Blog – 2017

Birding Ecosse Blogspot

Welcome to the Birding Ecosse blog, if it is your first visit then thank you very much for dropping in, if you were a regular to my old blog then thank you for updating your bookmarks!

This blog will follow all my trips and tours, so if you have been out with me recently the chances are very high you will make an appearance! Most of the pictures on the blog are my own, however if I do use a third parties  pictures I will have obtained their permission and will give them full credit.

It is designed to be a light hearted read to show how and where Birding Ecosse operates, so if you are thinking of booking a tour check out the Blog and then read through the Testimonials and you should get a flavour of what to expect! Great Birds, Great Scenery with Coffee and biscuits thrown in!  Please note: All  birds will have been viewed in a safe and environmentally accepted way, that is to say by using public access at all times or by the use of hides specifically erected for the observation of this species and by keeping at a  safe distance and viewing through telescopes. Remember you can keep in touch via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dslaterbirdingecosse or twitter @birdingecosse

Did you know Birding Ecosse produces a newsletter?  Get up to date news and offers first if you subscribe to http://mailchi.mp/d60dbe0ab85a/birding-ecosse-april-2017-newsletter-1103145    The newsletter is a lighthearted look at what has happened the previous months, full of Pictures and information (many  that are not published on this blog page) of places we have visited, our mid month “Planned trips” mailing gives an update of all remaing spaces available on tours.

Call in and give it a glance, hopefully you will like it 🙂

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Well what a day this turned out to be! Meeting Martin, Rowland and Richard at their hotel we were soon standing watching 8 Male Black Grouse strutting their stuff on the local lek, a great way to start the day!

A visit to the coast for sea-ducks was the order for the rest of the day, but what happened was a real show stopper!!

Picture the scene… Burghead, a small fishing town perched on a peninsula jutting into the Moray Firth.  A brisk and cool westerly had been blowing over the last few days and the area had been hit with the first snow of the season, followed by squally rain showers.  We had been picking up flocks of Redwing and Fieldfares, and reports of Waxwings in the area had our senses on “high”

We had been watching the Eiders, Cormorants and Shags and I was head down in the boot of the car making a round of coffee’s when Richard called out “oh look a Shore lark”  I dropped the tea spoon and spun around expecting to see a.n.other species (No offence to Richard, a very good birder) and was dumbfounded to see, no more than 20 feet away the said Shore lark!!  I very very (very very) scarce bird up here, not sure if it is a county first but if it isn’t then definitely a single figure species!!

The bird was flighty as it fed on the gravel road leading to the viewing/turnround area just below the Visitor centres viewpoint.  It then flew down onto the rocks, before once again coming to feed on the grass verge at the turning circle.  It gave stunning views and even some time left over to grab some very rushed record shots.

The bird then flew up and disappeared over the hill to the left of the visitors centre, we headed up to try and re-locate but nothing was seen.  A great sighting for the group, and a Red Letter bird for a Birding Ecosse tour!

Birding Ecosse UK total now stands at 207 – Shore Lark 🙂

The Burghead Shore Lark 14 November 2017

Welcome to the Birding Ecosse

October 2017 Newsletter

Okay folks, I have a suggestion, best you settle down with a nice Cuppa and some biccies as this is going to be long newsletter!
October has been an absolutely amazing month for Birding Ecosse, a lot of repeat Victims, a scattering of new Victims a Fun filled Celebrity tour, some mamally type thingies and lots and lots of tip top birds, from the very smallest to the very biggest in the UK.
Three retuning victims were bright eyed and bushy tailed on their arrival on the 10th, Tony, Bob and Christine had arrived for a mid-week special, it was windy and cold as we set off up the Findorn Valley.
Signs of winter were evident with the tree’s turning a beautiful golden/brown and a lone Redwing feeding in a far corner of a field, the first of the season, the drive over the Farr road was a mini diversion though just to have a quick chance of Raptors…. The Red Grouse were safe (from the sky at least) and soon we were motoring towards the main area for the day Portmahomack and Tarbat Ness.
2 Winter plumaged Slavonian Grebes loafed about just offshore and further out two Black Guillemots looked splendid in their winter plumage.
Tarbat Ness proved interesting, not in the aspect of rarities but with a good example of visible migration (viz mig) a flock of 9 Coal Tits came in high off the Moray Firth and started feed hungrily on the insects within the Gorse bushes, before once again taking flight and heading off, 7 Stonechats flicked and flitted through the bushes and dark billed Blackbirds perched up on the lighthouse walls, it is a magical time of year when you see these things happening right in front of you!
Udale bay once again produced the goods with Little Egret (yes I know you southerners are shooing them out of the way they are that common now, but up here it is still a pulse quickening bird!) and a great haul of Geese included Pink Footed, Barnacle, Brent, Canada and Greylag a good number of Whooper Swans fed out on the mudflats of the bay.
The Wintering Scaup flock was back off Jemmimaville and stood at about 300 birds, with upwards of 100 very close to shore and showing very well in the Swarovski scope.
Nest day (Thursday 11 October) dawned clear and calm with a nice +5 temperature I was hopeful of some nice migrants, however the day started on the local Black Grouse moor with 6 Males present.
After breakfast we were standing on the Nairn foreshore looking for tired wanderers feeding on the sycamore, a Goldcrest was a nice find and 4 Crossbills in off the sea was a surprise sighting, dark billed Blackbirds once again apparent and a tight flock of 8 Skylarks “tchrrupped” high along the shoreline.
Findorn Bay turned up Male and Female Pintail, a scarce bird here in the Highlands, Bar and Black Tailed Godwits and scurrying flocks of Dunlin and Knot.
Last call in point of the day was to Loch Garten to try and connect with Crested Tits, Christines bogey bird…… it took all of ten minutes before we had two Cresties feeding at our feet and the Coal Tit feeding out our hands.  A great couple of days in superb company, a most enjoyable time!
 Like a scene from Crimewatch – The Mike Dilger group

Mid month saw me rubbing shoulders with Celebrity in the form of One show presenter Mike Dilger, I had been asked to help out with the Guided week (I could only manage four days as I had my own victims arriving at the end of the week, move over celebrity Dave’s guests victims come first 😊 )  But a great four days it was!
Monday 16th October was notable for another reason, storm Ophelia.  A proper bona-fide hurricane was heading towards Ireland and the whole of the UK was to be affected in some way, for us, standing at Cromarty it was the effect of thick storm clouds, and clouds of smoke and ash dragged up from Spain and Portugal by Ophelia.  1430 at it was like evening time!!  Very spooky.


1430 in Cromarty, thanks to Ophelia

However prior to this event we had enjoyed some great Birding and Wildlife:  First stop of the day was North Kessock were we had our first four legged furry beast of the trip as an Otter cruised speedily against the tide to show well, but distantly, on the Kessock bridge structure…… a nice way to start, however more importantly for me was the next stop at Munlochy bay where we picked up 12 Greenland White Fronted Geese!  I had searched all of 2016 for White Fronts and never connected (but picked up Tundra Bean Goose instead so not all bad news!)  and a nice flock of 50 Whooping Whooper Swans were nice to see and hear!


Whooping Whoopers and Greenland White Fronted Geese

Udale bay turned up the birds again with Barnacle, Brent, Grey-lag and Pink Feet all feeding in front of the superb hide.  Jemmimaville held a flock of 40 Scaup close to shore with a further 300 loafing about in the gloom mid distance across the Firth, and a flock of 30 Golden Plover dashed back and forth their white underwings flashing again the darkening stormy sky.  Very atmospheric and quite captivating.
Chanonry was storm bound and the chances of Dolphin as remote as the sun was to be, however the winds had brought huge numbers of Kittiwakes very close to shore and gave some crippling views of their varying plumages from the crisp clean cut adults to the “W” back plumaged Juveniles.  The leaden grey skies once again giving a stunning contrast between birds and background. Long Tailed Ducks zipped low over the surface, the first birds of this winter season and a great way to end the first day.


Bald Eagle and Slinky Minky!

The next three days were a mixture of Great Birds, the giving of nicknames to the two guides, Mike, the celebrity got the bold name of “Bald Eagle” whilst the “also ran” (me) got the flattering yet descriptive “Slinky Minky”
Now in the interest of brevity (and to save you opening another packet of Hob-nobs) I will summarise slightly the remaining three days!

The weather was just plain awful on day two, so it was a local day.  Dipper was picked up on the River Spey and the Loch Garten Coal Tits enthralled everyone, yes even the TV man had a go at feeding them from the hand!


Ohmm Ohmmm The Coal tit Cult

But it was the Crested Tits for me that stole the show, feeding around our feet and in nearby trees and bushes the did attract many “oohs and awwws” Goldcrest was a nice bird to pick up and the first flocks of Redwings “tseeped” over-head, the weekend was to see thousands of these Scandinavian visitors pour into the area.
The Strathdearn Valley was misted out, and in pouring rain, so after a quick coffee break watching the massive flock of Redwings and a surprise flock of 15 Crossbills overhead, we beat a hasty retreat back to the warmth of the hotel.

Day three was the West Coast, and what a day it turned out to be! Great Northern Divers in nearly full plumage floated around just off shore at Poolewe, a bird Mike had wanted to see in summer plumage in the UK, 4 winter plumaged Black Throated Divers swam nearby and gave good comparisons, true Rock Doves flitted around the Rocks (where else I hear you cry!)  But stand out bird for me was a 2nd Winter Mediterranean Gull hanging around with the Black Headed Gulls at Aultbea.


Med Gull

A further 4 Great Northern Divers nearly in full plumage almost tipped Mike over the edge with ecstasy whilst the groups star bird was a Golden Eagle giving jaw dropping views as it thermalled almost above the mini-buses getting mobbed by ravens. A very happy bus load of Birders made its way back to Grantown that night!

A stunning Golden Eagle

My final day with the group started very early, 0700 and we were standing on a nearby Black Grouse Lek… however it was devoid of the said Black Grouse!! Panic set in, in seven years I had never failed at this site, then a wee Black head and neck appeared, the lek had been forced to move some 150ft nearer the cars, the Gamekeeper here has a habit of putting horse feed in the lek area, presumably to discourage the birds, and the birders, from watching the area and any “dubious” shenanigans going on.  However his plan backfired and we had great views of 9 Males strutting their stuff.
After a filling breakfast we were off up the Findhorn Valley in search of Raptors, and once again it was raining, contrary to Carol what the BBC weather girl had promised!!  However we pushed on and we were so happy we did.  It became a raptor fest!
The Redwing flock had increased in size and now also included Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush, stranger though was a male Black Grouse perched on a gate leading to the field….. all those that had stayed in bed this morning struck Black Gold and those who had braved the early rise and chilly wind scowled at those lucky few!!
Just past the Farr road 3 Buzzards caught my eye, and another raptor just above them.  A goshawk! Then a Sparrowhawk joined the party giving great comparisons between itself and its much bigger cousin, just around the corner a Golden eagle cruised low over the Rutting deer, and a fantastic Male Hen Harrier had somehow managed to travel over all the surrounding Grouse moor unscathed!
At the top Car Park a Peregrine screamed over the mountain ridges and waves and waves of Redwings filled the sky.  Migration at its best!


I can Fly! Red Deer.

The final raptor experience was for some the best of the lot as two immature White Tailed Eagles cruised right down the valley, straight to our location and proceeded to enthral us all the Arial dog fights, talon grappling and synchronised flybys, all in all we watched the magnificent beast for around15 minutes and away from the Skye Boat Cruises it had to be the best views I have ever had of WTE.

White Tailed Eagle Display Team

And so that ended my four days with Mike Dilger, and a really fantastic set of people.  It had been a great time that I had thoroughly enjoyed, however tomorrow saw me back to my passion, guiding my victims with a Birding Ecosse weekend!

So Friday dawned, return victims Val, Linda and Stewart stood expectantly awaiting their fate and soon we were loaded up and heading North over the Kessock Bridge towards Munlochy Bay. The mud was exposed and we picked up Bar Tailed Godwit, Pink Footed Goose, Teal, thousands of Wigeon, Goldfinch and once again hundreds of Redwing spilling in from High, migrants just arriving.  Udale bay turned up the Usual suspects but the highlight was on the road leading to Newhall Point, we stopped off by the old restored church over-looking Udale Bay and were treated to 5 Bramblings, the first of the season, feeding amongst the Chaffinches and Redwings, and a lifer for Val


Bramblings

The Scaup flock held two Tufted Ducks, a bit of a surprise, but a great way to show off the difference between this confusion species.  Another surprise find was a Dabchick at sea just off Cromarty.
Once again the weather had turned and I decided to seek out some shelter with a drive inland on the way home, Drynachan was looking stunning in its’ Autumn dress and the tree’s looked like they had been dipped in Gold, it even provided some nice birds in the shape of Kestrel, Stonechat, Red Legged Partridge and Buzzard, a lovely way to end a fantastic day!
Over the weekend we visited most of what the local area had to offer, the Findhorn Valley closely resembled a wind tunnel, and the first true biting wind of the season made its presence felt but did turn up three very very distant Golden Eagles, closer to hand were the Sparrowhawk and Hooded crow that entertained us with a game of “catch me if you can” where both birds took it turn to chase the other, we could see no obvious reason for this act other than they were playing!  It continued for around 15 minutes with first the crow chasing the Sparrowhawk, then they would change and the Hawk would chase the crow. A great bit of interaction to watch!
Loch Garten proved as mesmerising as ever and the birds seems to be performing very very well this early on in the season, with the Crested Tits being very confiding even hopping between Val and myself looking for spilled seed!  And the Coal Tits were just as cheeky as they always are!


Time for your close up Mr Ater 🙂

A lovely early Sunday walk through the Dunes at Findhorn Bay turned up a Goldcrest and lots of Stonechats and a newly formed colony of Tree Sparrows looked to have grown in numbers, Burghead bay turned up some more Long Tailed Ducks, some Common Scoter and a chance to do a bit of a masterclass for the victims on the differences between Cormorant and Shag, it is great when you get both species on the same rock! Last stop of the weekend was at Findhorn bay where the usual flock of Pintail is a great addition to the weekend list, lots of scurrying Dunlin and the muddy shore and a flurry of Golden Plovers.
Sunday was Vals last day but Linda and Stewart had bravely asked to endure a further day with me and today we were joined by a new victim in the shape of Bob.
The day didn’t start well as we stood looking out over Spey Bay towards Buckie, the sea was flat calm, a slight chill hung in the air but it was a very pleasant morning.  We were booked on the Gemini Explorer, sailing out of Buckie, (where we were looking directly at) however when calling to confirm the 1230 sailing I was astounded to be told it was not going as it was “blowing a gale and raining hard” strange thought I as I stripped of a layer of clothing in the now bright sunshine….. obviously we were the only booking so not worth setting sail…. Disappointing to say the least… and so it was yet another masterclass in sea ducks!  Bob wanted definitive proof of the difference between Common and Velvet Scoter, so off we set!
At Lossiemouth it was nice to pick up some cryptically camouflaged Purple Sandpipers, once again the first of the season,  however highlight of the day for me was the flock of 8 Twite feeding on the cliffs and grassy areas of Burghead, a brilliant bird to find!  And finally to Findhorn Dunes where in amongst the flocks of Common Scoter, we  managed to pick out and identify a Velvet Scoter, just the one mind, but enough to let Bob see the relative identifying features between the two species.
The day ended on a very high note with a huge female peregrine hunting low over the calm surface of Lochindorb just as the sun was setting, well picked up by Bob!
And so to the last day of the marathon 9 days of birding, and off to Nethy Bridge to pick up Angie and Derek (or Hamish as he was to be called for the rest of the day)
They had booked a Highland Bird day, however in reality it turned into a bit of a Big Day, firstly the Black Grouse at the usual Lek site, 7 males seen and the realisation that this Lek has definitely reduced in numbers, hunted or has the Gamekeeper managed to move the main part of the Lek elsewhere?  Two dippers at Spey Bridge was another lifer for both Angie and Derek.
One of the best moments of the weekend, and contending with best moment of 2017 was when after telling me that Great Northern Diver was Angie’s bogey bird, to pick an almost full plumaged bird loafing just offshore at Burghead, handing the scope to her and saying “there you go, Great Northern Diver, bogey bird no more” was a magical moment.
Her reaction was brilliant and I felt a pang of pride that I had helped in some small way to be part of the process 😊 The day ended in a once again very very windy Findhorn Valley, Red Kite, Redwings and Golden Eagle marking the end of an absolutely fantastic, varied, fun and inspiring run of birding tours, cannot wait until the beginning of November when it all starts again!!

