Thursday, October 29, 2020

πŸ“– Ythan Estuary ☀️ 12C ~ Wind ↗SW@15mph 29/10/20


An early start this morning before the forecasted rain comes in later today. It was another gorgeous start and a frosty one too and so I spent the first 10-minutes defrosting the car. A quick stop at our excellent local bakery/cafe for a bacon roll and a couple of 'Aberdeen Rowies' for later and I was at the Ythan Estuary a half-hour later.

A Bar-tailed Godwit passes by along the Ythan.

Tide times were better today and so there was plenty of mudflats showing around 'Inch Point' and as usual the place was simply awash with life. Overhead skeins of noisy Pink-footed Geese were on the move and the sounds of Oystercatchers, Redshanks & Curlews was almost deafening. Some large flocks of Dunlin were constantly on the move too, dropping in close by occasionally for a feeding frenzy. Out in the channels Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Little Grebe, Wigeon and the resident Eiders. The Seals were also out in force and an Otter swam through keeping close to the far bank. Passing overhead during my visit Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit.

A very inquisitive Long-tailed Duck at the Ythan Estuary

The highlight of the visit was a stunning drake Long-tailed Duck, which I first scoped at distance but then it seemed to spot me and fly in landing directly in front, pretty surreal! I have to say I was literally mesmerised by him and watched him for some considerable time. The last time I saw a drake like this close in, locally known as an 'Oldsquaw' was in Canada some years ago.

Turnstone enjoying the weather

My next stop was for a walk along the Ythan shoreline further upriver, parking at the bridge car park. This is where the Ythan River begins to open out into the estuary and just as I arrived 17 Whooper Swans passed south. Immediately below several Turnstones were feeding in the glorious sunshine.

There are a small number of Greenshanks wintering along the Ythan ~ I think this one caught a crab?

The tide had now turned but there was still a few mudflats to explore. There was eight Shelduck feeding on one section and a selection of Gulls to go through. I'd been reading that Lesser-Black-backed Gulls are not common in these parts during the winter and so it would seem. I think I've only recorded a couple since moving here but Common Gulls are everywhere! There's also a small population of wintering Greenshank and I noted two today. My main reason for visiting this stretch was to do a spot of hedge bashing and also to search for Twite and Snow Bunting along the shore but apart from Yellowhammer, Stonechat and Goldfinch, I drew a blank. 

I couldn't get in at Coliieston today for a seawatch as they were resurfacing the car park (thankfully) and when I nipped around to the church for a reported Yellow-browed Warbler, frustratingly they were working there too! 

Roe Deer ~ A wonderful sight & quite a common one around these parts.

I had to head off to Peterhead B&Q at some stage today so I drove the back roads stopping at a few plantations to listen out for anything unusual. A Roe Deer suddenly appeared alongside and after hitting the brakes I managed to grab a few images before it bolted off. 

Three of sixteen Purple Sandpipers roosting at Gadle Braes

The weather was deteriorating by the time I reached Peterhead but before shopping, I stopped off at Gadle Braes. My target here with the tide almost fully in was Purple Sandpiper and I wasn't disappointed with 16 birds roosting on the rocks.

More Images Of The Day...

Long-tailed Duck coming in to investigate!

Long-tailed Duck

Unlike most of the others, this Purple Sandpiper was actually awake!

Monday, October 26, 2020

πŸ“– Autumn Along The Coast ☀️ 13C ~ Wind ↗SW@11mph 27/10/20


I'd originally planned to get the final unpacking done today after the move north but when I awoke to a glorious autumnal morning the only thing to do was to head out to the coast.

Sparrowhawk in off the sea with a persistent Crow in attendance

A 30-minute drive to Newburgh, where I began my day with a walk to the famous 'Tin Shack' which overlooks the Ythan Estuary. The timing wasn't good as the tide was almost in and with the dog walkers already out in force most birds had been flushed to the opposite bank, although I could make out a decent flock of Golden Plover. However, the usual congregation of Eiders were a pleasure to watch mid stream, along with Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser and of course, the Grey Seals were popping up and down almost anywhere. I watched a Sparrowhawk come in off the sea being mobbed by a persistent Crow in the crystal clear sky before a spot of hedge bashing along the golf course perimeter on my way back to the car park.

A lone Barnacle Goose flyby at the Waulkmill Hide

I decided to head off a little further north along to Collieston for a walk along the cliffs, stopping off on route at a few points on the way, including the Waulkmill Hide. The hide is located at 'Bridge of Forvie' and overlooks the mudflats where the river Ythan begins to open out into the estuary. Again, with the tide in and little mud showing, there were very few waders, although around twenty or so Curlew were in a nearby field. A second Sparrowhawk of the day did me a favour by flushing nine Snipe from the nearby reeds. Eleven Whooper Swans, hoards of Pink-footed Geese and a flyby lone Barnacle Goose were the highlights.

