Spring Birds, Flowers and Butterflies Course Report- Kindrogan

29TH APRIL – 6TH MAY, 2016


The latest Team to come to Kindrogan for this Course on Friday the 29th of
April was Rachel Gordon, Gill Newton, Jean Oliver, Ann Mattam, Simon Mattam,
Pat Fry, Peter Vigurs, Margaret Kennedy and Ben Anderson who is a staff tutor.
The Health & Safety talk by Daniel, head of Centres, was held at 6.15 pm in the
bar, and this was followed by dinner at 6.30 pm when we met up again at our
table to sample the first of many fine meals produced by Fiona.
At 7.30 pm we were ensconced in the Fearnach room to hear about the
Course, and to get to know each other’s names. As it was a clement evening, we
decided to have a walk around part of the grounds when we came across Song
Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird and Carrion Crow. A few people popped into
the small hide overlooking the pile of logs where Pine Martens feed, and were
It was frosty at 0645 on Saturday the 30th of April which we discovered when
we all met outside in the car park in response to the fire alarm going off !
However, all that was forgotten at 8 am when we had breakfast whilst watching
a Red Squirrel having its breakfast at the peanut feeder. The odd Chaffinch,
Great Tit, Blue Tit and Coal Tit did the same. Gill went for a walk before
breakfast, and reported sightings of a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
We met up in the car park at 9.15 am for a ‘proper ‘walk around the
‘policies’, and very soon I realised that this was a very lucky (as well as very
knowledgeable) group ! Firstly, the morning was pretty perfect with sunshine and
blue skies followed by the sighting of a Tawny Owl in flight. We also encountered
Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes, Willow Warblers,
Jackdaws, Starlings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, and Goldfinches. A few
flowers were out, and we noted remnants of Snowdrops, Dandelions (a few of
about 70 odd types), Dog’s Mercury (with the Team trying to explain the
difference between male and female flowers) and Jean’s favourite, the Hairy
After this stroll, the walk along the shaded track to where the Cateran Trail
began. Pat found the Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage for us as I explained how
to identify the Douglas Firs, and later we added Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone,
Colt’s-foot and Lesser Celandine before we reached the old bridge over the River
Ardle. Almost immediately, a pair of Common Sandpipers was located as the
first of 10 Common Buzzards for the day drifted over the adjacent plantation.
As we were crossing the more modern road bridge, flocks of thrushes started
to appear, and were later identified as around 150 Fieldfares plus a handful or so
of Redwings. The former landed in an adjacent field along with four Curlews, a
couple of Oystercatchers and two Meadow Pipits plus large patches of Red Dead
Nettle. The ‘cackling’ of the Fieldfares was a delight as we watched Siskins,
Chaffinches, Great Tits and Blue Tits feeding from the feeders in Dalreoch
Cottage garden. The odd Sand Martin was also noted along with the odd snatch
of song from a Blackcap.
We sniffed the aniseed of the Sweet Cicely as we headed for one of the two
wooden gates which would lead us to the conifer plantation. In the wet patch
just before the second gate, we noticed a splodge of Frog spawn and some Marsh
The woodland was fairly quiet apart from the odd Robin, Goldcrest and Coal
Tit before we came across the delightful Tulloch Curran Lochan with its four
Little Grebes and Grey Heron with a few Sand Martins and the odd Swallow
flying over it. We managed to spot a Common Toad, a young Frog from last year,
Tadpoles, Lesser Water Boatmen, Leeches, Caddis fly larvae and Pond Skaters
before continuing on our merry way, spotting some Otter spraints en route.
As Ben wished to reach the post office in Kirkmichael before it closed, he had
gone on ahead of us, and we met him coming back in time for him to explain
about the glacial ‘hummocky moraines’. He was also able to point out the two
lime kilns before we added Rooks to our bird list and Common Dog Violet and
Primroses to our flower list. We walked past sheep fields before reaching the
edge of Kirkmichael where we added a Long-tailed Tit on a garden feeder. Very
soon we were also adding House Sparrows and Collared Doves as a few
Swallows flew around. We utilised the picnic benches in the car park adjacent to
the River Ardle, and also frequented the local community shop as hail was
falling ! This did not last long, and soon we were heading back the way we came
but with a slight detour alongside the river as a new set of steps has been built to
link up with the Cateran Trail. We added Cuckoo Flower to the plant list.
