Saturday, 21 June 2014

White-tailed Eagle Ringing...

Again it's been awhile since I posted on here. Just a combination of never having the time to update things or not having the time to actually go birding. Now the dog is getting bigger and stronger and slightly more controlled when I take him out I have a chance to keep one eye on what's actually around too.

A couple miles down the river is the River Carron. It's a fairly easy going route with a good track so it's perfect for walking the dog and a bonus is that it's actually a very nice stretch of river. Over the last couple weeks I have been seeing Common Sandpiper down there making a lot of noise standing on the rocks at the river's edge or feeding from the track itself (part of the route is the old course of the river). Managed to get a couple of shots of them.

Also saw my first Swifts of the year just last week when I was through in Conon Bridge back flying over the house and screaming down the street. Nice to see as there really isn't any out here in this area at all.

My highlight of the month though or possibly the whole year or even the biggest bird highlight for me ever happened this week. One of the perks of working for Forestry Commission Scotland over here is that you get invited along to observe this year's White-tailed Eagle chicks being ringed. I went out with the lovely Dr. Alison MacLennan (RSPB), Justin Grant and Lewis Pate to observe them ringing chicks at an undisclosed location on Skye on FCS land. Also in attendance were Sarah Stephenson (local RSPB education officer) with three lucky primary school kids from Portree and a guy filming a documentary on the wildlife of Skye! So it was quite an interesting crowd.

Upon reaching the estimated area which had been recorded by Sarah who is also the WTE surveyor we first had to find which tree this pair were nesting in. After a couple minutes the female was flying over head giving fantastic views before she moved off and we located the nest tree. It was a big hairy Sitka Spruce which was going to make lowering whatever was in the nest to the ground a bit tricky.

Lewis and Justin scaling the tree.

But after a couple hours the single chick was lowered down safely and we could all have a look. I don't know who was more excited, me or the school kids. Everyone kept quiet as the camera man got some footage of the kids standing next to the bird and then Justin and Lewis starting to measure, ring and weigh the chick.

The chick is thought to be a female from the measurements taken and was a healthy weight with a nice full crop. The primary school kids named her Rio (is there a World Cup on?) and all 3 of them were in awe of the chick (as was I). I couldn't get over the size of the feet, massive!

Justin preparing the equipment.
Ringing the chick.
The bird was only the ground maybe 15 minutes and after the final weight was taken was lifted back up into the nest just as the female was back to put in an appearance. So all in all a successful morning and a great experience for me, I do love my job sometimes.

Monday, 19 May 2014

More migrants (19/05/14)....

House Martins back in numbers now. 20+ seen on the track across from the office today taking mud for nest building alongside several swallows.

Year List Addition:
74. House Martin

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Otter (17/05/14)....

Took the dog down to the shore at North Strome for a walk this morning and not only did I see an otter not 20 metres from the shore, I also had my camera and managed to get some dodgy record shots!

Not much else to report, migrants still moving into area according to Skye Birds site but I haven't seen anything new myself lately (not much time dedicated to birding lately) but I did see a Common Sandpiper fly from the shore of Loch a'Chroisg across the road on the way to Kinlochewe.

Also out doing a bit of White-tailed Eagle monitoring on Thursday with one adult seen on Raasay and two adults plus a chick in the nest in North Skye.

Year List Addition:
71. Common Sandpiper.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Marten and Gropper...

Had a great view of a Pine Marten on Tuesday morning. Driving past Achnashellach forest (seems to be quite a productive area for wildlife will have to explore more) and I had to slow down as it ambled across the road in front of me, paused for a second and jumped into the trees on the other side. My first proper clear view of a Pine Marten in the wild.

Things got even better that same evening. I stepped out into the front garden to let the pup out and heard my first ever Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the scrub literally on the other side of the road from the garden. I've heard it several times throughout the week since, an amazing noise for a bird to make, but haven't managed to catch a glimpse yet!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

More updates (27/04/14)....

I know, more updates! Blog has been quite boring of late it's turned into more a personal record for myself. Things are very busy at the moment with work and a new puppy so birding has taken a backfoot and it's only really what I see when I am out working.

