Judith Hedges, Esme Freeman, Christine McCarthy, Thelma Smith, Muriel Clark, Sheila Harry, Roma Williams, Pam Wade, Marianne Eagles, Reg Mitchell and David Waterhouse met up at 7.30 pm on Friday the 5th of October for one of Jo’s lovely meals. We were sharing the dining room with a group from the BTO and Jeff Clarke’s ‘Small Mammals Group’. Normally, after the meal, we would all have gone through to the Brerachan Room for the usual Health & Safety talk but the Centre Manager, Martyn Jamieson, decided to give the talk there and then without visual aids. After this, my Group gathered in the Stables with cups of tea and coffee for an introduction to the Course plus to get to know each other’s names. The meeting did not last too long as most people had travelled a fair distance and would appreciate an early night.
There was also a large group of school children from my former school of Williamwood with us at the Centre, and because of this, we were having a later breakfast than normal at 0830. So by 0930 on Saturday the 6th of October, we gathered in the car park in preparation for our 2½-mile walk each way along the ancient Cateran Trail to Kirkmichael. I was quite keen not to delay our departure as there was a car rally in Kindrogan Woods today, supposedly starting at 1030 am.
THE GROUP ON THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER ARDLE
However, “as we had all day”, we sauntered along the track after spotting Mistle Thrush, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, Chaffinches, and Jackdaws at the car park. We were impressed by the huge Douglas Firs along the track leading to the bridge over the River Ardle, and added Dipper, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow as well as having glimpses of 3 Bullfinches. Once at the bridge, a female Siskin landed on a riverside Alder as we looked for another Dipper. A Common Buzzard was spotted sitting low in a tree before we moved on past Dalreoch House, after adding a couple of Goldfinches. We stopped to smell the Meum and the Sweet Cicely before entering the dark conifer plantation. In here, we noticed a few fungi under the Scots Pines and Norway Spruces before coming back out into the warm sunshine beside the lovely Tulloch Curran lochan. We decided that it was coffee time, looking over the still water. David identified Black Darter and Common Hawker dragonflies as a Red Squirrel searched for food high up in a Sitka Spruce. The car rally noise actually started round about 1130 am but this did not impinge too much on our walk. As we passed the Silver Birches, we could hear the call of a Lesser Redpoll, which landed but was never seen again. We admired the eskers and drumlins before finding a Frog in one of the track puddles. The odd Jay was spotted here as we walked towards the old limekilns. Rooks & Jackdaws were feeding with the sheep as we headed towards the line of tall Beech trees before the village of Kirkmichael. A party of 5 Common Crossbills flew over as we searched for House Sparrows and Collared Doves. We managed to add these latter two species before settling down at the picnic tables by the river. We made use of the facilities at the community-run shop before standing on the bridge to watch yet another Dipper. After 7½ minutes, we started to head back towards Kindrogan with the clouds starting to gather. We spotted a Sparrowhawk before the holiday cottages, and added a pair of Mallards at the lochan as well as a couple of Fallow Deer in the plantation.
Once we reached the bridge over the Ardle, we all walked a wee bit further along the Cateran Trail leading to the Spittal of Glenshee. Another two Fallow Deer were ‘spotted’, as well as more Mistle Thrushes and Peacocks. We had a gentle stroll back to the Centre, not adding anything new until we reached the car park where we watched 22 Ravens flying over the cliff and forest where they would roost. Three ‘Soprano’ Pipistrelle Bats also flew around, and we had ample time to get ready for our 7 pm dinner. After our meals, we met up in the Stables once again to go over our list, noting that we had seen or heard 31 bird species. There was a talk on some of the wildlife that we were hoping to see during the week.
We were very fortunate indeed to have Jeff Clarke running the ‘Small Mammals’ Course at the same time as our own, and he invited us to pop down to the frosty meadow in front of tutor Rich Tilsley’s cottage on Sunday the 7th to see what had been caught in the mammal traps. We had close-up views of Common Shrew and Wood Mouse. Earlier, Thelma had been watching 4 Fallow Deer from her bedroom window! At 10 am, we were off in the ‘04 Minibus, stopping firstly to look at a Peregrine cliff to see if any birds were about. No luck here, and no luck on the Moulin Moor either. We drove down part of the A9 and turned off at Ballinluig towards Grandtully where the ‘White Water canoeing’ takes place. We eventually reached Aberfeldy where Reg spotted a late Swallow before stopping to have a look at the Blackwatch Memorial as well as a Pied Wagtail. In the town, we made use of the public loos before heading over to Amulree and Glen Quaich. Almost as soon as we entered this glen, we were watching three Red Kites and Common Buzzards as well as a Kestrel. Sheila heard calls from Grey Partridges as a small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over the brow of a hill.
