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Trollopes Bird Notes

September 2021

Click for Trollope's February 2021 notes

Freedom!

Taking advantage of our new-found freedom I went to Scotland in late May. It had been some time since I visited the Cairngorms in May, one of my favourite times of year, and I was looking forward to seeing how much the landscape had changed and the resultant impact on bird life.

Ring Ouzel
Ring Ouzel, Turdus torquatus (Image by Stephen Message www.message-wildlife-art.co.uk)

During my last visit I detected over 80 species and it was rather disappointing therefore to record just over 60 on this visit. However we didn’t visit the high tops, which rules out Dotterel, Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting, nor did we look for Divers/Grebes in the known lochs in the area.

Despite the lack of variety, though, there were some good moments to record, the best of them being walking up the Dulnain river and picnicking in a ravine high up the glen. A large bird of prey swooped over our picnic spot and I could not believe my eyes as a beautiful Golden Eagle passed low enough that I could see the lovely light yellow feathers on the crown of its head that give it its name.

Then a second bird joined the first. It is very unusual to get such a close view as we were in grouse moor territory and the eagles are very wary of humans, particularly game keepers who try and keep them away by various means, not always legal. I can only assume that the birds had not seen us, as we were tucked away in a ravine. The usual sighting is a speck in the sky and trying to make an assessment of the silhouette to see if it is a buzzard or an eagle.

The other highlight of this particular walk was watching a female Ring Ouzel collecting food in the grassy hillocks, which it then took across the river to its heathery nest site. Although we did see a couple of Curlews in the glen, it wasn’t in the usual numbers, nor did we hear their lovely bubbly display song as we would normally expect. The number of Common Sandpipers along the river seemed well down, also, but the number of Grey Wagtails seemed average.

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos (Image by Stephen Message www.message-wildlife-art.co.uk)

One of my favourite walks is going up Glen Feshie, which is one of those long glens that crosses the Cairngorm massif joining Braemar to Aviemore. The glen starts as a wide-open space and slowly narrows as it rises. This results in habitat changes from open land to forest (mainly lovely old Scots pine trees) and then to moorland, before the habitat reverses descending to Braemar. I have thought of doing the complete walk one day, but as it over 30 miles, it remains on the ‘to do’ list and likely to remain there.

Following the big floods in 2007 that washed away one of the bridges across the river Feshie, the estate has built a good path along its eastern flank. As we approached the more wooded section of the glen, we diverted off the main path to explore a waterfall mentioned in a guide book.

It was a delightful series of cascades among some very mature trees in an undisturbed environment. This looked good habitat for Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher but neither was in evidence, although singing Willow Warblers were plentiful, as were Mistle Thrushes.

Back down on the main track, we continued up the glen in the hope of better luck upstream. Our progress was brought to a grinding halt as this new path suddenly disappeared. In front of us was a sharp, steep drop; the spring storms had completely washed away the path and altered the line of the river by some 30 metres. I remembered earlier in the year how a train had been derailed by a landslip near Aberdeen, killing the driver. I suspect it was the same storm.

We scrambled somewhat precariously down the drop, then across the stream that joined the river, to regain our path, but it was not long before we found the path washed away once again. Huge Scots pine trees had been uprooted and unceremoniously dumped in the river, making any progress up the river extremely difficult. Birdwatching was now rather secondary as we tried to find our way through. Needless to say we did not get as far up the glen as planned.

We reached the site where the old bridge had been washed away in 2007. There was a ford nearby where all-terrain vehicles cross the river, so we decided to wade across the river to where there was a good road rather than fight our way back on the other side. Socks were removed and boots replaced before taking the plunge. The river was running quite fast and the swirling water had a giddy-making effect, but it was safely negotiated. Boots were emptied of water and socks replaced.

Back on the road, we could now admire the scenery once again. The rewilding of the glen, which the estate had embarked on a few years earlier, mainly by reducing deer numbers, was immediately apparent in the number of new Scots pine trees emerging in the heather. In some places along the road, the new trees blotted out the views of the river, which was a pity. I remember from previous visits that there were a few Sand Martin colonies, but none was seen. As they nest in holes made in river banks, I suppose the storm had removed their nesting sites. There should be new sites to explore, but we didn’t see any evidence.

Below is a summary of some of the main species expected in this area of Scotland. Some of the explanations are my thoughts and not necessarily factual.

  • Golden Eagle Seen on four occasions, which is more than expected. I wonder if that is due to changing attitudes on estates such as Feshie, plus the increasing number of satellite trackers fitted to birds, which would give pause for thought for any gamekeepers tempted to shoot them, particularly following the many mysterious disappearances in the Monadhliath mountains, which have attracted much suspicious attention. The fact that the Scottish Parliament is considering licensing driven grouse shooting may be also having a positive effect.
  • Osprey One sighting. Not bred at Loch Garten this year. This is the second consecutive year of failure. The Scottish population is in a healthy state and occasionally when one bird of a breeding pair doesn’t return, the nest isn’t used for a year or two.
  • Red Grouse and Black Grouse Not seen. I wonder if the cold wet spring had a negative impact. Visited one well known Black Grouse lek without success.
  • Goldeneye One female seen on Lochan Eilein, none seen on Loch Garten. The population increase after the project to install nesting boxes may have reversed with the increasing Pine Marten population finding this new source of food.
  • Cuckoo Heard and seen on most days. Fairly common. Its host species is mainly Meadow Pipit, which may be a problem (see below).
  • Ring Ouzel One sighting. One or two records is about the norm.
  • Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit and Wheatear All seen but in much fewer numbers particularly Wheatear.
  • Redstart, Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher None seen. Like Tree Pipit and Wheatear, these species are summer visitors. The habitat remains and looks good for these species. Their decline may be something to do with their wintering areas rather than their breeding areas.
  • Siskin, Crossbill, Crested Tit All seen in normal numbers. Crossbills could have been the Scottish species. I do not have the skills to separate them.
  • Willow Warbler Very common and still is, unlike Hemsted Forest, where I found only a couple of singing males this year. I fear they will disappear from the forest. Climate change is moving their breeding range northwards.
  • Blackcap A significant increase. This species appears to be continuing to increase its range across Great Britain.

Charles Trollope cetetal@btinternet.com

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