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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Frozen North! Pt.2 - The Scottish Half of The Holiday

The second half of our holiday was based at the superb Grant Arms hotel in Grantown on Spey. We stayed there last July and enjoyed it so much that we couldn't wait to get back.

Thursday 27th January

Most of the day was spent driving from Newcastle to Grantown. We arrived at the hotel at around 15.30 and, having unloaded the car, set off for Anagach Wood, just behind the hotel. The woods have a reputation for Crested Tit, Crossbill, and Capercaillie. However, the light was fading fast, and nothing much of interest was seen except Red Squirrels, so we returned to the hotel. Dinner that night (as on every night) was excellent and afterwards, having met up with two other genial couples (one from not so far away in Scotland and the other from Vancouver, Canada) we had a very enjoyable evening sampling the malt whiskies .

Friday 28th January

We'd originally intended to join the hotel's Bird Watching & Wildlife Club's guided walk in Anagach wood this day, and then go up to Cairngorm on the Saturday. However, the BWWC coordinator advised us to go to Cairngorm on the Friday as the place would be overcrowded with skiers on the Saturday, so this we did.

On the way we stopped in for a cup of tea at the Glen More Café. close to Loch Morlich.
Looking across Loch Morlich to Cairngorm

The café has a reputation for the Red Squirrels, Crested Tits, and even Pine Marten, which visit the feeders outside their windows. We'd just sat down with our cuppas when a Crested Tit arrived and perched on a branch in the sun - before I'd got my camera ready! It was only there for a couple of seconds and then was gone, possibly frightened off by a male Sparrowhawk that came through moments later. We sat there through a couple more cuppas, but the Crestie didn't return - however, the Sparrowhawk did, several times, and on the last occasion it was successful. I'm not sure what it took as it all happened so fast, but there had been a small flock of Long-tailed Tits round the feeders at the time. It took its prey off through the trees and devoured it, just within our sight, although quite a long way away.

Sparrowhawk (male)

The Squirrels were not over-happy with the Sparrowhawk's passes and tended to disappear when it arrived, but I did manage a few shots in the terrible light by the squirrel feeder.


Red Squirrel

Not wanting to miss the sunshine that was starting to prevail, we set off for Cairngorm. We had a couple of fruitless stops on the way up to the base station of the Cairngorm Railway, and arrived to find the car park virtually full. We had to queue to buy tickets and then queue for a 'train' which were running every twenty minutes. We got on the second one after we'd started queueing. At the top it was chaos, being overcrowded with skiers. We didn't stand a cat in hell's chance of seeing Ptarmigan, Mountain Hare, or Snow Bunting that we'd hoped to see, so we got the next train down again - no waiting this time as everyone else was still arriving at the top station.

Down at the bottom station, we had a quick look round for any sign of birds and were just about to depart when my wife suggested looking in the top car park. Almost instantly I noticed a Snow Bunting on a picnic table, just up a bank from the car park. I had started a circuitous route to try and get to within photographic distance when a youth charged up the bank to the picnic table in order to sit somewhere whilst he put on his skiing boots - scattering Snow Buntings as he did so! They seemed to fly a long way away and I'd already started to try and relocate them, when the youth left and a bunting returned to the picnic table. During a stealthy approach, others arrived, with a couple more on the picnic table, and others some way behind. I managed a half-decent shot of a male Snow Bunting on the corner of the table - but this was not the 'natural' environment that I wanted.

Snow Bunting (male)

I got quite close to this bird before it decided to join its fellow buntings on the snow on the ground - this gave me the opportunity that I wanted! I must have spent a good ten minutes shooting these birds before a para-skier flying overhead spooked them.

Snow Buntings (male and female)


Snow Bunting (female)


Snow Bunting (male)

When they were spooked, they all (nine of them) congregated on a fence in the distance for a short while. Then another flock came into view and they joined up with these and settled on the roof ridge of the main building - there were 26 of them!

Snow Buntings

Just after this magical session (Snow Bunting was a 'lifer' for me) before we left we spotted some movement on the hillside. It was a pair of Black Grouse, and I'd spotted the female and my wife had spotted the male. However, we both thought that we were looking at the same bird and couldn't understand the agreement on location, but disparity in what we were seeing until the birds flew at the same time - from two different locations of identical description. This was another 'lifer' for me, but in this case I only have an unrecognisable record shot of the female
!

Black Grouse (female) - can you spot it!

The weather had closed in by now, and dusk was approaching, so we got back in the car and did a bit of exploring by road. From the bridge at the northern end of Loch Insh we spotted some Whooper Swans - record shot shown below.

Whooper Swan

Saturday 29th January

The following day dawned very dull and grey, and stayed like it all day. My wife is a coast lover, and so we decided to head north, with Findhorn being our first destination. We stopped at the so-called nature reserve first. Here we found that there was no visible way of opening the 'windows' of the hide, which seemed firmly jammed in place with the damp. As there seemed to be a well-worn path beside the hide, I went round the front to see if I could see a way of freeing up the windows from the other side. I gave up when I noticed a guy with a zimmer frame walking his dog on the foreshore a good 100 metres in front of the hide!

