We started off at first light with a trip to a local Black Grouse lek, and were not disappointed to say the least. No less than 18 Black-cocks were sitting in the grass as the mist rolled back across the Strath, giving excellent views in the scope as some of them began to fan their tails, though rather half-heartedly compared to spring.
Next we moved on to the forest where a feeding freanzy of tits clustered round a feeder, including a very obliging Crestie determined to nudge in on the Coal tits busily pecking at the nuts. Several Red Squirrels also scampered up and down the trunks behind the feeders as we watched until flushed by a rather ignorant dog walker who allowing his animals to run riot all over the woods, no wonder Caper stay well hidden from this locality.
Moving on we went looking for Eagles, an extremely calm day with little on the wing when we arrived made the going difficult. We missed a White-tailed by just a few minutes when we arrived and sadly it did not reappear, however we had plenty of Ravens, Dipper and Goosander along the river before deciding to leave for the coast while there was still plenty of light. Travelling over the moors Red Grouse were everywhere at the road side, just feet away from the vehicle their croaking display filling the air as we sat and watched two males entertaining a lone and rather bored looking female.
On the coast the first stop was North Kessock, a group of Goldeneye fed under the bridge and a raft of Long-tailed Ducks were feeding not far offshore out on the firth. A Red Kite drifted across the water and in the calm we could make out numerous seal heads as we scanned towards Chanonry.
Moving round to Alturlie, conditions for viewing were stunning, with small rafts of duck all over the place. A small group of Scaup with several Slavonian Grebes feeding around them, more Slavonian Grebes everywhere we looked as well as a distant Great Northern Diver. After checking through the wigeon and Teal we headed further along the road to get closer to the diver, it's heavy bill, thick body and neck with patchy brown plumage confirming the original distant ID.
There was just about time to check through the gulls gathering at the sewage works before heading back as the light faded, a lot of Black-headed, a few Herring and Common but no white-wings as far as we could see!
A perfect winter birding day had by all as we headed back down the A9, the sky turning a soft pink hue over the snowy Cairngorms, skeins of Greylags headed to roost and corvids circled the darkening forests now swathed in whisps of frosty evening mist.