Wednesday, 15 May 2013


I have just returned from a walking trip to the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland with a group of friends. Fortunately they are all Munro baggers and so under the pretext of not wanting to slow them down I was able to opt out of the longer walks and do a bit of bird watching.

The journey up there stopping off at Martin Mere and Leighton Moss was a little disappointing. There were plenty of birds around but nothing very interesting and all too distant for a decent photograph. The highlights were a Little Ringed Plover and a Ruff that was showing the start of its summer plumage.

The first days walking was also a bit of a failure. I had done my research and set off through Glen Muick in search of  Capercaillie and Black Grouse. It was a nice walk but by the end of the day I had seen a Jay, Common Sandpiper, Common Gulls, Willow Warbler,  Wheatear, and a couple of Chaffinches. A disappointing day even if I was birding from home. To add insult to injury that evening my friends were happy to tell me all about the birds they had seen on their way over Lochnagar. I think we eventually decided these had been Red Grouse and Red-legged Partridge.

Stung into action I was out by four thirty the next morning and off along the Tomintoul Road to check out a possible Black Grouse Lek site. No luck again but I did at least close the gap on them by finding Red-legged Partridge and Red Grouse.

Red Grouse

Superb camouflage - you only see them when they come out to take a look at you.

Red-legged Partridge

The three pictures above demonstrate the vagaries of using high ISO speeds in low light. It was a dull wet morning with dawn just breaking and these pictures are hand held on the car window using a 700mm lens, ISO 1600, F8, and low shutter speeds. The first picture is at 1/80sec and has come out well, the second also at 1/80sec is just about acceptable, and the third at 1/320 sec has an unacceptable level of noise even after working on it in Photoshop. It would be nice to know what really works but like most people I end up taking as many combinations as possible and hoping that I get at least one good picture out of it.

I had another day searching Glen Tanar for the Capercaillie and Black Grouse but even with a tip off from a local birder I came away empty handed. I knew this was also a good area for Dipper but was not having any luck with those either, until one of the group, Alan, who is a bit of a closet birder, said he had seen them at a location I had already searched four times.
A quick trip the next morning and I had some superb views.


Must have a nest nearby

With my friends returning home I headed off to Fowlsheugh, a seabird colony just south of Stonehaven on the Aberdeenshire coast. 

Where there had been a shortage of birds up in the Cairngorms there were plenty to see at Fowlsheugh. The cliffs had Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmar, Rock Pipits, and Rock Doves. Out to sea there were Eider and Gannets and on the cliff tops hirundines, Yellowhammers and Meadow Pipits.

Guillimot - including one bridled variety


Meadow Pipit

Yellow Hammer

Next stop was an overnight at Musselburgh and a look around the estuary and lagoons. The lagoons have been filled with ash from the nearby Cockenezie Power Station and the remaining shallow pools attract large numbers of roosting waders, terns, and gulls - or so my research had told me. In fact the lagoons had now been completely filled with ash and the site was left with what looked like a series of slag heaps. There were still a few scrapes but these only held a couple of Shelduck. Fortunately the estuary was more interesting with both Velvet Scoter and Eider Duck present and with a number of waders moving around.

Female Eider


Velvet Scoter

Again the views are a bit distant but as this was the first time I have seen either of these in the wild they were worth including.

The journey home then crossed the border into England but read the second part which will be in the next blog and covers Bempton Cliffs, Flamborough Head, and Paxton pits.

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