We lingered awhile at the lochan once more as it was sheltered and in the warm
sunshine with good views of a Willow Warbler acting like a flycatcher as well as
smelling the wonderful perfume from Bog Myrtle. We were soon through the
plantation and out into the open with a lovely view up Strathardle to the snowy
hills beyond. We met up with Martin Robinson in his garden at Dalreoch Cottage,
and arranged that he would visit us on the morning of the moth trapping. We
were back at the Centre at exactly 5 pm, enabling us to have the statutory one
hour before dinner.
After another very enjoyable meal, we met up in the Fearnach room once
again to discuss our findings of the first day, and to make arrangements for the
next day plus a slide show on some of the wildlife we would expect to encounter
during our week. A few Fallow Deer crossed over the adjacent lawn. We made
sure that we were finished before 9 pm as the Pine Marten had appeared at 9.15
pm last night, and as we were approaching the minibus, which I had angled
broadside onto the log-pile, a lady in the small hide beckoned to us to be quiet
as a Pine Marten was already there ! We stood where we were for half-an-hour or
so enjoying the spectacle of two of these engaging creatures munching the
peanuts in the best light in which I have observed them ! A great finish to a very
good first day. Our bird total so far stood at 44 species !
There was some light rain to start with on Sunday the 1st of May but that soon
cleared, and it became a very nice day with 6/8 cloud cover. We were heading
out to Glen Quaich (or should that be Quiche) and Glen Almond today after
another very substantial breakfast, and after competing with the Lichen and
Small Fungi Courses for making up our packed lunches.
Our first stop was at a known Peregrine nesting site but in the cold conditions,
we did not see this species but Gill heard our first Cuckoo and Simon spotted our
first Dipper as a Grey Wagtail flew past. The normal statutory stop on the bridge
over the River Ardle earlier never produced any Dippers but did produce
Common Sandpipers and Grey Wagtails. There was a trill from a flying Common
Sandpiper and the plaintive song from the Mistle Thrush could also be heard.
Our next stop was on the Moulin Moor where, from the Black Grouse lek
spotting lay-by, we added Curlews, Skylark and Wheatear with a Blackcock
being sighted at distance.
The next destination was Aberfeldy where we stopped for conveniences plus
Peter having a look at the Mill craft shop. After this, we drove past the ‘Birks o’
Aberfeldy’ and onto Loch na Craige where, amazingly, the pair of Black-throated
Divers was to be found along with a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. I was over
the moon as I rarely see these rare divers.
Not too far further on, we pulled in again as the area is good for Black
Grouse, and I spotted another flying bird briefly but the Team located a cock
Ring Ouzel, Wheatear, Red Grouse, Grey Heron and Meadow Pipits before a
beautiful male Hen Harrier flew past ! This was yet another great sighting for
this lucky Team !
Our first true destination was Glen Quaich and Loch Freuchie with our initial
stop here producing Lapwings, Red Grouse, the ‘chipping’ calls from Common
Snipe and distant Common Buzzards. The second stop at a stand of birch
produced Canada Geese, more Red Grouse, some Red Deer, Willow Warblers
and more Common Buzzards.
A few Pheasants were spotted, including a melanistic one, along with a pair
of Red-legged Partridges before we reached the far end of the loch where we
parked and partook of lunch either in the minibus or down by the loch-side. Here,
we managed to find a Barnacle Goose amongst the Greylags and Canadas with
Common Sandpipers, Redshank, Common Gulls, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Sand
Martins and a Mute Swan also being seen along with a Reed Bunting.
