Saturday, March 22, 2014

Crossbills South Yorkshire style. 14.3.2014

With a fine calm, sunny day the opportunity to get out early was too good to miss!  We headed for the Broomhead area in the Peak Park where, for many weeks, observers have been entertained by a mixed party of Common and Two-barred Crossbills.  As my trip had been planned far ahead I was increasingly pessimistic of catching these birds but, as the weeks went by and the birds remained , I became more and more excited by the prospect of seeing them.

And so we did!  A group of Common Crossbills feeding high in a conifer contained a single male Two-barred Crossbill  which showed off its markings to good effect. It insisted , at one point, of moving around the rear of the tree but, eventually, gave full and satisfactory views. I'd never seen the species before and, as a first impression, I felt it looked a little more streamlined, slimmer even, than Common Crossbill. We had good views previous to them moving off slightly so we were unable to establish whether other birds were present given five/six have been recorded.  Not bad to see three crossbill species within three days and to compare bill shapes and sizes too!!

We moved on to the wooded valley near Wortley and enjoyed good views of a Dipper carrying nesting material and of three Grey Wagtails in the same area along with a good variety of woodland birds. Later, and after the obligatory Yorkshire mobile breakfast, we moved to Worsborough Reservoir and walked around the whole periphery, including part of Rockley. This was where we had great views of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker last year at this time but, on this occasion, such was not to be repeated. A Chiffchaff sang, whilst nearby, a Willow Tit called amongst a wide variety of common woodland birds and waterfowl on the reservoir itself.

The weather had begun to change slightly, with cloud coming in and it becoming much colder. Visits to several other places provided good birding, but nothing new, and so with late afternoon approaching we decided to retrace our steps after yet another productive and enjoyable day.  

Southwards return. 13.3.2014

Discussions last evening had determined that, with a lot of careful planning, we could still get up Cairngorm (on the Funicular I might add) and then depart for home.  Despite all the great weather previously we hadn't reckoned on the forecast changing.  From Aviemore it looked as if  "the tops" were covered in cloud, but we decided to investigate and hope things might improve, so we set off regardless of the apparent conditions!

Our arrival coincided with hordes of skiers and snow boarders so bright colours, excitement, clunking great boots and all the necessary equipment was slowly moving its way towards the bottom of the slopes for upward transfer. It was hopeless our considering what we'd intended to do as the cloud was well and truly down and even distant telescope views of Ptarmigan were out of the question!  Looks like a flog up Carn Ban Mor again ( a suggestion to which I didn't get a response incidentally !! ). As a small consolation Matthew had a flyover Snow Bunting, which I missed ( always guaranteed to raise the spirits of the occasion!). And so it was homeward bound with me taking the first spell.

We reached the general Musselburgh area in good time proving I can actually drive above 50 mph!! The hoped for Surf Scoter couldn't be located and was doubtless lurking with the other scoters we could see well out in the Forth. Nonetheless we saw Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Eider, Great Northern Diver, and a Black Guillemot  previous to our deciding to move on.

With Senna-like focus we made Hauxley, Northumberland in record time. This was a surprise visit Matthew hadn't made mention of given the uncertainty of what might greet us.  As we arrived we were treated to a close fly past of Pink-footed Geese and then, as we peered through the chain link fencing surrounding the previous Centre, which has burnt down, there they were!!  Two rossicus Bean Geese in full view and most certainly a welcome surprise. Dragging ourselves away from what is a smashing reserve we moved on to the nearby Chevington, Druridge Bay area and had equally good views of the Red-necked Grebe which had only just turned up. What a brilliant end to the trip.

It was now time for the co-driver to take over for the final leg , which saw us arriving in Sheffield around 2000 hours. A tiring day but one to remember!

Strathspey in full glory! 12.3.2013

In essence our final day in the Highlands saw us spending most of it simply walking various routes within the Abernethy Forest.  I never get tired of being within this primeval habitat;  its smell, the endless variety of shape of the oldest pines and the hope of coming across something unexpected. The nearby backdrop of the Cairngorms adds emphasis to the whole experience.

