Trip Reports ______________________________________________________

 

 

Scotland (Highlands) 2018 (1 of 3)


...with Mark Finn

May 21st - 28th


This was the last of the three week-long tour taking place in May. The group had several highlights which included scarce and uncommon birds in Northern Scotland. We were fortunate to see lingering winter geese which included Pink-footed and Barnacle. Scarce breeding species of the north comprised of Whooper Swan, Wood Sandpiper and Common Goldeneye. In the mountains scarce species included Rock Ptarmigan, Ring Ouzel, Snow Bunting and a pair of Eurasian Dotterel. The Slavonian Grebes continue to hang on whilst a female Hen Harrier near Thurso was a bonus. Crested Tits started to appear again after the main breeding time and Wood Warblers entertained us in the birch woods. Red and Scottish Crossbills seen on the final day was a welcome sight.

I am sure the following report and birdlist will bring memories of an enjoyable tour in the Highlands.

Our next spring trips take place in May 2019 details will be on www.birdwatchingbreaks.com

May 21st: Nairn, Burghead, Lossiemouth, Loch Spynie
Weather: Cloudy with rain showers on a NW wind 12
c

I started the tour by picking up Harry and Rochelle in Inverness and Graham at the airport. From here I travelled east towards the coastal town of Nairn. A walk along the east beach jetty allows views into the Moray Firth and adjacent beaches and river. On the beach a good selection of gulls including Great Black-backed, Herring, Black-headed and Common. Overhead views of Barn Swallow, House Martin and several Common Swifts. A visit to the nearby Nairn River revealed a pair of Mute Swans with newly hatched cygnets, Goosander, Grey Wagtail, Eurasian Wren, Eurasian Blackbird and Song Thrush. It was time to move on towards the Pictish capital of Burghead where the rocky foreshore and offshore waters attract birds. On arrival a pair of Rock Pipits showed well on the cliffs and among the sea thrift. Offshore a steady stream of seabirds included Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, European Shag, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Sandwich Tern and groups of Common Guillemots. A few waders were seen including Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. Lossiemouth is further east with the pig farm attracting Lesser Black-backed Gulls in their splendid summer plumage. A pair of Red-legged Partridges were also seen before arriving at Lossiemouth east beach. Literally hundreds of gulls here comprising the commoner species. Inland is Loch Spynie which has recently come under the management of the RSPB. The woodland and scrubby area before the loch was good for Willow Warbler, European Robin, Common Chaffinch and Dunnock. From the hide Common and Arctic Terns on the raft plus Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Common Moorhen on the loch itself. Nearby the feeders attracted Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great, Coal and Blue Tits and European Greenfinch. On the return walk we noted Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Yellowhammer. Back to Inverness railway station to pick up Brian and onto Cygnus House our base for the week.

May 22nd: Strathconon, Achnahalt, Achnasheen, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Gruinard Bay
Weather: Cloudy with a cool NE wind 12c

Today I headed westwards to the remote and sparsely populated area of Wester Ross. I made the decision to visit Strathconon along the route which paid dividends as a male Wood Warbler was in full song among the birch trees. Nearby a Common Cuckoo flew past before disappearing into the forest. Next on the agenda was the birding hot-spot of Achnahalt. On arrival a scan of this shallow loch and marsh revealed Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon and hawking Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. Further along the road another stop added Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Eurasian Teal and a singing Reed Bunting. In a patch of woodland a singing Common Chiffchaff and Common Buzzard hovering over an open area. I progressed to the village of Gairloch and the loch of the same name. Red-breasted Mergansers offshore and a wide range of gulls loafing on the beach. Loch Ewe is always a good place for finding birds and today was no exception as Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers were present in the upper part of this long sea loch. Lunch was taken at the campground with a White Wagtail on the beach and two European Golden Plovers on the beach with Dunlin and Ringed Plover. After lunch a pair of Twite perched on a fence allowing good views. Our last stops were at Laide and Gruinard Bay where the group located a late Whimbrel and Rock Pigeons. In the sheltered part of the sea Northern Gannet, Common and Black Guillemots and flocks of Arctic Terns heading north.

