Back in Dec 2007 Birders in Boxers hatched a "cunning plan"to take Speyside in Scotland by storm over the Spring Bank Holiday in early May 2008 in search of Scottish specialities and after months of meticulous planning (well not really-just one excuse for a meal and a few pints at the Castell Mynach) the time had finally arrived.Yours truly had booked the flights from Bristol to Inverness and car hire with Easyjet and Wayne had taken care of the B+B in Grantown on Spey.
Tim was unable to make the trip so guest birder and good friend Kevin Hughes joined us to make up the four.
After meeting at Dan's in Cardiff at 7.00am on Fri 2.May we were soon on our way up to Bristol for our 10.10am flight,check in and the flight could not have been better, by 11.30am we were collecting our hire car from Europcar on the outskirts of the airport.
I had forgotten to bring my driving licence (doh !!...) but Dan and Wayne stepped into the breach as co-drivers and although the check in took longer than we wished we were soon on the road heading south for our first port of call Loch Ruthven in search of summer plummaged Slavonian Grebe.
By 1.00pm we were soon counting as many as 10 resplendant Slavs mostly paired up for breeding,not bad after 5 hours travelling !!
With mission accomplished and not a lot else to see at the loch we pushed on to our next target area,the Findhorn Valley in search of raptors especially Golden Eagle.
The weather being breezy with blustery showers was not condusive to raptor watching but we picked up Common Redstart and Ring Ouzel in the trees at the base of the valley,a Common Buzzard had us all fooled for a minute as scale was difficult with no comparison birds but it's pale underside gave it away and we left a little disappointed.
Next stop was Lochidorb in search of Black Throated Diver where I had seen 3 on my only previous visit 2 years ago.
The loch was quiet except for Goosander,Red B Merganser and several Common Sandpipers on the rocky shoreline.
Whilst watching the Common Sands a pair of Red Grouse came down to the loch edge to drink which gave a good
We drove back to the opposite end of the loch for another scan and Dan called a diver which must have been "submerged" on our first drive past.
It was Black Throated and an amazing sight in it's summer finary,such a contrast to the "black+white" birds we get down south in the winter.
We were accosted by an old dear protesting about a large proposed windfarm on the moorland near the loch and in exchange for signing her petition she pointed us in the direction of some small "lochens" just east of Lochindorb which were supposedly good for Red Throated Diver.
We were soon at the location and apart from a couple of Goldeneye and Wigeon no R T Divers,Kevin though was first on to an Osprey perched in a conifer on the edge of a lochen which gave great views and another good digi-scoping opportunity.
It was ringed and if you zoom in you may be able to pick up the letter and number,not sure myself if there is a way of tracing the origin and movement of the bird.
It was scanning for fish and after a couple of "twisty/turney" movements of it's head it dived in spectacular fashion from the tree but without success.Time was pressing and we needed to get to the B+B in Grantown on Spey.
"Willow Brook" was quite impressive and we got a warm welcome,after a quick shower and change we we soon "out on the town" but our first night out was less than memorable with a couple of pints in a really "lacklustre" pub and a poor meal.Four tired "boxers" returned to the B+B for a good night's sleep and an early start with the "Capperwatch" at nearby Loch Garten planned for the Saturday morning.
This meant an early start and after yours truly had cocked up the alarm on his mobile phone (doh !! again) a knock on the door by Dan + Wayne had Kevin + Jeff tumbling out of bed (seperate I may add !) and we were soon on the road in the early morning gloom.
The forecast was terrible but the weather appeared to be holding for us and we rolled into the car park at RSPB Loch Garten.We were soon in the large hide scanning for Cappercaille with about 40 other eager birders all jostling for the best view.
Time was passing and a male was seen in a tree from the front hide,we were led in small groups to the "forward" hide (the hide was too small and the group was too large !!!),we all managed the briefest of views but a year "tick" all the same and a "lifer" for Wayne.
We decided not to hang about and headed for nearby Tulloch Moor in search of lekking Black Grouse,on our way getting really good views of Crested Tits on the feeders near the entrance,another "lifer" for Wayne.
We arrived at the lek site and since my one and only previous visit viewing sceens have been erected overlooking the moor.
We were soon on a male strutting his stuff on a nearby mound and cracking views were obtained by all,there were also another 2 closeby.
A successful early start was concluded with a hearty breakfast at the B+B and with the weather holding we set out for the Cairngorms in search of Ptarmigan which was a "lifer" for me having "dipped" on my previous visit to Scotland.
