January 2021

January started again with another lockdown which meant we could not go far out and about, so most of the bird observations had to done in the garden.

Most of the usual winter garden visitors had returned. The ones that remain in the garden are the Blackbirds, of which we have many, Siskins and Chaffinches. However, on New Year’s Day a Fieldfare came in. At this time last winter we had one Fieldfare which hung around on its own well into February and it used to chase all the Blackbirds away from all the apples on the ground. I did wonder if this was the same one. This one however, was not so keen to eat the apples in the garden but rather eat apples that had landed in the grassy area over the fence. It was later joined by another Fieldfare and both of them hung around all month. A large group of about sixteen Fieldfares came in on a few occasions, but once the stock of apples diminished they were off leaving just the two. A Song Thrush sometimes came in with the Fieldfares and then there would be a squabble over the apples.

A group of eight Long-tailed tits came in regularly all month at different times to feed on the suet balls. They tended to come in either first thing in the morning or just as it was getting dark at night. Towards the end of the month a pair of Blackcaps came in and were still around at the end of the month.

Some birds came in fleetingly and then disappeared just as quickly. I got a glimpse of a Brambling but never saw it again. A male Bullfinch landed on the apple tree and disappeared and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was feeding for a short while on the suet balls. Also a Lesser Redpoll appeared with some Siskins but again it too fled quickly, It was disappointing that they did not linger but it was lovely to even get a glimpse of them.

I have had Wrens in the garden sometimes and one came in occasionally this month. I worry about the little Wrens because two neighbouring cats come in daily to catch birds and the Wrens would be easy prey for them.

We had one trip this month down to the coast where there were Eiders , Long-tailed Ducks and Golden Eye off the coast at Burghead and unusually in the harbour there was a Great Northern Diver. A good one to tick off the bird list at the beginning of the year.

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.