Sunday, 12 March 2017

Where Eagles Dared

11th March 2017

Now this was a big trip.  Brian asked if I wanted to go to the upper Findhorn Valley, otherwise known as 'Raptor Alley'.  The goal was to find a Golden Eagle.  Quick check with Jill that there were no other plans and we were good to go.  We started at 7.00am and I got back home at 6.30pm. In addition to Strathdearn we called in at Spey Bridge just outside Grantown on Spey to find a Hawfinch.  This is where I had seen them on the 8th January and where we had both seen them last year. Brian wanted Hawfinch for his year list.  It had been reported that one had been seen three days before.  Finding one Hawfinch along the banks of the Spey was always going to be a difficult task.  There were Chaffinches, Greenfinches, a Song Thrush, Mistle Thrushes, Blue and Great Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests but no Hawfinch.  On the water we saw a pair of Grey Wagtails, a Dipper and a pair of Mallards.  The other notable sighting was a Weasel in the road just as we got to Spey Bridge.
Long-tailed Tit

Female Mallard

Dipper

It is another hours drive to the Upper Findhorn Valley.  the last ten miles is on a single track road with passing places. The local council seemed to have skimped on the size of the passing places.
At one point we had to back up to let a car past.  Now Brian knew what he was doing and I knew that Brian knew what he was doing but that still doesn't help the nerves when you are looking out of the passenger window and the edge of the road is mighty close and there is a 30 foot or more drop into the valley below and the 'your are getting too close' beeper is going like mad because to get the two cars past each other wing mirrors had to be folded in.

But we got there all in one piece.  As soon as we got out of the car Brian shouted 'There's a Mountain Hare' pointing up a seemingly barren mountain side.  He was right, there was a mountain Hare.

Mountain Hare taken with a 400mm lens from the car park
We decided to try to get closer.  The Hare sat in its little niche in the hillside until we got quite close.
Mountain Hare Looking Cross
 It did eventually think we might be hostile and it left its spot and run up the hill.

When we got down to the valley floor and looked back we saw that the Hare had returned to the same spot.

This is when the walking started. It is a one and a quarter mile  slog along the track to get into Eagle territory.  The only things of interest we saw were two Ravens and some Feral Goats  This would make mammal number five if you count the road kill badger and squashed rat.
Feral Goats
From the car park we were accompanied by a little black terrier
Our Walking Companion
Just over a bridge we had a choice, carry straight on along the valley bottom, on a previous visit Brian had seen a pair of Golden Eagles that way, or turn right following the river Calder,  others had seen Eagles this way.  We turned right.  This path took us on a 250ft climb which eventually came to a ford that, given the amount of water in the river, we deemed impassable.
The Ford
 We still hadn't seen anything and headed back the way we came.
Brian Scanning the Skyline for Eagles


Did I mention that the scenery was stunning?  It was stunning.




On our return to the valley we were extremely surprised to see a bat in the broad daylight (Mammal No 6).  By this time our doggy escort had deserted us.

As we had yet to find an Eagle we thought that it would be foolish not to explore the path that continued up the valley.  About a mile along here we saw it, a Golden Eagle.  I have to admit that we were a little confused.  The bird came into sight from behind us and soared above the mountain to our right, it then disappeared from sight.  A moment later what we thought was the bird reappeared but this time it was clear that it was only a Buzzard.  We had to examine the photos we took of the first bird to reassure ourselves that we had indeed seen a Golden Eagle.
Golden Eagle
Common Buzzard
All that was left to do was to walk the couple of miles back to he car. Some more Goats and a Dipper and a herd of Red Deer (Mammal No 7) later we got back to the car park.

Dipper
You are Kidding
Red Deer

In all we had been out away for about five hours so you won't be surprised to know that the Mountain Hare was still in its mountain side niche.

Still Hare
Now all Brian had to do was drive home starting with ten miles of single track road. Mammal No 8 was a Brown Hare seen from the single track road  He did it in less than three hours we were back in Fraserburgh at 6.10pm

Total on list 126

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