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BIRDING TRIP & PHOTO REPORT:

SCOTLAND – ABERDEENSHIRE & SPEYSIDE,

4-6 June 2010

By Stephen Burch, England

Introduction
This is a short trip report, covering a few days birding and dragonfly hunting on Speyside and the Aberdeenshire coast in June 2010. My general intention was to follow-up my only previous early summer visit to this region in 2006, and cover the breeding seabird colony at Fowlsheugh, and to then head inland to the Speyside region for northern bird specialities. If the weather was fine I was also hoping to find and photograph some early rare dragonflies and damselflies around Loch Garten.

In the event, the weather on the first two days was good, but the less said about the conditions on my final day the better!

The photographs shown below were taken with my Canon EOS 50D camera and EF400mmf4 DO lens, usually with a x1.4 extender. See this page on equipment for more details.

4 June
Fowlsheugh RSPB

I last visited this low key RSRB reserve briefly one evening back in 2006, right at the start of my DSLR 'era' and I had been hoping for an opportunity for a longer follow-up visit ever since.

Having stayed overnight in the Ship Inn in Stonehaven, as I feared from the forecast, the splendid sun of the previous evening had vanished and the morning dawned dull and grey, with a thin har hanging over the cliffs visible from the harbour. The conditions improved a little as time went on, but there was still some mist around and the light was very soft for virtually all morning.

The reserve is only a few miles down the coast road from Stonehaven, and a good coastal path gives easy access along the cliff tops back towards Stonehaven. Various points gave quite good access to the masses of assembled auks and other breeding sea birds, some of which were very close indeed. Not surprisingly perhaps, there were two other photographers wandering around with long lenses with similar objectives!

I took masses of photographs, and below is a selection, covering virtually all the species present. The Puffins were present in small numbers right at the end of the RSPB path.

Click on any pic to enlarge.

Razorbill Razorbill
Razorbill Razorbill close up
Puffin and Razorbill Puffin
Puffins and Razorbill in discussion! Puffin
Guillemot Kittiwake
Guillemot Kittiwake
Fulmar Fulmar
Fulmars

Loch Garten
I wasn't entirely convinced that the RSPB hide at Loch Garten would be worth a visit at this time of year, but I decided to give it a go on the warm afternoon of my first full day in the Speyside area. To my amazement, I was told on arrival at the hide that a male Capercaillie was showing! Indeed it was, but only in the extreme distance. Nevertheless this was a better view than the one I'd had from the forward hide very early on a dismally murky and wet morning in 2006. But too far away for any sort of photograph, unfortunately. There was also an Osprey's head and upper neck visible on its nest.

Unlike my visit in 2006, there was no sign of Crested Tit on the approach path, and the walk down to Loch Mallachie was exceedingly quiet in the afternoon. Not even any notable dragonflies.

Lochindorb
This loch is somewhere I found in 2006 as a good photographic site, as the road runs right along the southern shoreline. Waders seem accustomed to the passing traffic, and provided you stay in the car, they can be approached quite close.

An early visit before breakfast on my second day was quite productive. There was a nice Short Eared Owl by the A939 on the way north from the Nethybridge Hotel, and also a Red Grouse or two. The highlight of the loch itself was a distant pair of Black-throated Divers. Much closer on along the shore were some common waders, and also a pair of Red-brested Merganser. A little further on, near the western end of the loch, I came across a delightful and approachable family of Red Grouse - the male was ringed which seemed a bit surprising. After a couple of hours here, I returned to the hotel for breakfast.

Oystercatcher (click to enlarge)
Oystercatcher Redshank
Red Breasted Merganser Red Grouse
Female Red brested Merganser Red Grouse

In the good weather of my first two days of this trip, most of the rest of my time in the Speyside area was spent searching for rare dragonflies - see below.

Unfortunately on the morning of my third and final day, the weather was really awful, with low cloud and heavy rain. Even Lochindorb from the car was a complete waste of time, so I decided to cut my losses and head back east towards the Aberdeen area, to try for the King Eider which had been seen recently on the Ythan Estuary.

Ythan Estuary
With heavy rain nearly all the way, I was not in an optimistic frame of mind when I arrived about two hours later at the specified spot - at the end of the Inch Road which overlooks part of the Ythan Estuary. However by the time I arrived the rain had more or less stopped and a couple of birders were on hand to point out the King Eider immediately on arrival, in amongst the thousands of ordinary Eider. To my surprise the bird was not asleep on the far side, nor feeding in the distance. It was in fact quite close offshore, so I headed cautiously down to the water's edge. Spending some time here, the bird eventually came even closer to allow some almost frame filling shots. The only downside was the dismal lighting conditions, in continuing murk and drizzle. Nevertheless the shot below compares well with my previous distant digiscope effort of this species, from Irvine back in April 2006.

King Eider on the Ythan Estuary

King Eider Eider

Dragonflies
Despite the relatively early season, in the good weather of my first two days, the Abernethy Forest area around Loch Garten proved quite productive, and I managed to find and photograph my two target species. My main source of information was the book by Dudley et al, "Watching British Dragonflies" that has quite good details and a map - better than most of its descriptions of English sites. My comments on the various pools mentioned in this book may be helpful to others:

Pool 1
Nothing very interesting here - just a few Four-spotted Chasers and Large Red Damsels. Maybe it is better later in the season.

Pool 2
Not located.

Pool 3
This is just beside the minor road to the east of Loch Garten, about half way to the B970. There is now a boardwalk which allows some good viewing of the pool side vegetation. Highlight here was Northern Damselflies, which I found quite difficult to distinguish from the more numerous Common Blues. Checking my photos afterwards was necessary to confirm the ID. Also plenty of Large red Damsels and Four-spotted Chasers.

Pool 4
Reputedly close to Loch Mallachie, but there was no sign of it.

Pool 5
Tiny pool near the junction between the roads to Nethy Bridge and Loch Garten. Only Large red Damsels and Four-spotted Chasers.

Pool 6
Not looked for.

Pool 7
Large pool near to the minor road that crosses Tulloch Moor. Park at the green lay-by opposite the farm track about half way across the moor and head north. The pool is surrounded by trees and bushes and is not visible from the road. Highlight of the pool and surrounding area was White-faced Darters. There were plenty of immatures resting on bushes between the pool and the road, and on the other side of the road where there was another small pool. There were also one or two mature males over the main pool, but these were totally inaccessible for the camera, unfortunately.

Also over the pool were masses of Four-spotted Chasers. There was briefly a Golden-ringed Dragonfly between the pool and the road. Plenty of Common Blue Damsels as well, but none that I could turn into Northerns.

White-faced Darter
Northern Damselfly White-faced Darter (click to enlarge)
   

All pictures copyright Stephen Burch

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