Please remember to check our Facebook page for updates if the blog has not been updated !!
In winter white-winged Gulls seem to turn up in with regularity in Srathspey, often with few other gulls, they seem to like hanging about the flooded farmland rather than at the coast. This Glaucous Gull the first of the winter, spotted at nearby Broomhill along with a group of Whooper Swans.
Another visitor more common in winter to the area is Twite, I had three fly over the other morning, that distinctive buzzing call unmistakable, these are birds which have bred further north and west in the Highlands, spending the winter around the farmlands of the Strath. The Black Isle can often be a good place to find them too.
In the woods Crested Tits seem to be everywhere, there were three together on the feeders in Anagach the other day along with the regular Red Squirrels and numerous Coal Tits. It seems a good year for Brambling too, with a flock of 60 the other day over the Black Grouse lek and they are been seen regularly in with Chaffinch flocks too. The Black Grouse have been showing well most mornings and at this time of year with sunrise at 8.30 no need for too much of an early start either! Scaup are showing well in the Moray and Cromarty Firths as are Long-tailed Ducks and Scoter, though not in such large numbers as previous years. The Scaup are usually accompanied by Slavonian Grebes, diving with them. I think the ducks probably are disturbing small fish as they scrape around for Molluscs and small invertebrates and this is what the grebes are after, an interesting symbiotic feeding relationship.
If I don't manage to get another blog post on before Christmas I'd like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and New Year. I look forward to seeing some familiar faces again next year and a big Thank You to everyone who has joined me this year, it's been a pleasure.
For the past 10 years I've been regularly doing this crossing in autumn across the Minch as it has to be one of the best and easiest sea-watching excursions on offer. A comfortable and large boat fully equipped with all facilities and a great upper viewing deck, the crossing offers over 4 hours of great sea-watching for birds and cetaceans. Last weeks trip got superb views of Storm Petrels and Sooty Sheawaters as they crossed close in front of the boat, as well as several groups of Common Dolphin.
In good migration conditions passerines often join the boat as well as groups of waders and wildfowl heading for landfall on the mainland.
Species regularly seen include Storm Petrel, Leach's Petrel, Sooty and Manx Sheawater, all four Skuas, Risso's Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Minke Whale as well as rarer sightings such as Great and Cory's Shearwater, Sabine's Gull and of course there's always the chance of a mega rare too!!
Our day trips depart from Grantown or Nethybridge at 7.30am arriving back around 7pm transport to and from Ullapool, Ferry Crossing and guiding all inclusive. Dates are advertised on our Calendar but we can also so bespoke trips for a minimum of 2 persons. We can also book you an evening meal at the Grant Arms Hotel ready for your return to Grantown if you wish.
We have added one more date this year on 21st September, Email email@example.com to book.
A species truely special to Strathspey and Inverness-shire, the Crested Tit is every birder and photographer's favourite without any doubt. It resides as the emblem of the local Abernethy Primary school where my son Mattias attends and indeed, we see or hear them most days on the school run!
A very charismatic and charming bird, though never to be under-estimated as "easy" to see well! It very much depends on the time of year and weather,they can suddenly vanish from a site where they've been showing well for weeks or on some days just seem to be everywhere, calling loudly. Call is undoubtedly the best way to find them, I probably find 90% of Cresties by hearing them first in the forest. In winter they frequent the local feeders and can be very approachable, there are many sites locally where you can get fantastic views as they forage with the other tits. By Spring they can become incredibly elusive once nesting and seem to just vanish from regular sites, so much more fieldwork and effort is needed to find them as they will only be at or near their nest site and call very little. If you are wanting to photograph them at this time of year, bear in mind they are a schedule one protected species and it's very likely you will be close to their nest, which does require a licence.
