Saturday, 2 December 2017

Starring role to....?

Friday December 1

Yesterday's wintry showers of sleet and hail did not sparkle the landscape here. The fallen leaves became wetter and their drifts larger, swirled into hidden places by the fierce wind gusts. To-day started off sunny. Students of Norfolk's vast skies would have enjoyed the kaleidoscope of blue sky, white cumulus and thickly grey,  snow and rain full clouds,  which marked our day out.
Not expecting much in the way of quantity nor quality - all our birding is done from the car due to my lack of mobility - we had a lovely day. A flock of Curlew dotting the stubble along the back lane to Abbey Farm. At Abbey, a pair of Bullfinches lighting up the bushes around the dried pond and a Red Kite surveying the far field before swooping down and startling the Starlings into flight. It looked like it was having fun.

Starring role to-day was at least five thousand Starlings on the pig fields seen from the Flitcham/Sandringham road. Five hundred Large Whites, Saddlebacks and patched pigs took no notice at all of their very noisy neighbours. (Did I just liken Man City to pigs there ? ) I'd love to see this mob go to roost - if it was a single one. The geometry of their murmuration would be magnificent.


As it is, the sight of so many on the ground amongst the feeding pigs is unsurpassed, by me anyway. Those animals at the feeding stations had rows of ignored Starlings on their backs. 




I only had my 300 mm lens so, the depth of field during an overcast and dark weather segment is pretty appalling. The photos only show a very small area of the fields.
Tide at Snettisham was on its way back in, with about four hours to go. So many Grey Plovers, a few Redshank, Dunlin, Turnstone and Ringed Plover feeding avidly on the mud. At least 30 Pintail could be scoped but not the sure identity of the hordes of birds that deckled the far shore. Many were Knot .... what else though?
No sign of the Great White Egret we saw on our last visit. A few Goldeneye and a winter influx of Wigeon on the reserve pits. Am I pleased to see 40+ Canada Geese gliding gracefully along? The sight yes, they're handsome geese, not their presence though. They've begun to colonise Mull, .Arthur Brown calls them White-tailed Eagle meals. He also calls Meadow Pipits the plankton of the bird world.
Thornham's creeks were fast filling with the inrushing tide. After seeing the flock of Twite from the car park, we quickly drove on to Brancaster Staithe for a late picnic lunch. No Long-tailed Duck to-day, a few Black-tailed Godwits, the odd Bar-tailed, more Grey Plover. The highlight was a lone Greenshank in the dim of approaching twilight.
So dark now at 2.30, Pam hurtled - as much as the road will allow - to Stiffkey Marsh car park. Just enough light to see a female Marsh Harrier and a ring-tailed Hen Harrier go to roost, dropping into the suaeda along the shoreline.
Hoping for an owl, we took the coast road home. No luck. 70 species, not bad.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Norfolk Year Tick

Sunday November 19

Not an early start on a beautiful, crisp, cold and sunny winter morning. The trees are now half dressed but, still have enough leaves to colour the view.
We drive straight to Thornham Harbour to find it packed with the vehicles and walking crowds of weekend visitors. Hoorahs in the main. The Lfeboat is a very popular restaurant, pub and B and B. Avoiding all the dogs is a chore too. Despite that, I love the place. Pam checked the far channels, I did the near ones. The tide was rushing out, not much water and few birds. No sign of the wintering Twite. 
The other destination was Brancaster Staithe, also full of parked cars, a knot of photographers near the water's edge heralding that the bird was still there. Yes, the Long Tailed Duck showed well if distantly until it decided to steam steadily upstream past the poised cameras. I took a few shots, none near eniugh. Serves me right for my obstinacy against joining the mob. John Miller has posted some lovely shots on FB.



Little Egrets are always good for a photo, especially in good light.

We added a Rock Pipit, which landed on a nearby boat, before leaving for home. It flew before I could reach for my camera.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Pot Pourri

Friday November 17

This week's Wildlife Highlights

Red-throated Diver, numerous Auks, Gannets and Brent Geese at Winterton. Large Diver flying south before ditching - too far out for certainty but probably the White-billed. One Bonxie trying - and failing - to start an intervention with a Gannet.

Great Diving Beetle Dityscus marginalis in the moth trap (thank you James).


