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Capers in the Scottish Highlands 26 April - 1 May 2021 (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
With lockdown ending in Scotland and non-essential travel allowed, and even encouraged again, I decided that I could get away for several nights, and so I booked 5 nights at the 'Craiglynne Hotel' in Grantown On Spey via Booking.com on a 'room only' basis, that came to a very reasonable £174. In fact I was to spend about the same on petrol overall. I tried to keep other costs down, eating snacks from petrol stations or local shops, and I took my own breakfast supplies so just had to buy milk, butter, and a few cans of beer locally. The plan turned out very well, the room was perfectly adequate, and I was out at 5am most mornings for wall-to-wall birding.

It is almost 20 years since I thoroughly birded Speyside, though I have been on family holidays here since, where I dibbed and dabbed via short birding sorties, but this is really inadequate as you need to put the hours in and walk the miles to reap the benefits of what the deep forests hold. But I had kept snippets of information over a period of time, so I roughly new where good areas were, to increase chances of connecting with those specialities. I cannot give precise information about sensitive species here, but if anyone wishes to know a bit more, then please do PM me and I will try to help, as long as you have a genuine record of birding here on this site. Much of the information I used is in the public domain anyway, and even primed with good snippets it does not mean it is always up to date. Sought-after 'large-billed' Crossbills for example are notoriously nomadic, following good Scots pine-cone supply areas, which vary from year to year. Nevertheless, one or two areas fairly-consistently deliver them, then you've only got to separate the 3 species once you connect :)-.

Weather wise, the forecast before I left was quite promising, but as it turned out, totally unreliable. Basically, there was frequent rain or sleet showers most days on and off, with intermittent sunny spells, though there is somewhat of a pattern whereby it is overcast and drizzly (at least at this time of year) first thing and then gradually clearing in the afternoon. The transformation could be quite remarkable, and when the sun broke through for a few hours the views and scenery were delightful, with the snow-covered peaks of Ben Macdui and the Cairngorms clearly visible from open areas. It was quickly changeable so take rainproof clothing. I swear that Grantown On Spey sits in a sheltered bowl, as I could sit in my room with no sign of rain, travel a mile or two to local forest where it would be pissing down or sleeting. This happened with uncanny frequency.

I had at last purchased a decent pair of walking boots that I had worn in prior to the trip, and these helped keep my feet comfortable and dry thankfully. This purchase was long overdue and essential for walking for long spells.

Finally, the only species I didn't try for were Ptarmigan, other than a scan from Cairngorm car park, as I just can't walk that far up the mountainside anymore, and anyway, I had enjoyed crippling close views when I did just that twenty years ago. The funicular railway was closed as well, though due to re-open following Covid any time soon. The same applied to Loch Garten RSPB, so I was birding the trails alone without any recent information from staff there - just how I like it! Many snippets of information had been gleaned from websites like www.ebird.org and www.observation.org that both give fairly precise information about the location of sightings, except sensitive species of course, like Capercaillie. Furthermore, there is surprisingly little information available, even via the Scottish Ornithological Society website, of any interesting species. I fully understand that some species are very sensitive, but things like up-to-date sightings of large-billed Crossbills could surely be more widely shared? Though concurrently, I guess that if you reside there, they are of little interest.

Right, my format for reports is quite simple - having set out the background, I now write a day to day summary followed by a few scenery photos.

26 April 2021

I lay in bed at midnight unable to sleep, so rather than set off at 4am, I just decided to get up and go, having packed a few hours earlier. I left the house at 1am, and en-route to Speyside decided to divert to the Fife east coast at Musselburgh to see if I could find the White-winged Scoter, though it hadn't been reported for several days and worryingly not subsequently. On arrival at 6.30am, the area in front of the harbour looked devoid of birds (from the statue), so I drove to Prestongrange Mining Museum just outside Musselburgh and accessed the adjacent 'John Muir' coastal path, from where I enjoyed views of 8 Velvet Scoters on a calm sea. This was crucial, and I attached my 1.6 extender to my Kowa 883 and used it for the first time, so I could see distant seabirds. On a choppy sea, it would have been useless as the depth of field is significantly reduced, and prolonged use would be very tough on the eyes. But it worked very well today over a calm, flat sea and was invaluable. I then drove a mile to the adjacent 'Levenhall Links Leisure Park', where a track takes you to the 'Lagoons', and after parking there, a five minute walk takes you to the sea wall at the most prominent section, offering good views over the estuary, and with the tide gradually coming in, the birds also gradually got closer. I was pleased to see 20 attractive Eiders, as well as similar numbers of Long-tailed Duck, and as expected there were plenty of gulls and Oystercatchers on view. Sparrowhawk, Skylarks, Reed Bunting, Swallows, and a Swift were over adjacent rough grassland. Importantly, I could see a number of scoters in a few groups, with over 30 Common Scoters and probably the same number of Velvet Scoters. Over the next couple of hours they came close enough to see reasonably well, with the Velvets split into two groups. I was really pleased to locate the drake Surf Scoter that had not been reported for a few days, and then another 10 Velvet Scoters landed in view, and with them was the American White-winged Scoter, with duller pink bill and 'up-ticked' white eye marking. I did report this to Birdguides, but it never appeared unusually. The bright, yellowy-orange bills of the Velvet Scoters contrasted markedly, shining brightly in the morning sun.

