Saturday, April 27, 2019

πŸ“– #19/2019 ~ SCOTLAND

Over the Easter weekend, Dazza and I spent time in the southern end of the Cairngorms National Park in glorious conditions. Around an hour from our new property, we began at the Muir of Dinnet just off the B9119. There are two freshwater lochs with fringing vegetation, plus mixed pine and birch woodland, thinning to open moor on the high ground.

It was a pleasant walk down to the waterside with the usual selection of Siskin, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff and Common Crossbill, a definite influx of Willow Warblers and a single Redstart but the highlight for me was a couple of singing Tree Pipits. The loch itself was extremely quiet with the exception of two pair of Goldeneye which were likely nesting nearby.

Red Grouse abundant around the Cairngorms
From here we rejoined the A93, the highest public road in the UK and continued on towards our final destination of Glenshee Ski Center. As usual, we stopped on many occasions to enjoy the outstanding views with many Red Grouse and of course, there's always a possibility of spotting a Golden Eagle, although sadly not today.

Grey Wagtail

Common Sandpiper
One area we've visited on previous occasions is at Glen Clunie, a small conifer plantation at Baddoch along the A93 and after parking up we headed off across the hills to the west. The River Dee runs along this stretch as it winds down the mountains towards its eventual outlet at Aberdeen. Here we encountered Dipper, Grey Wagtail and up to four Common Sandpipers, many Meadow Pipits and at least six Wheatear were also noted. Good scoped views were obtained of two distant Ring Ouzels and the occasional call of Raven high up in the hills, there were several Siskin and Crossbill along the plantation.

Common Crossbill
With the day ebbing away our final stop was at Ballochbuie Forest, which is best accessed from the car park at Keiloch on the Invercauld Estate. It's one of the largest areas of native pinewood and part of the Balmoral Estate. Once again the River Dee runs alongside and more Common Sandpipers were noted along with a drake Goosander and four females. Capercaillie are now very rare here or even absent and it was no surprise we didn't encounter one but Black Grouse, more Siskins, Scottish Crossbill, Tree Pipit and a passing Osprey were the highlights.

At least nine Whimbrel along the Ythan Estuary
With Dazza flying back to Birmingham early Tuesday morning and me driving back Thursday I spent the remainder of my time discovering more of the Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire coastline and RSPB Loch of Strathbeg. Highlights during these visits included Sandwich, Common and Little Tern, plus Common Crane, Spoonbill, Whimbrel, Greenshank and Little-ringed Plover (apparently quite the rarity up here). The Ythan Estuary holds the UKs largest population of Eiders, which were literally everywhere, Red-breasted Merganser and Long-tailed Duck can also be found in good numbers and waders during my visits included Dunlin, Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, summer plumage Golden Plover, many Curlew and Ringed Plover.

The Ythan Estuary mouth also holds a huge population of Grey Seal

Sunday, April 21, 2019

πŸ“– #18/2019 ~ Black Redstart

☀️⛅️18C Friday 19th April 2019 ~ A Good Friday visit to Collieston, another interesting small harbour, which is now disused.

Collieston ~ The now disused harbour
The numerous sea caves in the nearby cliffs and small coves with shingle beaches provided ideal terrain for smugglers. In the late 18th century it was estimated by the Excise that up to 8000 gallons of foreign spirits were being illegally landed in the area every month. In 1798, the notorious village smuggler, Phillip Kennedy, was killed by a blow from an exciseman's cutlass. His grave and tombstone still stands in the village graveyard.

Black Redstart in the churchyard at Kirkton
It wasn't difficult to connect with the above Black Redstart, which was literally perched on the wall as we parked and a short while later sat up nicely for a photograph.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

πŸ“– #17/2019 ~ White-billed Diver

⛅️17C Thursday 18th April 2019 ~ Despite spending the majority of our time here in Scotland preparing our new property for rental, along with the inevitable waiting around while the electrician and gas people do their thing, we've still managed to get out and about on a daily basis.

