Thursday, 19 October 2017

Southern Migration Begins

Thursday October 19

We both enjoyed our week at the Grant Arms - despite the cancellation of the promised Moth Days and the unseasonal warmth. The latter meant that migration of Swans, Geese and Thrushes was held up. Our room was comfortable, the staff were very pleasant and helpful and the facilities good. A big turnover of clientele, including a party of Americans, apart from Mike Dilger's mob. The elderly  greatly outnumbered young folk. We'd stay again but, for a shorter time before moving further north.
Not a long journey to Glenrothes, we thought we'd call in at Loch O' Lowes again. The road was closed. We found an alternative route which was not much longer, adding Red-legged Partridge to the list. Dull and misty this morning with occasional spitty rain on the windscreen.
We enjoyed a hot drink whilst watching the feeders which were heaving with Chaffinches this time. A few Coal Tits, the odd Blue and GreatTits and three male Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Time for more photos, I can't resist such handsome and colourful birds - and they're big.

This year's Red Squirrel progeny kept dashing in, working a nut or two from the bottom of the feeder before running off to stash them. It hasn't learned how to lift the flap with its head and do a dive in to eat at will.

Yet another Red Squirrel, I can't resist them.....
From the lochside Hide, I saw Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe having had a mouse sp race across te boardwalk in front of me before disappearing underneath. No chance of seeing its tail as it could have been a Wood Mouse.  
Pam found two more fungus species to identify at home.....

Still early, we drove to Leven again to find that it was high tide - again. We could do with this at Snettisham. At Leven it meant no shoreline at all, with any birds present bobbing about well out to sea. Two Atlantic Grey Seals pointed their noses skywards. Eventually we identified Red Breasted Mergansers, Shags, Eider and a good mixture of gull sp.
Finding Glenrothes Travelodge was not easy to find, despite putting in the Postcode provided. We ended up in the wrong place. A quick phone call solved the problem.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Last Day

Wednesday October 18

I'd originally suggested a visit to the Cairngorm summit, via the funicular of course. Despite waking to a lovely blue sky, crisp, late Autumn morning, there was a necklace of cloud around the summit. So warm still.... would there even be any Ptarmigan to see? We both love the sea, Burghead here we come. A family at dinner to-night went on the led trip to Cairngorm this afternoon, had no view in thick cloud and, didn't see any birds at all. Lucky escape.
We drove via Lochindorb as everywhere looked so beautiful. Good decision. Three adult Whooper Swans and three young were preening at the southern end of the loch. They looked newly arrived.Very distant, too much of a challenge for my 300mm lens - as you will see.

Watching the breakers crash in is mesmeric, we'd caught high tide again. 

We spent a couple of hours parked at the western end of the bay, watching a constant group of Gannets of all ages diving, circling and just sitting on the sea. Five delightful and, spectacularly lovely, male Long-tailed Ducks flew by and ditched so that I could scope them.  A few Eiders, Shags, Herring Gulls and far fewer Guillemots than the last visit. A Red Admiral made a surprise appearamnce as we were getting ready to leave. 
After a loo visit, we had a look at the town beach under the caravan park. A dozen Greenfinches exploded out of a bush, startled by a man and a dog. The beach had feeding Black-tailed Godwits and our first Knot.
Cooler to-day, single figures when we left this morning and only 11 C this afternoon as the sky clouded over. A most enjoyable and relaxing last day at the Grant Arms before starting on our journey home to-morrow.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Black Isle

Tuesday October 17

What a good decision we made, to visit the Black Isle to-day. It didn't rain at all - the Highlands were very wet all day. The Black Isle is the eastern peninsula after crossing the Kessock Bridge at Inverness. It looks like the border country rather than the adjacent Highlands, pretty flat and very green.
Munlochy Bay was full of water and Wigeon. I scanned the fields, finding Pink-footed Geese and a few Teal. On to Chanonry Point where Dolphins often appear at high tide. Even on a dull overcast week day, the parking area was full. A few Shag, marauding House Sparrows and a flat calm Moray Firth.
Cromarty - yes a real place not just on the weather forecast - harks back to the last century in atmosphere. The sea there is scattered with oil rigs and supply boats, a large example of the latter had three tugs attached to one side. Onward around Udale bay, until a large flock of Scaup appeared, probably 300 in total (they kept diving) with drakes in the majority. We spent some time admiring them, in extremely murky light.

