Monday, 17 April 2017

Swallow and Rainbow

I went on the Invernorth walk this morning.  It was cold, there was a frost in sheltered places, the sun had just risen and bathed everything in a beautiful gold light. 

The first thing I saw stepping out of the front door was a female blackbird posing on a fence post catching the early rays.

There were another four on other posts along the road.  Song Thrushes chose higher perches.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush

Their singing was loud in the still air and carried even further from the tops of poles and trees.

A buzzard was even higher, not for singing but for surveillance. 

 It saw me coming and made for a tree top a little further away from the road.


 Other birds enjoying the early morning sun included a Robin

a Yellowhammer


and a Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting
but most exciting of all was my first swallow of 2017

Swallow with Pied Wagtail on the left

It looked pretty exhausted and bedraggled.

Then the rain came in producing rainbows.  At first they were little bits of rainbows

Then full arcs, unfortunately I only had my telephoto lens so could not get the full picture.  The colours in the morning light were as intense as I have ever seen.

total on list 148

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Bearded Tit and Little Gull

Todays' morning walk was basically a long route round Cairness House.
(The Pevsner Architectural Guide for Aberdeenshire North and Moray states that "Cairness House, by James Playfair 1791-97, is of international importance as the only house in Britain the design and construction of which reflected and evolved with the rapid advances in French Neoclassicism towards the end of the C18" and that "its survival is the more precious as so many of Playfair's other designs were either not built or have been lost or altered".)
It is privately owned so I do not go into the grounds.
Today the walk was remarkable for two reasons. It was the first time I had seen Canada Geese on any of these morning walks.
Six Geese a walking
 And it was the first time I had seen a Glaucous Gull on the walks.

Glaucous Gull

Off to join other gulls in a field of newly sown carrots

I did think I had a third 'new' bird and got a bit excited because it would have been a year tick as well.  Despite the white stripe on its crown it was a Curlew not a Whimbrel.
There were more Bullfinches and Long-tailed Tits than I had seen before, a Roe Deer, lots of Rabbits and a total of 41 bird species

Roe Deer

The walk was also of note because of the great light for photography.

Just before lunch I went for a short visit to the Loch of Strathbeg.  Here I found two new ticks or the year list.  At Fen Hide a Bearded Tit.  I only caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye as it descended into the reeds so I would really like to get a better sighting and a photo at some point.  From the Visitors Centre a Little Gull.  It was quite a way off and looking away so again I would like a better sighting and a photo.  The species count for this visit was 42 making 64 for the day which isn't bad.

Total on list 147

Friday, 14 April 2017

An Early Morning Start

I was up well before the lark yesterday.  The alarm was set for 3.00 am.  The plan was to pick up Alex at 4.00 and be at Glen Muick for 6.00 in the morning.  The mission was to see a Black Grouse lek.

And that is what happened.  However the wildlife watching happened before we parked the car.  On the way up the glen there were tens perhaps over a hundred Red Deer just at the road side.  The photos are rather grainy because the light was poor and the ISO cranked up to get a good exposure.

Red Deer

Mostly the deer were standing around in loose groups and not posing as one would have liked.  There were exceptions

Three Red Deer

One or twice we got one of the stags to strike a classic 'Monarch of the Glen' pose.

Red Deer Stag
Interestingly all the stage seemed to be sporting their 2016 antlers although it is this time of year that they are discarding then to grow the 2017 updates.

The other encounter on this road was with a Mountain Hare.  It stopped just by the road but was off before Alex could get a photo out of the passenger window.  We were not to know that this would not be our only Mountain Hare encounter so were cursing our missed photo and consoling ourselves that it was in any case too dark to get a decent image.

 Both Alex and embarked on this adventure for the day in the hope that we would see some birds to tick on our year list.  Alex has the same ambition as me - to get to 200 birds by 31st December 2017.  Like me this is the first, and possibly the only time we will do such a thing.

