Sunday, 30 May 2010

Old Winchester Hill NNR

The earliest settlers in this hillfort were Bronze Age circa 3,800 yrs ago and responsible for the line of three burial barrows (1) (see map below) and a single pond barrow (2), as well as the seven barrows lying outside the perimeter at (3) and (4) the latter being the oldest barrow on site.

During the Iron Age circa 2,500 yrs ago, the main bank and ditch of the hillfort was constructed enclosing 4 ha. A deep V ditch (8) cut to create the high bank (6), upon which a wooden palisade (7) would have been raised. (5) is a series of earlier barrows that were incorporated into the bank. (After Natural England).

Butterflies on the very windy wing: small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus), red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), common blue (Polyommatus icarus) and large white (Pieris brassicae).
Warblers in the bush: willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), common whitethroat (Sylvia communis), lesser whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) and blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla).

Thursday, 27 May 2010

IOW (Eurasian) eagle owl

Another stunning photo from Chuck Eccleston, this time the subject is a (Eurasian) eagle owl (Bubo bubo) currently located in woodland on the IOW, provenance unknown. Local escapee? Most likely. But what a great bird .. and a great photo !

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Admiral ahoy

The wrong side of the garden fence, but a single red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was noted settled on brightly coloured washing, hanging out to dry next door. Not that I spend my time deliberately perusing my neighbours washing lines. I am not Arnold Layne.

Swift (Apus apus) count overhead now stands at eight.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

love a dove

One of a pair of collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) that have been feeding regularly on our neighbour's bird table over the last week or so. The birds flush at the slightest intrusion. This photo was taken from the upstairs bedroom window.

On our bird table at least one of the recently fledged blackbird (Turdus merula) now feeding independently and both ads.; and a magpie (Pica pica) or two. Overhead seven swift (Apus apus) is the highest count to date.

Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus), small white (Pieris rapae) and large white (Pieris brassicae) butterflies present throughout the day.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

fledged and visiting a garden near me !

This morning I was thrilled to see the local resident pair of blackbird (Turdus merula) attending to their two newly fledged young across the suite of back gardens. The ad. ♂ busy collecting food and passing it to the young birds.

Overhead a pair of swift (Apus apus) who arrived whilst I was Speyside "screeled" and cut the cold blue morning sky with their sharp silouhettes.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

bloody corvids !

Earlier today my next door neighbour spotted a magpie (Pica pica) squeezing out of a small ventilation hole in a roof space opposite, where we believe a pair of house sparrow (Passer domesticus) have been nesting. It does not bode well for a successful brood.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Speyside and the Cairngorms Day 4 - the big hill and all it's birds

The final day was given up to Cairn Gorm (1244m) himself. Taking the eastern "windy ridge pathway" from the base station up onto the shoulders of Sron an Anaich. Meadow pipits (Anthus pratensis) and signs of red grouse showed above the station. Then we ascended into the boulder fields to look for the last big names on the list.

Around 700 meters a dull silhouette on the skyline eventually revealed itself to be a ♀ ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus). The views were poor and when we got up to where it had originally been seen needless to say the bird could not be relocated.

Hitting the first line of ski fencing we turned south and immediately bumped into a pair of ptarmigan showing to within 10 feet.

Somewhat surprised by the apparent tameness Ian reassured us that this was often his experience of the birds.  Stopping for lunch we watched the birds for a little while.

The rest of the walk up to Ptarmigan Station produced only a fleeting glimpse of an unidentified dark bird as it dropped from the fence to ground and disappeared.

At Ptarmigan Station we met the family we had shared the pine martin hide with the night before. They were heading for Mull the next day for the first time. Envious but gracious a few prime birding sites were shared with them.

Leaving Sam and Vicky in the restaurant, and under strict instructions to get to the top and get straight down with "no messing about" - Ian and I headed for the summit 20 minutes away. We took 15 minutes and bought ourselves some "messing about" time.

A ♀ snow bunting walked circuits of the summit cairn whilst we took in the views, chatted to the locals and posed for those summit shots.

The return descent to the car park signalled the end of the "study tour" - and having phoned to arrange to meet the hire car officer, we drove back off the mountain to return to Inverness.

Just as we passed the lower car park, Ian with his pair of sharp eyes and a bucketful of serendipity spotted a ♀ capercaillie on the road side verge. We had the last big bird on the list! Stopping to try and get better views and a photo opportunity the bird flushed and flew off into woodland canopy.

The final tally: Four days on the hoof; 84 birds on the list (6 personal "lifers", capercaillie, snow bunting, ptarmigan, ring ousel, parrot crossbill and crested tit); 12 mammals: bottle nose dolphin, common seal, roe deer, red deer, brown hare, rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), red squirrel, wood mouse, badger, pine martin, and a roadside dead otter .. with a "probable" Scottish wildcat.

