For more images of the trip go to the link to the gallery. All images by M.J.McGill
Whooper Swans at Caerlaverock
Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock
Bottle-nosed Dolphin and Jura
Barnacle Geese on Islay
Greenland White-fronted Geese on Islay
Purple Sandpipers at Bruichladdich, Islay
Bruichladdich Distillery and Anser birders
White-tailed Eagle over Mull
White-tailed Eagles on Mull
Second winter Iceland Gull, Mull
Second winter Iceland Gull, Mull
Second winter King Eider, Kincraig Point, Fife
Second winter King Eider, Kincraig Point, Fife
Surf and Velvet Scoters, Ruddon’s Point, Fife
Waxwings at Longforgan
Seven of us met at WWT Slimbridge at 0800 hrs on Friday 16th January for what was to be an amazing 8 day tour encompassing some unforgettable birding and wildlife experiences travelling some 1737 miles.
WWT Slimbridge as always, turned out to be a great starting point with European White-fronted Geese, Greylag, Dark-bellied Brent and Tundra Bean Geese, along with naturalized Canada Geese. We also counted 180 Bewick’s Swans in and around the Swan Lake. Duck numbers were good, with 400 Pintail, 2000 Wigeon, 2000 Teal, 220 Shelduck. Shoveler were also in good numbers as were Gadwall. A Ruddy .Duck on Swan Lake was also found. Waders were also showing well and we clocked: Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Black-tail Godwit and Dunlin. Other notable birds here were Peregrine Falcon and Cetti’s Warbler.
From WWT Slimbridge we headed north to WWT Martin Mere with a view to witness the Pinkfeet arriving to roost at the centre. We noted 500 Pinkfeet feeding on stubble and later 75 flying over the M57. We arrived at the centre at 1610 hrs and just had time to make our way to the hide to witness one of the great wildlife spectacles in the UK: 10000 Pinkfooted Geese arriving at the centre to roost. The atmosphere at such times is just magic, geese in such numbers, so close and with the cacophony of their calls are just amazing. We were also overlooking 1500 Whooper Swans and 4500 duck. We left in a euphoric state and headed to our first overnight stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport.
In the morning we had an early start, heading to the east end of the RSPB Marshside reserve and gathered as morning broke. Firstly we had to use our other senses as we could hear the wingbeats and the whistles of large numbers of Wigeon flying overhead. As the dawn gave more light we had an amazing morning flight of the birds flying from the Ribble estuary at our front into the reserve just over the road. We estimated some 3000 Wigeon had moved from the estuary into the marsh. On the estuary we found: Bar-tail Godwit, Sanderling, Redshank, Knott and Curlew. Overhead a Little Gull flew over. With Stonechat, Linnet and Reed Bunting our list was climbing. Also here we had more Pinkfeet on the estuary. We left here at 1030 hrs northbound for WWT Caerlaverock. We entered Scotland at 1245 hrs and had a flock of 1000 Pinkfeet flyover near Carlisle. Here we collected Bob, who had been working in the area. As we drove down to the WWT centre we had around 3000 Barnacle Geese in the fields with 350 Oystercatchers and good numbers of Curlew and Lapwing. Here we also had 12 Yellowhammer. We arrived at 1345 hrs and enjoyed this lovely centre. Here our luck held and we found the Cackling Canada Goose with the Barnacles. The hide was completely surrounded with 8000 Barnacle Geese looking just superb with the sun shining. We also added American Wigeon, Greater Scaup and Goosander to our duck list. The north was calling so we left at 1615 hrs and headed north to our destination, the Argyl Hotel in Inveraray overlooking Loch Fyne, arriving 1945 hrs.