The final venue of the day was Glen Almond where we went for a walk, and
had yet another stroke of luck ! We could hear the plaintive calls of Ring Ouzel
but in the huge areas of scree, we could not locate it when suddenly a pair flew
over our heads and landed a short distance away ! They could have flown a
quarter of a mile away ! Luckily for us, they did not and they afforded us very
fine views. We reckoned that their nest was nearby. In the very clement weather,
we also noted Goosander, Ravens, Kestrels, Common Buzzards, Red Kite,
Wheatears and Meadow Pipits.
On the way back to Kindrogan, we stopped once again in Aberfeldy but this
time by the Black Watch monument on the banks of the River Tay by the General
Wade bridge where there are loos at a community putting green. On the way
back over the Moulin Moor, Gill and I spotted a Merlin at top speed chasing a
small bird across the road !
We were back at base with just a few minutes to spare before our evening
meal, and at 7.30 pm we were back in the Fearnach room to note the 72 bird
species seen or heard so far, and to have a walk along to the pond-dipping spot
which used to be a curling pond. The plan was to watch out for Woodcock and
bats as we had detectors with us but, as it was still fairly light around 9 pm, we
did a spot of pond-dipping as well, finding the nymphs of both Stone-fly and
Damselfly, freshwater Shrimp, Tadpole, Caddis-fly larvae, Diving Beetle, Lesser
Water Boatman and Pond Snails.
Another couple joined us for this adventure, and we all saw the Woodcock as
it flew overhead fairly close but Rachel was the only one to hear it as she was
emptying the contents of the catching tray into the pond ! However, we all heard
the sounds of probably three species of bats through the detectors. There were
certainly Pipistrelles 45 & 55 (soprano), and there was the chance that
Daubenton’s was present as well over the pond. The extra plant added today was
Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge.
It was breezy, fairly sunny and mild with 4/8 cloud cover on Monday the 2nd
of May as we set out for our ‘Local Lochs’ day. There had been much rain during
the night, and the local rivers were extremely full; so there was little chance of
spotting a Dipper ! Ben & Cate were with us today, and Cate’s young eyes (she
has now claimed the title from Ben) came into their own when she spotted a Roe
buck resting in front of a dry-stane dyke ! Excellent camouflage; so a great
sighting ! Our first loch was Drumore at the Black Lunans where apart from the
expected singing Mistle Thrushes, we noted three Great Spotted Woodpeckers
as well as 3 pairs of Little Grebes, Mallards, a pair of Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and
a Grey Heron.
We went for a short walk along the loch-side spotting Goldcrest, Coal Tits,
Wrens, Jackdaws, Pied Wagtails and Pheasants before I turned around to
collect the minibus. Ben & Cate led the Team up a track where a Roe Deer and
Otter scat were found. Shortly after collecting the Team, we stopped to have an
excellent view of a stationary Common Snipe on a tussock as the odd Wheatear
flew around.

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Our next port of call was Backwater Dam which is one of the water supplies
for Dundee. Common Gulls were to the fore as the Team found a Common
Sandpiper in the stiff breeze. We then drove to the car park near the end of the
reservoir but there was little to see apart from a pair of Mallards. Over the
distant hills, we could just discern Common Buzzards and Ravens.
Lunch-time was approaching; so we made for the RSPB’s Loch of Kinnordy
where we went straight to the Gullery Hide to eat our Kindrogan picnics after
adding Wood Sorrel to the flower list and after checking out the bird-life, seeing
Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, a drake Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted
Ducks, Shelduck, Moorhens, Oystercatchers, Lapwings, Redshanks, Common
Gulls, Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Sand Martins and four White Wagtails.
Before too long, an Osprey appeared from the right, and we were delighted with
this until another birdwatcher announced that there were two birds on a nest
straight out from the hide ! A male Marsh Harrier made an appearance, and was
later joined by his mate. Quite surprisingly, a pair of Common Ringed Plovers
flew past fairly rapidly as we spotted the odd distant Common Buzzard.
