The year has started with many of my regular winter visitors returning. Lesser Redpolls, Blackcaps, Long-tailed Tits and even a Bullfinch have appeared in the garden. The Bullfinches usually arrive later on in the year so I was pleased to see this one. In previous years I have had a few Fieldfare come in to feast on the apples and stay around but I have had very few apples on the tree in Autumn so only one Fieldfare appeared and did not stay long. I occasionally have a Treecreeper come into garden during the year and one appeared for the first time at the end of January. it was lovely to get a visit from a Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding on the peanuts during these winter months.
The Eider ducks come into the harbour at Burghead during the winter months usually in large numbers. There was still not a great deal of snow around and I saw on one sunny day nine Grey-legged Partridges in a field near the coast. They are so well camouflaged in the surroundings of the field that it was only when some moved that i noticed them. They are quite attractive birds when you see them up close. At Hopeman there were a group of Sanderling and Ringed Plovers together on the beach.
One surprise was seeing a Grey Heron sitting on top of a neighbour’s roof. It rested there for a while and I can only surmise that there was a pond in one of the gardens which had attracted it to the area.
At Loch of Blairs there were the usual Mute Swans and Little Grebes. As winter comes to an end and spring was arriving, for the first time, I saw a pair of Mandarin ducks on the loch. I have been back there since and have not seen them again so they must have been passing through.
The first bird I saw which heralded the beginning of Spring was a Wheatear at the coast. It is also the start of my moth trapping year and the first one of interest was this Yellow Horned.
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.
I did not photograph many birds in the garden during these months although there were still young around. A Treecreeper appeared in the garden and there was a spectacular Giant Horsefly at the garden pond. There was also a Willow Warbler which appeared in the garden briefly. Some of the flowers in the garden attracted large moths.
At the beginning of August I went on a boat trip from Macduff to Troup Head. We only saw one Puffin in the water as we were probably too late for them but there were the usual displays of Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots and Fulmar on the cliffs. It is quite a spectacle to see the cliffs covered completely with different birds. On the way back we had an unexpected stop beside this massive tanker to pick up four workers who were heading home. It was quite an experience watching them make their way down the gangway and ladders to reach our tiny boat. Let’s say rather them than me!
There was the usual wildlife to see up on the Dava during these months. I was fortunate to see Red-Legged Partridges with chicks on a few occasions. This is the time of year also when you can see deer close to the roads. At Loch Belivat I saw two unusual Hybrid Mallards which stood out among the other ducks in the water.
Although I nearly always see Stonechats up the Dava I saw quite a few at the coast during these months. At Burghead along with the usual Seals, I saw many Turnstones and Rock Pipits. At Cummingston, there were Whitethroats and Wheatears. On a visit to Kingston I was lucky to see a WaterRail which is a rare visitor to there.
There were many Butterflies around this year and some which I had not seen for a few years such as a Small Copper and a Ringlet.
Finally, I had been abroad for two weeks at the beginning of September. While we were there I heard that a Hoopoe had been seen at Cromarty. I was delighted to find that it was still there when I returned. I spent over an hour there watching this bird as it fed on the ground completely ignoring the small group of birdwatchers close by. No apologies for the excess photos of it as it a rare visitor to this country and I felt privilged to have seen it.
Although I have not seen much activity out and about, this month like last, has been a busy time in the garden. The adult birds were still going to and fro gathering food or if the young had already fledged they were busy feeding in the garden. It was lovely to watch the juvenile birds. I often spend a bit longer looking at a Juvenile Robin and a juvenile Dunnock as they can appear at first glance to be quite similar but it is only when you see them together that the differences become obvious. The young Siskins, Greenfinches and Goldfinches are easier to recognise as they have usually the correct markings on their tails and they only have stripes down the front and on the head with no colours either on the front or on the head.
There has occasionally been Lesser Redpolls in the garden but I have only seen one although Frank said he saw four one morning. It would be lovely if they would appear in the garden with their young. Although I have not actually seen the Song Thrush in the garden it often sang in the early evening in the tree at the bottom of our garden. The Sparrowhawk still flies through but does not linger. Although it is a beautiful young male I have not been able to get a photograph of it.
Many of the birds at this time of year lose their first feathers and many of them stay out of sight for a while until this is passed. This is particularly true of the Blackbirds when their numbers fall drastically. At the beginning of the month for one day only, the Blackbird with the white head and neck returned to the garden. I had not seen that bird in the garden since November and even then it just stayed for a couple of days. It just seemed to pass through at the beginning of winter and then away again as soon as Spring was over. I have no idea where it was over these months. However, I have seen the occasional raggedy Robin or Blue Tit appear in the garden.