In the morning we stepped out of our hotel on the shores of Loch Fyne, an amazing view. We birded down the loch and watched Hooded Crows on the shore and found Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye on the Loch. Here we also had our first Black Guillemot. From here we went searching Greylag Goose flocks on our way to Kennacraig where we were to embark for Islay. We were unsuccessful in finding the Snow Goose which is wintering in the area with the Greylag, however we did find a flock of 92 Greylag by a stone circle; it was a beautiful setting. We sailed at 1300 hrs and had some good viewing from the Isle of Arran Ferry; Guillemot, Razorbill, a count of 15 Black Guillemot, 5 Great Northern Diver, a very brief view of Grey Phalarope, Kittiwake and Fulmar. We were also fortunate in being graced with at least 2 Bottlenose Dolphins which gave a great performance coming close toward the boat. As we sailed between the Isles we had magnificent views of the Papps of Jura snow-capped and with rainbows, a truly wonderful sight. Also seen were Red Deer grazing on Jura. We docked at 1500 hrs at Port Askaig and were immediately impressed with the flocks of Greenland White-fronted Geese feeding everywhere. Also here were smaller flocks of wild Greylag and Barnacle Geese. Here we also had views of a male Hen Harrier quartering an area of rough ground. We moved to Bridgend Merse at Loch Indaal. It was raining lightly so we gathered in the shelter of an old farmstead. On the loch we found a flock of 200 Greater Scaup, 30 Light-bellied Brent Geese, a Long-tailed Duck was seen flying down the loch. Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank and Knot. Wigeon were grazing on the loch side. As we were watching Knott, geese were landing behind a knoll on the hill so we decided to go and find them. What a sight – some 4000 Greenland Barnacle Geese and 600 Greenland White-fronted Geese. When checked we went back to the loch-side, however the weather had not improved and the geese did not come in to roost, preferring to stay in their sheltered feeding areas. So at 1700 hrs we retreated to the Lochside Hotel at Bowmore.
Islay is truly a magical place and the birding fantastic. We first went to the quay at Bowmore and found Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Shelduck and Common Scoter. Further out was Slavonian Grebe and Great Northern Diver. Here we also had fantastic views of a male Hen Harrier. Waders showing were Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit. Lots of geese were about again including Light-bellied Brent. Rock Pipit also showed well. We left the loch at 1030 hrs and headed for Loch Gruinart where we counted 5250 Barnacles and 3250 Greenland Whitefronts with a few Greylag. Duck were plentiful and we had Pintail, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard. We then moved on to Ardnave Loch where 5 Whooper Swans were on the water with a Long-tailed Duck and 8 Goldeneye. Here we took a walk along the shore and found a nice flock of 48 Ringed Plover and Curlew, 2 Golden Plover flew over. From here we travelled on to Loch Gorm and on our way to Bruichladdich whilst scanning goose flocks, Martin found one of the great rarities of the trip: a European White-fronted Goose with its Greenland cousins. Paul also found a Golden Eagle sitting majestically atop rocks giving a great profile. Here we also had a Merlin and a flock of 200 Twite meant a short move to a derelict church and some high ground, which gave us good views of the Twite and then a Chough gave magnificent views as it flew low toward us. Lunch was had at Bruichladdich and on the beach Rock Pipit meandered about the flotsam and jetsam as did 3 beautiful Purple Sandpiper. Out on Loch Indaal meanwhile we had Light-bellied Brent Geese, Eider Duck, Common Scoter and Great Northern Diver. With time in hand we returned to Loch Gruinart and had views of Peregrine and another male Hen Harrier. So back to Port Ellen for 1615 hrs, where we had Red-throated Diver, Eider and Goldeneye and so aboard ‘MV Hebridean Isles’ back to the mainland with a drive to Oban. Whilst we were on Islay we had glorious weather, however, we had heard of snow on the mainland and sure enough it got worse as we approached Oban. On the steepest climb we were brought to a halt by a lorry that was slipping. Once it had stopped and we determined it was safe to go on five of us got out and helped the mini bus up the hill. Once moving the mini bus ably driven by Martin made the summit. We then pushed a young lady’s car up which had been stuck for some time. We were pleased to arrive at The Royal Hotel in Oban. Islay had given us some superb views and birding experiences. We tallied 25000 Barnacles, 8000 Greenland Whitefronts and 700 Duck.
