Wednesday, May 15, 2024

On the one hand, I could cadge a lift into Inverness with Greger to do some much-needed clothes shopping; on the other, I could drive out to Achnahaird again on this gorgeous day and do some much-needed birding. No contest.

I didn't really expect to see the curlew sandpipers again, so it wasn't too much of a disappointment when I couldn't re-find them. There seemed to be fewer waders than yesterday, and the best birds were a vigorously bathing long-tailed duck (male) on the far side of the bay, and a pair of common terns fishing. (Forgot to report in yesterday's post a Canada goose with greylags. Also, two Canada geese were recently on the river bank in Ullapool.)

The incoming tide had already covered the narrow strip of sand at Badentarbat, but there were a couple of dunlin picking about in the seaweed. Then I noticed a bird with them that had bright white underparts with no black belly-patch, and there was my first sanderling of the year. To mark the occasion, it had donned its best blue legs.

A great skua flew across from the sea and then circled for some time high above the moorland.....

.....a sight to cherish, given the loss of so many bonxies to avian flu. The bog bean flowers were out and as lovely as ever, and a female wheatear was on the wall of the sheep pen.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

It could be a good day for a visit to Achnahaird, I thought, as rain during the night might have brought some waders in. Making my way past the dunes I could see lots of scurrying dots on the machair ahead, and judged them to be almost all dunlin and ringed plover.  But a paler bird with no black belly-patch caught my eye, and I began to wonder if it was a curlew sandpiper. A second bird joined it and they fed together ravenously, and sometimes in a rather ungainly fashion - presumably because of their long legs.

A stoat was seen near the car park, and a twite was singing there from the fence.....

.....while an osprey was seen over moorland, possibly catching insects.

A distant wader standing on the edge of a lagoon on the beach and then flying to the edge of the waves and then disappearing posed a problem. I had no idea of the size of the bird, but thought it could be a little stint (or is the bill too large?) or a sanderling (bit too slender for a knot). Little stint often seem to be fellow travellers with curlew sandpiper, I think. More work needed!

Two days ago I snapped a tree pipit singing up the quarry road.

I've also been on my first pelagic of the year. I didn't expect much and I didn't see much - although I was quite content with lots of puffins, several kittiwakes, and a distant white-tailed eagle.

Friday, May 03, 2024

Another warm and sunny day - although it was also extremely windy. In the morning I walked the river spit and then the length of the dog-walking field (for the umpteenth time this spring) but nothing new was seen or heard. After lunch I drove north to the Keanchulish Estate - and as I got out of the car, I was thrilled to hear the reeling of a grasshopper warbler start up from the bog myrtle beyond the fence. Magical!

Several willow warblers were singing, a buzzard cruised across the hillside, and a cuckoo was heard but not seen.

Yesterday: A sedge warbler was singing in the village, down by the loch.

It'll be interesting to see if we get whitethroat - I don't recalling seeing them last year. Meanwhile, I'm in disbelief that I've somehow missed pink-footed geese this year. I think I've seen them on their migration north every other spring we've lived here. I fear they're all gone now. :o( 

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

 Beinn Liath Mhor a' Ghiubhais Li

Greger felt well enough to resume his Spanish class today, so I decided to go up this Corbett for the tenth time. Seems a bit mad, but the hill is a good bet for finding ptarmigan - and I also wanted to see if I could still get up a hill (and back down, of course). A wheatear, a golden plover, and several meadow pipits were seen in the distance on the ascent. It was a warm sunny day and very hard going, but I finally reached the summit shelter and collapsed in it to eat my lunch and drink loads of water (some Fannichs in the background).

There was a strong wind blowing from the east, which decided me against walking further along the ridge. I scanned the plateau in vain and then set off back down, determined to zig-zag across the slope in my bid to see ptarmigan. A flash of white in one of the boulder fields (ramparts?) caught my eye - but I couldn't get the camera out quickly enough as a mountain hare loped off down the hill and out of sight. I sat down for a drink just before the rocks came to an end, giving way to wet grass and sparse heather. The view to the north looked as though plantations of conifers had sprouted - but they were just cloud shadows, moving swiftly across the landscape.

I got up wearily and plodded over to the right, and then turned and went back the other way. Last chance saloon. And there, peering down from above, was a ptarmigan! It had seen me, so I slowly made my way up to the shelf some way behind the bird, and was able to get pics of a male and a female.

