Saturday, 10 September 2016

Seabird Bonanza- Lyme Bay Pelagic

The undoubted highlight from my recent holiday to Torbay was my first ever pelagic.  Hope's Nose, on the Torquay side of Torbay, was the site of my first ever seawatch, so it was perhpas fitting that the bay should play host to my first foray into deeper waters.  On the very sunny and warm Sunday 14th August 2016, we made our way around the bay to Brixham, reaching it around 8.30am.  We found the passenger pontoon (to my surprise we were the first there) and waited for our vessel- the Optimist- to appear, which it duly did.  The pontoon itself played host to a couple of tame Turnstones which fed just the other side of the railings.


As 8.45 arrived, our very welcoming host Nigel Smallbones collected our payment and allowed us onto the boat.  Nigel had apparently been given a lot of counterfeit notes recently, so our notes had to be checked too!  We then met the skipper, Nigel Lihou (our second of three Nigels' that day) and sat down, waiting to set off.  Just after ten to we set off around the Breakwater and out past Berry Head.  Here we saw Shags and Cormorants, along with other common gull species.  Just past the head itself, we saw small numbers of both Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin; their fins occasionally seen above the crests of the waves.  Also, a single Kittiwake sat on the water along with Herring Gulls.  Afterwards, we went out into Lyme Bay; I was told at the end that at our furthest point, we had been 7 miles off the coast!  Just this distance from the coast improved the amount of birds seen.  Gannets regulary soared overhead; small parties of Guillemots were seen on the water along with the ever present Fulmar.


When we were this far out and the engine was stopped, I was shocked at how strong the waves were.  Even though there was practically nothing but a slight breeze on the shore, out to sea, the boat was rocked side to side; once the boat seemed to go parallel to the waves.  This of course made any photography difficult so I apologise in advance for the quality of my images!  We also saw small numbers of Manx Shearwater sitting on the water, but try as we might, we couldnt make any of them into a Balearic.

2 Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater 'yawning'!

However, we were all soon alerted when the shout of 'Bonxie' went up and soon enough a large burly Great Skua could be seen mobbing the larger gulls off the front of the boat, but still quite a distance away.  I was hoping to see this species as any skua species would have been a lifer.  Now well out to sea, Nigel donned his plastic gloves and began to throw out the chum with the aid of a plastic jug.  Unfortunately, we were situated downwind from the chum, so we smelt the full unpleasant odour of it!  At first, only one gull sat out next to the boat.  But as if by magic, what seemed to be all the gulls in the area were suddenly alerted to the fact that food was on offer and soo there was a mass exodus of gulls circling overhead.  Although, apart from attracting gulls, this was not successful in brining in any shearwaters.  We then went further our and tried again but alas to no avail.  It just so happened that on our way back we saw a small flock of shearwaters on the surface of the water, so stopped to scan them.  And to our delight, one of the birds was a lot more brown in colour than the rest- a Balearic Shearwater!

Manx Shearwater (L) with Balearic (R)

After around a minute the whole group flew off but we were all pleased with the sighting.  It does not seem a good year for this ever declinging species as not many have been seen on prior trips either.  I think perhaps the most majical part of the trip happened when we got close to Berry Head once more.  A pod of Common Dolphin were seen off the boat so Nigel turned the boat straight into their present course.  Almost immediately, the dolphins satrted following the boat, leaping out of the water just metres behind us!

A pod of Common Dolphin

It was a truly wonderful sight and lasted for around 10 minutes before they left us and moved further out to sea.  We arrived back at around 12.15 and I had enjoyed the days trip immensely.  Though he is booked for the rest of the season now, I would throughly recommend this trip to anybody, as it provides both birds and cetaceans.  To contact Nigel Smallbones you can visit his website at

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Gone Cruising- Exe Estuary

We recently travelled down to Topsham, Devon on the northern side of the Exe Estuary to board the Avocet Cruise boat.  We have been on it once before but from Starcross on 26th January 2013, when I saw 9 lifers.  We were due to go on it last March, but we missed the boat, thinking it was again from Starcross when it was in fact from Topsham!  Nevertheless, We still managed to see two lifers that day- Spotted Redshank and Penduline Tit.  Wanting no mishap this time round, we were the first to arrive there, even before the RSPB guides themselves!  I was wrapped up to the nines, with a thermal top as well as waterproof trousers.  Before this, a quick look at Matford Marsh produced Little Egret, Coot and Moorhen.  I was vaguely hopeful of a lifer, perhaps the long-staying Bonaparte's Gull now in its fourth year on the estuary?  As soon as the boat set off, pairs of Red-Breasted Mergansers took to the air.

