Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Killiecrankie, The Cuilc and Loch of Lowes

I left Oban at about 5.00am and arrived at Killiecrankie at 7.30.  All there is at Killiecrankie is a car park and a National Trust for Scotland visitors centre.  It was closed , so were the toilets and the car was saying I had less than 30 miles of fuel left in the tank.   I then knew I should have gone to Pitlochry for a pit stop.  As it was I had to drive there in some discomfort and carefully to ensure I didn't run out of fuel.  Thankfully I found a garage with all its facilities at my disposal fairly quickly.

About the only good thing about that journey fro m Oban was the spectacular views and the cuckoo that I saw perched on a roadside fence.  Even that flew off before I could get sorted to take a photo.

As I was in Pitlochry, which was scheduled to be my second stop I went on my quest for the Ring-necked Duck that had been living on a 'The Cuilc' a small loch near the golf course for several years.  I think the only time it was not there was on the 27th May when I went to look for it.  I did see Tufted Ducks, a family of Mute Swans, a Little Grebe and nice reflections
Tufted Duck
Mute Swans

Reflections in The Cuilc

Ring-necked Ducks look very much like Tufted Ducks but these were Tufties.  I explored a bit more of Pitlochry.  There is a large Hydro Electric Scheme where a damn has been built across the River Tummel forming a large Loch.  I figured that if the Ring-necked Duck wasn't on The Cuilc then it would be here, the nearest large body of water.  I was wrong,  There was even less on this Loch on the Tummel than there was on The Cuilc.  There was a nice view looking into the morning mist downstream from the dam
River Tummel

And here is a close up of the fisherman.

So back I went to Killiecrankie.  The visitors centre was still shut but it didn't matter now.  I was on a mission to find a Nuthatch.  The car park at Killiecrankie is at the top of a deep wooded gorge.  Steps and steep paths led to the bottom of the gorge.  The number of times I went up and down the gorge must have involved the same amount of climbing as I had dome getting to the top of Cairncorm.  There was a good variety of bird life, but not a nuthatch despite staking out a dell where a couple had seen it just minutes before.

By this time the visitor centre was open so I got a cup of coffee, went out onto the veranda and looked at the bird feeding station which before had no bird feeders.  I didn't have long to wait for the Nuthatch to turn up.  


 The only task left was to get a picture without the feeder.  Here it is:-


Try as I might I could not get a shot without the wire. Ho hum that's the way it goes.

Mission accomplished with a couple of bonus shot I quite like...

Blue Tit
Coal Tit
....I went on my way passing through Pitlochry again.  I had to call in to The Cuilc to see if the duck was there.  It wasn't so I took a picture of a Mallard.


The only thing to do now was go home via a decent lunch spot.  I bought lunch at the co-op supermarket in Pitlochry and drove to the Loch of Lowes to eat it.  The Loch of Lowes is famous for its nesting Osprey and did not disappoint.  Not only was it on the nest but while I was watching its mate returned with a fish


Also on the Loch was a pair of Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes

 ...and from the visitor centre window a Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I got home at tea time!

Total on list 190

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Enjoying Mull

The ferry to Mull crossed the flat calm waters to Craignure.  There was hardly a cloud in the sky, it was going to be another hot and sunny day.  There are two landmarks, one on either side of the ferry that must be among the most photographed in the Scotland if not the World.  On the outward voyage, to starboard is Lismore Lighthouse.

Lismore Lighthouse

The other landmark on the port side is Duart Castle.  Unfortunately at the moment it is shrouded in scaffolding and is not photogenic so here is an image I have taken off their web site.

Duart Castle
My sister, Chris had booked a guided tour of the wildlife of Mull with a company called 'Enjoy Mull'  We were picked up from the ferry terminal in their minibus

Having the minibus is of course good advertising for the business but it has its down side.  More or less wherever it stopped so did other people on the basis that 'if a wildlife tour operator has stopped there must be something to see'.

Jacqui, the co-owner, driver and guide knew her stuff.  Thew first stop was to see an eagle at the Craignure golf course.  Jacqui had heard all the jokes like 'Are we going to see an albatross next'.  It was a White-tailed Eagles perched in the top of a pine. Too far away for a photo.  For some time it did nothing and we started to watch the other birds around the shore. Canada Geese and Greylag Geese

Canada Geese

Greylag Geese and Goslings
Suddenly the eagle took off and headed out to see.  It seemed, given the direct purposeful nature of its flight that it was headed across the Sound of Mull to Morven on the main land.

White-tailed Eagle over Craignure Golf Course
Halfway across the Sound it suddenly changed direction and dived into the sea to rise up again with a fish it had caught.  All this was seen through binoculars and even then the type of fish could not be identified, just guessed at, some sort of eel we think.  It flew back not to its tree but to the nearby nest.  The directness of its flight out to sea gave the impression that this was no opportunist catch.  The bird must have known the meal was there flown directly to it.  Definitely 'Eagle Eyed'.

Chris and I were not the only tourists on the bus.  James was the son of one of Jacqui's neighbours up from London was with us from the start.  We went back to the ferry terminal to pick up a couple from Hong Kong to complete the party.  They had flown into Edinburgh the day before, gone to Glasgow the stay the night because they were up to catch a 5.20am train to Oban that connected to the ferry that got into Craignure at 10.40. It was 30 C and raining in Hong Kong when the left.  It was 27.5C and sunny on Mull.

Mull was a Cloudless Cuckoo land.  We saw our first Cuckoo at the golf course.  During the day we saw another four and heard others.

