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Saturday, 7 July 2012

Speyside in Summer (part 2) - June, 2012

Here's the second part of my account of our fortieth wedding anniversary celebration holiday, based at the wonderful Grant Arms at Grantown-on-Spey.

Friday 22nd June

Out ultimate target for the day was the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven. Our route had us passing through Dulnain Bridge again, and we couldn't resist another stop in the lay by just beyond the village. My wife was particularly drawn to the two highland bulls that were over the road from the lay by, although I can't imagine why!

Highland Bull - near Dulnain Bridge
My interest lay on the other side of the road, where the River Dulnain babbles over the boulders. Here we saw Dipper, including a very distant juvenile, and the ubiquitous Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper - near Dulnain Bridge

Dipper - near Dulnain Bridge
Our next destination was the legendary Findhorn Valley, known as 'the valley of the raptors'. It is, however, often interesting with other wildlife. An Oystercatcher was particulalry bold, not batting an eyelid when we pulled up beside him at a distance of two metres.

Oystercatcher - Findhorn Valley
Further up the valley we found Red Deer.  We soon realised that these had now sorted themselves out into large single-sex groups. This one, however, was an exception in that it was a young male with three females. It still has the velvet on its horns.

Red Deer (male) - Findhorn Valley
At our next stop there was a small herd of about thirty stags, a couple of which were extremely pale in colour. Standing on a bridge over the Findhorn we spotted some Mountain Goats further up the road. On the way there we stopped beside another confiding Oystercatcher.

Oystercatcher - Findhorn Valley
The wild Mountain Goats were magnificent in their shaggy coats. This was the first time I'd seen one at close quarters.

Mountain Goat - Findhorn Valley
Up at the end of the road, we stopped for a look around. It was quite breezy up here, and so we only stayed for about twenty minutes. There was a huge herd of adult male Reed Deer near the crest of the hillside, and their antlers looked like a forest of television aerials on the horizon. There was another huge herd of females low down in the valley beside us, many of them with young. We reckon that, by the time we'd left the valley, we'd seen in excess of three hundred Red Deer!

On the way back down the road, we had to stop for a Common Sandpiper in the middle of the road. When I stopped, it popped up onto a rock beside me, calling loudly.

Common Sandpiper - Findhorn Valley
A second bird then appeared beside my wife. Both birds seemed to be stretching to their full height.

Common Sandpiper - Findhorn Valley
This went on for a few minutes, with the birds alternating between going to the road in front of us (sometimes so close that we couldn't see them over the bonnet of the car), and then hopping up beside us. 

Common Sandpiper - Findhorn Valley
It was only when one of the birds sat on the bonnet of the car, half a metre from my face, and stared in at us that the penny dropped - they must have had young nearby! Unfortunately I couldn't record this on camera as the bird was far too close! It took a while before there was a time when neither bird was in front of the car, and then we gingerly drove away, apologising to them as we did so.

Further down the valley we briefly saw a Cuckoo being chased by what I took to be a Chaffinch. I didn't manage a photo as it sped off through the trees. However, my doubts as to what was chasing it were raised by the sighting of a male Redstart a short while later ahead of us on a fence. I only manged a record shot obliquely through the car windscreen (doomed to failure) before it disappeared, never to be seen again.

Redstart (male) - Findhorn Valley
A short while before we turned off onto the Farr road, a Spotted Flycatcher was on a fire beater. It sat there obligingly whilst I photographed it through my wife's window.

Spotted Flycatcher - Findhorn Valley
We left the Findhorn Valley without having seen a single raptor and set off on the Farr road. I attempted a few quick images of some sheep with the most amazing horns, but I'd managed to get my camera into some ridiculous setting and although the images were sharp the 'whites' are, in places, irrevocably burned out. However, I'll include one here as those horns are magnificent!

ram - on the road to Farr
We stopped for a picnic lunch on the Farr Road, but nothing of interest was seen.

At Loch Ruthven, the target was the Slavonian Grebes. However, I fared worse than at Avielochan, and sightings were either rather distant and obscured by sedge

Slavonian Grebe - Loch Ruthven
- or they were out in the open, and very distant indeed! At least I got an image with two Slav. Grebes in.

Slavonian Grebe - Loch Ruthven
- and then one with three in!