May 23rd: Corrimony, Cairngorm, Loch Morlich, Findhorn Valley, Farr Road
Weather: Sunny with a S wind 6c/19c

An early start today to Corrimony where I met up with Simon the warden. By 0515 the group were watching lekking Black Grouse at close range. This fascinating experience is one of the best in Britain as you are very close to these extraordinary birds. Also present in the adjacent area were Mistle and Song Thrushes, Willow Warbler and Tree Pipit. On the return journey a stop in the oak-woods produced views of a male Common Redstart, Crested and Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrest. Breakfast was taken in Inverness and then down the A9 to Cairngorm National Park via the tourist town of Aviemore. Once at Cairngorm we joined the railway to the top and embarked on a walk towards the summit. The birds were playing hard to get this morning apart from Northern Wheatear and Meadow Pipit. At the summit a change of luck as a pair of Rock Ptarmigan were playing hide and seek behind a large boulder - good views in the end. I then had news about a pair of Eurasian Dotterel which meant going back up the trail for 500m. Close views in the end of this beautiful mountain bird. Things got even better as two pairs of Snow Buntings were located close to the path, this can be a very tricky bird to find in the park. Back down to the car park where a male Ring Ouzel was collecting food on a grassy bank. A short stop at Loch Morlich added Common Goldeneye, Goosander, Common Sandpiper and Black-headed Gull to the day list. It was time to visit the Findhorn Valley where the lower sheep fields held Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew and Meadow Pipit. On the river views of White-throated Dipper and Grey Wagtail. No raptors today so a slow drive along the Farr Road with confiding Red Grouse for company a fitting end to a long day.

May 24th: Ullapool, Kylesku, Scourie, Handa, Balnakiel
Weather: Sunny with SW winds 7c/19c

I left Cygnus House for Ullapool just before 0800 hours. The drive went fairly quickly despite heavy traffic caused by road works. At Ullapool a stop at the point revealed Red-throated Diver, European Shag and Common Eider offshore. The gull roost had Great Black-backed, Herring, Common and a Glaucous Gull. Our journey passed through spectacular countryside towards Kylesku a hamlet with scenic views towards the mountains. A rocky islet held Arctic Terns whilst the mussel farm was attracting Common Eider and Black Guillemot. At Scourie a croft gave us views of a Sedge Warbler singing and displaying from a bush. On the other side of the inlet a reedbed had Reed Bunting, Eurasian Wren and a Spotted Flycatcher in the manse gardens. It was time to visit Handa and its impressive seabirds. The weather ensured the island was overflowing with tourists so the group had to wait for a ferry. Once on Handa we had great views of Great and Arctic Skuas and on the cliffs Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Northern Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwake. On this visit the Atlantic Puffins were playing hard to get but eventually good views at the Great Cliff. Back to the mainland and up to Durness. I dropped supplies off at the guest house and visited Balnakiel Bay which was rather quiet today apart from four Wood Sandpipers on a seasonal pool. Dinner taken and off to Balnakiel again with a visit to the farm and marsh. A lot had happened in the last week as fewer birds were present. Careful scanning revealed Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Northern Lapwing, Northern Shoveler and Gadwall with the last two species being uncommon in Northern Scotland. Another look in the bay where a few Great Northern Divers had appeared since our afternoon visit.

