Trip reports

11 Go to Scotland - CAPER11

11 Go to Scotland - CAPER11
Capercaillie -Chris Storey

Friday, 20 May 2011

An early morning meet at 8am (early? yes considering it wasn't a school day) on Friday 20th May 2011 saw us off on our way for the long drive up to Grantown on Spey, Scotland. Brenda had been baking and her delicious afternoon tea cake (devoured by 10.30...well what did you expect) set us up for the day.

Listing the birds as we went, the first of the trip was a Swift. We had a couple of comfort stops on the way, notably one being at Loch of the Lowes in Dunkeld Perthshire were Treecreepers were in abundance and our list grew rapidly with nesting Osprey followed by Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, GS Woodpecker, Siskin and Red Squirrel. Finally arriving at our destination The Grant Arms hotel (grantarmshotel.com) by late afternoon.

Grantown on Spey is just south of Inverness . The Spey valley is renowned for its gentle climate magnificent scenery forests and mountains. The hotel itself was the perfect base as it was home to bird watching and wildlife club (www.bwwc.co.uk) who were on hand to offer help and information to the major reserves and wildlife areas in that were within easy distance.

After a quick unpack we undertook a late afternoon stroll around Anagach woods and the River Spey, 5 minutes walk behind the Grant Arms Hotel. Here we saw Spotted Flycatcher, Chiff Chaff, Goldcrest, Goosander, Coal tit, Goldeneye with her chicks and another Red Squirrel (our list was building). Returning to the hotel for an early evening 3 course dinner Venison was on the menu, however I'm not sure I'll be ever be able to eat it again after looking at all those ruminant soft brown eyes (Laura).

We then embarked on what I believe was the highlight of the day, our booking with Speyside Wildlife (www.speysidewildlife.co.uk) Hidden away in a wooded area a hide stands, large windows and spot lights gave a clue to it's purpose. Luxury, a heater buffered us against the temperature dropping outside. From here we were treated to wonderful close up views of a Scottish wildlife speciality Pine Martin, drawn in by a dinner of raw egg and peanuts this sumptuous animal, who I yearned to stroke with it's gleaming rich red coat and creamy ears, was named Spot, a perfect specimen of his species.
A little later 2 Badgers arrived to feast on the peanuts. These badgers were noticeably smaller than their English cousins but equally fascinating to watch. Other hidden residents of the hide were Wood Mice; they too crept out and took their fill from the viewing area. As the hide is secluded we were also able too observe a herd of over 20 Red Deer browsing the surrounding scrub, and much later on the way back to the bus peering through the gloom (surprisingly still not quite dark despite being well past 11pm, we could see the deer had moved to an adjoining field and their numbers had increased to over 50, apparently this is where they regularly congregate to spend the night.

Back to the hotel around midnight where we found the bar closed, the pubs shut and the evening staff wouldn't take a bribe, just as well an I think our beds were calling.

Saturday 21st. After meeting for breakfast (the all day banquet kind) it was agreed to head for Cairngorm Mountain as the weather forecast for the rest of the weekend was set to deteriorate. Whilst waiting for our mountain ranger (Attila the Kiss- the type of guy to turn a straight fella gay) to give us the go ahead for the walk up to the mountain summit , we dropped in at Glenmore Forest park for a quick twitch, success for some of us as we observed 2 Crested Tits flitting though the trees.

Back at Aviemore, a short trip on the funicular mountain railway took us part way up the mountain, we then had to walk 3/4 of a mile to the 4000ft summit, battling all the way against a 70mph gale, blowing rain and sleet. Surprisingly there was still snow about; a foot in the dips which had fell the day before. (Needless to say this was irresistible to a certain party member who saw a snowball fight in the offering!)
Attila Kiss our Hungarian Ecologist ranger led the way up Cairngorm Mountain . I'd be telling an untruth to say it wasn't hard going and thoughts of giving up the slog did fleetingly cross my mind. That was until we caught sight of our quarry, a startled Snow Bunting quickly followed by a male Ptarmigan defending his patch....The Hooley kept blowing but we made it to the top under Attila's care, not that you could see anything but rain cloud! The return trip rewarded us with another but more spectacular sighting of the Ptarmigan, exiting right yards from the path we trod. A Wheatear was also observed on the slower slopes.
Back in the ptarmigan restaurant for a well deserved large coffee. With its panoramic windows the restaurant gives spectacular views of the area ski slopes and fortunately for us another ahh moment. A wonderful mountain hare with its speckled superb coat and alert ears came down the slopes and gave us a clear view as it bobbed about for over 5mins.
Meanwhile as we were engrossed with the Hare, Chris 'tynos' charm acquired the hush, hush directions to an area the elusive Capercaillie had been seen.

The afternoon saw us at the Rothiemurchus estate in search of the 'big bird'. We decided to split into 2 groups for our search of the sighting area. After a while, just as we thought we'd been had, a commotion! Tomo had spotted our bird a magnificent male Capercaillie strutting arrogantly standing 'his' ground, fanning his beautifully marked tail head held proudly high. "The horse of the woods" the largest member of the grouse family, reaching over 45 inches in length and 14.8 lbs in weight. This caused a snappers frenzy, all trying to get the perfect photo!

