Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Cairngorms, Scotland, 28th May-3rd June 2016 - Part 2

Continuing the little diary of my family holiday in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Click here for Part 1.

We managed to really pack a lot in on Tuesday 31st May. We spent the morning and early afternoon cycling from Cromdale to Nethy Bridge along the disused Speyside Railway in lovely sunny weather.

We took in Anagach Forest again, and crossed the Spey at Speybridge, watching Grey Wagtails and Common Sandpipers on our break.

 Anagach Forest - Tuesday 31st May 2016

 Common Sandpiper, Speybridge - Tuesday 31st May 2016

The fields along the valley bottom were full of Redshank, Curlew and Lapwing, and the track-side gorse had singing Yellowhammer. On the way back, a group of House Martins were coming down to a road-side pool of mud for their nests, allowing some great close views.

 House Martin, Speybridge - Tuesday 31st May 2016

My daughter and I had tickets for the dusk watch on the Rothiemurchus Estate, starting at 21:00. This left us time to get to Laggan, about 25 miles west of Aviemore, to try and see a singing Icterine Warbler, which had been reported there for the last two days.

We could hear the bird before we were out of the car - singing its rich song, which seemed to include all kinds of mimicry: Curlew, Lapwing, Swallow, Reed Warbler, Song Thrush, etc... I had no trouble hearing the bird; but my hearing being what it is, I had trouble pin-pointing the bird's exact location. No such trouble for my 11-year-old daughter, who quickly pointed it out in a nearby tree.

 Icterine Warbler, Laggan, Highland - Tuesday 31st May 2016

We had some great, prolonged views of the Icterine Warbler in the fabulous evening sunshine - a UK tick for both of us! It was particularly great to spend some quality time with my wonderful daughter, and was nice the chat with some locals and other opportunistic birders who were holidaying in the area too. I scribbled some notes and we headed off to Rothiemurchus for our mammal watch.

Our trip to Rothiemurchus was for one reason only: to see Pine Marten. By no means, guaranteed, it was certainly one of the best opportunities to see this scarce and elusive mammal. After walking from the meeting point, passing a herd of twelve Red Deer, we entered the hide for our three-hour session. Our guide, John Walters, explained that Pine Martens tend to appear before it was fully dark, with the Badgers arriving a little later after dark (which would be well gone 23:00 at this latitude at this time of year). John went out and filled the feeding stations, which invloved smearing lots of peanut butter around, and leaving a raw egg for the Pine Marten.

Wood Mice scurried around the rocks outside the windows as we waited. Around 21:45 a Pine Marten came bounding out of the forest and on to the feeding table! What a slinky and canny creature it was. It went to the feeding table and proceeded to eat the scattered nuts, although it was clearly very wary of movement and sound in the wood. It was, according to our guide, a youngster. The Pine Marten didn't stay around for long - once it had the egg in its jaws, it was off - but we all managed to get really good views and acceptable photos (my cheap camera isn't great in low light, but I'm more interested in the experience than the photos).

 Pine Marten, Rothiemurchus, Highland - Tuesday 31st May 2016

We had a wait of an hour before the Badger family turned up, but it was worth the wait. John explained the complicated family politics of the Badgers and pointed out the individual characters. I'd never had such close and prolonged views of Badgers before and it was fascinating to see them feed and interact. Well worth staying up late for. The whole evening was great: the sunset, the scenery, the Icterine Warbler, the Pine Marten, the Badgers, and the lovely company of my wonderful daughter. Happiness.

 Badgers, Rothiemurchus, Highland - Tuesday 31st May 2016

The following day was meant to start with a lie-in after we'd got back so late the night before, but the cockerel outside our window put paid to that.

No matter, because we'd hit the jackpot for Highland weather; for on Wednesday 1st June it was again forecast as hot, sunny and still. So we decided on a trip up the raptor heaven that is Findhorn Valley.

 Findorn Valley, Highland - Wednesday 1st June 2016
Look at that sky!

I've visited the valley on several occasions, and I can't recommend this place enough. Come on a sunny, still day in late Spring and you'll be treated to fabulous views, perfect walking conditions, fascinating wild flowers, and almost certainly some sightings of large raptors.

The air is so fresh, and the water of River Findhorn clear and cold. Wild Goats graze along the valley, from the very highest peaks to the river banks, and large herds of Red Deer roam the mountain tops.

 Red Deer, Findorn Valley, Highland - Wednesday 1st June 2016

 Wild Goat, Findorn Valley, Highland - Wednesday 1st June 2016

The first birds you notice are all the Oystercatchers, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Jackdaws, Common Gulls, and Swallows. I scanned the mountain sides for Dotterel and Ring Ouzel, to no avail. But I did pick up Ravens and three Kestrels.

A guided birding group joined us by the wooded bridge at Dalmigavie, and together we picked out Common Buzzard, Osprey, and two Peregrine Falcons. After moving further up the valley to the small car park, I picked out an obvious eagle species further up the valley. It was soon joined by another, larger eagle! This was perfect, allowing us all to compare the two. A Golden Eagle and a young White-tailed Eagle

We spent Thursday in Inverness, starting with a boat trip to see the Bottlenose Dolphins in the Moray Firth. We headed out on the Dolphin Spirit and things didn't go entirely to plan. No Dolphins! Three Atlantic Grey Seals, Black-throated Diver, and a few Guillemots were the best of the wildlife. The weather, again, was great, and the staff on the boat were nice and helpful, so no complaints there; but it was slight disappointment. We had a nice day in Inverness anyhow.

Kessock Bridge, Beauly Firth, Inverness - Thursday 2nd June 2016

Later, back on Speyside, I went for an evening bike ride through Anagach Forest (yes, I really can't get enough of those old forests).

  Anagach Forest - Thursday 2nd June 2016

  Oystercatcher, Grantown-on-Spey - Thursday 2nd June 2016

Friday was our last full day on Speyside, and the weather finally started to crack. We cycled to the shops in Grantown (Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, and Dipper en route). 

I can't go on a UK holiday without a trip on a heritage railway, so we spent the afternoon on the great Strathspey Railway. I can really recommend it. Please excuse the train photos...

 British Railways No. 46512 (Ivatt Class 2 2-6-0), Aviemore - Friday 3rd June 2016

BR Class 117 DMBS SC51367, Boat of Garten - Friday 3rd June 2016

So, a great holiday. The long journey home was made better by the bright sunshine, a stop off in lovely Dunkeld, and even a Merlin flying over the car on the A9 at Dalnaspidal!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fantastic trip and nice to be able to send quality time with your daughter too! :)