Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Scottish Highlands Tour 5th - 9th May

Photo by tour Guest Doffy Packer. From left- right - Ian Packer, Ashley Powell, Jose Ramon Martin, Alvaro Rodriguez Pomares, Malc Curtin

This years tour to the highlands was a multi-national event with 2 guests joining us from Spain. The tour was extremley enjoyable and in total we recorded 110 species with highlights being - Great Northern, Black-throated, Red-throated and White-billed Diver, White-tailed Eagle, Crested Tit, Black and Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Capercaillie, Parrot and Scottish Crossbill. Below are some images from the tour, followed by a tour summery/testimonial by guest and British Birds director, Ian Packer. For a full detailed trip report and details of 2012 tour dates please visit the "trip report" tab on our website -

Wood Warbler - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Dipper - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

White-billed Diver - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Black Grouse - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Rock Pipit - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Mountain Hare

Wheatear - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Ptarmigan - Digiscoped record shot

Slavonian Grebe - Digiscoped record shot

Tour Summery and Testimonial by British Birds Director Ian Packer


Jean-Luc Godard, the film director, said that “a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end.........but not necessarily in that order”. This tour (de force) obeyed that dictum to the letter. It had great sets (of species – four grouse, four divers), great costumes (of black-and-white – Great Northern Diver, Black Grouse, Dipper, Black Throated Diver, Capercaillie – all in cracking summer plumage), great dialogue (of inventive innuendo - jamming on the bimbos, meet the phocas) and superb production (of birds – mostly on cue, e.g. Slavonian Grebe, sometimes on another take, Parrot Crossbill, some by sheer chance, Grasshopper Warbler).

Of course, the script inevitably had its odd difficult moments, principally from that diva, the Scottish weather, given to being moody, changeable and fitful but giving great performances when it mattered, coaxed into showing good birds well as Ashley adeptly juggled the screenplay around to fit the scenery. Some of our cast saw Crested Tit and some didn’t, and nobody clocked Golden Eagle, the site for which was obviously having a bad hare (sic!) day, having previously produced the predator with no problem. And having had tree trunk sandwiched views of Caper one day, to have it crash out of a pine from twenty feet up at no more than thirty yards for four seconds for a full and gloriously unfettered fly past will always be a personal treasure after two solid hours of tramping around with damp feet and nothing on the radar.But hey, that’s birding for you and it wouldn’t be what it is to all of us without these ups and downs. The key to good tours is that the ups beat the downs which they did here handsomely – so let me share a couple of perfect clips that really stand out.

But just before I do, those dialogue points need some explaining. Our crew were Ashley as leader and best boy, Malc as driver and key grip, me and my wife and two Spaniards as producers. In the lasts’ land, Bimbo is a type of bread made for special occasions, good and sweet to the taste, and has thus entered the jargon of Spanish birders to mean a lifer. Jamming in will already be well known to readers, so now a handy new Anglo-Hispanic sound bite is ready for release over the airwaves to the Great British birding public – jamming on the bimbos.

The Spanish matadors had respectively 7 and 8 bimbos, nailing all the Scottish specialities, much to their satisfaction – especially for one of them who named Red Grouse as his bird of the trip. These guys were very interested in photographing the birds with the hefty lenses at their disposal, thus requiring additional skill from our key grip to manoeuvre the car as hide into just the right position for a take. During our day on the west coast loop (White-tailed Eagle is now OML!) my good lady found some Common Seals basking out on rocks as they like to do in sunshine and kindly pointed them out to the assembled cast. Never one to miss a photo opp, one of our matadors beamed broadly and said “Hola – Phocas!”. I can tell you it took some time for the Brits to regain their composure after dissolving into fits of laughter. Meet the Phocas now splendidly takes on a whole new meaning – I shall never be able to look one in the eye without a smile on my face. [Hint – try Googling for the scientific name].

And now to those two moments of perfection. Great birding is about assessing what’s available and then going for it – so, our gen was good as was the light (right behind us), and so was the location.Connecting with that spanking sum plum male Gavia adamsii at Burghead was a seminal moment of joy in the film of the book of the trip ( me – so, where is it, Ash? Ashley – don’t worry, it’s there, just scan, mate – you’ll know it when you see it! And then, smack Kerpow WOW! BIMBO!) This bird was truly EXQUISITE and, even better, a world lifer for our best boy as well. By the way, I really think Ivory-billed Diver would be just SO much better than the current English and American vernaculars. That bill like ivory is priceless.

And now, quiet on set please ..... lights, camera and ..... action!

At the top of the Cairngorms, blustery wet cloud is sweeping in and out as the mountain makes its own weather, before briefly drawing back the misty veil to show the scree and rocks below bathed in bright sunlight and then hiding them all again in a flash. Finally, a longer period, all eyes are glued to the ‘scopes, grilling the ground. A wait, two raised clenched fists and ..... at last, triumph – magically our Red Grouse Spaniard has found his very own lifer in splitting the secretive cryptic camouflage of a male Ptarmigan from the rocks around, as it quietly moves only when needing to, on guard for his unfound mate nestled tight to the terrain.

Cut! That’s a wrap! Marvellous!!


The views expressed in the above narative of that of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation the author is associated with or connected to.

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