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.
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.
After watching a Siskin last month feed another Siskin as part of a courting ritual I saw a Robin feed another Robin in the same way. There were three Robins in the garden at one stage so he must have been pulling out all the stops to woo her. However, a few days later the three of them were back in the garden.
I was sitting having my breakfast one morning when a Red Squirrel came in and ran off with the large carrot. I wondered what it was going to do with it, if it was going to bury it. It would be quite disappointed to come back and find it had gone mouldy. Another day a Squirrel came in and was exploring the garden and it jumped from the picnic table and accidently fell into an open bag of apples. I think it got quite a fright and I was just going to let it out when it ran off. Another young Squirrel came in later in the month. It was amusing to watch as it did not seem to know how to get into the Squirrel box. It took a short while to realise it had to open the lid and then it was unsure whether to go in it. When it eventually got a nut, it would run around the garden burying it. It even buried one in a big plant pot.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker came in one morning before I was dressed and was feeding on the suet balls and peanuts. It lingered for a short spell and then flew off. They are such colourful birds to watch. I do notice that the other birds keep well away from it when it is in the garden.
In the second week of the month a male and female Bullfinch arrived in the garden, I very rarely get Bullfinches in the garden. They seem to like the insects around the leaves and buds just before they open. That same day the Yellowhammer appeared again, two Long-tailed Tits and a female Lesser Redpoll. The Bullfinches hung around the garden until nearly the end of the month and then just disappeared.
I went to Thurso and then across to Orkney for a few days towards the end of the month. When I came home I was surprised to find a baby Rabbit in the garden eating the carrot. I suppose I should not have been surprised and wondered how many more would appear! There was no sign of the adult Rabbit. It was a few days later before it appeared and it seemed to lead the young one across the play area towards the carrot. They both would happily share the same carrot. Sometimes they were too slow and the Red Squirrel would get there before them. There were two Herring Gulls mating in the play area and they were hesitating about attacking the young Rabbit. When I came back there was also a Magpie in the garden. It would jump into the bushes looking I think for birds’ eggs or the young birds themselves. They are another bird that has beautiful colours but a bird I don’t want to encourage it into the garden.
There has been a young Sparrowhawk making an appearance in the garden. One day it was just sitting on the bird table. Last year a Sparrowhawk got one of two Collared Doves that were in my garden and this year I have two Collared Doves again so I am hoping there is no repeat. However, that is just nature and they all need to survive one way or another.
We have been watching the House Sparrow through the camera in the next box for a few weeks now. It has been a bit of a disappointment, as just when we think it has started to build a nest it takes everything out again. I once saw two Sparrows in there and my hopes were raised but now it is empty again.
We now have a small pond in the garden and it has been a bit of a curiosity for all the birds. Some drink from it, others bathe in it and others just stand and look at their reflection.
Along the Coast
No matter where you go along the Moray coast you will always see Cormorants or Shags on the rocks. They are often sunning themselves on the rocks just off the mainland or on the harbour walls. Sometimes they are easy to spot flying along the coastline. If they are flying low then is safe to say it is a Shag but if they are flying high then it is a Cormorant.
Although Dunnocks spend most of their lives chasing each other and flying low in to the gorse bushes, at this time of year they are often perched on the top of the bushes singing. Linnets are other birds that have a lovely song but often do not stay in the one place long enough to photograph.
The Brent Geese were in Nairn long before the end of the year and they were still around there in April. At some point, I think there were about 70 in the area. The interesting thing was that not only did they feed at the edge of the water but sometimes they went on to the Links to feed and really were unfazed by people and dogs. I went back to see them this month but their numbers had gone down. They now seem to return to Nairn every winter. While I was there I saw about 50 or more Redshanks feeding on the shingle at the mouth of the harbour. On the River Nairn, there was a pair of Goosanders.
On one of the days I was at the coast I saw four Bar-tailed Godwits on the beach at Burghead just as the tide was going out.
On the Dava
Although Lochindorb is not in Moray and Nairn it is one of my favourite places to visit. In summer, you can often see Ospreys fishing there although I have not been fortunate to see any so far. It is a favourite breeding area for Common Gulls and near the loch you will find Lapwings and Oystercatchers breeding there too. In the summer, there are also Common Sandpipers which breed there but so far, they have not arrived. On one occasion when I was up there this month I spotted a Mallard with a Leucistic Mallard which I assume was a female as they were always together. Quite an attractive duck she was!
There are still large flocks of Pink-footed Geese on the Dava although they should soon be moving on. The Greylag Geese are moving in as many of them breed up there.
One day we went towards Drynachan at the edge of the River Findhorn. There are often Common Sandpipers there but I think we were too early in the year. On the way, there were lots of Red-legged Partridge on the road and in the fields. There was quite a lot of squabbling, amongst the males I presume. They are very colourful birds especially when they are flying.
At this time of the year most of the Fieldfare and Redwings had gone but in the middle of the month I saw a flock of about twenty Fieldfare near Dunearn crossroads. So, there were still a few around.
At a pond near Levrattich there were two Little Grebes enjoying the sunshine. We sometimes go past this pond but do not often see anything.
Towards the end of the month I saw and heard my first Cuckoo of the year near Dulsie Bridge. It landed on a tree just beside the car. I should have taken the photo through the window but instead I wound down the window and at this point it went ‘Cuckoo’ and flew off. I had missed my chance. Two years ago, I managed to get pictures of three different Cuckoos but last year I only heard them. So, I was pleased to see one even if I missed the shot.
On a visit to Elgin we parked near Cooper park and there were quite a few Tufted Ducks in the pond, a few Mallards and the usual Gulls. The Tufted Ducks were very obliging for a photo shoot.
This is the time of year that you see the hares boxing in the fields. This one was with a mate but it was difficult to photograph them both together.
At the beginning of April, we saw about two hundred Golden Plover sheltering in a stony field near the crossroads. They were extremely difficult to see on the stony ground. During the month, we returned frequently and the numbers kept getting higher. They were always in the same place and never moving just sheltering together. It was hard to work out what exactly they were feeding on as they never moved. Late one evening we did see them fly around the other fields like Starlings do in a murmuration but they were back to their usual spot in the morning. These were still around sixteen days later and their numbers had gone up to over three hundred. Then they just disappeared ‘en masse’. It seems they were likely to be Northern Golden Plovers which were about to leave this country and were possibly building up their strength and waiting for the right winds before leaving.
In the middle of the month we went to Thurso where my daughter lives and then across to Orkney for a few days. We went to St John’s Pool near Thurso and I saw Teal, Gadwall, and Sandwich Terns. It was a hive of activity with Redshanks, Tufted Ducks, Black-headed Gulls, Wigeon and Moorhens. Our visit there was very short but it is well worth a visit.
In Orkney I saw a Great Skua or Bonxie which it is known locally as. It flew past me and I was so busy watching it that I forgot to try to photo it. We saw a Snipe at the road side one day but it cowered down and was impossible to photo without scaring it away.
As well as visiting the attractions in the area, on some of our walks, I saw Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Wheatear.
Finally, a quick trip up to Sanquhar Pond rewarded me with a sighting of a Mallard and Ducklings. I don’t go up there often enough even if it is just on my doorstep so to speak.