Sunday, 26 April 2015

Scotland Day 9 - King of the Eider!

My trip to Scotland was coming to an end and what better way to sign off than visiting the River Ythan at Newburgh near Aberdeen to see my first full plumage male King Eider. The last bird I saw was at Appledore Devon in 2008 but the bird was in immature plumage.

On arrival the bird was resting on the far bank amongst hundreds of Eider. I was told by the warden that there was 3000 Eider that used this stretch of the river along with many species of wader and terns.

The tide was on the turn and as the water levels started to drop this provoked a mass jump into the water by all the Eider including the prize of the day. I drove the car round to an NNR site and took the 2km walk along the far bank to get some better pictures of the bird in all its splendour!

What a fantastic ending to a trip in which all bar one (Crossbill) of my target birds were seen. The Harlequin Duck was an added bonus although it took a couple of visits to find the bird.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Scotland Day 8 - Preying for a Crossbill!

I concentrated my efforts on finding Crossbills today. I started early on at Loch Garten in the Abernethy Forest. It had rained overnight and the air was fresh. But I had walked this area in far better conditions and had not even heard any call!

After breakfast I moved on to Loch an Eilein and resumed the search there. The wind was picking up by now and there were showers / sleet in the air. The route around the Loch was a very pleasant walk but the Crossbills had obviously gone away on their holidays!

I was deciding where to go next when I noticed a pair of Osprey gliding into view over the Loch. I guess I couldn’t leave Scotland without at least mentioning this magnificent bird!

My last walk was around a pine forest just down from the Adventure theme Park in Carr Bridge. Brief sleet showers had me ducking into the pines a couple of times but again I drew a blank on my target bird.

I was now completely walked out and although the odd bird has been reported since I arrived there has definitely a shortage of this species in the area! The pine forests I have visited are vast but there did seem to be a shortage of cones on a lot of the trees. I have also noticed a fair amount of logging in some areas.

Tomorrow I will head back to Aberdeen for my short flight home. I am keeping an eye on RBA to see if the King Eider is still at Newburgh hopefully so!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Scotland Day 7 - Nearly a full set!

The drive to Oban is just short of 3hrs but a life bird a Black Guillemot waited for me in the harbour therefore it was worth the trip. Oban is situated in the Firth of Lorn and has a ferry terminal where you can take a trip to other islands off the Scottish coast.

The day began overcast and low cloud made driving interesting in parts. The only interesting bird on this journey was a pair of Hooded Crow who were extremely difficult to watch having placed themselves in the scrub along the single track pass and just as I negotiated pulling in another vehicle turned up. I thought I was the only nutter on the road at stupid o clock!

The journey took me through Fort William which sits and the point where two Locks meet. Most of the Lochs I have visited do not support much bird life as they are so deep.

Having arrived in Oban I headed for the beach car park but did not make it as the target bird was lined up along the harbour wall. I had heard this was an easy bird to see and very approachable photo wise. All the birds I saw were adults and I therefore could not add a plumage tick to the total.

The remainder of the day was spent searching pine forests for the Scottish Crossbill (and maybe a Parrott Crossbill) the last of the species on my wish list. I stopped at the Chia – aig Waterfalls which had a logging site at the back of it. I saw a pair of Dipper who flew the falls with such ease. I then moved further along Loch Arkaig in search of what I thought would be one of the easier birds to find.

The day ended with a walk through Grafton on Spey forest but there was not a Crossbill to be found. The search will continue tomorrow!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Scotland Day 6 - DUCK!!

I returned to Brora today having researched the new location of the Harlequin Duck. Sputie Burn is on the other side of the mouth of the River Brora some 1 – 2 miles from the beach car park and a considerable distance from where I was watching yesterday. The walk loaded with watching equipment was a fairly pleasant one along fields and stretches of beach.

The tide was out but there were pools of water between the rocks therefore I felt reasonably confident that finding the bird would not pose too much of a problem. Provided it had not departed back to Iceland of course!

Once at Sputie Burn I set up the telescope and began scanning the rocks. I saw two Sandwich Terns sat on rocks and noticed a duck sat with them. In fact it was the only duck within the rock pools. Bingo the Harlequin Duck was in the scope well that didn’t take too much effort on this occasion!

Sputie burn itself is a mini waterfall that falls on to the shore. It looks out of place but must be a welcome sight for any tired migrants who would first be drawn by the gorse and the bushes that surround the burn. (I need to mess around with the photo so that it loads!)

