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Monday, 31 October 2011

Rescued From Ignominy - on 30th October, 2011

I've been heading for my worst month of the year for owl sightings, due to a number of factors, the greatest of which was needing to finish off a garden construction project before the bad weather set in. However, the Scottish holiday and variable weather have not helped. Therefore, when the weather looked good yesterday afternoon, I took my leave of my visiting daughter, and headed out for three hours to some of my Little Owl sites.

My first call was at my recently re-discovered LO Site No.03.  Here an owl was visible from the road with its back to me, and between me and the light. I did my usual trick here of walking casually past the tree and then turning round when I'd got past. Unfortunately I'd misgauged my position and the bird was in shadow with the leaves in front of it in sunshine. Whilst I tried to reposition myself it was off.

Little Owl - my Site No.03





























Having managed to see where the owl had flown to, I set off to try and pick it up again. As I left the garden I turned round, just as a second owl emerged from the nest hole! It was gone before I had a chance to raise the camera. In the meantime, the first owl had departed unseen. However, all this was exciting for me as I'd only ever seen a single owl here previously.

I next visited my LO Site No.09, where 90% of the time I never see an owl. My luck wasn't any better this time.

Next was LO Site No.17, where an owl was spotted through the barn window, but not photographable.

No owl was seen at my LO Site No.05, but at nearby Site No.06 I found myself being jostled by heifers which was rather distracting, so that I missed seeing one of the owls before it saw me and took flight. I decided to leave it in peace, and head to another of my recently re-discovered sites - my LO Site No.16. This is a bit of a tricky location as both the farmer and his wife are totally in denial that they have owls - presumably they don't want visiting birdwatchers - so I have to watch from the road! It was ironic that whilst she was doing the late afternoon rounds of the farmyard, both resident owls were flying round and calling! However, they stayed at a considerable distance, with light levels so low by now that it was not even worth attempting any photos.

Thus I ended the evening after dark, with only one vaguely usable image 'in the can'. However it had been a great few hours with six owls seen at four sites.

This was the first time I'd been out owling for over two weeks, and then it had only been for a couple of two-hour sessions on my local patch. I did, however, manage a few images - but nothing terribly different to what I have posted before.


Little Owl - my Site No.12 - on 12th October, 2011































Little Owl - my Site No.02 - on 13th October, 2011






























Little Owl - my Site No.12 - on 13th October, 2011


Monday, 24 October 2011

Scotland in October, Part.2 - 5th to 8th October, 2011

Wednesday 5th October

The second half of our Scottish holiday got off to a fairly inauspicious start. Today we had decided that we would take the funicular railway up to the Cairngorm top station, and go on the Ranger-led walk from there to the summit in the hope of seeing Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting, and Mountain Hare. This walk is only available outside the skiing season. The rules (designed to protect the environment) are that it is not permitted to take the funicular to the top and then get out and walk around outside the confines of the buildings - unless you book on one of the official walks which are limited to 10 persons only. If you are prepared to walk up from the base station you are free to go wherever you like, but you need a certain amount of stamina to do this.

Our first stop was at the Glenmore Cafe, which is famous for its feeders outside the windows. These are visited by Crested Tit - but only usually in the winter. However, Red Squirrel are almost a certainty during the time it takes to enjoy a cup of tea. It's difficult, however, to get a natural looking image of a Squirrel, and I didn't manage it this time. I did, however, just about manage an image of a Treecreeper.

Treecreeper - Glenmore Cafe
As we left the cafe a Red Squirrel ran across the car park and bounded across the road. I almost nailed the in-flight shot - would have done if the light (and therefore the speed) had been better.

Red Squirrel - Glenmore Cafe
We arrived at the Cairngorm base station, to find that the car park was virtually deserted. I went off to the Ranger Station to check on availability of walks and was met with bad news. Winds were 60 mph, gusting to 95 mph, and they weren't even running the funicular. Furthermore they were telling people that they should definitely not walk in an upward direction. We had a quick walk round the lower station and came to the conclusion that nothing was likely to stick its head above the parapet in the gale that was blowing.We quickly changed our plans and decided on a scenic journey beside the Spey towards its source, stopping en-route to buy a picnic, as we'd originally intended to eat on Cairngorm . At Laggan we joined a single track road with passing places, and had not been going long before I stopped as the river looked as if it could be good for Dipper - and I found one! Again the light was bad, but I managed a few images.



