Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Dipper dee doo dah and Owl's that! 9th June

Another bird that we were keen to seek out was that enigmatic water loving bird, the Dipper. In some years these birds are easy to find on the rivers and streams throughout the area whilst in others they can be tricky. Considering we had yet to see one after a week here we decided it was high time that we found one and acting on a tip off from Steve, who we'd met the day before, we headed to the section of the river Nethy that runs through the village of Nethybridge. 

A path winds itself through the trees and for the large part closely follows the river. The Nethy is a quintessential Scottish river, flowing quickly over pebbly shallows and around and over large rocks. The perfect habitat for Dippers. We began the walk opposite the shop and followed the path upstream, constantly surveying the water for tell tale bobbing action of a Dipper, but the resident Mallards were the only birds that were seen. Further up the river the trees and vegetation hug the banks more closely and viewing is more difficult so we could only see from the irregular gaps in the foliage. It was when we were peering through one of these windows that a familiar smallish brown and white bird whirred past on its way upstream, the Dipper! At last after a week of looking for one we had finally seen one but naturally a blurred half second flypast was not good enough so we continued on our way upstream. About half a mile from the road bridge the footpath ends at a narrow foot bridge, known locally as the Black Bridge even though it's green! There is a bench on the opposite side of the river and we made our way towards it for a sit down. Halfway across I noticed a Dipper stood (as they do) on a rock midstream about 50 yards away. Now I'd be able to get some photos. We waited on the bridge and watched as the Dipper approached towards us hopping from rock to rock and sometimes diving under the water to emerge with another food item. It was obviously collecting food for its chicks, the nest would be close by.

The overhanging trees and the failing evening light didn't help in the photography stakes but the Dipper had closed the distance to just a few yards now. It was anxiously bobbing up and down now though and it dawned on me that the nest was on the bridge on which we stood! Dippers often make use of the underneath of bridges for safe nesting. We continued to the seat, sat down and waited. Another Dipper had appeared with an equally bulging food cache in its bill and that too stood, bobbing up and down, close by on another rock. After the birds were sure that we posed no threat first one then the other flew up under the span. You could just about make out the excited squeaks of the youngsters in the nest over the sound of the water. The adult birds were soon out and both flew a long way down river again to resume their food hunt.

Another bird we wanted to see but hadn't yet found the time seek out was the Short-eared Owl so once we'd retraced our steps back to the car, we drove the short distance to Dorback which is a prime spot for seeing these beautiful owls (and also Long-eared Owls too). In some years Shorties (as they are affectionately known) are in plentiful supply on the moors along the Dorback road, we've seen as many as five on past visits. This year however, seemed to be a poor year for them since for nearly an hour we saw none. Then one sailed past us when we were least expecting it carrying a vole in its talons. I watched it all the way until it dropped into a grassy area within the heather. It stood still for a few minutes before walking a short distance into a very dense patch of the grass, presumably the nest site. A few minutes later the owl took to the air again and this time I was primed ready for it to fly over. Much to my annoyance it veered away and headed off our line and was never close enough for any photos! But a Curlew helped me out by flying up to meet the owl head on in an attempt to ward it away from its own nest site. This pushed the Short-eared Owl closer to our position and I managed to take some shots of the ensuing disagreement between the two birds. Of course the owl easily out manoeuvred the Curlew and pretty much kept its own course towards the feeding area.

Tomorrow, Sunday, would be a rest day before we would cram in some hectic birding and quite a bit of touring in our second week.

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