As this hide was becoming quite busy and we had finished our lunches, we
headed out to the Swamp Hide feeling very happy with our sightings. We added a
singing and displaying Sedge Warbler here and also spotted a singing male Reed
Bunting whilst a few Rooks ‘cawed’ from a very small rookery.
There was still time to visit the East Hide but, as it is smaller than the other
hides, I suggested about half the Team popped in whilst the rest of us observed
the woodland feeding station. This worked out fine but Simon appeared to let
me know that he reckoned we could all get in the hide together ! Anyway, at the
feeders, we had a very good time seeing three Tree Sparrows, Long-tailed Tit,
Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch and Blackbird. From
the hide, the only new bird to add was a Barn Owl which made a very brief
appearance in a nest box. Gill went for a stroll along the woodland path, and
reported seeing a Treecreeper, and a few of the Team ventured along to add
that to their own personal list. Whilst along this path, Peter spotted a dark
butterfly which could have been a Small Tortoiseshell.
Next, we drove to the outskirts of Kirriemuir (Peter Pan country) to make use
of the facilities at a filling station before heading to our last loch for the day –
SWT Loch of Lintrathan. The hide just held all 11 of us, and we spotted close
Great Crested Grebes, Mute Swans, 3 Goldeneyes, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, a
single Coot and 10 Cormorants as oodles of Sand Martins were hawking over the
expansive body of water.
As we were late back yesterday, we decided to have at least 45 minutes
before our meal; so off we went so that we could achieve this. On the way back,
we added Few-flowered Leek to the plant list plus a herd of Red Deer and Brown
Hare (apart from a squashed Hedgehog) to the mammal list, and after yet
another grand feast, we continued the talk and slide-show about local species.
The bird list has reached 88 species.
It was another mild day with the odd shower on Tuesday the 3rd of May as we
headed north 15 minutes earlier than normal for the magical Speyside. Not all of
the Team was with us though as Ann & Simon decided that they did not fancy the
idea of spending around 4 hours in the minibus ! Instead, they walked part of the
Cateran Trail towards the Spittal of Glen Shee, having a very good walk and
seeing a white butterfly which was probably a Green-veined White plus a herd of
Red Deer plus many of the normal birds.
The rest of us, including Cate & Ben once more, firstly stopped at NTS
Killiecrankie for the loos before continuing up the A9. We branched off this route


at Dalwhinnie (passing another Whisky distillery) to join the old A9 so that we
could leisurely travel and birdwatch. It was a touch breezy at our first pull-in but
we managed to see the odd Red Grouse and Peter heard a Skylark in the very
cool and stiff wind before the rain started. Another lucky incident occurred
shortly after we set off again as the Black 5 (not black thighs), previously the
Sovereign steam engine, came into view at top speed, spotted by no other than
our very own Harry Ben Potter ! The lucky thing was that we could have seen this
train whilst on the actual A9 where we could not have stopped but here we were
on the old road stopping where we pleased ! An amazing coincidence is that
Margaret found out later that a friend of hers was actually on the train !
Our next stop beyond Aviemore was at the Glen More camp-site beside Loch
Morlich. We made use of the facilities followed by the short walk to the shores of
the loch from where we spotted a Mute Swan, a few Goldeneyes, Tufted Ducks
and Mallards plus a pair of Red-throated Divers close to the far shore. Once
again, it was a bit on the hill-billy chilly side of life; so we headed for the
relative shelter of the Scots Pines including a few ‘grannies’. We came across the
usual Coal, Blue & Great Tits as well as Chaffinches, Goldcrests, Willow
Warblers and Siskins before coming across a set of feeders. We did not have very
long to wait before a Red Squirrel appeared accompanied by a Crested Tit. Very
unfortunately, it did not stay very long, and although we waited for another 20
minutes, it did not return.
It was now time for our picnic lunches, and as if by chance, there were
vacant tables on site; so we tucked in whilst watching fairly distant pipits trying
to find their lunch. When we had finished, we had a much closer view of these
birds to discover that they were Tree Pipits.
