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A Report from


Jon Uren

Trip notes from 7 Oxon birders on a long weekend in Scotland trying to get "the Scottish species".

(This report appears with the permission of Bren McCartney who runs the Berkshire Birds Web-Page)

After an early flight from Luton (too early) we were birding on the Ythan estuary by 8.30am. Hundreds of Eiders were around with a scattering of other ducks and waders and it took us a little while before the King Eider was found. We all got excellent views down to about 20 yards from Inches Point before we moved on up the estuary and found our first 2 raptors of the weekend which were a Buzzard (we saw dozens in the weekend) and an unexpected Red Kite, presumably from the Scottish release program. This was followed by a short look over the sea at Collieston where we got the expected birds and good views of 3 or 4 Puffins.

Back past Aberdeen then for the long drive up Deeside to Glenshee for Ptarmigan.

Red Grouse on the way up Glenshee were giving good views before we reached the ski lift area. The ski lifts are ugly but the mountain setting is spectacular and it is one of the easiest areas to see Ptarmigan although they can be elusive. Our luck held and we saw three birds, one bird high up amongst the snow and heather which flew away after a few minutes but then another 2 were found on a lower slope. To get better views we decided to climb up to them. A very steep climb of about 400 feet proved how unfit some of us are but gave us excellent views of the birds feeding close by. A male Ring Ouzel was seen singing from a ski lift tower from the car park.

On then towards Grantown and our guesthouse with a couple of stops on the way. A Detour towards the Linn of Dee proved productive and we saw our only Golden Eagle of the trip, a second or third year bird. We then had one of out luckiest experiences of the weekend on the way to Tomintoul. Two Red Grouse were spotted from the van we had hired only for someone else to spot a Black Grouse that the first person had missed. There were actually 2 Black Grouse there and they gave us great views before they disappeared; they turned out to be our only Black Grouse of the weekend. As they drifted away a Raven was spotted being mobbed by a Merlin and this joust was soon joined by a Peregrine. For a few minutes the battle continued until the birds vanished behind a hill. We eventually reached the guest house at about 7pm having had a wonderful day's birding.

After breakfast the next day we decided to drive to the Findhorn Valley and look for raptors as the weather was fine. Lots of Buzzards on the way caused a few excitements but apart from one possible brief sighting we had no success with Golden Eagle. The walk from the end of the road in the Findhorn provided us with good views of a singing and calling Ring Ouzel and this was followed by 2 Merlins and also 2 Peregrines talon grappling on our return to the car. We then went on to Loch Ruthven and had at least 9 summer plumaged Slavonian Grebes and a pair of Red-throated Divers. On past the end of Loch Ness (where we missed the monster) to the sewage outfall in Inverness. No unusual gulls around but we did hear Inverness Caledonian Thistle score a goal (the sewage outfall is next to the ground). On our way back to Grantown we stopped at Loch Garten for the resident Ospreys and possible Crossbills and Crested Tit. The visitor centre at Loch Garten is closed until May as it is being rebuilt so we had to be content with an Osprey on TV although we had seen one flying up the Spey earlier in the day. We went for a walk to Loch Mallachie and found a pair of Scottish Crossbills. The calm and quiet of Loch Mallachie in the evening sunshine was worth the walk for the scenery alone without the added bonus of the birds.

The next morning we were up early again and out for Capercaillies. This time we all managed to get reasonable views of a male including one person who nearly stepped on one and some people saw a female as well. Still no Crested Tits though so we decided to go to Forest Lodge after breakfast. Another Osprey along the Spey was followed by fleeting views of Crossbills (not good enough to decide on species) and then finally views of Crested Tits. We thought that they would be the easiest of our main target species to get but they were the last that we got. We then went for a walk up some of Cairn Gorm which gave us spectacular views but failed to increase our list of birds. On then to the RSPB reserve at Insh Marshes where you can only view from the hill above the reserve, even less access than Otmoor!!

Good views of Osprey and 13 late Whooper Swans were the best sightings here. On then to Lochindorb for the reputed Black Grouse there; we missed them but we did get excellent views of a Short-eared Owl hunting over the moors.

On the final morning only 4 of us could face the early morning shift in Grantown Woods, the other 3 preferring a few extra hours' sleep. We missed Capercaillie on this morning but we were rewarded with views of a pair of Crested Tits visiting a crack in a tree were they seemed to be feeding young.

After breakfast we visited some of the local lochs in the area, being rewarded with Red-throated Diver and a pair of Black-throated Divers in stunning summer plumage. We then headed northwards towards the coast, with the intention of following it around and down to Aberdeen for the flight home.

The trip round the coast was a little disappointing mainly due to the thick sea fog but we were impressed by picturesque Pennan (a fishing village where much of the film Local Hero was shot), and were interested to see the RSPB's reserve at Loch of Strathbeg with its very odd location and access. We also visited Rattray Head which has turned up some good birds in the past. Our last stop on the way back was at the Ythan Estuary where we again got views of the King Eider.

The only minor birding disappointment of the weekend was the lack of any harriers, which is probably connected with the fact that much of the moorland is managed for grouse. In total we saw 119 species between us, with between 68 and 88 seen each day. What did we miss? Rock Dove, White-tailed Eagle, Corncrake and Parrot Crossbill are all possible at this time of year but we were not in the right place for the first three and the Crossbill causes great difficulty in clinching a convincing ID (we don't think we saw one anyway). Twite and Snow Bunting were both possible but we either overlooked them or we didn't get up high enough to see them.

The trip back was somewhat eventful with our plane being unable to land at Aberdeen due to fog and this caused us a 4.5 hour delay as we had to travel by coach to meet the plane in Edinburgh. All in all though a great weekend with good company, great weather and wonderful scenery as well as excellent birding. I thoroughly recommend it.

Trip details:

Return flight London Luton to Aberdeen Dyce with Easyjet, £43 each; flying time c. 80 minutes. Cheap and cheerful, but they did promise to refund the one-way fare after the trouble we had getting home. Valet parking at Luton £18 per car. Van hire (7/8 seater "people carrier") £205 from Hertz at Dyce Airport. Fairly comfortable, but it was an automatic, probably not what we'd haven chosen for some of the mountain driving. Total distance travelled c. 500 miles.

Accommodation: The Bank House, 1 The Square, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire. £17 per night - excellent rooms, bathrooms and breakfasts and a friendly host. No problem having an outside key for those pre-breakfast caper hunts.

Where to Watch Birds in Scotland
Mike Madders: Buy from

  • Scotland has my favourite birding in the whole of the UK. This book, now updated, contains more than 140 key sites and numerous additional sites accompanied by maps and line drawings. It concludes with an up-to-date list of local birds Recorders and reports, useful addresses and a code of conduct for birdwatchers. The guide has become indispensable for anyone birdwatching in Scotland.


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