Wednesday 19 June 2024

UK - Scotland : June 2024 - Part 2

5th June - Cairngorms National Park

This was our last day at Cairngorms National Park, I booked a full day birding tour with Birding Ecosse, bird guide Dave had been corresponding with me through emails, and it was great to finally be able to put a face to the name! We agreed to meet at 8am and he got to our lodging early! As soon as we got all our stuff into the van we drove off to our first location. Dave stopped by the "Jesus Saves" rock along the A939, he got out the scope and soon got us onto two displaying male Black Grouse, although they were very far away, we got fairly good scope views.

Black Grouse - very distant views

We headed back towards Lochindorb, passing the Common Gull colony again. Dave pointed out the real reason Common Gull got its name was not because they were ever common (They really aren't all that common around the UK!), but because they were often found around commons! Further along the road we got quite a few Red Grouse, this time both males and females showed well and gave better photo opportunities.

Common Gull

Red Grouse - male

Red Grouse - female

Couple of European Stonechats were added, including two recently fledged birds. Meadow Pipits were abundant here, which explained why Common Cuckoos were also fairly numerous here (parasitic brooder of Meadow Pipits apparently), a pair flew around chasing one another, occasionally perched up on the wire, they remained far as always.

European Stonechat - juvenile

Meadow Pipit

Common Cuckoo

Along the edge of the loch, a few Common Sandpipers gave good views under the morning light, Oystercatchers were of course a permanent fixtures along the waters edge.

Common Sandpiper

Eurasian Oystercatcher

By the fence with a row of Scots Pine we added a few Spotted Flycatchers as well as a single Common Redstart, although they preferred to stay a safe distance from us. After an excellent coffee and too many Tunnock's Tea Cakes, we scanned the loch for Black-throated Diver, which I saw flew low over the water. We made our way to the direction it went to try and relocate it, but without much success, only a female Goldeneye flew past. Numerous Common Swifts made their way through very low to the ground, providing excellent photo opportunities.

Spotted Flycatcher

Goldeneye - female

Common Swift

Dave spotted an adult White-tailed Eagle drifting past above, harassed by a much smaller Kestrel! While not a lifer for me, this was a lifer for my dad and Hoiling, making this one of our key target of this trip. A couple of minutes later, we spotted yet another distant raptor, this time a Golden Eagle! Even more incredible was that a Red Kite and Osprey also decided to join in soon after, making this 5 raptors within a 10 minutes time frame!

Kestrel & White-tailed Eagle

Golden Eagle

Red Kite


After a quick toilet break and picnic lunch at Nethy Bridge, Dave took us to a known location for Slavonian Grebe near Avielochan, this is another major target of mine for the trip, and a major target for many birders visiting the Cairngorms. Getting the bird was pretty straight forward once we were in the right place, we saw at least two birds on the loch building a nest. Slavonian Grebe is probably the rarest of the breeding grebes in the UK, and their numbers are declining. It was nice to connect with this species in breeding plumage.

Slavonian Grebe - breeding plumage

In the afternoon we drove through the Moy Estate hoping to find some Crossbills, but those were more elusive than expected. We didn't see a lot there except for a few Eurasian Siskins and a Wood Ant nest which kept Hoiling occupied. Along the way we saw a few 'Heilan Coos', a Scottish icon! We drove through some farmland and added a few Ring-necked Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges to the day's list.

Eurasian Siskin - male

Highland Cattle - or better known as 'Heilan Coo'

Ring-necked Pheasant - male

Red-legged Partridge

We ended in Finhorn Valley later in the afternoon, hoping to find a few soaring raptors, unfortunately all we got were Common Buzzards, plus a distant Peregrine Falcon. Eurasian Curlews were seen along the river, and I spotted a Spotted Flycatacher (no puns intended) along the road. A few Red Deers were seen roaming the valley, and the scenery was simply breathtaking. 

Common Buzzard

Eurasian Curlew

Spotted Flytacher

Red Deer

The spectacular Findhorn Valley

Last but not least, we finally caught sight of a Red Squirrel next to the car, but it was too quick for me to get a proper photo. Dave dropped us back at our Grantown-on-Spey and bid us farewell, it was a nice day out with a few good birds and good company, overall a very enjoyable day of birding.

Red Squirrel

6th June - Troup Head > Loch Ness

Having packed our luggages the night before, we rose early to leave for the Troup Head Gannetry, it was a near two hours drive from Grantown-on-Spey. It was around 8:30am by the time we got to Banff, where we had a quick toilet break. I scanned through the roosting gulls along the beach but found nothing out of the ordinary, a few Oystercatchers roosting on top of a Co-op makes for an interesting composition, and it always surprises me as to how they are so rare in our part of the world, yet almost an urban bird in the UK.

Banff Seafront

Eurasian Oystercatcher

It didn't take long to see part of the seabird colony once we parked the car at Troup Head RSPB car park, after a short walk you start seeing distant cliff faces covered in Kittiwakes and Guillemots! Yellowhammers were constantly singing along the footpath, a few of these handsome buntings showed well, including a non-vocal female. Rock Pipits were added along the footpath.

