Sunday, 27 December 2015

Flashback: May 2012 Scotland

I hope you have had a great Christmas. I have spent the past three days round my parent's with my family. Though the weather was miserable, I still had a lovely time. The lack of a white Christmas has made me think back to my Scottish adventure in May 2012. So today, I decided to look through my wildlife diary for 2012 and relive that week again. The drawings are from that diary and the photos were taken with my 2nd ever digital camera. This camera was much better than the one I had with me in Texas, but the range was still limited compared to the bridge camera I have now.

The Cairngorms
On May 14th, my parents and I flew from Norwich to Aberdeen. We had hired a car and a holiday house in Abiemor for a week. From Aberdeen Airport, we toured the beautiful scenery of the Cairngorms and Speyside as we made our way towards Abiemor. Spring arrives to Scotland much later than it does in England. So while the bluebells are carpeting the woodlands of England, up in Scotland, it felt like February than May. It felt strange to see things from early spring like daffodils with things from mid-spring like swallows and willow warblers. The weather was like having the four seasons in one day with sun, rain and even snow and a rainbow. The mountains were breathtaking, especially the ones with snowy peaks.

Tree Sparrow
During our stay in Scotland, we made several visits to RSPB Loch Gartin. I had made a list of all the things I wanted to see before we left Norwich and from this one reserve I managed to tick most of them off. There were red squirrels everywhere, which delighted my mum as they fed at the bird feeders. These also attracted so many coal tits, siskins and a great spotted woodpecker. But Loch Gartin was of course more famous for its ospreys. When we were here, ospreys Odin and EJ were on the nest. Images from the cameras up and around the nest were beaming back to the monitors in the hide and they revealed three osprey eggs to us. They were close to hatching and by our 3rd visit to the reserve, the first chick hatched.

Red Squirrel


Our second day in Scotland was a trip along the Spey Bay and Moray Firth coastline in search of dolphins. After a few other stops, finding a colony of sandwich, little and Arctic terns and 30 goosanders along the way, we eventually travelled to Chanonry Point on Black Isle overlooking the Moray Firth. As soon as we got there, I saw a dolphin leap right out of the water! A large audience of people were watching a small pod of bottlenose dolphins, which included a calf popping in and out of the water. It was an enchanting moment and it got better when a red kite flew above us.

The best day of the holiday for me started early. Dad and I woke up at 4:30 am for a 'Caper Watch' event at Loch Garten. This was a daily event at the reserve where every morning for six weeks in spring, a warden opens up the centre to help us find capercaillies. A capercallie is a large and rare grouse found in the Scottish Highlands. The male is an impressive looking, turkey-sized bird and during spring, he is busy displaying in an area known as a lek to attract the smaller, camouflaged females. The males can get pretty aggressive at this time of year and they will fight anything that gets too close and perform in their leks more during early mornings. This, however, does not make them easy to see as they tend to hide away in vegetation. The reserve had cameras everywhere and thanks to them, I was lucky enough to be shown not just one from a scope, but a second from a live camera. Both were males and were just a distant head poking out from the heather. They never came out to reveal that fanned tail of theirs but it was still a successful morning of 'Caperwatching' nonetheless.

After breakfast that day, we went on a funicular railway with snowboarders and skiers to a ski base with a resturant at the summit of Cairngorm mountain. Snow was all around us at the top of the mountain and the scenery was stunning. I was in search of ptarmigan, another species of grouse which lives at the top of mountains. It is the ultimate bird of Arctic conditions with feathers that can keep them extremely warm, special snowshoes made of feathers that helps them to walk in the snow with ease, and they have a plumage that can change from grey in the summer to pure white in winter that makes them very well camouflaged against rocks or snow. It was like looking for a needle in a white haystack, I thought I wasn't going to see one. But luck was on my side again and I was shown a pair through a kind man's scope. They were incredible to see with their plumage at a stage where it is partially grey and partially white. The male was grey and white, but it was the female who was the better looking out of the two with beautiful golden feathers. We also saw a heard of reindeer in a paddock on another mountainside.
Caringorm Mountain
At the top with Mum
Wood Anemone

We went around Loch Ness in search of Nessie, but she was nowhere to be found. At Loch Ruthven, we saw the only breeding pair of Slavonian grebes in the UK. Dad and I left Mum in the rented car as we made our way down a muddy path to the loch. A group of birders were also here in this isolated location and allowed us to look at them through their scope. Lovely looking birds, but then the moment was disrupted as Mum had accedently triggered off the car's alarm somehow. Our time with the grebes was made brief as we made our way back through the mud to turn the alarm off.
Loch Ness

There was one small Scottish bird that I had been hoping to see most of all during our holiday, the crested tit. This is a bird with a punk-like crest that lives in the Caladonian pine forests. Though they are more widespread across Europe, in the UK you can only find them here in Scotland. After our 3rd visit to RSPB Loch Garten, we went down the road to Abernethy Forest, a section of Caladonian forest bordering Loch Garten. It was very muddy, but the good luck continued as we found several crested tits in the tree tops and we even watched one feed a youngster. During my Scottish adventure, I also saw my first ever redstarts, wood warblers and wood anemones as well as a colony of wood ants, leaping salmon and goldeneyes. It was probably one of my best holidays in the UK so far. I would love to go back to Scotland one day as I still haven't ticked off a pine marten or an eagle of any kind from my Scottish list.

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