Moving through the very heart of the forest and into the open hill area beyond the vista was superb. The Cairngorms capped with snow, the blue sky and crisp air, the tremendous light, all conspired to provide an exhilarating experience. High above us a pair of Golden Eagles displayed and, later , descended to a level where we could determine the golden colours of the head and nape on a bird that then circled slowly above us. As we retraced our steps a group of five Buzzards soared, displayed and generally put on a fine show. Returning through the forest we had Scottish Crossbill and Siskin and some commoner passerines, all of which added to the overall enjoyment.

Later we returned to the area near Carrbridge where we had a group of Fieldfare and, then, brief but good views of five Scottish Crossbill together.  Besides a male and female the remainder appeared to be immature birds despite the early date. It brought on the thought of something Richard Thaxton (RSPB ) had once said, that Crossbills have been known to breed in virtually every month of the year. Along with many other vexed questions surrounding the group there appears to be much to consider further with these species.

Well, we hadn't seen Capercaillie after all. Did it matter? Not really! The thought that out there, somewhere , there were birds and that habitat protection and management continue apace to improve the status of the species was reassuring enough to realise things are getting better and that a further opportunity will occur at some point. We'd had good weather, in early March, in the Highlands, and seen a lot of good birds too, besides enjoying two family "get togethers".  A first class result!

Brief update on E-petition.

Having WiFi access has allowed me to check the E-petition site to see if the Government response has yet been posted given I've not received anything by E-mail.  Nothing has appeared as yet!  Given I imagine the Government is bound to provide a response within the normal limits they themselves undertake to comply with, I'm anticipating something within the next few days, otherwise I shall make contact with the Department concerned.

After the magnificent show of support from everyone I'm a little frustrated that things are dragging on a little. However, the Government response is important and better a slight delay and a telling  explanation of their position than something brief and hurried.  It may even be that they're having to ponder a little!!

Again, many thanks to everyone who provided support and for your continuing patience in awaiting the outcome. Once the response is received a separate Blog will be devoted to examining what has been said.

Varied day, but with success! 11.3.2014

An early start to visit various woods and, in particular, the roadside location where a rogue Capercaillie had been viewed from when putting in a regular appearance early in the year.  But not today, although we did have Crested Tit and were entertained throughout by the mournful notes of a nearby Mistle Thrush.

This was the day of a deliberate sweep to the north for various reasons as will become apparent!!  First a vist to a favourite area for both of us......woodlands near Carrbridge.  Here, almost as anticipated we had tremendous views of a pair of Scottish Crossbill, both birds perching up and allowing prolonged examination.

Passing by Lochindorb we had both Tufted Duck and ,then, three Scaup ( two males and a female), besides Mallard, Oystercatcher and Common Gulls. Closer to the coast we encountered a couple of large flocks of Pink-footed Geese. The conditions were perfect by now, bright , sunny and with a little warmth coming through, so much so that some heather burning was being completed on part of the adjacent estate used for grouse shooting.

We then moved on to the coast and Flemington Loch. I'd been here a couple of times before but only viewed it from the western end. It's larger than I thought given we explored the road along the northern boundary, came to a bay near the end and "Hey Pesto" there was the American Coot. Not a terribly charismatic bird in some respects other than for the journey it had completed!!

We then moved on to Findhorn Bay and Nairn having long-tailed Ducks at both sites and a small flock of Brent Geese flying NW offshore at the latter, which was a bit unexpected. At Burghead the weather was really at its best and quite warm, so much so that a Small Tortoiseshell was seen in flight. As ever Common and Velvet Scoters were offshore, Long-tailed Ducks and a Black-throated Diver. The shot below shows the resplendent weather were were receiving.

