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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
SCOTLAND 2nd, 3rd & 4th June 2000,
Friday 2nd June 2000.
I had not seen Lee since our eventful, and as it turned out for me, quite costly trip to Israel, with Les Holliwell and Ian Kirk at the end of March and beginning of April. He still owed me some money from this trip, which I felt the need to redeem, so I took my pre-arranged place on his summer trip.
I would note, prior to starting out on this trip Lee had traveled from Buckinghamshire to Liverpool and back to see an American vagrant, (a Blackpoll Warbler, I think) and also to and from Gloucester, to see a Great White Egret, a total distance of perhaps 400 miles or so. This just a prelude to another of his epic jaunts and an indication of his compulsive drive to see all the rarities that turn up and also not to miss the special British birds.
Knowing how grueling Lee's trips can be, I had hoped to get as much rest as possible whilst traveling up the motorways. However this journey was far from relaxed and little rest was possible. Traveling in the party were Dave Johnson and Des McKenzie who I knew from previous trips and father and son David and Mathew Roberts and another guy from Basingstoke called Nick. (Did not note his surname).
We eventually reached Stirling at 2:00a.m. by which time Lee had already driven over 800 miles that day and wanted to be on the road again at 4:00a.m.!!!! Realising his rest was vital I suggested we all adjourn to the service station to enable him to get some sleep if at all possible. This we duly did, and the rest of us spent a couple of hours chatting over coffee whilst he attempted to sleep. I thought this was prudent bearing in mind his previous days driving and what I knew he was attempting today.
At 4:00a.m. we went back to the car and woke Lee who may have managed some sleep and were on the road to Braco Moor at 4:30a.m.
Saturday 3rd June 2000
O.S. Land Ranger No.57.
A822: 6 miles North East of Dunblane.
4:45a.m. to 5:00a.m.
A sizeable population of Black Grouse survives in Strathallan, with a small roadside lek taking place during the first two hours of daylight. Take the B827 north of Braco west towards Comrie and after four miles, park in the roadside lay by just east of Glenlichorn Farm. The Blackcocks lek in the field next to the road and can be seen exceptionally well from the car. Please do not leave the road and watch only from inside the car. Disturbance from birdwatchers at this site in recent years has seen a dramatic decline in the number of males attending the lek and this trend can only be reversed if birders behave responsibly. Away from the lek, birds can be seen at the roadside in the plantation to the north of the road, between the river crossing and the farm. This area is also good for Red Grouse, Short-eared Owl, Curlew and Whinchat
It's not too far from Stirling to Dunblane and Braco Moor so we were at the first Black Grouse site well before 5:00a.m. En route we saw the birds you would expect to see, but also had a Tawny Owl which was perched on a tree stump less than 30 feet from the side of the road, near Kinbuck, on the A822. Despite it being mid summer it was very cold and the ground was covered in frost when we arrived, but being still and clear it had the promise of a lovely day. We quickly found Black Grouse here and did not stay too long once we had done so, and were soon on the move again.
Amulree. Black Grouse Lek.
O.S. Land Ranger No. 52.
A822 Between Crieff and Dunkeld.
5:30a.m. to 6:10a.m.
It's only a few miles between Braco Moor and Amulree so once again it did not take us very long to travel between these sites. Although we dipped out with Black Grouse in March at this site, it is obviously a prime spot and this time we were successful. We also saw a Dipper and a Snipe as well and were all in good spirits as we headed towards Dunkeld having already seen the first of our target birds at two different sites.
Loch of the Lowes.O.S. Land Ranger No.52. 042E. 436N.
A823 North East of Dunkeld
6:30a.m. to 7:15am.
The Loch of the Lowes has been a regular breeding site for Ospreys for over twenty years and birds are present there from late April until late August. There is a hide overlooking the eyrie and the Scottish WildlifeTrust has established a large reserve centre there.
The site can be reached from a minor road off the A923 Dunkeld-Blairgowrie road about 1.5 miles east of Dunkeld. The car park is situated at NO 050 440 (Sheet 52). The reserve is also very good for Northern Goshawk and Common Redstart, as well as breeding Great Crested Grebe and roosting Greylag Geese in autumn.