One remarkable characteristic of Cresties is they are very inquisitive and seem to respond to the sound of the human voice, so ironically the more noise you make in the forest the more chance of seeing one! They can often come right down to eye level feet away, though they rarely stay long and are gone back in to the tree tops in the blink of an eye. "Birds of Scotland 2012" lists them as having a population of between five and seven thousand individuals with up to two thousand breeding pairs which seems to remain relatively stable. As they nest in dead trees, Great-Spotted Woodpeckers can be dangerous predator of young and eggs, however this doesn't seem to have a significant impact on the population. They also seem quite adept at surviving even the harshest winters and can often be one of the only birds you see and hear in the forest in depths of a severe cold snap when seeing them amongst the frosted branches is something very special indeed.
Winter can bring some unusual birds to the Highlands and Moray, you never know just what might turn up. Today's date 17th Nov. has gone down in birding history for turning up megas!
For anyone wanting a good ID challenge checking any rafts of Auks may well turn up the much rarer Brunnich's Guillemot, a wanderer from the Arctic. One was seen at Burghead Harbour, three years to the day on 17th Nov. 2011 by a local birding tour group.
Sadly few caught up with this individual however as it was only identified from it's close range photograph three months later rather than at the time!!
Last January turned up an American Coot at Loch Flemminton, which ended up staying in to spring and was enjoyed by many. Already we've had the regular King Eider which is being seen around Burghead and Nairn though quite mobile. Surf Scoter is another sought after bird, with one being seen already this year it's worth checking the rafts of Scoter carefully for this distinctive bird with it's large white patch on the back of the head. Another duck long overdue for another find locally is Steller's Eider, a female was at Hopeman on 17th Novemeber 2000, maybe next time a male!
Probably one of the most unexpected and unusual mega rares to turn up was again nearby at Burghead in December 1994. A local birding group checking out a flock of Redshanks were amazed to find a Grey-tailed Tattler amongst them, a bird which should have been wintering in the warmth of SE Asia rather than the wintry cold of northern Scotland. Finally, to prove just about anything can still turn up even in mid-winter, our home village of Nethybridge lays claim to fame for surely one of the most remarkable winter rares, in fact it was only a 2nd for Britain (though the first was on St. Kilda!). An unusual bird seen and photgraphed at a local feeder turned out to be a stunning Evening Grosbeak, rather lost from where it should have been wintering across the other side of the Atlantic.
This time of year sees some of the best birding up on the Moray Firth as waders come through on their journey from the north. Large flocks of Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot were gathering at Udale Bay on Friday, as well as a Ruff and large numbers of Redshanks....probably many Icelandic birds as well as local breeders. The first few Scaup were also out on the waters of the Cromarty Firth with small groups of newly arrived Wigeon and Teal.
Bottle-nosed Dolphins were showing very well at Chanonry on Friday and Saturday, with quite a number of passage Sandwich Terns going through as well. A Whitethroat and Willow Warbler in the bushes around the lighthouse probably migrants on the move as well.
On the other side of the Moray Firth at Findhorn Bay yesterday BWWC guests on a fieldtrip were treated to 5 fishing Ospreys! It was hard to tell if these were lingering local birds or Scandinavian birds moving through when the arrival of one from a great height from over the sea, seemed to confirm some at least were the later. Small groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plover wheeled around the shoreline, and from the south end of the bay, Greenshank, Sandwich and a few Common Terns fed on the rising tide.
The Bay can be a tough place to work as there are many hidden corners and much of these are not easy to access. Also the tide and light conditions need to be judged just right or you can end up with just a lot of distant silhouettes. A scope is certainly an essential piece of equipment for scanning the mudflats.
As you've probably seen on the news we had some pretty terrific rain the other week which has left some new scars down a few hillsides as well as washed away a few old bridges in the Cairngorms. The footage below was taken after the Dulnain had began to drop again!!
There's been quite a noticable movement of birds with large flocks of Meadow Pipits and Mistle Thrushes going through already. Swifts are very late this year, with a small flock still here in Nethybridge as I write, as well as in Grantown.
