Blog – 2015

So ended 2015 an absolutely stunning year with some brilliant birds and fantastic people, my web page is being updated as we speak with all the trips and tours for 2016, so please call into birdingecosse.co.uk to plan your next trip to the highlands…… the Tunnocks are waiting 🙂

Dave

 Final Tallies for 2015

 Totals: Birding Ecosse all time total : 190 species

2015 total- Final count –  166

Long Weekend: 101

Mid Week: 87

Full day: 74

Half day: 45

December Newsletter. 

Well where did November go?! I find myself typing this newsletter thinking I only sent the last one a week ago!  How time flies when you are having fun.  And believe me I have had a lot of fun over the last month!

The first set of Victims to receive the Birding Ecosse treatment was Bob and John, both residing at the Magnificent Grant Ams Hotel, home of the BWWC.  Pick up was at 0800 and at this time of year it is still nearly fully dark, so it was just as first light broke we found ourselves on a beautiful grouse moor watching Black Grouse strutting their stuff.  A fantastic way to start the day, however little did we know what lay directly around the corner!! As we were leaving the Grouse lek a large bird of prey lifted off the heather about 100 feet in front of us, a fantastic Golden Eagle!  The bird circled directly over head before gaining height and drifting to the west, as I was watching this fantastic sight, John yelled “There is a second Bird” and lo and behold a second immature Golden Eagle rose up to join the first!

 Immature Golden Eagle

Next stop is our local nature reserve and a real crowd pleaser!  John had spent the last couple of days searching in vain for Crested Tit, and living up to our strap line “There is no dross with Birding Ecosse” within 5 minutes he had one feeding out of his hand (literally feeding out of his hand!)

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of great birds, lively stories from all parties and at least five lifers for John and one for Bob.  So all in all a brilliant day. Day two dawned once again, this time it was just myself and Birthday Boy Bob, Allen had to depart for his journey south. The weather was stunning as we headed up Raptor valley in Search of White Tailed eagles, unfortunately they proved elusive, however the local Peregrine did put on a nice display toying with some Ravens, and another three Golden Eagle put in an appearance, not many times in life when you can say you have seen more Eagles than Buzzards! And what better way to spend your Bithday than with a coffee an extravagant birthday treat (see picture) and golden eagles!

Birthday boy Bob and his exquisite Birding Ecosse Birthday cake 🙂  

Mid month saw me undertaking one of the regular a quality checks from the owner on the Grant Arms and BWWC, he is also known as the “rainmaker” as every time  we head out, wether to see Eagles or Dolphins it is always tiddling down!  It is always a great laugh though and I value the information, tips and guidance he imparts to me and Birding Ecosse.

And so to the end of the month and repeat offender Anthony arrived once again in the Highlands, this time though it was different for a couple of reasons, his Brother John (another repeat offender of Birding Ecosse trips) was not in attendance having had a recent operation (Get well soon John and I look forward to seeing you again when we can go and search for the rarely seen Red Breasted Merganisers 🙂  )  and also the Anthony was on a personal “Big Year” trying to reach 200 species in a calendar year.  He was on 189 and expected Birding Ecosse to come up with the goods……… pressure on Day one and it was Northward bound, species 1 on the list Sparrowhawk, at the Mound, No2 in the shape of Fieldfare flying in off Loch Fleet and heading south, we had stopped here to look at a huge flock of Finches, quite a sight as they swirled around the set aside fields, mainly linnets but a few Goldfinch and Greenfinch thrown in for good measure.  Embo pier turned up the usual Turnstone, but the target for this location, as always, is Purple Sandpiper, and true to form three birds sat huddled on the harbour wall trying to shelter from the increasingly strong wind.

Anthony at Embo pier

A brief stop off at the Dornoch Public loos proved worthwhile when Anthony picked up a Waxwing, pretending to be a Chaffinch, perched in a nearby tree, a cracking bonus bird  No3 for the list!

Waxwing

So end of day 1 three down and eight to get on day 2!

Up with the larks and whilst driving to pick up Anthony the roads got snowier and snowier, this was not the plan!!  Luckily the Birding Ecosse mobile, complete with new snow tyres attached, made short work of the conditions and we were soon on our local grouse moor watching 9 male and 1 female Black Grouse (via the beautiful River Spey where we picked up Dipper) birds number 4 and 5 off the list!

A very snowy Grouse Moor!

Next stop was the local RSPB reserve for Crested Tit, although the little blighters were heard they just would come into view, very very frustrating, we did however score with a Treecreeper, number 6 off the list, and it is always great fun feeding the birds here as well!

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!

A quick jaunt over the moors collecting Red grouse, No7 off the list, were soon standing on the Moray Firth looking at Bird No8 Snow Bunting! And as we transitted back towards Roseisle we stoped to watch a Redwing feeding on some windfall apples No9!

Light was fading fast as we stood on the harbour wall at Lossiemouth, I was scoping across the water for any form of Diver when a small alcid flew through my field of view, small whirring wings and diminutive size and we had not only species No 10 but also a lifer for Anthony, a Little Auk!!  One more to go…… the light was fading……… please, one more species, please! A dash back to Roseisle, dusk was upon us, could we possibly get a Velvet Scoter in this gloom?  The light faded, the birds faded…… our hopes faded……. 199! If only the Crested Tit Had shown, if only the Divers had shown, if only a Velvet Scoter had shown…… if only, if only……. Trudging back to the car we did congratulate ourselves on a great couple of days birding, but the nagging sense of missing the target still hung in the air, as we drove out of the car park it was pitch black, then in the beam of the headlights a flurry of feathers, a woodcock, then another, taking off from the verge, at last species 200!! mission accomplished! And so the month ended, and as I look towards Christmas and the New Year I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you, the class of 2015 and those of previous years, for making Birding Ecosse the growing success that it is, it has been a true pleasure spending time in your company, sharing stories, jokes and putting the world to rights.  To all of you have a safe and happy Christmas and a very happy, healthy, and bird filled 2016

Merry Christmas 🙂 

Monday 16 November 2015

Browsing through some of my pictures from this brilliant season for Birding Ecosse, I came across these pictures taken at the RSPB reserve at Troup Head.  It is amazing to think that just two birds arrived on these cliffs in the 1970’s and today we have the spectacle of 7500 birds. Always a great day out, I will be organising many trips to this fantastic reserve, keep your eyes peeled for my summer breaks being published in the very near future and join me for a fantastic day of birds, scenery, smells and photo ops!

Gannets

Gannets

 

Gannets, getting aquainted

Gannets, getting acquainted

 

Gannet colony

Gannet colony

 

Friday 13 November 2015

Nice to see a few other birders have been picking up the Rough Legged Buzzard I found on Tuesday, They are also commenting on how pale it is and the high possibility it is the same bird as last year…. hope so as that was a long staying Birdy and gave a good few Birding Ecosse victims the chance to catch up with it.

Rough Legged Buzzard, showing black flank patched and dark carpal patches.

Rough Legged Buzzard, showing black flank patched and dark carpal patches.

Once again the Distant Rough Legged Buzzard, this time showing pale rump.

Once again the Distant Rough Legged Buzzard, this time showing pale rump.

My record shots from last year, hopefully if it lingers in the area I will get better images than these!

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Had a nice morning out with John, the owner of the Grant Arms Hotel and head honcho of the BWWC, and it was off to Laggan to see what was about. So what was about?  Torrential rain and gales!!  It was my second trip to this location with John, and it was exactly the same……… I have been with other victims in beautiful weather, blue skies, warm sun, so lets us look at the common factor for the poor weather………… All joking apart it was a great trip with a few birds seen despite the weather, Goldeneye, Mallard, Bullfinch (male). Kestrel to name a few. A heard of 42 Red Deer Stags was nice to see through the heavy rain, then as quickly as they appeared they melted away into the murk.

Red Deer

Red Deer

Every cloud has a silver lining, and today it was the rain the had turned the River Spey in not quite a raging torrent, but a good flow nonetheless.

A driech River Spey

A driech River Spey

However the highlight of the day was on my return over Dava Moor when a Rough Legged Buzzard transited over the road and headed in the direction of Lochindorb. A very pale individual similar to last years long staying bird.  Same bird perhaps?