Pleased to have connected with a WP lifer, I then drove on to Speyside, arriving mid-afternoon following slow traffic hindered by roadworks on the A9. I quickly unpacked and sorted things out in my room, and had a cup of tea and lie down, then at 4pm I was out at the back end of a forest site. There are a number of tracks around the forest here, with many signs not to venture off the track as you are in sensitive Capercaillie areas. Based on the number of signs you see saying that you are in sensitive Caper areas, you would think this speciality-species is quite widespread. It's not the case, sadly they have been struggling. Some of the walks are widely used (and understandably so) by locals often with their dogs, so I purposely chose the most remote areas where very few people would be present, as surely these would be the areas where you might expect to encounter Capercaillie.

Adapting this theory, as I walked quietly through my chosen section of remote forest, after seeing or hearing very little, a large bird suddenly 'crashed' out of the tree nearby, and I was amazed to see a 'cock' Capercaillie flying away from me through a glade, before it landed out of view, though I could still hear it calling. I was astonished to have connected with this magnificent species so easily. What a start!

I returned to the hotel, had a beer and drifted off to sleep dreaming of the huge cock I had just seen (I know what you are thinking but I just don't want you to go there please).

27 April 2021

I was back out at the same spot by 6.45am, noting 2 Red Squirrels on the way, and after parking up, I quietly walked around the same area of forest, and was again astonished to connect with a 'cock' Capercaillie flying between a forest glade, but landing out of view. They are surprisingly powerful flyers. The only other bird seen here was a Treecreeper. It was deathly-quiet.

From there I drove ten miles to the Boat of Garten area, and failed to find any birds around Tulloch Moor, the site of the famous Black Grouse lekk. I am not sure if I found the exact location, but I think I was in the right place. I then drove back towards Loch Garten RSPB, and checked out a spot said to be good for Crossbills. To get there from Loch Garten RSPB, drive on past the sign for Tulloch, and about a mile further on, on a left-hand bend towards Nethy Bridge is an obvious but unofficial parking space for one vehicle. Walk up hill for about one-hundred metres to where the glade is fairly open, and Crossbills are reported to be seen here overhead with frequency, though not when I visited on three occasions.

I then drove ten miles back to Grantown On Spey, and checked out Poorhouse Wood (part of Anagach Woods). The car park here is located on the right hand side of the road about fifty metres past the golf course, on the edge of town. There are feeders by the car park that attract a few Red Squirrels and common passerines like Chaffinch and Coal Tit. A sign tells you that you are at Poorhouse Wood. I undertook a walk along a track for at least half a mile, but saw nothing but a Robin. Again, this area is said to be good for Crossbills, but I found it unproductive at this time of year, today and on a subsequent re-visit later in the week. But it has certainly delivered Scottish Crossbills for others.

