Thursday, 12 May 2011

Tuesday May 10
Yesterday was great. To-day wasn't.
We arrived at the Loch Garten Osprey hide at 6.00 a.m. A blob in a tree had been seen by a few but not by most. After half an hour of the jockeying for position at the viewing slots - which we hate - we left, telling ourselves, truthfully, that we preferred the Black Grouse to a Capercaillie blob anyway.
Tulloch Moor, very windy and cold. We were surprised to find no other birders there. No wonder, no grouse! What a disappointment. Apparently, they have not been showing at all well -if at all. Where do we go now?
A quick visit to the parking varea to console ourselves with another view of the Crested Tit dart, hurling itself out of the nesthole.
Back to the chalet for another hour's sleep, a shower and hair wash, followed by breakfast.
After a Tesco shop for vegetables in Aviemore, we lunched in the Coire na Coiste parking area halfway up Cairgorm. No sign of any Ring Ouzels - no birds at all - in the howling wind, slinging showers against the car and drifting the rain like thick cloud across the mountainside. In between, the sun shone warmly....
As we left, a Raven flew through.
Loch Morlich's choppy waters yielded four Goldeneye and several Mallard, our last hurrah before returning to the warmth of the chalet and a trip to the Hotel for an internet connection. For no apparent reason, sitting in the lounge at our computers makes us both feel very uncomfortable, especially when there are guests arriving. The stay is minimal, I come back here to write up the day's Blog and sort photos. No photos taken to-day.
We plan our east coast trip to Dunnett Head to-morrow, a long day, no internet until Thursday. The forecast looks reasonable, we hope to dodge the showers.
Wednesday May 11
In the car and away by 5.38 a.m. on a lovely sunny morning to begin my favourite Highland trip.
Embo sand-drift-blocked jetty via a caravan park is the first stop. We always remember it for eating Bridget's delicious fruit cake, with wind blasting sand against the car. An empty sea to-day but, a surprise three Purple Sandpipers snoozing on the rocks. Working our way around the sea loch, a few Bar-tailed Godwits amongst the Whimbrel and Curlew on the usual corner where waders congregate at high tide.
The Mound is our preferred breakfast place. The view is stunning and there is always a good chance of a variety of birds.

View of the Mound from Parking Area
 High tide to-day made for even better views. The usual ducks and gulls plus one Pintail, 3 Redshank, 4 Greenshank, a pair of Teal and a Kestrel to add to the constant piping of Common Sandpipers over breakfast.
The next stretch of the A9 is visually stunning on a lovely day. Burnished gold and silver sea to the right, golden, gorse clad mountain, redolent with coconut on the left.
Turning off the A9 at Golspie onto the 24 miles to Forsinard single track road, is one of Pam's favourite sections. The first part is quite gentle. The river is relatively smooth running, the sides tree clad. Gradually, the river narrows, the trees become patches of stunted, gnarled, lichen covered oaks, with many dead spikes to illustrate the harsh winters here.
A superb male Grey Wagtail bounced onto the road, beak full. Not much time to appreciate it, as a car passed us and scared it off. Redpoll flew over and our first Greylag goslings were shepherded into the water by watchful parents.
A delighted cry from Pam. An Osprey, fish in talons, perched on a hilltop beside the road.

We stopped. It flew off, fish tightly clasped in one talon.
After Kildonan station - two dwellings in the middle of nowhere - the scenery becomes
bleak moorland with isolated patches of conifer plantations. Real Flow Country starts after Kinbrace. Miles of moorland covered in low heather and cotton grass, patches of standing water as well as larger lochans. Here we saw three proper wild Red Deer, not the farmed variety.
After passing Forsinard RSPB, the road starts to descend towards the coast and there are a few slim green meadows along the river. As we hoped, a dozen black-aproned Golden Plover fed in the long grass. Best of all, a stonking male Whinchat perched on heather. Much brighter than any we have seen before and putting the book illustrations in the shade.
Forsinair is a bridge to a farm basically, where lovely Marsh Marigolds are at their best at this time of year.

Ladies Smock adorn the road verge.

 An information board indicates that it is a nature reserve of sorts.

The road terminates at Melvich where it joins the coastal A road, which we turned onto at 10.30. The 16 miles to Thurso seem much longer than that. Especially as it had clouded over and we had our first rain. Time to fill up with very expensive petrol and a Lidl stop for snacks.
Still raining as we turned off to Castletown Bay which extends to Dunnett Head. The bay was full of birds. At least 50 Divers, mostly Great Northerns with a few Black and Red-throated. Dozens of Auks - Guillemots, Razorbills and two Tysties, one of them changing from winter plumage, looking very mottled. Or was it a juvenile? The Terns were a mixture of Common and Arctic, largely the high pitched screaming latter. Three female Common Scoter huddled together in the middle of the bay. A small flock of mixed Ringed Plover and Dunlin, swooped restlessly about. Why don't they conserve their energy ........
Time to drive to Dunnett Head. Soon after the junction, a male Cuckoo perched on roadside wires, the cat amongst the poor plankton (everything preys on them), Meadow Pipits, gathered around him.
Still raining, so we passed St John's Loch and drove out to the Head car park - which has sprouted an RSPB hut. Walking down to the Lighthouse with eager anticipation, we were disappointed to find no sign of any Auks on the sea nor flying out from the cliffs. It's usually teeming. Plenty of nesting Fulmar, two Puffins appeared from nowhere and a couple of predatory Bonxies cruised through. A gate was open so I went through hoping for a more extensive view - not! Two Twite amongst the buildings though.

We moved to a further clifftop for lunch, from which we saw a Peregrine, Raven and a few Gannets - Pam spotted them whilst I was texting Bridget on Orkney.
Another shower dried up as we got to St John's and walked down to the old hide overlooking the loch, the new hide is still not ready. A blissful forty five minutes enjoying and photographing Arctic and Common Terns screaming their courtship displays. Females waiting and begging, males bringing in small sand eels as payment for the hoped for services.

I'm still not happy with my Arctic photos, they are so active and tend to settle further away from the hide. Flight shots are even worse. One settled on top of the Starling nesting tenement but rose as I clicked the shutter!

We dragged ourselves away at 3.00, paid Castletown Bay a quick visit and drove home on the A9. Another spectacular coastal route on a lovely evening. We were home by 6.45.

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