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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Scottish Highlands - Pt.1, 24th to 27th May. 2013

Friday 24th May

After a late evening turn of duty at Rutland Water on the Thursday, it was a quick packing of the car on Friday morning, and off northwards. Rain and strong winds were with us for most of our way north, and we stopped for lunch at the excellent Deli/Cafe in Boston Spa (we like to time our journeys to be at this venue at lunchtime!). Suitably refreshed, we arrived in Berwick-upon-Tweed just after 4p.m. and the sun was shining and the wind had dropped! We deposited our bags at the Travelodge (yes, we were slumming it on the way up), and then set off for a walk along the beach. It was a most enjoyable walk, although the birds were not too exciting, consisting of Herring Gull, Rock Pipit, and Oystercatcher.

Rock Pipit - Berwick-upon-Tweed, north beach
Herring Gull - Berwick-upon-Tweed, north beach
We then drove into the town for a walk along the ancient walls. I was surprised to see Linnet on the town walls!

Linnet (male) - Berwick-upon-Tweed town walls
Also seen on the walls were Rock Pipit (again), Song Thrush, and (in the river below the walls) Eider.

Rock Pipit - Berwick-upon-Tweed town walls
Song Thrush - Berwick-upon-Tweed town walls
Eider (male) - River Tweed
 Having had a snack in 'The Scottish Restaurant' we turned in for an early night.

Saturday 25th

We woke to bright sunshine, with not a cloud in the sky. Just on the north side of Perth we stopped for a cup of Earl Grey and a cake at the super cafe run by the Macmillan charity (another favourite stop!). After this we had an hour or so in hand before we needed to depart for our lunch stop at the excellent Dalmore Inn, just before Blairgowrie, so we walked up though Quarrymill park just behind the cafe. Almost immediately we found Dipper. Five, including two juveniles, were seen in the next half hour. I'm only posting one Dipper image here as much better images were obtained later in the holiday!

Dipper (juvenile) - Quarrymill, Perth
Lunch at the Dalmore Inn was well up to its usual high standard and, suitably refreshed, we continued northwards. We'd been a bit concerned about our chosen route as the road had been blocked by snow only two days earlier, but we needn't have worried. Temperatures peaked at 19C (66F), and comfort stops at the ski areas of Glenshee and Lecht produced very little snow, and virtually no birds (possibly because of the very recent hard conditions)! It was a pleasant, but uneventful journey onwards to Grantown on Spey, and the wonderful Grant Arms, where we arrived at about 17:00.

On arrival we were told that our friends, Lynne and Roger, had already checked in and gone out again. Furthermore, dinner had been booked for us at 20:15 (the earliest available at the time). Without hesitation we took our belongings to our room and set off for our favourite place, Lochindorb, which is only about 8 miles (13km) north of Grantown. 

Beside the approach road, we saw that the Common Gulls were already starting to nest. When we arrived at the water's edge at the north end, Ospreys were in the air. At one time there were four at once, but they kept relatively distant. This is the best I managed at that particular location.

Osprey - Lochindorb
After a while here, watching and chatting (we weren't alone) we headed off towards the south end of the loch. Suddenly I noticed a lone photographer, and a face I recognised. It was Jim Almond from Shropshire - someone I've bumped into and chatted with on several occasions, but only in the Midlands of England. It turned out that Jim was staying in the same hotel as us, and was also giving talks on the Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Whilst talking with Jim, an Osprey appeared from the east, and did us the honour of a relatively close fly-over. The only problem was with the bright light, which gave burn out, particularly on the head.

Osprey - Lochindorb
After chatting with Jim we continued along the road. I stopped to look at our first Curlew of the holiday, although it was straight into the sun. I can't make my mind up whether I like this shot or not, but here it is anyway!

Curlew - Lochindorb
By the time we reached the road's junction with the B9007, we realised that we were not seeing as many Red Grouse as we had in previous visits, and this turned out to be the case everywhere. I don't know what made me try it, but I did find that clicking my tongue caused the birds to raise their heads above the parapet to investigate. Here's one which obliged in this way!

