A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 18 May 2015

Scottish Highlands - Day 2 (9th April 2015)

Awakening to a hearty breakfast at the B&B, we were glad we made the decision not to go for the Loch Garten Caper Watch for dawn as one of our fellow guests had spent a frustrating morning there with no sightings of these stunning Scottish birds apart from on the remote cameras!

With absolutely beautiful weather forecast, we decided to make a quick stop looking for Crested Tits again. With plenty of suitable habitat, we walked through the forest, listening out for that distinctive call and raising our bins to any small birds flitting around the tree tops. 
Red Squirrel, Scotland
Our second Red Squirrel of the trip!

The ‘chip chip’ call of a Crossbill flying overhead was the only sign of bird life, the small feeder at the side of the path deserted from any avian visitors!

Then suddenly “Caper!” Alex pointed straight ahead and we both watched in awe as a male Capercaille came flying right past us and away in to the trees!

Absolutely amazing and completely unexpected!

Even though the encounter lasted no more than 30 seconds, we both enjoyed incredible views as this turkey-like Scottish speciality noisily crashed through the forest, the white on the tail clear to see against the jet black feathers. What an experience! Completely elated, we had anticipated Capercaillie to be the hardest of the 3 to track down, but we had completely jammed in on one without even trying!

With no sign of the Crested Tits we decided to head off for bird number two of my targets – Ptarmigan. Stopping off at a roadside site for Capercaillie on route drew a blank, so we headed up the slopes to the Cairngorm ski centre car park. The views even from here were absolutely stunning, with the snow covered mountain tops shining in the sun, the glorious lochs below glistening in the light.
Cairngorms
Cairngorms
Taking the small tram up to the summit, we were met with a biting cold air and absolutely fierce winds! Battling through, we gingerly made our way up the slope, careful not to slip on any of the treacherous sheets of ice covering the rock. With Alex’s previous 3 visits up the mountain resulting in Ptarmigans straight away, we were slightly concerned as to how long it was taking us to track them down.

Large numbers of white and speckled Ptarmigan feathers scattered across the mountainside reassured us that they were here, it was just a matter of finding them!
Snow Bunting, Cairngorms
Several Snow Buntings joined us for company, then just as we had reached the top – Ptarmigan! A pair were sheepishly dodging through the rocks just below us, the male’s beautiful red eye crest shining out in the sun. We followed them down the rocks and watched as they darted out of sight, eventually heading back up the mountain slope and battling against the winds! I was struck by just how fluffy their little feet were, and it was amazing to see them at such close quarters!
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Battling the fierce winds on the slope!
Cairngorms
Heading carefully back down the mountain, it was a complete surprise to stumble across a second male and female! Where had they been during our hours search! These two seemed much more settled, happily pecking at the green shoots peeking out from under the snow and allowed a much closer approach. 
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Eyes streaming from the harsh winds, we enjoyed excellent views as the two went about their business, happy for us to get as many photos as we desired! The female in particular was especially smart, still retaining most of her winter plumage with fantastic speckles of olive and gold dappled within.
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Ptarmigan, Cairngorms
Eventually tearing ourselves away from our white wonders, we headed down the rest of the slope – no way near as hardcore as the guy that passed us by wearing knee-length shorts!

After a quick lunch in the aptly named Ptarmigan cafĂ©, we headed back down, enjoying views of the beautiful loch overlooking the mountain and wondering whether any snowy owls were lurking in the distant peaks….
Scotland
With Crested Tits still yet to find, we drove back to Loch Garten again, this time parking in the Loch Garten Nature Reserve Car Park and following the trail round to the small Loch Mallachie. Plenty of tits were chattering in the trees above, with Great and Coal Tits all dashing about, then Alex suddenly exclaimed “I can hear a Crestie!”. Pricking my ears and listening to the sounds of the forest, sure enough we could hear that distinctive call – coming from right above our heads!

For a few panicky moments I just couldn’t get on the bird, Alex trying his best to give better directions than “It’s on that branch” – there were lots of branches! Eventually I locked on to it, perching flat against the trunk and perfectly still, hence why I had such trouble locating it. Eventually tilting its head from side to side, the beautiful little crest was wonderful to see, and we watched as the bird proceeded to fly around the tree tops for several minutes, its call betraying its location.
Crested Tit, Scotland
Crested Tit, Scotland
I’ve seen Crested Tits in both France and Spain before, so it was great to finally catch up with these delightful little birds in the UK!

A walk to the loch revealed several Goldeneye nest boxes, but with no sign of any divers we headed back to Aviemore for a delicious tea at the Pizzeria for our final night.
Scotland

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