Blog – 2013

Tuesday 31 December 2013

A great day out with Denise and Chris and a brilliant way to end the year. Starting off at the Grant Arms Hotel we headed straight for the coast and in particular Roseisle. The tide was perfect for sea watching, and I was mildly surprised to see just how calm the waters surface was  First birds in the Scope were a group of stunning male Velvet Scoters, panning over the Moray Firth soon revealed Long Tailed Duck, Common Scoter and two winter plumaged Slavonian  Grebes, a good start to the day. Next stop Lossiemouth, this time for the flock of Snow Buntings that usually frequent the dune system, today however they were sadly absent, the strong winds that had now whipped up probably keeping them low in the marram grass. We did have nice views of Adult Shag, complete with full breeding Crest and a female Goosander. Purple Sandpiper was the next species sought after so off to beautiful fishing village on the Moray Coast, which is proving the most reliable location for these birds this season.  We were not to be disappointed and Denise got some great views as two birds paddled and fed in a small rock pool near to the beaches edge. Also present were Oystercatchers, Turnstones and a lone Rock Pipit.

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher (Turnstones in Background)

The historic village of Burghead was next on the itinerary and the main target bird for Denise, Eider Duck and boy did they perform well.  The usual small group of both Male and Female drifted around in the inner harbour giving absolutely stunning views, the males in particular looking fantastic.  To top it all Denise had said she would love to hear then calling, and as if on cue the males all started “chatting up the ladies”

Eider

Eider

Eider

Eider

Final stop of the day was a local grouse moor and  the Red Grouse where showing very well and proving ideal digiscoping opportunities,  a great way to round off a great day!

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

 

Thursday 26 December 2013

The day dawned early, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, Lynda started off slight more jaded (quote “I have never drunk so much Champagne!) however after another fantastic feed for breakfast we both perked up and were raring for the day in front, guiding John and Nicola. First stop off was at Milton of Culloden, nice flocks of Wigeon feeding on the waters edge, Curlew, Bar Tailed Godwits, but highlight for this spot was a winter plumaged Great Crested Grebe, a definite scarcity in this area Although not planned we ended up back at Portmahomak. Once again the Purple Sandpipers were in the area, Red Breasted Mergansers, Common Eider and Slavonian Grebes where all present however Mr Otter was nowhere to be seen today. Tarbat Ness was quieter wind wise today and a nice selection of birds were to be seen, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin and Dunnock at the car park feeders. Plenty of Red Throated Divers buzzed low over the water and a single Black Guillimot cruised past the point. A male and female Stonechat was a nice addition to the day, not a common bird in this region in winter time. Last call for the day was Chanonry Point in search of the Dolphins, luckily Nicola spotted three just off the point as the surfaced just twice, giving great views (Lynda was convinced one of them smiled and winked at her… still too much Champagne in her system from yesterday?) before diving below the surface never to be seen again ! A fantastic end to a simply brilliant festive season!

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas to all!  A relatively long lie this morning prior to the opening of presents with Lynda and Cheryl, before heading out to Revack Estate for a short walk with John and Nicola, Duncan and Pieter, and Liz and Keith.  Once again the wind was howling through the trees, but it still did not stop us having brilliant views of 35 Common Crossbills feeding high in some larch trees. Goldcrest, Coal Blue and Great Tit were also in the area and as a recce for Birding Ecosse it shows great potential for some short walks from the Hotel….. to be coninued! Christmas lunch was an absolute blast of a time! Fantastic company, outstanding food and a great relaxed atmosphere, definitely one of the best Christmas days I have had in a long time.  Thank you for the invitation John and Nicola and thank you also to the manager David Duncan and all the staff at the Grant Arms Hotel for making the day so special, it really was appreciated.

Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 December 2013

A cracking couple of days birding in the Scottish Highlands with a long standing Birding Ecosse stalwart Peter Hearn.  The weather was atrcocious with strong winds and squally showers, but that did not deter us in our search for birds. The first morning saw us starting the day with a coffee at Portmahomack harbour. The wind was a southerly so the bay off Portmahomack was relatively sheltered.  Long Tailed Duck and Common Eider were loafing just offshore and a nice tight little flock of Purple Sandpipers fed on the rocks just below the Harbour wall.  All of a sudden all birds took to flight, something had flushed them, but what……….?  All of a sudden an Otters heads popped up out of the water not 30ft away!  Sad that the birds were flushed but a great start to the day nonetheless. Making our way to Tarbat Ness we were subjected to the full fury of the gales.  Finding a sheltered spot the birds were soon spilling past and giving some excellent views. Red Throated and Black Throated Divers, Large flock of Razorbills just offshore and good numbers of Kittiwakes.  Birds also in the area included Twite and Linnet, Cormorant, Shag and a female Kestrel right beside the lighthouse. Nigg bay gave some welcome respite to the gales and we had judged the tide perfectly as the rising waters pushed the huge migrant roost closer and closer to us, Bar Tailed Godwits, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing all jostled for dry spots on the rapidly disappearing sand!  One Dunlin still retaining a surprising amount of Black on it’s belly. Final stop was Udale bay, with tide fully in most birds were at roost giving brilliant views of Wigeon, Redshank, Grey Heron, Lapwing, Shelduck and Teal.  A fitting end to the day. Day two started on the beautiful Lossiemouth estuary, all the usual suspects were in the area, Black Headed, Common, Herring and Great Black Backed Gulls. Bar tailed Godwits showing well across on the far bank of the river Lossie, Wigeon whistled through out the visit and handsome male Teals shuttled to and from one side of the river to the other. Loch Spynie was interesting, firstly for the female Scaup that was present, it is a fairly reliable location for this species and gives a great opportunity to get great views of them. Next to grip our interest was this very strange hybrid:

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Hybrid showing classic Pintail Bill colouration (2nd bird from Right)

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Pintail x Mallard hybrid (top bird in image)

This bird showed characteristics of both Male Mallard and Male Pintail, the head plumage was Pintail but in bottle green! The breat and body Mallard and finally to the tail, once again that of Pintail.

water rail

Water Rail

A movement outside the hide caught my eye, two Water Rails crept out of the reeds onto the small feeding platform, giving excellent views.  (Excuse the poor quality of the picture but it was taken through glass)

Owing to the almost impossible conditions it was decided to call in a day and head back to the Grant Arms hotel in Grantown on Spey.  Driving back via Lochindorb the Red Grouse put on a great display for us and so ended day two.

