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.
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.