Russell Nisbet’s American Group Visit

AMERICANS AT KINDROGAN

8th – 15th JUNE, 2012

BIRDING AT LOCH DRUMORE

            This trip came about when Marilyn Taylor & Nicol Mutch came up with the idea of bringing a group of Maryland/Florida birders across to bonnie Scotland to bird-watch, based at the wonderful Field Centre of Kindrogan near Pitlochry, starting on Friday the 8th of June. The Team comprised Barbara Johnson, Barbara Ricciardi, Phyillis Mansefield, Bobby Reichwein, Jean Wheeler, Kim Hudyma, Peter Bungay, Fred & Jane Fallon and, last but not least, Lloyd Lewis. The Team arrived in London, then flew to Edinburgh where Nicol met them with a luxury coach which would take them to Kindrogan. Very unfortunately, there was a long delay at Dunkeld and the Team did not arrive at Kindrogan until around 1850! Before too long, the rooms had been allocated, and at 1930 we were all in the dining room for the first of Amanda’s delicious dishes in the company of another group led by Elliot Shubert doing a ‘Freshwater Algae’ Course, and University College of London students.

After the meal, we adjourned to the Brerachan Room where Duncan gave us all the normal ‘Health & Safety’ talk. Although our allocated room was the Geography Lab, we remained in the Brerachan Room for a quick outline of what the week ahead might bring. Some folk were glad of the chance for an early night after all the travelling but others were keen to stretch legs and have a walk around part of Kindrogan’s grounds. We noted Kestrel, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Willow Warbler, Robin (the real one), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Swallow, House Martin, Chaffinch and Siskin as well as hearing Blackcap and Garden Warbler. As it was around 10 pm, the odd Pipistrelle Bat was flying over the car park. En route from Edinburgh airport, the Team had already spotted Goosander, Oystercatcher, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Swift and Starling.

The forecast for the week was none too good; so when it was dry but cloudy with a force 2/3 wind on Saturday the 9th of June in 17 degrees, we were feeling okay about that. After the 0800 hrs breakfast (which should have been 0730), we had a 45-minute walk around the grounds once more. Apart from the species seen or heard on the previous evening, we added Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Bullfinch, Great, Blue & Coal Tits and Pied Wagtail. The Centre’s Red Squirrels were quite obliging as they scuttled through the car park.

          The Kindrogan 17-seater minibus was not quite up to the standard of Nicol’s luxury golf coach but it served our purpose, and we made the statutory stop at the Ardle bridge to look for a Dipper. We did not have to wait long, and watched a bird carrying food. Our plan today was to head out to the local lochs with the first one being Drumore, and on the way, we spotted three Roe Deer. The weather was almost pleasant by the time we reached the loch to watch Little Grebe (for a few), Tufted Ducks and Mallards plus Common Buzzard, Wood Pigeons, Siskins, Chaffinches, Goldcrests, Wren and Willow Warblers plus wonderful views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the walls of the old boat house! A few white butterflies were on the wing, which were either Green-veined Whites or Small Whites, or perhaps even both species. Some of the plants noted were Common Dog Violet, Bugle, Wood Sorrel and Scaly Male Fern. From the vehicle, we managed to add a few Orange-tip butterflies as well.

The next stop was the loos at the Backwater Reservoir where we watched Common Gulls, Meadow Pipits, Mistle Thrushes, a distant Common Buzzard and two beautiful Bullfinches at relatively close quarters. We also made an acquaintance with a very friendly dog.

Lunchtime beckoned; so we headed for the RSPB Loch of Kinnordy, and in particular to the Gullery Hide with our Kindrogan packed lunches. It took us a wee while to start our picnics as there was so much to see – Mallards, Teal, Gadwall, Shovelers, Mute Swans with 6 cygnets, Reed Buntings, Lapwings, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and a few nesting Black-headed Gulls. When we eventually managed to start eating, we were further distracted by three Marsh Harriers and an Osprey catching a fish! It was becoming apparent that this Team was a very lucky one!

Not wishing to ‘hog’ this hide for too long, we elected to move on to the Swamp Hide with the padded seats. Half-way between these hides, came the ‘heated debate’! Was the song from a Blackcap or Garden Warbler? I initially thought Garden Warbler until Nicol pointed out the fluty content of the song, which made it a Blackcap. The proof was in the seeing as a male popped up in a willow! From this second hide, we had a better view of the rookery, and noted more Reed Buntings, 2 Wigeon, 8 Greylag Geese and Common Buzzards plus hearing a distant Sedge Warbler. We noted a few flowers whilst walking between the hides, and these included Wood Avens, Forget-me-not, Marsh Marigold and Common Twayblade (an orchid).