Most English birders would automatically think of the world famous Loch Garten as the place for Osprey. However I feel this place would be hard to beat and we certainly were lucky enough to get fabulous views of a female Osprey on the nest and a male bringing a fish to her during our stop here.
The Osprey is a rare breeding summer visitor and passage migrant to Britain, with a nesting population of at least 94 pairs in 1995. Although formerly quite common in England, it last nested there (in Gloucestershire) in 1840, and is now confined to the highlands of Scotland, where recolonization began in 1954, following immigration from Scandinavia.
Ospreys return to Scotland from wintering sites in Africa between late March and early June and remain in the highlands until late August through to late September. They favour Scots Pine forests in which to nest and feed on freshwater lochs, rivers, estuaries and fish-farms. The population in Scotland is largely centred around the Spey Valley and the RSPB has established a reserve centre, where the birds can be watched from the comfort of a hide throughout April-September.
It is only a very short detour off the A9, the main road to the north, so it is easily accessible. We stayed here longer than would have been normal with Lee whilst we waited for Bill and the others to arrive. Lee rested in the car for a while once he had seen the Ospreys but the rest of us spent the time exploring the adjacent woods. It was good to see Bill, who was in another car that had followed us, again when he finally caught up with us and most of his party wanted to get Black Grouse and were a bit miffed that we had seen them at two different places already, so Lee suggested we head for Moulin Moor, another of the sites listed in his guide book.
O.S. Land Ranger No.52. 965E. 597N.
A924 East of Pitlochry.
8:15a.m. to 8:30a.m.
A small population of up to eight birds survives on the moorland to the east of Moulin. Leave Pitlochry eastwards on the A924 and after three miles the road branches out into open moorland. The Black Grouse favour the Kinnaird Burn to the north of the road and may be located by parking sensibly at the side of the road at NN 965 597. The lek is operational between 4.30 and 7.00am in April and May.
It was a little later than would have been ideal to see Black Grouse, so unfortunately Bill's party was unlucky here and our brief stop proved fruitless. However I'm sure it would have been worthwhile if we had arrived around dawn as we had done at Amulree and Braco Moor. As usual Lee very quickly realized the futility of our search and was anxious to be heading north towards the Isle of Skye.
Pitlochry to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
8:30a.m. to 11:15a.m.
Kyle of Lochalsh
11:15a.m. to 11:40a.m.
As you approach the Kyle of Lochalsh on the A87 there is an area where you can pull off the road, just before you enter the town. From here you can look down to the harbour and the loch and we stopped here for a few minutes and spent some time scanning the small group of islands below us. A small colony of Arctic Terns nest here and a few Black Guillemots must do so as well. We had good views of both and a group of Grey Seals, we also saw, Greater Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls and Shag on and around these islands.
The Black Guillemot is a relatively common resident of Scottish waters with its highest breeding density in the Shetland and Orkney Islands. It is also commonly found in Caithness, along the west coast of Scotland and in the Western Isles, and penetrates as far south as the Calf of Man and Anglesey in the Irish Sea and to Muchalls in Grampian in the North Sea. The entire British breeding population is currently estimated to be about 37,000 individuals, about 17% of the European population.
As the species is resident, it can be seen at breeding localities throughout the year, and in NW Scotland and the Northern Isles, it can be easily encountered, especially in harbours or in sheltered coves.
Loch Alsh, between Skye and mainland Scotland, is an excellent site in which to see Black Guillemots throughout the year. Park by the information centre and toilet block in Kyle of Lochalshe and scan across the loch towards Kyleakin.
There used to be an inexpensive ferry from Kyle to the Isle of Skye but now the island is linked to the mainland by a highly contentious toll bridge, which the locals are strongly opposed to. They object (quite rightly) to the prohibitively high costs, which no doubt affects trade on and off the Island and must limit the numbers coming and going and will presumably ultimately affect the islands economy. This website will give prospective visitors some idea of the intensity of feelings of the local population as well as up to date information of toll charges, which need to be considered when planning a trip. http://www.skat.org.uk/
12:30p.m. to 1:00p.m.
