Scottish Highlands, April 2023

Mark Finn
April 29-May 6

This was the first of two spring weeks based in the Scottish Highlands. The weather throughout this period was generally sunny although it was accompanied y a cool south-easterly wind which kept the temperatures below average for the time of year. There were many highlights during the week which started with a summer-plumaged White-billed Diver off Roseisle in Moray. Other notable sightings included lekking Black Grouse at Corrimony, Greater Scaup in the Cromarty Firth, Slavonian Grebes in resplendent breeding plumage, a female Pallid Harrier and a male Western Yellow Wagtail at Balnakiel, White-tailed and Golden Eagles, Crested Tit, Wood Warblers, Ring Ouzel, Scottish and Common Crossbills and many others.
The following trip report and bird list should bring back happy memories of an excellent tour with 134 species being recorded by the group.

April 29th: Nairn, Roseisle
Daily 45 New 45 Running 45
Weather: Cloudy with a cold E wind 11c

The first day is always a bit fragmented with clients arriving on various flights and different times. Once we were all together I headed eastwards into Moray and the forestry area at Roseisle. After parking up we made the short walk to an elevated viewing position into the Moray Firth. Our main target was White-billed Diver which was found almost immediately sitting on the sea around 200m out. The group had extended and long views of this species which is annual in late April and early May within the firth. On the sea we added Red-throated Diver, Northern Gannet, Common Scoter, Common Eider, and a fishing Osprey near Burghead. Back in the forest we had sightings of Coal Tit and Eurasian Treecreeper.
Mammals: Harbour Seal (6), Brown Hare (1)

April 30th: Cromarty Firth, Udale Bay, Embo, Loch Fleet, Brora, West Langwell
Daily 85 New 45 Running 90
Weather: Cloudy with late afternoon showers on a NE wind 13c

The usual birds were in and around Cygnus House gardens with singing Willow Warbler and Blackcap plus House and Tree Sparrows, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Yellowhammer, Common Blackbird and Starling. As the tide was rising I decided to visit the Cromarty Firth where the group located Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Ducks and a few Red-throated Divers and a single Slavonian Grebe. At Udale Bay the grasses held Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting both of which were on territory. On the mud and grass areas Pink-footed Geese, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Redshank, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Skylark and many corvid species. It was time to head towards Embo which has a rocky coast and deep waters just offshore. On arrival Whimbrel were seen resting on the rocks with Eurasian Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper. In the sea we located Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Great Black-backed, European Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls. Bushes adjacent to the sea held a pair of European Stonechats and in the distance a hunting Eurasian Sparrowhawk. I drove alongside Loch Fleet and visited The Mound and enclosed area of tidal waters. In the forest we found an Osprey on its nest plus Eurasian Teal, Mute Swan and Common Sandpipers. Brora is further north where Great Northern Diver, Ringed Plover, European Shag and Sandwich Tern were observed. I headed inland through remote countryside recording Red Kite, Mistle Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and Lesser Redpoll. West Langwell has a loch and adjacent moorland where a pair of Whooper Swans was seen along with calling Red Grouse and Common Snipe.
Mammals: Harbour Seal (2), North Atlantic Grey Seal (c), Brown Hare (2), Rabbit (c), Roe Deer (6)

May 1st: Orrin, Achanalt, Achnasheen, Kinlochewe, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Mellon Udrigle, Gruinard Bay
Daily 79 New 14 Running 104
Weather: Cloudy with a cold NE wind 8c

Today we headed west into the vast area of Wester Ross which is sparsely populated and dominated by mountains and lochs plus a long coastline of varied habitats. Before leaving Cygnus House a Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen on the feeders. Orrin is an area of silver birch forest and on arrival we quickly picked up the beautiful song of Wood Warblers which showed at close range. Achanalt was next an inland loch where the open waters held Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Great Black-backed Gull, Northern Lapwing and a singing Tree Pipit.  Achnasheen held a pair of Red-throated Divers, Common Snipe and Common Greenshank. A short stop at Kinlochewe allowed close views of a Goldcrest with his flame-coloured crown which is rarely seen. Our journey took us along Loch Maree to Gairloch and the sea-loch of the same name. The loch had Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Skuas attending a fishing boat. On the beach Common Ringed Plover and Dunlin plus the commoner gull species, Common Linnet and displaying Rock Pipits. Loch Ewe was next on the agenda with the first stop having Rock Dove, Pied and White Wagtails, Song Thrush, Northern Wheatear and Eurasian Skylark. The best was to come when a pair of White-tailed Eagles appeared at close range whilst we were having lunch. Out on the sea we observed a Lesser Black-backed Gull and parties of migrating Arctic Terns. At Laide Jetty with shelter from the wind the group added Common and Black Guillemots, Common Sandpiper. Gruinard Bay had a hunting male Hen Harrier to end the day on.
Mammals: Rabbit (c), Roe Deer (2), Red Deer (c), North Atlantic Grey Seal (c), Badger (1)

May 2nd: Cairngorm, Loch Morlich, Boat of Garten, Findhorn Valley, Farr Road
Daily 62 New 8 Running 112
Weather: Sunny spells on a cool SE wind 4c/14c

Cairngorm was our destination today where the funicular railway is back in operation. On the upward journey a male Ring Ouzel was seen perched on a shed. At the top plenty of snow was still on the ground which prevented our movements somewhat although Northern Wheatear and Meadow Pipit were present. I cut our losses and went back down and travelled to Loch Morlich. On the loch Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser were present. A diversion to Boat of Garten added Little Grebe and Common Moorhen but no sign of the reported female Ring-necked Duck. I decided to visit the Findhorn Valley where the first stop added Greylag Goose, Northern Lapwing, European Golden Plover, Common Redshank, Eurasian Curlew, Common Buzzard and Northern Raven. At the end of the valley the group were fortunate to find a pair of Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcon and Common Kestrel. A slow drive over the Farr Road added a male Red Grouse sitting on a heather mound.
Mammals: Brown Hare (1), Rabbit (c), Roe Deer (5), Red Deer (c)