Now the difference with today was that instead of saying farewell to Peter, I was to be staying as a guest in this fantastic, wildlife specific , hotel.  Let the festivities begin!

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Netherlands April 2013

A great visit across to Denekamp right on the German border, visiting long long time friends and fellow birders Wildred and Gusta. We visited some old haunts, and some new ones and got some great birds.  The highlight for me (sorry the pictures aren’t better) was the Middle Spotted Woodpecker, a cracking wee bird and a lifer!

middle spotted woodpecker

middle spotted woodpecker

Bluethroat

Bluethroat

white stork

white stork

Redstart

Redstart

yellow wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Sunday 15 December 2013

Spain September 2013

So as I sit here on a storm lashed Sunday afternoon what better way to cheer myself up than by looking at some pictures from Sunny Spain.  For some reason even though I have taken hundreds of pictures, very few come up to the mark.  Luckily Im going back to the Rio Guadalhorce in March on a birding and Digiscoping long weekend, cannot wait!

black winged stilt

Black Winged stilt

spotless starling

Spotless Starling

white headed duck imm male

White Headed Duck (imm male)

white headed duck

White Headed Duck (non-breeding male)

Saturday 14 December 2013

Some highlights of 2013 – Canada June 2013

This year I  have been lucky enough to travel to a fair few places in the world, accompanied with my wonderful and ever suffering partner Lynda (thank goodness she  is a birder as well!) Trawling through my pictures I decided to put up some of my most memorable birds, first up Alberta Canada, a fantastic country to visit, brilliant people, fantastic food and absolutely stunning birds.

wilsons phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope (female)

wilsons phalarope male

Wilson’s Phalarope (male)

blue winged teal

Blue Winged Teal (with Wilson’s Phalarope in the background)

brown thrasher

Brown Thrasher

spotted towhee

Spotted Towhee

black necked stilt

Black Necked Stilt

yellow headed blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Thursday 12 December 2013

The return of “what am I?”

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What am I?

Whilst sorting out my digiscoping images,  I do come across the occasional shot that does not come up to scratch (now THERE is an understatement!) So just for fun what are the birds taking flight in the picture? Use the contact us link to let me know your answers. All will be revealed next week Good luck!

Thursday 05 December 2013

The North Wind Doth Blow!

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Burghead Dec 13

With my interest peaked, and a rare day off I headed down to Burghead to see what this winter storm had brought in.  What little birds were about were either hiding from the awful weather or were heading past at Mach 3, some of the Herring Gulls almost cartwheeling past!  The only exception was one brave male long tailed duck, flying into the wind and was almost hovering it was that strong!

Retreated home for a cup of tea!

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Well it wasn’t exactly the same as yesterday, I opened my house door to be greeted with heavy rain and a fierce NW wind!  Not ideal Eagle weather! Making my way to Forres I picked up Jean, a new client for Birding Ecosse and explained that the forecast was for it to brighten up early morning.  So we decided to head on up the valley. First stop was at Lochindorb, all was quiet to begin with however it was not long before we heard the distinctive “Go Back! Go Back! Go Back!” call of Red Grouse and before long a stunning male and female appeared right beside the car.  They gave Jean brilliant views before skulking back into the heather. On the water 2 Whooper Swans were a nice find and also in the area Tufted Duck and Goldeneyes, males and females of both species. On the entry to the valley at the garden feeding station, Pheasants, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and two Goldfinches were present and a single Dunnock fed below the feeders. In the valley proper the weather had abated slightly, Red Legged Partidge and Jackdaws were the first birds to be spotted. The weather then closed in again however every cloud etc etc. At the top car park three Buzzards put on an impressive display of “wind chuting” where they half close their wings and hang in the up current from the hill.  Fantastic spectacle to watch.

jean r findhorn valley

Jean watching Feral Goats in Findhorn Valley

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Snow level coming lower in the valleys!

Birds as seen on day: Pheasant, Common Buzzard, Red Grouse, Whooper Swan, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Collard Dove, Curlew (calling) Red Legged Partridge, Coal Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch,Goldfinch, Dunnock, Woodpigeon, Mallard, Wren.

Monday 25 November 2013

It was a beautiful morning to be out on today’s guided walk around the historic village of Burghead.  A nice little flock of 75 Knot were the first birds of the day, with some Bar Tailed Godwits mixed through for good measure. The sunlight was perfect for digiscoping and the roosting Cormorants and Shags gave the ideal subjects to photograph.

cormorant

Cormorant in typical wing drying posture

cormorant and shag

Good comparison shot with Shag (left) and Cormorant (Right)

The Common Eider were close to shore, with a few individuals venturing into the harbour itself. When the winter weather gets colder more and more birds will come into the sheltered water with perhaps of some Long Tailed Ducks.  Two North Atlantic Grey Seals kept a very wary eye on us a did a Rock Pipit perched on the one of the fisherman’s sheds.

eider 2

Eider male

 

eider male

Eider Male

eider female 1

Eider female

From the viewpoint rafts of Common Scoter were seen to the east of the point with a single Velvet Scoter. Long Tailed Ducks a few immature Gannets and a Red Throated Diver were all also in the area.

Oystercatcher and Turnstones were feeding on the rocks along with a lone Curlew and two Grey Herons.

oyk adult

Adult Oystercatcher

The walk ended with a coffee in “The Bothy” coffee shop, an excellent way to round off the morning.

