OUR LOCH VAA PICNIC LUNCH
Christine & Philip Horseley, Sheila Harry, Stephanie Wright, Rachel Bennette, Myra Wareing, Reg Mitchell and Simon & Emmanuelle Braidman met up for the 7.30 pm dinner to experience the first of Amanda’s (with Dutch sous-chef) wonderful meals on Friday the 19th of April. This was followed by a ‘Health & Safety’ talk by Duncan in the Tummel Room. He was very pleased that students from the Edinburgh Teacher Training College at Murray House were also at the Centre. After Duncan’s talk, we chatted about the Course, and especially what we would be doing on Saturday the 20th.
The long-range forecast stated that the 20th would be an okay day, and this was the case although it was a tad cold. We met up in the car park at 9.15 am to listen to the birds around us, noting Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Treecreeper, House Martin, Jackdaw, Raven, Chaffinch and Siskin. Next, we started out along the Kindrogan track towards the section of the Cateran Trail, which we would follow to Kirkmichael. What was very evident was just how late the season was with very few flowers to be seen but we did see Lesser Celandine, Golden Saxifrage, Hairy Bittercress and Primrose in the Kindrogan grounds.
On the way to the Ardle bridge, we heard Goldcrest and Wren plus seeing more Siskins, Robins and Coal Tits. From the bridge, we added a Dipper, which appeared to be nesting under the newer bridge. Swallows and House Martins were flying around as a Carrion Crow squawked from a nearby tree. We met my friend, Martin Robinson, who lives at Dalreoch, and noted Dunnock, Chaffinch and Mistle Thrush as a Brambling wheezed. Reg heard the calls of Pink-footed Geese as a skein of 130 flew up Strathardle.
After smelling the aniseed of Sweet Cicily, and seeing a Redwing, we walked across one of Martin’s fields towards the coniferous plantation, finding a ‘sea’ of Frogs’ spawn in a flooded area. Reg spotted a distant pair of circling Buzzards. The woodland was a bit dank with few sounds apart from Robin and Coal Tit but things became more interesting when we reached the lovely Tulloch Curran lochan, where there was a pair of Little Grebes plus hundreds of mating Common Toads. Whilst watching the grebes, a Jay flew across our field of view, and we also came across some Otter spraints.
We spent some time at this idyllic spot, having a cup of coffee before heading onwards towards Kirkmichael. We walked past the glacial drumlins and eskers before coming across an old limekiln. We also found evidence of Vole runs uncovered after the snowmelt, as well as a millipede. There were several Jackdaws feeding in the sheep fields before we reached the row of Beech trees along the banks of the River Ardle. At the usual garden feeding station, we noted Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Great, Blue & Coal Tits as well as several Siskins.
We headed for the picnic tables and benches in the Kirkmichael car park to the sound of cheeping House Sparrows. More Swallows and Sand Martins were flying around here as we headed for the Post Office cum shop for more cups of coffee, tea and hot chocolate. This over, we headed back the way we had come, adding three Bramblings and a fleeting Sparrowhawk to our list before spending a little more time at the lovely lochan.
Once back at the Ardle bridge, where we saw a pair of Common Sandpipers, some of the Team elected to return to the Centre whilst the rest of us walked a little further along the Cateran Trail leading to the Spittal o’ Glenshee. We walked up as far as the first farm buildings, meeting up with a lassie from Perth (Australia) who was hoping that there would be a heavy fall of snow! The odd Swallow flew around again, Curlews called, and Starlings and Meadow Pipits fed in the fields. Common Gulls called overhead as we returned down the track, across the main road and back to the Centre via Queen Victoria’s Path.
We ate at 6.30 pm this evening followed by our meeting in the Tummel Room when we noted that we had recorded 41 bird species. Because the evening was clement, we went out for a walk along to the former curling pond where more Toads were in evidence, and before very long a ‘Soprano’ Pipistrelle Bat was out hunting. We picked up the calls in our bat detectors. As we returned in the semi-darkness to the Centre, Tawny Owls were in good voice. We learned later that Christine had seen 8 Fallow Deer from her bedroom window as dusk was falling.
