Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Last Day of January

Well I did not do it.  I did not find the 111th bird for my year list.  But I still enjoyed myself.  I got very wet and was blown all over the place, I survived so who cares.I did a whistle stop tour of sites around the area to see if I could find number 111.

My first stop was to Strichen Community Park.  The link is to thier Facebook page.  The park is centred around the lake and has extensive woodland and a walk up to Strichen Stone Circle.  Today I restricted my visit to a walk round the lake.  There are always Mallard  and Moorhens there.  Usually there are Mute Swans but not today.  There was one Goldeneye and two male Goosanders.


I had to force myself on to my next destination and not stop at the tearoom.

Pitfour Lake is only a few miles from Strichen.  It is much bigger, the lake and the grounds, than the community park and it is privately owned and run as a fly fishing club.  The history of the Pitfour Estate is fascinating.  Now the current owner has opened up the estate to the public, created paths and done a great deal to encourage wildlife.

Today I came across more Goosanders, at least three males and a female.  Mute swans were feeding in the rapeseed field along with Mallards and Moorhens, there was even a Long-tailed duck on the lake.
Mute Swans


Long-tailed Duck

Tufted Ducks

On other visits I have seen Dippers, Little Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers and other water birds.  I didn't go into the woodland area today but that too holds a great variety of bird life.  Nothing tremendously rare but a joy to visit.

The fishing club have put a bird feeder in a tree nearby and today there were Blue Tits and Great Tits

But I had not got my 110th bird for the year.  I thought that I might have come across a Coot but no, all the birds I had seen were already on the list.

Where to next?  I figured that with the wind direction the cliffs to the South of Peterhead would have been sheltered and may have Fulmar or at a pinch Kittiwakes.  So as t got darker because the sun was going down and because the rain was really setting in I went to the Bullers o' Buchan.  You will see if you follow the link that this is a great place for nesting seabirds.  The cliff seascape is also spectacular.  In the 18th century it was visited by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell on their tour of Scotland.

Alas I miscalculated.  The seas were pounding the cliffs.  No seabird intent on self preservation would have spent any time there

Still no worries.  Coot, Fulmar and Kittiwake will all be added to the list in the weeks to come.

Total on list 110

Monday, 30 January 2017

Strathbeg - again

Yesterday was a 250 mile plus trip with not a lot of bird life.  Today was an eight mile hop and full of birds.

I had a couple of hours to spare so decided to go to the Loch of Strathbeg.  It is only a few miles down the road.  It was a bit of an odd day because much of the Loch was frozen.  The smaller pools would have been completely frozen so all the bird life seemed to be concentrated in a small area.  There were literally thousands of Wigeon.  There was another person in Fen Hide we searched for the elusive American Wigeon but could not find it.  We looked for a Green-winged Teal but there didn't seem to be one.  Lots of Teal, lots of Mallard, a few Pintail, the odd Shoveller, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Whooper and Mute Swans all crowed into a smaller space that they were used to. A new duck for the list was a Gadwall.  Some of the Wigeon were standing on the ice.  It was thawing and quite comical to seen a duck occasionally sink through the ice and try to get out of the ice hole it had made.  More entertainment was provided by an ice skating Moorhen.

Raptors were represented by several Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk but is was an entirely different bird that set the Wigeon into the air.  By this time my fellow watcher had left.  My first reaction on seeing all the birds take flight was to find out what had spooked them.  If they were unconcerned about Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk what could it be?  Then within the flying ducks I saw hat must have frightened them.  It was not a raptor but  a Glossy Ibis.  Its unmistakable long thin neck with a round head and long decurved beak and long legs meant that it couldn't be anything else.  I lost sight of it as it flew past fen hide.  A top bird for a Monday!
Now my little mini aim is to get to 111 birds by the end of the month.  Agh.  That means finding a new bird tomorrow.

Total on List 110

Sundays Big Trip

Sunday was going to be a Big Birding Trip.  I started from home in the dark to drive the two and a half hours to Mar Lodge Estate in Upper Deeside.  The weather was just as predicted by the Met Office.  It was still, there were very few clouds and there was snow on the ground.  Little wonder the photographer in me got distracted and had to stop for some scenic photos
Upper Deeside

Upper Deeside
But I arrived quite early.  The mountain climbers who had stopped overnight in their camper vans were only just getting their first cup of tea before tackling the snow capped peaks of the Cairngorms.  As a result I was first up the path the Glen Lui.  Only a little way along I got my first bird of the day and a tick for the year list.  A Black Grouse
Black Grouse - Glen Lui

My second bird, again another tick was heard first and then seen - at a distance- so no photo.  It was a Raven.

From then on for the next three hours not one single bird.  Lots of views, lots of hill walker to pass the time of day with.

These four were off the bag two Monroes (peaks over 3000 feet).  I had a chat with them about their walk and about the work that the National Trust for Scotland were doing to restore the natural Caledonian woodland habitat which will help the Black Grouse, Capercaillie (my first thought when I saw the Grouse was that it was a Capercaillie, mainly because if its size as it flew from the forest floor into the Scots Pine), and other iconic Scottish fauna and flora.