A sighting of a single Pink-footed Goose on a remote loch on Dava Moor was intriguing, particularly as it coincided with 8 being seen on the nearby coast. Were these really Icelandic migrants arriving already? Certainly winds have been in the right direction for a few days, so it's not impossible these birds set of early for some reason.
A sighting of two female Black Grouse with nine chicks was encouraging, it won't be long before they are hanging around the local leks again on autumn mornings so I'll be running trips out to see them regularly.
Seabird passage is now well under way, I will be taking trips out across the Minch on the CalMac ferry for anybody wanting to catch up with Petrels, Shearwaters and Skuas from the comfort of a modern boat! Sooty Shearwaters are regularly seen as are Storm and Leach's Petrel and the possibility of all four Skuas check the calendar for details of these.
Well the time has flown with hardly a moment to update the blog! Been very busy with day guiding and taking out guests from the Grant Arms Hotel on Field trips to local birding spots.
One day to remember was a booking with two American clients who were on a four month tour of Europe, their specific targets were Dotterel, Ptarmigan, Red Grouse, Bullfinch and Tawny Owl, an ususual selection of species!
Dotterel and Ptarmigan took a good proportion of the day, ticking off Red Grouse on the way, with a five hour walk in the Cairngorms. It wasn't long however once we were on site that we spotted a lone male Dotterel with three chicks, though Ptarmigan were playing very hard to get.
Taking a different route back down, soon after stopping to watch a superb summer plumaged Snow Bunting feeding around one of remaining Snow patches we stumbled across a female Ptarmigan with 7 chicks right next to the path.
And so it was off to the forest to search for Bullfinch, which although relatively common, I had never had to specifically go looking for one before, it's always a bird you just come across.
Checking all the sites I could remember seeing one in the past few weeks drew a blank and finally we headed to one spot where I see them more often than not. Sure enough, while watching a Crested Tit family in some pines, we heard that distinctive weak piping of Bullfinch. We searched high and low with nothing in sight we headed back to the car park. It was just as we were about to give up Gina shouted with delight "I've got one"...as a white rump disappeared in to some small birches. With a little more searching we managed to track a pair down as they moved through the foliage, a great end to the day. I then recommended a route for them to drive at dusk for Tawny Owl, and was delighted to learn afterwards they came up trumps with one flying in front of the car.
As well as another American Party I've been delighted to take out several Czech Ornithologists who were keen to see Divers and Slavonian Grebes in their breeding habitats.
Looking ahead to autumn, there are Short Breaks running at the Grant Arms every month, full details here. On the September break, we join the CalMac ferry across to Stornoway for a fantastic day seawatching. Shearwaters, Petrels and Skuas as well as a good chance of cetaceans.
We are also running several day trips out to Stornoway as well during August/September.
If you'd like to book on a Short Break, Day trip or bespoke guided day out just drop us an email or call 01479 821357.
The day starts with us heading off to the large area of moorland surrounding Grantown where we are soon getting excellent views of Red Grouse as they parade at the roadside, as well as a large colony of Common Gulls nesting in the heather. An Osprey fishes one of the remote large lochs just a few miles away, with two Short-eared Owls hunting over the moors in the distance as we search for our main target Black-throated Diver at one of their most easterly breeding sites.
They prove quite elusive for a while, but we finally manage to track one down, preening and showing well in the scopes from the road-side layby. What a stunning bird in full summer plumage.
The clouds gather rather ominously adding atmosphere to this vast moor as we head for another area in search of Golden Plover and Hen Harrier.
After only a short walk, we are amazed to locate a male Hen Harrier perched in a lone dead tree in the distance, a great find! Returning to the vehicle a small group of Golden Plover gather in the grassy field, giving good views in their full summer plumage.
We then have lunch at the Grant Arms private hide on a small loch where Slavonian Grebes breed, with up to four birds showing well throughout, a great bonus to our day to see this stunning grebe in breeding plumage so well.
Moving on to another larger loch we finally find our other target of the day, Red-throated Diver, with a pair showing quite well from the parking area once the light improves for us.