On to Udale Bay and various places on the Black Isle. Very few Wigeon were around and conditions were at low tide which made searching for the American Wigeon difficult at best. We did see a single Slavonian Grebe but little else other than large numbers of feeding Pink-footed Geese in coastal fields which we laboriously scanned but to no benefit!! A group of 8/9 Yellowhammer was nice to see, the males in magnificent plumage.

And to end the busy day an opportunity to meet with Katherine, go out to dinner and have a belated birthday celebration. Finally a return to Aviemore, replete and happy.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Highland birding! 10.3.2014

An early start northwards in cold but bright weather. Whilst we'd researched various Black Grouse lek sites we decided on one that I felt was less well known, but to which I'd never been before. The journey seemed to go on forever, all surrounding areas of which seemed suitable for Black Grouse, reinforced when Matthew had a bird in flight. Finally we both decided  " this is it" at which point Matthew picked up a couple of birds before I'd got the car parked!!  In all we had good views of three males alongside the road before they were lost to view. I'd never appreciated how wide the white tail shows when fully fanned and how distinctive it shows too at a distance. So, early success.

Ever onwards we made a stop at Loch Insh where we had Whooper Swans, Goldeneye and a Goosander along with a variety of passerines in the adjacent woodlands. Following breakfast a visit up Glen Feshie provided good birdwatching, a variety of species , but nothing significant as far as "highland specialities" go.  Visits to other areas followed with similar results, although we did get Crested Tit along the early stages of the walk out to Loch Mallachie.

Finally a trip out to Loch Morlich and Cairngorm provided two Raven and several Red Grouse. We discovered we were too late to travel up to the higher station so resolved to leave that aspect until later.  

Stepping forth!! 9.3.2014.

Out early alongside the Firth of Forth at Largo  ( of Robinson Crusoe fame ) and the start of our trip. Some drizzle on occasions, but generally bright and fine. A few Velvet and Common Scoter were in evidence, together with Mallard, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser , but little else of note. The tide conditions were quite choppy and  distant visibility of anything somewhat impaired. We moved on to Ruddons Point and almost immediately found the female King Eider with a group of Eider sheltering within a small bay. Good views were obtained of what was quite a distinctive bird, even including the wands, before the whole group moved into an even more sheltered location.  Whilst birds could be seen offshore our efforts at locating the Surf Scoter proved fruitless, although both Velvet and Common Scoters and Long-tailed Duck were in view. An odd Red-throated Diver and unidentified grebe showed briefly, but clearly the conditions were against us.   Along the shore Curlew, Knot, Redshank and Turnstone were present and a good array of common passerines found in the nearby scrub and woodland.

Following an obligatory breakfast at Morrison's Supermarket cafe we cast out westwards and went around Loch Leven where Grey lag, Pink footed and a single Barnacle Goose were seen as well as the Glossy Ibis which had turned up a couple of days previously. Moving slightly northwards we located Mountcastle Quarry and a nearby loch. Whooper and Mute Swans, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, and Goosander provide an enjoyable variety of water birds complimented by a plethora of passerine species in the cover around the site, which has largely resulted from an extraction site developed for conservation. Besides Chiffchaff, first for the year, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, various tit species our patience eventually paid off when we found one of the Firecrests present on the site. Apparently this is quite a rare bird for Fife so we felt our luck might be turning!

On to a recommended watchpoint where White-tailed Eagles can sometimes be spotted......and sometimes not, but the hour long vigil was relaxing if we're honest.  And finally, on to the mighty Tay at Newburgh where we located the Ring-billed Gull which, after walking between a couple of different locations along the river finally gave convincing views and brought to an end a productive and enjoyable day. The drive to Perth took very little time where we discovered the Travelodge was conveniently located next door to a pub serving food. No malice contained in that forethought!!    

Argyll Bird Club meeting. 8.3.2014

A rather dated entry I'm afraid due to not having access to any WiFi whilst on my travels.  So , here goes at a catch up!!

