Monday, 18 June 2012

The Highlands

Just returned from the Highlands of Scotland where we were based at the beautiful little village of Nethy Bridge (many thanks to Sue Broyd). Having not been here since the 70`s I`d forgotten what a stunning place it is with a unique combination of flora and fauna within the British Isles. The weather for the most part was overcast and cool with occasional showers, except for the day we walked the magnificent Findhorn Valley when the sun shone.
Nethy Bridge - The village is set on the edge of Abernethy forest overlooking the river Spey. The commonest birds were Willow Warbers and Siskins; all over the place, back gardens, picnic sites and around the woodland margins. Crested Tits were easy to find once you`d got the call locked into your head, much more so than when I last visited, along with the ubiquitous Goldcrests, Coal Tits and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Crossbills (Scottish/Common?) and Redpolls were less obvious with few seen. The place was full of `black crows` but I didnt see a single Jay or Magpie anywhere all week. Oystercatchers and Black-headed Gulls seemed to be everywhere. Red Squirrels were easy to see on garden feeders.
A bog near the village (alive with midges!) was the only site I got Black Grouse, several birds at two locations, but views were distant. Two cracking raptors surprised me here with Goshawk and Hen Harrier. Curlews and Lapwings were commonplace. Red Grouse were seen higher up the hillside along with scores of Roe and Red Deers. A tiny patch of woodland delivered Crested Tits and Redstarts feeding young!
Abernethy - The Osprey viewing facility at Loch Garten has been much upgraded and resembles a zoo, but you do get to see terrific views of Ospreys at the nest (3 chicks). The car park area delivered more Crested Tits, Crossbills, Siskins and Red Squirrels. The week before a Capercaillie had been strutting around in front of the main hide, but it took me many hours to find one at a more remote part of the forest, a single female. Goldeneyes were also noted flying around the loch along with masses of Swifts. Several open boggy areas delivered Tree Pipits, Yellowhammer and Whinchats along with Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers around the edges and a flyover Woodcock.
River Spey - Goosanders and Common Sandpipers were easy to find along the river, mainly viewing from bridges, and it was great to watch Sand Martins at a natural nesting colony in the river bank at Broomhill. I could find no sign of Dipper or Grey Wagtail, but I guess I was just unlucky as the habitat looked perfect.
Boat of Garten - A series of flooded fields near the village delivered Redshanks, Curlews, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Wigeons, Teals, Tufted Duck, nesting Black-headed and Common Gulls, Wheatear and a single Greenshank. Buzzard and Sparrowhawk noted, plus more Crested Tits, Siskins and Redstarts in the wood.
Aviemore - A hanging oak wood near the Italian restaurant roundabout was the only place I noted Wood Warbler with three singers. Peregrine also seen. We took the little fella (going on two) to see the Olympic torch relay and while parked up had the mini-bus hub caps nicked!
Loch Ruthven - Paid homage to the nesting Slav Grebes, of which there were six, plus juvs. Also, Dabchick and Red-throated Diver on the loch, Common Sandpipers around the margins and more Tripits, Redstarts, Wheatears, Whinchats and Crossbills.
Cairngorm - Well, it had to be done, the slog up from the car park, with a nearly two year old as well! On the way up noted Merlin, Raven and a few Mipits and not much else besides. Magnificent views though, between the showers and mist. As we approached the lodge in a snow shower two Ptarmigan flew across in front of us and disappeared into the fog with others calling nearby, while a Snow Bunting had been seen earlier. At the summit the weather was dreadful, so had no chance of Dotteral or more Ptarmigans. Called in at the Glenmore cafe on the way down where four Red Squirrels put on quite a show at the feeders.
Findhorn Valley - And so the best `til last. Anyone who`s been to the Findhorn will know what I mean, it is a very special place, simply stunning and you run out of superlatives to describe it, particularly on a sunny summers day. The river winds its way along the valley floor amongst broad fields and scattered woods. Half way along we stopped for Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Goosander and Common Sandpipers along the river with Common Gulls nesting on small islands. Siskins, Willow Warblers, Redstarts, Wheatears and Tree Pipits were all over the place and we had the only Cuckoo and Blackcap of the trip. At the end of the road House Martins were nesting on the old barns and bothys in good numbers, with more Wheatears and singing Ring Ouzel on the scree slopes. We walked a further mile up the valley where a Golden Eagle soared above the crag being mobbed by a Peregrine! Loads of Red and Roe Deer, feral goats and a Mountain Hare completed this classic Highland scene and on the way out various stop offs produced plenty more of the aforementioned birds.
In summary a more than satisfactory week and many thanks to Steve Broyd for the local gen. Eventually got the four grouse, Dipper and Golden Eagle, which were the targets, but abiding memories are probably of the abundant species such as Siskins and Crested Tits, plus the stunning scenery, particularly the snow-capped tops, the river Spey and the Findhorn Valley.

                                          Siskin, Glenmore Cafe

                                          Red Squirrel, Glenmore Cafe
                                          Barney, Cairngorm

                                          Osprey, Loch Garten

                                          Wooden Caper, Loch Garten
                                          Findhorn Valley

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