Once over the Skye Bridge we continued on the main road (A87) towards Sligachan. There is a small camping site and a hotel at the junction of the A87 and the A863, we turned right here and headed northwest towards Dunvegan. This area is very good for Golden Eagles and we had no difficulty finding them here, hunting over the escarpments to the south of this road.
The Golden Eagle is a breeding resident in Britain in internationally important numbers, with a population of between 540 and 600 pairs. It is almost exclusively confined to the west coast islands and highlands of northern Scotland, with just roving immatures accounting for records to the south and east of the range.
Like most species of birds of prey, Golden Eagles are heavily persecuted, with poisoning, egg collecting and continuing loss of habitat taking an annual toll on numbers. Because of these dangers, it is not possible to publish the whereabouts of breeding pairs.
The Western Isles are well known as the stronghold of Golden Eagles and although nowhere near as obvious as the ubiquitous Buzzards careful study of hillsides will eventually reward birders with this majestic bird and make the long trip to this beautiful place even more worthwhile.
O.S. Land Ranger No.23. 498E. 445N.
A855 North of Portree.
1:30p.m. to 3:30p.m.
By the time we reached Torvaig we had all been on the go for well over 30 hours and had had no sleep. So were delighted to be able to laze in the cool clear sunlight overlooking the lovely stretch of sea towards the island of Raasay. I remarked to Des. that birds or not this was a fabulous place to just visit for its beauty alone and was happy to soak up the atmosphere. Our stop here was to hopefully see White-tailed Eagle and we had to wait over 2 hours before we finally did. This allowed some a chance to get a little sleep whilst others kept an eye out for our quarry.
The White-tailed Eagle is a rare vagrant to Britain with just fifteen birds recorded between 1950 and 1995. It is also a rare breeding resident, although this results from a successful reintroduction programme in northwest Scotland, initiated in 1975. By 1994, some eleven pairs had been established on territories producing an average yield of five young per year. The large majority of these reintroduced birds are ringed and wing-tagged, most recently with yellow upperwing tags with black numbering. However, birds are restricted to a handful of remote Scottish islands and it is generally advisable to refrain from causing undue disturbance to this tenuous population, particularly in summer.
A total of at least 100 birds of Norwegian origin have been released on the island of Rhum since 1975, with some three quarters of these surviving therein or on nearby Hebridean islands. The island is a National Nature Reserve covering 26,400 acres and can be reached by passenger ferry from Mallaig. The boat sails on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and takes 3-4 hours depending on sea and weather conditions. Both White-tailed and Golden Eagle can be seen from Kinloch, but sightings are highly dependent on weather conditions and are only about 10% reliable.
On nearby Skye, birds may be seen from Elgo at the end of the B8083 or on nearby islands of Soay and Raasay. However, sightings are highly unpredictable.
During our 2-hour sojourn here we saw Ravens, Kittiwakes, Cormorants and Shag as well as various gulls we also had a pair of Twite which are good birds for English birders and always arouse interest.
The Twite breeds in north and west Scotland and winters primarily on the east coast, between Lincolnshire and Kent. It breeds on heather moorland and in short turf of coastal cliff tops and winters in extensive saltmarshes or on arable farmland.
In Scotland, the Twite is relatively abundant and easy to see, with flocks of 500-2,000 birds being regularly encountered at a number of coastal localities in winter. Recommended sites include Noss Head, Wick (Caithness), Strathallan (Perth & Kinross), Loch Ryan (Dumfries & Galloway) and John Muir Country Park, Tyninghame (Lothian).
Lee needed rest much more than the rest of us so he catnapped and we kept our eyes open. Almost as if on cue when he woke up we were rewarded with good views of mature adults soaring over the island of Raasay, a bird I never dreamt I would see in Britain, yet another successful stop.
From here we headed north in the hope of seeing another bird it has long been an ambition of mine to see. corncrake
The Corncrake is a rapidly declining summer visitor that winters in southeast Africa, from southern Tanzania to northern South Africa. Birds depart wintering grounds in March and head through Morocco and the Iberian peninsular to breeding grounds in France, Ireland, NW Scotland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. They arrive in Scotland between the third week of April and last week of May and remain through the summer until early August. Although formerly widespread throughout Britain, it is now confined almost entirely to north and west Scotland, where it is most numerous in the Outer and Inner Hebrides.
