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Monday, 9 July 2012

Speyside in Summer (part 3) - June,2012

This will be the third, and hopefully final, part of my account of our much enjoyed holiday based at the Grant Arms in Grantown-on-Spey

Saturday 23rd June

We thought that we'd start our day by visiting Lochindorb. The weather looked as if it was going to be pretty hopeless, and we didn't have any great expectations for the day.

Lochindorb seemed very quiet, but we did find an obliging Skylark - a bird that I'm not used to seeing by Lochindorb.

Skylark - Lochindorb
Just before we left Lochindorb we caught up with some people (also staying at the Grant Arms) that had become friends, and who were parked beside the road. We stopped further on and scanned around, and then our friends pulled up beside us. They'd been looking at a Golden Plover a fair way off the road. I decided to turn back and have a look, and found that it had settled on a rock right beside the road, and looked fabulous. Unfortunately it was on my wife's side of the car, so I just gently drove past, turned round about 400 metres further on, set my camera up, window down, and returned to the spot. It had gone and I couldn't find it anywhere!

Our next stop was at Dulsie Bridge - a dramatic bridge over a deep narrow gorge through which the River Findhorn runs. There is a pleasant short walk here, and a Spotted Flycatcher was flitting about, but I couldn't get an image.

From Dulsie Bridge we turned left down a little-used road to Drynachan Lodge. We saw a few fishermen in the Findhorn, and several Spotted Flycatchers along the road, plus Common Sandpiper, G S Woodpecker, and Red-legged Partridge, and at Drynachan Lodge there was another Spotted Flycatcher on the bridge railings. We'd seen eight Spotted Flycatchers in just 8 kilometres (5 miles)!

Here we took a road that had a sign saying "Warning - Steep Gradients and Sheer Drops!" or words to that effect. What they didn't tell you about was the deep potholes, total lack of passing places, and absolutely nowhere to turn round. It was a bit of a nightmare really. Fortunately when the road arrived, two kilometres later, at the River Findhorn and went straight across (no ford construction - just riverbed shingle!) there was room to turn. Back we went!

There is a road which heads generally northwards from Drynachan Lodge, and passes over some fine high moorland. There were Curlew flying down in the valley below us. I was busy trying to photograph a Meadow Pipit, and as I turned my head away, in my wing mirror I saw a superb male Black Grouse fly up from beside the road just behind us and disappear back along the road. Try as we may, we couldn't pick this bird up again! So here's the Meadow Pipit! 

Meadow Pipit - near Highland Boath
In trying to find the Black Grouse, we did spot some delightful Red Grouse chicks.

Red Grouse chick - near Highland Boath

South of Nairn we saw Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, and numerous Linnet. My photographic attempts, however, came to nothing!

After a very good lunch in the café at Househill we set off for Fort George. We'd previously seen this place just over the water from the legendary Chanonry Point. Our intention was to go down onto the beach below the fort and see if we could spot Dolphin and passing seabirds. We arrived to find that the place was an operating military base (although it had a visitor facility), and were greeted with the news that, if you knew what you were doing, you could get onto the beach, but if you didn't know your tides you were likely to be drowned against the walls of the fort when the tide came in. Also, if you were on the beach when the red flags were flying (as they were whilst we were there) you were likely to be shot at - at least that was what I thought she said as I could only just hear her over the sound of gunfire!

Before we left, I took some shots of the Common Gulls which inhabit the fort. Yes, there are areas area of UK where Common Gulls are common, this area of Scotland being one of them.

Common Gull - Fort George

It had been a bit of a disappointing day weatherwise, with equally disappointing photographic results (as you can see from the above), so we made for our favourite Lochindorb. Here we found two Osprey and the Black-throated Divers, but photographically we didn't fare much better, with just an image of an Osprey in a tree over the other side of the loch.

Osprey - Lochindorb
Thus ended a slightly disappointing day.

Sunday 24th June

This was the actual day of our fortieth wedding anniversary, and so we tried to ensure that we both got the most out of it. The tides were favourable for a visit to Chanonry Point, although the weather forecast was not that good. We stopped at the Harbour at Avoch, where there are public toilets (none at Chanonry Point) and, whilst waiting for Lindsay, I took some photos of the House Martins collecting mud from the harbour (the tide was out) for their nests. I'd never really appreciated, before, just how blue their backs and heads are!

House Martin - Avoch harbour.