Last Thursday (18th) we decided to head up to the northernmost part of Aberdeenshire, even crossing into Moray at Cullen, which if you didn't already know is famous for Cullen Skink, one of my favourite soups.

Portsoy showing the new harbour.
We're determined to discover as much of the surrounding coastline as possible before we make the permanent move up here next year. We began at Portsoy, around an hours drive across country from our property. The fact that this particular area is also an excellent place to see White-billed Divers, which regularly moult offshore between March and May, it was a great place to start. It's actually a beautiful spot with a remarkable 17th-century harbour and like most areas we've visited thus far was extremely devoid of people.

Red-throated Diver ~ Portsoy Harbour
The harbour offers great opportunities for sea watching and along with the usual selection of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and Gannets offshore there were a half dozen Red-throated Divers in various plumages. After a time, another birder on the hunt for White-billed Diver appeared and while Dazza headed off rock pooling and checking out the local Shag nesting area we spent time scanning. I'm glad to report that after what seemed an age I finally dropped onto a single bird, someway offshore but nevertheless a single White-billed Diver! Having seen the species in Oregon in 2015 this was, in fact, a UK first for me so some cause for celebration. Simon, the fellow birder I'd met and spent a few hours with was also delighted having failed on three previous attempts and despite having a four-hour journey home by public transport remained in good spirits.

In addition to the above other notables of the day included Corn Bunting at Findlater Castle, Sandwich Terns and two Black Guillemots at Cullen.

A few of Dazzas' photos

Corn Bunting a bonus find at Findlater Castle

Shags gathering nesting material

Sunday, April 14, 2019

πŸ“– #16/2019 ~ Rattray & Strathbeg

⛅️7C Sunday 14th April 2019 ~ We took a drive further north up the coast today, heading to Rattray Head to begin with before moving on to RSPB Loch of Strathbeg.

A wonderfully deserted beach at Rattray Lighthouse
On the road down to Rattray, we parked for a while at the remains of the old St Mary's Chapel, this gives excellent views over the south end of the Loch of Strathbeg. Apparently, it's very good for Corn Buntings too but a fifteen-minute search of the area drew a blank. A large flock of c200 Golden Plover, two large skeins of Pink-footed Geese, plus 18 Curlew, Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were noted before moving on.

Sand Martins at Rattray
Parking at the Lighthouse Cottage which in itself can be good for migrants in Spring and Autumn we had a quick search of the surrounding gorse, locating a pair of Stonechat, before following the track through the dunes down to the beach.

The constant passage of Sandwich Terns
The lighthouse had plenty of Shag roosting and with the tide receding over 100 Sand Martins were feeding over the water. There was a constant passage of Sandwich Terns, some pausing occasionally to rest on the beach and during our long walk, at least two Arctic Terns also passed through. Plenty of Eiders offshore, a smart pair of Long-tailed Duck and several Gannet were diving, brought closer in by the stiff south-easterly.

Gannets on the move
Waders included many Oystercatcher, along with Ringed Plover and Sanderling. Further out passing Razorbill and Guillemot, with a constant flow of Kittiwake and the odd Fulmar. Gulls were represented by Black-headed, Common and Herring.

At RSPB Loch of Strathbeg, we decided to only visit the Fen and Bay Hides which are accessed via the old airfield, were on the odd Sunday you bizarrely find yourself driving through the local stock car race meeting, which thankfully we've navigated before.

The Loch was pretty quiet with the only notables a single Whooper Swan, a group of 6 Wigeon and 4 Teal. The highlight was undoubtedly the huge dog Otter which was constantly feeding during our short stay.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

πŸ“– #15/2019 ~ Bennachie Visitor Centre

Back up to enjoy the new property in Aberdeenshire for the next few weeks before we give it up for rent for around a year or so before the final move.

