Tuesday, December 22, 2020

πŸ“– Pre Xmas Update 08/12/20 ~ 22/12/20

πŸŽ„Since my previous post, I've spent my time birding the Aberdeenshire coastline beginning just south of Stonehaven at RSPB Fowlsheugh and as far north as RSPB Loch of Strathsbeg, where I managed an unexpected year-tick Green-winged Teal yesterday afternoon (Mon 21st). Along the Ythan Estuary, all the usual common waders can be found and out to sea things are pretty settled with little movement currently apart from the odd passing Red-throated Diver, plenty of Guillemots bobbing around and the usual selection of Eider Ducks. I'm still logging small groups of Bottlenose Dolphin and plenty of Seals, both Common & Grey. During one visit to Girdleness, a Weasel ran out in front of me while driving towards the lighthouse, but thankfully I managed to avoid it.

Fulmar at Collieston Harbour 

☃️The most fascinating thing I've noticed during this period has been just how quickly things can change here along the coastline. For example, just a week ago the cliffs were almost deserted but over the past several days, there's been a large influx of Fulmars, which despite the time of year and being mostly pelagic during non-breeding months have already begun to stake out the cliff face. In fact, since moving here permanently in October, you could count the number of Fulmars I've logged during my coastal visits on one hand. 

On water, they’re buoyant and sit very upright, while on land they cannot stand or walk, managing at best an ungainly shuffle.

πŸŽ…Suffice to say I've spent many hours since in the company of these fascinating birds watching them hunt just barely above the waves, seemingly with little effort using their characteristic stiff wing beats. What has also been interesting has been observing the interaction between birds at rest with their throaty chuckling and cackling rising and diminishes in volume, sounding alarmed one second and companionable the next. Apparently, these birds also remain largely loyal both to partner and nesting sites and can often live up to fifty years, they are fast becoming one of my favourite sea birds!

A very confiding Snow Bunting right in front of the car was a pleasant surprise!

❄️On Saturday Dazza and I had to travel to Fraserburgh to pick up a few things for Christmas and while here stopped just outside the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses to enjoy a takeaway coffee & to watch the many Shags heading off to roost. There are good views of the sea from here while sitting in the comfort of the car. However, while enjoying our coffee a slight movement in the gravel took the eye and turned out to be a Snow Bunting, a wonderful find and completely unexpected. Good job I carry my camera everywhere I go!

A Few More Images of the amazing Fulmars...

Just holding in the wind above Slains Castle, Cruden Bay.

The cliff-face at RSPB Fowlsheugh near Stonehaven.

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Monday, December 07, 2020

πŸ“– Girdleness Aberdeen 🌨 2C ~ Wind ↘NW @2mph ~ 07/12/20

🌊 High Tide ~ 05:59 @3.07m ~ ☀️ Sunrise 8:33am Sunset 3:27pm 


A bitterly cold dreich visit to Girdleness today but rewarded with my first 'white winger' Iceland Gull since making the move up to Aberdeenshire.

Iceland Gull at Girdleness today

A juvenile, I think perhaps 1st winter bird was preening on the rocks just below the allotments. 

The bird stayed around for a good half hour before flying off with other gulls and lost to sight as it flew towards the harbour. 

Also of note today ~ There was a short period of Dolphin activity on my arrival but unfortunately, the weather wasn't conducive to taking any decent images. I also noticed during a short Seawatch that Razorbill activity had increased with at least a half dozen birds mixed in with the Guillemots just below the lighthouse. There were also more Gannets passing through than of late but nothing unusual to report. Despite the weather, it was another enjoyable visit.

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Thursday, December 03, 2020

πŸ“– Ythan Estuary ☀️1C ~ Wind ↑ S@ 4mph ~ 03/12/20

🌊 High Tide ~ 14:55 @4.19m ~ ☀️ Sunrise 8:27am Sunset 3:29pm 

It was another beautiful day but before setting off to the Ythan Estuary I spent my breakfast sat at the kitchen window, camera at the ready! My aim over the last few mornings has been to capture one of the many skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying across the now gibbous setting moon, which was just sat like a gorgeous orb floating above the Bennachie hills.

Success ~ Pink-footed Geese across the setting moon

They say patience is a virtue and it finally paid off when at last one large group veered off and across the moon, a wonderful moment but all over in an instant!

