Speyside and the Cairngorms 

Week Two 29/10 to 5/11 2023

Tour Report

As we said goodbye to one lot of guests who had now become friends, we had a break before meeting a new group, taking time to suss out any new birding arrivals and changes to the local scenery.

 The highlight of our break between guest groups had to be the late afternoon at Loch Spynie which was a totally immersive sight and sound experience. With literally thousands of Pink Foots wink-winking over our heads, almost 200 bugling Whooper Swans coming into roost on the loch followed by some late following Pinkies, all in a burnished brass sunset, it really was one of our best ever moments in Scotland and was recorded on video.

After the customary meet and greet followed by dinner we set off the following day in anticipation towards the Black Isle, sadly no otters under Kessock Bridge but two twirling Red Kites near Munlochy gave our birding an early boost. With the tide out a visit to Cromarty with a bit of local history and folklore was thrown in. After lunch and some birding we made our way toward Jemimaville in anticipation of observing what would be a new specie for all members of our party. How wrong this would prove to be, as we pulled into the carpark, we were not only greeted with a camper van but a rather buxom young lady swimming in the water taking selfies with Invergordon and a host of oil rigs as the backdrop, as this was taking place her partner was barely visible behind a cloud of smoke from his Vape stick. It was a very surreal moment and within our group she was ennobled with the title of the Scaup scarer of Jemimaville, we really could not stop laughing about it for a very long time afterwards. I will add we did manage to see Scaup and Slavonian Grebe just a little further out than had been anticipated.


All the anticipated species at Udale Bay were seen, with a final list of 50 species being recorded for the day.
On our second day a slow drive around Lochindorb brought the anticipated Red Grouse sightings and also great views of a couple of red squirrels in the plantation. Moving on from there Strathdearn was to be our destination, stopping at various points along the Strath observing whatever came into view. At a stop where the side burn flows in, close to the end of the Glenmazeran estate, we had great views of spawning salmon with their dorsal and adipose fins projecting through the water’s surface, a flyby Dipper and a couple of low level Red Deer stags gave our day more interest, but the best was yet to come! 

About halfway down the Strath where it is intersected by a narrow valley from the South, a quick solo observation was made, the cry Sea Eagle went up asking everyone to stay in the van we drove further down the strath so we could observe this leviathan of a bird coming towards us. Once we all got out of our vehicle, spectacular views of this beauty not from below but from above, with its massive beak and lillywhite tail. It was following the river clearly in pursuit of any Salmon that may have dropped their guard whilst in their spawning frenzy. As we observed the bird for many minutes before it rose up the hillside to give us one last hurrah as it sailed over the tops, it was clear from the comments and smiling faces that this had been a special moment for all of us.

Further down the strath we had a walk whilst it was evident that many groups of Redwings were passing overhead having recently arrived from Scandinavia.

The following day saw the group connect with the first Cresties of the trip as we had a local day taking in Loch Garten and Dell woods where a vast array of fungi was seen.


The forecast for the following day was truly awful with Spey Dam as our destination, after a 30-mile detour via Dalwhinnie due to road closures, the destination did not disappoint with Fallow deer in the enclosures but what proved to be spectacular numbers of Red Deer throughout the glen, if anything the awful weather and the scenery made our observations more realistic. It was certainly not weather to be spent standing outside taking photographs. 

In the evening after a Fish and Chip supper with the rain dying away, it was a great session in the hide, observing ten of the eleven badgers with the male Pine Marten coming in a little later. As he departed, he scent marked the perches and along the lower boards, our excellent guide Wayne remarked that he had never seen this behaviour before, it probably was done to either deter other males or to let the local female know it was him, with the possibility that they may have already formed a pairing.  

.A visit to the Grantown museum proved to be a hit on our wallets as Elaine bought a framed Chris Rose print and I ordered a Justin Prigmore print of otters, both will be valuable additions to our walls.
Our penultimate day around Spey bay and Lossiemouth was a list busting day with a grand total of 64 species being seen over a variety of differing habitats, the weather was glorious after the depressing low cloud of the previous one. We had some of what I refer to as bonus birds, ones that you would never actually set out to see but they just happen during your day. On this occasion a Grey wagtail in Lossiemouth harbour, a Woodcock and a Kingfisher at Loch Spynie, it is these that turn a great day into a sublime one. 

So sadly it came to our final day to be spent in and around Burghead, where a great mix of waders on the rocks, plenty of Eiders and a couple of divers on the sea. A pop back into Findhorn Bay revealed 500 plus Pintail which are duck elegance personified with Golden Plover twinkling in warm autumnal sun it was great to be there without any rain.
A final couple of hours at Strathdearn still didn’t give us a result in our quest for a Golden Eagle sighting but we did see a range of other raptors, with over 20 Red Kites forming an aerial pre roost gathering as we exited the strath.
Our most interesting sighting of the day was actually human not bird orientated, as we looked up the strath from the bottom carpark, we observed a group of kilt clad people walking towards us. As they got closer there were about 20 of them, it transpired they were a Belgian walking group having their kilts made back home. We showed them Red Deer and Feral Goats in the telescope, we had a conversation in English and some French but the final remark came from them – ‘ You English you are so foolish with the Brexit ‘ If someone had said at the beginning of the day which do you think you are more likely to see today, a Capercaillie or a group of kilt wearing Belgians I think I would have gone for the Capper sighting.

After showering and dinner our fun quiz was won outright with no need for a tie break for a change.

Again, a great group with the group dynamics set very early in the week, we had some great sightings accompanied with a lorra laughs as Cilla Black would say. The autumn colour had certainly faded as October passed but a grand total of 94 species were seen at a leisurely pace, after all it is always about the watching not the listing.   

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