Russell Nisbet Spring 2010


23rd– 30th April, 2010

The latest Team of students, John Dunn, Liz Collins, Peter Kent, Dave Corby and Carol & Chris Legg met in the dining room at 1930 on Friday the 23rd of April along with Martha Newton and her mosses & liverwort group. After introducing ourselves at the fine buffet dinner, everyone went to the Brerachan Room to listen to head of centre, Martyn Jamieson, giving his health & safety talk. From here, our group adjourned to the Stables for a chat about the Course ahead plus what our plans were for Saturday the 24th.

The weather did not look too good as we sat at our 0800 breakfast after preparing packed lunches, and we met up in the car park at 0915 with Sarah, one of the tutors, who was joining us for the day. The normal bird species such as Blackbird, Song & Mistle Thrush, Robin, Wren, Blue, Great & Coal Tits, Chaffinches and Wood Pigeons were present and calling.

From here, we walked along the track, which had been damaged by the severe winter weather, until we reach the old bridge over the River Ardle. Pete had arrived early yesterday, and therefore knew that there was a pair of Dippers nesting under the newer bridge, and it only took a few seconds to spot these birds actively feeding young in the nest. When we reached Dalreoch Farm, there were Goldfinches and Greenfinches on the feeders with Dunnock singing in the garden. With the cold early spring, the flowers were far and few between, but we managed to see Lesser Celandine and smell the wonderful aniseed fragrance from the Sweet Cicely.

The coniferous woodland was fairly unproductive apart from the odd Crossbill flying over, and hearing Robin, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and Wood Pigeon. I was very hopeful that we would find some Smooth Newts in the lochan just beyond this wood but managed to find a Common Toad instead.


Dave found a Tree Pipit for us in the Silver Birches before we spotted our first Swallows and a migrating skein of Pink-footed Geese. Carol noticed a Mistle Thrush on the ground as a Great-spotted Woodpecker bounded into a neighbouring plantation. We noted the drumlins and eskers before reaching the old limekiln, and Liz spotted a Roe Deer on the far side of the strath.

We arrived at the village of Kirkmichael at 1230 to be greeted by House Sparrows, Starlings and Collared Doves. From the bridge, some of the Team managed to see another Dipper as Sand & House Martins flew over. Our packed lunches were devoured in sunshine and warmth outside the local PO cum shop, and after this we went to look at the Dipper’s nest from last year. I was very happy indeed when we found three Bramblings on the beeches near to the River Ardle, and later on, Carol & Liz found 7 Fallow Deer for us before the barking dogs as a Grey Heron flew over. There was a Little Grebe at the lochan as we passed by, and we also managed to have reasonable views of Willow Warblers, which we had been hearing. We noted a few Water Crickets on some still water, and we bumped into my friend, Martin, in his garden whilst he was ‘aerating’ the lawn.

Carol, Liz and John left us at the Ardle bridge whilst the rest of us walked a little more of the Cateran Trail towards the Spittal of Glen Shee. Almost immediately, we were having good views of a pair of feeding Bullfinches followed by family groups of feeding Crossbills. Chris found two Long-tailed Tits for us, and Dave spotted some more Fallow Deer. A bit further on, we had glimpses of a Treecreeper, and an even smaller glimpse of a Goldcrest.

We returned to Kindrogan by way of Queen Victoria’s path, arriving back at 1725 allowing us about one hour to prepare for our evening meal. Our meeting in the Stables was at 8 pm and consisted of chat about the 48 species recorded today plus a talk on “Bird Calls”. This finished at about 2130, and I went out to the front of the building where Paul Hill and Martyn were setting up a vertical white sheet to attract moths. I did not wait too long but a Clouded Drab, Engrailed, Common Quaker and Early-toothed Striped turn up to the light. This was a sign of things to come for the following morning as Paul had also set up three moth traps. A couple of Tawny Owls were calling.

After the normal 0800 breakfast on Sunday the 25th, the Team assembled in front of the main building to see what Paul Hill had caught in his moth traps. There were not too many species involved but plenty of moths – 121 Hebrew Characters, 70 Common Quakers, 34 Early-toothed Striped, 21 Clouded Drabs, 3 Engrailed, 2 Twin-spotted Quakers, 2 Chestnut and one Red Chestnut.

