Monday, 31 December 2012

Shopping - Home - the Pretty Way

Sunday December 30
Very meagre birding this month, Pam still not fit enough for prolonged exposure to the weather.
Shopping became an essential chore, I couldn't resist suggesting that we drive home from North Walsham via Walcott front. No room to park, a rare dry and sunny day had brought people out en masse, the roadside was full of parked cars. I had a quick look for a Med or a passing diver, nil to both.
A diminishing flock of Pinkfeet still in the fields near Rookery Farm.
As we drove towards Batchelor's Lane. a juvenile Merlin appeared from the hedge on our left, flew thrush-like, low along the road in front of us and perched in a sloe near a telegraph pole. Good bin views showed the mottling of a juvenile bird, could be either sex, not possible to tell.
Monday Dec 31
Out Witch Hazel looks beautiful to-day. Most of the flowers opened in yesterday's sunshine. 

Pam took these.
Birds have returned to the garden in the last few days, having found the newly re-situated feeders. We haven't seen any evidence of rats for a while........A flock of Long-tailed, Coal and Blue Tits arrived this morning.
As the guineafowl has taken up residence, he has a name, Kobe. African species in origin so he has a Kruger name. Robbie's not sure what to make of such a large and noisy bird on his territory. So far it's been a stand-off at 20 paces. Advantage Kobe.
I made a loaf of bread following Paul Hollywood's instructions, using my new Kenwood to do the kneading hard work, this morning. I usually use the bread mixer. Here's the result.

Hope it tastes as good....
Ready for to-morrow's bird race sandwiches.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day -Dry !

Wednesday December 26
Christmas was lovely, phone calls from family in Australia and friends over here, a very enjoyable main meal and TV. Our small Kelly organic free range bronze turkey was lovely. Much of it remains for sandwiches and my usual pie.
Traditionally, a day for a brisk walk after yesterday's eating excesses....we drove to Ludham Marshes! Pam still has a virus affecting her sinuses and did not need the fresh air - she was absolutely sure of that.
We drove the very pot holed road past some very nice houses to the marshes, all the holes deeply filled with water, the track thick with mud. A good size flock of mainly Bewick Swans with a few Whooper grazed and rested distantly in a meadow. There appeared to be a healthy number of first winters too.
The track to St Benets Abbey had a big stretch of  pond-like water at its junction. How's a dip so difficult to judge. It was fine.
A few more swans along here, a flock of Pinkfeet, about a dozen Egyptian Geese and very little else. The Broads Authority have built   anew car park with a footpath to the Abbey, not yet open, must have cost a lot. I wonder how many visitors go there.
As we drove home, the local flock of Pinkfeet has moved nearer to 'our' road away from the Rookery Farm area. The tractor entry paths are so deeply rutted and muddy that there is nowhere to park and scope, we had to be content with binning the flock from the car. Bob had seen a Tundra Bean amongst them last week, they were all lying down, legs invisible, we gave up.
We had a Guineafowl on our garden wall this morning, next door neighbours are busy trying to trace its origin. A local pheasant breeding station in a wood half a mile away is favourite at the moment, they keep a couple as fox frighteners. They make good guards.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Suffolk Snowball

Saturday December 15

A free day at last. I was quietly fretting ! 
Via Walcott Post Office to post our Christmas cards - another at last concern, I had printer problems so couldn't print off the newsletter for distant friends. Many of the latter range from birding trips in Morocco/ Santander whale watching ferry/Panama/South Africa,  to ex colleagues. I haven't done one for a while and try to keep it to one page.
A lovely sunny day, temperature rising to 10C, a welcome relief from a week of sub zero with torrential rain yesterday. We were in Aldeburgh soon after 11 a.m., negotiating the heavily pot-holed car parking area at the end of the main street. The location of the Hornemann's Redpoll was obvious from the knot of telescope - glued birders on the sea wall. I climbed the steep grassy bank and joined them. More big lenses were trained by photographers seated on the beach. All of us encircling an apparently oblivious and unconcerned bird feeding under and on a clump of weeds. What a cracker, absolutely beautiful. We watched it for a good half an hour before it flew off south along the beach. It makes Arctic Redpoll look dark!
I tried some digiscoping but had to move further away, we were viewing it below us from about 15 feet away.
Here are a few I managed when it showed itself well enough.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Colourful Legs

Tuesday December 4
After a disturbed night - smoke alarm bleeping right outside my bedroom and unable to remove the battery - I was reluctant to leave my warm bed at 6.30. It was 7.20 with a lovely golden and deep pink sunrise before we set off. Too dozy after a mere 3 hours sleep to consider photographing it........
It seemed to take forever to reach our Tree Sparrow spot, caught in work traffic, and then we didn't manage to see one. Nor much else either. It was an apparently birdless morning everywhere. Pam ate her breakfast at Abbey farm hide whilst I scanned, seeing a few Curlew, Egyptian Geese, Gadwall, Teal and Mallard. The best was a cock-tailed Wren singing its heart out on top of a post directly below the hide. I needed earplugs.
The hide log stated that a couple of feeders have been hung near the car parking area. Not easy to find at first, one of peanuts and the other millet seed. Two birds came in...Coal Tit and Marsh Tit. Very nice.
A quick check showed that it was high tide at Snettisham, we went directly there as fast as possible - legally of course !
The chalet pits had few birds, two Goldeneye the highlight and, then Little Grebes and Tufted Duck on the reserve pits. I scanned the muddy shore from the car , even though the temp. had risen to 2C, it was still very cold in the onshore wind. I love to watch the serpentine , water-filled channels , as the tide recedes, sunlight gleaming off the wet mud.
The usual goodly variety and number of waders, Knot much the most prolific. Swirling groups lifting and adjusting their position as new feeding areas become exposed. It's only the Oyks that fly directly away in large pied flocks.
Tesco in Hunstanton for the loo, one bacon and egg sandwich to share and some bananas before Holme NOA and NWT. Yet another house is being shoe-horned in along the approach road, even more potholes and mud and a large scaffolding lorry being unloaded to evade.
Our first group of six Fieldfare on the approach road, a distant flock of Pinks and a few Magpies. Then... the centre was closed. No hot chocolate to-day.
Thornham's creeks were emptying rapidly. Waw. A handsome Greenshank fed on the far bank. Our first for months. Always a treat to find a wintering one. I went camera crazy.
Have I become an even worse photographer or,  was the camera auto focusing not working properly? Or, was the dark water backed by shiny mud banks, pale bird and sun combination too much ? Maybe a combination of all three. Or was it my 18-270mm Tamron lens at full zoom? Conjecture, conjecture..........