Neither of us expected that our first tick of the day would be a Red-legged Partridge.  But just as we had seen to grouse in the bottom of the Glen we saw two RLPs close by.  (Not to be confused with LRP birders abbreviation for a Little Ringed Plover or indeed LRPs which in the days of vinyl records that are making a comeback is a Long Playing Record)
Mostly they spent their time with us scurrying round in the tussocky grass trying not to be seen.

Red-legged Partridge

But they clearly decided that the only way to stop us looking at them was for one to come out into the open and give us a good photo opportunity before they disappeared.

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge

I have always thought of the RLP as a bird of lowland farmland.  On the drive to Glen Muick Alex and I wondered where we could find one for our 2017 list and came to the conclusion that it would have to be one of those birds that was seen as a matter of luck rather than careful planning.  So our luck was in and in a most unexpected place.

So on to our main goal for the day.  This was to be a tick for Alex but not for me.  I had seen a Black Grouse on 29th January (see the blog post 'Sundays Big Trip').  This would be my first male Black Grouse of the year and the first time I had visited the lek for some time.

First I have to make it clear that this is a well known lek and is in a wardened area, second that we kept our distance in order not to disturb the birds.  The following photo was taken with a 400mm lens and as you can see they are a long way off.  A Lek by the way is an area where male birds meet to display and on occasions fight to determine which one has the right to mate with the females.  It is however the female bird that makes the final choice.  Several bird species do the mating thing in this way.  Black Grouse Lek for muck of the year but April/May is the key time of the year.

Black Grouse at the Lek
Here are some heavily cropped photos, so the quality is not that good.

Black Grouse Squaring Up
Sometime more than two birds are involved

Black Grouse Displaying
Red Deer also seemed to have got the bug and a couple were playing at the rut in a halfhearted fashion.  As you probably know the rut in earnest is an Autumn spectacle.

Red Deer

Yesterday morning at one time we counted 17 birds on the Lek.  All the black grouse we saw were males.
By 8.30 the lek was over.  The birds were drifting away from the display area leaving the glen floor to the Lapwing, Oystercatchers, Curlew,
Greylag Geese and Common Gulls.  The Red Deer having already left.


Common Gull
Greylag Geese

Red Grouse were all around us, mainly up on the mountain sides.

On the way back to the car we got a bonus of a Wheatear, another tick for Alex.

A better photo of a Wheatear than the one I didn't dare put on my blog post of 11th April 'The Egg Thief' but it could be better still.

From Glen Muick we decided to go in search of another two year list ticks at Glenshee.  Glenshee is a ski resort some 2,000 ft above sea level.  We hoped to see snow buntings and Ptarmigan.

The Ptarmigan, pure white in the winter would have shown up well as there was no deep snow.  In the spring they start to moult into their brown and grey summer plumage.  This made then the same colour as the rock strewn mountains with a pockets of thin snow.  We did not see a Ptarmigan despite and extensive search with telescope and binoculars.  The only snow bunting we saw, was like the Ptarmigan donning  more brown and grey than its white winter winter feathers on a distant fence post but nevertheless a year tick for me.

The other creature changing from winter white to summer grey and brown was the Mountain Hare.  There were so many of them that only the most casual of glances would miss them.  They were constantly on the move which instantly gave them away.  We could have watched them all day but had to remind ourselves that we were looking for Ptarmigan.  But that didn't stop us from going a long way to filling the cameras' memory card with cute pictures.

We eventually gave up trying to find the Ptarmigan and headed back down towards Braemar and back down the A93 to Aboyne to cross the river Dee and have lunch at Glen Tanar.  We than went on a four or five mile walk on the three bridges route and saw very little, on Crossbills, no Capercallies, but lots of Chaffinches.The only bird of note was a Bullfinch.....


