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A Report from

Scotland, 31 May to 9 June 2002 ,

John Jennings

At this point I should mention the B&B we stayed in.  Millbrook is the name and we highly recommend it. If you want to take a look visit this web site: Or you could e-mail Margaret Leitch on Margaret & Ian are the most friendly people you could wish for, the food is excellent and yet we only paid £260 for 9 nights, 10 days.  That was for both of us and we even took our two large dogs, which they welcomed with open arms.  On top of this we were situated at the head of the Findhorn Valley.  What more could you want?

How our holiday went.  If I encounter a year bird it will be followed by (Y) or a lifer (L).   At June 6th that part of our holiday becomes a bit controversial, but you will have to read on to find out what has caused the controversy.

May 30th

Having printed out several trip reports from this site our plan was to drive to just past Dunblane and park up for a few hours sleep and try for the Black Grouse at a couple of sites that were mentioned.  We left Birmingham at 16:30 on 30/05/02 but immediately got caught up in severe traffic congestion.  In fact nearly three hours later and we were only just over 100 miles into our journey.  Ros, my partner had intended to do some driving but earlier in the day had hurt her shoulder so the driving was down to me.  I decided to take my time and arrived just past Dunblane, on the B827 north of Braco, at almost midnight

May 31st

We slept until 04:30 and tried to find the first site, and failed, but I did add Whinchat (Y) to my years list for Britain. Also seen in this area was a couple of Yellowhammers plus a brilliant sighting of a delightful Short eared Owl (our only one of the holiday). Luckily I have had close up views of these birds at Dosthill-a site near Birmingham).  Moving on to the next site, nr Amulree, which again we failed to find, so it was off to Loch Lowes, near Dunkeld, after the Osprey.  The reason for this being that the Osprey's had gone from Loch Garten. At last we were successful as we watched the female Osprey (Y) on her nest for about twenty minutes before departing to go on to Tomatin.  As we came out of the hide Treecreepers confronted us all over the place. It seemed that wherever we looked was either one, or a pair, or in a few cases three or more on each tree that we looked at.

By the time we had arrived at our B&B we were shattered so it was decided to sleep for a while.  We got up and decided to bird the Findhorn Valley.  The first stop was about a mile from the Farr turnoff, where the road goes over a bridge and stream.  Would you believe that the first bird seen was an Osprey followed by a Common Buzzard. Dipper, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Bullfinch, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Common Gulls, B.H.Gulls, House Martin, Swallow, 1 Swift and a few Curlew, with their chicks, were soon in the log book. Here we met another birder and he mentioned that he had seen a Ring Ouzel that was showing well so we decided to go for it. We carried on until the car park, at the end of the road. The Ring Ouzel was about a mile away so we walked until you cross a bridge then turn right up an obvious path.  First bird seen here was a Tree Pipit.  In the distance we could hear the Ring Ouzel calling but try as we did we couldn't locate it.  On the way back we were to hear several Ring Ouzel but not one was located.  On the way back a party of 4 Common Terns briefly flew along the Findhorn River.  The first day started with two year birds.

June 1st

Forest Lodge.

We got up early and arrived at Forest Lodge at 04:45. Margaret had prepared us a packed lunch, instead of a breakfast, as we thought that we would be out for quite a while.  It was more in hope than conviction that we would see a Capercaillie on the way and it was no surprise that we neither heard nor saw one.  I was also hoping that the Black Grouse Lek, I came across four years ago, was still there by the ruins at the side of the river Nethey but there where no birds there.  Neither did we see Crested Tit or any type of Crossbill, although we did hear a few Crossbills fly near to us but the trees hid them.  In the end we only saw Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Robin, Siskin and a lone Redstart.  A rather disappointing start to our holiday, plus the lack of sleep hit the pair of us and we decided to stay in for the rest of the day and get our strengths back.

June 2nd

(The day of the England / Sweden match)

No birding was done until after the match then we stayed relatively local.

Slochd Summit. 

