Sunday, 30 June 2013

Scotland Day 36 (29th June)


Yesterday (Saturday) we took our leave from Gairloch and slowly headed over to a more central location in Speyside, this now being our last week in Scotland.  The usual shore birds waved good-bye on Gairloch sea-front and we drove steadily over to Inverness.  Birds noted en-route included Common Buzzard, Red Kite, the last of the Hooded Crows, Raven, Spotted Flycatcher and the usual finches and roadside birds.  

We stopped off at Loch Ruthven and manged to see up to four adult Slavonian Grebes, this loch being the stronghold site for the British breeding population.  Unfortunately they stayed out in the middle of the water and at least one was already losing its vibrant summer plumes.  Other birds included Little Grebes with young, a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, the first Swifts for three weeks and two Ospreys.

Not far from here there is a minor road that passes over some high moorland and in to the Findhorn Valley.  We took this road and immediately came across Red Grouse which included a pair with six young.  A Red Kite was further along the road.  On turning in to the Findhorn valley to pick up the A9 again, an Osprey fished the river much to the alarm of breeding Curlew and Oystercatcher who quickly saw the avian fisher off!

The crows in Speyside are essentially Carrion Crows, some showing clear signs of some Hoodie genes.  We found our new abode in the village of Insh and then we decided to visit an old stomping ground, the national nature reserve of Insh Marshes.  This an area of wetland, marsh and rough pasture which includes Loch Insh, much of it being managed by the RSPB.  We birded here until very late and saw a Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard  family of Tawny Owls and routine fare.  There were plenty of Roe Deer grazing in the fields and coarse marshes, these animals now sporting the stunning chestnut summer 'plumage' with the dark browns of the winter coat long forgotten.


Eleanor and Neil

Female Red Grouse

Osprey and irate Curlew!

Male Siskin

Juvenile Tawny Owls huddled together

Buck Roe Deer

We have been baiting areas
in a vain effort to attract the nocturnal
Pine Marten.  Clearly badgers enjoy jam
sandwiches at least as much as
Pine Martens!

Butterflies and Orchids

A walk around Summer Leys this morning was rewarded with my first Little Ringed Plover chick of the year.  It was with its parents on Round Island.  Two further LRP's were on the slips but without young.  There are a number of Lapwing chicks roaming the scrape now as well as two of the three Oystercatcher chicks, sadly one has disappeared.
The orchids are showing well in several places around the reserve, particularly near to the Pioneer Hide where both Common Spotted and Southern Marsh-orchid are in full flower.  There are a couple of unopened flower spikes of Bee Orchid in the same area.
After visiting Summer Leys I continued up to Glapthorn Cow Pasture where the first Black Hairstreak butterflies where seen on the 26th.  There were adults on the wing in several locations through the wood but were generally very flighty in the breezy conditions.  When they did land it was generally quite high in the bushes so getting good quality pictures was quite difficult.  In all there were probably 7-8 individuals flying.


                  Neil H

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Scotland Day 35 (28th June)


Our last full day yesterday in Wester Ross.  In wet conditions it was first to the beach at Gairloch to play with the dogs in the surf and check out birds on the sea-front and in the bay.  No huge surprises with the birds simply being repeats of previous days.  The drizzle turned to rain so we took cover in a cafe with an Internet connection for some 90 minutes.

The weather then improved so we elected to walk the five mile plus Slattadale trail again.  This begins at sea level alongside Loch Maree and then ascends rapidly to cut through a couple of peaks of the Torridon Mountain range.  The scenery was pretty special but the birds pretty mundane.  However a party of Crossbills were vocal but sadly didn't provide views which might have indicated exactly which species they were!  A White-tailed Eagle wasn't the species of eagle we anticipated but was welcome nonetheless!  A couple of Red-throated Divers were on Loch Maree and several Tree Pipits sang from near the shore.

Late afternoon/evening saw us exploring the headland on the south/west shore of Loch Ewe.  Birds included Twite, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and the usual shore birds.  As in most areas there were some excellent road-side smothering of wild flowers which included at least one of the species of Butterfly Orchid.

