Trip Reports ______________________________________________________



Scotland (Highlands) 2013

...with Mark Finn

May 4th - 10th

Our annual May tour produced a few surprise birds along with the specialities that clients expect to see. The weather was dominated by an area of low pressure which affected the migration of summer migrants, on the plus side many wintering birds lingered longer into the month than normal. Unusual species recorded during the week included a drake Surf Scoter at Embo, large numbers of Common Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks the latter being in dapper breeding plumage, up to twenty-two Black Grouse at close range at Corrimony, Rock Ptarmigan and Snow Buntings at high altitude in the Cairngorms, White-billed Divers lingering off Portsoy in Aberdeenshire, higher numbers of Slavonian Grebes, White-tailed and Golden Eagles, an unexpected Hobby west of Thurso, Wood Sandpipers at two locations and a migratory Ruff in extreme northwest Sutherland. Interesting passerines included Ring Ouzel, Wood Warbler, Common Redstart, and the highest numbers of White Wagtails for several years, Bohemian Waxwings feeding on apples in Inverness and Lesser Redpolls coming to feeders at Cygnus House.

May 4th: Loch Flemington, Nairn, Portsoy, Sandend, Loch Spynie, Lossiemouth, Cromarty Firth.

Weather: Rather cloudy with westerly winds 13 C.

Due to flight timings and train arrivals we managed to utilise most of the day visiting Moray and the extreme western part of Aberdeenshire. Around Inverness Airport the last of the wintering Pink-footed Geese were feeding in the fields with the hedgerows attracting Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings. A short visit to Loch Flemington had the commoner ducks and the localised Common Coot and Common Moorhen. I picked Dominic up and headed towards the coastal town of Nairn. Offshore we picked out Northern Gannets, Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck and a few Razorbills. At 1025 I returned to the airport picking up Una, David and Geoff before heading eastwards to the old fishing port of Portsoy in Aberdeenshire. This proved to be very productive as we quickly located White-billed and Great Northern Divers, Common Eider, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Fulmar, and on the seawall Rock Pipit and Ruddy Turnstone. Next was the shallow Loch Spynie close to the town of Lossiemouth. The loch held Mute Swan, Tufted Duck and the commoner gull species. Lossiemouth east beach held very few birds so I headed to Inverness railway station to pick Christine up from the Edinburgh train. Back on the Black Isle the deeper waters attracted Greater Scaup. By the hide we added Dunlin, Lesser Black-backed Gull and the commoner waders. In the gardens at Cygnus House a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Siskin and the familiar garden birds of the area.

May 5th: Achnahalt, Achnasheen, Kinlochewe, Loch Maree, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Aultbea, Mellon Udrigle, Loch Gruinard.

Weather: Rather mixed with a cool westerly wind 14 C.

Today we headed west toward the vast empty lands of Wester Ross surely one of the most beautiful landscapes in the British Isles. En route we stopped for a pylon-nesting Osprey and European Robins singing from the birches. Achnahalt was next where the shallow waters and fields attracted a single Canada Goose, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Red-throated Diver and dozens of Sand Martins and Barn Swallows. In nearby scrub we could hear the distinctive reeling song of a Grasshopper Warbler. A short stop at Kinlochewe provided us with Eurasian Bullfinches feeding in an ash tree, Goldcrests and brief views of a fly-over Lesser Redpoll. A walk at Loch Maree produced little of note so I proceeded to the coastal village of Gairloch. Offshore we found Great Northern Diver, Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill and Common Guillemot whilst a fly-by Peregrine Falcon passed us by. Loch Ewe was our lunch spot with a Black-throated Diver sheltering in the lee of a bank. Also present were Red-throated Diver and Common Scoters. Back in the van we travelled towards the end of the road and walked down towards the bay. A flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were feeding on eel grass. On the return journey we had views of two White-tailed Eagles hunting over a low ridge. A sheep field attracted migrant Whimbrel, European Golden Plovers and a party of Twite. Aultbea was quiet so I headed to Mellon Udrigle with a pair of European Stonechats sitting of fence lines and Common Ravens soaring over the low hills. Northern Gannets and Ringed Plovers were the last birds of the day as we headed back home.

May 6th: Grantown-on-Spey, Nethybridge, Cairngorm, Feshiebridge, Loch Garten, Black Isle.

Weather: Mixture of sunny spells and cloud with a south-westerly wind 17 C.

An early start to be at Grantown for dawn. En route I nearly hit a Eurasian Woodcock sitting by the roadside. Our walk through the forest produced several birds; Common Redstart, Tree Pipit and Crested Tit but no sign of the declining Capercaillie. Breakfast was taken in the town followed by a visit to the old bridge near the village of Nethybridge. On the river we found Common Goldeneye and in the willows two Long-tailed Tits. Nearby fields had nesting Northern Lapwings and Eurasian Oystercatchers. It was time to take the train up into the Cairngorm Mountains. Red Grouse was seen on the way up. At the top a lot of winter snow was still attracting skiers and for us birders Rock Ptarmigan and Snow Buntings. Back at base station a White-throated Dipper whizzed downhill over the fast-flowing burn. A scan of the grassland produced two male Ring Ouzels. Lunch was taken at Feshiebridge where Crested Tits were noted in the pines. Loch Garten was visited for its nesting Ospreys. Back to the Black Isle where we checked the feeders at Cygnus House for birds which included a Lesser Redpoll and Tree Sparrows.