Birds as seen on day: Knot, Bar Tailed Godwit, Herring Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, Cormorant, Shag, Long Tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Rock Pipit, Red Breasted Gull, Red Throated Diver, Velvet Scoter, Gannet, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Grey Heron.

Monday 18 November 2013

With colder weather forecast for later this week, the first real good flocks of Pink Footed Geese were in the Inverness Airport Area plus a nice flock of Fieldfares were waiting for me in my garden trees when I got home today.

fieldfare2

Fieldfare

fieldfare1

Fieldfare

Wednesday 13 November 2013

I spent this afternoon in the very pleasant company of Shelley from California, and showed her around the  Moray coastline taking in some cultural venues as well as birding hotspots. It was  breezy and quite chilly  but that did not detract from the day and when the sun came out it really did show our visitor from across the pond just how beautiful the area can be.

Shelley

Shelly at Lossiemouth

The thing that is really great about guiding people from different shores (and I feel the same when I am birding abroad) is that nearly every bird for them is a “lifer” so even the more common birds such as Herring and Black Headed Gulls take on a whole new meaning.

oyk lossie

Winter plumaged Oystercatcher at Lossie Estuary

wigeon

Male and female wigeon roosting on the Lossiemouth Estuary (male RH bird)

Hopeman provided brief views of my target bird – Purple Sandpiper, and a male Long Tailed Duck had drifted close to shore allowing Shelley to see the long tail feathers flexing and bending in the wind, a stunning wee bird.

After a quick, freshly brewed coffee at Hopeman we headed off to Burghead, by this time the wind was almost storm force and the light was beginning to fade, however this just enriched the colours of the male Common Eiders, the green on the side of the head and pink blush on the breast showing off brilliantly.

With the light now gone it was time to drop my guest back her base and bid her bon voyage as she heads for home at the weekend, hope you get home safe and sound Shelley.

 Birds as seen on the day: Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Common Curlew, Bar tailed Godwit, Redshank, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Black Headed Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, Grey Heron, Pied Wagtail, Long Tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Greenfinch, Great Cormorant, Shag, Purple Sandpiper, Carrion Crow, Rook, Hooded Crow (hybrid) Collard Dove, Jackdaw, Common Eider Duck, Northern Gannet, Magpie, Buzzard, Ringed Plover.

Sunday 10 November 2013

 Today I was helping out with the Birdwatching and Wildlife Club (BWWC)  located in the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey, it really was a beautiful morning here in the Highlands.

Two guests took up the offer (or should that be challenge!) of a free guided walk through Anagach woods behind Grantown with Birding Ecosse.

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Graham and Judy on Wade Bridge over the Spey

First stop was the hotel feeding station, plenty of birds coming and going, including Coal and Great Tit, Robins and Blackbirds.  Two Crested Tit were calling nearby but proved elusive on the day.

Chaffinches, as is the norm, where calling from nearly every tree and bush with the occasional Dunnock and Wren adding their voices for some good bird call tuition.

Down an the river two redhead Goosanders where in the usual location of the long concrete pontoon in the river, and a Dipper was dipping on a rock over the far side of the river Spey.

Heading towards the Wade bridge a nice little mixed flock flew past including Long Tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Great Tit, and a single Goldcrest.

Completing the loop heading back towards the car some of the more common birds  were picked up. House Sparrow, Dunnock single Siskin and Collards Doves.

A cracking walk in stunning weather, thank you Graham and Judy for a very informative and entertaining morning!

Birds as seen on Day: Great Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Treecreeper, Robin, Goosander, Dipper, Long Tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Rook, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Collard Dove,  Blackbird, Greenfinch, Jackdaw.

Wednesday 06 November 2013

This is a rather belated trip report from Monday when I had the true pleasure of guiding one of my regular customers Richard “God bless ya Maray Poppins” Cockerill, it is always a day filled with laughter, stories, politics, advice and most of all fantastic birds. Picking Richard up from the magnificent Grant Arms Hotels in Grantown on Spey (home of the BWWC) we headed off for a day on the Moray Firth coastline looking for Seaducks and Waders.  First port of call was Kingston and Garmouth on the scenic River Spey. The first thing that was apparent on arrival was the tide, it was mega high!  It should have been on the turn and exposing some of the mud, however the mud flats were deep under water and the breakers out on the Moray Firth looked in danger of breaching over the high shingle bank! (in fact we later found out from a local that it had indeed breached the shingle  bank the day before!) A large amount of gulls were feeding along the strand line of the waves and included Common, Black Headed, Great Black Backed and Herring Gulls. Wigeon were whistling behind us and Teal and Mallard showed off well just in the reeds near where we were standing. Onto Loch Spynie, where it was great to get out of the biting North Westerly wind, a nice group of 14 Whooper Swans welcomed us to this beautiful wee reserve and the supporting cast of Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Mute Swans, Cormorants and Grey Lag Geese all added to the days total, however star performer was a female Marsh Harrier seen hunting over the reeds just across from the hide, briefly hanging in the wind before plunging out of sight never to re-appear!

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Lossiemouth Breakwater, ideal for Purple Sandpipers when not under water!!

