June 2019

I was delighted to find that the Tree Sparrows were nesting in the nest box. The box has a camera in it but the birds had covered it up and we were reluctant to disturb them by going into the box, However, they were very obliging by feeding the young as I sat in the garden and I was able to watch two of them fledge. There were two of them sunbathing on the garden bench one day in the sunshine although I am not sure how many were in the nest altogether. Hopefully, they will all survive but a Magpie appeared in the garden one morning and usually it is the young birds that they are seeking. A little Woodmouse sometimes appears when it is a quiet time in the day to feed on the ground under the bird feeder. I would think its chances of survival are slim as not only have I got an Magpie coming in but there is a regular Herring Gull and occasionally the Sparrowhawk. It appears to be a young Sparrowhawk as on one occasion I saw it sitting on the ground with two Wood Pigeons feeding close too it and it made no attempt to go for the Wood Pigeons.

Over the last few years we have had the occasional molehill in the garden. I often sit and watch one rising up in the hope of getting a glimpse of a mole but I never see one. However, one highlight of this month for me was seeing two moles running about one sunny day in the garden. I have not sure what brought them to the surface but it was after a long period of wet weather. They disappeared into the bushes quite quickly. There is a piece of ground next to my garden which the council has always maintained but this year, areas like these are no longer being maintained by them so the grass is growing really wild. It will be interesting to see if this encourages more wildlife into the garden.

Two Bar-headed Geese had been sighted near Lochindorb in the middle of the month. We went a couple of times to see if we could see them. The only sighting of them was in the distance on the other side of the loch in a field with Greylag Geese. It would have been great to see them on the loch but had to make do with looking at them through the binoculars. However, there was plenty to see in and around the area. On the lochs there were Mallards with Ducklings, Red-throated Divers displaying, and another highlight for me, two Black-throated Divers happily swimming alongside the road. Although I have seen them in the distance, I never for a moment thought I would see them so close. They are such beautiful birds. I also saw Redshanks, RedGrouse, Lapwings with chicks and Curlews with chicks. On the moor, there were some young Stonechats. There was also a juvenile Greylag Goose running through a field with no other Greylag Geese in sight.

Nearer to Forres, at the pond near East Grange, there were two Moorhens with young and a Little Grebe.

At the end of the month, we went across to Gairloch for a few days. The weather was good and I saw a few birds. I was lucky to see two Great Skuas flying past and a pair of Ravens sitting together on the edge of a cliff. I also saw some Wheatears, Common Sandpipers, Meadow Pipits and Stonechats. In one area I also saw lots of Dung Beetles but when they flew they had white spots on their wings which made them appear rather attractive. I have tried to find out what they were but cannot find anything on them.

May 2019

The young birds have started to appear in the garden. The first ones as usual were the Blackbirds but it was not long before they were feeding themselves. I still had apples left from the tree and the young were quickly led by the parent birds to the ground where they were. There have been lots of young Tree Sparrows in the garden and lots of young Starlings. I am still noticing a Tree Sparrow going into the nest box during the day but so far no sign of any food being taken in. Unfortunately the bird has managed to completely cover up the camera in the box and we really do not want to disturb it by opening up the box in case it is nesting there. There are four Yellowhammers, two males and two females, who are regularly coming in to feed but no sign of any young there so far. Usually there are quite a few juvenile Blue Tits come in with their young but so far I have only seen one. During the last few years I have had two Feral Pigeons that look like Rock Doves come into my garden about this time to feed. They have appeared again this year  but so also has a striking white and grey Feral Pigeon. I try not to encourage these Feral birds into the garden as I already have plenty Wood Pigeons which come in.  A Great-spotted Woodpecker came into the feeders this month but It flew as soon as it sensed any movement. I have not seen it since.

During the second week in May I heard and saw my first Cuckoos.  There was one at Little Aitnoch, which I managed to get a distant photo of, and another between Loch Allan and Black Loch. The second one just flew along the road in front of the car landing on fence posts and then continued.  That same day I saw a Red-throated Diver and later in the month, there were two displaying on a loch. There seemed to be at least three pairs of Stonechats nesting between Refouble and Little Aitnoch. In that area, there were also plenty of Red-legged Partridges. It is lovely to see quite a bit of activity with many of the summer visitors back, the Willow Warblers, the Chiffchaffs, the Whitethroats and the Swallows. I have not seen many Common Sandpipers this year. There are usually quite a few at Lochindorb but so far I have not seen any there. I did see two near Drynachan. There were lots of Sand Martins flying over the water there too. Near Dulsie Bridge I saw my first Spotted Flycatcher this year. There used to be quite a few Lapwings up in the Dava area but their numbers seem to have diminished. Towards the end of the month I heard Cuckoos near Knockaneorn and near Balnught but could not see them.

