Cullen. Loch Spynie, Lossiemouth, Burghead, Roiseisle
Weather: Rather mixed with strong southwest winds in the mountains 15 C
Another poor weather forecast as the met office had given us the wrong wind speed in the Cairngorms. Down the A9 passing through Aviemore and a stop at Loch Morlich where Common Goldeneyes were located plus a female Goosander. By the lower car park at Cairngorm a Red Grouse showed well and called whilst the upper area had a pair of Ring Ouzels feeding by the roadside. The rangers confirmed the high winds so I restructured the day by visiting Portsoy which is just in Aberdeenshire. On arrival we scanned the sea and enjoyed a stunning breeding plumaged White-billed Diver, Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Ducks and the commoner gull species. Along the coast at Cullen a pair of Sanderling were feeding along the shore. Back in Moray a visit to Loch Spynie added Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and plenty of Sand Martins and Barn Swallows. In the woodland Grey Herons were observed by their nests plus singing Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Eurasian Wrens. Lossiemouth is close by with the river estuary attracting gulls but little else. Burghead was next where Northern Gannet and Kittiwake were passing offshore. Our final stop at Burghead produced a Eurasian Kestrel, finches and tits within the forest.
May 12th: Corrimony, Strathconon, Novar, Portmahomack, Tarbatness, Tain, Dornoch, Embo, Loch Fleet
Weather: Sunny spells and rain showers. South wind 14 C
An early departure to meet up with Simon at Corrimony. Arrived on time at 5am and drove up into the reserve to watch Black Grouse at two leks. These amazing birds duly obliged strutting around and calling with occasional feathers flying. Also present were Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Song and Mistle Thrushes, Tree Pipit and Lesser Redpoll. We returned to Dingwall for breakfast followed by a diversion to Strathconon where we watched a singing and displaying Wood Warbler at close quarters. A rotten tree stump had attracted a pair of Eurasian Treecreepers to nest. It was time to visit the Novar Estate which is one of the few reliable spots for the endemic Scottish Crossbill. Best located by calls and its love of old native pines three birds were located sitting in the tops feeding on cones. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk spooked everything for a few minutes. Portmahomack was very quiet today so we drove to Tarbatness where to my surprise a Snowy Owl was perched on a post and hunting rabbits across the field (this bird proved to be an escape). At the car park Yellowhammer, Dunnock and Eurasian Linnets were noted. After passing Tain with a short stop on the estuary we diverted towards Dornoch in search of a Kentish Plover which had been reported recently. A long walk down the beach was to no avail apart from Ringed Plovers and Dunlin. Embo had a Whimbrel on the rocks and a party of Common Eiders offshore. Our long day ended at Loch Fleet where we watched the commoner ducks and waders before heading back home.
May 13th: Ullapool, Kylesku, Scourie, Handa, Balnakiel
Weather: Sunny with northeast winds 9 C
This morning we headed west towards the fishing and tourist town of Ullapool. On the grassy waterfront we found a few Twite feeding on dandelion flowers. The road was difficult as several high powered cars were on the same route as us. A diversion to Kylesku provided us with views of Red-throated Divers, Arctic Terns and Red-breasted Mergansers. Scourie is an attractive seaside hamlet with crofts and a sheltered bay where we watched divers, Common Eider and several species of gulls. A small reedbed had singing Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings. A short drive away and we arrived at Tarbet the departure point for Handa Island, it was busy today as two days of bad weather had prevented any boat trips. On the island we walked towards the great cliff recording Great and Arctic Skuas, calling Red-throated Divers, Common Snipe and Common Stonechats. On arrival at the cliffs we watched Northern Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffins. The songs of Eurasian Wrens could be heard from crevices in the cliffs. On the return boat trip several groups of Black Guillemots. It was time to head north to Durness the most north-westerly village in Britain. A scan of the bay produced Great Northern Divers, Long-tailed Ducks and Sandwich Terns resting on the sandy beach. After a dinner of fish and chips a visit to the water meadows of Balnakiel Farm a truly magical place for birds - the last field in the mainland UK. In the water meadows Pink-footed Geese, Whooper Swans, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Little Grebes. The water levels were high so wader species only included Common Redshank.