At Titchwell, we walked the east trail for the first time after ticking a Brambling on the feeders. We got as far as the first wooden screen viewing point over the large pool where the gravel and soil  was removed for the new Parrinder Hide bank. We had lovely raised views over the marshes and the muddy edge should be good for waders. A few ducks and a Little Egret to-day, one Marsh Harrier distantly over the east bank towards Gypsy Lane. Three Waxwings had been feeding along the berried hedge until mid-day,  when they flew off.
The light was fast fading, no point in going on along the coast unless we stayed until dusk for the roost. Inland past Choseley for the 'fast' way home. Grey Partridge and a flock of at least 80 Brambling along the hedges south of the barns, white rumps flashing as they hedge-dived in front of us.

I had a lovely day, sun and birds, it made up a bit for not doing well on the 1st. Tuesday was the only day free this week but we may be able to fit in a half day on Friday after my obligatory doctor visit - annual medication review. I only take anti inflammatories.... seems like a waste of their time.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Roast Pork for 40 People

Sunday December 2

Duly attired in Christmas sparkly cardigan and heeled boots  (me) we arrived at Joan's daughter, Kate and husband Pete's home in Bacton at 12.30. A bit late as I'd had a long conversation with my Brisbane family including both grandchildren. Fourteen year old Harry sounds like a man now, no longer can I confuse him with Josh or Sara.
The whole of the ground floor was full of standing/sitting/talking/drinking friends and neighbours of Joan. She's a very active lady,  taking part in many activities and local clubs e.g theatre, gardening, keep fit, book reading, all of which were represented. Seeing no one we knew, we found a space and Pete brought us a drink.
Dinner was an enormous shoulder of pork cooked in a Jamie Oliver wood burning brick oven in the garden. Too many accompaniments to mention here......I stuck to a jacket potato, tomato salsa and a barley risotto with mushrooms and pumpkin. All very nice when breakfast has been given a miss in preparation. Desserts were also many and varied, produced by friends. We ate our meal beside the well, under a canopy with an outdoor chimneya (spelling?) entertained by Don. Basically it was 'chip chops I have fried in' but very interesting. A London man who'd moved here in 1970.
We arrived home soon after 3.30 p.m. in plenty of time to watch Norwich beat Sunderland 2-1. 
Pam started taking the crib and other decorations out of the roof space yesterday. Robbie thought he'd try it out for size.......

He insists on helping me work on the computer too. Well, he's an old boy and indulged! Keeps my ear warm ....
This is his true colour, Robertson's marmalade, not Robbie Williams.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Long Time - No Birding

Saturday December 1
Written on Dec 2

We think that we are very unsociable people, yet have spent a lot of time eating out with friends the last couple of weeks, with more to come. This, together with much rain and short days, has curtailed our birding to a few short trips around local lanes.
The much anticipated 'first of the month' long day out, birding the north coast, dawned to heavy frost and sub zero temperature on wet un-gritted roads. Hm. Maybe a long drive in the nearly dark was not advisable. Very disappointing.  To-morrow promises sun and dry but we are going to a - belated birthday -  lunch in Bacton. I had a cuppa, checked my farm and the temperature rose to 1C. We had to do something. 
As we set out for Cley, sleet fell, huge flakes in the heavy rain. parts of the country have had a good layer of snow already, skiing on Cairngorm has started a week earlier than usual.
Maybe the fields at Felbrigg Hall would have something, a good flock of Brambling wintered there last year. No sign of the Little Owl in its dead tree hole nor any other birds, It's not possible to drive through any more, so we returned to the main road. A dozen Blackbirds, all but one dark-beaked first winter males, probed the verges and a small flock of Redwing flew into a nearby tree. That's better !
I ate my cereal breakfast watching the flooded fields and marshes at Salthouse. About 20 Turnstone fed on scattered food near the car park, two Snow Buntings picked about the Horned Poppy and weed remains on the shingle ridge.
Parking at the triangle and trussed up against the very cold wind - not a strong one thank goodness - we walked out to Daukes. All the birds were on Pat's Pool so we moved to the other hide. Pat's was well flooded, the few remaining 'islands' not large. Plenty of Wigeon, a few Teal , Gadwall and Shoveller, eight Avocets and 20ish Black-tailed Godwits. A single Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbed. We stayed until hypothermia was imminent before returning to the car and Beach Road car park. The sea was very quiet, a couple of distant Red-throated Divers and a single Guillemot, all in flight. Comparatively few Brent Geese around so far this year, a small flock flew in opposite the Centre as we drove by.
Jeremy, in his drinks dipensing van, was still at Salthouse car park, we had hot chocolate and Eddie his second coffee of the day, before a last scan and a drive homewards.
The list stood at just over 50, what about Gunton? We took the back lane at Thorpe Market which misses the main junction and comes out on the Norwich Road. The horse paddocks are always worth a look.... definitely to-day. a handsome Green Woodpecker flew in and fed avidly ,probing the soft ground under an oak.
On the Suffield lane, a falconer was walking a field, I glimpsed a bird fly into a tree and sit silhouetted with its back to us. We reached the beet concrete pad at the same time as the man.  The bird was a male Goshawk which he has started training. He'd returned to his car to get a dead crow with which he hoped to entice him back. Can't count that........very tempting !!
Gunton lake produced plenty of Tufted Duck, three Little Grebe and two Egyptian Geese. No Great Crested Grebe to-day.
Sunset from North Walsham Waitrose car park, taken by Pam

Home in time to watch Man U beat Reading 4-3. All the goals in the first half, terrible defending. Rafael taken off after 20 minutes, threw a strop, refused his coat and had it thrown over his head by the kit man. He then sat in the subs seats like a sulky child, the solicitous Welbeck patting his knee before tucking the coat around his legs. All this whilst Rafael stared straight ahead with his arms folded. Not to be applauded but funny!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

A Little Sea-watching...

