Scottish Highlands, May 2022

Mark Finn
May 8-15

This was the second week of the spring programme in the Highlands which was dominated by low pressure systems which made birding challenging at times. Despite this we managed to find exceptional birds including a summer plumaged White-billed Diver, Ruff, Golden Eagle, several Hen Harriers, Western Marsh Harrier and Whooper Swans. Passerines were more challenging with sightings of Whinchat, Common and Scottish Crossbills. I am sure the following report and bird list will help you relive the tour.

May 8th: Ness Islands, Blackfold, Udale Bay, Cromarty Firth, Eathie
Daily 53 New 53 Running 53
Weather: Sunny with SE winds 20c

I started the tour with a visit to Ness Islands in the centre of Inverness itself. After crossing the bridge we searched the mature trees and river for birdlife. On the River Ness several Common Mergansers were observed along with White-throated Dippers. In the trees commoner woodland species which included a migrant Blackcap. Blackfold is close to Inverness where we made a short walk into the mixed woodland of pines and birch. Birds of note included Common Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler, Great and Blue Tits, Song Thrush, Lesser Redpoll and a hunting Red Kite. The trees at Udale Bay by the hide had a singing Common Whitethroat and Reed Bunting. A scan of the mudflats added a few lingering Pink-footed Geese, Common Shelduck, Mute Swan, Great Black-backed, Herring and Common Gulls and Northern Lapwing. Beyond Jemimaville we made another stop to look into the Cromarty Firth where the group located Common Eider, Greater Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser. Afterwards I headed inland towards Eathie passing through farmland and forest. A few birds along the road included Pied Wagtails and Yellowhammers.

May 9th: Nairn, Roseisle, Burghead, Hopeman, Lossiemouth, Loch Spynie, Loch Oire
Daily 83 New 36 Running 89
Weather: Overcast with S winds 14c

I decided to head towards Moray today as the weather here was slightly better than elsewhere. In the garden a noted increase in Willow Warbler and Song Thrush numbers. At Nairn a search of the east beach came up with Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Red Knot, Sandwich Tern, Common Eider and a nice range of gulls. A check of the River Nairn added a pair of Common Goosander and Grey Wagtails. Roseisle was next a pine wood adjacent to the Moray Firth. Offshore we had views of Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Arctic Terns. In the pines a singing Goldcrest showed well for us. At Burghead the rocky foreshore had a reasonable flock of Red Know some of which were in summer plumage, Ruddy Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Whimbrel and Common Redshank. Lunch was taken at Hopeman with a brief visit to Lossiemouth the latter having hundreds of gulls including a few Lesser Black-backed. Loch Spynie had good birds for this area of Scotland including Great Crested and Little Grebes, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck and a calling Water Rail. A pig farm attracted a Ruff in breeding plumage and a pair of Gadwall. I ended the day at Loch Oire where Common Goldeneye was observed in flight.

May 10th: Corrimony, Orrin, Strathpeffer, Embo, Loch Fleet, The Mound, Brora, Rogart
Daily 88 New 23 Running 112
Weather: Rather mixed on a SW wind 13c

Today a morning visits to the RSPB Reserve of Corrimony where we met Simon the warden. The weather was again not in a favour as I drove up to the first lekking area. It was good to see and hear the Black Grouse at close range despite the murky weather conditions. In the same area we located Common Stonechat, Common Cuckoo, Northern Lapwing and Dunnock. The second lek held eleven Black Grouse which were duelling for the right to mate with females. On the return journey the group had displaying Common Snipe, a female Black Grouse on the track, Tree Pipit and a group of Scottish Crossbills feeding in an old Caledonian pine. Off to Inverness for breakfast which was greatly appreciated by all. The next stop was Orrin where we had great views of Wood Warbler, Great, Blue and Coal Tits and a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker. Strathpeffer is not faraway and the group had close views of Little and Horned Grebes, hirundines, Tufted Duck, Common Teal and both Mistle and Song Thrushes. Embo was next on our list of birding locations where Red-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Red-breasted Mergansers were seen. At Loch Fleet a pair of Osprey, Red Kite and Common Sandpipers. Further up the coast a visit to Brora where a migrant White-billed Diver in summer plumage was the star bird located by Brian. I ventured inland towards Rogart with a male Whinchat perched on wires. In a remote area the group located a pair of Whooper Swans, male Hen Harrier and hunting Common Kestrel.

