Welcome to Birds & Beer Extra. A cynical ploy to gain more bandwith for photos and to try to not dissuade people interested in Norfolk birding from giving up reading a load of irrelevant stuff.

If you have arrived here directly, I'd advise checking out my main blog http://jamesbirdsandbeer.blogspot.com/. If you intended to come here, wow, thanks!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Scotland Trip - Intro & Day 1 (Burghead)


I have visited Scotland on numerous occasions, only to wish I could do some proper birding there. A brief visit may leave you thinking that there are only three species, Buzzard, Chaffinch and Oystercatcher, but there must be loads more, right? Six of us (myself, Gary, Adam and our partners) set off for a week of intensive birding, based in Glenmore and Mull.

Day 1 – Saturday 10th April 2010

We left Norwich at 10:45 on the Friday night, driving overnight to minimise traffic and maximise birding time. After a relatively uneventful drive, we arrived in Aviemore at around 8. With half an hour to wait until the cafes opened, we took a quick drive up to the bottom of the Cairngorm ski-lift in the hope of a cheap Ptarmigan. Having seen no grouse of any description, it was back for breakfast. Our accommodation wasn’t ready until 7pm, so we decided to take a drive up to Burghead, in the hope of seeing the overwintering King Eider.

We were still having no luck on the grouse front (Red Grouse has been a bogey bird for me for some time), however Gary (“King of the Road Kill”)* spotted a splatted one by the side of the road, so we pulled up to look for live ones. On cue a Red Grouse was standing up on a rock nearby, and others called from further out. Hurrah! We taunted it with the Famous Grouse theme but it didn't take any notice. The next commonest species on my hit list is Wood Warbler, lets hope for one of those this spring. We carried on, adding Hooded Crow, Grey Wagtail and Red Squirrel to the trip list. Despite a pair of Grey Wagtails, we failed to see any Dippers. The suggestion was that the melting snow had caused the water levels too rise too high. Gary did find what we were assured was Dipper excrement** on a rock at Glenkillie.

Burghead was a bit of a disappointment. Although we weren’t at Roseisle, there was no sign of any King Eider. We did see the biggest flock of Long-tailed Ducks I’ve ever seen, and some screeching alerted us to two early Sandwich Terns. On the way back we stopped at Lochindorb, where two Ospreys were on display, and we eventually saw a summer plumage Black-throated Diver. Our final stop of the day was at Loch Garten, where we saw Crested Tit, Red-breasted Merganser and House Martin amongst others.

* Gary doesn't hit anything, he just identifies it. Look out for his forthcoming book "How to identify dead stuff, and not just Pheasants, anyone can do those"
** Once his first book is published, Gary is looking to secure a deal for "On The Identification Of Bird Species Through The Study Of Their Faeces", subtitled "Crap Birding". All offers of publishing deals should be made through www.freewebs.com/garybirder.

Scotland Trip - Day 2 (CaperWatch, Cairngorm and Loch Ruthven)

Sunday 11th April 2010

We got up early to attend the RSPBs CaperWatch (responsible birding folks). Despite a male Caper displaying well for the remote cameras, we couldn’t see it from the hide. We later found that it had been seen later in the morning, but by then we had left for breakfast. On the way back for breakfast we stopped at Tulloch Moor, picking up a female Black Grouse in a tree.

Next on the target list was Ptarmigan. The girls weren’t keen on a snowy walk, so we took the Funicular railway to the top. Anything with fun in has to be good, right? It was weird not worrying about hitting people with my tripod, the reason being that I was being battered with huge snowboards. For a while it looked like we would be out of luck, three Snow Buntings and some hare tracks being the only things on display. Gary decided enough was enough and found us two Ptarmigan, feeding near the summit behind the top of the ski-lift. Excellent.

