At the last minute, I decided to tag along with a couple of birding friends who were travelling to Scotland for a couple of days, roughing it in the car and cramming as much in to two days as possible. This was not going to be a trip of comfort, or of much sleep.
The evening started with a three hour drive east to my friends house – the meeting point. From there, we drove through the night to arrive 5 minutes away from a site near Perth that would hopefully produce Black Grouse at dawn. Half an hour from our destination a Pine marten was seen from the car, moving along a stone roadside wall. We arrived a couple of hours before dawn which gave the other two time to sleep for an hour. I can’t usually sleep in cars, and didn’t on this occasion either.
On arriving at the location our plan was to stay in the car, slowly patrolling the road. Unmistakeable silhouettes of grouse could be seen in the trees in the distance, but it took some time before we found any close to the road. Red Grouse came first – some really good looking individuals with large scarlet eye-combs. Eventually I spotted a Black Grouse on its own in short grass and we paused for pictures. Only one other Black Grouse was found, but many more Red Grouse put on a good show.
We moved up in to the Cairngorms next, starting with a walk through the Caledonian Pineforest to see what we could find, ever hopefull of spotting a Capercaillie. No Capers predictably, but we had some nice views of a pair of Crested Tits, along with all the usual forest birds – Siskin, Chaffinch, Coal Tits, GSW, Treecreeper, etc.
Next was a hike up to the Northern Corries on Cairngorm mountain to look for Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare. The conditions weren’t great, but not too bad. We were frequently in cloud, and it was very cold, with a pretty good covering of crisp snow. Both our target species took an unusually long time to find, with Ptarmigan proving the hardest, and we had to settle for very distant scope views high up a steep scree slope. Moutain Hare was easier, with one fairly approachable individual on a patch of snowless ground conspicuously standing out. On the way back, the surface crust of hard snow gave way, and I managed to fall through, catching the sides with my arms – briefly terrifying, as below I could see a stream flowing a long way beneath me. My friends managed to haul me back up and we descended to the car.
It was a race to get to Loch Flemington, further north of the Cairngorms, in order to catch up with a long-staying American Coot. We made it, and managed to find the bird just in time. Little else was present on the Loch apart from Eurasian Coot and Mute Swan.
We moved south-west to Ardanmurchan in the darkness, and slept in a car park on Loch Sunart. At least, the other two slept, for a few hours. I just tried, and failed. The morning was taken up fruitlessly searching for a Black Duck. Other people were in the area doing the same, but nobody managed to connect with it.
We moved on south down the west coast towards Mull of Kintyre and Campbeltown. On the way, at Tayinloan, we saw some Lesser Snow Geese, before reaching Campbeltown. An American Herring Gull had been seen in the harbour on previous days, so that was our first stop. It would have been the 500th British bird for one of the party. It wasn’t at the harbour, although a number of other gulls were, along with small groups of Eider. A drive around the area revealed three fields completely full of gulls. As much as I try not to discriminate with my wildlife, I must admit to finding gulls a little boring. I resorted to photographing all three fields and worrying about it later, while the other two scoured the flocks. We gave up eventually, with no American Herring Gull and returned home, very tired!
On examination of the gull photos later, it turned out that not only had I managed to photograph an Iceland Gull and Kumlien’s Gull, but I’d also managed to get the American Herring Gull!