April 2019

To my amazement I had fifteen Yellowhammers in the garden on the first day of this month. The most I have ever had at one time have been three so it was wonderful to see so many. That same day there was also one Brambling, two Lesser Redpolls and a Wren. But the Yellowhammers appear to have taken over the garden. They feed from the ground while the Bramblings and Lesser Redpolls feed from the bird feeders and the ground.

After that first week the total of Yellowhammers began to decrease but then I had eight Lesser Redpolls at the feeders one day. Again this was an unusually high amount to have ever been in the garden. There has been a great deal of birdsong in the mornings and watching the Robins I am not sure if they were displaying to each other or being aggressive. The Herring Gull has found a mate and now there are two coming in regularly. I have still plenty apples left which the Blackbirds are enjoying.

There has been a lot of activity out and about also. On the occasions when I was up the Dava I have seen, two Black Grouse and two Red-throated Divers. There have been lots of Greylag Geese heading back to their breeding grounds. In amongst them I saw four Pink-footed Geese although most of them will have gone by now. Two Tufted Ducks were on Black Loch and later on their were two Goldeneye. At Refouble there were twelve Golden Plover but they soon will be moving on also. Lapwings are nesting in this area and near Burnside Farm. Here I also saw my first Swallow and between here and Little Aitnoch there are always plenty of Stonechats and Meadow Pipits.

The bridge at Rumachroy is a beautiful place to stop and just listen to the birdsong and look around for the variety of birds there. There are Grey Wagtails on the river, Crossbills in the trees and I heard and saw my first Willow Warbler of the year there. I had expected all the Redwings and Fieldfares to have left the area but in the middle of the month, there were three Redwings near Newton of Fleenas and a Kestrel west of Knockaneorn.

There have been quite a few Wheatears in the area too. I saw two at Aitnoch and two at Moyness and one at Earlseat. On a trip to Nairn, I saw my first Sandwich Terns of the year and at Cawdor, I saw the resident Mandarin Ducks. At Kepperach Wood I saw a pair of Teal in a little pond but I have not seen them there since. Further on at Achavraat, there were six Skylarks flying around and singing beautifully. In the pond near East Grange, there have been a pair of Little Grebes.

It has been a month of in with the new and out with the old. The Bramblings, Lesser Redpolls, PInk-footed Geese, Golden Plover, Fieldfares and Redwings have all moved away and although some birds might have been around all winter it is mostly at this time of year that they are seen well. Crossbills, Grey Wagtails, Wheatears, Willow Warblers, Red-throated Divers, Skylarks, Lapwings, Sandwich Terns, Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins and Dippers to name but a few, all appear.

Finally , this month has brought in the appearance of more Butterflies, especially Orange-tipped ones and even some Dragonflies and Damselflies. There seem to be more Bumblebees around earlier too.

March 2019

I have only one nest box in my garden with a camera in it. So far no birds have actually nested in it although it has been there a few years now. However, this winter I discovered that a Tree Sparrow has been roosting there overnight for a few months. This may have happened in previous winters and I just had not noticed. It has certainly been there for a few months now. I am hoping that it will find a mate and eventually nest there.

My garden is still being visited by Yellowhammers, Lesser Redpolls and Bramblings all of this month. Their numbers keep increasing. I have had up to ten Yellowhammers and four Lesser Redpolls. The Brambling numbers had decreased a little but I still get up to four. There were twenty-one Tree Sparrows and over twenty Siskins on some of the days this month in the garden. The Sparrowhawk still flies through the garden regularly but I am not sure how much it actually catches but it keeps coming back so I suppose it reckons it to be worth its while. However, I found a pile of feathers one morning outside and it appeared to be from a large bird. I thought at first it was from a Wood Pigeon but I now think it is from one of the Collared Doves as four came into the garden and now there are only three. They somehow seem to be easy prey for the Sparrowhawks. To add insult to injury it later came in and sat outside my window as if to say ‘look at me’. I have a regular Herring Gull which comes in also. I try not to encourage Gulls but this one seems to chase all the other Gulls away and as I have a plentiful supply of apples I don’t mind. At least it is eating healthily. I got a quick glimpse of a Goldcrest one evening but have not seen it since. The Wren is also appearing more regularly in the garden.