Twite

Well that’s it, hope you enjoyed the read, so until next month take Care and Good Birding!

Dave AKA Slinky Minky!

Monday 16 October 2017

Day 1:  Storm Ophelia has been in the news, a fully formed Hurricane heading toward UK and Southern Ireland, forecast was dire….. so it was a pleasant surprise as we walked to the vehicles that there was no rain and it was flat calm, happy faces all round…….. then the rain started!

The group had spent a very entertaining evening in the sumptuous Grant Arms hotel in Grantown on Spey, enjoying a  beautiful meal then a lively quiz in the bar, personalities were beginning to show, it was looking to be a fun filled few days

Heading through the gloom and road spray the two mini buses were soon parked up at North Kessock, I was the “Osprey” Group and TV personality Mike Dilger was the “Eagle” group.  Object here was to see Otter, and very soon we had our target in the scopes and enjoyed long views at it headed against the current and hauled out onto the supporting chains on the Kessock bridge, a great way to start the day!  Redshank, Red Breasted Merganser, Rock Pipit and Cormorant all braved the conditions and added to the days list.

Onto the black Isle and the rain had eased to torrential!  Huddled under the tailgates and in the hide at Munlochy Bay we were treated to some outstanding birding (I love birding in foul weather, it turns up some cracking birds)

I flock of some 40+ Whooper Swans were dabbling around in the shallows when all of a sudden I noticed a strange goose, Orange Bill, white Blaze around said bill, heavy barring on underside… a Greenland White fronted Goose, an excellent bird for the area, then I saw another, and another and another, in total 13 birds!  An appalling digiscope picture recorded the moment.

Whooper Swans “whooping” with Greenland White Fronted Geese in the rear of the picture.

Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Teal, Mallard a 300 strong Gaggle of Pink Footed Geese and a lone Mistle thrush all shared the area and all looked wet and wind blown, time to beat a retreat to the hide at Udale bay!

Udale has to be my most favourite hide in the whole area, large and very well sited.  It was a dropping tide so not ideal, but Udale never disappoints and soon we had a whole array of new birds, 3 Brent Geese feeing out on the mud flats, 5 Barnacle geese mingled with the thousands of Pink Footed Geese, a lone Grey Plover huddled down behind a tiny piece of sea weed trying to escape the elements.  It was nice to get out of the weather and settle down to a lovely packed lunch from the hotels kitchens, but all too soon we were back on the road and watching flocks of Scaup bouncing about on the choppy Cromarty  firth and a small group of Golden Plovers zipped by, their white underwings flashing brightly in the ever gloomier conditions.

By the time we reached Cromarty it was the strangest and darkest conditions I have ever experienced whilst on tour, it was almost pitch black, rain was light but the wind had whipped up very quickly. Seemingly the conditions being caused by Saharan sand and smoke from Wildfires in Spain and Portugal.

 Cromarty at 1430!!

The rain had started to get heavier as we headed to our last stop of the day, Chanonry Point.  Definitely not Dolphin weather as the white horses broke on the waves, but what this weather system did deliver was flocks and flocks of stunning Adult and Juvenile Kittiwakes, the adults clean white plumage and the juveniles characteristic Black “W” wing patterns contrasting starkly with the leaden grey skies, juvenile Gannet’s cruised by close to shore, small groups of Razorbills scurried low over the choppy water, but best of all, groups of newly arrived Long Tailed Ducks  powered there way through the winds heading to the more sheltered waters of the Inner Moray Firth.

Soon we would be back in the cosy rooms of our hotel, going through the list of birds seen and just storing the memories of great birds, wacky weather and light conditions, a good few laughs and wondering what tomorrow will bring!

Total for day 54 species.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Exciting times this week, I have been asked to help out guiding with the Birdwatching and Wildlife Club (BWWC) with  their Celebrity week, featuring the One Show  presenter Mike Dilger, based in the beautiful Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey, it should be a great few days birding.

All checked into my lovely room and waiting for the time to go and meet and greet the clients for the weeks trip!

Lovely room, great meal, fun quiz and a great set of people, could be a lot of fun this week 🙂

Monday 18 September 2017

Well as we say up here in Scotland, it is back to “Auld Claithes and porridge” and the long planned and awaited trip to Andalucía in Southern Spain has been and gone, and I have to report it was probably one of the best six days birding I have ever had!  The group, the guide , the birds and the country were just fantastic, and below I will attempt to put over just what a truly epic tour it was…. hope you enjoy.

Friday 15 September 2017 – Day 6 Final Day

The morning was just a perfect temperature as we stood on the bridge overlooking the Guadalhorce reserve, Red Rumped Swallows pinged past and a Zitting Cisticola made itself known in the nearby scrub. As we walked towards the Laguna Escondida hide we noticed a large flappy raptor flying low over the reeds towards us, then another, then some behind us, and some more approaching… all Honey Buzzards.  Luis thought maybe migrant birds that had stopped off at Guadalhorce for the night before carrying on with their migration.

This is one of those moments that will stay with me, migration in progress, it gives me goosebumps just writing about it now!  In total around 50 individuals passed through the area and a brilliant way to start the day.

Honey Buzzards

At the hide we were lucky enough to get onto the White Headed Ducks staright away, I explained to the group just how scarce a wee duck this is.  Although nearly always guaranteed in this wee pond it still is a very very rare Duck and was actually the reason I started birding in this location almost four years ago. (however it really doesn’t do much when you do see it!  Likes preening and sleeping!)

White Headed Duck.

The water had a few ducks, mostly in eclipse, so was a good learing curve for some of the group.. Birds present were Dabchick, Shoveler, Pochard, Coot, Moorhen, Gadwall, Sparrowhawk flyby, and this little beauty

Female Kingfisher

The second hide was a wader fest, with 3 Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Black Winged Stilt all jostling for space, then a Wood Sandpiper appeared from the reeds and showed well but briefly before skulking back into the reeds, a Black Necked Grebe “appeared” as if from nowhere.  A nice early record.

An Osprey perched on a nearby tree, prompting Luis to wonder if it was their winter resident bird back for another season.   Three teal scurried around in the shallows and a Kestrel hovered at the far side of the reserve.

The seawatching viewpoint was fairly quiet, with a strong glare coming off the now roasting sun, so as we headed towards the next hide, we headed along the beach……. the nudist beach….. with Lynda pointing out their were quite a few “wheatears” showing if you get my drift.  Then I noticed that Irene had gone feral and had lapsed into holiday mode and went for a paddle!

Irene thinking she was on a holiday!

The Laguna Grande is without doubt one of my favourite hides in the whole wide world! There is always something going on.  Today it was where we picked up our only Audiouns gull, first spotted by holiday maker Irene as it drifted around the hide and out of sight,  I quickly relocated it and everyone got a great view.

Audiouns Gull

In front of the hide sat Little Ringed, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Black Winged stilts, Barn Swallows, another Hoopoe and two further Ospreys!  A great way to end the morning on the reserve prior to heading back up the mountains to the Montes de Malaga.

Lunch, once again was a fantastic affair ordered by Luis.  Another beautiful cold soup, this time made with Almonds with apple and grapes in it, very delicate and filling, with melba toast spread with avocado, and smoked salmon, then llomos, pork with pork fat dripping, sounds a bit iffy but ohhh how tasty, then Avocado with cream cheese and more smoked salmon,  I was stuffed!! and we actually turned down a final course (that will be sampled in April no doubt!)

I felt like I was waddling when we set off for the walk around the Montes!  Once again the heat of the day meant birds were in shelter and a bit lethargic, however we soon had Coal Tit, Whitethroat and Garden Warbler on the list.

At one of the picnic areas we observed a very scruffy Blackcap exploiting a valuable food source.  Where a small tap was dripping water, wasps were coming into drink, and the blackcap was eating the wasps!!

Blackcap feeding on wasps.

However the highlights for this final part of the tour had to be the Two Tailed Pasha Butterflies, huge beasts and absolutely stunning!

Two Tailed Pasha

Lizzardy type thing!

And so that concluded the Birding Ecosse Andalucía trip for 2017, back at the hotel we bade our farewells to Luis who had been a fantastic  and enthusiastic guide and our Mini-Bus and settled in for our final group meal and call over.  It had been a brilliant six days and I would just like to take this opportunity to than Irene, Jackie, Karen, Richard, Gerry and Jeannette for being such an enjoyable group of people, it was a pleasure spending time in your company, also to the girl of many hats, Lynda.  It would not have gone so smoothly without your organisational skills!

So that’s it until next April 2018, when we will be heading back to the area to catch the Northwards migration and to witness birds in full breeding mode and dress!  I really cannot wait, and with Two of the six slots now booked , if you are thinking about joining us then I really wouldn’t delay getting in touch, see http://birdingecosse.co.uk/spain-2018/ for full details.

Below is a full species list of the birds encountered:

  1. Gadwall
  2. Eurasian Teal
  3. Mallard
  4. Northern Shoveler
  5. Common Pochard
  6. White-headed Duck
  7. Red-legged Partridge
  8. Little Grebe
  9. Great Crested Grebe
  10. Black-necked Grebe
  11. Balearic Shearwater
  12. Northern Gannet
  13. Great Cormorant
  14. Grey Heron
  15. Purple Heron
  16. Little Egret
  17. Cattle Egret
  18. Night Heron
  19. Black Stork
  20. White Stork
  21. Glossy Ibis
  22. Eurasian Spoonbill
  23. Greater Flamingo
  24. Osprey
  25. Honey Buzzard
  26. Black Kite
  27. Egyptian Vulture
  28. Griffon Vulture
  29. Short-toed Eagle
  30. Marsh Harrier
  31. Montaqu’s Harrier
  32. Eurasian Sparrowhawk
  33. Northern Goshawk
  34. Common Buzzard
  35. Golden Eagle
  36. Bonelli’s Eagle
  37. Booted Eagle
  38. Lesser Kestrel
  39. Common Kestrel
  40. Moorhen
  41. Common Coot
  42. Great Bustard
  43. Black-winged Stilt
  44. Collared Practincole
  45. Lapwing
  46. Ringed Plover
  47. Little Ringed Plover
  48. Kentish Plover
  49. Common Snipe
  50. Common Sandpiper
  51. Green Sandpiper
  52. Wood Sandpiper
  53. Common Redshank
  54. Sanderling
  55. Curlew Sandpiper
  56. Dunlin
  57. Audion’s Gull
  58. Yellow-legged Gull
  59. Lesser Black Backed Gull
  60. Black Headed Gull
  61. Sandwich Tern
  62. Rock Dove
  63. Woodpigeon
  64. Feral Pigeon
  65. Turtle Dove
  66. Collared Dove
  67. Monk Parakeet
  68. Little Owl
  69. Red-necked Nightjar
  70. Alpine Swift
  71. Common Swift
  72. Pallid Swift
  73. Common Kingfisher
  74. European Bee-eater
  75. Hoopoe
  76. Short Toed Lark
  77. Crested Lark
  78. Thekla Lark
  79. Sand Martin
  80. Barn Swallow
  81. Crag Martin
  82. House Martin
  83. Red-rumped Swallow
  84. Tawny Pipit
  85. White Wagtail
  86. Yellow Wagtail
  87. Grey Wagtail
  88. Wren
  89. Rock Thrush
  90. Blue Rock Thrush
  91. Blackbird
  92. Zitting Cisticola
  93. Reed Warbler
  94. Melodious Warbler
  95. Willow Warbler
  96. Blackcap
  97. Garden Warbler
  98. Whitethroat
  99. Dartford Warbler
  100. Sardinian Warbler
  101. Spotted Flycatcher
  102. Pied Flycatcher
  103. Black Redstart
  104. Common Redstart
  105. Whinchat
  106. Stonechat
  107. Black Wheatear
  108. Northern Wheatear
  109. Coal Tit
  110. Crested Tit
  111. Great Tit
  112. Blue Tit
  113. Short-toed Treecreeper
  114. Iberian Shrike
  115. Woodchat Shrike
  116. Eurasian Jay
  117. Azure Winged Magpie
  118. Eurasian Jackdaw
  119. Common Raven
  120. Spotless Starling
  121. House Sparrow
  122. Spanish Sparrow
  123. Chaffinch
  124. Common Crossbill
  125. Greenfinch
  126. Goldfinch
  127. Linnet
  128. European Serin
  129. Hawfinch
  130. Cirl Bunting
  131. Rock Bunting
  132. Reed Bunting
  133. Corn Bunting

Thursday 14 September 2017 – Day 5

Well the birding started even when we were having breakfast with a flyby of 21 Greater Flamingos! What  great way to start the day!!  And today we were heading for Fuenta de Piedra, one of Lynda’s favourite places.

First stop of the day was Penarrubia, a sheer rock face surrounded by scrub.  First birds to see, way high up on the cliff top were Black Wheatears, two flitted about and perched on top of spikey bushes, huge Alpine Swifts swooped past the Wheatears and smaller Crag Martins zoomed past the rock face, sweeping up to small crevices in the rock, some late young reticent to leave the nest?

Looking behind us a large lake glimmered in the morning sun, but more importantly, that there lake held ducks!! A family of birds we were sorely lacking so far on the trip.

Great Crested Grebes, Coot, Mallards, Black Headed Gulls, Common Sandpiper, Red Legged Partridge, Black Headed Gulls, Crested Larks and Stonechat were soon added to the growing tally.

A trip onto the farmlands near Campillos turned up 2 Tawny Pipit, numerous Northern Wheatears, House Sparrows, Short Toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, 4 Hoopoes, Booted Eagle, Whinchat, Green Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Little Ringed Plover, Blackbird and Willow Warbler, Little Owl and Barn Swallow oh and a “mud bird” spotted by Gerry, complete with reeds for legs (and in the heat haze very convincing it was as well!)

