Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Scottish Highlands: Part Two.

Another early start at the fishery, we both sat there hoping for a change of luck. As before, several ospreys circled the area, but none came in, preferring the nearby River Spey instead. Frustrating to say the least.

Then at last, a change in luck. An osprey chose to try for breakfast from the loch, and after a couple of failed attempts, instead of flying away, sat on a tree stump across the water from us. Of course this made for some excitement, and everytime it took off, we prayed it would take a fish near us, giving us a chance for a decent photograph.

Remarkably, the osprey tried over and over to catch fish, diving down into the water, even landing near our watcher (parked down near the offices), apparently unconcerned at his presence!

Then finally, the osprey appeared to have dived and caught a fish. Staying in the water for a moment, we had time to aim our lenses and start firing when we spotted, behind the bird, a tufted duck hurtling in at speed. Amazingly, it spooked the osprey, which took flight, abandoning its catch, and after shaking dry, returned to its perch.

The tufty then bobbed back to where it had been, as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

A few more failed attempts later, once more the osprey plunged into the water and we locked on... only this time, making an entrance Stage Left, came a crazy mallard.

Flying in, quacking, wings flailing, it again took the osprey by surprise. For a brief moment, all we could see was an explosion of water and spray, and the normal tranquility of the area shattered by the frantic quacking from the mad mallard.

Then, as before, the osprey let go of its catch, fleeing from the water with the still fuming mallard in pursuit.

There were young ducks around nearby, so we could only assume it was being very protective, if not rather insane!

With time running out (the fishermen come in at about 9am), we started to think that we had again missed out, a thought that was probably crossing the mind of the osprey! But, it hadn't given up, and with no lunatic wildfowl around, the osprey splashed down, facing the right direction for us, and caught a large trout.

To witness this event is truely amazing - especially how they manage to control the fish under the water, and then heave themselves out of the water, to fly off with the catch.

It all happens so quickly though, you really have to hope that you've managed to get a focus-lock on the bird, and maintained it, as it has taken off, which with droplets of water all around, isn't that easy.

After that, we didn't see another osprey, but we'd more than made up for the day before! Terrific stuff.

Breakfast tasted better that morning, and once more, we headed north to the coast. Ian had previously been to a spot called Chanonry Point and seen dolphins close to shore, so we found ourselves wandering along the beach there, with many other hopeful folks. Even though the tides weren't quite right, we still enjoyed close views of several small groups of dolphins, probably from one pod feeding in the area. No leaps though, and with a big lens, was tricky to get them in the shot!

Making our way back south, we aimed for Findhorn Valley, known locally as the valley of the raptors, as it's a good place for watching out for eagles, and other birds of prey. Trundling along the lane slowly, I spotted something that didn't look quite right on a fence post, and asked Ian if he'd reverse the car back for me to have another look.

Raising my bins, I looked along the fence and my jaw dropped when I realised what we'd found. A long-eared owl, sat out in the middle of the day, in plain sight for once! A mass panic ensued, with us reversing further down the road, to allow us to grab the cameras, before rolling slowly back in the hope it hadn't flown off.

It hadn't. What a gem of a find!!

It looked at us several times, whilst looking around the area. The tufts stood proudly from the top of its head, and those orange eyes were fantastic to see. Normally you're lucky to see even one of the eyes peering from out a tree or bush at you, so this was a real treat.

Bored of posing, it turned tail and vanished into some woodland nearby, but not a bad start in the valley!

Parking up at the end of the road, we chatted to some birders who'd parked their camper van down there for the day, and watched buzzards flying over the hillsides. Also around were peregrines and kestrels. And on the peaks, herds of deer grazed, giving a sense of scale to the valley sides.

Amusingly, whilst we were chatting about buzzards and eagles, and the different calls they have (using apps on our phones to demonstrate), we both looked at each other as if to say "Was that call from your phone?" - and then realised what we could actually hear was the distant call of a real eagle!! Spinning around, we scanned the sky and could just about see a golden eagle soaring over, being chased by a gull. Too far up for a photo, other than a record shot, but still wonderful to watch. It didn't hang around long, vanishing over the tops of the hills.

Despite spending a morning watching ospreys, we didn't complain when another came in, fishing along the River Findhorn, pausing occasionally to hover over the water, before moving along again. They're such striking birds, and frequently seen all over the Highlands. We even watched a pair through the window of the pub we dined in one evening!

The river also held dippers, though they were shy and I have masses of shots already, so we didn't hang around too long, and just before we left the valley, we spied an osprey sat in a tree-top across the river, crying out. Maybe for the parent bird? Perhaps that was what we'd seen fishing before.

An early start and a long day, but my word, what a day!!


Max Silverman said...

The owl man strikes again!!!

Cracking shots especially of the Osprey.

Millhouse Photography said...

The quality of photographs and the special nature of the species have to make this one of the best blogs I've seen. The Osprey shots are a triumph. LEO - that's special.