Seabird colony at Troup Head

Yellowhammer - male

Yellowhammer - female

Rock Pipit

We walked along the footpath by the cliffs, here we got better views of the nesting Kittiwakes, Northern Fulmars, as well as the Guillemots and a few Razorbills that were roosting higher up the cliff faces. Lower down on some stacks there were hundreds of seabirds roosting there as well.

Black-legged Kittiwake

Northern Fulmar


Common Guillemot

Just a little further on, we reached the main gannetry, with hundreds upon hundreds of Gannets flying around, as well as some mere metres away from us. At the gannetry all of your senses are bombarded, and it can be very overwhelming, the sight, the sound as well as the smell from the colony truly engulfs you! Its always a magical experience to visit such a place, I still remember vividly my first visit to a gannetry at Hermaness in Shetland, it was no less exciting this second time! We took our time enjoying the atmosphere and photographing all the gannets around us.

Northern Gannet

It is Gannets in flight that you can truly appreciate how big they are, being the largest seabird of the north Atlantic, they have a wingspan between 170-180cm. They often flew very close to where we were sitting near the top of the cliff, making for some awesome photo opportunities.

Northern Gannet

While photographing the gannets, I noticed some of them with darker eyes, these are birds that have survived previous bird flu infection. Bird flu have impacted these magnificent seabirds hugely in the last couple of years, increasing the pressure of these already decreasing species. Hopefully, these dark eyed birds provide some hope that there is some natural immunity from bird flu.

Northern Gannet - dark eyes individual

A bit of rain came in but luckily didn't last too long, after the rain we witnessed a wonderful sight of a rainbow arching over the gannetry!

We headed through Inverness for lunch as we made our way towards Loch Ness. After lunch, I noticed a lot of Western House Martins and Sand Martins all flying low above the water on the river. We spent a little bit of time there trying to get a few photos. It was late afternoon by the time we got to Drumnadrochit next to Loch Ness and we went out briefly for a bit of sight seeing, but the rain soon brought us back into the comfort of our lodge.

Western House Martin

Sand Martin

7th June - Loch Ness > Oban

In the morning, my dad, Hoiling and I drove to Corrimony Chambered Cairn, other than being an RSPB site, the site is famous for the Bronze Age burial monument, it is incredible to think such structure can withstand all the elements for nearly 4000 years! The area wasn't all that birdy to be honest, we saw very few birds, although our time there was cut short by the constant showers. We had a Spotted Flycatcher, a male Common Redstart and a few Hooded Crows.

Corrimony Chambered Cairn

Spotted Flycatcher

Common Redstart - male

Hooded Crow

Before we got back to the lodge we dropped by the Falls of Divach not too far from Drumnadrochit, it was a pleasant walk down to the waterfall, but produced very little in terms of birds, except for a Grey Wagtail on the waterfall.

Falls of Divach

After we packed our luggages, we headed off to the famous Urquhart Castle, the viewpoint from the road provided an excellent views of the castle as well as Loch Ness. We scanned for any sign of the Loch Ness Monster but came up empty.

Urquhart Castle

On the way towards Fort William, we stopped at the Commando Memorial that overlooks Ben Nevis, the highest mountain of the UK, it was however clouded over and we only got to see the snow covered lower slopes. The area was surprisingly 'birdy', with a few common birds showing well, including a pair of European Stonechats, a very busy Song Thrush collecting food for its young somewhere nearby, and a few Meadow Pipits.

Looking towards Ben Nevis

European Stonechat - male

Song Thrush

Meadow Pipit

After a wonderful lunch at Fort William, our stop at Glencoe was probably the most memorable of the day, simply because of the amazing landscape. The valley also provided an unexpected lifer, in form of a few Common Redpolls, it is a supposedly common species, but for some reason I have never encountered! We got excellent views of both male and female.

Three Sisters of Glencoe

Common Redpoll - male

Common Redpoll - female

Willow Warblers were singing all throughout the valley, but it was the Ravens that were really at home here, with a few of these impressive corvids patrolling the car park frequently, looking for any scraps and leftovers from messy tourists.


Our stop for the evening was Oban, a seaside town that is often the stepping stone to the Isle of Mull, unfortunately we did not have the time to visit Mull on this occasion. My main reason for visiting this seaside town is for the Black Guillemot, this is suppose to be one of the easiest place to see this species on the mainland, where they famously nests in the crevices of the sea wall. As soon as we dropped our luggages off, we headed down to the seafront to look for them, to my absolute amazement, there were none present! Having doubled check the given location and photos online, I was certain that I was in the right place! But for some reason, they were simply not there. Only a Hooded Crow was seen perched on the railing. Seeing that light was fading, we decided to try again in the morning.


Hooded Crow

More bad news came our way, as I received an email about the cancellation of our landing trip to the Isle of May scheduled on the 9th of June! Apparently, the boat could not make a landing with the current wind direction and unstable weather. This was a huge blow for us, as this was going to be our major birding site in the second half of our trip! Having seen a sign for Oban Sea Tours along the sea front, I immediately booked a trip for the next day, hoping it may salvage our trip slightly...

To be continued...

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