Sunday 31 May 2009

Highland visit - Abernethy finale

The Saturday had been fairly unexciting on the birding front. A morning spent in the Loch Garten area having a last go at Capercaille and Crested Tit ended in total failure, so we opted to have a drive up North to Chanery Point and mix a little seawatching with the daily marine spectacular....

These were not birds but Bottle-nosed Dolphins which feed daily on the rising tide just offshore. Sadly there were no 'jumps' today and getting anything other than tails, fins or just water was incredibly hard work - here's my one and only head shot!!

We saw plenty of Common Terns plus a single Black Tern, Red Kites also overhead during the drive.....

The final day had arrived and I was still without Scottish Crossbill!! A final fling in the depths of the Abernethy forest was planned. We walked for about two hours and at least Crested Tits were more obliging here - we saw at least five (is that meant to be good??!)

I nearly turned back when I saw the small river we had to ford - no bag meant carrying the camera!! Slighty panic stricken I waded through with Dave and Ian either side to catch the tripod if I slipped - I don't ever want to do that again!!

Was I glad I didn't turn back - a couple of hundred metres down the track was a puddle, we paused for a Siskin.....

And then would you believe our luck. A couple of Crosbills dropped in for a drink! I just had chance for one burst and they were gone - a cracking male captured though. Boy were these guys big birds - like English Crossbills on steroids?? My initial plump for Scotbill (which seemed more likely) has now been revised and everyone so far who's seen the images feel sure this a Parrot Crossbill. The large thick set head coupled with that deep stonking great bill and the sharply turned down tips all point this way.....

The brilliant finale just got better!

If only there was more time but daylight was burning and I had what turned out to be a nine hour journey from hell pending! What a way to round off a morning though - in the nick of time!!

Friday 29 May 2009

Ben Macdui - heaven or hell?

The summit of Ben macdui is the second highest point in the UK, it is also a significant distance from the nearest road access! It is a bleak yet wonderful place which everyone who has been there on a 'nice' day raves about! It would hopefully yield a lifer for me (Ptarmigan) too!

We faced a walk/climb of some 9 miles there and then 9 miles of knee jarring descent. We had been admiring the snow laden peaks and slopes of the Cairngorm range since arrival - another factor the mountain would throw at us!

The biggest problem facing us today would be dehydration. The full Scottish breakfast was a big energy boost, accompanied by a pint of fresh orange juice, plus even more water!

The big lens was obviously out of the question but I couldn't go without a camera could I? I opted for the 100-400mm zoom which together with 2 litres of water, food and spare clothing meant I had to carry at least 5kg on my back - this was getting scarier by the minute!

We weren't 'Munro purists' so settled for starting at the ski station car park rather than Loch Morlich.

The temperature and wind speed made interesting reading, just look at that wind speed - and 41'C bloody hell!!!

The first part of the climb was the worst bit, steep and relentless. Two of the party bit the dust at this stage but eventually we reached the snow covered ridge with the peak of Cairngorm to the East! The hard work done, it was now the long walk across the desert like plateau....

This looked like Ptarmigan country and it was! We found our first one here (others would come later) and this was a confiding male! Not surprisingly, the weight was lifted from my back as the camera finally was pressed into action!!

The snowfields soon followed (who needs crampons!) Despite opting for my 'trainer style' walking shoes, I was able to use the footprints of those before me. More of a problem was the glare - I now understand what snow blindness is all about!!

The final stretch to the summit saw another two of the party pass on the experience but there was no way on this earth I was not going to do it! Another bird was to make it even more worthwhile too! Hearing a persistent call (which none of us recognised) Ian Baggley eventually pinned down the culprit - a male Snow Bunting in Summer plumage!! Was I even more glad the camera was carried........

I got left behind with one of the guides and a Snow Bunting!

Then, the final push......

Four and a half hours of climbing and walking and at last - we had made it!!!

Now, the bit that everyone was dreading and by far the worst bit - several miles of bone jarring descent!

Just when you need even terrain - along comes the boulder field!! Best tactic is to stick to the huge ones - they don't move!!

Business acumen was rife during the final part of the descent with Dave Pearce conceiving the novel idea of a bottled water franchise (just hope there wasn't a dead wee beastie further upstream!!)

After enjoying a male Ring Ouzel flying around the ski station buildings, one final activity.... One of the key briefing issues was the need to drink plenty and keep your pee clear, was it? - I'll spare you the pic - it was!!

There's an oft asked question - Why do people climb mountains. Are they just plain daft cos it's bloody hard work! Is it because the're there, the Ptarmigans or even the crow "I climbed Ben Macdui"? I'll do all of these - a magical experience!!

And just to prove i made it.......