Like Quail and Spotted Crake, they are extremely difficult to see, but utter an unforgettable sound, which announces their presence. Careful scrutiny of moving vegetation and patient watching should eventually reap rewards.
The fields at the northern most end of the island are the most accessible part of Britain to stand any chance of seeing these enigmatic birds; en route we passed Staffin Island noted for breeding Puffins. We also passed through Duntulm and Kilvaxter where we saw Rock Doves this is reputedly also perhaps the most accessible place to see pure bred Rock Doves. We saw 2, perhaps a breeding pair at Duntulm and a party of 16 in the centre of the village of Kilvaxter. David and Matthew Roberts have both seen over 400 different species in Britain and yet surprisingly this was a tick for them both.
Pure Rock Doves are now only found on coastal cliffs in the extreme north and west of Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkney, Fair Isle and Shetland. They are still relatively abundant on the Northern Isles and can be quite easily seen feeding around crofts, in stubble fields or in hayricks by the road. Elsewhere, they are highly localised and can be relatively difficult to find.
Pure Rock Doves can also be seen on Skye (fields north of Uig, particularly around Duntulm Castle, Linicro and Balgown), on North and South Uist and on the islands of Tiree and Mull.
Linicro and Uig
O.S. Land Ranger No.23. 388E. 678N..
5:15p.m. to 6:15p.m.
From here we headed towards Uig and stopped at Linicro at a little teashop where we had a much-needed freshly made cup of tea. Some of the party said they heard corncake here but I'm afraid I didn't and know some were particularly aggrieved that we moved on before all of us could be convinced that calling birds were here. We made a few cursory attempts to locate calling birds in the adjacent fields and asked the people at the café about them, but as far as I'm concerned this was a wasted exercise and our quest was unsuccessful this time. We did see a few Whinchat here, small consolation, hardly what we had come all this way for. We had met another group of birders when we stopped at the Kyle of Lochalsh and they told us they had heard corncrake in a meadow in Uig, behind the harbour, so we headed here in a final attempt to get one. We easily found the field they mentioned but once again drew a blank and left at about 6:00p.m.
Uig to Portree.
6:15p.m. to 6:45p.m.
We were desperately low on petrol when we left Uig and I spent a worrying half an hour wondering whether or not we'd actually make it and whether any petrol stations would be open when we did. Fortunately we did and they were so my fears were unfounded.
Portree to Grantown on Spey.
6:45p.m. to 10:30p.m.
It is over 160 miles from Portree to Grantown and Lee's ability to drive phenomenal distances and his insatiable desire to see new birds astounded me but also disturbed me and I resolved not to continue the next day. Fearing for my personal safety and worrying that he must by the law of averages, eventually be due to have an accident
Although it was nearly 10-o-clock when we finally got to the A9 it was still light and as we approached the Slochd summit Lee and Dave Johnson said they had previously seen Ring Ouzel here.
We were not far from Grantown now and I had the best view in the house so thought I'd keep my eyes open. Sure enough I caught sight of a male bird on a fence post at the top of an embankment and got Lee to stop so we all could get a look. This stretch of road is similar to the one where we witnessed the car smash earlier in the day so naturally we were all a bit apprehensive. However we stopped long enough for most of us to see it and also get good views of a female as well. Hope they bred there, they are a rapidly declining species in Britain and to see a pair in prime breeding habitat was very satisfying.
Sunday 4th June 2000.
Grantown on Spey.
I spent a relaxing and languid day in Grantown whilst I sorted out my transport arrangements. Also did some less frenetic birding and spent a lovely Sunday morning strolling around the curling pond park where I got several trip ticks. Nothing particularly special, but good birds for the trip, Willow Warbler, Tree Creeper, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted-Woodpecker, Dunnock and Collared Dove, species not readily seen when primarily looking for specials.