I spied several Seals at Sputie Burn and after the trek felt like joining them for a snooze before returning to the car for a refuel and on to my next destination. The next stop was Glen Affric NNR where I hoped to run into some Crossbills. These birds have been next to non-existent for the majority of birders I have spoken too. I have not even heard birds in flight and there is plenty of habitat here.

I stopped at several areas once inside the reserve but could not locate a single bird. Logging is still taking place on parts of this site which spoils the landscape but there was still plenty of breathtaking view to be had of the area. The walk up to the viewpoint along the Dog Falls trail was well worth the uphill hike with splendid views of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain and surrounding mountains.

It is back to the drawing board on the Crossbill front! The days are flying by but this adventure is not over yet!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Scotland Day 5 - Dip does not put Dampner on the Day!

I went on my travels today in the hope of catching up with the Harlequin Duck at Brora. The drive from Boat of Garten is around 2hrs via Inverness. I arrived at around 0730hrs and looked for a suitable place to access the area. The car-park by the Golf Club seemed good and after a wander around this area it seemed to be where all the ducks divers terns and waders were.

The tide was on its way out and the sun (for once) was hindering visibility. I found a good spot and watched for an hour or so then went off for food returning when the sun had moved and the tide was beginning to come in bringing the birds in with it.

I saw a host of different birds many that I have not seen for several years having spent time birding in Paraguay and Surrey a landlocked county. There were plumage ticks in Black throated and red throated Divers, Long tailed Duck in a variety of plumages, Eider, Razorbill, Guillemot, Shag, Cormorant, redshank, Oystercatcher.

I could not find the Harlequin Duck and did not see another birder all the time I was there. I left at about 1400hrs having had my fill of a wonderful spread of birds!

I arrived back at Boat of Garden which is the only place I seem to have an internet connection and a phone signal is just out of the question anywhere up here. Checking RBA the Harlequin Duck was seen at Sputie Burn 2miles south of Brora around the time I left. Was I in the right place probably not!.. and there was no way of checking but I had had a great day just chilling in the sun enjoying birding like it must have been like in the old days! 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Scotland Day 4 - If at First You Fail - Go back and Try AGAIN!!

At stupid o clock this morning I seriously thought about turning over and going back to sleep. I peeked out the window. No fog and not a cloud in the sky things were looking promising but I did not realize how good the day was going to be!

The attendance of birders at Loch Garten was better than the previous day (around 20 people) but I managed to get myself into the first ten who would get first option to go to the forward hide should a Capercaillie show itself. Sure enough one of the staff found a male bird almost 200m away and took us to the hide. I must say this was a very civilised affair with people rotating to get views through a couple of scopes that were tuned into this huge turkey like bird!

After having my fill of views of the bird I returned to the main hide where the other staff had located a second male bird not far from the first. This was strange as there seemed to be a lack of interest from both towards the other. But once an imaginary line had been crossed the larger male fanned its feathers out and charged the other male was gone in a flash and not re located.

The adrenalin was pumping and with the sun rising I made my way to the Cairngorms Ski Centre paid my £10.50 day ticket to use the funicular railway and a Ptarmigan hunt was on. After a good while stood out in the elements I decided to have something to eat. 

I positioned myself overlooking the small ski slope and started to tuck in to my food. Just as I was taking a bite a snowboarded whizzed a bit close to the fence and two Ptarmigan flew up and landed on my side of the fence. A couple of seconds of chaos a poor picture later and the two birds had scuttled back to where they had come from. I debated staying to get better pictures but the centre was getting busier and the weather was perfect for raptors.

This Red Grouse did put in a blinding appearance as I returned on the train. Why couldn’t it have been a Ptarmigan?!!

I returned to The Findhorn Valley and this time there were a few birders in the carpark. No sooner had I parked up and settled when a guy informed me his group had seen a couple of Golden Eagle just before I had arrived (Uh oh!!) and I was welcome to join them. Wonderful! There were certainly more raptors moving around but had I missed my chance with the Eagles?!

After half hour of so I caught a glimpse of two huge Eagles just coming in from behind the hill and put them up to the group. These birds looked overall too big and bulky to be Golden but the birds were high and after a third bird joined them, the adults wheeled round revealing the white wedged shaped tail band. A family group of White tailed Eagle well I wasn’t expecting that or what came next. The raptor fire alarm bell had obviously gone off and a dot of a Red Kite decided to attempt to spar with these monsters who took turns to play around with this brave bird. The show must have lasted for 10minutes before all three eagles disappeared behind the mountain.

