Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New friends from the kitchen

One of the pleasures of our kitchen is the view of the bird table. We have feeders around the garden, but it's nice to be able to glance out and see what's around the table. By the time I get home from work the light is getting a bit low - especially with the weather of the last few days - and as usual the windows could be a little cleaner, but you can get some snaps even so.
The jackdaws come in varying numbers through the year, but at present it can be like a scene from 'The Birds' as they come in to wait for a feed.

The best bit is watching the juveniles come down, hanging around like teenagers on the street corner in the hope that someone (anyone) will come and give them a feed.

One of house sparrows was keen to get in on the act as well .......

but over the last few days we've had some new species coming down. The wood pigeon often sits around on the telephone wires, but this is the first time it's had an explore in the garden - perhaps the 'meadow' style of our lawn at the moment is proving an added attraction (give me a break - it keeps raining at the weekends!)

An even more unusual sighting for us has been this jay.

I'm hoping it will stick around so I can try and get some direct shots against a better background, (if it is ever dry again at weekends I might get the hide out) but for now I'll make do with these record snaps of our new pal.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Uskmouth Orchids and a Cool Cat

Managed a trip to Uskmouth in amongst the showers. The dew made up for the lack of rain, though and wet knees were the price of some snaps of the local orchids

Southern Marsh



This last was one I first saw 2 years ago on the same site. I had aways admired the pictures I'd seen and they are as lovely as I hoped - but the flowers are smaller than I expected. If you just glance you could miss a plant completely, at least until you get tuned into what you are looking for.
Whilst out and about I found a rather cool looking caterpillar just leaving the path. I have discovered it's The Drinker (named because the caterpillar drinks dew). Cool.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pied Flies and a moth

Last year I tried to get some shots of the pied flycatchers at Nagshead Reserve, but they were a bit shy, there are always lots of people around and the best most people seemed to be managing were digiscoped shots.
This year there were quite a lot of reports from sites near to, but outside, the reserve. I knew roughly where there was a nest site, and after a few wayward ambles into the woods I found it. The light was tricky - either bright sun with strong shadows, or more often shade when the sun moved behind the tree canopy. Still I ended up with a few shots that weren't distant dots.

One interesting event was the appearance of this second male. He went up to the nest entrance, but not in, and was soon chased off, although he did return.

The funniest moment was when a large fly landed on the rim of the nest when I knew the female was inside. I waited with bated breath as it strolled along. Just as I had decided nothing was going to happen the female shot out the hole, did a rapid 180 degree turn and dived back inside. No sign of the fly. Talk about a bad choice of landing site. Sadly the pictures were really too blurred to use as it was all so fast.
I could hardly fail to notice the winged insects with huge antennae flitting and dancing all around me. My first thought was that they reminded me of the longhorn caddis flies I used to see when fishing, but they had moth wings. Quick look in the bug book revealed them to be male Nemophora degeerella. The antennae are the longest of any British moth and in the male can be 4 times as long as the wings. Much shorter in the female.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Aviemore: The Black Isle

If you are in the Inverness area, one must is a trip to Chanonry Point at Fortrose on the Black Isle. This is the UK's premier site for dolphin watching from the shore. It is a site where a spit of land juts out into the Moray Firth. The narrows have really deep water close inshore, and on a good day you can find yourself within feet of an airborne bottlenose dolphin. In fairness more often the views are of heads and dorsal fins arcing through the water, but even so if you haven't been it is worth a trip. You may need to be patient, but that's hardly new in wildlife watching. I've only ever failed to see a dolphin, or at least a porpoise, on one occasion, although they've not always been close in. A rising tide is said to be best, with the run of salmon and sea trout the magnet that draws them in.

While you're waiting you could always pick up some haggis and chips from the chippy in Fortrose and enjoy a seaside meal accompanied by herring gulls,


and even a swallow gathering mud for a nest.

While you're in the area, a five minute drive up the road takes you to the Fairy Glen RSPB reserve at Rosemarkie. A lovely spot for a walk through broad leaved woodland alongside a stream. As well as this juvenile chaffinch .........

we saw grey wagtails and spotted flycatchers, but I'm sure there's more there if you spend the time.
At the top of the walk is a series of waterfalls, and if you look closely at the top one there is a tell-tale streak of white on the bank.

Wait a minute and the reason becomes clear as the dippers return to feed the growing brood in the hole under overhanging vegetation.

The light is never brilliant due to tree cover, but as it was a sunny day even my panasonic managed a couple of half decent snaps this time. One interesting thing I did notice was that each time the adult emerged with a faecal sac it would exit the nest and fly straight down into the pool below.

PS if there seems to be a thread running through this blog regarding haggis and chips, I only ever eat them at Boat of Garten heronry or Chanonry Point, where I regard this as a key part of the Scottish wildlife experience. Just as well I can't get them at home!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Aviemore: Lochs

Travelling home from watching the black grouse at Glenlivet, I decided to make the most of a beautiful morning. I could spare half an hour looking for one of my truly favourite birds and still be home by the time everyone else was having breakfast.
30+ years ago holidays in Aviemore were the norm for my family, and I spent many warm summer evenings fishing at a small loch just outside Aviemore. In those days it had a good head of wild brown trout, and for me little could match the pleasure of twitching a floating sedge imitation across the surface whilst awaiting a crashing rise. Apart from the scenery and the fishing one of the other great pleasures were the Slavonian Grebes, which would often swim a few feet away when you were wading. Readers of the blog (if there are any) will know that little grebes are a favourite, but I'm afraid the Slav's leave them standing for sheer beauty. The Highlands represent the UK stronghold for these birds, with the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven (south west of Inverness) being the most well known and well populated site. However there are pairs dotted around elsewhere, and even 30 years later 'my' loch continues to have one or two breeding pairs.
Sure enough they were there, and even better they proved to be reasonably tolerant of my presence, eventually swimming by pretty close, considering that I was sitting in full view.