The Mull leg of our trip was aimed at seeing eagles, but we decided to have lunch at Findhorn Valley in the hope of seeing some early Golden Eagles. A beautiful place, but no sign of the eagles. We did manage Peregrine and Raven. On to Loch Ruthven, which was teeming with Toads, and more disruptively bathers at one end. Understandably the Slav Grebes had done a runner, with only a distant view of one at the far end. A Red Kite flew over, adding to our birds of prey list. In an attempt to cram in a last bit of birding we headed to the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore for some beer. Gary jammed an Osprey, whilst the rest of us settled for Whooper Swan (a flock over north), Siskin, Goldcrest and Coal Tit.

Scotland Trip - Day 3 (CaperWatch, DolphinWatch and MartenWatch)

Monday 12th April 2010
Claire & Laura turned down the opportunity to return to Loch Garten at 5:30 am, so it was left to Cath and the guys to turn up again in the dark. No repeat of the previous day though, a male Capercaillie was on display almost immediately, and although views were distant, it was still a cracking bird. After an hour or so, we left to try Tulloch Moor for Blackcock. Proving that it’s a small world, Ashley was there with his Oriole Birding tour. They had yet to pick up any Black Grouse, but with impudent newly-arrived birder luck I was straight onto one, and we were soon all watching a pristine display of grousing. On the way back to the lodge we stopped at a misty Loch Morlich, picking up two summer plumage Red-throated Divers. We also saw a putative Scotsbill, but more on that later

Capercaillie at Loch Garten. Very hard to digiscope, I may have cheated slightly ;-)
Black Grouse at Tulloch Moor
.We had a short stop near Nairn to scan a field of Pink-footed Geese for Snow Geese (explained by Gary as “three Snow Geese west of Narnia!”) but they had obviously heard we were coming. At Chanonnry Point we took a boat out to search for Dolphins, which had obviously been tipped off by the Snow Geese. A scan of Udale Bay added a few birds to our trip list, but unfortunately the Canada Goose in with the Pink-feet was a Greater.

Following our Findhorn dip, we decided to have a go at one of Gary’s eagle sites, at Glen Cannich. Stopping at the bottom of the valley, two Golden Eagles soared up above the mountain top, before one went over it and the other perched on top. For a while we watched the huge silhouette, before it glided downwards showing off the golden head. It then spiralled up and was lost in the clouds. Eagle number one sorted. We had a customary look around Loch Ness (Cath suggested reports of the Loch Ness monster may refer to Great Northern Divers) before tea at the Boat Hotel in Boat of Garten.
In the evening we had booked places in Speyside Wildlife’s Pine Marten hide. Having obeyed all of the rules (dark clothes, no strong smells, no rustling clothes, pass a ninja stealth course) it was a pleasant surprise to find that our guide, Alan, was actually a rather extroverted cheery chappy. As we waited we saw Woodcock, Pipistrelle Bat and another Osprey. In the hide we got crippling views of two Pine Martens and two Badgers. I even got pictures of the marten, I highly recommend a trip here.

Scotland Trip - Day 4 (Crossbill Searching)

Tuesday 13th April 2010
Not learning from the King Eider or Snow Goose episodes, we decided to have a look at a drake Ring-necked Duck reported nearby. It had gone. We called in a Loch Ruthven again, and with the crazy bathers gone we clocked up 7 Slavonian Grebes, including two displaying pairs. Bootiful.

Slavonian Grebe at Loch Ruthven

The rest of the day was spent walking in various parts of Abernethy and Glenmore Forests, looking mainly for Loxia sp. We heard and saw quite a lot of Crossbills, it seems like the good year they’re having in Norfolk is echoed in Scotland. Across the Aviemore leg of the holiday we picked out three individuals (two females, one male) which we were happy with as Scottish Crossbill. All were initially picked out by calls, and we were able to listen to the Sound Approach flight and excitement calls of different crossbills directly after. I did attempt recordings but they didn’t come out well enough to make anything out. We also got prolonged views of the male.
So, a disclaimer. I will happily talk about politics, religions, twitching etc. But Crossbill taxonomy? Not with a big sh*tty stick. You may believe Scottish Crossbills don’t exist, that they are a subspecies, that they can’t be separated in the field, that they can only be separated through sonograms. You may be right, and I’m not going to argue with you. All I’m going to say is that we heard a lot of Common Crossbills sounding very similar, and these three crossbill sp. that sounded different. On the basis of the calls and our observations, we were satisfied they weren’t typical Parrot or typical Common, so we’re going with Scottish.
We saw our second Dipper of the trip along with a pair of Goosander around Loch Morlich. In the evening we went back to the Old Bridge Inn, where we got cracking views of an Osprey for our pub list.

