Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Ythan and Smew

On Monday I got messages on the local rare bird messaging app. that  Smew and a King Eider were on the river Ythan.  There was nothing I could do about it at the time but in any case in previous years the King Eider has stayed around all summer.  He is such a regular that he is called Elvis.  The Smew is one of those birds that are here one day and gone the next and there has been one or two around so I may have a better chance of another Smew later. That is why I decided to go to Strathbeg not the Ythan yesterday..

This morning another message came through that a Green-winged Teal, a North American bird, was on the Ythan.  Now this is another bird that can be here on day and gone the next but it also a bird that may not be around again this year.  That is why I decided to go to the Ythan today. And who knows I might see the Smew and the King Eider.

I got to the spot where the GWT was last seen at about 14.30 and it had been seen at 13.20 so there was every chance of success.  There were three other birders at the car park each with telescopes trained on Inch Geck, the island where it had been seen.  None of the three had found he bird.  The general opinion was that because of the high tide it had gone elsewhere.  I searched the river banks further up stream but was unable to find the Green-winged Teal.  I did find, at Inch Geck, the Smew.

It was a female/1st winter one.  The weather had closed in it was misty and a long way off and only visible through the telescope so I'm sorry to say no photo and I haven't got one on file. So here is one I took from Wikipedia.


In fact the conditions were such that it was entirely possible that the Green-winged Teal was there.  Lets see what reports come in.  I'm free on Friday to give it another go!

In any case I found 27 different species including a couple of Greenshank and a vast number of Shelduck.

Total on list 138

'I'm off to get the 'paper. I'll be back in two ticks'

This morning, like most mornings I go to the local shop in Cairnbulg to get the Press and Journal.  As usual I went from the shop to Cairnbulg Harbour to see the sea and to see what bird life is about.  This morning I did a little walk to the mouth of the Waters of Philorth because it is along here that you can find the first Sandwich terns of the summer.  And there they were two of them anyway.  In few weeks time the numbers will be up to fifty or so.  It is here that they start pairing up.  When instead of a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates the male terns bring there intended a nice silvery sand eel.  But this morning there were just to two and they were not interacting.
Sandwich Tern
 As well as Herring Gulls and Redshanks the other resident bird is a Pied Wagtail.  While I was watching them I noticed a one had a grey back.  It was a White Wagtail.

White Wagtail
So there you are.  I got the paper and I got two ticks for my year list.

Total on list 137

Egrets, I have a Few

Yesterday, 28th March I spent a couple of hours at the Loch of Strathbeg while Jill was planning her involvement in North East Open Studios in September.

The first bird I saw was a Sparrowhawk zipping over the reeds at Fen Hide.  The second bird was a Great White Egret on the far shore of the loch

Great White Egret
Then after scanning the water for more birds I caught sight of a Scaup.  I was able to get Scaup, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye in one frame.

L to R Goldeneye, Scaup, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck
Here is a Scaup on its own.

The next bird to find was a Little Egret.  It was quite some way off so the photo leaves a lot to be desired

Little Egret
Alex was with me in Fen Hide.  He had already been to the Visitors Centre and seen a Great White Egret so I decided to go there and see if there were two or just one that had 'followed' Alex to the loch.

I couldn't find another Great White Egret but did find a second Little Egret.  However on reviewing my photos and Alex's it was clear the there were two GWEs.  Mine with a yellow bill is a non breeding bird. Alex's with a dark bill is in breeding condition.

Alex's Great White Egret
Total on list 135

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Beast

On Sunday 26th March the Aberdeen and District RSPB group organised an field trip to Glen Tanar.  I was told that there hadn't been so many people on one of these trips for ages.  There were over forty of us and a Pomeranian dog.  Here are just a few of them assembling at the bridge by the visitor centre.

As you can see the weather was glorious perhaps that is why so many came on the trip.  Or it could have been the prospect of seeing some special birds.

Glen Tanar is a sporting estate but one with a reputation for conservation.  It is in the Cairngorms Nation Park.  It has ancient Caledonian pine forests and various conservation protection statuses  such a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' (SSSI) have been granted to many parts of the estate.  It is known to harbour the rare, endangered but elusive Capercaillie or Caper for short, also known as 'The Beast'.  Golden Eagles nest on the mountains, Ospreys inhabit the estate in the summer, Goshawks and Green Woodpeckers are residents as are three UK species of Crossbill, Common, Scottish (the UK's only endemic bird) and Parrot. The field trip leader was Tony.  Tony's job is sourcing timber for a local sawmill and knows the forest of Deeside like the back of his hand and knows his birds so it was stacking up to be a great day.

That's Tony on the right of this group

The route we were going to take was one of the waymarked walks of about five miles following the Waters of Tanar and relatively flat.  The route would take us through the old pine forests.

The first two bird we saw were not that special, a Chaffinch and a Pied Wagtail, but this was before we got to the woods.  The next birds were clearly a mere taster of what was to come, Siskin and Goldcrest, birds that thrive in the conifers.  On the river we saw a Grey Wagtail but that was about as good as it got.

