Monday, 23 April 2012

Weekend away... Part.2

On Sunday (22nd) we decided to take a trip to the Falls of Shin which is located between Lairg and Bonar Bridge and is famous for it's falls and leaping salmon but also has a visitor centre and plenty of forest walks.

We took the long way round bypassing Lairg first with the intention of doing the full loop via Bonar Bridge on the way home. Upon arriving it was fairly quiet to start off. A quick toilet stop and then we headed down the steps to the falls. The river was in full flow and looked impressive as the sun came out. Grey Wagtails were seen again from the viewing platform and also a Dipper which landed not far from the platform with a beakful of invertebrates and then flew up into a clump of moss on the slippery rock which turned out to be it's nest!

Dipper at nest.
We then headed into Achany Wood just beside the visitor centre. The wood is very attractive with native Scots Pine and Birch with Larch and Douglas Fir scattered throughout. Plenty of Blue, Great, Coal Tit, Chaffinch were present as was a small group of Siskin and a Buzzard flew over. In a small clearing near the path two male Orange Tip butterflies were sunning themselves and returning to the car park a single Raven flew overhead and Pied Wagtails were foraging around the parked cars. To finish the visit we had a very tasty ice cream before heading on towards Bonar Bridge.

Achany Wood
Male Orange Tip
After Bonar Bridge the route took us through the small hamlet of Spinningdale. Driving along the road my girlfriend shouts for me to stop and pullover. I had no idea what was going til she directed me to a large Pine tree in a small group of trees in the middle of a field a couple hundred metres from the road. It was an Osprey nest with a pair of Osprey flying around it. I had seen an Osprey before but only at the Loch Garten Osprey centre two years ago. They gave fantastic views from the car and we watched for a few minutes before moving on as to not disturb them.

I couldn't believe my luck at seeing a pair of Ospreys and a nest as we carried on back to the A9. Not long after returning to the A9 my girlfriend spotted another nest with two more Ospreys but this time we couldn't stop but we still managed to see them both, literally 5 minutes after the last, fantastic. It is important to remember that these birds are a fully protected species and should never be disturbed (by law) and exact nesting locations never given out publicly.

As we neared the turn off for Dornoch I decided to instead carry on a little further North for the turn off to Loch Buidhe a site I had read about in Gordon Hamlett's book. We headed up the single track road into the surrounding hills for a few miles. On the way I spotted a Wheatear on a roadside patch of grass.

Female Wheatear
Heading up the road for a couple more miles and we finally came to Loch Buidhe. As well as the stunning views there was also a Common Sandpiper, my first of the year at loch side and Meadow Pipits along the fence line surrounding the forestry plantations.

Loch Buidhe
Common Sandpiper
As we turned round to head back down another Osprey flew over the loch, unbelievable, the only slight disappointment that it didn't crash down into the water to catch a fish! A Kestrel was also spotted on the way down and near the bottom of the valley I saw what I thought was a gull when on closer inspection it was a Fulmar, another first for the year and pulling over there was infact a small breeding colony on a natural inland cliff. Heading back round by the South shore of Loch Fleet the same lay by from the day before produced more Common Seals on the sandbanks. A great end to a great day.

Common Seals
On the final morning Monday (23rd) we had to vacate at 10am so we packed up and headed back to Dornoch for one last walk on the beach. Again plenty of larks and pipits in the dunes and Rooks, Jackdaws and Herring Gulls in the beachside car park. Around the golf course were groups of Linnet and Starling. We headed up the beach and I noticed a hirundine flying over the sand. At first I thought Swallow but it was actually a House Martin which turned out to be 1 of a group of 5, another year first. At that point it started pouring with rain so we headed back to the car but on the way I spotted a dead Puffin on the strand line that looked fairly fresh.

A quick coffee and a cake in Dornoch and we headed back down the A9 when my girlfriend spotted a Swallow flying over the road near to Tain, yet another first of the year and a nice end to the trip which takes me to over 100 species for the year.

Weekend away... Part.1

My girlfriend and I decided a couple weeks back to have a weekend away somewhere after the Northumberland trip didn't work out in the Easter holidays. We decided to rent a static caravan up at Embo, North of Dornoch near to Loch Fleet.

We checked in on Friday (20th) and got settled in. After dinner we took a stroll down to Embo pier and along the beach. Plenty of Herring and Common Gulls around plus my first Gannet of the year flying North past the pier. On the beach were quite a few Pied Wagtails and Skylarks in the dunes. Around the campsite on Friday evening and throughout the trip were plenty of House Sparrow, Starling, Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and some Black-headed Gulls aswell as Common and Herring.

