Apr 15th – 22nd
The latest Team of Reg Mitchell, Maureen Devine, Janet Barnby, Kath Greenwood, Pearl & Norman Tait and David Waterhouse met up for the 7.30 pm dinner along with a group of school children and the ‘Friends of Kindrogan’ on Friday the 15th of April. Richard Tilsley gave us the ‘Welcome & Safety’ talk in the Fearnan Room, which was to be our base for the rest of the week.
We remained in this room after the talk to chat about the contents of the Course, and to make plans for Saturday. One of the main differences this year, was that most of us were in en suite accommodation.
The long-range weather forecast was good, and on the 23rd the morning was cool but the sun appeared later and it warmed things up a bit. We firstly spent 20 minutes, after the 8 am breakfast, in the car park, watching and listening to Chaffinch, Blue & Great Tits, Jackdaw, Robin, Siskin, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush and Wood Pigeon before setting off through the wooded track towards the Cateran Trail. En route to the old stone bridge, Reg spotted a Buzzard, and we noted Goldcrest plus hearing a burst of song from a Blackcap. From the bridge, we spotted a Dipper before walking to the road bridge from where we watched Swallows, Pied Wagtail, Willow Warblers and Carrion Crows. Apart from the displays of Daffodils, we noted Dog’s Mercury, Lesser Celandine, Wood Violet, Wood Anemone and Wood Sorrel. We added the aniseed smell of Sweet Cicely when we passed Dalreoch before going into the open field just short of the conifer plantation. At this point, Oystercatchers could be heard from the river Ardle as a drake Goosander flew past.
We met up with a Belgian walking group heading for the Spittal of Glen Shee at this woodland, and from the trees, we could hear Crossbills, Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Robins. We found cones, which had been eaten by Red Squirrels on a cut tree stump plus droppings of Pine Martens.
Just beyond this forest is the beautiful Tulloch Curran lochan where we sat down for our ‘elevenses’. We found some Frog spawn and a Marsh Violet here whilst looking for a Little Grebe. One was spotted hiding in the distant vegetation, but when Norman produced his ‘gadget’ and played a recording of the ‘trill’, the male came scooting across the water towards us! A couple of Curlews flew over calling.
We continued further along the Cateran Trail past the eskers and drumlins towards Kirkmichael; also passing barking dogs and an old limekiln. More Swallows, Buzzards, Jackdaws, Mistle Thrush, Wren, Sand Martins and Oystercatchers were noted before we reached the stand of Beech trees just outside Kirkmichael where we added House Sparrows and Collared Doves. We stopped at the bridge to look for more Dippers but without success.
Lunch was taken at the picnic tables outside the post office cum shop cum petrol station run by the local community, and here we added Dunnock to our list. Maureen bought a very reasonably priced pair of gloves here whilst the rest of us tucked into the home baking (some of it produced by our very own chef, Sarah)!
Lunch over, we headed back across the bridge from where David found a Grey Wagtail for us. Some Primroses were identified growing along the bank, and Greenfinches were spotted on some garden feeders as we made our way back along the Cateran Trail where Norman found a small group of Fallow Deer. There was a party of Meadow Pipits before the lochan where we tried out the bench as a Peacock butterfly flew past.
When we reached the old stone bridge over the Ardle, most of the Team were tempted by the offer of tea and cake at the Centre followed by a walk uphill to the ruined church but the intrepid three (Reg, Janet and myself) decided to walk more of the Cateran Trail leading to the Spittal of Glen Shee where we added Bullfinches, families of Crossbills, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Canada Goose, Rooks, Song Thrush and Grey Heron. We walked up to a viewpoint overlooking the moors with the vain hope of seeing a Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl.