Our next destination was only a couple of miles down the road we had come,
and we stopped at Coylumbridge for a quick stroll into the pristine
Rothiemurchus Pinewoods with the wonderful under-storey of Blaeberry, Heather
and Juniper. We did not find much wildlife in here apart from a Wood Ants’ nest
but the experience of the habitat was profound. When we were at the car park,
eagle-eyed Cate spotted an Osprey flying over.
Now, it was time to travel to a very special site at Avielochan where there is
a hide overlooking the small loch. Initially, we could see Little Grebes,
Goldeneyes, a drake Wigeon and Tufted Ducks but soon we were watching a
pair of wonderful Slavonian Grebes ! A Lesser Black-backed Gull flew over as
we were watching Goldfinches and Siskins on the feeders. The chap who
oversees the loch plus a photographer also enjoyed the scene. A young Frog was
found in the car park.
The plan now was to head to RSPB Insh Marshes because Cate had misplaced
her camera there several days before, and whilst she and Ben were looking for it,
the rest of us enjoyed an hour in this area at the new Centre plus having a walk
to have a look at the lovely Aspens. The bird-life here included Great Tit, Blue
Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit (meaning that we had notched up all five of the
possible tit species today), Chaffinch and Robin plus hearing a Great Spotted
Woodpecker and seeing Buzzards.
Very unfortunately, the camera remained undiscovered; so we headed for
home, arriving back at 1835 as we had arranged a 7 pm dinner this evening
thanks to Fiona and her kitchen staff. After this was enjoyed, we met up once
more for a talk about the wonderful Isle of May with a hint of migration thrown in
but not before I had switched on the moth trap down by the river. Our bird list
now stands at 95 species. We added a Stoat today when one ran across the road
in front of the minibus with only a lucky few spotting it.
I had arranged with Martin Robinson for him to come round to the Centre at 9
am on Wednesday the 4th of May to help us with the ID of the moths. So after our
usual 8 am breakfast, we met up to enjoy looking at 3 Early-tooth Striped, 7
Common Quakers, 2 Clouded Drabs, 1 Chestnut, 1 Red Chestnut, 2 Brindled
Beauties, 1 Early Thorn and 8 Hebrew Characters with the letter ‘Nun’.
This was the day we had planned to climb up Glas Maol from the Glen Shee
ski-lift car park. Whilst at the cafe, there appeared to be little wind but when
we actually started the climb, we soon realised that we were going to have
trouble battling against the almost gale conditions. Close to the car park, we
observed the leaves of Common and Alpine Lady’s Mantle plus Stag’s-horn


All credit to the Team as we all struggled with the wind to reach a section
where I knew that we had a chance of seeing the wonderful Mountain Hares, and
see them we did in varying pelages much to the pleasure of everyone but
especially Gill !
However, we were all very glad to reach the sanctuary of the cafe for a hot
drink or soup, and from this area, we could see Red Grouse. Once we left here
for the lunching spot down by the River Clunie, Gill was the only one brave (or
silly) enough to sit outside to eat her Kindrogan packed lunch !
Our next stop was at Braemar before heading up Royal Deeside to the small
estate village of Invereye from where we went for a stroll into wooded country.
Yet another stroke of luck occurred when a flock of Common Crossbills gave us a
lovely performance at the top of a few Larch trees.
Once in the woodland proper, we kept very quiet as there was the possibility
of coming across a Capercaillie ! This did not occur but we managed to reach the
nesting cliff of a pair of Peregrines when we watched the ‘tiercel’ in flight. On
the way back, Peter heard and spotted a lovely ‘ yaffling’ Green Woodpecker,
and we were all impressed by the colourful mosses and lichens in the boulders.