Unfortunately the Fuenta De Piedra had very low water levels, but it is always worth a visit.

The fantastic visitor centre at The Laguna Fuenta De Piedra.

In the car park Red Rumped Swallows passed low overhead, and the heat was already beginning to rise.  Walking through the scrub and keeping in the shade netted us great views of a panting Stonechat pair and a calling Cettis Warbler.

The viewing area in front of the centre provided some very welcome cool shade.

From this viewpoint we had a great view if the Flamingo Flock, in the thousands, try as we might we never picked up any Lesser Flamingo though.

Next we made our way to the hides, once again nice to get out of the glaring sun and heat, the water was low but the water edges still had a few interesting birds. A juv Greater Flamingo, Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Curlew Sandpiper, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Black Winged Stilts, Mallards, Moorhen, House Sparrow, Little Ringed Plover, Little Grebe, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Lapwing.

As Luis and Myself were walking back to the vehicle, talking about tour guidey things, I noticed we were missing something…… what was missing…. checked my pockets, nothing, checked my scopac, nothing…. then I realised none of the group was with us!!  I slowly headed back toward  hides and there they were, binos trained on a tree.

Owl Watching

It transpires as we left the hid , Jeannette spotted an Owl fly up into  nearby tree, after much searching Lynda finally managed to pick up a Little Owl huddled close to the tree trunk.  Even when I got talked out it, it was so difficult to see, how Lynda picked it up I will never know but very well done to her!

And so that ended day 5, only one day left on this magical Birding Tour, and tomorrow was one of my favourite places, and right beside the hotel.  The Mouth of the Guadalhorce River…… stay tuned.

The evening call over.

One thing I have not mentioned is the evening call over.  This happens every night when we convene after Dinner (fresh libations in hand) and talk through the days happenings, carry out a full check list update, peruse and mark the map of where we have been that day and generally take the mickey out of me!  It is a great way to round off the day 🙂

Day 5 – 56 Species.  Running Total 114.

 Wednesday 13 September 2017 – Day 4

Today was back to the relative coolness of mountain birding and we were bound for an area called the Archidona and El Torcal, the former was a completely new area for me and Lynda and it didn’t disappoint!

Archidona

First stop of the day was a mid point viewing area, there was a stiff breeze blowing as we debussed, but flocks of Goldfiches “charmed” their way through the tree tops, then all hell broke loose as a Sparrowhawk ripped through the flock, missing them all, but then gave an incredible demonstration of how thermals work when it jetted up at least 600ft without a single flap of its wings.

At the second stop birds flitted everywhere, Sardinian Warblers, Chaffinch, Whitethroat, Blue and Great Tit, Blackbird, then two smaller birds dropped out of a bush and into the field edge, a male and female Cirl Bunting.  They showed fairly well ducking in and out of the grass, then both flew up and perched on a bush… brilliant!

Male Cirl Bunting

It really was a beautiful area, and will be amazing on our spring visit when Thrushes and Warblers spill through the area on their Northwards Journey.

Heading down off the mountain and back into the heat we were soon treated to very brief views of Azure Winged Magpies, a surprisingly hard bird to connect with even though you know the exact tree they are perched in, Lynda missed them altogether but was consoled with crippling views of her target bird for the tour, Bee-eaters!

Lyndas Bird – The Bee-eater.

After a very traditional lunch of cold tomato soup, with iberica hame and boiled eggs placed on top,(very tasty) we were heading to the amazing landscape of El Torcal, a High Limestone Massif that just as a scenic run is amazing, the birds just added to the splendour!  And the fun started even before we got to the Top!

Just pulling off the main road, Luis stopped the wagon and gazed upwards towards a cliff face, now we knew this was a good sign, he then got out, an even better sign, and collected his scope from the boot… a very very good sign.  Soon we were looking at his favourite birds, and his logo for his “100 bird species” route, the impressive and very aggressive Bonelli’s Eagle.

Master of what they survey – Two Bonelli’s Eagle

The birds sat high up on the mountain tops looking down for any intruders onto their patch, suddenly both bird launched and dived towards the valley bottom.  Some unseen problem was sent packing and soon the birds were soaring right over or heads, the pictures do not do the experience justice and it was quite breath taking watching these beautiful birds close up.

2nd year Bonelli’s Eagle

Adult Bonelli’s Eagle

We were then treated to both birds giving a Common Buzzard that had strayed too near the their territory a severe “going over” actually forcing the Buzzard to the ground.  In the meantime a Short Toed Eagle sneaked warily past, keeping a close eye on the Buzzard fight below it and trying not to attract attention!

Nearing the top of the road we stopped at a nearby layby and watched, Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Thekla Lark, Stonechat, Greenfinch, Sardinian Warblers and Black Redstart.

Ice cream and Ice lollies were the celebration at the summit of El Torcal and a great way to Finish Day 4!

Day 4 – 40 Species seen – Running total 104

Tuesday 12 September 2017 – Day 3

Well we thought yesterday was hot, today brought it to a whole new level! With the temp gauge in the car topping out at 40!  It made for quite a tiring day in the field with a heat haze so strong it was almost impossible to get any sort of photographs.

The day started with a top notch find on our arrival at Osuna, just as we pulled off onto the rough country roads, Luis spotted movement in the field in front, then three huge birds lifted into the air.  Our target for the day, the Great Bustard.  What surprised me most about these birds, apart from their colossal size, was just how well marked a wing pattern they have, very bright, very obvious.

 

Heavily cropped and in extreme heat haze – Great Bustards

The blistering heat had obviously subdued a lot of bird movement but in the shadows we picked up Crested Lark, lots of Northern Wheatears, Pied Flycatchers, Red Legged Partridge, Common Buzzard, Hoopoe and Iberian Shrike.  But best bird for me was a Tawny Pipit, we had one of these on our previous trip to Spain, but once again I was amazed at the sheer size of the bird and length of this birds legs!

Tawny Pipit

Lunchtime was fast approaching and it was really nice to get into the coolness of “Bar Carrolos” for some refreshments, however just as we arrived a large Thermal of White Storks circled over head.

After lunch it was back into he furnace of the Spanish farmlands, Griffon Vultures where seen lazily flying over the countryside, giving the impression they were just waiting for these crazy Brit Birders to die of heat exhaustion so they could have lunch!

2 Short Toed Larks scurried under the Olive trees keeping in the shade, their Rusty coloured crowns raised and bills open panting in the heat, a Corn Bunting sat on the fence in the full glare of the sun, singing and then panting! And Spotless Starlings gave their surprisingly musical calls from the depths of the Olive Trees.

Luis then cheerfully pointed out that this is one of the hottest regions in Spain….. we would never have guessed!

A “flock” of 5 Hoopoes flew in front of the wagon as we progressed through the Olive groves, how Luis knew where he was going amazed me.

Another Iberian Shrike sat on a ruined farm building searching for the slightest movement below.

And so day three ended, it really was a great day, but boy was the temperature energy sapping!

Day 3 – 40 Species seen   Running total 94.

Monday 11 September 2017 – Day 2

It was a very very early start to the day with Luis picking us up from outside the hotel at 0630, and heading to an area right beside Malaga International Airport, what would bring us to this salubrious area and this ungodly time?  Red necked Nightjar! and luckily, not long after we had arrived a tell tale red  eye glowed in  the van headlights, great views were had before the bird decided he had enough of celebrity and headed off into the darkness, we had a fleeting glimpse of two other birds but nothing like the first encounter.  Turning the van around the headlights illuminated a small patch of river and reed bed, and there perched on the bank was my first lifer, a night heron! This stunning little heron gave excellent views before it too headed off in to the world of darkness.

Back to the hotel for a slap up breakfast then it was all systems go for Tarifa.

Now Tarifa is a bit of a drive, about two hours in total, but boy was it worth it!

Raptor migration viewpoint overlooking Gibraltar – Birding Nirvana!

The first thing that became apparent on arrival (apart from the 25+ weather) was the amount of birds in the air, of all different shapes and sizes.

Honey Buzzards by far the most numerous were pulsing through in thermalling waves.

Honey Buzzards

As we sat and watched another wave came through, this time Black Storks with a few Black Kites mixed in with them.

Black Storks

Next a call came for Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vulture (distant)

I honestly didn’t know where to look next, surrounded by around twenty other birders, from all corners of the globe, all with different outlooks and ID skills but all with one thing in Common, Birds….. I was in heaven.  The official counters kept the bird names coming, Booted Eagle, Short Toed Eagle, Bee- eaters, more Black Storks and Black Kites, Sardinian Warblers in front of us, a male Redstart, more Storks, then a Thermal of Griffon Vultures, then Goshawk closely followed by a Marsh Harrier. More Griffons, a Sparrowhawk, more Honey Buzzards….. the place was alive!

Booted Eagle

All to soon we were heading back to the vehicle, I could have gladly spent all day their, surrounded by brilliant birds and birders, but time had come to move onto another area that is fabled amongst birders, La Janda.

Stopping off en-route to La Janda at the Raptor Migration viewpoint above Tarifa, this area was very quiet compared with the first stop so off we headed.

La Janda is a strange place, rice paddy fields (I never knew Spain grew rice!) flat, hot and with very little cover, this would be a hot stop!

A huge flock of White Storks lazed about in the rice fields looking at out approach, some took off and started a last thermal right above our heads.

White Stork

The irrigation canals for the fields turned up nice flocks of Little and Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis and a huge flock of Sparrows.  On first glance the Sparrows looked mainly House, but then a russet cap appeared, then another and another and soon we had half a dozen Spanish Sparrows in our views.

Spanish Sparrow, (top bird in picture)

Some very nice dragonflies made an appearance:

However the star area for me was a large flooded field that was just Bird soup!  Moorhen, Shoveler, Green Sandpiper, Spoonbills, Black Winged Stilt, Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibis all feeding busily in the water and on the banks, then a small dark bird flew in, Collared Practincole, unfortunately this wee stunner stayed at quite a distance so no pictures achieved, never mind the return visit in April 2018 will hopefully bring us better views!

Cattle Egrets and Glossy Ibis.

Greater Flamingo and Glossy Ibis

As we drove up the last of the rough track heading back to Malaga, we had a final “hurrah” in the shape of a stunning Juvenile Woodchat Shrike, right beside the road and brilliant way to finish a brilliant day.

Juvenile Woodchat Shrike

So a very long day, 0630 to 1930 but an absolutely stunning day, and what I had dreamed the tour to be like, the group was getting on well with each other, many laughs where being had, great birds being seen, lovely lunches in traditional bars……. I was a happy tour guide!

Day two 64 Species seen – Running Total for trip 94.

Sunday 10 September 2017 – Day 1

It was a late start to the day with the not unexpected faff at the hotel reception, I had tried to pay and check in everyone the night before but was informed that the amount was an illegal amount in Spain and that I would have to see the morning staff….. eh?!?  anyway the morning staff where very helpful after the initial “eh?!?  what did she say?!!”  so 20 minutes later than planned we were off and heading towards our fist location….. the Guadalhorce Valley and El Chorro.

It was roasting even as we left the minibus, but we were soon picking up calling Crossbills (not seen) Whitethroats, Spotted Flycatchers and Sort Toed Treecreepers (which annoyingly I managed to miss as I had returned to the wagon to collect the battery I had left out the camera!!

Not to worry we were soon to see our first big bird of the trip, a stunning Short Toes Eagle soaring along the ridgeline.

Short Toed Eagle

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful location, open pine forest with low scrub and a mountain back drop, clear blue Spanish Skies and full sun, it was a grand place to be birding!  The a huge shadow passed over the path, looking up the fist of the Griffon Vultures had left there roosting cliffs and were heading for the thermals, now Golden and White Tailed eagle are big birds, but these vultures are just enormous.

 

Griffon Vultures

Before long the whole flock was soaring high into the sky, with moon framed in the back ground it was a very special moment for us all.

Griffon Vulture

Standing at the viewpoint Blue Rock Thrush called and flitted around the nearby rocks, Sardinian Warbler, Black Redstart sang from the scrub at the bottom of the cliffs face and nearby a common Redstart popped up to give a good comparison with its darker cousin. The return to the van was just as eventful, with Rock Bunting feeding around the base of the tree’s, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers flicked out from low tree branches, and then a familiar call … a Crested Tit!

The Guadalhorce Valley

Class of ’17. L to R – Lynda (staff :-)) Richard, Karen, Jeanette, Jackie, Irene, Richard and Luis (Birdaytrip)

A lovely Tapas lunch was had at El Chorro, right beside the magnificent and famous gorge, but what way to en a nice meal?  How about a Black Stork circling right outside the restaurant!  Didn’t get a picture but Luis did and the bird was ringed, in France this summer and is obviously heading south on migration!

And so day 1 Ended on 54 Species, tomorrow was to be migration day, and one of the finest migration spots on the continent, Tarifa.  It was like waiting for Christmas day!

Welcome to the Birding Ecosse
August 2017 Newsletter

August didn’t really start until well into the month, and it was Wednesday 09 August when I had the unusual experience of picking up both sets of travellers from Inverness, and even more unusually both parties were from the good ol’ US of A.
Wednesday morning I picked George up from his accommodation and within minutes we were scanning over mud flats picking up Oystercatcher, Redshank, Great Cormorant, Common and Herring Gulls.
A trip onto the Black Isle proved productive on one hand and downright depressing on the other.
Starting with the depressing, Chanory point once again a complete no go area!  Even viewing from the now also very busy Rosemarkie foreshore it honestly looked like a football crowd at the point.  Nice to see so many people taking an interest in wildlife but it has been completely spoiled by it’s own success.
But on the good side we had timed the tides perfectly for wader watching, one of George’s target species was Greenshank, and just outside Udale bay we had some fantastic views of them, up to 5 birds in the area once again showing their “bill down, bum up” Scything through the water feeding method.  Dunlin and Bar Tailed Godwits where also nice to see.  Not quite as nice was the now large flock of Canada Geese lurking about the area!  Hopefully they will keep true to form and only be here for the moult season.
Far out on the mud breeding plumaged Bar Tailed Godwits and Knot were very nice to see.
A visit to the always impressive RSPB Tollie Red Kite feeding station was a great success, with Georges second “want to see” bird showing well, and providing some great photo Ops.
 
Red Kite
Non birdy surprise of the day, just as I was explaining that the new Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier was in the area and we may set eyes on it out to sea, we arrived at Newall Point to be met with this……

Queen Elizabeth 2 – Aircraft Carrier (minus any aircraft)
The Tern rafts at Rosemarkie seem to have had a good season with both Arctic and Common Terns being seen on the platform handrails, and giving great comparisons.  It had been so long since George had seen Arctics he took it as a new bird!
Munlochy bay was a worthwhile stop on the return journey with a male Yellowhammer in full song, Quail calling from in front of hide and Knot and Black Tailed Godwit out on the mudflates.  A nice end to the day with 57 species seen.
Thursday 10 August had been forecast wet and windy so it was a pleasant surprise when it turned out bright and calm! After picking up Dick, Jean and George we were once again checking out the birds at the Longman Bird Hide, all the usual suspects were around with the added bonus of a single Common Sandpiper.  But today was to be inland birds and soon we were heading into the Glens and Valleys!Driving across the Farr road, the grouse I would say were definitely down in numbers, and that corresponds with the news that it is a very slow start to the Grouse shooting season, with some estates thankfully delaying the season, lets hope they delay it all year.  We still did manage some very very close views and great picture opportunities were had by all…… apart from me who had stupidly left his camera in the boot!
Into the Findhorn Valley, things were a tad quiet here but a lovely young Roe Deer was nice to see.
 