From there, I drove to the wonderfully-atmospheric Lochindorb about fifteen miles out of Grantown On Spey. After the signposted turn-off for Lochindorb, you should encounter a large Common Gull colony on the moor, and at least 250 birds were present. Drive slowly through the moor and alongside the loch and out past the moor on the other side, if you want. The loch sometimes holds divers including Black-throated, but you certainly need a scope here. Unfortunately, for me, no divers were present though waders included a few Oystercatchers, Redshanks, and Common Sandpipers, as well as a single Snipe. A White Wagtail was amongst the several Pieds, and several Red Grouse showed very closely on the adjacent moors. 30 Sand Martins were over the water itself. After an hour here I drove back to the hotel, but driving through forest, I drove past a car parked on the road with its hazards on, and the driver was pointing a camera up at a tree. I had driven past him before I knew it, but I knew what this might mean, or at least hoped it wasn't just for a Red Squirrel. Fortunately, I managed to park up on a forestry track about 100 metres further on, and I grabbed my bins and walked back towards him at 'pub walk' pace. As I got within twenty metres, I was still unsure what he was pointing his camera at, but then my 3rd male Capercaillie of the trip dropped out of a tree and landed on the opposite roadside verge, just ten to fifteen metres away, where it strutted around, calling in display. For the next minute, I enjoyed crippling, life-time best views of this enigmatic species. I could not believe my luck. I even grabbed a few mobile phone photos as it slowly moved away into cover. The driver gave me a thumbs-up and drove off, and within a minute a local forestry warden appeared in his vehicle and parked up, politely asking me to move on. He explained that it was a young male, and probably 'confused', but in obvious danger of being a roadkill here, he also said he was going to try and 'net it' and then relocate it elsewhere. I asked how he knew it was a young bird, as it looked every bit like a full adult to me, certainly plumage-wise. He said that a full adult would be slightly bigger. Anyway, I took one final look and trotted off back to my car, pumped with adrenalin at this totally fortuitous sighting. Capercaillie are not this easy honestly, and if anyone reading this feels any bit envious, what happened next to me might lighten your thoughts. As I was trotting back to my car along the grass verge, incredibly the double bow lace of one walking boot somehow caught itself around the metal lace-tog of the other boot, rendering me unable to run as my feet could no longer separate themselves any further apart than about one foot. So inevitably, I was catapulted head-first down to the floor, and down a bank, but fortunately I was none the worse for my fall :). I just needed an audience or a video of it, but unfortunately, or fortunately, there was no one else in sight to admire my 'Highland-fling' performance, and the warden was too busy 'cajoling' the Capercaillie away from the road on the opposite side fifty metres away, to notice my temporary disappearance from the roadside verge.

After cleaning myself up back at the car, and then at the hotel where I tip-toed past reception and up the stairs to my room, I had a recuperating cuppa, and headed out to Boat of Garten Woods. These woods are accessed after the last house on Kinchurdy Road (called 'Mallard'), where you can park up on the right and take the obvious track for half a mile to an equally obvious open section at the cross-tracks, where four paths meet. Again, there are many reports that highlight this open area as being good for Crossbills, and indeed I quickly noticed 4 Crossbills in a treetop, these could have been Scottish Crossbills but I think they were probably Common Crossbills. I became aware of several in fact in this area, in trees by the adjacent clearing. They were making some bizarre calls, perhaps alarmed by my presence. A 'calling' Raven passed overhead, and there were the usual Chaffinches and Coal Tits present.

There are also a pleasant series of pools by the village at Boat of Garten that are worth checking. I had Mute Swan, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Wigeon, and Greylag Goose here, all as singles or pairs. I returned to the hotel, and later on undertook an evening walk around Anagach Woods that just produced the expected common passerines. Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes sang heartily, often out of view but sometimes from the tops of pines.

It had been another excellent day, crowned of course by the further Capercaillie sightings, especially the roadside male.

28 April 2021

I was up and out early today, arriving at Tulloch Moor by 5.30am, but disappointingly again I could find no trace of any Black Grouse lekk, though it is possible that I was just not quite in the right place. I could not find any screen that is sometimes reported, to watch from.

So I returned to Boat of Garten Woods, and again by the cross-tracks I soon found some Crossbills, in trees by the edge of the obvious adjacent clearing. All 6 were males, and I again suspect that these were Common Crossbills. A few Siskins and Coal Tits were seen as usual, as well as 2 Goldcrests which must be prevalent in the forests, but were in fact the only birds of the trip I saw.

