Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Snakes Alive!!

Alex and I went on a guided walk up Glen Esk on 21st May.  It was organised by the  Friends of Angus Herpetofauna.  It was a Reptile Walk.

Whats that to do with birds you are all saying.  Well we hoped to see a few birds as well as getting to grips with snakes.  Top of our bird list was Cuckoo and Whinchat.

We got involved in this thanks to the youngest of my offspring, Sydney.  Sydney sent me a link to the event which was scheduled for 7th May.  On booking a place on the walk I was told that it was fully booked but would I like to put my name down for the 'overspill' walk on 21st.

Glen Esk is over 80 miles away so even though the walk started at 10.00 it was an early start.  I knew that the day was going to go well as only four of five miles from home I was joined for a few hundred yard of my drive down the A90 by a Short-eared Owl.  Not a year tick but a good bird to get close views of.  I have always thought of Short-eared Owls as winter birds in the lowlands that spent he summer on the high moors or across the North Sea in the Scandinavia.  There are several birds spending the Summer in this part of lowland Scotland. I don't know if this a a new trend or something that has been going on for some tome.

During the drive up Glen Esk we saw a Stock Dove (a tick for me)    As soon as we got out of the car at Invermark we heard a Cuckoo (another tick for me).  We never got to see the bird, there may have been more than one, but hearing is enough for my year list.

By 10.00 everyone booked for the Reptile Walk had arrived.  You will have noticed that I have only referred to people by their first names in the blog but for this one I am making an exception.  The walk was led by Trevor Rose.

Trevor Rose giving the introduction to the walk and the health and safety briefing

You could not wish for a better guide than Trevor.  Not only did he know about his subject he knew where to find them and was brilliant and getting across his enthusiasm for these often misunderstood creatures.  We found within 100 yards of the car park five or six Slow Worms

Slow Worm

It is not a worm and it is not all that slow so how it got its name ids a mystery to me.  It is in fact a lizard without legs.  Trevor gave lots of information about why it was a lizard and not a snake.  The two things I remember are that it its mouth is different and unlike Snakes it cannot swallow large prey items (it eats slugs and real worms in the main) and that is has eyelids that Snakes lack.  Trevor also told us that its tail as a proportion of its body length is much longer.  I never thought of Snakes of Slow Worms an anything other than 'tail'.

Trevor let people handle the Slow Worms, the children in the group especially so that they would know that they are not slimy but felt as he said 'like your plastic toys'.

We came across several Adders on our walk to he end of Loch Lee.  Basically Trevor knew his stuff and found them for the group.  One of the snakes was out in the open.  The others coaxed out.

Trevor handling an Adder.

We were allowed to get quite close them but not the last one we found.

This one, a female was ready to strike at anything that came too close.  You can see from the blue haze across its eyes that it was ready to shed its skin.  This meant that its eyesight was temporally poor which made it a wee bit tetchy, as it would.

This was the end of the guided reptile walk.  Rather than join the others and go straight back to the car park we decided to explore the wooded area at the end of the loch.

It was full of bird life.  A pair of Ring Ouzels, plenty of Willow Warblers, Chaffinches and a Spotted Flycatcher (at tick for Alex and a tick for me) and quite a bit more.

Spotted Flycatcher

On the way back down the loch side and to the car park we came across more birds




Still got to see a Whinchat!

During the drive back home we talked as you do about birds to see and so on.  Alex car was booked in o get the heating fixed and said that he didn't want to travel far.  He might, he said go to Strathbeg for something like a Spoonbill or a Bluethroat.

We got back to Buchan to find that Facebook and Whatsap messaging was full of Spoonbill sightings at Strathbeg.  Alex true to his word went there that evening.  I didn't pick up the messages until it was getting dark I had to wait for the morning and hope that they were still there.  And they were - they hadn't even woken up when I got there.

Having got the the bird and taken the photo I had a go at digiscoping with my new telescope.  The results were far from perfect.  These next images were with the Canon DLSR

Mutual Preening

Two Little Egrets and Three Spoonbills

This one was taken with my camera phone.

One Little Egret and Three Spoonbills
A bit more practise required I think.

I also took a shot of the wider view of the early morning at Strathbeg that also give you some idea about how far away they were..

But the day was not over yet.  At tea time the social media started up again.  This time it was a Bluethroat at Cairnbulg just a couple of miles up the road.  Once more I was not in a position to respond immediately so by the time I got there a lot of the local birders had already arrived.  Alex was there of course - he did say he would risk his car to go to see a Bluethroat.  The bird did not stay in one place for very long it was going from the shore to the dunes and back, from the path to the rocks and back to the dunes and so on.  Eventually I did get a photo or two.  A smart looking bird with a red spot on its blue throat indicating that it had come from Scandinavia.

As Alex's rare bird predictions seem to be about right I'll have to ask whats coming up next.