Monday 09 November 2015

Nice weekend with a mixture of birdin, long drives and some aurora watching!

"Peek a boo" Red Grouse!

“Peek a boo” Red Grouse!

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

These Red Grouse were seen on a drive across the Lecht heading towards Braemar, I know they are not the rarest of birds but it was nice to see them perched up on the dry stane dyke.  It was a bit of a raptor drive with Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk all being seen. We also seem to be having a fabulous run of the Northern Lights at the moment with sightings nearly every and any clear night, just proving that the Highlands, Moray and Nairn are a great places to visit for all sorts of wildlife and nature!

Aurora over Findhorn

Aurora over Findhorn

Welcome to the Birding Ecosse November Newsletter. 

And so that’s October 2015 over and done with, Autumn has well and truly started with some beautiful colours and smells, the first snow fell on Cairngorm and a huge influx of Winter visitors arrived in the local area. The month started with repeat victim Irene pithing up at the beautiful Grant Arms hotel for a Birding Ecosse Mid Week Special, and straight away the banter and laughs started.

Day one was spent on the beautiful Moray Firth and at the first port of call we picked up some great views of recently arrived Pink Footed Geese and Pintails, the latter being  relatively uncommon in Moray, but not as scarce as the two Magpies that were chattering in the trees behind! Further along the coast we bumped into a few more newly arrived migrants, 4 Brent Geese were a lifer for Irene and showed well feeding on the banks of the river Lossie, waddling past a nice Iceland Gull would have been a nice picture….. if I had got it that is! Whooper Swans and Barnacle Geese were both picked up in nearby fields

Whooper Swans

Barnacle Geese

Other species that put in an appearance throughout the day: Kittiwake, Long Tailed Duck, Gannet, Kestrel Buzzard, Sparrowhawk to name a few.  Final stop of the day added a bonus bird in the shape of Red Grouse.

Day two and it was way up North for the two of us.  The weather had improved significantly since yesterday and our spirits were high.

More Pink Footed Geese were picked up today, early on, but these had a few Grey Lag interspersed with them, it has been a goosetastic few days! Black Guillemot was a nice find and just strengthened my idea that they are my favourite auk, especially in their current winter plumage… a real wee belter.  Long tailed Duck and Red Throated Divers positively Glowed in the autumn sun.

It was nice to see the return of the Scaups, and if early season numbers are anything to go by then they look to have had a very successful breeding season, as always, and a good tip for you all, usually where you get Scaup you will find Slavonian Grebe, and not to disappoint one duly surfaced with the raft of Ducks.

A cracking couple of days birding with Irene, as usual, netting a very respectable 69 species over the two days.

Mid month saw me basking in some glorious winter sun, with a trip to Spain.  Although not strictly a birding holiday we did manage to pick up Monk Parakeet, Sardinian Warbler, Peach Faced Lovebird, Crag Martin and biggest surprise of all was a constant to and forth of Crossbills! I have a plan forming for guiding a tour to Southern Spain in 2016, It is in it’s infancy but if you would be interested then please drop me a quick, no obligation e-mail and I can judge if it would be a goer or not. As the month drew to an end, more serial victims arrived for another mid week special, Anthony and Fiona, (Paisley royalty) and it was great to catch up with them again.

Fiona and Anthony

Once again it was up North over the Kessock Bridge and onto the Black Isle and Beyond.  It was soon apparent that there was a massive movement of Gannets as over 100 were feeding just offshore, two Black Guillemots also I the area played a game of hide and seek behind the waves for a while.

A recent heath fire at a local migration hotspot did not actually look as bad as I had feared in recent reports, and thankfully the local Stonechats were still Flitting around, however it was a Short eared Owl flying in off the Moray Firth  that stole the show, as wave after wave of Gannets passed the point.  Back at the car park we were pleasantly surprised  when a male Blackcap put in an appearance. Arriving at the fantastic Udale Bay hide the tide was just beginning to drop and many many birds were feeding on the newly exposed mud, star bird being a Ruff, just as we were finishing our coffee and teas the Pink Footed Geese began to “wiffle” in. A lovely way to end the day and start the journey back to the hotel.

 
Pink Footed Geese

 Day 2 started off in a local wood and in short order we were soon watching our target bird, Crossbills. At  first two females were picked up in the scope, but these were soon followed by a male, then another female until in total approximately 15 birds were observed feeding and calling high in the tree tops, a great start.

Unfortunately just around this time the rain started, and was to stay with us on and off for the rest of the day, but it did not deter from a great day birding. Over the moors and once again star birds were the Red grouse, looking absolutely stunning,

The stunning Red Grouse.

And that was October in a nutshell, great birds, great company and some jaw dropping Autumn scenery, fancy being part of the Birding Ecosse experience?  Then see the dates remaining in 2015 published below, or search our web site at birdingecosse.co.uk for details of our 2016 breaks.

So folks until next month “Good Birding” Dave

October 2015 Update

So yet another hectic spell! Between more visitors to Casa Slater/Martin, a fantastic one to one tour and a quick jaunt to some winter sun the time seems to be running away with me! Long term victim Irene pitched up on October 7 for the Birding Ecosse Migration Special, with the first 15 seconds I knew we were in for a highly entertaining and birdy couple of days! Day one was spent on the Moray Coast, the weather was not the best with rain showers and low dark cloud.  The first Pink Footed Geese of the season were in presence as were some Pintails (male and females) and a nice roost of Golden Plovers started the day off well. Lossiemouth provided a lifer for Irene in the shape of 4 Brent Geese, however there was no sign of the Bonapartes Gull recently seen on the estuary although a 2nd winter Iceland Gull and an Adult Kittiwake were nice additions to the list, Supporting cast of Goosander, Turnstone, Redshanks, Teal, Mute Swan and Wigeon the days total was growing nicely. A nice flock of Barnacle Geese outside Speybay was a surprise find, and was nearly missed as we watched a Buzzard on a nearby telegraph pole!

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese

Also nearby was the first flock of Whooper Swans, another sign that winter is on it’s way!

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swan

Last  stop of the day was a very wet and soggy Lochindorb where the usual Red Grouse put on a nice display.

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

Day 2 started of sunny. mild and calm 🙂 and it was up North we were headed.

A beautiful day at Tarbat Ness

A beautiful day at Tarbat Ness

Portmahommak turned up a nice winter plumaged Black Guillemot some Long Tailed Duck and a lone Red Throated Diver. The car park feeders at Tarbat Ness provided us with Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Coal Tit.  And a beautiful male and female stonechat at the point looked stunning in the sunlight. Last port of call was the haunting Black Isle.

Irene at Udale

Irene at Udale

A fantastic gaggle of Pink-footed geese loafed around on the mud flats, whilst a smaller group of Grey lag Geese grazed the grass on the far side of the hide.  Along at Jemimaville the first decent numbers of Scaup were just offshore and three Slavonian grebes dipped and dived within the flock. A great way to end the weekend.  Great company, loads of laughs, great conversations putting the world to rights and a total of 69 Species over the two days.

Saturday 05 – Monday 07 September 2015

Saturday 05 September 2015

I always get excited when I’m heading on a pelagic trip so the signs looked good when I picked Jackie up from Forres and my Canadian victims for the weekend Gerald and Jeanette from British Columbia  who were staying at the beautiful Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown on Spey (Home of the BWWC)

Driving up through the stunning late Summer/early autumn Scottish highland I was aware of a gentle breeze blowing the tree tops and rustling the heather, hopefully not a sign of a rocky crossing.

Soon we were on board the MV Seaforth and after another brief explore I decided that once again the best place to locate the group was the area just outside the saloon doors, the lower viewing deck is completely enclosed by a bulk head to the rear and the ships funnels left and right, leaving a long view over the open car deck to the rear of the ship and the upper deck has about 8ft of viewing rail either side which acts as the perfect wind tunnel, neither are ideal and I found myself yearning for the good old MV Isle of Lewis days!

Anyway soon we set sail and the first Gannets and Bonxies hove into view accompanied by the first of many pods of Common Dolphin.

Gerald, Jackie and Jeanette getting ready for the Birding Ecosse Pelagic!

Gerald, Jackie and Jeanette getting ready for the Birding Ecosse Pelagic!