From there, I drove back towards Grantown On Spey, and visited another forest site where with patience, 'large-billed' Crossbills can be encountered. On this occasion I had a couple of Crossbills from the hide, but in sleety conditions failed to see them well. A couple of Red Kites took to the air once the sleet had passed, and Tree Pipit and several Willow Warblers were seen well. I worked my way down to the right of the ridge into the rather open area with young conifers, but where those towering Scots Pines were situated. These trees only had branches in the highest quarter, looking rather like giant mushrooms in shape. This section of Curr Wood is therefore rather good for finding and observing 'large-billed' Crossbills, as they periodically fly between the Scots Pines. I noted 3 'large-billed' Crossbills fly into a one of these treetops, and scoped them closely for about twenty minutes. They silently fed on Scots Pines, but I was not overly-impressed with the size of any of their bills, stumpier and broader-based than Common's in my opinion, but certainly not big enough for Parrot Crossbill. 2 were males, and the other a female. I strongly suspect these were Scottish Crossbills, but without intricate knowledge, I can only call them 'putative Scotsbills', as many others must have done. As I walked back, I scoped another male Crossbill astride a tall pine, and this bird had a huge bill, both in length and with equal-sized lower and upper mandible - surely this was a Parrot Crossbill. I really like this place as it is easy to see the birds present. In contrast, in any forest where there are rows and rows of compact conifers, your chances of finding any Crossbills are minimal, so do visit here but show patience as they are nearly always around, and again, because of the scattered nature of the Scots Pines, seeing them is potentially much easier. I will describe the better access track on my next visit. Again, mornings are probably best.

Anyway, from there, I made my first major trip away from Speyside, travelling 80 miles north-east to Udale Bay, where a small parking bay and RSPB hut is located close to the pretty-named village of Jemimaville. In glorious weather, I spent an hour here, trying to find a rather uninspiring vagrant Richardson's Canada Goose amongst 800 Pink-footed Geese, but only found 3 Barnacle Geese, a 'rare' 'Greenland' White-fronted Goose, and an all-white domestic goose that momentarily raised thoughts of Snow Goose. A flock of Wigeon looked lovely in the bright sunshine, and there were hundreds of gulls, and 50 Oystercatchers and 20 Curlews. An Osprey was 'scoped' distantly, perched up. Views overall here were excellent, and I could easily have spent a lot longer going through all the birds on view.

From this lovely spot, I travelled 60 miles south-east to the Aberdeenshire coast, calling in at the elevated caravan park on the edge of the village of Cullen. From this vantage point, I failed to find any of the 'wintering' White-billed Divers frustratingly, but activity on the sea was high, with a nice adult Great Northern Diver, a pair of Red-Throated Divers, 55 Long-tailed Ducks, 50-plus Gannets, 40 Razorbills, 30 Guillemots, 30 Fulmars, 20 Shags, 10 Eider, Kittiwake, and Arctic Tern all seen.

After an hour there, I travelled several miles south to Portsoy, where up to 7 'wintering' White-Billed Divers had recently been reported. From the headland west of the village (accessed via Target Road on SatNav), I eventually located a rather-distant juvenile White-billed Diver, as well as Eiders, Kittiwakes, and a sole Rock Pipit. I then drove down to the harbour in the village and watched birds at closer quarters from the potentially dangerous quay wall. It is unlikely you would be foolish enough to fall into the sea, but if using a scope on a tripod from there, there is potential for people to fall back off the wall which is quite a drop. So be aware, especially if you have a history of such incidents :)! The views from here are very good however, though on a choppy sea, even 'close-in', settled birds disappear from view, so that over a ten-second viewing, they might only actually be on view for three seconds. And if they dive, they are very difficult to relocate, with no landmarks on the horizon of course. Anyway, I was joined by another English birder who had failed to find any White-billed Divers earlier that day here, nor at Cullen. Before he arrived, I had found a Great Northern Diver moulting into adult plumage, a juvenile Red-Throated Diver, Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags, Gannets, a single Puffin, and suddenly and surprisingly a 'spanking' adult White-billed Diver in full breeding plumage, just one-hundred metres out. After ten seconds it dived and was lost to view. When he joined me, we found another juvenile White-Billed Diver, and after twenty minutes I re-found the adult, that showed well 'side on' in brilliant afternoon light, though it would show then disappear behind the choppy waves. But over a few minutes I enjoyed good views of this beauty, and even managed to get the other birder onto it, in my scope. By 5pm, I was drained, and my eyes were verging on dizziness, so after using refreshing eyedrops again, and after a short nap in the car, and a cuppa, I drove back to Grantown On Spey, a journey of 60 miles. But I was very happy and content after another excellent days' birding, culminating in the superb adult White-billed Diver sighting.

29 April 2021

Following yesterday's exertions, I stayed local today, especially as the weather was highly-variable. Poorhouse Wood again delivered little from 6.30am, with 5 Mistle Thrushes and 4 Oystercatchers on the adjacent Grantown golf-course greens.

