Russell Nisbet Spring Birds 2014


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The latest happy Team of Rachel Piper, Rachel Bennette, Helen McKellar, Lindy Maclean and Myra Wareing met up for the 7.30 dinner on Friday the 25th of April where afterwards, Liam gave us the Health & Safety talk prior to us making our way to the stable for our meeting. Other Courses going on at the same time were Woodcarving and Mosses (for the masses). At our meeting, we outlined the aims of the Course, and spoke about where we would go and what we might see. We took to heart that the week’s weather forecast was none too good!


Saturday the 26th of April started off quite fair as we met up for our 8 am breakfast after preparing our packed lunches. After this, the six of us met up in the car park to see and hear what was about. The beauty of having six pairs of eyes was evident when two of the Group spotted Grey Heron and Treecreeper before I did! Also around were Siskin, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin and Wren.

       From here, we walked along the wooded track to link up with the Cateran Trail which would take us to Kirkmichael. Along the way to the old bridge over the River Ardle, we noted the huge Douglas Firs, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Lesser Celandine, Dog’s Mercury (named after Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, who discovered it), Wood Anemone and Wood Sorrel. We were hoping to find Dipper by the old bridge but had to watch the young lambs instead as well as listening to a Willow Warbler. In the nearby fields, we added Wood Pigeons, Common Gulls and Oystercatchers, and in the garden of Dalreoch Cottage, we watched a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which flew onto a telegraph pole. There was a feeder by one of the cottage windows, and on this we watched male and female Siskins. Three Mallards and a female Goosander flew over, and the odd Buzzard and Pied Wagtail were also observed.

Shortly after this, we were smelling the aniseed of Sweet Cicely as a Green Woodpecker performed and ‘yaffled’ for us. From the hill-slope leading into the coniferous plantation, we could look back at the grand setting of Strathardle. There was little to be seen or heard in the dense woodland but the folk on the Mosses Course would have had a field day! One of the features of the forest was the shafts of sunlight coming through.

Once through the woodland, we reached the Tulloch Curran lochan, which played host to a pair of Tufted Ducks, three Little Grebes, Swallows, Reed Bunting and a fine Grey Heron from which Lindy has one of the flight feathers in her hat. Wee Rachel was so keen on her photography that she did not normally carry binoculars; so when I asked her if she wished “a wee keek” through mine, she thought I was asking if she wished a ‘wee cake’ to which she quickly replied “yes, please”!

After the eskers and drumlins, we passed the old lime kiln, watched a herd of Fallow Deer, and soon we were walking along side the line of Beech trees on the banks of the River Ardle. Once in Kirkmichael, we added Starlings, House Sparrows and Collared Doves but once again ‘dipped’ on the Dippers.

We popped into the community run shop cum filling station cum post office, and then sat outside at the picnic table where we ate our hearty Kindrogan packed lunches. Whilst doing this, we met up with Martin & Jan who live at the Dalreoch Cottage, and we arranged for Martin to come to the Centre to help us identify the moths that we were hoping to trap later in the week.

On the way back in the light rain, we added two Sand Martins, and noted more Primroses and Common Forget-me-not plus Bittercress, met Charlie Brown, who was looking at his Geo caches, and found a few tadpoles in a puddle before some of us continued a short distance along the Cateran Trail towards the Spittal of Glenshee. The only species we added was Pheasant.

We were back at the Centre by 4.30 pm, allowing plenty of free time before the 6.30 dinner. We met up in the stable for our meeting, noting that we had seen or heard 37 species of birds on our first day. This included calls of Tawny Owl, which was nesting nearby. After chatting about the plan for Sunday, we went out to look for the local Pine Martens. Some of us sat in the hide provided, and some sat in my car with all of us being thrilled when two of these delightful creatures appeared on the log-pile strewn with peanuts. Some of the Team had seen a Red Squirrel earlier in the day.


