Monday, 20 June 2016

Highland Fling

I have recently spent a superb week in Aviemore with my family.  On our first full day there, we decided to climb Cairngorm as the weather forecast was really good and amazingly they got it right!

On the walk up we saw lots of Mountain Hare and one or two Ptarmigan.

After a stop at the Ptarmigan cafe for a coffee we continued up to the summit.  Despite a good scan around the summit for Dotterel, all we found were more Ptarmigan with a very brief view of a Snow Bunting.  It was great being on the top of Cairngorm with no wind and actually feeling the heat of the sun.  

After spending a couple of hours up there we just couldn't find any Dotterel so decided to call it a day.  We were just leaving the cafe after having lunch when it started to rain, so we decided to get the train back down.  Which, as it turned out, was a very good decision as it very quickly turned into a torrential downpour. 

The next day we started with a walk around Loch an Eilein, hearing three or four Cresties although we only got a brief view of one.  Also heard, but not seen, were Crossbill, Redstart and Tree Pipit.  As with everywhere we went during the week, there were good numbers of Spotted Flycatcher.  
We then headed to Abernethy Forest to see if we could improve on the views of Crestie.  We did get better views but they stayed high up in the trees and well out of the range of my camera, as did a single juvenile Crossbill.

To keep my daughter happy we had a day at the Highland Wildlife Park, which is always a nice day out. 

Mid week we had a trip along the Findhorn Valley and after getting distant views of a Golden Eagle from the car park, we decided to have a walk further up the valley.  After about a mile and three quarters (remembering I had left my camera in the car half way) we sat down for a snack and a drink.  Whilst setting up the scope I managed to break the hood on my 20-60x eyepiece (it has been dodgy for a while).  As I was sitting there trying to fix the eyepiece, Gwen, my wife, pointed out a Buzzard to my daughter Amy.  As I looked though my binoculars it was then I saw a white tail with a dark terminal bar, then the bird turned and I could see the white patches on the under wing.  "That's no Buzzard, it's a Golden Eagle" I said frantically trying get my spare 32x eyepiece out of my scope back pack.  Then the first Eagle was joined by a second and whilst getting the scope onto them Gwen said there's another one coming along the hillside.  Three Golden Eagles together, unbelievable!!  The third bird drifted off over the valley and was soon joined by a fourth Eagle and then the two of them disappeared behind a hill.  The original two Eagles then landed on a closer hill with one of them sitting in full view, preening.  After giving us, and another birder that came along, good views for half an hour or so, the Eagle took off and disappeared behind the hill.  This was a good time to head back to the car for lunch.  

The next few days were spent walking around various forests in the area checking out some new locations.  

We also had a trip up on the funicular railway hoping to pick Dotterel up on the ridge opposite the cafe, but all I saw were Ring Ouzel and Ptarmigan.  

We also had a trip on the Strathspey Railway which is always nice.

On our last day Gwen suggested climbing Cairngorm again to have one last try for Dotterel before we set off home.  However when we got up in the morning it was grey and overcast with the cloud very low on the mountain, but it was forecast to clear later on.  We drove up to the car park in cloud and I went into the ranger station to ask what the weather was like at the top.  The ranger told me that he had just spoken to the top station and the weather was glorious up there, so we set off up the windy ridge trail.  Just over half way up we came out of the cloud into glorious sunshine.

A little bit further on two Ptarmigan crossed the path and fed between the snow fences.

Gwen and Amy went into the cafe for a drink and I continued up to the summit to look for Dotterel.  As I approached the summit I could see a group of birders up there.  Suddenly one of them pointed at something and they all focused on one area.  When I got closer to them I could see what they were looking at, a superb Dotterel!

Whilst me and the other birders sat watching the Dotterel three Snow Bunting including a very nice male, flew in and landed right in front of us. 

A bit later on Gwen and Amy joined me at the top and were both able to get great views of the Dottrell too.  What a day to end a superb weeks holiday in the highlands!!

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