Scotland Trip - Day 5 (Travel to Mull)

Wednesday 14th April 2010
After breakfast we drove across Scotland to Oban, where we took the ferry to Craignure. On the way across we picked up Black Guillemot, Guillemot and Great Northern Diver. Upon reaching Craignure (or Kenya, as Cath misheard), we headed off to Grasspoint. As we pulled up, a number of Wheatears flew along the stone walling. We walked up to a vantage point and basked in the sun, being hindered by the heat haze. We were joined by another couple, and they were just in time to see a Golden Eagle soaring above a nearby mountain. Whilst watching that, Gary found a perched White-tailed Eagle. Whilst watching this amazing bird we all completely forgot to say “NO!” to it. Sorry Suffolk pig farmers. It spent most of the time surveying its territory, but we then saw it throw back its head in a Capercaillie-like way, and a second later the sound carried to us, the call of the Sea Eagle.

Sea Eagle

Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the eagle, and drove to our B&B in Tobermory, where we were greeted with some delicious shortbread. In the evening we went to the pub, MacGinnochs, where we sampled the range of Isle of Mull ales. I particularly recommend Golden Galleon.

Scotland Trip - Day 6 (Search for Otters)

Thursday 15th April 2010

We went into Tobemory at nine to buy some souvenirs, only to find that all of the shops open after 10. Rats. Having already had great views of a Sea Eagle, we decided to drive around the west coast in search of more Golden Eagles and Otters. To summarise, we saw neither, clocking up a million Wheatears, a few Ravens and Buzzards and more GN Divers.

Scotland Trip - Day 7 (Ludden Point & Return to Norwich)

Friday 16th April 2010
We departed Tobemory early in order to catch the 8:45 ferry to Oban. Thank goodness we weren't flying, or we'd still be there. On the ferry trip back we saw Razorbills and a lone Gannet in addition to the stuff we saw on the first trip. We stopped in Oban to search for the overwintering Ring-billed Gull, but our search was in vain. This added to my two dips of the "easy" Westcliff bird. Around 20 Black Guillemots were swimming in and around the harbour, probably my favourite auk (sorry Puffin fans).

Black Guillemots at Oban

Not learning from our previous holiday wildfowl failures, we decided on a last attempt at glory with a cross-Scotland twitch to Ruddon's Point for Surf Scoter. We spent an hpur or so scanning through thousands of Common Scoter, but it became evident it was not to be our day (maybe the dolphins had tipped them off?). A couple of Great Crested Grebes and my best ever views of Velvet Scoter brought up 100 species for the holiday for me (Gary & Adam had seen owls and stuff whilst I was asleep, so they already had 100+). We eventually began the long journey back to Norwich.

Velvet Scoter at Luddon's Point

Jerry's final thought
I can remember as a kid being asked where I would most like to go on holiday, and ignoring all of the more exotic alternatives to say "Scotland", wanting to see eagles and grouse. I've finally done it, and it was excellent. However, Norfolk is where its at, so here's to an excellent springs birding!

Scotland Trip - Links & Tips

Places we visited:

http://www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/ - Somewhat basic accommodation but cheap and well located between Aviemore and Cairngorm.

http://www.copelandhouse.com/ - Lovely B&B in Tobermory on Mull. Good decor and shortbread on arrival.

http://www.boathotel.co.uk/ - Hotel & restaurant at Boat of Garten. Nice food, reasonable prices, but we felt a bit out of pkace being so scruffy.

http://www.oldbridgeinn.co.uk/ - A pub in Aviemore. The food menu looked so fancy we didnt eat there, but a good location for birding, we got Osprey and Whooper Swan from here.

