Thurs 20th April saw myself and Teresa take the cable car up to the ski station on nearby Ben Nevis in my search for the elusive Ptarmigan, the weather was bright and sunny and the views were nothing short of stupendous!! Leaving Teresa in the comfort of the cafeteria I trudged a few hundred yards across the mountain in what turned out to be a vain search, although I heard a call I could not locate any birds as there were simply too many people about and I probably would have had to have hiked for several hours to get away from the crowds, I gave up and turned back to the comfort of the cafeteria and after a luckless scan of the car park for Snow Bunting we made our way down the mountain and spent the remainder of the day sightseeing.
I had made up my mind that whilst visiting Scotland I should really make a serious attempt to find one of it's prized birds and a lifer for me the impressive Capercaillie, although we had another day booked in at Fort William I persuaded Teresa that we should pack up and head for Speyside and find ourselves a B&B for our last night so that on our final morning before heading home I could attend the early morning Capercaillie watch at RSPB Loch Garten.
So late morning on Fri 21st April we headed for Speyside arriving late afternoon at Boat of Garten where we quickly found ourselves a very comfortable B&B just over the river bridge and as close to Loch Garten reserve as we could be.
The landlady was quite knowledgable and helpful and advised me that I could see summer plumaged Black-throated Divers at nearby Lochindorb and Slavonian Grebe at nearby Loch Vaa,having only seen the species in their more familiar winter plummage this was not a chance I wanted to pass up and with a few hours of good light left we headed off in hot pursuit.
Three distant but very impressive BTDs duly obliged,the road to and from Lochindorb also being littered with Red Grouse some so close that they gave an excellent photo opportunity which I took up and a Golden Eagle over the ridge along the main road back towards Aviemore was an unexpected bonus!!
Parking near the cemetry by the main road and a brisk walk through the wood soon saw me 'scoping five resplendant Slavonian Grebes, I was soon joined by a group of birders from Sheffield who I was also going to bump into the following morning at Loch Garten. The Slavs were so impressive in their summer fineary and were such a contast to the little black and white blobs that we normally view off Whitford Point in the depths of winter.
A nice meal in Aviemore on the way back to the B&B was a splendid end to a great day.
Sat 22nd April saw me rise at the ungodly hour of 4.30am for the short drive in the dark to RSPB Loch Garten, upon my arrival at the car park I was surprized to see about 12 cars already parked up, are we birders totally mad or what!!
The watch was very well organised with small groups being taken in turn from the main hide to the smaller forward hide for better views, a slendid male Caper strutted it's stuff and although distant gave good views,a female was even more obliging and gave a brilliant photo opportunity whilst perched in a nearby tree, mission accomplished I quickly made for nearby Tulloch Moor in an attempt to see the Black Grouse "lecking" before they dispursed.
It was extremely windy when I got there and I was lucky enough to get a good view of the one remaining male before he disappeared into the heather, two "lifers" and it wasn't even 7.30am yet!!
A birder at Loch Garten told me of the breeding Ospreys at Loch Insh near Kincraig which was only a 25 min drive or so and making good use of his directions I was soon viewing a pair of these wonderful raptors on their nest from only about 50 yards away on their safe little island in the loch.The birds saw me arrive but as the site is well watched were not at all alarmed,it remained very windy and the shelter I took in the trees on the shoreline enabled me to keep the scope steady enough to take some pleasing photos. I left the Ospreys in peace and hope that they successfully reared some youngsters who will also return to our shores next year.
A hearty Scottish breakfast,a quick thanks and goodbye saw us on the 30 min drive to Inverness to return the hire car and get our early afternoon flight back to Bristol, this was bang on time and we were soon crossing the Severn Bridge to arrive home by teatime.
A thoroughly memorable trip was enjoyed by us both and from a birding perspective I picked up 4 "lifers" and 2 further U.K "ticks", to dip on Ptarmigan was disappointing but then again it gives me a great excuse to go back again!!!!