It's amazing to see, having driven up from the Midlands last Thursday, how far behind everything is! For example, the Hazel, Hawthorn and Blackthorn have yet to bloom, although there are a few signs this morning (Tuesday) that things are beginning to happen. When I visited Brandon Marsh the day before coming up Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were all in full song and the usual Hirundines had all been noted. Since arriving I've only heard a single Chiffchaff and Blackcap, although along the coast and on a few inland lochs I've noted many Sand Martins and the odd Swallow.

Sunrise from the drive across to Bennachie
⛅️-2C Saturday 13th April 2019 ~ I took the short drive at dawn along to the Bennachie Visitor Centre for a walk around the Pine and Larch forest trails, I'll leave the climb to Mithers Tap for another day. It was a chilly -2C and on the road, I had to stop twice for two groups of Roe Deer to cross, it was an awesome sight, particularly with the gorgeous sunrise.

Common Crossbill ~ Bennachie
The centre feeders were devoid of Red Squirrels on this visit, perhaps a little too cold and still quite dark. Siskin appears to be everywhere and it's lovely to hear them singing high up in the trees, interrupted occasionally by the Common Crossbills. The usual woodland species can be found with many Coal Tits, Chaffinch and several Treecreepers, although it's a real learning curve as to which species actually venture this far north, For example, there are only  c260 pairs of breeding Nuthatch in the whole of Scotland, with a winter population of 1250 ~ 1500.

Coal Tit a constant companion
Along my walk, a few Brambling high up in the canopy but just a single Chiffchaff and distant Blackcap heard, plus two Great-spotted Woodpeckers investigating a nesting hole. Through the gaps looking across to the fields and beyond a half dozen Curlew along with Linnet, Skylark and Meadow Pipit, with one or two of the latter performing their familiar parachute drops.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

πŸ“– #14/2019 ~ More Hedge Bashing!

It's been a real slog searching for incoming summer arrivals each morning over the past week with persistent easterlies or north-easterlies and often cloudy days. A high-pressure system building from Scandinavia has blocked any possibility of southerlies and has established itself over the UK during the last day or two, plus it's become a little colder, with -2C on the weather station as I left the marina this morning. Things are simply held up and the forecast is for more of the same for the coming few days.

Little Gull ~ Apparently one of the best spring movements for years
The recent Pied Flycatcher at Brandon Marsh appears to have departed, with no sightings since Sunday although its probably the longest staying on record, five days in all! A Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds directly in front of East Marsh Hide was a one day wonder and the first Common Tern of the season arrived, but only stayed briefly on Monday morning and I missed it. Another brief visitor on Monday a Yellow Wagtail, when one suddenly took flight from Wigeon Bank, having been spooked by the constantly bickering Canada Geese. A stop at Napton Reservoir on route home produced good views of a Sedge Warbler, which wasn't singing and just suddenly appeared high up in the reeds.

Willow Warblers continue to arrive in small numbers
Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs appear to be well established, with a few ♀Blackcaps now on site, one actually collecting nesting material during one visit. The Sand Martins are now visiting the two nesting structures and House Martins and Swallows continue to pass through. Redshank, Little-ringed Plover and Oystercatcher are regularly seen mating, these are regular breeding birds at Brandon and so all bodes well.

I aborted my visit to Brandon on Tuesday morning due to a ridiculously noisy school party! I have no problems with education but it's a mystery to me as to why these parties need to visit the Wright Hide on the main reserve, kicking out anyone who has the misfortune to be inside birdwatching, especially having invested so much in the newly built hide for education at the nature centre.

Anyway, I took the opportunity to nip over to Draycote Water, where double figure Little Gulls and a single Black Tern were on offer. While here a lone Common Tern was also noted. On my way home I stopped once more at Napton Reservoir and was amazed to find a dozen Shelduck. In the eleven or so years I've been moored in this area I've only ever seen one other at the site. A Cetti's Warbler has also begun to call regularly, possible the same individual I picked up calling at the marina during a nocmig (recording nocturnal bird migration) session last Friday night.