The mouth of the Ythan Estuary at Newburgh on my arrival

Half an hour later I was at the Ythan Estuary once more, which was again bathed in the beautiful winter sunshine. Today I parked at Newburgh and decided to head south along the beach and then take my return journey back alongside the sand dunes. It was such a lovely day I did, in fact, spend most of it just enjoying the Estuary before heading off to the Waulkmill Hide to enjoy another magical sunset.

What follows is a pictorial of my day..

Newburgh, of course, is famous for its Seal colonies and within minutes of arriving this morning, these lovable characters were already offering some excellent photo opportunities.

Some large numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers winter around the Ythan Estuary and today I counted over 30 birds, with more arriving as the tide came in.

As you walk along the beach you just can't help being mesmerised by Sanderling. The batteries never run low in these charismatic birds and catching one at rest is a task in itself. 

Among a varied selection of waders seen today Red Knot could be found feeding along the shallows and there was a good number passing through just prior to high tide.

Dunlin (top) Redshank (middle) and Turnstone (bottom) make up the largest numbers of waders currently around the estuary. 

Eider Ducks winter all around the north-east coast of Scotland and breed close by at Forvie. This area holds one of the largest populations in the UK but I could never tire of seeing these colourful sea ducks and they are always the first bird I look for during any visit.

Common Gulls can be found here in large numbers, along with Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. Surprisingly Lesser Black-backed Gulls are rare to the area in winter and I've only managed a couple of sightings since moving here last month.

Whooper Swans at Sunset ~ What a magical place this is!

On route to the Waulkmill Hide, a large flock of Golden Plover was on the fields just prior to the turn on the A975. At the hide feeders 20/30 Tree Sparrows, Coal Tit, Chaffinch and Yellowhammer but the large Linnet flock noted yesterday were across the fields and more distant today. Also of note Buzzard, Kestrel and a single Snipe flew up from the nearby reeds. The icing on the cake of another magical day was the skeins of Pink-footed Geese overhead and the amazing sight of thirteen Whoopers Swans heading out of the Ythan around sunset.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

πŸ“– Ythan Estuary ☀️4C ~ Wind → W@ 4mph 01/12/20

🌊 High Tide ~ 13:50 @4.19m ~ ☀️ Sunrise 8:23am Sunset 3:31pm 

I began my visit at Inches Point around mid-morning with the tide now on the turn. I was greeted with the usual cacophony of sound, Curlew, Oystercatcher and passing flocks of Dunlin. Three Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding in the shallows along with two small groups of Knot. By far the most abundant wader was Redshank. A good selection of Gulls was noteworthy but despite an extended search for 'white-wingers', I drew a blank.

Drake Eider looking magnificent in the winter sun

The resident large groups of Eider were mostly asleep but occasionally disturbed by a passing Seal. Thankfully, the odd one would drift by and the light today was excellent for photography.  

Walk from the west car park to Tarty Burn.

My next stop was the west Waterside Bridge car park, where I enjoyed an extended walk upstream along the shoreline as far as Tarty Burn. Just a little further upstream is Inch Geck Island, which during the breeding season apparently holds the highest concentration of Shelduck in the north-east of Scotland. 

Red-breasted Mergansers along the Ythan.

There were a few around today but majorly outnumbered by Red-breasted Mergansers, again the light showing them off beautifully with four birds close by. Wigeon, Goosander and a Drake Goldeneye were also recorded.

Part of the huge flock of Dunlin displaced by the Peregrine.

At one point a Peregrine laid waste to the area throwing up some huge flocks of Lapwing and Dunlin and I also noted three Brent Geese which flew west and out of view. As is the norm at this time of year several skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead.


The same selection of waders during my walk as Inches Point with the addition of Lapwing and Greenshank, the latter of which I've established winter around this area. Along the treeline Chaffinch, Yellowhammer, Song Thrush and Meadow Pipit in the nearby fields. 

A healthy colony of Tree Sparrow at Waulkmill Hide.

A brief stop at Snub layby to have my packed lunch, inadvertently flushing a Kingfisher, which I noticed too late as I drove in. My final visit of the day was to the Waulkmill Hide, stopping briefly to check out a distant group of Whooper Swans, arriving at the hide just on high tide. Close in were 15 Greylag Geese but the low sun at this time of day is a real issue and so I concentrated on the area behind the hide where there are feeders. There is a nice colony of Tree Sparrows with 23 counted today along with Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Yellowhammer around the feeders.

Linnet flock in the fading light.

