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Sunday, 23 August 2015

A Canadian Visitation - Pt.2 - 28th July to 31st July, 2015

This second post on the subject of the visit by my Canadian bird-watching friends, David and Miriam, covers the first part of our trip to Scotland. If you missed the first post (which covered the period based at our home, followed by a visit to Northumberland), you can find it here.

Tuesday, 28th July

After a quick breakfast, we set off from Beadnell (on the Northumberland coast) for Scotland, stopping briefly at the border for a photo call.

Whilst this was primarily a birding trip, we did engage in a little tourism (very little tourism, as it subsequently turned out!). The first part of this tourism was a visit to the Rosslyn Chapel, west of Edinburgh. This magnificent and fascinating edifice was made more famous a few years ago by its connections with The Da Vinci Code. I'd visited here at the end of May, so used the time for a little R&R whilst David and Miriam visited. 

After the visit we headed up round Perth and stopped just to the south of Blairgowrie for lunch at possibly my favourite lunch stop anywhere - the Dalmore Inn. Lunch was up to its usual high standard, and we set off northwards again.

Our next stop was at the Glenshee ski area. David wanted Ring Ouzel for a lifer, and within a couple of minutes of getting out of the car in the rain, we were onto one! Almost immediately, however, it disappeared behind a building. I went round the other side of the building to try and re-locate it whilst David and Miriam stood in the dry under some ski-lift machinery. I found the bird again instantly, but it immediately took flight up the hillside. In that couple of seconds I was with it, I managed my best-ever Ring Ouzel images


Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) (female) - Glenshee
We looked for a bit longer, but it was wet and very cold (I seem to remember 6 deg. C) in the strong winds, and we soon gave up!

The onward journey, mainly in rain and very dull weather, was uneventful, and even uninspiring.

We arrived at the wonderful Grant Arms, in Grantown on Spey in plenty of time to sort ourselves out before dinner. It was great to be back, and dinner that night was excellent - a standard that was, unsurprisingly, maintained all week!

After dinner it was essential that I introduced David and Miriam to one of my favourite places on the planet - Lochindorb. We weren't seeing much initially, but then a cry went up from David as we travelled alongside the loch - his second lifer of the day - Black-throated Diver (or 'Loon' in transatlantic parlance)! Delightfully we had the Lochindorb pair, with their single offspring of the year, not far off shore. We followed their progress on foot and managed some images, in spite of facing into what little light was left in the day.








Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica) - Lochindorb
Little else was seen, and nothing else was photographed by me, that evening, and so we retired to bed relatively early.

Wednesday, 29th July

After a good breakfast, we went off to get a picnic lunch before heading out. Our first destination was a site near Nethybridge where I've watched Short-eared Owl on a few occasions. Miriam was the first to spot one as it flew in, and landed on a distant fence post. We watched for quite a long while but it didn't budge, other than to turn its head.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - near Nethybridge
It still wasn't weather for standing outside for long and so we got back into the car to head down to my favourite parking space, which is at a gateway. We sat there for a little while with little other than Meadow Pipits for company when Miriam said 'what's that in the trees'. It was a long way away and it took a while, and a little debate, before we realised what we were looking at - a female Capercaillie in moult! This was a lifer for us all. It stayed a while before sloping off into the trees.


Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) (female) - near Nethybridge
I'd been amazed when a visiting birding personality had said he'd seen a Capercaillie here in late May this year. This must make this place one of the hottest bird watching locations in UK. Whilst parked in exactly the same spot (there's only room for one car!), at various times over the past 15 months, I've seen Short-eared Owl, Long-eared Owl, Tawny Owl, White-tailed Sea Eagle, and now Capercaillie. Furthermore, 200 metres up the road I've seen Black Grouse. Where is it? - sorry but I'm sworn to secrecy!

From here, we set off for Avielochan, just north of Aviemore, where the Grant Arms has their own splendid hide overlooking the lochan. Access is limited to Grant Arms visitors only. The attraction here is the Slavonian Grebes which breed here each year.

The first thing to catch our attention was a rather confiding bird, subsequently identified as a Willow Warbler.



Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - Avielochan
We didn't have to wait long before an adult Slavonian Grebe hove into view, with a youngster in tow. The adult was no longer in its breeding finery.


Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus) - Avielochan
We  spent some time here before heading to Carrbridge the long way round, via Dulnain Bridge. There's a layby here which is usually good for Dipper and Grey Wagtail. To my amazement we arrived to find the layby full - I've never before seen another vehicle parked here! I found out that it was a mountaineer training school doing a river crossing exercise! No Dippers here then!

The back road to Carrbridge was quiet for birds, but we did find a largish group of House Martins together with a few Swallows on wires near a farm.

