Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scotland: Farmland / Grassland

Wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo. To say it right you have to pronounce the 'o' as in 'or', and then say it as fast as you can. Any idea? Smallish bird, up high, diving down 20 feet? I hadn't heard one for years (and even then it had been on Speyside too), but now found myself listening to 2, maybe 3, all over one small marshy area. And there's the clue. Drumming snipe. No photo's, but who cares?
The surprise of the trip for me was a visit back to a country lane Kay and once visited years ago (cleanse your minds!). Back then we sat in the car and watched a lapwing with chicks, and I reckoned the time might be right to find something similar. As it turned out there was more to see than I expected.
I thought the fences would be a problem for snaps, but using the car as a hide it was surprising how I could work around them, or blur the wire out.
As well as the snipe there were oystercatchers, redshank and curlew along the fence lines.

I saw this curlew a couple of days in the same spot. Obviously nesting, but I didn't push it.
Mostly the curlews were pretty wary, but one chose to walk in full view - definitely my best ever views.
Corvids too are usually wary, but the car helped with this jackdaw ....
and the oystercatchers.

Evening brought out the game birds - red legged partridge ....
and the inevitable pheasants.
It was great to see quite a few lapwing around .......
and when I saw this one trailing a wing (click on the snap for a larger view) I knew it probably wasn't because it had a problem.
Sure enough after a few minutes a fairly well developed chick appeared. Only saw the one, but from my experience with the grouse there may well have been more scuttling around.
For a change there were a few mammals around too. The usual rabbits of course ......

some hares - a real treat for me as they are rarely seen where I live,
and to cap it all a few roe deer, including the buck in velvet which gave me one of my favourite snaps of the whole trip.
There were also yellowhammer, linnet and no doubt others I missed. I never thought this would have been a spot I wished I had more time to explore. I guess this is what most UK farmland would have been at one time, but all the set-aside schemes won't get us back there.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scotland: Coast - A Bonx(ie) Tale

Sandy McLennan's mention of Handa Island got me thinking. I knew the name, but also that it was a long way from Aviemore - right up in the north-west. It was the mention of bonxies that got me going though. I first (and last) had seen a great skua 20 odd years ago, and it left a lasting impression. Hardly our most decorative bird it made up for it in sheer steroidal bulk. Truly a heavyweight, with a bill to match.
The weather forecast for Thursday looked truly shocking, and to be honest the forecast for the north-west wasn't really much better. However I persuaded myself there were some windows in the rain and decided to go. With the first ferry over at 9.30 I made an early start - just as well. I did stop a couple of times, to watch briefly a black grouse (which flew away) and a diver (distant), but the journey took the best part of 3 1/2 hours. I arrived in the tiny harbour of Tarbet about 9 am, and it was at worst spitting gently.
Looking around I could see 3 red throated divers and some black guillemots in the bay (just too far out for snaps) and a rather cute common gull which posed for a minute by the car park. I never realised they had the same red eye ring I've seen on kittiwakes - not that you can see it on this little view!
Even the journey over to the island wasn't too bad, but when we got onto the island the heavens finally opened. Trudging up to the small lochan where the bonxies were said to congregate a lovely fog added to the atmosphere. The rest of the boat party headed on to the stack and cliffs where the guillemots and puffins could be found, but I decided to sit tight and hope things cleared up.

An hour or so later the fog turned into a mist and the rain slackened marginally. A bonxie flew round and landed 50 yards away, fairly near the path. I edged closer, and was delighted to find that it didn't seem at all bothered by my presence. I took a few snaps, but they were atmospheric at best!
Suddenly the air cleared slightly, the bird stood and then went into classic display mode, flashing those brilliant white wing patches to warn off competitors. Fabulous sight, and I just hoped the snaps would do it justice.

Finally the soggy weather seemed less of a drain, and I set off further around the island. It wasn't too long before I was trudging again though. There were a few gaps in the rain, and I managed a few other snaps.
I suspect this guillemot egg was probably predated by a bonxie, but it wasn't the only aerial pirate around. I never manged a decent shot of the pair of arctic skuas, but did catch a silhouette of that lovely profile.