It seemed like forever before a Golden Eagle was finally announced. This has been top of my difficulty list for this trip! Just like London buses there were more to follow. A brave soul of a Merlin joined a Peregrine buzzing past one bird which seemed almost un-phased by either bird. Again this species was huge and slighter in appearance with longer wings than its counterpart white patches and a tailband was noticeable on one bird.

I had seen a full house of raptors but the eagles stuck to the far side of the closest hill and the smaller raptors were on the carpark side waiting to ambush an eagle that crossed the imaginary line! There was also a family group of Raven just shows that in the right conditions all you have to do is place yourself in the right place and the birds will come to you!! I met some very helpful Geordie birders why can’t all birders be like them! Cheers guys! 

Monday, 20 April 2015

Scotland day 3 - A right Caper!!

I was up at before stupid o’clock this morning and it was freezing -3c on the car temperature gauge. What was I doing! I was on a small journey to Loch Garten to join a few other nutcases in the hope of seeing my first Capercaillie. As I got closer to the loch I hit thick fog which surely was not going to increase the chances of seeing this species.

The Osprey centre opens at 5.30am to allow the opportunity to witness the males leking during April and May. The fog which stayed around right up to the finishing bell at 8am (when the centre closes before re opening at 10am) was almost a sure thing of not seeing any birds and the second piece of bad news was that no bird had been seen since 17th April. Prior to that two males had been seen one an old resident and what appeared to be a younger male which could make proceedings a big lively if there is a female to scrap over!

The pair of Osprey entertained in patches. The centre has the nest site covered from all angles by CCTV. Volunteers also monitor the nest from a smaller hide 24/7. It was a shame the weather had spoilt any chance of seeing the birds but it was time to depart but there was time to watch a pair of Goldeneye displaying before going into Aviemore to get some breakfast and some supplies. Before Aviemore I spied some Red breasted Merganser off a bridge over the Spey and stopped to capture the moment.

I returned to Loch Garten semi refreshed. The sun had broken through and was warming the place up nicely! On with plan B find Crested Tit another life bird for me. I watched the feeders for a while and then parked in the car park where the pathway leads down to Loch Mallachie. This circular walk is good for Crested tit and Crossbill.

I had walked a circuit without any views of either species when I decided to walk the water edge and bingo a Crested tit was flitting around on the low branches to the pines. At last I had almost given up on seeing this species for the day!

Late afternoon I returned to the Findhorn Valley in search of a Golden Eagle but was as unsuccessful as everyone else that had been walking the area. Peregrines, Sand Martin, Wheatear, Curlew, Black and Red Grouse kept me entertained as did an Oystercatcher squawking away sat on the roof of The Bank of Scotland back in Aviemore. Perhaps it was look out!!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Scotland Day 2 - Findhorn Valley!

I spent most of the day in the Findhorn Valley searching for Golden Eagle. The day started cold and overcast which kept all raptors on their posts until mid morning. Buzzard was the first raptor to hit the skies followed by a pair of Peregrine who spent some time harassing a Buzzard that had obviously strayed where it shouldn’t have ventured.

The valley holds red Grouse which is a life bird for me and this species was quickly added to this total. Several birds were seen throughout the day in various parts of the valley.

The temperature increased to 11c in the afternoon with sunshine and blue skies. I remained in the only car park and scanned the mountains. Sadly the improvement in weather was not enough to tempt my target bird into action. A Merlin zipping along the lower edge of the mountain was the only other raptor of note in this period. Mountain hare and Feral Goat were present on the slopes for most of the day. I saw my first Red Squirrel along this route I'm sure there will be plenty more seen before the week is out.
(View from the carpark)
Mid afternoon I took the Farr Road which is a very scenic but tricky route along a very narrow track. I was glad to see crash barriers at the highest points but wondered if they would save anyone if they misread the layout of the road.

My final stop of the day was at RSPB Loch Ruthven where Slavonian Grebe are known to be present. A scan of the lake located a single bird in stunning breeding plumage unfortunately it was ¾ of the way across the loch and well out of camera range. Little Grebe were also present of the loch. A strange leucistic type crow was noted in flight whilst at the loch.

I drove back to my hotel via the Farr Road seeing more Red Grouse along the way. A day of mixed fortunes but I think the Eagle is going to be a tough bird to see at this time of year!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Scotland Day 1 - No chance of Dipping today!!

