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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Return to Speyside, Pt.1 - 17th to 21st June, 2016

My wife, Lindsay, and I had a return visit to the wonderful Grant Arms in Grantown on Spey in June this year, during which we celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. This was our my tenth visit (Lindsay's eighth - I've been twice without her!) in seven years!

Friday 17th June

As is usual these days, we broke our journey from Leicestershire with an overnight stop in Northumberland, making a return to the superb Tweed View House in Berwick upon Tweed.

We had a very pleasant journey north, managing a lunch stop at the excellent Deli-Café in Boston Spa on the way up.

We'd hoped to visit Cocklawburn Beach that evening but, shortly after arriving in Berwick, the rain started, and continued all evening. A quick dinner in the local chippy was followed by a relaxing evening in our comfortable room at Tweed View House.

Saturday 18th June

We awoke to a misty morning - but no rain. After an excellent breakfast, served in our room as always by Graham, we set off, stopping briefly to fuel up just up the road.

The weather soon brightened up and the traffic was kind to us as we by-passed Edinburgh and crossed the Forth Road Bridge, admiring the works of the new road bridge which appeared to be almost ready to have the final spans dropped into place.

A break for a pot of Earl Grey at the Macmillan Cafe just outside Perth was followed by a short walk along beside the burn at Quarrymill in the hope of seeing Dipper. This used to be a sure-fire place, but they weren't seen on this occasion.

Lunch was taken at our favourite lunch stop anywhere - the Dalmore Inn, just south of Blairgowrie, and it was well up to its usual standard.

A stop at the Glenshee ski area, in the hope of seeing Ring Ouzel, only turned up Meadow Pipit and a relatively confiding Pied Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba ssp. yarrellii ) (female) - Glenshee
The onward journey to Grantown was uneventful, and we arrived in good time to check in and still have time to visit one of our favourite locations, Lochindorb, before dinner which we'd booked for 18h30 that evening. 

Lochindorb produced Meadow Pipit, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver, Lapwing, and Greylag Goose as well as other things not noted, but the only images that were anything like reasonable were of a very close Curlew. I didn't notice until I came to process my photos that this bird had a hideous growth under its lower mandible. I've chosen one of the images where this is less obvious!

Curlew (Numenius arquata) - Lochindorb
We enjoyed a good dinner that night, after which Lindsay declared that she wanted to take a bath after a strenuous day being driven around, leaving me free to go out to another favourite place, near Tomintoul, which I'm sworn to secrecy over.  I didn't get any photos there that evening, but I did get my first Cuckoo sighting of the year on my way there. Sadly it was on the wrong side of the road and a shot through the windscreen totally failed. I tried to go past so I could turn round and get a shot, but it kept going up the road ahead of me. This is the best I could do.

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) (juvenile) - near Tomintoul
Sunday 19th June

The weather forecast for the day did not look too bad, but the rest of the week looked as if it might be a bit grim and as Lindsay wanted a visit to the coast, that's where we went!

Our first stop was at Burghead. This is a great place to visit in winter for close views of sea ducks, but less productive in summer. I believe this next bird, out on the harbour wall, to be a genuine Rock Dove as, to my untrained eye, it looks OK for that species and I didn't see any feral pigeons here, or any other dove for that matter.

Rock Dove (Columba livia) - Burghead
By the inner harbour, I photographed a small bug on the harbour wall, the identity of which I've no ideas about! There was also a Rock Pipit grooving around - there usually is one here for some reason! Adrian has pointed me in the direction of Bristletail (thank you Adrian). I think it's probably a Sea Bristletail.

Sea Bristletail? (Petrobius maritimus?) - Burghead
Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Burghead
I left Lindsay relaxing in the car whilst I headed off to the area where House Martins tend to gather mud for nest-building. They soon arrived and busied themselves with this task. I tried for some flight shots, but didn't tarry too long as Lindsay was waiting.

House Martin (Delichon urbica) - Burghead
Having rejoined Lindsay, we set off for Clarkly Hill, just outside Burghead. Local birder Bob Johnson put me onto this place a couple of years ago. As we arrived, there was a flock of 80+ Linnet in the field and on the wires near the car park. Lindsay elected to wait in the car whilst I did a quick look-around. Just up from the car park is a small boggy area which has Northern Marsh Orchid as a speciality and there were a few specimens in evidence.

Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella) - Clarkly Hill
A young Reed Bunting was in the gorse on the far side of the marsh.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza Schoeniclus) - Clarkly Hill
As the sun was shining, I stepped into a field to see if I could see any interesting butterflies. I couldn't, but I did take a shot of a beetle - no idea what species it is, but it was extremely shiny!! Noushka has told me that this is of the Carabidae family (thank you, Noushka). I'm sure she's right.

beetle (Carabidae fa.) - Clarkly Hill
Just a little further up the lane, I did find a butterfly - a rather tatty Painted Lady. It's only in the last couple of days that I learned that all Painted Ladies in UK are migrants, having spent their winter in Africa! No wonder it looked tatty! This was one of the very few butterflies that I saw during this week in Scotland, most of the others being Green-veined Whites.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - Clarkly Hill
Further up the lane I found Linnet and Goldfinch.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) (female) - Clarkly Hill
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - Clarkly Hill
For me, the real treat here was the very vocal and obliging Whitethroat.

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) (male) - Clarkly Hill
From here, we moved on to Hopeman for our picnic lunch. No wildlife of interest was seen here, but a small village that has TWO ice cream makers each with their own shop has to be worthwhile!

I'd been to Spey Bay only once before and, on that occasion, arrived late afternoon as a downpour was starting. We turned away immediately and set off 'homeward'. On this occasion we decided to give it another chance. The place was seething with people, all taking advantage of a hot Sunday afternoon with a poor week forecast ahead. We were lucky in that a car park space freed up as we arrived. Most people were having to turn round and come away again. I went for a walk, but found nothing of real interest. Not wishing to come away totally empty handed I took a photo of a beetle - yep! no idea idea what species again!

beetle sp. - Spey Bay
We left Spey Bay, probably never to return as it's a bit out on a limb when staying in Grantown. We opted for the scenic route back to the hotel where we enjoyed another excellent dinner before having a relaxing evening in the bar.

Monday 20th June

After breakfast we set off for Laggan, well to the south of Grantown. Our main objective was the old General Wade's military road which runs westwards from here. However, an Icterine Warbler (a rarity) had been being seen in Laggan and so we first tried to find that. It seems that it had last been seen two days previous to our visit, but it didn't reappear whilst we were there.

Heading down the road, we'd not gone far before we found a Wheatear. We usually see this species on this road, but not until much further along the road.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - near Laggan
As expected, we started to see Meadow Pipit with some frequency.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - General Wade's Military Road from Laggan
It's always a treat to see a Common Sandpiper that isn't running along at the water's edge.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) - General Wade's Military Road from Laggan
For me, it's even more exciting to find an obliging Redstart! This one was near to one of the few places with habitation along the road.

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) (male) - General Wade's Military Road from Laggan
In the spirit of showing birds in their environment, here's a couple.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - General Wade's Military Road from Laggan
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) (female) - by Garva Bridge, General Wade's Military Road
After passing over the River Spey at Garva Bridge we ran into torrential rain. We continued to the point where the road is permanently closed due to a collapsed bridge, and had our picnic lunch in the car before setting back again - still in pouring rain.

The weather brightened up as we headed eastwards and we had good views of Wheatear again.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) - General Wade's Military Road
Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - General Wade's Military Road
I was much more excited, however, to find a pair of Whinchat feeding a youngster, near farm buildings.

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (male) - General Wade's Military Road

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (female) - General Wade's Military Road
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (juvenile) - General Wade's Military Road
Another Common Sandpiper was an opportunity not to be missed.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) - General Wade's Military Road
As we neared Laggan I did a quick double-take when, through a gap, I noticed something in a field. I reversed up again, and realised that I'd been fooled. This was, presumably, to keep the corvids from destroying the plastic covering the bales. This is a common problem, and it looks as if this solution is working!

decoy Peregrine near Laggan!
At Laggan we stopped again in the hope of seeing the Icterine Warbler. There were other people there who had failed to see it before our arrival. We stopped a while on the off-chance, but it didn't show.