As it was approaching lunchtime, we continued to the end of Loch Freuchie, carried our picnics to the banks of the loch, and enjoyed our lunches in the warm sunshine. Whilst devouring our food, a party of around 25 Lesser Redpolls were having theirs nearby. Amazingly, we could not see any ducks on the water! A Sparrowhawk flew behind the Willows whilst a pair of Black Darters flew in tandem, egg-laying. There was also a large flock of around 60 Chaffinches feeding in an adjacent field, and more Common Buzzards were spotted before we headed off towards the Sma’ Glen and Glen Almond.
LUNCH AT LOCH FREUCHIE
Before we left the glen, however, we stopped as heads of Red Grouse were spotted. Reg and I saw and heard a disappearing Common Crossbill as we got out of the minibus. A Greylag Goose was seen at distance, and Canada Geese were heard. We did not have good views of the grouse: so off we went for coffee and cake on the banks of the River Almond whilst watching yet another Dipper. More Common Buzzards were seen here as we started our walk up the glen. More Red Kites also appeared as well as Kestrels, and we noted some Bell Heather, Tormentil and Harebells.
It was now time to head for base, back through Aberfeldy, and we arrived at the Centre with just enough time to get ready for our evening meal. This over, we met up for the 8.30 pm meeting before heading out to the car park at 9 pm and into the old ’03 minibus which would act as a hide for watching Pine Martens! Jeff drove the ’08 minibus beside the ’03 one, and switched on his infra-red beam. We waited until 10.10 pm, and when nothing appeared, apart from a Wood Mouse, we had a warm break until 11 pm when ‘squinty’ the Pine Marten was visible. It did not do very much apart from feeding on peanuts, but we had very good views from the cold minibus. By 1130 pm it was gone: so we headed through the starry night to our cosy rooms and a welcome bed.
It was another beautiful, frosty morning on Monday the 8th, and after our 8.30 am breakfast, we went back to the meadow to see what Jeff’s group had caught. This time, they were able to show us two Bank Voles and a Wood Mouse.
By 9.50 am, we were heading over the Ardle bridge and onto the A93 Braemar road which would lead us to Glen Shee. We stopped at the facilities then kitted ourselves out for the walk up the 3,503 feet of Glas Maol. There were still some Alpine Lady’s Mantle out, and we also noted Fir & Stag’s-horn Club-mosses. It was not too long before we were watching our first Mountain Hare ‘coorin’ doon’ inside a peat hag. We were to find a few more of these mammals cryptically tucked away. At one point, we could see four or five Red Grouse and a hare at the same time. At a vantage point, we scanned over the glen to find over 100 Red Deer gathered in groups with their dominant stags. The sounds they made were very evocative. It was a bit of a slog up to our lunching spot on the plateau Meall Odhar. Three of the ‘Suffolk Ladies’ decided that this was high enough with rain clouds gathering, and returned to the minibus after we had finished our picnics to the sight and sounds of a pair of Ravens as well as the Red Deer.
The rest of us carried on up to the summit with the mist and light precipitation starting to descend, and we were rewarded with the sighting of a Golden Plover. Then, we walked over the summit to the scree slopes on the southern side to search for Ptarmigan. This first venture was unsuccessful: so we started to search the western side, and whilst admiring the scores of Mountain Hares, we flushed a couple of birds. We followed, and caught up with one bird on the ground, and had reasonable views.
With time marching on, sleet falling, and with the thought of our three ladies in a chilly minibus, we started to head back down, and we were all reunited by 4 pm. There was still time for a visit to ‘raptor valley’ down towards Braemar, and when we arrived there, 7½ later, the sun began to show through. Three fine Red Deer stags were quite close to the road as we observed others on the distant horizon as well as a couple of Common Buzzards. On the way back to base, 4 Roe Deer were spotted from the vehicle.