Up early as we had an 0800 hr sailing to Mull aboard ‘MV Isle of Mull’. Only 46 minute crossing but we were able to clock: Kittiwake and Shag along with a Rock Pipit that flew aboard. Mull is a lovely island and as we headed on north following the coast road we checked the waters and soon found a dog Otter which we were able to get very close to. It had caught a fish and was out of the water eating it. We also had good views of Red Deer. On higher ground we watched a male Hen Harrier quartering open ground for some time. As he went out of sight a Golden Eagle was spotted on the opposite side. This bird was carrying some food item and was being mobbed by a Raven. However whenever it landed we were able to put scopes onto it and had some very good views. As we continued round the top end of Mull we had views of Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Great Northern Diver. Another Otter was then spotted porpoising in the water giving more opportunity to view this beautiful animal. Later we found Dipper on a stream just prior to stopping for lunch. We parked up in a village and out on a sand bar 4 Common Seal had hauled out and were resting. During the morning we found 3 Greylag flocks feeding which were checked. Following lunch we carried on and stopped overlooking an area of water that had fir trees rising away, when Martin quickly picked up 2 White-tailed Eagles, an adult and a sub adult perched in the trees but showing well. After some time the sub adult flew out over the water and spiralled up to a great height, but we were able to see the white tail clearly. Heading back toward the ferry we had a lovely flock of 55 Goldeneye, 58 Teal, 60 Mallard and a second winter Iceland Gull, Kittiwake and Common Gull. On to the ferry for 1500 hr sailing back to Oban. On the return we had 6 Great Northern Diver, a Red-throated Diver, 3 Guillemot, a Razorbill, Shag and Kittiwake. As we were arriving at Oban another Otter was showing well in the water. We drove straight to ‘Ravens Craig Guest house in Aviemore for our overnight stop arriving at 1845 hrs. Jeremy Squire (Jubs) joined us this evening to help with birding in the Highlands.
After a leisurely breakfast at 0800 hrs we made our way to Lloc an Eilean, a small feeding station in a woodland setting. We very quickly picked up Crested Tit which entertained us for some time, also Red Squirrel. Other birds here were: Great spotted Woodpecker, Coal, Blue and Great Tit, Redpoll, Woodpigeon and Pheasant. We then made our way to Cairngorm; the ski centre was busy but we had the birding to ourselves. Jubs scattered some seed in a quiet spot and almost immediately Snow Bunting arrived. What a delight these were, I counted 12 in the end. We then decided it was time to start climbing up the snowy Cairngorm mountain in search for more birds. We climbed some way in search for Ptarmigan, but they were not to be found, however we found 6 Red Grouse, Dipper was also found on the stream. On our return to the station we fuelled up and were then on our way to Abernethy in search of more game birds. In the area we had Siskin, Reed Bunting, Goldcrest, Crossbill, Greenfinch, Bullfinch and Wren and finally had a male Black Grouse in flight. We went in search of this bird but were unable to re-find it. Time was slipping by so Martin went on ahead and briefly saw a Capercaillie. We went in search but again these game birds are some of the most difficult birds to locate at this time of the year. We then headed for our overnight stop at ‘The Ban-Car Hotel’ at Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire arriving at 1825 hrs.
