Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Scotland 22nd April-1st May 2011

A ten day trip to Scotland, starting at Abernethy, before moving on to the Speyside
Coast, finishing with a week on the Outer Hebrides.
I arrived in my campervan early evening on the 22nd and got off to a poor start
by missing Slavonian Grebe at three different sites. A late evening walk around
Loch Garten produced a Crossbill sp', 23 roosting Red-Breasted Merganser,
1 Goosander, Osprey, 2 pair of Goldenye, several Common Sandpipers and

this Wigeon gave very close views as it fed on the
shore at Loch Garten.

Next morning it was the Capercallie watch at the Osprey hide to hopefully get a view
of a lekking male Capercallie. A Caper' was visible but at long range and only briefly.
I left after ten minutes as the hide was full of birders all scrambling for a view and tried for
for Black Grouse at a nearby and well known lek.

Their bubbling calls could be heard as soon as i stepped out of the van and at least three
males were at the lek. A cuckoo was calling on the moor also. With two target birds in
the bag it was time for a walk around the forest. I scored with 3 Crested Tit at the woods
around Loch Mallachie and again a Crossbill sp' flew over calling but no views perched.

Next up, i tried again for Slavonian Grebe at a nearby breeding site and a single
bird sat out, mid-water. After lunch i decided to try for Ptarmigan at Cairngorm but
the weather had began to worsen with rain and heavy cloud over the peaks. Two
summer plumaged Red-Throated Divers at Loch Morlich kept me occupied but the rain
kept falling!

"Caper watch"

Black Grouse viewing screen

Loch Mallachie

Crested Tit

Black Grouse

Slavonian Grebe

With Cairngorm off limits due to the weather i wasted no time and headed for
the Moray Coast, stopping off at a well known Black-Throated Diver site
along the way. Two birds gave close views but in grey, wet weather i watched
from the comfort of the van parked besides the loch.

male Red Grouse

Black-Throated Divers

Rock Pipit

White Wagtail


Moray coastline

With news of a White-Billed Diver off Burghead i could not resist and found the bird
about a kilometere off-shore with it's huge "bananna bill" pointing skywards, it was
fairly obvious even at that range.
Many other good birds were around including: 200 Long-Tailed Duck, 30 Common
Scoter, Velvet Scoter, 20 Sandwich Tern, Purple Sandpipers, Whimbrel, Eider and
various Auks it was a great way to end the day.

I spent the night on a campsite (the only one of the trip) and next morning birded
 Lossiemouth, Spey Bay east river and Findhorn Bay. Reasonable numbers of sea duck
were present at all sites with perhaps Findhorn the quietest, highlights being: 20 Sandwich
and 3 Little Tern, Velvet Scoter 20, Red-Throated Diver 15+, Great-Northern Diver 4
and more Long-Tailed Ducks.

Later that afternoon i made my way westwards and spent the night at the car park
in the mountains near Applecross. Stopping along the way for more Black-Throated
Divers and Red Kite.

Common and Little Terns

Singing Skylark


Black-Throated Diver

Barn Swallow

on route to Applecross

Red Deer

From the road to the summit

Home for the night!

I awoke early next morning to search for Ptarmigan, having missed the chance to bird
Cairngorm due to the weather. Only Golden Plover and Wheatear were on the tops and i
felt a little dissapointed to have missed them. At 7am i set off for Uig on Skye to catch
the ferry to Lochmaddy, North Uist.

During the crossing of ninety minutes to Lochmaddy, i saw a familiar cast of seabirds.
Gannet, Manx Shearwater, four Auk species, and Fulmar, etc.
The weather was warm and sunny and  once out of the port, i headed for Balranald.
Lapland Buntings had been reported by the visitor centre at Balranald and i was pleased
to find them without effort, feeding by a haystack.
A Corncrake was calling nearby as were stacks of breeding commoner waders.
Redshank, Snipe, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Dunlin all breed on the
island's Machair in healthy numbers.

I spent the rest of the day photographing migrant waders in one of the white sandy bays.

Lapland Bunting

Manx Shearwater

Ringed Plover with Sanderling

Ringed Plover

Merlin, mobbed by an immature Black-backed

Carrying prey

The morning of the 26th was spent around the headland at Balranald where Great-Northern
and Red-Throated Divers were offshore in small numbers. A large flock of around 800 waders
consisting of Dunlin, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and Sanderling was very confiding and
allowed close approach.

