20th – 27th April 2012
OUR BREAKFAST COMPANION
The latest Team of Patricia Ash, David Robinson, Noreen Musikant, Andrew Wellard, Katharine Nolan, Ian Wallwork and Reg Mitchell met up in the dining hall at 7.30 pm on Friday the 20th of April for one of Jo’s fine meals along with four ‘Friends of Kindrogan’. After the meal, we went to The Stables to listen to Liam giving us the ‘Health & Safety’ talk plus some general information. The Stables was to be our evening venue for the next 7 nights: so we had our first ‘Introductory Talk’ here outlining the Course before having a fairly early night.
Before coming to Kindrogan, I had ‘Googled’ the weather forecast for the week and was not a happy man! So, I was very pleased when Saturday the 21st dawned dry with virtually no wind, and this was the way it remained for most of the day except for a short period of light rain around lunchtime.
This was the day we were to walk along the Cateran Trail from the Centre to Kirkmichael and back. We firstly spent about 45 minutes around the Centre watching Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Coal, Blue & Great Tits, Jackdaw, Chaffinch, Siskin, Goldfinch, Treecreeper and Robin whilst hearing Chiffchaff and Raven. Katharine had heard a Tawny Owl during the night, and others had heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming as they were going to breakfast!
We did not see or hear too much as we walked along the Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir and Bird Cherry bordered track, parallel with the River Ardle, but when we reached the old bridge, we were able to watch the pair of Dippers feeding young in the nest under the newer bridge. Other birds noted from here were Oystercatcher, Woodpigeon, Pied Wagtail, Song Thrush, Carrion Crow and a pair of Goosanders in flight.
From here, we walked past Dalreoch House and Farm, noting Sweet Cicily, Common Dog Violet, Coltsfoot, Barren Strawberry and Wood Anemone before entering the conifer plantation from which I heard the calls from passing Greylag Geese. A few heads of Wood Sorrel were just about to appear, and we came across an injured Toad before coming out into the open at the Tulloch Curran Lochan where we were able to spot a breeding pair of Little Grebes. We lingered a little at this lovely spot looking for newts but without success. A Grey Heron flew past before we continued our walk towards Kirkmichael. Before the holiday cottage, we noted a possible Otter spraint plus frog spawn. At the drumlins and eskers, we watched a few Meadow Pipits and our first Common Buzzard. We walked past the old limekilns, and just before the village of Kirkmichael, we heard a Willow Warbler in song, and the ‘bubbling’ of Curlew whilst three Grey Wagtails flew over. The avenue of Beech trees did not produce very much but once in the village, the sought-after House Sparrows were noted!
DALREOCH HOUSE LOOKING UP STRATHARDLE
We sought out the picnic tables in the car park by the bridge, and during our lunch break, with spots of rain falling, we noted Swallow, Sand Martin, Willow Warbler, Starling and Collared Dove. Katharine caught a glimpse of a Kestrel.
Now, it was time to frequent the local shop cum café before having a second look from the bridge over the Ardle. No Dippers or Grey Wagtails but there were Mallards. Next, it was time to saunter back to Kindrogan, having a stop at the seat by the Tulloch Curran Lochan en route after ushering a stray cow into a field! From this seat, a few of us managed to pick out a Long-tailed Tit amongst the Blue, Coal and Greats. Once at the old bridge, Andrew decided to head back to the Centre whilst the rest of us walked a bit further up the Cateran Trail towards The Spittal of Glen Shee. From this bridge, we were entertained by 12 young collies having a fun run-around in an adjacent field! When we walked past the first row of cottages, we were able to add Greenfinch and Dunnock to our daily list whilst listening to more Willow Warblers.
Once across the main road, we searched a field to the left, which housed several Common Gulls, Pied Wagtails, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrushes. Wrens were in song as we walked further up the track towards a closed garden and a farm. Siskins, Chaffinches and Swallows were in evidence as was a flock of around 100 Meadow Pipits. On the way back, a Swan was spotted flying N/W up the strath, and it was our good fortune that the ‘Friends of Kindrogan’ were close enough to identify it as a Whooper.
We were back at the Centre at 1715, which allowed us to have plenty of time to get ready for the 7 pm meal. After this, we met up in The Stables to discuss the 46 bird species seen today plus plan for Sunday. We also had a presentation (tutorial) about some of the local birds and wildlife that we hoped we would find during the Course. We were joined this evening by the ‘Friends of Kindrogan’.