Lossiemouth estuary was suffering the same problem as Kingston and Garmouth with the very high tide, it was coming through the dunes system at the far side of the river, something that only happens once or twice a year.  But looking through the gaps in the dunes we could see Gannets were feeding very close to shore. Onto Hopeman where thankfully the tide had dropped enough to expose some sand and rocks, Rock Pipit and Redshank were busily feeding whilst a lone roosting Turnstone sat huddled and fed up looking on the harbour wall.  A Red Throated Diver was close to shore allowing superb views of its winter plumage, delicate neck and lovely uptilted bill. Burghead was next on the itinerary and Common Scoter, Long Tailed Duck and Rock Pipit were soon on the list along with one, perhaps two Slavonian Grebes just off the harbour wall, these birds are always a pleasure to see, regardless of being in winter plumage. Strangest sighting of the day was a single Arctic Tern feeding out in Burghead bay heading towards Findhorn! As light was fading we paid a visit to Findhorn Sand dune system where here we picked up our last target bird for the day two rafts of Velvet Scoter that showed well between the now massive waves crashing into shore. It was a brilliant days birding and as the winter progresses and the number of birds increase it can only get better!  So check out our Planned trips” page and book yourself a day on the Moray Firth with Birding Ecosse. Birds list as seen on the day: Common Gull, Black Headed Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Carrion Crow, Yellowhammer, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Gannet, Eider, Collard Dove, Starling, Teal, Dabchick, Grey Heron, Shag, Pink Footed Goose,Whooper Swan, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Marsh Harrier (fem), Grey Lag Goose, Blue Tit, Redwing, Fieldfare, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, Buzzard, Redshank, Goosander, Red Breasted Merganser, Arctic Tern, Long Tailed Duck, Rock Pipit, Cormorant, Robin, Red Throated Diver, Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter, Slavonian Grebe, Greenfinch, Collard Dove, Woodpigeon, Pheasant, Kittiwake, Turnstone, House Sparrow, Goldfinch.

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Richard “apples and pears” out to sea looking for Scoter!

Tuesday 05 November 2013

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The Crossley ID Guide to Britain and Ireland By Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens

Living up in the Highlands of Scotland and in particular the spectacular Moray Firth lets me indulge in my passion of Seawatching, and having the privileged position of being a birding tour guide it allows me to share my passion with others. The area is a birding paradise in any season, from spring and summer with its Ospreys and Slavonian Grebes, breeding colonies of Auks, Kittiwakes and Fulmars, Black and Red Throated Divers on remote Scottish Lochans and not to mention all our famous Grouse, but autumn and Winter is, for me, the seasons when the Moray Firth comes into its own. Many participants on Birding Ecosse workshops and tours are taking their first steps into the world of Birding, and as with any new hobby or venture they can find the array of optics, cameras, tripods, clothes and in particular field guides and reference books daunting.  What is the best……?  Which…….. Should I buy?  What…….. Do you use? are all frequent and pertinent questions. With the publication of the new Crossley ID Guide to Britain and Ireland I will hopefully be able to at least give some guidance to the reference book question! Even with best intentions, sometimes birds and weather will conspire against you, and they decide they will not put on the usual “lets swim close to shore” routine and stubbornly remain distant spots on a vast seascape.

Common Scoter

Real life Common Scoter watching!

This is where the Crossley guide comes into its own

Scoters double page

As a training guide the book is absolutely top notch, comparing the real life birds and the excellent plates from the Crossley Guide you can see the direct comparisons.  Does the bird have any white on the face or wings?  No? Then it cannot be a Velvet.  Does it have White on the head or nape? No? Then it cannot be the Surf Scoter.  So using process of elimination, which in essence what identification is (albeit done in fractions of seconds) the bird you are now looking at is the Common Scoter. Likewise with another bird that people will flock (pardon the pun) to see, the beautiful Long Tailed Duck

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Long Tailed Duck on the Moray Firth

Long tailed ducks arrive in their thousands to spend the winter in the relatively calm and warm waters of the Moray Firth from October onwards. On first inspection they appear to be all the same, however look more closely ( this is the benefits of booking a tour with Birding Ecosse as you get to use our first class optical equipment to do this!) and you will see some subtle differences, The males in their fine winter plumage, the more subdued females and the immature.  All beautifully depicted in the Crossley ID Guide.

Long-tailed Duck

The plates are clear, and unlike most guides or reference books they show birds in various postures and also with the background of real locations it (in fact this is a pleasant aside for myself, trying to figure out where the backgrounds are!)  The other real benefit or beginners and intermediates (the audiences this book is aimed at) are that you are not overwhelmed by exotic, but similar looking species.  I have on occasions had flocks of Sinai Rosefinches and Crab Plover in the Highlands of Scotland, and although I would dearly love to encounter this I had to point out that they were actually looking at Linnets and Oystercatchers.

Slavonian Grebe

Finally a little bit of a quiz for yourself to try, study the picture below and then see if you can work out what birds are in view…….

mixed flock

So in summary, if you are just a beginner or wanting to expand your skills then the Crossley ID Guide to birds of Britain and Ireland is a “must buy book” and even if you are experienced birder then it is a highly engrossing book looking at the scenery of the plates and the postures of the birds making a great browse through. This review is part of the Crossley Blog Tour, to find more reviews and articles please follow the links to other bloggers starting with tomorrows guest blog http://birdingfrontiers.com For a chance to win a signed copy of this fantastic book please visit http://blog.press.princeton.edu/crossley-id-guide-uk-giveaway/ If you wish to see a list of contributing bloggers please visit http://blog.press.princeton.edu/crossley-uk-blog-tour-schedule/ Finally if you have any questions for either Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens then they are holding a live video call on November 21st on http://shindig.com/event/crossley-id-guide Many thanks and I hope you have enjoyed this review, if you fancy putting the book to the test then why don’t you book a day trip with Birding Ecosse, we look forward to meeting you.

Lynda

Lynda getting to grips with Scoters using the new Crossley ID Guide.

 

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Well the weather has definitely taken a turn cooler this last few days, and the Southerly wind that had been blowing started to get a Northerly component, so with that in mind I had a quick stop in at Nairn on the way home from Inverness today. Birds as seen: Herring Gull, Common Gull, Gannet, Red Breasted Merganser, Guillemot, Long Tailed Duck, Red Throated Diver, Gannet, Turnstone, 2 Arctic Tern, 1 small Unid Tern, Common Scoter, Cormorant, Rock Pipit, Redshank, Carrion Crow, Black Headed Gull, Common Eider, Mute Swan.

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The new Crossley Guide

I am really looking forward to reviewing this completely new approach to bird books.

