Monday, 27 March 2017

Late March wanderings around Staffordshire

Not too much around at the moment so we've been doing a bit of county birding. We chose Staffordshire for some reason. An Avocet at Doxey sent us hurtling down for the second day running on the 25th, when we also had good views of as many as three Water Pipits, including a summer plumaged one.

We couldn't find the Brent Goose at Chasewater, but a pair of Garganey were showing well at Middleton Lakes.We also saw a bizarre sight of a drake Tufted Duck walking round in a field with a pair of Mallard.

Photos by Lord Lichfield

Finally, the Great Grey Shrike was seen at Swallow Moss on the 27th March, and we were in the right place at the right time when it popped up. Good views were had.

GGS at Swallow Moss by NJS

Thursday, 23 March 2017

20th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 3

Final day of our short break, and the forecast was wet. CJW decided not to set his alarm as he didn't fancy getting up at 05:00hrs to walk around a wood in the rain for some odd reason. I woke up early as per usual and stuck my head out of the window to find it wasn't actually raining. Unfortunately, I woke CJW up and told him the good news. We were soon running down the stairs of the hotel and out into the Scottish morning darkness. What I couldn't see from the hotel window though, was an extremely black sky approaching, and by the time we reach our destination, it was pouring down. We sat in the car and waited, checking the rain app which showed it just as a narrow ribbon. And sure enough, it stopped. We walked round the wood for the next hour or so, and then we returned to the car. We'd failed on our third target bird, which was of course the CAPERCAILLIE (but thanks to those who provided the site details, and don't worry, we have more sites now for our next trip).

Following our second and last full English, we returned to the room. We had several options. Firstly, there were two SNOW GEESE in Inverness, discovered only yesterday. The issue I had with this was the 55 minute drive to the site in the opposite direction that we were heading. There was also an ALPINE SWIFT in Clyde that was seen yesterday afternoon. This site was only just off the motorway and so if there was positive news we could easily pop in. 

By the time we were ready to head off, there was no news on either targets. CJW came up with a cunning plan. We could head to a whisky shop in Tomintoul, only a few miles up the road. So we did.

We arrived in Tomintoul at 0930 following a drive over some very bleak, barren, birdless moors. The Whisky Castle was shut, it was sleet/raining and the wind was gale force. As we sat in the car park waiting for the shop to open at 10 (or 0930 according to the website), we were entertained by watching full bins being blown over in the high street and their contents distributed around the town, and then watched two locals pick up a few items and pop them back in the bin. It kept us amused. 

At 10:00, after ringing the shop, we finally went in. It was a fantastic little shop, full of whisky, most that we hadn't heard of, but we had a very nice chat to the proprietor. And then we set off for home. 

The route home was simply amazing. The sat nav took us straight through the mountains. We stopped at Lecht Ski resort which had a very small bit of snow, then through Glenshee, past Balmoral and eventually on to the A9 at Perth. We had certainly driven through some of the finest scenery possible during our weekend.

View from Lecht

Red Grouse en route (CJW)
As we travelled south, we received news that the ALPINE SWIFT was again present in Clyde. It was about two hours away. We carried on, but only received one more piece of positive news. We didn't know whether it was present all the time, or whether it was coming and going.

We arrived at Baron's Haugh RSPB just after 14:00hrs. We walked down towards the Marsh hide but saw someone standing at the bottom of the paddocks. As we were approaching, the Alpine Swift was flying overhead. We stood watching it for nearly an hour, sometimes it came quite low. All the disappointment of the birds we'd missed evaporated. It had been a fantastic trip!

Watching the Alpine Swift

My photo's taken with my phone

CJW's photo's with his fancy posh camera




19th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 2

The aim for today was to nail the final two target birds on our list of three. CJW set the alarm for 05:20, and at 05:00 the alarm went off. We were up and out in the dark, arriving at our first destination in the dark. For the next two hours before breakfast, we walked and searched but our target wasn't to be found. 

We returned to the hotel and enjoyed our full English breakfast. And then we set off two site number two. Again, we searched and walked. By 11:30, we had seen two Crested Tits, a few Crossbills over and that was all. The difference from yesterday success to today's was amazing. We'd hit the proverbial wall. 

It was make or break time. We decided to head over to the Findhorn Valley and try and rescue the day. Unfortunately, despite a good forecast, the wind had whipped up and we were now driving through very heavy showers. Our spirits were lifted by seeing just two birds. As we left Nethybridge (dipping the Waxwings for the 2nd time that day), we saw a few flocks of geese flying over. We pulled over and eventually counted c500 Pink-footed Geese, all flying over to the south for some reason. The second bird was a Red Kite just up the road - the first time I'd seen one in the area.

PFG flying over Nethybridge
So having actually seen a few birds, we made the drive down to the Findhorn Valley. The scenery was incredible, and the area was very quiet. We knew we could just stop in the middle of the road and take photo's as there was just no one else around.