Sunday November 18

Such a beautiful looking day after heavy morning ground frost - the car had almost completely thawed apart from the front screen which faces the garage.
The Ibis was not behind the Salthouse duck pond, straight to the Cley Centre for coffee and a newly baked fruit scone. Surprisingly, no-one we knew, not even Pat at the desk. Pam knows one of the violunteers, she worked with her - and is still trying to remember her name. Not much is better than sitting at the window bench with a panoramic view of Cley Marshes, scanning the many birds on view... in the warm. One gets very reasonable views all the way to North Hide and the sea.
Deciding that the hides would be full and the birds no different from those already seen, I hauled myself up the shingle bank at Salthouse, set up my scope and scanned. I always enjoy the challenge but, found it frustrating to-day as the birds were very distant. Mostly Auks scattered about, at least one Razorbill, the others Guillemots much commoner on our coast. Red-throated Divers flew rapidly west but I couldn't ID anything else with certainty. I try not to 'string' !!
Eddie was at the tea van, he's laying a new lawn to-morrow when 50 mph winds are forecast for the east coast. My thoughts immediately turn to sea-watching. If we came up millions on the lottery, I'd have a heated hide with comfortable seats built, overlooking the sea. I might let friends use it.......
There's still a Richard's Pipit on the coast between Weybourne and Sheringham, no sign of yesterday's Surf Scoter though. As we drove through, Penny C appeared from the lane to the sea, I look forward to reading her Blog to-night.
I must remember to phone grandson Josh in Aus to wish him Happy Birthday late to-morrow night, he's 12 on Tuesday. I'll catch him before school if I ring at 11ish.

Sunset and Pinks

Saturday November 17
After a morning and afternoon of steady rain. I fancied some fresh air. I've described our road at the moment as like a ploughed field - sugar beet, salad crops and now potato harvesting - the Eccles/ Sea Palling lane really was. Even the tractor tracks were like furrows. We met one enormous tractor and trailer full of beet where huge clods of soil festooned all surfaces. Maybe I should feel sorry for the workers having to survive the conditions.....I don't ! Another visit to the hand-wash east Europeans in Stalham beckons.
As we entered the Marrams section, a male Sparrowhawk angled from the dunes on the left and arrowed along the lane in front of us. Superb.
The two thousand plus flock of Pinkfeet were again in the field south of  Brograve farm, looking directly into the brilliant sunset.

Difficult conditions for the camera to cope with. The geese were 'all lit up' (famous BBC broadcast by an inebriated commentator).

Too dark for sea watching, we turned round in the raptor viewing lay-by and returned home, glimpsing a mass of Golden Plover amongst the Lapwings on the outskirts of Sea Palling. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Winter Snows

Tuesday November 13
I'd forgotten that we were birding with Sue to-day,  else I'd have planned something different from Titchwell last Sunday. Her father has been unwell so dates have had to be re-arranged.
Where to go to give her enough variety? We drove to Holme next the Sea, parked at the first gate and walked to  Gore Point . Another lovely day .......and a very low tide. I've never seen the sea as far out as it was at Gore. Mud banks galore and the white, tented roof, building at Skegness clearly visible to the north. 
We enjoyed the search despite not finding much apart from the expected waders. A constantly diving Shag kept me occupied - trying to locate it for the other two. There have been reports of upwards of a 100 roosting on Hunstanton cliffs but they are usually uncommon on this coast.
As I was packing up my scope, Sue who was standing behind me, called a 'flock of small birds' flying through her view. Scope uncovered, I located at least 80 Snow buntings making their restless, flighty way along the top tideline before disppearing towards the golf course. Excellent, our first of the winter. The pager later reported over a 100 at the golf course end.......
The highlight at Abbey Farm was three Buzzards in the air at once over the far fields. We also saw two Sparrowhawks and a couple of Marsh Harriers to-day.
Shame we were too late for the Red Kite in the Witton area that James phoned in for us.  As soon as we got in, had a cuppa and said goodbye to Sue, we had two seperate visitors. I didn't notice the ansaphone flashing until it was dark. Thanks anyway James, much appreciated.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A Day to Remember

Sunday November 11

 Blue sky, no wind and a reasonable temperature, a good to be alive and out birding day. I did have to scrape frost off the front windscreen before setting out, the rest of the car was already defrosted and streaming. Straight to Titchwell via Choseley Barns. No sign of yesterday's reported Bean Goose and Snow Bunting, no birds at all in the yard. The usual anonymous hedge divers and Houdini birds until a single male Brambling posed on the overhead wires.

Titchwell car park was packed, our usual fishermen's  parking spot was empty though. 
Five Pintail upended at the far end of the marsh pool on the left and a single little Grebe bobbed up, allowing a quick look.Scanning the Freshwater Pool with its hundreds of Wigeon, Teal. Brent Geese with a scattering of Shelduck, Pochard, Gadwall and Shoveller, we found a few Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff. The near Teal looked so beautiful that I tried some digiscoping. Most of the pics were useless - they were busy preening and head bobbing at each other - or the light was wrong. Here's one.....

