Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Another month over.

Doesn't time fly when you're enjoying yourself - August is coming to a close and September will be upon us. The migration will be in full swing even though the rest of the country is pulling in rares left right and centre already what will September bring? I'll be keeping my eyes open and reading all the exciting news on everyone's blog whereas I will keep you amused with tales of the usual fare and pray for a miracle.
Bank holiday (what's one of those?) Monday was a return to good weather after rain on Saturday and a cool, blustery Sunday.  With no real agenda from the guests we went in search of revelations from the wilderness. It was all out there to be counted and with some future adults on board it was essential to hit the right level and pace the day - it's easy to do that with wildlife innit? I'd already been quizzed on the black and white bird, the possible cardboard cut out/statue and the bird sitting on the post. We'd picked up the likes of Grey Heron, Cormorant, Shag, Greylag Goose and Herring Gull before we picked up an Otter. We watched him in silence as he looked at us before returning to the essential practice of survival. We covered all aspects of the Otters life as he drifted, unconcerned, away from us. It's sometimes a surprise what captures peoples interest on a day so when we approached the WT Eagle site it didn't surprise me that there was a great deal of interest in the silage baling that was going on. I talked about the eagles and scanned the ridges as the baling was scrutinised in detail. My surprise came when I tried to move on but we needed to see one more bale get wrapped first! We moved on in hope of picking up one of the three absent birds. A few Red deer and a stunning view later we were looking at a cloud of raven taking to the sky but not looking too concerned. They were heading in the same direction as us and as we approached someone coming in the opposite direction a cry went up for a large bird approaching. An adult WT Eagle was just above us as we exited the motor.
It was soon joined by another adult and finally the juvenile bird - it was the family of birds that we had been seeking. The adults landed on the ridge and gave the kids a chance to get some digiscoped shots with the pocket cameras. No sign of any Otters on the return journey but we got one of those black and white Oystercatcher birds and also a cut out Grey Heron...
...a herd of at least 20 stags was seen at lunchtime but not much else after a brief glimpse of a large bird disappearing behind the ridge. An adder was well photographed at the last minute but not by me...
...but the Common Hawker was a better shot.
A consultation with the five wise pigs gave up a Golden Eagle sitting on a telegraph pole. I suggested closer views but the pigs almost got the better vote. As we headed towards the Goldie it took flight! An impressive sight but we wanted to be closer and luckily it landed again. We got as close as we dared and then wanted it to take flight. Did it do our bidding - hell no, well, it did when we couldn't see it! A good sighting of a Sparrowhawk was had while we willed the Goldie to fly but this was surpassed by a Buzzard feeding at the side of the track and posing beautifully.
A flock of birds exploded from the trees just beyond the Buzzard and we watched in amazement as a Sparrowhawk attempted to catch a Chaffinch. We caught up with the Mountain Hare with ease and settled in for a cuppa while watching Skylarks, Linnets and the odd Pied Wagtail.
We all thought we'd had an excellent day but there was an unexpected bonus on the way back as we spotted two Golden Eagle at the side of the road. I managed one shot with the digiscoping...
...before they started shuffling about.
The views of the birds in flight around us were awesome.
As the birds drifted off a Buzzard and a Raven attempted to chase the big birds off. The Buzzard was doing some spectacular dives on the eagle but there was no way the eagle was going to budge.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Feeding station

Thursday evening I was sitting outside the house having a relaxing cup of tea and a chat. We've just started up the feeding station so the regular Chaffinches were buzzing about and the Meadow Pipits are present in good numbers. A whole cloud of birds erupted from the ground as a Merlin came screaming through, targeting one bird, twisting and turning as they sped across the road to disappear into the forestry. Who knows what the outcome was but I'm happy the feeding station is working for all! The next morning as the Chaffinches gathered for their morning feed they all suddenly disappeared - why? A Sparrowhawk was perched up on the table - quality!! Friday was another glorious day and with the guests wanting Otters we headed off in search of them. The first one we spotted didn't want to play so after some initial good views of it we moved on. A mum and cub were next and this gave us a good hours worth of entertainment as they chased each other across the seaweed and did a bit of hide and seek in the margins. No chance of any digiscoped shots so we'll have to make do with a distant shot. 
We could have stayed longer but there is a lot to see through the day. We had good views of one of the WT Eagles in flight before we headed back along the way picking up the first Otter again but with better results this time. We watched him fishing but he wasn't having too much success. He would twist himself around in the water...
...before heading a bit further along the shore.
Next up was a Greenshank and a Redshank together feeding on the shore. Nice to see them both together and see how much bigger the Greenshank is and the difference in plumage.
We had cracking scope views of two Golden Eagle and again the photo doesn't do any justice.
We'd searched around for the Adders with no success but I guess they are on the hunt for a decent meal or two before they go in to hibernation. The sighting of these reptiles get a bit sporadic towards the end of August and the beginning of September so it was nice to find this one snaking it's way across the track.
We paid a visit to the pigs for some light entertainment as we waited for something to appear. Surprisingly the Golden Eagle that appeared was just given a cursory glance as the pigs decided to have an argument at the same time! We headed off to our last stop to get some quality views of the Mountain Hares but they were all camera shy for once.
With stunning views all around and a good selection of small birds on offer we'd had a great day but there was one more surprise in store for us. Just as we got back in the motor a Sparrowhawk flashed across the moor and landed on a wall not too far away. A fantastic looking bird with a manic stare that just look ready to kill anything that moves. We managed a couple of snaps before it raced off to see what it could catch - superb stuff!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Once more from the top.