At Brodie Pond there were the usual Mute Swans and lots of Mallards. The Hybrid Mallard which has been around there for a long time now was still there. There are always plenty of Moorhens and Little Grebes along with a group of Tufted Ducks. At the Mosset Pond, there was a lovely female Goosander sunning itself on the bank. No sign of a Kingfisher so far this year. One hung around the pond for quite a few weeks last year. There were two pairs of Goosanders also at Sanquhar Pond along with the Mallards. On a recent walk around Blairs Loch, I spotted six Crossbills. This is a good time of year to spot Crossbills as they nest early.

As the weather has not been too bad this winter there have not been as many ducks in the harbour at Burghead. Just the occasional Eiders. Off the coast, there has been a pair of Goldeneye. However, along the coast at Hopeman, I always see quite a few pairs of Stonechats. They usually sit on the top of the gorse and remain long enough for a photo. At Hopeman I saw my first butterflies this year when I saw a pair of Small Tortoiseshells. Further along the coast at Portgordon there are still large numbers of Redshanks, Dunlins and Godwits near the harbour.

On my way up to the Dava, the Buzzard was in its usual place at Darnaway. It had not been around much this winter but now it seems to have returned and I am pretty sure I will see it there every time I go past. At this time of year, there are plenty of Greylag Geese and Pink-footed Geese on the Dava. The Pink-footed Geese will soon be moving away and the Greylag Geese are beginning to breed. In amongst a large group of Pink-footed Geese and some Greylag, I spotted an oddity – a Brent Goose. There is a large group of Brent Geese which winter around Nairn but it is unusual to find one inland.

February 2019

The Fieldfare hung around the garden for six days. It spent each day entirely in the garden eating the apples and chasing all the Blackbirds and the other Fieldfare away. Sometimes it tired itself out completely and had to spend about an hour just sitting in the tree. Up to eight Bramblings came in at the one time into the garden this month. Some of them stopped feeding on the ground and were feeding on the feeders. If it happens to be a particularly cold winter I sometimes get a pheasant visiting the garden and this month one appeared. February was an unusually warm month so I was surprised to see it. It continued to appear on odd days throughout the month. I do wonder where it comes from as I live in the town and am a wee bit away from any farmland. The Long-tailed Tits are still coming in. I saw seven of them together at one time. There may have been more but they flit around so quickly that it is sometimes difficult to count them. I also now have two male Yellowhammers and a female Yellowhammer coming into the garden on a regular basis. One of my favourite birds in the garden is the Collared Dove. I have two pairs coming in. There is sometimes a dispute between the pairs over territory and I think one pair is starting to nest in the trees at the bottom of the garden. They are such gentle looking birds and a few years ago I witnessed a Sparrowhawk in the garden tearing one to shreds so I would hate that to happen again. The Wren still makes an appearance and there are two Lesser Redpolls still coming in. The big surprise of the month was two male Bullfinches which came in fleetingly into the garden. It is quite a few years since I have seen a Bullfinch in the garden.

It is in winter when you see most birds of prey sitting on fence posts or poles close to the roads. I was lucky enough to see two Kestrels this month, one in Moyness and the other at Kinloss, and a Buzzard at Darnaway. Quite often, particularly with Buzzards, they will still be in the same area when you go back. There had been a Great Grey Shrike seen up the Dava and I went up a few times to look for it. It was very popular with bird watchers at these times. Finally, on my third attempt, I managed to see it but it was very distant. I must admit I was quite smug as I had seen one two years ago at Loch Kirkaldy and had got a lovely photograph of it then. In the same area, there was also a Peregrine and a Red Kite flying around. Deer also are quite close to roads at this time and I have seen quite a few when I have been out and about. One of the days I was at Loch Spynie and saw one of the Water Rails there and a Red Squirrel at the water’s edge also. I went to Nairn to see the Brent Geese which winter there every year but I am not sure the numbers were as high as previous years. Finally, another trip along the coast, and I managed to see lots of Dunlin and Redshanks at Portgordon and Purple Sandpipers at Burghead.