It was another okay but chilly day on Sunday the 21st as we met at 8 am for breakfast. A Green Woodpecker was ‘yaffling’ as we left the car park at 9.15 am on our way to Glen Quaich and Glen Almond. First of all, we stopped to look for our Dippers at the bridge before Reg spotted a Fox further along the way. We pulled off the road over the Moulin Moor to watch a couple of late Blackcock at their lekking site, and we were able to see more of these birds as we drove across the moor before reaching the picturesque Pitlochry. Then we motored down the A9 as far as Ballinluig where we turned off for Aberfeldy. We had to make a stop as I felt a sampling container rattling under my feet! Then it was on to Grandtully, where white water rafting in undertaken, and eventually to Aberfeldy where we stopped at the Black Watch monument where there are toilets nearby. A drake Goosander was sighted on the River Tay as it swam under the General Wade bridge, and Rooks were active at the adjacent rookery.
Now, it was up the hill, past the Birks o’ Aberfeldy, and on to Amulree where we turned off the main road and along Glen Quaich. Red Grouse were quite common here, and at our first proper stop we added Canada Goose, Pheasants and Oystercatchers. The odd Black Grouse was noted as well as Lapwings, Curlews and a Redshank, spotted by Reg. There were many more Canada Geese and the odd pair of Greylag Geese when we reached the far end of Loch Freuchie, where we also added a pair of Black-tailed Godwits, Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, a pair of Wigeon, Mallards, three Goldeneyes and Sand Martins.
We walked down to the bridge as a shower or rain started, and some of the Team elected to return to the minibus but those who weathered the rain, saw Willow Warbler and a Reed Bunting (Simon only). The shower soon passed, and with the sunshine came a Common Buzzard and a pair of White-tailed Eagles, which we watched for 15 minutes. This was delaying lunch; so off we went to the Sma’ Glen by the River Almond where we had our Kindrogan picnic lunches whilst seeing Goldcrest, Common Sandpiper and a calling Cuckoo! We were all delighted with this as spring was very late this year, and we thought that most migrants would also be late.
After lunch, we walked up part of Glen Almond, seeing Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, Common Buzzards, Ravens and Kestrels as well as hearing a singing Dipper. We could see a very dark, rainy cloud approaching: so we decided to head back but not before stopping for a view of a soaring Red Kite. This sighting was a very fortuitous one as I had promised to eat my binoculars if we did not see one! Myra had offered to make a cake in the image of my binoculars to keep my teeth intact. (Or at least I think so as I have not eaten one of Myra’s cakes!)
CUCKOO WATCHING IN THE SMA’ GLEN
We reached the safety of the minibus just as the rain was starting, then headed back to Aberfeldy and the loos where there was also the opportunity for hot drinks. I think this is where the almost daily ‘bombardment’ of Bounty Bars from Reg started! The bird-watching day was not yet over as we made a stop at Straloch (thanks to Lucy Holt) where we watched 5 Goosanders (to the delight of Sheila), two Grey Herons and 6 Wigeon as a Willow Warbler sang. There was a pair of Common Sandpipers at the Ardle Bridge when we did our mandatory stop for the Dipper.
We ate at 7 pm this evening which was going to be the trend for the rest of the week except for Tuesday when it would be 7.30 pm with the incoming of the ‘Sphagnum Group’. However, we ended up eating at 7.30 most nights because of the 65 University of Northumbria students eating at 6.30 pm. After another lovely meal, we adjourned with coffees to the Tummel Room for a talk on some of the wildlife we hoped to encounter during the Course. Our bird list now stands at 68 species.
A wee ‘birdie’ had told us that Monday the 22nd might be a poor day with some showers but, although it was very cold to begin with, the rest of the day was fine with strengthening winds. So we decided to visit the local lochs as there would be hides at the RSPB Loch of Kinnordy and the SWT Loch of Lintrathen.
Our first stop, after another hearty breakfast, was the post office cum shop in Kirkmichael en route to Drumore Loch. Next, we pulled-in to watch a couple of grazing Roe Deer before reaching the loch where we noted two Little Grebes, Mallard and Tufted Duck. Not too far beyond the loch, we stopped to watch a pair of Red-legged Partridges at the side of the road. The next port of call was Dundee’s reservoir at Backwater Dam where we watched Common Gulls. In one of the sloping fields, Reg found a Blackcock lek for us, and we spent around 20 minutes observing and hearing the antics of 8 birds. We later learned that this was an unknown site! As the lek was taking place, a few Common Snipe were drumming nearby, a Skylark sang, and a Wheatear fed as scores of Meadow Pipits flew around.
