Friday, April 30, 2021

πŸ“– Dalmadilly Ponds 🌦3C ~ Wind ↘NW @7mph ~ 30/04/21

The unsettled conditions continue with plenty of April showers feeding through in the chilly northeasterly breeze, some prolonged and occasionally accompanied by hail.

Lots of Marsh Marigold around the pools.

Stayed local today completing my early morning walk around Dalmadilly Ponds. On arrival around 07:30, there were plenty of Hirundines over the water, mainly Sand Martins, with a few Swallows but no sign of any House Martins, which I still haven't managed to record here this spring. It's an exciting time for me to get to know my new patch and lovely to see so much Marsh Marigold blossoming around the peripheral of the pools. I'm happy to note too that there appears to be an Island emerging mid pool, which an Oystercaster managed to confirm by landing briefly on it before heading off. 


The local Lesser Redpolls and Siskins are certainly looking the part!

There's a wonderfully diverse selection of trees and shrubs around the ponds at Dalmadilly and when you find Alder you're practically certain of seeing both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll (you normally hear them first) taking advantage, three of each today looking resplendent in the sunshine.

Mallard with nine little'ons

The Willow Warblers continue to sing in good numbers, (11) noted today, along with just (3) singing Chiffchaff and a couple of Blackcaps. No sign of the Whitethroat I've noted on my last 2 visits though. The first brood of the spring for me goes to the above Mallard with a nice clutch of nine ducklings. A quick look down onto the River Don yielded just a single Common Sandpiper today and again like the ponds lots of Hirundines, but minus House Martin.

Patience paid off with this Grasshopper Warbler this morning

However, the highlight of my morning was when walking along the boardwalk which runs parallel to a nearby small burn. Suddenly a Grasshopper Warbler began reeling just as I passed by, stopping me dead in my tracks! A strategic positioning dodging the April showers paid off after what seemed an age when the bird finally showed itself briefly before skulking back down.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

πŸ“– Midweek Update 28/04/21

After what seemed an age of high pressure, frosty mornings and bright sunny days the weather finally broke on Monday to produce some well-needed rain. I know, It seems a strange thing to be saying when you're living in northeast Scotland! A more prolonged rainy day followed on Tuesday and temperatures struggled to reach just 8C in the chilly northeasterly breeze. Wednesday was a day of April showers, some accompanied by hail but we did enjoy a few longer periods of sunshine raising the temperature to a balmy 12C.

A Sandwich Tern dives on the Ythan

On Monday and despite the rain I spent a few hours around the Ythan Estuary and actually timed my visit to perfection. The tide had turned and was on its way in as I made my way down to Newburgh beach, the best place to look for Terns with the Forvie Sands ternary on the opposite bank now cordoned off. 

One of at least eight Little Terns

Little Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern and Arctic Tern can all be found here and all four species were noted during my visit. In fact, I spent an enjoyable hour watching them diving for fish only yards away from the beach. There is also a large Black-headed Gull colony here too and I was considering the fact that it must be so frustrating for them to watch the more aerobatic Terns diving and coming up with a tasty morsel on almost every descent.

Interesting leucistic looking Eider Duck among the many at Ythan

Breeding Eider Ducks
 are also a highlight along the Ythan and numbers are now beginning to increase even more as the local birds are being joined by other flocks from around the Scottish coast. At one time Forvie was home to the largest population of breeding Eiders in the UK. Sadly a dramatic decline of this wonderful enigmatic sea duck, which began in 2005 means that this is no longer the case and I read that the 2019 breeding season has seen the lowest spring population of Eiders in at least the last 58 years, with only 1323 birds.

After the visit to Newburgh Beach, a brief Seawatch at Collieston produced two Puffins on the water, Red-throated Diver and various numbers of ShagKittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill, plus a steady trickle of Gannets heading north.

Finally, a stop at Meikle Loch before heading home produced of note Whimbrel (over), 2 drake Pochard and my first House Martins of the year. 

Dipper on the River Dee

Although I've visited Muir of Dinnet on a few occasions Tuesday I paid my first visit to Dinnet Oakwood, about 40-minutes from home. This is one of the few old oakwoods left in northeast Scotland and my target birds were Common Redstart and Tree Pipit. Parking on the north side of the River Dee the walk across the bridge to the entrance gate produced a Dipper on the rocks below and a fleeting glimpse of Grey Wagtail.

