This was the largest group to attend this Course, and involved David Blackler, Janet Collins, Marianne Eagles, Pamela Wade, Clair Bale, Ian Wallwork, Reg Mitchell, Laurie Horam, Caroline, Pinder, Pat Skelton, Stephen Grainger, Austin Taylor, Ulrike Weber, and Lesley Gorman.
We met up at 7.30 pm in the dining room on Thursday the 9th of October to sample one of Amanda’s fine meals. Stephen was a little late as he had car trouble, and for the first couple of nights he was staying at a B&B in Pitlochry 10 miles away. We were sharing the Field Centre with around 70 young adults from Keith Academy.
After the meal, we adjourned to The Stables where Robin gave us a Health & Safety talk before our own meeting started so that we could introduce ourselves better, and outline our plans for the Course. This finished quite early to give the long-distance travellers the chance of a good night’s sleep. To add to this, we arranged with Amanda that we would not join the schoolchildren for the 8 am (noisy) breakfast but would have ours at 9 am – luxury!
So on Thursday the 10th, we met up outside in the car park at the back of 10 am to discover what birds were around the Centre. We noted Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robin, Blackbird, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Jackdaw, Raven and Chaffinch. We left the car park around 1030 am and started to walk along the Kindrogan track leading to a section of the Cateran Trail. Various trees such as Horse Chestnut, Downy Birch, Willows, Alder, Norway Spruce, Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs (Mouse-tails) were noted not far from the Centre.
We stopped at the two bridges over the river Ardle, and added Carrion Crows and Woodpigeons before setting out on the Cateran Trail. We were only walking 2 ½ miles of this to Kirkmichael but the full trail is 64 miles long, and takes its name from the feared cattle thieves who raided the rich lands of Strathardle, Glen Shee and Glen Isla up until the 17th century.
Quite near the start, we looked into a Bird Cherry copse to find Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Robin and Goldcrest enjoying the harvest. We passed Dalreoch Farm, ventured past the Sweet Cicily, and found a late Red Admiral before entering a thick conifer plantation full of weird and wonderful fungi. The sounds of Goldcrest were faintly heard before we came upon the Tulloch-Curran lochan where we noted Devil’s-bit Scabious and Lousewort. 11 ‘Grey’ geese flew over high, and Coal Tits and Siskins were observed in the Sitkas. We found some interesting ‘finger fungi’, and Pat has very kindly looked up this family to discover that they could be Yellow Clubs.
Further along the trail, we noted the eskers and drumlins deposited during the ice-age as well as old lime-kilns. Reg spotted some fairly distant Fallow Deer, and Pat found a hunting Hen Harrier. Rooks were feeding amongst the Black-faced sheep as the odd Jay flew across the fields.
Once at Kirkmichael, we added Collared Doves and House Sparrows as well as a Sparrowhawk, which upset the noisy 70+ Jackdaws. Up to three Common Buzzards were seen at the same time. Most of us had our picnic lunches in warm sunshine at the tables near to the river whilst others sought the refuge of the local community shop for hot drinks. Laurie and Marianne enjoyed the delights of a Dipper before the rest of us joined them.
A couple of Mallards flew off the Tulloch-Curran lochan on the way back, and we lingered here, enjoying the tranquillity plus a few more Coal Tits. A Common Darter dragonfly was observed by a few. The coniferous woodland was pretty quiet again, and when we reached the Bird Cherry copse once more, a very friendly Robin performed for us. Wren and Dunnock were also noted. There was a choice now of continuing back to the Centre or taking a short stroll along more of the Cateran Trail leading to the Spittal of Glen Shee. Most of us took the latter option and added Starlings to our list. Some of the other flowers seen during the walk were Yarrow, Harebell, Marsh Thistle, Knapweed, Autumn Hawk-bit, Common Ragwort, Foxglove, Meadow Buttercup, Daisy and Red Clover.
We were back at Kindrogan by 6 pm, which allowed us the statutory one hour to get ready for our dinner, this time prepared by Art. After this, we settled into The Stables once more with coffee or teas to hand to hear an introductory talk about some of the wildlife we hoped to encounter over the next few days. Our bird list for the first day totalled 34 species.
