Monday, 6 April 2015

Scotland 2015 trip report

Day One 
We made the annual Scotland trip over the weekend, leaving Stansted Airport early Thursday we landed in Glasgow and were in the hire car by 10am. Two hours up the road and we're in Oban enjoying our first Eider Ducks of 2015 followed very quickly by Black Guillemot and Hooded Crow. Oh I forgot we had bagged a Golden Eagle on the drive up which was nice! A quick sandwich shared with the Hoodies on the beach and we headed on towards our accomodation at the Premier Inn Fort William followed by a short tour of the Glen Nevis range where we enjoyed watching a Dipper and of course some stunning scenery.

Hooded Crow
Day two and the weather was awful with grey skies and rain predicted all day. We headed to Loch Garten for the 5am Caper Watch but failed miserably to see any. The good news was that the female Osprey came back last night so we enjoyed watching her making the nest again as she flew back and forth with sticks.
Red Squirrel entertained outside the hide and back at the Car park we waited at the feeders and a couple of Crested Tit eventually dropped in for a brief appearance. We decided not to walk the woods after the rangers had given us a few horror stories about Caper disturbance etc and how crucial it is at this time of year that they are not disturbed. Prompted by the pager we decided to head across to Aberdeen in search of the Harlequin Duck. A long slow drive across the Highlands saw us arrive at lunch time to find the rain getting heavier and the sky greyer but we parked up and made the short walk to the "Old toilet block" in Seaton Park, from here it was just a 400 yard walk up stream where we found a couple of birders watching the duck.  We sat down and after a while enjoyed some cracking views of this rare visitor from Iceland along with Dipper and Goosander. A great bird that if you haven't been to see yet you should!

Harlequin Duck in Aberdeen

From Aberdeen we headed North West to Portsoy and pulled into the picturesque harbor where we scanned for the wintering White-billed Divers without any joy. We had several Great Northern Divers and large numbers of Long-tailed Ducks here. A Yellowhammer sang giving another year tick. We decided to head back to the cliff top and see if the higher vantage would help and after two hours of eye straining scanning we eventually found the target birds. The sea was calm but light was at a premium making the scanning of the distant birds very difficult but we had our target in the bag and moved off. On the journey south to Fort William we found three Black Grouse feeding and pulled over to watch for a minute or two.
We headed further south and pulled over to watch a Buzzard hunt and as we watched from the layby two Crossbill came flying in and sat right beside the car. They looked thick necked and large billed but who really knows when it comes to the Common/Scottish debate. Record shot posted for what it's worth but listed as Common.

Crested Tit

Day three saw us return to Loch Garten arriving a little later and again with no news of Capers. We had fantastic views of Cresties again from the car park but overcast conditions didn't help my ability to capture the moment that well. We moved on but not before catching a quick look at the Iceland Gull at Boat of Garten for another year tick. Our destination now was Lochindorb and as we arrived we passed the large Common Gull roost before the Red Grouse covered moors and then the Loch Itself. At the near end we found a pair of Red-throated Diver and at the far end two splendid Black-throated Diver. Red Squirrel ran out from the forest of Lochindord lodge and the Rough-legged Buzzard put in a short appearance too.
We then took the short drive up into the Findhorn Valley were we found a Sea Eagle as we got about half way down. We pulled in a layby and watched as the massive bird circled first with two Common Buzzard then a smaller hawk which showed real aggression as it attacked the Eagle (Gos was my first thought) Another Eagle came up this time a juvenile Golden Eagle and then they both drifted away but what an experience. At the car park we scanned again finding a Peregrine sitting and a Mountain Hare before another Sea Eagle came up over the ridge and showed quite well especially as it dropped below the sky line in better light. More Peregrine and a few Kestrels gave us something to watch and we enjoyed the Arsenal result with another group of "southeners" doing a similar tour for their year ticks etc. We now had a long drive home to look forward to which was broken up by more views of Black Grouse this time five birds by the roadside. (The following day we saw eight)

White-tailed Sea Eagle

Day four and our last day in the Highlands. The weather is fantastic so we decide on a drive down the Ardnamurchan peninsular. We flushed a Woodcock as we drove along and Red Deer were everywhere.
We also found our first Wheatear of the year followed quickly by 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Ravens were calling and displaying as we approached the lighthouse. Twite were seen at Kilchoan and several large Dolphin were playing in the harbour. Seals and a single Otter were noted.  At Ardnamurchan (Most Westerly tip of the UK) we scanned the sea to find Divers, Gannets and four passing Manx Shearwater for another year tick.


Despite some great close encounters on this trip probably the highlight of the tour was when we spotted a large raptor sitting up on top of a mountain ridge and as we pulled over to get the binoculars locked on it took to the air revealing itself as a sub adult White tailed Sea Eagle and it gives us our best ever views of Eagle in the highlands to date but this was to be matched later in the day when we pulled over to watch two Golden Eagle thermalling and drifting up and under the ridge giving fantastic scope views for half an hour or more.

So another Scotland trip over but back in May with my good lady for a wee break.

Year list boosted to 184 by this weekends birding and the life list now stands at 355

More boring bit for those interested in costs: 
FLIGHTS £71 each on Easyjet Stansted to Glasgow
CAR HIRE £90 each which Includes zero excess insurance and a full tank 
PREMIER INN FORT WILLIAM c£50 a night or less if sharing

add food, drink and another \£30 each for fuel and that's it to see all the above in four days.

The Crossbill ! Thick neck...large bill?    

 see here for more images 


  1. some stunning pictures and sounds like a fantastic trip

  2. thanks Tilly and yes it was a bit special