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Captivated by the Cairngorms...or How I Saw Black-throated Divers, Dotterels et al

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Old Tuesday 6th July 2004, 17:32   #1
Alan Hobson
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Captivated by the Cairngorms...or How I Saw Black-throated Divers, Dotterels et al

I have just returned from an enjoyable time in the Cairngorms, with excellent birding and mountain views!

I go every year, but as I wasn’t a BF member this time last year, I thought I’d post a thread on it this time.

The week got off to a rather good start, with a walk round Loch an Eilein in the Rothiemurcus Forest. Saw Crested Tits, including good views of one, plus Tree Pipits, Spotted Flycatchers [in short supply south of the border this year, according to a recent thread], Buzzard and Redstart.

Day 2 saw a climb up Carn Ban Mor, and located a Dotterel near the top. Not that this was very difficult, as it was right by the path! It was very tame, and allowed me to approach to within five feet. It was a welcome return to my year list, as last year was the first since I started going up to the Cairngorms that I hadn’t seen a Dotterel.

We then decamped to Loch Garten, and very good views of the female Osprey. Plus the obligatory Red Squirrel there! In fact, saw more Red Squirrels this week (five) than at any other time in my life!

As I had taken my family, for only the second family holiday we had had together since I was a teenager 20 years ago, we didn’t go birding every day. My mum is a birder, but my dad and sister are not! So Day 3 was a non-birding day, although even here did see Grey Wagtails at a remote and hidden lochan in Glenmore Forest.

And, even on non-birding days, did see good birds around our Scandanvian-style wooden chalet in the forest, including Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch, Siskin and Great Spotted Woodpecker, as well as a delightful Roe Deer fawn.

Day 4 saw a climb up to the top of a mountain near Cairn Gorm and saw Snow Buntings, which happily have been there every year I've been. They look terrific in full summer plumage, and, enjoyable as seeing them on the Norfolk coast in February/March is, this is definitely the most rewarding way (and place) to see them! Also saw another Dotterel up there, but no Ptarmigan that day.

Another welcome "ever-present-er" [for my summer trips each year] was the Red-throated Diver I saw on a loch near Cairn Gorm. They are another bird which look great in summer plumage.

Day 5 was a non-birder, though still saw Buzzard and Oystercatchers. In the evening, however, a rewarding birding trip to a loch some miles north of the Cairngorms proper, to see the lovely Black-throated Divers. I went the previous night and saw nothing, but tonight saw them in their exquisitely patterned plumage. They are still in my Top Ten birds for favourites, although the views this year, alas, were not as good as the magical close-ups last year.

On the last full day, day 6, climbed up Cairn Lochan, next to Cairn Gorm, and saw very good views of a Ptarmigan. This kept up its ever-present record as well.

So, seven firsts for the year for me (Black and Red-throated Divers, Dotterel, Ptarmigan, Osprey, Tree Pipit and Crested Tit), which took me past the 200 mark for my year list [it used to take me all year to get to 200, and this year I did it before the end of the first half!], several lifers for my mum (who has never been to northern Scotland before) and a very enjoyable time.

But a question for any BF'ers who know about mountains: why is it that Cairn Lochan, although one of the highest mountains in Britain, is not credited as such, or as a Munro, just because it is fairly close to Cairn Gorm? After all, in England, Scafell and Scafell Pike are counted as two separate mountains, although they are equally close......
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Old Tuesday 6th July 2004, 17:40   #2
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Great report Alan. You had a very rewarding trip to the Highlands and by the sounds of it plenty of fresh air with all that mountain walking.

I can't see me ever making it to the top of the Cairngorms, unlesss by cable car!
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Old Tuesday 6th July 2004, 18:06   #3
Andrew
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Thanks for sharing that with us, I enjoyed reading it.
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Old Tuesday 6th July 2004, 18:12   #4
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Seems like you had a fantastic week, birds become easier to see when you know where to look. You'll probably get them even quicker next year!
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Old Tuesday 6th July 2004, 20:50   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Hobson
But a question for any BF'ers who know about mountains: why is it that Cairn Lochan, although one of the highest mountains in Britain, is not credited as such, or as a Munro, just because it is fairly close to Cairn Gorm? After all, in England, Scafell and Scafell Pike are counted as two separate mountains, although they are equally close......
Hi Alan,
Good stuff. In answer to your question the reason that Cairn Lochan is not a Munro is the small height drop between it and Cairngorm. From the north it looks much more impressive than Cairngorm but there you go ...
Haven't seen dotterel yet this year. Must get out on the hill.

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Old Tuesday 6th July 2004, 21:03   #6
birdman
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Brilliant to read your report, Alan.

I know the area (at least lowland) fairly well, and have my only UK Cresties from the shores of Loch an Eilein. Love the Divers myself, too, and picked up my fist Snow Bunting this year (further north). Still no Dotterel or Ptarmy, though.

Rob caught your Munro question... and apart from any categorisation being largely arbitrary, I think the Scafell / Scafell Pike distinction is made as much because we are so light on "high" summits south of the border as anything else!!!
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Old Tuesday 6th July 2004, 23:18   #7
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Yes it really is a fantastic place.................which is why I ended up never leaving!
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Old Wednesday 7th July 2004, 07:51   #8
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Originally Posted by birdman
Rob caught your Munro question... and apart from any categorisation being largely arbitrary, I think the Scafell / Scafell Pike distinction is made as much because we are so light on "high" summits south of the border as anything else!!!
Up to a point but Mickledore is a big drop between the two. Were they both north of the border they would be Munros I suspect.

