Russell Nisbet Autumn 2010


By Russell Nisbet

8TH – 15TH OCTOBER, 2010

The latest Team for this Course was Ruth & Sarah Hemingway, Andrew Wellard, Elspeth Chaplin, Donald Macauley and Ian Wallwork. We all met at the 7.30 pm dinner on Friday the 8th to enjoy the first of many excellent meals. After this, ourselves and the ‘Small Mammals’ Course people, adjourned to the Brerachan Room for a safety talk from Rich Tilsey. Then we went to The Stables, which was to be our evening venue for the next seven nights, to introduce ourselves properly and chat about the forthcoming Course. We had been informed that the road between Kirkmichael and Pitlochry was going to be closed Mondays to Fridays between 9 am and 4 pm for the next month. So because of this, rather than do the normal Cateran Trail walk, we decided to go to Glen Almond and take advantage of the road being open all day. Elspeth mentioned that she had a sighting of a Barn Owl from the minibus whilst being driven from Pitlochry to the Centre.

After the 0800 breakfast on Saturday the 9th of October, we met in the car park to do a spot of nature watching before setting off. Here, we saw and heard Siskins, Robins, Chaffinches, Great & Blue Tits, Jackdaws, 2 Mistle Thrushes, Redwings, Treecreeper and Jay plus, for a few, 3 Common Crossbills flying over. Also, there were 8 Fallow Deer in an adjacent field, and a Red Squirrel ran across the car park.

We managed to board the Kindrogan minibus not long after 0930, and firstly had the mandatory stop at the Ardle Bridge to look for the Dipper, and were lucky within minutes! Our next stop was on the Moulin Moor to point out the Blackcock lekking site for future reference. My normal route to Amulree was closed due to more road works: so we had to travel via Aberfeldy, but this was no hardship as we passed Loch na Craige and saw two Goosanders before joining the normal route to Amulree and onto Glen Quaich. Almost immediately we spotted a Red Kite and we pulled in to the village hall car park to watch it. From our second stop, by a small birch plantation, we saw Lesser Redpolls, Reed Buntings, migrating Redwings, another Red Kite, a distant Red Grouse beside a shooting butt, several Pheasants and a Buzzard. We also heard some Pink-footed Geese but they were flying above the low clouds. A Brambling was also heard but we did not see it either. At least now the “smirr” had gone off.

We made a few stops on the way to Loch Freuchie to watch small groups of Black Grouse feeding in the fields, and in total we noted 17 birds including three Greyhens. We parked at the end of Loch Freuchie and walked over the old stone bridge, seeing a flock of around 60 Lesser Redpolls, more Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, a single Canada Goose, a Raven and two more Buzzards as well as a very small Common Toad.

It was time for lunch, and as it was a trifle cool, we ate it in the vehicle before heading off to see if the Foulford Hotel was open, but alas it was not. We had to make use of natural ‘comfort stops’ instead before walking up part of Glen Almond, seeing Dippers, 4 Buzzards, 2 Kestrels, 3 Ravens, Mallards and more Redwings.

All too soon, it was time to head for base but not before a stop at the loos in Aberfeldy beside the very impressive monument devoted to The Black Watch. We arrived back at Kindrogan, after seeing two Dippers at the Ardle Bridge and two Ravens at the cliff site, with just enough time to get ready for our 1830 meal before adjourning to The Stables for our evening meeting, and before meeting up with Jeff Clarke and his Small Mammals’ group to do a spot of lamping. We walked up to the pond-dipping area armed with bat detectors, and managed to detect Common Pipistrelles. On the way back, a Tawny Owl responded to my ‘hoots’, plus a few of my Team saw a Fox in the powerful beams, and we ended up by the River Ardle at the Centre where Jeff had set up his Mercury Vapour moth trap. We spent a rather magical twenty minutes here observing both Common & ‘Soprano’ Pipistrelles hawking for Caddis Flies. We were looking forward to seeing what moths had been caught.

Before breakfast at 0735 on Sunday the 10th, we teamed up once more with the 12-strong Small Mammals’ group to see what moths had been caught. The outcome was 1 Dusky Thorn, 3 November Moths, 7 Yellow-line Quakers, 1 Red-line Quaker, 2 Beech Green Carpets, 5 Red Green Carpets, 3 Streaks, 2 Angle Shades, 1 Rosy Rustic and 1 Spruce Carpet.