Red-Breasted Mergansers in flight

Then soon after, the bird the trip was named after came into view- the Avocet.  Large flocks fed in the water before scurrying up the sand and taking to flight when our boat came past.  Nearly everywhere we went on the estuary, these beautiful birds were to be found.

Avocet flypast

Flushed by our boat

Feeding Avocets

Many species were seen on our trip up past the Turf Inn nearly to Starcross then back again, with the complete list as follows:  Canada Goose, Red-Breasted Merganser, Cormorant, Jackdaw, Black-Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Carrion Crow,  Redshank, Goldfinch, Mallard, Pied Wagtail, Avocet, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Dunlin, Teal, Curlew, Black-Tailed Godwit, Great Black-Backed Gull, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Common Gull, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Brent Goose, Sanderling and Shelduck.  Some photos from the trip are beneath.

3 Sanderling on the shoreline

Part of a Brent Goose flock

A large Black-Tailed Godwit flock- some had rings on (yellow, red, yellow)

The Godwit flock taking flight

A summer plumage bird 

Summer plumaged bird (right) and Bar-Tailed Godwit (back centre)

Dunlin (right) feeding with Grey Plover (left)

3 Brent Goose over- the first of the trip

Throughout the journey, I was fuelled with Madeira Cake and Hot Chocolate out of flask!  When we disembarked however, we felt in need of a good meal.  First though, I had to remove most of the four layers I had on!  Walking back to the car, small flocks of vocal House Sparrows were seen in the hedgerow around the roads next to houses.  We then set off for The Globe, just around the corner from the harbour.  A fantastic meal was eaten, consisting of Roast Beef followed by Lemon Tart and Clotted Cream- superb!  I had begun to feel drowsy after all the good food I'd consumed when I noticed that the Bonaparte's Gull was on show at Dawlish Warren on the other side of the estuary.  Even though we were going in the opposite direction to home and I was rather doubtful we'd see it, we set off round the river once more.  

It was a good thing that we did, because on the way we saw a Greenshank in a shallow harbour just before Starcross along with Redshank, Wigeon feeding beside a shallow pool and Brent Geese feeding on the Starcross golf course.  Soon we were sitting in the Dawlish Warren car park hurriedly pulling on socks and boots for the walk ahead.  I knew that the walk would be a long one, but the feeling of being full I'd had since lunch made it even worse, when ambling across the dunes.  Little Grebe were heard calling from the marsh to our left.  Eventually we made it into the hide and I sat down, sweating.  First of all I noticed three gulls just out on the estuary.  I naturally assumed they were Black-Headed Gulls but when we asked one of the men in the hide if the rarer gull was on show, he replied that the left hand bird was the Bonaparte's Gull.  I was quietly ecstatic, having seen my first lifer for the year and one in a long line of lifers I've seen on the Exe Estuary.

Adult winter Bonaparte's Gull

In amongst 2 slightly large Black-Headed Gulls
We then settled down to see the waders coming in at high tide.  Turnstone, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank were all present as well as Shelduck.  Thanking those in the hide, we then left and as we we walking along the sandy shoreline, large flocks of calling Brent Goose flew in from the fields and settled on the mudflats next to us, the setting suns last light reflecting off them.  