Pearly Underwing in the moth trap - a garden tick. This is an immigrant and only the second we've seen. Earlier this year, Tony Morris' son ID'd one at Natural Surroundings. Everyone else, including Greg, had missed it.
We initially missed this one. We were potting our moths first thing before taking them to Cley. I thought it was a Dark Swordgrass, Pam was adamant that it was a Turnip. Neither of us had the time to check with the book and our group just accepted what we said. I remember now saying that it had a blonde Mohican ! So used to remembering facts I still haven't really assimilated that my memory is not what it used to be - eidetic. 
The book gives the confusion species as Turnip and Dark Swordgrass !
There is room for someone to produce a book which clumps confusion species together on the same page. I'm sure it would sell.



A pristine Grey Pine Carpet eventually opened its wings for a short time.




Driving to Felbrigg  in search of fungi and Little Owl, 2 Hawfinches from the car park. One low down and occasionally feeding on the ground, the other flighty bird, perched on the top of a large Beech.
The Black Brant on several occasions as we drive Beach Road, Iron Road and Salthouse after mothing sessions at both Natural Surroundings and Cley. No more moth traps being put out at NS but a coffee meet at 10.00 for anyone interested.
Cley should have one trap put out but no-one bothered this week. George is on holiday and Gary forgot. Fortunately, same as last week, several of us took in moths from home. We probably had more to entertain us at the Show and Tell (!!) than opening a Cley trap.

3.30 p.m. to-day

Newly back from an afternoon visit to Ludham Marshes. 
A flock of 200+ active Fieldfare with a few Redwings, kept us happy whilst scanning. A few Lapwings around and a stream of low flying Starlings throughout our stay. Eventually two Common Cranes appeared from a distant ditch, walking about amongst the weeds and reeds before disappearing again. Houdini birds. We were lucky that Pam saw something move and I scoped the low shooting blind area. One Little Egret and a Grey Heron before the exhilaration of a Peregrine sat atop a post. I came across it whilst tracking the Cranes.
Pam counted over 90 Cormorants going to roost.
Lovely sunset .
We had our first frost of the winter last night, probably another to-night. Any moths about?


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Winter Moths

Wednesday November 8

Definitely winter temperatures now but we're still catching good moths. In species anyway, numbers are extremely low. One moth at Cley last Thursday and one at Natural Surroundings yesterday. We didn't go yesterday, as I have a respiratory infection for the first time in years.
Some photos of a few of the species we've trapped in November so far. The Iron Prominent is the latest County record by a long way. - and we've had two. Will take this morning's catch to Cley to-morrow so that we have something to look at !

December Moth

Grey Shoulder-knot

Iron Prominent

Red-line Quaker

Vestal - a coastal migrant

In my  October end of the month sorting of unidentified moths before filing - usually the Micro moths - I found the one below. As, if i got it right,  it's pretty rare, I sent the pic to Richard and he confirmed the identity. An Acleris Logiana which would have been a tick for everyone, even Richard. No, I hadn't retained it............Oh dear.

Monday, 6 November 2017

November Birding

Sunday November 5

It looked like summer and felt like winter to-day.  The sun shone from an almost cloud free sky, the thermometer read 3C, when we left soon after 7.30. It did cloud over by the afternoon and the temperature rose to 8C. 
No real fireworks bird-wise, yet we had a lovely day. The Grey Wagail performed at Sculthorpe Mill, plenty of Tree Sparrows at Valley Farm, Redwing and Fieldfare in satisfactory numbers. We must have seen thousands of Starlings, swooping about in their large and close-knit formation flying flocks. I'd love to know which part of Europe was their place of origin.
What a surprise - not.  The tide was at its nadir at Snettisham,  which was very low indeed as it was a spectacularly high 7.1 at 4 a.m. Thousands of waders, the wintering flocks have arrived in numbers. Beyond telescope identification. Enough variety on the expanse of deep-channelled mud stretching to infinity. We didn't manage to find any Ringed Plover nor Lapwing, we had to wait until Salthouse for the latter. Amazing. 
A few Dunlin.


Wigeon are back in large numbers everywhere, the custard stripe-heads of the males  gleaming in the sun, their whistling call piercing, over the plaintive calls of the Grey Plovers.

Wigeon

 At least 500 birds in the massed flock of Golden Plover. Another, only slightly smaller, flock in the Eye Field at Cley. A pair of Stonechats always lights up my day.
Geese are not here in any great numers yet, mild weather has kept them further north I guess.We saw a couple of skeins of Pink-feet and the Cley flock of Brent Geese which flew off as we got there.