At the cliffs the only half decent shots I got were of fulmars .....

but there were a few others - oystercatcher and thrift .....
meadow pipit .....
and some displaying eiders in one of the more sheltered bays.

I'm sure this would be a brilliant place to go on a nice day, when the restricted visiting hours would be a frustration, but frankly on this day by the time I got back to the ferry I was knackered! Still it was a satisfied knackered, and after all only a 3 hour journey 'home'!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scotland: Woodland river

Another grey day saw me head for the Moray Firth in an abortive search for dolphins, but whilst there I paid a visit to one of my favourite little spots - The Fairy Glen at Rosemarkie. A relatively short streamside walk through woodland is usually good for grey wagtails (depends how you define good!) .....
and dippers. The nest site had changed since I was last there. At the best of times it is a shady spot, but this time the ISO settings had to be jacked right up and even then I was surprised to get some non-blurred shots. The adults coming in with food often paused at the top of a waterfall ......

and one of them at least had the habit of washing the food before taking it to the nest. Don't recall ever seeing that before.

So poor light, and not the best angles meant the dipper shots were a bit disappointing, but the dolphins more so. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have been to Chanonry Point and not had a reasonable view, and with the crowds that attend each incoming tide now I did feel sorry for the folks who'd seen it on the tv and thought they just had to turn up. Not quite fair - some had been there hours, with all those with experience constantly saying "I'm sure they'll be in soon!" Whilst there I met Sandy McLennan, one of the local photographers hooked on the dolphins. Bemoaning the weather he mentioned that he had been planning to visit Handa Island. The seeds were sown for a long drive, some truly horrible weather, but one of my favourite snaps of the holiday. Then again that's another day, another post.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Scotland: High moors - The grouse was stalking me ........

Driving along I heard the unmistakable call of a golden plover and pulled the car to a stop.

OK rewind, and be honest! I was driving as slowly as I could down the single track road, windows down looking and listening for grouse, when I heard a bird repeatedly calling. I couldn't see anything, and didn't have a clue what it was. So I pulled into a passing place and got out to walk back in the hope of seeing what it was.
After 10 steps a grouse shot out from the side of the road, wings partly spread and came straight at me, veering off only at the last minute. It went to the verge and stood watching me. In the background I saw another cross the road, but I focused on my friend, who now seemed quite settled.
I took a couple of snaps, but didn't want to distress it so I went up the road to see what the calling bird was. After a bit of searching I found a pair of golden plover, pretty, but sadly just short of full plumage. The more distant shots look better!

Wandering back I was surprised to see my friend still there, now nibbling some heather. Time for some more shots, then back in the car to see what else was around. Don't suppose I'll ever get so close again.

There were more grouse around, but I only got anywhere near one full plumaged male, and even that was at such an awkward angle from the car that I have had to crop hard just to straighten it up a bit!
One of the other grouse was calling so I sat tight in the car to see what happened. Surprisingly it too headed for me, although not with such enthusiasm.
Turned out it was more following its chicks than leading them, but they proved very hard to get decent views of, so this was my best effort.
Not too much else around, but I did see this red deer and as always meadow pipits were everywhere. Sadly the wheatears eluded me - I never seem to do very well with them.

As always better views and more shots on the web albums HERE

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Scotland: The woods

With the wind not letting up the woodland might have been somewhere to find a welcome retreat, and certainly there were some birds around - redstart, wood warbler, spotted flycatcher - in this lovely birch wood. However despite visiting classic caledonian woodland several times I didn't see the standard highland targets of crested tit, crossbill or red squirrel.
Back in some birch wood a severe scolding gave me a clue, and I watched the blue tits at this nest for a while.
The birds would take food in at the top of the split ........
then reappear at the bottom with a faecal sac.
At least they did until they got more used to me after which they just flew straight in half way down. Chaffinches were everywhere of course
the rarely seen robin (!)
and a young thrush. I think mistle, but happy to be corrected!
None great shots, and the woods weren't a highlight for this year. I know if I really want to snap crested tits I need to go back in winter - maybe next year.