It was a pleasant enough walk, occasionally in heavy rain and the best I could manage was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch, Siskin and Song Thrush. I'm sure the weather played its part but not even a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler was seen or heard.

Common Redstart at Old Kinord

Not deterred after the oakwood I took the short drive along to the Muir Of Dinnet and took a stroll down towards Old Kinord and Loch Davan. It was at the preserved ruins that I had my first success of the day when a female Common Redstart perched briefly before departing into the nearby copse. Around the ruins, a flock of some twenty or so Meadow Pipits, two Pied Wagtails and while here Lapwing and a few Swallows and Sand Martins overhead.

Osprey in the gloom over Loch Davan

My second success of the visit was a Tree Pipit which I inadvertently flushed from the ground into a nearby tree. A good deal of tail pumping before it quickly flew off not even giving me a chance to raise the camera! As I approached the loch an Osprey drifted over in the gloom and on the water Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and a number of Sand Martins feeding.  

An Osprey over Paradise Wood the second in as many days

Today an afternoon stroll in the nearby and aptly named Paradise Wood at Monymusk. It was a pretty quiet visit but a sharp shower brought down a good fall of Hirudines over the river with Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin all in the mix. Just prior to heading home an Osprey passed over heading along the river, no doubt looking for dinner!

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

πŸ“– Weekly Review W/E 25/04/21

Spring migration up here in the northeast of Scotland has so far been a slow affair, and with the weather being dominated the past week by clear skies, frosty mornings and an unfavourable northerly wind, just a few species have managed to breakthrough. Swallows are few and far between and I've yet to register a single House Martin. However, one species, in particular, seems to have bucked the trend. 

Willow Warblers bucking the trend

Willow Warblers appear to be everywhere at the moment and during my early morning patch visit to Dalmadilly Ponds on Friday, I noted at least nineteen birds.

Lesser Redpoll at Dalmadilly Ponds

The visit also produced my first Common Whitethroat of the year and displaying Lesser Redpolls, which for me was a first. Just below the site as I look down onto the River Don a couple of Common Sandpipers and two female Goosanders were also recorded. 

Green Tiger Beetle

When the temperature gets up later in the day a few butterflies have been noted with Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Green-veined White all additions to the year-list. I also found a few of my favourite Green Tiger Beetles during a visit to another local spot 'Don View' where I'd hoped to see Tree Pipit but like most species, these too have not yet arrived. 

Carpet of Wood Anemone
On Monday afternoon I took a leisurely walk around another local beauty spot Paradise Wood at Monymusk, an extensive woodland canopy that runs alongside the River Don and owned by the Grant family since the early 18th century. The area was originally planted by Sir Archibald Grant, a renowned agricultural reformer of the day.

The wood is home to a huge variety of trees including Fir, Oak, Ash, Elm, Beech, Plane, Alder, Hazel, Birch, Spruce, Larch and is now beginning to come alive with vast carpets of Wood Anemone and Lesser Celandine

Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper all noted along the river during my visit, along with Treecreeper, Common Crossbill and Great Spotted Woodpecker within the woods.

Further afield during the past week, I've managed to catch up with a Spoonbill at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg and a Black-necked Grebe at a site that due to the possibility of breeding shall remain secret within my journal. Whimbrel is another addition to my slowly building year-list when I managed two birds along the coastline at Forvie NNR and then six birds that flew over the house calling on Thursday evening.

Saturday 24th... Dazza and I enjoyed icecreams along the seafront at Stonehaven followed by a leisurely evening stroll along the spectacular sea cliffs at RSPB Fowlsheugh. Along with the 1000s of Auks, Fulmars and Kittiwakes, just 3 Puffins during our visit, but just seeing one is good enough for us!

Sunday 25th... A slight ground frost on my morning walk around Dalmadilly Ponds today. Highlights included double-figure Willow Warblers, two more Whitethroats & new to the patch a couple of Tree Sparrows to end an enjoyable week out & about.