A search for Ring Ouzel higher up the road is not as successful, a singing bird eludes us despite much scanning and we return back down to the Strath to be greeted by a torrential downpour and thunderstorm which cuts short our hunt for Crested Tit somewhat.
After dinner we set out around 8pm back up on to the moors in search of Black Grouse and Owls. It's a calm clear evening, perfect for birding, the heavy showers dying out as the day cools. As soon as we arrive, we spot six Black Grouse males sitting at a nearby fence, some still lekking with tails fanned. As we watch a Short-eared Owl appears quartering the grassland, then drops down on unsuspecting prey to deliver back to it's nest. A Redpoll flies overhead landing in a nearby plantation and Red Grouse call from the heather as the light begins to fade. Though at this time of year even by 10pm it's barely getting dark.
We start with another look for Crested Tit, where one was heard briefly but still no good views proving how elusive they can be at this time of year when breeding.
We then head up Cairngorm Mountain, the easy way on the funicular railway, getting a sighting of a female Ring Ouzel sitting on a fence carrying food as we go as well as a Mountain Hare dashing through the heather as we pass.
The weather seems to have settled for us and cloud is keeping well of the tops so perfect for scanning for our target birds.
It wasn't long before we'd spotted one of them, a male Ptarmigan sitting on a nearby ski fence as well as female nearby on the ground. The bird on the fence remains long enough for plenty of photos, thought the Dotterel we finally manage to pick up on a lower slope just a little too far for any decent shots.
We are soon back on the road and heading to a glen in search of Eagles and other raptors, the weather is ideal and a great spot for lunch while we scan.
It's quite a wait, we get a couple of views of Peregrine and Kestrel then at last, a White-tailed Eagle soars in to view and climbs high above us before drifting off in to the blue. Making up for a rather brief glimpse of a Golden Eagle as we arrived.
Our final stop of the day is Chanonry point on the Black Isle, hoping to catch up with some Dolphin action. We are not disappointed as within minutes of arriving, several Bottle-nosed Dolphins appear close in shore just off the point. The sea is fairly quiet on such a calm day, a few Gannets and Auks in the distance and we just manage to glimpse fly-by Common Scoter just as we are about to leave. We return to the A9 via a minor road through farmland, stopping to admire a group of Tree Sparrows on a feeder as well as Yellowhammer and Linnet on roadside fences. Just as we join the A9 we manage to spot a Red Kite as it soars over nearby fields, surprisingly the only one we see, hopefully not due to the recent dreadful poisoning incident.
The day starts with a walk through the Pinewoods adding super views of a parachuting Tree Pipit to our list and great voews of Red Squirrels at the Grant Arms feeders giving great photo opportunities. Crestie still remain ever elusive, with not even a brief calling bird, we still have a chance of finding one on the coast so fingers crossed! It's then on to spend the rest of the day on the Moray Firth where our first stop is Spey Bay in glorious sunshine. Common and Arctic Tern fish just off the river mouth and we spot a small group of migrating waders resting on the tide line. It's a mixed flock of Ringed Plover (looking like northern "tundrae" race, several Dunlin and a paler smaller bird asleep, initially thought to be a Sanderling. Getting it in the scope once it wakes we are surprised to see a stunning Little Stint in full breeding plumage! The flock flies briefly but then settles again giving some great views in the scopes.
We move on and have lunch at Lossiemouth, checking the gulls for anything unusual before making our way further along the coast east. At Roseisle we manage to find a single Common Scoter on the water and several Eiders, though many of the wintering sea-duck have now departed.
A shout of "Osprey" by a child paddling causes us to look above him and sure enough, a bird is making it's way along the shore on a fishing expedition.
Final bird of the day AT LAST, is a view of Crested Tit in the car park, just sitting long enough on a branch for Mark to snap a photo!
Our finally tally for the three days was 98 species seen and 102 incuding "heards". Thank you to Bill, Anne, Mark, Tracy and Sheena for joining me on the Holiday it was a pleasure and some great birding.