A Chiffchaff was singing, and a Red Squirrel was scampering amongst the trees as we returned to the Centre via Queen Victoria’s Walk with an hour to spare until our 6.30 pm dinner. This was taken with the kids and the ‘Friends’ with the latter coming along to the Fearnan Room at 8.30 pm to hear a talk on the ‘Isle of May’ after we had conducted our evening meeting when we noted that we had seen or heard 44 bird species on our first full day.
With the promise of another very good day on Sunday the 17th, we elected to travel up the A9 to the wonderful Speyside. We managed to spot the odd Black Grouse on the Moulin Moor on the way over to Pitlochry, and in less than two hours we were at the Glen More Caravan Park on the banks of Loch Morlich. We made a bee-line for the loch where we spotted Mallards, Goldeneyes, Goosanders and Black-headed Gulls. It was a beautiful day; so we had to share the beach with some holidaymakers.
We had a wander though part of the caravan park, spotting Chaffinches, Coal, Blue & Great Tits plus Siskins but no Crested Tits; so we went to the nearby café where we sat and watched a couple of Red Squirrels but still no Crested Tits. A lady in the café mentioned that since the bad weather, the ‘Cresties’ had not been seen! She mentioned a rogue Capercaillie along the track to the Glen More Lodge; so we made tracks for there to have a look. Maureen decided to stay behind as the rest of us wandered along the track, finding 6 Greylag Geese en route, until we reached an attractive lochan. Norman once again produced his ‘handy gadget’ and focussed on the display calls of the Capercaillie but none appeared. On the lochan, we spotted Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Goldeneye, and Kath spotted the first of half-a-dozen Green Hairstreaks.
Maureen mentioned that whilst we were away (45 minutes), she had remained in the minibus with the sliding door open, and was concerned that the lights had been on for that period. I was not concerned at all until I attempted to switch on the ignition only to discover that the battery was indeed flat! Luckily, it was lunch-time; so we sat on the banks of Loch Morlich in wonderful sunshine and warmth to await the arrival of a mechanic from Aviemore. An hour and a half later with the use of jump-leads, we were on our way again towards Loch Vaa. This is a great wee loch tucked out of sight, and it produced very good views of a Slavonian Grebe as well as some Goldeneyes.
THE LOCH MORLICH LUNCHING SPOT
From here, we motored up to the Landmark Centre at Carrbridge to make use of the facilities and have a short walk through the adjacent woodland in the hope of locating a Crested Tit, but without success. Time had caught up with us, and we had to head back down to A9 to Pitlochry (spotting a skein of geese at RSPB Insh Marshes) and over the Moulin Moor to Kindrogan which we reached with just under an hour to get ready for another of Sarah’s wonderful meals at 7.30 pm. We were out before 9 pm for a walk along to the old curling pond where we watched or listened to Tawny Owls, Woodcock and Pipistrelle Bats. We returned to the Fearnan Room for a quick meeting to discuss the day’s events and plan for Monday.
The weather still looked good for the 18th, and after breakfast, we headed up the A93 towards Glen Shee. Roe Deer were spotted along the way, and we also stopped in Kirkmichael to top up the diesel. When we arrived at the skiing area, we were pleased to see that the café was open. However, we decided to leave this for the moment and get started on our climb up Glas Maol. Maureen had decided to have a day pottering around Kindrogan.
It did not take too long before we encountered several Mountain Hares in different stages of pelage, and Norman and Pearl decided to linger in this area in an attempt to get some good photos. The rest of us continued up the slopes, encountering Wheatears and Meadow Pipits as well as distant views of Red Grouse and Frogs in a peaty pool. Early on, a skein of around 40 Pink-footed Geese was spotted heading north. We were heading up the last section before the top when Reg disturbed a pair of Ptarmigan, and we were able to watch these birds at relatively close quarters.