The last hide was the small East Hide, which only accommodated half the party, meaning that the other half waited by a small bench to see what woodland birds could be seen. From this last hide, some of us added Grey Heron and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Now it was time to move onto our final loch – the Loch of Lintrathen, which is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Yet another good visit was achieved as we watched another Osprey, Cormorants, nesting Great Crested Grebes, Shelducks with ducklings, a Common Sandpiper, Common, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls, and distant Sand Martins. On the way back to Kindrogan, Nicol asked me to slow down at a small sand quarry, which had a few nesting Sand Martins.

After our fine 1830 dinner, we met up in the Geography Lab for the first time to go through the wildlife check-list prepared by Nicol. Our bird total so far was just one short of 70! We had a short power-point presentation on some of the wildlife we hoped we may happen upon in the coming few days.

It was cool with the odd shower and a bit misty to start with on Sunday the 10th of June as we headed out after our 0730 breakfast onto the Moulin Moor where we stopped to look at three lingering Blackcock near to their lekking grounds. Curlews were bubbling, and a Common Snipe called then landed nearby. We all remained very quiet and still for a few moments to absorb the total peace and tranquillity of the moorland.

THE PASS OF KILLIECRANKIE

Once at the National Trust for Scotland’s famous Pass of Killiecrankie, we walked down the steep slope towards the River Garry. There are chiefly oak trees here, which are ideal for both Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers, and we found both. We heard the calls from a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and we stood near to the spot where a Redcoat by the name of McBane made the famous leap to safety whilst being pursued by Jacobites, brandishing their claymores!

We looked down at the river, and managed to spot a nesting pair of Oystercatchers and a Dipper. Once down at river level, we added a female Grey Wagtail to our list. Some plants here were Sweet Cicely, Giant (or Heart-leaved) Valerian, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Wild Garlic, Herb Bennet, Wood Anemone and Bush Vetch. Almost back at the Centre, we also noted Common Wintergreen.

We met Alison, at the cash desk, and Kim bought a CD of the Peatbog Faeries. We had noticed a car sticker for this Scottish Folk group on the back window of a car in the Kindrogan car park! Once the facilities including café had been frequented in the rain, we made tracks for the SWT’s Loch of the Lowes near Dunkeld, a little further down the A9. There is normally a very good feeding station viewed from a large picture window but this had been restricted owing to a disease affecting finches. However, there were still enough birds around to interest us – two young Great Spotted Woodpeckers were being looked after by the adult female, Chaffinches, Siskins, Great, Blue & Coal Tits were still there along with Mallards and Pheasants. A Red Squirrel was also quite a feature. One of the young members of staff gave us a very interesting talk and video about the 25-year old female Osprey. After this, we decided to go to have a look at her for ourselves, and we also saw the male landing on the nest, then perching in a nearby tree. On the loch itself, from the Crannog Hide, we watched Great Crested Grebes, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Canada Geese and Reed Buntings.

It was now time for lunch: so we drove up to the Cally car park on the Atholl Estates, and ate our picnics there. This over, we started out on the walk up to the Mill Dam. Our first new bird was a Chiffchaff which was calling its name, and this was followed shortly afterwards by a few Long-tailed Tits. A Dunnock sang at Hatton where Peacocks called vociferously. Peter spotted a Red-legged Partridge on the grounds. Whilst all this was happening, a Green Woodpecker was also calling just as vociferously, and we managed to catch a few glimpses of it.

All too soon, it was time to turn back, and shortly afterwards 4 Fallow Deer were sighted through the Balsam Poplar trees. A Great Spotted Woodpecker also made itself known, and on the way back to the car park, I heard and briefly glimpsed an over-flying Common Crossbill.

Whilst heading back into Strathardle after the Moulin Moor, we spotted a pair of Peregrines heading back to a nest site carrying food. We pulled in, and managed to locate one of the birds, which made us even later back than expected! However, we still had a moment to spare to watch the Dipper at the Ardle Bridge once again.

Another fine meal was devoured, and once again we had our meeting in the Geography Lab, noting that the bird total was now 85 species. After the meeting, we had another short walk around the grounds.

Monday the 11th of June was the day that Nicol had arranged to meet up with his friend Ian Cumming, and I had arranged to meet up with my partner, Lesley Dron. Our timings for these meetings were more than a little out as firstly we stopped at the Peregrine cliff to watch both birds, secondly, we stopped for another look at the three Black Grouse, thirdly, at Aberfeldy, the usual loos were closed by the Black Watch memorial, and this caused delays at the single-sex toilets at the filling (gas) station, and fourthly, Nicol found a beautiful Blackthroated Diver on Loch-na-Craig! Here also, we noted Common Sandpiper and Mallard with ducklings.