We chose to go to the local lochs on Sunday the 27th of April as the forecast was none too brilliant but as it turned out, there was only one short shower during the day. After breakfast, we met once again in the car park before spending an hour walking around the Centre, seeing or hearing Siskin, Chaffinch, Raven, Jackdaw, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Mistle thrush, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Swallow and a Cuckoo (heard by me only).



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We spotted the odd Roe Deer and Fallow Deer on our way, in the ’04 minibus, to the first loch at Drumore where we watched Little Grebes, Mallard, Wigeon and Tufted Ducks. Buzzards flew overhead and called as we walked along the road beside this loch adding, 5 Crossbills, Goldfinch, Mistle Thrushes, Wood Pigeons and Pheasants. We also noted a beautiful bank of Primroses plus Common Violet and Blaeberry.

A smaller lochan further down the road housed more Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks and Mallard but before this we noted Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and a pair of Red-legged Partridges. The next stop was at Dundee’s reservoir of Backwater Dam where Helen spotted two pairs of Goosanders not far from the dam wall as Common Gulls called from the buildings. Oystercatchers along with Mistle & Song Thrushes fed on the grassy slopes. Lindy found a Common Sandpiper for us along the edge of the water, which it shared with a Pied Wagtail.

From here, we motored further up the water, and came across a parked car with the two occupants looking high into the conifers. We also stopped for a look, and had good views of a Greyhen (female Black Grouse). Moments later, we were at the spot where we had witnessed a Black Grouse lek the year before, and lo and behold there were 8 cocks here again with the odd bird ‘strutting its stuff’. Also in the vicinity were Curlews, Lapwings, a pair of Wigeon, Brown Hares and amazingly a couple of Mountain Hares a little further up the hillside, found by Helen!

Feeling quite elated, we moved onto our lunching spot at some picnic benches near the head of the reservoir. From here, we could observe Mistle Thrushes, Cormorant and a distant small colony of Sand Martins. We stopped off at the ‘loos’ once more on the way back, and Wee Rachel found a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly for us, which meant that she could not sue under the Trades Description Act!

Our next port of call was at the RSPB’s Loch of Kinnordy (which I used to warden, by the way) and here we added quite a variety of species – Mute Swans, a flight of around 70 Pinkfooted Geese, Greylag Geese, Gadwall, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Coot, Redshank, Lesser Black-backed Gull, House Martin and a wonderful fishing Osprey. We visited all three of the hides (Gullery, Swamp and East) before heading over to a filling station (or emptying station) on the outskirts of Kirriemuir (James Barrie of Peter Pan fame country). From here, we headed for our last stop of the day, which was at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s reserve of Lintrathan Loch. We did not have too much time here unless we wished to have raw onions in our porridge the following morning but we had time to enjoy Great Crested Grebes and more Cormorants.

We were back at the Centre at 6.10 pm with only 20 minutes left before our dinner or so we thought, but our chef believed it was a 7 pm dinner; so we went to the stable to do our bird list for half-an-hour. We were delighted to learn that our list had shot up to 72 species, and our mammal list was also about to increase as after a wildlife slide show in the stable, we went out to the car park to look at Pipistrelle Bats followed by three of the Team having further good views of two Pine Martens!


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On Monday the 28th of April, we had a good forecast of 19 degrees Celsuis with almost total cloud cover but it turned out much better than this with much sunshine as we climbed up the slopes of Glas Maol near Glenshee. It was very unfortunate that Lindy was going back to St Andrews today to attend a funeral but she managed to come out for part of the morning, and we are very glad that she did so as she found Ring Ouzel, Red Deer and a Mountain Hare for us from the Ski Centre and car park! The sighting of the male Ring Ouzel was quite special as Lindy first located it on a distant wire of the ski lift but when the bird was disturbed by two walkers, it flew and landed on a fence some 30 feet away from us as a Raven flew overhead, calling!