Dipper - west of Laggan
We then continued past the Spey Dam, as far as Garva Bridge, about 9 miles (15 km) west of Laggan, and here we had our picnic, sitting in the car in the rain!

River Spey at Garva Bridge
It was brightening up a bit by the time we'd finished lunch so we stopped again where we'd seen the Dipper and it was still there, but it was still in shade, although being a little more active.



Dipper - west of Laggan
Just before we reached Laggan we came upon a Hare beside the road which leaped into cover as we approached. It sat there motionless with its head showing, but with ears flat so I found it virtually impossible to tell whether it was a Brown Hare or a Mountain Hare. Given that Mountain Hare tend to be a bit greyer at this time of year, I suspect that this was a Brown

Brown Hare? - near Laggan
We still had some time left to fill in the afternoon, and found ourselves being drawn back to Lochindorb - we really do like this place!!! Unsurprisingly we found Red Grouse again!


Red Grouse- Lochindorb
The previous time we had passed the wooded area which surrounds Lochindorb Lodge, we'd seen a Red Squirrel, which had beetled off before I had a chance at an image. We'd been surprised at this as it really is quite a small wooded area, and the nearest trees other than these are a very long way away. This day I was a bit better prepared as we found the Squirrel again in virtually the same place.

Red Squirrel - Lochindorb
Further on there were more Red Grouse - or were they?? I been noticing that some of the Grouse seemed a bit dark and small - and had white patches showing underneath, extending way beyond the usually white legs. You can see this in the birds in the last two of the three images below. It's tempting to think in terms of Ptarmigan, but I'm wondering if a local game bird breeding programme for shooting has crossed Red Grouse with non-native Willow Grouse? Any help with this would be gratefully received!!



Red Grouse/Willow Grouse cross, or Ptarmigan? - Lochindorb
Our arrival back in Grantown was a little earlier than it need be so we made a diversion to the Spey on the outskirts of the town. This is a place where we usually see Dipper, but no birds were visible when we arrived. As we'd never been along this road to the old bridge, which is now closed to traffic but available as a footbridge, we went there to explore. From the bridge I could see some ducks in the distance, and set off across the field to investigate. They were four Goosander which kept to the far bank under the shade of the trees. I could only get a record shot as I was facing directly into the evening sunlight.

Goosander - Grantown-on-Spey
On my way back to the car I spotted a Dipper which seemed to be sitting in the water. In this stretch of the river, no rocks were visible, but I suspect that the river was very shallow over most of its width, and the Dipper was standing on the bottom.

Dipper - Grantown-on-Spey
On the way to see the Goosander I'd kept to the far side of the field which ran alongside the river in order not to frighten the ducks. On my return journey I kept to the river bank and just before I got back to the bridge I spotted a Dipper close to the near bank. This gave me my best Dipper image of the day - at least I think so!

Dipper - Grantown-on-Spey
Thursday 6th October

Our objective today was the Moray coast, and the Long Billed Dowitcher which had been reported at Lossiemouth. Having been advised that the rising tide in the afternoon was the best time for a chance of seeing the Dowitcher, we started the day by heading for Findhorn, stopping first at the RSPB reserve at Findhorn Bay. The bay is a large area of water with a relatively narrow access to the sea. It is great for waders, etc., but only for those who like to scan with scopes. The hide, which was closed for refurbishment, is at the edge of the car park, and doesn't make much sense anyway as people walk their dogs between it and the water line, a hundred yards (metres) away at high tide! The tide was quite well up and I managed a couple of shots of one of the Curlew that were above the high-water mark.

Curlew - Findhorn Bay
We next drove into Findhorn, parking in the beach car park, behind the sand dunes. Again, dog walkers removed any chance of seeing birds at the water's edge. When we reached the inlet to the bay there were Seals on the far bank, in the lea of Culbin Forest. The scene looked almost tropical as the sun was out, the sea blue, and the sands almost golden. The reality was that there was a strong cold wind from the west and the temperature was 8 C ( 46 F)!

Entrance to Findhorn Bay, looking across to Culbin Forest
Several of the Seals were quite active, and with the light being so good (for a change!) I managed a few very distant shots at low ISO which cropped down quite well.