MacGochans (no website). Pub/restaurant in Tobermory. Good food, nice beer, but expensive, £4.10 per bottle of ale for our visit.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/lochgarten/index.aspx - Loch Garten RSPB, for Osprey, Capercaillie and Crested Tit

http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/lochruthven/index.aspx - Loch Ruthven RSPB for Slavonian Grebes

Scotland Trip - Species List

1 Mute Swan
2 Whooper Swan - 2 flocks over, plus two on a loch on Mull
3 Pink-footed Goose - west of Nairn, Udale Bay
4 Greylag Goose
5 Canada Goose - one with Pink-feet at Udale Bay
6 Shelduck - Udale Bay
7 Wigeon - Loch Garten & Udale Bay
8 Teal
9 Mallard
10 Tufted Duck
11 Eider - Burghead
12 Long-tailed Duck - Burghead
13 Common Scoter - Channonry Point
14 Velvet Scoter - Close in at Luddon's Point
15 Goldeneye - Loch Morlich
16 Red-breasted Merganser - Loch Garten
17 Goosander - Pair at Loch Morlich
18 Red Grouse - Numerous on the moors
19 Ptarmigan - Two on Cairngorm near Ski-lift
20 Black Grouse - Two males & a female at Tulloch Moor
21 Capercaillie - Male at Caperwatch
22 Pheasant
23 Red-throated Diver - Pair at Loch Morlich
24 Black-throated Diver - One at Lochindorb
25 Great Northern Diver - Many offshore near Mull
26 Little Grebe - Loch Ruthven
27 Great Crested Grebe
28 Slavonian Grebe - Loch Ruthven
29 Fulmar - Luddons Point
30 Gannet - Burghead, Mull Ferry
31 Cormorant
32 Shag - Burghead, Mull Ferry
33 Grey Heron
34 Red Kite - Loch Ruthven & Black Isle
35 White-tailed Eagle - Grasspoint, Mull
36 Buzzard - Everywhere
37 Golden Eagle - Glen Channoch & Grasspoint, Mull
38 Osprey - Lochindorb, Aviemore, Loch Garten
39 Kestrel - Lochindorb
40 Peregrine - Findhorn Valley
41 Oystercatcher - Millions of them
42 Ringed Plover
43 Lapwing
44 Woodcock - Loch an Eilean
45 Knot - Burghead
46 Bar-tailed Godwit - Ruddons Point
47 Curlew
48 Common Sandpiper - Loch Ruthven
49 Redshank
50 Turnstone
51 Kittiwake - Burghead
52 Black-headed Gull
53 Common Gull
54 Lesser Black-backed Gull
55 Herring Gull
56 Great Black-backed Gull
57 Sandwich Tern - 2 at Burghead
58 Guillemot
59 Razorbill
60 Black Guillemot - Oban Harbour
61 Feral Pigeon
62 Woodpigeon
63 Collared Dove
64 Great Spotted Woodpecker
65 Skylark
66 Sand Martin
67 Swallow
68 House Martin - Loch Garten
69 Meadow Pipit
70 Rock Pipit
71 Grey Wagtail
72 Pied Wagtail
73 Dipper - Struy & Loch Morlich
74 Dunnock
75 Robin
76 Wheatear - Grasspoint & all over Mull
77 Blackbird
78 Song Thrush - One on Mull (Hebriddean subspecies?!)
79 Mistle Thrush - Lochindorb
80 Blackcap - Craignure
81 Chiffchaff (heard only) - Loch Morlich
82 Willow Warbler - Craignure
83 Goldcrest
84 Blue Tit
85 Great Tit
86 Crested Tit - Loch Garten
87 Coal Tit
88 Treecreeper - Loch Mallachie
89 Magpie
90 Jackdaw
91 Rook
92 Carrion Crow
93 Hooded Crow
94 Raven - Findhorn, Tulloch
95 Starling
96 House Sparrow
97 Chaffinch
98 Greenfinch
99 Goldfinch
100 Siskin
101 Lesser Redpoll - Tulloch Moor
102 Common Crossbill
103 Scottish Crossbill - Ooh that would be telling
104 Snow Bunting - Cairngorm
105 Yellowhammer