I travelled around 10 miles to Loch Morlich with its beautiful beach, where 10 Goldeneye were in display, and a female Goosander was present along with 100 Sand Martins. I quickly drove up to Cairngorm to see if I could scope any Ptarmigan, though this was unlikely due to a cloud-base lingering over the peaks. The snow was down to the car park, but the funicular rail to the peak was not due to reopen until the following week after covid lockdown. I think it would be difficult to scope Ptarmigan from here anyway, even on a clear day. Around the car park, I found 4 Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtail, Wheatear, and pleasingly 19 Snow Buntings feeding on grit. I watched them for half an hour, as they hopped around the car, offering incredible views, as they often do in fact. 15 of the birds were black and white adults, and all had that characteristic 'skid-mark' on the crown. This was a somewhat unexpected but very pleasing sighting.

Early afternoon, I re-visited the same forest site as yesterday. I spent a quiet hour here, not seeing any Crossbills this time, and concluded that prime time for them is mid-morning, and not necessarily first light. I did see 2 Ravens, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Swift, and Great Spotted Woodpecker, and thought I heard a Crested Tit by the car park. Feeling jaded, I returned to the hotel for a rest.

I then checked out the lovely public park opposite the hotel called Glynne Park, which held several Sand Martins, 2 Bullfinches, and the usual tits, Siskins, and Chaffinches. I retired back to my room with lovely fish and chips from Speyside Fish and Chip shop, but not cheap at £7.

30 April 2021

This was my last full day, so I started off by taking a lovely walk around the 'loop trail' at Loch Garten and Loch Mallachie, which is opposite the Loch Garten RSPB car park, well about a few hundred metres along the road. This lovely walk starts from a good car park, and culminates in the most amazingly-tranquil view over beautiful Loch Mallachie. Bird-wise, just a few Goldeneye, Greylag Geese, Mallard, and Common Sandpiper were present there, though the walk through the lovely woods is said to be good for Crested Tit. Unfortunately at this time of year they are much harder to find, and despite strenuous effort, I failed to find any on the trip at all, though I have seen them previously here. A single Tree Pipit showed well but I just could not get a view of a Redstart that was singing from a treetop.

From there, I revisited the forest site after parking at the new spot, and walked the short distance to the hotspot! For half an hour, there was nothing except Coal Tits, Siskins, and Willow Warblers, but just as I started walking back to the car, 6-7 Crossbills flew into the top of one of the towering Scots Pines, and over the next twenty minutes I watched 5 birds that settled very closely, including 3 males, a female, and a streaky juvenile. All except one male had substantially-large bills, especially the other 2 males which were real brutes, and I even managed to make a rather-rudimentary recording of the juvenile male on my mobile phone, issuing what I now think was an alarm call. I am pretty sure these birds were Parrot Crossbills, after listening to website recordings and initially but probably wrongly summarising that they sounded like Scottish Crossbills. Anyway, these birds possessed bigger, chunkier bills than any Parrot Crossbills I had previously seen in England, but I do not have enough experience of Scottish Crossbills and know that they too can also have large bills, but surely these were Parrot Crossbills. Certainly, they were more obviously so than the 3 birds I saw here a day or so ago. Pleased with the views, I moved on. Crossbills still baffle and intrigue me in equal measure.

I then travelled from the Grantown On Spey area, fifteen miles to the Findhorn Valley, an area you must include on your itinerary whilst here, though timing and good weather can make or break your visit here, so plan here with weather particularly in mind. From Findhorn Bridge you take the minor road to 'Coignafearn Lodge', where further vehicular access is not permitted. I encountered many Curlews, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Common Pheasants, Herring Gulls, and Mistle Thrushes along the first section, and pleasingly my first Dipper of the trip on the adjacent river. The latter section weaves through mountainous areas, so keep your eyes peeled whilst driving with great care of course. There are several good spots to park up at, and you can basically take your choice, and when the sun did come out in the afternoon, raptor activity suddenly picked up with 3 Buzzards, 2 Ravens, 2 Kestrels that bombed across the valley 'Merlin-style', and Peregrine being seen, and eventually a juvenile Golden Eagle that circled over the highest peaks, where 18 Red Deer were silhouetted against the horizon.