....until we got back to the car at the stables car park.  Last time we were at Glen Tanar see blog post for 28th March 'The Beast') Trevor told us that the fields by the stables were good for Green Woodpeckers.  We spent some time scanning the fields and came up with Blackbirds, Starlings, Song and Mistle Thrushes and Pied Wagtail.  We then heard the unmistakable yaffle of a Green Woodpecker coming from over the wall behind us.  Thank you Trevor, at the time I was a bit sceptical but you were right.  It is a good spot for Green Woodpecker.  Unfortunately it remained behind the wall and went unseen.  Of course it means we will have to go back at some time.

Lets leave this blog not with wild life but with some scenery

Loch Muick

Little Waterfall, Glen Muick

Little Waterfall, Glen Tanar

Total on List 145

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Egg Thief

11th April

This morning I spend two hours getting the paper.  Well ten minuets getting the paper (there was a queue at the shop in Crimond) and an hour and fifty minutes at the Loch of Strathbeg.  There was not a great deal to see from Fen Hide.  Opposite the hide on the far side of the Loch there was an RSPB working party doing something with large lengths of timber.  Not surprisingly most of the birds had found somewhere else to be.

On the way back to the hide I witnessed the cruel side of nature.  My attention was drawn to two Magpies and a Carrion Crow having a bit f a noisy argument.  In a nearby tree a Buzzard was stood on its nest
The Magpie/Crow argument moved into the Buzzards tree.
L to R Buzzard, Two Magpies and a Crow
 For some reason the Buzzard left the nest.  The Crow doubled back and swooped on the nest.  Its prize, an egg.

With all that excitement over I got back to the car and drove to the Visitors Centre.  On the way passing through Crimond Airfield I saw a Wheatear, a nice tick for the year list.  I was driving so was only able to get a very, very blurry photo.  Other photo opportunities will arise during the summer.  Back at the Visitors Centre another tick was waiting in the form of two handsome Black-tailed Godwits seen though one of the Centres telescope.   There was plenty of other birds about as well.  In less than two hours I had 45 species including two new ones for the year.

Total on list 143

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Sunday Jaunt

I got two messages about rare(ish) birds at Loch of Skene to the west of Aberdeen. on Saturday.  One said that a Green-winged Teal and a Black-necked Grebe were there in the morning.  The other reported that they were still there in the evening.

On Sunday mid morning after our weekend guests (Daughter and three grandsons) had left for Edinburgh I took off to the Loch of Skene to find these birds.  I was expecting a largish crowd of birders to be there and that they would have found the birds and would be able to point them out to me without much hassle.  But life is never that easy.

There were two birders there who were on their way home.  They told me that they hadn't seen the birds and that earlier visitors had failed to find them.  This meant that I had to scan the loch just in case they had been overlooked.  I hunted through scores of Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye but there was not sight of a Grebe.  I found a small group of Teal but not one was the Green-winged Teal I was looking for.  All this took me beyond lunch time so I stopped off in Westhill to get a sandwich, a drink and I have to confess a blueberry muffin. I decided to go to the Ythan to park up with a view of the upper estuary to eat lunch and watch for an Osprey or two to turn up for their lunch.  Unfortunately it was high tide and it is my experience that the Ospreys fish the Ythan at low tide.  And this was born out.

I did think that I could not go home without at least one more tick for the year list.  The Bullers of Buchan is sort of on the way home from the Ythan and here I should be able to find a Puffin or two at this time of the year.  It did not take long to find them.  Not at the nest site but on the water at the bottom of the cliffs so about 150 feet away.

One Puffin

Three Puffins
One thing I learnt was that Puffins mate in the water.  That is what is going on in this next photo.

Puffin mating
 There were a few other bird around a well.

Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes


 When I got home I read through my emails and found one timed an hour before I left for the Loch of Skene that said that neither the Green-wing Teal nor the Black-neck Grebe had been seen that morning.  If I had seen that when it was sent I may not have gone out for the day and had a good though frustrating days birding

Total on list 141