By late afternoon we found ourselves at BWWC's own hide at Avielochan, This gave us an excellent view of a beautiful Slavonian Grebe its golden ear tufts glowing in the light. Moving onto Loch Vaa, we spied a Red Throated Diver swimming towards the far shore, here there was a fisherman/warden on site who just happened to have a rowing boat, there then ensued a diver pursuit, 3 men and a lady launched. The diver won managing to put an equal amount of water between itself and his pursuers, however hard Phil rowed.

Back to the hotel for yet another 3 course belly buster (serious fayre, not for those of plain tastes, not a chip in sight). Before retiring to the bar for a recap of the day events, what's to come, jovial banter, lots of local whiskey tasting and a school yard inspired caper around a black pudding and its Capercaillie muse!

Sunday saw us travelling to Lochindorb where we dipped on Black Throated Diver but finally got to see our first real sighting of Osprey flying high over the Loch . Another sighting of note on the way to the Loch was fabulous views of Red Grouse, initially a wonderful red browed male, then the female with her chicks breaking out from the scrub cover. Lapwing and Curlew with chicks were also in the same area.

Moving on again toward the Findhorn Valley we stopped at junction 151, but failed to see the Ring Ouzels that had been reported in the area, however we did spot another rarity a Cuckoo flying over and Wheatear on the rocks.
We entered the Findhorn valley (locally known as Valley of the Raptors) a long 10mile drive to its terminus. Following the river Findhorn, the valley is a fabulous panoramic area with endless sky which we continuously scanned for our target birds. We were not disappointed Tynos with his exceedingly sharp long distance vision targeted a large bird soaring over the mountain skyline, and then closer scouring the mountainside before disappearing from view. It has to be said the weather had turned a 'touch cooler than Saturday and the wind was giving us a taste of things to come, subsequently Stores got memorably ribbed for 'I know it's a Golden Eagle but I'm still putting my hoodie on before I get out of the bus'
Other inhabitants of the Findhorn were seen on the grassy slopes, a herd of red deer and a group of skittish mountain goats.

Driving out of the valley Laura with her eagle eye spotted the fluffiest of chicks when she shouted 'I think I've just seen an owl' Investigating it turned out to be a young tawny owl on a branch. We all leapt out of the bus for a photo stop and amazingly found 2 more chicks hiding in different trees. Sorry but this was a big 'Ahhh' moment.

Onto RSPB Loch Garten to see the famous Osprey mother EJ sitting on her nest (www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/lochgarten/abernethyvideo.aspx) the easiest of birds to spot with all the scopes and cameras pointing at it, we arrived just in time for the male Odin to bring in a large brown trout which EJ delicately fed to her chick. EJ then took a short exercise flight around the nest site, it must be tough sitting all day. Last year, EJ in her 9th year in the Cairngorms (At 14 years old, she is one of the most experienced and well-known birds to visit the nature reserve) and her toy-boy partner Odin, successfully raised three young.


Away from Loch Garten onto Abernethy forest looking for another must have tick Crossbill. Having seen 2 straight away in the car park drinking in a puddle, we were beginning to think that was it, when amazingly a flock of about 20 or more flew into a stand of pines off the track and began feeding, male, female and juveniles all giving great views. The males particularly stunning with their bright red/orange plumage.

Monday morning and a happy birthday to Chris Melia, the weather was ominous and with the long drive home ahead Chris decided he'd celebrated his special day early. Cup cakes all round were the order of the day.
After another hearty breakfast we started the drive home but not before stooping at the Old Spey Bridge to give us our last chance of finding Dipper and Grey Wagtail, we weren't disappointed - why can't all birds be this easy to find.

Our trip back was not without event. A severe weather warning for high winds had been announced by the Met office and we certainly felt it as some stray foliage smashed into our windscreen. 10 minutes from our scheduled rest stop we ground to a holt, 1.5 hrs of tarmac sitting later we heard from a local roving reporter that a tree had fallen on the motorway ahead and taken out an ambulance and a lorry, the road was not expected to be clear for another 2hrs!! A change of direction found us taking a 45min diversion through Gleneagles (sorry Sean no time for a tee off) and around Glasgow , thoughts of home for tea well out of the window. So we decided to stop at Killington Lake services on the M6 and this gave us our last ticks Dunnock and Cormorant to finish our weekend bird list.

All in all it was considered a very successful weekend, most of the target birds were found even though trying to find then was no easy feat. I think a good weekend was had by all, good birds, good food, good company, good hotel equals good time.
(By the way the weather station report for Monday 23rd on the Cairngorm Mountain summit was 114mph, who'd be a Ptarmigan).

Report complied by Chris 'Stores', Laura 'Bimo', Ann 'Tomo' and Anne Pope.
Many thanks to our Grantown on Spey 'recce' and booking team and all our weary drivers.
Terrific...where are we going next?




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