Monday, 17 March 2014

A short trip to Scotland (Day One March 13th 2014)

We had been discussing a trip to Scotland for a few weeks now, and with the continued presence of three decent rarities - the BLACK DUCK, the AMERICAN HERRING GULL and the AMERICAN COOT, we devised a route which would see us add a few year ticks along the way as well. We originally planned to go last weekend, but with one thing or another we had to cancel. CJW was off again on Thursday 13th and Friday 14th and so plans were finalised. 

Unfortunately, the AMERICAN HERRING GULL's routine had changed since the weekend, and it was only now showing in the harbour pre-roost. On Wednesday evening, following several lengthy discussions with CJW, we totally reversed our route around Scotland. We set off at 01:00hrs on Thursday morning.

We decided to be safe and responsible, and we only did two hours driving each. GAS did the first drive up to the Lake District. Unfortunately it was foggy. So foggy, that you could hardly see where the bonnet ended. As we changed drivers at a service station in the Lake District, the access road was unlit and CJW almost had to walk in front of the car to guide us in. 

CJW did the next stint and with the fog clearing we sailed up through Glasgow. I took over and did the wonderful A9 stretch just as dawn was breaking over the snow capped mountains. Yes I timed my drive perfectly. 

We arrived at Loch Garten at 07:30hrs and spent an hour searching for CRESTED TIT. The reserve was obviously still closed and we made our way right up to the special forward hide. A Red Squirrel was the only bird of note. We also tried the woods on the opposite side off the road. These were quiet too, but there was a Red-throated Diver on Loch Garten plus a few Goldeneye. 

It wasn't the ideal start, and with a tight schedule to follow we headed to our next location. We were hoping to see CAPERCAILLIE here but that was a very long shot as it was mid morning now. Luckily, we did see two Crested Tits so it wasn't a complete waste of time.  

Another half an hours drive and we were pulling into Loch Flemington, east of Inverness. We soon found the famous white stones and the lay by to pull in. Then it was a race to find the American Coot. CJW won only because his bins were round his neck and mine were in the boot. Slight cheating I thought. The American Coot showed extremely well and we enjoyed our stay at the loch.

The Loch Flemington American Coot

And here's one I saw earlier - 10 years ago now on South Uist. How time flies

and this Cormorant showed quite well too

Unfortunately the white stones and a Coot weren't enough to put smiles on the faces of these two

We now had the long drive across Scotland from one coast to the other. The drive took in some of Scotland's finest scenery, driving the length of Loch Ness, through Fort William and down to Oban. As we reached the west coast, the mist descended and we had spells of drizzle. 

We finally arrived at Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre at 17:00hrs. Unfortunately, the mist had followed us, and the visibility in the harbour was poor. We found the yellow buoys that the AMERICAN HERRING GULL perched on and so we stood and waited. There were already quite a few gulls in the harbour, but quite large flocks were heading straight over us and out to sea. There was plenty to see to pass the time. A female Common Scoter was feeding, along with nine Black Guillemots, 20-30 Eider, a Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Crows, Shag and a few waders. 

We realised that the gulls had stopped flying into the harbour and with the light fading with the increasingly poor visibility, we had dipped the AMERICAN HERRING GULL this evening. We still had tomorrow to try again.

We headed to our accommodation for the night. We unpacked and headed out to the Argyll Hotel for a very nice tea of Chicken stuffed with Haggis. An excellent way to end a long day. We returned to the B&B with the sound of Greenland White-fronted Geese flying overhead.