Thursday, 24 December 2015

Norfolk Madness - 04:45 is a terrible thing

This weekend fellow blonde birder, Tom, and I decided on a day in Norfolk to mop up some winter migrants. The reports had been coming in all week and we were even more sure than normal that the working year couldn't end soon enough. The plan was to hit as many sites as we could, before dark, then Welney for tea and floodlit swans.

We were into the car at the god-awful time of 5 am and arrived at Holme at 7:30 (where there had been reports of shore lark the previous day). As we worked our way out along the spit there wasn't a thing moving, we were the only things daft enough to be out at that hour. The wind was battering through but the light was good. As we made it to the end of the point - at about 8:15 - a few bits and bobs were starting to move. Then, disaster. Three shapes lifted ahead of us and made of in the direction of the marsh. Three lark-like shapes. 

We settled in for a long wait on the leeward side of the sand dunes; ducking low out of the wind. But thankfully, suddenly, they returned; calling as they passed over head, before settling back in the same scrub as they had appeared from, and proceeded to pick through the dead vegetation. Once fully awake they were more tolerant of people, allowing passing dog walkers within 50 meters and letting me get a few snaps.

Shore lark trio

From there we went to Choseley, ticking of the lingering rough-legged buzzards, then on to Titchwell in search of water pipit. We picked up the birds but, after leaving, found out that the bloody red-rumped swallow had been at the other end of the reserve while we were there. After Titchwell we headed over to Cley for a rattle round before dark, grabbing snow bunting, but with no sign of the phalarope that had been seen again in the morning. The light dropping and hungry and sleepiness rising, we headed for much needed chips, then swans, then another 3 hour drive back to Sutton Coldfield and some well earned rest...

After sleeping for 11 hours I decided to have a run at the hoopoe in Kingswinford. Regular readers will know that I spectacularly dipped on hoopoe two years ago - running for a bird in Dumfrieshire - so I was pretty determined to bag this one. Arriving on site there were a few other birders about ready to wander in; they had been told the bird was about and showing well, so we hurried onward together.

There were a few other local birders on point when we arrived and, as usual, the blasted bird had just flown. Into the trees at the bottom end of the field in this case. After standing for a minute of two, one of the locals offered to walk down the slope to locate it. Minutes later he was pointing us into one of the fenced areas. 

We walked across but couldn't locate the bird in the scrub. Just as we settled in to wait it helpfully flew to a conspicuous spot in the trees behind. Sitting for a while in full view before returning to vanish in the dense, tussocky grass. For a while I stood with the others, racked with guilt over the lunch that I was about to be late for. After a few more minutes of grass obscured snaps, I caved and packed up for the drive home - calling the weekend at 4 new species.

Not living up to its friendly rep

Best view before the drive home

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Crag Martin at the Crooked Spire

After moving back to York a month ago, I finally got the opportunity to get to Spurn for the weekend, just in time for the tail end of the hurricane to hit the UK. Arriving at 10:30 I nipped into the wetlands, stopping at the car park for a while to watch a short eared owl quartering the field across the road. From the hide there was only a dunlin, redshank, and a flock of brent geese, and after 20 minutes I decided to head down to the reserve. 

There wasn't much moving there either and the clouds were brooding. I wandered down the point past the wash-over, but the beach was bare and the waders well dispersed over the exposed mud, so I turned back north. As I walked between sea-watch and the Blue Bell I could see another SEO over Canal Scrape, but aside from a couple of goldcrests at beacon lane, that was as fun as it got. I forged onwards to the lagoons, hoping for snow bunting on the beach, but no luck; then the rain hit, and I enjoyed a damp half hour trudge back to the obs. The persisted brizzle was quick to soak me through and turn my thoughts first to hot drinks and drying off, then to curries and pints.

Sunday started dismally; as the rain tailed of at 9 the next morning we stood on the cliff top, counting through the siskin, goldfinch, redpoll and twite. There was little moving on the sea, just a few divers and auks, but I did pick up my first little gull on the Humber. All last week I had been looking at the reports of crag martin at Chesterfield, but had not had the opportunity to get on the road. After fidgetting at sea-watch for half an hour in the hope of something exciting I cracked, said goodbye to everyone, and hopped into the car. 

