Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Into the woods and a breeze through the moor, 3rd June 2018

After the long drive north it's customary for Mrs Caley and I to take it easy on the first day proper of the holiday. So at 06:00 (!) we were walking out into a slight mist towards the woods up behind our holiday cottage. This walk has been very productive on previous visits and we've found and seen Redwing (with fledged young), Parrot Crossbill, Redstart and even Capercaillie amongst many others. The track leads up past some disused farm buildings (I may have to inquire if it's ever likely to come up for sale) and is usually very quiet apart from the odd crazy cyclist (aren't they all?) that comes whizzing past. Once past the farm there are paths that enter into some really nice pinewoods and (if I was that way inclined) my spiritual home. There is no better place to be in my opinion than a Scottish Pine Forest. I find the smell of the pine needles intoxicating as well as mesmerising. The woods can be peacefully quiet but also quite noisy when the birds are singing. The trees themselves form a type of cathedral within which I love to wander.  Ok, enough of that sentimental nonsense. I don't think poetic and romantic writing is my forte somehow.

I spied a Spotted Flycatcher flitting from one tree to another but failed to get Mrs Caley on to it but not to worry since we'd be sure to see more at other sites during the following fortnight. Next we came across a small party of Lesser Redpoll that were engaged in feisty squabbles presumably sorting out their breeding pairs. This area is good for these diminutive finches. Cuckoos could be heard far off and both Mistle and Song Thrushes were all around us. We entered the woods and could hear Common Redstarts singing from the tree tops and Tree Pipits were taking to the air on their short but delightful display flights. The morning was warming up, the birds were busy and we were relaxing. Heaven!

Lesser Redpoll
A Crossbill alighted onto a pine bough close by but its high pitched chattering indicated a Common rather than its Scottish cousin. It didn't settle for long and was soon away. We were now casually looking for the "Horse of the Woods" but in truth it was now past 8 o'clock and any Capercaillies would be tucked up resting and ruminating on its early morning breakfast of pine shoots and grit! This time of year the best chance of seeing the denizen of the forest is to be out at daybreak which is around 04:00, a bit too early for us. Besides there is a chance that male Capercaillie could still be displaying so I prefer not to take the risk of disturbing them. Many of our sightings of Capercaillie have actually been later around mid-morning when the birds are just resting up in a pine tree. Wet weather is best for seeing them too, along with a massive slice of luck! So today, with the ever broadening sunshine, was unlikely to result in a sighting but I'm ever hopeful of coming across one. We've chanced upon them several times before and I'm confident that we will do again, it just needs the time and effort putting in. We did find some fresh looking droppings so at least we knew at least one was present. Walking along pine forest tracks with eyes fixed firmly on the ground looking for Capercaillie crap is a major hobby for Mrs Caley and I've been known to join in too! Don't say we need to get out more because thats exactly where we were!

Back at the farm Swallows were now showing well but numbers appeared to be down on former years. In fact many birds seemed to be in lower numbers, much as it is down south too. Our birds are definitely suffering, maybe the wet spring is to blame. Hopefully the numbers will recover next year. There were definitely not as many Chaffinches and Willow Warblers in the woods as one would normally expect. A Goldcrest was busy foraging in an isolated pine tree and was suitably elusive. Back at the cottage we listened to a very melodic Blackcap. An unusual flutey rhythmic song that I'd not heard before but it was definitely a Blackcap that was singing it. We also saw a Jay flash through the trees at the bottom of the garden. Jays are increasing in numbers in Strathspey and will be seen most days now in wooded habitat whereas just a few years ago they were really scarce.


I had put some bird food out in the garden just after we'd arrived and already there were visitors. Coal Tits and Siskins had found the offerings as had a small (young?) Red Squirrel. We've had trips up here when we've hardly encountered any Squirrels so this was a real pleasure to have one feasting just feet from the cottage window. They have an incredibly cheeky expression.

Coal Tit
Red Squirrel
After a more than adequate Sunday lunch at the Grant Arms in Grantown (recommended to all; the food is good and it's only £13 for 3 courses plus free coffee!) we went for a drive around Lochindorb primarily to see if the well known pair of Black-throated Divers were showing. The minor road was so busy with cars (it was the last day of the school half-term) that we basically drove through without hardly stopping. I hate busy places! That proved to be a mistake since just a few hours later a Long-tailed Skua was observed resting on a grit tray (put out for the Red Grouse) and reasonably close to the road! I only found that out a few days later though so despite it still being present on the Monday morning I had no chance of knowing. A situation in need of rectifying and thanks to Peter Stronach (the Highland bird recorder) I am now more in the know than I was before! We didn't see the Divers either but most of the pull-ins had been taken by other folk so we didn't really have the opportunity of searching fro them and besides we'd have the time to revisit later in the holiday. We did see Red Grouse with chicks, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Redshank and the Common Gull colony looked to have increased in size from previous years (I estimated over 100 sitting birds).

The Red Grouse formed family groups and many were close to the road. The chicks, some of which couldn't have been more than a few days old, moved clumsily through the heather but were always closely guarded by mum and dad. The chicks are adorable and it's very sad that people with a lot of money but not an ounce of sense will soon be happily blasting them out of the sky in the name of "sport". Barbarism that deserves to be stopped, please support the petition to end Grouse shooting if you haven't already done so (search Ban DGS online).

male Red Grouse

Red Grouse chick

female Red Grouse
We retired early to the cottage and I made plans to "mop" up some of the easier but localised species over the next few days. The evening was clear so just before dark I stood outside the cottage and waited for the Woodcocks to "rode" above the woods. It's a good spot for them here and they didn't  disappoint with at least 10 flights overhead (could have been the same bird 10 times or could have been 10 different birds; who knows?). A grey heron flew leisurely over, heading to its night time roost, most probably at Boat of Garten where there is a small heronry. A couple of Bats were buzzing around the tree tops too, not sure which species but they seemed much bigger than the Pipistrelles that I'm used to seeing.


No comments:

Post a Comment