The day started early at first light, heading for a local Black Grouse lek, where we arrived as the sun rose over the distant Cairngorms, Red Grouse called from the heather behind us and arriving Redwings "seeped" overhead. It wasn't long before our quarry appeared with 8 males flying in from their roost in the nearby long grass, we had been worried at first none were going to show! It wasn't long before they were strutting, tails spread and we could just about hear their wonderful bubbling in the clear morning air. Lekking is traditionally associated with spring but actually occurs in autumn and winter as well on fine mornings, though perhaps not quite as intensive as the spring performance it's still worth seeing.
We moved on, could we get a Capercaillie too before breakfast?..... the challenge was on. Heading in to the Pinewoods, we drove carefully along a minor road as the first rays of sunlight reached in through the foliage.......there he was, a male Capercaillie, strutting through the billberry, tail fanned and even "clip-clopping"......hence the name from derived from Gaelic "Horse of the Woods".
What a sight, just yards away, plenty of chances for photos using the vehicle as a hide, his freshly moulted plumage stunning in the crisp morning light. Three Grouse before breakfast not a bad start at all.
Heading back to the forest we cut across some of the Strath's farmland to check out any goose flocks, finding a few Greylags and Pink-feet with a surprise amongst them, a single Barnacle Goose. While watching the geese a lone and largish looking Redpoll dropped down in to a tree beside us, giving brief views enough to confirm it was a Common (mealy) rather than a local Lesser Redpoll.
Back in the pine forest we were soon watching several Crested Tits feeding near Loch Garten, which made a fantastic end to a species packed day!