Two hours later I'd parked the car and found the small crowd off birders at the church. As I arrived one car was leaving for the stadium, where the bird had been most recently sighted, but it suddenly appeared round a building and began circling the church.

I watched the bird for just over an hour as it made quick passes around the crooked spire, only once vanishing across to the stadium. Luckily the rain held off, but unfortunately for me the bird was just to fast for me and my poor camera. I did get a couple of records, but none of the real super-shots that I saw on the LCD's of some of my fellow twitchers. Still, one closer to 400!

Tail spots just visible

Buff under-side

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Chaos in Crete

A belated post following a workshop on storytelling in science education Rachel (FSC Scotland) and I were running at the European Marine Science Educators Association conference in Crete. Cushy right? 

I'd gotten a little preparatory reading done and, as far as I could tell, the Heraklion area was not the buzzing hub of Cretan bird life; but after a drab Scottish summer and the short winter nights on the horizon, I was certainly ready for a chance to be out in the warm (hopefully not too warm). I was also aware that spare time would be incredibly limited, so I set my sites low with hope of a handful of new species: maybe a shrike or two, or a new heron, perhaps a red-throated pipit... 

On the first day there was the usual disappointment. The venue were nowhere near fresh water, there were very few birds on the surrounding wires, the scrub was filled with sparrows... As we walked along the sea front I failed to spot a single gull or wader. Inside, I was grumbling... too warm... bloody heavy camera... gotta be a dry river bed somewhere...

We eventually reached the aquarium, our venue for the week, and I got my first hints of wildlife. In amongst the ubiquitous sparrows, a few crested larks and pipits foraged... not much, but a start. 

Crested Lark

prob. tawny pipit

The next day I cracked it. Look up. As I sat dejectedly with a coffee I watched a falcon come in from the sea. Then a flock of egrets go over. Then purple heron. Three hooded crows. Over the break I ticked of a further four species before giving up and immersing myself in the haze of networking and strong coffee that is the conference day.

Unfortunately that was abut it, aside from the flyovers the real highlight was the incredibly confiding kingfishers that worked the little inlets along the beach. But there was so much promise in the hills that loomed on the horizon, covered by low scrub. When I return I'll be heading to those hills (more prepared for the hot weather), with warblers in my sights. Until then I have the memory of strong coffee, friendly delegates, and the promise of doing it all again next year in Belfast.

Storytelling workshop

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Brampton Bee-Eaters

On the way back from York I decided to nip in on the bee-eaters that set up home just outside Carlisle. Two pairs had set up burrows amongst a thriving colony of 500 sand martins in an active quarry. The RSPB had wisely suppressed their presence until the eggs hatched, however, one of the nests failed due to a cliff slide. Since news of the nest was released the remaining pair and their helper had been incredibly popular.

When I arrived today the quarry couldn't have been more like the Mediterranean; the weather was warm and windless and the steep quarry sides radiated the heat back - it was baking. In my eagerness to get to the view point I passed three groups of slogging birders heading up the slope, and by the time I reached the first stop I was toasted. 

Happily, one bird dropped in as soon as I arrived, and the adults were visiting the nest every 10 minutes or so. Not only that, we had great views of a hobby hunting martins over the quarry. I snapped away for an hour before heading back to the car for the last 4 hours in the car.

The pictures aren't amazing as the birds kept their distance from our side of the valley, but the views were great. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Spot the Crake....

Guess who's had time off!? Me that's who.

I dove down to York to see Matt, but on route I went to Goole. Well near Goole. I headed to Blacktoft RSPB reserve in search of spoonbill and spotted crake... Well, as usual, I dipped on the spatulate white one. But I catch up with the crake, after only 45 minutes watching too. See if you can spot it as well!

Squint a little, its obvious

Too difficult? Try this one....

One closer to 400!

