Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Valley of the Eagles


Yesterday (Tuesday 20th May), and we drove north on the A9 to the Findhorn Valley.  This deep-clefted valley marks the passage of the River Findhorn and contains a rich mixture of habitats which becomes wilder and more extreme the further you travel up it.  On the top, heather moors dominate and the slopes are a mix of birch woodlands, rough pasture and juniper.  The river valley is green and luxuriant, with a variety of plantations, grass fields and a few lakes and ponds.  Very large numbers of Red Deer dominate the valley.

In general it is the easiest place to see eagles in the Highland area and away from the west coast, but sightings are not assured.

On our way to the Findhorn, we checked out Loch Vaa.  Typical birds included Little Grebe, Goldeneye, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Common Sandpiper but not much else of note.

In the Findhorn we walked several sections which took most of the day, in pleasant sunshine and a warm breeze.  A juvenile White-tailed Eagle took to the wing over the valley a couple of times, a mobbing Common Buzzard looking ridiculously small in a direct size comparison.  A juvenile Golden Eagle showed well at the top of the valley, with a pair of harrying Kestrels keeping it active!  A hunting adult Golden Eagle on the top moors was only seen briefly.

Other raptors included Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and several Peregrines.  It was great to see as many as four or five pairs of Kestrels on territory, probably the only place in recent times where I would comfortably call them common!

Passerines included plenty of Meadow and Tree Pipits, Redstart, Wheatear and Ring Ouzel.  Common and Black-headed Gulls breed here in small numbers and their calls rang out continually, blending with the chipping of Snipe, 'bubbling' Curlew and shrill trilling of Oystercatcher.  A couple of Raven remained high up, Dipper and Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper bobbed and careered along the river and mammals included both Brown and Mountain Hare.

In the late afternoon, we took the single track road to the small settlement of Farr, which crosses grouse-managed moorland.  Red Grouse were obvious but there was very little else.  Mobile grouse chicks seemed very early.

We visited the nearby Scottish breeding stronghold of Slavonian Grebe, namely Loch Ruthven.  Three resplendent but unfortunately distant Slavonian Grebes were actively displaying and weed-carrying, but it was a pair of Little Grebes that stole the show, feeding their four young close up in the shallows.  A Peregrine flew over but otherwise there were no further birds of note.

We finished our day again at Insh Marshes, and Eleanor witnessed a Pine Marten balancing supremely on a narrow birch branch before jumping down and bouncing away.  In the meantime I was watching a Fox trying to catch Rabbits and counted nearly twenty Roe Deer munching on aquatic vegetation.


Neil M

Tor on tour!

Little Grebes

Lapwing chick

Red Grouse

Insh Marshes

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