One splendid adult Black Brant amongst them, probably the best plumaged one I've seen in Norfolk.




Pam loves Morston quay. So do I - it's the humpy entrance road I truly hate. The speed bumps are so big and frequent. I distract myself by looking for the smelly goats ( a small one has joined the old bearded wonder) and, identifying the variety of chickens scratching about.
In the late afternoon sun. 
The view of beached boats, old wooden pilings, mud with a central small meander of water, was enticing. For my camera anyway. Only a couple of shots possible before the sun went behind the clouds for a lengthy rest.


The far end of the car park is known as Redshank Bend to us. More than ever to-day. At least fifty birds wheeling restlessly from place to place, quarrelling noisily, pushing each other on from resting. Their call is the sound of the Norfolk marshes to me, I often whistle back at them - much to Pam's disgust. She doesn't like me whistling softly to her to attract her attention either - after she's ignored my calls. Sometimes I still do so. The reaction is immediate but muted, in Sainsbury's for example.
Back home in time for Chelsea/Man United match. Oh dear. I couldn't bear to watch the 1-0 home win. The wonder is that they only managed to score one goal. They were really up for it after several bad performances. We were not there at all, come back Pogma, the sooner the better.


Friday, 27 October 2017

Afternoon Birding

Friday October 27

Were we really in Scotland this time last week? 
Our first chance to bird since getting home. We drove to Winterton Beach car park, where the parking fee is now £1.50 for an hour, 50p more. We enjoyed the first hour in sunshine, watching ever present Gannets of all ages, small groups of Auks, mainly Guillemots with a few Razorbills, Common Scoter, Kittiwake, Brent Geese, one Shag and Cormorants. The green birds are Norfolk year ticks !
Greatest excitement was sighting a very large, pale, winter plumaged diver fly by. Distant and only binoc. views as I hadn't got my scope set up yet. Was it? A birder we know well by sight knocked the window behind me. After I'd peeled myself off the car roof.........In answer to his ''what have you seen'' question, I told him about the diver. He'd had a similar experience earlier in the week. He'd seen Great Northern this morning but that was in summer plumage still. At least I learned that the White-billed Diver present in the area is in winter plumage. I bet that's what it was. We see enough Great Northerns on Mull in May to notice that the '' b great diver'' I called was different.
More Pinks have arrived in the area. We had two large skeins fly over the house this morning. I don't know what they'll find to feed on, virtually no sugar beet fields around. Plenty of celery and green feed for sheep.
Moth-ing in the present warm spell is continuing to be interesting. I thought we'd missed Vestals, coastal migrants from the continent,, but we trapped our own on Tuesday. I didn't manage to photo that one, this one turned up at Cley yesterday.


We are still getting unseasonably late moths e.g Brimstones but are also seeing Red Admirals most days. 310+ (everyone got tired of counting) Large Wainscots in two marsh traps at Cley yesterday was a record. We trapped 7 overnight ourselves, a garden record.
Giles and Judy brought in a much debated Carpet sp. Richard took it home and - much to everyone's delight - pronounced it to be an Autumn Green Carpet. Local and a new one for everyone. David N brought in another goodie Small Marbled.

Also at Cley yesterday was this small and moribund Bee sp. We believe that it's a Nomada Stignata


We often find wildlife of interest, apart from Moths, in the traps. A superb Tiger Beetle in one trap at Natural Surroundings on Tuesday. 
A few more pics.

A weird Silver Y

Brindled Green

Red-line Quaker




Sunday, 22 October 2017

Last Lap

Saturday October 21

Having had a disturbed night - car park shenanigans - we left before the anticipated time. Morrison's for fuel and a Telegraph for me, my favourite edition of the week. The cryptic and general knowledge crossword puzzles keep me puzzled for much of the journey. On and off reading, birding and doing word games. I am so lucky that I can occupy myself thus in the car, with only the occasional rest.
We did take in another visit to Budle Bay. Acres of bare mud again and, very distant birds, did not  keep us long.
An uneventful journey, thank goodness, punctuated by a lunch stop to buy food at Scotch Corner services, which was heaving. 
Still no sign of the forecast storm, Brian. A little wind yes, no more than expected at this time of year and, no rain.
We have a few journey punctuation marks along the way. The Angel of the North at Newcastle,  furnaces at Goole in Yorkshire, leaving the A1 at Newark and the 'Norfolk, Nelson's County' sign after crossing rhe Welland. No bird news to divert our journey to-day. I've turned my pager back to Alert for Norfolk. It was a Carrion Crow call for N Scotland, a Herring Gull for Norfolk. Much more acceptable than pips and sirens.
Home to a pile of post, comfortable chairs and a slow internet as John is next door and must be on my router much of the time. I didn't allow him access for this amount of time, just during his mother's  funeral days but, it seems churlish to tell him not to use it . Pam thinks that I should change the code.......