I have spoken for a few years about visiting Scotland to spent some time birdwatching and when work put the brakes on over a return to Laguna Blanca this seemed like the ideal opportunity! The British Airways flight from Heathrow to Aberdeen took just over an hour.

The drive from the airport into the Highlands was simply amazing. The Best Birdwatching Sites in the Scottish highlands suggests that you make tracks to your destination but it is difficult not to stop several times en route to admire the scenery not to mention taking in the fresh air!!

Once I had entered the Cairngorms national park I headed for Nethy Bridge which is a good site for Dipper. This is not a new bird for me but I can put on one hand the times I have seen this species. I walked up onto the bridge and began scanning the River Spey. Close to the far bank I caught a glimpse of white throat and breast but was it the sun reflecting off of a rock! The Dipper re emerged to stand on a rock before disappearing under the water again. I watched on contemplating how I would get some shots of the bird that was behind several overhanging branches.

The problem was solved by the Dipper itself who had realized there was a small audience on the bridge (3 people!) and could not resist the opportunity to show off its skills in the fast flowing river. The bird gave crippling views as it collected moss in its bill moving from rock to rock fantastic!

Further down-stream I caught up with a pair of Goldeneye who was navigating the deeper parts of the river. A pair of Common Sandpipers were seen displaying and on the bank.

Oystercatcher and a Lapwing were the other species of note seen in flight by a wooden bridge over the river.

Not a bad start to the trip with several other common species added to the list before I checked in at The Boat Hotel in Boat of Garten.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Twitch in the Wrong Direction!

I received a text message this afternoon from Devilbirder stating that Ian had seen a Black Redstart at Canons Farm. It had been a pleasant sunny day so I decided to take the short journey to Canons Farm to see the bird.

I was going against the traffic therefore the journey was a short and hassle free one. That’s the kind of journey I like and Canons is a great location to spend an evening. Tices in the mean time had come up trumps again and a Wryneck had been found but was proving elusive. This is a Surrey VC tick for me but it was rush hour and I was on completely the wrong side of the county. Ed kept me posted with developments on that front as I searched for the Redstart.

The bird eventually pitched up on the corner of a barn adjacent to the caravan site. It dropped down to the ground several times before returning to the same point. I was stood on the footpath which is well outside of both areas but one of the farm owners/workers obviously thought this was dodgy behaviour as he took up a mobile patrol through the caravan site and out past the barn and back into the house?! If only he knew!

I took a slow walk back towards the Legal and General building and playing fields stopping to speak with Devilbirder on the way. A short lesson from DB on twitter and SMS alerts established that these alerts (that I used to get from twitter!) were definitely out now! I did some ouzeling but the L & G fields were busy with footballers and dog walkers.

A few Yellowhammer, Wheatear and Mpits later and it was time to hit the road and home! A very pleasant evening without any “Where’s is it?” The Tice’s gang are friendly and very accommodating and deserve better than that! Politeness costs nothing!!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Migrant Mania on my doorstep!!

Having spent half the weekend at the Farm with minimal movement of migrants I moved my attentions to Tice’s Meadow where I caught up with the regulars as well as landing Grey Plover, Nightingale, Oystercatcher, bathing Red Kite and a Coot that came to a sticky end at the talons of a Buzzard.

I was back at work today and the law of “Sod” was bound to strike at the Farm. This morning there was a fall of birds at the Farm. I caught up with news on the way home from work whilst making a decision to attempt to catch up with some of the days migrants.

I met Pinpoint at the hide and the search was on. Common Sandpipers were feeding with a Green Sandpiper on the South Lake. Shortly after that the first of many Wheatear made an appearance on one of the release valves. A second Sedge Warbler was heard from a reedbed parkside.

Pinpoint and I parted company after he spied a Redshank on the lagoons and I wandered through the works area to search Pongo park and the sludge beds. A couple of Green Sandpipers were seen in flight on the way to 100 Acre.

The pair of Garganey were still on Jim’s bed remaining on the far side of the water. Two pairs of Shelduck were also present on the island.

I could not find the Redstart so I used the text a friend option (Dodge) and quickly established I was looking at the wrong side of the scrub. The male Redstart was feeding along the edge of the trees hawking insects and dropping to the ground to feed.

Pinpoint in the meantime had seen more Wheatear on the plough on the side of the mound and he departed for his brothers place leaving me to set up along parkside in the vein hope that a Ring Ouzel would appear from the bushes.