Today I headed over to see the folks at Spurn. I knew there was a wryneck around; more importantly,  there was a spoonbill on the Humber. Driving in I ignored the masses pacing the hedgerows outside Rose Cottage and headed straight for the Warren... but, again, the long legged git had hopped it. Despondent, I went for a wander around the triangle (I'd find my own bloody bird), and as I returned to the car - passing the other birders - the wryneck hopped out into the road in-front of me... I didn't know whether to be smug or annoyed... but I did get this great size comparison. Oh well, maybe I'll get one over the weekend.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Back on the Coast

This month I am back in Millport, teaching everything from willow weaving to snorkelling... Thankfully I still have a couple of days off to enjoy being home. During the week I had been watching the reports come in from the area, and on my first free day I decided to nip down to Troon to see the Iceland gull that had been hanging around the harbour. 

It was a nice clear morning and it only took me half an hour to reach the harbour, but despite checking the fishmarket and local beaches, I couldn't catch up with the bird. Thankfully I was kept entertained by the fabulous black guillemots. Despite usually being skittish, the birds were remarkably tolerant of my presence and focused mainly on squabbling amongst themselves, and I spent a good hour with them and the camera.

There had been a flock of Mediterranean gulls ust outside Troon at Meikle Craigs, so I took a wander that way to see if they were still around. I was in luck, the birds were still there, although the tide was in and the birds were sat on the distant exposed rock. As the tide dropped I managed to inch forward along with it, distracting myself with passing dunlin and gorgeous summer plumage sandlerling, as well as sandwich, common and arctic terns.

I waited the entire tide to see if the distant birds would join the others now washing themselves in the freshwater run-off, but no joy. They circled the distant craig, but stayed put. I made do with snapping away at the terns, before the weather closed in and I headed for home. 

Curious Tern

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Blyth's Reed Warbler...

So last week Tom (the other blonde birder) and I made ourselves a bet. 400 before 40. That's over ten new birds a year for both of us... So when I saw that the Inverurie Bylth's reed warbler was still showing this morning, I hoped in the car and drove the two hours into Aberdeenshire. 

Arriving at 10:30 I met Jim (a local birder) who had been on site since 8 that morning. He'd met up with folk who'd seen the bird earlier, but hadn't gotten a look in himself. The bird was reeling away in the pines across the river, so we settled in for the long haul. 

After half an hour of staring at nothing we were joined by another couple, and just a few minutes later the bird dropped into view, showing in the bare branches at the bottom of the pine before climbing out of site.

Over the next few hours we were joined by about ten others, all twitching at every hen chaffinch and becoming steadily more angsty... After another 2 hours of nothing, a few of us decided to go grab a quick bit to eat, 25 minutes away, no more. Confident that there would be no good views in the near future, we headed back up the river to the cars. Well, you know what happens now.

On our way back from snacking we pass another birder who had given up and headed for the car. The internationally accepted migrant invite for a good long show. Then, of course, we saw one of the other birders running back along the track. The bird was singing out in the open. After a mad dash along the tow-path I got a slightly longer scoped view on this occasion and that was all she wrote, having only had a half pint of smoothy and a garage sandwich all day I headed for baked brie and cider at home. 

I didn't manage any pictures, so here's one of a poplar hawk moth that was hanging around outside my classroom this week.

This is what happens when your classroom lights are on all night!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Tactical errors.

On Friday afternoon I decided to take a walk around the hill, wanting to stretch my legs and work off some of the week's cake intake. The forestry path winds its way through the forestry land, and always has good numbers of siskin, coal tit and mistle thrush, along with green and greater spotted woodpecker, deer and red squirrels. It was a warm climb considering the overcast weather, and I stopped often for water. On my third stop, with the ground levelling off, I heard crossbills in the distance. Hurrying on, I broke into a clearing where I could see roughly 10 birds feeding in the surrounding trees. As I watched, another 5 birds joined them, then another 12 went over, and suddenly they were everywhere. Cursing my lack of camera and bins, I tried to pick out the birds in the pine tops. With the young out of the nest the birds were frantically feeding and moved ahead of me through the trees as I ambled onward, never allowing a decent view. 