Once again with Sarah in attendance, we managed away by 0930 in the minibus with Carol & Chris following, and stopped to have a look at ‘our’ Dippers before heading for another stop on the Moulin Moor. There was not too much to be seen or heard except for a few Wheatears and the odd Curlew as it was a bit dull with the rain starting to fall. The plan was to firstly go to Loch Freuchie at Amulree, but as we headed down the A9 beyond Pitlochry the rain became even heavier: so we quickly decided to head for the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Loch of the Lowes (or loos) where I knew there would be very good shelter. This worked out very well indeed as the usual picture window overlooking the feeding station produced Yellowhammers, Greenfinches, Siskins, Chaffinches, Blue, Coal & Great Tits and Mallards. I met two friends of mine, Lorna & Eppie, and it was the latter who cleverly found the female Brambling. I think it was only Dave and Chris who saw the Great Spotted Woodpecker and the Red Squirrel. However, we all managed a look at the head of the female Osprey whilst she sat on three eggs. On the loch itself we noted Goldeneyes, Tufted Ducks, Great Crested Grebes, Mallards, Mute Swans and a female Goosander. Feeding over the water were scores of Sand Martins and the odd Swallow.

By the time we left, an hour or so later, it was almost not raining! So we ventured on up Glen Bran and over the moors towards Loch Freuchie. Our first stop was fairly productive with Carol spotting a cock Black Grouse up a larch, several Redpolls flying around, Pheasants calling, a three second distant Short-eared Owl, Woodpigeons, Skylark, Meadow Pipits and Buzzard.

We stopped at the bottom of the loch and walked over to the stone bridge to the sounds of more Willow Warblers plus the calls from a large flock of feeding Chaffinches. Pete managed to find a Redshank and a pair of ground-displaying Common Snipe. A Common Sandpiper was ‘trilling’ along the edge of the loch, and we saw around 10 Canada and 2 Greylag Geese. Sand Martins and the odd Swallow were feeding here also.

As we were having lunch in the minibus away from the cold wind, we observed a cock Reed Bunting and the odd Wheatear as well as a vintage sports car rally.

Next, it was time to head to the car park at Glen Almond where we were greeted by a Common Sandpiper and Pied Wagtails. A Kestrel hunted and Red Grouse called as we prepared ourselves for the walk up the glen. This walk proved to be very good for birds of prey – several Buzzards, more Kestrels, a male Peregrine mobbing a Buzzard and a Hen Harrier also interacting with a Buzzard. Apart from these, in the improving weather, we added Wheatears, Dippers, more Common Sandpipers, a pair of flying Goosanders and Meadow Pipits. But perhaps the highlight was watching a cock Ring Ousel in song. We needed to search for a while before actually locating this bird.

We left the car park around 1640 and headed for home via Aberfeldy, and we were at Kindrogan at 1755. After our dinner, we had the meeting in the Stables, noted our 73 bird species seen so far, chatted about the trip north tomorrow, then went out along the track towards the pond-dipping area where we waited for Woodcock. We did not have very long to wait as one came ‘roding’ along over the tree-tops. We managed to gain three sightings of this crepuscular bird. Martyn Jamieson had lent us a few bat detectors, and we certainly saw and ‘detected’ some bats, probably Pipistrelle and Brown Long-eared. Sarah also joined us on this adventure, and on the way back to the Centre, we had to be very careful not to stand on the frogs and toads!

What I did not mention to the Team until the evening was that the steering of the minibus was very ‘wobbly’, and I felt it was unsafe to drive; so we agreed to use two cars from now on. Sarah had informed us that on Wednesday and Thursday, school groups would require the minibus anyway.

So, on Monday the 26th of April on a fine day, the two cars set off at 0910 towards Pitlochry; then onto the A9 towards Aviemore as we were to have a day out in Speyside. We headed directly for the Glen More Caravan Park on the banks of Loch Morlich as I know the managers, and I had also seen Crested Tits there on a few occasions. We wandered around the site seeing Siskins, Coal tits, Chaffinches and Common Gulls as well as a pair of over-flying Red-throated Divers but no Crested Tits. We met up with David, the manager, later who told us that he had heard them earlier in the day. I learned from my two friends, Lorna & Eppie, that during their four days in Speyside, they also had not seen any Crested Tits.

It was bitterly cold on the sandy shores of Loch Morlich, but we managed to locate the pair of Red-throated Divers, which came amazingly close to us calling! We also noted Goldeneyes, Greylag Goose, Mallards and Common & Black-headed Gulls. On the way back through the Caledonian Pines, we saw Great-spotted Woodpecker, Siskins and loads of Chaffinches plus hearing a Treecreeper. Carol spotted a Roe Deer for us as we neared the cars after seeing patches of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage.