The most sensible and easiest way to get Ptarmigan would have been to have taken the funicular railway up the mountain and if the birds aren't on the upper slopes bird our way down to the bottom,what do the 'Boxers do ? you guessed it the complete reverse !!!
Two and a half lung bursting hours later and half way up the mountain,no Ptarmigan but some really interesting Meadow Pipits,Skylarks,Wheatears and a few Red Grouse
After being refused admission to the train at the halfway stop we finally arrived back where we had started,yep !! at the bottom,having said that I did get a mammal "tick" with good views of a Mountain Hare.
£9.25,a 5 minute train ride and a 30 second walk later and we are all on a male and female Ptarmigan feeding only 150m or so from the ski station at the top of the mountain,don't you just love it when that happens,"piece o' piss this birdin' "when done properly and with a minimum of effort !!!!.....
Mission accomplished and a quick call in to Loch Morlich gets us Red Throated Diver for the trip list on our way to nearby Loch Insh which on my previous visit held a pair of nesting Ospreys very close to the main road giving corking views.
The Ospreys had returned and both male and female were at the nest,at this point I would have liked to have posted a really good photo but upon crossing the road my camera became disengaged from my scope and the resulting impact with the tarmac did it no good at all !!
Suffice to say an insurance claim has been made and a replacement purchased.
To end the day we called in to RSPB Forest Lodge in the heart of the Caledonian Forest in search of Crossbills and a possible "lifer" for Wayne and myself with the Scottish variety.
A long walk which we thought was a loop was very quiet but on the return leg Dan called a male Crossbill perched atop a pine which with it's heavier bill gave it away as a Scottish Crossbill,a "lifer"
Upon our return to the B+B a Pine Martin crossed the road in front of our car which I think was a mammal "tick" for us all.
Saturday night in the town proved to be a revelation and after an excellent meal in a nearby hotel bistro and several pints of the local brew in the bar where we were richly entertained by a local folk singer we tumbled out at 1.20am in search of our beds,all a little worse for wear !!
A "lay-in" was the order of the day and we had decided that Sunday would be a day in search of both eagle species and so headed west for Gruinnard Island which is reputed to be a good location for the White Tailed variety.
I had seen 3 WT Eagles on Mull on my previous visit so was really excited by the prospect.
A few stops on the way at good looking Golden Eagle territories saw us yet again fail to connect although we did see several Common Buzzards and a couple of Red Kites.
Gruinnard Island wasn't giving up it's White Tailed Eagles either although we did get a Great Skua,Black Guillemots,GN and RT Divers,a Cuckoo,Whimbrel,Hooded Crows and a variety of auks.
Yours truly fell asleep again on the return journey and upon waking was advised that we were calling in at Burghead on the east coast where a White Billed Diver had been in residence for a week or so.
We all picked up a distant large diver but couldn't be 100% certain that it was the White Billed which would have been a "lifer" for Dan and myself.
I did however find a tiny auk species which we all agreed could only be a Little Auk and which surprisingly was a "lifer" for Kevin !!
We arrived back at HQ quite late and enjoyed a good meal at the local Indian restaurant to finish off a good but ultimately slightly disappointing day.
Monday our final day dawned again fine and quite warm and with time limited we decided that a return to RSPB Loch Garten for another "Capperwatch" may bring us better views,unfortunately a low lying mist was very stubborn to lift and the visit other than a Common Crossbill and some more Cresties was a bit of a waste of time.
After another hearty breakfast we said our goodbyes at "Willow Brook" and headed back to the airport at Inverness dropping the hire car off on the way all hoping that the Whiskered Tern that had shown up at Kenfig NNR on the weekend was still there.
After some fun and games at the airport (see Dan's posting ) we were soon back down south and winging our way to Kenfig where the tern provided crippling views and another "lifer" for Dan and the young Twitchmeister who had been collected on the way.
What a great end to a fantastic weekend,2 "lifers" for me,a few for Wayne and 1 for Kevin,plus the tern for Dan.
In all about 80 species were seen including most of the specialities and after having totalled up the cost of the flight,share of car hire and petrol and 3 nights B+B the whole adventure only cost us £175 each plus beer and evening meals - value for money or what !!!!!
Most importantly the company was as usual absolutely bloody brilliant and we never stopped laughing (even during that lung bursting bloody climb up the Cairngorms !!)