Approximately 30 minutes after alighting the Easyjet flight to Inverness, I was face to face with a ridiculous lifer: an American Coot. Here he is:
From here, we retired back to the flat and plotted out a route to Burgh Head. A White-billed Diver had been seen here, so we thought this well worth a look. An excellent range of Sea Duck were seen, including Long-tailed and Common Scoter. Both Great Northern and Red-throated Divers performed well. A wildlife hihglight of the year soon followed, and not the WB Diver. A pod of at least 6 Bottlenosed Dolphins came through, 2 individuals breaching. A superb sight and a moment to remember.
We then went to Roseisle Forest, and although they made us work we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of Crested Tit. Also of note was a displaying Tree Pipit. Siskin were here by the bucketload, and the fields bordering the forest held Hooded Crow and Curlew.
The following day, Friday, was spent almost entirely in the Findhorn Valley. This really is an epic setting, suitable for Middle Earth or indeed the Eagles we had hoped to see/ Although we were not so lucky with the Eagles, we did see Raven, Red Kite, Peregrine, possible Merlin, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Dipper and Grey Wagtail. So not a bad 'consolation' haul! After negotiating the tricky Farr Road, we paid a visit to the delightful RSPB reserve of Loch Ruthven. The Slavonian Grebes here were looking splendid in breeding plumage, all 5 of them. We grabbed a glimpse of a Water Vole, and Austen saw a Weasel. Further mammal sightings were lifers for the both of us: Mountain Hare, and Feral Goat.
Saturday was spent exploring the Caledonian Forest around Abernethy. Perhaps the late nights and long days were catching up with us, for today was a little disappointing in terms of variety. Two Osprey were seen at Loch Garten, 3 more Crested Tit and Crossbill over are the only notes I have. The real star of the show for me was the forest floor, covered in Moss, Lichen and (I think) Juniper. It was obvious to see what sets this forest apart from anywhere else in the UK, just superb. We called in at Tulloch Moor, but were left Grouse-less.
With time running out, it was agreed the priority species for the last day should be Ptarmigan. With the railway out of action, and keen to take the moral and physical high ground, we headed up Cairngorm. The conditions were reasonable, and as we headed into Snow Grouse territory, Red Grouse reminded us they lived here too with their 'Get back, Get Back' calls. A distant view of a Ptarmigan bombing over a distant ridge was then smashed by a snoring sound, and looking up 2 Ptarmigan were close by. It was a pleasure to spend time with these birds on their terms, and imagine for a few minutes what an earth it must be like to live up here. Bird of the trip, easily.
We spent the rest of the day around Dorbach. My bird finding instincts took over, when perhaps time would have been better served back in Findhorn. Still, a super few days and next time the aim will be to clean up the Grouse and Eagles we missed, attempt to ID some Lichen and dare to dream about Scottish Crossbill.