Friday 28 February 2014

Little Gull

What a difference a day makes, gone are the panoramic vistas of mountain, moor and stream of the Cairngorms and back to earth with a bump. Today the salubrious surroundings of Brooklands Boating Lake in Lancing. However, compensation in the form of 3 Little Gulls, 2 adults and a first winter bird. One of the adults displaying a distinctly pink breast. Much photographed by local birders but difficult to capture as they are mostly on the move, anyway another year tick and some record shots.

Nice to meet Mavis and Alan again, hope they got some good photographs.



1st Winter Little Gull

Not liked by local ridibundus

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Mountain Hare and Dippers, Findhorn Valley

Day 6 and the final day of my visit. After a hearty breakfast, well where I was going I thought the extra calories would come in handy, I drove up Findhorn Valley where the weather was closing in rapidly. However, on parking by the wooden bridge I was uplifted by two events. On the high top behind me two Ravens, several Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk were squabbling above what appeared to be the carcass of a Mountain Goat. Whilst in the mouth of the burn the resident Dipper had found a possible mate and, from the noise and activity, they were on the way to being a pair. The course of true love never runs smoothly and they were joined by another male intent on spoiling the party.

Distant displaying Dippers - any chance of getting close?

I set up the camera at a discreet distance amongst the tussocks of marsh grass, donned full wet weather clothing and some added camouflage and sat down in the wet grass to wait for the action. After several hours all I had captured were some distant shots and cramp was setting in. Time for the second target of the day - Mountain Hare.

I returned to the car and shed any extraneous kit and started the ascent, the weather turned even worse, several times I took shelter behind a rock as the wind drove the hail and rain horizontally above my head, the temperature took a marked turn for the worse too. I had marked several candidates from the car park using my scope, when there is no snow these little blighters stick out like sore thumbs and are not difficult to find. Finally I located one, well actually ten of them, and they scattered, treating me to the usual view of the hare - its rear end. One of them looped round, obviously returning to what would have been the snow hole. I threw myself prostrate on the wet heather and sure enough he settled down, watching the antics of the mad photographer approaching him. Divesting myself of my bag and monopod I crawled like a commando over the wet heather until I was about 15 feet away. During my approach he twitched not a single whisker and while I snapped away he just calmly watched. In fact I had quite a conversation with him and suggested that if he pricked up his ears it would be nice, he declined, so I whistled, still no response so I bade him farewell and started down for another go at the Dippers.

I can see you.....

.... and I'm not sure.....

..... so I'm off....

.... perhaps you're not a threat after all.

Will this pose do?

How about a profile view?
A  Mountain Hare's view of the Findhorn.

A second attempt at the Dippers resulted in some "nearly" shots, conditions were terrible. However, whilst sitting in the wet grass I happened to scan the dead mountain goat position and there, in an argument with a Buzzard, was my first ever Golden Eagle, from the markings a probable three year old bird.

All this dipping creates a heavy preening load.

Nearly a shot of the "Dipper Dance"

A wild and woolly place.....

.... but majestic.
Finally it was all over, I had seen some cracking wildlife, met some wonderful people, stayed in an excellent hotel and joined a brilliant wildlife club. The next morning I headed off for the A9, just before Duthil on the A938, a flock of small birds flew over the road. For the third time I laid rubber onto Scottish tarmac and did a swift U turn, "parking" the car on the grass verge and scrabbling for my scope - sure enough in the distance a flock of more than 100 Twite - another life tick. I had searched the area on most days of the holiday as a flock of 1000 birds had been reported - smug satisfaction came over me.

The journey down to Musselburgh was uneventful except for the Pass of Drumochter in a full blizzard, a bit scary to say the least. At Musselburgh I again dipped the Surf Scoter and managed no additional ticks, just a shot of a pair of Shags.

In the words of General Douglas MacArthur  - I shall return - actually I think it's we as Liz will be with me.

Monday 24 February 2014

Crested Tits and Capercaillie, Loch Garten

Somewhere in the Cairngorms

With nothing planned for the day I spent the first hour of the morning driving round the local area, the sightings board in the hotel had reports of Capercaillie, most of which were seen from or by the road. Half way through the hour I had twice laid rubber on the road after sighting large black birds in fields adjacent to the forest. I would really support the banning of black chickens on Scottish farms. As a result of my meanderings I passed Loch Garten again and on dropping into the car park learned that Cresties were about so I set up the gear and waited. Sure enough one turned up and I captured a few more shots.

