Thursday, 17 May 2012


I've been wanting to visit Scotland for as long as I could remember so with a few days off work I planned a trip and the Jim's wanted a peace of it too. Flights from Stanstead and a hire car together with a log cabin under Ben Nevis in Roybridge and we're all set. Leavng Sunday lunchtime and returning Wednesday evening we have a full itenary and with the help of Gordon Hamlett's guide we're all set.
The Jims at the cabin
Day 1: After a one hour smooth on time Easyjet flight we're in Glasgow for 1pm. A small challenge getting the hire car but we're on the road by 1.30pm and make the 2 hour picturesque drive up the side of Loch Lomond through Glencoe and Fort William and we're in Roybridge for 4pm(ish). It rained hard all the way which limited the birding opportunity some. As I get out of the car I notice a crow outside the cabin and with the aid of my bins' I can see it's a Hoody. This bird may not be uncommon in Scotland but it's been on my shopping list for years and I'm delighted to finally add it to my lifelist as are the Jim's.
We get unpacked and head off for a trip up the valley. The scenery is magical as we drive along the Ben Nevis range. A few miles up the road and we've decided it's time to eat so do a U turn and head for a local pub. On the return journey I spot a large bird in flight on the road side and call it "BLACK GROUSE!" we pull into the next lay by and scan the fields only to fnd four males displaying in the distance. A great find and another day one tick on both life and year lists for all three of us. We head off to the pub for a celebratory pint and dinner.

Day 2: We had a strange night with little sleep....excitement more than anything. We're all up before 5am and do a little garden birding as we spot Hooded Crow, Yellow Hammer, Whitethroat, Mipit, Tits and Finches from the kitchen window. I sort out the scrambled eggs for breakfast and we agree the route for the day. At 6.30am we're on the Corran Ferry some 10 miles south of Roybridge. We've scanned for Black Guillemot but nothing shows at all on Loch Linnhe. We make the short (£7) journey across and then it's off round the coast stopping along the way to see four Eiders sleeping on rocks at our first stop just two miles in, Seals are also showing on the rocks here.
Corran Ferry
Again the scenery is fantastic as we head out to Ardnamurchan which is the most western part of Britains mainland and is reached by miles of single track road but wow is it a great drive. Our second stop is at the new bird hide at Ardery. We get Herons, Mergansers, Shags and seals here but with the weather improving the midges are up and active so we head back to the car.
We're told of a local Eagle nest over a cup of tea and before long we're sitting in a car park watching the nest location. Two hours pass with nothing but sheep and Wheatear then Jimmy shouts "EAGLE"
Sea Eagle
We get on it and it gives us really goood views and as we're at a Golden Eagle nest we're assuming we have a Goldie but as it comes closer and then closer until it's eventually flying low above us we can all see that  it is in fact a Sea Eagle that's drifted over from Mull. Wow another great life tick!
Satisfied we continue on to the Lighthouse at Ardnamurchan (easy for you to say).
I lose the boys and as they scan the sea I'm climbing rocks to get nearer the small bay on the otherside of the lighthouse. Here I'm surrounded by diving Gannets and there's thousands of Manx Shearwaters passing. I pick out a Black Guillemot but it dives and is hard to relocate. Whilst scanning for it I see a fin drifting through the bay, then another behind it. As I focus in on it I realise I have a 30ft Basking Shark infront of me and I find myself having to race to the boys to let them know. Before long we're all on it again and get good views as it's head comes out of the water for a while but we fail to get back on the Black Guillemot though.
As we head home through Loch Shiel I see another large raptor heading towards us overhead. As it closes in on us we can all see it's an Osprey and it gives a show as it dives to catch a fish before flying off into the hills to eat it.
Common Gull
We head back round to Fort William and after refuelling at the golden arch we find ourselves watching Fort William harbour where we get close views of Hooded Crow, Common Gull and Mergansers again.
Day 3: Today we're going to try for Capercaillie at Loch Garton so we're off before 5am.
We decide to stop at Laggan Dam and try for Twite which proves a good move as we're quickly onto the song and before long we have the bird on our year list and the views over the Nevis range from here are spectacular too. We arrive at Loch Garton for around 6.30am and pay the £1 fee as the guide tells us a male is showing well this morning. As we approach the hide people are exiting and saying that the bird has just flown. Now that's birding! We sit tight until they throw us out at 8.30am with no more sightings.....not even a call!.
Red Squirrel
We did bag Red Squirrel here and had good views of the Ospreys too along with Siskin, Redpol and what seemed like the world population of Chaffinch, we had Gt Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders close in too.  
As the reserve closes between 8.30am and 10am we decide to head off into Abernethy Forest in search of the bird that's top of my list. We hear strange noises over head and despite seeing loads of divers before we've never heard them calling as they're usually at sea and the waves stop the call carrying. Here on a small Lochen in the forest the call travels well as three Red Throated Divers drop in and give good views, Common Sandpipers move along the shore too.I can hear Crested Tits around  and think I've got one only  to be a Coal Tit (nice little bird but not the target). A short while later I'm on another and this time it's Bingo! CRESTED TIT! I shout and manage to get the Jim's on it. We high five and feel the need for a group hug. Target bagged and another lifer for all three of us!
We hear Crossbills here too but I'm not sure if any are Scottish and need to do more work before I can ID that one.
Back on the reserve at 10am and after another hour and no Capers we decide to move on and head up to Moray Firth in search of a White Billed Diver that's been wintering there. Blimey it's cold!
We scan and we scan and we scan but all we get is a Red Throated Diver and  a couple of Shags although a Merlin entertains briefly.After tow hours scanning it's time to leave and we head back down the road.
After some navigational difficulty we locate Findhorn Valley. Another long single track road takes us to a small car park where we park up and scan the hill tops. Peregrine, Merlin and Buzzard all show before the shout comes up....EAGLES!
Two large black bars in the distance and with the help of 2.5k worth of Scope we can see they are Golden Eagles. WOW! before we leave we bag five in all along with good views of some of the local Red Deer.
A successful day and we head back down the road stopping for a Fish supper in Aviemore.
Knackered but rewarded we head home but not before seeing Woodcock and a female Black Grouse on the road.
Add to this the Whinchat and Red Grouse and our list is growing nicely.