THE IDYLLIC SHORES OF LOCH MORLICH
We joined the schoolchildren for the 8 am breakfast on Friday the 11th as we were keen to have a reasonably early start for our day out in the magnificent Speyside. We headed over the Moulin Moor to Pitlochry then onto the A9 to the Drumochter Pass (1516 feet above sea level) before stopping at Dalwhinnie for a break. After this, we continued along the former A9, and spotted a Red Grouse. Buzzards, Kestrels, Starlings and a Hooded Crow were noted en route. The Glenmore campsite was bathed in sunshine when we arrived around 1145 am, and we headed for the shores of Loch Morlich. The water was very still but there was a bit of a heat shimmer, which made finding the Tufted Ducks and Goldeneyes a bit tricky. The Mallards and a single immature Black-headed Gull were a little more accommodating. The adjacent Cairngorm Mountains had a splendid mantle of fresh snow.
We ventured into the Caledonian Pine woodland in search of the iconic Crested Tits, and it did not take us too long to find our target species for the day. We were able to have very good views at reasonably close quarters of this species in the Scots Pines and on feeders plus other species including Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Treecreeper and Chaffinch. I do not remember ever having all five of the possible tit species up here on the same day. A Red Squirrel also put on a fine performance for us. Feeling very satisfied, we made for picnic tables, once again bathed in warm sunshine, at 1.45 pm. During the lunch break, 5 Crossbills flew over as Pied Wagtails paraded about. There is every chance that these crossbills were Scottish Crossbills. We said our farewells to Dave and Lorayne, the site managers, and drove the short distance to Coylumbridge where we went for a walk in the magnificent Rothiemurchus Forest. In here, we noted Coal Tits, Goldcrest and Treecreepers as well as more fungi, Heather and Cowberry.
It was now time to head back down the A9 towards Pitlochry but not before having another stop at Dalwhinnie where some of us watched around 30 Redwings, Greenfinch and Goldfinch whilst others watched a Short-eared Owl! We were back at base at 6.20 pm in preparation for the 7.30 dinner as the Basket Weavers (people not birds) were arriving! After our meeting in The Stables (46 bird species now seen), we went into the minibus situated at the bottom of the car park to wait and watch for Pine Marten. We did not see this nocturnal mammal but saw Brown Rat and a shooting star instead as well as hearing the roaring of Red Deer from the nearby hills. Some people heard a Tawny Owl during the night.
On Saturday the 12th, we decided to have a look at the local lochs on another lovely day but with a sharp frost. The schoolchildren had left; so we only had to share the packing up and breakfasting areas with the 9 Basket Weavers. The first loch was Drumore with its very attractive and peaceful setting, and it played host to a pair of Little Grebes, and a single Mute Swan. As we walked along the road, we added numerous Redwings, Mistle Thrushes, Treecreeper, Coal Tits, Jay, the ubiquitous Jackdaws, Pheasants by the bucket load, Buzzards, Ravens, and an immature Bullfinch. A few of us walked backed to collect the minibus whilst the others waited in the warm sunshine. The few saw 5 Common Crossbills, and the others saw three Hen Harriers!
Next, we moved onto the Backwater Dam where we noted a couple of Cormorants, Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipit, a hovering Kestrel and four Roe Deer by a distant fence-line before driving to the end of the reservoir, spotting 103 Canada Geese and another Roe Deer en route. From the car park at the far end, we added two Grey Herons, around 20 Teal, the odd Wigeon and a few Mallards. The odd Common Buzzard was seen in the distance, and Reggie spotted a Hooded Crow. As there were picnic tables once again (three days in a row), we sat down to enjoy our Kindrogan packed lunches. A Red Admiral and a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly flew past whilst we were enjoying more sunshine albeit with a chilly breeze.
The next port of call was the RSPB’s Loch of Kinnordy but before reaching there, we had one of the highlights of the week – at least 2,500 Pink-footed Geese with three Barnacles feeding in a field by the roadside. The sight and sound of these birds coming and going was spectacular, and the experience was accentuated by a covey of 20 Grey Partridges running along and crossing the road. Further down from this, four Red-legged Partridges were doing the same! Common Buzzards could also be seen as a couple of Carrion Crows chased a Sparrowhawk and a Small Copper butterfly alighted on Autumn Hawk-bit whilst a couple of Red Admirals were on the wing. Pat found a single plant of Orange Hawkweed as well! A Brown Hare was noted in this area on the way back.