Loads of Sand Martins now back at the Achnashellach colony. Quite a strange experience to drive through them as they are flying so close to the road, I'm surprised there aren't some dead on the road.

Weather here has felt like Summer for the last week and Spring has really taken off, with the migrants flooding in according to the Skye Birds website (great resource - check it out

Hearing the Cuckoo daily and finally caught a glimpse of it as it sat on top of a tree across the road. Hearing them all over the place through work also.

Although they have been back a week or so I saw my first Wheatear of the year just a couple days ago East of Lochcarron.

Tree Pipits are also back as I spotted one in display flight at Achnashellach.

Lochcarron and the surrounding area now full of Swallows too.

Pair of Osprey's also spotted back on the nesting platform near to the Grudie powerstation to the West of Garve.

Driving through Contin and then Conon Bridge I saw a Red Kite in both locations which is quite surprising considering recent events.

Year List Additions:
68. Wheatear
69. Osprey
70. Tree Pipit
71. Skylark

Sunday, 20 April 2014

More migrants (20/04)...

Absolutely stunning day again today in Lochcarron and the surrounding area. Feeling very like Summer as I spotted my first Swallow and heard my first Cuckoo of the year this evening from the house.

Year List Additions:
66. Swallow

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Nice surprise (19/04/14)....

A Barn Owl flew over the road tonight at about the height of the house which I wasn't expecting!

Year List Additions:
65. Barn Owl

Friday, 18 April 2014

Willow Warblers....

...have now arrived in Lochcarron and the surrounding area over the last couple days.

Year List Additions:
64. Willow Warbler

Friday, 11 April 2014

Sand Martin (11/04)...

First Sand Martins of the year seen at Achnashellach. Spotted 3 this morning.

Year List Additions:
61. Sand Martin

Monday, 7 April 2014

West Update (07/04/14)...

Been a few weeks since I posted here. Things are busy here with the new job and house so not much time at the moment. Some updates:

Black Grouse spotted in road side trees near to Achnasheen several times now with the highest count being 5. A good sign that they are spreading West again and there is plenty of good habitat along the Garve / Achnasheen / Lochcarron corridor with all the new planting schemes.

Lapwings displaying in fields near Achnasheen also.

First Chiffchaff heard from office last Friday (4th) with first heard from the house this morning (7th).

Pair of Golden Eagles seen regularly over the last few weeks as they occupy one of the Glens which I am currently working in from time to time.

Great view of a White-tailed Eagle today at Slattadale as it flew down from a large roadside Scots Pine over the van and down the hillside.

Had two excellent sightings of otters in the last couple weeks both within 100 feet.

Meadow Pipits displaying everywhere just now.

Ticked off a Munro just East of the house called Maol Chean Dearg - plenty of signs of Ptarmigan in the top 300m (poo / feathers / resting places).

Many tree species now flushing - eyes fixed on Larch spp. wherever I go at the moment for early signs of Phytopthora ramorum.

Dunnock singing in garden every morning just now with a Song Thrush joining it just across the road.

Pair of Siskins visiting the garden regularly.

No Sand Martins spotted at the small colony at Achnashellach yet but I'm sure they are on their way.

Spotted signs of what looks like Red Squirrel (stripped cones) near to Achmore last week which would be first confirmed evidence of Reds in the local area - some say the culprit is Wood Mouse, the debate continues.

Very disappointing news about Red Kites and Buzzards from back home in Conon Bridge area, I hope someone comes forward with information soon.

No Ospreys back near to Garve yet but watch this space.

Temperatures a lot milder but still very wet this week.

Spring / Summer is on its way.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

WTE Monitoring (27/02/14)....

So far the new job is going well, I'm enjoying it and the guys (there are no woman at my office) I work with are a good bunch. There have been days that have been enjoyable and days that have been a bit of a slog, especially with the weather we've had recently. But today was one of the days where I absolutely love my new job.

