Jason at the helm got the sleeping Clams to Aviemore for first light and dawn was seen from the cool comfort of the quite full Osprey observation room at the RSPB’s Loch Garten. Not that ospreys were the target bird; we were here to hopefully see a big black capercaillie. The osprey sitting on the nest was a Brucie bonus.
You’ve just missed one,” was not welcome news and the next 2 hours were spent scanning the area around the osprey nest and to its right. Not a feather of a caper to be seen; we had started our short Scottish break with a dip.
A walk in slight drizzle through the conifers along the west side of the Loch gave views of lots of noisy great-spotted woodpeckers, chaffinches and titmice, which eventually included a very close crested tit.
Beautifully still, the Loch was a mirror of dappled tree and hillside reflections with a single female goldeneye rippling through it.
An adequate if rather expensive breakfast snack in Aviemore was next; the café interesting for having a number of 1922 Archibald Thorburn prints, signed by the artist, of wigeon, pintail and mallard on the wall. Then a drive up to the Cairngorm Ski Centre to catch the funicular to the snow surrounded café in order to try for ptarmigan. Not that we needed to go that far for 2 of them were walking across the snow about 2/3rds of the way up as we passed them. Still mostly white but with flecks of summer feathers coming through, they were well seen, albeit briefly due to the speed of the train, by all except poor Tom who missed them. So after a quick perusal at the top; quick because it was bitterly cold with stinging sleety rain hitting us in the face due to the strong wind, and after a look from the café, it was down again to get Tom the birds. Having failed to do so we were informed that our funicular tickets lasted all day so up again and down again but once again they weren’t to be seen. Captain Clam did see an arctic hare though.
Off to the Findhorn Valley and then over the moorlands towards the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven, with stops on the way to watch the close by red grouse. One cheeky male stood atop a fence post acting out a scene from a famous advert. On approaching the right turn for a loch a fabulous red kite flew low overhead. What a shame that some Scottish landowners haven’t allowed these wonderful birds to thrive. Released at the same time as the Chilterns birds, compare the numbers in each area; hundreds to a handful. Thank goodness there are no grouse in the Chilterns!
An osprey greeted us as we walked along the path towards the hide at Loch Ruthven, hunting and hovering from a great height but, not seeing anything worth a plunge, it drifted off.
Slavonian grebes next, all in superb golden cheeked summer plumage, and a winter plumaged red-throated diver seen from the hide, which had been approached via a lovely walk through the silver birch bedecked with mosses and lichens.
Raining heavily now, we booked in at Loch Morlich Scottish Youth Hostel and spent the rest of the evening eating and drinking in Aviemore. Early to bed – early to rise, the four of us snored our way through the night.
Saturday April 7th.
Back at Loch Garten after quietly leaving the hostel at 5.00am [!], a male capercaillie was soon found atop a reasonably close short pine tree. Preening and nibbling the huge bird allowed everyone present to see it and watch it for an hour or so. Brilliant views and a lifer for some of the Clams, the scene was completed by the osprey pair coming into the nest and ensuring that a next generation of the same was at least on their minds as their mating antics were recorded on the RSPB TV cameras.
After that great start it was off to Tulloch Moor for views of yet another male bird, this time a black grouse, also quite close by and viewed through apertures in a long screen.
Goosander and dipper were seen from a long wooden bridge over the Spey and then it was up into a large conifer forest behind a quarry to look for crossbills. Now can you count as proper parrots, or even certain Scottish the crossbills on view here? A close by male gave great views as it stood on the highest twig but it didn’t call and anyway, we hadn’t got any sound recording equipment to get a sonogram.
A superb breakfast at The Merry Kettle café in Huntley, in fact excellent fettle at The Kettle with such lovely staff and a long drive to the RSPB reserve at Loch of Strathbeg. Greater yellowlegs the target bird and soon seen well after it decided that hiding amongst the sedges wasn’t going to more than a twenty minute distraction.
Yet another osprey flew over and a few barnacle geese were with a number of pink foots and greylags. Into the reserve centre for hot chocolate and tree sparrows and then off to the Ythan Estuary.
Sunny but with a cold wind, a full tide had pushed all the eider onto the opposite sand dunes, where they slept waiting for the tide to fall. The resident king eider was soon found by super speedy Olly Clam and although quite distant all features could be ascertained; yet another lifer for some of the group. Double tick days!
Sandwich terns and many grey Atlantic seals, some of them coming very close indeed to give us a curious stare, red-breasted mergansers and a single razorbill were also seen.
The final bird of the day was supposed to be the white-billed diver at but in heavy rain it had drifted off somewhere and we had to make do with a small flock of four long-tailed ducks to finish the day.