As is normal the first part of the journey is fairly quiet with the usual suspects being seen, along with the Gannets and Great Skuas  Herring, Common Gulls and Great Black Backed gulls drifted past the ship, however after about 45 minutes more and more things started to appear.

By this time the  sea swell was quiet large and made getting people onto birds a tad difficult, however the first Arctic Skuas were seen homing in on a poor kittiwake, their favoured species at this time of year, and Ariel dog fight that ensued passed a happy few minutes before the kitti regurgitated its last meal and made off quickly leaving the Arctic Skua to now eat said regurgitated meal!

Jackie then shouted for a dark bird lifting off the water in front of the Ship, our first Sooty Shearwater of the day, brilliant!

In the distance a small fluttering dark shape darted and dipped between the waves, a Storm petrel, however the distance involved and the continual rocking of the ship meant the others could not pick this wee mite up, however a very close flyby of an immature gannet was a small compensation.

Immature Gannet

Immature Gannet

All too soon we were heading into Stornoway harbour, a very young Common Tern circled and plunged for fish, whilst some bona fide Hooded Crows picked for food in amongst the Gull roost on the quayside.

Safe in Stornoway.

Safe in Stornoway.

And so onto the return journey, now, I had decided to give to forward viewing seating area another chance and soon we were settled into prime seats and looking forward to the return crossing in some sort of style.  However this was short lived and I cannot stress to other birders just how disappointing the forward view is.  The windows are sloped forward, so all the spray that had come up had dried on the glass leaving an opaque film, the many strengthening pillars block almost every angle you need to be looking at, and the glass distorts the vision really badly, result?  Both Jeanette and myself felt slightly squiffy so it was all up and out, back onto the viewing area!  A cup of hot chocolate and Tunnocks Tea cake later and I was back to full fitness and raring to go!

More Arctic Skua and Bonxie patrolled the area and once again about an hour out we started to pick up good numbers of Guillemot and Razorbills, more Dolphins, some Porpoise and a very very brief appearance of a Minke whale. Another three Sooty Shearwaters and a small “fluttering” of around 15 Storm Petrels (I just  made up the group term for Stormies – a “fluttering” seems fairly apt!) and not very often you see more Sooties then Manx Shearwaters.

So a long but productive day and as I dropped off some tired but  happy victims we were all looking forward to tomorrow!

Sunday 06 September 2015

It was a long lie today for Jackie, Jeanette and Gerald, so much so that Jackie arrived before I did at the appointed pick up point.

First port of call was a small side road leading North out of Grantown on Spey, soon we had added some great views of Goldcrest, Great, Blue and Coal Tit to our weekend list, a young Redpoll and a charm of around 20 Goldfinches were also nice additions. The five Jays that followed soon after were more of a surprise.

The local Diver Loch was more reminiscent of the Ferry Crossing yesterday, with white horses all over the surface, no chance of Black Throated Divers here then! The Red Grouse did put on a nice show though.

A quick stop off at Loch Garten RSPB added Siskin and Great Spotted Woodpecker, it was the last day of the season and the reserve had a definite wind down feel, however I think the reserve is actually better in the winter so I was happy!

Next up was Cairngorm the easy way, and in keeping with the rest of the weekend we had a minor gripe in the fact the left hand side of the viewing platform is cordoned off for repairs, so 50% of our Ptarmigan viewing area was not available, grrrrrrrrr!.

Just as we were preparing to leave Jeanette asked what the “small brown bird” feeding below the viewing terrace was, expecting a Meadow pipit I leaned over the wall only to be greeted with a Snow Bunting!!

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Soon we were heading towards raptor valley, our last stop of the day. The wind was still blowing but it was clear and sunny.  A Grey Wagtail showed well at the Dipper Bridge, which is more than can be said for the Dippers!  Swallows and Sand Martin skimmed low over the road bridge at the river.

At the top of the valley it was fairly quiet, the usual Tourist Eagles (Common Buzzards) were in presence their mewing cries carrying well on the breeze, and a lone Red Kite soared high on a thermal.

At the top car park a large flock of House Martins and Swallows hawked around the old kennel block, how long before these birds leave for their long and difficult south to Africa begins?

Another great day ended, and tomorrow morning will be spent on the coast once again looking for some autumn migrants.

Monday 07 September 2015

“Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful dayyyyyyyyyyy”  as the song goes! It really was a stunning morning as we headed off towards Lossiemouth.

A brief stop off at Hopeman pig farm, yes folks it is that time of year again where I find myself frequenting the piggeries of Moray and Nairn!  We were not disappointed 10 Ruff and 1 Knot paddled through the slimy sludge they called breakfast!

The river Lossie looked at it’s best, no dog walkers were present!!  The advance party for the winter Wigeons looked like they had just arrived and small flocks of birds buzzed around looking quite nervous, some Teal looked on uninterested.  Redshanks, Oystercatchers and a Grey heron gave superb views in the early morning sunlight.

Sitting at Michael Morris’s  feeding station in the woods I would like to say what a fantastic job this man does in looking after this hidden gem of birding.  He walks with his dog twice a day to fill the feeders, and allows any one who has an interest to use his spot, a true Gentleman of the birding world.  I would also urge anyone using the area to perhaps take a packet of seed or peanuts to the site and leave it in the black bin provided, just to help Michael out, it cannot be cheap filling the many hungry beaks that now abound here.

Gerald, Jeanette, Jackie and myself sat transfixed as birds buzzed back and forth, the noise of their wings accentuated by the quietness that surrounds the area, soon however our target bird appeared, a Crested Tit.  then ensued nearly twenty minutes of watching Gerald sitting bolt upright, camera trained on the feeder and waiting, and waiting and waiting for the Crestie to reappear, which thankfully it did and the required holiday snap was captured!

Heading back to the car a Wheatear darted across the river to the dunes side, and whilst speaking to another excellent local birder and all round nice bloke, Charlie, all the gulls took flight and Charlie announced, “looks like an Osprey in the area” and lo, an Osprey appeared and proceeded to fish!  An absolutely brilliant way to end the weekend!

Osprey

Osprey

Red kites found shot and poisoned in Highlands

When will this madness stop and these ill informed ignorant human beings be brought to task, the pathetic fines and suspended sentences have to stop.  The older I get the less tolerant I am getting for wanton killing and even more so against killing for fun. The recent increase of people on social media with dead animals they have killed is just nauseating. These people are killing, taking a life form for fun!! It is about time politicians started putting this up their agenda.  Don’t even get me started on Malta!!

Red kite
Image caption Twelve red kites were found dead earlier in 2014

Two red kites have been added to a toll of 16 birds of prey recorded as having been illegally killed in the Highlands last year.

The two raptors were found near Beauly and Cawdor following a poisoning incident that killed 12 kites and four buzzards near Conon Bridge.

Details about the two kites have been released following the conclusion of police inquiries into their deaths.

The one found near Beauly was shot and the other was poisoned.

No-one has been charged in connection with the incidents.

Police Scotland said investigating wildlife crime was challenging, but added that its detection rate of offences was increasing.

Satellite tagged

The female bird found near Cawdor was part of a breeding pair at Cawdor Castle that in 2014 became Nairnshire’s first breeding pair of red kites in 100 years.

Both dead kites had been satellite tagged by conservationists.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, of RSPB Scotland, said: “Since red kite reintroductions began in Scotland in 1989, over 100 birds have been confirmed as illegally killed, with a significant majority of the victims found poisoned.

“The real figure will be much higher as the finding of these satellite tagged birds demonstrates.”

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said it had been unaware of the two additional incidents.

Chairman Alex Hogg said: “This is the first we have heard of any such incidents and we do not know the possible causes which makes it difficult to comment further.

“The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has a clear and consistent line and does not condone wildlife crime. The use of illegal poison has no place in modern Scotland.”

‘Vast areas’

A spokesman for Scottish Land & Estates said: “We support any appeal for information about the suspicious deaths of birds of prey and the poisoning of any bird is cause for deep concern.

“We will assist Police Scotland as the leading investigative body to offer any assistance.”

A police spokesman said: “Investigating wildlife crime is challenging because of its nature, and the vast areas covered.

