Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Scottish Highlands - Part 3: Woodland Delights And More Harbour Fun

After the brightness of Sunday, Monday was disappointingly gloomy, but we'd have been optimistic to hope for much better weather after recent weeks, especially during winter. Andy had commented as we left him on Saturday that we might have some luck with crested tits at the RSPB Loch Garten centre, so with no plans for the day, we headed into the woodland to find several other folks had already set things up there.

With such clean air, getting attractive perches for our feeding stations was very easy - most of the fallen branches are clad in lichen and moss, so it was more a case of working out how to support the perch itself. Once that was done, we sprinkled seed and other food around, and stepped back.

Chaffinches and coal tits make up the majority of visitors, so I used them to get the settings right on the camera. As it was so dull I'd removed the TC from the 500mm, which allowed more light in, and as the birds were so close, it wasn't needed.

After seeing them at Allan's place, we were chuffed to see some more crested tits at this spot and at last, Kate managed to bag herself some shots of one. As did I - ignoring red grouse in poor light is one thing, cresties are an entirely different matter!

We were pretty pleased with how frequently they came to the feeders that day, though isn't that typical of birds when the light is bad? Same in my garden at home - if it's sunny, they go into hiding...

Still, we grabbed as many shots of them as possible before heading back to the cottage to meet up with Ann, who had travelled up that day. Once she'd settled in, I drove both her and Kate down into Aviemore for a most welcome dinner at one of the restaurants, and enjoyed a very nice pint of Cairngorms Brewery Trade Winds with mine. Mmmm...

Having enjoyed some success with the cresties, Ann was keen to join in the fun and get some shots of her own, so it was back to Loch Garten in the morning, again setting up a feeding station of our own, and again hoping for some visitors.

Not visiting our feeders, but close enough for pics was a treecreeper. As is the norm for Kate, she was rather excited to see one so close up as we followed it around the tree trunks, watching it probe and poke amongst the nooks and crannies. Great little birds.

With the light being as poor as the day before, and rain coming down, I thought it'd be wise to take shots of anything around, including the chaffinches, which to be fair, look rather vibrant inspite of the gloom. And if I'm being honest, I could do with some shots of them for my gallery anyway!

Much like Kate, Ann's reaction to seeing a crested tit was a mixture of excitement, joy and panic, as she tried to grab shots of it. They really don't hang around, and that morning tended to only come in occasionally, grab some food and vanish into the darkness of the woodland again.

The rain steadily got worse, and I suggested that we head up to see if the coast was brighter. This time, instead of going straight to Burghead, I tried Findhorn, as I'd read that it could be quite good for birds on the estuary. It wasn't warm when we got there, with a cold breeze and rain in the air, and a lone figure stood on a jetty, scanning what appeared to be a rather empty area of water with his scope was enough persuasion for us to head to the shelter of Burghead again.

This time, without the glare of the sun on the water, it was certainly easier to get the exposure right for the eiders, diver and long-tailed ducks, though I prefer to see the colours from the reflections.

The great northern diver came very close by, and I grabbed several full-frame shots as it drifted gracefully by.

As usual (and I received a great deal of ribbing from various folks) I stayed in the comfort of my car to take my shots. Both Ann and Kate braved the biting wind to get some of their shots before the weather chased them back to the car. Seemingly unbothered by the weather was Neil McIntyre, who recognised my car from last year and strolled over for a chat. We were to meet later that week anyway, but it's always a pleasure to meet him.

Three grey seals were fishing in the harbour, and two of them seemed to be very playful with each other.

They were also skilled at catching flat-fish, though eating them without attracting the attention of the gulls was more of a problem.

Amusingly though, when a great black-backed gull managed to steal one seal's catch, it was caught by a surprise raid by a juvenile, which snatched the remains of the fish and wolfed it down before it could be caught up with.

Sadly the rains caught up with us, and we chose to head back inland, to the warmth of the cottage. Another fabulous wildlife-filled day out and a fine introduction to some of the delights of the region to Ann.

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