Full review will be posted on this very blog on 05 November 2013 so please call back and take part in this “Blog Tour”

Thursday 24 October 2013

“The tale of Swollen Knee”

Yesterday, as reported was an outstanding day of birding and company, what I failed to add is that Derek had soldiered on with a very sore knee after having had’ a fall outside the station at Aviemore. When I arrived at the hotel this morning, and Derek wasn’t waiting expectantly on the driveway I had a feeling things were not right.  At reception I was informed to visit Derek in his room where I found out he had paid a visit to Hospital last night and his leg was, to put it in birding terms “goosed” Hope you get well soon Derek and I will call next week to see how you are, however every cloud has a silver lining (and I know Derek wont mind this being my silver lining) and as I waited for the chemist to open so I could purchase some pain killers for “Derek Swollen knee” I paid a visit to the BWWC feeders in Anagach woods to try and get some Crested Tit.  I wasn’t to be disappointed!

crested tit pair

Pair of Crested Tit

crested tit

Crested Tit

The birds showed brilliantly throughout the hour I spent watching them, it also became apparent the Cresties will come more readily to food on the ground than Coal, Great and Blue Tit.

However I must add that for ignorant dog walkers then I’m afraid that the Anagach wood dog walkers have stolen the long held title from the Lossiemouth Estuary Dog Walkers, all we need now is for windsurfers to start on the River Spey to see if they can compete with those ignorant folk at Findhorn Bay?! (please note: not all dog walkers are ignorant, only the ignorant ones!  I walked back to the car in the comopany of a man whose Jack Russel stayed at heel and behaved impeccably, likewise there are some fantastically trained dogs at Lossiemouth as well, unfortunately as in much of life “the few spoil it for the many”)

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Well where to start!?  A truly amazing day out birding with Derek staying with the BWWC at the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey. With an 0800 pick up we were soon heading along the coast to Kingston and Garmouth near Spey Bay. A quick flyby of a Jay closely followed by a huge female Sparrowhawk got the day of to a great start. Arriving at Kingston we scanned over the exposed mud flats and immediately noted good numbers of Teal and Wigeon, a single Black Tailed Godwit was a great spot by Derek. Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer were in nearby bushes. The weather was flat calm with a bright but not glaring light, a cracking morning so far. Over to Loch Oire, to try for the recently reported Shovelers (not an overly common bird in this neck of the woods), luckily we picked them up straight away, in fact two males and two females were present, also here were Dabchick, Moorhen, Wigeon and Teal.

shoveler

Male and Female Shoveler

Next stop was Lossiemouth, by this time the weather had taken a turn for the worst, dark clouds were looming and the wind had increased.  The estuary was absolutely perfect for birding and excellent views were had of Bar Tailed Godwits, Goosanders and Redshanks.  Moving round to The Station car park it was here we had the surprise of the day, something made me look up and I was amazed to see a Swift zip by, as I called it to Derek and raised my binos to the bird a second bird appeared in my view, not only that, they were then joined by two House Martins!  All between squally rain showers and blustery gale force winds!  One of the birds was seriously pale with a defined white throat pouch, however I couldn’t make out its saddle colour or if it had a dark eye smudge so it will ever remain Common Swift! Hopeman added Turnstone, Rock pipit and Pied Wagtail to the list but once again the weather closed in and we beat a hasty retreat to the car for shelter and lunch, we also took the chance of the weather to re-position to Burghead.

Derek Scoter watching

Derek Scoter watching

Burghead was now in the grips of a howling gale, and heavy rain showers, this however only helped to bring the birds in closer! Some crippling views of Immature and Sub adult Gannets as they came with a couple of hundred feet of the shore line, Common Scoter and Long Tailed Ducks were drifting along hugging the shoreline.  A  Red Throated Diver and Guillemot  added another two species to the ever increasing tally for the day.

Roseisle came up trumphs with the target species of Velvet Scoter, Derek had wanted to compare Common and Velvet and now he had the chance, more Long Tailed Ducks were scurrying to and fro along the Moray Firth.

Rainbow Lochindorb

Rainbow Lochindorb

And so to the final leg of today’s Grand Tour of Moray, Dava moor.  The rainbow that greeted us did not end in a pot of gold but something just as good, Kestrel, Red Grouse and a good sized mixed flock of Fieldfare and Redwings.  All in all a fantastic days birding with over 60 species seen.

Bird list as they were seen: Teal, Wigeon, Grey Heron, Dabchick, Sparrowhawk, Mallard, Lapwing, Robin, Reed Bunting, Curlew, Yellowhammer, Great Black Backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Black Tailed Godwit, Chaffinch, Whooper Swan, kittiwake, Herring Gull, Goldeneye,Red Breasted Merganser, Mute Swan, Red Throated Diver, Jay, Carrion Crow, Greenfinch, Collard Dove, House Sparrow, Blackbird, Common Gull, Pink footed goose, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Bar Tailed Godwit, Goosander, Cormorant, Common Swift, House martin, Sanderling, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Eider, Gannet, Shag, Rock Pipit, Starling, Razorbill, Dunnock, Common Scoter, Guillemot, Turnstone, Velvet Scoter, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Rook, Red Grouse, Kestrel, Buzzard, Fieldfare, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Woodpigeon.

Monday 21 October 2013

Yet another glorious day on the Moray Firth for weather, birds and company! Meeting one of my longest serving clients Jackie (or repeat offender should that be?) at the usual car park near the harbour at Burghead the temperature was already approaching +14 the sun was shining and the birds were out in force:  Starling swirled around in there winter flocks, Linnets busily and noisily chirped over head, House Sparrows and Chaffinches hopped from bush to grass and back again.  The tseep tseep call alerted us to a Rock Pipit feeding down on the seaweed strewn rocks before flitting up to give brilliant views along the railings and path.

ripit

Rock Pipit

Looking across to a small patch of marram grass on nearby rock some movement caught my eye and using my binos, two imm Goldfinches where seen feeding on the wispy seed heads, then I noticed a reed Bunting crouched low at the base of the grass, quite an unusual sight down here at the harbour.  The Bunting then flew up onto the harbour wall giving great views through the scope. The ever present cormorants were sitting like carved gargoyles at the end of the harbour wall drying their wings in typical fashion.