Pam missed the calling Water Rail, I'd left her behind - accidentally! 
The beach platform seat was occupied, so we stood and scanned the sea for half an hour or so. The tide had turned but was still four hours away from high. Plenty of the usual waders on the exposed mussel beds, including Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Sanderling and dozens of Oystercatchers. I love the plaintive whistle of the Grey Plover.
The sea looked pretty empty apart from at least a dozen Great Crested Grebes dotted around. Tennis match side to side scanning produced four Long-tailed Ducks, one of them a drake, close inshore, four Red-Breasted Mergansers, several fly-past Red-throated Divers and a lone Guillemot. No sign of the Red-necked and Slav Grebe mentioned yesterday, to the disappointment of a birder we know well by sight who always greets us as friends and we haven't got a clue who she is! She kept me up to date with her 2012 birds whilst I scanned.
Julian and Duncan didn't linger long after we told them about the close Long-tailed Duck in response to their 'what's on the sea' request.
As we reached the path to Parrinder, we were hailed by an older man who entertained us for a good fifteen minutes. He gives talks and is a keen photographer. The best tale was being given a copy of Saunders'  ancient and leather bound book of Norfolk Birds, reading about a Black-capped Petrel and tracking down the stuffed specimen. It's in the Norwich museum. Who is he? He mentioned 'Coe' - surname or first name? Anyway, all very entertaining and interesting, thank you Coe.
Reaching the Freshwater Pool once more, a friendly young man gave me directions as to the whereabouts of a Water Pipit. Good job he did. It was feeding in the thick undergrowth, close in to the bank beyond Parrinder Hide, only showing occasionally.
We made our way home along the coast road, adding a Sparrowhawk and a Marsh Harrier to the day list which was a respectable upper 60s - almost all of them seen at at Titchwell. Great reserve and a very enjoyable day.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Just a Quickie

Friday November 2

Attracted by the sun, we drove to Horsey and Winterton Beach along the back lanes at 2ish. As we turned the sharp bend into The Marrams at Sea Palling, where the New Age Travellers used to camp, four Swallows swooped across the road and landed on the electricity wires overhead. A good late record. although our latest is late December, along with House Martins, over Cromer church.
A male Marsh Harrier and a Kestrel were the only raptors, no sign of Cranes either.
A small flock of Common Scoter and several Cormorants on the flat calm sea, Pam glimpsed a Red-throated Diver which disappeared. Drowned ?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Rain and Birds - from the Car

Thursday November 1

Ever reluctant to forgo our 'first of the month' birding day, I rose at 5.45 a.m. to find steady rain. Should we go? Yes, of course, but, delayed until 6.45 when the leaden skies lightened a shade or two.
Apart from about an hour at 10ish, it rained in varying degrees of severity, all day. The forecast said that it would be a sunny Hunny (Hunstanton). Wrong. 

Highlights - Birds
Tree Sparrows in two places
Two Brambling in the hedge at Abbey Farm entrance.
A wet, perched Buzzard.
Our first Little Egret since September - illness has kept us from birding as much as usual.
60+ Egyptian Geese in a field east of the Snettisham road.

A fraction of the flock. Wonderful, wind-shaped trees at the back.

Hundreds of Redwings everywhere.
10 Grey Partridge huddled together.
Red-necked Grebe off Hunstanton Cliffs plus an Eider and a flock of Common Scoter.

The incomparable swirling, dipping, ever-changing shape, smoke clouds of Knot at the Wash. Together with rocky reefs turning into a mass of Pinkfeet, Oystercatchers, Grey Plover and bar-tailed Godwits. Neither of us cease to wonder at this awesome experience. 
(It was on Autumnwatch later to-night)

Misses - there were many
The 20 Waxwings which turned up at Holme an hour after we'd left.....
All the seabirds at Titchwell - we didn't walk anywhere, Pam will not walk in the rain. With a cough still going strong after five weeks, I was happy to support her.
Shorelark and Snow Buntings at Salthouse - same reason.

I haven't done the final count yet, it's about 71.

From the Garden Tick

October 31

Double fortune.
I was lying in bed, reading, when Pam brought me a cuppa. That made me look up - in time to see a female Hen Harrier fly towards the wood. Excellent, we both saw it.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

First of the Winter

Tuesday October 30

Awoken from my stupour by the news of Waxwings at Repps with Bastwick - on the Stalham Gt Yarmouth Road, I had my first outing since last Thursday.
There were six birds feeding on top of a dense Hawthorn tree, in the lay-by opposite the garage. Convenient. We pulled in behind another car , the driver had the better view, then turned round to approach from the south.
This meant that I was on the side away from the birds and forced (!) to try some photos through a mucky front screen. That's no excuse for the pretty appalling photographs. It was not possible to get the depth of field required to focus more than one and they were mostly hidden amongst the branches. We watched for about twenty minutes, hoping for a classic 'berry in beak' shot, before they all flew, trilling,  away.
Beautiful birds, always a delight to see.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Great Birding Possibilities

October 24-25

And we're stuck indoors.
I've had a stomach bug, the first time I've vomited since I was a young child. I missed a lifer, Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll in Holkham Woods and good seawatching conditions. A very strong northerly wind and cold. Many Little Auks.
I was determined to try and make the Redpoll to-day, a bit of a yomp east from Lady Anne's Drive to Washington Hide then along the boardwalk into the seaward side of the dunes. Seemed to have been a very confiding bird. Bother.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Thrush Bonanza - and a Garden Tick

Tuesday October 23

A post lunch view of a Black Redstart on our front porch - garden tick - by Pam from her seat on the sofa, sent us off in search of migrants. We toured the local lanes getting as far as Cart Gap before home via more back lanes. The latter looked like plough due to sugar beet and lettuce harvesting. We saw thousands of winter thrushes, even more than we did in Scotland. I saw one male Brambling before it disappeared down a trough.
Back to our seats at home...Pam was on the phone... she saw the Black Red again. I whipped outside, saw it on our roof ridge, my camera was in the locked car! I ran indoors, got the car keys  and took some pics as it flicked from roof to roof, shivering its tail. Appalling light, misty too. This is the best I managed.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Heatherlea Week at the Mountview Hotel October 13 - 20 and a Last Day Lifer

Saturday October 13

After a hearty breakfast, we left Fairwinds Hotel late morning and drove to Aviemore to pick up Pam’s birthday cake from the Mountain Cafe. The latter turned out to be over an outdoor clothing shop with a queue for tables extending down the stairs. Amazing place, all tables full, everyone eating various cakes. No chance of a coffee here. I'd been recommended them by Heatherlea.