May 25th: Hope Valley, Sandside Bay, Scrabster, Dunnet Bay, St John's Pool, Broubster Leans
Weather: Cloudy with a cool NE wind 6c/14c

After breakfast I headed along the coastal road towards the Hope Valley. En route we encountered a family of Common Stonechats and numerous Northern Wheatears. On entering the Hope Valley a Whooper Swan was located in a marsh with its mate hidden in cover no doubt. Common Snipe were calling but no sign of the resident Golden Eagles on this particular visit. I decided to take the inland route to Bettyhill which takes in some of the remotest parts of Britain. Near the end of the road near Bettyhill I located a Whinchat singing from the top of an oak tree, excellent views of this declining summer visitor. In the village a calling Lesser Redpoll and the commoner birds. Sandside Bay was reached where the beach attracted Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Eurasian Oystercatcher. Within the bay Northern Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and a single Atlantic Puffin. Picked up lunch in Thurso after visiting Scrabster with its Common Eiders and numerous gulls. At Dunnet Bay the sheltered waters held Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Great and Arctic Skuas and a group of Common Scoters. St John's Pool is always a delight to visit with close views of Black-headed and Common Gulls, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns, Common Redshank and a few ducks - Northern Shoveler and Tufted Duck. I decided to visit Broubster Leans before heading south. This paid off as we watched a female Hen Harrier quartering over the marsh for prey.

May 26th: Poorhouse Wood, Feshiebridge, Findhorn Valley, Udale Bay
Weather: Sunny with NE winds 8c/20c

Down the A9 this morning to Grantown-on-Spey and a walk through the native pinewoods at Poorhouse Wood. In the car park singing Goldcrests. The group spent almost two hours walking the trails in search of birds with sightings of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great, Coal and Crested Tits, Tree Pipit and Mistle Thrush. I then moved onto Feshiebridge for another walk in similar forest. Not too much here on this visit with the meadows holding Northern Lapwing, Greylag Goose, hunting Common Buzzards and displaying Meadow Pipits. A diversion to the Findhorn Valley had similar results to a few days ago. We ended the day at Udale Bay where Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese fed on the salt marsh, late migrants as they were gone the next day. A drake Eurasian Wigeon was feeding in the burn and an Osprey perched on a distant post. Further searches towards Cromarty added Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Whimbrel for the day.

May 27th: Strathpeffer, Embo, Loch Fleet, The Mound, Brora, Novar Estate
Weather: Sunny with a cool E wind 9c/16c

Our final full day of the tour started with a trip to the two lochans which make up Strathpeffer. On arrival the lower lochan and surrounds held a singing Whinchat and a hunting Red Kite. On the water several Little Grebes, Common Coot and Mallard. A short drive away is the upper lochan where we located Slavonian Grebes in their superb summer plumage. A group of Common Swifts flew overhead before disappearing from sight. It was time to visit Embo and the high tide birds which roost on the rocky shore. At Embo we passed through the campsite and walked along the old jetty. A little bit of searching revealed a party of Bar-tailed Godwits, Red Knot, Dunlin and Sanderling. Offshore waters held European Shag, Great Cormorant and Common Eider. A drive followed along Loch Fleet and towards The mound an enclosed area where the water level is controlled by gates. The mud areas held Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew, Pink-footed Goose, Red-breasted Merganser and Goosander. I then took the back route to Bonar Bridge after visiting Brora. From here it is only a short distance to the mature pinewoods of the Novar Estate. On entering the car park close up views of a Spotted Flycatcher sallying for insects. The walk through the forest produced the common woodland species, Tree Pipit and a party of Common Crossbills. Our persistence eventually paid off as a Scottish Crossbill was located sitting quietly in a mature pine. Back to Cygnus House where the tour concluded for the week.

Scotland (Highlands) 2017 (2 of 3)


...with Mark Finn

May 13th - 20th


This was the second of three one-week tours in the Scottish Highlands. The group had many highlights during the course of the week which included several interesting species.

May 13th: Udale Bay, Cromarty Firth, Eathie, Charonry Point
Weather: Sunny with a SE wind 14c

Due to arrival times today was a little fragmented for birding as I had to visit Inverness airport and some clients were arriving by road in the afternoon. Our tour started at Udale Bay which is on our doorstep. A few Pink-footed Geese were lingering on the mud and grass banks plus Northern Lapwing, Common Shelduck, Herring and Common Gulls and the ever-present Eurasian Oystercatchers. A drive towards Cromarty revealed little and I decided to visit Charonry Point which is near Fortrose. The tidal conditions were not ideal but we picked up a few seabirds notably Black-legged Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern and Common Guillemot. Back to base for dinner with a day planned in Wester Ross tomorrow.