We finished the day with a late evening walk through woodland and pasture adjacent to Gairloch.  This produced plenty of common birds but not the hoped-for scarce mammals.  Local gaming interests ensured that Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge were present, both species looking out of place.  A just-fledged juvenile Whitethroat fluttered around precariously.


Eleanor and Neil

A distant shot of a White-tailed Eagle,
taken to show the size difference between
it and the mobbing Common Buzzard!

A passing Raven with some type of offal
offering in its bill and gullet!

The Song Thrushes in Scotland
revel in the sometimes dank and wet
conditions, perfect for an endless
supply of worms, slugs and snails.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Scotland Day 34 (27th June)


Today we walked a trail to a place known as the Fairy Lochs south of Gairloch, an upland site of a USAAF  Liberator bomber crash in 1945.  Surprisingly there was still a quantity of wreckage strewn about, a sad memorial to the crew and passengers on their way home to the USA towards the end of WW2.  Birds were limited to Red-throated Diver, Common Buzzard, Cuckoo, Bullfinch, Blackcap and the usual Willow Warblers.

We then stepped on to a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) for a pelagic in search of cetaceans and sea-birds around the Shiant Isles.  The forecast was for showers but these didn't materialise.  However that was mostly irrelevant as a ride on the RIB quickly soaked us as we powered out at over 25 knots in very grey gloomy conditions.  Sea-birds zooming about included several Storm Petrels and a small number of Manx Shearwaters.  On arrival the upper heights of the islands were shrouded in low cloud and the viewing and photographic opportunities were sadly diminished.  No cetaceans appeared in the heavy swell so we concentrated on the birds.  Literally thousands of Puffins swarmed around us and it was frustrating that the conditions were so challenging for photography.

The Puffins and other sea-birds attracted predators in the shape of Great Black-backed Gulls, Bonxies, Common Buzzard, Raven and a juvenile White-tailed Eagle.  Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes competed with the Puffins for air-space.  The only mammals were Common Seals.  And then a very bumpy and wet ride back to Gairloch!

This afternoon and evening saw us walking the hills and moorlands south of Gairloch in almost humid, still conditions.  The exposed expanse attracted Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Sand Martin, Skylark, Dunlin and Common Sandpiper as breeders but little else.


Neil and Eleanor


'Bridled' Guillemots


Scotland Day 33 (26th June)


Early morning saw us walking the Pinewood Trail near to Badachro in Wester Ross.  Fresh cat and Pine Marten droppings only served to tease us as we didn't see either animal!  The walk was uneventful apart from an apparent moribund Azure Hawker (dragonfly) and anxious Common Sandpipers, Stonechat, Willow Warbler and Common Buzzard.

The remainder of the day was taken up travelling to and birding the Applecross Peninsular.  Driving up to the highest road in the UK was worth it when shortly after we reached the summit we enjoyed brief views of a pair of Ptarmigan.  We walked for another two hours but couldn't find them again until the old trick of walking back to the car found them hiding near to the car park!  Other upland specialities included a couple of singing male Ring Ouzels, Wheatear, the ever present Meadow Pipit and Golden Plover.

We then worked the peninsular on the back of some pleasant sunny weather in calm conditions.  The large expanse of water between Applecross and Skye produced distant views of pods of Porpoise and dolphins and plenty of seals.  Common birds included the three chats, lots of Willow Warblers, Blackcap, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Hooded Crow.  Plenty of scanning failed in an effort to find either eagle species in apparently excellent habitat.

Birds noted on the way back included the pair of Black-throated Divers again with their youngster on Loch Clair (plus a Greenshank), and five Red-throated Divers plus the usual Eider and Red-breasted Merganser on Gairloch sea-front.

Eleanor and Neil


Juvenile Stonechat

Juvenile Robin

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Scotland Day 31 and 32 (24th and 25th June)


On Monday a significant improvement in the weather provided us with an opportunity of exploring more areas around Gairloch.  First it was to Red Point with a beach to safely play with the collies away from any sheep!  Birds here included Bonxie, all three species of diver, Gannet, Wheatear, Stonechat and a Teal with ducklings.  On our way back, Eleanor spotted a pair of Red Grouse on roadside heather.  Unbelievably these were the first ones we have seen in over four weeks in Scotland!

