Thursday, 28 March 2013

Update (28/03/13)

Still haven't had much snow here, feels like a different world from some of the pictures around the country. Not too much to report, pretty bogged down with coursework and no car at the moment means it's mostly garden bird watching lately.

Heard a Skylark singing for the first time across the road yesterday, hopefully Spring is on it's way.

The Yellowhammer is still visiting daily since it first arrived a couple of weeks ago.

I have tried to tempt some passing Waxwings into the garden after being inspired by Wendy Anderson over at the Highland & Moray Facebook group. Consists of half apples on an upturned leaf rake to created an "apple tree". Would be nice to catch a few as they move back North. I haven't seen any around my immediate area all Winter so it really is a long shot but you never know...

This morning I watched as the local hybrid carrion / hooded crow broke twigs off the tree outside the garden for nesting material, fascinating to watch, Corvids definately one of my favourite groups of birds.

Today I had a brand new bird for the garden! A Tree Sparrow. It fed on the ground alongside the Chaffinches and the Yellowhammer which was coming and going. Seen plenty of Tree Sparrow over in Dingwall but never in Conon Bridge, nevermind in the garden. Got a couple of poor quality record shots.

For those of you thinking "what's the difference from the Sparrows I normally see?" Well the give away is the chesnut brown cap and the white cheeks with black spots. The male House Sparrow (the one you are more likely to see in houses and urban areas) Has a grey cap and grey cheeks. There are other differences of course but those are the most obvious.

This evening I attended an illustrated presentation by Ian Collier, Woodland Officer for Forestry Commission Scotland at Fraser Park Bowling Club in Inverness for the RSPB Highland group. It focused on forest management for Red Squirrels and the knock on effects for woodland birds, it was definately worth attending.

So yeah won't be doing much birdy stuff for at least a couple weeks now but a few exciting things lined up that will hopefully work out and of course a 2 week study tour to Poland for the second half of April.

Have a good Easter weekend.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Insh Marshes / Glenmore (24/03/13)...

Yet again the entire country seems gripped by Winter whilst the Black Isle and Inverness area has none! The last few days have had plenty of flurries but no snow has settled and is a long way from some of the conditions being seen elsewhere.

Three of us decided to head South to Insh Marshes today partly for some research for coursework and also for a day. Plenty of Buzzards seen on the way and as we neared Kingussie the conditions started to change with plenty of snow on the hills and blizzard conditions although when we parked up at the RSPB carpark the sun was out with plenty of snow on the ground. 

We took a walk around the reserve starting at the circular hide. The marsh was fairly quiet with 14 Whooper Swans, a lone Great Black-backed Gull and a couple of crows. We continued round exploring the Aspen woodland (the main reason for visiting) and spotted plenty of Roe Deer and some Ravens but unfortunately no Hen Harriers about. The reserve seemed very quiet which wasn't a surprise considering the conditions but a small opening in the woodland was busy with Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Reed Bunting and plenty of Lesser Redpoll.

The fields across from the carpark also held some Greylag Geese and a couple of Oystercatcher. We carried on North along the backroads passing through Insh village itself to Inshriach forest which produced a albeit brief view of a female Capercaillie a first for me. We then headed further up the road past Inshriach Nursery which we noticed had a tea room so it was time to turn back and get some tea and cheesecake. The tea room called The Potting Shed turned out to be fantastic. Not only was the tea and homemade cheesecake excellent but half of the tea room was surrounding by a viewing window looking out on 16 large peanut feeders that were absolutely covered in birds only a couple feet away. I never seen so many Coal and Blue tits in one place. There was also Great Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, a single Goldcrest and the best of all a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. I could have stayed there all day (and night when they supposedly are visited by Pine Marten). It was the most luxurious "hide" I have ever visited (short video HERE).

We then decided to head up to the car park at the Ski Centre at Cairn Gorm but conditions were bad enough to close off the road so we decided to go for a walk around Glenmore Forest looking for more Aspen. The forest was very quiet as expected with on and off blizzard conditions. We did however manage to see 2 Crested Tit, a pair of Bullfinch, Treecreeper and Coal Tit.