Tree Sparrow at Waulkmill Hide

To the rear of the hide there is a 20+ colony of Tree Sparrows and I positioned myself strategically for a while and managed a few decent images, while here Great-spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest and a couple of Coal Tits. A number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits overhead, plus more skeins of Pinkies.

Dolphins heading north past Collieston

Collieston is turning out to be one of my favourite spots on this stretch of the coast and I really enjoy a walk along the cliff tops. Despite the offshore wind there was plenty going on today with the usual Seal activity and a good passage of Dolphins, I think Bottlenose but I'm still honing my skills on this one! 

Guillemot off Collieston

Double-figure Red Throated Divers today

Double-figure Red-throated Divers were another feature and lots of Guillemots bobbing around, as seems the norm around these waters.

Rock Pipit ~ Constant companions along the cliffs

I sat for a good while in expectation but just the usual Gull species and the occasional Kittiwake passed by, even the Gannets were way offshore today.  Rock Pipits are always around while here and I did manage a decent image of one that came close during my stay. 

Slains Castle ~ deliberately unroofed in the 1920s to avoid property taxes

Finally, a walk up to Slains Castle at Cruden Bay. Apparently, Bram Stoker took inspiration for the great room in Dracula's Transylvanian Castle directly from Slains Castle. It's quite spectacular and from a birding perspective, the heavily wooded gully which leads to the castle from the car park looks well worth investigating. Cruden Bay has accumulated an impressive list of rarities over the years, although like most things fewer over the past decade. A quick look at what's known as the 'Water of Cruden', which runs into the sea back at the village produced two Grey Wagtails and a Dipper, a nice end to an enjoyable morning along the coast.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

πŸ“– Cairngorms National Park ☁️ 🌧 7C ~ Wind →NW@6mph 22/10/20


With Dazza on a week off, we'd planned a trip into the Cairngorms today and despite torrential overnight rain, which eventually subsided early morning, we decided to head off and take a chance.

Our main destination, around an hours drive, was the village of Braemar situated in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park in Royal Deeside. The village acts as the eastern gateway to the Cairngorm Mountains. They say you can encounter all four seasons in one day up here and apart from any snow, I think we did.

Red Grouse ~ A quick pose before flying off.

We made several stops along the route and had a couple of short hikes across the moorlands in between the showers. I lost count of the amount of Red-legged Partridge we flushed and Pheasants are just everywhere. On a few occasions, we dislodged small groups of Red Grouse and at one stage a single Snipe took flight but unfortunately, we didn't manage to connect with any Black Grouse today. 

The awesome sight of a Stag Red Deer

One of the highlights came while enjoying our packed lunch at a layby just short of arriving at Glen Shee Ski Centre, our turn around point. While following a very vocal Raven with the bins a huge bird suddenly drifted into view over the mountain tops, unmistakably a Golden Eagle. We watched the bird make several circles at height before drifting back and away over the tops, an awesome sight even at distance. While here a stunning stag Red Deer suddenly appeared from behind a small rock face and I managed a quick burst on the camera before he departed, we did see several others along the route, including good numbers of Roe Deer too. At Glen Shee, we had hoped to take a walk up the slopes in search of Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare but the weather and light had somewhat deteriorated by then so we made do with scoping the area from the car park, which paid off with BuzzardMerlin, Kestrel and Peregrine

The fast running River Dee at Invercauld

Our final stop on the way home was at the Invercauld Estate car park, one of Dazzas favourite walking spots. Here there is old pine woodland, birch, wet bog and hills to explore and it can be a good place for seeing Crossbills.

Red Squirrel at Invercauld

However, the Crossbills seen here can belong to any one of three species that are so similar it takes real skill to tell them apart. I'm happy with Parrot Crossbill identification but such are the similarities between the Common Crossbill and the Scottish Crossbill that there is still some debate as to their true classification. As it turns out, it's a discussion for another time as we drew a complete blank on Crossbills during our visit! Coal Tit, Siskin, Bullfinch, Goldcrest and Goosander on the river all noted during the visit.

The estate also runs alongside the River Dee and here in the late gloom a Dipper performed for a short while before the light finally gave out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

πŸ“– Along The Ythan

The unpacking and picture hanging is complete and having nipped down to the village shops on a couple of occasions I'm beginning to get a better feel for the locality. What strikes me is the friendliness of the locals, everyone has a good morning and cheery smile, even the kids on their way to school offer a greeting and there seems to be a good community spirit throughout. At night you could hear a pin drop!

From a nature perspective Jackdaws and House Sparrows are commonplace, with plenty of tiled roofs and guttering plus a chimney stack on every property there's no surprise here. I'm slowly placing the odd feeder around the garden to get a feel for what's about and it's apparent already that the Jackdaws take president, although a Sparrowhawk did give them a fright the other morning when one whizzed through. A couple of early garden 'ticks' include Goldcrest and Marsh Tit, plus there's a healthy population of Coal Tits. Another feature at this time of year is the skeins of Geese which seem neverending. Mostly Pink-footed Geese but at present some large groups of Barnacle Geese. The latter apparently of the Svalbard population, which stage around the coast here before moving further south-west to their wintering grounds, particularly around WWT Caerlaverock. 