“Police Scotland works closely with partners including the RSPB to tackle wildlife crime, and brings to bear the full range of investigative techniques at its disposal.

“Our detection rate is increasing. Our aim is to reduce wildlife crime and earlier this year we launched a campaign raising awareness.”

A spokesman for Cawdor Estate said: “The Cawdor Estate was not aware of an alleged poisoning of a red kite, found in woodland in the area close to Cawdor, until we saw an RSPB press release yesterday.

“As we received no contact from Police Scotland nor the RSPB at the time of the discovery of the bird in 2014 nor since, we have no reason to believe this was found on Cawdor Estate land.

“Any illegal persecution of protected species such as the red kite is absolutely abhorrent and we strongly condemn anyone found guilty of such an act.”

WEDNESDAY 26 AUGUST 2015
Ullapool to Stornoway Pelagic trip
Join Birding Ecosse for a fantastic full day of Birding as we cross over the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway on the Outer Hebrides.
Your hide for the day the stunning new MV Loch Seaforth Using the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry as a floating viewing platform, sightings on our trip last week included Manx and Sooty Shearwater, Puffin, Black and Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Storm and Leach’s Petrel, Arctic and Great Skuas plus a Pod of 50 Common Dolphins, 3 Minke Whales and harbour Porpoises all around the ferry! (Please note this is a pelagic trip, we only dock at Stornoway for 30 minutes) Pick up at 0730 and drop off at approximately 1900. (Remember to bring a packed lunch!) Cost (including ferry crossing): only £115 per person. To obtain more information or to book (booking essential) please call: David Slater on 01309 676720 or 07955336955 www.birdingecosse.co.uk

Corncrake 2016 – With Birding Ecosse

A Date with the Corncrakes!

***Double or twin room remaining, suitable for a couple or

those willing to share.***

Plans are coming along well with “Corncrake 2016” and I am getting excited already! A full itinerary and plan will be published in due course however to whet your appetite here is a rough idea:Date: Travel and bird on the way to Skye Friday 03 June 2016  (weather permitting this will include a drive over the Beallach na Ba for Ptarmigan) Return and birding Monday 06 June 2016 (These dates are confirmed)Accommodation: At Lochbay Bed and Breakfast (and what an outstanding breakfast it is!) Isle of Skye. (Confirmed)Lunches will be soup and sandwich at local establishments, included in price of trip.

Evening meals, will once again be in local eateries, examples being The Stein Inn, The Old School restaurant,  and the Edinbane Inn. The evening meal is not included in the price of the tour. Rough plan of events (all included in tour price).

Saturday, up early and out for Corncrakes, later in day a wildlife boat trip from Elgol. Corncrake watch after evening meal.Sunday early rise again Corncrake bagging and general birding on Skye. Calmac Ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy in afternoon to watch for Seabirds and cetaceans. (non landing at Lochmaddy)A guide price at the moment will around £485 to £525 per person, as with all Birding Ecosse tripsspaces will be limited to three people so book early!Bookings are being taken now with a £50 per person deposit to secure a place.

Monday 17  August 2015

Dad and Daughter day birding 🙂 so we headed off to a couple or areas in Scotland that believe it or not I have never been to! After a full cooked breakfast at Brodie Country Fayre (very nice complete with haggis) it was off to the hills! First stop off was at Glen Affric, a Glen I have heard and read about but never visited, and what a pretty Glen. Swallows and House Martins hawked around the farm buildings a Juv Bullfinch flitted down to the road giving Cheryl a life bird and a Sparrowhwk posed nicely on a fence post, albeit with its back towards us. The next Glen visited was a stunner though and one I much preferred to Affric, the scenery, and mountains were stunning!

Some beautiful Scottish Scenery

Some beautiful Scottish Scenery

Highlight for the trip (apart from the fact I was birding with my Daughter that is) was a pair of Summering Whooper Swans! Excuse the quality of the pics but they were at distance.  No sign of any chicks though sadly!

Summer Whooper Swan!

Summer Whooper Swan!

Unfortunately I have a bit of sad news, the Black Throated Diver chick that swallowed the fish hook then got snarled up in the reeds has sadly died, another rare bird dead because of unthinking people.  It really irritates me when people seemingly “love the outdoors” and “live outdoors” but fail to respect the outdoors, the people who happily use it then leave it in tatters when they have finished, oblivious to the damage they leave behind such as litter, burnt out fires etc or indeed the total disturbance they have caused to the wildlife in that area i.e. canoeists, windsurfers, dog walkers, wildlife photographers, disturbing nesting birds nearby and destroying habitats in their pursuits.  But the bits that grips me most is when you point out the error of their ways they either get aggressive or look at you as if you had three  heads!! Finally a wee bit of market research, Im going to run a couple of classified adverts in the RSPB magazine “Natures Home” below is some wording that I am thinking of using, which one do you like best and why? Any tweaks you can think of to make thm “stand out” (they have to be a maximum of 160 characters including spaces) You can leave your answer via this link Contact Me  Many thanks for your help 🙂   Dave Slater, Private Birding Guide in Speyside, Moray & Beyond Expert, knowledgeable and irritatingly cheerful. Max 3 Guests. Day rate £110pp birdingecoss.co.uk   Dave Slater, Private Birding Guide in Speyside, Moray and Beyond. Great Birds, Great Scenery. Max 3 Guests. Day rate £110pp birdingecosse.co.uk   Visiting the Sottish Highlands?  Private Bird Guide Dave Slater. Expert, knowledgeable and perpetually cheerful. Max 3 Guests. Day rate £110pp birdingecosse.co.uk

Saturday 15 August 2015

The day dawned cold grey and wet, and basically stayed that way throughout the day!  The wet weather programme was initiated. Picking Frank and Frank up at their accommodation we were soon sitting dry in the Longman Bird hide on the edge of Inverness.  The usual suspect for this area where evident with Oystercatcher, Great black backed and Herring Gulls, with a handful of Goosander and a single Gray heron all being seen.  An Otter was a nice bonus.

Frank and Frank enjoying the beautiful summer weather!

Frank and Frank enjoying the beautiful summer weather!

Heading over some grouse moors a hunting Merlin was star bird as it briefly flew over the road and tried to snatch a Meadow Pipit, the usual Red Legged Partridge put on a show and in the surrounding trees, Willow warbler and Spotted Flycatcher fed busily on any passing bugs and a very young Stonchat posed nicely on a fence post. Out over the moors and to the local Black Throated Diver spot, the two adults were still on the Loch, albeit at quite a distance. An immature Osprey was calling from the lochside Pines, but wasn’t seen until later when we had a clear view from the south end of the Loch and saw the bird briefly fly before landing on another pine tree at the far side. A nice little group of passerines gave Frank and immediate boost to his UK and life list, Coal tit, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Treecreeper all nice to see close up.  As mentioned before the Red Grouse seem very scarce this year with less than ten birds being seen in total. Next stop was raptor valley, unfortunately no Eagles were to grace our presence but Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine and many Buzzards ensured there was never a dull moment, a Dipper at “Dipper Bridge” seemed very lethargic and fed up with the continual rain!

Drookit Dipper wishing the rain would stop!

Drookit Dipper wishing the rain would stop!

 The final leg of the journey took us up over a high road back towards Inverness, and the rain eased just slightly.  A nice mixed flock of Sisking, Chaffinch and Coal Tits were soon joined by a thcuup thcuup tchuuuping flock of Crossbills, an excellent way to end the day!

Friday 14 August 2015

MV Seaforth, you new floating bird hide!

MV Seaforth, you new floating bird hide!

