We drove up to Anstruther on the May bank holiday, and arrived there after around 7 hours of travelling (Edinburgh at rush hour is not the place to be). Michelle was unaware of where we were going so was confused as to why we were travelling for so long. She hadn't even cottoned on when we got to the Library Hostel in Anstruther, nor when I told the staff that I'd been before. I let her know that we'd be watching Puffins the next day, which resulted in much excitement.
|Puffins above the Brae|
We got the boat to the Island the next morning, on a flat calm sea in beautiful sunshine. As we approached, seabirds slowly began appearing, with the odd Guillemot and Puffin creating a sense of anticipation. The boat passed before the looming West Cliffs, an unforgettable experience, with hundreds of Auks in the sea, and birds plastering the rocks above.
|Puffins atop the West Cliffs|
We docked at Kirkhaven and were allowed around 3 hours on the Island. It was great to return here after seeing it in such a different light last October. Whereas then it was covered in Goldcrests and Thrushes, this time they had been replaced by Terns, Rock Pipits and Auks. Arctic Terns were nesting at the south of the island, and as we walked up Fluke Street and onto Palpitation Brae, more and more Puffins were seen, ever alert to the presence of the Gulls keeping an eye on them. Eider mothers were seen either on their nests or with creches of ducklings, again striving to keep their young safe from the hungry gulls.
|Eider Family, Isle of May|
We sat atop the Cliffs for some time, enjoying close views of Razorbills and Kittiwakes, and with Fulmars riding the breeze above us. I retraced many of my steps that I had taken the Autumn before, endlessly pointing out features to Michelle and recalling the many migrants that I had seen. It was nice to see Low Light again as we walked to the north of the island.
Much of the rest of the time was spent on the Eastern side of the island, where we sat and simply enjoyed the sights and sounds of scores of Puffins, and the cool breeze coming in from the North Sea. Great to be here again, and it certainly made me want to return... perhaps for another autumn spectacular!
|The East of the Island|
The next 3 days were spent at Aviemore, where I had a few plans to go looking for birds, but only in between just enjoying the area (it wasn't supposed to be a birding holiday!!). I had intended to 'go high' for some montane species like Snow Bunting, Dotterel and Ptarmigan, but I never really got the chance. We opted instead to go on more low-level walks round some of the woodland and lochans around the area. These were beautiful and not without some ornithological interest.
The first day we walked round some of the Rothiemurchus estate, where I heard the only Wood Warbler of the Trip, shortly before seeing our first of many Red Squirrels. A brief, distant raptor appeared to be a Golden Eagle but I didnt count it as the views were so terrible. We wandered through some beautiful woodland, surrounding Loch an Eilein, where I managed some reasonable views of Crested Tits, as well as a number of Redstart, Spotted Flycatchers and a Tree Pipit. It was nice to see Goldeneye on the Loch too, as I'm so used to only seeing them in the winter back home.
|Red Squirrel, Glenmore|
The next day we followed some directions to try and find Capercaille, near Grantown-on-Spey. We were unsuccessful, but enjoyed the silence of the ancient pine forest, and had great views of a Spotted Flycatcher, as well as a few Red-breasted Merganser and a Dipper on the river, and Curlews on the opposite bank.
|Spotted Flycatcher, Grantown on Spey|
In the afternoon, we attempted to see Golden Eagles up near the Findhorn Valley. This was typified by lots of wrong turns and driving down unlikely single track roads, but I think we eventually got in around the right spot. Unfortunately we were tired and grumpy by then so we didnt stay for long, but it was a beautiful area and well worth another visit, and whilst there we did see plenty of Common Sandpipers and families of Oystercatchers.
A bit more walking the next day didn't really result in any more exciting birds, although the beer garden at the Old Bridge Inn was a good place to watch Common Sand on the river, and Spotted Flycatchers were in the trees around the picnic benches too. I tried for Slav Grebe at Loch Vaa early on the Saturday, and tried from a viewpoint about halfway up Cairngorm to see Black Grouse (both without success), and late we tried for a 'rogue-male' Caper at a site on the way back home. We staked out the area for some time, but it was clear that it wasn't about (if it was a 'rogue' then I think it would have quickly tried to see us off), but it was nice to add Cuckoo to the trip list, with many singing in the area, and a couple more Red Squirrels too.
Although I failed to see almost all my target birds in this area of the country, it was good to experience this beautiful area, and get a bit more familiar with where to go to see certain things. It's certainly my intention to return and really give it some effort to successfully find some of these highland specials.