Once more, it was a very happy band of birdwatchers which made its way over to the Loch of Kinnordy. We ensconced ourselves in a couple of the hides to observe Cormorant, Mute Swans, Greylag Geese with another Barnacle, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Goosanders, Moorhen, Coot, a single Lapwing, Common Gulls, and 3 Reed Buntings. Herb Robert was noted along the walkways
JUST A FEW OF THE PINKFEET AT LINTRATHAN LOCH
Now it was time for a convenience stop at a filling (or emptying) station on the outskirts of Kirriemuir (birthplace of James Barrie of Peter Pan fame). From here, we went to the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s reserve of Lintrathan Loch where we were treated to a spectacular sound and vision display from a few thousand Pinkfeet, Canada Geese, a Barnacle Goose, Whooper Swans, Mute Swans, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Grey Heron, hundreds of Common Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, a Great Black-backed Gull and 5 Little Grebes plus a couple of Lapwings. It was only the need to get back in time for dinner that drove us away from this lovely spot because we could have remained for much longer. However, our enjoyment of this splendid day was not yet over as when we were approaching Loch Drumore again, we watched a wonderful sunset. This became even better as we were almost at Kirkmichael, and we stopped again to admire the amazing colourful clouds. The colour seemed to extend for 180 degrees, and remained for a very long time. It was one of those days that you did not want to end! We drove past the usual Rookery en route.
We were back at the Centre at 6.45 pm, allowing only 15 minutes before dinner. This became a very special meal as it was Laurie’s ‘umptieth’ birthday. He and Caroline very kindly produced a few bottles of wine for the occasion. Happy Birthday Laurie!
We decided to go straight for the Pine Marten after the meal, meeting up afterwards in The Stables for the meeting. Instead of the Pine Marten, a couple of Hedgehogs were observed with some people missing the meeting as they wished to stay longer in the minibus. Those at the meeting learned that our bird total had soared to 70 species for the three days!
JUST A SECTION OF THE PROLONGED 180 DEGREE SUNSET
The good weather was still holding on Sunday the 13th as we set out to the Sma’ Glen via Aberfeldy. We firstly stopped on the Moulin Moor to look at the area where the Black Grouse have their lek followed by a stop in Pitlochry. The next stop was at the Black Watch memorial, by the River Tay, where there are also public loos but these were closed; so we went to the local filling station. From here, we drove past the Birks o’ Aberfeldy, and over to Amulree then up Glen Quaich. Not too far along this road, we stopped for a few Red Kites and Buzzards with a Red Grouse being sighted by a fence-line before we headed off towards Loch Freuchie. There was quite a bit of activity here from Scottish Hydro as part of the Beauly to Denny power-line. There were a few flocks of Canada Geese to be seen but not much else before we had our lunches.
On the way back, we spotted a single Blackcock by a fence, and we had pretty good views before it flew off. Feeling quite happy about this, we motored on a short distance until we came across 13 Blackcock and 10 Greyhens feeding in a field with Jackdaws. This was a dream come true, and we watched these birds for quite some time. One of the highlights was when two males flew up and ‘performed’ on a couple of posts. At this point, we met up with a friendly local who gave us a site for White-tailed Eagle.
Our next port of call was at the Sma’ Glen by Glen Almond where we had great views of a feeding Dipper, and even saw it catching and devouring a fish! From the walkway, we also observed Red Kites, Buzzards and Ravens as well as hearing a Chiffchaff. Once again, the bird-watching day was not yet over as we travelled to the area where the local had mentioned that we may see a White-tailed Eagle. We ‘dipped’ on this occasion but it was a lovely spot by a road junction, and we watched several Redwings and Mistle Thrushes as well as Coal Tits and Buzzards. It was whilst watching one of these Buzzards (spotted by Janet) that a high-flying Short-eared Owl was located. We stopped in Aberfeldy on the way back, and spotted a couple of late House Martins.
There was still a little time left at the end of the day out to stop at Straloch in Strathardle to look at a Little Grebe, a Grey Heron, about 20 Canada Geese and three Wigeon as 49 Ravens flew over to their Kindrogan Hill roost, and Red Deer bellowed. The Team spent a bit of time watching these deer on the adjacent hillside before setting off for the Centre, which we reached at 6.10 pm. After the 7 pm dinner, we had our evening chat in The Stables, noting that we had now recorded 73 bird species followed by a visit to see the wonderful work of the Basket Weavers. Tom at the Centre very kindly set the moth trap for us this evening.
Monday the 14th dawned a bit dull and damp which was a great shame as this was the day we had planned to climb up Glas Maol. In retrospect, I should have cancelled this and gone to the Loch of the Lowes. However, the day started very well with a visit from Martin Robinson at 9.15 am to give us a hand to identify our moths. Our catch was 8 Red Green Carpets, 6 November Moths, 5 Spruce Carpets, 4 Autumn Green Carpets, 3 December Moths, 1 Autumnal Moth and 1 Juniper Carpet.