I also took the only signposted turn-off along Findhorn Valley, to Farr. The 'Farr Road' is a very narrow, tarmac track so again you must drive with great care, but it takes you through barren moorland for several miles, where you eventually turn left at the junction and drive to nearby Loch Ruthven RSPB. Along this Farr Road I had a pair of Grey Wagtails, several Red-legged Partridges, several Red Grouse, but sadly no Hen Harrier nor Merlin that apparently favour this vastly-expansive moorland area. You could stop at various places but see nothing over miles and miles of moor in each direction, or you might stumble across a Hen Harrier. Unfortunately I did not, though I didn't try very hard.

At Loch Ruthven, from the hide, I quickly found the sole Slavonian Grebe pair that had so far returned, along with Little Grebe and 4 Red-breasted Mergansers. 3 males were vigorously pursuing the harassed female. I circumnavigated a different site, noting another Slavonian Grebe, 2 Stonechats, and a Red Kite. Overall, the driving around here took longer than expected, so I was quite tired when I arrived back at the hotel, where I had fish and chips again, and my last cans of beer. But it had been another very productive day.

1 May 2021

I checked out at 5am, having really enjoyed my stay at Grantown On Spey at Craiglynne Hotel, and travelled south along the A9, and 80 miles to Dunkeld. I had been given information of a Black Grouse lekk around ten miles away from there, that again I perhaps should not name on here publicly (PM me if you want details), though the local Perthshire wildlife trust give precise directions to another lekk a few miles away (see link further below), so it is unclear how important it is to conceal information. I was advised that the lekk I was driving too, could be seen immediately beside the road. From the obvious lay-by however, no birds could be seen on my arrival sadly, though by scanning the adjacent, somewhat-distant hillsides, I eventually located 2 males, including one that was displaying. I then drove along nearby Glen Quaich, noting Short-eared Owl, Buzzard, Kestrel, 3 Red Grouse, Mistle Thushes, 50 Oystercatchers, 20 Curlews, Common Sandpiper, Lapwings, Black-headed and Herring Gulls, Greylag Geese, and the first Canada Geese of the trip, with 5 birds being present including one with strikingly-white underparts. I then returned to the lay-by at 8.30am and was astonished to see a number of male Black Grouse feeding on the gently-inclined grass mound, just 20-30 metres away. Eventually 14 males were counted. I spent half an hour soaking in crippling views of these beautiful birds.

Finally, as I drove back towards the A9, I had a probable Goshawk overhead. Sadly from there my birding was complete, and a five-hour journey lay ahead, back to Wolverhampton.

This is the link for the other Black Grouse lekk I referred to: -


This trip wildly-exceeded my expectations, and though a lot of driving is involved, no great distances were covered. The scenery is stunning, especially with the right weather. Most of the time, sheep-fields only held Black-headed and Herring Gulls, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Common Pheasants, Wood Pigeons, rabbits or hares, and occasionally those imposing Aberdeen Angus cattle. Also, keep your eye out for Roe Deer, and at the Findhorn Valley for Red Deer silhouetted up on the crown of barren mountain-sides.

I was not looking for common or easily-seen species and could surely have picked up waders like Turnstone, Knot, and Dunlin if I had looked for them whilst at coastal sites, to add to the list. Additionally, I also 'heard only' Crested Tit, Redstart, and Cuckoo but just could not get onto them.

The highlights of the trip were plenty, including great views of Black Grouse, Red Grouse, White-Billed Diver, Golden Eagle, Velvet Scoters not forgetting the vagrant White-winged Scoter, Snow Buntings, large-billed Crossbills, and of course, last but in no way least, those 3 wonderful Capercaillie's.

Overall I saw 115 species, not bad for a one-man team. With more pairs of eyes you would see so much more, so I did quite well.
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A few photos: -

1) The stunning Loch Mallachie
2) Entrance to Curr Wood, off the A95 near Grantown On Spey
3) The towering scattered Scots Pines of Curr Wood, the haunt of large-billed Crossbills
4) Loch Morlich
5) Scenery somewhere near Grantown on Spey
6) The car park at Cairngorm, looking down on Loch Morlich


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More photos: - just off my mobile phone...............otherwise I'd get no birding done:)-

1) Findhorn Valley scenery
2) Findhorn Valley scenery
3) Black Grouse (x 3) near Dunkeld (3 of 16 males seen)
4) Just 2 Canada Geese, including a strikingly pale bird.
5) Capercaillie
6) Same bird.


