Friday, 5 November 2010
Trick or Highland Treat? - Cairngorms, Scotland - 30th October-2nd November 2010
Sadly, uni life decided to play a trick and give me Freshers Flu about 2 days before our adventure up to the highlands!
Year listing this year has taken me all over the country (especially with the addition of Chris 'Bird man' Bridge in my twitching team :P) and Chris was keen to get the Scottish birds on his year list. I needed species such as Ptarmigan, Cappercaillie, Scottish/Parrot Crossbill for my life list, let alone year list! For reading week at Bangor University, we decided to take a few days up in Speyside for some serious birding...that was before I got the dreaded Fresher's Flu that is! Luckily my parents decided to join us on our break, meaning that my dad were to drive up to Scotland, relieving me of the tortuous A9 journey!
We headed north along the M6 on the morning of the 30th, before arriving in Boat of Garten at our accomodation (The Boat House) mid afternoon. Literally, as we stepped out of the car, we heard a crossbill sp calling from across the road...I spotted a pale red bird at the top of a deciduous tree in the middle of Boat of Garten high street!
We made sure that we got some record shots as this was the main plan in scotland; to be able to get photo evidence of as many crossbills as possible to aid identification. With help from other birders back home, we were able to ID this as our first lifer for the trip - Parrot Crossbill! Awesome!
We hadn't realised, but there was also a female present in the tree as they both flew off above our heads calling with rather deep single calls.
The morning of the 31st saw us rise at 05.00 to head off to Forest Lodge within Abernethy Forest. We felt that this was our best bet for Cappercaillie, mainly because Chris has volunteered here back in 2009 and seen 68 birds! This was also off the beaten track, away from any roads, so it would give us a better chance to get a bird on the path. We arrived about and hour before dawn eager to get going (also with raised heart beats, not quite knowing what was watching us through the trees haha)
We tried for the Cappercaille all day essentially (with a couple hour break around lunch as I was losing to the flu and had to have a quick nap like some kind of toddler!) We searched all suitable habitat within Forrest Lodge that we could find and came up with nothing!
Birds that we did see were 12 lecking male Black Grouse and 15+ Crested Tit which were yearticks for the both of us, as well as numerous crossbill sp overhead, all giving varying calls (Scottish surely were included, but we will never know!) we also had lots of Redwing and Fieldfare flying through at first light. We soon heard a call we recognised from the previous Thursday back in Bangor. A flock of 10 Waxwing flew over Abernethy Forest calling! With flocks of 12 flying over the moor (incredibly) and singles overhead, we were confident that we had 26 Waxwings migrating over the moorland. Bramblings were almost constantly calling overhead, along with Lesser Redpoll and Siskin.
Monday 1st November saw us head up to the Moray Coast towards Burghead. Here the main target was King Eider. When we arrived on site, there were a group of c50 Common Eider feeding close inshore and with the light behind us so they were lit superbly. Sadly, we couldn't locate the King Eider in here. Moving round to the west facing side of the headland, we spotted a group of c400 Eider almost 600-700 meters out...not good! If the King Eider was anywhere, it would be here!
We began scanning and it took about 5 minutes from the Harbour Wall before I spotted a very dark looking eider with a very odd shaped head and two 'spikes' sticking out it's back. It was the King Eider in eclipse plumage. Result! Also present at the site were c75 Long Tailed Duck, 25 Velvet Scoter and a flock of 9 distant Whooper Swans.
At such a range, I am amazed that Chris was able to capture such detail in his digiscopes. I suppose that is the advantage of Digiscoping though, isn't it?
Our last day in Scotland saw us head up Mount Cairngorm early morning. Snow on the top and gusts of 75mph winds didn't make it easy, especially with my cough, but we made it up to the top in about an hour. It wasn't long at all before I spotted two Ptarmigan get up and wander away from us. A lifer, and two smart birds that were almost in winter finery. We also had 5 Snow Buntings up here which have eluded me all year until now!
We ended the trip with a spot of sea watching off Abroath Harbour where we had several auk species and c5 Red Throated Diver on the rough sea.
A fabulous trip overall, sadly overshadowed by my illness. I came away with 3 lifers and 8 year ticks...not at all bad!