The winter birds that come into the garden in January are usually the ones that I have seen in the garden in November and December of the previous year. As long as there is food on the ground they hang around. I did not have many apples on the apple tree the year before so there was not a surplus of apples to feed any passing Fieldfares or Redwings.
A male and female Blackcap visited the garden regularly right through until March. In winter they enjoy the suet balls as do any visiting Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits. I had the occasional visit of a Treecreeper and on one occasion, surprisely, it was feeding on the seeds on the ground. The first Yellowhammer came in at the beginning of February and from then they regularly came in. At one point there were eight in the garden at one time.
On a short walk up at the Enterprise Park I saw a small group of Bullfinches feeding on the ground and the bare trees allowed me to get a decent glimpse of Great Spotted Woodpecker. One of the buildings there had a large group of Feral Pigeons huddling together for shelter from the cold. There must have been well over a hundred.
The usual winter ducks were to be found at Burghead also – Eider and Long-tailed Ducks – but not in particularly large numbers.
Signs of Spring were beginning to appear in the garden when the Tree Sparrows and the House Sparrows were checking out the same nest box and deciding which of them could use it. In the end neither of them used it.
It was March before I made the first trip of the year up the Dava. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese near Little Aitnoch flying overhead and in the fields. There was also the usual Stonechats that can be seen all year round near there.
Little did I know then that this would my last trip away from home for a while as Lockdown started.
The Tree Sparrows were once again nesting in the bird box. The first brood fledged last month and it looked as if there is going to be another brood. Once again I sat opposite the nest box and watched the attentive parents feeding their young. The garden had lots of young birds in it this month. The Magpies were still around hoping to catch one of the young birds. An unusual Feral Pigeon came into the garden for a few days. A Red Squirrel also appeared in the garden and has been feeding from the Squirrel feeding box. It concentrated so much on eating that it allowed me to get quite close to it. About the middle of the month this second brood of Tree Sparrows fledged also.
This has certainly been a month for seeing lots of butterflies mainly in the garden. The Red Admirals, Peacocks and LargeWhites are often in the garden but this year a Speckled Wood, a Small Tortoiseshell, a Ringlet and Painted Lady, all made an appearance. There seems to be an abundance of Painted Ladies in the country at the moment. When I was out walking one day on the Dava I managed to get a lovely picture of a Common Blue.
The weather was so good this month that we went back to Gairloch. We packed a picnic and set off for the day. It was beautiful sitting at the edge of Loch Maree enjoying our picnic and watching some canoeists. Unfortunately, we never saw any birds. There are Black-throated Divers on the loch but we did not see any.
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.
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.
It is not that the numbers of birds have decreased this month in my garden, but that there has been so little sunshine and therefore the light has been so poor that I cannot get any decent photos. There has been large groups of Chaffinches and Tree Sparrows. The Tree Sparrows are outnumbering the House Sparrows at the moment.
A male Blackcap came into the garden for two days only. I kept hoping it would come back but there has been no sign of it again. There were three Magpies in the garden on one occasion although I have seen four together in the play area next to the garden.
Along The Coast
While walking along the coast one Wednesday morning with Caroline from Hopeman to Burghead a Kestrel appeared above us. It hovered in front of us then settled on a rock overlooking the beach. It remained there for a long time. Near Burghead there was a rock with a large group of Oystercatchers sheltering and in with the Oystercatchers were a small group of Godwits.
When I visited Cullen this month I was pleased to see a pair of Stonechats flying around the rocks along with a Rock Pipit and some Redshanks.
On a trip to Inverness I stopped at Alturlie and saw masses of Wigeon in the bay. There were many other ducks also but the distance was too far and the light too poor to make out what they were.
So far the number of Redwings and Fieldfares arriving in the area has been pretty low this winter compared to the hundreds seen last winter. There was a field near Moyness that did have a mixture of Thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings for a few weeks but they have since disappeared.
On the whole the year started well for my bird watching and nature watching but as the year has gone on it has disappointingly decreased due mainly to poor weather conditions. Hopefully 2018 will be a better year and will bring me some new challenges.