Grey Wagtail
Every now and then some one would shout that they had heard a Crossbill but none were seen.  At a View Point someone saw what they thought might have been a Merlin but this was never confirmed by further sightings. Towards the end there was a shout for a Raven flying over.  I took a photo, it was a Rook.

There was a none birding highlight.  Lots and lots of Common Toads moving to spawning grounds, some were alone others in in an embrace of two, three and even four Toads.
One Toad

Two Toads
Lots of Toads, we think four
Now about 'The Beast' or Capercaillie.  At the furthest point from the visitor centre out path took a right turn and over a bridge.  Straight on would have continued thought the forest and out onto the moorland and eventually to Glen Esk.  The path had a sign which basically said 'don't go down here you will disturb Capercallie -  a schedule 1 listed bird'.  Tony was talking about the general conservation efforts being made on  behalf of Capercaillie and explaining why they shouldn't be disturbed and that forty plus people and a dog going into the birds territory was not a good idea when a bloke on a mountain bike came down that path with a frightened look on his face. 'Don't go there.  A Caper nearly knock me off my bike' he shouted as he sped past.  The sign, it seemed was a not just about the welfare of the bird but about the safety of pedestrians and cyclist.  Tony then showed us a photo he had recently taken of a Caper attacking a colleague while they were going about the forestry business.  From then on any Capercaillie was referred to as 'The Beast'.  They are big birds and have a beak that can be likened to tin shears. Some also have a reputation for being 'Rogue' and attacking anything that comes into their territory.  Straight on would have led us into a Rogues territory.

For the rest of the walk through the pine forest emotions were rather mixed.  On one hand it would have been great to see a Caper, on the other there was the fear of being attacked by one.

Given the distinct lack of birds - no one could remember a field trip with so few birds - we got back to the visitor centre earlier than expected.  Four of us Me, Trevor, Alex and Gordon decided to retrace our steps to see if there would be more birding luck in a smaller group.  Key target was a Crossbill, if a Caper came our way that would be a bonus.

We did have a debate about who was the slowest of us four and therefore who any Rogue Caper would catch up with first.  Or which of us would stand their ground to get that  close up photo that would go viral on the net and be the envy of all.  The discussion was academic.  We did not see a Capercallie although we did find evidence of there existence through droppings on the footpath.

We also found our Crossbill.  Trevor heard it and then spotted it high up in the pine canopy.

Crossbill taken with a 400mm zoom lens
Crossbill - cropped image

Finally thanks to Alex who drove me there and back.  Its my turn to drive next time

Total on list 134

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Birding in Angus

Today I joined the Aberdeen and District RSPB Group on a trip the find birds in Angus.

We were to meet at Forfar Loch at 10.00.  I left early to visit Loch of Kinnordy before the the official start.  I didn't see the two 'special' birds that have recently been seen there - Bittern and Smew - which was not that surprising as I was only there for half an hour or so.  Even so I was just a little miffed when word came through during the day that the Smew had been seen from one of the hides I visited.  However I clocked up over 30 bird species.  This included a rather battered male Pheasant and a smart looking Mute Swan


Mute Swan
At Forfar Loch I met up with the RSPB Group.  Some I knew fairly well, others I had met last time I went on one of these outings (see 11th January - A great day in Aberdeen) There were a few new faces.  One, Patricia,  I knew from seeing her posts on the NE Wildlife Facebook page.

It was during a brief introduction, while I was seeing what was on the Loch from the car park that I saw the first of the birds to add to my year list - Great Crested Grebe.
Great Crested Grebe
We did a short walk along one side of the Loch as far as the boat club.  There was a terrific wind. In places with no shelter you couldn't stop, just had to keep going to get to shelter.  Once there the sun was warm and brought out a variety of woodland birds.  Although getting a clean shot proved to be difficult as the high winds were whipping the branches about.

 At the boat club someone had put up bird feeders which made things a little easier

Long-tailed Tit
On the Loch the birds were doing their best in the conditions


Cormorants, Oystercatchers, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-head Gulls, Herring Gull

On the return journey the wind was at our backs and the branched seemed to behave themselves.

Back at the Visitor Centre the small garden boasted a pond which was populated by frogs, and of course frog spawn.

I got a bit damp taking these photos as I was lying down to get to frog level.  They are manually focused.  The cameras auto focus didn't seem to like frogs!

To get to the next sites we had to take as few cars as possible.  I sat in the back of Trevor's X-Trail.  Bill sat in the front.

The lunch stop was at the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve Balgavies Loch.  A nice little hide has been built overlooking the Loch and the island where a pair of Ospreys nest.  Unfortunately we were a few days too early.  They had not yet arrived back from West Africa. However we did see two migrant birds back from warmer climates to feast on the abundance of insects in Scotland.  The Sand Martin was too quick for me to photograph.  I will have to wait until they are at their nest site for that .  I did get a shot of a Chiffchaff, there were two, and they were very active.  Two more for the list.