Another early start to see the morning flight of Pink-footed Geese leaving their overnight roosting site. We arrived at 0805 hrs at the RSPB Loch of Strathbeg. As we were getting out of the mini bus the Pinks started leaving; the noise was amazing as they left in great V formations scanning out in their thousands. We then proceeded to the hide and Martin soon had the Snow Goose located, distant but with the scopes we had good views. There were 24,000 Pinks roosting on the reserve. We also recorded Barnacle and Greylag Geese, Teal, Gadwall, Goosander and Wigeon. Also here they had a bird feeding station with Tree Sparrows which entertained us for some time. We then moved to Fraserburgh to check gulls; Iceland was the only white-winged gull. Onward, our next stop was to St Fergus Cemetery where a White-tailed Eagle had been seen. It was not here, however, the number of Buzzard was impressive, at least 25, 180 Lapwing, 200 Linnet, Pheasant and a magnificent view of Merlin. Next we moved to Peterhead continuing to check the gulls. In the harbour here were a number of Grey Seal very close giving photographic opportunities. 60 Eider Duck were also here and gulls recorded were: Common, GBB, Herring, Kittiwake and a first-winter Little Gull also being of note. Moving round overlooking the sea we had Red-throated Diver, Guillemot, Gannet, Cormorant and Fulmar. On the beach were Purple Sandpiper, Redshank and Turnstone. We then moved onto the Ugie Estuary where we also added Long-tailed Duck and Mandarin Duck with more Purple Sandpiper and Ringed Plover. Moving on now to Aberdeen and a stop under the fog horn which thankfully was not required! Here we counted 21 Purple Sandpiper, 300 Eider Duck, had Guillemot, Turnstone and Red-throated Diver. A run then to Montrose Basin for dusk, here we had Black-tailed Godwit with colour rings on, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Dunlin. Ducks were also of interest with 33 Pochard, 8 Red-breasted Merganser, Shelduck, Teal, Eider, Mallard, Wigeon and Goldeneye.
Starting with hunt for local Waxwings, we found them at Longforgan, 26 in number that we were able to watch for some time. Moving round we got them very close feeding with the sun shining on them, truly remarkable colours. 24 Pinkfooted Geese flew over giving an unusual scope view of Waxwing and Pinkfeet. From here we moved to Dundee sea-front in the hope of a Ring-billed Gull, however it had moved on. So to Elie overlooking the Firth of Forth, where we walked out onto the cliffs and had views of a second winter male King Eider. Moving on to Ruddon’s Point we had views of Velvet, Surf and Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye also Slavonian and Great Crested Grebe, Red-throated Diver, Sanderling, Curlew, Razorbill and Stonechat. We then moved to Kinneil Lagoon as our final stop and found 13 Scaup, Teal, great numbers of Shelduck, Wigeon with Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Redshank and Little Grebe. From here we headed south and home.
An amazing 8 days covering a lot of miles and in search of many birds. The majority were found showing well. Some species, mainly the game birds, are notoriously difficult to find at this time of year and they certainly did not give themselves up easily.
Wildfowl was another matter. We found most of what we were looking for and had some marvellous viewing. We estimate that we saw 2,100 swans, 86,500 geese and 26,000 duck. 142 species were recorded.
We were lucky with some stunning Otter views especially the first dog Otter which was very tolerant of us. The Bottlenose Dolphin was also a special moment for many; they certainly gave some spectacular views, sometimes being completely clear of the sea. We found and watched Common and Grey Seal; also close views of Red and Roe Deer.
Special Wildfowl moments were numerous; Pinkfoot flights at WWT Martin Mere coming into roost and at Strathbeg leaving their roost were spectacular. Also at the latter we had the Snow Goose. The Spitsbergen Barnacle Geese at WWT Caerlaverock were amazing especially finding the Cackling Canada Goose. The Greenland White-fronted Geese and the Barnacle Geese also from Greenland on Islay were special, what amazingly close views we had. Whooper Swans in numbers are always special and we were not disappointed, both at WWT Martin Mere and WWT Caerlaverock. We were not disappointed with Sea Duck, Surf, Velvet and Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Greater Scaup, Eider in good numbers and the special King Eider.
Raptors were outstanding with White-tailed and Golden Eagle seen and watched over a good period of time. Outstanding views of Merlin from the Cemetery, Hen Harriers seen on a number of days with good light.
Other birds of special note were the 200 Twite, the Chough, the Waxwing, the Snow Bunting, where to stop!
It was a great tour, overall we were lucky with the weather and had some spectacular sunshine, some great hotels and very good food. I would like to thank you all for your excellent company and good humour. We gelled as a group, a very important factor on any tour.
Paul Walkden with editing by Bettie Sloane