Eagles, Divers and Dotterel, including Mull

Scotland  ~ Saturday 21st July 2012 - Saturday 28th July 2012 ~

Hello everyone, I must apologise for taking so long to write this but I hope you enjoy the following post about my first ever trip to the awesome country of Scotland; a huge thanks to Heatherlea Birdwatching Holidays (http://www.heatherlea.co.uk/). I will be adding photographs shortly...

Day 1 (Saturday 21st) :

Having finished packing all my camera gear the night before, I was worried that I would miss a photographic opportunity either, in the garden before we departed, on the way to the train station, or once on the train. I needn't have worried as no such opportunities arose!!

We boarded the train from Kings Cross to Aviemore at about 12 and started our seven and a half hour journey. It was a very boring experience but we did manage to see Hares and an Osprey near the end of our train journey. We arrived at Aviemore train station at about 19.30 and were met by our guide for the week, Phil. We also met a very nice couple who we were to spend the week with, funnily enough they were from my neck of the woods too!

My first impressions were very good and that was only the start of what was to come. We had a very nice dinner and retreated to bed, exhausted but excited about our week ahead.

Day 2 (Sunday 22nd) :

Waking at a very respectable 7.30, we had breakfast and met the other 4 members of our group. At about 8.45 we headed out in the minibus for what we hoped would be a jam-packed day of birding.

Our first destination of the day was Forest Lodge in Abernethy Forest where we saw a Red Squirrel and I found a few beautiful Capercaillie feathers. It was a very nice walk with spectacular views and our first taste of Scottish wildlife.

We ate lunch at Dalnahaitnach where we were rewarded with views of Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, Crested Tit and 1 member of our group had an unexpected encounter with a hen Capper.

A nice bird to encounter while having lunch; a Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis).
Record shot of my first ever Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus).

After lunch we headed to a private estate where we hoped to catch a glimpse of an elusive Capper. We had no such luck, however we did see Parrot Crossbills and a large flock of Mistle Thrushes.

After having tea at the Slochd, we finished our day at an increasingly windy Dorback and Dirdhu looking for raptors, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful.

Day 3 (Monday 23rd) : 

An early start meant that we left Nethybridge at about 07.00 and made good time in getting down to the Corran Ferry at 09.15. We caught the Corran Ferry over to Ardgour where we saw Black Guillemots and an Eider. 

Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle)
A poor record shot of the Eider (Somateria mollissima).

We then went straight across Morven, catching the 10.25 ferry from Lochaline to Fishnish. On the way over we saw Razorbill with chicks and a distant Manx Shearwater was a very unexpected bonus.

Razorbill (Alca torda) with a chick.
Another poor record shot. This time of a Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus).

Once we got to Mull we took tea, seeing our first Arctic Terns and Gannet of the trip. 

Our first Gannet (Morus bassanus) of the trip.

We then headed on to Loch Scridain and through the rain we went, stopping at Glen Sinisa to locate the White-tailed Eagles near their nest. With persistent rain, we took lunch in the bus, and moved on to north Mull and Loch na Keal as the cloud lifted on schedule.

Yet another awful record shot; a White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) for you now.
Some cracking raptors now began to show, and after stopping again at the White-tails, we went in search of Golden Eagles, with a welcome distraction of an obliging Short-eared Owl in Glen More. 
The fairly obliging Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus).
At the head of Glen Frisa we had not even got out of the bus before I picked up distant eagles, our first Goldies, and a displaying male to boot! His mate soon joined him for parallel flying. After taking tea with the midges and seeing the second Pipit of the trip, this time a Meadow Pipit, we moved on and made for our hotel at Craignure. 

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis).

We took a lovely evening drive up to and past Salen, with lovely Red Deer views had by all.

Day 4 (Tuesday 24th) : 

The rain had passed, and we now targeted Divers and Otters, and stopped at Loch Spelve, Loch Uisg and Cloggan on south-east Mull. It was a quiet morning, but was made up for by an adult Sea Eagle at Fishnish on our departure, a Porpoise on the crossing, and Golden Eagles at our lunch spot in the Black Glen (once again spotted by me). We were lucky too, as we were caught the last ferry across before it broke down for the rest of the day! 

In the Black Glen other encounters consisted of a Raven and Redpoll. Back to Ardgour we went, before heading back north-east through Fort William and Spean Bridge.

Our final stop was for tea at Creag Meagaidh NNR car park, where we had good Lesser Redpoll views in the alders and found a few feeders which had attracted Siskin and finches.

Siskin (Carduelis spinus).

The journey home was made a little more exciting with our first Osprey over the A9 near Aviemore.

