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I had been to Strathdearn on my visit to the area two years previous. I had been on my own and had had the good fortune to encounter there a couple of practised birders. On Monday 14th June, the location was one of the options on the programme, so I was able to benefit from the expertise of Richard, one of the Grant Arms Hotel‘s list of local guides. The meeting point was a car park ten miles along the Strathdearn/Findhorn Valley, where I took the obligatory photos looking ahead,

and behind.

We were some ten people from the hotel. Almost as soon as we were gathered, a herd of at least 20 red deer arrived. I was a little careless as I took the photo. They were at a considerable distance, but I should have held stiller. I include this merely for the record.

We also got a brief glimpse of an osprey, but not good enough for a photo.

It was blowing an absolute gale, a really cold one at that, and at times it was raining. Like several others I am afraid I just sat in my car for much of the time, and emerged only when I saw a brave few huddled over the roadside verge. They were examining two plants,

a heath spotted orchid, and this pretty, innocent looking thing, a butterwort.

Not so innocent. It is insectivorous, as a closer look at these sticky leaves shows.

After an hour or so alternately shivering outside and warming up inside my car, I gave up. I imagine the others were continuing with Richard to Burghead in the afternoon, but I had booked on to a different outing. I made my way back along the Findhorn Valley, admiring the views once more, and occasionally stopping to take photos when it was safe to stop in the passing places along the single-track road.

The art deco Findhorn Bridge at the beginning of the valley is interesting.

The inscription explains, ‘This bridge was built in 1926 to replace the bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1833’.

I had plenty of time before I was due at the meeting spot for the afternoon’s outing, so I stopped off at a hotel in the village of Carr Bridge for a coffee. I had to sign up for the Cairngorms own Track and Trace system and not to forget to sign out as I left.

Continuing on my way, I tried to capture the beauty of the distant mountains, some with occasional snow.

I was heading for the Insh Marshes RSPB reserve, and passed of over Loch Insh. It seems to be best known for its water sports activities, but I saw none of those, I’m pleased to say, and had the road bridge to myself when I took these, with not an activity in sight in either direction.

There’s a bit of a breeze, but it wasn’t cold here.

I was very early at the meeting place, ate my banana and wandered around a just a little.

I didn’t want to leave the beaten track, but just enjoyed the wildflowers on the verges, the sheep and the views. Not to mention the smidgeon of sun.

As I’ve said before, I do like a clump of flowering grasses.

It turned out that I was the only customer for this afternoon’s outing, so we were just three, Nigel Marven, Sue W of the hotel, and me. We went to a lookout. I was pleased to have expert company. I would have spotted nothing in these marshes without them.

But with their eyes, I was able to see at a great distance, (my camera is on maximum zoom here) a greylag goose and goslings (and more geese),

a curlew

and a roe deer.

We also saw a redshank, but my photo of that is so poor it does not even merit being included for the record. We came down from the viewpoint and started making our way to a ground level hide. Nigel went on ahead, and came back with…

… a dung beetle. No, until a few days earlier I did not know that the UK had dung beetles. Though ours do not gather and roll along those balls of faeces you see on the nature documentaries about Africa, and indeed which I have seen there, most recently in Morocco.

On the way, we saw, among other things, a small heath butterfly,

germander speedwell,

common rock roses, and

and birch polypore fungus.

Once installed in the hide, we were delighted to see very close a family of curlews. A parent,

a chick,

two parents,

and a parent and a chick.

In fact there were two very attentive parents and three growing chicks, but it was not possible to capture all five together. Sue was very pleased to see that there were indeed still three chicks, the same as the last time she had been there a couple of weeks back, and they were very adventurous now.

Over in the distance was a buck roe deer.

As I drove back to the hotel I was taken aback to see this. Only on my return did I learn that it was a significant historical monument, the Ruthven Barracks, built by George II after the 1715 Jacobite Rising. Had I known, I would have parked up and looked around.

After another delicious dinner at the hotel (here is the menu for that evening, which also included a choice of four tempting sweets),

visiting speaker David Parkin gave a very interesting talk, more so than might be suggested by the title, called ‘Birds and Climate Change’.

This was the end of the official ‘celebrity week’, but I had a further full day to explore the area.