PTARMIGAN ON THE SLOPES OF GLAS MAOL
We felt that there was no need to spend the time heading up to the summit; so we found a relatively sheltered spot to have our picnic lunches. Just before settling, Kath spotted a herd of around 40 Red Deer crossing a band of snow. It was extremely pleasant sitting at over 2,000 feet with a view of the Cairngorms, but we knew that there were other things to do with the day; so we headed back down. En route, we bumped into a couple who had heard that a Dotterel had been seen on the summit! By this stage, however, we were just a little reluctant to head back up again!
On the way to the ski centre once more, a Ring Ouzel flew across the road, and we managed to locate this bird to have reasonable views. From here, we went down into Glen Clunie and stopped in a lay-by to look for raptors. We managed to see Buzzards and Kestrels but also had good views of Red Grouse, Oystercatchers, Lapwings, Common Gulls and Curlews.
Our next stop was just beyond Braemar when we parked near the Victoria Bridge where Pearl spotted a Grey Wagtail. We also saw our first Common Sandpiper, and photographed the strange growth on a Larch tree. We had twenty minutes in Braemar itself, and managed to see a Dipper on the Clunie Water. A skein of Pink-footed Geese flew over this tourist village, and we saw more on the way to the Spittal of Glen Shee.
We were home at 6.20 pm in preparation for the 7.30 dinner, and saw a Red Squirrel eating from one of the nut feeders. The evening meeting noted that we were now up to 66 bird species for our list. Norman, Pearl and I met up with a friend of mine, Martin Robinson, in the bar later for a chat.
Teacher/Naturalist Sarah had kindly set up the moth trap on the evening of the 18th, which was a bit damp but produced a host of moths on the morning of Tuesday the 19th of April. My friend, Martin, had agreed to come to help us identify these at 9.15 am after our breakfast. With Janet as scribe and Pearl helping to release the moths, we made a good team to note 65 Hebrew Characters, 43 Common Quakers, 7 Red Chestnuts, 7 Clouded Drabs, 6 Water Carpets, 5 Engrailed, 5 Mottled Greys, 4 Early-toothed Striped, 2 Emperors, 2 Autumn Green Carpets, 2 Brindled Beauties, a Brindled Pug, a Red Green Carpet, a Chestnut and a Red Swordgrass.
This was the day we had chosen to look at the local lochs as the forecast was not brilliant, and two of the lochs had hides. So we headed out at around 10.30 am towards Drumore Loch, spotting more Roe Deer on the way, and stopping to watch displaying Snipe and a Weasel being mobbed by Wheatears. Wood Violets and Barren Strawberries were growing where we parked the minibus, and on the loch we spotted Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a Little Grebe. Reg found a pair of Bullfinches for us as we walked along the edge of the water until we reached an open hillside full of Primroses. Kath, Janet and I elected to return to the minibus to bring it along to the others but we missed a Reg-spotted Ring Ouzel for our labours! However, we saw instead two Red Squirrels, Siskins, Goldcrest, and heard a singing Redstart.
We pulled in again near the bottom of this narrow road to look over another small loch but there was nothing on it. The next stop was at the Backwater Dam in search of birds and toilets but the latter were “Closed for the Season”! On the water, we noted Wigeon plus a Cormorant, and a couple of Brown Hares were noted at the water’s edge. Scores of Sand Martins were flying over a sandy bank, and Pearl found a most amazing green Common Lizard.
Lunch-time was approaching; so we headed for RSPB Loch of Kinnordy and went into the Gullery Hide. Several pairs of Black-headed Gulls were nesting here, and we also saw Shovelers, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Teal, Mute Swans, Moorhens, Coots and a pair of Greylag Geese. There was a shout of “Osprey”, as two were seen in the air at the same time. We watched these birds for half-an-hour whilst trying to eat our packed lunches. A Peregrine also paid a visit as we listened to Willow Warblers and Blackcap.
Next, we visited the East Hide but did not add anything new except for noting Field Maple and numerous Lesser Celandines. The Swamp Hide was our final destination here, after having good views of a Treecreeper, and from it we were able to add Gadwall and Lesser Black-backed Gull as well as watching an Osprey having a bath and perching on a post. The odd Reed Bunting and Rook flew past as Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Green-veined Whites flitted around.