Back at Gairloch we went out on a short boat trip which proved to be very quiet.  The heavy rain from the previous days had effectively washed peat in to the sea and pushed much of the coastal wildlife further out.  Nevertheless we enjoyed close views of Grey Seals and spotted Storm Petrel, all three divers, auks, Bonxies and brief views of Porpoises.

An upland walk in the afternoon was very pleasant (Slattadale Trail) but bird species were minimal with perhaps the best being Grey Wagtail, Cuckoo and Stonechat.  Cat scats reminded us that eyes were watching us even if we couldn't see them!

A drive around the coast to Poolewe was pleasant and high tide there produced 9 Greenshank, 11 Red-breasted Mergansers and a distant Otter.  Gruinard Island was watched from a lofty and very scenic distance (the venue of the Anthrax experiments last century).

Woodland birds detected south of Gairloch included Tree Pipit and Wood Warbler.  Late evening saw us driving the lanes around Badachro, providing views of lots of Red Deer and a pair of fly-over White-tailed Eagles at 9.30pm with an even later beach walk (for the collies you understand) which provided the unexpected view of a surfaced and huge submarine just outside Gairloch Bay (this area is used by NATO for training and monitoring)!

On Tuesday (25th) we visited the national reserve of Beinn Eighe and foolishly elected to take the 'Mountain Trail'.  Only four miles long, the first two miles were pretty much straight up!  Bird-life was very minimal, at one stage we walked for 90 minutes and only recorded two species!  However the views were spectacular and almost made up for the lack of hoped-for Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle etc.  An on-territory Greenshank kept an eye on us for much of the walk with his loud yelps echoing around the mountain.  An upland brown frog was presumably that colour to blend in with the heather and peat?  Other birds included Common Buzzard, Raven, Siskin and Tree Pipit.  Two summer plumage Black-throated Divers graced the waters of the adjacent Loch Maree.

We then drove along one one of my favourite roads in Scotland, the connecting road between Kinlochewe and Torridon.  Awesome mountains both sides, really interesting woodland habitat and deep freshwater and sea-lochs make it all very compelling.  However this is big country and it is surprisingly difficult to find the sparse wildlife hidden within it.  A pleasant walk at Torridon was good for close views of Red Deer and common birds which included Twite, Red-throated Diver and common waders.  A longer walk parallel to Loch Clair and Loch Coulin was required to locate a pair of Black-throated Divers with a single well-grown youngster.  Fledged juvenile Willow Warblers had somehow survived the week-end deluge as had a freshly fledged Stonechat family, and a pair of Whinchat were feeding young in the nest.

We finished the day again at Gairloch sea-front which provided the statutory Red-throated Divers and Eiders but little else.


Eleanor & Neil

Another Highland Cow!

Grey Seals

Great Black-backed Gull
with sea urchin

Green Tiger Beetle

Spotted Orchid sp with bumblebee sp


Red Deer

Scotland Days 29 and 30 (22nd and 23rd June)


Our apologies for the lack of updates, it's proving quite difficult to find appropriate Internet connections in Wester Ross.

On Saturday 22nd June we moved from Skye to the mainland.  A couple of morning walks on Skye were possible before heavy rain set in and we clocked the usual sea-birds and passerines around the hamlet of Connesta and at Staffin Beach.

We exited Skye via the bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh and drove slowly north in a zig-zag route towards Gairloch.  We experienced some very heavy rain en-route and the conditions remained very dull.  On arrival at the Gairloch sea-front there was a particularly high tide and birds close in included 5 stunning summer plumage Black-throated Divers (our first of the trip), 2 Red-throated Divers, a gaggle of quirky Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders and other common coastal birds.  Four Porpoises included a very young individual.  The corvids were again made up of Raven and Hooded Crow and the most obvious passerines included Willow Warbler, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin.

On Sunday 23rd June it rained all day with a strong NW wind (in common with the rest of the UK it seems) but we spent nearly all day out and the late evening drying out!  Birds noted around Gairloch included Tawny Owl, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Blackcap and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  The wet weather is pretty irrelevant if your are an Otter, and an individual fished in the craggy harbour between Gairloch and Badachro.