May 3rd: Corrimony, Forsinard, Sandside Bay, Scrabster, Dunnet Bay, St John’s Loch, Dunnet Head
Daily 81 New 4 Running 116
Weather: Sunny with a SE wind 4c/17c

An early departure to Corrimony with a Western Barn Owl perched on a post near Culbokie. At Corrimony car park we met up with Simon the warden with a reeling Grasshopper Warbler in the background. The group then visited two Black Grouse leks with thirteen males and a single female in attendance. Other species present included European Stonechat, Willow Warbler and Common Sandpiper. Due to itinerary changes I had to have breakfast in Alness before travelling to Glen Loth a remote mountain road leading to the flow country. Along the road Common Buzzard, Northern Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and a pair of Red Crossbills. To the south of Forsinard a stop at a large loch which held Black-throated Diver, Red Kite and calling Lesser Redpolls. A little further on a fishing Osprey, Greylag Goose, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Skylark and Goldcrests in the conifer trees. I joined the north coast road and visited Sandside Bay near Dounreay power station. The beach and bay are good for birds with Great Northern Diver, Common and Black Guillemots, Dunlin,  Ringed Plover and rafts of Black-legged Kittiwakes. Scrabster Harbour was quiet so I headed to Dunnet Bay where Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck, Arctic Tern, Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin were observed. A quick look at St John’s Loch had little of interest so I visited Dunnet Head the most northerly point in mainland Britain. The cliffs were good for Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Rock Pipit and Eurasian Wren.
Mammals: Harbour Seal (2), Brown Hare (2), Mountain Hare (1), Rabbit (c), Red Deer (c),

May 4th: Dunnet Bay, Broubster Leans, Hope Valley, Balnakiel, Lairg
Daily 73 New 12 Running 128
Weather: Sunny with a SE wind 7c/16c

The group revisited Dunnet Bay this morning with similar birds to yesterday. I picked up supplies in Thurso and headed towards the abandoned village of Broubster Leans. Over the marshes we watched displaying Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Northern Wheatear and a pair of Whooper Swans. I joined the coast road towards Durness and then visited the remote and beautiful Hope Valley. I parked up near the end of the loch and started to scan the mountains and loch for birds. On the loch a pair of Black-throated Divers, Common Greenshank, hirundines, Tufted Duck, Common Cuckoo and Common Stonechat. On the return journey Red Grouse on and near the road, calling Whimbrel and wild Rock Doves. Durness was next a village literally under siege by tourists. I went to Balnakiel Bay and the nearby farm. In the bay several Arctic Terns and a surprise find being a female Pallid Harrier hunting over the sand dunes which gave good but brief views. At the wetland the group witnessed displaying Wood Sandpipers, Western Yellow Wagtail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Common Moorhen, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a late flock of Pink-footed Geese resting in a field. On returning to the minibus a pair of Twite showed well on the close cropped grassland. The rest of the day was spent travelling down the valley to Lairg one of the remotest towns in Britain. A few miles down the road we had fantastic views of an adult Golden Eagle. A short stop at Bonar Bridge added Common Merganser and Common Shelduck for the day list.
Mammals: Rabbit (c), Roe Deer (2), North Atlantic Grey Seal (c)

May 5th: Feshiebridge, Ness Islands, Strathpeffer, Novar Estate, Cromarty Firth
Daily 79 New 6 Running 134
Weather: Sunny with light SE winds 8c/14c

Back down the A9 today and a visit to the pinewoods at Feshiebridge. The woodland is generally quiet at all times of the year and today was no exception as we walked along the forest tracks. After an hour I eventually located European Crested Tits calling and feeding in the higher branches of a Scots Pine, good views obtained of this hard to locate bird especially in May. Also present were displaying Tree Pipit, Goldcrest a calling Peregrine Falcon and Northern Raven. Back to Inverness and a visit to Ness Islands where we quickly found Blackcap and a pair of White-throated Dippers collecting nesting material. Strathpeffer is a former spa village with several lochans close by where we watched up to four Slavonian Grebes at close range fishing and resting along with Little Grebe, Mallard, Tufted Duck and calling Eurasian Bullfinch within the birches. Beyond Evanton is the Novar Estate with its stands of native pines a favoured haunt of Scottish Crossbills, we had good views of two birds perched high in a pine before calling and flying off. On the way back to Cygnus House I stopped to check a tern raft which held recently arrived Common Terns, Black-headed Gulls and Common Eider. Back on the Black Isle a check of the bay yielded nothing of note
Mammals: Brown Hare (2), Rabbit (c)

May 6th: Chanonry Point, Ardersier, Nairn, Loch Flemington
Daily n/r New 0 Final 134
Weather: Sunny with SW winds 12c

At the end of the track Common Whitethroat was singing from brambles and wires. Next stop was Ardersier which is close to the airport and adjacent to the Moray Firth. The tide was coming in and concentrating the birds with a mixed group of waders including Red Knot, Dunlin, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and a drake Greater Scaup. Offshore the birds included summer plumaged Long-tailed Ducks, European Shag, Great Cormorant, Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Razorbill. I had time to visit Nairn and Loch Flemington although we added nothing of note to the list.
Mammals: Harbour Seal (2), Brown Hare (2), Rabbit (c)

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