Once I had got my transport organized I resolved to return to the Isle of Skye to see if I could actually see or even hear corncrake and determined to make an effort to try and succeed; was also keen to see if I could get further views of Sea Eagles. Left Grantown about 1-o-clock and reached Farr about 3p.m. Lee had told me Wryneck had nested here a couple of years previously, so thought I'd stop and check out the area.
The Wryneck is a regular passage migrant to Britain appearing between mid April and late May and from mid August to early October. It also sporadically nests in Britain, although this is largely confined to the Scottish Highlands. They feed principally on ants and their larvae, and can often be found in large gardens or in paddocks or dune-scrub on migration.
No luck with wrynecks but did get Spotted Flycatcher, a bird that always pleases me when I see one. From here I drove to Loch Ruthven in the hope of seeing Slavonian Grebe in breeding plumage. It did not seem to promising at first although I did see Reed Bunting, Blackcap, Sand Martin and Willow Warbler as I walked to and from the hide. However whilst walking back to the car park I noticed some movement in a tiny inlet of the loch, quite close to the footpath.
This turned out to be what I had hoped to see, an adult Slavonian Grebe in full breeding plumage less than 15 feet away. It seemed completely oblivious of me for some time and simply went about its daily business, eventually just swimming away completely unperturbed. Great.
Drove from Loch Ruthven to Portree, this time savouring the scenery and enjoying its beauty, stopping whenever I came to places of interest. Did not see any new birds but certainly enjoyed this journey, and began to unwind after the action packed previous day. Picked up a couple of German hitchhikers, a brother and sister, who were on a backpacking hiking tour of Scotland. They had just hiked through Glen Affric and wanted to get to the Isle of Skye to do some hiking there. It seemed they were working to an incredibly tight budget and were almost completely self-sufficient. Admired their spirit and was glad to help them. Stopped at the Kyle of Lochalsh and showed them the Black Guillemots and the Arctic Terns and then was happy to take them onto the island. They did not want to stop in any town or organized camping site, saying they wanted to just camp in a quiet spot. However I dropped them where I felt they would easily get fresh water and then continued towards Portree. Arrived there about 7:00p.m. and after trying one or two B&Bs, no vacancies, eventually found "Braeside". Braeside is more or less in the centre of Portree, near Safeway, and I cannot recommend it highly enough, all things considered it's the best I've ever stayed in. The breakfast would be hard to beat and is worth £17:50, which is all it costs for the bed and room as well! I know if I return to the Isle of Skye, I shall stay there again and will ring to pre-book, to make sure I do.
Braeside B&B, Stormyhill, Portree, Isle of Skye. IV51 9DL. Tel. 01478 612613.
Once I knew I had got a bed for the night, went to the north of the island to see if I could get Corncrake. Tried Linicro, Uig and near the pub just outside Uig, where I'd been told Corncrake had been heard. Stayed until it got dark, hoping, believing that they may be more vocal in the evening, but once again with no success.
Monday 5th June 2000
Was determined to have a holiday as well as do some birding so did not get up too early and had breakfast in the B&B, wise choice (breakfastwise). Raptors are normally on the move later than other birds, so, thought perhaps a latish start would not be a problem. Intended going to Torvaig for White-tailed Eagle, and it is only a mile or so from Portree so was happy to adopt a languid approach. May have got it wrong, spent 2 hours there and although conditions were ideal and I saw lots of corvids and gulls, no eagles appeared.
Decided to go to Linicro and have another try for Corncrake, on the way got Stonechat, Song Thrush and Skylark at Floddigarry and then stopped for a while at Duntulm. Duntulm is at the very northern tip of the Isle of Skye on the A855 and there is a beach right alongside the road, a lovely place to stop and picnic and do some birding. Which is what I did, reasonably successfully too, seeing 5 Black Guillemots and several Razorbills in the bay and both, Cormorants and Shag as well. On the beach were a couple of Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers and Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Also had Wheatear and House Sparrow close to where I parked and a pair of Rock Doves that were presumably nesting close by.
From Duntulm I went to Linicro and Uig again and spent another couple of hours fruitlessly searching for the elusive Corncrake. Once again without any luck, so I decided to try Torvaig again for Sea Eagles.