The weather that had brought out the Cuckoos seemed to have kept in other birds.  Jacqui was fining it difficult to find birds for us to see.  Golden Eagles Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls were not in their usual haunts and were keeping well out of sight at their nest sights.  We did manage to see another distant White-tailed Eagle and out of the blue whilst scanning the mountian tops for Golden Eagles a White-tailed Eagle flew right over our heads giving the best view of this magnificent bird that day.

There were other birds around.  We saw a Great Northern Diver, Buzzards and Grey Herons.  Were saw a variety of smaller birds such as Wheatear, Common Sandpiper, Skylarks, Stonechat and Meadow Pipits.  Most surprising was a bid bird and there were four of them in full display mode.

They were not wild birds so I couldn't count it as a tick.

We found and watched an otter fishing, we saw Red Deer, close up.....

  .....and way up in the mountains.

There are three Red Deer in this photo
The hospitality side of the tour was good as well.  Tea, coffee and other drinks,  homemade biscuits and cake, home made soup and sandwiched for lunch and a lot of information about the island, its history, culture and folklore, you couldn't ask for more.

Any gripes? Just a couple.  The windows in the back of the minibus were tinted and fixed so taking photos from the back seats was problematical.  Some of the above shots were through the window.  I would have liked a bit of walking off the road to have been on the agenda.  I find that no matter how slowly you drive you can see more on foot.  That said would I go again .  Yes I would.

Just to finish this blog a few non wildlife photos from the day.

The Three Lochs

Our first ferry

Dunollie Castle, Oban
...and finally another picture of the Lismore Lighthouse, in the late afternoon sun.

Total on list 189

Saturday, 27 May 2017

I Bag a Monroe and Get a Tick and Elli Gets a Proposal

The last three days have been a bit of an adventure.

On day one I travelled to Oban to see my sister and family.  I went via Aviemore top stop off and do a bit of birding.

I got to Craigeallie Woods NNR at about 7.30 after a two and a half hour drive.  I like to set off early on these trips.  As I went under the A9 to enter the wood I was greeted by the song of a Wood Warblers (tick 1).  I followed the 'Buzzard Trail through the woods and to be honest there was nothing much apart from Chaffinches and Willow Warblers.  The trail did live up to its name however 'cause I saw a Buzzard soaring high over the crags.  If you want to have a look at these woods the best place to start is the Aviemore Youth Hostel car park.  Returning to the car park was much more productive, a Pied Flycatcher (tick 2), Spotted Flycatchers and a Goosander in the first of the pools.

Pied Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
 And for the readers of the blog who like cute furry things, and I am sure there are many here is a baby bunny that was in the woods


The next stage of the adventure was to go to the Cairngorm.   This was the true adventure.  My aim was to see what birds lived on the mountain top at over 4000 feet.

The views from the base station were stunning...

Loch Morloch with Aviemore in the distance

 ... even if my photographic skills leave a lot to be desired.  I seem to have missed the edges of the Loch from the frame!.

I suppose at some time I will have to confess to a bit of cheating.  From the base station I did not hike up to the top of the mountain.  I went on the funicular railway that takes you to the Ptarmigan restaurant and within about 600 feet of the summit.  Here I joined a guided walk to the summit.  You see I did do some of it unaided.  There were nine of us in the group ( the maximum they can take is ten).  There is a strict conservation plan that does not allow anyone who has used the railway out on to the mountain top unless they are part of a guided walk.  Her is the party I was in.

There was me, of course, two guides, four blokes from Yorkshire who were on a serious birding holiday (I was out lensed and out scoped) another birding couple from Yorkshire, and a couple who were hill walkers, from Darlington. A group with a definite NE England flavour.  The first bird we saw caused a lot of excitement.

Meadow Pipit

Until it was identified as a meadow pipit.  The Pied Wagtail we saw next was a bit of a disappointment to some.

Now a little digression.  The web site for these guided walks said to be prepared for any weather.  The conditions on the summit can be dramatically different from those at the base and at the Ptarmigan restaurant.  The inference was that the condition could be dramatically worse.  So I had a thick pullover and a waterproof coat.  I decided not to take my normal  'birding hat' but to take a woolly one instead that would not get blown off in the wind. On this day the conditions on the top could not have been better and I was very much over dressed.and over heating.  I did not wear the hat but that lead to sunburn on my (small) bald patch.  I think the answer is to take enough to be flexible.  There again if I had done that would I have been able to carry it all?

After a gruelling climb we did eventually see our first target bird, a Ptarmigan.  Admittedly not the best of views to start with.
Ptarmigan - (you can see its head to the left of the ridge)

 But things did improve.


 It wasn't until we were coming down that we saw our next two targets.  An we got stunning view of Dotterel and Snow Bunting.



Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

So not many birds, but that wasn't the name of the game it was these three particular birds in there natural habitat that people had come to see.

In addition to that we got some facts an information from the guides, we could have wished for better.  We got some stunning scenery

Ben Nevis in the distance

Cairngorm Cairn and Andrew

Loch Morloch and Aviemore

The drama did not stop there.  In the shadow of the cairn Andrew, the lad from Darlington proposed to his partner Elli.  There is going to be a wedding in winter.  Its going to be somewhere outdoors and their favourite walking area is the Yorkshire Dales.  I hope they find a location to match the location of the proposal.  Sammy one of the guides pointed out some semi precious stones on the way back down.  I wonder if the engagement rind will feature some Cairngorm stone?

Andrew and Elli

And yes I refrained from saying to the happy couple as they lift the summit 'Well, its all down hill from here'

While I am on the theme of happy couples and the consequences thereof back at the base camp there was a Ring Ouzels nest with the young waiting to be fed.

Ring Ouzel Nestlings

Grubs Up

Total on list 188