In the field behind a large flock of Linnet were feeding on what looks to be a set-aside area, obviously being seeded. I spent a good 45-minutes searching for Twite, unsuccessfully and during this period a Sparrowhawk landed briefly just feet away! It was another enjoyable visit in the beautiful winter sunshine.

Friday, November 27, 2020

πŸ“– Glenshee ☁️ 4C ~ Wind → W@ 5mph 27/11/20

We had hoped that the recent good weather would hold out for our trip to the Cairngorms today and although it was a bright and frosty start at home by the time we arrived at the Glenshee Ski Centre an hour later the cloud had drifted in.

Glenshee Ski Centre ~ Grid Ref: NO138781

This is the highest road in Scotland and gives access to some good mountain country but due to the weather and not being experienced hillwalkers we decided to take a designated track up the mountain from the Ski Centre. 

Good numbers of Red Grouse during our walk today.

This a great place to see Red Grouse and even before we'd set off from the car park we could hear them calling not far up the hillside. During the winter months, flocks of Snow Buntings can usually be found around the car park but not today, likely too early in the season.

View down towards Loch Vrotachan at 2,460ft.

It was a steep climb up as far as Loch Vrotachan at around 2,460ft and although at times we were shrouded by low cloud the views as you would imagine were stunning. The loch is fed from springs from limestone schists and has a high ph. This means lots of insect life and larger than normal trout if you're a keen fisherman but were told that very clear water makes for very wary trout. 

Mountain Hare ~ Also known as Blue Hare as you can see from the colour in my photo.

What was easier to catch was a glimpse of Mountain Hares and without any snow, they literally do 'stick out like a sore thumb'. There were lots today, such wonderful and mostly confiding animals and it's beyond belief that the Scottish government allowed the slaughter of this iconic species to continue for so long. Now banned of course thanks to petitions and the successful proposal from Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who lodged an amendment to the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The amendment now makes Mountain Hares a protected species, effectively ending the recreational killing and mass killing on grouse moors.

Still a good few Stag Red Deer at the higher slopes.

We were also hoping for Ptarmigan today but it wasn't to be, likely not moved down yet from higher grounds but at certain times of the year, they do drop to almost car park level. However, we did come across a few groups of Stag Red Deer, amazing animals and looking quite content in their surroundings. From a birding standpoint, the weather and time of year didn't help today and so the only other species noted were Raven, Kestrel and Buzzard. During May and June this area holds Dotterel, Golden Plover and Ring Ouzel and so, of course, we'll be back.

Other Images of the Visit...

An atmospheric lunch break at Glenshee

Did you know the ears tips remain black all year round on the Mountain Hare?

This one not quite there yet!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

πŸ“– Muir of Dinnet ☀️ 5C ~ Wind ↗SW@5mph 26/11/20

With migration now seemingly at an end and things beginning to quieten down along the coastline, I've now turned my attention to some of the inland sites. With Dazza also on 3 days holiday from midweek, it was a great opportunity for us both to get out and about.


Muir of Dinnet Grid Ref.. NO449981

Today we took the 40-minute drive out to The Muir of Dinnet. This is a national nature reserve which extends 1166 hectares from the River Dee to Culbean hill and encompasses a wide range of habitats including dry heath, raised bog, woodland, and two freshwater lochs: Loch Kinord and Loch Davan. We began at the Burn o' Vat Visitor and Interpretation Centre, which is a good starting point for all paths around the reserve. 

Firstly though a short walk to the 'Vat', (above video) an impressive rock cauldron and according to local folklore, the cave behind the waterfall in the vat was used by Rob Roy, a notorious outlaw, to hide from the authorities. In fact, this is not true, with the cave instead being used as a hiding place for Patrick Gilroy Macgregor, an outlaw renowned for his exploits in Deeside during the 17th century and a possible relative of Rob Roy!

A rather colourful Lesser Redpoll along the shoreline of Loch Kinnord.

Scottish Crossbills inhabit the pinewoods here, although my experience of the species is thus far non-existant and several birds seen and heard today will remain in my log as Common Crossbill. There are also some large flocks of Lesser Redpoll and we came across one such flock of around 50 birds while walking along the shoreline of Loch Kinord. Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker were also noted during our enjoyable long walk. 

Wigeon on Loch Kinnord

The Lochs themselves held double-figure Goldeneye, Wigeon and Goosander. This is a wonderful place to explore and with species such as Tree Pipit, Cuckoo, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher all found here during the summer months, this is somewhere that firmly has a place in my diary to visit again.

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