Red Grouse (male) - Lochindorb
Our time here was, unfortunately, limited, as we had to get back for dinner, so we turned round and set off back, stopping to take some photos of our favourite place. The pair of Black-throated Divers were also distantly located.

View from south end of Lochindorb, looking south-east
View of Lochindorb from south end, looking north-east
On the way back, just after we left the water's edge, I spotted a Cuckoo land on a distant rock. Here's one for the record.

Cuckoo (male) - Lochindorb
This was the first of several Cuckoos seen, and the first we have ever seen in this region, in spite of six previous visits!

Dinner that evening was very enjoyable, and we made sure that we got our order in for an 18:30 table for the rest of the week so that we could make the most of the light evenings.

Sunday 26th

Unlike the previous day, the day dawned dull, but not cold. After breakfast we bought sandwiches for a picnic before we departed, and headed back to Lochindorb. I stopped to photograph Red Grouse and common Gull again, but little was showing in the dull weather. Towards the southern end of the loch we found three divers near the far bank. At first I thought that they were Black-throated, but I quickly realised that they were Red-throated. I only managed record shots at a distance of approximately 300 metres, and I believe that they were not seen again here during our stay. A pair of Black-throated Divers regularly breed here, but the Red-throated only come in during the day to feed.

Red-throated Diver - Lochindorb
We continued out of the south end of Lochindorb road and headed for Inshriach Nurseries, where there is the famous Potting Shed Cafe. It's not been open when we've passed before. We admired the garden on arrival, but quickly made our way to the cafe, where we sat down to a pot of Early Grey and a cake whilst watching the birds on the feeders. Huge numbers of birds were around, but nothing desperately exciting was seen. We did get our first Red Squirrel of the holiday and, later in the week, we heard remarks as to how few Red Squirrels were being seen, except at feeders. I only saw one 'out in the wild' all holiday.

Red Squirrel - The Potting Shed Cafe, Inshriach Nurseries
Our next visit was to Uath Lochans, in Inshriach Forest. We had a very pleasant walk here, but little wildlife of interest was seen, the most interesting being a Spotted flycatcher - not photographed. We did, however, sit and have our picnic here beside the lake nearest the car park.

In spite of visiting this area many times, we'd never been to the RSPB's Insh Marshes reserve. We decided that we'd pay a visit this day. About a mile before we reached the reserve, at a bridge over the River Tromie, we saw a couple standing on the bridge with cameras and binoculars. Naturally we stopped to see what they'd found of interest. They turned out to be a German couple and the lady, in her best English told me that there was a Dipper and a Yellow Voggtail! The day had brightened up by now, and so a happy hour was spent here. Early on I did try and slip in that the Grey Wagtail had moved to a better position, to be told in 'Commandant style'  - "No! It's a Yellow Voggtail". I can see why she might have been confused as its dark 'bib' was almost absent. A 'Yellow Voggtail' would have been quite a find here! When I look at the second image below, I can't help but think of the force of water that must have rounded those rocks!!

Grey Wagtail (1st summer male?) - not a Yellow Voggtail! - Tromie Bridge
The real star, however, was the Dipper, which performed beautifully for me for a while. I got my best shots when crouched down on the ledge that can be seen in the foreground of this next image.

View north from Tromie Bridge, near Kingussie
Most of my previous Dipper images have been of birds on small low rounded rocks in the middle of fast-flowing water. The rather different locations that I found here were somewhat refreshing!

Dipper - Tromie Bridge
Down the road at RSPB Insh Marshes, we didn't stop long as I'm not one for watching birds at a huge distance through a scope. It was my first visit, and probably my last. Far greater was the call of Lochindorb! We arrived to find a friendly Spanish group of birdwatchers there, watching the Black-throated Divers which were near the far side of the loch at the northern end. This was the only day I took photos of these, and then they were only record shots at about 300 metres distance.

Black-throated Diver - Lochindorb
That evening, after dinner, Lynne, Roger, and I took a walk up to the old disused railway track above Grantown. Our objective was roding Woodcock, and we reckon we had between 12 and 15 sightings! As a relative novice, Woodcock was a 'lifer' for me. As these don't emerge until it's virtually dark, I only managed silhouette images, but they distinctly show the right profile. I don't usually 'mess about' with photos too much but I thought, given the simplicity of the images I'd do a bit of a montage, so no, these did not all appear at the same time!!