Cormorant, Great Black Backed Gull and Kittiwake

Cormorant, Great Black Backed Gull and Kittiwake

Common Scoter, Common Eider and  Long Tailed Duck scurried along in loose flocks over the calm surface of the Moray Firth whilst on the Beach Bar Tailed Godwit, Redshank and Curlew all made the most of the very low tide and fed hungrily on the newly exposed sand.

Walking towards the harbour entrance Turnstones were seen alongside flocks of House Sparrows and yet another Rock Pipit.

A lone Kittiwake seemed to be ignoring the rafts of its relatives floating just offshore as it sat on the harbour wall soaking up the sunshine, it was a great opportunity to talk Jackie through the relevant ID pointers.

kittiwake

Kittiwake

Arriving at the viewpoint the views of the Firth today were just outstanding, however what was even more of a surprise was the three Magpies sitting on the flagpole of the viewpoint, not a common bird around here at all, and although very nice to see I hope we do not see a population explosion of this species in the area.

Birds drifting along out to sea included Long Tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Two Red Throated Divers and the incongruous sight of two Arctic Terns passing by, the plain unmarked upperparts showing no contrast on the primaries gave the bird a very pale apearance, (as an aside the fact you are guiding people makes you pay particular attention to details of plumage, and it helps both your ID skill and the people you are guiding)

The walk back to the car turned up a cracking Purple Sandpiper mixed in with a feeding flock of Turnstones and a Grey Heron posing motionless against the rock awaiting the first movement in the water below that would signal lunch was ready!

A brilliant morning birds with a varied and interesting haul of species, a great way to spend a few hours.

Birds list as they were seen on the day:  Kittiwake, Great Black Backed Gull, Bar Tailed Godwit, Black Headed Gull, Oystercatcher,Curlew, Red Breasted Merganser, Redshank, Rock Pipit, Chaffinch, Starling,Robin, Reed Bunting fem/imm. House Sparrow, Cormorant, Common Scoter, Turnstone, Feral Pigeon, Magpie, Dunnock, Linnet, Long Tailed Duck, Common Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic Tern x 2, Common Gull, Guillemot, Razorbill, Red Throated Diver.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Dawn at Findhorn

First Light at Findhorn Bay

Once again an absolutely stunning morning on the Moray Firth, beautiful clear sky and not a breath of wind.

The forecast and weather charts were looking very promising, however it was apparent straight away that no mega fall had taken place, it looks better for later in the week…. and I have two full day tours booked for the coast, Happy Happy days 🙂

Robins were the first birds to appear along with a couple of Dunnocks. On the beach it was almost devoid of birds, only a lone Oystercatcher and Common Gull were feeding on some of the pools.  Gannets were still feeding off shore but were a bit further out than yesterday.

Walking my usual circuit I came to the conclusion it would be better to walk in an clockwise direction, thus keeping the sun out my eyes!

Two Blackbirds flew out of cover followed by my first Fieldfare of the season, excuse the quality of the pic, it was barely daylight! A tight group of 40 Starlings were perched on the masts of the boats.

fieldfare

Two wrens, more Dunnocks and Robins and a flock of 25 Linnets (feeding on the roof of the Captains Table cafe)  were all picked up in quick succession, and a single Goldfinch chirrped overhead.

Up by the cottages with the feeders, usual suspects where hanging around, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Woodpigeon and Collards Dove

Back at the beach Velvets Scoter had moved in closer to shore and one Slavonian Grebe was still in the area.  Walking back to the car a nice wee group of three Blue Tit, one Great Tit,  two Robins and a single Goldcrest were all in the car par area.

great tit

Male Great Tit

Friday 18 October 2013

Today was a guided trip around the dune systems at Findhorn Bay. The weather was fair with a brisk S/W breeze.

Meeting at the hide (no druggies this time, but the door is now vandalised and open to all ) the first thing apparent was the amount of Pink Footed Geese. A good gaggle were on the mud flats with more skeins wiffling in.  Nice to see them back.

Birds in the area, as they were seen: Pink Footed Goose, Mallard, Shelduck, Wigeon, Redshank, Dunlin, Mute Swan, Curlew,Robin.

Common Scoter and Slavonian Gebe

Common Scoter and Slavonian Gebe

Heading down to the Dunes the first initial scan with the eye did not look promising, very quiet.  However when you put the scope on the area it came alive!  Imm Gannets were plunge diving offshore, flocks of Long Tailed Ducks buzzed across the waters surface and good flocks of both Common and Velvet Scoter where close enough to shore to give fantastic views and the opportunity to compare both species side by side.  At this time two smaller birds entered stage left and swam through the scoters….. two Slavonian grebes, nice birds in winter plumage and always a top bird to pick up.

Small birds came in the form of Yellowhammer, Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits.  A few Robins were dotted around but not enough to hint at a fall, Robert had a quick glimpse of a Redwing as it disappeared into the gorse never to be seen again!

Robert the Redwing Finder

Robert – Todays Victim!