Today marked the first trip on the Birding Ecosse Autumn/Winter programme, and what a way to start with a trip on the beautiful new          MV Loch Seaforth from Ullapool to Stornoway. It took a while to find the best area to stand and watch, but soon we were standing in a sheltered and more importantly covered spot, this could be a really nice boat to seawatch from! The sea was flat calm and we soon picked up our first (of many) Gannets and as we passed a small lobster boat the first Bonxie put in an appearance. Razorbill and Guillemots seemed very abundant, and what was noticeable that they seemed to be paired up, one adult and one chick.  The Puffins were quite different with only three immature birds being seen all day,  The sea was so calm and the new ship so quiet you could actually hear the young Guillemots squealing to their parents for food, something  I have never hard before. I beautiful Sooty Shearwater took of and flew in front of the boat, giving Frank a great opportunity to see its all dark plumage, a few rafts of Adult and Immature Kittiwakes began to appear.  It was then out first Arctic Skua appeared (dark phase) also around this time small black birds with white rumps started to show, fluttering across the smooth water surface, Storm Petrels! And then a larger Petrel bullied into the group, a Leach’s Petrel! Whilst all this was going on a dorsal fin broke the surface, then another and another, soon a pod of Common Dolphin were beside the ship, smaller Porpoise were also seen throughout the day. Nearing Stornoway the first Manx Shearwater glided past, a bit distant but soon the birds came closer and gave some nice views, All in all a great day, with a few year birds added to the Birding Ecosse list, but the icing on the cake was seeing the original Birding Ecosse mobile all nice  and shiney and looking in pristine condition!

Birding Ecosse Mobile 1 (left) Birding Ecosse mobile 3 (right)

Birding Ecosse Mobile 1 (left) Birding Ecosse mobile 3 (right)

Tuesday 11 August 2015

As I feared, not good news on the Black Throated Diver, the following is the report from the BBC, all credits and pictures from the BBC.

A rare bird has been rescued after swallowing a fish hook and line on a Highland loch.

The black-throated diver was spotted in difficulty at Lochindorb, near Grantown on Spey, on Monday 3 August. Scottish SPCA senior inspectors Andy Brown and Dougie Campbell managed to reach the tangled bird. After it was cut free, it was taken to the animal welfare charity’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross, near Alloa, for treatment. Black-throated divers are an “amber” category species, the second highest class of conservation concer,n according to the RSPB.

Black-throated diver at Lochindorb
The bird was unable to free itself from the hook and line
Black-throated diver at Lochindorb
The fishing line was snagged in weeds in the loch
Black-throated diver being rescued at Lochindorb
Two SSPCA officers went to the bird’s aid

Mr Brown said: “The fishing line had snagged on weeds, meaning the bird was unable to move very far. “Our vet was able to remove the hook but unfortunately there is a lot of dead tissue and the diver is not out of the woods yet. “It is now on a course of antibiotics and we are hoping this treatment will be successful.” He added: “However, the bird isn’t currently waterproof due to having the feathers around its neck removed so if it survives it will have to remain in our care until they have grown back.” Lochindorb is well-known for its ruined stronghold of a notorious 14th Century lord who was known as the Wolf of Badenoch From Lochindorb Castle in the Highlands, Alexander Stewart and his forces made a raid across Moray and destroyed Elgin Cathedral in 1390. A scheduled ancient monument, the fortification was built on a small island on a loch.

 Saturday 08 August 2015

I knew it was going to be when Maribeths first comment of the mid week special was to Nick “Told you he would be old” and the next two days took a nosedive after that……………….. only joking it was a cracking couple of days. Day 1 started fairly bleakly as I picked Nick and Maribeth up from the cosy and friendly Garth Hotel in Grantown on Spey, but soon we were on the banks of a pretty Scottish Loch watching some Black Throated Divers.  Now this in itself is great news, however the absence of the chick was worrying.  I stopped to chat to a nearby photographer and it seems the chick had become entangled in some fishing line and had to be rescued by the SSPCA.  Hopefully they had taken it into care if it had been injured and again hopefully it will make a full recovery.  If I find out any more details I will keep you all informed. Driving across the moors, and with the (in)glorious mass murder day of 12 August fast approaching I was surprised at the small numbers of Red Grouse to be seen, bet they still blast those that are there out of the Sky though, I noticed in the news this week that M&S are not stocking any Grouse in their shops this year, good news indeed. A Redpoll near the wooded copse beside the Lodge was the first time I have seen one in this location, and a nice bird to add to the day list, and the added spectacle of House Martins, Swallows and Sand Martins hawking over the trees made to a very busy scene.

Maribeth and Nick

Maribeth and Nick

Day two dawned to monsoon like rain, so plan “B” was implemented and the first ever “Happy Haggis Tour” took place, with the inaugural half day tour being a visit to the beautiful Glenfiddich Distillery, keep your eyes peeled for the new tab appearing on the web page introducing this exciting new venture from the stables of Birding Ecosse! Afternoon was spent in the company of 2880 Gannets (I got to this number by counting their feet and dividing by two 🙂  or actually asking the warden!) it is amazing to think the colony started with four pairs in 1988. A remarkable success story.

Gugga and adult

Gugga and adult

The day rounded off with a short stop off at the beautiful Bowfiddle Rock where the Black Guillemots put on a great show, the Shags sat perfectly and the kittiwakes huddled together as a cosy family group, all in all a great day.

Tuesday 04 August 2015

It has been a topsy turvy spell of weather up here in the far North, some beautiful hot sunny spells followed by cold, windy and frankly driech weather, the affect this has had is for it to be a very prolonged breeding season, this fact was brought to life when a fellow worker showed my a picture of a sadly dead House Martin chick, this bird was still naked of feathers with only a few pin feather showing on its wings, it probably was a second brood bird, but if the season had not been interrupted by the cool weather this wee bird may have fledged.

Derek, Val and Pam at Bowfiddle Rock.

Derek, Val and Pam at Bowfiddle Rock.

Anyway onto cheerier things, I recently had a trip out with Puffin Cruises from Macduff, and once again a fantastic trip was had.  Close up views of Guillemot, Razorbills and Puffins with the thousands of Gannets and Kittiwakes adding to the “seabird city” feel. Once again on the return trip a pod of friendly Bottle Nosed Dolphins gave a fine performance.

Bottle Nosed Dolphin

Bottle Nosed Dolphin

The much sought after and hard to see Crested Tit in Summertime put in a great show at a local feeding station, add to this “Chip and Pin” the two local Red Squirrels it is a magical place to sit and just watch nature.

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

As summertime slows down my thoughts turn to Autumn, indeed some of the Autumn migrants have already started to filter through, my favourite time of year is about to start, the pelagic trips to Stornoway start next week ready for Petrel and Skuas, and the local estuaries take on a whole new demeanour, but in truth I cannot wait for the winter Sea Duck to arrive back……… watch this space!

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Well it has taken since 10 April but at long last we are beginning to see some wildlife arriving at our new home and garden. The most common species to date is Goldfinch, with regularly six adults present, and today the brought the kids, when 5 juveniles turned up to the feeders,

Some of the Goldfinches at the new garden feeders.

Some of the Goldfinches at the new garden feeders.

Also seen recently (in or from house): Pied Wagtails, House Sparrows, Jackdaw, Rook, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Starling, Swallow, House Martins, Swift. But today was a red letter day when we got our first Butterflies on a flowering Buddlia, two Tortoiseshell.

Tortoiseshell Butterflies.

Tortoiseshell Butterflies.

I’m Back!!
Good morning to you all, and I am so glad to be back in harness. Life has been whizzing by at a hectic pace, but has produced some magical birds, a lot of great people, a new eyrie for Birding Ecosse and a couple of days birding with a TV personality!

With all that has been going on I have fallen behind majorly with all my administration duties and has now got to the stage where I will have to draw a line and start anew! So please excuse any omissions to names or species in the following catch-up! The spring started well, with a nice period of warm weather with plenty of sunshine, however it wasnt long before the weather changed, it went cold and cloudy, and basically it has stayed the same ever since, this has had the effect of making it a very, very long and drawn out breeding season, and as of last week some birds were still on very young chicks.  This was particularly evident on Handa Island when both the Arctic and Great Skuas were observed feeding some tiny balls of feathers!

