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

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Saturday Site Scoping

Out again this morning and on my way to check out some more sites for Tom's visit next month. I was checking on the black grouse lekk at 7:30, rewarded with 5 males this morning, then on to have a scout of some potential ring ouzel territory. A nice valley walk beside a very productive stream which provided me with great views of dipper and grey wag, then up into the hills where I watched both peregrine and golden eagle displaying.

Dipper displaying

I know that it might be a little early for ouzel here, but I really wanted to get a feel for the spot and thoroughly enjoyed the walk - a gentle incline over 4 miles following the valley. The weather was as perfect as ever and I ambled the length of the valley, making note to arrive well before the sun gets over the southern edge of the valley to become totally blinding in that direction. 

Turning back on myself as my stomach began to rumble I made my way back towards the car, taking the opposite river bank to hug the pine plantation. The dipper lead me to a beautiful confluence with a small stream and from there I follow a forrrestry track into the woods where I add two more species to my year list, common crossbill and mistle thrush. Officially ravenous at this point I hop in the car and head back home stopping to pick up a haggis, mince and potato pie before speeding home for the rugby.

Mistle Record


Sunday, 15 March 2015

All walk and no play

 ... make Nat a dull girl. Thankfully, when I set out for the hills this morning, I was in for an unexpectedly good day. I let the birds wake me at 6:30 and was safely in the car by 7, making full use of the empty roads to get a head start on any walkers that might be around to flush things. 

Well, I should have taken it as a sign that things were going to be good when at the second turn I had to slam on the anchors to avoid hitting a red legged partridge that was ambling slowly over the road. *tick* one for the year list.

Not five minutes further down the road I catch sight of something the other side of the fence and again test out my breaks... Black grouse, around 9, I had unwittingly found a local lek in my haste to get to the hills. Making a note of the location for a later date, I snatch a couple of quick shots before leaving them to their morning displays. 

As I climbed in the valley I became aware of the copious red grouse lining the road side. There can't have been much traffic along the road before me and I begin to feel that another life tick can be mine this weekend. Only one thing stands between my and my bird... over 1000 meters of mountain. This isn't just a tick quest, its my first solo munro. 

I won't bore you with the details of the walk. I've packed my nice new winter boots (the old Scapa's finally died so I've treated myself to a nice pair of mantas), and the ice is a minimal problem. I just weave my way between the skitie patches as I make my way to the summit. Thanks to my early start, I only saw 4 other people. 

Snow on the tops has long since turned to ice

New Boots!

After the first 150 meters climb I was cursing my heavy lens, it felt like a stone on every incline. Then at about 650m it won me back. I was using it to scope a promising rocky area in the distance, when one boulder just seemed a little too round. On closer inspection it turned out to be a mountain hare, not what I came up here for at all, but very welcome!

Mountain Hare
Leaving the hare I continued to climb, labouring over another steep section. Two bunting shaped birds went over and I paused, grateful for an excuse to catch my breath; but as soon as they had appeared, I'd lost them. I have never seen snow bunting and this seemed like a stupid time to carry on and miss them, so I dropped off the path and tried to skirt the ridge in the direction they had gone.

As I moved of the path I heard a little croak. A male and female ptarmigan, beginning to moult into their drabber summer plumage. I couldn't believe my luck. Just what I was after, two year ticks in one weekend! The pair were very confiding, keeping low to the ground and I was able to get within 5 feet of them. 

I sat in the snow and happily snapped away for a few minutes until the first walking group of the day appeared and flushed them. c'est la vie. I hung around for a while longer, waiting for the walkers to get a head start on me, hoping for a second sighting of the elusive buntings... I never saw them again.



To cut the rest of the story short. I finished my munro, then headed back down for a well deserved lunch. I'm really glad I didn't try to twitch that Ross's goose!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Blonde Rides Again - a new lifer

So it turns out that with an actual job you have very little time to go out and bird (except, of course, when you're leading a birding group - but that's very little fun in the hail). So now that I've found myself of island with a few free weekends, I've decided to get out as much as possible. During the week I make do with the feeders at work which provide me with siskin and brambling, and the faithful Kindrogan red squirrels and the promise of pine marten to tide me over until the weekend

Brambling at the feeders

Being off island has its plus points. Kindrogan is a fantastic base to launch lots of Scottish twitches, so when I check out RBA this morning and saw that the harlequin duck was still showing well in Aberdeen, I made up my mind to head out. Cramming a croissant in my face and downing my tea, I packed the car, suddenly eager to be off.

Two hours later I'm at Seaton Park in Aberdeen, pacing downstream from the toilet block to where the bird was last seen, tense as ever. Have I wasted my petrol? Then I see a birder crouched low on the river bank and, opposite him in the mid stream, a small black-ish duck. *insert sigh of relief*

The individual is a first winter male and has been showing well since January. With spring advancing, he's beginning to moult, and a rusty tinge is developing on his flanks. In flight he is neat and compact, with fast wing beats and a direct flight that remind me somewhat of black guillemot. When diving he stays down for around 30 seconds at a time, often surfacing at the same spot at which it dove. Generally it was calm and very confiding, panicking only once when disturbed by a passing roe dear.

The first flushes of orange are beginning to show on his flanks


The breast feathers have almost a scaled appearance when viewed up close

Orange tinges clearly developing

Running roe

Back in the car I have a two hour drive to reflect on my first lifer of the year and consider heading out tomorrow for the Ross's goose that has been sighted in Tullibody...