Picked up a huge chocolate cake and drove towards Cairngorm to find a cafe where we could park and have a hot chocolate. Whilst enjoying our drink we both admired a cherrywood albatross suspended from a bracket, its wings gracefully flapping in response to any movement. We bought it.....

Lochindorb is a favourite. By now we had a misty drizzle yet we saw 14 + Red Grouse and 3 Roe Deer. The loch was empty of all but Mallard, bred for shooting.

Lochindorb in the mist

Juvenile Red Grouse
Roe Deer
 We reached Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge, Heatherlea’s headquarters, at 3.10. Funny place...old fashioned looking, at the end of a steep driveway. We were shown to a pleasant, and large, room overlooking the front entrance, but with very little storage space. Reasonably sized en suite. No internet access either...low or non-existent signal.

Dinner was served at 6.30. Ordinary veg soup, a lump of chicken, green beans, slices of potato, followed by pear and chocolate sauce. Adequate.

Another slow and abortive internet go, downstairs in the side lounge. How disappointing. We retired to our bedroom to watch Merlin and Casualty

First reactions. Older people in the main, a scotsman with a loud voice he uses a lot. Breakfast at 7.30 to-morrow.

Sunday October 14

Pam’s 75th birthday - an especially early start to open cards etc. Even though breakfast was at 7.30, we didn’t set off until 8.45. Dilatory. All depends on when the kitchen produces the packed lunch.
Off to the moor at Dorback off the Grantown/Tomintoul road. I immediately saw a distant flying Black Grouse in an area unsuitable for stopping. We were able to park in a pull off 200 metres further on where I had 4 male Black Grouse in the scope. Still distant.

The Black Grouse spot - Pam's photo
It was very very cold on the moor!! A little better in Grantown community woods where we wandered for an hour or so, along with the inevitable dog walkers and joggers.

It was an undulating walk with sections of mud. We heard and saw: Crested Tit, Crossbill , Treecreeper, Goldcrest plus the expected commoner birds. We were shown a large lump of edible Cauliflower fungus, half of it missing but it had re-grown.

Cauliflower Fungus - about a foot across.
Our guide for the week, the very funny and affable Ian, had already acquired it and then hidden the remainder under branches to keep growing out of sight . The 'past its best' Chanterelle was in situ.
A cuppa and a home made shortbread biscuit for elevenses whilst Pam listened to the Brisbane family sing to her on the phone. The phone was then turned off for the rest of the week.

Elevenses at Anagach. From the left. Pam, Hazel, Richard, Janet, Liz, Jean, Heather, Wendy, Geoff and Joyce
After a shortish drive, we spent half an hour sea watching at Burghead, at the opposite end  from the Maltings. Few birds to see, Gannet and little else. Next stop Burghead harbour where the sun and deep troughs made viewing difficult. Big flocks of Eider some Long-tailed Ducks and large flocks of Scoter. The latter included a funny white one with a lemon beak. A few Razorbill. No sign of the King Eider... ..We ate our lunch here whilst scoping.
On to Hopeman, not much again but, a Guillemot and a flying Red-throated Diver to swell the list.
Back to the Maltings. Another flock of Scoter and a few of the delightful Long Tailed Ducks, so much handsomer in winter plumage.
Roseisle Beach, a first for us, Pam resents paying the parking charge !  She's not usually a cheapskate....An empty sea. More of the same common birds.
Findhorn Hide area on the estuary, not the hide itself, a walk around onto the marsh in front of it.. Golden Plover, Grey Heron, hundreds of Curlew, Wigeon, Dunlin, Ringed
Plover and Knot. All very distant....
Findhorn Bay. At last, 3+ Velvet Scoter amongst the dozens of Common. Our closest views of a large flock of the glorious Long-tailed Duck.
A glorious rainbow lit up the grey sky, a beautiful double arc with something else I didn't catch. Only found in this part of Scotland. Must look it up.

Mammals seen and heard
Roe Deer, Red Deer roaring, Red Squirrel, Atlantic Grey Seal.

Monday October 15

Breakfast at 7.00 to-day so that we could make an early (er) start for Ardnamurchan. We were away by 8.20, overnight small bags stashed on the back seats. Pam and I saw a flying Black Grouse en route. Everyone had been told to look to the left - we were sat on the right so that’s where we looked. We had to make a big diversion onto side roads, due to a vehicle fire, we then  passed a bus in the ditch. It too had had to make a diversion and the side of the road had given way.
Hundreds of Redwing around, apparently they’ve been pouring in over the last few days. Only 1 Fieldfare,
An absolutely stunning day. Windless, sun all day, interesting clouds, superb autumn tree colour. Scotland at its best. The reflections in the lochs were beautiful.
The Corran Ferry was discharging its car cargo as we arrived so we only waited a few minutes. 

Corran Ferry - at Corran
It was great to view Tysties in winter plumage, Shags and winter Razorbill as we crossed - still seated in the minibus.
The route crosses Loch Linnhe from Nether Lochaber to Ardgour at the Corran Narrows, nine miles south of Fort William.

Shags on drums looking north westish from Ardgour on Ardnamurchan. Coffee time.

I can't resist wrecks, also at Ardgour
We stopped at a loch on Ardnamurchan to scope Great Northern Divers, some in summer plumage, dozens of Slav Grebes, Goosander and Eider. Great excitement all round when Heather saw an Otter whilst we were birding. We all chased it along the lochside until it swam too far away. Pam, Geoff and I stopped at the first steepish descent when the otter was too distant to photograph.
A pretty large school of Harbour Porpoises showed well but distantly further along the loch, I counted 10 fins showing simultaneously. My first ever experience of  Red Deer roaring at the rut. Exciting, much better than on TV.