I had arranged with a friend of mine, Martin Robinson, that we would do his WEBS count for him as he was down south on holiday. This meant that today was to be our ‘local lochs day’, ending up at Lintrathen Loch to count the waterfowl. Our first loch was Drumore, which hosted a pair of Mute Swans with 4 cygnets, 3 Little Grebes and 10 Mallards plus a Buzzard and numerous Pheasants seeking shelter during a shoot. There was nothing on the second small lochan further down the road, but we watched two Roe Deer jumping with ease over a couple of fences, and also spotted some Magpies. We were absolutely delighted at Backwater Reservoir whilst looking at a flock of Canada Geese when an immature White-tailed Eagle was spotted standing at the edge of the water. It flew off being harassed by a couple of Carrion Crows, both of which it dwarfed! The bird was wearing a bluish/green wing tag with the letter ‘K’ on it. We were also astounded when the Team picked out 3 Bar-headed Geese amongst another party of Canadas. Seemingly, these Asian birds are becoming a little more common in recent years and tend to team up with Canada Geese. Also on the water were Wigeon, Mallard and a Goosander whilst round about, we noted Mistle Thrushes and a charm of 30 Goldfinches. On the way back, we stopped by the dam wall and saw a Roe Deer as 4 Common Crossbills flew over.

We decided to take our Kindrogan packed lunches into the Gullery Hide at the RSPB Loch of Kinnordy, and from this hide we were able to watch more Canada Geese, around 20 Mute Swans with some cygnets, a flock of around 70 Lapwings, Teal and Mallard. Next, we visited the Swamp Hide, and managed to find Shovelers and Gadwalls as well as Reed Buntings. From here, we went to the East Hide, and Ian found some Longtailed Tits visible from the right hand window. We had spotted some Linnets from the vehicle after stopping to check up on a Polecat-ferret road kill earlier in the day.

Our main task of the day was to be at SWT Lintrathen Loch, and the wildfowl count. We did the count between 4 & 5 pm, firstly watching from the hide; then driving round to a lay-by from where we witnessed about 1,000 Pink-footed Goose coming in to roost along with at least 8,000 Common Gulls. For some people, this spectacle, along with the sound from the gulls’ whiffling wings, was one of the highlights of the week. The other birds counted were: Great Crested Grebe – 3, Little Grebe – 8, Grey Heron – 1, Cormorant – 6, Mute Swan – a pair with 6 cygnets, Canada Goose – 88, Mallard – 54, Teal – 62, Wigeon – 234, Tufted Duck – 32, Goldeneye – 6, Pochard – 10, Goosander – 4 and Coot – 125.

We left this site before 1830 and managed to reach the centre by 1920, which allowed us 25 minutes to get ready for dinner. We had our usual meeting in The Stables to discuss the 59 bird species seen today, and to plan for the walk along the Cateran Trail towards Kirkmichael tomorrow.

After breakfast on Monday the 11th, we once again joined the Small Mammal’s group for a look at the moths caught the previous evening – Feathered Thorn – 1, Angle Shades – 1, Red Sword-grass – 1, November Moth – 2, Red-green Carpet – 3, December Moth – 2, Yellow-line Quaker – 2, Red-line Quaker – 1 and Beech-green Carpet – 2.

We heard the odd Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Blue Tit as we walked through the Douglas Fir and spruce plantations before reaching the old Ardle Bridge from which we watched a territorial dispute between three Dippers. Just before Dalreoch farm, we stopped to watch the odd Bullfinch, Redwings, Dunnock, Song Thrush and Great Tits plus hearing the calls from a Chiffchaff. As we walked through the thick plantation, we could hear several Common Crossbills, and Elspeth managed to find one for us perched high on a bare branch. We happened upon various spraints, droppings and a skull plus a lovely example of a Shaggy Scale-head fungi before reaching the beautiful lochan with the cottage at the far end. Buzzards could be heard calling as we passed the drumlins and eskers, meeting up with a Belgian hunter who told us which one of the two Fallow Deer we were watching was the better for eating! We spotted a couple of limekilns before finally meeting up with the River Ardle once more on the outskirts of Kirkmichael. We saw two of our day’s target species here – House Sparrow & Collared Dove before settling in at the picnic tables outside the Post Office cum shop for our picnic lunches. Flocks of Redwings were quite obvious as was the odd Jay, and I caught a glimpse of my last Swallow of the autumn!

