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Speyside , The Cairngorms And The Moray Coast .

13TH TO 20TH OCTOBER 2018

Although this was the eighth visit to the Grant Arms in Grantown on Spey it felt somewhat different with a first foray into guiding Greenspaces clients whereas it had always been for hotel guests previously . A couple of days reconnaissance ahead of guests arriving proved invaluable . The omens were not good with the funicular rail on Cairngorm being closed indefinitely due to structural issues so that piece of news already had an influence on the proceedings.

So embarking on one of my favourite walks through Anagach Woods brought the usual suspects of Coal Tit, Chaffinch and Red Squirrel at the hotel feeders. Down on the river Spey several Goosanders, a couple of Goldeneye and half an hour spent watching a pair of Dippers flitting from rock to rock. The winter thrushes were already in, with Fieldfare and Redwing in good numbers . A couple of bonus Red Kites over Cromdale proved to be quite a find.

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Day Two brought great views of an Otter close to Kessock Bridge with several species of wader and Gulls in attendance. Continuing along the Moray coast to Findhorn Bay gave great views of Golden Plover , Bar Tailed Godwits, Curlew etc at their high tide roost not helped by some numpty out on the tide line trying to get some photos but only succeeding in scaring the birds further down the bay. 

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The best was yet to come with over a thousand Gannets diving into the sea just a few yards off the sea wall at the entrance to the bay , a real natural spectacle although it was interesting to note it was all adults and juveniles possibly making their way down from Shetland. Further highlights of the day were 1200 Eider both male and females in equal numbers forming a huge raft , the resident King Eider drake was found in amongst them. 

Further gannets and a smattering of waders were seen . The day ended on an incredible high as the recently arrived Whooper Swans came in to roost at dusk at RSPB Loch Spynie eventually building up to close to 200 individuals. The Saturday started with , centered on and closed with rain still it was best to get it out of the way now. So to tour day one on Sunday with wall to wall sunshine, over on to the Black Isle via the Kessock bridge where the Otter put in an appearance , Munlochy bay , Avoch , Chanonry Point , RSPB Udale Bay and Jemimaville . Many highlights were, soaring Buzzards, Red Kites and a Sparrowhawk. Huge skeins of Pink Footed Geese, over 200 Scaup close in on the Cromaty Firth and huge numbers of many varieties of wader at the high tide roost.
Monday just had to be a raptor day with high cloud , gentle breeze and Strathdearn beckoning . The day started well with several Buzzards some being mobbed by the local Ravens , a lazy loping Red kite came over and it was then up into an adjacent valley to see our first Golden Eagle of the day .Great to have views down onto it as it cruised the valley below us on those fingered wings . Further down Strathdearn another three Goldies came into view one a juvenile was particularly low , further Red Kites , Buzzards were seen but the best was yet to come ,whilst watching the Red Deer rutting on the hillside. Suddenly a rather large speck came into view and then another then flying close together and eventually talon grappling we had our first White Tailed Sea Eagles of the trip just incredible ! On the way back yet more Roe Deer seen on woodland fringes as dusk approached.
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Another beautiful Autumn day beckoned us from our slumber and after a hearty breakfast Loch Spynie was to be our first destination , wildfowl were in abundance with a few of the now resident Whooper swans still on the loch . At the nearby feeders just outside the hide, highlights were Tree creeper , Great Spotted Woodpecker and Greenfinch . But quite an amazing sight was in store as we walked back to the car with four species of thrush feeding on the berries in a Rowan tree at the same time – ( Blackbird, Song Thrush , Fieldfare and Redwing. ) incredible numbers of farmland birds were seen here with sizeable flocks of yellowhammer , Linnet and Goldfinch.

Onwards to Lossiemouth where the highlight was a Red Breasted Merganser in the harbour with many Guillemots now in winter plumage just beyond the sea wall. Then we noticed a flock of some 30 to 40 Greenfinches feeding on the heads of Rosa rugosa hips , a plant to note for the wildlife garden. Onwards to Hopeman where the Eiders were still in attendance but somewhat further out than on my previous visit. On the beach just below were several Rock Pipits , Ringed Plovers and a cracking Bar Tailed Godwit. A little further up the coast at Burghead our first Turnstone was seen along with many Gannets and a smattering of Grey seals. Finishing off at Findhorn close up views of Male and Female Stonechat were only surpassed by the sight of hundreds of Gannets diving just offshore – Gannet heaven ! The odd Red Throated Diver and Long Tailed Duck flew by . 
High tide at Findhorn bay brought many waders but a flock of about 40 Pintail were the main attraction.
On the morning of the fourth day a walk with the information officer from RSPB Loch Garten was undertaken , this was incredibly informative with an insight into the current and future management of this part of Abernethy forest and the connected areas . We had seen our first Crested Tits of the trip with the help of a little sample of sunflower hearts put out on the ground. Following on from this a drive up to Cairngorm base station gave us great views over the surrounding area . A mix of places on our homeward journey gave us views of 600 + Greylag on a field .
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Our fifth day would always prove to be a challenge with three activities being undertaken, but with some down time in between each and it was not compulsory to go on all of them. The morning started with a drive of 30 minutes to see a Black Grouse lekking site , it was great with the action taking place some 600 metres from a roadside pull in which kept disturbance to a minimum. 

Seven males were seen and although it wasn’t the breeding season some good displays were observed. Then onwards to Lochindorb to get really good views of Red Grouse and our first Kestrel of the tour. An afternoon walk down to the river Spey brought Dipper , 11 Goosanders and 70 siskins being harassed by a Sparrowhawk. An evening stint at a local specialist wildlife hide gave wonderful views of two very individual Pine Martens and a rather bemused Roe Deer at close quarters. Red deer were also heard rutting very close by.

For the final day of the Greenspaces tour , the private loch at Avielochan was visited a couple of Whoopers had recently dropped in . The real find were a couple of Brambling mixed in with the Chaffinches and also our first Wren and Dunnock of the trip. A hot coffee at the café/ art gallery prior to a visit to the Cairngorm Reindeer centre to learn all about these rather unique creatures which were introduced as a free ranging , roaming flock in this area in 1952. Driving to Loch Insh via Glen Feshie gave views of several species but sadly not the Hen Harrier we were hoping for . So a final evening Dinner with a fun quiz followed with challenging questions such as – How many times did the Kettle get boiled during the week to fill the flask ?

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So it was time to say goodbye to tour participants on the Saturday morning and then take some holiday guests to Strathdearn in what was rather dull but windy conditions. Not to be outdone a couple of Peregrines were loving these conditions, a Goldie being mobbed by a Raven, the feral goats and top of the pile were the sightings of Salmon spawning in the river .

So the Sunday was departure day calling into RSPB Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross, massive numbers of waterfowl with the resident Peregrine having a real taste for Teal who seemed to be having a real hard time of it . Onwards to Musselburgh to catch the high tide , wonderful light and the amazing birds , five Slavonian grebes in the scope together , Common , Velvet and Surf Scoter just off shore, thousands of waders on the lagoons in superb light all as part of a bracing walk in the company of some local birders.

The following half day prior to coming home was spent at the Scottish Ornithologists HQ, Aberlady Bay and the Scottish Seabird centre at North Berwick. It was with a heavy heart that I crossed back into England to come home. Scotland never ceases to amaze me with this occasion being one of the best. Incredible scenery , a welcoming hotel , good food , great company , settled weather and amazing wildlife makes for a great combination.

The final tally for the tour was 88 species of bird with some notable omissions with 105 being seen throughout the entire trip . Next years dates are already in the diary that will certainly have something to live up to if this one is used as a yardstick.