Wild goat sunbathing lochside
Benview Hotel in the village of Strontian is long low and wooden set on an elevated position looking out over a loch. Our room is very comfortable. Strontian gave the name to the element Strontium, one of the only two places after which an element is named. It lies on the north shore of Loch Sunart, close to the head of the loch. In the hills to the north of Strontian lead was mined in the 18th century and in these mines the mineral strontianite was discovered, from which the element strontium was first isolated (Wiki !)
As previously arranged, Kevin arrived in Ian’s car, Ian then left to drive to Dundee for a funeral.  We shall miss him. Kevin is not W's favourite person. She's a Heatherlea groupie, this is her fourth visit this year and she will return for New Year.
Before dinner, Mike joined us and we drove high into the hills where the home owners who feed Pine Martens are found. Mike is trusted by the house owners, he only takes Heatherlea to visit.

We parked a few feet away from a tree stump where jam sandwiches, honey coated peanuts and dried fruit had been laid.They didn’t come until dark. At least 3 beautiful, thickly furred, animals, taking the sandwiches away to stash for later before returning to eat the dried fruit and nuts.

The laden 'table' - before it got dark
Pine Martens are fantastic. Broad bushy tail, stoat like head, Robbie (our large ginger cat) sized. So disappointed that flash photography was not allowed, understandably. Would have loved some pics, one of the biggest disappointments really, although it was fantastic to see them.

 A delicious supper followed by New Tricks on TV.

Tues October 16

7.15 pre breakfast departure to meet Matt Ford in a lochside lay-by. Employed as a stalker/ manager for a local estate (s) he has worked for Springwatch, Autumnwatch and other wildlife programmes - still is. He's involved in helping with the wildlife shoots for a new programme on the Hebrides due to be broadcast in the spring 2013.  Matt's great, a real wildlife man. Unassuming, pleasant and a good communicator. I saw 1 otter on the drive, as did Kev and Matt, no-one else did as it only showed briefly below us. One well pointed Red Deer stag on the hillside became camera shy. Why did such a handsome beast have no hinds? It would have been better to breakfast  first was the general consensus. We were able to drive private roads and lanes because of Matt.
After breakfast, I had great scope views of 2 otters, mother and well grown young, swimming, fishing and play fighting on the seaweed rocks. Most extensive views ever, I loved it, one of the trip highlights. In all, we saw 5 otters to-day.
Looked hard for raptors, none seen, much too still and fine a day for them to be flying. Apparently, windless days are rare here.

Whilst watching Red Deer stags  rounding up their hinds on the hillside, Kevin called a Golden Eagle flying along the ridge behind us. I swung my scope round, got it immediately and watched it  landing. It soon flew again, even further away, I was able to follow it. After letting others look through my scope, I  digiscoped it.  

Very distant Golden Eagle - digiscoped with a Canon PowerShot SX 220 through Swarovski 82 scope
Matt asked for a copy of the photograph as he didn't recognise the bird, it might be this year's young or an incomer. He keeps records.
Big herds of deer on the glen side. We all stood in awe watching a great fight between two evenly matched stags, an unusually long one Matt said. Stalkers were out on the  hillside and had pushed the stags and their harems much too close together for their comfort. I watched the whole bout through my scope. Again, much better than on TV.
Gralloch  - the deer remains left on the hillside after shooting - attracts Eagles and Ravens, clean up merchants and good feeding.  No wind - nothing flying.
Loo stop at Lochaline where the ferry leaves for Fishnish on Mull. The road here was like a race track. Mull had finished hosting their annual road race and the cars were still driving fast on the single track roads of Ardnamurchan. It was one of the regular loo stops and Kevin did his 

' we're leaving in two minutes' that he's famous for (I wonder if he knows) in order to beat the incoming ferry-load. Eight women and two loos = queues.
We re-traced our drive as far as Matt’s house (garden) to eat our lunch. He talked about Pine Martens - it was on his house that they were filmed in the roof space and climbing outside. He also showed us some of his eagle feather collection so that we could see the difference in size and shape between the primaries of Golden and White-tailed Eagles. Not much difference in length but the White-tailed feathers are much broader. Juvenile eagles have longer tail feathers than the adults in order to help them fly in their first year. Fascinating. I could have listened to him all day. 

His extensive garden, at the junction of three glens, is well treed and shrubbed with two  vegetated ponds. The list of birds seen in and from it is impressive. It must look like an oasis in the middle of mountain and moorland.
We left at 2.15, dropped Matt at his car and drove directly to the ferry and home in a beautiful golden evening light and then sunset. Stunning experience, a wonderful two days. 

A Dipper at Broomhill Bridge with the sun setting behind the river and hills was an apt ending.

Wednesday October 17

Woke to a tremendously heavy frost. Ground, trees and shrubs encrusted in frosty white. Left at 8.45. Drove part of Abernethy to look for Capercaillie, Johnny, another guide, saw one here recently, we didn't. We then drove part of the Tulloch Moor road looking for feeders - all empty - nothing for Cresties to feed on.

We had elevenses in a frosty side road where I needed some privacy and took photos on my way back.

Frosted Rowan berries. Lovely
I've never seen such heavily laden Rowans as we saw in Scotland. The boughs were bent low under the weight. I thought ours was good until I saw these. A row of trees on Ardnamurchan was particularly splendid but we couldn't stop there.

-8C overnight temperature, a dusting of snow on Cairngorm, heavy hoar frost on everything. Looked wonderful. Pam's photo

Would there be Cresties at Loch Garten? Geoff, Pam and I drove back to the Hotel for peanuts whilst the others did Abernethy loos - for the second time to-day. Loch garten RSPB is closed yet the entry gate is unlocked and one can walk up to the Centre.
The hanging feeders at the entry have been removed and a board placed across the top of the rail opposite the kiosk window. Beyond here, many of us were engaged watching tits come down to feed from Ian's hand and a few people did likewise.