One of just three Puffins today at RSPB Fowlsheugh

Chiffchaff at Dalmadilly Ponds

Butterbur ~ A new one for me

Suffolk Lungwort

Sunday, April 18, 2021

πŸ“– Travel Sunday ⛅ 8C ~ Wind S@17mph 18/11/20

A very early start this morning arriving on the northern Aberdeenshire coast of Portsoy, a very attractive harbour with plenty of history. The main reason for the visit was to catch up with White-billed Divers, this is a well-known area where the birds can be found regularly during their moult between March and May. It actually wasn't too difficult a task to find one today as when I arrived at the Dolphin Statue, a good place to begin scanning, a fellow birder, who told me he was up from Glasgow, put me straight on to four birds. As per the norm, all birds are generally quite distant and a scope is essential. 

Red-throated Diver

While enjoying the views there was plenty of Bottlenose Dolphin activity, with many breaches and Gannets were diving in an area that actually held (11) Long-tailed Duck, most in summer plumage. Close by a Rock Pipit was a nice distraction and back out to sea Guillemots and Razorbills, along with two Red-throated Divers.

Rattray ~ A good place to find Corn Bunting

From Portsoy, I headed back around the coast to Rattray. Once off the main A90 the road passes the remains of St. Mary's chapel and offers good views of the southern end of the Loch of Strathbeg. I paused here for a while to take a short walk picking up a couple of Corn Buntings along the fences and several  Meadow Pipits in the surrounding fields, where Golden Plover, Lapwing and a few remaining Pink-footed Geese were noted among the Greylags.

Sandwich Tern

From the chapel, the road becomes extremely rough down to the parking at the Lighthouse Cottages but with care, it can easily be navigated. The area itself is renowned for its rarities in spring and autumn but today my main focus was to try and catch up with a drake Surf Scoter, which had been hanging around with a large raft of Common Scoters to the south of the lighthouse. It was more difficult than I'd anticipated with the harse mid-morning sunshine (must remember I'm on the east coast) and a stiff breeze but having finally found some high ground shielding me from the southwesterly I eventually connected after a 90-minute vigil. In fact, I was actually ready to give up when the bird was seen in flight at the head of a large group of Common Scoters. Other notables during my stay included Velvet Scoter, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Black-throated Diver, a steady passage of Sandwich Terns, Kittiwakes and Fulmars.  A look at the flooded fields before heading off found (9) Ringed Plover, (4) Redshank and (5) Curlew.

A final bonus during an excellent day and just 15 minutes from home were managing some distant views from the roadside of one of the three Ring-necked Ducks at Loch Skene but I dipped on a redhead Smew. Not many images to upload today with all views of my target species mainly distant.

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

πŸ“– Glen Muick ☀️ 12C ~ Wind ↗SW@ 2mph ~ 15/04/21


Another frosty, cloudless and beautiful start for my pre-dawn trip to Glen Muick, just an hours drive from home. 

One of the stopping points at Glen Muick

This is a highland glen on the Balmoral Estate with varied habitats; agricultural land, birch and conifer woods, moorland, river and of course Loch Muick. From Ballater, the drive to the main car park at Spittal of Glen Muick is around eight miles. The road itself contains many passing places and lots of opportunities to stop and check out the various habitats. 

An obliging Black Grouse

At one of my first stops just after the road passes onto open moorland the sound of Oystercatchers could be heard reverberating in the still morning air. As I stood watching the birds on the River Muick below I was amazed when three Black Grouse suddenly flew in, one perching nicely on a nearby rock for a good fifteen minutes.

Ring Ouzel

My next stop offered scoped views of a distant Black Grouse leck with at least six birds doing battle in a covered area alongside the river. While here a number of Curlews were displaying and then a winnowing Snipe, a wonderful sight and sound and all this alongside the constantly parachuting Meadow Pipits, which were plentiful. By the time I reached the car park an hour later (many stops on the route), I'd recorded (3) Wheatear, a small number of Red Grouse, more Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel, (2) Stonechat and a Dipper on one the burns below.

Red-throated Diver ~ Taken on manual focus

Once at the car park, there is a circular walk around the loch (12.5 km), which, at the head of the loch, passes Glas-allt-Shiel, a fascinating building built as a retreat for Queen Victoria, which she referred to as her 'Widows House', where she could escape from the world following the death of her husband Albert.