...but not one solitary single bird of any sort until I was nearly back at the car park when I heard and then saw a Coal Tit.

I left Mar Lodge Estate with three birds seen and two year ticks to go on to Glenshee.

Glenshee is home to a ski resort on the A93 between Braemar and Blairgowrie.  It is famed, not just for the skiing but for the Snowbuntings that frequent the car park, the Ptarmigan on the ski slopes and Mountain Hare.  I saw none of these unless you count the Hare road kill on the way back to Braemar.  I did see a covey, or is it a pack of Red Grouse.  Another tick for the year list.  Of course there were the views.

Perhaps one reason for the lack of wildlife was the large number of families enjoying the snow both on the slopes and in the car park.  I made a mental note to go back during the week and in school term time.

So there was nothing to it than to drive home.  Four birds and three to list (not counting the Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws I saw in the villages.

I drove back via the Glen Tanar Estate on the South side of the river Dee.It prides itself on its wildlife, open access and conservation work.  When I have been here in the past I have seen Green Woodpeckers, Jays and other birds that would add to the goal of 200 birds in 2017.  But like Mar Lodge and Glenshee the bird life was conspicuous by its absence.

And the views were not up to the standards of earlier in the day.

Total on list 108

Friday, 27 January 2017

A Barren Week

Avid followers of this blog (both of you) will have realised that I have not posted anything for a week.  This is not because I have given up on my quest to see 200+ bird species in the year but because I have not added anything to the list in the last seven days.

I have been trying.

The Loch of Strathbeg holds a resident population of Bearded Tits.  I have been to find them a couple of times but with no success.

There have been reports of a Mediterranean Gull at Sandhaven.  My birding and fellow photographer John even took pictures of it in Sandhaven Harbour on the same day I went to the Ythan to find the Kingfisher.  I spent one afternoon walking from Fraserburgh to Sandhaven along Phingask Shore and back (about 5 miles) but did not see it.  I have also driven to the harbour a couple of times but to no avail.  It must have moved on.

Johns photo of a Mediterranean Gull at Sandhaven

John also found a Great Northern Diver about four miles up the road at St Combs.  But the divers I saw were too for away to Identify.

I have been looking for the King Eider as well.  But it was only seen the once and not by me.

Barren patches like this are bound to happen.  The three birds I feel confident will get added to the list later in the year.   There is likely to be a boat trip out into the Moray Firth to find Divers, and Mediterranean Gulls are not that difficult to find.  Of course I will have to rely on Elvis the King Eider to take up his normal spot on the Ythan to get that tick.

And it is not as if the birding has been without interest.  Admittedly there has no been a lot going on at Strathbeg although there seems to have been more Buzzards than usual.  Trying to identify the birds far out to sea is always interesting and Phingask Shore has a huge amount of Gulls and Ducks to see.

As for the 2017 list I am confident that it will get longer this weekend.  My plan is to go to Mar Lodge estate in the Cairngorms.  There's bound to be new birds for the list there.  The guide books say that it is possible to find three kinds of Crossbill - Common, Parrot and Scottish.  If I find Crossbills I only hope I can tell which I am looking at.

Total for the list still 105

Friday, 20 January 2017


Before I go any further Congratulations to daughter Amy and her partner Jonathon on the birth of their third child, another boy, mine and Jill's sixth grandchild today.

The other night I was late to bed. I had been taking photos of an Aurora

This is the 'normal view you get in the NE of Scotland.  Occasionally the Aurora goes a bit mad and you see pillars of light, red and magenta colours as well as the green, but not on the night of 18/19th.  This photo, like many other Aurora photos I take is from the patio doors at the back of the house.  But that is not what this blog is about it is about birds.  As I said I was late to bed and at a quarter past midnight I heard a Tawny Owl to add to my year list.

The entry onto my year list is on the basis - if the British Trust or Ornithology 's BirdTrack  accepts the bird it goes on.  Hearing birds is allowed.

Today I went to the Ythan estuary.  The Ythan is a river that rises somewhere near Fyvie Castle and empties into the North Sea at Newburgh, north of Aberdeen.  It's estuary has been well studied by Aberdeen University for decades a permanent field station was first established in 1958.  On the North side of the estuary is Forvie Sands National Nature Reserve.

The reason for going was that a Kingfisher was known to hang around where the Foveran Burn enters the Ythan in the village of Newburgh.  No sooner had I got there than I saw the Kingfisher resting on the prow of a catamaran just meters from the road.


It was only there for a few minutes but long enough to take this photo and another one

It is a female.  You can tell that by the red base to the lower mandible

This quick capture of my target bird for the day (I had been prepared to wait around that area for some time) allowed me to explore other parts of the Ythan estuary.  The tide was well out leaving a lot of exposed mud,shingle and sand.  There were plenty of waders around.  The estuary is well known for its breeding Eiders (the largest colony in the UK) and there were plenty of them.  For the last few years they have been joined by a King Eider.  Two days ago a King Eider was seen 25 km North at St Combs.  There was speculation that the Ythan King Eider nicknamed 'Elvis' had returned.  I was unable to find it this morning.  The Ythan and Forvie NNR are also known for the seal colony and the four types nesting Terns.