This site is just south of Tomatin on the A9. This site started our holiday with a bang although we didn't connect with the reported Ring Ouzel on this day.  What we did see was an Osprey then 2 immature Golden Eagles (Y) flew over our heads.  One of them went into a stoop before pulling out and soaring up to the other bird.  They seemed to be playing and we watched them for a while whilst they gradually disappeared towards the Findhorn Valley. As we clambered back into the car a pair of Wheatears (Y) dropped onto the side of the hill.  We returned back to our B&B to watch the match (not very good was it!!!). After the match we still stayed relatively local.


The possible Black Grouse didn't materialise but we did find a pair of Red Grouse (Y) a few Common Sandpipers and Redshanks dotted along the shoreline plus a magnificent summer plumaged Black throated Diver (Y) that was only about 30 yards away from us.

Findhorn Bay

This was very quiet and very few birds to see through the very misty conditions.

Findhorn Beach

It was getting a little clearer out to sea but still the visibility was limited. Plenty of Common Eider, a lone Guillemot and Shag (Y) flying through plus a surprise party of 10 plus Black Terns (Y) were all that we could pick out of the mist. Not too much for a place that I usually do well at.  We left to go to Nairn and the RSPB site at Culbin sands but by the time we arrived the heavens had opened up so we decided to go back to our digs and plan for the next day.

June 3rd

Tomatin village.

An early morning walk with the dogs produced a surprise bird when a Merlin landed on a fence near to us.  It didn't stay long and soon flew off towards the valley. As we got back to our digs we noticed a Red Squirrel on the bird feeder in the garden.

Our garden Red Squirrel

After breakfast it was decided to try for the White tailed Eagle that sometimes is seen on, or around, Gruinard Island.  This site is roughly 20-25 miles west of Ullapool and the trip alone to there is well worth the visit just for the views but today we couldn't see much as it was pouring heavily with rain and the cloud cover was very low.  We drove along the A835 and came to Loch Droma.

Loch Droma

Another stunning Black throated Diver was seen along with a Red breasted Merganser and a Grey Heron but nothing else.

Overlooking Gruinard Island.

 We eventually arrived at the lay-by overlooking Gruinard Island at about 13:00 hrs.  It was still raining but the mist had lifted leaving a quite clear day.  The island and surrounding sea could be scoped clearly.  Almost as soon as we arrived an immature White tailed Eagle (Y) drifted over our heads from the mainland.  That was excellent timing as another birder arrived about a minute later and missed the sighting.  Another Black throated Diver came our way as well as a couple of Black Guillemots (Y), a few Shag over by the island and a couple of Twite behind us on the side of the road.  The weather dictated which way we went from here as south the clouds were disappearing whereas north was getting inky black so south we went.  I have never gone south of here before but it is a route I can recommend for the beautiful scenery alone.  First stop was Little Gruinard beach where I came across an unexpected year bird.  A couple of Common Scoter was drifting along when I spied another dark object in the water.  It was a very welcome Velvet Scoter (Y) and yet again another Black throated Diver.  There were a few  Common Eider around but nothing else.  It was decided to drive onto the dead end road to Redpoint that overlooks Skye.  By now the weather was brilliant and it was getting quite warm.  A few Buzzards began to show and on the way we came across Grey wagtail, Wheatear and our first Hooded Crows (Y).  The drive to Redpoint is a nice one and the possibilities of good birds there seemed excellent given the right time and conditions.

The drive back was stunning along the Loch Maree.  You have to stop at the Kinlochewe end and look back to the most wonderful view of Loch Maree stretching back for miles along a valley, a Photographers dream.

Quite a few Buzzards were showing along this way but we weren't seriously birdwatching as we were drinking in the beauty of the place.  Near to Inverness you pass Torre island and we soon came across one of the released Red Kites, just past the island, as it drifted over our heads.

After an hour at our digs it was decide to visit Slochd Summit again in the hope for Ring Ouzel but the only birds showing were Wheatears plus a bonus lone Cuckoo. We could hear Ring Ouzel but just couldn't locate them. This was at 10:15pm and it was still very much light as the darkness didn't descend until after 11pm.