Seals (possibly mixed Grey and Common) - opposite Findhorn
Having warmed up with a pot of earl grey tea at the marina cafe, we took a walk along the promenade at Findhorn. Here there were Turnstone, and more Curlew. At this point, however, we were facing the wrong direction for the light, so photography was not easy.


Turnstone - Findhorn


Curlew - Findhorn
Our next stop was at Burghead, where we had seen a pair of Long-tailed Duck in January. We were to have no such luck this day. Here no birds were seen outside the harbour mouth, and only some Cormorants seen on the harbour wall.

Cormorant - Burghead
My wife, who had been peering down into the waters of the harbour, called out that there was a seal in the harbour. This was not a Common/Harbour Seal as one might expect, but a Grey Seal (shape of head, position of eyes, and nostril configuration are diagnostic). In the first image it has just surfaced and the nostrils are closed.



Grey Seal - Burghead Harbour
This Seal was disappearing for long periods, and during one of these times I went to see if anything had changed outside the harbour. At first I thought that the Seal already seen had made its way out of harbour, but I then noticed that this one had a nasty scar across its snout.



Grey Seal - outside Burghead Harbour
I was somewhat concerned about getting too near the open edge of the harbour as it was very windy here, and the wind was gusting to the extent that it might have blown you over the edge. It was, therefore, also too windy to contemplate a walk up onto the head to look out to sea, so we set off for Lossiemouth.

From the description we had it was easy to find the approximate location where the Dowitcher had been seen. Two birdwatchers standing there soon put us onto the bird which was in the company of a small flock of Wigeon over the other side of the waters of the Lossie estuary. At first the bird did very little, spending most of its time with its head turned over its back, facing away from us.


Long-billed Dowitcher - Lossiemouth East Beach
During these extended periods of inactivity, there were other birds to keep us amused, and a picnic to eat.


Redshank - Lossiemouth
A Black-tailed Godwit on the far bank did us a favour occasionally by acting mildly antagonistically to the Dowitcher, making it move out of the way.

Black-tailed Godwit - Lossiemouth East Beach
A Curlew on the near bank grappled with a crab that looked far too big for it to do anything with.

Curlew - Lossiemouth
I took a lot of photos of the Dowitcher as, at my age, it is one of those birds that, realistically, I am never likely to see again. It is for this reason, also, that there will be a lot of images of this bird on this blog, but I will intersperse it with the other birds that I took photos of. So the following are in chronological order.

To our delight, the Dowitcher started to get a bit more lively and started preening. A couple of times it used its foot to scratch the left side of its face, and both times I noticed that its bill seemed to cross at the end as it did so (1st image below). It then decided to take a trundle along the water's edge to feed.


Long-billed Dowitcher - Lossiemouth East Beach
It was easy to lose the bird momentarily if you took your eyes off it, and the presence of  some Knot did not help in finding it again.

Knot - Lossiemouth East Beach

Long-billed Dowitcher - Lossiemouth East Beach

Oystercatcher - Lossiemouth East Beach
Probably the least interesting subject of all my images taken on this holiday but, ironically, probably (technically) the best image taken was this one of a Crow!

Carrion Crow - Lossiemouth

Long-billed Dowitcher - Lossiemouth East Beach
Suddenly all the birds were in the air, put up by a Merlin, and the Dowitcher spent some time flying around with the Wigeon. When they came back down the Wigeon landed in the water and the Dowitcher was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, half an hour later, we picked it up again near its original location. It then started to wander along the water's edge again, feeding as it did so.





Long-billed Dowitcher - Lossiemouth East Beach
Suddenly the bird was gone again. We waited some time without it returning, taking a few more shots of other birds, but the weather started to break up badly and we decided to call it a day at Lossiemouth East Beach. It had been a very rewarding couple of hours! 

Little Grebe - Lossiemouth

Curlew - Lossiemouth
Another pot of early grey tea in the Harbour Lights cafe in Lossiemouth, then we were on our way to Spey Bay. It started tipping it down with rain on the way, and so we only briefly stopped on the west side of the estuary before taking the long drive round to the east side, where we stopped for an even shorter time in the deluge. We were really only sussing it out for a future visit anyway. The rain didn't let up all the way back to Grantown.

Friday 7th October

This was our last full day based at the Grant Arms in Grantown-on Spey. The following day we would be making our way homeward.

