Monday, 21 September 2020

In leaps and bounds

With Wednesday being a write off with the glorious weather of the previous day instead being grey, cold and windy, wildlife watching was hard going. A look off Fort George, which lies on the opposite side of the bay to Chanonry Point in the hope the dolphins may be closer in off there drew a blank, though seabirds were more numerous in the conditions, including a group of Arctic Skuas terrorising terns for their food which I always enjoy watching! The Findhorn Valley wasn't any more productive, with no sign of any Golden Eagles, just a few 'Tourist Eagles', a.k.a. Buzzards seen. A walk through the woods at Boat of Garten in the hope of Red Squirrels proved fruitless, though several Crested Tits called loudly high in the pines and a Roe Deer looked unsure of us but stood his ground.

Thursday we again woke to beautiful sunny weather, and so headed back to Nairn Harbour where at least 3 Basking Sharks were still feeding offshore, but more distantly than on Tuesday. A group of Bottlenose Dolphins loitered in Nairn Bay, so we went just down the coast to Whiteness to try to see them closer, but they were still distant, only a confiding group of juvenile Sanderling on the beach made the visit worthwhile.

With such nice weather, we carried on to Chanonry Point in the hope of closer views of the dolphins. Our hopes were realised immediately as we arrived with a group of Bottlenose Dolphins were bounding through the bay just offshore, occasionally jumping clear of the water much to the delight of the gathered watchers on the beach.

After while the dolphins moved further out and many of the dolphin watchers left, and as we sat and waited in the hope of the dolphins returning, a group of 6 Ringed Plover flew in, with a slightly larger wader, and landed on the beach in front of us. It was a surprise when I lifted my bins and realised the larger wader was a very smart-looking juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, not a bird I was expecting to see here! 

With the dolphins not returning, we headed to Glen Affric. At the head of the glen is a short steep walk up to a viewpoint, which gives a superb view of the surrounding hills, excellent for looking for raptors. Initially only a few Buzzards and a Kestrel were on show, and eventually a Golden Eagle appeared, soaring majestically, and was soon joined by a second bird. Initially both eagles were distant, and once one landed, the original bird, a first year bird judging by the white on the tail and wings appeared closer and gave superb 'scope views.

With the hope of photographing Red Squirrels, we went around the other side of the glen to Plodda where they are reportedly abundant. Typically, none were to be seen, but better was a Crossbill, which looked good for Scottish going off the bill shape which perched on top of pines around the car park, calling loudly, but frustratingly I wasn't able to get a photo.

Friday was another gorgeous morning, with the thick fog soon burning off as we headed toward Speyside. With Toni wanting another go at photographing dolphins, I took myself off up Cairngorm to look for Ptarmigan. The warm weather made for a tough walk up Coire an t-Sneachda where I have had success in the past, and despite a 5 hour walk with stunning views back over Loch Morlich, I couldn't find a Ptarmigan anywhere!

Saturday was our final day and after a quick visit to Lochindorb, which is my favourite loch, to do a WeBS Count, which produced an unexpected Slavonian Grebe with as small group of Goldeneye, lingering fog around Speyside brought our week-long trip to a conclusion, just the 10 hour drive home to look forward to...

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