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Wilderness is relative, and a visitor to our shores from the near continent may sneer at the lack of carnivores in our ancient forests, and join us in universal deflation when confronted with the over-intensification of our countryside in favour of farming. Having said this, one cannot sit by the shores of Loch Morlich looking up at the snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorm Massif and not feel utterly in awe and that little bit smaller in the world. Only the brightly coloured water-proofs betray the reality that civilization is close by, but just a few mindful moments and the call of a Diver are enough here.

Being a regular visitor to the Scottish Highlands, the likes of Morlich, Garten, Findhorn and Rothiemurchus all feel familiar and generally are the places where my Highland experiences begun. I will always go back to them. But what struck me on this trip, albeit a family holiday, was the wealth of habitat as yet unexplored. The Badenoch Way and Insh Marshes, off the beaten track in Glen More and our local patch for the week, Glenfeshie. A deserted forest clinging on to the past, the sounds of chipping Crossbill and chattering Redpoll overhead. It was here that I finally caught a glimpse of the turkey of the woods and symbol of wilderness, the Capercaillie. 100m away from me, deep amongst the pines, a large black fan. A snake-like neck and head emerged to the side, and the bird alighted from its perch. I recall my heart beat rising, and feeling hyper-aware of all around me. I managed a further look at the bird as the trail bent round, before losing him into the gloom. Later that morning, another male was seen wandering from a clear area of heather into the woods, consumed, gone. Truly memorable moments.

Closer to home, close enough to watch from the balcony: Red Squirrels, Osprey on nest and Red-throated Divers. Only in Scotland! Wilderness on your doorstep. Wilderness how you wish to find it, be it a walk in a 'new' glen, a stroll down a forest track or distant view of a Golden Eagle soaring over its domain. Back at Claxton home, we are planning next year's trip. How wild is Skye, I wonder?


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A local phenomenon

In the time it took me to drive down the long uneven track to the enigma that is The Beauchamp Arms, the satellite Corvid roost had grown from zero to around 300 birds. A roughly even mix of Rooks and Jackdaws assemble on Claxton Marshes every evening during the Winter (currently around 15.30) and 50 minutes later a mass of circa 5000 birds have left for the giant roost at Buckenham Carrs north of the river. This was the first time I had made a clear note of timings, and was surprised by how quickly the meeting point goes from raucous to silent. In fact, an eerie quiet falls upon the avenue of trees around 16.00, and a lone cock Pheasant outcried the 1000s of Corvids perched on trees or loafing on the marshy ground beneath. What follows are a number of reshufflings as the restless birds take flight in small waves, taking a new branch to perch upon. Around 16.15, a false dawn as a splinter group takes a more purposeful flight only to loop round and return to the main group. Only at tw…

Picking up the pieces is easy

Bumping into neighbour Mark Cocker in the Findhorn Valley proved not only how small our world is, but also how valuable the home patch is to us both. We compared notes around our Highland experiences, but attention quickly turned to where we had both come from. "Have you seen the Short-eared Owls?" We both had, and it was this pleasantly nagging thought that kept infiltrating my mind throughout the highland stay. Put simply, inside my head, it went like this: it is great up here, but when I get home I must get down the marsh.

Despite Spring being a leap ahead back home compared to the north, reminders of the season past were hunting  Claxton Marsh as we had discussed. The Short-eared Owls had not been present all Winter, and sightings of two birds in April were oddly my first of the year. A background orchestra of Grasshopper and Sedge Warbler was a contradiction, but here were the early birds and a couple simply not in a rush. 
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Estonia Trip Report, April 2011

Estonia April 12th-19th 2011, Jim Bradley.
Ice at the ferry crossing

Exploring the ancient forest

Red-breasted Goose at Audru

Pick the bones out of that!

Great-grey Shrike near Spithami.

Estonia is a place of real wilderness, yet easy to explore with the possibility of some cracking birds. Recent literature from both Gerard Gorman and Dave Gosney means that there is now plenty of useful information on birding Estonia, yet this country remains relatively unknown compared to other eastern European states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Steller’s Eider, Owls and Woodpeckers in early Spring, Citrine Wagtail, Great Snipe, Great Spotted Eagle, Black Stork and Greenish Warbler in May and beyond are just some of the birds you may encounter.

We used Estonian Nature Tours to help plan and guide our trip. We are a young couple, so did not fancy being part of a tour bus scenario, and were keen to do most of the birding ou…