Findhorn Valley
Commando Memorial
Day 4: We decide to do a small local tour today. Starting at the local Commando Memorial we head off around the local patch taking in Allt Mhuic in search of butterfly as it's a good spot for Chequered Skipper but in two hours here we didn't see a single butterfly. We did get good Tree Pipit and Cuckoo though along with Dipper.
Further round and we find Neptunes Staircase. A nice site giving good views across to Ben Nevis again.
Neptunes Staircase

Now we couldn't resist another stop at Fort William so we grab some supper and sit at the harbour. Before long we've bagged at least 15 Goosander, a Merganser lot's of Eider and then two Otters playing infront of us. Another good stop off.
Now we're starting to head south towards Glasgow for the flight home and we decide to give the Corran Ferry area of Loch Linnhe another go to see if we can get a better look at Black Guillemot.
As we scan the loch I pick out a small black bird with a short neck (so not shag or diver) and as I'm trying to ID it hoping it's a Guillemot it dives and again we're struggling to relocate it before Jimmy sees it flying low across the water infront of us. It lands and we get on it to see that it is indeed a Black Guillemot. Jim senior struggles to get on it but eventually he manages and he too can add it to his lists. Another great stop and more good advise from the pages of Gordons guide.
Time for one last stop of and I find Spotted Flycatcher for the Jims which pleases them as they have another year tick from the trip.
Back at Glasgow airport for 5.30pm. Caffeine fix from Starbucks and after another smooth on time Easy jet flight i'm sitting at home in Essex before 8.45pm.
Great trip, good birding, lot's of other wildlife and the scenery is just magical.
Will I go back? you bet I will and it won't be too long waiting this time.
14 BIRDS NOW REQUIRED TO ACHIEVE WHAT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE AT THE START OF THE YEAR.  Will I make 250?  I need two birds a month which has to be possible although as I sit typing this I'm recovering from another dip as I missed the Melodious Warbler in Leyton today.
Onwards and Upwards though and here's to the next tick. Trip list is 123 in four days.

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