Just as I thought the day was coming to an end text messages shook my phone and I was making my way to Pete’s brothers. Pinpoint had only found 4 Ring Ouzel and 9 Wheatear in his brothers back yard. This was just crazy stuff but I arrived in time and saw three Ouzel and five Wheatear.

Now thats what I call a fall of birds! I could not believe I had caught up on all the days new birds! Thankd Dodge and Pinpoint!!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

No Stone Un-turned!!

Easter Monday

I picked up Ed at near 7 o clock with a loose plan of spending time at his patch whilst keeping an eye on Surrey news. Our plans rapidly changed as late news had broken of another Stone Curlew that had been seen in fields bordering Fairoaks Aerodrome.

Having landed at the aerodrome a public footpath by some houses led to fields and the end of the runway. It was interesting that the footpath continued passing the end of the runway into another small wooded area. After an unsuccessful search of the fields Ed and I moved to the other side of the airfield where I had been told there was a second public footpath leading to a Common.

The chilly start to the morning soon changed with the sun beaming through the clear skies. Raptors in the form of Red Kite and Buzzard began taking advantage of the warm air. Sadly there was no Stone Curlew but we had received confirmation that the first area we had been searching was where the bird had been seen.

With the temperature rising, it was time for a raptor watch on Ed’s patch along Thorncombe Street. We spent a few hours on top of the ridge watching numerous Buzzard, Red Kite, Raven and a movement of Meadow Pipit traversing the valley. News of an Osprey over Leith Hill resulted in a change of position to the other side of the ridge. No Osprey but during the walk back down the valley a Curlew was heard in flight.

The next stop on the Surrey tour was Great Ridings Wood where Hawfinch had been reported the previous day. The walk did not produce this species but a singing Firecrest and a pair of Mandarin.

Our full days birding ended where we started at Fairoaks Aerodrome. The Stone Curlew was nowhere to be seen but enter stage left an interesting pale phase Buzzard which Ed spotted on a post beyond the runway. This bird was attempting to roost but was being hassled by corvids and moved regularly around the airfield.

I took a whole heap of pictures as this bird had me slightly baffled but I had in the back of my mind a pale phase Buzzard that had caused a stir at the Farm a week or so earlier. 

Brief views of either bird could cause identification problems. See Pete Alfrey’s blog for full report on the Beddington bird.

Over twelve hours of birding had come to an end and what a fantastic day even though the prize had not been found!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter Migration at the Farm!

This is the first Easter weekend I have spent in the UK for a few years and what better to do than catch up on some early Surrey VC migration. The weekend had started slowly with a trickle of hirundines and the odd wader passing through the Farm.
(Eurasian Swallow)
This morning I took advantage of joining Tank tours who incidentally was still grinning having finally caught up with Nuthatch on the farm. I walked most of the Farm with Tank logging Jack Snipe, Snipe, Green Sandpipers and a couple of Tree Sparrow but no Wheatear. A small group of Wheatear appeared around the lagoons later on in the day. A Little Ringed Plover had been seen early on and was seen in flight by Pinpoint shortly after my return to the hide.

The morning had been productive with a good movement of Meadow Pipit and Linnet. It always helps to have the sharper eyed members of the group in the hide but around 1230 the hide emptied leaving me to take up post on Kojaks Corner.

Kojaks corner is situated on the NW corner of the main mound which is some 60+ feet above the North and South lakes. It provides magnificent views of both lakes and gives a panoramic view of the farm.

Within about five minutes of setting up I heard a Brambling calling the bird flew towards park-side. The movement of hirundines was good in comparison with other days so I decided to stay on watch for a while.

A couple of hours passed, the sky was beginning to brighten up and it was time for Buzzards to arrive above the mound. The behaviour of the gulls was a good indicator of the arrival of a bird and being so much closer to the heavens made it easier for me to lock on to birds.
(Red Kite v Buzzard)
I saw two raptors appear directly SE of where I was standing and quickly realised that a Buzzard and a Red Kite were sky dancing with each other. Both birds wheeled around in between the clouds before both flew off N. A pair of Buzzards followed on arriving from the NE shortly afterwards. A few Meadow Pipits passed over in groups of two to three.

News of a passage of Raptors through Rainham combined with the NE – SE breeze had my eyes fixed firmly to the skies. Would a Marsh Harrier or even an Osprey grace the farm with their presence. Sadly it was not to be but it had been an interesting afternoon migration and the clock had ticked on to 1730!