Sea-birds moving past in to the north westerly included the standard fare of Gannet, Shag, Bonxie, Manx Shearwater, common auks, Fulmar and Kittiwake.  How moorland and coastal small birds such as Meadow and Rock Pipit and Stonechat cope in such foul weather is beyond me, but they remained foraging and collecting food for their young in the deluge and howling wind.

Gairloch Bay contained two superb summer plumage Great Northern Divers washing and preening, two summer plumage Red-throated Divers and the usual Eiders and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Sorry but the impossible conditions prevented any photos.


Eleanor and Neil

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Opticron event

The second Opticron event is due to be held at Pitsford Reservoir this coming Saturday.
The stand will be located at The Causeway car park for those of you interested in attending.
See below for further details.


                     Neil H.

Saturday 29th June, 10am - 4pm
Causeway Car Park, Pitsford Reservoir, Northamptonshire NN6 9TF
An optics expert will be on hand to offer you the opportunity to test and compare Opticron binoculars and telescopes under field conditions. Any optics purchased on the day help to support the local Wildlife Trust – drop in to try before you buy – no booking required. For more details: contact Amanda on 01954 713500 / or visit

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Scotland Day 28 (Friday 21st June)


Our last full day on Skye and unfortunately rain greeted us first thing!  Nevertheless we went out and walked a couple of areas in the Trotternish area of the island which produced the usual avian suspects.  The orchids were blooming and because much of the pasture here is technically unimproved grassland, the cattle and sheep fields are full of wild flowers.  Common Spotted and some variety of Marsh Orchid seem to be the most common of this family but we saw at least one other type that will require looking in the books when we get home!  Common Butterwort, buttercups, Ragged Robin, Red (pink) Campion, and Wild Pansy are common and the Primroses and Bluebells are still going strong.  Strangely enough we haven't noticed any Cowslips.

A Common Buzzard nest behind our abode contained two chicks and we watched one of the adults tearing up and feeding a prey item to its offspring in a very tender manner.  A couple of pairs of House Martin (supposedly rare breeders on Skye) were building nests nearby.

Because there was little wind, we decided to journey over to the west side of Skye and back to Neist Point. This proved to be an inspired choice as the weather was quite different and was sunny and warm!  Initially flat calm seas meant we could scan for miles and Eleanor picked up on a distant Minke Whale.  A couple of pods of Porpoise fed continually but we didn't see 'our' Basking Shark this time.  Birds were pretty much the same as last time with up to three Great Skuas treating this area as their launch-pad for adventures out to sea; other birds included Arctic Skua, Peregrine, common sea-birds including rafts of Manx Shearwaters with the passerines being dominated by Rock and Meadow Pipit, Wheatear and Twite.

After an enjoyable afternoon here, we drifted back to the leaden skies of the north-east and went for an enjoyable walk along the crags of The Quarang.  No Golden Eagle but a couple of Ring Ouzels were present and other typical upland birds abounded.


Eleanor and Neil


Rock Pipit

Great Skuas - up close and personal!

Black Guillemot and Thrift

Friday, 21 June 2013

Scotland Day 26 and 27 (Wednesday 19th & Thursday 20th)


Here on Skye both Wednesday and Thursday this week were weather affected with some heavy showers on Wednesday and persistent light rain for most of the day yesterday.  The conditions have been very dull hence no decent images.

Staffin Beach was the first venue on Wednesday morning, the grim reaper Great Black-backed Gulls were not improving their reputation with one snatching and gulping down a Common Gull chick and we watched a pair stalking through the grass looking for Curlew chicks (with the adults mobbing them).  The Otter showed again and a pair of Red-throated Diver were calling and displaying and two Great Skuas were present.  A couple of Crossbills were nearby.

Another boat trip out of Portree was spoilt due to the incoming rain but the pair of nearby White-tailed Eagles again showed well, with one of them making a pass at a thrown fish from the boat.  Some birding on moors just west of Portree ended up being a very soggy affair with a Merlin, some Red Deer and more Crossbills being the more noteworthy sightings.