May 11th: Forsinard, Sandside Bay, Scrabster, Dunnet Bay, Dunnet Head, Hope Valley, Durness
Daily 77 New 9 Running 121
Weather: Rather mixed with showers and sunny spells on a S wind 11c

Today we travelled north to Helmsdale and to Forsinard in the flow country. Along the route we stopped for Northern Wheatears. At Forsinard a large field held several European Golden Plovers, Mistle Thrush and Common Stonechat. On reaching the north coast I dropped into Sandside Bay near Dounreay nuclear power station a good place for birds. On the beach and adjacent rocks we located Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit. In the sea we had sightings of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Common and Black Guillemots, Northern Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwake. A brief stop at Scrabster added nothing of note so I continued to Dunnet Bay. From the parking place we observed a large movement of Arctic Terns and Northern Gannets. Dunnet Head is close by although on this occasion it was very windy. A short walk towards the cliffs quickly added several Atlantic Puffins and other auks in flight or sitting on the sea. It was time to head west towards the Hope Valley where the group caught up with Golden Eagle, Merlin, Lesser Redpoll and Reed Bunting. Checked in at Durness followed by a visit to Balnakiel which was very quiet on this visit, apart from Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Common Moorhen.

May 12th: Durness, Handa, Scourie, Inchnadamph, Ullapool, Black Isle
Daily 68 New 5 Running 126
Weather: Heavy rain showers on a cold S wind 8c

Today weather wise resulted with another cancellation to Handa. I started with a visit to Balnakiel Bay which held Sandwich Terns, Rock Pipit, White Wagtail and Rock Dove. I turned off towards Handa and stopped to observe a pair of Black-throated Divers on a large loch. Offshore Great Northern Divers and Great Skua over the island itself. Scourie was again productive as the harbour held Red-throated Diver, Common Eider, Ringed Plover and in the marsh Sedge Warbler, Blackcap and Dunnock. The journey down to Inchnadamph was good as a male Hen Harrier was seen well by the van. The Black isle was last on the agenda today where a tern raft added Common Tern to our list. A disappointing day due to the rather unpleasant weather which made birding difficult at times.

May 13th: Achanalt, Achnasheen, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Laide, Gruinard Bay
Daily 70 New 3 Running 129
Weather: Rain showers on a cold S wind 7c

I decided to head west today and follow a part of the Wester Ross Coastal Trail. The usual birds were around Cygnus House and a few lingering Pink-footed Geese remained in the field. A stop at Achanalt produced a calling Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and surprisingly little else. Achnasheen was similar so I pressed onto Gairloch via Kinlochewe. At Gairloch a scan into the sea loch produced Northern Gannet, Black-legged Kittiwake, Red-breasted Merganser, auks and a pair of Rock Pipits on the shore. At Loch Ewe I went to an area of sandy beaches and grassland where we watched Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, various gulls and singing Skylarks. Further along the road a sheep field was attracting Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Whimbrel and Meadow Pipits to feed. A stop at Laide was productive for more divers and Black Guillemots. Before going home a diversion to Mellon Udrigle where we finally caught up with Twite feeding by the roadside.

May 14th: Cairngorm, Feshiebridge, Aviemore, Findhorn Valley, May
Daily 62 New 6 Final 135
Weather: Sunny with Se winds 15c

The last day with a visit to Cairngorm which is looking like a scrap yard due to ongoing work on the railway. In the upper car park a displaying Red Grouse and nearby two male Ring Ouzels. It was time to walk along tracks within Feshiebridge searching for birds. The pines are a quiet place although we located Common Crossbill and Tree Pipit, drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and for Jo brief views of Crested Tit. At Aviemore a walk through the reserve added little of note apart from Eurasian Treecreeper and the commoner tits. The final leg of the week was up the Findhorn Valley and nearby Moy. The valley was again quiet for birds with sightings of European Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Goosander, Eurasian Teal and Northern Raven. Ended the day at Moy where the pinewoods held Common Crossbills.

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