Back to the birding and I was curious to note after my research that Common Gulls nest on the moorlands around here and there were in fact several birds feeding on and around the loch during my walk. Best on the water was a summer plumage Red-throated Diver but frustratingly my camera simply refused to focus on the bird. I can only assume that due to the flat calm water and the reflections of the surrounding mountains it somehow confused the autofocus and my images simply don't do the bird justice.

Red Deer

An iconic species from the Scottish Glens is of course the Red Deer. I viewed several small herds today, which seemed quite settled in their environment and permitted some close observation and photo opportunities. While doing this I also noted some large and noisy high-level skeins of Pink-footed Geese heading north, perfect weather for migration I should think. Mid-April up here in Aberdeenshire is still a little early in the birding calendar, a fact I'm still getting used to and so a few expected absentees from the visit today which included Tree Pipit and Common Sandpiper, the latter another species that breeds here along the river. There's always a good chance of  Golden Eagle up here too but sadly not today, oddly, the only raptor during my whole visit was a single Buzzard.

View across to Loch Muick

I found Glen Muick to be an incredibly inspiring place and somewhere I intend to visit more often. I found myself just sitting on a number of occasions simply soaking in this stunningly beautiful scenery and atmosphere and for me sums up one of the main reasons for our move to Scotland.


Black Grouse

Meadow Pipit

Red-throated Diver

Red Deer

River Muick

Part of the circular route around the loch

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

πŸ“– Dalmadilly Ponds ☀️ -2C ~ Wind ↗SW@ 3mph ~ 14/04/21

With high pressure still holding on, we're still experiencing some heavy overnight frosts with an average temperature of around -5C by sunrise. However, the system has pushed slightly further east and today the bitterly cold northerly has abated to a light southwesterly.

At least three Blackcaps singing this morning.

The wind change seems to have done the trick with an overnight fall of Blackcaps! I noted at least three singing around the ponds this morning and my first Willow Warbler of the year was another species that I always look forward to hearing in the early spring. So spring has, at last, sprung for me! 

Willow Warbler ~ Another song eagerly awaited each spring.

The pools were generally quiet with (11) Tufted Ducks, (4) Greylag Geese and a drake Goldeneye. Other notables on this mornings visit included: (5) Yellowhammer, (4) Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, (3) Chiffchaff, (4) Reed Bunting and several skeins of Pink-footed Geese.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

πŸ“– Weekly Review W/E 11/04/21

Another cold week dominated by a northerly airflow continues to be the theme up here in northeast Scotland. Frosty nights and chilly days with a constant barrage of snow showers is definitely keeping migration to a bare minimum but despite the conditions, the birds keep trickling through.

Despite the conditions, Sandwich Terns are getting through (these two at Girdleness on Friday)

Pre-breakfast visits to the local Dalmadilly Ponds, plus visits to Girdleness, Muir of Dinnet and the Ythan Estuary with Dazza over the weekend have been the highlights of my birding week. 

My 1st Osprey of the year over the Ythan Estuary this morning

There have been a few additions to the year list with two Wheatears on the golf course at Girdleness on Friday, plus a couple of Sandwich Terns past the lighthouse. Saturday's visit to Dinnet produced my first Swallows on Loch Kinnord, along with a group of 20+ departing Redwings, which we found chattering away in the treetops. There was a definite fall of Meadow Pipits around Muir of Dinnet with birds popping up everywhere as we enjoyed a few hours walking. An early stop on the Ythan Estuary before visiting friends (socially distanced outside) in Collieston produced my first Osprey of the year, a matter of good timing as we drove past the 'Snub' car park at precisely the right time.

Despite the winter refusing to relinquish its icy grip (it's snowing right now) there's still plenty to do and see and in particular the huge skeins of Pink-footed Geese that pass over the house daily. The days are getting longer too and with temperatures set to rise, although not dramatically, in the coming week I remain positive that Willow Warbler will be on my year list come next Sunday!


Sand Martins taking a breather at the local Dalmadilly Ponds

This Sand Martin at Dalmadilly Ponds in -3C thinking he's made a grave error of judgement!

You can't visit anywhere on the Aberdeenshire coast without seeing the beautiful Eider Ducks

A constant passage of Kittiwakes past Girdleness on Friday

A Gannet fishes relatively close to the Girdleness headland on the stiff northerly breeze

One of two male Wheaters on the golf course at Girleness

Another shot of this morning's Osprey

Almost summer plumage Golden Plover at Newburgh