20 May 2007

Trip Report (part1): Birding Scotland

Peregrine's Birding Facts There are an estimated 160 pairs of Osprey breeding in the UK

I left home and made my way to the ferry in Belfast on which I thought I would keep a good eye on the sea on the way over to Scotland. Not to be it was the fast ferry the size of a football pitch.The windows at the front slope forward and there is a bar to keep you back from them plus they were covered in dirt.At the back there is a small area where you can stand but again it is covered by bars so that you dont jump!! So apart from what I saw out of the side windows I didnt see a great deal on the crossing. Next time I go on the slow ferry.

I went and stayed at my sisters house in Dalguise which she runs as a Bed and Breakfast fortunately for me nobody was staying. I would recommend it to any birdwatcher that stays in the Highlands. It is only ten minutes from Loch of the Lowes Osprey site. I arrived late in the evening. The following morning was absolutely stunning and I went into the kitchen and my sister said had I seen the Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeder. I hadn't. This is becoming a running joke with us as I never see it and she sees it all the time and generally it reappears when I have just left. She has a pair nesting in trees adjacent to her house.

I headed off to RSPB Abernethy beside Loch Garten for the second time this year in my quest to find the Crested Tit. Its about eighty miles north of my sister a very easy drive up the A9. I stopped off at the House of Bruar to fill up with food supplies for the day. I arrived at Abernethy having listened to the willow warblers the whole drive, they are absolutely everywhere.

As soon as I arrived in the car park I noticed a Chaffinch nest in a tree right beside the centre hut and it was amazingly concealed.

Loch Garten is the ancestral home of the osprey in Scotland. The Osprey Centre, set amongst the rare native caledonian pinewood of Abernethy Forest, overlooks the nest of these fish-eating birds of prey. I went to look at the Ospreys that are breeding there this year. I found it a big disapointment the tree that they nest in is tied together with metal posts and the whole scene looks totally unnatural. This year they have been having problems with the breeding and you can follow their own blog!!!! HERE

I then went in search of my bogey bird the Crested Tit. I asked in the centre where I might find them and was told an area on the far side of Loch Garten in the pines. I then grabbed camera gear and the first thing I came across was an obliging Wigeon

I made my way round to the other side of the loch and could not for the life of me find a Crested Tit and neither had other birders that I talked to. While I was looking for them I did come across this Common Sandpiper on the south shore.
and while I was photographing it I saw an Osprey coming into the water at the far side of the loch of which I got this very distant shot.

I was mainly listening to bird calls to identify the Crested Tit and was repeatedly listening to them on my ipod and then hoping to hear them. I then bumped into someone who had just seen one and I spent about an hour in the area hoping to get a glimpse when I heard a sound up in a pine which I thought was promising especially as I hadnt heard this bird call before. I searched and searched eventually this lovely male Redstart showed itself a bird I have never seen before, well I saw a female in Donegal last autumn but not the nicely coloured male.

Well at this point I was quite annoyed to come all this way to see the tit and not see it but this more than made up for it. I will just have come back another time. I then decided to try and see the King Eider that had been seen at Burghead on the Moray Firth. So I headed for another sixty miles further north following the famous salmon fishing river the Spey most of the way. The one thing that really shocked me was the amount of dead pheasants on the road sometimes as many as fifteen in a mile. Having said that they are not the brightest of birds and if I hadnt braked fairly severely I would have added to the total.

I then saw what at first was a bird in distress across a field all I could see from the road was a fence and the wings flapping away as though trapped so I pulled over and got my binoculars out for a closer look. It was a curlew and infact there were two curlew and they definately werent trapped!!!!

I was enjoying my trip so far as I had never driven in this area before so it was all new to me. Burghead is a little harbour on the Moray Firth. I spent an hour looking and saw quite alot of eider but no King Eider :-(

I then headed back to my sisters for dinner.

She told me about a Black grouse lek site not far from the House of Bruar and Loch Tummel so the following morning I headed up there on an even better day than the previous the weather was just superb warm, clear blue skies and little or no wind. No sign of the Black Grouse though. So I headed back to Tyrella for a mid morning coffee where I packed to continue my trip down to the Farne Islands off Northumberland. On the way I stopped at the Loch of Lowes Visitor Centre and Wildlife Reserve. Loch of the Lowes covers about 200 acres and from early April to late August the star attraction is a pair of breeding ospreys. Their nest is situated within 150 metres of the observation hide.

This site in my mind is vastly better than RSPB Abernethy you have far better and uninterrupted views of the birds. They also have a selection of feeders outside the centre which attract Red Squirrels, Siskin, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Coal,Great and Blue Tit, Gt Spotted Woodpecker and fortunately for me a Yellowhammer which was nice to see at close quarters

I then headed south and stopped off at RSPB Vane Farm it is set in the Kinross countryside, only 30 minutes north of Edinburgh. There is a trail from the visitor centre via a stepped underpass leads to three viewing hides overlooking the wetlands and loch and offers close up access to the wildlife. There is also a longer, steeper trail that leads through birch woodland to the summit of Vane Hill which has spectacular views.You can see willow warblers, tree pipits and great spotted woodpeckers. The reserve is part of the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve and it is to the Loch and surrounding wet grassland that pink-footed and greylag geese, whooper swans and thousands of dabbling ducks are attracted each winter.I had heard there was a Lesser Scaup there so I thought I would see if I could get better views than the one near to me at home. Not to be, my fourth dip of the trip so far.

So I headed south to Seahouses in Northumberland.