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Old Wednesday 7th July 2004, 09:48   #9
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Excellent trip you had there, Alan. I haven't been to Scotland since 1987 when I was nobbut a lad and I wasn't much into birding then so a trip to see Black-throated Diver, Golden Eagle, Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Corncrake, Dotterel, Parrot Crossbill and Crested Tit etc. is well overdue.

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Old Wednesday 7th July 2004, 11:37   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Hobson
But a question for any BF'ers who know about mountains: why is it that Cairn Lochan, although one of the highest mountains in Britain, is not credited as such, or as a Munro, just because it is fairly close to Cairn Gorm? After all, in England, Scafell and Scafell Pike are counted as two separate mountains, although they are equally close......
Munros are not precisely defined. Sir Hugh Munro's original list was based on summits over 3000 ft which he considered to be distinct mountains. The list has been updated since by the SMC panel, but I'm not sure there is an exact definition of a Munro. Since Munros only exist for the purpose of people 'bagging' them, it really doesn't matter!. Often tops which aren't defined as Munros are far more rewarding to visit, as they are quieter and less damaged. In the Cairngorms you can see paths tramped by people which detour around non-munros, despite the fact that going over them would give a splendid view and make for a better walk!.
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Old Wednesday 7th July 2004, 18:17   #11
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Hi All,

Thanks for all your kind comments about the thread - glad you enjoyed it.


IanF - Yes, you're right, it was very rewarding. Mind you, you're not the only one who prefers the cable car way up! Last year my girlfriend went up in the successor to the cable car, the funicular railway, whilst I walked up and met her in the Ptarmigan Centre near the top!

However, to be fair to her, she did climb up Cairn Lochan with me the day before, and both Cairn Gorm and Cairn Lochan with me the year before that.


Birdman - thanks. And I'm glad that you also get your Cresties at Loch an Eilein!

Edenwatcher, Birdman and DJ Sideboard - thanks for the replies on the Munro question.

JPoyner - I don't blame you!

Edward - yes, it was excellent. You ought to go for it again at some point. You had a very successful flying trip to Norfolk recently, so you could go for Scotland in the same way. Of your prospective list, I already see Golden Eagles and Black Grouse in England, so I don't look for them when in the Cairngorms. As for Capercaillie, we did see one at Loch Garten two years ago (lifer, of course) - but generally I'm just not prepared to get up at 4.30 am to see them! You're probably made of sterner stuff in this regard!

Andrew and Stonechat2 - thanks!
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Old Wednesday 7th July 2004, 19:49   #12
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Hi
Sounds like a great trip. Any idea of the name of the mountain climbed on day 4??
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Old Thursday 8th July 2004, 10:47   #13
Alan Hobson
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Originally Posted by Andrew03
Hi
Sounds like a great trip. Any idea of the name of the mountain climbed on day 4??
Thanks
Andrew

Hi Andrew,

I thought it best not to give the name of the mountain publicly. Unlike the Ptarmigan and the Dotterels - which are scattered over a wide area - the Snow Buntings are in a very localised, specific area on "their" mountain [the one where I always see them]. I'll PM you.
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Old Thursday 8th July 2004, 17:54   #14
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Seems like the trip was planned very well, and just in time.........the last week has seen awful weather with Ptarmigans hiding away under rocks with their nippers in the wind and rain and Dotterel either as high as they can go or back on their planes to Morocco...........
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Old Thursday 8th July 2004, 21:52   #15
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Excellent.
Must get up there soon, perhaps on the next dry weekend.........
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Old Saturday 10th July 2004, 21:20   #16
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Alan

I've just returned this weekend from a trip to the Highlands and was also lucky enough to see the Black throated Divers in summer plumage. I agree - superb bird!
Didn't have as much joy as yourself up on Carn Ban Mor though. Went up twice but didn't get Dotterel or Ptarmigan. Which path did you approach from?
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Old Monday 12th July 2004, 15:56   #17
Alan Hobson
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Originally Posted by markgriff
Alan

I've just returned this weekend from a trip to the Highlands and was also lucky enough to see the Black throated Divers in summer plumage. I agree - superb bird!
Didn't have as much joy as yourself up on Carn Ban Mor though. Went up twice but didn't get Dotterel or Ptarmigan. Which path did you approach from?


Hi Mikebirdart and Stevie,

Thanks for your comments about the thread and the trip. Stevie, I hope you have are able to get up there and that it's productive.


Hi Mark,

Thanks for yours, and glad you a) saw the Black-throated Divers and b) agree with me how exquisite they look!

Now, Carn Ban Mor. This has to be one of the worst mapped areas I have ever come across. The paths that exist there when one climbs it bear very little relation to the purported paths on the OS maps. Don't know what the OS are playing at, because the paths that are there are established and signposted, so it should be easy enough to map them. However, as I saw the bird I went for [Dotterel] I went away happy and uncomplaining!

The way I went is this: single track road south-east from Feshiebridge, for five miles. It ends at what appears on the road signs to be a hamlet (Auchlean) but what turns out to be one building! Path just before the house goes off on the left and is signposted Carn Ban Mor. [it is nowhere on the map, of course]. It goes through a plantation and then begins the ascent proper. It approaches Carn Ban Mor from the west.

It is this general area where I saw the Dotterel, near the top of the mountain. I'll PM you with more precise details.

As for Ptarmigan, I walk up the path from the car-park at the foot of Cairn Gorm to Cairn Lochan, and I usually see them in that general area in the higher reaches.

Hope this is helpful.

Best wishes

Alan
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