Accompanying the cows on the other side of the road was a spanking Hooded Crow, as pure as they come.

The western end of Udale Bay has a layby and a splendid RSPB hide. We'd timed it perfectly - a total accident - the tide was in and a large number of birds were crowded onto the grassy islands, marshland and inlets before us. Yet more  Wigeon were in the majority, 100+ Oystercatchers, even more Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, a few Dunlin, one Ringed Plover,a few Lapwing, 3 Golden Plover, one Shelduck and Grey Heron. 
Four male sheep were grumping at each other in a small enclosure, probably because their job was done for the season.
There is another well hidden, small, utilitarian hide and muddy parking area further around the bay. The waders feed here on the receding tide. Not to-day. Parents and a small child appeared to play on the beach, followed by another pair exercising their dog. They have every right to do so.........
A Shaggy Parasol fungus nestled in the grass beside the hedge.

Home via the Tore roundabout, looking for -  and not finding - Red Kite. Thought they'd be hungry after yesterday's day of rain. One Buzzard braved the lack of thermals.

A supreme fungi spotter, Pam saw this old tree trunk with, as yet, unidentified fungus covering the exposed trunk.

Pam photographed Carr Bridge this morning, I'd taken my shoes off so didn't do so. Late afternoon, I couldn't resist the temporary cessation of rain and, the brown flood water from Monday's rain, hurtling its way under the bridge.

Mike Dilger, his other driver and two large minibuses were blocking the parking spaces in front of the hotel. He waved two fingers at us and smiled (2 minutes was mouthed), we were happy to wait.
I wasn't hungry at all to-night so eschewed a starter, ate about four pieces of venison casserole and two small scoops of ice-cream and strawberries. And I'd only had some walnuts and a piece of peanut fudge since breakfast. I'll probably be hungry by 9 !

Monday, 16 October 2017

Ophelia Approaches

Monday October 16

Lashing rain and strong gusting wind was not an invitation to get out early. Where could we go?  Garten car park was the decision. We sat there for two hours, all but half an hour in heavy rain, watching dozens of Coal Tits jostling for room at our sunflower hearts feeder. Well, Pam did, I was doing word games and reading
Terrible light, rain and a swinging feeder - as many as a dozen birds, feeding, leaving, waiting their turn, made the little feeder swing violently all the time.

A Crested Tit popped in and straight out again, Great Spotted Woodpecker kept all other birds off the peanut feeder.
Time to move - to another feeder station. The one at Dorback. Raining heavily again, so many deep puddles on the roads, we made awesome splashes as we drove through. No Red Squirrels today, maybe it was time to cut our losses. 
Broomhill Station bridge has a layby where we had a snack late lunch. Pam thought she'd seen a large fish jump in the river. She walked to the bridge to see if there was a salmon run on. The bridge is wooden, single track and busy, one has to hug the mossy wooden rails.Pam hurried back having seen a Dipper hunting from the small beach down the river. I took a few hopeful (stupid) photographs despite it being so dark at 2 p.m. that I wanted to turn a light on. 

Further south was also dark as Hurricane Ophelia had brought Sahara Sand with her, turning the sun dark orange. Good photos on Facebook.

Thank you David Norgate.
Despite being back at the Grant Arms mid afternoon, all but one parking space was taken, one by a Porsche with the number plate P444NUT . I want it. It was in a disabled bay too.