May 14th: Achnahalt, Achnasheen, Slatterdale, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Mellon Udrigle, Gruinard Bay
Weather: Sunny with a S wind 16c

The feeders at Cygnus House were full of birds this morning including large numbers of Eurasian Siskins and Tree Sparrows. Along the entrance track the song of Yellowhammers was everywhere. After breakfast I set off towards the wild and remote country of Wester Ross a beautiful area with a low population and some stunning birds. En route the Grey Partridges were still in the same field from a week ago so a short stop was made to watch this scarce species of the Highland region. We were soon at the first stop at Achnahalt a large area of wetlands interspersed by birch scrub, marsh and fast-flowing rivers. A scan from an elevated point revealed a pair of Whooper Swans, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, and along the loch shore Common Sandpiper and Common Greenshank. A Common Cuckoo flew past being pursued by Meadow Pipits. In the distance a pair of Golden Eagles were hunting on a mountain slope. Also present were Canada and Greylag Geese, Osprey, Lesser Redpoll and Common Stonechat. Further along the road another stop had displaying and singing Wood Sandpipers, Common Snipe and a showy Tree Pipit. A short diversion at Achnasheen added a pair of Red-throated Divers and Common Buzzard. Our travels took us westwards towards the coastal community of Gairloch via Slatterdale the latter having nothing of note today. On arriva in Gairloch we quickly located Great Northern and Black-throated Divers in breeding dress, Red-breasted Mergansers, Arctic Tern, European Shag and a distant Great Skua by a fishing boat. On the beach Ringed Plover and Dunlin plus two Common Eiders resting among the rocks. Loch Ewe was next on the agenda with a stop at a campsite. This is a good spot for birding as on arrival a Whimbrel was noted in the dunes. In a cattle paddock close views of Twite a localised bird which prefers crofts to feed in. Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Skylark and Meadow Pipits were common in the grasses whilst Sand Martins were nesting in the river bank. Down the road a field was full of waders which included a summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper a rare migrant in spring. Other waders included European Golden Plover, Dunlin and Eurasian Curlew. Further stops at Laide and Mellon Udrigle added Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillemot, White Wagtail and fishing Northern Gannets. Gruinard Bay had several divers in small groups before going back home.


May 15th: Corrimony, Cairngorm, Loch Morlich, Findhorn Valley, Farr Road
Weather: Sunny with SE winds 17c

Due to weather conditions I changed the itinerary for today. An early start was required as we headed to Corrimony to meet up with Simon on the reserve at 0500 hours. The group were soon watching the amazing display of Black Grouse on their lekking grounds at close quarters. On the loch Red-throated Diver, Canada and Greylag Geese. A drive to the turning circle was productive as a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk perched in a tree. At the circle a pair of Scottish Crossbills showed well in a dead pine along with Willow Warbler, Lesser Redpoll, Tree Pipit, Eurasian Wren and flying views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. On the return route a Common Greenshank flew across the loch. A stop in the woodland was once again productive with sightings of Spotted Flycatcher, Eurasian Treecreeper and Coal Tit. In the oaks a Common Redstart gave us the run-around before showing in the top of a dead tree. Further along the track a Grey Wagtail was seen flying upstream. Breakfast was taken in Inverness and then down the A9 towards the Cairngorm National Park passing through Aviemore. By the mountain railway a male Ring Ouzel showed well feeding in the open on the lower car park. Once up the mountain the wind had eased as we started a walk towards the summit. Birding was slow to start with until a pair of Snow Buntings were located close to the path. At the top several Rock Ptarmigans were seen in flight and displaying. Luck was with us on the downhill section as a pair of Eurasian Dotterel landed nearby and started to feed. A late lunch was taken by Loch Morlich with Common Goldeneye, Goosander and Black-headed Gulls for company. In the afternoon a visit to Findhorn Valley proved to be quiet apart from White-throated Dippers, Common Buzzard, Northern Lapwing and close views of Mistle Thrushes. The last birding was along the Farr Road with close views of Red Grouse. Luck was with us again as the local gamekeeper stopped to show us a juvenile White-tailed Eagle perched in the heather. Great views of the bird on the ground and in flight a fitting end to a great day.

