Monday April 29
An even later arrival at Loch Garten, we weren’t there until 6.30 a.m. An hour later, we were sat watching a male Capercaillie way off behind the Osprey nest....on the screen. A black blob with an ivory beak. There was also a camera on a Goldeneye nest, only down to be seen at first until the wind exposed two of the turquoise blue eggs. The female did not appear at all. Normal apparentl.
The cry went up ‘forward hide’. We were numbers 31 and 32, the last ones there, so we were in the second group. I had a good scope view of a different male sitting in the open. Brilliant. The forward hide is now nearly as big as the main hide in length - not the small shed it once was.
As our luck was in, we drove to Broomhill Bridge where we got out to inspect the river. It was freezing! My bones were still cold from the hide. No luck either. On to Dulnain Bridge, not actually the bridge but the layby off the main road a little further on. A Dipper sat on a nearby rock where I got some bad photographs as it was against the light and the brightness of the water allied with the dark rock and bird made exposure difficult. Such a shame as it was the nearest I’ve ever got to one.
Lochindorb was bathed in sunshine this morning, the fierce wind causing the surface to roll waves towards the beach. Only one Red Grouse on show, 2 Common Sandpipers, a Redshank and a few Greylag.
After collecting my newspapers from our village shop, Glen Feshie called. Again, no birds. The passerine migrants have not arrived yet and the trees are still leafless, no sign of burgeoning buds even.
Uath Loch, part of the way along the glen, for lunch. Delight. Two Crested Tits fossicked in the low bushes and on the ground beside the car, a mere 6 feet away, occasionally flying into a nearby tree. After they disappeared, a Treecreeper made its way, bottom to top as always, up four of the trees facing us. Apart from a pair of Goldeneye on the lochan, we saw no other birds.
Four Red Deer made their way through the trees.
Inshriach Alpine Nursery is a must for me, despite it no longer being the exclusive domain of Jack who bred many of his own varieties, especially Gentians. It now has a small cafe famous for its home-made gateaux eaten on the gallery watchpoint over the huge bird feeding station.
Not much variety this time, oodles of Chaffinches, a few Siskin, Coal Tits, a Great Tit and one Greenfinch. I had a delicious hot chocolate and Pam a chocolatey cake to accompany her drink. Yes, I bought some Alpines, including a Gentian.
Time to fill up with fuel for to-morrow’s trip north.
Tuesday April 30
What a beautiful morning for which to get up at 5.30 . Cloudless sky and no wind. The car windows were covered in rain drops, which turned out to be frozen when I tried to remove them. Then the de-icer froze in a thick layer.
Ten minutes later, at 6.00, we were on our way north, my favourite day out and Pam loves it too.
Embo Pier, the place of blowing sand and Bridget’s fruit cake in the distant past. Calm and blue to-day with a heaving sea. Most of the birds were in the sheltered part of the bay and there were lots. Dozens of Razorbills, a few Guillemots, 1 Gannet, a small flock of Common Scoter, half a dozen Red-throated Divers in various plumage, a pair of Long-tailed Ducks - the male’s tail stuck up in the air like an aerial - only a few Eider.
Loch Fleet had its usual Grey Seals basking on the muddy islands exposed at mid tide.
On to Skelbo before crossing the bridge over Loch Fleet and our breakfast parking place at The Mound. At exactly 8.30 a.m. I’ve never seen so much water in the pool, I always thought that it was tidal, it obviously isn’t. An Osprey flew through towards its nest. As we were about to leave, after a leisurely stop for Pam to eat her pot of instant porridge, 3 male Bullfinches flew into a small tree at the edge of the car area.
Migrating Pink-footed Geese, sad to see them go but good to catch up with them going to their breeding grounds.
Helmsdale is the dividing of the roads. Straight on the A9 to Thurso or, a minor road up to the Flow Country and RSPB Forsinard. We always go via the Flow country. The road follows a mountain river, all white rushing water over stones and rocks, brittle grey-green lichen encrusted, gnarled and stunted birch and oak. They’re lovely and still totally leaf free. We look for Redstart here, no luck, they haven’t arrived yet. Only one Wheatear too, there are usually many.
The road climbs to starkly bleak and awesome moorland, The Flow. The biggest surprise here was two Redwings in pristine summer plumage. Will they breed? Forsinard Centre is part of the station for a train which still runs, not very frequently. They have a loo and a drinks machine, most welcome.
Another sign of the very late spring, no Marsh Marigolds at the bridge, previously there have been large clumps of them riverside.
Roll on Dunnett Bay and Castletown. The latter is an old harbour at the end of the road on the western side of the bay. We use a bayside raised parking spot which gives a panoramic view. The bay usually has many divers. To-day.........one superb adult Great Northern Diver, dozens of Auks, mostly Razorbills again and a big surprise, 10 Puffins. At least one Great Skua flew in, Pam had one sitting on the sea so there may have been two. As I was scoping, 6 Whimbrel landed on the near shore to add to the Riged Plovers and Dunlin we’d seen earlier at the south end of the bay.
The beach here is made of shale like rock, used vertically as walling in the ancient harbour and as fencing in nearby fields. Ideal for rockery sinks and crevice gardens.
St John’s Pool on the way out to Dunnett Head is a favourite call-in. Unfortunately it has become a Black-headed Gull metropolis. We added 7 birds to the day list and a few to the trip list, among them, 28 Black-tailed Godwits, Shoveller, Teal, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Sandwich Terns.
An Oystercatcher kept leaving her eggs to see off a Redshank, which was dying to go to sleep. Silly bird.
It had clouded over by now and a few spots of rain fell, still no wind to speak of. Blissful at Dunnett Head the UK’s most northerly point - not John o’Groats. Just as well that we’d seen the auks in the bay. The sea below the cliffs is usually black with a mass of them, only the odd one to be seen. Another Bonxie flew out at sea , hassling the gulls annets.This is also where we see truly pure Rock Doves - and we did - breeding Fulmars and Kittiwakes. Just the one Rock Pipit.
We wanted to phone Bridget to wish her a safe journey north on Thursday (hoping that the trip was on), so we drove onto the top cliff from where we phoned them on Orkney two years ago. No signal. This continued all the way until we were almost in Helmsdale. I kept reminding Pam and telling her we’d got 2 bars, she stopped in three lay-bys by which time there was no signal again. At last we managed it and yes, they will be on their way via the west coast first. It should be warmer and with more passerines by the time they get to Carrbridge.
We were in at 6.50 after a round trip of 316 miles. Good driving by a 75 year old !