Sunday the 22nd of April saw us heading out over the Moulin Moor (after watching ‘our’ Dipper at the bridge) then on to Aberfeldy (meeting a German lady tourist at the ‘geschlossen’ toilets) prior to stopping at Loch na Craige where we watched a drake Red-breasted Merganser, a female Goosander, three Teal, a pair of Goldeneye and a Cormorant. A Sparrowhawk circled as two Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over, and a pair of Bullfinches called from the neighbouring Larches. Next, we moved onto Glen Quaich where we noted a few Red Grouse almost immediately before stopping at a ‘convenient’ pull-in from where we watched Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Pheasants, Willow Warblers, Dunnocks and Mistle Thrush. We then drove to the far end of Loch Freuchie where we went for a walk to a small bridge. On the water, we noted 6 Tufted Ducks, another pair of Goldeneye, Mallards and 20 Canada Geese. A Common Sandpiper frequented the shoreline whilst a pair of Golden Plovers performed overhead. Common Snipe and Redshanks could be heard and occasionally seen in the adjacent marsh along with the odd Reed Bunting. Meadow Pipits were quite common, and we were very pleased to note Swallows, Sand Martins with a single House Martin.
Tummies were audibly rumbling: so we headed on to the main road leading to the Sma’ Glen and Glen Almond where we pulled into the car park to have lunch by the river. Siskins, Willow Warbler, Pied Wagtail, Dipper and Common Sandpiper were our companions as we munched our Kindrogan packed lunches. I had spotted a pair of Stonechats as we approached the Sma’ Glen.
Next, we started the walk up Glen Almond leading to Loch Tay, and before too long we were watching Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and a lovely male Ring Ousel plus Ravens, Kestrels, Common Buzzards and Red Kites. We also came across more Dippers and Common Sandpipers as well as the Hamilton Area Members’ Group of the RSPB! During this spell of very good bird-watching, we had our only real rain shower of the day. Another Goosander was spotted flying up the River Almond as we looked for a Peregrine plus Merlin, which the HAMG group had spotted.
Back at the minibus, we had time for coffee and cake before heading back to Aberfeldy to make use of the public loos. We had spotted two pairs of Red-legged Partridges on the way to Aberfeldy but on the way back we ‘bumped’ into a cock Reeve’s Pheasant at Grandtully Castle!
We were back at base by 6 pm after watching a Common Sandpiper at the Ardle Bridge plus a Pipistrelle Bat at the car park, and this allowed us one hour to prepare for our dinner, which tonight was prepared by the Strathardle Hotel in Kirkmichael! The Centre manager, Martyn Jamieson, had mentioned to us that a good spot for watching Woodcock, Curlew, Snipe and perhaps a Long-eared Owl was at a pull-in over the Moulin Moor by a conifer plantation. So at 8.30 pm we headed to this site to see what would happen. Robins were singing merrily and Curlews were calling but not much else until well after 9 pm when a Snipe began drumming and we could also hear the sound of the beating wings of Lapwing. At 9.30 pm, we called it a night and headed for The Stables where we had our meeting plus noting that we had now recorded 72 bird species.
THE SEARCH FOR PTARMIGAN
We could see the hills on Monday the 23rd: so we decided to head up Glen Shee towards Glas Maol. Firstly, we popped into the filling station at Kirkmichael to top up the diesel. It was a bit cold and breezy when we reached the Ski Centre but we made the decision to head up the hill anyway to see how things went. From the car park near the loos, we could watch several Mountain Hares on the opposite slope. Ian spotted Red Grouse from the car park further up the road, and he had a bit of a tumble shortly after we set off up the hill with his knee giving him a little trouble for the rest of the week. We saw a few more Red Grouse as well as Meadow Pipits as we avoided some of the snow patches before the weather really set in with pretty strong winds and damp mist. Ian nestled beside a rocky outcrop, and in the gloom, managed to find a pair of Golden Plovers. We decided to watch these birds and stay where we were to see if the weather improved which it threatened to do from time to time. Eventually, we made the decision to go a bit higher to see what conditions were like, and we were glad that we did so as when we reached the plateau, the visibility was quite good and the rain went off.
