Friday, 6 July 2012

Kinellan and Achilty

Yesterday's (05/07) weather felt like proper summer weather and I just had to get outside. A couple months ago I signed up to be part of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) run by the BTO, RSPB, JNCC and WWT. I have been assigned 3 "starter" sites, 2 at Kinellan at the back of Strathpeffer (the loch and the scrape) and Loch Achilty on the otherside of  Contin. I wasn't able to carry out my surveys on the first date due to illness so I was keen to get it done this month.

I started by heading to Loch Kinellan. I had never actually been there before nevermind surveyed it so it was quite exciting. I heard and read that the loch was well known for it's breeding Slavonian Grebes so I was hopeful of another first. I arrived at the loch at parked besided the "Round House", the weather was scorching. I set off around the loch and straight away I could hear plenty Willow Warblers and House Sparrow and several Swallows and House Martin flying overhead.

I scanned the loch and the birds I could see were Coots and Tufted Ducks (surprisingly my first of the year).  There were plenty of Mallards and a pair of Mute Swan also. Then, right in the middle of the loch a Slavonian Grebe popped up and looked impressive in the sun, a lifer for me. I made my way round to the top of the loch and there was another Slav Grebe a lot closer this time and I managed to get a few record shots.

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
At the top of the loch the road starts to move away from the water and uphill. I could hear a bird calling and it sounded agitated. A small brownish bird flew over the road and landed on one of the thistles in the marshy area. I looked through the bins and had a bit of a mind blank First thought was Wheatear but it wasn't the right habitat at all and I knew it wasn't. Then another bird started calling a lot closer this time. I turned around and a male Whinchat was sitting on a fence post a few metres away. Another lifer for me and within 30mins of me leaving the car. This one was definately unexpected. I was able to get a couple of photos before the bird crossed the road and perched on the marsh. I now realised the first bird had been a female.

Male Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

I continued my walk around the loch not seeing anything of significance before sitting down on the otherside to do a proper count of what was on the loch for the webs count.

Loch Kinellan
View of Loch from hill on North Side
I then headed off to the second site at Kinellan scrape. The Kinellan scrape site consists of a large and a small pond surrounded by grassland and small pockets of broadleaves. I parked at the side of the road and walked to the edge of the larger pond first. Plenty of birds on the water including Tufted Duck, Mallards, Coot, Moorhen and a single Wigeon. I made my way around the mown path to the otherside and sat down to do a proper count and saw another 2 Slavonian Grebes. As I made my way around I noticed plenty of Cuckooflower and some impressive looking orchids. I thought they were Northern Marsh Orchids but when I got home and asked some people online they are apparently a hybrid between Northern Marsh Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid.

Northern Marsh hybrid Orchid - Dactylorhiza x venusta

My third and final site was Loch Achilty a couple miles up the road. The loch itself is quite large but is normally fairly quiet. The site lived up to expections as I made several stops around the loch and only counted 3 Mallard in total. On my way back round the loch I decided to stop at Achilty Oakwood. I hadn't been here before but I had heard it can be quite productive.

I parked the car and made my way up the steep track. Near to the start of the walk a bird flew over the path and landed fairly high up in a tree. At first glance I was thinking Song Thrush and had a couple seconds to take a picture before it flew off. Looking at the photo later on I was convinced it was not a Song Thrush and started to think Tree Pipit. I showed the photo to some other people and it was confirmed as a Tree Pipit, another lifer for me and the 3rd of the day!

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
I made my way further up hearing and seeing Willow Warblers and a family of Wrens. I did see a flower growing in the middle of the old forest road that was new to me. I took a couple pictures and I have been told it is a Heath Fragrant Orchid.

Heath Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia borealis)

Nothing much else of note was seen in terms of bird life and I made my way back down to the car. I did spot a butterfly (not seeing many this year at all) and it was a fritillary of some kind. I looked it up when I got home and apparently it is a Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary another new species for me.

Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene)
All in all a great day out which meant I got to see quite a few things I hadn't before and also contributed to an important survey, can't complain at that!

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