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.