Thursday, 24 February 2011

Cairngorm challenge

En route from Stirling to Speyside, a detour to Loch Laggan produced a female Black Grouse perched in a birch tree this morning. My main target for today was, however, another grouse - Ptarmigan, still in winter plumage at this time of year. I approached Cairngorm near midday to find the upper car park full - after the indignity of sharing a shuttle bus with a colourful army of skiiers, I began the arduous 90 minute climb to Coire an Lochan where the birds are usually present. The weather was breezy but clear on setting off, and despite stepping through rapidly melting snow into streams beneath on one or two occasions, it remained so for the rest of the climb. When I heard the croaking call of male Ptarmigan nearby I knew that only mist and rain could get in the way now. Unfortunately, both turned up, driven by increasingly strong gusts of wind, just as I caught sight of two male birds and a female on the coire walls. The next couple of hours were spent happily, but damply, getting close enough to huddle under rocks for shelter and hope the birds would come closer. Eventually a pair did - close enough even to hear the female's soft clucking calls. Had the light been better I might have got some excellent photos but given the deteriorating conditions, I was happy enough with these. My third grouse species of the day was seen on the return journey when three male Red Grouse and a female flushed from beside the path.

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