All we could see from here were some very distant waders and ducks - which I could not identify through the bins - and a distant raptor (presumably a Buzzard) sitting on top of something dead (also unidentified) with a Herring Gull and corvids looking on in the hope of picking up the remnants.
unidentified raptor on unidentified prey

Arriving at Findhorn itself, we took a walk over the dunes (nothing exciting seen), and along the foreshore, where we could see Harbour Seals on a distant bar.

Harbour Seal - on bar

We then continued round into Findhorn Bay, stopping at the café by the marina for a cuppa and cake. A walk along the promenade gave us sightings of Goldeneye, Herring Gull, Oystercatcher, Hooded Crow, and Curlew.
Herring Gull

Hooded Crow


Oystercatcher



Curlew

After Findhorn we set off for Burghead, stopping to take a look at the Nimrod plinthed at the entrance to RAF Kinloss.

RAF Nimrod - Kinloss

We parked in the car park above the town at Burghead, and took the path down to the north side of the harbour. As we approached we could see Eider in the harbour. There were also Eider outside the harbour walIs, and a cormorant.

Eider (female)

Eider (males) & Cormorant)

I'd not long been down on the harbour side when I noticed a couple of birds arrive outside the harbour entrance. They turned out to be another 'lifer' for me - Long-tailed Duck!

Long-tailed Duck (female & male)

I watched these for about half an hour, hoping they would come a bit closer - the male is just visible as a dot below the last letter of the boat's name ('Shearwater') if you click on the image below.

'Shearwater' & Long-tailed Duck

They didn't come closer, and the light got worse, so the images below are the best that I achieved (out of well over a hundred shots taken!). My apologies for me indulging myself with the number of images below, but I possibly won't see a Long-tailed Duck again.






Long-tailed Duck (male)






Long-tailed Duck (female)

Whilst I was watching the L-Ts, the Eiders came steaming out of the harbour.

Eider (male)

Eider (female + juvenile males)

After this, a visit to Lossiemouth gave distant views of Curlew plus another female Long-tailed Duck, after which we headed back to Grantown via the scenic route.

Sunday 30th January

When we visited the area last July, Lochindorb, to the north of Grantown, was one of our favourite locations, and had good bird interest. We were looking forward to seeing what, if anything, was around at this time. We were not expecting to see much as we were told that the loch was frozen. We arrived, however, to find that only half the loch was frozen over.

Lochindorb- north end

There was very little bird life seen round the loch - just a few crows. However, when we got past the south end, the heather held plenty of Red Grouse - and the sun came out!!


Red Grouse (male)

From Lochindorb we headed south to the Findhorn Valley (a long way from Findhorn of the previous day). This place is known locally as 'the Valley of the Raptors'. We had been told that, if we were very lucky, we might even spot a Golden Eagle at the top end of the valley. We were, therefore, somewhat surprised to find a Golden Eagle as we entered the bottom end of the valley road. In fact the identification of the bird threw me for quite some time. It was a juvenile, and I was not familiar with the almost black plumage of a juvenile Goldie, nor the white tail with broad dark band at the tip. However, I knew it was big by comparing it with the tiny crows that were mobbing it!!

As we drove along the road it appeared from low down on our left, some distance in front of us. It then soared up to some height and went over some trees (as shown in the first image below). We then continued past the trees and relocated it again. Unfortunately, it stayed at a great distance before eventually disappearing over the hill.



Golden Eagle (juvenile)

A little further up the road we had a distant view of Dipper (as shown below). This was the first of three sightings, the other two being birds in flight much higher up the valley.

Dipper

Apart from a small flock of six Bullfinch (I'm not used to seeing Bullfinch in flocks), the only other bird remotely of interest (and the only other raptor) seen was a Common Buzzard, as shown below.

Common Buzzard

Monday 31st January

Sadly we had to say goodbye to the Grant Arms this day, and start the long trek home. We'd decided to break the journey with an overnight at Berwick Upon Tweed. This gave us some time in hand, and so we stopped at the nature reserve at Aberlady Bay, to the east of Edinburgh. The tide was well on the way out when we arrived, but there were Redshank and Curlew fairly close to the bridge which gives access to the reserve. This is said to be the first Local Nature Reserve to have been set up in UK.



Redshank

Curlew

Further into the reserve we found large numbers of Fieldfare. These were feeding on a virtual forest of Sea Buckthorn. I've never knowingly met this plant before, but I understand that it has amazing medicinal properties. I reckon that there were enough berries here to keep this flock of Fieldfare happy for the rest of the winter!

Fieldfare

Sea Buckthorn

We eventually got to end of the dunes, and the sea. There was little seen on the way, and even less when we got to the sea. However, on the way back, we picked up Stonechat in a couple of places.

Stonechat (male)



Stonechat (female)

This was, effectively, the end of our holiday as we set off home on busy roads the following day. We had a superb time, and I take this opportunity to thank all the people at the Grant Arms in Grantown on Spey for making our stay so enjoyable - we look forward to returning soon.

2 comments:

  1. I have been diving through your blog and is really good, those landscapes...........i am going to puy your blog in my favorites so I keep in touch.
    Saludos!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you El Campero. I'm now watching your blog too as one of my favourites.

    ReplyDelete

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