From the Glen More Caravan Park, we headed to the wonderful Avielochan just north of Aviemore and met up with a college group who had just been watching a pair of Slavonian Grebes. It did not take us too long to locate these beautiful birds as well as Wigeon, Goldeneye, Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe. A Common Sandpiper flitted along the shoreline as a party of Herring Gulls came in to roost. Almost unbelievably in the cold conditions, Liz located a fairly dormant Small Tortoiseshell butterfly! We had our lunch here before moving on to the picturesque Loch Vaa, which housed another pair of Red-throated Divers, Little Grebes, Mallards and Goldeneyes as well as Greylag Geese and a singing Common Redstart.

Our next port of call was the flooded area just before The Boat of Garten where we added Teal and Coot as well as seeing more Wigeon and Lapwings. As we still had not seen Crested Tit, we moved on to the Landmark Centre at Carrbridge for a coffee stop before having about 45 minutes in the neighbouring woodlands. This Caledonian Pine forest was fairly quiet although we did get a glimpse of a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

It was thanks to Pete, who suggested a visit to the Kincraig Ospreys, that we allowed time to pop into the top end of Loch Insh for an excellent finish to the day by observing the pair at the picturesque nest. On one occasion, both birds were off the nest and a Jackdaw went a little too close to the eggs for comfort and was chased away.

With the meal times now being 7 pm, our 1820 arrival back at base was just enough to get ready. The Mosses group and ourselves were eating in the downstairs lounge to make way for the 80 kids in the dining room.

We met at 8.30 pm in the Stables for our chat plus a slide show about some local birds. Our bird list now stands at 82.

We stuck to our plan of heading up to Glen Shee and Glas Moal on Tuesday the 27th, but were greeted by quite heavy rain at the car park. Today, we had three vehicles as Liz decided to add her dormobile to the convoy so that she could be independent. We gave the weather 15 minutes to make up its mind before we headed down to the bottom of the glen in the hope of seeing some raptors. No birds of prey but Red Grouse, Common Sandpiper and a few Red Deer stags.

With the weather improving, we left Liz to head down to Braemar and the Linn O’ Dee, and headed back up the hill to the car park. Red Grouse flew around calling, and it was not too long before we were watching a few Mountain Hares, some of which were still quite white. We had to climb up a fair distance before Pete spotted a lovely pair of northern Golden Plovers in immaculate plumage.

Lunch was now due: so we found as sheltered a spot as we could away from the cool wind to ‘coorie doon’. One highlight was a large skein  of Pink-footed Geese flying north-east, but the real highlight of the day was the Golden Eagle spotted by Carol. This bird, luckily for us, was flying against the wind and therefore was not making too much headway and we were able to watch it for precious minutes.

After lunch we continued in the rain up to a slippery snowfield over which Dave was the only one to traverse in search of an early Dotterel. We met another couple who were having a recce trip for a Guide group but they had not seen any birds up in the mist, and when our intrepid Dave returned, his experience was the same. A Wheatear was feeding at the edge of the snowfield.

We had arranged to meet up with Liz at around 4 pm in the car park at the bottom of the valley, and we arrived there at 1530 with the rain still falling. Carol, Chris & Pete left for Kindrogan at 1545, but the rest of us waited until 4 pm when Liz arrived bang on time! Whilst waiting, Dave and I spotted a Stoat crossing the road. However, owing to the inclement weather, we decided to head back to warmth and a cup of hot tea. We arrived back at 1645, which allowed plenty of time to get ready for the 7 pm meal. After this, we had our usual chat in the Stables before having an early night.

It was the local lochs’ day on Wednesday the 28th, but before that we met up in the car park at 0520 to listen to the dawn chorus. It was not brilliant, but we heard Treecreeper, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Wren, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit and Robin. At 0530, we headed up to the Moulin Moor to watch the Black Grouse lek. Once again, the weather was not too kind to us as we stood under umbrellas watching 8 cock birds performing intermittently. We were back at base by 0630 and for some an hour or so back in a cosy bed!

So at 0915 the normal day began after the 0800 breakfast when we headed out to Drummore Loch seeing Little Grebe, Mallards, Swallows and Sand Martins. We had a short walk listening to Pheasants, Goldcrest, Chaffinches, Willow warblers, Coal Tits and Siskins. At a small lochan further down the road, we noted a few Mallards before moving on to the Backwater Reservoir, which is the water supply for Dundee. A Roe Deer was grazing on the grassy slopes of the dam, and we also noted Mistle Thrush and Common Gulls. We stopped again at the car park at the top end of the reservoir to watch Wigeon, Mallard and Buzzards, and went for a walk, spotting some Red Deer and a Roe Deer at the edge of the forest.