I  getting used to the sound of so many crossbills around me, when a dark shaped skitted across to my right. A big dark shape. I couldn't believe it, I had walked right up to a pine marten at three in the afternoon. Unbelievable luck, had I not have slowed down for the crossbills I would have flushed it as I approached. I froze, the animal had gone behind a bush. Its path would bring it out onto the road about 5 meters ahead of me. Grabbing my phone from my pocket in the event of its sudden reappearance, I waited. 

I wasn't waiting long, a minute later it appeared 15 meters up the track. I snapped some classic Nessie-quality shots before it loped off into the treeline. Feeling elated I continued the further hour and 15 minutes around the hill, seeing another three large crossbill groups. 

Classic phone camera bluriness

This morning the weather was overcast, uninspiring; but with a flock of crossbills so big moving around and the chance of anther pine marten encounter, I picked up the camera and headed for the hill. I was very aware of the extra weight in my bag as I climbed the forestry track, but was distracted by green woodpecker and cuckoo. As the trees got denser I slowed, listening for the tell tale chirp of feeding crossbills. I had just gotten to the flattest section of path when I heard the first bird off to my left, then two more. Hesitantly I picked my way along a deer path to a clearing. And there were my birds.

There were around thirty five altogether, moving between the tall conifers and lower, less dense scots pines. I snapped happily away at anything that would come close enough, but a second disaster fell. Battery outage. After my session in the pine marten hide I had neglected to recharge the batteries... Cursing inwardly I watched as the birds continued to feed in the trees, youngsters flying up to harass the adults at the cones. As I gave up and turned for home, the weather added insult to my camera-based injury; the sun finally broke through the clouds, bathing the tree tops in a warm glow.

Sat at home I went through the pictures... no sterling shots, but now all of them were stinkers. At least you can tell what these are!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Kingussie Icky (or "can you really call it a record shot if you can barely tell what it is?")

On Saturday morning the summer had already buggered off somewhere else. I was restless, annoyed and more than a little damp after the drizzle. I spent the day mooching around Pitlochry and napping on the sofa. I glanced at RBA, saw the report of the Kingussie Icterine, and ignored it. The weather was rubbish. Then at four, the other half of the blonde birders messaged me his (sunny) views of the West Mids melodious warbler, then - adding insult to injury - told me he was off for the black eared wheatear the following day. Well, no way was I missing out.

The next morning was bright and clear and I threw my stuff into the car and boosted north on the A9, rolling into Kingussie at about 10:00. There was no one around as I got out of the car, had it flitted overnight? Well, I'd hardly walked three feet when I met a man walking from the far end of the path. Two minutes of brief conversation later and he was pointing be down the road to where he had seen a crowd of birders the previous day - result.

Armed with local knowledge I positioned myself opposite the likely looking stand of trees, and within a minute had the bird singing away in front of me. Ten minutes later I was joined by a couple of local lads and a guy from Lancashire. and we moved location to get the light behind us. The second spot was more distant but the light was now behind us, the bird glowed a pale yellow standing out even without bins. 

After 30 minutes we moved back to the cars to set up scopes, through which you could easily pick out the heavy bill and the pale patch on the wing. I just couldn't get a decent shot of the bird to save my life. After about 2 hours observation I said goodbye to my new friends and headed up the road.

The tree favoured was just far enough from both vantage points to make pictures bloody awkward

Is that a bit of a primary projection? 

From Kingussie I went to Craigellachie Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Aviemore with the aim of getting some wood warbler shots, but while I heard the birds, I didn't manage to connect with one. However, I did get some lovely views (although again, awful pictures) of flycatchers, common sand, tree pipit and goldcrest. I called it a day at only two, heading back along the A9 to enjoy the last of the sun at home, you never know when it will go again...

Brief views of pied fly resulted in one usable record

The pied flies were more and confiding numerous

Unlike the KD Trips, the Craigellachie birds have more typical habitat and I got to see some lovely branch-strutting

Friday, 12 June 2015

Summer arrives at Kindrogan

Well in the last month the buds have finally burst and the sun has very occasionally deigned to show its self from behind the perma-cloud. It feels like the local wildlife is enjoying the shift in the weather too, and I've had loads of really good sightings around the centre. 