House Martin (Delichon urbica) (juvenile) - back road to Carrbridge
From Carrbridge, we headed for Strathdearn or what is commonly known as the Findhorn Valley, or even 'The Valley of the Raptors'. We had a little sunshine on the way up the valley, and stopped at a place where there was a flock of small birds flitting around beside the road. The flock was a mixture of Redpoll, Siskin, and Linnet. My images don't amount to much, so I'll leave them out.

At the car parking area at the end of the road we got out to scan around. There were many male Red Deer in the far distance on top of the hillside, but nothing of interest was seen, and it was blowing a hoolie and bitterly cold for what we were wearing, so we didn't stay long.

On the way back down the valley our luck was not in at a known hot-spot for Crossbill either. 

We returned via Lochindorb but things didn't improve. The divers were not visible, but I did manage a shot of a Red Grouse beside the road.

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotticus) (female) - Lochindorb
We looked into a few other locations before returning to the hotel, including travelling a road that I'd only 'discovered' in May. At one point we found three Buzzards making a heck of a racket over on the far side of a bit of open ground. Here's an image of one of the birds vocalising.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Grantown on Spey
The day had got off to a great start, but the excitement had somewhat fizzled out towards the end. We had, however, a good dinner at the Grant Arms to look forward to.

Thursday, 30th July

I needed to make this a relatively gentle day as I was giving a talk at the Grant Arms that evening, and needed to get back in time to set up before dinner. I'd planned to take the road that is one of General Wade's Military Roads, which sets off southwards from Laggan, approximately 50 miles (75 km) south of Grantown on Spey, and which is shown on more detailed maps, and Google Earth, as going right through to Fort Augustus in The Great Glen. I'd travelled some way down this road with my wife, Lindsay, in May and it was full of promise.

We stopped in Laggan to use the public facilities and to visit the Laggan Stores and Coffee Shop, run by a couple of Canadians. I think that we were their first customers of the day, and the coffee machine had not yet been primed. There was a great deal of banter between David and the Canadian proprietor whilst what David described as an excellent cappuccino - complete with chocolate in the shape of a maple leaf on top. 

The proprietor was able to tell us that the road does not now go all the way through to Fort Augustus due to its poor condition, but is blockaded only around a third of its way down its length. We thought it worthwhile to give it a go, however.

We'd not gone far before a Buzzard posed nicely for us on a distant post.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - by Laggan
We made another stop at a place which has been good for Dipper in the past. David and Miriam piled out of the car and went down to the water's edge, putting up a Dipper that they didn't see. I couldn't re-locate it so we continued on our way.

We were soon seeing passerines alongside the road. The first obvious ones were Meadow Pipit.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - General Wade's Military Road
Right on cue, when I said that we're now coming up to an area that's good for Wheatear, one popped into view almost immediately!

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - General Wade's Military Road
This next bird is a bit of a mystery. It looks very much like a juvenile Robin to me, but it's totally the wrong colour as far as my experience is concerned. I see plenty of juvenile Robins in our garden and they are usually spottier than this and have a yellow/orange base colouration. This bird was buff coloured - nothing orange about it at all. Furthermore, I'm not used to seeing Robins where there aren't bushes or trees close by. This was out on rocky grassland! Your comments would be much appreciated!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) ? (juvenile) - General Wade's Military Road
Having crossed over the upper Spey at Garva Bridge we passed a bit of old coniferous woodland in which, in May, I'd been convinced that I'd briefly seen a Short-eared Owl flying in daytime. As we passed this time, we all saw a bird flying in the woodland which David was convinced was an owl. As last time, much as we tried, we couldn't pick it up again!

Further on we found a line of trees through which the road passed, and there were at least three Spotted Flycatchers around. Sadly, when they came close they were hidden from the camera.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) - General Wade's Military Road
Eventually we came to the place where there was a barricade across the road. A notice at the barricade declared that the problem was a couple of unsafe bridges. it was OK for people on foot or bicycles to continue, but not for vehicles or people on horseback. It was fascinating to see how many Meadow Pipits there were at this location. A rough estimate put the number at around one hundred!

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - General Wade's Military Road (journey's end!)
At one point on our return journey we found a small flock of Greylag Geese. Miriam was the first to voice what I was puzzling over - in with the flock was a solitary Pink-footed Goose!


Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) with Greylag Geese (Anser anser) - General Wade's Military Road
A little further on we stopped to watch the antics of Wheatear and Siskin.


Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - General Wade's Military Road
Siskin (Carduelis spinus) (female) - General Wade's Military Road
As we approached nearer to civilisation we made a few stops alongside the River Spey, once again in the hope of seeing Dipper. We had no luck, but the sun had started to shine (for a change!) and I indulged in a bit of macro work. I'm really enjoying using the Sigma 50-500 for this!

The first subject was numerous Soldier Beetles, doing what Soldier Beetles do on a sunny day. I'm told that, in some parts, the common name for these is 'bonking beetles' - I wonder why!