We took the long route back via Lochindorb where we found a juvenile Lapwing and a Common Sandpiper together in the very narrow strip of grass between the road and the water.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) (juvenile) - Lochindorb
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) - Lochindorb
After dinner at the Grant Arms that evening, I headed back to the location near Tomintoul that I favour. Again, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of birds compared to visits in previous years. I did find a Short-eared Owl, however, albeit at a very great distance.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - near Tomintoul
There were a few Curlew around and I wished the one that flew in with full evening sun on it, against a hillside that was totally in the shade, had done so somewhat closer to me than it did! I did get a Curlew come quite close to me as I sat in the car, however.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) -near Tomintoul
As I headed back to Grantown, at the same location where I'd seen the Cuckoo on the Saturday, I spotted a Snipe sitting on a distant post. I've only ever seen Snipe on posts in Scotland. Everywhere else I see them at the water's edge!

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - near Tomintoul
Tuesday 21st June

A relatively gentle day was in order this day as I was requested by the Grant Arms to take a group out on a visit in the morning and then give a talk in the evening.

The venue for the visit was Lochindorb and, in the event, I only had two takers. Mike and Val were a delightful couple and I was pleased to offer them a lift in my car.

We visited a couple of places en route, before heading to Lochindorb. The usual summer colony of nesting Common Gull was very much in evidence. Common Sandpiper were at the water's edge, and there were Lapwing about too. I was somewhat delighted for Mike and Val's sake when an Osprey paid a brief visit.

Osprey (Pandion Haliaetus) - Lochindorb
 At the south end of the loch I couldn't resist a photo of a Meadow Pipit on a road sign.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) -Lochindorb
We were hoping for Golden Plover, but had no luck on that score. The real excitement came after we'd turned round and were heading back beside the water - a Red-throated Diver flew in, swam around in front of us briefly, and then flew off again. Black-throated Divers are usually resident on Lochindorb at this time of year (they breed here), but Red-throated are only occasional visitors.

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) - Lochindorb
I do like Common Sandpipers - I think they have a subtle beauty - so here's one that didn't fly off when I stopped the car beside it as we headed round Lochindorb.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) - Lochindorb
Back at the Grant Arms, I met up with Lindsay again, and we headed of to Ballindalloch Castle for a bit of tourism and lunch. We'd never been here before, although it was highly recommended by friends. The grounds are wonderful, and beautifully kept.

garden - Ballindalloch Castle
As is was late lunch time, we made directly for the castle's cafe. The place was heaving with people when we arrived and we were greeted with the news that we could be three quarters of an hour waiting for a table. We were just deciding whether to take food out and eat it in the gardens when a table suddenly freed up and we were invited to take it. The reason for the crowds was that a coach-load of Australian farmers had booked to have a group lunch here before heading off to view the castle's famous original herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle. They were a really good humoured group!

We sat down for our lunch (very good, and reasonably priced), before going round to the castle entrance for a most enjoyable visit inside the castle. That's Mrs P with a bag over her shoulder in the foreground.

Ballindalloch Castle
After going round the castle, I took a walk round the grounds in the hope of finding some wildlife, but failed in that respect.

A scenic route took us back past Lochindorb, but the only sensible photo was of a Pied Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba ssp. yarrellii ) (male) -Lochindorb
We had to be back at the hotel relatively early so I could set up for my talk after dinner that night. There were more people than I expected for my talk, entitled 'Speyside - A Place For All Seasons'. I was even more surprised, considering the subject matter, to find that half the attendees were local people, rather than hotel residents! The talk seemed to go down well - even if I did overrun my allotted time of one hour by about 15 minutes.  

This takes me to the halfway mark of our stay on Speyside, so I'll end this first part of my account of our visit. I've just realised that this first part started and ended with Pied Wagtail!

The second part will probably be in about a week's time, and will contain what I consider to be rather more interesting species and photos than featured in this first part!

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. Hi Richard, some cracking images, the Cuckoo is probably tops, I have never got a decent image. Seems strange to see an Osprey without a blue ring! And you managed to get a Shortie. Great post.
    See you soon John

    1. Thank you, John. Not sure why you picked the Cuckoo - not getting a decent image of it was a disappointment. Yep, I did look for a blue ring on the Osprey!

      Hoping your works at home are going well, and we'll get together soon.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  2. Another great selection. The bug is a Bristle Tail as it's coastal I guess Petrobus sp. I'll leave you to decide which one and thanks for posting it as I have seen it's terrestrial cousin this year and didn't recognise it for what it was. The Beetles will mean me looking through the book.
    I don't know how you birders find so many different ones. I never do but I guess it's because I don't apply myself. Teachers used to express much the same opinion.