In owl news, we've had four fledgling tawnies on site - hissing in the woods near the river. They look pretty far along and are flying easily between the trees at the low ropes course. On the hill the birds are in good voice and I had a flock of 15 crossbills near the shelter spot. Plants-wise, the soft needles of larches are now in their fresh acidic green and the spruces show the bright new growth at the ends of their branches. The purple flowered stems of bugle have sprouted everywhere and the sycamore trees hum with bees. I have also managed to add to my list of ladybirds, spotting a cream spot tucked into a fence post up by the rafting site.

Hoolet 1 of 4

We have had a photography course on site for a fortnight, putting out extra feeders and lurking in hides at all the best locations (yes, I was jealous). Their evening reports had given me the urge to ditch work and go and play all week, so when they left I grabbed myself a beer and my camera and headed straight down for an evening in the pine marten hide. It was busy, over the four hours it was visit regularly buy 6 red squirrels, a greater spotted woodpecker feeding a fledgling, bullfinch, black bird, mistle and song thrush, tits, chaffs, tree creepers and - finally - at about half past nine, one very hungry pine marten. The light had lost its quality, but I rattled off a couple of shots anyway, downed the last of my beer and headed across the lawn to bed. Who knows how long it will be summer for here at Kindrogan, but, while it lasts, I'd better make the most of it.

The pine marten logs attract more than one opportunistic squirrel

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Loch Ruthven and Loch Garten

After work on Saturday I planned to pitch my tent around the shores of Loch Tummel and spend an early morning looking for wood warblers. Then I was told that I wasn't needed for the evening session. A quick internet scramble and I had changed my plans, sights set distinctly further north.

Loch Ruthven is a small RSPB reserve south of Inverness. It has a wonderful breeding population of slavionian grebes and is frequented by divers, and I hoped to see the grebes in their finery and hopefully get pictures of a black throated diver or two. 

After two hours in the car I pulled into the tiny carpark and unpacked the scope. The valley was steep sided and the loch banded by deciduous wood. A quick scan across the water and I picked up my first bird, a male; in silhouette, his large comb obvious even when backlit. In total I saw 3 pairs of slavonian grebes, 2 little grebes, but sadly no divers. Reed buntings and willow warblers flitted between the branches beside the hide, and the calls of curlew, black headed gull and cuckoos cut through the warm afternoon air.

Slav Pair

I pitched my tent outside the reserve in a nearby field and settled into my sleeping bag with an Innis and Gun and chapter two of Birds in a Cage. The cuckoos called consistently from all angles and through the open tent flap I watched a short eared owl quarter the low heath, occasionally stopping to scan the grass beside to carpark. It's foraging distracted me until the light fell.

Good view

Better view

The next day I had the tent down by 7:30 and was scanning the loch soon after. In addition to the little and slavonian grebes, a male red-breasted merganser sat on the wind ruffled surface. I stared long enough through my scope that I barely noticed when a common sand walked over my backpack, and - despite peering as far as I could along the loch - there was no sign of a diver. I decided to packed scope into the car and start south.  

I had decided to stop in at Loch Garten on the way home (it was more or less on the way), and found myself standing at the gates at 9:50, waiting for the reserve to re-open. Well, I was in luck, for into the mob of coal tits at the feeders flew a wonderful crestie. Most of the shots were rushed and masked by branches and other birds, but for two seconds it alighted on the gate post, allowing two semi-clear shots before vanishing back into the foliage.

Crestie at the Gate

At the visitor centre I set up my scope before dashing to the shop to collect some flapjack for breakfast. The ospreys were visible for a while, before disappearing off to fish. So I spent my time watching the redstarts and siskins until the hide got too full and I headed to Cairngorm to grab a cup of tea and something to eat before starting for home. 

Female Redstart

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Patch Updates - Kindrogan and Millport

With a bank holiday morning to kill on Cumbrae, I take a slow wander along the coast. Over the past few months the warblers have returned and hear the calls of sedge warbler, chiffchaff and white throat as I walk. Behind the house a cuckoo is calling, the first I have heard on island in two years. In the bay, eider, red breasted merganser, and black guillemot bob on the gentle swell. Black headed gulls bathe in the shallows, smart in their summer plumage.

