Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Grouse Moore

Long, long ago, in a land far, far away, I had a birding holiday which has taken weeks to write up. You join me on the penultimate chapter. Having bagged Black and Red Grouse on my Scottish trip already by this point, on my last full day I hoped to see the other two British species of grouse, Capercaillie and Ptarmigan. The first involved an early start to join the Caperwatch crew at RSPB Loch Garten, the best way to see Capers without the risk of disturbing the birds, and also the most reliable.

Crested Tit
Red Squirrels and a Crested Tit were coming to the feeders at Loch Garten - the Crestie had been absent the previous day when the sun was out, giving it a wider range of feeding options, but the morning was sufficiently overcast to tempt it back for easier pickings. It was seriously dark under the pines by the entrance gate, and again the 7D coped reasonably well with the conditions. Two Ospreys were sitting on eggs in the famous reinforced tree, so there was always something to watch on the big screen while we waited for the light to improve.

Crested Tit

Many eyes, and several remote control cameras, make light work at the Caperwatch and although it was late in the lekking season, it was not so late that a Caper didn't turn up. This left Scottish Crossbill as the only Speyside speciality I had not seen, but word on the street was that they were very thin on the ground, and from previous experience I knew I could spend all day wandering forest tracks and still not see one. So, I switched my attention to Ptarmigan, for which, as the song says, the only way was up. A Yellowhammer between Loch Garten and Coylumbridge was a trip tick. Also en route to the Cairngorm car park, Loch Morlich can be good for Red-throated Diver, but not that day as a stiff breeze rippled the far side of the Loch where they are often seen.

Male Ptarmigan

My original plan was to take the long hike up Carn Ban Mor in the hope of a Dotterel as well. But with a poor forecast and so many reports coming through of Dotterel at traditional stopovers further south, I thought the effort might be in vain. Plus, I'm an idle swine and was a bit exhausted by all the travelling, so the lure of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway proved too much. At the top, two pairs of Ptarmigan could be seen from their namesake restaurant, and a Snow Bunting fed just below it. The weather closed in soon after I took these pictures so I was back on the Mountain Railway having seen Crested Tit, Caper and Ptarmigan all before lunch.

Female Ptarmigan
On the way back down, a male Ring Ouzel chacked around the lower car park. The rest of the day lay ahead, so after a brief consultation with the Satnav, I decided to have a go for the King Eider on the Ythan Estuary, a couple of hours east of Cairngorm, and on which I dipped this time last year. See how I got on in my next post which, I can almost promise, will be the last of my Scottish round up.

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

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