On Saturday (21st) we decided to head up to Golspie and took a route around the South shore of Loch Fleet and passed the Mound on the way. From the lay by near to Skelbo Castle were 20 Sandwich Terns (first of the year) on the rocks as well as a single Turnstone. Out on the water were Red-Breasted Mergansers, Eiders, Goldeneye, and a couple hundred Pink-footed Geese out on one of the sandbanks. Around the shore were Curlew, Oystercatchers and Shelduck. Two Common Seal were also seen not far from the shore.

Sandwich Tern + Turnstone
A quick stop at the Mound showed nothing unusual with some impressive looking Great-Black Backed gulls but no Greenshank that I was hoping for. We then headed onto Golspie and the Big Burn Walk. Straight from the off just after exiting the car I spotted a pair of Grey Wagtails on the river, the best views I have had of this species.

Female Grey Wagtail.
Male with characteristic black bib.
There were plenty of woodland birds about, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Chaffinch, Robin, Blackbird and Treecreeper. Up near the top of walk we came to the falls, very impressive and also my first Dipper of the year spotted just below it before flying off up stream. The sun was finally out and the woodland was beautiful aswell as the river. We carried on the circular walk heading up the hill. Up the top a Chiffchaff was heard and a bit of searching meant I could finally see my first Chiffchaff of the year.

Later on the afternoon / early evening we decided to take a walk along Dornoch Beach out to the point and back along the dunes. The beach was fairly quiet, plenty of Herring and Common Gulls with a handful of Great Black-backs and the odd Oystercatcher. The dunes were more productive with plenty of Skylark singing and displaying and a Curlew seeing off some Carrion Crows. Meadow Pipits were also scattered around. The highlight of the walk however was a Wheatear sitting in a pine tree in the dunes.

In the carpark were a pair of Pied Wagtails and a small group of Linnets flitting about the Gorse bushes.

Female Pied Wagtail
Some views of the beach just down from the caravan are below. Look out for Part. 2 soon.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Upland Migrants...

The last couple of weeks have consisted of rain, rain and more rain and has resulted in a pretty miserable Easter break but today (typical on the last day) the weather really changed with sunny, cloudless skies and a slight breeze. Even though I have a mountain of coursework I just couldn't resist going out so I decided to head up to the Heights at the back of Dingwall again.

Just before leaving the Red Kites were flying really close in about the house again which they seem to be doing quite regularly for the last couple weeks. With my camera at hand as I was headed out I managed to get a couple pictures. The right wing looking a bit ragged with a couple primaries missing and a hole in the middle of the wing.

I headed up to the Heights. The water level in the burn was a lot lower this time and crossing was no problem. Before reaching the moorland I had already spotted plenty of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and a couple of Curlew. I made my way up the slope past a small group of scattered Scots Pine. A bird caught my eye on the heather which then flew low along the ground and landed on an old tree stump. A closer looked revealed a male Wheatear and also a female, superb and my first proper migrants of the year. Unfortunately when I finally got close enough for a record shot they flew off just before I pulled the trigger

Can just see the male flying off to the right.
I spent the next hour or so heading further up, around and down the scattered woodland / moorland. A pair of Ravens gronking at the top of a dead pine was nice to see. Buzzard and Red Kite seen overhead and all of a sudden out of nowhere a small group of 5 noisey Lesser Redpolls landed in a nearby tree, my first of the year.

Knowing I had a lot of work waiting for me back home I forced myself to head back to the car. On my way down the hill a pair of Red-legged Partridge were crossing the road in front of me, a bird I hadn't seen before.

Birds Seen Today:
Meadow Pipits
Lesser Redpoll x 5
Red Kite
Common Buzzard
Raven x 2
Common Gull x 6
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Wheatear x 2
Red-legged Partridge x 2

Some various pictures from today:


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Layby 151...

Apologies for the cheesey title which sounds like a low rate horror movie but today I headed down Aviemore way with my girlfriend for the day. I had heard and read that Ring Ouzel (one of my most sought after species) is regularly seen from layby 151 on the A9 so I had to stop in for a look on my way South. We pulled over into the layby and scanned the scree slopes and the heather either side of the road. First sight was a pair of White Wagtails at the roadside but not Ring Ouzel. We stayed there for awhile and I managed to see some Mountain Hares still in their white coats and then two birds flew over the ridge. On closer inspection it was a pair of Peregrines! A life tick for me and a bird I just never managed to spot before. So no Ring Ouzel but still very pleased and we continued down to Aviemore.

I have lived in the Highlands for just over 23 years now yet I have never been up to the Cairngorm summit. So even though the weather wasn't great we decided to head up there for a bit of fun. We made our way up to the main car park where the weather was very changeable and the summit was shrouded in mist and cloud. I had read that Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and Snow Bunting were very possible from the viewing platform and was excited to get up there. We made our way up on the funicular railway, had a quick look at the exhibition then out onto the viewing platform. Wind chill was minus 6 degrees Celsius with heavy snow and visibility down to 30 metres.