Passing through the town there are goldfinches and linnets on the wires and sandwich terns dip into the shallow waters between the seawall and the islands. Exiting the far side of the town I can see shags drying on the eilans, a second cuckoo is calling in the woods on the hillside, and as I enter the fields the cautious mobbing by lapwings begins. One is particularly persistant, following me along the path and past the sewage works as I make my way down to the shingle shore. Here it is replaced by nervous oystercatchers. ringed plover dart from beneath my feet and I can see the heads of greylags observing me from the tall grass. Hungry now I turn back toward the town, heading for the deli, and stroll back to the house with my well-deserved coffee; as I arrive home, I see a female blackcap dive into the undergrowth behind the house and hope for fledgling warblers soon.

At Kindrogan the buds have finally burst and the trees are full of foraging birds. As I started up the hill this morning there was very fresh pine marten scat on the trail, placed high on a rock that obviously marks the edge of two territories. Breaking through into the first felled area I can here at least four tree pipits and pretty soon can make them out, singing as they arch there way between the trees. A song thrush scolds angrily as it lifts from the ground, heading uphill, a cuckoo is calling, but today I do not see him, only the willow warblers moving through the newly opened birch buds. 

The yaffle of green woodpecker cuts down from the hillside and in the stands of pine I can see the siskins moving, wishing I had time to dawdle I move along the forestry track that leads back down to the road. To my left a greater spotter woodpecker flits through to land on a low tree stump and a mistle thrush regards me from the top of a spruce.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Ptarmigeddon - Blonde Birders Return to the Highlands

Tom and I have been mixing up our usual Hopeless in the Highlands tour...

We started the weekend with the Glen Shee/Clunie tour including a morning trekking up Glas Maol for our ptarmigan targets. On the way to the ski centre car park we picked up both back and red grouse, and the climb provided wheatear, meadow pipit, red deer and mountain hare; but, after four hours walking in the blazing sun, we were forced to concede defeat at our first ptarm site.

The low traffic before 7 meant that the deer were still at the roadside
Luckily we didn't have to walk far in Glen Clunie. Within 20 mins of the car we'd picked up grey and pied wagtails, more mipits and wheatear, a dipper, peregrine, curlew, and one very approachable feeding ring ouzel.

The wheatear in Glen Clunie look stunning in the sun
Ring Ouzel were found feeding in the valley bottom

Thoroughly toasted by the sun now, we decided to pick up our stuff and head up to Loch Garten. After checking in at The Boat we headed straight to the reserve for a wander beside the loch, adding tree creeper, goldcrest, willow warbler, chiff chaff, and golden eye to the days list. Exhausted now, we decided to call it a day and slunk back to our rooms with the sun still up.

One of the very visible creepers at LG

The next day saw us freezing our behinds off in the caper-hide by 5.30... But alas no lek. The ospreys had produced their first egg the day before, and EJ was looking uncomfortable on the nest while Odin still brought in the occasional bit of nest material. At 8 we fled back to the hotel for breakfast, lots of breakfast. Over the remnants of our fry ups we checked the reports from yesterday, in particular the king eider that had been spotted on the Ythan, a potential lifer for the pair of us. Throwing out the idea of crested tits, we decided to spend a while on the coast.

Two hours later we were pulling up in the dunes behind Newburgh Golf Club. We met another birder in the car park; he'd been there at six that morning, but with no luck, and was hoping for better chances on the incoming tide. We teamed up and headed for the mouth of the estuary, where most of the eider were out on the bank, heads tucked away. Together started picking our way through the dozing birds, but the bird wasn't there. Weighing the options, we decided to split up again, Tom and I would check further seaward, our new friend would move upriver - we would wave if we saw anything.

After 15 minutes of no eider in the estuary mouth we decided to head back upstream. Another three birders had emerged from the car park. As we passed the first we told them about the absence of bird downstream and scoped our friend upstream - who was waving. Shouldering the scope, we headed off up the beach, taking the new bloke with us.