The Grant Arms Hotel

 In the fine country town of Grantown-on-Spey, not far from the famous Spey River, this impressive 18th century residence has been upgraded to offer modern comforts whilst retaining a traditional character.  
The UK's Wildlife Hotel, which was built in 1765. Former famous visitors include both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. Refurbished to a High Standard of comfort and service, all rooms are ensuite with tea and coffee making facilities, TV, hairdryer and toiletries. The Grant Arms Hotel is proud to be the base of the BWWC (BirdWatching and Wildlife Club). The BWWC's Club Room, Natural History Library, Walks, Talks and Wildlife Briefings are free to all Grant Arms Guests. Experience a holiday in the Scottish Highlands, the perfect combination of mountain scenery, ancient buildings and mysterious lochs.
Once visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1860, the Grant Arms boasts 50 en suite bedrooms and comprehensive meeting and conference facilities.
Guests can enjoy local popular activities including bird watching, walking, skiing, golfing and fishing. There are distilleries in the local area which you are welcome to visit. The nearest airport is Inverness Airport, 21.7 miles from Grant Arms Hotel

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Early Wind

Sunday October 15

Pam drew the curtains exposing wildly waving birch tree branches outside. Already? Hurricane Ophelia is not due until to-morrow. Pam was dead slow to stop this morning, we were still out by 9.30. Mike Dilger's group had long gone. We'd planned Strathdearn (Findhorn Valley) and kept to our plan.The moorland where we leave the A9 has been productive in the past, well worth a look. Three calling Red Grouse to-day and a Weasel ran across the road.
Despite frequent stopping to scan the river, there as no evidence of a salmon run, one of my most wanted experiences. The mountainsides also got a good scrutiny. We saw a few Red Deer, a couple of large antlered Stags attended by a few hinds, no rutting behaviour at all.
Another Golden Eagle,  our first Kestrel. a small flock of Mistle Thrushes with one Redwing accompanying them and, little else. The wind still gusted, clouds loured and fast scudded, intermittent sun and the odd shower punctuated the morning. 
The sun shone as we made our way back down the valley mid-day, gilding the buttery birches, adding depth to the lovely mountain-etched river valley. A Brown Hare huddled down in its form and the herd of wild goats was scattered very high up a mountainside across the valley from their usual haunts. Only the pale ones were obvious until we used our binoculars.
What was this? Another Raven, using the wind to hover? No it wasn't. I frantically reached my camera from the back of the car and snatched a few shots as it flew away. I'm still not really sure of the bird's identity. Having edited the photos to-night, I'm still unsure, apart from that it's a Harrier species. It has a long tail and an apparent pale rump is visible in one poor and unsharp photo. The paler patterning is not familiar to me. More research required.

Any opinions gratefully received.
Some red fungi roadside, photographed frm the car as there wasn't a passing place nearby. Luckily, there was little traffic to-day.

It was a real gale at Alturlie, making scoping from the window unsatisfactory. The tide was out, exposing a lot of mud on which many gulls, a few Wigeon, Crows, Bar-tailed Godwits and, some interbreed Hooded Crows, fed. Heavily choppy sea in the Firth, no ducks nor grebes viewable. 
Time to retire to our comfortable room for tea and a slice of chocolate birthday cake. We really must find out where the library is..........
Another pleasant dinner, the food is fine but not quite there. We both had battered mushrooms with garlic dip followed by pan fried chicken in a cheesy sauce. I then had sorbet and Pam had Lemon Posset. The Mike Dilger group - mostly older women - appeared part way through. Just as well they are seated at the far end of the enormous dining room, noisy bunch.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Birthday Choice

Saturday October 14

Pam's 80th Birthday. Who'd believe it? So many cards and kind thoughts from many people. Pam was quite overwhelmed.
After a cereal and bacon and egg breakfast, we looked for a paper shop, Saturday's Telegraph is my favourite newspaper. I heard a motorbike noise coming from somewhere. Several hours later I discovered that it was a call from Jen ! The phone signal around here is iffy and patchy. When did I assign that noise to Jen's phone, must have been when I got my phone, six or seven years ago.
Turning off for Nethy Bridge, Pam spotted a newly born calf being licked by its mother, nosy youngsters in close attendance. 

Dorback was first call. No chance of Black Grouse to-day, hunting groups were spread about the area. 
We'd noticed a ' Watch out for Red Squirrels crossing' notice on the way up. Indeed, a squirrel crossed the road ahead of us. I reminded Pam to slow down when she noticed that there were several feeders hanging in roadside trees, hence the squirrel presence. An ever present flurry of Coal Tits with the occasional Blue and Great Tit and Chaffinch and......a Red Squirrel feeding on a tree further away. 

