Monday, 3rd June. I spent my final morning at Avielochan, on my way to Inverness Airport. The Grant Arms Hotel, where I had been staying for the four previous nights, has a hide there for the exclusive use of its guests, and indeed ask you that if the little car park already has its capacity of five cars to come back later. I was fortunate in that I was the only person in the hide for the full 90 minutes I was there.
I was fortunate also to have shelter – it was drizzling when I arrived, and for nearly all the time I was there. This was the general view from near the hide as I arrived.
Avielochan was another place where there was to be the chance of seeing Slavonian grebes, though, sadly, again they were not in evidence. But I enjoyed my morning, obsserving a variety of more common birds, some of which are featured below. For a short while, not long enough to get my camera to it, I caught sight of an osprey flying around against the background of the hills opposite.
There was short path beyond the hide, but I didn’t say long. By now I was perishingly cold, even though the rain had temporarily stopped.
And in the event, this was all I saw of the Slavonian grebes.
Despite the weather, and despite the underlying sadness over the very recent loss of my lovely Lulu, I did enjoy my short stay in the Cairngorms National Park. The hotel was a friendly, welcoming place and made me feel very comfortable and looked-after, which I’m sure helped my general satisfaction at the mini-holiday. But I was happy to get home to Bella in the early evening. I feel pretty sure I shall return to Grantown-on-Spey before too long.
Sunday, 2nd June. The verdict as to what I should so on my final full day was unanimous: ‘Strathdearn’, they said, which is also known as the Findhorn Valley.
I made several stops along the valley As I got back in the car the first time, ‘Henry’ and ‘Clara’, out for a walk, asked me was I looking for waders. I replied I was looking for anything, in a very amateurish way. The waders were all over the fields they said.
I succeeded in seeing nothing for a while, except some colourful cows,
evidence that sheep had once inhabited this field,
some actual sheep,
and some oystercatchers too far away to get a decent picture. I liked the colours in this newish wall round a farmhouse.
And then it started raining. Many years ago, when I was working in Whitehall on public housing subsidies, it had been alleged to me that it rained sideways in Scotland. Here’s the proof.
It calmed down, and I came to a little layby. ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ were there with telescopes and heavy rainwear. Of course I pulled in. Birdwatchers always compare notes, though I had nothing to offer. The hope was to see a golden eagle. I stayed just a short while, which they clearly did not think was very professional of me, but I was keen to reach the car park at the end of the road for lunchtime, and I was now only halfway along.
I had stopped at a broad bank and had been watching the first oystercatcher making desultory nest-building moves, before the second came along and appeared to tell her there was no point. ‘Marie’ and ‘Hamish’, who said they were keepers (self-appointed or not, I was not sure) came along in a Landrover, and said they were concerned that a pair of dippers had been disturbed ‘just under that bridge’ in their nest-building recently. They seemed satisfied that I was not guilty and after some pleasantries drove on in the direction I had come from.
I continued on my way, and just before the car parking area, I encountered this meadow pipit, with caterpillar.
This was my view as I sat in the car starting to eat my lunch. I was really, really hoping to see a golden eagle or some other raptor.
Then I stopped chewing, because I could see two tiny protuberances at the top of the mountain. With my binoculars I saw this.
I was spellbound.
In due course ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ came along, and asked me if I had seen the ravens. (As it was ‘Jock’ who asked me, I had to ask three times what he was asking, his accent was so strong.) The ravens were way up on a hillside behind me. I had been so mesmerised by the red deer (and nice and warm in the car as I ate) that I had not yet turned round to see them, on a far horizon.
I learned that ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ came up to the Highlands from Dunfermline and Airdrie as often as they could to look for birds.
All of a sudden ‘Jack’ got very excited. ‘I don’t believe it!’. He had just been idly looking through his telescope, and there was … a ring ouzel. I had never seen one in my life, and I had previously met people who had travelled many miles unsuccessfully to see one. It is a mountain relative of the blackbird, and has a white bib. I was invited to to look at it through their telescope. I then tried to find it with my camera, in vain. So I took some general pictures of the gully, hoping I might pick the bird out on screen later.
Here’s one of the photos.