May 16th: Ullapool, Kylesku, Scourie, Handa, Balnakiel
Weather: Sunny with NW winds 16c

Today we set off to Ullapool and NW Sutherland via Handa. The first stop in Ullapool held the commoner gulls and seabirds so I carried on towards the cliffs south of Kylesku. Thankfully the Peregrine Falcon was still around but much quieter on this visit. Kylesku had a pair of Red-throated Divers, Common Eider, Arctic Terns and several Common Sandpipers. On arrival at Scourie i was amazed to see a pair of Black-throated Divers in the harbour. On the beach a pair of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin. Lunch was taken by the reedbed with singing Sedge Warblers and a Spotted Flycatcher in the manse gardens. The group reach Tarbet for the afternoon ferry across to Handa Island. This is an exceptional place for birds with the boardwalk towards the Great Cliff producing close views of Great and Arctic Skuas. The cliffs themselves attracted thousands of Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake and a few Atlantic Puffins. At 1600 hours a return to Tarbet and off to Durness and the hot spot of Balnakiel. Great Northern Divers and Sandwich Terns in the bay. Checked in at the guest house for an evening meal of fish and chips and back out again at 2000 hours. The water meadows had Little Grebe, calling Water Rail, Common Redshank and Wood Sandpiper. A late Black-tailed Godwit was seen feeding in a sheep field. The most unusual bird was a summer plumaged Little Stint feeding on a small island.

Scotland (Highlands) 2017 (3 of 3)


...with Mark Finn

May 1st - 7th


This was the first of three consecutive tours featuring the Scottish Highlands. A wide range of species were noted during the week including a lingering White-billed Diver off Portsoy. Waders were well represented with a moulting Curlew Sandpiper at Udale Bay and displaying Wood Sandpipers in Wester Ross. In the Cairngorm Mountains we had encounters with Eurasian Dotterel, Rock Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Ring Ouzel. At Portsoy a lingering White-billed Diver showed well offshore from the harbour.
I am sure the following trip report and birdlist will bring back many happy memories of an excellent tour. See our website for spring dates in 2019 at www.birdwatchingbreaks.com

May 5th: Nairn, Udale Bay, Cromarty Firth, Eathie, Charonry Point
Weather: Rather cloudy with a SW wind 16c

After collecting clients in Inverness and at the airport I made the short journey east to Nairn. A walk along the east jetty allowed us close views of gulls, Bar-tailed Godwit and newly arrived House Martins. A check on the river revealed Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and both Pied and Grey Wagtails. I returned to Cygnus House for lunch where Arthur and Mary were waiting for us. The entrance track held several Willow Warblers, Northern Wheatear and singing Yellowhammers. A Red Kite flew over the house as we travelled towards the hide at Udale Bay. This proved to be a good move as thousands of Pink-footed Geese were on the move. Also present were Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Skylark and Meadow Pipit plus an unusual spring migrant in a moulting Curlew Sandpiper. Further down the road towards Cromarty I stopped for the Greater Scaup flock which numbered around 400 birds offshore. The back road to Eathie produced nothing of note before arriving at Charonry Point. This proved to be good with sightings of Long-tailed Duck, Arctic Tern, Black-legged Kittiwake and Common Guillemots.

