One can never have too much of Scotland whatever the season, so setting off with much anticipation of seeing snow on ‘them thar’ hills this was to be a reconnaissance trip for forthcoming Greenspaces tours.
Calling at Insh Marshes on the way up gave loads of waterfowl , mainly the dabblers of Mallard, Teal and a couple of Shoveler. It was clear that there was to be very little snow on the mountain tops and it had been wet rather than cold.
Saturday turned into Sunday with light snow forecast armed with camera, cushion, birdseed and a flask, Loch Garten was to be the venue. It was to be fairly quiet as work on the revamped Nature Centre had stopped for the weekend. Great views of Cresties, Red Squirrels, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Treecreeper, and a host of other species were had with some even getting their photographs taken as the light snow got heavier. Heading to Avielochan , putting some feed out in the now heavier snow it soon attracted a host of Tits and Chaffinches with a couple of dashes from the resident Sparrowhawk being made through the area. The constantly changing light on the hills due to the snow showers coming and going was something to be admired and enjoyed. A Short walk from Grantown later in the day showed the River Spey up and above its normal levels giving no chance of seeing the resident Dippers.
With the following day being inclement it was a rest day and also it was the evening of my Seabird Cities talk at the hotel, so a little final prep was needed for that one.
A drive up to the Morayshire coast gave a great selection of winter waders and several species of seaducks – Common and Velvet Scoters with Eiders and the wonderfully plumaged Long Tailed Ducks being seen at close quarters in the harbour at Burghead.
As Tuesday became Wednesday, Findhorn Bay was visited just after hightide with Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Knot Oystercatchers, 200+ Pintail and a single Pink Footed Goose which had clearly suffered an injury to its leg, possibly from shooting. I would have liked to have recovered the bird but to get it to a rescue centre but it was too much of a risk on the shifting sands.
Around the corner on to Findhorn Dunes, odd flypasts with various waders, with cormorants and shags on the sea and up to 50 Long TailedDucks. The spit at the mouth of the Spey had both Common and Grey Seals on an exposed sandbar. A pair of Stonechats in the twigs in the dunes brightened up the birding further. Heading into Findhorn village a new café was discovered being very community based with organic veg, a bakery and incredible cakes but a real buzz from the people in there. Moving on to Nairn and making our way to the harbour it was well worth the effort even in the now strengthening winds. A stunning male Gooseander, a large raft of Scaup, hundreds of Long Tailed ducks, more Common Scoters and on the rocks and beach 60+ Bar -Tailed Godwits, Turnstones and a couple of Purple Sandpipers. A visit later in the day to Fort George allowed a viewing of an exhibition Scotland from the air, it was just brilliant particularly the photo of the old Singer sewing machine works on the Clyde which employed 19,000 people in its heyday.
On to Thursday and we took a group of guests from the hotel to Loch Garten a couple of which were keen photographers and they managed to get some good photos of the differing bird species although the Squirrels were a little elusive.
So on to the afternoon after stopping to take lunch at Tomintoul we went out with David a local guide on to the Glenlivet estate to see Mountain Hares. After traversing the hillsides and looking for signs we managed to see a few but without putting them under undue pressure. It is just so sad to see them in their winter white when there is and has been very little snow this winter.
A stunning male Gooseander, a large raft of Scaup, hundreds of Long Tailed ducks, more Common Scoters and on the rocks and beach 60+ Bar -Tailed Godwits, Turnstones and a couple of Purple Sandpipers.
Who knows with climate change will there be an evolution towards a different pelage in the future. It was great to see several Brown Hares and rabbits in this area of the Ladder Hills thus completing our British lagomorph (Hares and Rabbits) list for the day. David was also an astronomer of the highest order and had help set up and get special status for the Glenlivet Estate as a Dark Skies Park as well as being an astronomical photographer of the some repute judging by his images. Getting back in good time to the hotel it was to be my second talk of the week about the Somerset Levels and all of its unique habitats and wildlife through the seasons.
The final day was spent on the Black Isle with Udale bay at high tide being spectacular with 300+ Curlew, 200 + Bar Tails, 800+ Redshank, Dulin, Knot, Red Breasted Mergansers, Wigeon, Teal and an unusual record of a Little Egret which is not a common bird up in this part of Britain. Noticing a group of 300+ Pink Footed Geese, I managed to get behind the church wall without disturbing them in order to get a little closer to get a few shots of them feeding on a stubble field, it was just great to see them this close and see all of their interactions with one another