Total on list 185

Monday, 22 May 2017


Sunday 14th May started out well.

I came home from my morning walk with a tick for the year list.  It was just a 'heard' tick.  I did not see the Blackcap that was singing away.

Once I had got home I got the call that there was a Pied Flycatcher at Rattray.  Rattray is not far away so off I went.  No Pied Flycatcher in fact nothing of note to see unless you count the others who were looking for it as well.

Back home again and another call out.  This time it was a Wood Sandpiper at the Loch of Strathbeg.  Strathbeg is even closer to home than  Rattray so I had to go.  This time I was lucky.  The Wood Sandpiper was still there and I also saw a Ruff - one tick for the year list.

In the absence of any photos of the days ticks here are some others I took

Willow Warbler


Rabbit with nesting material

Female Bullfinch

Common Tern

Mute Swan and Cygnets

On 17th May I went to the Ythan Estuary to try out my new telescope and tripod.  Alex picked me up in the morning and as we both had to be back by lunchtime the time there was limited.  Alex's ulterior motive in doing the driving was three fold.  He wanted to see what the 'scope was like before he took the plunge to upgrade his equipment and he wanted to see if he could find a Roseate Tern among the Common. Arctic and Sandwich in the colony.  He also wanted to give he car a run as it was overheating.

It was a windy day and not very warm and soon our eyes were watering making it extremely difficult to see clearly.  The birds were not cooperating either.  They were mostly resting the sand with their heads tucked under there wing.  One of the main ways of telling Common, Arctic and Roseate terns apart is by bill colour and that was not possible.  The other trick that the terns played on us was to rise up into the air en mass, fly around and land again taking up their original posture of hiding their bill.  But they didn't land in the same place so you had to start again looking through the birds trying to find the Roseate.  It was a bit like a pack of cards being shuffled before you had a chance to see them all.  I haven't got a photo of the terns but i do have one of the seals that haul out at the mouth of the estuary.  The tern colony has been out of bound to the public for a long time the seal haul out area has only recently (this year) been designated as such and therefore officially out of bounds.  There has been a growing problem of people, some with dogs, trying to get close to the seals to take photos.  So close in fact that they have put themselves at risk and the disturbing the seals.  To find out more about the Ythan seals go to the Ythan Seal Watch Facebook page.

Seals at the Ythan Estuary

Anyway the good news about the trip was that I saw Little and Arctic Terns for the first time this year.

Total on list 180

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The missing 'Beast'

on 12th May Alex and I went on a hunt for the 'Beast'.  Armed with a hand drawn map that would have put Long John Silvers' to shame (thanks Jimmy) we set of to Strathspey.

On the river Spey I found a 'tick.
Common Sandpiper
There were Mallard, Goldeneye, Black-headed Gulls, a Dipper and surprisingly a pair of Common Terns

Common Terns
And an angler.

Salmon Fishing on the Spey

We reached the 'X' on the map without any problem.  The habitat was perfect 'Beast' country.

All it lacked was the 'Beast' itself that might have been because a group of five birders got to the place just before us or it could have been that it was somewhere else in the large pine forest. However it did contain my second tick of the day a Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit
On our way back to Buchan we did a quick stop at Dufftown and went on a short walk along the river Fiddich on the off chance of picking up a few, or any, woodland summer visitors.  I think we were a bit early as there weren't any.   I did get some pictures though

Doe Deer

Long-tailed Tit

Alex spotted a strange bird in the river flapping around some rocks - closer inspection revealed a piece of black plastic.  He did it again just North of Ellon.  I had to stop and turn back on the A90 ( not an easy or quicktask) to look at the 'bird' on a fence post - it was another piece of black plastic.  Well it could have been a Cuckoo!

Total on list 176

RSPB Trip to Rattray and Strathbeg

I was asked to write the trip report for this event.  Here it is:-

RSPBAberdeen Members Group Trip Report 9th May
Sunny Rattray and Strathbeg

The Trip started at the St Mary's car park at the South end of the Loch of Strathbeg. While we were waiting for people to arrive the opportunity was taken not just to catch up with everyone's news but to train bins and 'scopes on the Loch and surrounding fields. We were able to catch up with a hand full of farmland birds and a good selection of birds in and around the Loch. The Sedge Warblers were a first of the year for some and were good entertainment as they rose up out of the reeds fringing the Loch and glided back again.

As we were gathering I was told I had 'volunteered' to do this trip report and then told to make sure my spelling was correct. The reason I was given for 'volunteering' was that as I write a birding blog so I would be doing a trip report anyway. So shameless plug for my blog:– www.mikesbirding.blogspot.co.uk

From the meeting point we all crammed into as few cars as possible to make the journey down the track to Rattray Lighthouse cottages. The cottage gardens are a great migrant trap. Tim, who was leading the field trip said that the only resident birds were House Sparrow, Robin and Pied Wagtail, anything else would be a migrant and just passing through. We saw Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Linnet, Goldfinch, Swallows and Sand Martin

Gathering at the Lighthouse Cottages
The most spectacular sighting was a skein of over 100 Pink-footed Geese flying over our heads. 