May 6th: Strathconon, Strathpeffer, Brora, Loch Fleet, Embo, Nigg Bay
Weather: Rather mixed with a cool NE wind 8c/16c

Usual birds on the feeders at Cygnus House plus a male Great Spotted Woodpecker the first for a few days. Our first birding stop was the silver birch woods of Strathconon. En route a pair of Grey Partridge were observed near Alcaig. On arrival at Strathconon the woods held singing Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Eurasian Siskin and Common Cuckoo. A walk down towards the loch added Common Sandpiper, Goosander and Grey Wagtail. Strathpeffer allowed us close views of Slavonian and Little Grebes, Barn Swallow and House Martin whilst the bushes had Song and Mistle Thrushes, Common Chiffchaff and a surprise find in a singing Whinchat. I decided to change plans and head towards Brora as the tide was starting to rise. Offshore plenty of Northern Gannets, Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, Black-legged Kittiwake, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and on rocks Great Cormorant and European Shag. A stop at The Mound a sector of Loch Fleet revealed Eurasian Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, up to four Ospreys, Eurasian Curlew and Common Greenshank. After this I made the journey to Embo where the tide had covered all but the highest rocks. This provided us with excellent views of roosting Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper and overhead a skein of Pink-footed Geese. Offshore a Pomarine Skua was attacking gulls and terns for food with a party of Common Scoters in the background. We ended the day at Nigg Bay adding Black-tailed Godwit and a hunting Red Kite.

May 7th: Corrimony, Achnahalt, Achnasheen, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Loch Gruinard, Dundonnell
Weather: Rather mixed with a cold SSE wind 5c/13c


An early departure for Corrimony today. En route a Woodcock was flushed from the roadside. The group met up with Simon at the car park and then proceeded to the reserve. An impressive total of thirty-three grouse were seen including two female birds on two lekking grounds. Also present on the upper part of Corrimony were Mistle and Song Thrushes, Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Common Stonechat, a pair of hunting Eurasian Kestrels. At the turning point a stop for coffee as it was cold at 5c. Lesser Redpolls were seen perched in a bare larch tree. On the way back down to the parking area stops were made for Tree Pipit, Common Redstart and calling Eurasian Bullfinches. Due to the weather forecast I decided to head towards Wester Ross. Our first stop at Achnahalt produced a fishing Osprey, Whooper Swan, Black-throated Diver, breeding wildfowl including Mallard, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Teal and Eurasian Wigeon. Barn Swallows and Sand Martins were numerous over the loch catching insects. By the road our attention was drawn to a displaying Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe and showy Sedge Warblers. The journey towards Gairloch passes through some incredible landscapes of mountains and lochs. On arrival in Gairloch a scan into the Loch Gairloch revealed Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Arctic Tern, Red-breasted Merganser and in the distance a Great Skua chasing gulls around a fishing boat. On the shore Ringed Plover and an assortment of gulls. For our lunch break a stop at Loch Ewe was made a birding hot spot in Wester Ross. The fields and machir held White and Pied Wagtails, Twite, European Golden Plover and a group of Sanderling in breeding dress. Further along the road a group of Whimbrel were noted. A stop at Inverewe gardens was made for drinks followed by visits to Laide and Gruinard Bay where the only additions were Black Guillemots and a singing Blackcap. On the way home an adult Golden Eagle was located by Dominic perched high on a crag a fitting end to the day.

May 8th:Strathconon, Ullapool, Kylesku, Scourie, Handa, Balnakiel
Weather: Cloudy with a cool S wind 9c/12c

Off to the north west today a truly remote area of Britain. I tried the Wood Warblers again at Strathconon but still no sign. However en route Red-legged Partridge and Eurasian Jay were seen. On arrival at Ullapool I checked the point where an Iceland Gull showed nicely with Greater and Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Common Gulls. To the south of Kylesku a Peregrine Falcon was located on a rocky cliff giving some very noisy calls. Scourie and Kylesku were notable for Red-throated Divers, Common Snipe, Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Northern Wheatear and Twite. In a small marsh singing Sedge Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and Lesser Redpoll. The group reach Tarbet for the afternoon ferry across to Handa Island. This is an exceptional place for birds with the boardwalk towards the Great Cliff producing close views of Great and Arctic Skuas. The cliffs themselves attracted thousands of Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake and a few Atlantic Puffins. On the return walk a pair of Rock Pipits showed by the cliff face. Before checking in at Durness a check of Balnakiel Bay revealed a substantial number of Great Northern Divers, Long-tailed Duck and Sandwich Terns. After dinner a walk towards Balnakiel Farm with its ancient water meadows produced scarce ducks - Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon and Eurasian Teal. The fields had some late Black-tailed Godwits of the Icelandic race.