And yes, the bird is there. Yes it is. Here is a tiny segment of the main photo, enormously enlarged.
And here’s a tiny segment of another photo.
Clearly there is a blackbird with a white bib.
I was chuffed! Thank you ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’. I’d never have seen either it or, probably, the ravens had you not been there. But that’s the birdwatching world (of which I do not count myself part). They love sharing their sightings.
Another car came along, but I was moving on. I had more plans. Again using the map and information provided by the hotel, I was making for RSPB reserve Loch Ruthven. But not before this common gull had greeted me beside my car.
And I had zoomed in on this ruin back along the Findhorn Valley.
There was what turned out to be a very narrow one-track road over some moorland to get to the reserve. The sun was coming out, and it made this ‘blasted heath’ a little more attractive.
The road was only 7 miles long, but it took a while to travel it. There was a delightful small loch at the end of it, Loch Farr. But I stopped only long enough to take a picture of it, as I had a few more miles more to do.
This was the view as I parked the car at RSPB Loch Ruthven.
And these a couple of views as I walked along the path to the hide.
THE bird to see there is the rare Slavonian grebe. Half the UK’s breeding population is found at this loch. (I know, there are countries called Slovakia and Slovenia, but no Slavonia. I don’t know why the grebe is so-called! … Ah, I do now. Spellcheck didn’t underline the word, so I thought I’d better look it up. Slavonia is a region in Croatia. So now I know. Well, I still don’t know how the bird got its name. In the US it’s called the Horned grebe.)
Anyway, I didn’t see any. Neither did ‘Janet’ and ‘John’, who were already in the hide, and didn’t say hello. They left after after ‘Janet’ said to ‘John’, ‘Shall we give up?’ I was happy just to sit there and see
and various other birds of which I didn’t get decent photos, and to enjoy this abstract.
As I left, ‘Nick’ came in. We exchanged shy smiles and as I made my way back along the pretty path I found my self thinking, ‘I’m sure I’ve met him before. Is he on the telly, or is he in in the Somerset Wildlife Trust?’ I didn’t work it out.
The two final days at Aigas in one post. Accounting for Thursday will very be short. We drove over to the West Coast of Scotland, to the Loch Ewe and Gairloch areas, returning by way of Loch Maree. Here are a couple of views we saw on the way there, and a very short video.
From these it can be seen that the weather was not exactly ideal, and I have already indicated that I was not well-equipped with bad weather gear. Having had our lunch we walked along the seashore for a while, in a howling gale, hoping to see sea eagles.
The sea and the grass show how windy it was, and I chickened out again, being absolutely frozen, and made my way back to the bus.
It was quite a time before my colleagues returned and I hoped they were having luck with the eagles. They weren’t, but they did see a ‘bonxie’, an Arctic skua, which was a plus.
On the way back to Aigas, we had two unexpected sightings at the same place. The stop was for reasons of nature other than wildlife, and we weren’t expecting to see anything special, but to our surprise we saw there a large group of eider duck, and a red-breasted merganser, swimming on the sea.
This is only part of the group of eider
And it was a treat to see a greenfinch, that increasing rarity in our gardens because of a rapidly spreading disease.
Friday was our last day, and was spent along Strathconon. A pleasant morning:
Meadow pipit with insect
An after-lunch stroll:
Round-leaved sundew. Each trap is no more than a centimetre across
Primroses -in June!
There are both round-leaved and oblong-leaved sundew here
The very same making photos easier
But the best was yet to come. I wasn’t able to get pictures of an osprey perched in a tree, because sadly someone had not understood the instruction to keep within the outline of the bus when we got out, so it was spooked and flew off. But I had been able 30 minutes earlier to get a few pictures of – at last – two golden eagles! Sadly, in terms of wildlife the fact that we saw two of them flying around was not a good thing, because it meant there were no chicks on the nest to be looked after by one parent. But it was a thrill for us.
View from a bridge…
… which was really a hydro-electric barrage
The afternoon’s sightings were completed much nearer our base by some Slavonian grebes and a sedge warbler.
A last drive back to Aigas through the Highlands
Up very early on the Saturday morning for the 8.55 flight from Inverness to Bristol. What will be the next photographic experience I post here? At present I have no idea!