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THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
31st MAY – 7th JUNE 2008

Leaders: Dave Read & Andy Shooter.
Participants: Doreen Marsh, Trevor & Pam Harris, Liz Bates, Bryan Lowe and Pualine Harris.


Once all the pick-ups had been made, we departed from north Nottinghamshire at 6.30am for our destination Grantown on Spey. The journey north was good with no delays, however stops at both Gretna and Dunkeld were made so we could stretch our legs and have a coffee.  Nearing our destination we turned off the A9 for lunch, before continuing the short distance to our hotel.  We checked in and had some time to rest before a gentle stroll down to the River Spey.  A pair of Grey Wagtail was on the river along with Common Sandpiper and Goldeneye.  In the nearby woods a Cuckoo showed well and up to three Green Hairstreak butterflies were recorded.  We then returned to the hotel for our evening meal and the first of the daily log calls.

Next day we headed to Loch Garten RSPB, starting with a walk through the pinewoods in search of Crested Tit.  After some searching we managed to find our target, receiving good views of up to six birds.  Common Crossbill, Red Squirrel and our first Osprey were also noted.  Once at the Loch Garten, Osprey was easily seen with the female at the nest and the male perched low down in a nearby tree.  Later we visited Loch Vaa where we enjoyed good views of a pair of Red-throated Diver, before moving to Lochindorb where a distant Black-throated Diver was found.  Returning back to the hotel a male Red Grouse finished the day off nicely.

Day three started early with an optional 04.00 walk around nearby pinewoods searching for Capercaillie, however sadly none of these increadably elusive birds could be located, although Roe Deer, Brown Hare and Red Squirrel were all seen, the latter giving particularly good views.  After breakfast we headed into Royal Deeside, and to the Glenshee Ski Area, where on arrival we started the accent to the top of Carn Aosda, at 3008 feet this is one of the smallest of the Munros and one of the easiest places in Britain to see Ptarmigan.  It was nonetheless still a steep climb, though we were rewarded once at the summit not only with the breath taking scenery, but also with excellent views of two of these beautiful high altitude birds.  Ring Ouzel, Raven and Mountain Hare were also noted.  Heading back to Grantown on Spey a Short-eared Owl showed well by the roadside, as it quartered over a nearby hillside..

Next day we headed to the Findhorn Valley where we enjoyed good views of an Osprey from the minibus.  Before heading over the tops towards Loch Ruthven RSPB, adding Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Teal on the way.  On arrival at Loch Ruthven it soon became apparent that the BBCs Springwatch team had beaten us to it, with the car park full with an assortment of camera equipment, satellite dishes and the likes.  We had intended having our lunches here, but with this in mind we found a lay-by just a little further up the road, which offered good views of the Loch, along with two Ospreys hunting over it.  After lunch we returned to the car park and entered the reserve, despite a lot of activity from the camera crew Simon King was not present, much to the disappointment to some of the group.  Once in the hide it didn't take long to spot our target bird the Slavonian Grebe, with at least 6 birds seen, including a pair that showed particularly well just in front of the hide.  Although the Slavonian Grebes were certainly one of the highlights, the real surprise here was the discovery of a 1 st summer Bonaparte's Gull.  With such a find we thought we should inform the camera crew and Simon King who had just arrived to the birds presence. The bird was filmed and later aired (albeit briefly) on that evenings show, although for some meeting Simon was perhaps more memorable than the Gull.

Day five was spent on the north coast, stopping first at Findhorn Bay, were half an hours sea-watching produced Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Cormorant, Eider and Common Scoter.  Next we moved to the Beauly Firth, adding Red Kite, before heading around the northern side of the Black Isle to Cromarty.  Here we enjoyed a quick coffee before spending some time around the harbour where both Common and Sandwich Tern were present, along with Red-breasted Merganser and Guillemot.  Our next stop was Chanonry Point, where we enjoyed a delicious bag of fish and chips on the sea-front before watching up to four Bottle-nosed Dolphins play and feed close inshore.  This was easily one of the highlights of the trip, and was made even better when this female and calf appeared, giving exceptional views for over an hour as she taught her youngster to feed.  Common Seal and Fulmar were also noted here and a Red-throated Diver flew past.

On day six we left Speyside and headed west, but not before one last pre-breakfast walk which was rewarded with good views of up to c20 Scottish Crossbill.  After breakfast we checked out and made a start on our journey, stopping at Beinn Eighe NNR briefly to admire the scenery, several Heath Spotted Orchids were seen here, along with a very well marked male Stonechat. Continuing west we reached the quaint village of Shieldaig, where careful scanning of Loch Shieldaig produced Common and Black Guilemot, Razorbill, Puffin and Shag, while the cliffs held c.30 Rock Dove.  Harbour Porpoise and Grey Seal were also recorded and 12 Common Seal were resting on rocks nearby. We continued along an unclassified road to Applecross making several stops along the way, which produced Red-throated Diver, more Black Guillemot, Common Scoter and nesting Fulmar. Our first Great Skua was also added, as was our only Great Northern Diver.  Once in Applecross we stopped for a coffee before heading out over The Pass of the Cattle, or “Bealach na Ba” as it is also known, this is Britain's highest road climbing to 626m/2053ft. This gave spectacular views of the rugged landscape, but unfortunately the weather had begun to deteriorate and birdwatching became difficult while at the top.  Once down we were not far from the Lochcarron Hotel where we were based for the next two nights.

Next day we headed straight out for a full day on Skye. As we travelled north past the Cullins Trevor spotted a Peregrine from the minibus, and a female Merlin, and two Raven were seen nearby.  Continuing north we passed The Old Man of Storr, stopping several times to scan the hillsides, before Andy spotting an adult White-tailed Eagle being mobbed by a Hooded Crow.  We then reached the picturesque village of Staffin, where we ate our lunches by the bay overlooking Staffin Island, with Rock Pipit, Great Skua, Gannet and Eider amongst the many bird present.  Continuing further north we reach Duntulm Castle where we parked and walked the short distance to the sea.  A small island just offshore held breeding Kittiwakes, with Guillemot and Razorbill also present. Walking back to the van the field was carpeted with Heath Spotted Orchids and in boggier areas a few Early Purple Orchid. We then moved to an area near Portree where we spent an hour or so looking for White-tailed Eagle; sadly none were seen though Golden Eagle was noted over the hillside on at least 3 occasions. However the highlight here was a pod of c15 Atlantic White-sided Dolphin that showed well close inshore.

Our final day saw us with the long journey home, so we decided to make a start on it straight away, concluding this very rewarding trip. A very respectable trip total of 112 species of birds was recorded, along with 12 species of mammals, and a handful of interesting butterflies and flowering plants.

 

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