We finished the day committing to a ten mile walk around the Glen Brittle area in the shadow of the Cuillins.  Two distant Golden Eagles were probably the highlight (we have yet to experience a close view on this trip), but a female Goosander on the river with a brood of young was good to see as were more Red-throated Divers, common warblers and common waders on the beach.  Some sunshine brought forth butterflies which included Common Blue, an unfamiliar 'brown' butterfly (research required) and a brief view of what looked like a Wall Brown.  The constant breezy conditions make for challenging identification of flying insects!

Another visit to Staffin Beach yesterday confirmed that the pair of Great Skua are summering there, and a fish shoal attracted over a hundred Kittiwakes, auks and some Arctic Terns.  A Whimbrel remained just off-shore as did plenty of Razorbills and a couple of Red-throated Divers.  The Portree area didn't produce any birds of note.

We then explored an area in the south east of Skye called the Sleat Peninsular.  A woodland walk in the rain was quiet but we saw Tree Pipit, Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker which were new for Skye.  Other birds noted included Siskin, Crossbill, Lesser Redpoll and lots of Willow Warblers which are more typical birds of this island.  A Whimbrel was nearby.

There are two minor roads which cross over the peninsular and via interesting habitat and the birds here included Hen Harrier, Greenshank, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear, Grasshopper and Garden Warblers and broods of Eider, Mallard and Teal.  Several Red Deer represent the proportionately small numbers of these animals on this island, apparently following a significant cull.


Eleanor and Neil

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Scotland Day 25 (Tuesday 18th June)


During the morning of Tuesday we drove around the island north of Connesta and scanned various headlands.  Nothing different located, the usual Fulmars, Common Buzzards, Great Skuas, Gannets, Ravens etc filled the skies and wheeled around endless crags and rock buttresses.

Uig is an interesting village to the north and would make an excellent local patch to work.  We only had time to walk the wood and check the harbour, both quite windswept in a strong southerly breeze.  Lots of fledged young birds included Greenfinch, tits, Willow Warbler, Treecreeper and Siskin, with all three hirundine species hunted insects in the lee of the wind.  A Spotted Flycatcher was noted and the freshwater outlet in to the harbour attracted Red-breasted Mergansers and lots of bathing gulls.

We decided to check out the hitherto unexplored middle and western sections of Skye.  At Dunvegan Castle an adult White-tailed Eagle careered around overhead and Loch Dunvegan provided loafing areas for particularly large numbers of Common Seals.

It took a long time to reach Neist Point, the most western-most point of Skye.  Here we hoped for Minke Whale but despite spending hours looking out to sea we failed to find any (normally a very reliable spot for them apparently).  The choppy water and strong wind probably didn't help at this very exposed and dramatic landscape.  However we found a Basking Shark close in and watched it for ages at it performed three broad circles around a small bay on the leeward side of the point, it's gaping mouth, extended gills, roman nose and slow methodical meander in search of plankton all being possible to witness from our cliff-top perch.  Unfortunately due to the glare of the sun and surface chop I'm afraid the images just don't do it justice.

Eleanor found a pair of loafing and confiding Great Skuas (or Bonxies) and again we spent a long time with these birds just enjoying our time with these wolves of the sea.

Other wildlife noted included more Porpoises, Arctic Skua, common sea-birds and passerines, and then it was time for our one and three quarter journey back to our abode in order to re-charge the batteries for the next day!


Eleanor & Neil

Basking Shark

Great Skuas (or Bonxies if you prefer)

Common Sandpiper

Juvenile Wheatears

Scotland Day 24 (Monday 17th June)


Still on Skye and a visit to Staffin Beach first thing in the morning to exercise the dogs was also quite good for wildlife.  A big dog Otter fed off the beach and nearby island and a pair of Bonxies terrorised the local terns and gulls.  Hooded Crows (which seem particularly numerous here on Skye), Ravens, Fulmars and Wheatears inhabited the small cliffs here and the shallow bay provided a feeding area for Black Guillemot, Kittiwake, Razorbill, Red-throated and Great Northern Diver, with Manx Shearwater flying past further out.