All in all it was a pretty good day and I always love being out in Winter conditions, however, with my trip to Finland it has felt like winter to me for almost 7 months now so some proper signs of Spring would be greatly appreciated...

Year List Additions:
92. Lesser Redpoll
93. Capercaillie (Lifer)

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Gairloch area (19/03/13)...

Yesterday was my birthday and my girlfriend and I had planned a day trip to the Gairloch area to try and spot my first ever eagle believe it or not. The weather at home however was pretty horrendous with heavy snow and blizzard like conditions. The forecase for Gairloch was completely different being sunny and clear. So we decided to give it a go. Driving up through Contin then on to Garve the conditions were pretty horrible, most of the road was covered with snow falling towards us making driving not the easiest. After Garve we turned off for Gairloch and conditions weren't changing. But by the time we got to the Queen's View car park, where we stopped to scan for eagles, above the East end of Loch Maree the weather was really starting to clear up and the snow was easing off.

We didn't spot any eagles but plenty of red deer on the slopes then we headed on down to road past the main Ben Eighe visitor centre to the Coille na Glas Leitre carpark where the woodland walk starts through the Pine wood in the National Nature Reserve. I was hoping for Scottish Crossbill but not only did I not see at Scotbills we didn't see anything at all not even a Great Tit, the woods appeared empty. The sun was out fully now though and the views across Loch Maree to the peaks on the otherside really were stunning.

I am surprised I didn't start to get a sore neck as I was constantly scanning the sky and ridges for a glimpse of my first eagle but I wasn't having any luck. We stopped at a couple more car parks along the shores of Loch Maree but still no signs although there was plenty of buzzards around. The scenery was so stunning we couldn't take our eyes of it, no matter where you were there was something impressive to see. We moved on passing on through Gairloch itself and up to Gruinard Bay where I was told would be my best chance of seeing a eagle.

After what seemed miles upon miles of of winding coastal roads and more stunning scenery we came to a rather normal looking layby which is actually the best place to scan across Gruinard Bay, it's beach 3 rather large and obvious fields on the point of land sticking out on the other side. We pulled up and I starting scanning, my girlfriend was too. There didn't seem to be anything on the beach so I worked the fields. I could see the odd gull, a few hooded crows and a couple of ravens but nothing eagle shaped. I set my binoculars on the dashboard when all of a sudden my girlfriend starting shouting "look! look! what's that!?". I looked up to see a group of about 30 Barnacle Geese flying up into the air as a massive shape flew low over the fields. I had just enough time to get my binoculars on it and see the gigantic wings and bright white tail in the sun, I had seen my first ever wild eagle, a White-tailed Eagle! But it quickly crossed the fields and went over and down the otherside of the headland.

Gruinard Bay
We had a look at the map and even though the main road went off in the opposite direction, a few miles further on my girlfriend noticed a small single track road that curved around the otherside of the headland towards the area the eagle seemed to fly. I knew it could be a long shot because by the time we would get there the eagle could have covered miles.

We drove over to the other side of the headland which gave superb views of Little Loch Broom and the surrounding hills. We crawled along the road scanning when all of a sudden it flew up from behind the houses and trees on the hill side. Although it was huge it was easily lost against the backdrop of vast water and hills in the sunlight. We thought we lost but further up the road we saw it again and watched it soaring and being harrassed by some gulls and crows for a good few minutes. Then it was gone. We stayed in the same place for half an hour but never saw it again with a distant buzzard setting alarm bells ringing for a few seconds. I did try and get some distant photos but you will just have to believe me!

Look across Little Loch Broom
Very distant White-Tailed Eagle
We then headed back round to the previous layby for another check, no eagle but it did produce my first Gannets of the year plus a distant lone Great Northern Diver.

Great Northern Diver.
We followed pretty much the same route back home with a short stop at the Queen's view car park again for a quick scan and to look at the view in the fading light. All in all a fantastic day.

Year List Additions:
89. White-Tailed Eagle (Lifer)
90. Gannet
91. Great Northern Diver

Monday, 11 March 2013

More Snow (11/03/13)...