Landing Brent Geese

Dawlish Warren hide
To conclude, we managed 59 species for the weekend, 6 species of Gull, 13 species of Wader, 1 Lifer and two new birds for my Devon List (Nuthatch and Bonaparte's Gull).  As we drove back up to the Midlands, I sat content and knew that apart from my home, Devonshire is a place I love to be in.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Storm-blown- Farmoor Reservoir

Following the success of the previous day's trip to see the Hoopoe, we travelled down to Oxfordshire's Farmoor Reservoir, to see the 1st Winter Grey Phalarope, which had arrived 2 days before.  It was the second time we'd been there this year, having got the Red-Necked Grebe back in April there as well.  When reading my bird guide, I was informed that the species in question is only blown in by autumn gales to inland lakes, and is used to rough seas.  Well, if ever there was an inland sight that mimicked the sea, this was certainly it.  After applying dozens of layers, we got out of the car and headed for the reservoir wall.  Once there, the wind was so strong, it was difficult to stand up, with many people being blown around themselves.  Not knowing where the bird was, we decided to check the area where the Grebe had frequented.  Coot, Mallard and Little Grebe were all present.  I then spotted a way off, a man with a large camera lens at ground level, taking shots of a patch of water.  Upon scanning the patch, I raised the alarm- Grey Phalarope!  We made our way to where the man was, the water lapping at our feet.  I was struck by how small the bird was, feeding and preening about 10 metres from the shoreline.

Grey Phalarope preening

Grey Phalarope feeding

Grey Phalarope in flight

After 5 minutes the bird struck up, and flew a way down the shore, and landed even closer to it.  All of us there hurriedly made our way to the spot, and with the bird now only several metres away it was hard not to get a good shot.  You must excuse the number of shots taken, but with such a close model, I couldn't refuse!
Grey Phalarope


Grey Phalarope


Riding a nearby wave crest

In the frothing waters

Grey Phalarope

With the wind magnified, so were the waves.  The poor little bird was flung around from side to side with each oncoming wave, yet still seemed unfazed, often flying back to the more sheltered right hand side before returning to feed in more open water.  It often shared the surf with leaves that had been blown in from the nearby trees.

Riding the waves!

Struggling to stay upright!

Most of the time, I ended up with shots like this!

With an oncoming wave looming...

Hopping over a smaller wave

I crouched down with my camera to get level with the bird, but in doing so, lost all blood circulation in my legs, and had to wait several minutes before I could stand up and walk properly.  Before we left, a look over the other side of the reservoir produced the commoner Gull species, Great Crested Grebe and small numbers of Pied Wagtail.  But this was only brief- it was too cold a day to be out in!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Unseasonal Hirundines- 'The Crooked Spire'

For a while, we had noticed that a 'twitchable' Crag Martin had been present in Chesterfield, Derbyshire for some time, so come this morning, we set off on an hour and forty minute joinery in order to try and see him.  It had been seen at 8 o'clock this morning, so we were quietly hopeful, as we arrived at around 10:40AM.  The bird had took a fancy to the Church of St. Mary and All Saints, renown for its crooked lead spire.  Instead of joining the already large crowd of birders, we parked in a nearby car park and sat in the comfort of the car, waiting for the bird to show.

The view of the Church from the car park

The tower the bird frequents

I have seen photos of the bird flying past this clock

For a period, no Martin showed.  Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jackdaw and Woodpigeon all flew over, and once or twice a Sparrowhawk flushed the Feral Pigeons sitting on the tower.  Yet suddenly, I noticed a small bird flying just like a Martin, and the binoculars of the distant birders had been raised too!  So here he was, a small, acrobatic Crag Martin.

Crag Martin flying over the weathervane

We all knew it was the bird, as all other hirundines would have already set off if not arrived at Africa.  It was so unusual seeing a Martin so late in the year, and the cold, blustery conditions were a contrast to the normal calm and sunny weather associated with the arrival of Swallows and Martins.  It was extremely fast and agile, making it hard to photograph.  However, it often paused in mid flight amidst the strong gusts, and stayed long enough for a decent shot.  It didn't spend all its time around the church either, and scoured most of the town for insects too.  It often flew over our car park, and even once our car!  Though the sun had come out and the bird was so close, its speed meant that a shot more than a silhouette eluded me.

Streamline Crag Martin!

