NIOC trip to Speyside 23rd to 26th January 2014.
Participants. C G Wilkinson,N Moore,C Gillespie,S McWilliams,R Bennett,M Hughes,M Adamson,M Lamb,G McGeehan,M McClenaghan and S Martin.
We departed early on the 23rd to Cairnryan at 7.30am with Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Common Gull and Razorbills spotted during the crossing.As we entered Loch Ryan up to 20 Red Throated Divers were seen in flight and on the surface along with a single Great Northern Diver, Guillimot, Black Guillimot, Eider, Mallard, Cormorant and three Great Crested Grebes.
We then drove up to Loch of the Lowes for lunch. Several Siskens in various plumages and age ranges were on the feeders, 2 Goosander, Wigeon, Canada Geese and Tufted duck were on the Loch and a single Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen and heard as we departed.
We arrived at our accommodation, The Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey just after four. A quick rest and change saw us down at the Speyside Wildlife Hide at Loch An Eilean in the hope of seeing Pine Marten. After a long wait we were rewarded with firstly a brief visit followed by a 20 minute visit of a Pine Marten and subsequently several Red Deer. Delighted with our views we headed back to our hotel for a delicious three course meal.
After breakfast on the 24th we loaded the minibus and headed off towards the Moray Firth. Our first stop was Loch Flemington and a very obliging American Coot was on show right beside the parking area. How this poor flier made it across the Atlantic is anyone's guess but a couple have turned up before. Next we visited Loch Oire and two nice Glaucous gulls and 9 Goosander were roosting on the water. Nairn provided reasonable views of Long Tailed Duck and Common Scoter and the nearby golf course had about 50 Brent Geese. Burghead our next stop proved to be the best with Long Tailed Duck in the harbour itself and just off the pier. Next we tried to connect with another King Eider and Purple Sandpipers off Lossiemouth but the now gale force winds and rain scuppered any reasonable views of birds. We cut our losses and headed to our hotel.
Up early next morning, the 25th we headed to the Cairngorm Ski Lift to an area which had been reported to look down on a Black Grouse Lek. Rain, sleet, snow and wind again made viewing difficult but several members got a distant view of a Black Grouse in flight and several Red Grouse. At the top car park Snow Buntings were more obliging with a build up of around 50 birds feeding on the snow and grass embankment.Next we visited Loch Garten where the night before Nigel Moore and myself had baited the trees near the Osprey Centre with peanut butter, hanging nuts and seed. The BBC were filming for Winterwatch and asked us to be quiet but we still managed to get at least 2 Crested Tit, a Treecreeper and a much better view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Next stop Findhorn Valley and a very helpful proprietor of Highland Wildlife tours got us views of white Mountain Hare. Several Buzzards were flying over several hills but eventually we got a distant view of a Golden Eagle followed by a second bird much nearer to our minibus. After lunch we headed to Longman Point at Inverness where more Long Tailed Duck were on show along with a flyby Red Kite from the Black Isle release area. We journeyed back to our hotel via Lochindorb in the hope of getting a Hen Harrier or Short Eared Owl. We dipped on these but were rewarded with 3 Whooper Swan and 2 Gadwall. It was then Burn's Night at the hotel and a fair bit of dancing and singing took place along with the traditional piping in of the haggis.
Our plan on the last day was to lunch at Loch Leven and finally birdwatch Loch Ryan and finish at the Hen Harrier roost at West Freugh before home. Sadly it took us three hours through the snow to reach Vane Farm RSPB reserve and a single Goosander before we got a text from P&O to say our sailing was cancelled and we would need to get the 4.30pm sailing or 10.30 sailing with no guarantee the 10.30 would go. We drove down to Cairnryan with some time to spare and instead finished with 4 Great Northern Divers on our way out of Loch Ryan. My thanks to the staff at Grant Arms Hotel, in particular Pamela the restaurant manager and Carol & Marion at reception who made our stay so comfortable.
Garry Wilkinson, Chairman NIOC.