May 7th: Strathpeffer, Ullapool, Kylesku, Scourie, Handa, Balnakiel Bay, Balnakiel Farm.

Weather: Bright and sunny with light southwest winds 17 C.

An Osprey was sitting on a fence post at the bottom of the garden. Our first stop was the lochans at Strathpeffer where the Slavonian Grebes showed well for us. On the lower lochan a male Blackcap was seen singing from a stunted bush. I drove over to Ullapool and parked up on the seafront. To our delight a pair of Golden Eagles was soaring over a mountain opposite us. Loch Broom and the adjacent beach had the commoner gulls, Ruddy Turnstone and Red-breasted Mergansers. The road to Kylesku passes through some spectacular scenery. At Kylesku we watched Red-throated Divers, Black Guillemot, Common Eider, Common Guillemot and Razorbill. Lunch was taken at Scourie with singing Sedge Warblers in the reeds. At 1300 hours it was time to visit the Scottish Wildlife Trust island of Handa. The crossing had the usual auks and a single Atlantic Puffin. Once on Handa we were greeted by Northern Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, Eurasian Skylarks and the first of many Great Skuas. The walk to the Great Cliff was largely uneventful until we reached the end. A scan of the cliffs revealed Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Common Raven and Hooded Crows. The walk back added Red Grouse and a very close Common Snipe. We made our way north to Durness and Balnakiel Bay which had a lot of Great Northern Divers, Long-tailed Duck, Sandwich Tern, Whimbrel, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstone. Checked in at the guesthouse where we consumed a fish and chip dinner. Afterwards we visited the water meadows at Balnakiel Farm adding Whooper Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Wood Sandpiper and Ruff.

May 8th: Balnakiel, Loch Eriboll, Hope Valley, Sandside Bay, Scrabster, Dunnet Bay, St John’s Loch, Broubster Leans, Forsinard.

Weather: Rather mixed with sunny spells on a south wind 18 C.

Before breakfast we made brief visits to the Kyle of Durness and Balnakiel Bay. Similar birds to yesterday with the addition of Arctic Terns. Loch Eriboll had a few divers and seaducks and a singing Ring Ouzel in a nearby crag. The drive down the Hope Valley produced little of note so I headed east to Sandside Bay. This produced a Hobby which in turn was pursued by a Peregrine Falcon. On the beach we added a Red Knot. Scrabster Harbour had a few gulls and a group of Common Eiders. Picked up lunch in Thurso and went to Dunnet Bay. In the bay we watched Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Common Scoter, Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin and a Great Skua. The hide at St John’s Loch allows a close view of birds present. Black-headed Gulls, Common Coot, Common Moorhen, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal and a lone Black-tailed Godwit were noted. Broubster Leans and Forsinard were visited on the way home with the addition of an Osprey.

May 9th: Corrimony, Strathconon, Tarbatness, Portmahomack, Embo, Loch Fleet, Lochbuie.

Weather: Sunny with south winds 18 C.

Today started with a vocal Tawny Owl calling outside Cygnus House. In the lower garden a Grasshopper Warbler was singing as well. At 0500 hours we met with Simon at Corrimony and headed towards the first Black Grouse lekking ground. The birds showed very well for all of us. Further up the track a Whinchat was singing and a Lesser Redpoll flew over. At 0700 hours the grouse show was over so I headed to Dingwall for breakfast. Afterwards we made a short diversion to Strathconon for summering Wood Warblers which duly obliged in the birch trees. En route to Tarbatness we found three Common Terns on a raft the first of the summer months. At Tarbatness we watched birds on the feeders and walked down towards the point. A few divers and seaducks were passing offshore with good numbers of Northern Gannets. At Portmahomack I located a large flock of Long-tailed Ducks in summer plumage. We travelled to Embo with a Red-legged Partridge en route and a pair of roadside nesting Ospreys. Embo was quite brilliant with rafts of seaducks offshore including a drake Surf Scoter and hundreds of Common Scoter. On the exposed rocks we found the scarce Purple Sandpiper, Red Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstones. We made our way home past Loch Fleet and Lochbuie without adding anything to the list.

May 10th: Ness Islands, Inverness, Findhorn Valley, Farr Road, Beauly Firth, Lochussie, Udale Bay.

Final species total : 143

Weather: Mixed with southwest winds 14 C.

Our last day started with a visit to Ness Islands in Inverness. It was a joy to watch young White-throated Dippers being fed by their parents on the river. The woods on the islands held a Eurasian Treecreeper and a pair of Long-tailed Tits. I made a call to Lynda who kindly invited us round to her house to watch Bohemian Waxwings feeding on apples. To our delight they turned up after a long wait. Next on the agenda was the Findhorn Valley where several dippers were noted with Common Sandpipers. The wind was strong in the valley which did not help matters. Lunch was taken and a drive along Farr Road. Chris spotted a Golden Eagle which gave us excellent views as it flew in front of the bus. The tide was dropping at the Beauly Firth where a few waders were present. A short trip to Lochussie had Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Reed Bunting and Great Cormorant to the day list. The day ended at Udale Bay with the usual waders plus a few Bar-tailed Godwits these being the first of the week.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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