When we got back to Nethy, I was exhausted an almost collapsed into bed before making my way downstairs for another heart warming and delicious dinner.

Day 5 (Wednesday 25th) :

Mountain day. With super conditions we set out from the Cairngorm car park. With a brief interlude for ‘temperature readjustment’ we made very good progress up the hill.

We were concerned with the lack of the sightings on the way up, with only Meadow Pipit on our list. However, once on the plateau it pepped up, and one member of of our group picked up 2 Dotterel on a surprisingly steep slope.

With lunch overlooking Braeriach and the Lairig Ghru we headed up onto Cairn Lochan, changing our route having found our first Ptarmigan. With great care we enjoyed stunning views without disturbing the hen bird at all.

A very obliging Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus).

On the top we did not see any more Dotterel, but did see another hen Ptarmigan with her large brood. The only raptors we saw during the day were Kestrel and Peregrine. We also saw Reindeer over on Ben Macdui, with one cooling off on the snow bed.

We headed down happy with our sightings and efforts, and went straight back to Nethy.

After dinner, some of our group made a trip up to Dorback and Dirdhu on an owl hunt. Red Grouse, Roe Deer and several convincing fence posts were enjoyed on our hour long trip.

Day 6 (Thursday 26th) :

Troup Head was our target today, a long way away in Aberdeenshire. Our journey through Aberlour and Keith on the A95 was quiet, and was well broken by an entertaining loo stop at Banff. The 20p charge and a very unhelpful lady meant that we ended up paying more than we should have done for the whole of our group to use the loos! 

We then carried on to Troup, and took the short walk out to the seabird colony, invisible, inaudible and unsmellable on our approach with an off-shore wind! What a pleasant surprise on our first look over the edge. As well as numerous Gannets, there were Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Kittiwakes and a few Grey Seal. It was a magical experience for everyone and the weather was lovely! 

Gannet (Morus bassanus).

We then lunched at the car park, and made our way to Pennan Bay for a stop with Yellowhammer, Ringed Plover and more Kittiwakes. It was here that I found the remains of a juvenile Kittiwake. 

Next we moved down the steep and windy slopes to Pennan village; a beautiful fishing village.Here we found a real rarity, cliff nesting House Martins. A beautiful young male Kestrel also showed well in the scope. I found another dead bird, this time a Guillemot.

Heading inland to New Pitsligo, it was too windy for farmland birds alas, so we finished the day at Whitehills on the coast, with seals and some of our group saw Sandwich Terns (not me unfortunately). A brief stop at Keith on the way home for a loo stop ended our superb day.

Day 7 (Friday 27th) :

Our final day was a local round-up, trying to pin down the elusive species of the week. We started at a blustery Lochindorb, picking up covey after covey of Red Grouse.

A distant Osprey teased us, but Lapwing and Oystercatcher were much more obliging. Round the corner we went in hope of the Black-throated Divers, and thankfully a member of our group spotted them on the far shore. In the windy conditions we got distant, shaky views, but thankfully over the next 40 minutes views and conditions improved, with a particular highlight being a flying attempt by the fully grown chick, ending after 200 yards with a somersault and big splash! 

With coffee at Carrbridge, we headed down the A9 to Loch Ruthven, an RSPB reserve for Slavonian Grebe. Here the conditions were near gale force, and the views abysmal  but they were views! With lunch at the car park, our patience was rewarded. No sooner had the Osprey been located, it hovered, and almost instantly plummeted and caught a large brown trout! In such conditions it was remarkable!

We returned to Carrbridge and stopped at Loch Vaa, in quiet, windfree sunshine. As we arrived, a Spanish couple were quite animated, and it was clear that a Red-throated Diver was on the loch as hoped. It sat up in glorious light for the duration of our stay, and was a stunning bird in a stunning location and capped the week off beautifully.

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) with a fish jumping out of the water behind it.

With an unsuccessful stop at Craiglellachie NNR, we ended the day at Loch Garten RSPB with the Osprey chicks, woodpeckers and Siskins. We heard distant Crossbills on the wind at Tore Hill on the way home, but we didn't see any.

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major).

Day 8 (Saturday 28th) :

We finished packing up all our gear before eating a hearty breakfast. We then said all our goodbyes, tears included. Then our guide dropped us back at Aviemore Station where we waited patiently for the train back to Kings Cross.

Our team photo.

I had an amazing unforgettable week so a massive thank you to everyone at Heatherlea, especially our guide Phil, for making the week so great!!! I am already planning my next visit and would highly recommend Heatherlea for their excellent hotel and its location, the highly knowledgeable team of guides, and the wonderful staff who man the hotel.

Their website can be found here: http://www.heatherlea.co.uk/

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