Lunch over, we stopped once more at the bridge to watch a party of Longtailed Tits, and a Lesser Redpoll through Andrew’s ‘scope. The weather was improving all the time with the sun even making an appearance. Rooks, Jackdaws and Mistle Thrushes were spotted on the way back to the beautiful lochan where we met up with the Small Mammal’s group once more.


We left them to their late lunch, and wandered back through the coniferous forest and out to the open area once more with a commanding view over Strathardle and the local hills. Back at the deciduous wooded area just beyond Dalreoch farm, we had better views of the Bullfinches as a Great Spotted Woodpecker bounded away.

As we still had quite a bit of time left, we decided to walk some more of the Cateran Trail heading towards the Spittal of Glen Shee. We added a Sparrowhawk here as it flew behind some trees, and managed to have a fairly good view of a Treecreeper. We also noted a Red Admiral butterfly in the warmth of the day.

When we arrived back at the Centre, we had hoped to perhaps photograph some of the moths caught this morning, but the Small Mammal’s group had already done this and was now looking at mammal traps in the walled garden. Just by chance, we were heading for there as well, and we were shown a Bank Vole in the hand. Even after this, we still had the statutory one hour to relax and get ready for another grand dinner at 6.30 pm.

Jeff Clarke had invited us to his talk on a trip across the Bay of Biscay to the Picos de Europa, and we took him up on this offer after our short meeting in The Stables.

Jeff’s group was leaving on Tuesday the 12th, and wished to have an early breakfast so that they could drive over the Moulin Moor before the road works started at 0900. This suited us fine, and we joined them so that we could have an extra half-an-hour in Speyside. There was patchy mist as we drove up the A9, stopping at Dalwhinnie for a comfort stop, but amazingly, the mist disappeared as we approached our destination of the Glen More Caravan Park, affording us a magical view of the Cairngorm Mountains and Loch Morlich, which we reached at 1040.


I do not normally like having ‘target species’, but in this area it was difficult not to want to see the wonderful Crested Tit. We wandered through the campsite hearing and seeing Siskins, Chaffinches and Coal Tits as well as Crossbills, which were probably Scottish, before venturing onto the sandy shoreline of Loch Morlich. We scanned around and saw Tufted Ducks and Mallards before the cold air forced us to move on. Almost immediately, we heard the lovely trilling calls of Crested Tit, and had very good views of one of these wonderful Highland birds. The Siskins, Chaffinches and Coal Tits as well as Great & Blue Tits were seen at feeders and bird tables, and a Treecreeper was heard.

The lady at reception had informed me that the local café was putting out food for Red Squirrels and birds, and that Crested Tits were frequent visitors. So the Team took no persuading at all to visit this café for hot drinks and apple strudels, and what a good idea it was as both the aforementioned species visited regularly during our visit.

From here, we motored the short distance to the start of a walk, which would take us through part of the Rothiemurchus Estate and over to Loch-an-Eilein. The scenery was beautiful although we did not see too many species before our picnic stop at a scenic lochan, but we noted Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest on Juniper, and Buzzards. At our lochan, we watched a fishing Dabchick as well as a Sympetrum dragonfly and a tadpole!

Lunch over, we walked along the granite sandy track towards the Centre, meeting many families on the way as it was still schools’ mid-term break. Another butterfly was added to the list in the form of a Peacock, and half the Group spotted more Crested Tits. However, once walking, with Loch-an Eilein in view, we came across another Crested Tit with Goldcrests and a Treecreeper.

We visited the facilities at the Centre before heading back towards Coylumbridge where we had left the minibus. Once again, the scenery was excellent with only a few birds, but a large flock of Redwings was worth noting. The mist had gone by the time we started to motor down the A9, passing the RSPB reserve of Insh Marshes, and seeing the former Jacobite stronghold of Ruthven Barracks. Surprisingly, we reached Kindrogan at 1825, which allowed over an hour to prepare ourselves for the 1930 dinner prepared this evening by Sarah as Jo was having a deserved day off.

During our evening meeting, we saw some slides of local birds, and chatted about our plans for Wednesday when we would be going to the SWT Loch of the Lowes. The Centre manager, Martyn Jamieson, popped in to see how we were getting along.