Friday, 20 October 2017

South of the Border

Friday October 20

Bliss, an M and S food store a few yards from the Travelodge. Peculiar set up. A BP garage, a Wild Bean and an M and S in the same building. That was newspapers, a hot drink and lunch sorted.
First stop Loch Leven and Vane Farm RSPB. For a Pink-footed Goose fix. The visibility was poor. Thick mist over the water and surrounding wet meadows with 5,000 + Pink-footed geese grazing before suddenly leaping into the sky, disturbed by wandering sheep.Their combined musical, pinking calls are very evocative of winter marshes in Norfolk.
Good views of all three Forth bridges on the return route, side by side and so different in design. The original rail bridge is the immediately recognisable design, so long the known image for the 'like painting the Forth bridge ' saying, for a job that needs re-starting as soon as it's finished.
Until now, the sky was very threatening, portentous of impending rain, with some blue sky in between. A few drops only before the ground mist dissipated and the sun shone from a clear sky. South of Edinburgh, the day was glorious. 14C, no wind and the south Firth of Forth coast at its best. We'd seen that most of the birds were in a bay distantly viewable from Longniddry - high tide again ! Pam parked on a grassy verge so that I could scope all the birds feeding on the rocks, seaweed and sea. Amazingly, a new bird for the trip. It's difficult to believe that these were  the first Greylag Geese we'd seen all week.
It's the first time that I've seen Bass Rock looking grey, the thousands of nesting Gannets that normally turn it a bright white, have all gone south. North Berwick beach - the rocky end - had a few Purple Sandpipers amongst the Turnstones.
As to-day's journey was barely a hundred miles, Pam decided to go on to have another look at  an unrecognisable Budle Bay. Instead of the acres of mud, the bay was full of water with no bare edges. Large flocks of Mallard and the biggest number of Shelduck I've ever witnessed, even more than Snettisham, a few Shoveller feeding amongst them. Scoping was difficult. Mist had descended again, and was also rising from the water.
Preparing to leave, Pam saw a large flock of geese appear at the mouth of the bay before landing in a waterside field behind the trees. There was a farm there, so here must be a road? About a mile north was a badly potholed layby, two birders' cars already there. their drivers scoping through a gap in the hedge. We found a small open fence area and found the huge flock of Barnacle Geese down in a field. They were again, at least half a mile away, impossible to identify anything different amongst them. Ah well, we'll try again in the morning on the way home, Storm Brian (what a prosaic name for a storm) permitting.
I'm sorry to be leaving the north but, will be delighted to get home.


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 Reserve's 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, apparently leglessly, across the 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  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, 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 for us.
We drove via Lochindorb as everywhere looked so beautiful. Good decision. Three adult Whooper Swans and four 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 at Burghead Maltings. 


We spent a couple of hours parked at the western end of the bay, watching a  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. Three were in their black and white winter plumage, two still had their summer brown wings. A few Eiders, Shags, Herring Gulls and far fewer Guillemots than the last visit. A Red Admiral made a surprise appearance 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 a single 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, barrelling 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 a hazy 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 Cayenne 4x4 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.  
Now advertised as the UK's Wildlife Hotel, it 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 though. 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 was no evidence of a salmon run, one of my most wanted experiences. The mountainsides also got a good scrutiny. We saw some 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 ever present 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.
(I've decided that it was an immature male, probably Hen Harrier)
Some red fungi roadside, photographed frm the car as there wasn't a passing place nearby. Luckily, there was little traffic to-day.





A different one, more orange than red.

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. Twice. I couldn't see one anywhere. 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. Looks like a bull calf.


Dorback was first call. No chance of Black Grouse to-day, shotgun carrying 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. On the return journey, I reminded Pam to slow down. She then 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, still well into 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 a phone wielding woman 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, a selfie !
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.