The ptarmies walked away with their unhurried ptarmigan walk, watching me all the time over their shoulders, and I left them still foraging among the rocks. A little bit later, a red grouse nearly gave me a heart attack as it rose croaking from the heather and winged away down the hill. Several willow warblers were singing in the plantation, and a cuckoo was calling unseen. A tiny froglet, a tiny lizard, an unidentified butterfly, and a puddle full of tadpoles were added to the day list; and when I got home Greger was already there and cooking a delicious pasta. All I had to do was shower, eat, and write my blog - and look forward to a long sleep!

Sunday, April 28, 2024

A trip to Keanchulish Estate brought four dunlin foraging in the tide-wrack - not my first of the year, but the earlier ones were winter-grey and these are showing a little colour.

My first swallow of the year zoomed around while I watched the dunlin, and I only tore myself away from my vantage point above the beach when the first raindrops fell. It's so nice to be able to walk in this estate again.

On the way home, I turned into the Rhidorroch Estate road at the top of Morefield Hill, and drove on to the recycling centre. High up, a cuckoo came flying strongly from Ullapool Hill and I lost it behind the plantation. I walked out onto the moorland and realised two birds were cuckooing in the distance. Then one came flying towards me, landing on the fence nearby.

Back in Ullapool, the most interesting thing was a dead fish on the slippery green beach.

Just about succeeding in keeping my footing, I got closer and took a picture from a different angle, showing the huge head.

I think it's a monkfish (Lophius americanus) which is, apparently, of the anglerfish family.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

 The great northern diver was close in to shore as the tide fell at Ardmair.

At Badentarbat a whimbrel made its way along the beach and was lost to sight among the brown seaweed-covered rocks. A redshank was the only other wader present apart from the usual suspects.

The walk round at Achnahaird was enjoyable in the bright, cool weather, but brought nothing new. Stopping at the junction lay-by on the way out I heard then spotted two distant greenshanks; and as I drove on, a dark familiar shape caused me to stop in a passing place (echoes of yesterday) and jump out to grab a pic of a great skua - in fact, there were two bonxies, heading west in a leisurely fashion.

Yesterday: The Glascarnoch Dam was busy, with meadow pipits (12+), pied wagtails (3/4), wheatear (2), and a single chaffinch all zooming about. A pair of ravens had re-established territory, and a handful of sand martins hawked for insects in a strongish breeze. A pair of stonechats were along the track, and a grouse went flying high to the east.

Another photo shows a slight notch in the closed tail, which suggests black grouse. Driving away from the dam, I saw a raptor that looked all-dark flying between me and the loch, and going the same way. I was fairly sure it was an osprey, so I put my foot down (I think I actually reached sixty!) and made it to the next lay-by just in time to get one shot of the bird as it passed. And hooray, it was an osprey!

I pulled in to the Lael Forest Garden car park and walked across the road to view the River Broom, where a grey wagtail and a common sandpiper were foraging and bobbing on the rocks. On the sheep fields, a bunch of gulls turned out to be herring and lesser black-backs.     

Monday, April 22, 2024

This morning's low cloud and drizzle gave way to a blue sky and sunshine, and I went for a short walk to the golf-course spit, where I sat on the stones to keep out of the wind. The only waders I could see were two turnstone with three ringed plovers, and a pair of oystercatchers. Just before I got up to go, I heard a cuckoo from the other side of the loch, probably from the wooded gorge near the house; the bird cuckooed three times and then fell silent. Magical.

Walking back, I ventured up to the entrance of the allotment, where I've never been before. A scolding call from the undergrowth made me think "Blackcap!" and eventually he came out into the open and sang.

His head looked perfectly normal until I pressed the shutter - could be the effect of the wind. Several willow warblers and a chiffchaff were also singing. The one downside to the afternoon's birding was a little heaving heap ahead of me on the path as I walked along the river bank. It looked like two drake mallards having a fight; well, in a way they were, but as I got closer I could see that pinned underneath them was a hapless female. Both were trying to mate with her. As I approached, the ducks separated and the female was able to fly away. One male followed her, the other one flew onto the water. It would be nice to think she escaped their attentions, or paired up properly with another male. Nature's great - except when it isn't.       

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