By the time we reached Glen Quaich it was already midday, and our friends were nowhere to be seen. To add to the dilemma, we had no mobile ‘phone (cell ‘phone) reception. However, a short distance along this quiet road, we stopped as Red Grouse were spotted. Nearby, we could also observe Lapwings, Curlews and Meadow Pipits. A little further on, we pulled off the road for a scan of this attractive countryside, and watched Red Kites, Buzzards, Kestrel, Pheasants, Oystercatchers, Willow Warblers, Dunnock and two over-flying Lesser Redpolls. We were supposed to meet Lesley here but owing to our tardiness, she had moved on to the Sma’ Glen. However, we walked to the old bridge at the far end of Loch Freuchie to watch 2 Common Sandpipers, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Canada Geese and Reed Buntings.

It was by now after our ‘normal’ lunchtime: so we headed over to Glen Almond where I spotted Lesley’s car in the car park. Whilst having our picnic lunches, Lesley appeared after having seen Ring Ouzels and Cuckoo! During our lunch break, we were able to watch Pied Wagtails, Common Sandpiper, Spotted Flycatcher and Lesser Redpoll. Lunch over, the 14 of us walked up part of the beautiful Glen Almond, seeing Meadow Pipits, Wheatears, more Red Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels plus 2 Cuckoos,  Dipper, Oystercatchers (with chicks) and 3 Ring Ouzels, one of which was regularly flying to and fro across the main road carrying food. Before our walk, however, we spotted a beautiful cock Redstart, and a small skein of 8 Greylag Geese flew over the Sma’ Glen.

All that remained now, was to say “au revoir” to Lesley, and head back the way we had come towards the loos at Aberfeldy. This took quite some time, which meant that we would get back to Kindrogan with only a few minutes to spare to wash our hands in preparation for dinner. After eating, we met up once more in the Geography Lab for a slide show about some of the wildlife we may see during the holiday.

Tuesday the 12th of June was the day we decided to split the group into those who wished to climb up the Munro, Glas Maol, and those   who  preferred  an easier day, glen walking.

THE INTREPID HILL WALKERS

Nicol very kindly agreed to look after the folk wishing to walk in the area around the Spittal of Glen Shee whilst I took the other into the hills. The agreement was that the second group would return to the Spittal around 2pm but owing to a series of events, we did not appear until almost 5 pm! For the hill walkers, it was a bit of a slog up the slopes after already having driven up over 1,000 feet. We managed to identify a few alpine flowers on the way – Alpine Lady’s Mantle, Wild Mountain Thyme, Butterwort, Heath Bedstraw, Catsfoot (Kitten’s Paws), Starry Saxifrage, Stag’s-horn Club-moss, Fir Club-moss and Cloudberry. There were calls from Red Grouse and Meadow Pipits before we came across our first beautiful Mountain Hares. Onwards we trudged through sunshine, mist and hail with even some snow falling at one point! Once at the top, we started to search around for the mountain birds, and before too long came across Golden Plovers with their attendant Dunlins whilst listening to the songs of Skylarks before sheltering behind the summit cairn to have our packed lunches. Picnics over, we had another sweep of the immediate area in the hope of seeing the ‘real’ mountain species of Dotterel and Ptarmigan. It was not too long before we happened across a Dotterel. Unfortunately, we startled this bird, which uncharacteristically, took off and flew away forever! Surprisingly, there was no sign of Ptarmigan. As time was really against us now, we had to head down after warning Nicol and the others of our pending late arrival. What kept us even later was the amazing find of Lloyd’s when he came across a pair of Ptarmigan at the lowest level I have ever seen them! We even heard the distinctive calls. Fred and I heard and saw a Raven flying overhead.

Nicol’s party had a couple of local walks and spotted Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Oystercatchers, Common Sandpiper, Mistle Thrush, Bullfinches and Spotted Flycatcher. The only good point of our tardiness was that we managed to arrive back at Kindrogan at the more reasonable time of 6 pm! The trip up Glas Maol incited Barbara J to write this poem:

For the Bird Club to spy the shy Ptarmigan

We needn’t all come to great harm again.

For, for a wee fee, Lloyd will climb on the scree

But we might have to twist on his arm again!

After another fine meal, we walked along to the old curling pond with our bat detectors to listen to the sounds of the ‘Soprano’ Pipistrelle Bats. At the edge of the car park, we spoke to a couple of girl students who were noting all the bird songs. Our bird list now stands at 95 species.