We drove to the car park near the end of the reservoir where we watched an Osprey performing for us. The odd Common Buzzard and Sand Martins were also noted as a Wigeon whistled before we headed off for the Loch of Kinnordy near Kirriemuir. Just before this reserve, we stopped at a flooded area for a look at 3 Shelducks. Once in the Gullery Hide, we were delighted with the variety of birds we saw – Grey Heron, 60 Mute Swans, 2 Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Gadwall, Teal, Shovelers, Tufted Ducks, Goldeneyes, Water Rail, Moorhens, Coots, Oystercatchers, Redshanks, 4 Black-tailed Godwits, Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls, Swallows and Sand Martins.
One of the highlights of the week was watching an Osprey here catching a fish. In between watching all these, we managed to have our picnic lunches! Then, it was onto the Swamp Hide to the sound of Willow Warblers, but there was nothing new to be seen. From here, we visited the East Hide but not before stopping at the woodland feeding station where a very accommodating Brambling was to be seen. The temperature today had reached 13.8 degrees Centigrade.
The next port of call was a filling station on the outskirts of Kirriemuir before heading over to Lintrathen Loch where, from the hide sheltering from the wind, we watched Great Crested Grebes, 10 roosting Cormorants, around 1,000 Sand Martins and four Common Buzzards. We left here with plenty of time to get back to Kindrogan by 1745. Dinner was at 7 pm, and after this we met up in the Tummel Room to do our bird-list (83 species) plus have a talk about The Isle of May.
Another wee ‘birdie’ had informed us that Tuesday the 23rd of April could be the best weather day of the week: so we decided to head for the hills. Admin Mike had checked that the Glen Shee café was open as Reg was wishing not to climb up with the rest of us. We were very pleased when we reached the Glen Shee ski area car park to discover that there was very little wind up here at over 1,000 feet. This encouraged us to set off up the steepish slope. Lucky Simon spotted four Snow Buntings before we had all left the minibus but he was the only one to see them. The odd Red Grouse called and flew as we ascended, and before too long, we were watching some Mountain Hares running over the patches of snow. There was little else to be seen apart from the odd Meadow Pipit and Kestrel, and, as we reached a larger patch of snow, a couple of the Team decided that hot drinks in the café were the order of the day! The rest of us continued to the upper plateau with the wind strengthening. We sought out a relatively sheltered spot for at least half of our lunch before another three of the Team decided to head back. The remaining four mustered the strength to head up the last slope towards the summit of Glas Maol but discretion was the better part of valour, and we too opted for the warmth of the café as the wind by now was almost gale force! It was a pity that we did not come across much wildlife but we all agreed that the climb was worth it for the scenery alone!
Back at the café, we all met up for a hot drink before heading down the Clunie Water towards Braemar, but before reaching there, we stopped in a lay-by to eat the remainder of our lunches plus having a scan around. Phil found several close Red Deer for us as the odd Common Buzzard and Wheatear were also spotted. At Braemar, we looked for Grey Wagtails and Dipper on the river but saw instead Jackdaws and Feral Pigeons. We continued further up Royal Deeside until we reached Invereye where we parked the minibus and had a walk in the Mar Estate. Once again, there was not too much to be seen apart from Goldcrests, Treecreeper, Coal Tits, Wren and Sparrowhawk. It was only an hour or so back to base (spotting two Fallow Deer on the Kindrogan track) for another lovely meal followed by a chat about migration. The bird list now stands at 84 species, and after the meeting we set the moth trap down by the River Ardle. Three of us decided to have just less than an hour sitting in an old Land Rover in the Kindrogan car park in the hope of seeing a Pine Marten but without success.
Yet another wee ‘birdie’ had told me that Wednesday the 24th was going to be wet: so instead of heading up to Speyside as intended, we stayed more locally and went to the famous Killiecrankie and Loch of the Lowes instead. First of all, though, we had a look at the moths we had trapped the night before – 12 Hebrew Characters, 6 Common Quakers, 4 Mottled Greys and a Chestnut. Whilst doing this, we were able to watch a Dipper and a pair of Bullfinches.
Once on our way, we stopped by a lovely old bridge, before driving up over the Moulin Moor, with the hope of seeing a Peregrine at a cliff site but we were out of luck, and saw Wheatears and Meadow Pipits instead.