Pale phase Arctic Skua
Bonxie (Great Skua)
So far this year I have managed to visit the absolutely stunning Island of Handa three times, with a total of 8 victims, sorry clients, and on all three occasions the weather gods have smiled upon us with glorious sunshine and light breezes and gave close views of Bonxie and Arctic Skua.
More of a surprise was the Red Throated Divers in the small lochan at the top of the island, especially when they started their display ritual.  Amazing birds to watch.
Red Throated Divers.The Gannets at Troup Head however seemed unaffected by the cold weather and breeding was in full swing and proved a popular spectacle to all the groups I took to this “hidden gem” of a reserve.
I was kindly asked by the BWWC at the Grant Arms Hotel if I could help out with their ever popular “Celebrity themed week” so for a couple of days I was in the company of springwatch presenter, author, radio host and all round great guy and top birder David Lindo and twelve highly entertaining people. A cracking couple of days was had, and the icing on the cake for me, I was treated to a stay in the hotel, it really is an amazing set up, with beautiful rooms, fantastic food, great service and top notch speakers all thrown in.
The David Lindo rabble, sorry, group
And so that brings us to the end of this very abbreviated catch up blog, I have just returned from a couple of days on the Isle of Skye, so keep your eyes peeled for my  Skye 2016 offers “A weekend in the company of the Corncrake” (provisional dates  of 13 to 16 May or 03 to 06  June 2016)Thank you once again for all the support, encouragement, kind comments and trip advisor reviews (up to 21 reviews now!) you have given to myself and Birding Ecosse, it is nice to know I may be doing some things right, however I have a sneaking suspicion it may be to gain an extra Tunnocks Teacake!
2015 Mid weeks specials, remaining places.Tue 04 Aug – Fri 07 Aug 2015 – 1 Space Tue 06 Oct – Fri 09 Oct – 3 Spaces Tue 27 Oct – Fri 30 Oct – 3 Spaces Tue 17 Nov – Fri 20 Nov 2015 – 3 Spaces Tue 08 Dec – Fri 11 Dec 2015 – 2 Spaces2015 Weekend offers, remaining places
Thu 13 Aug – Mon 17 Aug 2015 – 1 Space Thu 03 Sept – Mon 07 Sep 2015 – 1 Space Fri 06 Nov – Mon 09 Nov 2016 – 3 Spaces Fri 27 Nov – Mon 30 Nov 2015 – 3 SpacesTotals: Birding Ecosse all time total : 183 species 2015 total (so far) 155 Long Weekend: 101 Mid Week: 87 Full day: 74 Half day: 45 

 Hello world!!

Yes finally Im back online with fully functioning e-mail and landline.  All thanks to Mr Angus Robertson my local MP putting pressure on BT and Open reach.  So here is my new phone number:

01309 676720

Away to order new business card and flyers now! Keep your eyes open for updates to this page and the blog coming soon!

Thursday 09 April 2015

A lovely afternoon birding with Graham and Jackie, the venue was a local raptor valley, unfortunately the eagles just would not play ball, however a better bird of prey lay in wait unbeknownst to us! A dipper showed nicely on a beautiful Scottish bubbling stream, and treated us to a short burst of song, Oystercatchers, Lapwings and Curlews are all back on their nesting grounds in good numbers. Next to a grouse moor, and soon we were observing a male Red Grouse “canoodling”  with his female, with a haunting call of a Golden Plover as sweet background music, it was now that a distant movement caught my eye, and raising my Binos a stunning Rough Legged Buzzard came into view, This was not altogether surprising as it has been widely reported (but rather elusive) and another life bird for Birding Ecosse Another top quality day with brilliant clients, weather scenery and birds!

Rough Legged Buzzard, showing black flank patched and dark carpal patches.

Very distant Rough Legged Buzzard, showing black flank patches and dark carpal patches.

Once again the Distant Rough Legged Buzzard, this time showing pale rump.

Once again the Distant Rough Legged Buzzard, this time showing pale rump.

Sunday 05 April 2015

Just a couple of pics from a great day out on the Moray firth with Adrian and Ruth. The day started with Black Grouse, closely followed by stunning Long Tailed Ducks in full summer plumage, Grey and Common Seals, Black Guillemot and razorbill on nesting ledges alongside Shag, Fulmar and Kittiwakes, all done in beautiful sunshine and a temperature of +18!!
"Shag"

Shag

"Black Guillemot"

“Black Guillemot”

Introducing the new

Birding Ecosse Mobile!

Travel in style with Birding Ecosse, in our new vehicle.

 

Wednesday 25 March 2015

And so to the last trip of the month and once again multiple victim Bill was picked up and soon we were watching 15 magnificent Black Grouse bubbling and hissing at the usual Lek, this group of birds are definitely on the increase and it is great to see them thrive when other Leks seem to be declining.  Next stop was the Slavonian Grebe and in the low morning sun  the Golden Plumes shone out loud and proud, a stunning little bird. Finally to the coast where we struggled hard but finally connected with our target species for the location, Velvet Scoter, they were a fair bit out but the distinctive white wing panels clinched the ID and was a good way to finish up the half day tour. So as you can see it has been a busy month for Birding Ecosse, and I can only say a big thank you to all the above who have made it so, all your bookings, humour and generosity of comments make it a fantastic way for me to make a living and gives me a sense of pride that a may be doing something right! Thank you Thank you Thank you 🙂 and hopefully see you all sometime in the near future!

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Marion and Stu Eagle watching

Today was unusual in that todays guests were known to me, it was Frau Marion from The Grant Arms Hotel and partner Stu (happy birthday Stu!) and we were Findhorn Valley bound, after a relatively quite first half trip up the valley things started to “kick off” when a female Crossbill flew across the car an perched on a fence wire giving outstanding views! Very unexpected bonus bird! It was not until we were returning down the valley when the Eagle action started, two immature birds where spotted low over the hills and  after a quick car chase down to about mid point we were soon watching some breathtaking Eagle antics! Low long glides over the heather covered slopes, talon grappling and some beautiful prolonged views as they just soared effortlessly on the updraft from the hills, it certainly has been a great time for Eagles

Friday 20th March 2015

Out on another Birding Ecosse long weekend special, with returning victims  Graham and Judy, it was a few weeks earlier than last year so it would be interesting to see if we could beat the 98 species they had last time (and still stands as the record for a long weekend) It was an interesting start to a tour with an almost complete (98%) solar eclipse, and away from the bird life it was surprising just how cool it got, and also how quickly a stiff breeze began as the sun darkened. Now onto the birds! our first birding spot was Lossie estuary, where we soon connected with one of the days target birds, Snow Buntings a requested lifer for graham and Judy, the birds performed well flitting between river banks and giving some great views, but another lifer was gained in the shape of an Iceland Gull.

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

The rest of the day was spent touring the inner Moray area, a Water Rail was heard but not seen at Loch Spynie, but the Invergordon Selkies made it for that, with both Common and Grey seals being present pulled out on the rocks. The day ended at Burghead again, this time without the eclipse and gave great views of Long Tailed Duck and Common Scoters.  A good start to the weekend with a day total of 60 species. Day two started well with a beautiful full plumaged Black Throated Diver lounging around on a tranquil Scottish Loch, the lovely weather and the constant “go back go back go back” calls of the Red Grouse just adding to the atmosphere. Highlight of the day though has to go to the spectacle of Two Adult White Tailed Eagles soaring together with two Immature Golden Eagles, one of those moments that will stay like a photograph in my mind for many years, a truly magical experience. In total we had 3 WTE and 4 Goldies on the day! Day three dawned on a beautiful Scottish grouse moor, and with 16 Male Black Grouse strutting their stuff in our scope views it certainly was a great way to start, after a substantial breakfast at the Grant Arms it was Northward bound for us. The effects of the solar eclipse were still in evidence when we arrived at Loch Fleet, and areas that normally were flooded fields were now under water, this put paid to my Greenshank hunt! However star bird for the day was a Puffin, picked up by Judy, as it swam about just offshore the pier at Golspie. 60+ Pintail and some stunning cloud formations at Nigg Bay was a nice way to round off the day. The final day ended with a walk around the beautiful Anagach woods, no sign of the Caper from last year,( it must have moved :-)) but absolutely stunning views of Crested tit and a fly over crossbill ws a great way to end the weekend, we didn’t break the record (we ended up with a respectable 90 species exactly) but the great company, stunning weather and outstanding birds and scenery more than made up for that!

