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

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