Another amazing start to the day with the sun shining and another tour planned. No problem with Otters as we picked one up at our first stop along with three Cormorant drying their wings. Another lone Otter was left to it's own devices before we picked up a mum and cub and it was nice to see them on the shore.
Groundhog day hits harder as we find all three WT Eagle sitting in the trees.Mind the male wasn't visible from close quarters and the juv flew around briefly as the female was just keeping an eye on things.
We spotted the mum and cub on the way back past but they were being hotly pursued by brightly clothed people with cameras. Even the Otters had to hide in the seaweed to secretly laugh and slip quietly away. We watched from a distance to make sure nothing untoward went on and had one Otter swim past us...
...and another some distance away.With 3 pretty poor sightings of Golden Eagle at lunchtime we had to try and recapture the pace we'd enjoyed earlier in the day. It's never that easy though, so with some serious pig tickling going on and a lot of laughing rather than giving the Tufted Duck a glance or two wasn't getting the job done. Another glance around and I had our quarry in sight and we charged down the rutted track at 5mph hoping we would reach the destination in time. We had a few moments where we weren't sure if the bird was present or not, a brief distraction of a Whinchat with food in it's beak and a dilemma of what equipment to haul out of the motor. 'What was it?' you ask. It was a big bird, doing what these big birds, allegedly, never do!
Tremendous views of this Golden Eagle were had before we set off again through a cloud of Common Darters.
Autumn is really starting to pick up pace now with the disappearance of Common Sandpiper, Northern Wheatears are starting to thin out and flocks of finches are starting to appear along with the waders returning from further North. We picked up a number of Northern Wheatear and a flock of Linnet, one of which posed for a photo.
The Ravens are grouping together too and with a flock of about 8 birds just out of sight, but calling all the time, it was inevitable that they would show eventually. They came up in small groups and chased each other around while others tumbled from the sky to touch feet with the ones below. I managed to get quite a few photos of birds mid tumble, upside down, with beak open as they called but they were all blurred shots! There will be another chance, I'm sure, to improve things but the image below does capture the moment somewhat.
Just as we got back in the motor all the birds lifted off and flew past us. The sound of the air rushing through their wings was just fantastic and the only half decent shot that I got was of this bird flying off! A brilliant experience though.
We picked up quite a few Mountain Hare and as we had one last scan around I noticed a pale bird sitting very upright. Too pale for Peregrine but the light can play tricks and it had to be a bird of prey of some description. We jumped out for a better view just as the bird turned sideways on to show it was a male Hen Harrier!
It all happened a bit quick after that with the bird moving a bit lower down and then it was off. A superb bird to find sitting in the open and I don't care about the poor quality of these shots!
We did get a cracking Red Deer on the way back too to finish the day off nicely.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Just enjoy it.

