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.