Sunday 29 March 2015

Alpine Swift

This is really posted for posterity and to record the fact we actually saw the bird. All through the day I  had been watching the tweets about the Alpine Swift in Crawley,  how it had been seen late the previous evening and the fact that it had roosted on the Virgin Atlantic building on Manor Royal. So when the phone rang, late in the afternoon, and Martin enquired whether I wished to go, then it took just a few seconds to be ready.

When we arrived there was the usual assembly of birders, mostly glum looking and none really searching the skies. " Last seen just after mid-day" was the greeting. We joined the happy throng, more optimistic than most as we had our binoculars out and on occasion searched the sky. It looked as though it was another of those twitches where we "Should have been here yesterday". Gradually they dissipated, melting away in ones and two until, finally, we were the last. What there had been of the sun was dipping behind the office blocks and a chill wind was blowing down Faraday Road. To the north dark grey rain clouds were gathering. One little voice on my left shoulder said "Keep going - you never know" on the right it was saying " Give up- dipped again". Martin moved the car and we sat in somewhat warmer surroundings keeping a watch to the west.  A Blackbird flew through our vision - the pulse quickened momentarily, then a very obvious Swift in the distance. Out of the car! Yes there it was flying over the Virgin Atlantic block, round the block over the car parks - got it!!

The "in flight" records provided by the camera are pretty poor, but finally it went to roost in the darkened eaves of the north east corner of the building. Setting the ISO to the "stupid position" I managed to get one shot nearly in focus. Who cares - a life tick for both of us.


Is this how "twitching" develops - driving long distances, constant monitoring of Twitter, compulsive searching Rare Bird Alert? Joining lots of other people huddled against the weather in the hope of seeing something unusual? What a contrast to our Scottish birding adventure.

Saturday 14 March 2015


Day 9 Fowlsheugh

It is not often that we get a whole RSPB reserve to ourselves - but today we did!

As we were again breaking the journey into two stages we decided to do some birding on the way to our overnight stay. Martin suggested a visit to RSPB Fowlsheugh near Stonehaven, a venue he has previously visited. We didn't think much would be on the cliffs yet, but we thought that Fulmar and Kittiwake might be on the cards. How wrong can you be, mid March and the nesting ledges were already covered in Auks. Not only that, out on the sea, great rafts of them all preparing for the forthcoming mating season. Razorbills had already started displaying and bonding and the Guillemots were not far behind.

Just a vertical cliff of conglomerate and sandstone with sparse volcanic rocks (The Old Red Sandstone) jutting out into the sea - take a closer look.

The reserve is the narrow path following the cliff - mind the edge.




A few Fulmars in residence.






Friday 13 March 2015


Day 8 Cairn Gorm

With the weathermen predicting wall to wall sunshine and virtually no wind, today was the day for a Ptarmigan hunt. We arrived at the car park just after 0800 and already it was becoming busy. The recent weather had deprived many of their mountain pastimes and today everyone was making up for it. Martin enquired after Ptarmigan at the ranger station and was told that none were up on the viewing station, better to walk up to the snow line on another path. So off we went, just taking it easy as there was plenty of ice on the path.

That there were lots of Red Grouse about was obvious from their constant calling, of Ptarmigan nothing, until we reached the snow. We sat on some rocks allowing the noisy and vociferous camel train of climbers to go past. Then, in the distance I saw and heard a male bird, the screwdriver call plain to hear. Birds were hard to find so we split up, Martin continued up the path, I gingerly crossed a large expanse of icy snow, heading for a ridge where we intended to meet up. As I got about 200 yards away a male called - right back where I had started out, not only that, it was yards from some climbers and Martin had his camera out. I can only say that the journey back across the ice was a darn sight quicker. I finally arrived and managed to get the camera out - six frames and the bird flew.

Martin is on a bird and I am miles away!

He's got his camera out

Made it!
 We had sightings of other birds flying around, none close. Finally, as we had crossed more ice, a pair of birds walked towards us and provided some really good, but not close views.


Rather than chase any more birds we sat and had lunch amidst some stunning scenery, after which we made our way gently down.

A well deserved rest amidst superb surroundings.


Great weather at last.

In the afternoon we made another visit to Loch Garten just in case the Cresties were playing, unfortunately I managed only a couple of shots. In the car park a familiar figure - David Gardiner, really nice to catch up with him. Not only that, we were staying in the same hotel so that evening we had a drink and dined together. Hope he got some really good photos during his stay.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Golden Eagles

Day 7 Findhorn Valley and the Moray Firth

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear - as my old Granny used to say. So no apologies for what follows, in photographic terms they are a disaster but these images represent the best two hours birding I have enjoyed in a long time.

The Golden Eagle is probably Scotland's most iconic bird and no birding trip is complete without at least a try to locate one. Boy, were we lucky, the weather window was small, the forecast for later in the day was continuous rain. As we arrived in the Findhorn Valley it was still dry and scanning the tops we located a pair of Ravens and then a larger bird, try as we might we couldn't get a positive ID, on reflection it was probably an eagle but at the time it just wasn't right. Who sees an eagle within five minutes of arrival?

Then high on a crest a much more encouraging sign, a large raptor carrying a sizeable chunk of carrion. Yup a Golden Eagle - a long way up but a definite sighting.  Then there were two and for a couple of hours they popped up and entertained us royally. Oh that the conditions had been better, just a small amount of sunshine would have helped - but that is how it was and it just means that we shall have to return another day.

First sighting - a long way off.

Confirmed ID - first winter bird?

Then there were two!!

Upside down.


A very heavy crop!!!

After the excitement we journeyed down to Inverness by way of the Farr road and spent some time at Alturlie Point where a flock of nearly 40 Scaup loafed offshore. Travelling further along the coast gave very little but at last we started to see Pink-footed Geese in larger numbers.