January 2019

The first day of the new year brought a Treecreeper into the garden. This started the year for quite a few winter visitors. Long-tailed Tits started to appear in small numbers but gradually as the month went on their numbers increased to nine. At the end of last year, there had been a male Blackcap in the garden but this month, for one day only, I saw a female Blackcap. Next, a solitary Brambling appeared. There have been unusually large numbers of Bramblings around the area this winter. In some cases, there numbers have been in the hundreds. My first Yellowhammer also appeared and it was a very bright male. I thought I had seen a Wren in the garden at the beginning of the month but was not certain, but it put in an appearance again about the middle of the month. It is not an easy bird to photograph as it never lights long enough in one place. Two Lesser Redpolls started to come in also and were feeding on the niger seeds. At the end of the month, a Fieldfare came into the garden. We had masses of apples on our apple tree last year and we had stored them to feed the birds. That same day thirteen Fieldfares came into the garden and started eating them but something scared them off and I never saw the large group again. More than likely it was the regular Sparrowhawk which flies pretty much daily through my garden. It does not linger anywhere so I cannot get a photograph. On one occasion it struck the window and appeared concussed but it managed to fly off eventually. Two Fieldfares appeared on the last day of the month but one kept chasing the other away.

These were mainly unusual birds to the garden but there were quite high numbers of regular birds in the garden also. There were twenty or more Tree Sparrows. I used to have a large amount of House Sparrows in my garden and they nested in the nest boxes, but the Tree Sparrows have driven the House Sparrows away. I am hoping they will use the nest boxes too. There were also twenty plus Goldfinches and thirty-five or more Chaffinches. It is not often I see these birds in such large numbers and the weather was not particularly cold.

Although most of my birdwatching took place in the garden this month I did manage to see a distant Merlin at Findhorn. There has been one hanging around there for a while. I also got a glimpse of a Grey Partridge in a field at Easter Lawrenceton and a Dipper at Sanquhar Pond.

So on the whole I was quite pleased with the unusual variety of birds I had seen this month.

October – December 2018

The Sparrowhawk has started coming into the garden frequently these last few months. I have not been aware of it catching anything and there have been no telltale signs of feathers in the garden. There are still plenty of Tree Sparrows. The numbers are unusually high and they seem to be driving away the House Sparrows of which we had a lot. The Jackdaws fly in a few families at a time and their numbers can be quite high also but they do not linger for long. I have had few visits from a Great Spotted Woodpecker but it is not easy to photograph as it flies off at the slightest movement. We have started stockpiling our apples from the tree for the winter and already there are signs of winter visitors. Redwings have started to appear and were eating the apples and a male Blackcap came in and was eating the suet balls. There was also a Fieldfare in the play area next to our garden. At the end of the day, at dusk, Long-tailed Tits have been coming in small groups. Usually, I have just one or two Bramblings in the garden but on one occasion there were three. Every year about December a Pheasant appears in the garden and this year was no exception. It did not hang aroudn for long.

On our trips along the coast, we have seen lots of Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers in the harbour at Port Gordon. Occasionally I have seen Gosanders in that area. The Seals are always basking on the beach near Port Gordon also. I was delighted to see my first King Eider at Burghead in October. Also on that same day I saw a Viking Gull. I thought it was a Glaucous Gull but a reliable source told me it was a Viking Gull. Waxwings arrived in this area about the beginning of November. I had not seen any in Forres and they did not seem to be in large numbers. However, there were about fifty seen in Cullen and as we sometimes started our birdwatching along the coast at Cullen we went through to see them. Fortunately, it was a bright sunny day while we were there. On a trip to Inverness we stopped at Alturlie to see what was on the water but there just the usual Teal and Wigeon.

There have not been so many geese in the fields around Moyness as in previous years. I think they were more in the hundreds than in the thousands which had been there before. On my way there one day I spotted a Jay on a tree. Although not he best of photographs it was the closest I have got to photographing one.

July – September 2018

I did not photograph many birds in the garden during these months although there were still young around. A Treecreeper appeared in the garden and there was a spectacular Giant Horsefly at the garden pond. There was also a Willow Warbler which appeared in the garden briefly. Some of the flowers in the garden attracted large moths.

At the beginning of August I went on a boat trip from Macduff to Troup Head. We only saw one Puffin in the water as we were probably too late for them but there were the usual displays of Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots and Fulmar on the cliffs. It is quite a spectacle to see the cliffs covered completely with different birds. On the way back we had an unexpected stop beside this massive tanker to pick up four workers who were heading home. It was quite an experience watching them make their way down the gangway and ladders to reach our tiny boat. Let’s say rather them than me!