There were some darkening skies as we headed to our final loch of the day, SWT Lintrathen Loch, and from the hide we watched Cormorants, Mute Swans, Goldeneyes, Tufted Ducks, Wigeon, Teal, Great Crested Grebes (displaying) and amazingly a pair of Scaup. I spoke to my friend, Martin Robinson, afterwards, and although he does the WEBS counts here, he had only recorded Scaup once before.
We had to put the windscreen wipers on for the first time on the way back to Kindrogan but the further west we went the better the weather became and at the Centre it was dry. We were back with the statutory hour to spare before another of Sarah’s exciting dinners, and after this, we met once again in the Fearnan room at 7.45 pm to have our nightly meeting, followed by a talk by Norman on the Canary Isles, attended also by Martyn Jamieson, Martin Robinson and Jan.
On Wednesday the 20th of April, the weather was fair once again but we only had half a Team heading out to Glen Quaich and Glen Almond! Maureen was pottering around the Centre once more, Kath was going to walk more of the Cateran Trail, and Norman & Pearl were going to work on more photos and search out the Sillar Burn in Kirkmichael. So the stalwart four left at the usual 9.15 am and stopped at an old bridge just short of the Moulin Moor as I had heard from Martyn that Peregrines were nesting on the nearby cliffs. We saw no sign of the falcons but we saw two Ravens there instead, and found a nesting pair of Dippers under the bridge.
We turned off the A9 at Ballinluig en route for the loos at Aberfeldy beside the Black Watch memorial before heading up over the hill to Amulree via a nice wee lochan at which we stopped but it produced zilch. However, we noted Red-legged Partridge from the minibus. Our next stop was Glen Quaich where we spotted several Red Grouse and Meadow Pipits before stopping for a scan around.
RED GROUSE IN GLEN QUAICH
This stop was very fruitful as we saw Red Kite, Lesser Redpoll, Pheasants, Dunnock, Canada Geese and a displaying Snipe whilst listening to the ‘bubbling’ from the Curlews. Loch Freuchie was our next stop, and here we went for a short walk, adding more Canada Geese, Common Sandpipers, Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans and a pair of Reed Buntings. We also chatted to a group of walkers.
Our tummies told us that it was time for lunch; so we headed to Glen Almond and the Sma’ Glen where we pulled in and found a bench. From here, we could hear Red Grouse, Willow Warblers, Chaffinches and a Ring Ouzel. Lunch over, we went in search of this Mountain Blackbird, and eventually found it preening itself after a bathe in the river. Reg heard the calls of my earliest ever Cuckoo!
Next, we had a walk up the glen in lovely weather, spotting more Red Kites, Buzzards, Common Sandpipers, 2 calling Ring Ouzels, House Martin, Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, a pair of Goosanders and a Tawny Owl which was accidentally flushed by David as he hid his rucksack! We stopped for a cuppa by a burn but soon realised that a pair of Dippers was nesting nearby; so headed up to more Common Sandpiper country.
The time soon came when we had to turn back, spotting some tadpoles and Caddis Fly larvae en route, and drive the vehicle to Aberfeldy once more and the loos, passing J.K. Rowling’s house on the way. We managed to get back to the Centre at 6.10 pm which only allowed us 20 minutes to get ready for yet another of Sarah’s delicious meals. After our meeting at 8.30 pm (when we learned that the ‘Kindrogan’ Team had seen a flock of around 50 Fieldfares), we ventured along to the old bridge over the Ardle to look for Woodcocks and bats. The bats were obliging, and we detected Pipistrelles above us, and Daubenton’s under the bridge.