June 4th

Slochd Summit

It was decided to start the day at this site and it was a good decision as a Ring Ouzel (Y) was seen below the embankment almost immediately.  Wheatears were in abundance also. It was very early and we arrived at another site that we had been told had 3 Black Grouse the day before.  It was down the road to Tulloch Moor but try as we did, none were seen. Today was to be a local day and we decided to take a walk up the Cairngorms from the car park that serves the rail up to the summit.  The weather wasn't too clever but it was dry.  We took the walk to Coire Cas and back.  On the way we met, and walked awhile, with another birder. After a while Ros wanted to rest and the chap walked on.  We never did see the Ptarmigan but we were caught in a storm and got soaking wet.  Back at the car park we met that chap again and he asked if we had seen the Ptarmigan that he had been watching only 5 minutes after he had left us (grrrrr).  By the time we had reached the car park we had virtually dried off and it was decided to go to the Findhorn Valley via Loch Garten.  Driving along a road, near to Coylumbridge, we came across a pair of Whinchats on a wire fence but nothing much was showing on a very dull and lifeless day.  Loch Garten was also very quiet so a drive along the Findhorn valley and then the Farr road road to Loch Ruthven seemed the only thing to do.  A Sparrowhawk drifted over the valley plus the usual birds were seen.  Nothing showed over the Farr road, which surprised me but the Slavonian Grebes were soon located at Loch Ruthven as they shone in a sudden flash of sunlight.  Common Sandpipers, more Whinchats and a few Meadow pipits were the only other birds seen here.  I scoped the fields in hope that a Black Grouse might show but it didn't and it was decided to start the next day early here in the hope that Black Grouse might put in an appearance.

June 5th

Loch Ruthven

We arrived at Loch Ruthven at 05:00 in the hope of seeing Black Grouse. For half an hour I scanned the fields but it seemed I would miss out again.  I had scoped past what looked like a dark mound when it moved.  It was at extreme range but luckily my scope can handle 60mag clearly and soon my only Black Grouse of the holiday was seen lekking, totally on its lonesome.  All that effort and seemingly nothing to show for it, shame!!!.  Quite a few Slavonian Grebes were on the Loch but nothing much else moved so we went back over the Farr road to the Findhorn valley.  All the usual birds were seen but as we approached the first houses a movement caught my eye.  A totally unexpected bonus bird spread its wings as it stood on a branch then took off, only about 20 feet away from us.  It was a Hobby (Y). I have since found out that they are quite rare in Scotland and yet we were to see another one before we left Scotland. This was about 08:30 and we arrived back at our digs for a welcoming breakfast.

Bealach na Ba

We had been told of a site, way over in the west that could be good for Ptarmigan.  In fact there was a chance that they could be seen from the car.  It was on a summit named Bealach na Ba (near to Applecross) in the Wester Ross region.  We went via the A835 out of Inverness then the A832 to Achnasheen then the A890 past Lochcarron (delightful little village) and past Kishorn (where there is a spot that looks ideal for waders at the right time of the year) From here you take the Applecross road but beware, the road rises from sea level to over 2,000 feet quite quickly and we past a few cars with their bonnets up.  Once at the summit you park at an obvious parking area and you look upwards towards some radio masts.  Scope that area of boulder fields for the Ptarmigan.  I did that but didn't find one so it was on with my boots and a trek up the very good path to the summit, possibly about 500 feet further up.  It is a very easy walk.  Once up there the views are stunning but still I hadn't seen one.  After about 30 minutes searching I gave up and started back down and after only about 100 feet a Ptarmigan (L) flew across me and landed out of sight about 40 feet away from me.  I scrambled over the boulders and, luckily, the bird was standing on a boulder only about 20 feet away from me.  It moved fairly quickly but I did manage to fire off 4 shots with my camera before it finally disappeared over the side of the hill.  It was a stunning bird but unfortunately the photo's I took are not very good.

It was decided to return via the coastal road via Fearnmore, Shieldaig and Torridon then on back past Kinlochewe. Both going and coming back was exhilarating with stunning views all the way.  I suppose if we had less time on our hands then we might not have gone for this leisurely drive but with 10 days on our hands we could indulge in the beauty of Scotland.  Plenty of all the usual birds were seen including a fair amount of Buzzards but nothing else was added to my year lists.