Torvaig is a small village at the end of a minor road off the A855 a mile or so north of Portree, it is sign-posted so easily found. Follow this minor road until it ends at a 'farmhouse' with a turning/parking area in front. Park sensibly, it may well be private, but hikers seem to park here and in four visits I encountered no problems. There is a five bar gate to the left of the 'farmhouse' leading to a track which eventually goes down to the sea. Follow this track about 5 or 600 yards past another gate until you come to an area that overlooks the sea. Stop here drink in the scenery and wait. It is a sublime place to raptor watch on nice sunny days so it is no hardship.
On each visit I made something turned up. Ravens and Hooded Crows seem to be resident here. I saw them every time I visited and got excited when a large raptor lazily drifted around the valley to my right. My first reaction was that it may be an eagle but as is usually the case it turned out to be a Buzzard. However not much later my excitement was not unfounded as a gigantic adult White-tailed Eagle flew directly over my head and soared across to Raasay. It is at least 3 miles across the Sound of Raasay to the island but the giant bird hardly seemed to flap its wings once as it effortlessly covered this distance in about as many minutes. A truly fantastic sight and something I will long savour. English birders rarely get the opportunity to see such sights and I thought having been so lucky with one species of eagle would try my luck with the other. It's only 13 miles from Torvaig to Sligachan so I decided to go and try my luck for Golden Eagle.
Re-visited the place where we stopped on Saturday and spent the best part of an hour watching a pair of adult Golden Eagles
as they hunted over the hillside, another magical experience. Whilst here a Twite landed within feet of where I was sitting and began feeding on the close-cropped grass. It afforded me the opportunity to pick out all its identifying features and the time to do so. It was 5:30p.m. now and after my success with the eagles felt sure that maybe third time I might be lucky and perhaps at least hear corncrake. Full of optimism I headed for the north of the island again. I seldom like to go back the way I came so continued to Bracadale and turned right back on the B855 to Portree. Along this stretch of road I saw lots of Wheatears and in retrospect, feel I ought to have stopped and looked around a bit. I think there could well have been a chance of finding Ring Ouzel here, will certainly look another time.
Spent the rest of the evening at the corncrake sites doing every bit of detective work I could to find them, or asking anyone who might have any up to date information on their whereabouts. However once again drew a blank, was reluctant to leave even after it got dark just after 10:00p.m. Oh well another time perhaps.
Tuesday 6th June 2000.
After another night and fantastic breakfast at 'Braeside' I decided to make a leisurely jaunt across to Speyside. However went the long-way and gave the corncrakes one more go, but once again no, luck. Finally left the island about noon and reached Fort Augustus at 2:00p.m. Stopped here and had a pint and a pie in a pub near the Caledonian Canal. Watched as boats came through and the swing bridge opened and closed. Several pairs of Swallows nest under this bridge and I was intrigued that the bridges' movement did not seem to concern them in the least. They just continued back and forth to their respective nests seemingly oblivious of the bridges' movement. From here I headed towards Nethy Bridge, the only bird of note I saw was a Merlin that showed well at Stratherrick. There are lots of B&Bs in Speyside and many indicate their rates, and whether they have vacancies, on their notice boards so accommodation is not a problem. Did not note where I stayed in Nethy Bridge but it was perfectly all right, as were all the places I stayed whilst in Scotland, and all reasonably priced, certainly a lot less expensive than similar establishments in the south of England. Having found somewhere to stay I determined to find Forest Lodge. Although I went there in March with Lee and normally have good spatial awareness, I could not find it again. Hence my note of the map reference on my introduction to the site on 12th March. This is a site that if in this area it is essential to visit, so after 2 or 3 hours driving around all the roads in the neighbourhood without success found myself at the car park at Loch Garten. Not many other cars were about and soon after my arrival a voluntary warden accosted me. These wardens are on 24-hour watch to protect the breeding Ospreys and naturally most tourists would have left at this time. He obviously recognized that I was not a potential egg or chick thief and happily gave me directions to Forest Lodge. There is a notice sign at Loch Garten showing a Common Sandpiper on a rock at the edge of the Loch and as I left the car park, there it was, right by the side of the road. Easily found Forest Lodge once given accurate directions, it always pays to ask. Had dinner in Grantown on Spey, do not remember the name of the restaurant but it was in the centre of town near the chip shop. I note this, the meal was one of the best I've had anywhere and would recommend it to anyone. It was a bistro type and the owners told me they had not been open very long. However it deserves to succeed and I shall check it out again when I return in March and will update this accordingly. If anyone reads this and knows this place perhaps they could email me.