Even these low resolution pictures show that fabulous head, the sparkling red eyes and the warm, warm colours. Clicking on the picture will take you to a slightly bigger view, but if you want to see some more detailed shots go to Dave Slater's website via the link on this page.
The loch also held a number of greylag geese this year, with about half of the 'creche' being visible in this shot.

The big lochs in the area hold a certain charm, but many are very deep right into the margins and peat coloured, meaning that you maybe don't see the range of wildlife you might expect. Even the ospreys living next to the lochs may not fish them, as they are too hard to spot fish in. (Cue very distant shot of osprey and nest!)

There are a few lovely spots though, and the Lily Loch is one of our 'every year' walks. The walk out takes you through some mixed woodland, and the loch itself is bounded by forest. On a warm evening just sit and watch the deer come down to drink. We were still a bit early for the lily flowers, but the leaves were further on than in recent years, and provided a perfect backdrop for the small family of goldeneye.

Opposite the main loch there are a couple of woodland lochans, one of which held a little grebe nest tucked against a branch sticking out of the middle of the water.

The one other spot we usually visit is the little lochan on the outskirts of Boat of Garten - usually to eat haggis and chips whilst watching the antics of the birds in the heronry. Great place for a meal!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Aviemore: Upland and Moorland

If the Aviemore area is famous for the remnant Caledonian Forest, it's actually the mountains that dominate the visual environment. I'm not a hill walker - don't mind wandering along and seeing what's about, but slogging up a slope just to get to the top doesn't really do it for me. That said, this year I did venture onto the hills. A bit.

If you are interested in animals, rather than just strictly wildlife I would recommend joining one of the reindeer feeding trips run by the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. Kids seem to have a great time, but even for adults the chance to learn something about these animals and do a bit of hand feeding is worth it. In May they are calving, and this year we went up the day after they had brought over the mums and calves from Glenlivet, so it was real chocolate box stuff.

The first impression is how small they are. This handsome chap here is feeding an adult, but as you can see I'm squatting and it's standing. The other thing you notice is the way they click when they walk - a tendon snaps with each step, enabling them to walk in single file during blizzards, listening for the deer in front. The strange thing this year was the mallard pair that came in a feeding time (and contrived to sneak onto most of my photographs!). This was at some real height up Cairngorm, and a long way from what I would have thought was usable water, but there they were.

From there we decided to go up Cairngorm the easy way - on the funicular railway.

It's pleasant enough, and there's a nice cafe at the top (The Ptarmigan Restaurant), but to protect the fragile environment you can't walk out onto the mountain at the top - just onto some viewing platforms.

As it was snowing a little when we first arrived (wind like a knife), we started with a hot chocolate. I'd been told you could see ptarmigan form the Ptarmigan and sure enough after about 10 mins a male launched himself skywards into the wind. After flying nowhere for about 30 seconds he dropped down again, and a scan with the binoculars revealed 4 or 5 birds, although none were too close.

On the way back down a woman on the other side of the railcar said "What's that bird", and I turned just in time to catch a glimpse of a ring ouzel perched on a rock by the track (and a path).

The next couple of mornings saw me up there early to try and find it. It wasn't hard as they were nesting and feeding chicks, right next to the path. They have a reputation for being easily disturbed s0 I didn't' really try and get too close to the nest, but I did get some nice views of the birds.

At one point I think there were two males calling, although I could only see this one doing a blackbird-like warning pose on the funicular tracks.

They were quite smart and always found a way of sneaking to the nest unseen, at least until they got a bit more used to me. The nest was tucked under a clump of dead heather. You can see how close it is to the path in the foreground, but to be honest I don't think too many people walk up that track, as most walkers seem to use other routes.

You can just see a bird leaving the nest on this shot.

I had planned to walk up to the Ptarmigan to look for the ptarmigan, but the time and/or weather combined to make this a trip for next year.

We tried a walk up Carn Ben Mhor (I agreed as it is reputedly good for dotterel) but sadly the weather did for us. The summit completely disappeared in cloud and rain.

Still we did see this butterwort (mainly because our heads were down to keep the rain out of our eyes!), and what I think was a lousewort.

Further down towards Glen Feshie itself we detoured to the rather lovely cascades, which Holly seemed to enjoy more than the rest of us.

I have never had good views of black grouse on the lek, so one morning I was up at 3 am to head off to Glenlivet for the dawn, which swept across the hillside. A glorious morning from the hide, although the lek is a fair way off, but with a 60x scope I enjoyed a couple of hours watching the grouse, mountain hare, roe and red deer and ravens. There are places it is easier to get near them, but increasingly they are being disturbed by careless birdwatchers, so for now this was fine for me. I wish I'd taken my pocket camera though, as I could have got some digiscoped record shots at least, rather than 2 black dots!

By 7.30 I was heading home for breakfast, pausing only to capture this meadow pipit enjoying the morning sun.

Before finally getting breakfast I called in at one last spot, to see one of my truly favourite birds. But that's a story about freshwater for next time.