We then checked out a couple of sites including the tourist walk to see the Old Man of Storr, an impressive and almost foreboding stack of rock set in an ancient landscape.

Next was a boat trip out of Portree, primarily to try for close views of White-tailed Eagles.  We were fortunate to have two adults coming down for fish near to the boat - definitely a series of wow moments! For good value an adult Golden Eagle came up over a nearby cliff causing the White-taileds to emit a warning call to warn him/her this was their territory!

A couple of Porpoise came surprisingly close but remain pretty much impossible (for me at least) to photograph.

Later that afternoon we took a hike along Glen Sligachan on the edge of the Cuillin Hills range.  Why they are called hills is beyond me, they're huge!  Despite boasting the highest density of Golden Eagles in the UK we didn't see any, but a pair of Greenshank interacting with a Merlin was interesting and even more Cuckoos called and chased each other across the boggy moorland.

We spent the evening exploring Loch Ainort which yielded plenty of Eider, auks, Red-breasted Merganser and plenty of Common Seals and several Porpoise.  Our final interesting observation was a Merlin flying alongside the car near Staffin as we made our way back to the north of the island.  Another very long day!


Neil M

Yep another Fulmar!

White-tailed Eagle - adrenalin rush bird!

Jackdaw - perhaps not quite
such an exciting bird but I like them!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Scotland Day 23 (Sunday 16th June)


Our first full day exploring the island of Skye commenced with a mountain walk near Flodigarry.  A steep climb in to the low cloud was interesting but initially didn't produce any birds of note.  Some 'alpine' cattle didn't seem to really want to be there, the steep terrain and scree slopes didn't seem appropriate!  After some time two Ring Ouzels were located as they 'chacked' their displeasure at a Kestrel and the ever-present Hooded Crows.  A pair of Great Tits were busy feeding their fledged young at the base of the mountain in some low-lying willow scrub and already independent juvenile Stonechats came to have a gawp as we puffed and panted upwards.

After about three hours and with us and the collies well and truly exercised we drove further south along the coast to Kilt Rock which is a viewing area overlooking very impressive coastal cliffs.  Fulmars weaved about below us and passing sea-birds included squadrons of Gannets flying in formation and the odd Bonxie or two.  A couple of Peregrines put in an appearance with one of them flying out to sea and unsuccessfully attempted to catch a passing Puffin (which dived in to the water to escape).  Rock Pipit, Rock Dove, Lesser Redpoll, Twite and Whitethroat were all on display from the car park.  A summer plumage Red-throated Diver graced a nearby freshwater loch.

Our next destination was further south and a couple of areas around the pretty small town and harbour of Portree.  Here we saw our first Siskins for a little while and a freshly-fledged juvenile Hooded Crow with a natural curiosity for it's new world kept us entertained!

Out on the Brae road which parallels the impressive Sound of Raasay, Eleanor picked up on a flock of 6 Common Cranes flying north.  Sadly they didn't call but a super sight nonetheless.  The habitat here supports breeding Wheatear, Stonechat and Whinchat and Cuckoos continue to call and show themselves regularly.  A pair of Golden Eagles were watched as they cruised the cliffs nearby.

We finished our birding day with a visit to Uig Wood.  Plenty of common woodland birds here which included singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff, a pair of Long-tailed Tits with fledged young, Treecreeper etc.  A pair of Sedge Warblers were feeding young in the nest by the beach in a small patch of phragmites and cow parsley.  However, a Marsh Warbler sang snatches of song from the same vegetation but remained extremely elusive, but a good find nonetheless.  As we walked back up through Uig wood, the distinctive song of a Common Rosefinch could be heard.  We eventually tracked the bird down to a heavily vegetated bank on the opposite side of the road and it continued to sing from dense gorse and elder.  However it refused to show itself so we will never know if it was a dull brown job or a gorgeous pink stunner!


Neil M

Rock Dove

Great Black-backed Gull -
eye to eye with
arguably the biggest gull
in the world!


Fulmar - sorry can't resist them!

Scottish Rabbit!

Juvenile Hooded Crow