After yesterday's disjointed day, first with one ferry being cancelled, then it departing from a different port and then a 60 mile detour on the mainland due to difficulties on the Rest and Be Thankful road, all I wanted towards the end was to forget the 7th!!  After several years of attempting to sort out landslide problems or potential threats, it seems the adopted solutions have been circumvented and fresh challenges arisen.  Quite candidly, I feel all of us will be thankful once Argyll and Bute Council finally resolves whatever real problem is getting in the way of success.

After a refreshing night's rest at the Arrochar Hotel it was time to go to the nearby Three Villages Hall for the Spring meeting of the Argyll Bird Club.  Getting up to date on various things, meeting old friends, and listening to a series of extremely interesting presentations made for an absorbing day with surprisingly little time to spare.   A central theme to the programme within the main presentations was associated with tracking. Fascinating results associated with Basking Sharks off Argyll,  sea birds breeding on Colonsay and venturing to various feeding locations and Cuckoos caught in mainland Scotland, but wintering in Africa, were presented, all of which were fitted with differing types of "locators" allowing their movements to be followed in detail.  Details were also given of record numbers of Jack Snipe caught and ringed in the Clyde area and of a more recent initiative to fit LBBG's caught in the Glasgow area with plastic rings , as well as the normal BTO metal ring, and the immediate increase in sightings which had resulted.  Finally an extremely useful summary of wind, wave and tidal power initiatives in the Argyll area was given. All in all, an extremely good day!

And then off to Glasgow to meet up with Matthew, who was joining me for a few days "Highland birding". He'd already met up with Rachael for a brother and sister update and gossip exchange previous to my meeting them.  Our pub venue in the City centre was interesting to say the least , as was the buffet style Chinese restaurant we then moved to.  As an end to a busy day Matthew and I then drove out to Glenrothes and the start of our birding trip.      

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Update on E-petition.

First of all , apologies for the delay in posting this. By way of explanation I'd simply draw attention to various entries from a newsheet put out by a local prospective councillor, who emphasizes the absence of mobile phone reception here,  poor Broadband speeds and facility provision generally, continuing outages as far as electricity supplies are concerned .......all of which appear to find a focal point around where I live!!!  Ugh! I'm afraid 4G here is something overhead fighter pilots might experience.  Add to that poor road conditions, disrupted ferries due to foul weather, affected postal services and the rural idyll is seen to apply on only a proportion of days in any year, on which , of course, we give thanks for living where we do and stop grumbling.

However, setting aside recent problems, may I take this opportunity to thank everyone concerned for the support they provided for the E-petition relating to the licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers. The final number of accepted signatures at the point of the petition's closure was an impressive 10,414  ( although a few more seem to have been registered since. ).   A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL. 

This exceeded my expectations given the process got underway rather slowly, despite endless effort, and then gathered momentum towards the end paying tribute, I suspect, to the contributions made by the various groups I had circularised with details.

As yet the Government response has not been posted to their site. I suspect this might take a time yet but presume they have to declare their position within the statutory period within which they undertake to reply to correspondence or similar. Time will tell, at which point a careful analysis can be made of their response and details drawn together and posted.

A slight vacuum that, understandably, is somewhat frustrating. In the meantime I can only refer you to the excellent web site Raptor Persecution Scotland and the entry Latest SGA outpouring! (click this link for direct access )  to see the sort of reaction coming forward so regularly from the upland game management ranks.  If you've the time there is much within RPS's site that is worth reading. At times it seems there is so little concerted and committed support for raptors,  be it from the Government, the judicial system, the Police, which all supplements the more extreme claims of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Set against all this are the repeated reports of poisoning, trapping , and shooting incidents which continue to be discovered and are a stark reminder of what the reality is out there on the hills!!

Again, a great thank you to everyone with especial thanks for Mark Avery, past colleague and friend, who did much to promote the petition and provide encouragement throughout, to Raptor Persecution Scotland who also promoted the petition, as did the Hawk and Owl Trust, besides the many groups, societies  and individuals who added their weight to the cause. Not least , thanks to friends and family, who put up with a continuous barrage of commentary within the twelve months involved.