|male Ring Ousel|
|female Ring Ousel|
We walked on and encountered the two birders again. They had found a few Ptarmigan but had failed to locate any Dotterel despite wandering (wrongly I thought to myself) around the short grass searching for them. They couldn't stay any longer and left me musing whether we'd now see any of what, is to my mind, one of the most enigmatic of all wading birds. The only way to see Dotterel in the UK, unless you are lucky to find or see some during their migration (as we were lucky enough in Hertfordshire last spring), is to walk up a Scottish mountain since that is the only place they choose to breed. There are only around 750 pairs in the entire Scottish mountain range too so finding them isn't easy either. But the Cairngorm plateau is a reliable spot for them so I remained confident that I'd find some before the day was out. The only time that I'd not found any was in early May one year when the plateau was still covered in lots of snow. For the next three hours I searched long and hard using all vantage points but couldn't find a single Dotterel! I found a singing male Snow Bunting at extreme distance and higher up (we were already tired so didn't fancy walking higher to get close to it) and even found a much rarer bird (more of that below) but there was not a Dotterel in sight.
During our searching we'd found some more Ptarmigan, all males and a couple of these were characteristically very confiding. The females I guessed, must be busy with parental duties and staying out of sight.
But no Dotterel. We were so disappointed that even the fact that I'd found a really rare pair of summering birds that were exhibiting signs of possible breeding didn't lift our spirits much! Dotterel along with Capercaillie are the main two species that we most want to see every time we come to Scotland.
As for the rare birds I must remain tight lipped. I took some photos and emailed them to the county recorder and he asked me not to broadcast any details since, unfortunately, egg thieves still continue to plunder nests in Scotland. They are common enough birds in the UK in winter so there isn't any need for anybody to go to see them either. In most years just 1-3 pairs stay in the UK to breed so the record was extremely well received. Of course they may have been just late migrants and may not be breeding at all. Perhaps, once the breeding season is over, I can share my find in another blog. I've been lucky enough to find a few rare breeding birds in Scotland over the years, a direct result of spending a lot of time out and about. In the past I've seen Green Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper on breeding territory and once found a family of recently fledged Redwing and their parents. All common enough birds during migration and winter periods but very rare breeders in the UK.
The walk down and back to the car was uneventful as usual although a Mountain Hare did cross our path. We passed the entrance track into Coire an t'sneachda (I think that's how you spell it) and remembered our last visit here at the end of February when it had been -20 degrees centigrade with a chilling wind too! Today even on the plateau it had been nudging +15! Quite a contrast. You can read about that walk to see Ptarmigan in their white winter finery here: (The Ice Bird Challenge)
We took refuge in the Pine Marten bar at Glenmore where, in my completely knackered state, I enjoyed one of the most satisfying pints of cider (Thistly Cross Original) that I've ever had! I'd already hatched a plan to walk up a different mountain in another attempt to find a Dotterel and now just had to work out when it would be best to let Mrs Caley know! Best let her recuperate a bit first....