Today's task was to check out various sites where White-tailed Eagle have previously nested on FC ground and monitor and record any activity. Of course we were headed to Skye and the morning started off quite well with a couple of Fieldfares spotted at the road side. Nearer to the first location (of which I will be divulging none I'm afraid), and there were plenty of Hoodies about and a few Ravens. We were roughly half a mile from the nesting location headed to a vantage point on higher ground. After a brief shower of hailstones we found a spot to settle down and look across the glen. After about 15 mins I spotted the first WTE coming in off the sea and landing in almost the exact spot where there was a nest last year, success. It was visible through bins but even better through the scope but soon hopped out of site and we didn't see it again. Whilst we waited awhile for a second look a flock of about 20 Crossbills landed in the trees about us giving great views.

Another location was checked afterwards but no signs there so we headed off to the third site. By now the sun was out and it was a pretty nice day. Again we parked up about half a mile from the nest site but it wasn't long before I spotted the 2nd WTE of the day flying up and over the hill to the right of us which was then followed by another which appeared to be a sub-adult going by the white tail which still had a black band along the bottom edge. I did manage to get a couple distant photos.

White-tailed Eagle
Both eagles didn't hang around long and they were off over the hill and out of sight but we decided to have some lunch and hope that they came back again. They didn't unfortunately but whilst finishing my lunch something caught my eye coming over the hill to the left. It was headed our way and once it came a bit closer it turned out to be a Golden Eagle this time. Again it appeared to be a 1st-winter / sub-adult type bird going by the white tail with the black band and the obvious white patches on the wings. We watched it as it was first mobbed by two Ravens, then two Hoodies and finally a Buzzard had a pop. By then the eagle was a bit pissed off and turned and flipped 180 degrees to have a pop back at the Buzzard above it. Did get a photo again but again it's not the best.

Golden Eagle

Year List Additions:
53. Fieldfare
54. White-tailed Eagle

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Quick update (20/02/14)....

Weather has been pretty miserable all week here but a small flock of Common Crossbills spotted at Glen Udalain brightened up the afternoon yesterday.

Year List Additions:
51. Common Crossbill

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Loch Reraig (WeBS) (16/02/14)....

The weather was bright, sunny and still which was slightly different to the weather throughout the week that ranged from heavy snow and blizzards to gale force winds and torrential rain so I took the break in the weather to head out.

I decided to head out to an area known as Loch Reraig which is only about 5 miles West of here which looked like an interesting walk but also to scope out a potential new Wetland Bird Survey that I may take on!

The walk started at Leacanashie up through mixed broadleaves and shortly after up through mixed conifers up the top of the hill which afforded some awesome views of a snow capped Applecross peninsula and then down to the Reraig burn, around the edge of Loch Reraig and back around the coast passing through Ardaneaskan and back to the start with good views over to Plockton to the South. Just a short loop walk of about 5 miles or so.

Loch Reraig is a small sea loch and the tide was out by the time I reached it. Quite a few birds about and already looking more interesting than previous WeBS areas (although they did have their own appeal). I spent awhile there watching and counting and ended up with the following:

Goosander x 10
Oystercatcher x 6
Curlew x 3
Mallard x 2
Greylag Goose x 2
Common Gull x 1
Herring Gull x 3
Great Black-backed Gull x 1
Grey Heron x 2
Hooded Crow x 4

It is an interesting little bay and sea loch, a manageable size and fairly close to home so it looks like a good candidate. Unfortunately there is so many areas out here that never get surveyed so you can almost choose your own which is a very different situation, understandably, from back over on the East.

Some other species to add to the year list were a Woodcock that I flushed in the forest at the top of the hill, Siskin of which a large group was hanging around gardens at Ardaneaskan as well as a lone Mistle Thrush and several Shag that were spotted off shore. That takes me to 50 for the year at mid February. Not bad but not great either!

Well worth the walk and it stayed dry the whole time so I can't really complain!

Year List Additions:
46. Greylag Goose
47. Woodcock
48. Siskin
49. Mistle Thrush
50. Shag

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Golden Eagle (13/02/14)...

Working up near Glen Brittle, Skye this afternoon produced my first sighting of Golden Eagles this year, a pair spotted flying over the Glen at the base of the Coullins covered in snow!

Year List Additions:
45. Golden Eagle

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Well I have re-located to Lochcarron in the West Highlands due to work and have now been here for just over two weeks. For anyone who knows me knows I have managed to gain a permanent job with Forestry Commission Scotland based at the Achmore Outstation near to Plockton.