Crag Martin over the car

Showing just how long its wings are

We spent many happy hours watching and attempting to photograph it.  It would often disappear for 5 or 10 minutes at a time before returning, and sweeping past the church, almost touching the tower.  As early afternoon came, we decided to leave, very pleased with our newest and overall rarest t date lifer.  Just as we pulled away, the Crag Martin came into sight one last time and signalled a heartfelt farewell.  Well…..almost!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Starling Fest

It was on last Sunday that we went looking for the juvenile Rose-Coloured Starling that had been seen around some roads on the outskirts of Tewkesbury amongst a Starling flock.  I thought that being so very different to a Common Starling, it would be easy to spot.  How wrong I was!

We arrived about mid-morning at a council estate next to some open parkland and fields.  But it was the concrete jungle that we would be focussed upon.  It is an understatement to say that there were Starlings everywhere.  On every house, tree, aerial.  The roofs were also littered with House Sparrows, mixed in amongst them.  What was worse was that the sun was behind the birds, so only silhouettes could be seen at the time.  From talking to a huddled group of birders, we learnt that the bird in question had been seen but only briefly that morning, and many left empty handed.  So, we started driving around its main haunts, Margaret, Dispenser and Wenlock Roads (along with some others around them), scrutinising every Starling flock we came to.  But still no Rose-Coloured.  We then entered a dream-like state.  We scoured the same roads again and again, doing different routes of them at the next opportunity.  Locals watched our continuous revolutions with interest.  As we drove round, we met the same people about three or four times, whether they be the general public or birders.

We then parked just outside the estate and enjoyed a break with a banana and a KitKat.  Whilst we sat there, watching a small streams progress, we saw Mallard, Collared Dove, an assortment of Crows and again the dreaded Starlings.  After a while, we drove back and parked in the centre of the roads.  We overhead a local man talking to some birds about how the Starling had come and sat opposite his house on many occasions.  Therefore, we drove into his road and parked at the corner.  The sun was in the right position and there was an abundance of Starling around.  We looked at the gentleman's neighbours house, whose roof held mainly Sparrows.  Suddenly a flock appeared on his aerial and I caught sight of a bird who wasn't Sparrow like in shape nor dark enough for a Starling.  Hurriedly reaching for my camera, I took a few shots, which revealed the bird to be the much paler and unique juvenile Rose-Coloured Starling!

Starlings on the opposite rooftop

The juvenile Rose-Coloured Starling (the far left bird)

Even though it was a juvenile, it had such lovely colour to it.  We managed to alert other birder in the road to it, before it flew off with the rest of the flock.  I believe that the day we saw it was the last day it was seen, so we were lucky enough to get it just in time.  Congratulating ourselves, we then headed off back home for some bird seed from Webbs as well as some well served lunch.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Highlands- Scotland Holiday

I have been thinking that, as I did not write a comprehensive account of our wonderful and fruitful trip to Scotland earlier this year in the April Easter break, I shall finally record all the details of the holiday now.  I was greatly aided by my trusty copy of 'Best Birdwatching Sites: Scottish Highlands' and before we left, I had noted down the best places to see rare species, such as the Cairngorms and Findhorn Valley.
Before I begin, here was my main target species for the Highlands, as follows:

Golden Eagle
White-Tailed Eagle
Red-Throated Diver
Black-Throated Diver
Hooded Crow
Crested Tit
Parrot Crossbill
Scottish Crossbill

When I went up here, my life list was at 197, having got the Red-Necked Grebe at Farmoor Reservoir only 3 days previous.  We all decided to guess what our 200th bird would be, which we would hopefully get while we were up here- my Dad guessed Golden Eagle, my Mom guessed Capercaillie and I guessed Ptarmigan.  I shall reveal later who won!

Friday 3rd April 2015- The Journey Up
We woke up reasonably early for what would be our longest journey to a holiday destination- with the Highlands situated at least 7 hours north of our house in the Midlands.  When we reached Cumbria, we stopped off at a nearby Toby Carvery in Carlisle to have a very welcome full English Breakfast before we climbed north once more.  When we entered Scotland, I was surprised at how similar it was to English countryside but nevertheless, began to list my Scottish species, which inevitably, were those that hung about adjacent to the road.  It was not long however, before we were greeted by stunning and dramatic mountains that completely dwarfed the road beside them.  Then we entered the Cairngorm National Park, and snow-covered hills were now encountered, with ones high summit covered in a thick blanket of mist.