As we walked up the slope, we disturbed a brace of Red Grouse, with Meadow Pipits and a cock Wheatear being soon added to our day’s bird list. We could hear the plaintive calls from a Golden Plover, and wee Rachel managed to spot it before it disappeared behind a slope. I am looking forward to being back here in June when the Alpine Lady’s Mantle will have flowers, and not just the leaves that we saw today. We stopped at a small lochan, which was virtually all covered in snow but managed to find several Frogs. We all managed to reach the high plateau before the final slope leading to the 1,016 metre summit, and from here we watched a herd of around 80 Red Deer running across the mountainside. We decided to partake of lunch in a sunny, sheltered spot as Common Gulls flew over, and big Rachel and Myra decided that this would be an excellent place to relax and reflect whilst the other three headed up to the top.



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It was a wee bit of a ‘huff ‘n puff’ to get to the summit plateau but the views over the rest of the Cairngorm National Park were exhilarating! We walked around the sheltered western side, and before too long we had come across one of our goals – a pair of wonderful Ptarmigan! Just before this, Helen had a fleeting glimpse of a flying, disappearing Dotterel! We bumped into a couple from Angus and shared the experience with them. A little further on, we came across a pair of very quiet Skylarks before heading up to the trig-point. From here, we started to make our way back down but on the look-out for a Dunlin which the couple had photographed. We found it without any trouble, and not long after that we were re-united with big Rachel and Myra.

Further down the slope with the day warming up, a couple of Twite flew past us calling, and some of us even managed to detect a pink rump! The odd Small Tortoiseshell and a Green-veined White were also on the wing. As we passed over the Ardle bridge, we saw a “Common Sandpiper on a rock, Common Sandpiper on a rock” with the appropriate chorus from big Rachel! We were back at 6 pm today; so my timing is getting slightly better, and after dinner from a new Kirkmichael chef, we retired to the stable to chat about our excellent day out and plan for the next day. Our total now stands at 78 bird species. Although we had walked quite a bit today, it was a beautiful evening; so we elected to have an extra walk along the track leading off the car park towards the old curling pond. We took a bat detector with us, and this picked out the sounds from a 45-decibel Pipistrelle Bat. Unfortunately, it was only Helen and I who picked out the roding Woodcock over the conifer plantation. We all managed to see and hear the honking Canada Goose in the twilight as a distant Peacock called. It was also lovely to hear the hooting from a Tawny Owl. Wee Rachel, who decided not to come on the evening walk, spent some time in the Pine Marten hide, and was rewarded with further sightings. A group of children from Seaview Primary, Monifieth near Dundee arrived today for the rest of the week.


The weather forecast was still pretty good for Tuesday the 29th of April; so after another hearty breakfast, and spotting a Sparrowhawk over the Moulin Moor, we headed up the dandelion-bordered A9 towards Aviemore and the magnificent Speyside. It was very kind of Nick from the Mosses Group to allow us to use the ’08 Ford minibus today as it has so much more power than the old ’04. It really was amazing to see the countless thousands of Dandelions (of perhaps over 50 species) along the roadside before we turned off at Dalwhinnie, and onto a quiet back road where we saw a cock Stonechat and a “Red Grouse on a post, Red Grouse on a post, Red Grouse on a post”!

We rejoined the A9, and we were at the Glenmore Caravan Park round about 11 am where we met Dave and Lorayne Utton, the managers. We then walked through the site to the sandy shores (not Sandy Shaws) and calm waters of Loch Morlich where we spotted Mallards and Black-headed Gulls close-by but also a wonderful pair of Redthroated Divers not too far away! We all had great views of these special birds. Also on the loch were Wigeon, Tufted Ducks, Goldeneye, Mute Swans and Goosanders.

Feeling very satisfied with these birds and the great views of the Cairngorm Mountains, we went in search of the elusive Crested Tit. These little gems eluded us but we watched instead Treecreeper, Coal, Great, Blue & Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Siskins and Crossbill whilst hearing a Goldcrest.

We said farewell to Dave & Lorayne then drove through Aviemore and onto the road leading to Avielochan where we were given permission to use the hide owned by the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown. We met up with Jim Cornfoot who imparted much local information, and found a Slavonian Grebe for us. We also watched Little Grebes, Mallards, Wigeon, Goldeneyes, Teal, Tufted Ducks, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Sand Martins, Common Sandpipers and Buzzards as Greenfinches and Lesser Redpolls landed in an adjacent tree.