As I mentioned before the birding and wildlife possibilities here are almost overwhelming nevermind the landscapes so I am very pleased as I absolutely love the West coast so it is a bit of a dream to now be based here.

Haven't had much time to do much exploring yet as it's been pretty hectic but I have been able to see a bit of the area and visited Loch Kishorn a couple of times and the Applecross peninsula so there is a few year list additions.

So hopefully when things settle down there will hopefully be some interesting stuff to report soon.

Year List Additions:
30. Hooded Crow
31. Raven
32. Jackdaw
33. Little Grebe
34. Oystercatcher
35. Teal
36. Mallard
37. Goosander
38. Goldeneye
39. Whooper Swan
40. Cormorant
41. Redshank
42. Great Black-backed Gull
43. Great Northern Diver
44. Eider

The Five Sisters of Kintail (07/02/14)  

Friday, 17 January 2014

Black Grouse (17/01/14)...

Had to drive out Lochcarron way today and on the way back around 16.30ish I saw two Black Grouse sitting up in some Birch at the side of the road feeding, not too far from Achnasheen. Very unexpected sighting and a bit brief, couldn't afford to stop and enjoy but still nice to see them. A not so interesting Pheasant seen at roadside near to Garve also.

Year List Additions:

28. Black Grouse
29. Pheasant

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Fyrish Hill (13/01/14)...

Yesterday I woke to a clear and frosty morning and with the weather forecast looking good I decided to go out for a walk. I decided to take a walk up to the top of Fyrish Hill near to Evanton because if forecast was right there would be some very clear views once I got up there.

There was a heavy frost on the ground once I got to the car park and the single track road up to was pretty icey but it appeared that quite a few people had the same idea as me because the car park was almost full. I set off through the forest where the path was covered in snow and ice. I like the woodland at Fyrish Hill because it is probably the most diverse conifer woodland you'll find in the area with bits of it having a real 'boreal' feel to it.

In terms of birds I knew the forest would be pretty quiet for this time of year and I hardly saw or heard anything on the way up, actually the only bird I did see was a fleeting glimpse of a Robin. I progressed up out of the woodland and onto the moorland and the Fyrish monument. There was a good 3-4 inches of snow by the time I got to the top and the views were stunning as I'd hoped. I found a spot away from the monument and the path and sat down for a cup of tea and some photos.

Looking West
Looking South-West with Conon in the distance
Fyrish monument.
Look East towards Cromarty and the Sutors.

The way back down was more productive. A Red Grouse was flushed near the top and upon reaching the open Pine woodland a group of Bullfinch was spotted with the males looking fantastic in the sun. Further down the path I took the alternative way back to the carpark which took be through some nice Pine woodland. Some movement and noise to me left caught my eye and I was pleansantly surprised too not only two Goldcrest but also two Crested Tit. Further on down the road still and I saw mixed flocks of Bullfinch, Coal Tit, Goldcrest and more Cresties, as well as a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Overall a lovely morning out and always a joy to see the Cresties. Grey Heron and Black-headed Gull spotted also on the drive home. Upon returning home I had some brilliant news. I have managed to get myself a job and I will be based near to Plockton over on the West coast so as you can imagine the bird and wildlife possibilities are pretty exciting and the content of this blog will shift again!

Year List Additions:
20. Red Grouse
21. Bullfinch
22. Goldcrest
23. Crested Tit
24. Great Spotted Woodpecker
25. Grey Heron
26. Black-headed Gull

Saturday, 11 January 2014

BTO Early Bird Survey (11/01/14)...

Finally got around to undertaking the BTO's Early Bird Survey this morning. It's a fairly simple but interesting survey if you are into a bit of bird science - more information HERE. There is still time to complete the survey tomorrow morning if you hadn't heard of it / not yet completed it.

I started my survey at 7.40 am, settling in with a cup of tea and some toast. It was a fairly frosty morning with clear skies with evidence of some light snow overnight. It was fairly dark for the first 20mins although I could see the feeders easily enough with the light from the two streetlights nearby (to be recorded in the survey).