The car par at Chanonry Point was virtually full when we got there (it's been as good as empty on our previous two visits), and it was raining. In spite of the weather there was quite a crowd on the beach. Fortunately the rain soon stopped (although it remained dull throughout the morning), and we didn't have to wait long before the first Dolphins appeared. There was a juvenile amongst the group.

Bottlenose Dolphin (adult plus juvenile) - Chanonry Point

The fins of dolphins are varied, and some of them are readily distinguishable - often by scarring, as this next image shows! Because of this we were able to tell that this particular dolphin was there from beginning to end. Dolphins are not particularly easy to photograph as they are under water most of the time. When they emerge, it's as if you are watching them at the top of a circular motion. By the time you've realised they're there, you tend to get a photo of just a dorsal, or even just the descending tail!

Bottlenose Dolphin - Chanonry Point
Occasionally a dolphin will 'breach' (completely leap out of the water), and catching this is largely a matter of patience and luck. The first breach was when we'd been there just over an hour. It was in a totally unexpected place and I only caught the re-entry. That's the aforementioned Fort George in the background, over a kilometre away!

Bottlenose Dolphin - Chanonry Point
We stood watching these fabulous creatures for ages, totally enchanted to be in their presence.

Bottlenose Dolphin - Chanonry Point
At one point, an off-shore Cormorant caught a fish and was harassed by a Herring Gull.

Cormorant and Herring Gull - Chanonry Point
After we'd been there for about two and a half hours, I saw a lot of surface disturbance on the water about one and a half kilometres (one mile) away. I just pointed the camera and kept on shooting. Most of the results were total rubbish, but I did get some images (extremely heavily cropped) of some action. 

Bottlenose Dolphin - Chanonry Point
By now it was time to go as we'd booked lunch at a great place that we found on a previous visit here- the Eilean Dubh in Fortrose. On the way back to the car I stopped to photograph a Common Seal that was bobbing just of the shore, and a Herring Gull that seemed to be finding plenty of food in the shoreline seaweed .

Common Seal - Chanonry Point

Herring Gull - Chanonry Point
Our meal at the Eilean Dubh was superb. We do love this place, and the photography that graces the walls is more than inspirational! If you are in the area, you should make a point of eating here.

The weather went downhill a bit after this and we just trolled around in the car, taking in the sights. No worthwhile photos resulted, even when we briefly, but closely, spotted a Short-eared Owl on the way back to the Grant Arms.

After dinner that evening I went out on my own to try and get some images of Short-eared Owl, but the midges were an absolute pest (they arrived early this year because of the wet weather), and after half an hour of 'no show' I set off back to the hotel at about 22:00.

Monday 25th June

This was our last full day based at the Grant Arms. We started by a visit to Burghead at Lindsay's request. This place is great for birds in the winter, but much quieter on the bird front in the summer. A walk round the harbour showed numerous Eider (mainly juvenile drakes), a few Cormorant, and various gulls.

Eider (juvenile drakes) - Burghead
A walk above the shore on the other side of the headland gave us a Whimbrel.

Whimbrel - Burghead

We didn't have much time watching this bird as a dog walker encouraged her dog to tear along the waterline in an uncontrolled fashion.

I'd actually achieved most of my 'targets' for the holiday, although there were some failings in the photographic department! However, I was still short of two. One was the iconic Capercaillie - not an easy bird to find unless you go on an organised event. The other is a bit of an embarrassment to me and is Crossbill! Not just Parrot Crossbill or Scottish Crossbill, but any sort of crossbill! Yes, I've seen Crossbill before, but never positively identified one in Scotland, although I had 'suspects' a couple of times, including one on this holiday. I think that the main reason is that, because Lindsay doesn't like forests, and is not too good at walking, we spend little time in the right habitat. Today I would have a try at finding one. 

From Burghead we set off for the Forest Lodge in Abernethy Forest, stopping for lunch in Tomintoul. Lindsay sat in the car for an hour whilst I went off into the forest, having lathered myself with the usual anti-midge concoction. The most interesting bird that I saw was a Spotted Flycatcher - so here's a final image of one!

Spotted Flycatcher - Forest Lodge
Never mind! We then set off with the intention of a farewell visit to Lochindorb. However, on the Forest Lodge track, we stopped (in spite of the signs) to photograph a Red Squirrel. This holiday was the first time we'd seen them with their beautiful nearly-white summer tails.

Red Squirrel - Abernethy Forest
Lochindorb was as enchanting a place as ever. I realised that, other than a chick, I'd not taken any photos of Red Grouse this time round, so here's one!

