I made my way up to The Highlands again this April, an annual visit at this time of year and my fourth year in a row. Having nailed avian targets bar Capercaille and Scottish Crossbill on previous visits, my only real target was the former this time so I was able to try some new sites and finally take part in a distillery and tasting tour at Tomatin (the trip highlight!)
It was a fairly bleak week weather-wise, but with clear skies forecast myself and 2 friends went to the Findhorn Valley on the afternoon of the 10th. One distant Golden Eagle and a pair of cavorting Peregrine were the Raptor highlights amongst the munroes, and a pair of Curlew were calling on territory. As the promised weather failed to deliver, we made for Loch Ruthven and enjoyed 3 Slavonian Grebe on the water close to the hide.
The following day was the only planned 'day in the field' and we made an early start searching for Capercaille. How close we came. I have in my possession 2 feathers found on a track, which weren't there on the way through the forest, so the bird/s in question must have crossed our path. A rumble in the heather and a brief glimpse of a sizeable bird flying away was probably a female, but I can't be certain on that view. The only other people we saw had indeed seen a female not far from this spot. The woods were excellent for Crossbill and Siskin, and although I left disappointed I feel like I am a step closer to finally seeing this bird in the flesh. Maybe next year. During the rest of the day, we had a couple of Red Squirrel, a pair of Ring Ouzel on Cairngorm, a pair of Osprey at Loch Garten and a pair of Red-throated Diver on Loch Morlich. It's easy to be spoilt in The Highlands. In a vain attempt to to see the White-billed Diver at Burghead, we instead watched Gannets fishing and had the first Sandwich Terns of the year pass west.
With the serious birding done, we spent a good deal of the 12th exploring new sites, namely Corimony RSPB. Here they offer Black Grouse safaris, but not fancying another early start we were content with picking out 4 birds on the moorland in this beautiful isolated reserve. Other bits included Brambling, Grey Wagtail at Glenn Affric and a close encounter with a male Sparrowhawk.
Our final day was spent sampling the best of the local Whiskey at Tomatin. The tour was fascinating, although by the end I was impatiently awaiting my first dram. The 14 year old is without doubt the finest Whiskey I have tasted, and we left for the heady heights of Inverness more than a little jolly.
Hopefully I will return next year with the girls in tow, and although I won't expect either to join me on any early starts for my nemesis I hope to be able to show Rose a Red Squirrel.