 Heather came over to tell us that she'd been photographing Crested Tits on the shelf. Quick return for me. I really enjoyed the challenge of catching the little b's zooming in to snatch some food and fast away. Their speed, together with poor lighting and my lack of skill = poor photos. One day........

On reaching the centre we found half a dozen people feeding and photographing the birds, obviously a known local spot. No Cresties here but a Bank Vole darting out to snatch some bird food. So many Coal Tits, far outnumbering all other species.
Heatherlea has access to a private estate off the A9, en route to Inverness, entry via a locked gate. We drove slowly along variable tracks through conifer forest, part felled in places. No-one spotted Capercaillie......When we reached the top near a pylon, we walked a little, admiring any fungus we found. Rain sent us back to the van and lunch.
A poser for a guide. What to do in the rain, I guess they're used to it up here.
Not a good day for anywhere, let alone Findhorn valley, but... that's where we went. Raptors do fly in the rain but it's not easy to see them. We stopped at the dipper bridge where we saw a fully clothed, in walking gear, man lying flat out on the bank last year. I was on the verge of pronouncing him dead when he got up and walked off. Knackered I guess. Pam and I walked over to look for spawning salmon, an ambition I've long had but done nothing about. No sign.
Not a long wait in the top car park before calling it a day. No birds and heavy rain. Time for a shower before dinner.

Thursday October 18
Usual leisurely start after a 7.30 breakfast. Drove some woods looking for Crossbill........ walked in Curr Woods looking for Crossbill.......found some nice fungi.

Wolf's Fart - who named this and why?
Via Inverness, we travelled to the  Black Isle in low overcast, mist and drizzle. One of my favourite views, Kessock Bridge, the Firth and Inverness laid out below as one crests a rise on the A9, was grey mist.
The Black Isle is not an island but is, in fact, a peninsula,. It's about 23 miles long and 9 miles wide at its broadest. It's not an island and where did the 'Black' come from? Theories range from  : a reputation for witchcraft to the colour of the soil.
Morning drink and biscuit were taken whilst  scanning Munlochy Bay for waders and ducks etc.
Highlights were our first Red Kite, Lapwing and Little Grebe (me only) and our first Black-tailed Godwit. The anticipated geese were missing. Two Yellowhammers added to the list.
High tide is a good time to be looking for Dolphins at Chanonry Point, a long finger pointing south into the Moray Firth. The opposite shore at St George forms a narrower chicane where both birds and dolphins are channelled closer to shore. Not to-day unfortunately - and it was a cold wind on the exposed shore.
Towards the landward end of the point, 30+ Swallows and a single House Martin fed low over the golf course, often perching on an overhead wire.
We continued east, I was sitting in the front for the first and only time. Ian mentioned a bird which had come through on his phone. He'd teased me earlier in the week about bringing my pager on holiday - at least I'd turned the alerts off ! I realised that I hadn't checked the news for a day or two so I read it. At first I skipped over the Cromarty message, forgetting that I was in Scotland. I checked back, a Dotterel 3 miles SW of Cromarty with a flock of Golden Plover. Just up the road.
Off we went and found the 'newly planted' field (should have said newly sprouted) after a couple of erroneous directions from locals. As suspected, the field was undulating, many of the plover often out of sight. Ian found a side road where we were able to park in a muddy track. He, Wendy and I, then scoped the multitude. I was the first to see what I thought was THE bird, sheer luck that it was in sight. I've never seen one in winter plumage before. A very pale bird, it's off white, narrow breast  band indistinct. It's a bit smaller than the Goldens too. The flock was active and flew on several occasions. Despite this, both Pam and Ian re-located the Dotterel and everyone managed to see it. Excellent. It never entered my head to try digiscoping. Lunch was eaten whilst we were there.
The road up to the headland where one can look over the area where the Cromarty Firth meets open sea is steep and single track. Part of the way up, a large bridge/tunnel appears on the right leading into an estate. Ian's trivia question for the day 'what's its purpose'. No idea - which didn't stop me guessing. It was a servant's entrance which  they had to use so that they were hidden from the gentry in the main house. How sad was that.
Last birding spot was Udale Bay at high tide. The first stop was to view several hundred Scaup way out in the bay. Two females were closer, my digiscoped photos are less than good.

Female Scaup
A rather poorly looking young Guillemot drifted by.......
The second stop was in a lay-by where a hide is situated. By now, my knees were sore from a day climbing in and out of the van. All steps are high, the front one marginally higher. Geoff - his knees are shot - and I stayed in the van, scanning from there. The others walked into the new hide, about which Ian has been fairly scathing.

Hundreds of commoner waders, at least seven Grey Heron looking dejected at which they are champions . Knot was new for the trip.
A short drive around the bay past some road works and another stop to scan the birds on the fast dropping tide. Pam photographed a Cracked Boletus here - I genuinely thought Ian said crap Boletus, cos it was.

Cracked Boletus, Pam's photo. Ian gathered it for Johnny, another guide
We got back later than usual so it was a quick change for supper at 7 before leaving for Johnny’s house to watch for badgers at 8.15.  We were ensconced in the kitchen and living room. Ian laid a peanut trail on the front grass before making our post supper drink. He'd hardly started when a badger appeared. Great. She carried on scoffing the peanuts whilst the window was opened, people leaned out, talked and cameras flashed a few feet away.

Eyes down, non stop scoffing.
Excellent. I've only had views of them crossing the road at night - or dead beside it - since I was a kid. Then, local boys caught one, loaded it into a cart and pulled it back through the woods. I was more worried about them sitting my Downs syndrome older brother on the edge of the cart with his legs dangling inside. I was supposed to be looking after him. I don't think my parents ever found out, brother Geoff kept his mouth shut for once.