The weather was not looking too good, so we decided to join the BWWC staff member who was basing herself at the top of the Findhorn Valley for the benefit of people staying at the Grant Arms. It was raining hard when we arrived, and several Red Deer, including stags, were just about visible through the rain at various places on the hillside in the distance. To save getting too wet, much of the time was spent sitting in the car, with an occasional flip of the windscreen wipers so that we could see out.

We'd not been there too long when my wife spotted a stag on the much nearer hillside directly in front of us. The rest of the group were alerted and we soon found that he had his 'ladies' around him - albeit at a distance. The stag (which my wife decided to christen 'Big Eric') was reclining on the ground, probably resting after the exertions of the rut. In spite of the rain, I did manage some distant shots which crop down well enough to be just about acceptable enough to use on this post, although far from good!


Red Deer - Findhorn Valley
The weather was so atrocious that I think that most people decided to give up and go. Unfortunately one couple's car would not start, giving a bit of a dilemma as no one could find a signal on their phone. Attempts at push starting failed. After a lot of messing about someone went off to the nearest habitation and came back with a gentleman with a set of industrial jump leads which managed to get the car started.

By the time that this was all over, we were soaked through, and Big Eric had moved off somewhere and we couldn't re-locate him in the even-worse weather. It was time to go and turn the air-con on to warm ourselves up and dry out. As we passed the habitation where the rescuer had come from we noticed the somewhat gruesome sight of about eight recently severed stag's heads on the ground, leaning against the walls of a barn.

We decided on a farewell visit to Lochindorb, on the way to the craft centre at Logie Steading. Guess what!? We found a Red Grouse(?) in the rain! This was another of the dark birds exhibiting white in their plumage.

Red Grouse (?) - Lochindorb
After our visit to Logie Steading, where we bought a Moroccan Mint plant (I've never seen so many varieties of mint in one place!) we decided on trying to trace the Findhorn River upstream for as far as possible by road. We got out for a walk at the picturesque Dulsie Bridge as, suddenly, it was sunny. An information board told us that, during a flood when several people lost their lives, the deep gorge here filled with water to within inches of the underside of the arch. It must have been around 30 ft (10 metres) deep!

Dulsie Bridge
From Dulsie Bridge we continued on single track road along the Findhorn to Drynachan Lodge. It was a very slow run as, spread along the road and with absolutely no road sense, were several hundred Red-legged Partridge! We then completed a loop by cutting north to Highland Boath, then back to Dulsie Bridge.

Near Aitnoch (somewhere that you'll only find on an OS map!) we spotted a pair of Roe Deer on the hillside. They were fine when we first stopped, but got a bit nervous when stayed for a few minutes.


Roe Deer - near Aitnoch


We were back in time for another fine dinner at the Grant Arms, and left with a little time to reflect on a most enjoyable week, in spite of the weather.

Saturday 8th October

As the weather was so bad on our outward journey through Scotland to Grantown, we decided to go back the same way in the hope of seeing it in better weather - it wasn't! However it had eased off by the time we arrived in Braemar and, after lunch here, we took a scenic diversion down the dead-end road to the Linn of Dee. On the way down we noticed Mistle Thrushes commuting between a line of telegraph poles in a field, and a tree with small black berries in beside the road. We had seen quite a lot of Mistle Thrushes in groups during the week, and there were reports of them flocking in quite high numbers, but I'd not taken any photos of them, so I thought I'd try on the way back. Unfortunately they did not stay around for long.


Mistle Thrush - road to Linn of Dee
We'd planned to visit the reserve at Aberlady Bay later in the afternoon, before finishing this leg of the journey at Berwick-upon-Tweed. However, there were roadworks on the Forth Road Bridge which resulted in a stop-start delay of more than two hours (possibly the worst traffic jam that I've ever been in!) and it was dark before we even got to cross the bridge. We just headed straight for Berwick, and ended up having dinner at 'the Scottish Restuarant' (McDonald's for the uninitiated!). The next day it rained all the way home!

I'll end this report by saying thank you to the interesting and helpful people that I met during the week, particularly Allan Adam from Elgin (www.aaphotosmoray.co.uk), and Donald and Carol Ford from South Queensferry (www.donaldfordimages.com) (hope the car held up Donald, and thanks for the superb calendar). However, my main thanks are to the whole team at the Grant Arms who made sure that this hotel still remains as one of my favourites anywhere!