14th: Balnakiel Bay, Kyle of Durness, Loch Eriboll, Hope Valley, Sandside
Bay, Dunnet Bay, St John's
A pre-breakfast birding trip to Kyle of Durness where we located a Redwing feeding in a meadow, probably a late migrant although they do breed not far away. A quick look at the bay revealed the same birds of yesterday afternoon. After breakfast we followed the coast road towards Loch Eriboll when Dominic located a first year White-tailed Eagle soaring overhead. This was a surprise find as the nearest (unconfirmed) birds reside south of Handa. Loch Eriboll had Great Northern and Red-throated Divers and displaying Common Sandpipers by the shore. As we turned into the Hope Valley I mentioned to everyone 'watch out for ravens' as they often give away the presence of eagles. No sooner had I muttered these words when a pair of Golden Eagles started to hunt over the hillside and then joined by a first year bird. We returned to the main road running east passing through Tongue and Bettyhill before visiting Sandside Bay. Not much around so a visit to Scrabster Harbour was next. This paid off as a first year Iceland Gull gave good views in the harbour with Common Eiders. Picked up supplies in Thurso and headed east again to Dunnet Bay. There appeared to be a massive clearout of birds apart from a distant flock of Common Scoters. St John's Loch with its modern hide gave us close views of nesting Sandwich Terns, Black-headed and Common Gulls but no rare ducks or waders on this visit. Dunnet Head is the most northerly point in the UK where we watched Arctic Skuas patrolling the cliff tops and auks sitting on the sea below including a good number of Atlantic Puffins. Time was getting on as I started the journey south via the flow country of Sutherland a difficult place to access due to few roads. Luck was with us as a pair of Common Crossbills were feeding in a single pine located in a garden. A female Hen Harrier was also seen before disappearing out of sight.
May 15th: Cairngorm, Abernethy, Loch Garten, Findhorn Valley
Weather: A mix of sunshine in the mountains followed by rain on a southwest wind 9 C
Our last day was a revisit to the Cairngorm Mountains where thankfully the wind had dropped. On the lower slopes of the mountain we located Red Grouse and Ring Ouzels easily. The group joined the first train up and exited the building (I have a birdwatching guide permit) otherwise you have to walk up. Snow was still lying on the ground but it was really quite warm in the sunshine. A few Meadow Pipits were around and then Marion located Eurasian Dotterel on the highest points. Up to eight birds were seen having recently arrived from their North African wintering grounds. Rock Ptarmigan were being more difficult until a pair were located feeding quietly among the rock scree, thankfully another bird displayed and landed in a snow field. It was time to drop down to the centre and visit Loch Garten with the weather slowly getting worse. A visit to the hide gave us views of Osprey, Great Spotted Woodpecker and other woodland birds with summer visitors being very scarce. I made the decision to visit the Findhorn Valley hoping the weather would improve. The fields had Northern Lapwing, displaying Eurasian Curlew and Mistle Thrushes. By a house we found three Spotted Flycatchers hawking for insects and a pair of Red-legged Partridges which scuttled into cover. The strong winds at the head of the valley made birding tough with a male Eurasian Kestrel being the best bird. I decided to call it a day and headed back to the Black Isle for the final night.
Our annual autumn tour of the Scottish Highlands yielded 126 species of birds in a week of unseasonal settled weather. The weather conditions were not what we wanted at this time of the year but despite this an enjoyable week for the group. Highlights included a good passage of Arctic Skuas at Charonry Point on the first morning. In Wester Ross a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese was notable for the number of juveniles present the best for many years. Three species of grouse were noted with exceptional views of Rock Ptarmigans at Cairngorm. Within Loch Ewe a large group of Black-throated Divers was notable along with an adult White-tailed Eagle. Raptor sightings included a few rarities with at least two Northern Goshawks and Golden Eagles in two locations. A Grey Plover at Udale Bay was notable only the second record for the Black Isle for me in 12 years. A party of Ruff at Hopeman was a good record for the region whilst rarer gulls included Little at Brora and an adult Mediterranean on the last morning at Nairn. Juvenile Atlantic Puffin off Charonry Point was an unusual record as this species is rarely seen outside the breeding season. Bad weather on the first morning produced a Common Swift near Cromarty. Barn Swallows and House Martins were abundant during the first few days heading south. Passerines of note included Crested Tits on the Black Isle, late Willow Warbler and Common Chiffchaff in our garden, a group of 20 Snow Buntings on top of Cairngorm, Scottish and Common Crossbills at the Novar Estate, Twite at Loch Ewe and finally a flock of Lesser Redpolls near Culbokie.
September 12th: Inverness, Charonry Point, Udale Bay, South Sutor, Black Isle Forest, Redcastle.
Weather: Rather mixed with an easterly wind 15 C.