There's plenty more movement overhead too with the 'cluck' of Fieldfare and 'seep' of Redwing almost constant during the mornings. I've also noticed smaller numbers of Mistle Thrush passing through. Siskins are another species heard daily along with Lesser Redpoll and the odd Crossbill. Thus far no Brambling but having seen several when we were here in March, I'm confident it won't be too long. 

It was my first opportunity to get out and about further afield on Tuesday so I spent a few hours along the Ythan Estuary and then on to Collieston Harbour for a spot of sea watching.

The Ythan Estuary is the tidal component of the Ythan River, emptying into the North Sea around 19 kilometres north from Aberdeen, about a 30-minute scenic drive. The main attraction for me is the huge population of Eider Ducks, in fact, it's supports the largest mainland colony of Eider Duck in the UK. 

A single Bar-tailed Godwit at Inches Point

I began at Inches Point Newburgh which offers parking and a panoramic view of the estuary. Across the water, plenty of Seals had hauled out, another mainstay of the Ythan and along the shallows on the nearside banks a selection of common waders: Redshank, Dunlin, Turnstone and Oystercatcher. There were also Curlew and a few Knot, plus a single Bar-tailed Godwit. On the water Goosander, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser plus of course the hoards of Eider Duck cooing and chuckling.

Collieston Harbour car park ~ Excellent seawatch stop off.

A half-hour at Collieston for a sea watch in choppy conditions and the highlights here on the water were Slavonian GrebeRed-throated Diver and a group of 30+ Kittiwake which settled for the duration of my stay. A Skua Sp. headed north harassed by a few Gulls and various numbers of Gannet and Shag. Gull species: Herring, Black-headed, Common and Great Black-backed. At least four Rock Pipit noted, plus Seal and Dolphin.

A Few More Images Of The Visit...

Drake Eider Duck

Red-breasted Merganser

Goosander buzzing the Seals

Sunday, October 18, 2020


Hello and welcome to the new look blog. 'BOATBIRDER 'TERRA FIRMA' 

Yes, as you can see from the new title we're now living back on 'dry land' and have relocated to our property in the heart of Aberdeenshire Scotland. 

After just over 16 wonderful years living on the water aboard our narrowboat 'Quidditch', it's now back to 'Terra Firma'. Why Scotland and why the North-East? Well, it was always in our future plan to return eventually to dry land and in doing so move closer to the coast. Of course, for me, it was all about the birding. For my wife Dazza, well she's from Aberdeen anyway so it was a no brainer when the opportunity arose to return home. 

Aberdeenshire makes up the north-east corner of Scotland, a large area including a very wide range of habitats. The habitat diversity and the presence of many of Scotland’s speciality species make for some great birding. The seabird cliffs made up of granite and basalt are among the most spectacular anywhere.



The Cairngorm Mountains, foothills and native forests are just a 40-minute drive away and offer the opportunity of seeing some of Scotlands most cherished species including  Scottish Ptarmigan (endemic sub-sp.), Scottish Crossbill (endemic sp.), Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle, Crested Tit, Dotterel & Ring Ouzel


Starting from Girdleness peninsula just south of the entrance to Aberdeen Harbour and running north along the coastline through to Peterhead are many sea watching vantage points and these will be essential places to visit at any time of year but especially during the migration periods of spring and autumn. All of the regular passage birds can be seen around the Aberdeenshire coast, as well as good numbers of real rarities. The North-east Scotland recording area holds the record for the most species of birds seen in 24 hours (in Scotland) and is second only to Norfolk for the UK. 


The Ythan Estuary & Forvie Sands will be a regular stop for me. This is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Here there is an extensive estuary with a variety of surrounding habitats including sand dunes, heathland, farmland, reedbeds and mudflats. Eiders are resident throughout the year and breeding takes place at Forvie on the other side of the river. 


This is a coastal village about a 10-minute drive further up the coast from the Ythan which has a sheltered harbour and beach. There are small areas of scrub and mature gardens, sea cliffs to the north and south for sea watching and bordered by farmland to the west. The local churchyard has an excellent track record for scarcities and rarities and there are two plantations along the minor road to Whinnyfold which are also worth checking.



Just a few miles from the house lies Bannachie a range of hills which has several tops, the highest of which, Oxen Craig, has a height of 528 metres (1,732 ft). Though not particularly high compared to other peaks within Scotland, the mountain is very prominent, owing to its isolation and the relative flatness of the surrounding terrain and dominates the skyline from several viewpoints. It provides a granite ridge with mixed upland moorland flanked by mixed woodlands and surrounded at lower levels by agricultural fields and offers some exciting habitat to explore. 


The River Don is just a short walk from the house and offers some excellent riverbank walks. Dippers are a regular feature here and in the surrounding arable fields, there is a large wintering roost of Whooper Swans

So as you can see from the above overview my birding options are numerous and I look forward to many field trips over the coming months, so let the adventure begin.