Tonight, we sampled one of Amanda’s fine dinners but without the BTO, who had departed today, but had left us plenty of magazines and leaflets. At 8.30 pm, Jeff gave us a very entertaining talk entitled ‘A Night on the Tiles’ until 9.45 pm. After this, we met in the Stables to note that our bird total was 42 before heading back out to the car park with the hope of seeing more Pine Martens. Reg, Marianne and I were standing on an adjacent track in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis, which had been reported by Richard Tilsley, and I was expecting Jeff to drive the ’08 van into the same position as the previous evening but suddenly the infra-red light was on and a Pine Marten was in view! We felt obliged to remain where we were and keep still and quiet! We were very glad that we did so as not only did we have magnificent views of two performing Pine Martens but, as the Red Deer roared, a beautiful shaft of light split the night sky as we watched a performance of the Northern Lights! The group in the minibus also had a great evening, and it was a very happy band of Kindroganites who stumbled back to their rooms.
It was yet another sparkling, frosty morning on Tuesday the 9th of October as we motored over the Moulin Moor after spotting ‘our’ Dipper at the Ardle bridge. Parts of Pitlochry were in low-lying mist but once onto the A9, the mist soon lifted. It was a lovely run over the Drumochter Pass (where Reg spotted some Red Deer), past the Whisky Distillery at Dalwhinnie then onto the caravan park at Glen More where we reached at 1120 am. We made a bee-line for the shores of Loch Morlich but before reaching here, we heard the calls from a Crested Tit up in the Scots Pines. Thelma managed to locate the bird, and we all had excellent views for about 15 minutes. Then it really was time to make use of the public loos as the ones on site were being cleaned. Goldcrests, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits were also on show.
THE IDYLLIC SETTING OF LOCH MORLICH
From the sandy banks of Loch Morlich, we picked out a party of 10 Tufted Ducks as well as Mallards, Grey Heron and a couple of Dippers splashing around in the water. One of these birds flew up the nearby river to afford us splendid views. We walked out to a spit of land to have better views of the ducks plus 6 Reindeer on the hills before heading back to the campsite through the woodland, spotting Treecreeper en route. Ben Macdui, in the mighty Cairngorms, had a light covering of fresh snow. I said “bye-bye” to the managers, Dave & Lorayne, then we continued to the far side of the loch where we found a quiet lunching spot to the calls of another Crested Tit.
Lunch over, we walked along the track towards Glen More Lodge, and came upon another Grey Heron at a small lochan. The only other things of interest along this track were a lovely Common Hawker and Black Darter. From here, we drove through Aviemore and on to the beautiful Loch Vaa where we watched another Grey Heron, six Wigeon, two Teal, Mallards, yet another Dipper and a pair of Dabchicks. We still had time for a fairly quick visit to Loch Insh at Kincraig where we stopped to use the local portaloo plus have hot drinks at the Post Office cum store. From a narrow bridge, we watched a few female Goldeneyes. We made very good progress back to Kindrogan as we were now in the newly-acquired ’08 minibus, and we had almost an hour to get ready for one of Amanda’s lovely meals after a large group from Fettes College had eaten theirs. We noted 10 Ravens coming into roost. At our fairly quick meeting, we had a short power point presentation on some of the wildlife we might still come across, and noted that we seen or heard 47 bird species so far. We decided to have an early night after a long day plus some of us would be up early the following morning!
It was frosty again on the morning of Wednesday the 10th as most of us met in the car park at 7 am so that we could go to watch the Blackcock lek on Moulin Moor. The early rise was worth it as we were able to watch 9 Black Grouse and one Greyhen at the lek. Red Grouse could also be heard as we watched some of the males half-heartedly displaying to each other. Marianne was trying to egg them on to see more ‘action’! At 7.45 am, they flew off, and we returned to the Centre after stopping to watch a party of six Lesser Redpolls and, later on, a Roe Deer.
After another grand breakfast, we were ready for another ‘grand day out’ at 9.40 am, and this time we were heading for the ‘local lochs’. The first one was Drumore, and in the vicinity we watched a Grey Heron, two Little Grebes, 5 Mistle Thrushes, a male Bullfinch, located by Muriel, and a couple of Common Buzzards plus, best of all, a pair of Common Crossbills in the sunshine on top of a Larch tree. Next on the list was Backwater Reservoir, which is the water supply for Dundee, and here we spotted Cormorants, Great Crested Grebe, Common Buzzards, Kestrel, 30 Lapwings, Pied Wagtail, a pair of Grey Wagtails and a pair of Stonechats spotted by Reg. We had our lunch at some sheltered picnic tables in the sun where a Small Tortoiseshell alighted, and, just as we were leaving, a party of Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits flew past.
