Thursday, 31 March 2011

Scotland - 5 Day Highlands Tour

26th March - Day 1

I couldn't resist a visit to Scotland before returning to Spain on the 4th April, so I set off for a few days in the Highlands with Dan and Rob Pointon early on the morning of the 26th. We broke up the journey North with a stop at Sizergh Castle and had a look for the recently reported Hawfinch. We managed to see a total of 8 birds including the bird pictured below.
By 14.45 I was stood on the top of Cairngorm mountain and after a short walk managed to find 2 superb Ptarmigan. It was fantastic to watch these crackin birds, particularly when the male bird began displaying to the female. A single Snow Bunting was also a welcome edition to the trip list. Despite the continuous snow, I managed a few pictures below. Click on the Image to see an enlarged version.

Ptarmigan - above 5 images

We called in at Insh Loch on the way home and recorded 30+ Goldeneye, Gooseander, a single Slavonian Grebe and numerous Whooper Swan on the nearby marshes. The best find here was a 2nd Summer Iceland Gull which was roosting on the loch.

27th Marsh - Day 2

We began our day at Loch Garten where we visited a nearby Black Grouse lek, recording 2 male birds and a single Brambling. Next stop was Grantown-on-Spey where a walk through the ancient woods the surround the town produced numerous Crested Tit, Woodcock and 7 Crossbill sp, including the male pictured below. This bird seemed a fairly good candidate for Scottish Crossbill if that's possible! Note the bulbous neck, medium sized bill and the birds call was also fairly deep. A private site was our next venue and after a short visit 5 Capercaillie had been seen, offering distant but good scope views, including the below male which was just loafing in the tree for the duration of our visit.

Above 2 images - Capercaillie

Crossbill Sp.

Before moving on to Lochindorb we stopped in the town to admire the resident Dipper as they urgently went about collecting nesting material. On arrival it was clear that the Black-throated Diver had not yet returned to Lochindorb, however the visit wasn't a waste of time as numerous Red Grouse showed well from the car throughout the drive around the loch, see below.


Red Grouse - female

Red Grouse - male

The afternoon was spent sea watching from various points around Burghead, my personal combined totals are as follows; Guillemot (numerous), Razorbill (numerous), Sandwich Tern (6), Common Scoter (numerous), Eider (numerous, below), Red-throated Diver (5), Great-northern Diver (15+), Slavonian Grebe (20+), Red-breasted Merganser (30+), Velvet Scoter (250+) and Long-tailed Duck (200+, below).

Once again we ended the day at Insh Loch where the 2nd summer Iceland Gull remained.

Long-tailed Duck


28th March - Day 3

Today we headed out onto the Wester Ross Peninsula, stopping en route for Red Kites along the main road and an adult Ring-billed Gull at Dingwall which was in the company of a Nordic Jackdaw (pictured below). Throughout the day we stopped at various spots along the loop road including Little Loch Broom, Gruinard Bay, Loch Ewe and Loch Maree.

Although we missed out on White-tailed Eagles, we did have a really good day - recording the following combined totals of note; Great-northern Diver (250+, below), Red-throated Diver (5), Black-throated Diver (3), Slavonian Grebe (40+), Black Guillemot (25+), Shag (numerous), Red-breasted Merganser (numerous), Golden Eagle (1), Pink-footed Goose (12, below) and a single White-fronted Goose, see below.

Ring-billed Gull

"Nordic" Jackdaw

White-fronted Goose

Pink-footed Goose

Great-northern Diver

29th March - Day 4

Today we began near Grantown-on-spey and managed to locate 5+ Parrot Crossbill, including one male which despite being too distant for a picture gave exceptional scope views. When seen well these birds are impressively massive with a bill which represents nearly its entire face! We also watched a number of Red Squirrel including the cheeky individual below which seemed keen for a drink!!

Great Grey Shrike

Red Squirrel

We spent the afternoon having a leisurely stroll along the Findhorn Valley, the breath-taking views of this area were only enhanced by the presence of a minimum of 4 Golden Eagle, including the very showy bird pictured below. Having a little extra daylight thanks to the clock change we decided to stop at Drumguish where we soon located the Great Grey Shrike (above) which was last reported in mid February.

Above 4 Images - Golden Eagle

30th March - Day 5

After such a successful trip we made our way home today, stopping briefly at Vane Farm RSPB for a look at the Ross's Goose and Lower Largo where we managed to pick out an adult drake Surf Scoter and a single Red-necked Grebe amongst the plethora of other sea duck. We currently have only two places remaining on our May Highlands tour (5th - 9th), for further information on this tour please visit


  1. Great post Ash.
    Who needs to go to Spain to bird watch? ;-)

  2. Cheers Mike, it would seem so, had a great trip. Hope all is well in Cornwall, hoping to visit for a few days soon.

  3. Nice one Ash. The White-fronted Goose is surely a Greenland though?

  4. Cheers Josh. I would have to say that although the bird has a fairly dark mantle, this is made darker by the poor light the photo was taken in. I think that the bill is far too small for 'flavirostris' and that the bold streaking is just representative of an adult albifrons. The dark tip to the bill could also mean that the bird is a second summer? Would be interested to hear what you think.

  5. Beautifully written! Thank you so much for sharing Scotland with us! Someday…. maybe, I too will visit the beloved Scotland!