Next, we went to a favourite picnic spot on the shores of Loch Vaa. At this idyllic location, we saw Common Sandpiper, Little Grebe, Greylag Goose, Goldeneye and Wigeon. Jim had mentioned that the wetland area near the Boat of Garten was virtually dry; so we by-passed this and went to Carrbridge instead for a walk behind the Landmark Centre. We were hopeful once more of finding a Crested Tit but ‘dipped’ again, finding instead, Great Spotted Woodpecker and the common woodland species plus hearing a Tree Pipit.

It was now time to head back to base which we reached at 6.10 pm, after adding a Jay in flight and a pair of Yellowhammers, but today we were not eating until 7 pm; so all was well. A second school group from Kirk Newton in West Lothian had arrived today. After our meal, we set up the moth trap by the River Ardle and met up in the stable for our nightly meeting. We looked at some more wildlife slides, and noted that the bird list now stood at a wonderful 86 species. Whilst at our meeting, we could hear the ‘skirl’ of the bagpipes, and went outside to listen to a couple of young lads from Seaview Primary welcoming one of their teachers! We also spotted a House Martin nesting on the main Kindrogan building.


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Wee Rachel, on the first evening, had put in an ‘order’ for what she would like to see during the week, and on the morning of Wednesday, the last day of April, one of these wishes came true! She was very keen to see an Emperor Moth, and this was one of over 100 moths caught of 10 species! I had invited my friend, Martin Robinson, to pop round at 9 am this morning to give us a hand to identify the moths but that was before I remembered that big Rachel was also a dab hand with moths. Our haul was 79 Hebrew Characters (the ‘character on the wing being Gimel), 14 Common Quakers, 4 Red Chestnuts, 3 Clouded Drabs, 2 Heralds, one Red Green Carpet, one Scarce Prominent, one Engrailed, one Emperor and one which Martin took away to identify. Jennie, one of the new tutors, came up to us to very kindly offer us the keys of the superior ’08 Reg Ford, which we gratefully accepted!

It was a dull, misty, damp day today and only 9 degrees Celsius but we were hopeful for improvement. We drove over the Moulin Moor once more, spotting a pair of Common Redstarts at the beginning of it, and headed south on the A9, and over to Grandtully, famous for chocolate and international kayak slaloms.



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We will not go into the ‘loo’ story too much but suffice to say that the one by the Black Watch Memorial in Aberfeldy was closed, the wee tearoom at Amulree was closed, but luckily the village hall had a ‘convenience’ wall!! After this, we slowly meandered up Glen Quaich in the mist, and came across a “Snipe on the wall, Snipe on the wall, Snipe on the wall”. I will not repeat what wee Rachel said when the local postie came along and peeped his horn, forcing us to move on before she could take a photo! Prior to heading up the glen, we stopped to have a look at a pair of Grey Partridge.

En route to Loch Freuchie, we added Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatchers, Curlew, Wheatear, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Red Grouse and Jackdaws. By now, the rain had started to fall, and by the time we reached the end of the loch, it was lunchtime. After this, the rain went off a bit; so we ventured out into the cold for a walk to the old bridge to watch Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Tufted Ducks, Wigeon, Mallards, and a fairly large Blackheaded Gull colony.

With the poor weather conditions setting in (more than a smirr now), we decided to very unfortunately miss out Glen Almond, and head for the comfort of the Centre and hides at SWT Loch of the Lowes near Dunkeld. This was a good decision as through the large window looking out to a great feeding station, we watched Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Great, Blue & Coal Tits, Chaffinches, Yellowhammer, Siskins, Robin, Dunnock, Mallards, Pheasants and Red Squirrel of which Lindy took some video footage. The whole area became very quiet for a couple of minutes after a Sparrowhawk shot through!