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Well today I succumbed, on the pretense of visiting my darling daughter down in Aberdeen, I persuaded her to be my taxi service (how times have changed!) and we were soon heading to see Harly the harlequin Duck in a park in a city! The bird was quickly pointed out to us quite a distance upstream, so a brief drive later, through some bandit country, we were soon reveling in superb views of this little beauty:

Harlequin Duck, imm male

Harlequin Duck, imm male

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

Saturday 28 February  – Tuesday 03 march 2015

A  Birding Ecosse long weekend began with a quiet drink in the Hotels bar, it was great to meet up with Olga and David again, and many of the jokes we shared last year started again, like it was only last week! I knew then it was going to be a great weekend! The weather tried it’s hardest to ruin or enjoyment, with heavy rain, snow and high winds being the order of the weekend, however we were not to be deterred.

Olga and David enjoying lunch.

Olga and David enjoying lunch.

A total of 91 Species were noted during the weekend, with the star bird for me being a lone male Capercaillie, standing motionless on a road in a beautiful Scottish Forest, the picture below is one of Davids (thank you for for leting me use it david), this is probably the bird that has given me most pleasure in  sharing in all of my tours so far, as both David and Olga had tried for many years to connect with this species, and to do so in such a fantastic way left me a very happy tour guide.

Capercaillie by David Burleigh

Capercaillie by David Burleigh

Other Highlights included stunning views of Golden Eagle, getting mobbed by Ravens, peregrines giving a buzzard and extremely hard time and a lone redpoll feeding in a mixed flock of tits and finches in a scenic Scottish Glen.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

All in all a fantastic weekend, in great company, and I look forward to meeting both David and Olga later in the year to do it all again 🙂

Friday 27 February 2015

Friday 27th saw me on a local grouse moor with returning visitors Andy and Jane, it had been two years since we last met but it felt like only a few months ago! Luckily this time we connected with 15 male Black Grouse on a snow covered moor.Heading up our local raptor valley we were treated to stunning views of two very pale Common Buzzards, but sadly no Eagles….. that is until we were heading back down the valley when two visiting and very helpful birders (staying in the Mercedes motel!) waved us down to say the had just seen a Golden Eagle disappearing behind a ridge. A quick race down the road and we were soon watching an immature bird glide effortlessly across the far side of the valley, happy days!
Andy and Jane post Eagle spotting 🙂
Heading North over the Kessock Bridge our next top sighting had four legs not two and fur not feathers, an Otter swan directly in front of us, then hauled out onto a weed covered rock to finish its lunch!  Probably one of the best views of Otter I have had.
Otter

                                                                                            Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 February 2015

A mid week special in the company of Janet and Anthony turned up some nice birds, the first morning we were treated to a fine adult White Tailed Eagle hunting over the grouse (less) moors being buzzed by a Peregrine Falcon! (we returned later in the day and managed to pick up 22 Black Grouse flying out of their afternoon lek, but even better was when Anthony picked up a lone male perched on a stump of wood not 40 feet away, stunning views!)The Coal Tits proved to be more skittish than usual, but once Janet have offered up some seed they were soon coming down for a feed!
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag….”
The new owners of Cairngorm Mountain incurred my displeasure when trying for a second day to get up on the funicular we were told “uplift only for skiers!” so someone who uses the train every month of the year gets pushed aside for the “flash in the pan skiers” Priorities wrong somewhere I think!However every cloud and all that…. on the return journey we managed to pick up a Glaucous Gull on a frozen Avielochan!
Glaucous Gull
Another highlight was some absolutely first class views of a Brown Hen harrier as it drifted past the stunning RSPB hide at Insch Marshes.
Another brilliant couple of days in super company, my story about the Dolly Parton Salmon led to an impromptu sing along and my normal failed attempts to visit the famous Inschriach coffee shop was not only closed for the day, it was closed until 01st March, they must know I am in the area… one day, one day!

Monday 16 February 2015

Well back to playing catch-up with my admin, all down to being out in the field bird watching with people 🙂 Monday dawned with doing a pick up from a new location, the Palace Hotel in Inverness, a very nice hotel it was as well.  Richard and Serena were waiting patiently when I arrive and soon we were heading over the Kessock Bridge , Our first stop soon turned up the usual suspects Wigeon, Oystercatchers, Teal, and various gulls, however the stars of the show was one of the five (yes thats right Five!) otters, this fantastic animal came very close at one point as if it was checking us out checking it out!

Otter

Otter

It was a simply stunning day weatherwise, with a very light wind and bright but not glaring sky giving beautiful tones and colours to the landscape, stopping off at my usual coffee stop we were treated to some distant views of Dunlin, closer views of colour ringed Curlew (a very interesting project being carried out by Dr Ron Summers) and yet more Otters.

Richard and Serena

Richard and Serena

As we headed across to a local hide, it became apparent the Richard and myself shared an “employer” in the past , and so began the story telling and rivalry !! At the hide we had some stunning views of Redshanks and a winter plumaged Little Grebe, the tide was a tad too high, however this proved a god send for the next species!

Scaup males and females

Scaup males and females

Moving towards Cromarty we were treated to a closer than usual raft of Scaup, a lifer for Richard and Serena, and once more proving “there is no dross with Birding Ecosse!” And so ended a fantastic morning, with a new half day record of 45 species for Birding Ecosse.

Monday  09 and Wednesday 11 February 2015

A very enjoyable day and a half spent with Pamela, covering a variety of habitats. Monday was to be wader and duck day, the weather was windier than forecast and our first stop at Nairn beach treated us to a fine sand blast! However the area proved to be a haven for some good birds.  This flock of Knot provided a laugh out loud moment as they moved en-masse up and down the beach trying to keep their feet dry.

Roosting flock of Knot

Roosting flock of Knot

Heading to Lossiemouth the star bird was a Grey Plover, a bird not altogether common in this area and a new bird for the Birding Ecosse life list, bolstering this total to 178

Grey Plover with Wigeon

Grey Plover with Wigeon

Next stop was the beautiful inland Loch at Spynie, and we soon had our target bird Water Rail in our filed of view, in fact we briefly had two birds in view at once! Heading back the coast, the wind had picked up quite considerably making duck watching pretty difficult, but we were able to pick up Long Tailed Duck, Common Eider and Common Scoter, so not a bad haul and the target bird for this area a Purple Sandpiper.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

On Wednesday I picked Pamela up bright and early and what a change in the weather, it was stunning so onwards and upwards to the Findorn Valley. Three individual kestrels at the beginning of the valley was a nice sight, as usually they are outnumbered by Sparrowhawks, a nice group of Redwings perched at top some trees looked beautiful in the sunshine.

Unfortunately the Eagles refused to play today (after getting some stunning views of two immature birds the day before) but the company, weather, and scenery made it a very enjoyable morning.

Pamela surveying the Findhorn Valley.

Pamela surveying the Findhorn Valley.

Friday 06 February 2015

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

Siskin

Siskin

As you look out at your garden bird feeder, two birds provide a muted splash of colour.  They are the Greenfinch and Siskin. Both the males of these species are fairly straight forward to identify. The Greenfinch being the larger of the two, it displays a mainly bright green body with flashes of bright yellow on the tail and wings and a heavy conical bill. The Siskin is smaller – the male still sports green plumage with yellow in wing and tail but also has a black forehead and bib, and a smaller, finer bill with dark streaking on its flanks, lower belly and back. The problems of identification arise when the females are involved. Once again the Greenfinch is somewhat larger than the Siskin, but is duller and a more subtle green than the male, and although it still carries yellow in the tails and wings this too is less prominent. It also carries some very slight streaking to the flanks and belly.  The Siskin female has more contrasting plumage, with obvious streaking on the flanks, back and head. Peanuts and seed feeders are used by both birds; however Greenfinches have a particular taste for sunflower seeds whilst the Siskin, with its more delicate bill, shows a preference for Nyger seed. Both birds are resident breeders in Scotland, but their populations can be supplemented by varying numbers of continental birds in the winter time. As winter draws to a close and spring starts to show its hand, the number of Siskin’s will fall off as they move away from gardens to their favoured breeding grounds in nearby spruce and pine forests. The Greenfinch however will remain in mature gardens and parks building their nests usually in thick evergreen bushes and shrubs. For all those people reading this blog did you know I do a monthly newsletter? To subscribe just drop me an email and I will put you on the mailing list, the newsletter is full of special offers and reduced cost day trips, plus plenty of stories, news and pictures of what is going on in the world of Birding Ecosse.  So get in touch and dont miss out on some fantastic deals 🙂   Please send me the Birding Ecosse Newsletter

Wednesday 28 January 2015

The weather forecast looked extremely dodgy as I pitched up at the Grant Arms Hotel ready and raring to go, but with the offer to Fiona that we would take the day a stage at a time. First port of call was to a flooded field, where fellow tour guide John Poyner had picked up a Glaucous Gull the day before, as we arrived there  were not many birds in the water logged field but amazingly enough, the target bird was one of them!  A great way to start the day with a lifer for Fiona.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

Due to the forecast we headed for the Glens first, unfortunately the weather caught up with us quicker than anticipated and as we supped our first cup of tea the snow started, and gave a great example of just how quickly the weather and road conditions can change up here in the highlands. In the space of 30 minutes it went from a green and pleasant land to whiteout conditions.