THE SEARCH FOR THE GREY WAGTAILS
The RSPB Loch of Kinnordy awaited us: so off we went to view from the three hides there. I had spotted a Red Admiral in front of the minibus en route. We observed Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Goldeneye and 6 Goosanders as Common Buzzards circled in the distance and a Sparrowhawk flew into a lonesome Pine. A few Common Gulls came along for a ‘wash and brush-up’, and the odd Reed Bunting flew past. We also noted a few yellow plants of the Greater Celandine. In the woodlands, we added Wren, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, and, for a chosen few, a Great Spotted Woodpecker!
From here, we went to a filling station (or emptying station) on the edge of Kirriemuir before heading for our final loch – the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of Lintrathen. From the hide here, we had good views of a family of three Whooper Swans with another pair further away, Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Cormorants, at least 200 Canada Geese, Goldeneye, Mallards, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe.
It was now time to head for base where we reached with one hour to get ready for our evening meal on our own. About 12 Ravens came in to roost. Jeff had left me some strings soaked in molasses and red wine, which I hung up in a large Beech tree under which I set the moth trap. At our meeting (now 69 bird species), we had a talk about the Isle of May, and this was followed by a few of us making use of the ‘night glasses’ supplied by Martyn Jamieson. The idea was to attempt to have another look at the Pine Martens but without success. We went to have a look at the strings on the Beech tree, and although there were no moths on the strings, two November Moths alighted nearby.
Our last full day together was Thursday the 11th of October, and as had been forecasted, it was damp. I had invited a friend of mine, Martin Robinson, to come over to help us to identify the moths, and he duly did. We caught 3 November Moths, 2 Red Green Carpets, 1 Marbled Carpet, 2 Autumn Green Carpets and 4 Caddis Flies. We felt fortunate to have caught these as Jeff did not manage to set his moth trap at all as it was too cold!
At 10 am we were off over a misty Moulin Moor then down a wet A9, heading towards Dunkeld where we stopped for loos. From the Cally car park (where a young Toad was found), we started our walk up to the Mill Dam, and although we did not see very much, we were very happy that the rain had stopped and that our walk was totally in the dry! The scenery was very attractive as we walked past the Juniper plantation, hearing a Green Woodpecker, and spotting Jays, Yellowhammer, Dunnock, Robin and Common Buzzards as well as Peacocks!
The timing of our arrival at the Mill Dam coincided very nicely with lunch: so we sat down on the benches and rocks whilst a pair of Mallards came to investigate! I was very pleased when my partner, Lesley, joined us but only for a short while as she was going to walk the longer circuit back to the car park. On the way back down, I spotted 5 excited Mistle Thrushes followed shortly by a Peregrine. Further down, the Green Woodpecker was observed in flight, and Marianne spotted three Fallow Deer.
Our timing was once again very good indeed because not long after we had reached the SWT’s reserve at Loch of the Lowes (or is that Loos?), the rain started. We were made extremely welcome here, and had the Centre almost to ourselves as we sat at the large picture window with coffees (thanks Sheila) watching Coal, Great & Blue Tits, Chaffinches, wonderful Siskins (at last), and Pheasants at the feeders. One of the Chaffinches had a white head, and it was not long before Red Squirrels also made an appearance. We had to wait until we were almost leaving before a Great Spotted Woodpecker paid a visit. Whilst enjoying this feeding spectacle, a Hedgehog came wandering through, and very much to our surprise, one of the staff popped out and picked it up then brought it to the window to show it to us! Seemingly, it was one which she had looked after and was monitoring.
THE HEDGEHOG AT LOCH OF THE LOWES
After thanking the staff for their kind hospitality, we headed back up the A9 to Pitlochry then over the Moulin Moor to Kindrogan where we reached with more than an hour to get a wee bit of packing done plus get ready for the ‘last supper’. Our last evening was spent chatting about migration, and Martyn dropped in to ask how the Course went, and to present the Group members with their certificates. After this, we retired to the bar for further chat (thanks to Sheila for the drink) and hoping that we will all meet up again sometime on a future Course.
After breakfast on Friday the 12th of October, all but three of us boarded the ’04 minibus with Malcolm at the wheel to be driven to Pitlochry railway station. I have heard that the train journey went well with much bird spotting taking place, and I also heard that Marianne and Reg got home safely okay. It was a really good week with great weather, great company, 73 bird species, 14 mammals, 2 amphibians, 2 butterflies and several plant species noted. Roll on the next time!
Russell G Nisbet – October, 2012.