After a long and busy week in the office I left early on Friday afternoon and headed north. A stopover at the Tracvelodge on the outskirts of Perth meant that it was only another hour & a half up to Aviemore on Saturday morning. When I arrived the weather was grey and windy to say the least! After a Subway breakfast I headed up to the Cairngorm base station hoping to start my trip with a few Scottish specialities. I had a good walk up the service road (although not all the way to the top) but the only birds I saw were a pair of Raven - no Ptarmigan or Snow Buntings for me but the weather was relatively mild and quite windy so I'm sure the birds were just higher up the mountain than I was prepared to walk!
Sunday was also incredibly windy but the forecast was a little brighter so I headed over to Loch Garten. There were an amazing number of Coal Tits hanging around and it's a really special moment when they land on your hand for food.
A couple of times they landed on the end of my camera lens and once even on my head! A couple of Crested Tits were in the vicinity but they didn't come close enough for photos.
On Monday I joined Heatherlea for the day and we headed over to the West Coast. We had a brief stop at Loch Droma as the rising sun created an incredible photo opportunity.
Just after we got back underway I spotted a couple of Black Grouse in the tops of the birch trees at the side of the road. Our first proper birding stop was Dundonnell Gorge - we hadn't even got out of the minibus when someone spotted a Golden Eagle soaring overhead. It was joined by a second bird and they slowly cruised overhead before being lost behind the trees. At the Dundonnell end of Little Loch Broom we set the scopes up to scan the water and picked up plenty of Shag and a few Great Northern Divers. The best bird, however, was a fantastic White-billed Diver - a first for me! The rest of the day was spent moving along the coast before cutting across to Gairloch where we ended the day with a cup of tea. Along the way we found a group of at least 10 Black-throated Divers, a few Black Guillemots and a drake Velvet Scoter which was accompanied by a female Common Scoter!
I finished my trip with a morning on the Black Isle, starting at Killen with the intermediate morph Snow Goose then heading down to Udale Bay, picking up a stunning male Hen Harrier quartering the fields as I passed. The tide was well out but there was plenty to be seen - Wigeon, Teal, Bar-tailed Godwit, Shelduck and Curlew. I moved along the coast to the car park past Jemimaville and the sea was flat calm.
This enabled brilliant views of Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Scaup and Slavonian Grebe. I crossed inland to the south side and headed along to Chanonry Point and Avoch. There were less birds on the sea here but I added Red-throated Diver and a number of Tree Sparrows were in a hedge at Avoch.
I love this part of the world and it's always a real wrench when I have to head back down the A9 towards Glasgow but I'll be back in May!