A snowy Findhorn Valley

A snowy Findhorn Valley

Heading briskly to the coast, we were soon watching some stunning Long Tailed duck and Common Eiders along with Purple Sandpiper, Sanderling and bar tailed Godwits.  Loch Spynie gave some cracking views of Water Rail and flocks of Long Tailed Tit. An excellent day tally of 56 species in the weather conditions proved that heading out in less then ideal conditions can be extremely rewarding.

Sunday 25 January 2015

A highlight of the birding year for me is the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, a fantastic weekend when thousands of households all over the UK sit for an hour and count the maximum amount of all species seen at one time, that is to say, you have 4 chaffinches on your feeder at once the count would be 4 chaffinches for the hour, if another two fly in at the same time then it would be six, all six birds have to be seen at the same time though.  A highly entertaining hours birding, the highlights for me was the ten Long Tailed Tits and four Tree Sparrows. Total counts for the hour: Chaffinch 26, Blue Tit 5, Great Tit 2, Fieldfare 6, Pheasant 5, Robin 2, Dunnock 1, Greenfinch 3, Blackbird 1, Coal Tit 1, Woodpigeon 4, Jackdaw 2, House Sparrow 2, Long Tailed Tit 10, Collard Dove 1, Tree Sparrow 4, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Blue Tit, X051512

Blue Tit, X051512

I would like you to meet an old friend of mine, X051512, A Blue Tit ringed as a young bird in my garden way back in August 2010. In the remarks column I have remarked on its bright plumage, and it is still looking splendid!

Monday 19 January 2015

A beautiful frosty morning here in the Scottish highlands and an ideal day to get the 2015 ringing season underway, just one net up and only for about forty minutes but a great way to shake off the cobwebs and getting some birds in the hand.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Great Tit

Great Tit

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

Robin

Robin

Saturday 17 January 2015

The weather continues to dog us up here in the far north, strong winds, snow, rain plague and pestilence. But undeterred I set out today for Aviemore to pick up Karen for a “Big Day” with Birding Ecosse. First port of call was Burghead Turnstone fed busily along the harbour wall, Cormorants and a single Shag hung their wings out to dry nd gace great views for identification comparisons as did the various nearby Gulls. Female Eiders and a single immature male Eider gave Karen so brilliant up close views as they sailed around in the inner harbour. Next we headed through to Lossiemouth Estuary where a Green Winged Teal had recently been reported (via Birdguides) as we scanned through the Teal and Wigeon flock, local birder Duncan came down to say he had it in his scope, a much appreciated gesture as it would have been a little while before we got to scanning that part of the river.  A lifer for Karen and a new bird for the Birding Ecosse life list , so thank you Duncan 🙂

A dozing Green Winged Teal.

A dozing Green Winged Teal.

Next stop off was Loch Spynie, the track towards Caysbriggs farm was absolutely alive with birds, Fantastic numbers of Reed Buntings flitted through the bushes, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Goldfinch, Robin, Fieldfare, Dunnock, Blackbird and a Great spotted Woodpecker all added nicely to the ever growing days tally. On the loch the number of Mallards present was the most obvious change from my last visit, Duncan (same as above) once again put us onto another star bird, a male Gadwall, not a common bird up in these pasrts, as I sifted through remaining ducks I also picked up the female, the feeders at the hide werre busy with myriads of Long Tailed Tit, Blue, Coal and Great Tit and Chaffinch all present. Two Waterrail scuried past the hide unfortunatley Karen did not see these so cannot be added to the list. Walking back to the car a Wren played a game of hide and seek and a brilliant view of a Carrion Crow harrying a Buzzard and actually forcing the Buzzard onto the ground. After a quick refreshment stop we headed for a drive in the local area in search of Whooper Swans, we were in Luck with a small group of ten birds loafing around on a frozen pool in a stubble field. As the day wore on it was back to the coast, and Burghead, this time to the East side of the Peninsula and our target bird for this location didn’t disappoint, Long Tailed Duck where just offshore, with a group of male “a courting” one lucky lady. We caught the occasional trumpeting call of the males through the wind noise.

Long Tailed ducks

Long Tailed ducks

Soon the light was fading, and after a glorious sunset over Findhorn Bay it was time to return Karen to the snowy land of Aviemore.  A great days birding in brilliant company, with a total species count for the day of 61 and not forgetting that Green Winged Teal what a great bird for the start of the year. Harlequin Duck anyone :-)………………………………

Thursday 15 January 2015.

We have had some shocking weather to start 2015 and  so not been out much at all. As I sit and write this blog the wind and rain hitting the window makes it feel like I am sitting in a car wash! This is the sort of day when I like to sit and listen to the weather outside and trawl through some old pictures, this one made me laugh! It was at a place called Grassy lake in Alberta, Canada. We were down looking for Yellow Headed Blackbirds but when this picture was taken who knows what we were looking for! All points of the compass covered! Thanks to Irene and Dennis for the pics.

All points of the compass covered!

All points of the compass covered!

Wednesday 07 January 2015.

So we have a harlequin Duck in Aberdeen, an Ivory Gull on Skye, but my highlight of 2015 so far?

Peanut Butter M&Ms the King of Candy!

Peanut Butter M&Ms the King of Candy!

Today I received a package from Glenn and Karen (AKA Skinkman and Grumpy) all the way from the US of A, it rattled as I picked it up.. what could it be I wondered, and never ever would I have expected such a well thought out gift would be inside! I am a very happy birder today 🙂 I have worked out if I have three M&Ms a day it will last a full year 🙂 or until Lynda finds the stash! Thank you so much skinkman and (not so) grumpy

Thursday 01 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all, just think only 359 days until Christmas 🙂 The first day of 2015 dawned very wet and very windy, but the day also dawned on a very special visitor, an Ivory Gull.  The only problem was it was on the Isle of Skye, a round trip of 300 miles. Will we go for it or not? Silly question, it was still dark when Lynda and I set off! The rain never abated all day, however this actually added to the day with the mountains shrouded in mist and the rivers and streams in full spate it was all very atmospheric. A beautiful, if non birdy stop off was at Eilean Donan castle, the first time I have actually parked and looked at this Castle, definitely a trip in itself, however this was not getting the job done so we were soon on the road again.

A damp Eilean Donan Castle.

A damp Eilean Donan Castle.

Arriving at Uig I was a tad concerned that there were no other tripods/cameras/binos/scopes on show….. had the bird gone?  Bracing ourselves against the gale force wind and lashing rain we started kitting up, looking up a very pale bird disappeared behind the pier cafe, was that the bird, had we just missed it?  Another couple appeared out of the murk and confirmed the bird was still present and indeed had been showing well for the last half hour, phew… We took up position, sheltered behind the Pier Cafe, and out of the wind and rain it was quite pleasant, and then a white streak whizzed past, the Ivory Gull was back!! What a star of a bird, the pristine white plumage dotted with black spots denoting this bird as an immature. Quite a delicate little birds, but very nimble and completely at home in the atrocious weather. We ended up watching the Gull for nearly two hours getting some passable record shots, but oh to have a glimmer of sunshine though.

Ivory Gull

Ivory Gull

Ivory Gull

Ivory Gull

Ivory Gull

Ivory Gull

So a fantastic start to the year for me personally, and with a healthy Birding Ecosse booking diary here is to a bumper year, and really looking forward to birding with some familiar faces and subjecting some new faces to Tunnocks and Tea 🙂