Despite last nights clear skies this morning's visit, Wednesday 10th was probably the most disappointing so far, with nothing new, little movement and a bitterly cold wind.

And that as they say is that for a few weeks as I head off up to Scotland tomorrow to enjoy our new land-based πŸ˜Žhome and some new birding locations to explore, but of course I'll still be blogging!

Saturday, April 06, 2019

πŸ“– #13/2019 ~ Pied Flyctacher

On Wednesday evening I received a message that a♂Pied Flycatcher photograph had been posted on my 'Friends of Brandon Marsh' Flickr site. Having logged on, there appeared to be no information as to where exactly on the reserve the photo had been taken, although I could see that the details indicated it had been taken on the day at around 1pm. After an email to the publisher, I managed to ascertain that the bird had been seen from the left-hand end of the Balwin Hide, looking left across towards the trees.

The following day Thursday is 'Work Party' day so before starting work several of the Brandon Marsh Conservation Team, including myself gave the area in question plenty of attention. Despite this, there was no sign of the bird. The previous night's weather had been breezy and overcast and the morning was bitterly cold with a stiff Easterly blowing in, surely the bird was still around?

Pied Flycatcher relocated! ~ My best shot was taken with a soaking wet Canon SX50 ~ A nice birthday treat!
By the afternoon the weather had deteriorated even further, the wind had increased and it was now raining. I decided to give it another go so had my lunch in the Baldwin Hide. It was quite challenging actually with the wind and rain blowing directly through the slats. On the positive side, the weather had brought the hirundines low over the water to feed and there were at least five House Martins and several Swallows in with the many Sand Martins.

Alan Boddingtons better image of the Brandon Pied Flycatcher 
After a half hour, I decided to head back to the lock-up but as I passed by a more sheltered area near the sluices a quiet clicking 'tec' call from above caught my attention. There were several Chaffinches feeding but it wasn't one of these, this was different! When in doubt I always blame a Great Tit but as I scanned a little higher the unmistakable profile and colour of a Pied Flycatcher in the top of the alder, I'd relocated the bird. Fortunately, the rest of the team were heading back a short time later and I'm happy to report that everyone had some excellent views of this rare Brandon visitor, last seen on the reserve in 2015.

Well done to the original finder: Walter Warburton ~ Link HERE

Monday, April 01, 2019

πŸ“– #12/2019 ~ Landmark Day!

Last Friday was a landmark day for Dazza and I when after flying up to Aberdeen on Thursday evening we collected the keys to our new property. We'll be situated in Kemnay, a village 16 miles west of Aberdeen in Garioch, Aberdeenshire.

However, it's likely to be a couple more years yet before we become landlubbers once again and make the permanent move north to Dazza's home territory.

Bennachie ~ Aberdeenshire
A population of Red Squirrels at Bennachie
We spent the weekend settling in and exploring our new surroundings. The property has stunning views looking across to the hills of Bennachie and the ancient tops of Mither Tap and Oxen Craig. Just a 10-minute drive to the Nature Centre, we spent a short time exploring the hills and woodlands. Crossbills were plentiful and there's a feeding station for the small population of Red Squirrels.




On Saturday we took a 30-minute drive to Stonehaven for lunch, where a couple of Black Guillemots were just offshore, then onto RSPB Fowlsheugh just further along the coast. The specular cliffs here are home during the summer months to thousands of seabirds and already in residence were Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwakes. A single Puffin has arrived back but unfortunately, we were told we'd missed it by minutes. I'm sure there'll be many more by the time we return at Easter. Several Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were also a feature.

A least four Dippers along the stretch of the River Don
The River Don, which rises in the Grampians and flows eastwards out towards Aberdeen and the North Sea is just a five-minute stroll from the property. On Sunday morning we took a long walk along its banks before flying back to Birmingham later in the evening. The highlights here were at least four Dippers, two female Goosanders, Grey Wagtails and Kingfisher. The woodland was awash with Wood Anemone!

I look forward to returning at Easter for a fortnight of exploration!