Red Grouse  - Lochindorb
As we stood watching the distant Black-throated Divers, a Red-throated Diver flew in, calling very loudly as it did so!

Red-throated Diver -Lochindorb
Meanwhile an Osprey arrived and started to fish at the other end of the Loch.

Osprey - Lochindorb
Moving northwards alongside the loch, I grabbed a shot of a Lapwing.

Lapwing - Lochindorb
At the north end of the Loch, we watched the extremely distant Red-throated Diver, only just visible because of the light and the waves on the water. The Osprey caught a fish and headed off back to his young with it.

Osprey - Lochindorb
On leaving Lochindorb, up on the main road we had tantalising views of Short-eared Owl, and I only managed a couple of record shots before finding a suitable place to park.

Short-eared Owl - near Dava
It was then I made my big mistake. Leaving Lindsay in the car, I set off on foot down the road to try and get some closer views, but the owl just kept going ahead of me at about 400 metres distance. In the end I gave up and returned to the car to be greeted with the news that one had flown to within about five metres of Lindsay whilst she sat there!!!

After another excellent dinner at the Grant Arms we decided to take a walk down by the Old Spey Bridge (once a road bridge but now restricted to foot traffic). We saw Common Tern, Grey Wagtail, Dipper, and Common Sandpiper.

I couldn't recall ever having taken a photo of a Scottish thistle, so put that right.

Thistle - Old Spey Bridge
One Common Sandpiper was particularly confiding and was calling loudly.

Common Sandpiper - Old Spey Bridge
The light was fading fast by now and the midges were getting annoying, so it was time to head back to base.

Tuesday 26th June

We set off at a reasonable hour in the morning, stopping briefly to have a look round at Lecht and Glenshee (nothing of interest seen). Our timing was perfect for lunch at the Dalmore Inn. This time I had Spiced Crispy Chicken set on a bed of noodles with a coconut and lime thai dressing, but I stuck to the dessert of Dalmore Whisky Creme Brulee - superb!

Later we stopped at RSPB's Loch Leven for a pot of Earl Grey, before continuing to South Queensferry and the Hawes Inn again.

Swallow - RSPB Loch Leven
As we approached the Forth Road Bridge we started seeing signs warning of extreme rain conditions forecast for Thursday. We were glad we were heading home!

Wednesday 27th July

Nothing really to report about this day. The weather warning signs were still in place in Scotland. We had a lunch break at the excellent Deli Café in Boston Spa. We found this place earlier this year, and were pleased to be back.

This had been an absolutely superb holiday, blessed with good fortune (although the weather could have been a little better - but we did better than most parts of UK), and greatly assisted by the care taken by all the staff at the Grant Arms. Our thanks go to you all. We also thank all those other establishments who looked after us during our travels. I think that Scotland has a bit of a reputation of being something of a gastronomic wilderness. This may be true of some areas, but nothing could be further from the truth in this part of Scotland!  

The holiday ended with only two 'targets' not achieved - not bad by my reckoning. However, several new targets resulted from the visit, so there's still plenty to draw us back to Speyside and, in truth, I can't see us ever getting tired of this place!


  1. Brilliant Bird list Richard,everyone will want to go there.
    Superb collection of super birds,we love Scotland,when retirement comes,in a few short years.
    We plan to buy a camper and see more of Scotland.
    Can't wait.

    1. Thank you John. I'm sure that if I was a more knowledgeable birder, and more 'dedicated', I'd have seen a lot more than I did. It is a brilliant place, and yes, we've recently been talking in terms of hiring a camper to see how we get on with one, as Scotland seems to be a fabulous place for 'wild' camping. We've also been considering the possibility of moving up there. There's a place for sale near our favourite Lochindorb and only a few hundred metres from where we were seeing the Short-eared Owls! I suspect, however, that we'd find it hard to give up the comforts of the Grant Arms!

  2. Another excellent post Richard, just one question though, was it a birding break or an "eat yourself around Scotland holiday"????

    1. Thank you Paul. Actually, it was neither - just a romantic holiday with the wife!!

  3. Scotland is magical. You've whetted my appetite again Richard! That SEO by the roadside is what birder's dreams are made of.

    1. Thank you Christian. You should've seen the one that perched in a tree beside the road. It would have made a fabulous shot - if only I could have stopped!

  4. Some brilliant pictures of your holiday, my favourite is the second picture of your Red Squirrel.

    1. Thank you Linda. Yes, that's one of my favourites too!

  5. 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.