    1. Thank you, Adrian. The Bristletail pointer was useful. I reckon it's probably Petrobius maritimus (Sea Bristletail) - fits the images on Google!

      This part of Scotland is particularly rich in its number of wildlife species. It's not difficult to find a wide variety. It's the finding of a particular species that benefits from a bit of skill and practice!

      Your photographic work continues to inspire me with ideas!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  3. Superb post Richard. Love the photos,the House Martin, Common Sandpiper winning for me.

    1. Thank you, Marc. I do like Common Sandpipers - there will be a bit of a surprise one (it surprised me, anyway!) in the next post. There will also be WFD and Northern Damselfly too!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  4. Another Jaw dropping trip,fantastic photography with outstanding Trip report,my three favourites are the Common Redstart followed by The Whinchat,and Whitethroat.

    1. Thank you, John. I was worried that there might not be enough in the way of interesting species in this post. The next one, however, will be a somewhat different kettle of fish, with some encounters that I'm still excited about!

      Best wishes to you and Sue - - - Richard

  5. A Curlew in its breeding haunts is an evocative species, Richard. In an jncreasingly urbanized world where images on a tablet seem to be enough for many people, the sight, sound and sensation of the real thing is irreplaceable. It will be obvious to you that this account brings back many happy memories for me. I will look forward to episode two.

    1. You've made me realise, David, that whilst writing this post, my mind was conjouring up the memories of the whole scene at the time, often heavily involving sound, and including the joy of discovery. I now see that a reader of this post could never grasp the full magic of the moments I experienced, no matter how eloquent my attempts at writing might be! I shall not give up, however!!!

      Love to you and Miriam

  6. Congratulations to both of you! Oh, how beautiful pictures you have taken your lovely birds and bugs. Best wishes.

    1. Thank you, Anne. We always have a wonderful time when staying at the Grant Arms. We've even considered living in that area - but we've decided to stay here!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  7. Hello Richard, a most wonderful blog of your trip with your wife. Congratulations of your 44th wedding anniversary. You did see some wonderful birds and other interesting things. I do nog which one I like the most because all are special. But the Osprey being a favorite of mine is Always wonderful to see. Lucky you saw one as well.
    Still not my old self I do not respond on all blogs and can not realy find inspiration writing my own blog.

    1. Dearest Roos. I'm very sorry to hear that you are still troubled. If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know.

      With my very best wishes - - - Richard

  8. Ooooooooooo, you have yet again whet my appetite for the Grant Arms Richard, maybe next year as I have already booked to go up to Ayr in October for a week. Another great post/read/images mate!

    1. Thank you, Paul. We're already booked to go back next summer. If you're ever up there when we are, it'd be a great pleasure to take you to my favourite spots.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  9. Lovely set of pictures, I like the one of the Meadow Pipit on a rock with the moss and lichen.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I like that one too!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  10. Hello Richard,
    What a wonderful trip!
    Again I am very impressed with the diversity of species you got to photograph and your pictures are stunning... The curlew in flight for one but also the Whitethroat and the Redstart.
    Your first beetle is of the carabidae family but I will not pronounce myself on the precise species.
    Congratulations :)
    Warm hugs and enjoy your day!

    1. Thank you Noushka. It was an excellent trip!

      I've had a look at the carabidae family and can see that you're right. However, I couldn't even hazard a guess at the specifics.

      Take good care. Best wishes - - - Richard

  11. Hi Richard,
    what do you see beautiful pictures. The birds are nicely interspersed with the most beautiful insects and butterflies. The most beautiful colors and details come through here. I find the putter a beautiful bird and the warbler have really photographed beautifully. But the Wheatear, joke Ypres, common redstart and other birds. Whinchat I myself have never able to photograph. Wonderful to see them. Too many to mention. Fly images are also great. My compliments for this beautiful and extensive fantastic series.

    Warm regards, Helma

    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words, Helma!

      My best wishes - - - Richard

  12. Beautiful pictures Richard, especially the Curlew, and the Red-throated Diver, absolutely stunning.

    1. Thank you, Bob. You r kind comments are much appreciated.

      Best wishes - - - Richard


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