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Bird list

Capercaillie - 2 'cocks' seen at one site, and a young displaying male at another
Black Grouse - 16 seen at a lekk 10 miles from Dunkeld
Red Grouse - at least 15 birds easily seen on moorland such as Lochindorb and the Carr Road
Red-legged Partridge - 5 birds seen
Common Pheasant - a few hundred seen, widespread
Canada Goose - 5 seen at Glen Quaich including a very pale bird
Barnacle Goose - 3 seen at Udale Bay RSPB
Greylag Goose - around 50 seen, quite widespread
Pink-footed Goose - around 800 at Udale Bay
White-fronted Goose - a single rare ' Greenland' adult at Udale Bay
Mute Swan - around a dozen seen
Shelduck - 4 or 5 seen at Udale Bay and Musselburgh
Wigeon - around 70 at Udale Bay
Mallard - probably around 100 seen, quite widespread
Teal - just a pair seen on the pools west of Boat of Garten
Tufted Duck - just a few pairs seen
Eider - around 100 seen at places like Musselburgh, and Cullen
Surf Scoter - a nice drake seen distantly off Musselburgh
Velvet Scoter - at least 30 seen off Musselburgh
White-winged Scoter - the vagrant wintering bird seen off Musselburgh
Common Scoter - at least 30 seen of Musselburgh
Long-tailed Duck - 20 seen off Musselburgh, and 55 off Cullen
Goldeneye - at least 30 seen on lochs
Goosander - several seen on the River Spey and at Loch Morlich
Red-Breasted Merganser - a few off Musselburgh, and 4 at Loch Ruthven
Common Swift - singles seen at Musselburgh and at Curr Wood
Rock Dove - several at Cullen
Wood Pigeon - widespread
Stock Dove - single bird seen on way home
Collared Dove - just a couple seen at Boat of Garten
Moorhen - just a few seen such as pools at Boat of Garten
Coot - just a single bird seen at pools at Boat of Garten
Little Grebe - just a single bird at Loch Ruthven
Great Crested Grebe - 3 birds seen in flight heading homeward
Slavonian Grebe - a breeding pair at Loch Ruthven, and a single bird at another site
Oystercatcher - widespread
Lapwing - fairly widespread
Curlew - fairly common on moorland
Common Snipe -a single bird at Lochindorb
Common Sandpiper - quite a few seen at various lochs
Redshank - several seen, such as at Lochindorb
Kittiwake - at least 10 seen off Cullen
Black-headed Gull - widespread
Common Gull - 250 at Lochindorb, and seen elsewhere in fields
Great Black-backed Gull - several at Musselburgh
Herring Gull - widespread
Lesser Black-backed Gull - a number at Musselburgh
Arctic Tern - a nice adult off Cullen
Guillemot - a number seen off Cullen and Portsoy
Razorbill - also reasonable numbers off Cullen and Portsoy
Puffin - just a single bird seen off Portsoy
Red-Throated Diver - a pair seen off Cullen, and a juvenile off Portsoy
Great Northern Diver - an adult off Cullen, and a bird moulting into adult plumage off Portsoy
White-billed Diver - a splendid adult and 2 juveniles seen off Portsoy
Fulmar - at least 30 seen off Portsoy or Cullen
Gannet - quite widespread of Cullen and Portsoy
Cormorant - a bird seen overhead on the A9
Shag - quite widespread at costal locations
Grey Heron - 3 birds seen
Osprey - just a single bird seen perched distantly at Udale Bay
Golden Eagle - a juvenile seen well at Findhorn Valley
Sparrowhawk - a few birds seen such as at Musselburgh and Curr Wood
Goshawk - a putative bird near Dunkeld
Red Kite - 2 at Curr Wood and 1 by Loch Duntelchaig
Buzzard - around 15 seen
Short-eared Owl - a single bird at Glen Quaich
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 3 birds seen
Kestrel - 2 at Findhorn Valley and just 2 others seen
Peregrine - single bird at Findhorn Valley
Jay - single bird at Anagach Woods
Magpie - quite a few seen, not widespread though
Jackdaw - very widespread
Rook - very widespread
Carrion Crow - several seen
Hooded Crow - just 2 seen, at Udale Bay
Raven - several seen over Speyside
Coal Tit - quite a few seen
Blue Tit - several seen
Great Tit - quite common
Skylark - 4 seen by Musselburgh
Swallow - good passage at Musselburgh
Sand Martin - good numbers at Lochindorb, Loch Morlich and other water stretches
Long-tailed Tit - just a few seen at Loch Garten and around Grantown On Spey
Willow Warbler - probably heard around 30 and saw around a dozen
Blackcap - several seen
Goldcrest - just 2 seen at Boat of Garten Woods
Wren - several seen
Treecreeper - 2 birds seen
Starling - around 50 seen overall
Blackbird - fairly widespread
Song Thrush - quite a few heard or seen
Mistle Thrush - most widespread thrush - approx 50 seen
Robin - several seen
Stonechat - 2 birds seen
Wheatear - at least a dozen seen
Dipper - single bird alongside river to Findhorn Valley
House Sparrow - quite common in towns
Dunnock - several seen
Grey Wagtail - a breeding pair on Farr Road
Pied Wagtail - fairly widespread
White Wagtail - single bird at Lochindorb
Meadow Pipit - fairly widespread
Tree Pipit - 2 birds seen at Curr Wood and Loch Garten
Rock Pipit - single bird on rocks at Portsoy
Chaffinch - widespread
Bullfinch - a few pairs seen
Greenfinch - several birds seen
Linnet - several birds seen around Udale Bay
Lesser Redpoll - single bird at Curr Woods
Parrot Crossbill - 1 then 5 birds seen well at one site
Scottish Crossbill - 3 putative birds seen at one site
Common Crossbill - at least a dozen seen at Boat of Garten Woods, though some may have been Scottish
Goldfinch - quite a few seen
Siskin - fairly common in forestry areas
Snow Bunting - 19 birds seen at the Cairngorm car park
Reed Bunting -a single juvenile at Musselburgh