We stayed for ages as the road was traffic free. I tried to photo one bounding along the road towards us. They look bandy and less than graceful movers on the ground. A dirty windscreen was not a good start and I produced some terrible photos of a cute squirrel standing upright facing me, showing its white tummy. Another day..... 
An opportunistic Sparrowhawk  sped through, they soon learn where the feeders are.
No Crested Tits yet, maybe Loch Garten car park was worth a go, despite the mild weather, in double figures despite a cooler day. When we drove in, we found the inevitable photographers standing very closely to the feeders, talking loudly. After a while it became obvious that the Coal Tit blizzard didn't give a toss. They were landing on the hands refilling the feeders and the phone virtually touching them whilst they fed. A young man unhooked a feeder and took it away. Pam replaced it with ours. The Tits were landing on the feeder whilst she was filling it at the back of the car. Some photographs.

On my hand stuck out of the car wndow
One Crested Tit called as it came in, staying a very short while unfortunately. We loved the experience.

One hot drink later, we drove to the Cairngorm summit car park - in rain and thick mist. We didn't stay long. 
The drive to Uath Lochan had been recommended for Autumn colour, were there enough leaves left? Just about, fast disappearing into the gutters. Hurricane due on Monday.

Time to go back for chocolate birthday cake, very nice too.

Despite demolishing a bottle of Champagne between us at dinner, I've managed this Blog without too much of a problem. Hope it makes sense.  
Best meal yet this evening. We both had melon, Pam had venison, I had slow roast belly of pork. 
A very noisy group at dinner. Mike Dilger was due to-day, probably his lot getting to know each other.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Oh I Do Like To Be....

Friday October 13

Beside the seaside. 
We both slept in this morning, rushing to a 9.00 breakfast.  After eating, we mentioned to the receptionist that we were concerned at the lack of the promised moth-ing sessions. She phoned Sue the Wildlife guide who told us the extremely disappointing news that they'd been cancelled due to low expecations of catching anything at this time of year. True for the usual October temperatures but it has been 15C for the last few days. Sue admitted this, saying that it was warmer than July. The only advice she offered was to talk to the Inch Marshes warden who is well known for having found several colonies of the rare Scottish Mountain Burner, previously only known from one small area. Very disappointing.
The sun was shining, with a strengthening westerly breeze leading to the birch trees shedding what Pam called yellow leaf confetti, as we left for the north coast. Both the roadside gutters and the air above were full of leaves as we drove to Findhorn Bay. The road passes the track to Lochindorb and some pretty bleak high moorland and mountain scenery. Just the right place to see a Golden Eagle. We had good views of it circling away hassled by a Carrion Crow.
Reports of two Lesser Snow Geese amongst the flock of Pinkfeet visible from the hide on Findhorn river estuary yesterday, gave us hope. Not to-day. Pam got out to recce - the hide  can only be accessed via a keypad, its numbers only available if you phone someone. No geese to-day and she had to balance her binocs against the hide to try and hold them steady. I put my phone away, no point in getting the code.
The deeply potholed track to the beach gave us views of a pair of Stonechats swaying atop some low vegetation. We drove on to the eastern end of the bay, where we were astonished to find sand where there was always a deep layer  of  sugar almond shaped stones onto which one walked from the parking area. Now a steep drop to a sandy beach. The power of the sea.
Burghead has long been a favoured place of ours for sea watching. From the site of the Maltings to the rocky western promontory and then the town harbour. We had a lovely afternoon scanning the sea and rocks. Bright sunshine, disturbed waves, 

 white-topped chop 

and a constant light procession of Guillemots, Razorbills, diving Gannets, the first Long-tailed Ducks, a few Eider and one Puffin. 
We both loved it. 

Shags, Herring Gulland an Oystercatcher watching an approaching dog and its owners.

 Back to the hotel via a coffee at a superior garden centre and Sainsbury's at Nairn for a bottle of fizz for to-morrow. Having to pay the hotel corkage on top is still less than buying their cheapest Cava - and one gets the fizz one likes best.
Pam's choice of how to spend to-morrow.