Young Roe Deer

At the top car park just as I was making a brew, I heard the call of a Peregrine, these birds are frequently seen in this area, but the call made me pay more attention, it wasn’t happy about something, then just above the brow of the hill an immature Golden Eagle broke the skyline and gave brief but good views.

The return journey down the valley picked up Spotted Flycatcher, numerous Kestrel, Red Legged Partridge and Dipper.
We stopped for a soup and sandwich lunch in Carrbridge, and very nice it was as well. ( just to let you know café lunches are available, ask for a quote when you book your trip) and before long we were heading off to Loch Garten, unfortunately the Crested Tits refused to play ball, however Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great, Blue and Coal Tits all provided good views and more lifers for my victims.

So all in all a great couple of days, a lower number of species than yesterday, but that was to be expected with the more similar habitat visited throughout the day, but a total over the two days of 70 Species I think was quite acceptable, great birds and even better company 😊

Roll onto the 21 of the month and yet another visitor from across the pond, Ellen was the next victim in line for the Birding Ecosse experience!  Arriving from Florida Ellen stated it was nice to get some cool air, this as I stood perspiring with the balmy 16 degrees we had outside!
The Black Isle and North was to be our destination for the day, via the Grouse Moors so I could explain the working of driven Grouse moors, and it is not until you explain to someone not used to this form of hunting, just how absurd it is!

“So you kill everything on the moor to protect the grouse”
“Yes”
“Then you kill the grouse”
“ehhh yes”
“how bizarre”
“ehhhh yes!”

The Udale bay area was as ever productive with Bar Tailed Godwit, Knot and roosting Oystercatcher and Redshank.  A lone Pink Footed Goose was probably the by-product of last year’s hunting season and the moulting flock of Canada geese seem thankfully to be reducing in numbers.
Munlochy Bay still held the 8 Barnacle Geese, which is leading me to suspect they may be a feral population, but will keep my eye on them to see if they “migrate” when the pure bloods arrive!

Final stop was the “becoming a favourite” Tollie Red Kite feeding Station.  Three birds were present, but even the gulls seemed a tad lethargic when it came to feeding. Still the Kites always put on a good show.

Red Kite
Over the next couple of days Ellen was treated to the best the Highlands could offer, from the beautiful Ruthven Barrack near Kingussie where we picked up a local rarity in the shape of a ringtail Hen harrier, Loch Garten where the star bird, a Crested Tit made its first appearance of this autumn/winter season (with many sightings hopefully to come!) and the Loch itself looking simply stunning.

Loch Garten
Jackie, a long time serial victim (Jackie was one of my first customers on my very first Birding Ecosse trip almost seven years ago!) joined Ellen and myself for a day trip to the fantastic RSPB Troup Head, perched on the Banff/Aberdeenshire coastline, a truly spectacular place to visit.  7500 Gannets on a breeding colony is a sight, sound and indeed smell that need to be encountered once in your life!  And today we done it in grand style with a walk out to the colony in the morning, and a boat trip out in the afternoon to view the birds from water level.

But I think the highlight (yes even for me!) was the amazing sight of the boat being surrounded by a pod of Dolphins!  About 20 in total, but seeing the very young calves so close was just brilliant!
The end of the month saw the arrival of Lorna, Tony and Ellen (who had lingered in the luxury of the Grant Arms Hotel for the last week awaiting the trips over the next two days.) And soon we were heading North West towards Ullapool, expectations were very high as we wandered down in plenty time to catch the ferry
“four foot passengers to Stornoway my good man” said I
“Don’t you know the ferry is running a wee bit late” said the Calmac employee
“Not to worry” said I “these things happen -how late by the way.”
“Three and a half hours came the reply!!
Okay Plan “B” and after a group agreement we were off on the road again heading to Gairloch and Red Point, a stubborn bank of cloud hung over us as we pulled up at the first car park, and “voila” just as I had been explaining that Gruinard Island used to be thee place for White Tailed Eagle, there, hunched up against the Cairn on the island, sat a very wet and fed up looking WTE! Not only a cracking bird but also a lifer for both Tony and Ellen!
Next on the surprise list was a single flock of 6 Black Throated Divers, only to be beaten by a group of 24 in the next bay and another 8 in the bay after, Lorna had never seen so many Black Throats!Red point was as beautiful as ever, but the still weather and recent rain showers made the midges just completely overpowering and after a quick snapshot of a very confiding Grey Heron we were soon back in the car, a/c on, and midge free!
Grey Heron
The rain proved quite consistent but it did not stop us picking up a scarce Whinchat as well.

Whinchat
And so day one ended, later than expected, and having been places I didn’t think I would be visiting today, but a great day was had, here is hoping for better luck tomorrow with Calmac!
Todays floating Hide MV Loch Seaforth
Another early pick up and we retraced our steps from yesterday, approaching Ullapool the ferry was already docked in the pier, something I wasn’t expecting and a gnawing doubt started in the pit of my stomach, the rain  had also made its return.  We hastily packed our kit and headed to the ferry terminal…… all was good and the sailing was on time – phew!
Soon we were heading out to sea and picking up the first birds, Gannets, Shag, Cormorant and the first Bonxie of the trip.  The plan was to stay outside viewing on the trip across and spend the return trip in the forward observation lounge.
Soon dark and pale phase Arctic Skua were on the list, with a rake of Guillemot and Kittiwakes also beginning to make themselves known. In far smaller amounts than I expected were Razorbills, and I’m just wondering if the lack of auks noted at Troup Head had made an impact on the west coast as well?  We shall have to wait for the official reports.
A few Manx Shearwaters were seen on the approach to Stornoway but highlight of this crossing for me were the two Sooty Shearwaters as they took off from nearby the ship.  Brilliant birds and once again lifers for Ellen and Tony.
Lunch was taken looking out of the Lounge windows at a sun drenched Stornoway harbour, it looked almost tropical!Sitting in the lounge always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable and that I should be talking in a hushed whisper and not shouting “STORMIE FLYING LEFT UNDER THE FLAG, SOOTY FLYING LEFT. MORE LEFT, MORE LEFT” but on this occasion there was quite a bit of background noise, so I could pass on the info relatively loudy but not so much as to get noticed!It was definitely worthwhile looking forward, with 9 Sooty Shearwaters, a couple of them flying right alongside the ship, at least 10 Storm Petrel darting around off the bow also numerous Bonxies and Arctic Skuas.  Throw in some Common Dolphin and Common Porpoises it was a great way to finish the two day trip and indeed a grand way to round off a very busy, highly productive but most of all an exceptionally entertaining month!Next month, stay tuned for the Birding Ecosse 2017 “invasion of Spain” trip report!Until then “Good Birding!”Dave

Tony  Lorna and Ellen


 

Spain 2018
15 – 21 April 2018
One of the star birds – a White headed Duck
This is a very early Trawl for interested parties in a trip to Andalucía for the 2018 Spring Migration.
Dates would be:Arrive Malaga Sunday 15 April 2018 fly back Saturday 21 April 2018.As yet I have no prices or Itinerary, this is purely to see if there will be enough interest to proceed in the logistics.  There would be six spaces available and all would need to be filled for the tour to take place. To put your name on the list with no obligation please just drop me an email at: birdingecosse@hotmail.co.uk
Look forward to chatting with you!
Dave

January 2018 and February 2018  “Early Bird” deals now online, see our webpage for details

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Totals:

Birding Ecosse all time total : 206 (Rose Coloured Starling)

2015 Total- Final count –  166

2016 Total – Final Count – 174

2017 Running Total – 166

Long Weekend: 106

Mid Week: 87

Full day: 74

Half day: 45

 

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Just a quick update on the Dolphins in the picture above, the adult is the female named “Blotchy” and the calf is about 2 weeks old 🙂

Thanks to Kevin Robinson and the Cetacean Research and Rescue unit for the information, really interesting.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Day three in the Birding Ecosse house, and today Ellen and myself were joined by Jackie, one of my longest serving victims, Jackie was on my first trip on my first day with the fledging Birding Ecosse, who would have guessed it would still be going from strength to strength 7 years later!

So today we were heading for the RSPB Gannet colony at Troup Head, Jackie had tried on numerous occasions to try and visit this location but had been thwarted each time, as we set off the low clouds and drizzle on the windscreen did not bode well!

Luckily the rain did not come to much and soon we were standing in the car park and togging up into Autumn dress, the lack of sun and a brisk SW wind made for a chilly day!

At the colony the star species did not let us down, with many Gannets still on their nesting ledges and showing a great range of ages, from the white fluffy “Guggas” the half in half out dress, fully grey juveniles to adult and sub adult, they all sat a bills length away from each other “glowering and snapping”  I would make a good Gannet!

Gannet adults in top picture (note the blood covered bird to the right of main bird!) and Immature in bottom pic.

Troup Head is a spectacular place to visit, and I think even non-birders would be impressed.  For birders it is mesmerising watching the comings and goings of these majestic, graceful birds and if the weather is good a brilliant way to lose hours and hours watching and trying to get that perfect capture on your camera.  The smiles on Jackie and Ellen’s face says they enjoyed it as well!

 Jackie and Ellen, smiling or just the wind rush!

Returning from the Colony the fun didn’t stop there, oh no nanny nae, because remember “There is no dross with Birding Ecosse!” and soon we were heading out on the briny sea on the “Seacat” from Macduff.  My first time on this boat and it certainly will not be the last!

The excellent Seacat.

We were chugging along quiet merrily watching Shag, Cormorants, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets, when the engines throttled back and the call from the Skipper came up…. “Dolphins” and there off the bow a group of 15-20 Bottle nosed Dolphins came streaking towards the boat, then followed 15 minutes of Dolphin nirvana, they were honestly within touching distance, so close in fact I could not get focus with the 150-500 lens, even at 150mm!!

Some of the rubbish pics are attached, I have put these for a reason, as the captions will explain.

Adult with a young Calf

Adult with even younger calf, you can just see its “beak” breaking the surface of the water in front of the big dorsal fin.

Then the grand finale. Troup head from the water, and it is here you can see the full size of the Gannetry, a truly amazing sight!  I cannot wait until next year when this boat trip will feature highly in Birding Ecosse tours!

Ellen and Jackie take in the sights and sounds of a Gannetry!

Monday 21 August 2017

Day two for Ellen and today was inland birds, with a recent report of Marsh Harrier at a local (ish) RSPB reserve I thought it would be worth a punt and soon we were heading south.

Surprisingly today started with “abit o culture” not a thing normally experienced by my victims, but the pile of bricks looked lovely in the morning sun so why not take a pic 🙂  (I personally would demolish it and build a bungalow)

Todays Culture – Ruthven Barracks.

The weather was stunning, calm and sunny as we stood on the hide viewpoint. A movement on the far side of the reserve caught my eye, and a Ring Tail Hen Harrier hunted across the grassed land before disappearing out of view, Great Spotted woodpecker, Blue, Great and Coal Tits all competed for space on the feeders along side the ever present Chaffinch.  Then the midges made an appearance!! Time to beat a hasty retreat back to the car on head off to our next location.

Loch Garten was stunning in the early morning light, and the calmest I have ever seen it.

Mirror like Loch Garten.

The Birdlife didn’t disappoint either with the first Crested Tit of the autumn/winter season showing well on the feeders at the Kiosk.  Another Juv Great spotted woodpecker fed on the trees in the car park.

Great Spotted Woodpecker.

By the time we left Loch Garten a wind had sprung up and the Loch that had been so tranquil 40 minutes before, now had White Horses!

The afternoon was spent showing Ellen the beautiful Scottish Highlands, the heather is just coming into bloom and the colours are simply stunning (even on the alien landscape that is a driven grouse moor)  Strathdearn gave us great views of Red Legged Partridge, a “kettle” of 7 Buzzards, numerous Mistle Thrush and one Red Kite, a species that has definitely become more numerous in the Glen,  A nice addition that I hope manages to avoid the fate of many other raptors in the area.

So great day 2, les species that yesterday but still a nice total for the two days of 70.  Tomorrow the coast and hopefully a boat trip.

Sunday 20 August 2017

Well Ellen had been in my diary for what seemed like ages and today was the day of her weekend trip.  After pick up at the Grant Arms hotel we were soon heading out toward the Black Isle, todays destination.

Not long after setting off the topic of Grouse shooting raised its ugly head, so straight away the programme for the day went “off piste!” queue the Farr Road and Grouse moors, now we Brits are used to the concept of driven grouse shooting, but when you are explaining it to a visiting guest it really does sound absurd, “so yes, they manage the habitat to the exclusion of everything else to protect the bird we…. ultimately….. kill…… oh yes… for fun”  as I said totally absurd!

Any way the road also produced a nice flock of Meadow Pipit that sat very nicely on fence posts allowing me to talk Ellen through Adult and Juvenile plumages.

Arriving at Udale bay I was surprised to see the tide, still with two hours to go, completely in, cover all the exposed mud, drat!  However we still managed to pick up Bar Tailed Godwit and Knot intermingled with the Redshanks and Oystercatcher’s. The usual Gull flock lounged about on the Grass givinh Ellen Herring Lesser and Great Blacked Gulls, Common and Black Headed Gulls.  A nice little Tally!

At Munlochy the 8 Barnacle Geese were still lingering in front of the hide alongside the Grey-Lags and Canadian Geese, and set me wondering if these are maybe a feral flock?  Will be interesting to see if the hang around all year!  I have my suspicions.  One single Summer Plumages Black Tailed Godwit was roosting on the grass bank with the Oystercatchers.

The Slav loch not far from this Location held two fully grown chicks, but with no sign of any adults at all both chicks had struck up a partnership with a male Tufted Duck, they shadowed this poor bird wherever he went, he incidentally showed no interest in them!

The Tollie Red Kite centre was by far the busiest I have ever seen it, and the birds did put on a display for all concerned, three birds in total.

 

Red Kite

So great first day with Ellen, a total of 55 Species for the day wasn’t a bad total for this year.  Inland birds tomorrow so should be good.

July 2017 Newsletter

July has been one of these strange months, where it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye, but also the Skye Trip with Lorna, Eppie and Hilary feels like months ago! It is a good sign that we have had a very good month.

Skye was it’s usual stunning self, staying at the very comfortable Uig Hotel it proved to be a great base for all our planned trips.

After a scenic drive from the magnificent Grant Arms Hotel, home of the BWWC in Grantown on Spey en-route chalking up some Slavonian Grebes with a newly hatched chick, we were soon driving through the stunning scenery that is Skye, scanning over newly exposed mud and shingle spits and watching splendid Greenshanks, in full breeding plumage and displaying their “run full tilt with lower mandible in the water” feeding technique. Very like a land bound Skimmer!