June 6th

So far we had been chasing the weather and we had been lucky.  If the weather report stated that the west would have the best weather then that is where we headed.  Today was no exception.  The top north west of Scotland was top choice today.  I had wanted to take Ros around that area anyway.  I also wanted to show her the island where I had helped, in the past, to ring Storm Petrels, Bonxies, Black Guillemots etc.  It was an island named Eilean nan Ron just off the coast from Skerray, north of Tongue.

On the way we saw our 2nd, and last, Red Kite near to Alness.  The route taken to Durness I can highly recommend.  Not for the birding as we didn't encounter too much but the sheer beauty of the area is well worth the drive.  The route was from Inverness. Stay on the A9 to Alness.  Take the B9176 until it rejoins the A836 by Bonar Bridge.  There is a brilliant viewpoint at Strue Hill a couple of miles before you reach the A836 overlooking the western end of Dornoch Firth.  (You should be here at sunset as we were on the way back home - fabulous). From here stay on that road until you go past Lairg. A few miles past turn left on the A838 for a superb drive through some superb countryside.  This road goes on to Laxford Bridge and also carries on past Durness, around Loch Eriboll (where the controversy irrupted) and onto Tongue where it becomes the A836 again.

Nothing too much to report birdwise.  I must admit to being a little disappointed at the lack of birds on most of these lochs and was hoping to find a few divers on them, but we didn't, well not until Loch Eriboll anyway.  Once past Lairg the weather was brilliant. Hardly a cloud entered the blueness of the sky and whilst at Durness we noticed that our temperature gauge that I have had reached 30C.  Boy it was warm.

Durness area

After one of the nicest drives I have done we reached the top end of the Kyle of Durness and I went in for my traditional drink at the Cape Wrath hotel that stands near to the ferry point.  I always call in here when I am in this area.  Out on the water we could see quite a few Arctic Terns, Dunlin, Oystercatchers and at last a year bird when a Rock Pipit (Y) landed on a rock at the edge of the garden grounds. We left the hotel and headed for Sango Bay in Durness.

Sango bay, Durness.

On the rocks below us we saw a few Rock Pipits whilst out in the bay were plenty of Black Guillemots, Gannets, Fulmars, Oystercatchers, Arctic Terns, some Hooded Crows plus a lone Guillemot.  Now we were faced with an immense heat haze over the water and whilst it was obvious there were plenty of birds to see out in the distance making out what they were became impossible.  Driving on we past Smoo Cave and just past there is a beautiful sandy beach.  We parked up here and had a picnic whilst watching more or less the same birds that were at  Sango bay.  The one difference was a Cuckoo was calling from some trees that lined the bay.  We never did see the bird but that was my most northerly encounter with this bird.

Loch Eriboll.

I will never forget what has happened here and I must be careful what I say.  The road skirts all around this sea loch and from time to time we stopped to see if there was anything on the water.  There was nothing until we reached a spot on the O/S map No 9 called Ard Neackie (map ref NC449591) There we saw a diver in winter plumage.  We stopped and out came my scope.  I watched this bird getting closer and closer and held my breath.  It had a definite yellowy/white bill and seemed to hold its head at an angle. After about 15 minutes another birder joined me and I told him what I was looking at.  He looked at the bird for quite a while before agreeing with me that what we were looking at was almost certainly a White billed Diver.  Now I have never seen one of these before but I was convinced that I was right with my ID.  Just then another diver appeared on the scene. This too was in winter plumage but it was fairly obvious straightaway that it was a Great Northern Diver.  What then surprised us was the fact that the G.N Diver came up the other bird and started to display to it, eventually standing up on the water, like the G.C. Grebe does then did a pirouette on the water.  This worried us and we really thought that they must be both G.N Divers. There were obvious comparisons between the two birds that we could make as they were so close together and, in my opinion, there was enough to see to confirm that they were different species.  We studied the two of them for almost an hour before I decided to call in the bird on the RBA hotline as a probable W.B.Diver. The next day I rang up the RBA people, because my pager wasn't working in the area's I had been visiting, and was told than an expert on W.B.divers had been up to see the bird and had confirmed that it was a correct ID by me.  I was elated until the next day when RBA rang me to tell me that a very well known birder (who shall remain nameless) had stated that the bird was an aberrant form of G.N.Diver.  I have since heard rumours that the bird has been rubbished for political reasons which has got me angry.  (This is down to the fact that this bird was seen on 30th May at Sango Bay by another well-known birder).  In the end I am happy with my ID and it will remain a positive memory for me of a very good ID on my part.  It was time to move on.

