Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining but it wasn't a great autumn for rarities in my part of the UK although there were indubitably some quality birds elsewhere. The decent strength easterlies didn't come to pass along the north-east coast. At one point I hadn't had a year tick for three weeks - a personal worst! To dispel any despondency I decided to do something about it and booked a last minute week in Scotland. More of that later.
First of all a trip to Blacktoft on October 12th. A curlew sandpiper at Marshland.
Above: konik pony at Blacktoft.
I left for Scotland on October 21st calling at Budle Bay for a cackling goose. I found the 5,000 strong flock of barnacle geese at Ross, just north-west of the bay. They were easily disturbed although I remained hidden behind a hedge. I spotted the cackling goose at the rear of the flock. Attempts to photograph it on the ground proved fruitless as it constantly disappeared among the foliage of the leaf beet. I took lots of flight shots too...
You may spot the cackling goose a quarter of the way up, centre image. Next shot: another view. I carried on northbound over the new Queensferry Crossing and on towards the Cairngorms.
October 22nd started near Loch Garten. Coal tits feeding from people's hands [including mine] and a couple of crested tits feeding on seed left on an electrical supply box.
Then up the Findhorn Valley in an area called Strathdearn - a magical place I hadn't visited before.
Red kite, buzzard, white-tailed eagle and golden eagle all seen - plus ravens. Brown hare late afternoon near Nethy Bridge.
October 23rd calling at Portsoy a long-tailed duck - a 'splodgy' female was in the harbour. Next stop Banff. Shags and a cormorant. Eider everywhere...sometimes displays turned violent...
Lunch at Pennan [Local Hero film location]. Stonechat and rock pipits on the seaweed.
The wind was strengthening at Rosehearty - a juvenile gannet diving into the wild waves. Final stop at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB.
As we left we passed two fields each of which held several hundred whooper swans. Here's just a few. October 24th a break at Cruden Bay where we found dippers. Here's one of the pair.
Near Peterhead by the mouth of the River Ugie we watched gulls, snipe and lapwings. We headed for the Ythan estuary and after a session at the Waulkmill Hide watching a variety of waders we headed for Newburgh where the river meets the sea. I don't think I've ever seen so many eiders gathered in one place. October 25th we saw snow geese distantly with hundreds of pinkfeet at Loch of Skene. The best stop that day was at Mar Lodge Estate where we saw few birds but the scenery was magnificent. It's where BBC Winterwatch is based. I liked the dead pines. Here's one I deliberately over-processed. October 26th we toured the Black Isle north and east of Inverness. Apparently so-called [although a peninsula not an island] as it's warmed by the surrounding sea and low-lying so remains 'black' when all else is snow-covered. Lots of pinkfeet at RSPB Udale Bay. Memory card failure meant that two days worth of photos are currently still trapped in a crashed compact flash card!
The Kessock Bridge takes you across to the Black Isle from Inverness. [I used an old Nikon Coolpix 4500 on the trip for all my landscape shots]
October 27th we set off to look for capercaillie again. Fortuitously we struck lucky almost immediately. In poor light and through glass I fired off some shots. Retrospectively I should have pushed the ISO up even higher than I did. Still pleased with this one anyway!
From there we went up the funicular and out on to the mountain top with a qualified guide [You can only do this if you have a licensed guide with you.]
The mist enveloped us but we did see ptarmigan reasonably close - a covey of 9 birds in total. In these conditions you could easily mistake the birds for lichen encrusted rocks.
Some reindeer were spotted on the lower slopes. A walk at Allt Mor looking for crossbill produced coal tits and some nice but fleeting views of crested tits. Crossbills had been our target bird. The river views were enchanting.
Another walk on the south side of Loch Morlich to try to track down some crossbills was more successful. We finished the day at Insh Marshes watching a ringtail hen harrier. Loch Insh.
Insh Marshes plus a very distant hen harrier flying in front of the mound you can see on the right of the first picture below
October 30th looking for some water pipits. Redshank from Phil Stead hide at Saltholme.
Teal The water pipits were seen briefly. Bumped into Barry at Hartlepool Headland. He pointed out some purple sandpipers.
November 1st. Barry and I failed to find any hawfinches at Rufford, Notts. So drove to Alkborough: allsorts seen there including bearded tits, avocets, marsh harrier to name just a few. Far Ings had a possible slavonian grebe. After a long walk we tracked it down hiding on Ness Pit in the reeds. Had to shoot when the breeze created a gap in the reeds! A kingfished dropped in in front of our hide. There may be more to come! You never know!!