Monday, 10 March 2014

Scotland Tour 7-9 March

With three mainland rarities lingering in various corners of Scotland and the freedom of a car again after several weeks with Shanks's pony as the only available form of transport. I couldn't raise any interest from anyone I could contemplate spending three days with but that afforded me the luxury of doing exactly as I pleased from Friday to Sunday and not pandering to anyone else's needs, wants or targets.

A pleasant drive north into the Cairngorms where I took the easy Ptarmigan option at Glenshee Ski Centre scoping an individual from the car park adjacent to The Cairnwell in a howling gale. The weather alternated between pleasant, early spring sunshine, albeit breezy and howling winter gales that lashed snow across the road almost horizontally. A few Ravens here too as I drove through heading toward Linn of Dee at Braemar.

From Braemar I continued  north to Grantown and spent late afternoon wandering the paths at Anadach Woods to the east. A couple of crossbill sp, were all I managed to turn up here. I kipped overnight in the car nearby for an early start to try and track down Caper and Crested Tit.

In the event finding neither on Saturday morning I made do with Buzzard and Tawny Owl and more 'crossbills', all restless moving and nigh on impossible to do to species then I moved west, heading for Inverness. I dropped in at Loch Garten and jammed a Crested Tit down the footpaths on the west side with a couple of Great Tits and 2 Siskins. The drive to Inverness was scenic but with little to add to the trip list.
At Loch Flemington the American Coot was embarrassingly easy, providing close views of a less than inspiring bird. It dived a few times before scuttling off into the floating reed debris and bankside twigs to attend to itself for a while.

The drive to Dingwall was peppered with low-flying roadside Red Kites and a quick stop at Tesco Express for some Warburtons with which I hoped to entice the long-staying Ring-billed Gull. Not reported since 20th Feb I knew it was a long shot and I probably cut a sad figure hurling wholemeal around the grassed lawn in front of the local library and skulking at the 'boating pond' that apart from four Herring Gulls was lifeless and unloved.

Cutting my losses around lunch-time i headed south to Strontian and hopefully the unwashed Mallard drake Black Duck. Apparently not straying far from its mixed marriage with a female Mallard it had spent the previous day on a small garden pond a few hundred metres up-river. In fact it was still there late morning on Saturday judging by images. By mid-afternoon, after a long drive only broken by the stop to pick up a German hitchhiker who kept me company until Fort William, it had decided to treat me with the same scorn it should have reserved for country music-loving city bankers and vanished from the face of the earth. The road back out of Strontian to the shortcut offered by the Corran Ferry was a dismal, brooding affair.

Wanted to give myself as much time as possible on Sunday to catch up with the 1st-winter American Herring Gull at Campbeltown I pushed on through Oban, Lochgiplhead and down into the Mull of Kintyre, tired and trying to get there before dark I pitched up around 18:45 and found a room at a rather rundown pub/hotel.


Up early I hit the harbour in the gloom of six-thirty and with cries of over-flying Herring Gulls sharp and grating in my hearing aid. I was joined after a few minutes by a familiar face, Cliff Davis, who took up my offer of a a seat in the car as we spent the next three and a half hours on a circuit between the airport, floods and various fields holding small gull flocks. For a while it was a struggle, nothing of real interest, I tried to string a white-headed Great Black back at one flood as we pulled up but quickly recanted. Another rotation produced a juvenile Iceland Gull then further down the road back toward Stewarton a flock we had previously scanned suddenly produced this gleamingly white-headed beauty. Probably close to 800m away the views weren't exactly crippling but boy did it stand out. The same field also produced a different juvenile Iceland Gull as well as an adult (visible to left below).

After a few brief minutes there was a bit of a gull melee and off the yank went back in the direction of the harbour. In the harbour a couple of Black Guillemots and a 'sailed' Common Eider were of passing interest. Satisfied we headed off back on the journey home, Cliff taking the offer of a lift after arriving on the bus the previous night.
A little way up the road we stopped briefly to catch up with the Tayinloan Two, white and intermediate morph Snow Geese feeding amongst one of the many Greenland White-fronted Geese littering roadside fields.

A further stop at the east end of Loch Fyne produced another Black Guillemot and a juvenile Great Northern Diver.


Jonathan Lethbridge said...

Can't win 'em all Alan, but a very satisfying trip nonetheless, the birding up there is brilliant. Maybe just brilliantly different in my case, but it's always enjoyable.

Alan Tilmouth said...

Too true, and the gull was sublime...

bluebirder... said...

Just like to say a big thank you for phoning and putting me on the gull last Sunday Alan. My mate didn't see it and we couldn't find it again in a further three hour search, but he was remarkably upbeat considering - I know I wouldn't have been! Cheers and thanks again. Kind regards. Will.