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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Day 4: Scottish Highlands & Islands: Speyside

On Monday 9th May, we were up early and in a local Pine woods we saw Siskin, Tree Pipit singing and a Wheatear and Mistle Thrush in a field. Whilst travelling back along the road, on a tree to the left we spied 2 Red Squirrels bounding about in the trees and we took some pics from the car before they bounded across the road and let onto a fence on the right hand side before bounding off into the forest. Next stop was Cairngorm travelling up to the higher car park we parked with only 3 other cars present and I spotted a male and a female Red Grouse feeding around the picnic area the other side of the car park. Walking up past the ski lift fencing, I heard and spotted a fine male Ring Ouzel singing from the fence edge end, it then flew up to the ski lift tower and started singing from there. We then walked for about an hour when John & Tim raised their bins ahead of me and pointed. By a tiny stream leading down to the path, I saw first a magnificent male Ptarmigan and then a female feeding around the heather by the stream. The male was greyer above, complete with a fetching red eyebrow with white below and fantastic characterful white feather feet perfectly adapted for walking around in snow. The female was browner speckled above and again white below with the fantastic feathered feet and legs. The male was slightly more wary than the female always staying the other side of the stream although he did once join the female to drink at the stream. The female however was much more confiding. Tim & I sneaked closer and obtained many pictures of these fine mountain specialists when Tim left the birds became even more confiding with both birds drinking from the stream and the female crossing and walking up to me down to 4 feet! I had to back off a bit as she was getting too close for pics! Slightly further up a group of Reindeer seen feeding, on the right side of ground & they were later all seen lying on a small snow drift covered bit. The others carried on walking and I saw and heard a flying Snow Bunting complete with a "tinkling" call. It flew past so I wasn't able to study the plumage. Further up with the others way in the distance I joined a couple by the rocky scree where they were viewing 2 pairs of distant Ptarmigan. I also saw around 2-3 on another rocky scree. They flew around and was rejoined by Tim & John. We also and sensationally inadvertently disturbed 2 Mountain Hares, that ran a few yards away from us. One was almost completely brown save for the white tipped legs and black tipped ears. Whilst the other had a lot more white on its underparts. They initially ran up the mountain and stopped, before the browner individual ran round back down again and stopped not far from me where I was able to get credible mid distance pics before it ran right again. From there we drove to a nearby roadside Loch and saw a Little Grebe, 2 Greylag Geese at the back water and swimming left up to them partially obscured by a bush in the foreground were 2 excellent summer plumaged Slavonian Grebes. They promptly dived but were seen on and off swimming at the back. A visit to Loch Garten revealed the male Osprey sitting on the nest and the female Osprey sitting in a tree nearby until she flew back in and displaced the male. He flew around and as we departed the hide he flew overs circling ever higher. On the walk to loch Malachite, a male Sikin seen and several more heard, no sight nor sound of the Crests but near the Dragonfly water, I heard a Spotted Flycatcher singing and saw it briefly in acrobatic flight. Early evening a visit to Craigellachie revealed 3 Tree Pipits singing and perched in trees in the mid distance. The screaming of a Peregrine was heard when an Osprey flew overhead and joined by another bird, and it later flew over the pool. Also on the pool was a female Goldeneye. Whilst a Song Thrush fed on the lawn by High Lodge. Every night we went along to the Cairngorm Hotel for an excellent meal at very reasonable prices and the icing on the cake was a chap in full tartan regalia playing bagpipes outside the front door from 8pm, absolutely brilliant!

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