Saturday, 7 April
The trip north to Street of Kincardine near Aviemore was fairly uneventful. We stopped off with relatives at the foot of the Lyon Valley in Perthshire where the local Roe Deer provided some entertainment.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus
On arrival a pair of Long-tailed Tits investigating the broom bushes were among the first birds on the garden list.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Sunday, 8 April
Our first full day was spent walking in the woods behind the house which took us past Lochs Mallachie and Garten to the RSPB visitor centre. Ospreys were back on territory but other than that a Grey Wagtail and a few Goldeneye were the only birds of note. The feeder visitors provided a bit of digiscoping practice.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Monday, 9 April
Monday saw us out walking again in some beautiful sunny weather around Loch an Eilein. A couple of Crested Tits were vocal at the far end of the Loch but only gave very brief views. Best was an Orange Underwing showing well in flight for some time around the visitor centre.
A quick flit up to the Cairngorm carpark to gather info revealled a amle Ring Ouzel and was a taste of things to come later in the week.
Tuesday, 10 April
Our only trip away from Speyside during the week took us to Inverness, Fort George, the Clava Cairns, Loch Ness and Loch Ruthven.
Fort George was our only experience of coastal wildlife which amounted to a few Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, Guillemot and flocks of Pink-footed Geese on the fields near Inverneww airport. The keen gale was keeping the water choppy and reduced out slim chances of a cetacean or two to zero. So we headed back inland via the Clava Cairns or Bulnaraun of Clava, which give their name to all cairns of this type in Scotland. The site, with its three burial cairns, reminded me of Wayland's Smithy on the chalk downland closer to my Wiltshire roots but that may have more to do with the victorian tree planting than anything else. Our only Red Kite of the trip drifted by near here.
Next a drive along Loch Ness to lunch at the Falls of Divach. Not the most dramatic of waterfalls and really hard to photograph at midday.
Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa
Our circuit of Loch Ness continued via Fort Augustus
Loch Ness, from the blunt end
Eastside of Loch Ness from Suidhe Chuimein (you need to click on this one)
Loch Ruthven brought back memories of previous trips to see the grebes here.
Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus
Wednesday, 11 April
A fairly quiet day mostly spent walking around the Balvattan and Am Beanaidh river areas on the Rothiemurchus estate and wondering where all the Dippers were. Still we did see an awful lot of Chaffinches.
A few Sand Martins flew over the house, Curlews were displaying nearby and a couple of Pipistrelles were out in the evening.
Thursday, 12 April
With the end of the week approaching and despite a lot of time spent in the forests no sign of Capercaillie I thought I'd better attend the RSPB's dawn watch at the Loch Garten reserve. It was a beautiful still morning and a Tawny Owl was hooting as I made my way towards the hides at first light with several other bleary-eyed caper-twitchers. We were treated to some cracking views of 2 or 3 males either feeding from the tops of trees or strutting about calling plus 2 females seen mainly in flight and perched in nearby trees. The calls of the males could often be heard from the forward hide.
Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus
A calm Loch Garten at dawn
Back in the land of the sane we were planning some mountain biking today and on the way to pick up the bikes we saw our only Speyside Red Squirrel as it scurried across the road just north of Coylumbridge. Our route took us through more Chaffinch habitat via Inverdruie, Loch an Eilein, Cairngorm Club footbridge, Balvattan an Coylumbridge. Singing Siskins, plenty of Toads, loads of Green Tiger Beetles, a single Common Lizard and calling Crested Tits were encountered in the increasing heat.
A beautiful evening ended with a Woodcock flushed from the road in front of us near Auchgourish.
The Cairngorms from Aviemore
Friday, 13 April
Leaving it until the last day to attempt one of the main target birds of the area might be considered a bit foolish. Doing it on Friday the 13th and the last day of access to the ski runs from the Cairngorm Visitor Centre was probably suicidal. Did we manage it? Read on.
Now I would rather walk up a mountain any day but the rest of the family really wanted to go on the railway and in one case wouldn't have been up to the walk so it was the Funicular or nothing. The first train up the mountain is 10am but due to a bit of faffing about and the need to stop to view a Red Grouse by the road on the way up and a male Ring Ouzel near the Coire na Cist chair lift and at least 2 males and a female Wheatear rattling about the carpark area singing occasionally we missed that.
We were eventually ferried to (near) the top in fine style and were standing in the snow in the blistering heat with the occasional Small Tortoiseshell flitting past! Access to the ski areas is allowed for railway passengers while these are open but this was the final day of the season. Of course there were the inevitable few who decided to disregard this and head off to the summit anyway. If everyone did this the pressure on the habitat would be catastrophic. In any case if you are after the birds it's unnecessary.
By the way, if you want to save a bit of time and the agony of enduring the visitor centre experience stay on the train with the skiers and get off at the second stop. There were still a fair few skiers and snow-boarders clinging to the remaining patches of snow.
Bird life was, as expected, fairly thin on the ground. 3 male and a female Ring Ouzel were alongside the railway and a few Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails were around the buildings. The four birders up there nearly outnumbered the birds. Two hours later and the number of birders was down to two and despite a lot of searching no sign of the target grouse. Had we blown it?
Now alone, I walked to the very top of the highest drag-lift where a large expanse of the plateaux could be viewed but apart from a fly over from two Snow Buntings heading towards the summit, nothing. Then a skier slid off the lift and casually said "I'm sure you've seen them anyway but there are two Ptarmigan walking up the snow just next to this lift". What! No I flaming well hadn't seen them and even when put onto the exact spot they were last seen it took ages before I noticed a tiny movement from a feather caught in the breeze and located a bird hidden behind a rock. I owe a huge thanks to this skier who went to great effort to put me onto these birds.
The rest of my party had gone back down to the carpark for the food. I phoned them to see if the two birders who had left were still in the carpark. They were and ended up taking the railway back up and everyone got great views of the pair as they eventually got up and moved about preening and feeding.
Spot the bird
Ptarmigan Lagopus muta millaisi (this is not on or near any nest, it was sat preening)
It's worth persisting if you don't see these birds straight away. There were feathers and droppings all over the place near the centre and these two were next to a drag-lift so they could be very close. They were definitely perefering the edges of the patches of snow.
We headed off to the woods again after lunch, picking a quiet-looking area for our last walk of the holiday and ended up seeing five Capercaillies (three males and two females)! Years and years without seeing one and five turn up the day after I get up at 5am to see them. That's birding I guess. We also had our best views of Crested Tits here. A fabulous way to finish.
Cairngorm from Loch Morlich