Friday, 13 September 2019

Yet Another Rainy Day in Paradise, 8th June 2019

Regular readers (wishful thinking me thinks!) of this blog will have noticed that our holiday to Northumberland and the Highlands of Scotland had been blighted somewhat by rather inclement weather. Today, Saturday, that situation was no different and, not for the first time (for about the tenth time in a fortnight in fact), we watched sheets of rain falling outside the cottage window. The puddles in the rough lay-by opposite where the car was parked had become so deep that I couldn't see the tyre below the wheel on the front. As we'd already done on a few occasions on this trip when presented with such difficult conditions, we waded out to the car and headed for Lochindorb where you can always see some birds without leaving the car.

Lochindorb was particularly grey and bleak but we managed to pick a few birds up including the rare breeding bird that we'd been hoping for but had taken us four attempts to finally see. That bird (which must not be named even though just about every birder worth their salt knows about it anyway) pushed our year list up to #234 a number that far exceeded anything we expected so early in the year. We saw the usual suspects either close to the road or on the loch shore as we drove around but, to be perfectly honest, we were becoming a little bit bored with driving around Lochindorb in shitty weather! So we drove on to check out a few smaller lochans where we'd seen some more interesting birds over the years. As we approached one of the lochans, conveniently located right next to a minor road, I spotted the shape of a Diver close to the bank but furthest from the road. Parking carefully we lifted our binoculars and saw that it was a fine Red-throated Diver. In fact there were two, the other was tucked in under the bank but soon joined the other in more open water. Red-throats quite often use these small lochans to rest and preen after fishing sorties which are usually made to the coast or to larger lochs like Lochindorb.

Red-throated Divers
We stayed in the car and watched the Divers doing very little except just idly floating around. As we've witnessed before while watching Red-throated Divers, both birds actually began to swim towards us. I doubt that they are naturally curious to wonder about who's stopped to watch them and besides their eyesight would be sharp enough to see us clearly from long distance but rather that they seek the sanctuary of open water when a perceived threat presents itself. My figuring is that open water gives them a chance to fly off in any direction and Divers need a long watery run-up to get airborne. But for now both birds seemed happy enough to just check us out and didn't show any alarm, we were still in the car after all (it was too bloody wet to get out anyway!).

After a few moments both of the Red-throats began to preen and brush up proving that they were entirely at ease with us being there. I've never got a decent photo of a Red-throated Diver and today wouldn't see a change to that status owing to the rain and general greyness of the day but at least I managed to get some useable ones.

We left the Divers still preening and dozing so went to check the other roadside lochans out but found nothing of note on any of them. When we returned half an hour later the Red-throated Divers had gone.

At a bit of a loss at what to do for the rest of the day we decided to visit the Highland Wildlife Park near Loch Insh. I'm not a big fan of zoos but it had been so long since we'd seen a real live Capercaillie and knowing that the park had some we both thought it would be good just to see one again and to reaffirm that they do actually exist! The Wildlife Park is actually a brilliant place, the animals and birds are housed in more than adequate sized enclosures and are bred to both safeguard species in peril and also to advance techniques should any species require reintroduction schemes to be implemented in the future. We watched the Polar Bears getting fed, marvelled at how big they are and shuddered at the thought of ever coming face to face with Amur Tigers! Equally impressive were the Lynx and the Wolf, both earmarked for rewinding in Scotland one day. But it's birds that we treasure and coming so close to be able to look directly into a four foot high Cranes eye is something you can't do every day! I never realised just how big Great Grey Owls were either and made a promise to myself to book a holiday to Estonia or Finland one day.

Great Grey Owl, Highland Wildlife Park
We found the Capercaillie pen in a quiet corner of the park, they had the iconic Scottish Wildcats for company in the enclosure next door, and peered under the pine boughs that had been laid down to partially mimic the "Horse of the Woods" forest home. You may have gathered from my own choice of moniker for this blog and the header photo that Capercaillie are my absolute favourite of all bird species and seeing them is a joy even captive ones. There were two hen Capercaillie in the cage but we couldn't find a cock bird so assumed that maybe it was being housed off view now it was outside of the natural breeding season. The last time we visited the Wildlife Park many years ago we had a close up view of a displaying cock Capercaillie and I've never forgotten that spectacle even though we've actually come across a "rogue" male Caper since in the Abernethy Forest.

female Capercaillie, Highland Wildlife Park
The rain had stopped at last so we made the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park our next stop. The car park area is a good spot to watch Ring Ouzels as they hunt for food on the few grassy spots. A recent snow making installation has been built next to the lower car park and the flat lawn surrounding it has become a favoured feeding spot for the Ouzels. We sat in the car and watched two male birds search for worms and other invertebrates. One of them flew across the front of the car to the other side of the parking area and proceeded to feed a freshly fledged youngster which was stood atop a short fence post. The speckled plumage of the juvenile was something I'd never seen before and maybe explains why I managed to blur every shot of it stood on the post! 

Ring Ouzel fledgling
Luckily I managed to get the camera focussed a bit better when the fledgling flew off in pursuit of its parent to demand more food!

We ended the day by going out for a night drive to the Dorbach estate primarily to look for Owls. We've heard the squeaky young of Long-eared Owls in the area before but it is generally the Short-eared Owl that shows since it is far more likely to hunt in daylight. However it was almost dark before a Shortie showed and then it disappointed by flying straight overhead to hunt elsewhere. While waiting we had scoped a trio of male Black Grouse on a distant hillside and just as it was getting darker several Woodcock, #235 for the year, appeared.

We went back to the cottage forlornly hoping for a dryer and nicer day on Sunday!

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