So on Wednesday the 13th, owing to the road works at Moulin Moor, we decided to head towards Dunkeld via Blairgowrie so that we could have the normal 0800 breakfast along with scores of school children. The SWT Centre at Loch of the Lowes was fairly busy, and we started by looking out of the large window at the bird feeders. Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great, Blue & Coal Tits, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Pheasants and even Mallards were feeding from the tables! After this, we climbed up the steps to the first hide from which we noted more Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Goldeneyes, Wigeon, Teal, 2 Canada Geese, Mute Swans and a couple of Great Crested Grebes. The Osprey’s nest site was pointed out, and the odd Jay was noted. We then went into the Crannog Hide to see these birds from a lower perspective.

After this, we went back into the Centre, and we were given a very good talk about the Ospreys’ season plus some footage of Pine Marten. Then it was time to move onto the Cally car park to do the Atholl Woods Circular Walk. Treecreeper, Goldcrests, Jays and Coal & Blue Tits were at least heard before we reached our lunching spot overlooking the Juniper dell. From here, we noted a couple of Fieldfares, Redwings and a high-flying Cormorant. Next, it was onto the Mill Dam where we spent a few moments looking at a pair of friendly Mute Swans, Mallards and Teal. The surrounding scrub held Bullfinches, Long-tailed Tits, Siskins and Lesser Redpoll. From this spot, we heard the calls from a Green Woodpecker, and as I attempted to mimic the call, a little dog came running up to me! Not too long afterwards, when we went through a gate to start the journey back, we managed to see this woodpecker at distance. Small parties of Meadow Pipits were noted as well as Mistle Thrushes, Wood Pigeons, Dunnocks, Wrens and Robins. It was evident that this was fungi time of year. Close to the Cally car park, we passed a small lochan hosting Tufted Ducks and Coots. We arrived back at the Centre with minimal but just enough time to get ready for our evening meal at 1830. After this, we met once more in The Stables for our usual chat plus a talk on bird calls.

Very luckily for us, it was a very good weather day on Thursday the 14th as this was the day we had planned to climb up Glas Maol in search of Ptarmigan. Another bonus was that we had one of the Centre lecturers with us, Duncan, who proved to be very useful and informative. A third bonus was that when we arrived at the Glen Shee ski car park, the café was open, and this was also to prove very useful.

Our first good bird was a Red Grouse, which was drinking from a puddle in the car park! After a relatively short walk up the hill, Elspeth came across our first Mountain Hare, and won herself a drink at the bar! Soon, we were spotted several of these special mountain mammals and more Red Grouse. A few Redwings and Meadow Pipits were on the move as we looked at Alpine Lady’s Mantle, Heather, Crowberry and remnants of Autumn Felwort. Once we reached the plateau, prior to the last slope up to the summit, Duncan spotted a herd of around 60 Red Deer with the stag roaring in defiance. At this point, Ian & Andrew decided that they would have a bit of a rest before slowly making their way back down to the café. Some of us headed up the path whilst others skirted the large corrie in the hope of seeing or hearing a Ptarmigan. Ironically, it was Ruth and Donald, on the main path, who spotted the first of these wonderful birds coming towards them with the summit cairn in sight! The rest of us were very pleased for them but also somewhat envious! Some white Ptarmigan feathers were found as a consolation.

We had our picnic lunch in the shelter of the cairn as the wind now had increased. Duncan decided to have a little walk-about, and actually flushed a Ptarmigan, which flew for us all to see. He also decided to head back down a little earlier so that he would meet up with Ian & Andrew plus have some time for sketching. He was very glad that he did so as he was with these two when they came across a party of 10 Twite, and also saw a Raven. The rest of us went for a walk around the summit area, and soon were rewarded with excellent views of several Ptarmigan, which seemed to be almost oblivious of our presence. It was a very happy bunch of birdwatchers, which headed back down the hill. By the time we reached the minibus, Andrew and Ian were spotted coming back from the café with the keys for the vehicle.

Our next stop was in the valley heading towards Braemar where we pulled into a lay-by to scan around for birds of prey. Half-an-hour produced a couple of Buzzards and the odd Red Deer before we continued to Braemar for a walk around this tourist village, spotting more Redwings, Collared Doves and Jackdaws.

Once again, Time caught up with us, and we headed back to the Centre. The talk this evening was on migration and the Isle of May, and the conversation continued into the bar where we toasted the success of the Course. We had noted 78 species of birds, 8 mammals, two butterflies and Frog & Toad. The group gelled extremely well, and there was a great deal of humour throughout. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed the Course and gleaned much information from it.


Russell G Nisbet – November, 2010.


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