Kyle of Tongue causeway.

This area was quieter than I have ever known it.  Arctic Terns breed here, or they used too.  It was fully 10 minutes before 4 of them flew over our heads.  Only Eiders were out on the water and I was bitterly disappointed as normally I do quite well here.  Also we usually see quite a few seals here but this time only one made a brief appearance when a snout came out of the water briefly before disappearing.


This is where I usually catch the little boat to Eilean Nan Ron when we were ringing.  We had to scope the island from the harbour at Skerray and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a Bonxie but the heat haze was still too much to make anything out at range.  Out in the straight between mainland and island could be seen plenty of Black Guillemots, Fulmar, Shag, Eider, the odd Gannet, Common Gull etc and a couple of Rock Pipits flew nearby. There was also a single Pink footed Goose there.  I was also hoping for Rock Dove here as there are a few pairs in this area but they didn't materialise today.

We decided to go back a slightly longer route in the hope of Red Throated Diver on Loch Naver. (We never did see one of these birds on this holiday which is a first for me as each time I have visited I see them in a few places). We went via Betty Hill and picked up the B871 that goes alongside the river Naver for long periods.  Another beautiful part of Scotland.  Along the way we saw Buzzard at BorgieCommon sandpipers on the edge of the river near to Skelpick and Curlew, Wigeon and Lapwing on the Loch but nothing else. At Altnaharrah we saw our one and (surprisingly) only Raven of the holiday.  We were now back on the A836 going back home.  As I said earlier we reached the viewpoint at Strue Hill , on the B9176, just in time for a superb sunset.

June 7th

England v Argentina (now THAT was worth waiting for)

At the B&B we were staying at, if you wanted to go out early then you could arrange to have your breakfast at a later time and it was arranged for us to be back at noon so we could watch the match.

Walk to Loch Mallachie (Abernethy Forest)

We started out at the walk to the Loch quite early and the first bird seen was our first Goldcrest of the holiday followed by a pair of Common Sandpipers on the edge of Loch Garten, which skirts the walk. A pair of Goldeneye was also out on the Loch.  As we looked out over the Loch another surprise bird came our way when a Goshawk (Y) flashed by and disappeared over the trees towards the Loch Garten visitor centre.  We reached Loch Mallachie just as a Great Spotted Woodpecker took flight from a tree by the side of us.  As we watched Ros caught sight of a movement in the same tree and as we peered into the tree canopy two Crested Tits (Y) came out and landed on some small bushes only about 10 feet from us. Now for the Scottish Crossbill but unfortunately we didn't come across one on this walk.

We went back to our digs for our meal to watch the match and after it was over we had decided to have a look in the Loch Ness area.  After the match we drove along the southern edge of Loch Ness.  I didn't rate the drive alongside this side of the Loch and decided to come off on a very small road by Inverfarigaig. This road is very narrow and cuts back on itself eventually coming out just above Loch Ruthven.  Surprise birds here were a pair of nesting Redwings. A few Red legged Partridges were seen at the Loch Duntelchaig end but not much else.  It was an interesting drive though and went through a few farmyards.  I can't imagine many Englishmen have ever ventured along that road before. This is a road well looking at as I doubt if many people, other than the few farmers who live along it, ever use it.  Anything could turn up there.