Views in the Findhorn Valley
It was dry most of the way down, but when we reached the car park at the end, the rain came again, and the wind was so strong, you could hardly open your car door. Things weren't looking good. eventually the sun came out and we headed off, scouring the ridges as we walked. I spent most of the time looking at the ridges behind me as it was easier with my back to the wind. Apart from a Buzzard and a few Ravens, there wasn't much to see.

We walked down to the bridge and stopped by where a path forks off to the right. We could see another shower approaching so we tried to find shelter. CJW then spotted a large bird above the far ridge in the distance. Three times it appeared and we knew straight away we were dealing with quite a large bird due to the distance we were looking from. Although a little distant, trip target bird number two, Golden Eagle, was in the bag. 

With a few hours daylight left, we headed down to two different lochs to look for SLAVONIAN GREBE, but drew a blank at both sites. Then we went looking for BLACK GROUSE, and again failed at two sites. In the end, as we drove across some moorland in the fading light, we admitted defeat. It had been a very tough day in the Highlands.

Red Deer Findhorn (CJW)

Following our tea from the chip shop in Grantown, we returned to the room and finally enjoyed the one species of grouse that hadn't eluded us that day, a nice drop of Red Grouse. All was well again.  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

18th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend

We decided on another trip to Scotland this year. We both had a few days off, so two nights were booked at the Nethybridge Hotel, having stayed there for our trip in 2010. The aim of the short break was just to indulge in a bit of birding, and see a few species that we hadn't seen for a few years, or as in CJW's, for many, many long hard years. We only had three target birds to see.

We set off on Saturday morning at 4am and had our first fuel stop just after the Erskine Bridge. We soon started adding a few year ticks with Hoodish Crow and Red Grouse, and a nice drive through a misty Glencoe. First stop along here was at Loch Achtriochtan, where sixteen swans caught our attention, and our suspicions were correct. They had yellow beaks.

Some of the 16 Whooper Swans on Loch Achtriochtan (CJW)
Next random stop was just before Onich to view the top of Loch Linnhe, where we saw three Great Northern Divers, several Shag and 50+ Eider. To save time, we crossed via the Corran Ferry. Unfortunately, CJW didn't have his sea legs with him on the crossing and succumbed to self chumming. Three Black Guillemots were in the straight and we had fabulous views of an Otter on the opposite shore. 

We finally reached our destination at just after 11am, taking us a mere 7+hrs to arrive.

Having done our homework, we headed to the mouth of the river first, parking in the car park. We were immediately surprised by the total lack of Mallards in the area (and where were all the supposed hybrids?). We saw Greenshank, few Goosander, RBM but that was about it. For the next few hours, in between the heavy showers, we searched all round the bay, even heading over to the opposite bank. We returned back to the mouth of the river, and found three Mallards had appeared. Our spirits lifted, but that was all that flew in. And it started raining again. 

I managed to buy a sandwich from a small local store ran by local people. The sandwich was alright, and was only a few months out of date (It is quite a remote quiet village and I was surprised to find sandwiches available. For legal reasons it was in date but they did look at the shiny silver and gold discs I gave them in exchange for the sandwich in an odd way. Maybe they normally accept pebbles or favours at the shop

As we sat in the car in the rain, knowing how important it is to get the first bird in the bag, we rang the Stalker. Amazingly, he was sat in the car next to us! (Only joking). He suggested we went up the stream. Now we had already driven up the left hand bank, but on the Stalkers advice, we walked up the right hand bank this time. We were tired, it was raining, and there wasn't much to see. We walked past the council depot, then the fire station and then carried on towards the school. In a field there was a flooded bit with two ducks dabbling away. I casually lifted my bins.....two hours to find our first target bird. CJW hadn't seen a Black Duck since he was on Scilly in the 1950s while staying with his Auntie Hilda Quick-Hide. Both of my previous Black Duck were in the south west, so it was a nice addition to my Scottish list.

Flushed with success, we headed off to our hotel in Nethybridge, a drive of just under two hours. We made two stops. The first was alongside Loch Linnhe, where a small flock of birds on the water caught my attention. We stopped and there were seven Slavonian Grebes bobbing around. We decided against the Corran Ferry again due to CJW's sea legs (or was it the £8-40 charge?), and headed up to Fort William. By Duisky, there was a large gathering of gulls on the shore, probably due to the nearby landfill site. A quick check, and there was an immature Iceland Gull sat preening.

Iceland Gull at Duisky (CJW)
 It was still light by the time we arrived on Speyside. There had been two Tundra Bean seen recently at Loch Insh, and as we were passing, we decided to call in. We didn't really know where to look, and we only found several groups of Greylag Geese. We did see a Sand Martin though over the Loch. 

And that ended Day One of our Scottish trip.