Scottish Highlands, April 2022

Mark Finn
April 30-May 7

April 30th: Cygnus House, Udale Bay, Cromarty Firth, South Sutor, Charonry Point, Black Isle
Daily 58 New 58 Running 58
Weather: Overcast with persistent rain showers NW wind 7c

Our first spring tour of 2022 started with an exploration of the gardens at Cygnus House. The various feeders attracted Eurasian Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, House and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. In the nearby birch trees we heard singing Willow Warblers. Udale Bay is an excellent area for migrant birds in spring and we quickly located Pink-footed Geese, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Curlew, two Whimbrel, Great Black-backed, European Herring and Common Gulls, Eurasian Oystercatcher, a fishing Osprey and a hunting Red Kite. Just beyond Jemimaville a stop to scan the calm waters of the Cromarty Firth. This large area of water had good numbers of Common Eider, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and several pairs of Red-throated Divers. South Sutor was next on the itinerary an area located beyond Cromarty. It was rather windy with poor visibility. En route a party of European Golden Plovers and Song Thrushes on the roadside edge. A visit to Charonry Point produced little of note so I headed inland on quiet country roads searching for birds. A surprise find was three Grey Partridges and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls feeding in fields.

May 1st: Achanhalt, Achnasheen, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Gruinard Bay
Daily 82 New 32 Running 90
Weather: Sunny with a cool N wind 13c

Today I headed westwards into the remote and wild area of Wester Ross. The first stop was the marshes and shallow lochs at Achanhalt. From an elevated vantage point we located several species including Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Greylag and Canada Geese and several calling Common Cuckoo. Passerines of note included large numbers of Willow Warbler, Tree and Meadow Pipits, Lesser Redpoll, Eurasian Siskin and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. At Achnasheen a singing Common Snipe, Red-throated Divers and a light passage of Sand and House Martins and a Blackcap. Our journey took us along Loch Maree and eventually to the coastal village of Gairloch and the sea loch of the same name. Offshore several birds were observed including Great Northern Diver, Northern Gannet, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, European and Great Black-backed Gulls. Loch Ewe is an important area for birds and on this visit we had views of a male Hen Harrier, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Skylark, Twite and Common Stonechat. At Laide the old jetty attracted European Shag and migrant White Wagtails and in the adjacent sea Arctic Tern and Black Guillemot. A bonus came in the form of a sub-adult White-tailed Eagle flying in front of us before disappearing behind a hill. The journey back home was interrupted by another stop for an adult White-tailed Eagle being mobbed by pretty anything in site.

May 2nd: Corrimony, Nairn, Roseisle, Burghead, Lossiemouth, Loch Spynie, Ness Islands
Daily 87 New 18 Running 108
Weather: Rather mixed on a NE wind 12c

An early departure today to visit Corrimony to meet with Simon the resident warden. Arrived at 5am and made the short journey towards the first Black Grouse lek. The weather was poor but the males performed at the two leks. Other species of note included Meadow and Tree Pipits, Common Cuckoo, Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and Lesser Redpoll. On the edge of the conifer trees (native pines) we were fortunate to contact up to forty Scottish Crossbills giving their distinctive calls and showing down to a few metres in mature pines. Further down the track a Redwing was singing from an exposed branch and Eurasian Treecreeper and Grey Wagtail were added to the list. Breakfast was taken in Inverness followed by a slow exploration of the Moray coast. The coastal town of Nairn is famous for its sandy beaches where a lingering flock of Bar-tailed Godwits fed on the shoreline. On the River Nairn we located Red-breasted and Common Mergansers and a Grey Wagtail. It was time to press on and visit the pine woods and beach at Roseisle where we quickly located a White-billed Diver in breeding plumage a rare but regular migrant at the time of the year. Luck was also with us as four Crested Tits showed in a conifer by the parking area. In the surrounding area we located a hunting male Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Lunch was taken at Lossiemouth east beach which held a wide range of gulls including Lesser Black-backed. In the muddy fringes a few Eurasian Wigeon from the wintering flock. It was time to visit Loch Spynie which had unusual birds including a pair of Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebe, a drake Ring-necked Duck, Tufted Duck and Greater Scaup. An Osprey put in an appearance and Common Chiffchaffs sang from the taller trees. I ended the day at Ness Islands where we watched a pair of White-throated Dippers building a nest with moss taken off a nearby wall.

