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 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.
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.
This has been a good month for birds that usually only visit the garden occasionally. As well as the little Goldcrest which made another appearance and the Common Pheasant, the male Yellowhammer arrived. I had last seen it in January. The male Blackcap came in at the beginning of the month for a few days and then towards the end of the month a female Blackcap came in. The male Blackcap is grey with a black cap while the female Blackcap is a paler colour with a chestnut brown cap.
The total number of Siskins at one time went up to thirteen and in with them came a group of ten Lesser Redpolls. There was a mixture of male and female Redpolls. They both have the very red head but the male also has a red front on his chest. The first time I saw a male Lesser Redpoll in the garden a few years ago, not recognising the bird, I thought at first it was an injured bird.
One day I watched a male Siskin feeding a female Siskin. Apparently, this is part of a courtship ritual by Siskins.
I had seen a Brambling in the garden in January and another one returned this month and stayed around for a few days. I think the one in January was a female but this was was definitely a male. They soon go elsewhere for the summer.
There were as many as fourteen Goldfinches in the garden at one time. They tended to chase away the Redpolls from the feeders. There were four Tree Sparrows also. Later in the month a female Yellowhammer joined the male in the garden. They only feed from the ground never on the feeders. Towards the end of the month two male Yellowhammers came in. I don’t know if they were competing for the same female but it has not happened again.
The regular birds as usual all make an appearance at some point. There were a couple of Blue Tits around. One enjoyed looking at its reflection in the window. Another spent a lot of time chasing the other birds round the apple tree unti it eventually got rid of them. I did not see what the point of this was.
About the middle of the month a female Great Spotted Woodpecker came into the garden and stayed quite a while on the tree. Unfortunately, this time I did not manage to get a picture of it. I have not had a Woodpecker in the garden for a while.
Spring is definitely coming as I heard a Song Thrush singing at the top of my neighbour’s tree. It sang for about an hour and returned every evening about the same time for a few days. It did not come into the garden however. The birds are all singing around the garden looking for a mate but none singing as beautifully as the Song Thrush. I think the Robins and the Wood Pigeons have already found their mates.
I am still getting visits from Long-tailed Tits although not in large groups. Sometimes there is only one or maybe two.
All these birds in the garden mean that the Sparrowhawk still makes an appearance in the garden. It is quite a young one and I don’t think it is very successful at catching anything.
Finally, the Rabbit is still coming regularly for its carrot. I have not seen the Squirrel back at it again. Does it ever wonder where this mysterious carrot comes from?
I only visited Blairs Loch once this month. On the loch there were six Little Grebes, two Moorhens, one Mute Swan, two Tufted Ducks and three Wigeon. Two Buzzards were flying overhead. The only bird I managed to get a photo of was a Long-tailed Tit.
At the Coast
It must have been a busy month for me elsewhere as I was only at the coast once this month as well. Although I saw quite a few birds, such as Dunnocks singing, Rock Pipits on the rocks, a large group of Oysterctchers and a Sparrowhawk flying along the road in front of us, I only got a photo of a Linnet.
On the Dava
At the beginning of the month when were going to the Dava I saw five Red-legged Partridges at Moyness. There were also 320+ Starlings on a wire at Moyness. One snowy day in the middle of the month I saw four Black Grouse on the Dava. They were not lekking but feeding happily on the ground.
There were still lots of Pink-footed Geese and Greylag Geese at Little Aitnoch. At Dunearn crossroads I saw Lapwings, two Common Teal, Greylag Geese and a Golden Plover. They are lovely birds, the Golden Plover, but not easy to photograph in order to show off their beautiful colours. This is also true of Lapwings.
A new coffee lounge opened on the Dava this month. It is at the Old Dava Schoolhouse. As we are often up in that direction for a quite few hours each week it is great to have somewhere to pop in for a cup of coffee. I can highly recommend the choice of coffees and cakes. They have bird feeders in the garden and a wide range of birds come in as the feeders are close to woods. One wet day this Dunnock was happily singing in the pouring rain as we returned to the car.
At Loch Belivat I saw a male and female Crossbill at the top of a tree and also a Red Squirrel watching us.
At the end of the month as we went up to the Dava we turned off to go to Drynachan. The road was full of Red-legged Partridges. It was a very dull day but on the way back we were surprised to see a male and female Crossbill sitting on a TV aerial at Banchor. They were only there for a few seconds and I was lucky to get a photo.
Lower Broadshaw Wood
We often walk up to the reservoir here and on one occasion this month I saw lots of mating toads on the road. We often see birds of prey in this area including a Kestel and Buzzards. We have also in the winter months seen a Peregrine Falcon there.
On the water, there we have seen Tufted Ducks, Wigeon and Mallards. On one occasion, there was a large group of Oystercatchers on the edge. The woods home lots of Bullfinches, Treecreepers and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
During the month, I spent a weekend with family at Nethybridge. It was a really hot weekend and this seemed to keep many of the birds out of sight. In the garden I watched a pair of BlueTits cooling down and a Pied Wagtail feeding on a leatherjacket grub.
