Sunday, 28 June 2015

Scotland ~ Days 4-6

~ Tuesday ~ 

The day got off to a good start when we opened the moth trap to find 3 Poplar Hawk-moths and 1 Elephant Hawk-moth! We decided to make our way over to the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, the most westerly point on the British mainland. In the pools by the lighthouse we found several Palmate Newts and offshore we found Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and a decent flock of around 40 Manx Shearwater.

Poplar Hawkmoth

Buff tip

On the drive back we ticked off Twite, before arriving at Ben Hiant for a walk, where eventually we picked up a distant soaring White-Tailed Eagle. A Golden Plover flew overhead, Redshank called on the marshes below, and a Whinchat sang from the bracken.

We returned to the cottage where once again the Pine Marten put on a fantastic show...I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

Pine Marten

Pine Marten

Pine Marten

~ Wednesday ~

Crap weather meant that we mainly spent time lounging at the cottage, where we had a couple of sightings of Otter, before unbelievable close views of the Pine Marten in the evening on the step just outside the window.

Pine Marten

~ Thursday ~

We took a day trip to Mull where unbelievably we picked up our first Wheatear of the trip, including several family parties.


Loch Na Keal proved fruitful with 2 otters - most likely a mother and cub - which we followed for a few hundred metres along the loch edge. We also got good views of 2 sub-adult White-Tailed Eagles flying over the loch!


White-tailed Eagle

We decided to make the long drive down to the island of Iona on the south-western tip of Mull. One of the first discoveries we made was   a white-winged Gull, which initially got us rather excited...until we realised it was just a leucistic Common Gull!

Common Gull (leucistic)

After a short while (including a detour going the wrong way!) we were in the area with the best chance of hearing a Corncrake. With strong winds, rain, and the wrong time of day - I was feeling less than optimistic! Our luck was in however, and over the course of 30 minutes we heard at least 3-4 individuals calling, including one around 5m away. The long vegetation of course meant it was impossible to see them.

We also saw Twite, Skylark, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Rook (the latter 2 being quite scarce in this part of Scotland).
On our walk back to the ferry Matt and Megan spotted a Corncrake in a resident's front garden. After an anxious wait, I managed to get a 2-3 second view as it ran from one clump of vegetation to another, a brilliant tick!

Driving back along Loch Na Keal we saw an adult White-Tailed Eagle in a usual spot and then we spotted a recently-fledged juvenile flapping its wings deeper in the forest: an incredible end to what had been a brilliant day.

White-tailed Eagle (phone-scoped)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Scotland ~ Days 1-3

Early saturday morning I travelled up to Scotland with Matt Bruce and Beth Aucott. We were to spend 2 days exploring the Cairngorms (and Forvie Sands on the east coast) before meeting up with Matt Williams, Megan Shersby, Liam Curson and Pete Cooper to spend the next 7 days on the Ardanmurchan Peninsular, located on the west coast.

After setting off at 1am, we arrived in Scotland at around 5am to low cloud and frequent rain showers! These were not ideal for searching the moors at our first stop, where visibility was down to about 30m. Amazingly however, we spotted a Black Grouse lek right by the road which consisted of around 10-15 birds - a brilliant start to the trip!

Black Grouse

We headed northwards to Forvie Sands and the Ythan Estuary to see if we could find the drake King Eider that had been frequenting there. Regrettably we dipped, with the bird being seen further north. The area was still very much worth the visit, as we had great views of Sand Martins nesting in the dunes (I've only ever seen them nesting in artifice banks previously!), 4 species of tern (Common, Arctic, Sandwich and Little - in total over 1000 terns nest at Forvie every summer), Seals and hundreds of Common Eiders.

Little Tern

Little Tern

Sand Martin
Sand Martin

Our first night was to be spent near Aviemore in the Cairngorms, and so by 4pm we were searching the moorland this area has to offer. With the weather now much clearer, we were very lucky to find Merlin, Osprey, Red Grouse and 2 Hen Harriers, which even did a food pass for us! A Common Sandpiper also showed unbelievably close, perching on a post just 5-6m from the car. A Woodcock was also seen roding over our campsite.

Common Sandpiper

The next day was also to be spent in the Cairngorms, and despite initial concerns that the weather was too poor, we decided to go for a walk up (partially) Ben Macdui first thing. After no more than around 200m, we found an adult male Ring Ouzel feeding 3 fledged young. Continuing up the mountain, we eventually located a Ptarmigan (in the end we probably saw at least 2 individuals). No photos unfortunately but we had great views of one flying and calling around us.

Ring Ouzel
After drying off at the ski-centre café, we took a trip to Loch Ruthven, an RSPB reserve most famous for its breeding Slavonian Grebes. We enjoyed good views of 1 pair from the hide (a volunteer for the site informed us that there were in fact 7 pairs nesting on the loch), along with a cracking pair of Red-Throated Diver. The walk back to the car yielded numerous Willow Warblers as well as a Spotted Flycatcher.

Our final stop of the day was made at Ardgour, where a handful of Black Guillemots breed on a disused pier.

Black Guillemot

We arrived at the cottage late afternoon to meet up with the others, and after just 30 minutes we spotted a Pine Marten feeding on the peanut butter we had put out. Later that evening, things got even better when 2 visited together (1 of them even ran up to the window). It was a perfect end to what had already been a great start to the trip.

The weather forecast indicated that this might be the best weather we were due all week, and so we were understandably keen to try and see our insect targets of the trip.  Matt (Bruce), Peter and I spotted a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth in a small area of overgrown vegetation in front of the cottage.  Regrettably we failed to catch it and so the others missed out on this beautiful moth. As a number of us searched the area in the hope the moth would be re-found, Matt (Williams) spotted a dragonfly low down in the vegetation. I walked over to have a look and was stunned to find a teneral Northern Emerald, a real local specialty which is only found in wet meadows in North-west Scotland. I was particularly chuffed as this was one of my main personal targets of the whole trip! A number of recently emerged Golden-ringed Dragonflies were also to be found in the vegetation.

Northern Emerald (teneral)
As the weather was good, we took a trip to Claish Moss - this is a difficult site to access with a 2 mile walk through the forest just to reach the edge of the bog. Whilst walking through the forest rides, we had hoped to pick up more Northern Emeralds and perhaps Chequered Skipper, but sadly the much needed sunshine failed to materialise! Once we had reached the edge of the moss however, our luck was in and the brief spell of sunshine encouraged 3-4 Chequered Skippers to reveal themselves. This was another one of my most wanted species for the trip. On the moss itself I saw a male Hen Harrier, Curlew, Teal and Redshank.

Chequered Skipper
We returned to the cottage and were treated to the most incredible views of Pine Marten at around 17:30.

Pine Marten
The day was to get even better however, as at around 20:30, an Otter gave great views as it swam through the bay in front of our cottage!!