We scanned the sheltered snow-covered slopes and managed to find a pair of Ptarmigan in one of the few open areas. We watched them for quite a while before making tracks for the minibus. On the way down, a third Ptarmigan flew close to us calling. The Team found it interesting to experience blue skies, grey skies, rain, sleet, hail and snow all in the one morning! The sun even appeared when we were having our picnic lunch in the shelter of the closed café!
Our next stop was by the banks of the River Clunie on the way to Braemar, where we stopped to look for raptors. We only spotted a Kestrel but also enjoyed a couple of small herds of Red Deer. Next, we drove through Braemar on the way to the Balmoral Estate. The rain started to fall again after we had partaken of coffee and cake but this did not prevent us from walking across the bridge over the River Dee, spotting Dipper, two Grey Wagtails, thanks to Katharine, and Siskins.
Now it was time to head back over Glen Shee, and back to the Ardle bridge where we spotted two Common Sandpipers as well as our Dipper. We were back at the Centre at 1805, and back out after the 7 pm meal (much noisier this time as a very large school group plus university students had joined us) to do a spot of pond-dipping plus look for Woodcock and bats. We found the odd water beetle plus damselfly larvae, and detected 45 & 60 Pipistrelles but no Woodcocks. At our meeting afterwards, having only added Ptarmigan, our list now stands at 73 species.
Rich Tilsley, one of the teachers, kindly set up the moth trap for us last night: so after breakfast on Tuesday the 24th of April, we met up under the huge Wellingtonia in front of the Centre out of the light rain to look at our catch. As if by magic, my friend, Martin Robinson, had popped in to the Centre, and he is knowledgeable on moths! There were only a few to be identified, and we noted 16 Hebrew Characters, 1 Pug, 1 Common Quaker and an Early Toothed-stripe. The Team spotted a Red Squirrel in the car park before we left.
We decided to visit the local lochs today, and en route to our first loch, Drumore, we noted Roe Deer and Brown Hare. The rain had gone off when we arrived at this loch, and we were able to go for a short walk along its length, admiring the bank of Primroses, and spotting Mallards, a pair of Tufted Ducks, two pairs of Little Grebes and a pair of Mute Swans plus Great Spotted Woodpecker and Red Squirrel. I returned to collect the minibus, and as I was about to set off, I spotted a beautiful drake Smew! I went to tell the Team about this, and we all walked back to admire it. A pair of Wigeon was also noted, and these birds were not there earlier! We decided to ‘phone the Centre to let the manager know of our find.
Next, we visited Dundee’s water supply, Backwater Dam, and whilst watching a Cormorant, a couple of Twite landed on the railing! This was another very good find! Along the wall of the dam, we added Pied Wagtails and around 50 Meadow Pipits. When we arrived at the far end of the reservoir, we noted a lovely male Kestrel perched on a tree. We went for a short walk along the quiet road adding a couple of Common Buzzards to our list.
Now it was time to head to the RSPB reserve of the Loch of Kinnordy to sit in one of the hides to have our picnic lunches. We chose the Gullery Hide but decided to have a really good look at the birds on the water before starting to eat! We had already heard the song of Blackcap and noted about 100 Pink-footed Geese flying over from the car park. On the water, we noted Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and a Grey Heron as well as a few Swallows and Reed Bunting. We spoke to a photographer with a gigantic lens!
From here, we visited the Swamp Hide, and added four Common Snipe, Rooks at a small rookery, Roe Deer and best of all, a male Marsh Harrier spotted by Ian. More Reed Buntings frequented this area, and we detected the squeals from the elusive Water Rail! I feel that we had chosen well for our venues today as the rain became quite heavy.
We visited the Gullery Hide once more, after watching three Bullfinches, to see if we could obtain better views of the male Marsh Harrier, and this was a success when Reg spotted it sitting on a post. We popped briefly into the East Hide, from where we were able to watch the Harrier again.
Now it was time to visit the local filling (or emptying station) in Kirriemuir before heading to our last loch of the day, the SWT Loch of Lintrathen, to have our customary coffee and cake! Whilst scanning for Pochard amongst the Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Goldeneyes, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal and a pair of Shelducks, I managed to pick out a very uncommon drake Garganey! Most of us were looking at this when Reg shouted out “Osprey”! We now concentrated on this new arrival, and were amazed when it hovered, swooped down and caught a fish within a few minutes! We noted that around 100 Sand Martins were feeding over the water. It was a happy bunch of ‘Kindroganites’ who made their way back to the minibus.