SWT LOCH OF THE LOWES
The weather was pleasantly warm whilst at Killiecrankie where we noted Lesser Celandine, Wood Anemone and Golden Saxifrage as well as smelling Wild Garlic (Ramsons). Willow Warblers were in song, and on the River Garry we added Goosander and Grey Wagtails as well as seeing Great Spotted Woodpecker in the woodland, and Ravens flying towards an adjacent cliff.
We had lunch in the sunshine at the picnic benches, which we shared with pupils from Edinburgh Academy. This over, as well as a spot of shopping, we headed down the A9 towards Dunkeld and the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes. There is a wonderful bird feeding station here which housed Red Squirrel, Pheasants, Mallards, Chaffinches, Siskins, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Treecreeper and, best of all, a Lesser Redpoll.
We also watched the male Osprey flying past the huge nest where the female was sitting on three eggs. This female has laid more than 60 eggs in this nest over the years! From the Crannog Hide, we watched displaying Great Crested Grebes, Canada Goose, Goldeneyes, Mallards, Mute Swans and seven Fallow Deer swimming.
We had trouble pulling ourselves away from such a lovely Centre so that we could go to the Cally car park from where we would have a walk to a small loch through a coniferous woodland. Rachel found a Slow Worm along the path, and when we reached the lochan in lovely sunshine, we added Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot and a Grey Heron devouring a Perch. Simon did his ‘normal’ pond-dipping to find Caddis Fly larvae and Whirlie-gig Beetles. Whilst looking at the moths (most of which were identified by Simon and Rachel) in the morning, Rachel had mentioned that she would like to have seen a Setaceous Hebrew Character – well, I think she was already looking at one!
On the way back to base, we made another stop at the Peregrine site but the light was against us. However, we saw the silhouette of a Common Buzzard and a Dipper flying upstream. We were back at 6.15 pm which allowed us plenty of time before our 7.30pm dinner, and afterwards we met up in the Tummel Room where Martyn Jamieson (Head of Centre) showed us the card from the camera situated at the Pine Marten feeding logs. Ironically, one had appeared before the three of us went into the Land Rover on the previous evening with more activity happening around 1 am. Some Fallow Deer had also joined the feeding party. Some of our Team tried again this evening to see the Pine Marten without success. Our bird list now stands at 91 species.
For our last full day on Thursday the 25th, we headed over the Moulin Moor once more, spotting some Black Grouse, before passing through Pitlochry where we saw a few Collared Doves. Then it was onto the A1, heading past the Ruthven Barracks at RSPB Insh Marshes, and on to the caravan site at Glen More beside Loch Morlich. We experienced some cold rain whilst walking round part of this site, spotting Siskins, Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Great Tits as well as a probable Bank Vole living in a Bug Hotel. The water on the loch was a wee bit choppy, and we only noted Mallards and Pied Wagtails on the sandy beach.
Next, we dropped into the Aviemore Centre to have yet another look at a possible Peregrine site but again unsuccessfully. Then, it was on to the beautiful Loch Vaa with our picnics. We spent a warm 50 minutes here watching Common Sandpiper, Mallard, Goldeneyes and a Cormorant as well as Herring Gulls.
I was quite amazed when I discovered that the normally flooded area before The Boat of Garten was completely dry! A couple of pairs of Black-headed Gulls appeared to be nesting, and we also noted a few Lapwings. Our next stop was at the Landmark Centre before heading into the Caledonian Pine forest where we saw two Treecreepers (which we had seen every day) but not the sought-after Crested Tits.
From here, we pulled-in beside Avielochan to watch Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Goldeneyes, Mallards and Sand Martins before heading down to the north end of Loch Insh where we observed a pair of nesting Ospreys plus Goldeneyes, Tufted Duck and Goosander after a stop at the local Post Office cum shop. This was another beautiful spot but all too soon the time had come to head for Kindrogan once more. We were back at 6.30 pm with the perfect hour to spare prior to our last supper, which once more we enjoyed very much. After this, we discussed the Course, which everyone seemed to enjoy with our totals being 91 species of birds and 11 species of mammals. The weather, although cold, was better than I expected, and the Group gelled very well together. It was a shame that the weather was so cold, which meant that there were no butterflies around, and very few plants were in flower. I hope to meet everyone again on a future Course.
THIS IS WAY TO BIRDWATCH
Russell G Nisbet – May, 2013