I don’t recall seeing young Tree Sparrows in my garden before so it was lovely to see them appear and watch them get fed. Their numbers increased to twelve as the month went on. It is much quieter as there are only a few Starlings around this month as mostly they have moved on. I got a lovely surprise towards the end of the month when a young Yellowhammer appeared in the garden. I have never had the young of Yellowhammers in the garden before. It was already feeding by itself although I did see an adult feed it occasionally. From then on, all three Yellowhammers came in to feed sometimes at different times from each other. It appeared to me that they just had the one fledgling but I could not be sure.
There have been some sunny days this month and the birds, particularly the Blackbirds and the Dunnocks have been sunbathing. Apparently, there are two reasons for that. The first is that it helps spread vital oils along the feathers and the second reason is that it helps drive out any parasites that may be feeding on the bird’s plumage.
There have been quite a few mornings this month when I have been sitting having breakfast and have watched the Rabbit munching its carrot and a Red Squirrel eating peanuts from the feeder or the squirrel box when a magpie has flown in and there has been a lot of activity, happy birds, adults and young, on the ground feeding. What more could I ask for!
Blairs Loch / Sanquhar
Again, I only visited Blairs Loch once this month and saw the Mute Swans with six cygnets. While I was there I saw one Coot and one Little Grebe with young. While walking to the bird hide at Chapelton, Sanquhar I spotted this large toad on the path but we did not see any birds to record at the hide.
Along The Coast
Grey Herons are very common along the coast and it would be impossible not to notice them. It is worthwhile just spending time to observe them as they stalk the fish. They can stand motionless for a long time on one leg before pouncing. Most birds are usually seen at Hopeman and Cummingston depending on the tide I can see some at Burghead. You can see far more birds in Burghead during the winter as many come into the harbour to shelter.
I can usually see Stonechats, Yellowhammers, Rock and Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers and Hooded Crows at Hopeman. I can often hear Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers in the summer but I only managed to get a photo of one Willow Warbler. At Cummingston there is usually a pair of Magpies hanging around but one day there were two adults with two young on a line. This Grey Wagtail I spotted when I was walking up the River Nairn with a friend.
So far there has not been many butterflies around as they seem to be later this year. A good place for butterflies is Cummingston but all I have seen lately there are Ringlets.
On The Dava / Lochindorb
At the beginning of the month we were up the Dava and went past Knockaneorn where I had previously seen the three Cuckoos. On this occasion, I saw one which I presumed to be one of the three I had seen last month. This time it was too far away to get a good photograph. There were various groups of Greylag Geese at Little Aitnoch, Aitnoch, Black Loch and the Lochan opposite Black Loch. At Refouble there were some Red-Legged Partridge.
Later in the month there were still lots of Greylag Geese around. At Dunearn I saw a Red Kite flying over the area. There were three Stonechats including one juvenile at Dunearn also.
As we were driving past Little Aitnoch there was a Woodcock at the side of the road. This is just the third one I had seen. A few years ago, in the same area there was one at the roadside and unfortunately I could not get a picture as it was at the wrong side of the car so I had to relent and let him take the photo. This time it was at my side but was about to disappear so I had to take a shot through the car window. I was quite pleased with it anyway.
At Aitnoch there was a family of Oystercatchers just off the road and I managed to get a picture of one of the young. There were also seven Canada Geese in a field.
We often make a long trip up to the Dava and taking in many of the back roads and on many occasions, I have seen deer. This is just the time of year when they have their young with them and are sometimes easily spotted. At Lochindorb I saw Mallards with chicks and a Curlew standing on one leg on sentry duty right at the top of an old telegraph pole.
Like the butterflies, I have not seen many Dragonflies on the go either. This Common Blue Dragonfly I saw on a walk at Loch Kirkaldy.
The hedging has all been cut down around the bus shelter at Moyness this year and I am finding I am not seeing as many birds as I used to. I don’t think I will ever see the long-eared Owl there again or any other Owls for that matter. I saw two Grey Partridges in a field there last month and I saw another two in another field this month. They were quickly disappearing into the rows of potatoes growing there.
Finally, we often go up for a walk to Tilliglens Wood near Relugas. On one occasion, we diverted from the woods and went towards the Dorback Burn. I saw a Reed Bunting there. On the way back through Relugas I saw a juvenile Wheatear.