After spending most of the previous night awake for all the wrong reasons I just couldn't raise myself out of bed until past midday. Holidays are not supposed to be like this! Not at all. I'm always an early riser and when you have a beautiful place such as the Pine Forests to explore being unable to escape the duvet is agony. Eventually though I managed to get out but this was only going to be a light birding excursion at best. We stopped at a local cafe for a coffee but food was still off the agenda for me, I just couldn't stomach it.
After seeing the Nethy Bridge Waxwings on Monday, the flock had continued to be reported, usually around the area of the Old Station either "flycatching" as when we saw them or feeding on Juniper berries. In the Highlands Waxwings have to choose more natural food sources as opposed to the supermarket Rowan trees that they choose when further down south. We located the flock, still numbering 11, easily just outside of the cafe in riverside trees and they were indeed flying out on fly catching sorties and then returning back to a perch. Awkwardly the sun, it was another gorgeous day, was right against us making viewing difficult so we had to manoeuvre right underneath the trees to stop the glare. The trees are quite tall so that move didn't help with getting photos much since you were then looking straight up and my neck was tense enough!
Because the Waxwings were continually flying out on feeding missions I decided to try to capture that flight. Normally Waxies are confined to berry bushes and trees so flight shots are hard to obtain, here I had a chance to get them against a clear and blue sky. It wasn't easy though, they fly very quickly and veer erratically Hirundine style to snatch flies and I was still feeling pretty rough. But it was just the tonic I needed, when you're watching birds as beautiful as waxwings then it's easy to forget everything else for a while!
After a while the Waxwings flew back across the road to the trees in gardens behind the Old Station. We followed them and watched them for a bit longer perched dutifully and looking resplendent in the afternoon sunshine.
We've enjoyed many good views of Waxwings this winter and in all types of weather conditions (see Waxies for a write up of some seen near Berkhamsted in the snow). I wish all Waxwings and other winter visitors a safe return to their breeding grounds further north and look forward to them back in the UK next winter.
I needed another coffee so we retreated back to the cafe for a while. The caffeine shot helped me regain a bit of energy again so we drove the car up to the southern end of the village and parked near the Black Bridge which spans the river Nethy. The stretch of river here is a well known haunt of a pair of Dippers, a bird that we hadn't seen yet this year. I summoned up the strength, I was still suffering somewhat although considerably better than I was at the same time the day before (I'm a hero to myself!), and we strolled alongside the tumbling waters. This is a beautiful part of the river set to the side of mature woodland for the most part and very picturesque, as most Scottish rivers are, as it flows over rocks and rapids. BBC Winterwatch spent some time filming here and showed footage of a Tawny Owl that had taken to using a riverside tree branch from which to survey its territory. As we walked I looked hard at almost every tree in the hope of spotting the Owl but with no luck. I remember talking to a local here last summer who said that he'd seen the Tawny frequently on his evening walks so when we return this summer I'll be sure to try again.
But it was the Dipper that we'd come to see and we soon found the male stood on a rock mid-stream. I know it was the male because it was singing very softly, barely audible above the sound of the river. We were able to approach very closely without the Dipper becoming startled. The low light levels meant low shutter speeds for the camera but luckily the bird was settled so I managed some decent shots.
When the Dipper blinked you could see the nictating membrane that closes over the eye. This membrane is a remarkable adaptation that protects the eyes when the bird is feeding and swimming under water.
The Dipper was so at home on the river and at ease in our company that it actually hopped onto a rock even closer to us. At such proximity though its composure didn't last long when a dog came running along the path and sent it flying downriver. We retraced our steps and it was another early night for me, not so troubled as the one before thankfully!