Sunday, 2 March 2014

Scottish Highlands - Part 2: Grouse And Sea Ducks

Whilst walking back down the slopes from the hares to the car, we had noticed that a thaw had set in and the following morning we awoke to a lovely sunrise. Kate had arranged for us to meet Allan Bantick (Chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Trust) mid-morning, but we had enough time to zip up to Lochindorb for the red grouse, only this time I made the effort to get my camera out. In fact I went beyond that, suggesting Kate sit in the back of the car, so we'd both be on the best side of it, should we spot something.

That didn't take long, as first thing in the morning the grouse seem to like to stand tall amongst the heather and call out, especially when females venture nearby. With the place to ourselves, I could park anywhere along the road, and line up the shots.

The morning light made the birds look fabulous, and really caught the males' wattles (their red eyebrows), especially when they raised them up.

Time flies though, and we soon had to drag ourselves away, though the prospect of seeing some crested tits at Allan's place had appeal, especially for Kate who was yet to see one.

Allan's house is on the outskirts of Boat Of Garten, and beside the woodland surrounding it. Hence he attracts both cresties and red squirrels to his feeders. Allan and his lovely wife Heather gave us a very warm welcome, as did their dogs, who as usual befriended Kate immediately. With coffee and home-made biscuits on the go, Allan started to tell us both about his work and what he is doing in the local woodland to assist the crested tit population, with his bespoke nest boxes. As the woodland isn't really suitable for providing nest sites, he has been putting up boxes filled with wood chippings, which the tits excuvate as they would with old decaying wood, from a dead or broken tree.

He has had varying success, but is still learning about their behaviour along the way, and, judging by the feeders outside of his house, they're happy to live in the woods. Kate was sat down, but I remained standing to watch through the window, and within a few minutes I spotted one arrive, and seconds later, Kate was gleefully watching her first crestie!

After a short stroll through the local woods, listening to Allan explain his work there and Kate offer some of her seemingly limitless new ideas, we thanked him for his time and hospitality, and set the sat-nav for Burghead. With the fine weather I wanted to see if the harbour had retained its appeal for the various sea ducks I'd seen there last year.

It didn't disappoint. On arrival we could see a few long-tailed ducks plus a pair of red-breasted mergansers, and after only a short while, they were joined by eiders, impersonating Frankie Howerd, as usual!

Talking to one of the locals, we also heard that a great northern diver had been seen lately and sure enough, it appeared in the mouth of the harbour.

Kate wasn't impressed by it, and I can sort of see why. In winter plumage they're a bit dull I suppose, but I just love the way they glide around, bossing the show, though even it had to be wary of the great black-backed gulls.

With the water sparkling in the sunshine and catching reflections of the colourful boats and buildings around the harbour, I again grabbed as many shots of the ducks, diver and mergansers as I could.

I mentioned to Kate whilst we watched, that I'd wanted to get some shots of the eiders feeding, if possible. Especially as they eat such unappetising creatures. Seconds later, a female eider surfaced with a crab and rather skillfully, juggled it in her beak to break off its legs, before crunching and then swallowing the body of the crab almost whole.

And much to my delight, a male eider then repeated the trick, right in front of us.

I guess living in the harbour isn't a great idea for crabs!

The light eventually started to fade and we headed back, with Kate jumping out along the way, as she has on the drive up there, to capture some of the magnificent scenery. Back to the cottage for a home-cooked meal, a long review of the masses of shots taken and to discuss ideas of what to do next.

1 comment:

Di Stone said...

Wonderful stuff Pete and your photos are outstanding.

Di