Awoke today to a wintry scene as everything was covered in snow. One of the reasons I love the winter so much is that it drives birds into the garden in search of food and every now and again you get something unusual. In the fairly harsh winter of 2009 I remember seeing an unusual bird in the garden which turned out to be a male Brambling. I think this encounter is what really kicked started my interest in birds outwith the garden.

Almost every year we get quite a large flock of Chaffinches that visits the garden each Winter and since that encounter in 2009 I always take a few minutes to scan in hope that a Brambling will turn up again. Well today I finally got lucky....again. Opening the curtains around 7.40 this morning and there was already roughly 40 Chaffinches feeding on the extra seed I had scattered on the ground for them knowing that cold weather was on it's way. I took some time to scan through them all and to my surprise I found a nice little female Brambling. It stayed for a few minutes then flew off up into the trees with all the rest of the flock where I lost it. I kept checking throughout the day but I didn't see it again unfortunately but there was the now regular Yellowhammer, Siskin and a handful of Greenfinch mixed in with the Chaffinches to keep me entertained. I didn't manage to get a photo so here is someone elses for a change!

Year List Additions:
88. Brambling

By Arnstein R√łnning (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 10 March 2013

WeBS Survey + Strathconon (10/03/13)...

The weather today has been pretty changeable with clear sunny skies mixed with snow showers. One thing that did remain constant is the cold biting wind. Still plenty of Siskins visiting the garden and the Yellowhammer has been visiting daily since I first mentioned it on here.

But today was WeBS count day and I had a bit of company in the form of my Northern Irish friend Luke. First stop was Loch Kinellan with the usual suspects of Coot, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Mallard and a single Heron.

On Kinellan Scrape there was also nothing much of interest with numbers of Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Mallard, Coot and Teal. On the way out of Strathpeffer I saw my first Kestrel of the year and had good views of a Red Kite.

Lastly was Loch Achilty, as usual there wasn't much to see apart from a couple Mallards. The conditions took a turn for the worse shortly after with the snow blowing in thick and fast. Visibility was so poor that we couldn't even see to the other side of the Loch.

We then decided to go exploring heading right up into the heart of Strathconon with hopes of maybe seeing a Golden Eagle. Conditions were on and off as we made our way up the Strath stopping and scanning. There were however plenty of Red Deer to be seen on the surrounding slopes.

Red Deer, Strathconon
We drove all the way up to where the public stops on the shores of Loch Beannacharain. It was now blizzard conditions and the snow was cutting into our faces so just time for a few photos and scans of the ridges before the weather really moved in.

Loch Beannacharain, Strathconon

Plenty of Buzzards around up and down the Strath as well as some Hooded Crows and another Kestrel but no signs of any Golden Eagle. We then decided to head back with a Goosander seen on the Conon River near to Marybank. We stopped off at the Tollie Red Kite centre to see if there were any still hanging around after feeding and to give Luke a better view of these birds than he has had in the past and we got lucky there were still 3 hanging around with 2 landing in a nearby tree and giving fantastic views in the sun. There was also a Great Spotted Woodpecker hanging around on one of the feeders. All in all a decent day with some very changeable weather!

Year List Additions:
86. Kestrel
87. Goosander

Friday, 8 March 2013

Glenmore (07/03/13)...

Spent most of the day down in the Cairngorm National Park today, more specifically Glenmore forest to carry out some survey plots required for college coursework. Wasn't the nicest of days to be out as it was fairly misty, wet and miserable but the day was brightened up on the way back to the minibus when 4 Crested Tit were spotted, my first of the year.

It's always nice to see Crested Tit as it just reminds of the Highlands and how lucky I am to live here. But, I also had some fantastic encounters with Crested Tit during my time in Finland. I visited a feeding station a few times at Ounasvaara Hill in Finland where I was able to see several Crested Tit just a couple metres away, they really weren't bothered by my presence. Below is one of my favourite photos I was able to get even though I was seriously losing light and the feeding station was under a large Norway Spruce tree meaning flash was required.

