Saturday, 2 April 2016

Where Eagles Dare, and back in time for the Penduline

Back from an excellent week in the Highlands of Scotland, my third year in a row visiting at this time of year which fits in well with the Easter holidays. I was keen to connect with both Eagle species this time around, having seen a pair of Golden briefly last year and no Sea Eagles to speak of at that time. In an effort to make this happen, we headed to the west coast from Inverness, around an hour and a half drive, which in the BMW 4 hire care was just a pleasure. We picked up 2 Black-throated Divers in full breeding finery at Loch Gowan on route, a species I have seen only at some distance in the past so this was a splendid opportunity to observe them much closer. The rest of the day was spent cruising around Sheldaig, north to Gairloch, and exploring Gruinard Bay. We had a total of 5 Golden Eagle at 3 sites, and 2 Otter in Gruinard Bay. The west coast is suited to all of the superlatives folk use to describe it, and we only scratched the surface.

Day 2 was more casual, but the eventual plan was to end up at Burghead looking for the White-billed Diver. We travelled via the delightful Culbin Sands and woods, taking in a couple of flyover Whooper Swans and 14 early Sandwich Tern on the beach. Small groups of Crossbill called noisily overhead when we were in the forest, but no Crested Tit today. At Bughead, a Great-northern Diver drifted offshore along with a smattering of Eider and Common Scoter. No sign of the target bird here. 

Day 3, and into the Findhorn Valley. I absolutely love it here, epic birding, big skies and today was the finest weather I have had the pleasure of enduring in the valley. 5 Golden Eagle, 2 of which were talon-clutching with my target birds here, 2 Sea Eagle. A quite spectacular encounter with the dramatic backdrop in the photo below. Below the Eagles, Dipper and Merganser were on the river, Curlew and Oystercatcher fed on the grassy banks. We continued with a decent mammal list: Red Squirrel, Red Deer and Feral Goat.
Driving the Farr Road wasn't so pleasant, hail and wind made for trying conditions and little opportunity to see any wildlife. Once we broke through to Loch Ruthven, the sun threatened to come out again and we were treated to 5 splendid Slavonian Grebes. The best way to cap of any day, surely.

Our final day out was spent in various locations in the Cairngorms National Park. A long walk through a section of Abernethy Forest gave up none of the specialities bar 2 warring Red Squirrel and some interesting poo (see below, not Caper). Out of the forest, a Red-throated Diver was on Loch Mallachie and the usual Red Grouse were at the foot of Cairngorm. I tried last year's Black Grouse site, no sign but it was late in the day by the time we made it over.

I have to admit, after such a nice week away exploring places old and new, birding on a grander scale than I am used to, I was struggling to find the enthusiasm to get back to the patch. Now, I still haven't been anywhere 'local', but any thoughts of negativity have been wiped away after brief views of the Penduline Tit at Strumpshaw this afternoon. This was a tough, tough bird to pin down. I heard it calling a number of times, and with only one of assembled group also hearing it, I was starting to think I was going a bit mad. Eventually, the bird gave itself up, I called it out, and managed brief views as it searched for food on the back of a Buddleia bush. Upon seeing the bird and feeling utterly relieved, I tried to get views from round the side, aware that others had not yet seen the bird and thinking I could help out. One individual, who had been complaining of putting 3 days in to see the bird and failed, moaned that I had gotten in her way, when the bird was not even on show! So much for trying to help. Bar one chap who located it before I refound it, Jake, and Gary, the majority of the crowd seemed to have little idea and were unable to identify the call and/or common birds. The best and the worst of twitches all at once. I'm aware I am sounding like the author of another blog here (and don't worry, you can post comments and I won't delete them ;) ).Chuffed to finally see this species, but looking forward to a return to the patch tomorrow morning.


  1. Yes, Jim: you do sound a lot like another grumpy old g*t with a very well-read blog! Thing is: sometimes circumstances can pile up until the only thing to do is say what you're thinking! (Or in my case, say what many other birders were thinking but didn't have a forum on which to express their opinions!)

  2. Not sure mine is quite so well read David! Nothing wrong with saying what you're thinking once in a while.
    Looking forward/hoping those Turtles return to you soon.