On a visit to Loch Insh I saw some Tufted Ducks and a pair of Goldeneye. I also saw a male Goosander in the distance. There were also a large group of White Ducks. and Mallards.
My family gave me a chimenea for Christmas and this allows me to stay out in the garden longer on cold days. The cold weather and the frosty mornings bring in some of my rarer visitors to the garden. The Goldcrest continues to appear and quite often the Long-tailed Tits. Their visits are usually very brief. A Great Spotted Woodpecker came in one day at the beginning of the month and I hoped it would become a regular visitor for a few months but then two Jackdaws came in and immediately frightened it away. The Pheasant has been back in the garden on a few occasions this month. it has been a few months since I have seen a wren in the garden but at the beginning of the month one appeared. On that particular day there was a huge density of birds around but it hopped around heedless of all the other birds. About the middle of the month a Treecreeper came in and spent some time on the apple tree. It likes the peanut butter that I sometimes spread on the bark of the tree.
Although I had been getting at the most two Siskins in the garden at any one time a Lesser Redpoll at last appeared with them. Then a few days later there were two – a male and a female.
I watched a Blackbird and a House Sparrow sharing a suet ball on the ground quite amicably but then the blackbird hopped off with it into the bushes quite swiftly followed by the Sparrow. I never saw the outcome of this or who was the winner in the end.
We have one bird nesting box in the garden which has a camera in it. It had not been used in previous years but this month a male House Sparrow has been inside it cleaning it out and although it brings things in for nesting material it keeps rearranging them and taking some out again. I have not seen a female near the box but we look forward to watching it to see if it develops into a nest with young in it.
About the middle of February a male Blackcap also appeared in the garden but it did not linger.
The Blackbirds keep enjoying the apples that are put out as do our two resident Herring Gulls. The Gulls treat the garden and the adjoining play area as their territory and although they will share anything they find with each other they will viciously chase off any other Gulls that come near.
This month there have been up to ten Siskins, four Tree Sparrows and three Lesser Redpolls at one time in the garden. There has also been an increase in the number of Goldfinches visiting the garden.
The Rabbit is still coming in for its carrot and sometimes lettuce daily. The Red Squirrel came in one morning and was running around the garden. It climbed onto the bird bath to get a drink and then climbed on to the window ledge and looked in at me. I am not sure who got the bigger fright!
It had been a while since I had visited Brodie Pond although it is not far from Forres. I went there one morning for a walk with my friend. I was pleased to see some Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Mute Swans, Moorhens, Little Grebes and a Mallard Hybrid. On the way back this Buzzard was sitting on top of a telegraph pole.
Along The Coast
There have been up to seventy Brent Geese at Nairn for most of the winter months and I had seen them in the sea around the harbour and Leisure Centre area. However, strangely they had taken to feeding on the links in Nairn so I went through to see them again. There were about sixty-four of them on that occasion. They seemed oblivious to passers-by and sensibly were out of the way of most dog walkers.
One of the days this month I had to go through to Cullen on an errand and passed through some of the coastal villages on the way. At Cullen there were nineteen Purple Sandpipers in with a group of Oystercatchers. It was a bitterly cold day and they all seemed to be to be sheltering with each other against the wind. There was also one Redshank in with this group. It appears that this was a particularly large group of Purple Sandpipers for Cullen.
At Findochty there were a pair of Common Seals in the harbour and a large group of Redshanks and Turnstones at the bottom of the harbour wall. Some of them flew to a nearby pool of water to bathe. A solitary Rock Pipit was the only small bird around at the time. The tide was in and we enjoyed watching the huge waves come over the sea wall.
I went with the Bird club for a trip to Spey Bay one Saturday. There had been a Black Redstart seen close by the golf course there. Although we managed to see it I was unable to get a photograph disappointingly. However, I did see this Skylark on the golf course and the Wigeon which were at the bay.
When I visited Cummingston I saw that the Fulmars were already picking their nesting spots although they were not yet into pairs.
Coming back from Inverness one day I saw this Rook posing nicely in the sunshine at Alturlie..
We often take a walk into Lower Broadshaw Wood and go up to the reservoir. On one occasion we saw seventeen Tufted Ducks and five Wigeon in with the ducks. There were also two Oystercatchers, a Cormorant and some Mallards. We heard the call of Jays in the woods but did not see any.
The Peregrine Falcon was back sitting on the tree close to the road. There were also thousands of Pink- footed Geese in a couple of fields near the crossroads. It was nice to see that the Lapwings had returned inland and in one field we counted eighteen Lapwings.
This month I have fortunate to see two Red Kites flying over the Moyness to Lethen road on two occasions. One of those times I saw a Red Kite being chased by a Crow. There were lots of Buzzards in the area and one was sitting on a post at the crossroads but it took off just as I took its photograph.
On The Dava
I have not seen a great deal on the Dava this month. Quite often when we have gone up the Lochs have been empty. At Little Aitnoch there is always a Pheasant or two on the hay bales there. This was just waiting to be photographed.