Later that morning i received news of a Snowy Owl at nearby Grenitote and set off to twitch it.

Great- Northern Diver

Near summer-plumaged male Lapland Buntings.
Around 40 were at Balranald on the 26th

Purple Sandpiper

From the car park at Grenitote

mixed Wader flock


Snowy Owl!!!

The Snowy Owl was found without much trouble, panting in the warm sunshine.
From time to time it was mobbed by the nesting Lapwings and kept itself either against
the fence or wooden pallets, as in the above image.
What a stunning bird and only one other birder there!

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl "twitch"



Having spent a good while with the Owl, i headed for South Uist to meet up with former
Burnley birder, Steve Duffield of Western-Isles-Wildlife.
Steve has an excellent knowledge of the birds and sites of the Outer Hebrides and we
spent a lovely evening at a White-Tailed Eagle site.
Steve located the Sea Eagle sat on it's nest, at a range of roughly one mile. At that range
all you could make out was the pale head and white tail at either side of the nest.
Making up the cast was another Sea Eagle, 3-4 Golden Eagles, 3 Hen Harrier,
Sparrowhawk, Black Guillemot and a smart pair of Red-Throated Divers in breeding

Golden Eagles

27th April having spent the night on the Machair on South Uist, today i covered several
headlands starting with Rudha Ardvule. An hours sea-watching produced a couple of
Artcic and Great Skuas with the odd Whimbrel here and there.
At Loch a Chin Uarich, i added a few common duck species in the form of Gadwall,
Shoveler and Wigeon. In addition several Common and Little Terns were at the Loch.

Later in the afternoon, i saw my first and only Otter of the trip but dissapeared when
my camera came out!

28th April again, another night at a quiet spot at the coast and birding mostly coastal
sites throughout the morning.
Around 600 large Gulls were feeding in a sheltered bay but no white-winged Gulls were
amongst them. Highlights of the morning were a flock of 25 Raven, 50 Black-Tailed Godwit
30 Bar-Tailed Godwit, Pintail, 50 Eider and some very showy Long-Tailed Ducks.


Female Long-Tailed Duck

Male Long-Tailed Duck

Rudha Ardvule

The afternoon i spent on Benbecula watching several "pairs" of Hen Harriers.
I saw several food passes in a short period of time, also on the moors were
Golden Plover, Short-Eared Owl and Greylag Geese. A pair of Red-Throated
Divers dropped on to a lochan and gave some strange neck movements 
before they landed. High up, a pair of Arctic Skuas seemed to be prospecting,
possibly for a nest site.

Later in the evening, i met up with steve again, i got my first views of Corncrake
for the trip.

Buzzard with prey

Red-Throated Divers

Arctic Skua


29th April and a phone call from Steve, with news of a Subalpine Warbler in a garden
at Grenitote. I was there in twenty minutes and joined by Steve. After some searching we
located the elusive, little blighter and just managed glimpses of the bird as it fed in a small
conifer tree.
The Snowy owl was still around and i couldn't resist another visit after the Subalp'. It was
another sunny, warm day and the Owl looked very hot, as it panted to cool down.
I spent the early afternoon watching Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles and Short-Eared Owls
at a site on North Uist.

Subalpine Warbler

Hen Harrier (female)


Whooper Swan, small numbers could be found on
North Uist

Red Deer

Golden Eagle with Raven

male Hen Harrier

30th April, my last full day on the Hebrides and i finally caught up with a trip of seven
Dotterel that were present at Balranald. After a little cautious advancing, Steve and i
managed views down to fifteen feet!

Dotterel images

Corn Bunting

Golden Plover (northern race)




Displaying Snipe



a room with a view!

immature Common Gull


In the afternoon we tracked a distant White-Tailed Eagle near Lochmaddy as it circled
and moved south over the island and kept up with it in the campervan.
Eventually, it flew over us and i was delighted to have got a reasonable view. The
other birds earlier had been very distant. A little while later, we came across an
immature Golden Eagle perched about eighty yards from the roadside. It was
eyeing-up a party of Greylags and it made a half-hearted attempt to catch one.

The geese grouped together and moved out on to the loch, the Eagle flew on and as
with the earlier Sea Eagle we followed alongside in the van. It landed again, very close
to the road and i took some great flight shots, which i unknowingly deleted from my sd card!
The images are currently, trying to be recovered.

this image was the only one i didn't erase

White-Tailed Eagle

The ruined church at Balranald

Rock Doves

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