Monday was a pretty miserable day but I still managed to have a bit play with the Redshank down on the shore. Obviously the light wasn't the best so a static bird had to be the choice!
Tuesday I was out on an early tour in poor conditions to start with. The weather didn't clear as quick as I had expected but it didn't spoil the day. The first good find of the day was this Juvenile Cuckoo that allowed a reasonably close approach and a few digiscoped shots.
Predictably the Mountain Hares were out in force prior to the disturbance of extra traffic.
It was good to see these beasts gathering pace over the wet moorland and kicking up a bit of spray but there was not much chance of getting of photo of that. We had a couple of Golden Eagle flying around as the rain eased off and a few Ravens too. Stonechats were in good numbers and also a few of this mystery bird.
I had a few attempts at this bird when it was in the open and they were all blurred as the camera decided the grass behind was a better option! So the Yellowhammer, for that is what it is, ducked when I took the shot above! We headed off to another Golden Eagle site and wandered up the hill to wait things out. Finding a bit of shelter from the wind we awaited the arrival of the bird we'd already seen flying around. It didn't take long before the bird cruised in front of us but it was heading away and eventually landed out of sight. We had the youngster flying briefly before that landed too but, once again, it was distant. A bit of a wait and the Golden Eagle was back in the air and circling to gain a bit of height from it's hiding place...
...and then it headed towards us at a low level. It wasn't that easy to follow with the camera against the land but it came past at head height just before it disappeared from view.
You can imaging the smiles after that encounter! Another close encounter with a Golden Eagle at our next spot didn't have the cameras raised as we were too fresh from the last one! We did pick up two WT Eagle in flight along the way too but it had been an enjoyable day with some fantastic encounters.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Sunday started off a bit grotty but by the time the guests were due to arrive the view was looking a bit like this - rain leaving, blue sky arriving.
The main aim of the day was to find Otters and did we find them - of course we did. At the first stop of the day I was busy going through the spiel of how to find Otters, their habits etc and the cry went up 'I've got one!'. We hopped out and got decent views as the Otter fished around the shallows. It started to move off to the right and crawled out on the land where it stopped and gazed into the eyes of a Red Deer! The Otter skirted round the deer and out of sight before I took this photo. You can just make out the deer in the middle of the photo - what's he doing there?!
With no Otter to look at we decided to move on but just as I pulled away I noticed some movement on the rocks in front. Otter number 2 was rolling around on the shore. Back out with the scopes for another good gander before this one slipped out of sight too. We moved on quite pleased with the way the day had started and before long we were looking at Otter number 3!! This one was moving up the shore with a purpose so we tried to get in front but he was having none of it. We left him in peace.
Another mile up the road and we were into Otters number 4 & 5 as a mum and cub performed superbly. the guests were captivated and consequently we stood looking for a good hour as they fished, crawled out, washed themselves, scared the Heron and went back to fishing again. We managed to escape the Otters captivating allure, eventually, and moved on to the WT Eagle site. We found the female sitting at the top of a tree posing beautifully before we picked up the male in flight and then spotted the youngster sitting below where the male bird landed - phew!
The male was sitting in a prime location so we headed off for a closer look - magnificent!!!
Well, how do you follow that? First of all we picked up another 3, yes three, Otters. They were moving away from us and it didn't look as though they would be giving anywhere near the performance we'd just had so we just gave them a quiet wave and moved on. We checked out the waders and found a Knot amongst the small flock of Redshank, 3 RB Merganser, 4 Common Teal and a Greenshank that hid! We were heading for lunch after looking at the Seals and wondering what else we could see when I was told to stop so we could check out two black shapes on a hillside. It was only two Golden Eagle! Close Golden Eagle!
It was a bit of a quiet lunch but we needed time for reflection and a bit of flower watching to calm things down. A 'find the deer on the hillside' challenge passed a wee bit of time and we located a few hinds in the process. We found another two WT Eagle sitting on the rocks just after lunch - yawn. Just kidding:-)
We travelled on in search of smaller things so there were plenty of Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit and a cracking Stonechat. We pressed on to find another two Golden Eagle sitting on a distant hill top before picking up plenty of Mountain Hares. What a day and we still had to get back yet. A Red-throated Diver had been requested so as the wind dropped and the loch became still we hauled in and scanned the water as the dreaded midge ate us alive. We found the crazy loon that was calling and also bagged a raft of Eider before we ran away. The final sighting of the day was this Golden Eagle that was one of the two we'd seen earlier.
You'll not get a better day out than that, until the next one anyway!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A moment in time.

Saturday morning I had a quick look round outside the shop and picked up 28 Redshank and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. The WT Eagle was sitting in the tree behind the shop for a couple of hours with people taking photos but it was gone by the time I decided to go! I was too busy trying to pin down the Crossbills. With a couple of jobs to do I headed off round the loch to have a look at a few things while I was out. First on the list was to see where the WT Eagle chick was and have some lunch. The lunch was nice but there was no sign of the youngster or the adults so I busied myself with a few other photographs to pass the time. This spider, Pardosa amentata, was waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by. This member of the Wolf Spiders is very common and you will see them zipping away from your feet as you wander around most places.
This Devil's-bit Scabious was just past it's best but the dying flowers highlighted the rest of the cluster.
Another spider on the hunt was this enormous Garden Spider with an impressive web and some impressive fangs too.
A Hooded Crow paid me a visit while I finished my lunch but he was soon off to join the rest of his crew.
I've not featured many Otter photos recently as it's been too difficult to get any shots while showing guests these enigmatic beasts so the opportunity to get a few snaps was very welcome. As you can see he would pop up with or without something to eat.
If he didn't get anything he would move along a bit further...
...but if he did get a catch he'd munch away on the surface.
One he'd finished that would be him on his way to another foraging exercise on the sea bed.
I did manage to pick up the young WT Eagle in a different location and also another two bird flying along the ridge so with the jobs done it had been a successful afternoon. We had been out for dinner in the evening and we got a cracking sighting, on the way back home, of a Long-eared Owl - fantastic!!