Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Black Grouse

A week in the Cairngorm National Park and on the Moray and Nairn Coast gave us some excellent birding, with a couple of life ticks for me, but with very few photographs for the blog. The problem was the weather, it was just too good, warm sunny days, calm seas and virtually no wind. The sea ducks, that we had hoped to find sheltering in the coastal harbours, were long gone or were far out to sea and the geese also seemed to be starting their migration early.

We did manage to see one hundred and sixteen different species over the week. That included  White-billed Diver, Black Grouse, Crested Tit, Twite, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Ptarmigan, Iceland Gull, and Surf Scoter. However most were a long way off and the scopes got more use than the cameras. 

The notable missing bird for the week was the Snow Bunting, which is normally present either on the coastal sand dunes or around the car park at the Cairngorm ski lifts. We could not find them anywhere although there was one reported the day after we left.

Fortunately we had stopped off at Seahouses Harbour before we crossed into Scotland and the Eider we found there proved to be the only close encounter we had with sea ducks all week.


Female Eider

The harbour also had a few Great Black-backed Gulls, this one with the remains of a crab.

Great Black-backed Gull and crab

First stop in Scotland was at Musselburgh. Lots of birds including Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneye, and Bar-tailed Godwits but no Surf Scoter that we could see and no opportunities for photographs. So it was onwards to our base for the week at the Grant Arms Hotel at Grantown on Spey.

It was nice to find the Black Grouse. This is a bird I used to see regularly when I was out walking on the hills, but it seems to be a lot rarer these days. This is  actually the first I have seen since I started keeping records four years ago. The pictures are poor but this is not a bird that is easy to approach when out in the open. We did not want to spook them so we took our pictures at a distance, hence the massive crop, and left them in peace.

By contrast the Red Grouse is a much easier bird to photograph. These shots were taken at Lochindorb where the birds were close by the road.

The last of our target birds in the Grouse family was the Ptarmigan. Dismissing the soft option of the Cairngorm Funicular we trudged up the route to the northern corries. Last year we had seen a number of birds around there but this year, with the snow line higher, we found only one. Dave heard it calling and after a search he found it, distant, on the other side of a deep snowfield. Last year the birds came close but this one was staying put, happily feeding on the heather shoots.


They are a great bird to find, the walk may have been hard work but the celebratory beer that evening tasted all the better for it.

We had two visits and spent about a day and a half looking for Eagles in the Findhorn Valley. Slim pickings is probably the best description for the birds found. On the first visit we had one decent flyby from a juvenile Golden Eagle from which I failed to get any decent pictures. My best efforts are shown below.

There were a couple of other distant views of Golden Eagles and one possible sighting of a White-tailed Eagle but it was to far off to be able to confirm the identification.

The shot below shows the closest we got on the second visit.

It's taken using a 500mm lens and 1.4 extender with the birds at least a mile away. Blown up a bit bigger you can identify the lower bird as a juvenile Golden Eagle. The upper bird, Dave identified using his scope, as a peregrine which was one of a pair harassing the eagle.

There were Dippers in the river but they did not show for a picture so to keep me occupied I ended up photographing a Mistle Thrush and a Pied Wagtail that kept us company on our vigil and a couple of the local Buzzards.

Not quiet as tuneful as a Song Thrush but better than nothing

Pied Wagtail



More to follow in part two of the blog headed as Crested Tits.

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