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A Report from

RSPB Aberdeen Local Group Trips to Glen Tanar, Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th June 2011,

Hilary MacBean

1. As an addition to the annual programme, we liaised with the Glen Tanar Estate to organise two wildlife safaris into the higher parts of the estate, taking in the upper parts of the forest and hill largely inaccessible to the public, unless one happens to be a strong walker. The estate was most helpful and for a reasonable fee, was able to provide two Landrovers and the guidance of Colin McClean, Wildlife Manager and Mike Martin, Ranger.

2. The weather was sunny with a cool wind. Showers built up on both days but did not spoil the really clear views. The groups first set out for Bawdy Meg, to view the Osprey nest from about 400m. There were two young hatchlings and on the Thursday,  the adults were found soaring with two “visiting” adults above the nest; unusual behaviour that caused the hatchlings to hunker down out of sight. Along the way, many woodland and hill birds were in evidence, including Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Buzzard, Redstart, Green Woodpecker and Meadow Pipit. We were all pleased to note a high number of Crossbills, the Thursday group identifying Scottish Crossbill, Siskin, a nesting pair of Whinchat and for a lean season, Stonechat. All the common woodland birds were also in evidence with, anecdotally, particularly high numbers of Chaffinch, Willow Warbler and Coal Tit this year.

3. We stopped whilst Mike explained some of the social history of the estate and the contributions of Sir William Cunliffe Brooks and his stone masons. Some of the estate management practices, including predator management, the crow traps, forest management and deer management were explained by Colin, all part of a very environmentally aware and holistic approach to estate management at Glen Tanar.

4. We pressed on up the glen and came to a high vantage point where Golden Eagle may be viewed emerging for a hunting foray over the hills. Neither party was lucky enough to see them but were, instead, rewarded with striking views over the estate towards Morven to the North and the Cairngorms to the far West.  The groups then headed to Etnach and the upper Tanar, one of the best birding locations on the estate. The first group took the high road through some wild hill country and saw a good herd of Red Deer. The driving pace was slow due to the very rocky track and the many Red Grouse chicks on the road. The second group took a lower and more efficient route, saving much birding time and an uncomfortable “shuggle” over the hills. On the way Colin pointed out a natural tree hole where a Tawny Owl had fledged young, just a week before our visit.

5. At Etnach, old fields provide grazing for sheep and attracted a variety of birds. Both groups saw breeding Curlew, Lapwing, Wheatear and Oystercatcher. A Kestrel was hunting high up, whilst the second group added Snipe and fine views of the bird of the day, a Short-eared Owl coursing over the fields, just after they arrived. One of the highlights of Etnach is the Blackcock lek. By June three cocks were quietly feeding, but a visit earlier in the season would be most productive.

6. We moved on to the gathering ground at the Shiel of Glentanar, by the new footbridge to Mount Keen. Goosander and Dipper were evident on the river as we drove up. On the field, 3 Ring Ouzel and 2 fledglings showed very well, whilst a singing male could be heard from somewhere on the rocks to the North. There were many Northern Wheatear with fledged young, along with a Whinchat, Common Sandpiper, Mistle Thrush, Sand Martins and Pied Wagtail. Colin later visited the location in the evening, to witness a Hen Harrier at close range. This is another speciality of Glen Tanar but one has to be a bit lucky to see it and it was missed by our groups this time.

7. All in all, both days provided a really interesting visit to locations not normally so readily accessible. The good weather and clear visibility greatly added to both days and the trips were much enjoyed by all 16 participants. We are grateful for the support provided by the estate and to the attentive guidance provided by Colin and Mike. The total list for the two days amounted to 50 bird species.


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