Woodcock (montage of 6 different images) - Grantown-on-Spey
Monday 27th

This was the last day of the Bank Holiday weekend, and we were still taking care to avoid major tourist attractions. We'd been recommended Loch Spynie, a little to the north of Elgin. Finding the place was another matter!  It was easy enough to find it on the OS map and we quickly realised that we were not wanting the Palace of Spynie side of the loch. We found it in the end, purely through map reading. We had to turn off a very minor road onto a rough track (no signs at the entrance to the track) for over half a mile (about 1km) up to a farm (unmarked but believed to be Scarfbanks). Here we found two gentlemen leaning against a pen containing a sow and a litter of piglets - and a bus! Yes, we were in the right place, but there was a party of school kids down at the hide. If we wanted to wait a few minutes they'd be back and gone. We were then warned that the bus would be going to Elgin and then coming back immediately with another bunch of kids. In the event we had a very peaceful hour and a half here, and our picnic lunch before the kids came back.

This was a very charming place, although nothing spectacular was seen. Out on the water there was a raft of nesting Common Tern and Black-headed Gull. I went for the slightly artistic approach!

Common Tern - Loch Spynie
 Of interest was a close-up view of a heronry. I always find it seems incongruous that these birds nest and roost in the tops of trees!

Grey Heron - Loch Spynie
Outside the entrance to the hide was a tree with a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest. It obviously contained young as male and female birds were constantly busy collecting food. They were keeping close to the ground whilst foraging.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - Loch Spynie
As we left I noticed a Crow land in a tree near the path. At first I thought it had a pigmentation anomaly before I realised that it was probably a Carrion/Hooded Crow cross.

Crow (Carrion x Hooded?) - Loch Spynie
 We returned via Lochindorb (now there's a surprise!), but nothing photographable was seen and the light was getting very bad, although it was not yet 18:00. Acting on a tip we headed north as we left the Lochindorb road, and less than a mile (1km) further on we found a pair of Red-throated Divers on a very small lochan beside the road. These were only just over 100 metres away, but by now it was raining and windy and the light was terrible so, sadly, my photos were not any good. This was the best of a bad bunch.

Red-throated Diver - opposite Black Loch
In spite of the very dull weather I was determined to find an owl this holiday. After dinner I left my wife enjoying coffee in the hotel and went back to a place just south of Dava where I'd seen Short-eared Owl last summer. I had a bit of a wait, but one showed at around 20:40. My photographic efforts were not good, but here's a couple to be going on with, just to give you a sense of the area.

Short-eared Owl - just south of Dava
This has been rather a long post. Thank you for following thus far. The next instalment of my Scottish Highlands travels will be much shorter, less wordy, and very different! The final instalment will be a little longer, but not as long as this one. All instalments will include owls!


  1. I was tickled by the 'voggtail' fasinating to see so many different birds in Scotland. Interesting post, looking forward to your next installment:)

    1. Thank you Linda. I wish I'd had the German lady with me on Saturday as I could have shown her a pair of proper Yellow Voggtails!

  2. Amazing group of images,love the Dipper shots,which are the best I've seen in a very long time.The woodcock are just divine,Red Grouse with it's head just sticking up looks brill.
    Well what else can a person say,except magnificent post.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, John!

  3. Enjoyed every bit of the post Richard, some truly outstanding images of the Dipper had me drooling, and the Red Grouse too your decription of the German lady and the "Yellow vogtail" had me in stiches, can't see how she confused the two to be honest! But one of the images I really liked was the Song Thrush, I think it was the complimentary colours of the background, very nice.

    1. Thanks for your very kind words, Doug. I have to admit that I was delighted that the Song Thrush worked out so well.

  4. What a wonderful trip and I've really enjoyed looking through the journey with you. Lovely Dipper images.

    1. Thank you Christian. We haven't had a dud holiday in Scotland yet!! Touch wood!!

  5. An excellent post buddy, great read with some stunning images. But like Doug I think the Song Thrush image is top notch!


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