On our last full day on Thursday the 21st, most of us met in the car park at 5 am to listen to the dawn chorus. A Robin started up one minute later, and the local Tawny Owls were very active as was a Woodcock, which shot past calling. Blackbirds, Great Tits, Song Thrushes, Blue Tits, Pheasant and Carrion Crow all followed with their various calls and songs with our stint there ending with Chaffinches at 5.30 am.
Our next plan was to head up onto the Moulin Moor to watch the Blackcock lek, and what a display we had! 12 Blackcock were strutting around calling noisily with about 7 Greyhens in attendance. We watched this wonderful performance for around twenty minutes as well as listening to the ‘bubbling’ Curlews before heading down to have a look at Straloch. We have to thank David for releasing the handbrake in the minibus as I had pulled it very tight when we parked on a slope!
Spots of rain started to fall as we scanned over the loch, finding Little Grebe, Mallards and Tufted Ducks as three Crossbills flew over. We were back by 7.30, and in plenty of time for our 8 am breakfast.
The Team was all together again today as we headed once more over the Moulin Moor to Pitlochry then on to NTS Killiecrankie. As soon as we were out of the minibus, we could hear the trills from Wood Warblers. We by-passed the NTS Centre for the moment, and headed down towards the Soldier’s Leap via Wood Goldilocks, carpets of Wood Anemone and Wood Sorrel. A Skein of around 100 Pink-footed Geese flew over calling, and we had a very good view of a Wood Warbler. I was utterly surprised when we came across a singing male Pied Flycatcher, which I reckoned was over a week early. Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail were discovered along the River Garry, and we added Golden Saxifrage, Garlic Mustard, Cuckoo Flower, Yellow Archangel, Marsh Marigold, Forget-me-not and Bitter Vetch to the plant list. A female Orange-tip butterfly alighted for a photograph. We returned to the NTS Centre before getting organised and heading down the A9 towards Dunkeld. Just before the Ballinluig turn-off, we came across a long tailback of traffic, and Kath persuaded me to take a parallel minor road instead of waiting in the queue. This worked out okay, and after half-an-hour or so we were in Dunkeld and heading for the SWT Loch of the Lowes. It was now 1230 pm; so we took the chance of using the picnic tables whilst listening to the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and watching a Small Tortoiseshell.
A Redstart was singing as we walked to the SWT Centre, and from the picture window, we could watch Greenfinches, Yellowhammer, Chaffinches, Great, Blue & Coal Tits, Mallards and Pheasants. A Bank Vole observed feeding inside one of the boxes. On the monitors, we could see the female Osprey on her nest, and a few people actually spotted an intruding bird. On the loch we noted, Goldeneyes, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Great Crested Grebes and Mute Swans. Visit here over, we went to the Cally car park on the Atholl Estates, and walked up towards the Mill Dam. We walked past the scent from the Balsam Poplars and the displaying Peacock, hearing another Cuckoo and seeing a pair of Long-tailed Tits plus watching a small herd of Fallow Deer before reaching the lovely open area overlooking the Junipers. We sat down here for refreshments, listening to Tree Pipits and spotting three Crossbills and a Green Woodpecker. The rain came on at this point which gave us the hint that it was time to head back but the intrepid Kath elected to go all the way to the dam. This she did and managed to see the Cuckoo and caught up with the rest of us well before we had reached Maureen and the minibus. Chiffchaffs and Buzzards were spotted on the way back to the car park, and we were back at Kindrogan by 5.45 pm after being stuck at the A9 traffic lights for twenty minutes.
After our final delicious dinner, we met in the Fearnan Room once again and had a quiz night and final round-up of the Course, noting that we had seen or heard 96 species of birds, 12 mammals, 5 types of butterfly, around 30 plants and a few reptiles and amphibians. I was delighted to receive the latest edition of the Collins Field Guide, which I believe was instigated by Reg. The Course was a great success, chiefly owing to the members of the Group who all added greatly to the overall ambience and fun. The weather, too, played a major role as did Sarah’s cooking. I sincerely hope that everyone will return for a future Course.