Just in front of the hide was a feeding station. (if you go then please take some bird food to leave in the hide and save the SWT, or the volunteers a bit of money).

The Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches were so used to people in the hide that they came right up to the hide window to take crumbs of a folded down shutters.  Far to close for me to photograph with my 100 - 400mm lens.

Great Tit


Reed Bunting

From Balgavies we went to Montreatmont Forest.  This a huge conifer plantation fun by Forestry Commission Scotland.  We walked a little over 500 metres into the forest to a place where there are deciduous trees.  Some years ago a member of the Angus Bird Club built a hide and bird feeding station here. Again if you go there take some bird food to leave in the hide.  Our main target bird was a Green Woodpecker.  It was heard a few times and only seen just as we were giving up.  In fact some of our group had to be called back to see the bird.  It had flown from the Oak trees across a more open area and settled high into a Larch.  We only got distant views.  Patricia, Andy and a couple of others went closer to its tree but it was so high up they couldn't see it.  Anyway it was a Year Tick for me, the fourth of the day and a the second Life Tick of the day for Bill.  The first was a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Bill is Californian - you get different woodpeckers there.

Green Woodpecker
Total on List 133

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Belt of Venus

This post is not about birds, nor is it about a visit to a harbour side bar.  The Belt of Venus is a astronomical/atmospheric phenomenon. It goes hand in hand with The Earths Shadow.

I only found out about these two things a couple of weeks ago.  I had seen them of course but did not realise what they were or that they had a name.

For over sixty years I have been in the dark.

It was Margaret who told me about them.  She innocently asked at a meeting of Fraserburgh Photographic Society a couple of weeks ago if I had heard about them.  I had to admit that I hadn't a clue what she was talking about.

Margaret told me that the Earths Shadow is just that.  It can be seen just before sunrise and just after sunset on a clear day.  It is the shadow that the Earth itself casts on its atmosphere. This shadow is often visible from the surface of the Earth, as a dark band in the sky near the horizon.  The Belt of Venus is an atmospheric phenomenon seen at the same time  The observer sees a pinkish glow that extends roughly 10°–20° above the horizon.  So you look for them above the horizon opposite the sunrise/set.

On Thursday I was able to photograph both the Earths shadow and the Belt of Venus on my morning walk.  I had the added bonus of being able to include the moon in one of the shots.

Panorama with Mormond Hill to the left

Mormond Hill
Through the Gate
Margaret and Alfie had just come back from a cruise around the Caribbean and up the Amazon.  One of the cruise lecturers was a NASA scientist.  He had explained about the Shadow and Belt in one of has talks.

So the Earths Shadow and the Belt of Venus are as easy to see on a clear day.  It's not rocket science, or is it?

I did manage to get some bird photos as well

Common Gull

Whooper Swans over Fraserburgh


Yellowhammer in the Road

Total on list 129

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Poor Visability

12th Mach 2017

Yesterday Lynn posted some great picture of Crossbills onto Facebook.  They were at Lenabo woods which isn't far away.  The other place I wanted to go to was the Bullers of Buchan to see what seabird had returned to nest on the cliffs.

Lenabo woods used to be an Airship base during the 1924 -18 war

Now it is huge conifer plantation but it has a fair number of deciduous trees as well.  Today it was rather damp and misty

It is a pity that historic and beautiful places like this are used as a dumping ground.  

Especially when there is a modern waste facility just a few miles away in Peterhead that takes all kinds of rubbish.

I didn't see any Crossbills but then it is a big forest and they do tend not to stay in the same place for long. I dad take a photo of a Chaffinch and as a sign of Spring some catkins


 The Bullers of Buchan are not far away but the closer you got to the sea the thicker the mist and fog became.

The Bullers of Buchan consists of nine fishing cottages in three rows.  The ones nearest to the sea are on the top of a cliff with only a footpath between them and a very long drop.

The cliffs are spectacular with many different rocky elements.  One, called 'The Pot' is a collapsed sea cave.  Today you could not see the bottom of it of the mouth of the 'cave'. through the fog.  To the South lies Slains Castle which was the inspiration for Bram Stokers 'Dracular'.  Samuel Johnson also visited the area.  Here is a link to his description of Slains Castle and the Bullers of Buchan.

Through the fog I could see that Guillemots and Razor bills had returned to the cliff face but not yet in great numbers.

Guillemots and Razorbills

Guillemots and Razorbills (clarified with the Lightroom Dehaze slider)

Guillemots and Razorbills
Kittiwakes were also present.


Herring Gulls had found nest sites towards the top of the cliffs where they are not so sheer and vegetation is taking hold.  I only saw one pair of Fulmars, again towards the top.  Shags nest low down near the waters edge and the fog was too thick to see any.

Herring Gulls

  The mist and fog was clearing as I drove home.  By the the afternoon when Jill and I went for a walk on Fraserburgh Esplanade the sky was blue and the sun was shining

Fraserburgh Harbour Beacon (the Golden Horn) and Two Paddle Surfers
Total on list 129