Lorna, Eppie and Hilary Greenshank watching

Saturday morning dawned slightly windy and cool, a great day for a boat trip, standing on the jetty at Portree it was cold and grey with low grey clouds, however even in these conditions the White Tailed Eagles performed and once again we were treated to some excellent views of a feeding adult. The afternoon was spent exploring the North of the island, the weather had taken a turn and rain had set in but even that added to the moody atmosphere.

Magnificent White Tailed Eagle

Sunday I awoke with the excited feeling reserved for Christmas, Holidays and those special days you have long waited for, and today we were heading on a Recce trip to North Uist and Benbecula.

The ferry trip from Uig to Lochmaddy netted some great birds, Manx Shearwater, Puffins, Bonxie, Gannets and surprisingly two far from Land Dunlin. Plenty of Porpoise and Common Dolphins made a showing racing alongside the ship.

Immediately when we landed at Lochmaddy you felt at home, the islands have a fantastic and unique ambiance, soon we were on the lovely setting that is Berneray. Two Golden Eagles sored along a ridge line, Skylarks sang their beautiful songs, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank all added to the chorus. The machair was in bloom and the scented air and sunshine made it a life time memory to be filed in the brain.

North Uist and Benbecula where stuffed with lovely scenery, grand viewpoints and birds by the bucket load. Male Hen Harrier, another Golden Eagle an immature White Tailed Eagle with feathers so tatty it was amazing it could still fly and bird of the trip for me, spotted by Lorna, a superb Short Eared Owl sitting in the Dunes right beside the road. Brilliant!

All too soon we were back at Lochmaddy awaiting the arrival of the Calmac Ferry “Hebrides” and as we neared Uig a Minke Whale surfaced blasted a breath out of his blow hole, which was highlighted in the beautiful setting sun, a fitting way to end a truly fantastic day.

Mid month the Rare Bird Alerts started reporting a Rose Coloured Starling at the far flung exotic place of Embo, near Dornoch on the East coast of Scotland. I had a “Dad and Daughter” day planned and as we usually go birding or pic taking together, what a perfect reason to head north, how hard can it be to spot a Pink and Black bird, feeding on short grass in beautiful sunny weather? Well 8 hours and 320 miles later we were back home grumpy and dispirited, not only that, we had left at 1500 and the bird had turned up at 1523. Annoying to say the least!

Next morning, 0700 “ding” Rare Bird Alert states Rose Coloured Starling, Embo, Showing well! Quick text to Cheryl, who amazingly was awake and had also seen the message, and we were on the road again!! Two hours later we had this little beauty in out Binos!

And so to the end of the month, and the return of Victims Sandra and Val, all the way from the big smoke of London.

Now here a theme occurs! Friday saw us heading North in search of Rosy the Starling, reported late yesterday and again this morning……. How hard can it be to see a Pink and Black Bird feeding in cherry trees and short grass………… ten hours and 320 miles later we returned a bit crestfallen as the elusive bird once again failed to show….. not again!!

Saturday saw yet another new venture for Birding Ecosse as we headed of to Buckie to set sail with the Gemini Explorer, and ex RNLI boat, a really beautiful vessel, it was a great trip with superb views of Black Guillemot, Gannet and Guillemot, surprisingly no Razorbills or Puffins, but a close flyby Bonxie livened up proceeding. The return trip to the Grant Arms netted 2 Peregrines 1 Osprey and a singing Corn Bunting.

Now a conversation in the car turned to Rosy the Starling, it had been seen regularly over the last two days, it would be a lifer for both Val and Sandra, and a new bird for the Birding Ecosse life list (Cheryl doesn’t count as she was actually not paying for her trip, I know I know, she may be my daughter but why should that give her free tours, ridiculous!!) and so we found ourselves heading back up the A9 to the twin of Hawaii “Embo”

Standing staring at the cherry tree’s and short grass where the bird had been reported I had the gnawing feeling the bird had scarpered, nor again!!!! The suddenly Val tapped my arm, and there, skulking in the long grass….. Rosy!! I heaved a sigh of relief!!

Loch Fleet and Black Isle were the venues on the return, Greenshank and Osprey being the Highlights

Next day we set off for the West Coast, and once again to a very new location for Birding Ecosse, I had passed the road signposted “Red Point” many times, but never made the effort to check it out, what a mistake that has been. Just jaw dropping scenery, remote sandy beached, small seaweed strewn moorings, Great Northern Divers loafing just offshore, A small copse of woodland yielded Spotted Flycatcher and Goldcrest. A location most definitely now on the tour locations for Birding Ecosse.

The last coffee stop just adjacent to Anthrax Island was a midge fest making birding outside a bit of a bind, however a quick scan over the island and “Bingo” a stunning White Tailed Eagle sitting perched on a lump of rock. What a great way to end a day!

And so to the last day…. And believe it or not another first for me, today I obtained my Guiding Permit for Cairngorm, no more having to bird from the viewing platform at the restaurant. Walking around the designated route I was scanning the distant hilltops for Dotterel or Ptarmigan, a small movement soon saw us watching a very distant Dotterel running in its typical start/stop fashion. Good enough views but closer would have been better. Starting off again toward the summit a small movement caught my eye, and there, not more than 15 ft in front, a Dotterel and another and another. It was a goose bump inducing moment and a lifetime memory as we stood and watched these amazing little waders go about their daily business, unperturbed by our presence. The weekend ended on a record total of 106 species an amazing amount, and with some notable omissions we could easily have broken the 110! Never mind new target to set….. will you be the one get break it?

So that ended July (with a very slight overshoot into August!) I truly fantastic month and one I will long remember. Thanks to all that booked with me and made the month so special, thanks to Scotland for putting up some stunning scenery and interesting weather and lastly thank you to the Birds, the things that drive me onward, to share with the victims and give order to all I do. Thank you one and all!

Friday 28 July 2017

A brilliant days birding with Sandra and Val, both repeat victims to Birding Ecosse.

Pick up at the Grant Arms Hotel at 0800 and soon we were heading North toward the Black Isle, first birds on the weekend list where Common Swifts screaming across the building in Grantown, Starling, Blackbird, Black Headed Gulls soon followed.

A Dipper at the local spot on the Dulnain was a nice find by Sandra and a mixed flock of Long Tailed Tits and Coal Tit was a nice addition.

A quick detour over the Farr road gave a Brucie bonus bird in the shape of a Male Goldcrest, not a bird we pick up every trip, the Common Terns were still on the shingle banks of the river, but we didn’t pick up any young birds.

Strangest sighting of the day was an Osprey lifting off the heather on the Farr road, complete with fish in Talons, probably a male having a snack before heading back to hungry missus and chicks!

Straight to Embo, where the long staying Rosy Starling failed to make an appearance on both occasions we visited, even though it had been seen in the normal location at 0800! Bloomin frustrating!

Red Breasted Mergansers and Eiders were swimming around Loch Fleet with some mega young chicks, surely second brood along with two Osprey and Two Greenshank (one in breeding plumage a very smart bird)

                                                                 Red Breasted Merganser adult and chicks

A single flock of 11 Black Throated Divers just off the Golf course was a nice find, and the only Gannet of the day Glided over the calm water.

So a cracking day 1 of 5, with a total of 65 species seen.  Tomorrow we take to the high seas, so tune back in to see how we fared!

On a sadder more poignant note, we saw a good number of adult and young Red Grouse on the Farr road, sad to think that in little over two weeks these beautiful birds will be blasted out the sky to pander to some tweeded snobs blood lust, time the UK dragged itself into the 21st century!

Doomed to die – A Red Grouse

 

Saturday 29 July 2017

All aboard!

Join Birding Ecosse on this fantastic 2 ½ hour cruise aboard the Gemini Explorer sailing into the Moray Firth. Look for Puffins, Black Guillemots, Skuas and Shearwaters. Add to this the chance of Dolphin, Greay and Common Seals it really is a great trip.

Spend the rest of the day visiting the beautiful Moray Coastline by road, a great all round day!

Pick up in reception at 0800 – drop off around 1700

Price £115 per person (includes boat trip)

****Only one space left****

To book a place (booking is essential) please call:

David Slater on 07955336955

Or email: birdingecosse@hotmail.co.uk

 

 

 

Friday 28 July 2017

A whole lot of Rosy!

Join Birding Ecosse as we head North to check for the scarce  Rose Coloured Starling gracing our shores, then onwards to Loch Fleet, Golspie and Brora looking for early migrants returning from their breeding grounds. A brilliant days birding in store!

Pick up in reception at 0800 – drop off around 1700

Price £95 per person

****Only one space left****

To book a place (booking is essential) please call:

David Slater on 07955336955

Or email: birdingecosse@hotmail.co.uk

Wednesday 19 and Thursday July 2017

It was dad and daughter time again, a day that I always look forward to 🙂 and after much umming and ahhing on where we would visit our minds were made up with the arrival of a Rose Coloured Starling in the distant destination of Hawaii……. well Embo to be exact, but it is twinned with a village in  Hawaii.  We set off with High hopes, the bird had been looking quite settled over the last three days, it is pink and black, and likes perching in the open and feeding on grass, how hard can it be??

Day one ended 10 hours later, wet, dispirited and grumpy,  Especially in the due to the fact we left Embo at 1500 and the bird was reported at 1523……..

Waking early on Thursday with many admin and domestic chores on my cards, I reached for the phone to check the weather forescast, heavy rain and mist, a great day to stay indoors…….. then checked Bird Guides…….. Dave Tanner had reported again, showing well …….. text to Cheryl……. and off we go gain!!

Arriving in Embo the weather was a lot better than we had expected, soon we were set up, in front of “Grannies Heilan Hame” where the Starling had been frequenting this morning.  Another car near to us held local ringer Bob Swann, who had journeyed across to have a second look at the bird (he had seen it  a couple of days before) he had already been here for an hour with no sign.  We waited, we watched every single starling that flew by, we had a walk around the block….. still nowt, Highly frustrating.

 

Then our luck changed, the original finder Dean McAskill arrived, put down his window and said, the bird is further up the road, feeding on a berry tree.

Cheryl and I were off  like a couple of Olympic Marathon walkers!  And soon there it was, a vision of Pink and Black and a lifer for us both…. e watched the bird for around 20 minutes as it fed on the bird Cherries, sometimes eating them off the stalk on the tree, other times pulling them off and dropping to the ground before consumption.

However it ate it was a stunning bird, and a great day out with Cheryl, roll on our next adventure!

 

A whole lot of Rosy!! The Embo Rose Coloured Starling.

 

Sunday 09 July – Monday 10 July 2017

Well it has come to the time to admit defeat trying to keep the blog up to date and current, so here is an abridged version of the past few weeks!

Skye with Lorna, Eppie and Hilary was a fantastic trip, the highlight for me was the day trip across to North Uists and Benbecula, what an absolutely outstanding piece of the UK!

The weekend netted an impressive 98 Species, with obvious species missing (no matter how hard we tried!) like Coal Tit and Blue tit!! Not often you see more Hen Harriers than Blue Tit on a weekend away!

Highlights included Two separate Hen Harriers, A very scraggy White Tailed Eagle, Three Golden Eagles, lots of summer plumaged Dunlins, Heaps of Manx Shearwaters, Two Storm Petrels, a pod of 40+ Common Dolphins and a Minke Whale at the end of the day its breathing spout illuminated by the sinking sun…….. a brilliant trip.

Below is a small selection of pictures I took, hope you like them.

Juv White Tailed Eagle

Short Eared Owl

Manx shearwater

Lochmaddy

 Corn Bunting

Lorna, Eppie and Hilary watching Greenshanks in Breeding Plumage

MV Hebrides

Saturday 08 July 2017

Well this is all very fancy and High Tech for Birding Ecosse, it is the first outing of the new “notebook” laptop so I am writing this blog entry from a hotel room on a a storm bound Isle of Skye! The rain is lashing at the windows so just as well it is bed time!

It has been a brilliant couple of days with Lorna, Eppie and Hilary. At present the species list is an impressive 76, including Slavonian Grebes with chicks, White Tailed Eagles chasing Great Black Backed Gulls, close up Red Throated Divers, crazy rough boat trips, lots of coffee, cakes and hot chocolate plus great company with lots of laughs!

Weather has sort of dampened picture taking though and the two pictures below are the best of a very bad bunch!

Benbecula and North Uist tomorrow, coupled with the pelagic crossing, it should be a great day!

White Tailed Eagle

Red Throated Diver

Thursday 29 June 2017

And so we get to the end of June, and what a fantastic and varied month it has been, from the High Tops of the Cairngorms, Southern Spain the beautiful Moray Coastline to a remote island on the Scottish West Coast we have covered it all.  Add to that fantastic victims (new and returning)

Thursday 29 June, Happy Birthday to me, and what a cracking way to spend a birthday….. Birding!

The forecast was an absolute shocker, and depressingly for once, it was spot on! A trip to Troup Head was planned however we changed the day to  Big Day.

The storm had brought plenty of seabirds close to shore, and watching flocks of Gannets plunge diving just offshore was mesmerising.

A flyby Manx Shearwater was a nice addition to the day. The rest of the day we racked up a very creditable species list of 64, which given the weather conditions is a fantastic result.

It also gave the opportunity for some shots of some common species, we usually over look, however these birds are just as beautiful as rarities!

Black Headed Gull

Common Sandpiper

Eider (Females)

Juv Northern Wheatear

 

Wedneday 28 June saw Tony, Allan, David and myself heading North West to the beautiful Handa Island.  It was bright and breezy when we arrived it was a perfect no-midge day.

Storm the beaches, your arrival on Handa.

The main reason for the trip to Handa is Skuas and Auks and it wasn’t long before we had the first of our target birds, the beautiful Arctic Skua.

 

Arctic Skua

Bonxie

The Island is just a stunning place to visit and for those who have not been there then I strongly suggest you book onto a Birding Ecosse trip to take you there,  You will not be disappointed!

Tony, Dave and Allan

Hola! Well just back from an excellent holiday in Andalucía  in Southern Spain, and the exact location of our exciting tour in September (only one space remaining so see here for details if you are thinking about treating yourself to some sea, sun and birds!) Although this was a rest and relaxation holiday Lynda and myself still managed to get some decent Birding done.

 

The apartment we we staying in provided many opportunities to try and catch some Swift action, with both Common and Pallid being present,  Over the holiday not once did I get a decent shot, but below are some of the less burred versions!

 

Pallid Swifts (3 Pics Below)

Common swift

Wed 07 and Thu 08 June 2017

A highly enjoyable couple of days spent in the company of Marcia from Canada, the weather was very kind to us after a period of storms and torrential rain hit Scotland.

0800 Pick up at the beautiful Castle View B&B right on the River Ness we made our way through the busy commuter traffic and in less than 10 minutes we were standing watching an Otter feeding under the busy Kessock bridge, one of the benefits of living so far North it doesn’t take long to escape the “madding crowd”

Grey Heron, Curlew, House Martin and Swallow were soon on the list, a quick view of a Yellowhammer brought a wee ray of sunshine into an overcast day.

Udale bay was quiet but a flock of 35 Canada geese was my first of this species this year, and three Pink footed Geese were a reminder that winter is just around the corner!! Wonder if these were “winged” birds spending the summer, or if they just couldn’t be bothered with migration!