Thursday 28 May 2009

Highland visit - Lochs and Findhorn

A rainless day but the stiff chilly breeze meant that coats were still the order of the day! Fuelled by full Scottish Breakfast, we planned to take in a couple of key Lochs and the Findhorn valley.

The road to Lochindorb was a Red Grouse stronghold, (aren't all the roads near here?) Red Grouse were continuously present and showing well....

or not so well, throughout the moorland journey.

Lochindorb itself was quiet but produced some classy birds. The first was one of two Black throated Divers - in full Summer plumage! If only they would come closer to the shore.... but of course they didn't!

The first Osprey of the day was seen here too!

Loch Ruthven was next and the wind had whipped up a bit a swell on this small Loch. A Red throated Diver was up the far end and at least four Slavonian Grebes were seen - again in Summer plumage, this pair in the bay near the car park!

The finale was a walk down the Findhorn valley. We didn't have time to walk the full length so settled for just the straight track section - boy is this a long way!!

I'd carried the big lens (just in case) and it was a matter of constantly scanning the ridges for raptors - hopefully something special?
Raven, Common Buzzard and Kestrel were our only spots until a magic moment, just as we were about to retrace our steps...

A plucky Kestrel was having a go at bigger bird. Hey, wait a minute - that's not just bigger - this bird was HUGE! Very distant as well but a record shot was managed to capture the bird of the day - Golden Eagle!!!

A second CY individual the white tail base and white patches to the underwing showing it was not an adult. It glided briefly away from the Kestrel, then stooped dramatically behind the ridge, leaving a few relieved smiling faces!

Another fantastic evening meal including 'Haggis tower' was followed by a briefing from our three guides for the following day....

We were to attempt - with a forecast for the hottest day of the year - a climb to the summit of Ben Macdui - plus hopefully a few birds on the way? They didn't pull their punches, this was going to be tough - real tough and they didn't manage to put me off.....

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Highland visit - Crestie welcome!!

An overnight stay in Perth avoided the heavy rain which was forecast for the Highlands but I was soon amongst the drizzle as I headed North! First decent bird of the day was a flyover Hobby and then a diversion via the road between Amulree and Dunkeld produced three Cuckoos.

Seems I'm popular in these parts too!

Nearing the end of the journey, a quick call at Loch Insh produced two Red throated Divers! I gave the Abernethy loop walk at Loch Garten a go for my first Crested Tit and scored (eventually) after four or five miles of walking! Here's the celebratory Tunnocks Teacake!

Final bird of the day was glimpses of a male Black Grouse from the screen at Tulloch Moor. The final tally was just short of 50 species for the journey - shame about the rain!

The only photo opportunity came in the rain at Loch Garten - had I really come all this way for a Common Sandpiper!!

Just singing in the rain......

Onwards then, to meet the rest of the Shropshire RSPB group at 'base' for the next four nights - The Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey. I can't recommend this highly enough for good value, comfort and fantastic food......

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Highland visit - Solway passage

A few days birding in the Scottish highlands beckoned!

I had planned a two stage journey via the Solway Firth on the Tuesday with an overnight stop in Perth. I've gotta say a big thanks to Chris Baines and the D&G crew (check out the Dunmfries and Galloway yahoo group if visiting the area!) for the info on tides and all things 'Skua'.

A brisk westerly was blowing as I took up position for a bit of Solway watching at Newbie Barns on the rising tide, accompanied by Brian Henderson. Three Great Skuas were the first bit of excitement, circling over on the English side of the Solway, a single Arctic Skua went through but the highlight was at least two Pomarine Skuas and one Long tailed Skua! The latter two species remained quite distant, out in the bay - they and others were destined to pass through the following day??

This is getting quite late for Skuas. A visit is best planned for late April or Early May with a strong South Westerly blow and the period two hours before, during, then two hours after high tide likely to produce the birds! I would have to say that the English side (Bowness) will definitely be preferred for a future visit for the improved light (and shorter journey) but as I was travelling through - I wasn't complaining too much about the glare from the water....

I did complain when this squall dumped a load of hail on me though!

The only photo opportunity here came on the beach where five Sanderling were accompanying the 30 strong flock of Dunlin plus a few Ringed Plovers

Here's three of them!

Plus two other indivduals....

Sanderling will some reasonably close if you sit tight!

The tide was falling rapidly by 4.00 and I had to get around Glasgow before the rush hour!

Monday 25 May 2009

Redstart - death to a midge!

My last task in Shropshire before heading up North was to find Spotted Flycatcher and whilst I managed to find one of Yvonne's birds in the Asterton area, it was too flighty for photography! There were a pair of Redstart however, posing in the pouring rain!

Busy eyeing up midges...

before despatching them.....