Tuesday April 23The alarm went of before 4 a.m. ! We were packed and off by 4.47, driving in sun and cloudless blue sky - until reaching the A1. The cloud gradually increased and the rain started at Skatteraw, our favourite stopping place, which is a small car park + loo overlooking a lovely bay, in the shadows of a power station, a good birding spot. Not a lot about to-day. Two Wheatears, Meadow Pipit, a pair of Red-breasted Mereganser, our first of many Eider, Curlew, Redshank and the occasional passing Gannet. The latter are usually numerous. The wind was really fierce too, especially during the squalls.
Longniddry Bents , south east of Edinburgh is another good spot for auks, terns and divers. To-day? A huge swell with white tops to the waves and an even stronger wind meant seeing nothging apart from one Sandwich and one Common Tern. Maybe a short return journey to the more sheltered Aberlady Bay would be calmer. Yes, it was but everything was hiding. Careful scanning added about a hundred Curlew, two pairs of Pintail, Goldeneye and R B Mergansers. As always on Scottish coasts, many Shelduck Eider and Herring Gulls.
We didn’t want to go to the Travelodge mid afternoon and the sun was out, we decided to drive to Methil/ Leven beach. The tide was high but starting to fall. At least 20 Red-breasted Mergansers, Kittiwakes and Gulls were bathing in the river mouth to the south of the beach. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls are looking lovely at the moment. We added a few summer plumage Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoter.
Getting travel weary but remarkably fresh really, we drove to Glenrothes Travelodge and settled in for the night.
Wednesday April 24
Later start this morning - 6.45.........in steady rain, what a pain. We hit Aberdeen at rush hour but the Satnav did us proud. Aberdeen Esplanade is north of town and has ample parking room along the road overlooking the sea. We sat on a bench and enjoyed view of a sea scattered with Red-throated Divers in very variable plumage, from full summer to winter. I had 14 in my scope at one time. More delightful Long-tailed Ducks, two Common Terns, Razorbill, Guillemot and.... Eider and Gulls. I will not mention the latter again unless there’s a good reason. This morning’s year tick and we’ve seen hundreds.
Even more at Newburgh on the Ythan together with a couple of winter plumage Knot, two orange Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and a distant Tern. The disappointing closure of the public loos we’ve been using for years, meant that our stay was quite short. Then the road to Waulkmill Hide was closed, still, it must be at least a year. Meikleloch is well off the road down a track and quiet ... an essential visit. Plenty of Teal and Tufted Duck, a few Mallard and nothing else.
Time to back-track a mile to the Collieston turn-off.
This time, the sea was calm ! Not a good augary for Collieston, as it proved. A few Guillemots and Razorbills, usually distant, and two House Martins visiting the puddle for mud.
We don’t usually visit the Crimond airfield site of the RSPB Starnafin Farm reserve first but we did to-day. Making our tortuous way across acres of badly surfaced concrete,
past skyscraper aerials, often having to zigzag through what looks like tank traps is not a normal reserve entry! The stays holding the aerials in place are very long indeed. To-day proved why they’re necessary. A tremendous squally wind was a constant, howling across the wide open area.
The walk to the hide is, after a muddy track, via a boardwalk over wet marsh and lichen-encrusted alders and birch trees which give shelter. The stilt mounted hide was draughty and shaking. We did not open any windows, it was airy enough already. Forty seven Mute Swans, two pairs of Pintail, a good smattering of Tufted Ducks, three Great-crested Grebes, a Grey Heron, 60+ Wigeon and a single Sand Martin kept us scanning until a huge squall hit us. The windows were heavily rain coated. Time rto scan and admire the Belted Galloway Bull, Ayrshire cows and Konik horses in the fields across the lake.
As soon as the rain stopped it was time to move, Three Willow Warblers, at least three Wrens and a Blue Tit sang in the woods.
Starnafin Farm Centre was empty, no children having lessons to-day. The usual Tree Sparrows in the car park area. What a disappointment. Hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, a few Mallard, Teal and Tufted Duck were the only birds in view. We enjoyed the seat in the warm for an hour or so but only three Grey Herons were added. We’ve never known it to be so birdless - variety wise - before. We knew that arriving early afternoon was not the best time but didn’t expect this. We’ve seen several hundred Pink-footed Geese to-day, many more than usual for us but apparently they usually hang around the area until the end of April.
A quick visit to St Combs before driving the rough track hugging the sea, to Carnbulg. The wrecked ship was wholly visible on a rocky reef offshore, the tide so low that there were rocks joining it to the coast.
Enjoying the sun and two Wheatears, jousting Rock Pipits, 30+ summer plumage Sanderling scurrying on a sandy/ seaweed area and Pied Wagtails, we stayed over an hour. A few Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Shags and Cormorants flew through. The highlight was two Puffins rushing past.
Rose Lodge our B and B for the night, beckoned. Unfortunately, trhe internet connection is either slow or non existent, intermittently cutting out. I haven’t looked at my Fantasy footie team for weeks, maybe months. Suarez being banned for 10 games prompted me to try and remove him from my team. That will have to wait.
Thursday April 25
Breakfast at 7, both of the Smiths were up. He cooks breakfast and she is usually in bed ! She has carpal tunnel syndrome in her right wrist and it keeps her awake. It did mean that we met the delightful 16 week old Tilly, a Chihuahua/Maltese Terrier. She has the latter’s long coat and the former’s dimunitive stature.
The Sat Nav took us about a mile and a half up a potholed farm track....which was a very good short cut to the main road. Our first bird was a Tree Sparrow.