There was the usual wildlife to see up on the Dava during these months. I was fortunate to see Red-Legged Partridges with chicks on a few occasions. This is the time of year also when you can see deer close to the roads. At Loch Belivat I saw two unusual Hybrid Mallards which stood out among the other ducks in the water.

Although I nearly always see Stonechats up the Dava I saw quite a few at the coast during these months. At Burghead along with the usual Seals, I saw many Turnstones and Rock Pipits. At Cummingston, there were Whitethroats and Wheatears. On a visit to Kingston I was lucky to see a WaterRail which is a rare visitor to there.

There were many Butterflies around this year and some which I had not seen for a few years such as a Small Copper and a Ringlet.

Finally, I had been abroad for two weeks at the beginning of September. While we were there I heard that a Hoopoe had been seen at Cromarty. I was delighted to find that it was still there when I returned. I spent over an hour there watching this bird as it fed on the ground completely ignoring the small group of birdwatchers close by. No apologies for the excess photos of it as it a rare visitor to this country and I felt privilged to have seen it.

May -June 2018

In May the young birds started to appear in the garden. The parent birds were busy all the time feeding their young. There were juvenile House Sparrows, Starlings, Dunnocks and Blue Tits. When I was out and about on the Dava, I saw Lapwing chicks, Mallard with ducklings and I even saw my first Cuckoo of the year in the same place as I had seen them in previous years. The Red-breasted Divers had also returned to the lochs on the Dava. The young Deer could also be easily seen in the fields. The Orange Tip Butterflies are seen quite early in Spring in the garden but it not always easy to get a photograph as they never settle, just pass through. In the woods there are plenty Speckled Wood Butterflies.

At the beginning of June we were in Ghent, in Belgium, for a few days. It was a lovely city with plenty to see. I always see Great Crested Grebes when I go abroad to various cities and Ghent was no exception to this. They were seen on every waterway. They are very photogenic birds as they glide gracefully past. I also noticed a Coot there, out of the water and did not realise they had such large feet!

Back home, there was plenty of activity along the coast. I was fortunate to see Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers with their Chicks and Eider Ducks with young in the sea. As the weather was so good there were always plenty Grey and Common Seals basking along the shores. On the Dava, I saw my first Red-legged Partridge chicks and Juvenile Stonechats being fed. There were plenty of Dragonflies to be seen near a small pond in the woods. A little mouse has been appearing at the bottom of my birdfeeders for a while now. I hope it survives as there are Herring Gulls and Jackdaws often in the garden.

North Coast 500

North Coast 500

It was on the 17th April we started on the North Coast 500. We took a slight detour and started on the Isle of Raasay first.  This was our first stopping off point and with hindsight we did not have enough time to spend there as we would have liked.  The only bird I spotted was a little Guillemot on the ferry across to Raasay from  Skye.  From Raasay, we went to Applecross and then to Gairloch where we stayed a night.  It was after this that I began to see the wildlife of the area.   I saw lots of Great Northern Divers quite close to the shore. We often get them along the coast in Moray,  but very rarely this close to the shore although a few years ago I remember seeing one in Burghead harbour.

We headed up the west coast from Gairloch to Drumbeg. On the way, I saw my first otter close up to the road eating a fish and also some Black-throated Divers.  Looking down from the cliffs I could see some seals basking at the water’s edge below.  There were also some shovellers in one loch as we went past.  Drumbeg was a lovely secluded part off the route and we spent a couple of nights here.  I saw more Great Northern and Black-throated Divers in the area as well as Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers.  I also saw my first White Wagtail.

Needless to say the scenery on the whole trip was spectacular and as the weather was good I wondered why we had never done this before.  We had been to certain parts on the west coast throughout the years but never done the whole route.

Finally, we left Drumbeg and went to my daughter’s house in Thurso via Durness and Tongue.  She took me to the lovely  Bird Hide at St John’s Pool where I saw Sandwich Terns, Black-headed Gulls, Black-tailed Godwits, Shovellers, Teal, Moorhens and Common Gulls.  The Gulls spent most of the time mating.  There were only a few Sandwich Terns, less than usual apparently and it was possible that the Black-headed Gulls were keeping them away.  There were lots of Tufted Ducks there also and it was lovely to get some photos of them out of the water as they are usually always in the water.

My only regret was that we never saw any Golden Eagles or White-tailed Eagles but who knows they seem to be heading eastwards all the time and one has been seen at the mouth of the River Spey.