Laurie & Caroline, David & Janet had decided to do their own thing today, and Pamela & Marianne were to be guided by Reg from the Spittal of Glenshee. So, eleven of us headed up the Braemar Road, and stopped to drop Reg, Pamela and Marianne off at the Spittal of Glenshee hotel from where they would start their walk up part of Glenshee. The rest of us headed up to 700 metres at the car park from where we would start our ascent. Absolutely amazingly, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew low past the car and into the mist!
We walked past some remnants of Alpine Lady’s Mantle and Stag’s-horn Club-moss before we spotted the first of several Red Grouse, and not much further on, we encountered our first Mountain Hares. Once again, we came across some ‘finger’ fungi, which Pat reckons could be either White Spindles or Stag’s-horn.
A closed café building loomed, and looked inviting for a bit of shelter from the strengthening S/E wind. It was so inviting that we decided to have an early lunch here. After this, we reached a viewpoint for looking down the glen with the hope of spotting some rutting Red Deer. We could hear them okay but could not locate them in the mist.
We reached a plateau from which we could just decipher a small group of Red Deer in the distance, and from here, we walked another 100 metres to the start of the final ascent but with a very strong wind blowing and the rain getting heavier, we decided to head back down, spotting a late Wheatear on the way. We reached the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel at 3.10 pm to find the other three having hot drinks which was too much of a temptation for us to miss.
As the weather down here was much better than higher up, we decided to have a walk with Reg’s team showing us the Red Deer in rut. We had a very good ‘purple patch’ in the Rowan and Birch woodland when we came across a feeding party of Redwings, Fieldfares, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Robins, Chaffinches, Bramblings, Siskins and Bullfinches.
All too soon, it was time to think of heading back to the Centre as we were to have a 6.30 pm meal this evening because three of our group were wishing to go to the ‘Enchanted Forest’ sound and light display just outside Pitlochry. Mike at Kindrogan had kindly arranged this for them. Whilst these three were enjoying their evening, the rest of us had a talk about the Isle of May and migration after noting that our bird total was now 75 species.
THE MILL DAM
It was our last full day on Tuesday the 15th of October, and after the usual 8 am bountiful breakfast, and after observing numerous Chaffinches and Redwings at Kindrogan, we set off once more over the Moulin Moor to Pitlochry, admiring the inverse cloud formation as we went. We had our almost statutory stop in that village before heading down the A9 and cutting off just before Dunkeld, and continuing to the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes. There is a splendid Centre here with a large picture window with bird feeders at which we could observe Mallards, Pheasants, Coal, Blue & Great Tits, Chaffinches (including one with a white head), Siskins, Robin, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker as well as a Red Squirrel.
From the two hides, we watched Great Crested Grebes, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Mallards, Teal, Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks. Once finished here, we had our lunches at the picnic tables in the car park followed by the short drive to the Cally car park from where we started our walk up to the Mill Dam. Unbelievably, en route, we met up with Reg’s brother and nephew! The best wildlife watching was at Hatton, where, apart from the Peacocks, we watched Jays (with acorns), Redwings, Mistle Thrushes, Dunnock and two Collared Doves. It was here where we saw the first of many Fallow Deer. An interesting spider was spied along the way. Once we cleared the wooded area, and looked over the Juniper dell, we could see a few Common Buzzards over the distant hills as well as a Treecreeper and Coal Tits nearby.
We had time for a short sit down once we reached the Mill Dam, and before too long the mirror image of the water was broken by Mallards and cygnets on the scrounge for food. Some Teal were noted on dead branches at the far end of the water, and an immature Herring Gull flew over. Marianne had come across a party of Long-tailed Tits.
All too soon once more, it was time to head back, noting a small Toad on the road as we went as well as Bell Heather still in flower. We stopped at Pitlochry so that Ulrike could buy her much sought after Edradour whisky, and we were back at 6 pm with only half-an-hour to get ready for our last supper. After this, we met up in The Stables to chat about the Course, and watch a superb photographic presentation from Austin about some of the things we had experienced over the last six days. He also showed us the 4-minute video of the best part of the Sound & Light display, which was excellent. A few of us went for a Bat walk but dipped on these, hearing a Tawny Owl instead.
The Course had been a great success, chiefly due to the participants getting on so well as well as the good weather, the good food, the excellent accommodation, the 80 species of birds recorded, the 8 species of mammals and the three species of butterfly (a little unexpected) plus other forms of wildlife. I hope to meet up with you all again before too long.
Russell G Nisbet – October, 2013.