Part of the Cairngorm National Park

We then came across the House of Bruar, what seemed to be the largest shopping centre for miles, so we popped in for a browse.  Inside were an antiques shop and a collection of very fine gentleman's clothing such as smoking jackets and deer stalkers!  Through the sound of the rain in the outside courtyard and garden section, a small group of House Sparrows and Pied Wagtails called and flew around the shoppers.  It was upon leaving that I noticed 3 Grouse, feeding in a field opposite the entrance.  So, having parked the car up the road, we walked back and to our delight, saw 3 male Black Grouse standing there, who subsequently flew off into the forest.  How they were not scared of the noises of the road I'm not sure!

2 of 3 Male Black Grouse in flight

After around another hour, we were in the Victorian-looking Grantown-On-Spey, and pulling up beside the Grant Arms Hotel (the "Wildlife Hotel"), home of the Bird Watching & Wildlife Club.  We were greeted in our room by prints of both Curlew and a pair of Sandwich Tern!  Once we were settled, we decided to go for a walk around the local Anagach Woods, pine woodland on the edge of the river Spey.  Whilst walking, we had a flyover Common Crossbill and our first ever Red Squirrel, jumping amongst the top of the trees- I noticed it when I remembered that only Red Squirrels inhabit the Highlands!  Back at the hotel that evening, we won a themed quiz and received a bottle of wine for it!  Not a bad days work, and with an already substantial list, I was extremely excited for what tomorrow might bring.

Saturday 4th April 2015- Abernethy Forest & Findhorn Valley
We woke up reasonably early and were greeted at breakfast, as everyday, by the extremely helpful and useful "Daily Chirp".  About mid morning, we decided to go on one of the guided walks around Abernethy Forest, close to Loch Garten, in order to look for Crested Tit and Crossbills.  On the way there, the road runs by sheep fields close to the Speyside Railway and the river Spey.  It was here that I had a shock when I saw a large flock of Geese grazing in the field, which happened to be Pink-Footed Goose, a bird I have tried to see many times before but to no avail.

Showing the size of the Pink-Footed Goose flock

Pink-Footed Goose grazing with sheep

After enjoying a good 5 minutes watching and photographing them, conscience of the time we made our way to the designated car park deep in the heart of Abernethy Forest for our walk.  Along with our enthusiastic guide John Picton, we made our way into the forest.  We stopped by at the sandy shores of Loch Garten, where Goldeneye were sat on the mirrored surface.  Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-Tailed Tit, Goldcrest and Treecreeper sang from and fed up in the high pines around us.  Once or twice, Crested Tits were heard but not seen due to their shy nature.  The final part of the walk was when we reached the shores of Loch Mallachie, where both male and female Goosanders were found.  Back at the cars, John thought we could go and have a look at the feeders beside the Loch Garten RSPB visitor centre, where Crested Tits can also be found.  Once there, to our delight, 2 Crested Tits were feeding around the feeders with other common Tits, on Peanut Butter spread out for them.  An odd food source but one that the birds thoroughly enjoyed so I'll have to invest in some for our own garden!

A Crested Tit feeding in close proximity to a nearby parked car!

Crested Tit feeding on Peanut Butter

After a lunch of Scottish Fish and Chips, we went for another walk around Anagach Woods, having been informed as to where the feeders are.  To our surprise, apart from the numerous Coal Tits up here, Red Squirrels were abundant, lifting up nest boxes where food had been placed inside.