Wednesday 7th June 2000.
Spent the morning in this beautiful place and took a different route to the one taken with Lee in March, and at a much more leisurely pace. The Abernethy Forest is part of the ancient Forest of Caledon, which used to cover much Scotland. It now only covers about 1% of that area and is the home to flora and fauna seen nowhere else in the British Isles. It is worth visiting for this reason, but the birding is equally special and I'm glad that's what brought me here. It was a lovely morning and a pleasure to stroll these woods and see the wide variety of bird life. Listed are the species I saw as I walked from the car park along the track north past the foresters cottages and over the bridge and up into the hills. Redstart, Robin, Bullfinch, Siskin, Wren, Chaffinch, Willow Warbler, Tree Pipit, Coal Tit, Song Thrush, Pied Wagtail, Parrot Crossbill, Crested Tit, Buzzard, Mistle Thrush and Great-Spotted Woodpecker. Did not have a Ordnance Survey map so was unsure where the track led so only went 2 or 3 miles but will go further when I return again now I do have one. N.B. I would recommend the purchase of this map. (Land Ranger No. 36 Grantown and Cairngorm) It covers most of the Abernethy Forest and Rothiemurchus the areas for Capercaillie, Crested Tit and Parrot Crossbill, 3 of Scotland's most sought after birds.
Unfortunately did not see Capercaillie, but was not surprised, did see a few Red Squirrels though, which was nice.
Like many of my fellow Englishmen I have not really visited Scotland and wanted to see more of the country as well as more of its bird-life. When I came in March much of the journey was a blur, I was so tired. So I happily re-traced our former tracks along the River Dee towards Aberdeen and then north to the Ythan Estuary after firstly crossing the famous traffic report road; the A939 Cock Bridge to Tomintoul. Could easily see why it is always getting blocked by snow it certainly is an exposed and windswept place and even in June there was still snow about.
I was absolutely captivated by this place when I visited it in March and resolved to return. Although it is interesting in June it was nowhere near as impressive as earlier in the year and unfortunately was a bit anti-climactic. It was good to see 100's of Eider with several large crèches of young, no other sea ducks or waders, but plenty of terns and hirundines. Drove south and spent the night in Braemar, not a good choice, nowhere to eat, and the hardest place I found to get accommodation, which was also the worst B&B I stopped in, and not very good pub.
Thursday 8th June 2000.
Woke up to persistent rain, tried for Capercaillie with no luck and then went to Glenshee hoping for Ptarmigan but it was raining so heavily that it was impossible to see a few yards in front of you, let alone a well camouflaged bird on a mountain top. Decided to make a languid way south as the weather forecast was so ominous and headed for the Loch of the Lowes. It was still raining heavily when I got there, but at least there is a good weatherproof hide here so was able to watch in comfort. Spent an hour here and got Osprey, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Redstart, Great Tit, Mallard, Great-crested Grebe, Swallow, House Martin, Swift, Blue Tit, and Goosander. Whilst here I eventually got into conversation with one of the rangers/wardens and asked him if there were any Pied Flycatchers around the reserve. He told me no, but they could be seen at Killiecrankie, a few miles back up the A9, he also told me whereabouts to see Roseate Tern at North Queensferry. Lee had mentioned Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers as we headed north from the Loch of the Lowes, I was not exactly sure where we were at the time but in retrospect it was here. There is a visitor centre at Killiecrankie, just north of Pitlochry, which is well worth stopping at and having a look at the displays, I particularly liked the diorama of the battle fought there. Their unique song normally locates Wood Warblers, and although still raining heavily, I was able to find one near the RSPB car park. A bit more searching was needed for Pied Flycatcher but eventually got one and got soaked into the bargain. Was glad to get back in the car and get warm and dry, heater full on as I drove south towards the Forth Road Bridge.