All too soon, it was time to head back to the Centre after another stop at
Braemar where Simon found the tiny white Whitlow-grass for us. Other plants
noted today were Cowslip, Barren Strawberry, Common Forget-me-not, Cow
Parsley and Slender Speedwell in the grounds of Kindrogan. The Team added a
few fairly large herds of Red Deer as we made our way back to the Glen Shee Ski
Centre. After the 6 pm dinner, we again met up in the Fearnach room to ponder
over the tantalising 98 bird species noted so far plus have a discussion on the
amazing phenomenon of migration. Gill had heard a Cuckoo from the Centre,
and Ravens were also heard.
I always leave NTS Killiecrankie until the last day of the Course to allow the
Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers the chance to reach us from Africa, and on
Thursday the 5th of May that paid off ! Firstly however, we arranged to have a
0445 dawn chorus in the car park when two others from another Course joined us.
The unfortunate and unexpected thing was that it was raining but the birds did
not seem to mind as we were greeted by a plethora of Blackbird song followed
by Mistle Thrush, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Wren, Dunnock (call only), Song
Thrushes, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow and then Jackdaws calling their names.
At 5.20 am, we all headed out in the minibus to the Moulin Moor, spotting 20
Red Deer and 3 Brown Hares on the way, which we reached 15 minutes later, and
in a blustery breeze with the rain still falling we were able to find 8 Blackcocks
strutting their stuff at the lek. Delighted that they were actually performing on
such a miserable morning, we headed back to base to relax a bit before our
normal 8 am breakfast after preparing our packed lunches.
At 9.15 am, we drove to Straloch to look over the water, finding 8 Mallards,
10 Tufted Ducks, a Mute Swan, 2 Little Grebes, a pair of Wigeon and a nesting
Coot. We spotted a high-flying Common Buzzard but could hear the typical
‘mewing’ calls from closer by which turned out to be the sounds from a
mimicking Jay ! En route to the lochan, we stopped for a look at a Hooded Crow.
The next venue was NTS Killiecrankie where we had arranged to bump into
Lesley Dron with whom we met up later. From the car parking area, we could
hear the very distinctive trills of Wood Warbler, and from the Centre, we could
watch Red Squirrel, Nuthatch, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Jackdaws,
Robins and Chaffinches.
We then walked down towards the ‘Soldiers’ Leap’ over the River Garry,
hearing more calls from a Wood Warbler and seeing a pair of Dippers and a
Common Sandpiper. We met up with Lesley who could tell us that she had seen a
Wood Warbler from the car parking area near to the picnic tables; so we made
for there with a few lucky people finding one but not before Peter amazingly
spotted a male Pied Flycatcher way down in the gorge by a stream. The odd
train went by over a very old stone viaduct, and we had visions of hordes of
people here on Tuesday taking wonderful photos of the Black 5 steaming past !
Our next port of call was SWT Loch of the Lowes near Dunkeld where we
reached at lunchtime to make use of the picnic tables. Once again, this Team
was very fortunate indeed to witness the male Osprey returning to the nest with
a fish which the female grabbed and flew off with it !

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This Centre has a marvellous picture window overlooking a feeding station
which attracted Siskins, 2 Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Robins,
Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Pheasants. On the loch, we added Great
Crested Grebes, Mute Swan, Canada Geese, Mallard and Tufted Ducks. From
close to the Centre, we could hear the song of Common Redstart but a sighting
of this beautiful bird eluded us.
The final venue for the day was a walk from the Cally car park up towards
the Mill Dam on the Atholl Estates. This is a chiefly wooded habitat, and we
added Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Bullfinches and Goldfinches. Our
turning point, owing to lack of time, was just after the Balsam Poplars at Upper
Hatton from where we could hear the sounds of Peacocks and see several Fallow
Deer. We were back at base by 5.15 pm, allowing us 45 minutes to get ready for
dinner followed by our usual 7.30 pm meeting in the Fearnach room. Gill &
Rachel did a spot of pond-dipping before joining the rest of us for a resume of
the Course which everyone seemed to enjoy. Here’s hoping that everyone will
return for another Course at wonderful Kindrogan.

Author: Russell G Nisbet.


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