The Moray Firth

The Moray Firth

Findhorn Looking over to Culbin Forest

Findhorn Looking over to Culbin Forest

Birds seen: Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter, Slavonian Grebe, Gannet, Long Tailed Duck, Eider, Herring Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, Yellowhammer, Robin, Starling, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue tit, Coal Tit, Woodpigeon, Collard Dove, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Redwing, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Teal, Hodded/Carrion Crow Hybrids.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

The Grantown on Spey U3A

The Grantown on Spey U3A

It was a lovely start to the day, temperature was a nose nipping +1 not a cloud in the sky and not a breath of wind.  The day was set fair for a guided walk with the Grantown on Spey U3A group. Walking around the harbour area the first birds to be picked up were the gulls, Herring and Black Headed, with a lone Great Black Backed Gull perched high on a street light, soup ducks (hybrid Mallards) and Mute Swans were seen further upstream.  A small high tide roost of Redshanks and Turnstones huddled together on an undisturbed bit of the jetty. At the furthest part of the harbour wall the view over the Moray Firth was just outstanding, it was absolutely flat calm.  The birds unfortunately where quite widely dispersed over the surface.  Long Tailed Ducks, male an female, Common Eider, Cormorants and Shags where all present  A few common Gulls drifted by. Frank picked up a rock Pipit feeding across the river from our location and gave good views, which in turn gave me the chance to go through the differences between the Rock and Meadow Pipits.  A couple of hybrid Hooded/Carrion crowns looked down on us from the marker light at the end of the Harbour wall. Skylarks where heard “churrup churruping” high over head, continental birds arriving perhaps? Leaving the harbour and walking along the seafront in a westerly direction, some normal, run of the mill House Sparrows were perched in the marram grass, and what was nice to see was people taking time to look and admire these very common, but always overlooked little birds, they really are a beautifully marked in subtle browns and greys. Skylarks were still trickling through over head whilst Robins and Dunnocks both called from most bushed, however there was no sign of any Yellow Browed Warblers (I will find one this year!) However one lone Female Common Scoter was seen keeping company with the Long Tailed Ducks.  Two good sized skiens of Pink Footed Geese were seen heading North very high?! And a red head Red Breasted Merganser showed will out on the Firth. It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, some stunning scenery and some entertaining conversations. List of birds seen (order:- as seen on day) Oystercatcher, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Chaffinch, Yellowhammer, Robin, Greenfinch, Starling, Blue Tit, Turnstone, Redshank, Mute Swan, Long Tailed Duck, Rock Pipit, Skylark, Cormorant, Shag, Pink Footed Geese, Red Breasted Merganser,Whooper Swan x2,

Tuesday 15 October 2013

A beautiful morning up here on the Moray Firth and although no rarities it was just one of those days it was great to be out in the Field birding. Long Tailed Duck, numbers seem to be down on what I had on Friday, Common and Velvet scoter, Red Throated Divers dotted across the whole of the Firth and one Slavonian Grebe. Not many passerines although one Robin was getting run ragged by four or five “interlopers” Grey Plover was still at Lossie Estuary yesterday.

Monday 14 October 2013

Today can only be described as driech!  Recent rain overnight and a strong N/E had the makings of a good migrant morning, so off to Findhorn Dunes I duly went. Hundreds of Juvenile Gannets were plunge diving just offshore, and Velvet and Common Scoter zipped low over the waves, only three Long Tailed Duck seemed to be in the area, although there were plenty of wave troughs for them to hide in! On the passerine front, many Grey Pate Goldfinches sat and fed on nearby seed heads, Robins, Dunnock and Blackbirds were all chipping and chacking in the gorse bushes, but alas nothing rare put in an appearance. With the drizzle giving way to rain proper I retreated to the car then home for a warming coffee!

 Sunday 13 October 2013

Nice late afternoon walk up through the woods near to home, Great Spotted Woodpecker was noisily making its presence felt, Chaffinch, Robin and Wren also in the area, it was however the target bird for the walk that gave most pleasure… 30 Redwings flew over head heading East, part of a major influx of these Scandinavian winter visitors.

Friday 11 October 2013

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 It was one of those mornings that made you glad to be out and about. Hardly a breath of air, bright but without any glare.  Perfect for birding! Walking along the foreshore of Nairn is a brilliant mix of Grass football pitches, a strip of marram grass and buckthorn, loads of migrant attracting Sycamore trees and loads of elderberry bushes. The whole underwatched area has an air of expectancy about it…. I love it and the fact you very seldom see another pair of binos makes it even more appealing! Today was a general walk around prepping for a guided walk here later on in the week, so what follows is a list of birds as they were seen on the day: Oystercatcher, Goldfinch, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, Common Gull, Carrion Crow, Pied Wagtail, Eider, Pink Footed Goose (one lone bird heading West) Blue Tit, Long Tailed Duck (first of the season for me) Red Throated Diver, Goldeneye (one flock 8 birds heading west) Grrenfinch, Razorbill, Whooper Swan (once again a single bird heading West) Red Breasted Merganser, Mute Swan x 8, Cormorant, Shag, Treecreeper, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, House Sparrow, Starling. Down at Nairn Harbour: Mallard, Robin (there seems to be a few Robins in the area this morning, feeding on the rocks and the seaweed) Dunnock, Turnstone, Redshank, Skylark (constant low flying flocks heading West giving characteristic “churrup chuurrup” calls, Black headed Gulls, Carrion/Hooded Crow Hybrids, Bar Tailed Godwits 33, Knot 15, Sanderling 50+, Pale Bellied Brent Geese 4 at the River mouth, nice little flock of roosting gulls at river mouth.  Common, Black Headed and a few Kittiwakes thrown in. All in all a nice little mixed bag of birds for a mornings walk.

Catch up so far!

Okay so I have admitted defeat, the amount of great birding trips I have undertaken since my return from Canada in June 2013 means I have sadly neglected this blog, however with the end of the year drawing ever closer, and a new regime of managing my time (the off button on the TV is a marvelous invention!) I find I can now afford the time to keep you all informed of my shenanigans!

As a way of a catch up I have selected a small sample of pictures of the last few months with a brief explanation with them, after this I will try (honest m’lud) to update each trip on the actual day!

So sit back and hopefully enjoy.

Crepuscular rays at Lossiemouth

Crepuscular rays at Lossiemouth

One of the many mongrel crows we have in Moray.

One of the many mongrel crows we have in Moray.

Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga September 2013

Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga September 2013

Lossiemouth estuary October 2013

Lossiemouth estuary October 2013

White Headed Duck At Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga September 2013

White Headed Duck
At Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga September 2013

Spotless Starling At Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga.  September 2013

Spotless Starling
At Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga. September 2013

Malaga, September 2013

Malaga, September 2013

Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga September 2013

Rio Guadalhorce, Malaga September 2013

Joose Yague from Park Nature and myself at Rio Guadalhorce. September 2013

Joose Yague from Park Nature and myself at Rio Guadalhorce. September 2013

Heaven on earth? The Raptor view point at Tarifa near to Gibralter

Heaven on earth? The Raptor view point at Tarifa near to Gibralter

Booted Eagles, Short Toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Black Stork in mass migration over Tarifa.

Booted Eagles, Short Toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Black Stork in mass migration over Tarifa.

Tuesday 02 September 2013

Another excellent morning spent in the company of the Oates family, this time searching for birds of valley and stream. Heading across the Farr road the first birds to make a real impact were a good sized flock of Meadow Pipit with at least seven Stonechats added in for good measure, one of the Stonechats was showing some very immature plumage, with downy tufts still visible on its head and nape. Red Grouse put on a good show, both male and females showing well, although the light could have been better for Dave to get some pictures.  A Red Kite in wing and tail moult circled the area holding prey in its talons. C0ming down off the high road an adult Dipper, was doing what dippers do best…. dipping in and out of the small stream. Arriving at Eagle Car park I noticed the wind had increased in strength and the usual passerines at this location were sheltering in the gorse, Blue and Coal tit were calling from the depths and a Dunnock made a quick appearance before taking for cover again! Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Sasha was promptly staked out as Eagle bait, sadly even this didn’t work!

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Eagle Bait

Heading up to the top car park, the strong wind ever present, it was nice to see Ravens up at about, two buzzards provided an initial adrenalin rush but once again all was quite on the raptor front.. Even with the lack of birds it still was a beautiful day to be up the Valley.

Today's victims..... the Oates family!

Today’s victims….. the Oates family!

Once again, a great day in great company.

Friday 30 August 2013

Spent a fantastic morning in the company of the Oates family from the distant lands of Cambridgeshire. Today we were heading off to Tarbat Ness and Portmahommack in search of seabirds and migrants, the weather was bright and breezy and although the heat of the summer is on the wane it still made for very pleasant birding conditions. Portmahommock was first stop, Eiders drifted about in loose flocks, the brown females staying separated from the males, many now in their black and white eclipse plumage.  Gannets, mainly adults were feeding out to sea and Sandwich Terns made their presence known by flying overhead giving their raucous “kerrang” call, a real sound of summer.  A good flock of House Sparrows were hanging about in the nearby bushes whilst Jackdaws and Collard Doves fed on the sea weed strand line on the beach. Heading up to Tarbat Ness good numbers of Starlings and Hirundines where perched on farm buildings and Telephone wires, looks like it has been a good breeding season for them.  Arriving at the car park the feeders where in high demand by yet another healthy population of House Sparrows, with the occasional Chaffinch and Hedge Sparrow thrown in for good measure. Heading out through the gorse path to the lighthouse linnets perched on the telegraph wire, and House Martins Chirruped over head, on closer inspection we noticed the nest high up on the light house, just below the glass dome, the birds were continually flying up trying to coax the unfledged youngsters to take to the air!

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House Martins were nesting under the yellow arched brickwork

Out to see a small raft of immature Shags lazed about on the water, Gannets, Fulmars and the ever present Sandwich Terns drifted by continually.  There was however no sign of yesterdays pod of Killer Whales. Last stop was the RSPB hide at Nigg bay, although the tide was fully out we still have the fantastic sight of four Osprey in the area at the same time, along with Curlew, Shelduck, Grey Heron and a nice Autumn flock of 90 Lapwings. A great morning, with highly entertaining company and a good handful on birds.  Look out for my next blog when we head out for Eagles and Ouzels!

The Oates family from deepest darkest Cambridgeshire.

The Oates family from deepest darkest Cambridgeshire.

Monday 12 August 2013

The group of people pictured below are the Grantown on Spey U3A and under the guidance of one Frank MacKay they booked me as a guide for the morning (for a second time!) Meeting at the appointed hour we spend a pleasant 15 minutes scoping the Moray Firth just off Lossiemouth, plenty of action was going on just around the mouth of the River Lossie, Sandwich Terns, both adult and juveniles were feeding noisily just offshore, a smaller number of Common and Arctic terns were also in the same area.  Gannets passed by further out to sea, the adults snow white plumage contacting starkly with the dark grey, ominous looking clouds that seemed to be gathering just off shore! Then with no warning a female Sparrowhawk zipped onto the scene, landing briefly on the sea wall, the terns were not happy, and started mobbing said Sparrowhawk, that decided to exit stage left! Moving onto Lossie Estuary the usual suspects were to be found, Herring, Lesser Black Backed, Greater black backed, and Black headed gulls were all loafing around in the water and exposed sand banks.  An Osprey was feeding just at the far side of the dunes, but headed off towards Spey Bay.  Oystercatchers, Redshank and Dunlin were also in the immediate area. Crossing over the bridge Frank called out Bar Tailed Godwit, this superbly marked bird was feeding very successfully in the wet mud just to the left of the footbridge.  Walking out onto the fantastic East Beach I was slightly dismayed to see a surfing group just off shore but they didn’t disturb the few birds that were in the area. A small group of Sanderling fed busily along the strand line, all these birds were in their winter dress, but nice to see nonetheless.  Also in the vicinity were Sandwich and Arctic Terns, a nice mixture of adult and juveniles. Heading back to the cars a House Martin and  pair of swifts headed over the dunes heading East, and fittingly pone of the last birds of the day was once again a Feeding Osprey. A great mornings birding with some great people, roll on October for my next outing with the Grantown on Spey U3A!

U3A at Lossiemouth

U3A at Lossiemouth