Slavonian Grebe - Loch Ruthven
All told, we saw seven Slavonian Grebes there. There was also an Osprey fishing very distantly.

Osprey - Loch Ruthven
As we left Loch Ruthven there was a pond in a field, round the edge of which was a Lapwing and a Redshank. The Redshank was making a fuss, but the chicks were (I'm relatively sure) of the Lapwing. They were, however, masters at hiding themselves, so no images - just one of the adult Lapwing.

Lapwing - near Loch Ruthven
After a brief stop for refreshments we found ourselves drawn back towards Lochindorb. What a treat was in store for us! In the rapidly deteriorating weather we found the Black-throated Divers fairly close in to the shore by the road. There were people around preparing to start fishing, and the divers were making off as we approached, so this was one of those occasions when the first shot was the best one. However, I include a couple more as the second shows an adult more in profile, and the third shows the juvenile diver.

Black-throated Diver - Lochindorb
Further on, we found that the Red-throated Diver was also present, although more distant and strongly back-lit, so not so photographable. The first image shows the diagnostic striped back to the neck, and the second the red throat.

Red-throated Diver - Lochindorb
One or my targets for this holiday was to see an owl - any sort of owl! As an owl enthusiast I have been getting increasingly frustrated over my five visits to Speyside in not seeing any owls at all.  This day it was to change. Shortly after we left Lochindorb and headed back to Grantown, a Short-eared owl flew up from beside the road and flew off ahead of us. We found a place to stop and I grabbed a distant 'going away' shot.

Short-eared Owl - near Lochindorb
We didn't have time to hang around and check this out further, as we were booked for an early dinner, followed by a visit to the Speyside Wildlife hide by Loch an Eilein. This visit started at 21:00, and we arrived a little early, but didn't benefit by any sightings of interest.

The main purpose of the hide is to give people the chance of seeing Pine Marten. For a three hour visit one pays the princely sum of £20, or £18 if you book on line, as we did. It's an absolute bargain!

We arrived at the hide, still in daylight, to find that the bait had been set, and a couple of Woodmice were already helping themselves to the peanuts.

Learning a lesson from our previous visit in January this year, when I'd taken my 'long' lens with me, this time I was set up with my 17 - 70 zoom. It's years since I've used this and so it took a lot of getting used to. In the end, however, I was managing a few acceptable images.

The Woodmice were only there for a relatively short while, and so this is one of my earlier attempts.

Woodmouse - near Loch an Eilein
A female Pine Marten arrived as the light was falling at around 22.30, she stayed for around fifteen minutes, during which time I managed to achieve some images. Unfortunately these animals are only there because the ground outside the hide has been baited. The downside of this is that the bait appears in all the images. I could spend an age in the editing software cloning out the peanuts, but this would be falsifying the situation.

Pine Marten (female) - near Loch an Eilein
After the marten left, we had to wait less than ten minutes before a Badger appeared. There were two of them

Badger - near Loch an Eilein
 - then three!
Badger - Loch an Eilein
Eventually we had seven Badger round the hide (the record here is eight). How about the fangs and claws on this one!
Badger - Loch an Eilein
We managed to get away shortly after midnight, after the peanuts had all gone and the last Badger had left.

I'll finish with another couple of images.

Badger - Loch an Eilein
I think this post is quite long enough. I'll put up the third and final part of my account of our holiday in another couple of days time, or so.

I've just realised that this post covers just one day - that was some day!!


  1. Magnificent collection of wonderful images,and seen in one day.
    Many people dream of a day like this,and to see all of natures splendors.
    Top notch Richard.

    1. Thank you John. Knowing we were going to have a late night (22:00 is our usual bedtime!) we purposely had a relaxed day. So I was amazed that it came up trumps!

  2. To Fellow Bloggers. If you are blogging on the subject of Speyside, please beware of comments submitted by someone who signs himself as Daniel Hirsch. His comments contain a link to his own establishment on Speyside. I will not allow my blog to be used for free publicity by persons of dubious character.


I'm pleased to report that the anonymous spam problem seems to be solvable without using word verification. I'm now just using the 'Registered Users - includes OpenID' option in Blogger settings, and I'm not getting any spam - touch wood! I've also not received any contact from people saying that they are no longer able to make comments.