Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Highlands, Nov 2019 - Findhorn Valley

A perfect combination of accessible and yet remote, the Findhorn Valley (or Strathdearn) is a beautiful, peaceful glen in the Highlands not far west of Grantown-on-Spey; we spent a couple of enjoyable sessions there on last year's trip (see here), when we connected with White-tailed Eagles there, and were looking forward to returning this year.

We made it down the valley twice again this time, and the first visit was all about the experierence - with the slopes already extensively covered in snow, the further we went, the more intense and picturesque the flurries became, feeling a lot like we'd ended up in a snowglobe with Red Deer and Ravens for company. A lovely way to spend a few hours, but hardly encouraging conditions for eagles.....

... and while the snow had mostly gone and the forecast was for variable cloud for our second visit, we arrived to find the slopes shrouded in thick mist - evocative, for sure, but it was looking like we'd have to settle for the nothing more. However, with patience (and two much-needed flasks of tea), we got lucky, several time sover, with the species I really wanted there - Golden Eagle.

At first, fairly distantly through the occasionnally receding veils, trailed by an ever-growing mob of swirling Ravens; and then, with time, increasingly well, as a young bird staged several extended fly-bys along and below the nearest ridge, sparring with Buzzards and idling around as it did so.

So, this year's Highlands adventure continued to provide on every level, and we'd plenty more still to come.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Highlands, Nov 2019 - Cairn Gorm

After an enjoyable morning leading an excursion for a lovely bunch of BWWC guests in Abernethy forest (see last post), Amity and I decided to head for the Cairngorms. Despite the thick fog blanketing the forest and pretty much the whole area, we gambled on conditions being better at a higher altitude - and it couldn't have been any better....

Clear, blue, sunny skies, barely a breath of wind, deep, thick, fresh snow and temperatures well below zero - exactly the conditions we wanted for a visit to Cairn Gorm. Time of year and topography meant the sun would soon disappear, however, and we crunched through the snow beyond the visitors centre to where the track gives a decent panorama of the surrounding slopes.

It was beautiful eough to not get too concerned about the distinct possibility of not connecting with our two targets up there, but to cut a long story short, we needn't have worried. After a bit of patient scanning, the first of several entertaining Mountain Hares materialised in the snow of the upper slopes - Amity's first, and my first in many years - with frame-filling views via the Harpia.

Which would have been quite enough, and as the sun began to set and fingers began to freeze, we considered the hot chocolate and open fire option of the nearby cafe; but in classic lets-give-it-five-more-minutes fashion, a last-ditch scan of the ridge to our left produced a tell-tale movement against the blue sky, and then another....

.... and before long, four beautiful Ptarmigan were putting on a show on the snow-covered boulders. A real treat, and the perfect end to another fine day up in the Highlands.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Highlands, Nov 2019 - Abernethy

Only twenty minutes or so from the Grant Arms, Abernethy forest in winter is just a beautiful, wonderfully calming place to be, and we spent two long, happy sessions there during our Highlands week. For the first, I was leading an excursion for BWWC guests (see here for details) - part one around the car park and visitor's centre, and part two a circular hike through the forest.

For part one, we loaded up on the essentials - namely, sunflower hearts - and revelled in the joys of processions of fearless Coal Tits feeding from our hands (and other parts of our anatomy), Crested Tits around our feet, Red Squirrels within a few metres, and a very contented team of clients; part two provided evocative, misty panoramas of the partially-frozen lochs, and it's fair to say a good time was had by all.

We couldn't resist going back a few days later and spending more time within this real-life Disney animation, and even then had to tear ourselves away as the light failed. Highly recommended, for anyone and everyone.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Down By The River

We're conducting two parallel surveys on the Humber throughout the winter, one on the North bank and one on the South - which, despite being mutually visible and just a few minutes away from each other as the godwit flies, are many miles apart if you're a terrestrially dependent human, and offer up considerable contrasts from an ornithological perspective.

A perk of the work (and indeed of this kind of estuary-based, wader-heavy birding in general) is the spectacle of swirling flocks changing feeding positions, coming into roost, or getting spooked by a patrolling Peregrine or Merlin. The dynamic is constantly changing, with the dense congregations of godwits last month (see here) upstaged by various other species during November, which will no doubt change again as the season wears on.

Pictured (from the top) are Avocets, Pink-footed Geese, Lapwings and Golden Plover, particularly evocative against what can be a pretty bleak, industrial landscape; counting such impressive numbers of shorebirds is far from bleak, however, and keeps the cold at bay no matter how long the days can be....