My usual stop off for Slavonian Grebes proves successful with a pair being seen well, however the fact that both birds were out on the water does not brook good for a successful breeding season. (please note Slavs viewed from a public viewing area) however the star of the show here was a stunning male Reed Bunting singing at the top of a birch tree!

A cracking first day and with the alert of a Woodchat Shrike in the area Thursday looked to be an exciting prospect.

So Thursday dawned fair and sunny and once again soon we were outwith the city of Inverness, this time heading South.

The Farr road was productive, turning up a few Red Grouse chicks, a very young Mistle Thrush and a single Wheatear, however it was at Strathdearn End that the day suddenly got a whole lot more exciting!

A Woodchat Shrike had been reported the day before and on arrival a small group of birders were searching for the bird.  Striking up a conversation with them they uttered the fateful words  “Yes it was sitting on that fence just as you arrived!” my heart sunk into my boots!!

So we Marcia and myself decided to wander down the road a wee bit to see if we could see anything of the bird… Marcie “Dave what is that birds on the post”  and there it was, Birding Ecosses first ever Woodchat Shrike, what a belter and a big well done to Marcia for getting the bird so quickly and allowing my stress levels to return to normal!  I got some record shots but not as good as what I would have hoped for, still a stunning wee bird and showed very well,

The Star Bird Woodchat Shrike.

Lochindorb and Dulsie bridge were beautiful as always, the Lapwings iridescence shimmering greens and purples in the weak sunshine, but the eye pattern and long crest blowing in the wind was a beautiful sight.

Lapwing

A departure from the normal tour Marcia had a visit to Cawdor Castle (keep an eye on this web site for  new and exciting “sightseeing” options on our tours) and then onto Fort George where we scanned the nearby beach and turned up a flock of over 40 Bar Tailed Godwits.

And so ended the tour with a credible 67 species, the highlight undoubtedly being the Woodchat Shrike.

After dropping Marcia off back at her B&B I drove through the nightmare Inverness evening rush hour traffic en-route to picking Lynda up from work, with roadwork’s just starting on the A96 we decided to have a scenic drive home via Dava and surrounds, and what a fantastic decision.  Black Throated Diver as close as I have ever seen them (breeding looks to have failed yet again) Redshank, Oyk, Lapper and Common Sandpiper all put in appearances, the Redshank and Common Sandpiper frustratingly so after being absent for the last two days!  But the Divers…… just WOW!

Wednesday 31 May 2017

Talk about wringing the most out of a month! Today saw me back at the hotel for 0800 to collect more repeat victims in the shape of Roger and Lynne and of course Cormac, who had now hopefully forgiven me after the ships stair debacle!!

We set off to the coast where the tide was perfect for waders and gulls, the Gulls were there, however the waders were obvious by their absence!   An Osprey hunted over the shallow waters of the Moray Firth, but did not venture onto the river Lossie.  I suspect this was a Spey River bird just straying into the other territory looking for food.

Hopeman turned up a surprise and not in a birding way… it was by far the lowest tide I have ever witnessed!

Hopeman

A very dry Hopeman Harbour!

The wind had began to pick up, however out on the rocks a couple of Dunlin fed on the newly exposed seaweed, showing signs of being the “alpine” race.  Rock pipit and Eider were picked up here, and at Burghead a flock of Common Scoter was a nice addition, as were the Sand Martins nesting just below the cliff face.

To the moors where Red Grouse put on their usual show, the Oystercatcher by the roadside was still sitting on eggs, but sitting high which could indicate they were hatching, cuckoo called from the nearby woods and lots of Mallard and Grey Lag Goose chicks provided the “awwwww” factor.  However no sign at all of any sort of Diver on the water.

Raptor valley was basically a wind tunnel by this time, most weather conditions are easy to deal with but wind is just the Bain of a birders life, but the benefit of this is the birds act differently!  And to prove the point a male and female Ring Ouzel had come off the tops and were seen on the road approaching the top car park, a bonus bird for the day, as were the pair of Bullfinches observed twice on the road picking up gravel and seeds, not a common bird in these parts, so nice to see.

And so that ended the weekend and indeed the month of May,  a day total of 64 was short of the best day total by 10 birds, the wind being a major player in this.  Total for the weekend was a very acceptable 95 species with some noticeable omissions such as Greenfinch and Tree Sparrow!  But what an absolutely brilliant month, thank you to all the victims that made this such a special time!

Friday 26 to Tuesday 30 May 2017

Skye Weekend.

“Oh I’ve just come doon fae the Isle of Skye

I’m no very big and I’m awfy shy

But the lassies shout as I walk by

Davy found his Conrcrakes!!”

 

Yes indeed, meet Mr Crex crex!

The motley crew of Fiona, Tony and Cormac (all multiple repeat victims to Birding Ecosse) were gathered in the reception of the beautiful Grant Arms Hotel, home of the BWWC, in good time on Friday 26 May 2017 – This is where the weekend started to go downhill  🙂

Our destination for the weeknd was the beautiful Isle of Skye on  the stunning West Coast of Scotland and what a truly fantastic weekend it turned out to be! Lots of Birds, Scenery, good food, great company and lots and lots of laughs.

The drive through the Highlands was punctuated with stop offs for teas and coffees and netted some really nice birds, Slavonian Grebes, Osprey (2), Red Kite (5) and a roosting flock of Goosanders.

Tony, Fiona and Cormac AKA “The three Mutineers”

Soon we found ourselves checking into the lovely Uig Hotel and sitting down to a sumptuous evening meal of Fish and Chips, and believe me it was the best fish I have had in a long time, highly recommended!

After tea we headed out to the North of the island where I had heard Corncrakes calling in 2016, the night was still and warm, ideal for Corncrakes, however it was also ideal for another Scottish beastie….. the Midge!  Unfortuntely no Corncrakes were heard tonight but the midges were out in force, so time to beat a hastie retreat!!

Back at the hotel and an early 2230 (ish) I laid down the plans for next day “Right troops rendezvous in reception 0500 tomorrow, for a Corncrake we go a hunting”  incredulous stares, silence, then 0500…. in the morning……. aye right…….. and so the Three Mutineers were born!

So ended the first day, great fun, a beautiful drive through some of the most scenic roads in the UK and in beautiful weather, would it hold?  Would the Mutineers turn up at 0500 next morning, would we find the Corncrake?  Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon……….

Saturday 27 May 2017… Day 2 the saga continues.

So after yesterdays cliffhanger did the Three Mutineers arrive at 0500 for the Corncrake search?

I cut a lonely figure as I left the hotel car park and headed North!  It was a beautiful morning, still flat calm and lovely early morning light.  First birds were a stunning male and female Whinchat.  I bird that is becoming more and more elusive to find on the mainland, sitting watching these birds whilst a Snipe roded high above and Skylark song filled the air.  It was a great day to be Birding.

 

Skylark

Back at the Uig Hotel Fiona, Tony and Cormac had arrived for a full cooked breakfast and were glad they hadn’t missed a Corncrake.  Soon we were heading to Portree for a boat trip out with the “Brigadoon” and what a trip.

It was surprisingly cool as we set off and we wondered how the scantily clad holiday makers waiting for another cruise would fare.  George the boat skipper was just outstanding spotting the Eagles perched on the rocks and grass slopes, it is amazingly difficult to pick these giant birds up as they merge perfectly into the background.  However when they took off!

White Tailed Eagle

Once back on dry land we headed to my favourite part of Skye, the Waternish and Dunvegan areas.  Stonechat and Cuckoos were about, the cuckoo providing a constant backdrop of sound through out the day, but still no sign or sound of the target species… Then just as we were driving back to Uig “Crex Crex –  Crex Crex” a bird called from a nearby hedge!! And there, right beside the fence a Corncrake!  Cormac connected with the bird quickly, but Fiona and Tony where on the opposite side of the car and just couldn’t see the bird!! A quick de-car and a quite walk back up the road we soon all had brilliant views! Result!

Corncrake

Corncrake!

Much rejoicing ensued, mainly owing to the fact that I wouldn’t be dragging them out for early morning or late night Corncrake hunts!!  But seriously it was a great experience to witness this rare and shy bird at close quarters and one that will remain for all four of us for a long time to come.

Sunday 28 May 2017… Day 3

After a long lie and another lovely breakfast we were soon heading down to Uig harbour for a pelagic across the water to Lochmaddy.  After getting Cormac up many many flights of stairs, I realised I had taken a wrong turn to get to the Outside viewing areas.  The look he drew me stopped me in my tracks and I just could not stop laughing!!  All the way back down the stairs, and as they say what goes down, must come up, and so we were finally looking over the water to Uig whilst watching Black Guillemots swimming about in the harbour…. it took a few minutes for Cormac to forgive me 🙂

Corncrake team 2017

The Corncrake team 2017!

Soon we had picked up Razorbill, Guillemot, Puffin, Manx Shearwater and Gannets, Skuas were hard to come by and we only managed two Bonxies on the whole crossing and surprisingly no Arctic at all.  Highlight was a Minke Whale just as we approached Lochmaddy.

Once again back on dry land and we headed off over the Quaraing, one of the most scenic roads in the UK, it has also the majority of bad car parking enthusiasts in the UK with some of the most ridiculous and dangerous parking I have ever seen!  However what happened on this road put all that into perspective….

As I was driving a noticed a large bird appearing from a dip in the landscape and heading straight for the car, it just kept on getting closer and closer and closer until……

GE

Golden Eagle!

This bird circled over head for a good 7 – 8 minutes giving crippling views as it thermalled right above out heads, I had to zoom out the lens as it was too close to fit in the frame, by far the closest encounter with a Goldie I have ever had!  More picture will be posted in due course but even just writing this now it gives me goosebumps!

And so ended our last full day on Skye, tomorrow was travel home day, so to celebrate (and enjoy the fact I didn’t have to drive) we had a beer at mealtime, a grand way to end the day.

Monday 29 May 2017 – Hometime

Although always nice to be heading home, it is still sad when a much anticipated and successful tour comes to an end, and after a fine breakfast of smoked fish and poached eggs we were on the road and heading back to the mainland, however we had one more place to visit, the atmospheric Sleat peninsula.  The weather had broken and a steady drizzle had started, but this only added to the stunning and dramatic landscape.

elgol

Cormac, Fiona and Tony on the road to Elgol

Target bird for this part of the trip was Twite, and with the skill and truly awesome identification skills of the tour guide (i.e me and pure luck!)  we soon had a pair sitting up proud on some ferns, a brief but super view.  A pair of Red Throated Divers and a nearby lochan was an added bonus!  A brilliant way to end a truly fantastic weekend, a big personal “Thank you” to Fiona, Tony and Cormac for making it such an enjoyable and fun filled time, thank you all so much!

Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 May 2017

A short update on the fantastic mid week special I had with Rick,  Bonnie and Richard, Fanatstic company, great Birds and jaw dropping scenery.

Oyk

Stunning Oystercatcher

Day one was spent inland taking in some of the local specialities at this time of year, Ring Ouzels the male singing from nearby posts and a female sitting on her nest incubating her eggs.  It was a startling difference from ten days ago when I was standing in snow! Today was beautiful sunshine, cloudless blue skies and double figure temperatures!

The Red Grouse on a local moor were slow to show themselves to begin with, however once we saw one they were like a number 33 bus and soon we had some fantastic vies of both males and females, Red Throated and Black Throated Divers lounged around doing nothing much, and a lone red Throated flew overhead calling.

We struck lucky with Ptarmigan with a male showing well, but very briefly, at the top of Cairngorm, I will have some exciting news about Birding Ecosse and Cairngorm Mountain very soon, lets just say the constraints of the viewing platform could soon be a thing of the past……. stay tuned!!  The Grant Arms Hotel was the lunch stop off and there is something magical sitting in the hotels exclusive hide watching one of the rarest breeding birds in Scotland displaying right in front of you!

Slavonian GrebeSlavonian Grebe

Eagle valley came up with the good, two very distant White Tailed Eagles started the visit, and a stunning view of a Golden Eagle getting mobbed by a Buzzard, and then a Peregrine ended the first day.  Homeward bound tired but very happy!

 (wee yin)

Golden Eagle (Big yin)  Peregrine (wee yin)

Day two saw as standing on a Black Grouse Moor, 9 Males were present and one female,  I have the nagging feeling this lek is dropping in numbers, we will have to wait and see!

The main venue for today was the stunning Moray coast, and what a day to showcase the fantastic part of Scotland.

RSPB troup head was as spectacular as ever, the light winds and summer sun made it the place to be!

Gannet

Gannet

 

Gannets

A surprise bird was a Couple of Corn Bunting singing from the fence as we left Troup head.  An impromptu drive through the surrounding countyside due to a diversion netted us Redpoll, it also let Rick and Bonnie visit the famous village of Pennan, made famous in the brilliant movie “Local Hero”

Nest stop was the amazing Bowfiddle Rock, where we witnessed an even more amazing view of Black Guillemots “flying” under the water.

Black GuillemotsBlack Guillemots “flying” under the water

Kittiwakes

Kittiwake

Final stop off was Osprey estuary, where we were treated to an Osprey carrying out three dives, the last being successful. excuse the heavy cropping but this was a nano second before the bird hit the water, and shows the classic dive style.  Fantastic, goose-bump inducing experience!

Osprey

Osprey about to catch lunch!

Saturday 06 and Sunday 07 May 2017

Day two and three for Linda and Stewart, and today we were joined by one of my first ever, and multi repeat victim, Jackie (just returning from a world cruise and then ending up with a tour to Portmahomack!! )

It was a beautiful day weather wise, and a flock of 200+ Long Tailed Ducks, many males in full plumage, started the day off well.  Dtanding in the sunshine and listening to their fantastic bugling call was a real treat.

Portmahomack

The walk up to Tarbat Ness Lighthouse was stunning, the gorse was in full bloom and filled the air with the warm scent of Coconut, it was a feel good day 🙂

The sea was covered with birds, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Gannet, Fulmar whilst on the heather behind us Meadow Pipits displayed.  Yellowhammers showed very well in the car park and many Willow Warblers sang from the phone wires.  It was a lively place to be!

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

One of the Highlights for me this weekend was witnessing an Osprey fishing on the River Lossie, it was Linda and Stewarts third day birding and they were treated to one of natures great sights!

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

Its amazing the Oilve the Oystercatcher picks the same nesting spot year after year, and even more surprising that she always raises a successful brood.  But it does give a great opportunity to get some close up shots from the car without disturbing her.

Oyk

Meanwhile in the nearby field a stunning Lapwing tended its nest, but stood up for a wing stretch allowing me to give this quick snapshot, Take a look at the undertail coverts.

Lapwing

And so the three day tour ended, thank you to Linda, Stewart, Jackie and Matt for Booing with Birding Ecosse, it was a great weekend!

Friday 05 May 2017

A very early start today saw me picking Matt up  (a repeat victim) in Inverness, prior to heading back south to pick up Linda and Stewart from the magnificent Grant Arms Hotel.

First port of call was a beautiful Scottish Loch surrounded by a not so beautiful Grouse Moor, Red Throated Diver loafed on the calm water surface and the ever present Grouse “go back go back go backed” throughout the visit.