Then all hell broke loose, two birders that turned up had come across an obliging Caper and were happy to share the location. Another birder left before me and I waited a reasonable time before departing the scene. I have to admit that my heart was pumping as I made my way to the site. In fact my brain had also gone into headless chicken mode as,  when I dumped the car at the side of the road and grabbed the camera, I forgot to change my footwear and went straight into the forest bog in trainers - who cared  - this was a Caper hunt.  Sure enough there, up a tree, was a male Capercaillie tucking into a breakfast of pine needles - definitely not stressed.  One advantage of a big lens is that you can stand off a bird and not have to get too close to get frame filling pictures, consequently I felt comfortable that I wouldn't be disturbing the bird. Eventually the bird displayed signs  of being irritated by the onlookers and left the tree. There is a code of conduct for Capercaillies and I am glad that the birders present withdrew, having captured sufficient shots to record what is a magnificent bird.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Red Squirrel, Anagach Woods

Not so much birding - more "Squirreling"

Day 4, a Sunday and a planned easy day. After a leisurely breakfast I joined a band of birders led by Frank, one of the hotel guides, for a stroll through Anagach Woods. I wanted to know the location of the bird and squirrel feeders that the hotel maintains within the wood.
Sure enough as we approached two Red Squirrels were active in the area, duly noted for a subsequent visit. The wind was bending the tops of the pines and few small birds were about but several times I caught the sound of Crossbills, alas nothing visually. We carried on down to the river where we were treated to the sight of several Dippers that performed that unique activity of crash landing in midstream and disappearing underwater only to surface near the bank. The only other notable episodes on an extremely pleasant walk were a fly-by of two Goosanders and the discovery of Pine Marten pooh. Then the rain set in.

What to do next? I threw the camera gear into the car and drove towards Aviemore with no intended destination. Finally I found myself driving up to the base of the Mountain Railway on Cairngorm, on the way I passed such notables as the Dog Sled Centre and The Reindeer Centre plus a host of other tourist attractions that will be avoided on future visits.
Unfortunately the railway had been closed for four consecutive days due to high winds so a trip to the top for any Ptarmigan or Snow Buntings was not possible. I descended, noting the plethora of glum faced lycra clad individuals pining for the thrill of falling over in snow. Surely it would be better to go into Europe where there is almost guaranteed skiing conditions at a similar cost to that incurred by a trip to the Cairngorms. That would leave the ski lifts and railway available for the sole use of birders and walkers, undisturbed access to montane wildlife - bliss!

At lower altitudes the weather had cleared and in fact as I made my way back toward Grantown clear blue skies and glorious sunshine prevailed. Glad that I had packed all my camera gear, I returned to Anagach Woods and the squirrels. I had to wait some time before any action, sufficient to discover that the woods suffer mildly from the blight that affects my home county of West Sussex - uncontrolled dogs and inconsiderate dog owners.
Finally one chap/chapess turned up in brilliant sunshine and I snapped away. Capturing him/her on a branch was impossible, if squirrels move away from the feeder then they travel like greased lightning.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Great Northern Diver and Red Grouse

Return to Burghead  and Lochindorb

Day three - clear skies at last and even the wind strength had dropped a notch on the Beaufort Scale. I decided to give the Great Northern Diver at Burghead another go and of course the ducks would entertain me yet again. I parked on the quay at around 0800 and had the place to myself, in fact I never saw another birder in the time I was there, so much for the "Packham effect"

Immediately I located the diver, a juvenile bird, confidently swimming around amongst the ducks. I was a tad early as the low angled sun still had a considerable orange tinge to it. However, it was a carefree day, I hadn't got to make any deadlines so I could wait for better light. The battle between the Eiders and larger gulls was on-going, the possession of every crab hotly contested.

Other birds had moved in, a Shag was fishing next to the metal piling of the outer arm of the harbour, Red-breasted Mergansers ghosted in and out and I was serenaded by a Rock Pipit that landed on one of the trawlers close by.

This time, with better conditions, I stood on the quay using the 500mm lens on the tripod and the 400mm hand held to try for any flight shots that came my way.

First the GND

Not forgetting the usual residents.

With the memory cards containing more duck shots than I could ever process I took my leave of Burghead in a happy mood. I decided to search Forres for the reported Waxwings but I have a suspicion that they had moved on some time before I arrived.

Just before Grantown-on-Spey I turned onto the Lochindorb road in search of Red Grouse at close range. With the wind strength much abated the birds were happy to come out and pose

Finally a visit to the Heather Centre where they have feeders for the local Red Squirrels, only one chap in residence but at least a couple of photos.