Thursday, 10 January 2013

Highland fling

Male Capercaillie: one of the most highly prized of Scotland's specialities.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of joining the guiding team at Heatherlea as a guest leader for a birding holiday with a difference - the New Year Birdlist Booster, an innovative joint promotion between the specialist Speyside tour company and Birdwatch magazine. Designed to get year lists off to a flying start with Scotland's speciality species, it also became clear as the group of 13 expectant clients assembled that a few life list gaps would be plugged too. Heatherlea's in-house guides for this trip were the excellent Phil Knott and Johnny Pott.

Sunrise over the mountains, from our base in Nethybridge.
The formula for the trip was flexible, with all participants present for the first three days and most staying for the whole week. We hit the ground running in the first hour of the first morning with a fine lek of nine Black Grouse, and went on from there to notch up a terrific line-up which included Rock Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle, Crested Tit and, bird of the trip for many, Capercaillie - a truly magnificent sight. The supporting cast wasn't to be sniffed at either, and included Whooper Swan, Pink-footed GooseLong-tailed DuckGreat Northern and Red-throated DiversHen Harrier, Purple Sandpiper, Glaucous Gull and Hooded Crow. Crossbills of any sort were notable by their almost complete absence, however - just one fly-over bird and two 'heard onlys' suggest that the populations of all forms in this part of the Highlands are much more mobile than most birders would imagine.

Great views were had of another Caledonian specialist, Crested Tit.
I should stress that the above line-up was in just the first three days, after which I had to return to London because of other work commitments. The group went on to notch up many other successes, among them American Wigeon. Mammals were noteworthy, too, and included Red and Roe Deer, Mountain Hare and Red Squirrel. As and when a trip report becomes available I'll update this post with a link, but suffice to say a good time was had by all. Many thanks to Phil and Johnny, and also to Heatherlea proprietor Kevin Shaw for his help.

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