Clear and frosty morning.
Just before 8.00am it was pretty light so I  was fully expecting one of the usual suspects to show up soon but would it be the Robin or the Blackbird first? A couple minutes later and a dark shape flew down from over the house into a nearby tree, this action of the morning. By 8.05am the female Blackbird was feeding in the garden shortly followed by a Robin at 8:07am. Both birds left after a couple minutes and it was fairly quiet until a couple Blackbirds returned followed by the first Chaffinch of the morning, a female feeding at 8.16am. The Chaffinch and Robin hung around feeding periodically with 5 Blackbirds now joining in until the 4th species to the garden arrived and begin feeding at 8.26am in the form of a Blue Tit. Three minutes later a Coal Tit started feeding at 8.29am and a full 10 minutes later a Great Tit arrived at 8.39am. At 8.45am the neighbour's cat showed up scattering the numbers that had been slowly building up and putting an end to the survey really. I waited around til just after 9 in the hope that something would return or to record a couple more species but it wasn't to be! So the results were as follows:

08:05 - Blackbird
08:07 - Robin
08:16 - Chaffinch
08:26 - Blue Tit
08:29 - Coal Tit
08:39 - Great Tit
08:45 - That bloody cat!

So what can I tell you from these results? Well not a lot really as I am not a scientist but hopefully my recording will contribute to studies on how light pollution is affecting the feeding habits of our most common garden birds around our cities and towns. I enjoyed doing the survey, and it was interesting that 3 ground feeding species showed up first, taking advantage of reduced predation due to low light levels and their bigger eyes? Birds are interesting...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Dunglass Island (05/01/14)...

Went out for a walk yesterday afternoon around Dunglass Island at the back of Maryburgh. Quite quiet on the bird front but a Dipper at close range on the almost submerged grass bank of the Conon River was a nice surprise amongst other common birds.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year...

Well it's a new year again and it feels as good a time as any to revive this blog. It's been over 5 months since I have posted anything on here for various reasons which I won't go into. Since last August I have been outside a lot due to work but it's been a long time since I have gone out for the sole purpose of birdwatching and it has kind of taken a backseat in the last few months. I completed my degree this May (BSc Sustainable Forest Management with Forest Conservation if you are interested) and graduated in September at the ceremony in Inverness. Since the start of June I was working for Forestry Commission Scotland on a short-term 6 month contract which finished at the end of November and I am looking to open the next chapter now but what the future holds is uncertain at the moment, watch this space as they say.

Anyway, 2013, it was a pretty good year for birding (although it was really only 8 months). The year included two weeks in Poland near to Krakow and although I didn't see anywhere near as much as I had hoped I still managed some interesting birds.

My British list was only 129 which was down from 133 the previous year however, I did manage 10 entirely new species, a few which are Highland specialities that I feel a bit embarassed about not seeing since I have lived up here for over 25 years but better late than never! This included both eagle species which I actually ended up seeing both on several occassions throughout the year and my bogie bird in the form of a female Ring Ouzel. New species were:
  • Barn Owl
  • Black Grouse
  • Capercaillie
  • Common Redstart
  • Cuckoo
  • Golden Eagle
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Ring Ouzel
  • Snow Bunting
  • White-tailed Eagle
As mentioned I had two weeks in Poland near to Krakow which was through college and birding time was limited however I did get to take a couple trips to Las Wolski forest which is a beautiful forest for many reasons and where I managed to see most of the interesting stuff. New species were:
  • Black Redstart
  • Collared Flycatcher
  • Middle-spotted Woodpecker
  • Pied Flycatcher
  • White Stork
  • Wood Warbler
So overall that's 16 new species which took the life list up to 172. There were quite a few species that I didn't see this year that I have in previous years many which were related to location but some through lack of effort on my part. Geographic contraints meant no birds such as Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch but also seabirds were lacking this year too and I didn't manage to see Puffin, Kittiwake, Razorbill etc. Also two "white-wingers" were missing last year those being Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull and I didn't see any reported locally.

Just a quick overview really of last year, not going to to an in-depth one like I have previously. But it's been good to post again and hopefully I can find the motivation to get the blog going again and more importantly get some good birdwatching in soon. Posts still might be a bit few and far between for the next month or two however.

All the best for 2014 and let's see what this next year brings!

Male Common Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus) - Black Isle
Male Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) - Las Wolski