Friday October 19

Catch-up day, for missed birds.
Not such a calm and collected group to-day, drifts of train, car journey and packing chat at intervals. Groups like this are so transient. One lives closely for a week and then swiftly depart, often never to meet again - although several here are Heatherlea regulars. Ships that pass in the night....It's several years since Pam and I joined a birding group, we tend to do our own birding or hire a local guide for the two of us.
A different area of Grantown woods to try for perched Crossbill, we've had a brief flying view previously.
Three Bullfinches flew through and Crested Tits were heard on our half mile each way walk.
No Crossbills.

Many fungi to keep us interested and my fascination with photographing be-dewed spider webs, spider in the centre, woven across bracken and heather, was indulged. I've not got a good one yet, too messy a background detracting from the shot, needs some plain card held behind - and that seems so artificial. I still try......
Pam found an attractive stone - one of her delights - which Ian identified as map lichen. She found two in total.

Carrbridge loos for lunch, the car park that is. I discovered why W. Pam and J. were much amused by the mirrors. I'd only used the ordinary loos previously which did have larger than normal mirrors. This time I used the disabled loo - J has a key - glanced to my right as I was seated and saw a full reflection of me which I'd never witnessed before. Nor do I want that experience again ! Now I understand the laughter.
Pam and I walked to the Spar to buy a hot drink from the vending machine. We'd seen others return with steaming cups on previous visits. To-day was such a miserable low overcast and rain - day we felt like the  olfactory comfort of hot chocolate. It was good.
Where now? Up the A9 towards Inverness and a slow, jolting,  mind-numbing tour of the forested estate again to look for Capercaillie. Ian's timely reminders of where to look kept us more or less on task. After the usual false alarms of calls to look at dark stumps, Richard's call was yet another piece of punctuation. actually was one! Only visible from a certain angle and sitting with its back to us was a male Caper. Richard had been so disappointed not to have seen one - it was the only bird he wanted to see, he's not a birder. And to find it himself must be brilliant. Ian rolled the van backwards and forwards to ensure all saw the bird, found the best view and started a strange (later) setries of movements in the van. Imagine several less than agile, some elderly and all handicapped by low headroom, other bodies and high backed seats changing position to take turns to view. It all seemed quite normal at the time. At Ian's suggestion, W.  then set her scope up just inside the door and the quadrille started again.

My brain had to process seeing the bird upside down as I leaned over the seat - my knees do not allow me to kneel without extreme discomfort. Ian's suggestion that I walk along the ceiling was not a goer.
Phew, many happy people with terrible photographs taken through tinted, rain-dropped glass of a black blob sitting amongst branches. I'd got sharp branches and fuzzy bird. Through the binoculars, one could see all the salient ID features well. I should have tried to digiscope the male and female birds we saw well at Loch Garten in the spring. Too busy looking at the time.
Further along the A9 we took the Ruthven turning and drove a part of the Findhorn Valley unfamiliar to us. Such a beautiful valley in persistent rain. We were looking for hares, both Brown and Mountain, all we saw was rabbits.
A contraption at the side of the swollen Findhorn river turned out to be a zip line for fishermen to cross to the other bank via a box, locked away, which could be suspended from the wires crossing the river. I reckon they would have got more than their feet wet, the wires were very low.

Pam and I went for a wet walk up the track, a few others got out too, we were not out long. Back to the hotel earlier than usual so that we could do some packing before dinner.
After dinner on the last night, it is traditional for groups to assemble in order to take turns to speak about the best wildlife and the best non-wildlife experience of the week. Ian took notes as he is charged with producing a report. I could have chosen so many highlights. The rutting deer was popular, I chose my excellent sustained views of the female otter and her well grown cub. Where did Matt fit in? He could have been in either category in my book. Glorious scenery, especially the hoar frost morning on autumn trees and the sunshine on similar trees on Ardnamurchan, greatly enhanced by perfect mirror reflections in the glassy still-water lochs. I do not like sharing my emotions with realtive strangers - I'm not the best with friends - so chose the disabled loo mirror at Carrbridge for a cheap laugh.
The apparently silent and reserved Geoff, who we got to know well as the week went on, we were often seated near him in the bus and at meals, brought the house down at the end. We were well aware of his dry humour and pithy asides but his Skua story was a classic. Speaking of Bomb Alley on Shetland, he told us that Bonxies come straight for the eyes. His theory was that if he put his coat on back to front and put a mask of a face on the back of his head......we didn't hear the rest, everyone roared and Ian had difficulty in keeping his water in his mouth. A spontaneous classic.
It's been a lot of fun this week, ably led by Ian who is also a very good birder,  my reserve soon dropped. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and Pam was very happy that her birthday choice turned out so well. I still hankered for Scilly.........

Saturday October 17
Our lifer is still there - after at least 5 days. I set the SatNav to Crail, south of St Andrews, and we were there lunch time. Not without puzzlement. We asked three people, including at the golf club which was only half a mile away, the way to  Kilminning. At last, a man told us it was along the lane with a big sign to the GoKart track at its entrance.
Kilminning looked like a disused and very overgrown airfield, lots of cracked concrete in secret corners edged by trees and shrubs. It could have been a race track I suppose, there was one up the road which we passed on the way in.

The first evidence of man's use of the site comes from ancient stone burial chambers called cists which have been found opposite the Kilminning Castle rock. Another burial site, Long Man's Grave, lies at the northeast end of the reserve. In local folklore, it is said to be the final resting place of a great Danish warrior.
During the Second World War the land behind the reserve was used as a Royal Navy Air Station. Remains of some of the defensive works that protected the airfield can still be seen on and around the Reserve. 

Kilminning Coast Wildlife Reserve is an area rich in wildlife and history. The reserve consists of a strip of coastland about one kilometre in length and 10 hectares in size. It was established in 1985 and is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust through an agreement with the owners, Fife Council.

Should have looked it up first before surmising!

Early afternoon, the sun came out. After several false alarms and fruitless rushes, with the help of several other birders, all very helpful, the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler showed very well in a partially bare Elderberry Tree. It was very active but occasionally paused and appeared to listen to the ratatat of camera shutters. Pam fetched my scope and Powershot, I managed three photos before it disappeared.