It is 60 miles due south down the A9 and M90 from Pitlochry to North Queensferry and the heavy rain lessened, and eventually stopped as I neared Edinburgh. Roseate Tern is a bird that has always been special to me, others being hawfinch, waxwing, hoopoe, dartford warbler, corncrake and white-tailed eagle. My brother and I got the Observers Book of British Birds in 1952 and I can remember this being one of the birds that appealed most to me and ultimately led to a life long interest in birds. I don't know why these disparate species had and have such allure, probably their rarity, their uniqueness, and their beauty, probably all these things. Whatever reason, these birds are the most special as far as I am concerned and are the birds I am the keenest to see.
The Roseate Tern is a rare breeding summer visitor to Britain with a current population of less than 85 pairs. The bird winters south to southern Africa, with most British birds wintering off Ghana. They depart this area in early May and arrive in Britain from mid May onwards. The small population is largely confined to Wales, NE England and SE Scotland, whilst a further 430+ pairs nest in Ireland.
I have made many attempts to get Roseate Tern and have never succeeded so did not hold out much hope as I followed the directions I'd been given to the northern side of the Forth River Bridge. I turned off the M90 at junction 1 and took the B981 towards North Queensferry, which eventually goes under the bridge. An obvious right-hand turn (on a sharp left hand bend) is a service road, which leads to an electricity sub station directly under the north tower. I parked here and walked across the grassy area to the river's bank, and, directly in front, about 50 yards out, is a small rocky island. A colony of Common Terns breed here and after scrutiny quickly found a couple of Roseate Terns at the western end of the islet. Spent over an hour here getting excellent views in perfect light and was thrilled with this lifer. I never tick a lifer, unless I am absolutely sure of its identity, so took my time ensuring I saw all the identifying features and was unequivocally certain. Made sure I saw all the identifying features, and noted black bill, orange feet, long tail streamers and smaller size in relation to the more numerous other terns. Was also able to readily differentiate between red and orange legs and red and black bills and could easily see and compare the size difference.
It is just over 40 miles from North Queensferry to North Berwick so decided to drive and spend the night there. North Berwick is a town noted for its close proximity to some of the most famous championship golf courses in Scotland. This attracts wealthy visitors, and many retired people with good incomes, in consequence, making it difficult find to inexpensive accommodation. Although B&B is more expensive here the place I stayed was still only £23:00 a night and was very refined and elegant so I had no qualms, in fact considered it fair and reasonable.
Friday 9th June 2000.
North Berwick and Bass Rock.
25 Miles East of Edinburgh.
Bass Rock is about a mile northeast off North Berwick and is the home to thousands of breeding Gannets, which take part of their Latin name Sula bassana
from the island. Kittiwakes, Guillemots, and Puffins also breed on the island and are easily viewable from the promontory, just past the recently opened Scottish Seabird Centre (which, incidentally is well worth a visit). I also saw Razorbills, Sandwich Terns, Herring Gulls, Fulmar, Great Black-backed Gull, Shag, Eider,Turnstone and Rock Pipit whilst here and also watched gannets plunge diving, a spectacular sight.
Puffins also breed on one of the other offshore islands and it is possible to take a boat trip to see these as well as the gannets on Bass Rock and I 'm sure these trips will flourish now the Sea Bird Centre is open.
St. Abb's Head.
After Bass Rock drove down the coast to St. Abb's Head which is another noted sea bird colony, which also has nesting guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes and is well worth a visit. Saw plenty of other birds here and will certainly re-visit the place.
As in March, Lee went to Forest Lodge for the Speyside specials before breakfast on Sunday morning. He then went on to Glenshee for Ptarmigan and North Queensferry for Roseate Tern, from there he went down to Yorkshire on an unsuccessful expedition to find a reported rarity. My trip could be condensed to this and to include Bass Rock and/or St. Abbs and my gentle perambulation could be undertaken in a single day as his was.
This was to be my last trip with Lee and although they were often frenetic and tense I gained a lot from them and overall am glad I went.
I hope this report may help whoever reads it. I have gained immense help from similar reports. Please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to Watch Birds in Scotland