From the cottages we headed for the beach. 

The usual sea birds were there but there was a passage of Whimbrel and Curlew flying North.

The other highlight, fortunately not caught on camera, was a 'mini Tsunami' sending several group members falling over each other in a rush for higher ground. Some of the group had already seen that the tide was coming in and had already escaped the waves. The more stoical members stood their ground but got wet feet.

By now it was lunch time so a long convoy proceeded to the Loch of Strathbeg Visitors Centre. The birding highlight here was a Little Ringed Plover and not one but two Great White Egrets. The no birding highlight was a tray of fine pieces provided by Julie and Jim Pickering.

The group then went to Tower Pool hide. It wasn't big enough for everyone to be seated! Birding highlights here were a pair of courting Herons, A Sparrowhawk fly past and a visit from a pair of Swifts.

Whitethroat seen from the Path to the Tower Pool hide

A total of sixty species were seen during the day:
Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Gannet, Cormorant, Great White Egret, Buzzard, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Curlew, Dunlin, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Skylark, Sand Martin, Swallow, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Wren, Starling, Stonechat, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Siskin, Yellowhammer and Red Bunting.

Thanks must go to Tim Marshall who lead the group to such an impressive list and to Julie and Jim Pickering for the pieces.

Two new birds for the year list - Swift and Little Ringed Plover.  My photo of the plover was not good enough for the trip report but I'll put it up here.  

Little Ringed Plover
Total on list 174

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Jimmy's Lucky 'Scope

Yesterday I took the opportunity to follow up on reports of a Spotted Redshank on the Ythan and went to have a look for myself.  When I got there three birders were just leaving.  One of them, Jimmy told me how to get close'ish to the bird.  And that was just as well because to reports description of its location was a little vague and I would have gone to the wrong place.  A bit like the hunt for the Great Grey Shrike (see the post 'Third or forth Time Lucky' on 4th March).

But this time I found the bird on my first attempt.  It was with Redshanks and was a good opportunity to see the differences not just in plumage but in overall shape and looks.  The Spotted Redshank was a longer legged bird more elegant in its behaviour but not a elegant as the Greenshank I saw latter that day from Waulkmill hide.
Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank in front of  Redshank.

The other observation of note was the presence of a flock of Pink-footed Geese.  I haven't seen any on my morning walks for a week or so and had presumed that they had all flown of to their Iceland breeding grounds.

Today, despite the strong North-Westerly wind to look for Divers in the Moray Firth.  Last month a boat trip to look for divers had been cancelled because of the weather and other trips along the coast had not been successful.  However the 'divers off the coast season is nearly at an end and they won't stay around waiting for me to see them on a calm day.  My first stop was at Portsoy.  A White-billed Diver had been been there yesterday.  Portsoy has a lovely little fishing harbour and holiday destination famous locally for its Ice Cream and which every year has tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the Boat Festival (24th and 25th June this year).

Portsoy Harbour

Portsoy Harbour
Today it was cold and windy.  I could not find a place of shelter that looked out over the sea.  After fifteen minutes of not seeing any birds I gave up the sea watching and took photos of the harbour that Jill had asked for.

The other report of a White-billed Diver that came in yesterday was from Cullen, a larger fishing and holiday town further along the coast famous for its fish soup, Cullen Skink.  In the village centre I met Jimmy a birder who was frustrated last year because his year list stood at 239 all December and he could not get it to the 240 mark.  Anyway we had a chat, a cup of coffee and he lent me his Optricon telescope to look for the divers off shore.  Jimmy's 'scope is a lot better than mine I was able to find Great Norther Divers and Black-throated Divers with Jimmy's scope mine didn't find anything at Portsoy.  Maybe if I had borrowed someones even more expensive 'scope I would have found a White-billed Diver as well.  I didn't so that will have to wait for another day when its calmer and brighter and in the not too distant future because they will be leaving soon.  The birds were a long way out to sea and a telescope was essential.  I could not even see a bird through the camera view finder.  I did take some general pot luck shots of the sea to see if they showed anything when zoomed in on the computer.  This is all I got. A pair of Eider and a something!


Pair of Eider
My big surprise of the trip was a Red-legged Partridge in the middle of Cullen as I went back to Jimmy's to return his 'scope. (It was so good that yesterday, even before I had tried out Jimmy's I ordered one, and a tripod to go with it.  It should arrive by the end of the week.)

Why did the Partridge Cross the Road?

Only the Partridge Knows

Total on list 172