June 8th

Pool just outside Boat of Garten

We originally had intended to give the Forest Lodge another try for the Crossbills but as we approached Boat of Garten a few birders were lining the road with scopes up, peering over a small pool at the side of the road. Even so this small pool contained some nice birds on it.  A single Slavonian Grebe, a Pink footed Goose plus a few Wigeon & Tufted Ducks.  I got to talk to the tour leader and mentioned where we were going and what we were after.  He told us of a walk that they had done earlier in the day where they had 16 Scottish Crossbills in one flock and 4 in another.  That was the walk to Loch an Eileen.

Abernethy Forest walk from Whitewell to Loch an Eilein

First birds seen on this walk were a couple of Buzzards and a few Mistle Thrush. After walking about half a mile you come to a path to the right.  Just as we entered this path 4 Scottish Crossbills (3 male & 1 female) flew over our head and landed in a tree right by us affording us good views for about 5 minutes before they flew off.  In the distance we could see a larger flock, which we assumed were the other Crossbills but we never saw those birds again.  The walk produced Coal Tit, Redstart, Tree Pipit (many) Common Sandpiper and Goldeneye.

That was the actual holiday over but now for the driver home on the 9th.  The pager was showing some good birds and we decided to go back to Birmingham via Edinburgh and the east coast.

June 9th

Most of the drive home was conducted in torrential rain.  We left Tomatin at 05:00am and reached the outskirts of Edinburgh by 07:30.  It was my intention to try and find the Tern colony in North Queensferry  as there was the possibility of Roseate Tern there but try as I did I couldn't find it.  It was raining far too heavily to do much any way so we carried on.  Our first target bird was a Marsh Warbler (Y for Britain) at East Barnes at the back of the Blue Circle cement plant.  As soon as we arrived at the designated old post box at a lay by you could hear the bird and almost immediately it popped up to give us an excellent view of the bird.  Surprisingly we were the only ones there until about 10 minutes later when a youngish couple arrived. They were local birders and I asked if the Rustic Bunting was still showing at Thontonloch but apparently it hadn't shown that day.  Undaunted we decided to try as it was only a few miles away.  As we joined the main A1 again a surprise bird flew straight over our head.  It was our second Hobby of our Scottish trip and fairly soon it disappeared towards the Torness power station.  We soon arrived at Thontonloch and the pager had said that the bird was located on the track to the derelict house. What we saw amazed us.  The bird was never found, and hasn't been reported since, but the derelict house was a huge house that must have been worth a fortune at some time in its life.  In the grounds was a field full of holiday caravans all abandoned and smashed in and on top of this was quite a few abandoned cars.  Quite bizarre.  My next port of call was in England where there was a reported pair of Bee-eaters in County Durham.

Bishop Middleham

The rain was still lashing down as we approached County Durham.  As we did a message flashed onto the pager that an Alpine Swift was over the power station at Seaton Carew, which is about 15 miles east of Bishop Middleham.  I was undecided which to go for first as I hadn't seen either of these birds in Britain before.  As I was nearer to the Bee-eater site I decided to go there first.  Bad decision.  The Bee-eaters (Y for Britain) were found straight away but we missed the Alpine Swift by less than 5 minutes.  Oh well!! You can't win them all.

It was 3pm now and a Squacco Heron was being reported near to Barrow in Furness.  Now that is on the west coast and we were on the east coast.  I hadn't seen a Squacco in Spain this year (see my trip report for Spain for this year) so it was decided to go for it but just as we approached Scotch Corner the heavens opened up and you could hardly see 50 yards in front of you.  The traffic almost came to a standstill so the thought of driving all the way to Barrow in Furness was abandoned and common sense prevailed as we drove on to home in Birmingham.

After all that there were three birds that were also never seen or heard which surprised me. Chiffchaff, Red Throated Diver and Hen Harrier.  I was very surprised by no showing of a Harrier considering the areas we visited. In the end my new bird tallies for the year were:

2 Lifers:

White billed Diver

20-year birds:

Golden Eagle
Black-throated Diver
Red Grouse
Black Tern
White-tailed Eagle
Black Guillemot
Velvet Scoter
Hooded Crow
Ring Ouzel
Rock Pipit
Crested Tit
Scottish Crossbill
Marsh Warbler
European Bee-eater

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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