I picked the group up from Inverness (with Rita and Peggy arriving later in the day by train). The weather conditions were good for Charonry Point with an easterly wind pushing birds close in-shore. On arrival we quickly noted a passage of Arctic Skuas plus high numbers of Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Sandwich and Arctic Terns and the commoner gulls. Just offshore a few Common Guillemots and close views of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. I decided to visit Udale Bay as the tide was starting to rise pushing waders onto the large roosting area of grassland. Overhead above average numbers of Barn Swallows and House Martins including many juvenile birds. The shallow waters attracted Mallard, Common Teal and Eurasian Wigeon whist waders included Common Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Eurasian Curlew, Common Knot, and Northern Lapwing. Beyond Jemimaville the deeper water channels had Slavonian Grebe, Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Eider. A diversion to South Sutor added a very late Common Swift and a female Common Stonechat. A change of habitat was made as a visit to the Black Isle forest was planned. A short walk through the forest added roving flocks of birds including Crested Tits and Eurasian Siskins. Time was starting to pass us by as we visited the mudflats of the Beauly Firth where we located the only Black-tailed Godwit of the week, Dunlin and a group of immature Goosanders. Picked up Peggy and Rita and returned to Cygnus House our base for the week.
September 13th: Nairn, Roseisle, Burghead, Hopeman, Lossiemouth, Loch Spynie, Udale Bay.
Weather:Sunny with southerly winds 17 C.
The feeders at Cygnus House set us up perfectly for a great days birding along the Moray coast. The feeders attracting Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Siskin, Tree and House Sparrows, various tits and finches with the grass lawns having Eurasian Blackbird and Song Thrush. Nairn was the next destination with its sand beaches, jetty and views into the Moray Firth. The latter having Northern Gannet, Sandwich Tern and Common Guillemot. The east beach was more productive with a large gull roost, Bar-tailed Godwits and Sanderling scuttling around the tide line. On the River Nairn a group of Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Wagtails and a single White-throated Dipper. Roseisle had little of note apart from some distant Common Scoters and Crested Tits in the pine trees. Burghead on this occasion was strangely birdless so I advanced to the pig farm at Hopeman where a flock of Ruff showed by the roadside. Before reaching Lossiemouth we added Eurasian Magpie. Red-legged Partridge, Eurasian Linnet and Northern Wheatear. Lunch by the estuary at Lossiemouth followed by a visit to Loch Spynie where we added Little Grebe and Tufted Duck to the trip list. Back to the Black Isle and a return visit to Udale Bay with Eurasian Jay en route a recent colonist to the islands. At Udale Bay similar birds were present to the previous day but in lower numbers.
September 14th: Corrimony, Dingwall, Novar Estate, Barbaraville, Portmahomack, Tarbatness, Embo, Loch Fleet.
Weather: Sunny with a southwest wind 17 C.
An early start today as we headed towards Loch Ness and onto the RSPB Reserve at Corrimony. I met up with Simon the warden and made the short journey up towards the first of the two lekking areas. On the way we encountered Mistle and Song Thrushes and two Red Grouse in flight. The lek areas had long grass which was not good for the grouse but we eventually obtained good views of this declining species. Afterwards I headed back to Dingwall for breakfast followed by a visit to the academy and paddling pool for the returning Ring-billed Gull (not present on this occasion). Novar Estate was next on the agenda a large forested area of native and introduced trees. A walk along the trails here produced flocks of the localised Scottish Crossbill and a few Common Crossbills with the former best located by their distinctive calls and love of feeding in native pines. Apart from crossbills the group located Eurasian Siskin, Goldcrest, Coal Tit and a soaring Red Kite. Our next stop was at Barbaraville which is reached by going through Invergordon with its visiting cruise liners. A scan into the Cromarty Firth revealed Slavonian Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders and on the old jetties Common Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits. The journey continued to the coastal village of Portmahomack where Tim located a Rock Pipit and offshore a winter-plumaged Black Guillemot. Visits to Tarbatness, Embo and Loch Fleet produced the commoner birds plus an Arctic Skua. We ended the day at Udale Bay with Ospreys fishing in the bay and a Red-throated Diver in the deep water channels.
September 15th: Brora, Wick, Scarmlate, Dunnet Bay, St John's Loch, Dunnet Head, Broubster Leans, Scotsburn.
Weather: Sunny with a south wind 18 C
Today was spent visiting the many and varied birding spots of extreme Northern Scotland in the counties of Sutherland and Caithness. Before leaving Cygnus House an immature Willow Warbler and a singing Common Chiffchaff were added to the birdlist. Brora was the first birding spot and a reliable place to locate uncommon and rare birds. On arrival a check of the shore added the usual species and two Grey Wagtails. In the river mouth we had exceptional views of a first year Little Gull. The road goes up to the small town of Wick which is quite depressed in nature with its heyday many decades ago. The River Wick however always produces a few good birds with this visit producing a migrant Northern Goshawk, Goosander, Eurasian Wigeon and late House Martins. I decided to visit Loch Scarmlate where the local farmer came out to see us as is his nature. Discussed a few things about birds on the loch and the state of the cereal crop and when it was to be harvested. The loch itself had impressive numbers of Tufted Ducks, Common Coot, a late Northern Wheatear and singing Eurasian Skylarks. It was time for lunch as we approached Dunnet Bay a sheltered spot by the Pentland Firth which separates the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. A scan of the bay revealed Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Common Knot, Ruddy Turnstone and hordes of Herring Gulls. A brief stop at St John's Loch added Common Goldeneye and Dunnet Head a Great Skua. The end of the day was spent visiting Broubster Leans and Scotsburn with the latter having a splendid male Hen Harrier. Back to base after a long day in the north.