We set an impressive pace for two unfit twenty-some-things weighed down with optics, and we were soon stood on a bend in the river, following a rapidly disappearing bird as the tide took it upstream to where a knot of cars sat beside a bridge. Hopefully, we hopped back into the cars and went in search of the second car park.

Pulling up we bundled out of our respective cars and took position on the bridge. I got the scope out and there it was, sat on the bank, preening. I moved over for Tom to see, and it promptly put its head under its wing and went to sleep. Luckily we didn't have to wait long. the tide pushed the birds off and they proceeded to swim and display within 50 meters of the bank for a good few hours for eight very chuffed looking twitchers. 

The bird was surprisingly confiding, often drifting to within meters of the few assembled birders
It certainly knew we were around, and was interested in the noise of camera shutters

After a victory doughnut, Tom and I hopped back in the car and headed back for a few hours in Anagach forest, with no joy and even less navigation. Baked by the sun and suffering from two early mornings, we gave up quickly and went in search of food and our beds. 

Monday morning started with another unsuccessful (and very mist) caper-watch, so I talked Tom into one last punt for ptarmigan at Cairngorm car park. As we arrived the cloud was very low on the hill - obscuring the top of the railway, but I set up the scope and hoped. One pass over the scree, two, three, and the, there it was; the most distant, almost fully moulted into summer plumage, bird you could ever wish to vaguely see. I moved out to let Tom used the scope and he ticked his second lifer of the weekend. Job done. Despite missing crossbill, crested tit and caper, we'd racked up 79 species (plus a scraggy hooded/carrion hybrid) over the weekend, time to go. 

I'm safely at home with a brew now, but Tom has another couple of hundred miles to drive and a chance of two common cranes - another lifer for him - en route, maybe we can make 80 species by bed time.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Countdown to Ptarmigeddon!

This morning I've been doing some site scoping ready for Tom (the other, maler half of the blonde birders) to arrive for another weekend of rocketing round the highlands. Having been to a few sites that scream ring ouzel over the past few weeks, I headed to the most promising this morning after hearing a spate of ouzel reports from around the UK. It was a good idea.

The weather was perfect and everything was in full song. Grey and pied wags, around 30 wheatear, meadow pipits everywhere, then - suddenly - the sounds of a blackbird gone wrong. I'd been squinting at the more promising southern slope, but the noise was behind me. 

It took a few minutes to locate the bird, it was very far off, then it took off in alarm, flying a little way down the valley to hurl itself at another male. Below this second rock sat the drabber female, who was joined in a race around the rock, before all three scudded off down the valley. I emptied my camera from my bag and used it to lay out flat and await the birds return.

I wasn't waiting for long, with the female and one of the males soon returning to the scree. The birds were distant, but at one point (after an hour of sitting very still) all three flew low over my head, then back again. After another 20 minutes the male started displaying to the female, dipping his head and cocking his tail. Not wanting to be any source of disturbance, I slunk away down the hill and back to Kindrogan (hoping they'll be in the same spot this weekend).

Sunday, 22 March 2015

More of the same - Glen Shee and Kindrogan

Not much to report today, I decided to have another scope round the area, starting with the black grouse site and picking up a showy red legged partridge en route. Then I skipped up to Glen Shee in hope of ptarmingan or snow bunting, sitting on the bonnet of the car to warm my bum in the cold morning. While I struck out on both species, I did get a lovely view of a herd of male red deer in Glen Clunie. On the way back I checked out the greylag flocks; bean and white fronted geese have both been nearby today and I was hoping for a few of my own, but, no such luck. 

The males were right at the roadside today
Distant Record Shot
Back at Kindrogan there was the usual assortment of waiting wildlife. On Friday night I had quick views of one of the resident pine martens from our lovely hide, and the red squirrels have become highly active now the snow has melted, but the highlight of the day had to be the summer-coat fallow deer in with the roe deer at the feeders. I'm hoping he'll hang around for a while as long as we keep the feeders full.

Scavenging amongst the shelled sunflower seeds