Common Red Soldier Beetles (Rhagonycha fulga) - General Wade's Military Road
I think that this next item may be a species of Dagger Fly - possibly even Empis trigramma.

Dagger Fly (Empis trigramma) ? - General Wade's Military Road
Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) - General Wade's Military Road
I show this next image of a thistle because I don't know whether the very fine filaments are part of the flower or have been woven by some creature. Any ideas? Linda Yarrow has given a suggestion which points to the fine filaments being part of the flower head structure -thank you Linda.

Thistle species, with insect - General Wade's Military Road
Finally, for this set of macro images, a hoverfly, about which I'm not knowledgeable enough to hazard a guess at its species. I'm now told that this is the Bog Hoverfly - thank you Adrian.



Bog Hoverfly (Sericomyia silentis) - General Wade's Military Road
After this we set off back to Grantown, arriving in time for me to have a much-needed short nap before I set up for the talk that evening.

As usual, the dinner at the hotel was good that night and, soon after, I gave my talk entitled 'Speyside - A Place For All Seasons' - to a rather small audience. The organiser was quick to point out that there were very few bird watchers staying at that time and she believed that they'd all turned up.

Friday, 31st July

David and Miriam had engaged the services of John Poyner, a guide with links to The Grant Arms, with a view to finding some of their target bird species. John kindly let me tag along too. 

We started with a location near Nethybridge where John thought there was a chance of seeing White-tailed Eagle - which was high on David's wanted list. We weren't there long before John found one, but at a very great distance and height. There was no mistaking its identity with its silhouette and, when it turned, its white tail was discernible. It wasn't until after his return to Canada that I found that David had been unhappy with this view - I'd found it fascinating to watch through my bins. However, it would have been nice to have one close enough to photograph. I did manage a shot of a buzzard, however.


Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Nethybridge
From here we went to the wooden road bridge near Broomhill to look for Dipper, but missed out again.

After this, we headed into Abernethy Forest to look for Capercaillie (we were all keen to find a male), Crossbill, and Crested Tit. It wasn't long before John found a very distant Crossbill, but too far away for me to identify through my bins and my attempts with my camera weren't even good enough to serve as record shots. In the same area we found (surprisingly) Grey Wagtail. Just as we left the area that we'd been observing from, a female Crossbill flew into the tree right by us. Sadly, this time we were too close for a decent shot, as it was almost directly above us, and it departed before we could back off.


Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) (female) - Abernethy Forest
We also found Crested Tit, but I  only got a record shot as it was distant up the hill and against the sky in dense forest.

Crested Tit (Parus cristatus) - Abernethy Forest
We didn't find a Capercaillie, and so we headed off to the Spey by Grantown to have our picnic lunch beside the river, in the hope of seeing Dipper or other birds of interest. However, the most interesting thing seen was a somewhat tatty, but nevertheless still strikingly beautiful, Large Emerald moth.

Large Emerald (Geometra papilionaria) - by River Spey at Grantown
After our lunch break we returned to Nethybridge to use the facilities there and look for Dipper in the river. No Dipper was seen, but a female Siskin was reasonably cooperative.


Siskin (Carduelis spinus) (female) - Nethybridge
After Nethybridge, we were back to looking for Capercaillie - this time in Boat of Garten Woods. We soon found some of the largest Wood Ant nests I've ever seen. It seems that the little strips of paper on the nest were where schoolkids had put litmus paper to show the acidic emissions from the ants. It was amazing to see how the regular foraging paths of these ants had worn a trail through the undergrowth! I should have taken a photo of that!

Scottish Wood Ant (Formica aquilonia) nest - Boat of Garten Woods
The only Capercaillie we found in the woods was this magnificent wooden sculpture.
Capercaillie sculpture - Boat of Garten Woods
There were signs up stating that, because of nesting  Capercaillie, from April through August dogs must be kept on short leads. I was disgusted to see that, for some reason, the dog owners here don't think the rules apply to them and let their dogs run free. I took photos, and am still debating whether to take the matter further.

Just before we left the woods, John was excited by the sight of Wintergreen in flower, and the even rarer Twin Flower. We gave up the Capercaillie hunt for the day and headed to the Old Spey Bridge at Grantown to resume the hunt for Dipper - unsuccessfully again! However, we did get a close view of a Roe Deer which was too busy eating what we believed to be a fungus to be frightened off by our presence.

Roe Deer (Capriolus capriolus) (female) - Grantown on Spey
We'd done a fair bit of walking that day, and were fairly tired, but decided that a visit to a Black Grouse spot I knew of was needed in order to give David another life bird. Our timing was perfect as they started appearing within a few minutes of our arrival!

I think that this post is now quite long enough, so will wrap it up for now. Part three will follow after I've sorted out the rest of my photos. It's taking an age as I've been helping our daughter out with a major project she wants to get on with and, of course it's been Birdfair this weekend too!

Thank you  for dropping by!