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.
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.