THE CAIRNGORM MOUNTAINS

Wednesday the 13th of June was our day to visit the fabulous Speyside. It was mixed weather as we headed up the A9, spotting a dead Pine Marten near Blair Atholl en route. Our first stop was at the Glen More Caravan site overlooking Loch Morlich. We had a wander round looking at Siskins, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Willow Warblers and Pied Wagtails before reaching the sandy shores of the loch and seeing Black-headed Gulls, Mallards and Goldeneyes. Whilst watching these, we heard the croaking calls from a pair of Red-throated Divers. These birds circled then landed on the water, affording us some reasonable views. The tops of the Cairngorm mountains could be seen for the lochside. From this site, we motored to the Funicular Railway car park as the rain started to fall. We spent about half-an-hour here but did not see very much. So now it was time to head over to Avielochan and a hide there, which I had permission to use. This worked out very well as there was still some light rain, and we could lunch in the dry. From this vantage point, we were able to spot Goldeneyes, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gulls and a Little Grebe as well as a close Dunnock.

After lunch, with the day warming up, we took a short stroll to see what else was on the lochan, and we were delighted to find the star bird, a Slavonian (Horned) Grebe whilst a Cuckoo flew past.

The next stop was at Loch Vaa, which housed another Little Grebe, Goldeneyes, 6 Greylag Geese plus Common Sandpiper, and we observed some Chickweed Wintergreen after watching a pair of Treecreepers. The next stop was just short of the Boat of Garten at a flooded area, and here we watched Lapwings, Wigeon, Mallards, Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.

As the ‘BOG’ loos were closed, we headed to the public ones at Carrbridge. At first sight, I thought that these ones were closed as well as they were but temporary ones had been installed! From here, we parked at the Landmark Centre and went for a short walk through a section of Caledonian Pine Forest in search of the elusive Crested Tit. Nicol tried to tempt one out by Ap lure but to no avail. However, a few of us had reasonable views of what were probably Scottish Crossbills.

Now it really was time to return to Kindrogan, back down the A9, past the RSPB reserve of Insh Marshes and Ruthven Barracks, to allow us a little time to ourselves before dinner. We managed to reach there by 1825 (5 minutes to spare). After dinner, we had a talk about the wonderful Isle of May where most of the Team would visit on the following Sunday. Our bird list now stands at a tantalising 99 species!

On Wednesday evening, I set up a moth trap under a large Beech tree close to the River Ardle; so after breakfast on Thursday the 14th of June, we met up with a friend of mine, Martin Robinson, to see what we had caught. There were not very many species but they were all very interesting – one Beautiful Brocade, one Clouded Border, one Flame Shoulder, one Nut Tree Tussock, one Map-winged Swift and three Poplar Hawk Moths. The Cuckoo and Garden Warbler were heard calling again as was our very own Pied Flycatcher. We said “thanks and farewell” to Martin, and headed off, via the Ardle bridge with its Dipper, to the car park at Glas Maol. We were able to show everyone the Mountain Hares and the alpine flowers with the extras of Moonwort, Alpine Bistort and Frog Orchid.

From here, we went to the loos at the Glen Shee skiing centre, and just behind this building, BJ spotted an adult male Ring Ouzel feeding a youngster. We also watched a Common Buzzard and a Pied Wagtail plus passing Common Gulls. The next stop was further down the glen where we pulled into a lay-by to watch more Common Buzzards, a Kestrel and a Peregrine taking a Red Grouse chick.

The Victoria/Edward VII bridge on Royal Deeside awaited, and in this area we took a short road walk seeing Coal Tits, Siskins, Goldcrests, Common Sandpipers and Grey Wagtails. As a special treat, we went along the road through Braemar and onto Balmoral in the hope of spotting the Castle. We had to be quick to spot it through the trees but a few folk caught a glimpse. Then we pulled into a car park so that we could have a short walk in the Balmoral Estate where we watched Royal Dippers, Royal Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Royal Cuckoo. All too soon, it was time to head back, passing through Braemar once more where we spotted our 100th bird – a Sparrowhawk which we almost hit as it shot by the front of the minibus!

The Dipper plus three Goosanders met us at the Ardle bridge as we crossed it to have our customary short break before dinner, and after this we met up in the Geography lab for our final session. Kim brought her Peatbog Faeries CD, and we listened to a few tracks, which included bagpipe music. We chatted about the highlights of the holiday, and Nicol showed us some Kindrogan photos from way back. It was a delight to announce that we had noted 100 bird species with the hope that we could all meet up again somewhere, sometime. The holiday had been a big success with better weather than expected, good birds, good food, wonderful accommodation and excellent company!

The Group outside Kindrogan main entrance

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