On the 8th May we set off for our annual trip to the Cairngorms and our talks at the Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown on Spey.

We left at 8.30 am and drove for some six hours of the most awful wet rainy weather imaginable. The spray from lorries and even cars was atrocious. Over long periods we endured bad surface water. There were warnings galore on the M5 and M6 motorways.

We eventually arrived at Exit 44 on the M6 to stay overnight at the Premier Inn, Carlisle. Due to Covid restrictions there was no bar and no restaurant. No breakfast, but the room was clean and as one expects. We enjoyed snacks and a cider and wine in our room. We had completed 401 miles and drove a further 223 miles to Grantown on Spey the next day. The weather was slightly better and we arrived in time for a roast beef lunch, but still were not allowed alcohol with the meal. We had completed 10 hours driving and covered 624 miles.

We started serious nature watching on the Monday, 10th May. We drove a quick circuit around Nethy Bridge and back to the hotel. The weather was surprisingly good.

We saw many common birds as follows:

black headed gull
common gull
meadow pipit
Magpie (the only sighting of the week)
wood pigeon
Stock dove
pied wagtail
Great tit
herring gull
cock pheasant
Green woodpecker
graylag goose
10 pink footed geese

We passed the hotel and drove straight to Findhorn Valley. Lambs were gambolling everywhere, about 4 weeks behind ours in Cornwall. Daffodils were in full bloom and on the way through Scotland we had noted huge numbers of cowslips on the roadsides. The Scots Pine, larch, silver birch and other trees were all shades of green from the deepest shadowy colour to the brightest almost yellow green.

We took fine photos of the Cairngorms still topped with snow, noting three red deer hinds in an open field at the same time.

Birds seen in Findhorn Valley, one of our favourite places were:

Song thrush
2 Golden eagles flying with 2 buzzards
Oyster catcher
crossbills m & f
House sparrow
mistle thrush
Common sandpiper
carrion crow

The Golden eagles were flying high and magnificent making the buzzards look almost tiny. We were thrilled to see the crossbills as we failed to see them last year.
Mammals either seen or seen signs of were as follows:

Some 300 red deer hinds grazing.
About 15 wild goats grazing, beautiful and shaggy multi coloured.
Mole (hills as evidence).
Rabbit (deceased on road).

On that Monday evening I delivered my first talk rather sparsely attended as the hotel had very few residents so early after the first partial release from lockdown.
The sighting of the day was the Golden eagles.

On Tuesday 11th May we visited Lochindorb. On the journey there we spotted two pairs of greylags and a huge breeding colony of common gulls spreading either side of the road. These are gulls we very rarely see in Cornwall. They are a little larger than black headed gulls, but are lighter in build.

As we drove around the lough itself, we were a bit disappointed at first, spotting first an oyster catcher, then a pair of swimming mallards, a meadow pipit and a very noisy common sandpiper. We scanned everywhere both out on the water and in each and every little bay for birds. We saw two greater black backs but no divers. On the very last tiny bay at the extremity of the lough there they were; a pair of Black Throated Divers in positive beautiful summer outfits, so close to the edge we obtained really good views. They were sheltering from what, on the open water, was a fairly rough wind. We saw only one Red grouse, but the divers made up for that.

On the high moors we met a couple of police officers. We stopped and got talking. They were with a young collie cross. Apparently, it was a two year old and trained as a forces dog but now training as a ‘drug sniffer’. The sergeant was training the dog and the handler. Apparently, it takes only eight weeks to train a good dog (and handler) to recognise drugs.

That day was a really good ‘watching day’. As I was to lead a watch at one of the hotels own hides, we visited Avielochan to see what might be there so we were prepared for the next day, Wednesday 12th. Initially we saw two black backs and immature herring gulls taking command of the centre of the loch. Two dabchicks dived continually near the hide. A pair of mallards swam casually on the far side. A flock of brown sand martins flew just skimming the surface of the water both taking insects and drinking. Their prey appeared to be mayflies and other even smaller flies.

A squadron of greylags swam quartering the whole loch. Male and female tufted ducks dived continually along with a pair of goldeneyes. The Tufted duck looks pretty spectacular but he is a bit overwhelmed by the handsome goldeneye drake.
Wigeon, coot and moorhen made up the water bird count along with a single common gull flying over with a couple of black headed gulls. The sand martins suddenly disappeared, a male chaffinch sang his heart out and finally a stunning male Slovenian Grebe swam past the hide diving several times, directly in front of us.
The sighting of the day had to be the black throated divers.

On Wednesday, 12th May we led a watch at Avielochan hide and saw all the birds seen the day before and our trial ran as well as sandpipers and an oyster catcher sitting hard on her nest. Very good views of the Slavonian pair. Later we saw mute swans at Loch Alvie.

Still later that day we went for a glass of wine in the garden of a local hotel. Having been looking for red squirrels for two days, we finally saw five in the hotel gardens.
The sightings of the day was the pair of Slavonians and five red squirrels!

13th May. I led a walk in Anagach Woods , just behind the hotel, extending to one thousand acres.

We saw many small birds, but none particularly rare as follows:

Blue tit
coal tit
long tailed tit

We saw one red squirrel but two squirrel dreys and favourite of all I spotted a most beautifully constructed long tailed tit nest, lichens woven together with mosses and spider webs. It was the first I have ever seen and I was slightly surprised that it was larger than I expected. But its camouflage was amazing.

That afternoon Cherry and I visited Insh Valley and watched a pair of ospreys, the female sitting hard, the male flying around. As we drove away we saw mute swans and Cherry saw a large comfortable looking brown hare. On the Spey we watched a dipper ‘fishing’ and flying down river.

That evening I presented my second talk about the wildlife and scenery of Svalbard. It was better attended as the hotel had now been open for a fortnight after lockdown was slightly relaxed.

The sighting of the day was the osprey pair, but the long tailed tits’ nest was also spectacular.

On Friday 14th, we had a relatively disappointing morning at Findhorn seeing the following:

wood pigeon
mistle thrush
albino mallard & female
Curlews flying and calling
grey wagtail
Arctic tern
oyster catcher
black headed gulls

We then went over the high moor to Farr, house martins, swallows, starlings, and greylag were the only birds seen other than a creeping female partridge on the edge of the road. We were hoping to join Simon, one of the hotel guides but a huge cattle lorry put pay to that. It was wedged across the track, likely to be there for an hour or so, loading almost wild cattle. We saw Simon later and explained missing him. Cherry spotted brown hare on our return to the hotel.

Saturday, 15th. We thought we might visit the Black Isle today but ultimately as we were due to start our long journey back to Cornwall on the Sunday, we decided to have a fairly easy day, especially because we will be visiting the Isles of Scilly within a month and probably would see many sea birds, mammals and fish.

We therefore visited ‘Bookmark’, the local bookshop and sat in the local park (we were the only people there), and ate fish and chips (remember no pubs open in Scotland yet in lockdown), and were delighted to add another bird to our weeks list; a treecreeper.

On Sunday we drove home with a stop in Carlisle. We have had a super time and already fixed the week beginning Monday, 16th May 2022 for our next visit.

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