Also heard but did not see Redstart, Crested Tit, Cuckoo.
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Sounds like a terrific trip Nick - loads of quality and a typically readable write-up.

I was last up that way the week I finished school in 1989 and missed on a whole load of birds - all of which you got! I especially envy you the Capers, the WB Divers, and the Golden Eagle which I dipped at Findhorn (bad weather) and have still never seen in the UK.

Musselburgh is in East Lothian, Fife is what you see on the other side of the Firth of Forth.
Cheers David,

Apologies for my ignorance mate.

If its not to late I will amend accordingly....edit....its too late to amend after 24 hours.

Thx everyone for kind comments.
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Nice report Nick. We've decided to edit out the details of some of the sites you mention. I appreciate that some of these sites are 'well known' and information is probably available elsewhere, but we need to take care to avoid disturbance. I suspect the Highlands will be particularly heavily visited by birders over the coming months, so it's probably even more important than usual to avoid publicising areas.
Thanks both, and Andrew yes John has been in contact with me, and I fully understand.
Sincere apologies once again.

May I ask what constitutes a rogue male Capercaillie? The bird in question has filled me with absolute joy, genuinely, but is it classed as a 'rogue' as it approaches humans instead of displaying in the deep forest? This behaviour seems to happen rarely but still frequently enough, is there any thought as to why these birds behave like this?

Anyone please feel free to answer.
Outstanding report as always Nick! An enthralling read and full of detail for those planning their own trips! Glad you enjoyed it, plenty of birds there I would love to see!

I look forward to your next excursion,

Thanks both, and Andrew yes John has been in contact with me, and I fully understand.
Sincere apologies once again.

May I ask what constitutes a rogue male Capercaillie? The bird in question has filled me with absolute joy, genuinely, but is it classed as a 'rogue' as it approaches humans instead of displaying in the deep forest? This behaviour seems to happen rarely but still frequently enough, is there any thought as to why these birds behave like this?

Anyone please feel free to answer.
One theory is when numbers are low and it doesn’t find other male Capers to join in a lek, so diverts it’s energy to this behaviour on anything it sees. Or possibly just genetic, a product of inbreeding perhaps which again is happening as numbers are low. Whatever it’s regularly seen, not just in Scottish populations.
Thanks Chris and John, much obliged.

I know we all hear of Capercaillie occasionally doing this, and I know it was an obvious question really.
Fascinating behaviour though.
Great write up Nick. Made me realise it's 15 years since I went to Speyside!
Thanks Robin, yes it was similar for me, its still beautiful and the people are wonderful.
The birds are hard work though the best, but there is so little info out there for independent birders like me.
I was astounded at the sheer volume of tour reports from Speyside on Cloudbirders, to the point that it almost seems that they want to have a monopoly on birding there, but that does sound controversial I accept.
Concurrently of course, there are genuine reasons why much is shrouded in secrecy.
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