Saturday, 1 November 2014

Birding Scotland (again!)

No doubt the words of my eight readers - What - Scotland again?? Well actually it was a birthday present from Liz. We have been married for forty something years and the days of gift wrapped surprises have passed. Now it is a pragmatic "What would you like for your birthday?"  Well it means that you get what you want or need. So, having some unfinished business  with a certain duck that resides at the mouth of the River Esk at Musselburgh, and an overwhelming desire to travel the "Wee Mad Road" to sample the pies from the Lochinver Larder, I asked for a couple of weeks in Scotland.

Getting the nod from Liz, I spent some considerable time on the internet searching for somewhere that would provide an ideal base for birding in both the Cairngorms and on the Moray and Nairn coast. I had narrowed it down to a short list of two. Finally I (we) decided we should stay at Lochan Lodge on the Balnafettach Estate just east of Cromdale. It transpired that by fortuitous happenstance we had found a gem, giving us exactly what we wanted, lots of room, great scenery and cracking wildlife. If you need somewhere for an outdoor activity holiday in the Highlands then this is ideal - have a look at Bill and Steph's website Lochan Lodge This is a working farm with lots of highland cattle, really friendly docile beasts and the youngsters are definitely photogenic. The Jacob's sheep are less obliging, just turning their backs and walking away.

This was our base for two weeks birding, unfortunately as we set off north, someone called Gonzalo and several of his minor relatives intervened, pounding the west coast with continuous gales and rainfall of truly diluvean and Biblical proportions. "Never mind", I kept telling myself, "Nobody goes to Scotland for the weather".  So we made the best of it, no fixed plan, we just watched the weather forecast and went where it wasn't too bad. Landslips, floods, closed roads and bridges meant the west was not an option. Sadly no pie from the famous pie shop, meant to be consumed on a beach near Lochinver whilst scanning the horizon for a White-tailed Eagle. So we made forays to the Black Isle, taking in Udale Bay, Cromarty and Fortrose. One afternoon we parked at Chanonry Point, the wind was so strong that I could hardly open the car door, never mind setting the scope up to view the sea which was a cauldron of white foam.

We persevered, making visits to Nairn, Burghead, Roseisle, Lossiemouth and Findhorn Bay for waders and wildfowl. Loch Garten, Lochindorb and the Inshriach Forest kept us entertained with the inland species. With the weather so dreich, photography was almost a waste of time. As the Urban Dictionary says "The kind of weather which makes you miserable: dull, grey and wet. If it rains hard and water runs down your neck it's dreich".
However, in the end, we were rewarded with American Wigeon, Surf Scoter, King Eider and Red-necked Grebe as "lifers" and it was good to catch up with Pomarine Skua and oddly enough, Woodcock, which was a notable absentee from the year list.

On the farm we had Buzzards, Kestrel, Merlin and a possible Peregrine, plus a host of "usual suspects".  One morning we had both Dipper and Grey Wagtail visiting the lochan, probably because the heavy rainfall had swollen the burns and usual perches were under water.

Superb scenery and some great walks - all to yourself!

The hardy inhabitants of Balnafettach





....and friendly.

A rarity - Jacob's Sheep willing to pose for the camera.

Most days we were entertained by "Sid the Stoat",  making those mad acrobatic dashes about the lawn - impossible to photograph.

 All too soon it was over, time to travel home, with an overnight stop in Northumberland, then a leisurely journey south on the Sunday. There had been reports of record numbers of Pink-footed Geese on Montrose Basin, counts of 79,000 meant that there was a spectacle worth seeing. So we modified our route and journeyed down the east coast via Aberdeen and Stonehaven. Lots of places familiar to us, as for ten years we spent our holidays at St. Cyrus. Superb fishing on the North and South Esk, early September when the nets were removed from the beaches and anticipation of the first spate. We had a picnic lunch at the Bridge of Dun, just up river from the basin. Lots of happy memories of fishing for Finnock on the Montrose Angling Club stretch, coming off the water in the darkness and the friendliness of the locals to a visiting "foreigner". As for the Pink Foots - not a single one to be found - probably all on the Wash by now!

The Old Bakery, St. Cyrus - our holiday base in the 1970s - no TV then so we played endless hands of canasta late into the night.

Bridge of Dun, River South Esk - looking towards the basin.

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