On my way back North to Fraserburgh I stopped at the Snub car park where I picked up a second bird for the list - Golden Plover. Every year in November a flock of Golden Plover take up residence in a field just up the road.  I pass it every day on my way to the shops in Fraserburgh of to get the paper in Cairnbulg.  Frustratingly, for the purposes of year listing this flock moves on before the end of December so Golden Plover is a bird to seek out, or to wait for in anticipation of its return at the end of the year which of course may not happen.

My BirdTrack up load from the Ythan contained 30 species.  Here are a couple of them
Grey Heron

Red-breasted Merganser


There is no doubt that I will be returning to the Ythan quite a few time during the year. 

 Total on list 105 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Strathbeg and Number 102

This is just to quickly log year sighting one hundred and two, a Slavonian Grebe.  I went to the Loch of Strathbeg this afternoon.  All the usual suspects were there, Whopper Swan, Mute Swan (you know they are not mute they make a soft grunting noise), Mallards, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Grey Heron, Buzzard and so on.  At the far side of the Loch one of the other 'watchers in the Fen Hide spotted a small diving bird.  After some discussion it was agreed that it was a Slavonian Grebe.  No picture I'm afraid it was too too far away,  I had difficulty seeing any detail with my telescope.  But here is today's photo:-

Red-breasted Merganser
Total on list 102

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Moray Coast

The Moray Firth stretches from Fraserburgh west to Inverness and the Beauly Firth then North East to Duncansby Head, near John o' Groats.  The small part I went on today was from Nairn to Lossiemouth.  Even so it was a full day.

My target bird at Nairn was a Brent Goose.  I did not see it but apparently there were 22 quite a long way west of where I was looking which was where they were yesterday!  I did however add a Hooded Crow to my list.

My next stop was Findhorn.  The intention was to find Divers and Scoters in Burghead Bay from the Findhorn dunes.  The bay seemed to me to be particularly lacking in any bird life.  Again I picked up Stonechat to add to my list but missed out on my targets.

                                                                                    Stonechat (female)

                   Stonechat (Male)

The only other thing of note was a random set of nine beach huts

It was then on to Burghead.  A few days ago a Humpbacked Whale got a lot of people travelling there.  No whale today.  Neither was there much in the way of target birds, no Divers no Scoters.  There were Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks so it wasn't as if I could see anything.  There were a couples of Long-tailed ducks in the Harbour.  I didn't mention that it was a clear and still day, much more like Spring than the middle of January.  The LTDs had the same thought and were going through some courtship activities.  It was the first time I had heard them call.  A loud and far carrying 'song' of three notes.  Follow the link to this 'You Tube' hear it for yourself.  These are the ducks I heard.  In Scotland not Alaska.

My final stop on my tour of this part of the Moray Firth was to Lossiemouth.  Here my target was a Crested Tit.  Cresties are better known for living in the ancient Caledonian pine forests of the Highlands and Cairngorm mountains but there is a population in the coastal pine forests on this bit of the Moray coast.

Once you get used to the Tornado jet fighter 'planes flying overhead Lossiemouth is a quiet sort of place.  They did eventually stop their practising and peace reigned..

Tornado flying over Lossiemouth

The river Lossie estuary is protected from the open sea by sand dunes and on a day like today with little or no wind the water is flat calm creating reflections that many photographers enjoy.  Here are a few Lossie estuary reflections.

Little Grebe

Redshank and Dunlin

Long-tailed Duck

The Crested Tits are not difficult to find.  There is a feeding station in the middle of the woods that attracts them and other birds as well  It is a local chap that keeps the feeders topped up.  If you go there don't forget to take some bird food with you to put into the bin provided.  You can often see Red Squirrels as well, but not today.   You get really close views of the wild life at the feeding station, great for taking photos.  When I was there it was getting late in the day so light was fading fast.  My advice is to go early to catch the best of the place.

Now I say you cannot get too much of Crested Tits so I may have gone a bit over the top with these.

You will see that most of them are wearing 'jewelry', these are identification rings.  The birds are closely monitored.

I did say there were other bird using the feeding station and they deserve to have a picture posted as well

                                          Great Tit

 Coal Tit - the most numerous bird at the feeders



                                                                              Blue Tit
                   Long-tailed Tit

Despite not seeing the key target species it has been a good day.  Three more added to the list to reach the land mark 100.  And a lesson learnt about targeting - get some information from someone who knows the patch about where the birds rather than just blundering around the right sort of area.  As the year goes on this is going to be more important.  Today I added three birds that are either not rare or in the case of the Crested Tit well known.   There is plenty of the year left to get today's targets that might not be the case as the months go by.

Total on list 101