The RSPB’s Loch of Kinnordy was next on our list, and this coincided with lunch. As we arrived in the car park, we could hear a Blackcap singing, and once in the Gullery Hide we watched the nesting Black-headed Gulls, Mute Swans, Shovelers, Tufted Ducks, Teal, Coots , Moorhen, 2 White Wagtails and a Black-tailed Godwit. A Sedge Warbler was spotted low down in the reeds on the right, and the odd Reed Bunting was also seen.

From the Swamp Hide we watched Gadwalls, Greylag Geese and the uncommon drake Garganey having a snooze on the far side. This was excellent, but for some people the performing Stoat took pride of place! Chris managed to spot a Peacock butterfly. Whilst in this hide, we spotted an Osprey flying past: so we made immediately for the Gullery Hide once more in the hope of watching it fishing. We waited for at least ten minutes but with no further sighting of the bird.

The plan now was to go to the third hide, but with a couple of youths suspiciously sitting in a parked car, I decided not to leave the vehicles whilst the Team went to have a look. As it turned out, the youths were probably not interested in breaking into cars but were quite happy having a quick ‘puff’! A few of us went along to the filling station in Kirriemuir (birthplace of J.M.Barrie of Peter Pan fame) whilst the others waited in the Gullery Hide and it was just as well that they did so as they spotted the Osprey, and when the rest of us went for a look we were able to watch it catching a fish and flying off!

The last loch on the list was the SWT’s Lintrathen Loch where we sat in the hide to watch the roosting Cormorants, 2 Great Crested Grebes, Goldeneye, Tufted Ducks and Mallards as well as another Osprey hunting for fish. We managed to get back to the Centre with about an hour to get ready for dinner followed by the usual chat in the Stables plus a topical talk about Iceland. Our bird list now stands at 95.

We left Killiecrankie to the last day, Thursday the 29th, to allow the migrant Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers more time to arrive from Africa, and this worked out well as when we arrived at the NTS car park, we could hear a Wood Warbler ‘bubbling’ away in the woodland on the opposite side of the road. Once listening to this, we could also pick out the song of a Pied Flycatcher. Three other bird-watchers were listening as well, but because of the traffic noise, we decided to go down onto the reserve proper away from the cars. The first thing we noticed was the carpets of Wood Anemones, Wood Sorrels, Primroses, Dog Violets and Wild Garlic along with Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Dog’s Mercury and Lesser Celandine. We had very good views of Wood Warbler, but it was only Chris and I who had good views of a male Pied Flycatcher investigating a nest box. We looked at the Soldier’s Leap and had a walk along the banks of the River Garry seeing two Grey Wagtails, Dipper and Common Sandpiper. There was time for a refreshment stop at the café before heading down the A9 towards Dunkeld and the Cally Car Park on the Atholl Estates. By the time we reached here it was lunchtime: so we found some logs to sit on and tucked in whilst an Osprey flew over! For some people this was the best day out of the whole week owing to the variety of scenery and birds. Chiffchaffs were calling and we managed to locate one. We also heard and saw Buzzards & Jays as well as several singing Tree Pipits. We  managed to locate a singing cock Redstart at distance, and have a wonderful view of an immature male Common Crossbill spotted by Pete as well as a cock Yellowhammer. There had been several groups of ‘chipping’ Crossbills, but this was the only one which settled nearby. We noted several Fallow Deer and six Peacock butterflies as well as actual Peacocks and Peahens, which responded to my calls.


Once at the Mill Dam past the Juniper scrub, we saw Teal, Mallard, nesting Mute Swans, a pair of Long-tailed Tits, and Chris heard a Cuckoo. We wandered a little further along the track to perhaps hear this bird better, but ended up seeing a Redpoll instead. On the way back to the car park, John heard the Cuckoo again, and we all heard the ‘yaffling’ from a Green Woodpecker as well calls from a Raven.

We arrived back at Kindrogan at 1820, but not before one car load had stopped for a cock Stonechat (at last) on Moulin Moor, and the other car load having a look at Straloch, seeing Little Grebe, Tufted Ducks and Sand Martins.

The meal was enjoyed once more followed by our final meeting in the Stables with Dave giving a show of the shots he had taken during the week and myself giving a talk on the Isle of May. Our wonderful bird list totalled 121 species, mammals 9 and butterflies 2 (Peacock & Small Tortoiseshell) with several flowers being noted plus the moths. Mike at reception had produced Certificates for everyone, which were greatly appreciated. All in all, the week went very well with the weather not preventing us doing as we planned, and the company was very good indeed. I hope to meet up with you all again at some point.


Russell G Nisbet – May, 2010.


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