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 132

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 128

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 128

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


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.

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