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

Lapwings and Oystercatchers were calling and displaying all over the place and it was nice to see the annual Oyk nesting in a most public of places right next to the road, it does however it does give stunning close up views and brilliant photo ops.

Oyk

Oystercatcher

A nearby Lochan gave jawdropping views of breeding Slavonian Grebe, Little Grebe  and Male goldeneye (no pictures)

Up to the Cairngorms and what a difference a 10 days make! Today was double figures temperatures and Ring Ouzels were singing and feeding in the expected places,

Ring Ouzel, male full song!

Mountain Blackbird – Full Song

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel side shot, showing distinctive pale wing panel.

And from the Ring Ouzel to the Water Ouzel,  the Dipper, this was a very young fledged bird, sitting waiting for the parent to deliver lunch!

Dipper

A very young Dipper.

And so the day ended, we dropped Matt off in Aviemore, sadly he was only out for the day, and then back to the Grant Arms for Lynda and Stewart.  Roll on tomorrow when the day victim will be one of my original members Jackie.  Should be a great day.  Northwards Ho!!

Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 April 2017.

Sorry for the delayed reporting of this mid-week trip, however a severe chest infection has laid me low for a few days (it was seemingly the worst EVER reported case of Man Flu suffered by any male, anywhere in the world….. ever 🙂   )  but feeling a perkier now and able to manfully type some words on the computer.

I had been looking forward  the return visit of Bill and Janet all the way from sunny Alabama US of A, however what wasn’t expected was the late winter storms that deposited a good covering of white and powdery rubbish on the higher Scottish mountains, forcing birds back onto the wintering slopes and back into pre-breeding feeding flocks!

winter wondeland

Looking for Ring Ouzel in the snow!

Both days were bespoke for Janet and Bill and we spent our time mainly looking for smaller birds and recently arrived migrants, Janet and myself picked up brief views of Ring Ouzel as the male flew from undergrowth before perching on a fence before disappearing never to be seen again, what was galling that Bill never connected with it.  However the snow Buntings were back in the area and showing well.

Snow Bunt

Snow Bunt

Snow Buntings

More surprising however was the Red Grouse with an identity crisis thinking it was a Black Grouse as it perched in a pine tree!

Red Grouse in tree

Conditions were less than ideal when we ventured up the funicular, and when we arrived the visibility was actually worse than I had imagined, so up on the first train, ad straight back down again!!

Janet and Bill on Cairngorm

Snow Birds Janet and Bill

Ending the trip on the coast, the weather was a lot better, even to the point of being mild!  The target birds were soon picked up, with Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper showing we and in stunning plumage, a couple of Whimbrel giving close, and a whole rake of Wheatears feeding on the local salt marsh it turned out to be a fantastic couple of days. And it was as much fun, if not more spending time with the two victims as it was two years ago, roll of 2019 autumn when hopefully they can make the Pelagic Specials.

Turnstones

_DSC0147 (2)

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Avril and Alister had booked the “non-glossy” Birding Ecosse to help them connect with a couple of Bogey Birds, Crossbill and Black Grouse.

It was a beautiful morning and as we drove past Loch Garten I just had to stop to capture the image below, but as I stood in the silence a familiar “tchuup tchuup” rang out and setting the scope up we soon had the first Bogey under our belt, a stunning male Crossbill perched atop a pine tree!

                                                                                                                                   Loch Garten

Then with 20 minutes bogey bird number two was put to bed as we stood on a beautiful remote moor listening to the lovely rooking call of a Black Grouse Lek!

A great way to spend a half day tour.

Saturday 15 to Monday 17 April 2017

Easter Weekend 2017

Well what a whirlwind weekend that was!  Departing from my usual format I met up with the Edinburgh “Finch Group” numbering 10 people in total, the transport problems were alleviated by the group using their own vehicles and rotating various victims through my vehicle over the comings days.

The forecast was a not looking great for the weekend with high winds and snow forecast, however we were pleasantly surprised throughout the three days.  Day one was supposed to the windiest day so we stayed inland and started with a very productive walk around the Beautiful Loch Mallachie.

finch groupFinch Group at Loch Mallachie

We were lucky enough to connect with both target species here, Crested Tit, which can be problematic at this time of year when they are on breeding grounds and a family party of Crossbills calling loudly from the pine trees.

A local lochan turned up returning Slavonian Grebes and we had a nice lunch sitting in the custom built hide watching the antics of these stunning wee birds, nice to see them back and here is hoping for a successful breeding season.

avielochan grebesSlavonian Grebe

Raptor valley was next on the list, and two Golden Eagles later it was a great end to the first day, 52 species in the bag!

Day two and onto the Moray Coast, first up Bowfiddle Rock, a beautiful location with some brilliant birds, including the outstanding, and quite a rare wee bird on this side of the UK, the Tystie, or Black Guillemot.  Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, and Shags all in smart breeding plumage.  Another successful day and day two ended on 73 species for the weekend so far.Redshank                                                                                                               Redshank

Last day started on the banks of a stunning Scottish Loch, the Red Throated Diver loafed in typical diver fashion, but no sign  of the Black Throated,  A Wheatear was a nice first of the season, as it searched for food on the blackened and scorched Grouse moors.

WheatearMale Wheatear.

CormorantCormorant (possible sinensis?)

The Moray coastline was being blasted by an Arctic Wind, so birding outside was limited to short bursts, a possible Sinensis Cormorant was sitting on the rocks with normal “Carbo” types, its smaller size, large extent of white on the head, and the shape of the Gular patch were good pointers.

And so the weekend ended, it had been a great three days and with a great bunch of enthusiastic, knowledgeable people, who because they had come as a group all knew and got on with each other, it was a real pleasure to spend time with them all.

BowfiddleFinch Group at Bowfiddle Rock

Monday 03 April 2017

They’re back! Had a lovely walk with Cheryl, my wee lass today (She was Dads taxis as I am unable to drive for next few day after a small op) and the destination was our local Osprey spot just to see if they had arrived back, and the good news is they are!  Both birds present at the nest site, one bird on the nest the other feeding on a nearby dead tree. doesn’t matter how many times I see Osprey they always always always give me Goosebumps, I’m so happy I chose them as my emblem!

No apologies for quality of pictures, they were taken from very very far away, through trees and from a public area. so once again no disturbance to a schedule 1 species.  However next time they will be digiscoped!

Osprog nest

Osprey

Distant Ospreys, 1st of the season – welcome home

Tuesday 28 March 2017

A manic couple of days with Margaret on Sunday and day three of three, and Rex, Karen and Gill on Monday.  What did the two days have in common?  Beautiful hot sunny weather and fantastic birds!

Sunday was clock change, so it was a nice surprise for Margaret and myself both managing to arrive at reception at the appointed time!  And soon we were heading North to…. not Alaska, but Brora! The sun was glinting on the flat calm water and then a sound hit my ears, the sound of Summer, “kreeeah  kreeeah” and my first Sandwich Tern of the year gracefully glided past.  Scanning across to the river mouth we connected with my target bird for the day, and species number 202 on the Birding Ecosse life list, an Immature and an Adult winter Little Gull!

The trip around loch fleet gave us Greenshank, Wigeon, Linnet, but sadly no sign of the Osprey that had been seen earlier this week.

loch fleet                                                                                                                    Loch Fleet

A quick dash up the Findhorn Valley was definitely the way to end the weekend for Margaret with superb views of a Golden eagle getting a severe harass from a Red Kite and then a pair of Soaring Goshawks!  A brilliant three days with a weekend total of 91 species!

And so onto Monday, Rex, Karen and Gill were smart of the mark and soon we were standing watching the mating antics of the local Black Grouse,  The spring sunshine was definitely having its affect as the males strutted their stuff.

A frustrating period started with the Crested Tits going into “summer mode” and remained silent and invisible and Rexs target Bird Crossbill decided that after finding it singing high on a treetop that it would exit stage left just as Rex lifted up his binoculars, drat!!

However our luck changed when we arrived at the local raptor valley, 1 immature Golden Eagle and a distant White Tailed Eagle made spirits soar, and then in very short order, Peregrine, Kestrel, Buzzard, Goshawk and Red Kite all put in appearances!

Most surprising sighting of the day came just as I was explaining to today victims about the perfect habitat for Capercaillie as we drove down the side of a very small copse of Pine Forest, “This is perfect for Caper, good under storey, nice mature trees but far far too small to support Capers” when LO! a female took off from right beside the deer fence bordering the road and disappeared into the trees, landed, and disappeared from view.  A most bizarre encounter.

Low point of the day though had to be speaking to two fishermen at Lochindorb who completely ignored the signs stating this is a fly fishing loch only, basically they told me to “go forth”, they had been fishing the Loch (using bio degradable water solvent hooks…… really?) and that the land owners, police or anyone else was not going to stop them.  Waste of time arguing to folk like that but very very frustrating.

Saturday 25 March 2017

Day two in the Birding Ecosse House….. a beautiful sunny, warm day with the temperature hitting a sweltering +15!  It was a cracking day out and about with Margaret.

Highlights included an immature Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Buzzard, giving fantastic views and a brilliant comparison of size, a Merlin hunting Meadow pipits low over the moors, and the species that Margaret has jokingly asked to see, a stunning Golden Plover feeding in a sheep field and building up it fat reserves before heading to higher ground to breed and a flock of 100 plus Fieldfares.  It is a magical time of year with the winter birds still lingering and the summer ones just arriving.  Not many photo ops today so just some record shots below and a bonny Mute swan!

Golden PloverGolden Plover

FieldfaresFieldfares

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Friday 24 March 2017

So day one of a three day bespoke tour for returning victim Margaret, prior to meeting at the sumptuous Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey I had already had 5 Waxwings and 2 male Black Grouse under my belt, but today saw us heading across to the beautiful Scottish West Coast.  First stop en-route was a small Scottish lochan in search of early returning Slavonian Grebes, we were in Luck with two smart looking birds present, now at this point I will state that these pictures, and all my Slavonian Pictures, are taken from Public Footpaths, hides or viewing areas, so no disturbance is caused to these endangered Schedule 1 birds.

Slavonian Grebe

Slavonian Grebe

Slavonian Grebe

Red Kites were soon picked up near to the Tollie Red Kite, and by the end of the day we had seen seven individuals!  Hopefully a sign of a real bounce back after the  poisoning fiasco of two years ago.

Greenshanks at Poolewe and four Great Northern Divers at Gruinard were the highlights of the day, and a very photogenic Skylark topped of the limited photo ops.  In total 51 species, not a bad start to a tour!

SkylarkSkylark

Sunday 12 March 2017

It was a lovely sunny morning as Lynda and myself took off for our weekly “patch” walk, Once again it didn’t disappoint!  Spring is very much in the air with lots of birds in full song, courtship and aggression postures all being given in equal amounts!

Starling

Male Starling “Gein’ it Laldie!!”

Bullfinch

Male Bullfinch, a very nice find in this area.

House Sparrow

looking for a mate, a Male House Sparrow

Two new birds added to the patch list today, Goldcrest and Brambling. Total in two visits 38 species.

Wednesday 08 March 2017

Well it has been a highly enjoyable long weekend, plenty of R&R and some good birds, ringing in my garden produced my first ever Rook, plus Blackbird, House Sparrow and a couple of Dunnocks, nothing to set the world alight, but it is still a fledging garden so any birds caught are a bonus!!

Rook

RookAdult Rook

And then today, not far from home………..

Waxwing

And then the sun came out!Waxwing

waxwing

Waxwing

Friday 03 March 2017

Going back to my roots! Today was a fantastic day birding, no scope, no camera, just Lynda, Me and our binos! It really felt like I had gone all the way to being a young kid birding in my local town of Arbroath many many moons ago, just wandering around our local area and having time to just stand and watch the birds.

Lynda had been out for a walk last weekend and had called me to say what a wonderful place she had found, and just up the road from home, she was watching Bullfinches, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpeckers! So today we both set out so she could lead me round her new “local patch!”

Once we had walked a short distance on the main roads we soon found ourselves on a beautiful tree lined quieter road, immediately we were picking up Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Chaffinches were in full song, Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks we all seen feeding on the leaf litter, then we heard a plaintive one syllable call, Bullfinches, a male flew up and perched on a nearby bush in very much the same location as last week, the sunshine illuminating its beautiful pink breast and showing the sharp contrast with the jet black crown, what a stunner! As we were watching the Bullfinch I familiar “chirrup” broke out, and a quick search turned up a pair of Tree Sparrows nest prospecting in a gnarled old tree, so the last two species only yards away from our house and brilliant Birds to see, then “Thcuup Tchuup” another call!  Looking up a male Great Spotted Woodpecker landed on a dead branch right above us, his red nape patch glowing in sunlight.

A wee Dunnock jumped up onto the roadside brambles and sang its wee heart out, a Song Thrush flew over and into the nearby beech hedge, where a noisy group of House Sparrows had another couple of Tree Sparrows company, A Buzzard swept out high across the trees and attracted the attention of the nesting Rooks.  A noisy Charm of Goldfinches jingled their song as they flew between the fields and the larch trees where they were feeding on the cones, in the same fieled 5 Skylarks were in display flight and chasing each other at low level across the wheat stubble.

Bonus birds for the day where a Treecreeper  feeding in typical fashion in amongst the ivy clad tree trunks and two Long Tailed Tits on a garden feeder right at the end of the “loop”

So in a lovely walk, of just about a mile and half, we counted no less than 32 species, quite amazing in such a small area, and it will be fantastic throughout the year, so stay tuned for the seasonal reports from Lyndas local patch! (Next time with some pictures!)

Thursday 02 March 2017

Today started off not in the usual way, today was a pick up in Inverness and Debbie was awaiting my arrival outside her hotel.

Soon we were heading South and watching a pair of Dippers on the river near to Nethybridge, Lifer number 1 for Debbie!  The Waxwings that are reported nearly every day were obviously spending time with the other mythical creatures such as Unicorns and Mermaids.

Lifer number 2 came in the shape of this cheeky wee chap…..

Crested Tit

Close behind was another lifer was a stunning male Siskin

Siskin

Siskin

Next was a trip to Cairngorm, it was nice to see the area quiet of photographers and it was not long before our target birds were in the area, a flock of 30+ Snow Buntings.  And boy did the perform!

_DSC1059 (2)

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Buntings

So a highly entertaining day out with Debbie where she netted an incredible 11 lifers (two of which she found herself) signs of spring were definitely in the air with a flock of 50 Oystercatchers at Broomhill and at least 40 Lapwings feeding together in Strathdearn, not long now until the first Sandwich Terns, Wheatear and Sand Martins grace our shores.

Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 February 2017

A cracking couple of day birding the Highlands with Dave, even though Storm “Doris” threw what it could at us we still managed a creditable 80 Species.

Wednesday was a tad wild and windy on the coast, but in between heavy showers we still managed some stunning close up views of Common Eider, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Wigeon and Teal.  An immature Sabine’s Gull was a surprise flyby at Findhorn, starting close to shore before drifting out towards the Culbin Forest, sadly I just could not get David onto the bird so cannot count towards the years total…. just makes the autumn pelagics more interesting!

The Eiders were looking absolutely tip top in the sunny spells.