September 16th: Cairngorm, Findhorn Valley, Farr Road Ruthven.
Weather: Mixed with southwest winds 4 C/12 C
A change of scene and habitats today as I travelled south to Aviemore and up the mountain towards Cairngorm. The group caught the first train up to the restaurant and walked out onto the mountain (I have one of the few licenses to take groups out onto the summit). Mist and low cloud were swirling about making birding difficult but luck was with us as a party of Snow Buntings landed in front of us to feed and perch on snow fences. It took a little while to locate Rock Ptarmigans walking around the bare ground and low grasses. Best was to come when four birds flew in showing their white wings in flight. All of us were pleased with the high mountain birds so I headed towards the Findhorn Valley for lunch. On the river Grey Wagtail, White-throated Dipper, Common Gull and in nearby trees a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker. At the end of the valley we parked up and scanned the hillsides and valley finding two Golden Eagles, Red Kite, Common Buzzard and Eurasian Kestrels. Next was the Farr Road where we had very close views of Red Grouse numbering around forty birds in total. Our final birding spot was the road running past Loch Ruthven with the loch holding Slavonian Grebe, Tufted Duck, Common Raven and migrating House Martins and Barn Swallows.
September 17th: Dingwall, Achnahalt, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Mellon Udrigle, Udale Bay.
Weather: Overcast with southerly winds 16 C
Today the group headed westwards into the wilds and wilderness of Wester Ross. On the entrance track to Cygnus House we caught up with Yellowhammer, Song and Mistle Thrushes. Passed through Dingwall and to the hamlet of Achnahalt. A stop here and scan over the extensive wetlands produced a surprise in a pair of adult White-tailed Eagles and on the distant ridge a Golden Eagle. A female Eurasian Bullfinch showed well in a birch tree. The journey towards Gairloch passed through spectacular scenery and a stop at the head of Loch Gairloch (sea loch). On the beach and rocks we found Great Cormorant, European Shag, Rock Pipit, Ringed Plover and Ruddy Turnstone. Further along the coast our attention was on Loch Ewe which attracts good birds and on this occasion we were greeted by a flying adult White-tailed Eagle. A walk along the beach produced feeding Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Oystercatcher. Best of all in offshore waters were at least forty Black-throated Divers, Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Red-breasted Mergansers. As we walked back to the bus a party of Twite flew over and landed in front of us to feed on grass seeds. Laide Jetty was next where Rita located a migrant flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese including a good number of juveniles. Offshore an immature Pomarine Skua showed well. Mellon Udrigle had nothing of note so I headed home via Udale Bay. A great days birding in Wester Ross.
September 18th: Black Isle, Strathpeffer, Knockfarrell, Lochussie, Tollie, Udale Bay, Charonry Point.
Weather: Sunny with cool north winds 17 C
The last full day in the Scottish Highlands started with a stop on the remote and rarely used central road. An area of fruiting trees, scrub and grasses was attracting a lot of birds. Careful scanning through the flocks revealed Eurasian Bullfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Eurasian Siskin, European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch and Common Chaffinch. A stop at the old cemetery near Alcaig added another two Ospreys sitting on posts plus the more widespread ducks and waders. Knockfarrell and Lochussie held a few birds including Common Crossbill and Long-tailed Tits whilst the open waters of the latter had Goosander and Common Goldeneyes. A short diversion to Tollie for Red Kites and then back to Udale Bay for the high tide roost. The birds had changed a little since our last visit and included European Golden and Grey Plovers on this visit. Another scan into the firth had similar species so I headed towards Charonry Point. The only birds of note here were a juvenile Atlantic Puffin and a few Arctic Terns offshore.
September 19th: Black Isle, Ness Islands, Nairn.
Weather: Sunny with light south winds 17 C
Basically a travel day with the exception of Beryl, Avril and Tim whose flight was leaving in the afternoon to Bristol. A walk around the Ness Islands produced a White-throated Dipper and Grey Wagtail. I decided to revisit Nairn and the east beach where luck was with us as an adult Mediterranean Gull was roosting on the beach before flying off. The tour concluded at lunchtime another enjoyable and rewarding adventure in the Scottish Highlands had ended.
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