Red Squirrel feeding in Anagach Woods

Afterwards, we set off for Findhorn Valley, aptly named Raptor valley.  It took a long drive up the valley to reach the car park, on winding roads beside some of the most desolate and barren scenery I've seen.  When we reached it, the large river Findhorn next to us produced Common Gull, as well as Grey Wagtail.  We had apparently just missed a juvenile White-Tailed Eagle over and unfortunately did not see any Eagles in all the time we were there.  We did however see many Raptors, including Peregrine, Buzzard and Kestrel.  On the highest peaks, Wild Mountain Goats stood precariously on rocky outcrops and a large herd of Red Deer hinds sat high up on a hillside in snow.  We then retraced our steps and made our way over the river and up to a section of heather.  Here, we immediately spotted Mountain Hares, another new mammal for me, Red Grouse and a calling Siskin who flew into nearby woodland.  So all in all a great start to our holiday, 2 new birds and 1 new mammal species.

In the evening, we had a very informative and enjoyable talk from Dawn Balmer of the BTO named "Unraveling the Mysteries of Movement and Migration".

Sunday 5th April 2015- The Cairngorms & Lochindorb
It was an early start for us to arrive at Loch Garten for 5:30AM in order for Caperwatch, probably the best chance of seeing a Capercaillie in the Highlands.  A flyover bird had apparently been seen the day before and today the birds were equally shy, with none seen through the whole of the next 2 hours.  What relieved the boredom of waiting however was seeing the first of the returning Opsrey pair to Loch Garten, the female bird, who casually sat on the usual nest tree as the mist cleared, waiting for the male to arrive.  On the way back through Abernethy Forest, we stopped off at the same car park as yesterday in order to get a shot of Loch Garten and the forest in the mist.

Loch Garten in mist

The banks of Loch Garten

Pines in Abernethy Forest

After a well deserved breakfast, we travelled up to Cairn Gorm, where we would hopefully see Ptarmigan.  When we got just out of Grantown-On-Spey, a Red Squirrel ran across the road with a nut in its mouth, showing how up here, Red Squirrels are as common as Greys are down south.  It was a warm day, in fact the Highlands were the warmest part of the country and the UK as surprising as it sounds!  But this did not stop skiers wanting to ski the slopes.  We had to drive on winding roads going high up the mountain even before you could get to the car park.  We went up on the funicular railway, crammed in tight together amongst skiers and some birdwatchers.  We had great views on the way up, and saw a pair of Red Grouse, curiously watching our ascent.  When we reached the top, we got out and made our way to the Ptarmigan Cafe to go out on the viewing platform.  The views from up there were spectacular, with miles and miles of fabulous mountains and lochs.  

View of the Cairngorms from the Ptarmigan Cafe

The platform was treacherous to walk upon, with thick ice that had not been melted as it lay in the shade.  I immediately lent my scope on the nearby wall and scanned the opposite hillside and boulder field.  To my surprise and joy, it took me only a matter of minutes to find what I'd been looking for- a Ptarmigan!  It was a male bird, who started feeding on the only shoots visible and then sheltered itself from the wind by sitting close to a boulder.  I'm sorry for the quality of the next few photos but the bird was a long way away!

Adult Male Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan feeding on shoots

Ptarmigan sitting sheltered beneath a boulder

It was then that it dawned on me that I had spotted my 200th bird, with what was a pretty good find considering how far it was away from us (if I do say so myself!).  Whats more, I had predicted right as to what our 200th lifer would be, so I was fairly elated with the find.  The male stayed on show all the time we were there, and also a female came into view for a few minutes.  Still feeling extremely happy, we boarded the now less crowded funicular for the descent.  The first part of it was a tunnel which opened out onto open mountainside.  It was like something out of a James Bond film, with only the nearby mountains being viewable from the ever-growing opening, which then revealed a steep section of track which would grow in speed.  On the way down, we managed to see Meadow Pipit and even small flock of Snow Bunting.  

We then went back to the hotel and after a quick lunch, made our way at leisure to Lochindorb.  Lochindorb is without doubt a beautiful spot, with the water lapping at your feet, surrounded by heather , and Lochindorb Castle- the "Wolfs Lair"- sitting solely in the middle.  What added to the shimmering of the water was the fact that is was t-shirt weather!  We had come to hopefully see the local Black-Throated Divers who breed here.  When we parked up beside the loch, two Divers were seen far out, which happened to be Red-Throated Divers, another new and unexpected bird.  We were then told that the Black-Throated Divers were around the other part of the loch, obscured by the Castle.  We did however make a detour on the way round, to stop and watch the very tame and numerous local Red Grouse.

