1st April. Having arrived at lunchtime, I rested for a while and then was taken to a local patch of woodland called Craig Phadraig. This was a fairly typical largish block of pine atop a hill, which used to be the site of a Pictish fort. It was rather breezy up here and it even snowed for a short time. I soon picked up some calling Crossbill (already better than last year's total of zero), Siskin, Coal tit and a flyover Red Kite back at the carpark. A nice introduction to my time up here.
2nd April. I set off after breakfast for Brora, where incredibly one of two Harlequin Ducks in Scotland was hanging on into the Spring. The drive was punctuated by regular sightings of Red Kite and Common Buzzard, and this was to be the norm for the rest of the trip. I initially missed the turning for Sputie Burn and ended up in Brora itself, although I did have 10+ Purple Sandpiper here and a resplendent Red-throated Diver on the sea. Retracing my tracks, I located the turn off and parked where I probably shouldn't have before heading down towards the sea. I quickly locked onto a diving Duck, which revealed itself to be the female Harlequin. A British lifer and an excellent start to the trip. Better together! Also here were Golceneye, Razorbill, RT Diver and a pair of Grey Wagtail.
With the weather improving by the hour I changed my plans slightly, and headed to the Findhorn Valley to do some Raptor watching. This has to be one of the best places in Scotland for Birds of Prey, and with a backdrop like you will see below, one of the best places to bird full stop.
Wild Goat, Mountain Hare and Red Deer upped the mammal list for the trip. Peregrine, Buzzard and Kestrel called and hunted amongst the crags. What I had really come for though, appeared from behind the left hand ridge in the above photo. First one, then two Golden Eagle! A lifelong ambition to clap eyes on one, until now just a picture in bird books I owned as a child. Great to spot them myself, and watch them soar, perch and interact in their domain. A superb end to the day.
April 3rd. An early start today, arriving at Loch Garten Caper watch just after 6. EJ, the local Osprey, had returned yesterday evening and was observed adding sticks to the nest and having a general clear-out. Good for her. No sign of any Capercaillies by half 7, so I headed to a site for Black Grouse not too far away. I drew a blank at the first place, but scored at the second, watching 10 males and 4 females at a lek. Glorious stuff, and I was glad of the wind which carried their bubbling calls in my direction. My next stop was Anagach Woods, another chance for Caper and perhaps some interesting Crossbill. Plenty of Crossbill in the woods, and some had a faster alarm-like call, but nothing to observe for any length of time. I walked for miles, hoping for a glimpse of the giant Grouse, This wasn't to be, but I did add Crested Tit and Red Squirrel to the trip list.
4th April. I found out that a Ring-billed Gull had been over-wintering in Dingwall, which itself has a decent history of scarce Gulls. We picked up a loaf of bread from Tesco, and wandered over to the small boating lake where the bird was last seen. Slowly plucking the bread to pieces and launching it into the air, we were treated to a scene from a Hitchcock film, and of course the Ring-Billed Gull- another lifer for me.