We arrived back at the Centre at 6 pm, ready to share the dining room with not just the university students but 9 other people attending a Sphagnum Moss Course! We met up in The Stables once again, had a talk on the Isle of May, and noted that the bird list now stands at 90 species!
I had a knock on my door from Malcolm, the handyman, on Wednesday morning the 25th of April to tell me that the ’02 minibus had a puncture! This came as a great surprise as the vehicle was handling very well, but one of the inside back tyres seemed to be a little flat. After a little negotiation, we were informed that the ’03 minibus was available. I was none too happy about this as I had driven it before and the steering was a little ‘light’! However, it had passed the MOT. We were going to head up the A9 today to visit Speyside but owing to the vehicle change, we decided to stay a little more locally. So we went on to the Moulin Moor and stopped at the Blackcock lekking site. There was just a slight chance that at around 0945 there might be the odd bird still around. We were in luck! We pinpointed four birds at the site, and although they were not doing very much, we could at least get views of them. Whilst doing this, a camper van pulled in beside us, and we were able to show Martyn Jamieson’s boss the birds as well! We really were lucky as within minutes, the birds had flown off!
Our next stop was at the NTS Pass of Killiecrankie where on our arrival, the rain stopped! We took advantage of this, and set off for the Pass, having a look at the Goldilocks Buttercup en route, and seeing two Treecreepers. We were hoping to see and hear the Wood Warblers but owing to the northerly winds, they would arrive later this year. We looked at the spot where McBane jumped across the Garry, and then went for a walk along the river, spotting singing Dippers. The Ramsons, Wood Anemones, Wood Sorrels, Lesser Celandines and Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage were appreciated.
The rain started to fall: so we headed back to have a look at the Visitor Centre before heading down the A9 towards the SWT Loch of the Lowes. There is a lovely Centre here as well with very welcoming staff. It was quite busy, and with the other visitors, we enjoyed the commentary and video about the old Osprey laying her third egg. The feeding station was a sheer delight, and apart from visits from Great Spotted Woodpecker and Mallards, we watched Siskins, Greenfinches, a host of Chaffinches (including ‘Blondie’), Great, Blue & Coal Tits, and Dunnock. We also added a pair of Bramblings, a pair of Yellowhammers and a beautiful male Lesser Redpoll.
SISKINS AND CHAFFINCH AT THE FEEDERS
When we visited the Crannog Hide, we were able to observe the male Osprey on the nest, having a visit from an intruder Osprey as well as himself flying off the nest to defecate! On the water, we noted Great Crested Grebes, Mallards, Goldeneye, Tufted Ducks and a Coot. We made a sharp exit from this hide as a school group was due to arrive!
We drove to the start of the walk up to the Mill Dam, and at the pull-off took out our picnic lunches. Sandwiches finished, we started to walk through the coniferous woodland. After a short distance, we noticed a feeding frenzy of around 350 finches – a mixed flock of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins. To be in this number at this time of year, I assumed that this was a migrating flock, probably heading for Scandinavia! We watched this party of birds for a while, and at one point, there was a very interesting noise as a few hundred birds gave an alarm call at the same time! Presumably, a Sparrowhawk was about.
We continued in bright, dry conditions until we reached the open area of the Juniper plantation. I was hoping to hear and see Tree Pipit here but not today. As we approached the dam, Willow Warblers, Robins and Wrens could be heard, and we spotted a Kestrel. At the reservoir itself, we noted a pair of Mute Swans, Mallards with two sets of ducklings, 8 Tufted Ducks and two drake Teal. We enjoyed a little rest here before continuing a wee bit further, spotting Long-tailed Tits and a very vocal Green Woodpecker.
THE MILL DAM
Now it was time to head back to the minibus, and make for base after popping once more into the ‘Loch of the Loos’! We only experienced a little rain on our walk back to the vehicle from the Mill Dam: so we were feeling quite lucky. We reached Kindrogan at 1810, and after the meal, had our normal meeting plus a visit from Martyn Jamieson who remained to chat with us.
With only one day left, on Thursday the 26th of April, we had no real choice but to head up the A9 to Speyside. The weather was none too clement, and in fact the rain did not go off until we were heading back south again! Apart from the poor weather, we had a fairly good day, visiting the café beside the Glen More Caravan Park first of all to shelter from the rain. We noticed a flock of Chaffinches high up in an adjacent tree, and the birds seemed reluctant to come down to the feeders. We soon realised why!