1 of 2 Red-Throated Diver far out on the Loch

One of the tame Red Grouse

We then reached the other side, and after about 5 minutes scanning saw both of the Black-Throated Diver pair, their colours and underbellies showing off well in the afternoon sun.  Meadow Pipits flew and sung above us, and Curlew and Redshank sat on the shores calling.

1 of 2 Black-Throated Diver

On the way back, we noticed 2 close up Oystercatchers in a nearby field (Oystercatchers seem to be in every field in Scotland!) and another great view of the Cairngorms, where we had been earlier that day.  Another fabulous days birding, with 3 lifers, taking my personal list up to 202 birds and breathtaking scenery too.

Oystercatcher in a field

Views of the Cairngorms from Lochindorb

Monday 6th April 2015- The Moray Firth
At breakfast this morning, we were shocked to hear that a male Capercaillie had been seen during Caperwatch due to it being flushed by a herd of deer.  I had wanted to go to Caperwatch every morning but today we had enjoyed a lie in.  Today, we decided to go to the seaside, in particular, the Moray Firth and the towns/coast around it, in order to get some good seabirds.  Around mid-morning, we made it to Burghead, where we walked down to the rocky shore to scan the sea.  As we arrived, a medium sized flock of Pink-Footed Goose flew in overhead.  From the shoreline, we managed to see an unexpected small flock of Common Eider along with many small flocks of Long-Tailed Duck.  Furthermore, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Common Guillemot, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag and Great Black-Backed Gull all flew past our viewpoint.  I then noticed a large flock of Gulls feeding out in the bay, and when I got my binoculars on them, In noticed an unexpected joy- a few Bottlenose Dolphin feeding amongst the birds!  When we got back to the car, we were greeted by a very vocal and friendly Yellowhammer!

Male Long-Tailed Duck

Singing Yellowhammer

We then made our way to Findhorn (the mouth of the river Findhorn) and Nairn, which produced Rock Pipit, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Starling, Linnet, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Kestrel, Pheasant, Blackbird, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Mute Swan.  When we stopped at one of the beaches. the dunes nearby provided us with an abundance of Hooded Crow.

Hooded Crow

We then went to Inverness and had a look around the shops, which were mainly targeted at tourists and sold everything from Scottie Dog pictures and clan names to Kilts!  We then enjoyed a pleasant drive back through the picturesque Scottish Countryside.

This evening, we had a talk by Ralph and Brenda Todd, who used to be volunteer wardens at the RSPB reserve of Loch Garten, called "Operation Osprey".  During the talk, they recalled how they used to protect the Ospreys and flush Capercaillie on the walk to work!

So, overall we have had probably some of our best birding outings and some most memorable species, including 7 bird lifers and 3 mammal lifers.  My list for Scotland, having never been before, stands at 79 birds and here is a list of them:

Mute Swan, Pink-Footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Eider, Long-Tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Red-Breasted Merganser, Goosander, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Pheasant, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Osprey, Kestrel, Peregrine, Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Turnstone, Black-Headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Great Black-Backed Gull, Guillemot, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest, Long-Tailed Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Treecreeper, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Common Crossbill, Snow Bunting, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting.

My Mammal list is as follows:
Red Deer, Roe Deer, Mountain Goat, Red Squirrel, Mountain Hare, Brown Hare and Bottlenose Dolphin.

My life list is now on 204 and we have got 3/4 British Grouse, which I'm more than happy with.  On Tuesday 7th April 2015, it was time to leave but in the morning we had one last shot at the Capercaillie, sadly to no avail, but I was pleased that the male Osprey had finally returned!  However, I suppose thats the thrill of the chase.  We've had an excellent time and hope to come back to the Grant Arms some day and if I am lucky enough to come up here again then hopefully I will be able to see even more of Scotland's natural wonders.  I think the Shetlands are on the cards!