May 9th: Balnakiel, Sandside Bay, Dunnet Bay, St John's Pool, Loch of Mey, Forsinard
Weather: Cloudy with S winds 7c/13c

A return visit to Balnakiel produced a calling Water Rail a rare breeding bird of the north. After breakfast I headed along the northern coast road to Sandside Bay with the commoner birds en route and familiar seabirds in sheltered bays. Dunnet Bay held waders including Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, and parties of migrant Arctic Terns. The bay itself appeared to be empty of birds today which was odd to witness. St John's Pool allows close views of birds from an excellent hide. Careful scanning produced Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Lapwing and a pair of Common Stonechats. Loch of Mey is further east where a short visit to the loch had Pink-footed Geese and several species of gulls. Time was pressing as I headed through the flow country with a stop at Forsinard for European Golden Plover and displaying Eurasian Skylarks and grazing Greylag Geese.

May 10th: Cairngorm, Loch Morlich, Loch Garten, Nethybridge, Findhorn Valley
Weather: Rather mixed with sleet showers and sunshine on a SE wind 0c/14c

The weather forecast for Cairngorm suggested today was our best bet for mountain birds. From the lower car park a displaying Red Grouse. A journey up towards the restaurant by train is quick and easy and with my mountain guide license we can enter the slopes at altitude. It was hard going to start with until Rock Ptarmigans were observed feeding quietly among boulders. A male Ring Ouzel was located singing from a fence rail and a pair of Snow Buntings chose to feed close to the footpath. Luck was with us when a pair of Eurasian Dotterel dropped in the feed allowing excellent views of this high mountain species. The group were on a high as we left the mountain and took lunch overlooking Loch Morlich. Out on the loch Common Goldeneye and Goosander, Tufted Duck and feeding Sand Martins. At Loch Garten a walk through the pines added Common Cuckoo, Great and Coal Tits, Tree Pipit and eventually a Crested Tit the latter being a hard bird to find in May. A drive through Nethybridge had a Eurasian Magpie a rather rare bird in these parts. The day ended with a drive up the Findhorn Valley with the river having White-throated Dipper and Grey Heron. In the general area and along the Farr Road we encountered another Golden Eagle, Common Buzzard and several Common Ravens. An excellent day in the Cairngorms.

May 11th: Portsoy, Loch Spynie, Lossiemouth, Burghead, Cromdale
Weather: Cloudy with a SE wind 8c/12c

A gamble today as I went to Portsoy in Aberdeenshire for a White-billed Diver, thankfully the bird showed well offshore. Good numbers of other seabirds were present making the journey worthwhile. Loch Spynie has recently been taken over by the RSPB with new signs and trails being in place. Always a good spot for birds the hide had Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Black-headed Gull and our first Common Swifts of the tour. The scrub and woodland held numerous Willow Warblers, Dunnock, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Grey Herons from the nearby heronry. At Burghead Common Know feeding on the shoreline. Our last stop was at Cromdale on the Spey River with a walk along the river bank and nearby forest. In the river Osprey and White-throated Dippers, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Goldeneye whilst the meadows here have nesting Northern Lapwing and Eurasian Curlews. Woodland birds were the usual species with no sign of grouse species on this visit.

May 12th: Udale Bay, Charonry Point

Basically a travel day for clients although short visits were made to Udale Bay and Charonry Point. Nothing new was added to the list with the tour concluding mid-morning

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 enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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