May 3rd: Cairngorm, Loch Morlich, Feshiebridge, Findhorn Valley, Farr Road
Daily 65 New 7 Running 115
Weather: Overcast with SE winds 10c

This morning we headed towards Cairngorm where the ongoing saga with the railway makes it look a total mess. A walk around the upper car park had a White-throated Dipper in the river and brief views of a male Ring Ouzel. In the alpine garden close views of Dunnock and Meadow Pipit. Back down towards Aviemore where Loch Morlich attracted Common Goldeneyes, Eurasian Teal and Common Sandpipers. Next on the list were the old pinewoods at Feshiebridge where we walked along the forest tracks. The commoner woodland species present including singing Tree Pipits and a big surprise of two male Capercaillies. In the afternoon a drive into the Findhorn Valley where the roadside held Red-legged Partridges and a single Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in a dead tree. Raptors were few in numbers apart from Red Kite and Common Buzzard. The final birding was along the Farr Road where another surprise find was a migrant Rough-legged Buzzard which showed well with its black tail band and contrasting rump. Red Grouse were also noted but not in numbers as before.

May 4th: Loch Fleet, Forsinard, Sandside Bay, Scrabster, Dunnet Bay and Head, Durness
Daily 91 New 15 Running 130
Weather: Overcast with NE winds 9c

After breakfast we loaded the van for our visit to the remote areas of Caithness and Sutherland with an overnight stay in the village of Durness. First stop was Loch Fleet with a managed area for wildlife with a pair Osprey at the far end. Other species present included Pink-footed Goose, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Sandpiper, various gulls and the commoner duck species. In the surrounding trees Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Eurasian Bullfinch, Dunnock and Great Tit. Our journey took us north to Helmsdale and then through the flow country to Forsinard. This was particularly good for close views of a male Hen Harrier, European Golden Plover, Common Cuckoo, Northern Wheatear and recently arrived Barn Swallow, Sand and Common House Martins. We hit the northern coast road and travelled towards Thurso via Sandside Bay which is located close to Dounreay. The seas were rough and the group managed to see Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Gannet, European Shag and Great Cormorant passing by the harbour. In the more sheltered bay we located Great Northern Diver, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Common Eider. On the seaweed strewn beach waders included Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling and Whimbrel. A brief visit to Scrabster added a two-year old Iceland Gull and nearby a Eurasian Magpie a rather rare bird of the far north. Lunch was taken at Dunnet Bay where careful scanning provided us with Common Scoter, Great Skua and recently arrived Arctic Terns from the southern oceans. A diversion to Dunnet Head added Atlantic Puffins on the cliff and sitting on the sea. The journey towards Durness took a little while and then a visit to Balnakiel an old water meadow. The shallow waters attracted Whooper Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Little Grebe and a single Common Moorhen. I called it a day as the temperature started to drop to low levels.

May 5th: Durness, Hope Valley, Scourie, Inchnadampth, Ullapool, Strathpeffer
Daily 76 New 4 Running 134
Weather: Rainy and overcast on a cool SW wind 8c

A miserable and cold day awaited us with a cancellation of the boat to Handa Island. A sheltered spot just south of Durness was productive for Sandwich Terns and Twite feeding among the dandelions. There was also a notable migration of White Wagtails which outnumbered the Pied Wagtails. Our first birding spot was the Hope Valley a remote area with little human population. The rain was against us to view eagles but we did manage to locate Whooper Swan, Greenshank and Common Snipe on the edges of Loch Hope. On the return journey we had brief views of Eurasian Woodcock, Red Grouse and Common Cuckoo. I dropped down to view Handa where we a Great Skua passed over the island with Common Sandpipers and Rock Pipits on the shore. Lunch was taken at Scourie with the harbour holding Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Black Guillemot and Common Eider. A small wetland with bushes attracted Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Eurasian Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. Our journey towards Ullapool included the cliffs at Inchnadampth where luck was with us as a Golden Eagle showed above us. Ullapool held little of note so I pressed on towards the spa village of Strathpeffer. On the lochans a pair of Horned Grebes showed at close range with Little Grebes.

May 6th: Orrin, Embo, Loch Fleet, Little Ferry, Brora, The Mound, Novar Estate
Daily 84 New 6 Final 140
Weather: Mixed with showers and sunny spells on a SW wind 13c

Our last day in the Highlands started with a visit to Orrin an area of birch woods near Dingwall. The weather was poor although we did hear a Wood Warbler plus sightings of Willow Warbler, Tree Pipit, Common Cuckoo, Goldcrest, a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and both Mistle and Song Thrushes. Next on the agenda was the rocky beach at Embo where the tide was rising. A careful search of the rocks added Purple Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Offshore waters had the commoner seabirds and gulls plus several Red-throated Divers, Great Skua and Sandwich Tern. It was time to head towards Brora where we watched similar birds to Embo. I then took the inland road which passes through remote areas of estates and marshes dotted with lochs and stands of forest. Along the route Common Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Common Stonechat, Whinchat, Tree Pipit and displaying Common Snipe. A large loch was excellent for a hunting male Hen Harrier and a pair of Whooper Swans. Our final stop was the Novar Estate with a walk around the older plantation which had the common woodland birds and a few Common Crossbills feeding on pine cones. This concluded an excellent week in the Scottish Highlands.

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