From the hides overlooking the loch, we saw the head of a very famous Osprey, Lady, who has returned here for the 24th time, and has laid almost 70 eggs and reared 50 young! Other birds present were Sand Martins, Swallows, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Goldeneyes, Great Crested Grebes, Mute Swans and Cormorant. When leaving this reserve, we spotted about six Fallow Deer of which one was pure white!

We still had time to visit the famous NTS Pass of Killiecrankie where I was pretty sure we would see and hear Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers. I had actually made the Course a little later this year to make sure that we would see these birds. However, it was a bit cold and raining when we arrived, and there was no sign of them. Instead, we watched the usual woodland species plus Common Sandpiper and Dipper, and I had a glimpse of a Grey Wagtail. We fared quite well for flowers though, noting Wood Goldilocks, Lady’s Smock, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Ramsons, Great Valerian, Marsh Marigold, Water Avens and Common Violet.

I managed to get the Team back for 6 pm, thinking that dinner was at 6.30 pm but later learned that the Mosses people thought it was at 7 pm the same as last night! After the meal, we once again met up in the Stable to have a talk about bird-calls. Our total for the Bird List now is a tantalising 98 species.


Mayday! Mayday! Normally, on the last day of the Spring Course, I take folk to Killiecrankie and Loch of the Lowes but as we were there yesterday, I decided to break new ground and to have a walk up the River Tilt at Blair Atholl. Before this, however, we spent another hour around the Kindrogan grounds. This proved to be very fruitful as always, and we saw Goldfinches, Siskins, Willow Warbler, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Swallow and Robin whilst hearing a Wren. It was really quite chilly today with a 7/8 cloud cover.

Our first stop was at Straloch on the way to the Moulin Moor, and here, after chatting to a local with ‘twa dugs’, we watched two Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Little Grebe and Oystercatcher as Sand Martins flew over the water. The next stop was just before the hill leading to the Moor, and we pulled-in by an old bridge to scan over a cliff area to look for a Peregrine Falcon but to no avail.

We stopped at a couple of places on the Moulin Moor for a scan before heading on towards Pitlochry and Blair Atholl but as we were going to be passing the car park at Killiecrankie, we pulled-in. The hope was that we would at least hear a Wood Warbler but we dipped on this again, seeing a fine Treecreeper to compensate.

Once at the new car park and revamped Ranger Visitor Centre (with adjacent toilets) in Blair Atholl, we went for a local walk along the banks of the river and through part of the village, noting Blackcap, House Sparrows, Collared Doves, Jackdaws, Rooks, Oystercatchers and ‘performing’ Mallards – some with ducklings. Now it was time for our picnic lunches on picnic tables close to a fine show of Ivy-leaved Toadflax.

Lunch over, we started our walk along the banks of the River Tilt, not seeing very many birds but enjoying Cowslips, Bird Cherry, Garlic Mustard, Bugle, Great Stitchwort and best of all for me, Moschatel on the way back. This way back was more exciting than the way up as the mossy path through the woods at one point was covered by many fallen trees, which forced us to make our own route onto a lower path discovered by Helen. Close to Blair Atholl, we saw a pair of Bullfinches.

We made another stop on the Moulin Moor, which was fortuitous, as a lovely skein of over 60 Pink-footed Geese flew over. We made our customary stop at the Ardle bridge to look for Dipper but found a lovely Grey Wagtail instead! We were back at base by 6.10 pm which was an okay time for the 7 pm dinner, and after this we had our final meeting followed by a farewell look at our wonderful Pine Marten. Whilst we were waiting for the Pine Marten to appear at 9.30 pm, the Seaview Primary kids were marching round the main building, being led by three young pipers, saying their ‘farewell to Kindrogan’. After watching the Pine Marten, we went to visit Nick with his Mosses Group, and they showed us what they were up to.

The Course had been a big success with the weather being much better than we had hoped, recording 98 bird species, two types of butterfly, 9 species of mammals, and several plants. What really made the Course special were the folk who made up the Team. I hope that we will all meet up again before too long, perhaps on the trip to the Hebrides?




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(It’s almost not raining!)





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