We have droppedin to Portsoy before, it has a photogenic 16C harbour which means the sea can be scanned from nearby. Three birders were already scoping. They turned out to be from North Wales, had driven up overnight, sen a male Capercaillie and Crested Tit at Loch Garten, were birding here as a result of a conversation at Garten and then off to Balranald for the Harlequin Duck, back from there for Ptarmigan and home on Sunday. One of them was an old boy with a hearing aid. Good for them. The sea was heaving with Long-tailed Ducks and Auks, a few Red-throated Divers and, eventually, a distant big, black, spotty Diver, the target bird, White-billed Diver in summer plumage. Eight were seen from a charter boat last weekend. It’s going out again this weekend. Lovely.
The tide was well in at Spey Bay, only three Goosanders in view, a pair on the river bank and a male snorkeling in the waves at the river mouth.
In addition to the birds now becoming ‘the usual’ at Burghead, a flock of about 300 Common Scoter straggled through befor elanding. No sign of any white wing patches.
A cold and windy Findhorn Bay was almost birdless, both the gorsed dune approach and the sea. The hide overlooking the estuary is now key only. Good job too. It’s been re-furbished and needs protection from the local vandals.
Loch Flemington added Moorhen and Little Grebe and the sad sight of two dead Badgers either side of the road. The road is long and straight, cars speed along. I’m glad Pam didn’t have her camera handy, as I got out of the car to take a photo of the loch, my newspaper fell under the car and was whisked away before I could rescue it. I was in the middle of the road picking up individual sheets which were blowing away from me when a car came along. It ran over two pages but the gust of the car whooshed the rest of the pages into the fence at the edge of the loch. I thrust them back through a laughing Pam’s window and she had them re-assembled by my return.
Alturlie came up trumps with over 30 Greater Scaup in the middle of the water. Little else though apart from three Hooded Crows which started on the road and then on to the stony beach enabling us both to photograph them. They’re usually very wary.
A heavy squall drove us to leave for Tesco and shopping for the week’s supplies. I found Pam exactly what she was hoping for. Pots of porridge for 1 which only needed boiling water added. All the other quick varieties were microwave cooked for 2 minutes. We’ll see how she likes them.
After checking in and collecting the key at Fairwinds, we were welcomed to our chalet by a male Cross bill flying up from the ground in front of the verandah into the first tree . I dropped the shopping bags and got my binos..... Siskin, Coal Tits and Robins fed on the Hotel feeders.
Friday April 26
A far more relaxed start after 4 hectic and full days. The forecast for the rest of the week is very iffy, maybe we should go up Cairngorm to-day? It looked OK - until we got to the funicular car park .........when it snowed, quite hard but the flakes were small. The train was packed with skiiers, no other birders. I’ve never seeen as much snow as low down as this to-day. Visibility from the Ptarmigan cafe was only a few metres so we had a drink, hoping things would improve. We ended up making four visits to the viewing terrace, spending some time being buffeted by a strong westerly hurling cheek-stinging snow at us. The snow at either end was almost wall high and an inch of fresh powder fell whilst we were there. The temperature was -2C. The consolation was a pair of Snow Buntings in summer garb, which fluttered down to feed below the terrace and then - fleetingly - onto the terrace itself. Do you know what? We really enjoyed the experience, despite missing out on Ptarmigan, (apart from a dead one lying on a drift on the terrace), for the first time in many years.
The Reindeer Centre half way down the mountain road was the next stop. Pam’s
adopted Reindeer, Strudel, had shed his horns, which were said to be in good condition, and Pam had booked them. They look good still having some of the velvet attached in parts. The girl said that it would be easily removed if they were left outside for a while. What is Pam going to do with them...? They’re in the back of the car in a white bin bag
Loch Garten RSPB looked like a good bet and it was. As we were showing our cards at the gate, a Crested Tit came down to the feeders, joining the ever changing throng of Coal Tits and Chaffinches jostling for a place to feed.
The walk to the Centre was birdless, our sole purpose being to view the Osprey nest. It’s difficult to see the female EJ sitting on her three eggs as the nest is high and deep. She was hunkered right down sheltering from the wind. Fortunately the male, Odin, was perched just underneath. He’d brought an 18 inch Pike in this morning. I tried digiscoping as it’s a fair distance to the nesting tree.
We spent some time trying to photo the Crestie on the return journey with variable results. Why is the light always wrong and the feeders in the shade ! A dimunitive Wood Mouse was even more difficult to capture as it dashed out, burrowed into leaf mould and rapidly shot away again. Pam has some good pics.
Lochindorb, a perennial favourite, was the next birding call. We took a pleasant back road to the loch, feeling sorry for the lone Buzzard being hassled, harried and annoyed by 9 Corvids. Far too many for one bird to have to deal with.
In the hour or so we spent at Lochindorb, we saw:
Common Sandpiper, White Wagtail and 4 Redshanks on the shores of the loch.
At least 10 Red Grouse on the moors
A Black-throated Diver calling as he/she left the nest and departing high and
A single Osprey which circled and hovered its way along the loch before being spooked by a helicopter.
As we left the lochside, our first Hen Harrier of the trip flew along a ridge before dropping out of view .
The feeders we hung up outside our chalet had been well used to-day, the sunflower hearts in particular. As I type, I can hear heavy rain falling. Will we make it to the Caper watch in the morning? The Garten guide said that only one bird was appearing and it could only be seen on camera this morning. Not an attractive proposition.