Crested Tit - Ounasvaara - 14/12/12
Year List Additions:
85. Crested Tit


As some of you might already be aware it has come to light recently that significant areas of the Cairngorms National Park are under threat from development (including a whole new town near to Aviemore) which would destroy parts of important habitats that are home to important species. A website has been created to raise awareness of the issue and to raise funds to help challenge these decisions legally. The campaign is called Safeguard The Cairngorms and the website can be visited by clicking HERE. If the Cairngorms National Park means anything to you please take some time to read and watch the video below. You can also follow the Twitter feed with updates HERE.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Cromarty (27/02)...

Bit of a late post but last Wednesday (27/02) the weather was superb (as it was most of the week) so I decided to head out for a good long walk near to Cromarty. I set off early in the morning and I stopped off at Udale Bay. This is the first time I have been here since they built the new hide and it really is fantastic. Unfortunately all the viewing windows were covered in condensation but it was ok because it was the wrong time of the day to visit with high tide around 1pm so I planned to pop in again on my way back. I still had a look at the bay and there were plenty of the usual suspects, geese, teal, wigeon, mallard, lapwing, redshank and a handful of Bar-tailed Godwits on the banks of the burn.

I headed on to Cromarty to begin my walk. I parked near to the fishing habour and straight away I could see Long-Tailed Ducks off the small pier. All of a sudden a tour bus parked behind me and I was surrounded by 50 or so tourists so I didn't hang around for long and made my way towards Cromarty beach. The walk I had chosen would take me up and over the South Sutor and around the headland to the South shore then cut back across the farmland into Cromarty.

Route map.
From Cromarty beach I could see more Long-Tailed Ducks offshore and small rafts of Eiders on the flat calm water. Plenty of Shag were also fishing just off the beach. On the beach itself there were up to 4 Rock Pipits and small numbers of Redshank.

View from the beach

Towards the end of the beach the route starts going uphill through mixed coastal woodland. Plenty of Chaffinch, Blackbird and Robin singing. Plenty of Tits flitting about in the canopy too. The path is quite steep in places but it's well worth it when you get to the top of the South Sutor. The views are spectacular especially on a clear day like I had. Near the top is a carpark with a viewpoint and a bonus was a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from the top of a Spruce tree.

View from the top.
Looking across to the North Sutor
The route then took me farmland and rough grazing. I could plenty of Skylarks singing and it was hard to remember it was only late February. It was so warm though that it felt like Summer at times. In the corner of one of the fields close to the cliff tops was a small area of open woodland. This small patch held Song Thrush, singing Yellowhammers, Wrens, Tit species, Dunnocks and a handful of Meadow Pipits I flushed from the long grass.

Carrying on along the muddy route I was able to get great views of the South side of the Black Isle and the Moray Firth. As I moved from one field to the next I finally saw some of the Skylarks that I had been hearing.Something also caught my eye jumping around in the bracken which at first I thought was a deer but on closer look it was actually a fox.

The route now started to gradually descend towards the South shore. I was heading for a spot called McFarquhar's Bed. Eventually the route came to a steep descent into this little cove. There was no-one else there so I had the place and the views to myself. A great point to stop for lunch. There is also a pretty impressive cave here shaped by the waves.

I sat down to lunch looked across the water to see if I could spot anything. Some more distant Eiders, fly by Cormorants and plenty of gulls. Then a smaller bird closer to shore caught my eye which turned out to be a Guillemot. I was then treated to several fly-bys from a couple of Fulmars 

After lunch I retraced my steps for a short distance and then headed across the ridge of headland directly back towards Cromarty. On the way down to Cromarty I was rewarded with more fantastic views, this time towards Ben Wyvis.

Ben Wyvis in the distance through the heat haze.
Looking across towards Nigg yard.
Nothing else of note seen on the way back to the car but a very enjoyable walk. It was now time to get back to Udale Bay but as I came up to the carpark at the side of the road it was jammed packed with people and cars and in true Anti-Social Birder style I decided not to bother. Although for anyone heading there soon I did see a record of 12 Smew there just last week which I myself had been hoping to see!

Year List Additions:
77. Bar-Tailed Godwit
78. Eider
79. Rock Pipit
80. Great Spotted Woodpecker
81. Meadow Pipit
82. Skylark
83. Guillemot
84. Fulmar