Common Eider

Eider

Common Eiders

The Sanderling were doing what Sanderling do best and played chase the wave…… then run away!

Sanderling

Sanderling – Wave Chasing

Thursday the wind had dropped, but was replaced by snow and sleet showers, however every cloud has a silver lining and the Crested Tits and Chaffinches looked beautiful in the snow covered pines.

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

Up the Cairngorm, I shocking show of lack of field craft was evident with a group of photographers “staking out” the Snow Bunting flock, they were standing exactly where the birds feed, guess what guys?  They won’t appear if you are that close!  Let the birds come into the area, wait and they will filter towards you!  Very frustrating and not a single bird seen during the visit, so off to the Black Isle it was.

Surprisingly clear of snow (giving birth to meaning of the Name “Black Isle”) the Isle turned up the usual suspects, Scaup by the bucket load and some fantastic views of Slavonian Grebes, one bird in particular beginning to show signs of summer plumage, three Red Kites circling the area was nice to see and a close flyby of a Curlew showed off its stunning plumage.

Curlew

Curlew

Final stop of the day was a late afternoon visit to Eagle Valley, and it was one of those days where the birds did actually play the game and we were soon watching the spectacle of an Immature White Tailed Eagle in a tussle and Immature Golden Eagle whilst both being harried by a couple of Raven!  Sorry for the quality of the picture, but will give you an flavour of what it was like, a truly memorable way to end the two day tour.

Eagles

WTE far left Golden Eagle Far Right and the Ravens in between!

Saturday 18 February 2017

So too windy for a mist net in the garden I put out a couple of traps instead, Pedro the Woodpigeon had been hanging around the trap eyeing up the seed I put down.

Lynda: Imagine catching Pedro in the trap

Me: Never in a month of Sundays, way too big and wary

Lynda: You never know……….

Woodpigeon

Meet Pedro AKA FH07610!

So Pedro is now released safely back into the wild sporting a shiny new bracelet, and the first Woodpigeon I have ringed since being a trainee ringer!  Happy days!

Still a couple of places available on the following two day trips 🙂

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Crested Tit
Crested Tit

The “Highland Bird” experience

On this full day tour we visit a variety of habitats including Ancient Scottish Woodland, Mountain and stunning valleys in search of Eagles, Crested Tit and Ptarmigan

Pick up in reception at 0800 – drop off 1630

Price £90 per person

Thursday 23 February 2017

Long Tailed Duck
Long Tailed Duck

The beautiful Moray Firth

From long sandy beaches to rocky shore, the shallow waters of the Moray Firth hold a fantastic variety of birds. Purple Sandpipers camouflaged against the sea weed strewn rocks, flights of Knot and Dunlin swirling around over a flat calm sea. Long Tailed Ducks, Common and Velvet Scoters lounging just off shore and the whole range of Divers are on offer, a quick visit to a beautiful inland loch will add freshwater duck to the days total  and our final stop will be at a local spot in search of some elusive white winged gulls.

Todays target species: Velvet and Common Scoter, Long Tailed Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Red Throated, Black Throated and Great Northern Divers.

Pick up in reception at 0800 – drop off 1630

Price £90 per person

Thursday 09 February 2017

Well what a difference a week makes (again) today we were standing in -10 and snow at the Cairngorm carpark, they must have started snow sports today as the car park was being marshalled.  But today was a special day, it was Dad and Daughter day out 🙂  an event that doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does it is always a magical, laugh filled day!

The flock of Snow Bunting has increased with around 15/20 flicking around the area, not the best of lights but gave Cheryl her best even views of this charismatic wee bird.  And getting it in pristine white snow just made it even more special.

Snow Bunting

Snow BuntingSnow Buntings in the snow!!

Off the mountain it was easy to see the beauty in even the most common of species, and a close up of a sleepy Mallard was the perfect example,

Mallard eye close upMallard

Then it had to be done, back yet again to one of my favourite locations to see one of my favourite bird, and fast becoming my favourite, the Crested Tit.

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tits

However the more common species were looking resplendent, and really shouldn’t be taken for granted, I mean if we were somewhere hot and sandy and we saw our own wee Blue, Great and Coal Tit, The Chaffinches and Robins you would probably remark how beautiful they are, and yet here they are just over looked.  Shame really.

Great Tit

Great tit

Chaffinch Chaffinch

The birdy theme continued with an outstanding lunch at the Winking Owl in Aviemore, try the Cullen Skink it is really yummy (as are the haggis pakora and the scallops on belly pork!)

Thanks for a great day out Cheryl, roll on our next photo expedition!

Lochindorb sunsetLochindorb sunset

Thursday 02 February 2017

Day two of Elizabeth’s’ bespoke tour, and today was to be inland birds, so we set off from the warmth and luxury of the Grant Arms Hotel, home of the BWWC, and headed out into the mist and low cloud.

First port of call was the local Black Grouse Lek, and with the usual parking spot being already taken, I headed further along the road to another car park, and surprisingly even though this is a wee bit further away the view is actually better.  We had six males in total but  I do have the knawing feeling that this Lek is falling rapidly in numbers.

A quick call in at a local Dipper River proved very successful with a singing male giving us an impromptu show!

Dipper

 

Next it was onto one of my favourite visits, feeding the Coal Tits whilst hunting the elusive Crested Tit!  Luck was on our side and we quickly had breathtaking views of our target bird.

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

And as always the cheeky wee Coal Tits just had to be given a treat.

Elizabeth, the human Bird TableElizabeth the human bird table!

Bonus bird for this location, I heard a Crossbill song and fellow tour guide John Poyner picked out the male singing on top of a nearby tree.  It stayed put long enough for me to get a record shot, top bird!

CrossbillMale Crossbill

The day ended with a visit to Cairngorm, as we drove to the top car park weather conditions did not look great, cloud was sitting just above the Funicular station and a steady drizzle had begun, but just as we approached the building a movement caught our eye near to the picnic benches, a flock of six Snow Buntings.  A cracking way to end the day.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting

Wednesday 01 February 2017

Pinch punch first of the month! and a lovely day out on a bespoke trip with Elizabeth, today was Northward bound to one of my favourite areas of Brora, Golspie and Loch Fleet.

The mound was looking beautiful as normal as we stopped off for the first coffee stop of the day, Shelduck, Redshank and Teal added a bit of interest as we munched on the Tunnocks Teacakes 🙂

The mound, Loch Fleet

The mound, Loch Fleet

The local Robin made us feel guilty so I left a wee bit of seed that was intended for the Crested Tit tomorrow.

Robin

Robin

The elusive Black Redstart at Brora stayed elusive (If you are reading this Margaret C guess where you are heading next week!) but a large flock of  Gulls kept us amused sifting through for white wings…….. none to be seen

A very pale Pink Footed Goose on the Black isle got my interest as I drove past and the American Wigeon showed beautifully at Udale Bay.

Leucistic Pink Footed Goose

Leucistic Pink Footed Goose

Stars of the day was the Teal near to Merkinch just outside Inverness, they were just absolutely stunning.

Teal

Teal

Teal

Teal

 

Elizabeth enjoying the sun.

Elizabeth enjoying the sun!

Friday 27 January 2017

Just a quick entry to say a big thumbs up to CleySpy   www.cleyspy.co.uk  ordered a new Stay on Case for my Swarovski Spotting Scope, arrived from Norfolk to Forres in less than 24 hrs with no supplement for being a Highland postcode, well done CleySpy and I Highly recommend you to all Birders living in the Highlands needing new Kit (some companies where wanting £19.50 for delivery!)

Friday 20 to Sunday 22 January 2017

So this weekend was the return of yet more repeat victims in the shape of Fiona and Tony.  And in a whole different weather system that greeted Richard and Serena a week and half ago.

Fiona and Tony on a calm Moray Firth

Fiona and Tony on a calm Moray Firth

Long Tailed Duck and Eiders were the order of the morning with small numbers of both species present on the Firth. Heading for Hopeman and the fairly reliable Purple Sandpipers, we were having some distant views of the birds, when all of a sudden every single bird irrupted into the air, that can only mean one thing….. Peregrine!  And sure enough a huge powerful female screamed overhead and disappeared inland. Luckily for us the birds settled closer to us and gave some brilliant views.  Even more surprising was a Shag in full breeding plumage!

Next stop was Lossiemouth, where a very strange thing happened,  As I drove through the streets an eider duck called from the back seat of the car…….. “ohhwoooo” but then I realised it was not an Eider, but still a familiar noise…… the noise of a female seeing a “Sale” sign in a local shop, pointing the noise out to Fiona much merriment was had and even more laughing ensued when she admitted she was unaware the noise had come from her!!

Fiona captured in a flagrant abuse of a Birding Ecosse Check list!

Fiona captured in a flagrant abuse of a Birding Ecosse Check list!

Highlight bird for me was this Male Gadwall, seen at a small lochan right beside the main A96.

Gadwall

Gadwall

Day two dawned on a Grouse Moor, yet another stunning clear, calm and crisp morning and 6 Black Grouse strutting their stuff got the day off to a great start, a quick foray for the Nethybridge Hawfinches drew a blank but did give great views of two Dippers.

In quick succession we notch up a couple of Scottish specialities Crested Tit and soon after a fine male Ptarmigan, hiding on a snow patch behind a rock high on Cairngorm, we were lucky to see a further two birds on the funicular trip down the hill.

The day was rounded off spectacularly by a very low and close flyby from an immature Golden Eagle, a bird we had tried to connect with on two previous trips with Tony and Fiona, so to see one so clearly and so close was a definite relief, I was so enthralled with the spectacle I even forgot to take pics!

The mound

The mound

And so to our last day, and what a day it turned out to be!  The original plan was for the Black Isle, however we had already visited this area on Tony and Fionas last visit, so I decided to head North to the Golspie, Brora and Loch Fleet area, what a great decision that was!

Once again the weather was flat calm, sunny and just above zero degrees, fantastic weather to be on the coast!

The run of birds stated with three waxwings at Golspie, and a very pleasant 10 minutes speaking a really nice resident of the sheltered housing that the birds had chosen to frequent.

Waxwing

Waxwing

 

Waxwing

Waxwing

 

Waxwing

Waxwing

Heading down past the Golf Couse a large gaggle of Pink Footed Geese were in a field near the road, parking up and getting the scopes out luckily we did not spook the birds and scanning through the flock we soon picked up a lone Barnacle Goose, I was intent on finding a White Fronted Goose, so scanning scanning scanning then something caught my eye, I called Fiona across and asked her to tell me the colour of legs of the three bird in the scope…… Pink…. Pink….. Orange!!!! Yes we had just found a Bean Goose, small billed with an Orange sub terminal band… a Tundra Bean Goose and species 202 for Birding Ecosse!

Loch Fleet was as beautiful as ever and soon we were watching one of the target species for this area, Greenshank and lounging just off shore we had Common and Grey Seals

Last stop of the day was an area I had never visited, a large expanse of estuarine mud flats, to say I was gobsmacked was an understatement! It was a birders paradise! More Shovelers in one place than I had seen in many many years, Pintails by the bucket load, Wigeons by the thousand and the star bird, and the reason I had arrived at this place, an American Wigeon.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

And so the weekend ended, a total of 90 species, which is just amazing at this time of year, and brings the year total so far to 101!! And it is still January, this may very well be Birding Ecosse’s own “Big Year”  roll on the good times!

Lochindorb at Sunset

Lochindorb at Sunset

 

Thursday 12 January 2017

Another brilliant day out with Richard and Serena, not nearly as windy but cold cold cold!!  The two days ended up with a very respectable 75 species, quite remarkable when you take into account the weather!

Black Grouse was first on the list, with two males sitting hunkered down in the snow looking fairly fed up with the current cold snap, the nearby Red Grouse looked to be organised and had “dug themselves in” sitting in scrapes in the snow and keeping out the wind, a la Ptarmigan tactics!

Red Grouse "Dug In"

Red Grouse “Dug In”

The trip to Coal Tit feeding city was a great success, with Crested  Tit picked up and seen well within the first five minutes and then it was all fun feeding the Coal, Blue and Great Tits, with Robin and Great Spotted Woodpecker all edging closer and closer but not being as brave as the Tits!

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

 

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

 

Robin

Robin

However it was the afternoon when all the real excitement started!  Driving up Raptor Valley Serena looking out the car picked up a large raptor just to our left, a very opportune layby was just ahead so I told Serena and Richard to keep their eyes on the birds until I parked up, and when we did get out what a treat!!  An immature White Tailed Eagle getting harassed by two Golden Eagles!  Just above us!

Golden Eagle (LH) White Tailed Eagle (RH)

Golden Eagle (LH) White Tailed Eagle (RH)

 

Golden Eagle (Top) and White Tailed Eagle

Golden Eagle (Top) and White Tailed Eagle

 

Golden Eagle about to dive on the White tailed Eagle

Golden Eagle about to dive on the White tailed Eagle

And the Eagle show wasn’t finished yet!  Another three individuals crossed over as we approached the top of the Glen, just a magical afternoon Birding!

My office for the day!

My office for the day!

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Well today was the first official tour of 2017 and what a way to start!  Gale force winds all over Scotland, making it difficult for even me, with my svelte frame, to remaining standing at Hopeman, snow showers that blew in off the Moray Firth that looked a lot like plumes of smoke as it obliterated the landscape and dark scudding clouds so low and dark the streetlights came back on at Burghead at 0910 in the morning!!  But what a FANTASTIC day to be out and about!!

Highlights of the amazing 59 species we encountered today included a Male Shoveler, Male and Female Goosander, discoving a new and very lively flock of Tree Sparrows, One Male and Two female Brambling, Purple Sandpipers hugging the rock face to get out of the winds, a single flock of 300 + Pintail, and a lovely covey of 6 Grey Partridge hunkered down in a stubble field.  Add to that some stunning views of the more common birds like Teal and Wigeon just made the day a brilliant experience!  Fancy getting out on about with Birding Ecosse?  Then just check out birdingecosse.co.uk

Male and Female Teal

Male and Female Teal

 

Wigeon and Teal

Wigeon and Teal

 

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge

Monday 02 January 2017

Happy New year, and a healthy Bird Filled 2017 to you all!

So today was a busman’s holiday for Lynda and myself as we took a wee drive “oot and aboot” around the beautiful Moray Coastline to see what the recent stormy weather had turned up, we were not to be disappointed!

First real surprise was a Merlin sitting on a fence post not far from Rose Isle woods, it was then onto Burghead where we were treated to close up views of Long Tailed Duck, Common Eider and an Immature Glaucous Gull.

Male Long Tailed Duck

Male Long Tailed Duck

 

A quick drive through to Hopeman added Rock Pipit, Sanderling, Turnstone to the years tally, but to tell you the honest truth it was just nice to be out birding!

Tours start for the 2017 season on Wednesday 11 January 2017, and with some form of  booking every month already from now until October it looks like being a busy year, something I am really excited about! So please don’t hang around if you are thinking of making a booking this year, the slots are filling up very quickly so just get in touch and have a chat about what dates you may need.

Thanks for following this blog, call back frequently for updates, my new years resolution is to work harder to keep this page updated…… lets see how that goes shall we!!