"View" from the top.
The worst bit was there were definitely no birds about that could be seen, but it was still fun and we had a coffee in the Ptarmigan restaurant. After a couple hours spent up there we caught the funicular back down to the main car park.

Whilst scanning over the hillsides I spotted some movement about 100m away in the heather. I tried to keep my focus on it and lost it a couple times but it turned out to be an impressive looking male Red Grouse another life tick for me and my girlfriend managed to spot a female with him too.

Male Red Grouse
Not long after that a small herd of Reindeer came over the ridge and right into the car park which delighted many of the visitors, my girlfriend included.

Within the herd were what seemed to be two very pale (albino?) youngsters.

We then made our way down as it started chucking it down with rain with a couple more Red Grouse seen briefly from the road, and headed for home. A wet day but a good day

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Heights...

This past week has been pretty wet and miserable which has resulted in little motivation to go out birding. The Blue Tits are almost keeping me entertained coming and going with nesting material. Had a bit of a surprise yesterday when I looked out of the window to see a huge Herring Gull sitting on the fence. Got some really good views of 2 Red Kites yesterday, both had blue wingtags on the left and white on the right but just couldn't get a long enough view to see the code on them.

Today it was looking not too bad weather-wise so I decided to head up to the Heights of Brae (known as just "The Heights" locally) up behind Dingwall to see if I could spot any Wheatears that had returned.

I stuck on my wellies and went through the first gate headed to what is usually a passable burn with stepping stones but unfortunately with all the rain lately the water was above the stepping stones so I couldn't get across to the moorland beyond to check for Wheatear. I looked around to see if I could get over at another point but I didn't see anything worth attempting. So I managed about a 500m walk and then it start chucking it down with rain. In my short time up there though I did manage to see my first Skylarks of the year (I have heard plenty just not seen any), Curlew, Carrion Crow, Raven, Common Gull, Red Kite, Buzzard, Chaffinch and my first Meadow Pipits of the year. I headed back to the car and made my way back down to Dingwall where I couldn't even go check the gulls at the fish factory because some bloody gypos have parked their caravans in the way!

Not the best outing but always nice to hear a Skylark and I will try again another day.

The Heights of Brae

Skylark during song flight.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Nest building...

Two days on and the snow has pretty much disappeared, on the lower ground at least, and temperatures are milder with light showers on and off.

The unexpected snowfall hasn't slowed down the Spring activity though as a pair of Blue Tits have started nest building in the garden today. I have two nest boxes in the garden, one is a larger box which was homemade quite a few years ago and is regularly used by Great Tits. A couple of years ago I acquired an RSPB premade nest box and it was located on the fence. There was evidence of nest building inside but no successful nest attempts. This year I have moved this second box onto the side partition wall which has more shade and is a couple of feet higher. I was worried at the lack of interest lately but my worries were removed today when a pair of Blue Tits were busily hurrying in and out with nesting material. I kept an eye on the box most of the afternoon and managed to get some pictures.

As I watched the Blue Tits coming and going I also observed them feeding on small insects around the buds of the Rowans outside the garden and also the male quite actively chasing off other species. Interestingly the focus seemed to be on any birds that attempted to use the peanut feeder with birds on the niger and fatballs being left alone. I saw Greenfinch and Great Tit being chased off and also an inquisitive Coal Tit who actually went right up to the nest box entrance and had a look inside.

On one occasion in what I think was the male due to the vibrant blue crown, returned with a huge beakful of material and slightly over estimated the size of the entrance hole.

Clinging on whilst re-adjusting
But he made it in eventually
Ready for another trip
Other observations of note were 4 male Blackbirds on the grass which at one point got fairly heated as they grappled in mid air. One male seemed to be trying to fend off all the other 3 at the same time.

The "winner"
I am dedicating this blog post to my girlfriend who has had a rough time of it lately (and also loves Blue Tits) and I hope that she gets better soon so she can get back to listening to me ramble on about everything bird!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Back to snow...

After temperatures of around 20C recorded here for the last week and a bit, it finally ended and today at midday it was heavy rain and 6C. Since 8 o'clock this evening it has gotten even colder and is currently snowing quite heavily some of it even starting to settle.

Birds of note in the last couple days were 2 Oystercatchers flying over the house towards the Cromarty Firth yesterday and today I spotted a pair of Shelduck in the field across the road with good views of a Sparrowhawk flying over the house towards the farm at Corntown.

Great Tits have been checking out the nestbox over the gate more regularly and I finally spotted Blue Tits checking out the other box in the garden a few times.

Unfortunately the trip to Nortumberland has been delayed due to my girlfriend having an accident but she is ok and soldiering on and I hope she gets better soon! (She is my no1 follower of the blog). With this weather it might have been a blessing in disguise but we still might be able to make the trip next week.