And a handful of dips: dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) to much snow on the summits still? Red throated diver (Gavia stellata), redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), red grouse, peregrine (Falco peregrinus) and mountain hare. A single and early spotfly (Muscicapa striata) was apparently present at Loch Ruthvan car park on Day 1 we did not get onto it.

All photographs courtesy Ian Loyd

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Speyside and the Cairngorms Day 3 - Osprey, an awesome pair of tits and a pine martin

A very late start to the day had us slow the previous days pacing down, and we headed back to Loch Na Garten and Abernathy Forest for an afternoon stroll in the Calendonian woodland.

An Osprey hovering over the River Spey at Boat Na Garten gave great value in the fine blue sky and sunshine before languidly drifting off north.

In a very small body of water to the left of the road a pair of slavonian grebe and some greylag geese (Anser anser) were on what we presumed was breeding territory?

At Abernathy Forest we walked down to Loch Na Garten again where goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), red breasted merganser (Mergus serrator) and goosander were present. Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) seemed to be singing in every other tree.

Loch Mallachie had at least two pair (5 birds seen) of common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) providing a constant piping soundscape as we passed the time of day and traded sightings with a retired local birdwatcher for half an hour or so.

Our sociability was rewarded later when a distant whistle from the gentlemen put us on to what turned out to be a pair of crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus) on part of their feeding loop through the mid canopy of the woodland. The record shot below simply failing to do justice to the views we had.

Following an unsuccessful early evenings stake out in the same location for the "probable" Scottish wildcat, we headed to Loch an Eileen for the Speyside Wildlife pine martin hide.

During the briefing car side for the evenings nightwatching event four Osprey were seen overhead, three in close proximity to each other, two of the four with fish between talons.

Following an excellent and informative introduction to Scottish mammals - pine martin in particular, and the previously documented discussion regarding our "wildcat" we waited in the hide until the very last moments when a single male pine martin appeared on the feeding station in front of us for 15 - 20 mins.

Singles of badger (Meles meles), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) along with a herd of red deer were also seen.

All photographs courtesy Ian Loyd

Friday, 7 May 2010

Speyside and the Cairngorms Day 2 - two dips at Loch Na Garten, a Lek, parrots, some eagles and a very big cat

Day 2 began with a 04:00 alarm call - an early start in the hope of connecting with capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) at the Loch Na Garten RSPB reserve. After an hour and a quarter in the hide we moved on as there was no "big black turkey" showing. We heard later that a single male had showed after all but very late in the morning.

The resident pair of Osprey provided some conciliation with the ♀ on the nest and the ♂ sitting nearby in the trees. Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) were on the feeders around the site.

A short drive to Tulloch Moor rewarded us with almost an hour's worth of full lekking display by black grouse (Tetrao tetrix). At least five ♂ were seen displaying, one of whom having flushed a ♀ into flight gave chase, landed on a short patch of turf on a low mound and proceeded to display in clear view. The out of sight ♀ was obviously not impressed and the ♂ gradually quietened down with his wattle deflating in defeat. Simply stunning.

Heading for higher moorland to target mountain hare (Lepus timidus) and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) we entered the woodland around An Suithe just along the road from Aviemore. Tracks and signs on the woodland floor gave us much speculation as to the possible presence of pine martin (Martes martes) and other Mustelidae but no actual sightings.

A pine cone dropping from the canopy beside the path made us instantly look to the tree tops, where a flock circa 8 - 10 of crossbill (Loxia sp) became noisily apparent. One very large ♂ showed the characteristic bull head, deep chest and massive bill of a parrot crossbill (Loxia pytyopstittacus); a second ♂ with a smaller bill suggested scottish crossbill (Loxia scotica)? One ♀ looked of the common type (Loxia curvirostra). A mixed flock of all three crossbill? We should be so lucky? We were more than satisfied that we had Parrot and a single common at the most jaw dropping best - the difference in contact calls also adding weight to our ID.

After some delay getting onto the right track out of the woods, a quick lunch, and a flushed ♀ black grouse, we entered the moorland zone; and were almost instantly rewarded with a single golden eagle coming to roost on a hilltop tree line. Giving the briefest of views, it then flew off behind and below.

As we walked up the hillside evidence of mountain hare and red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) was clear from droppings but we failed to connect with either species. Two golden eagles soaring together over the higher moorland were ample comfort to our disappointment.

On our way back down to the roadside a single golden eagle was seen over An Suithe itself being mobbed relentlessly by both a merlin (Falco columbarius) and a crow (corvus sp).

A small herd of red deer (Cervus elaphus) and a ♂ black grouse were added value.

Heading off the hills we decided to target a location of which Ian had received a tip off from a reliable source for scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia). Our suggested viewpoint was from a road overlooking wet pasture with Juncus sp and a woodline leading down to the edge of the fields, a fence ran along the perimeter of the wood, we noticed what looked to be a mammal tunnel through the fence line at one point. The road itself went through a single street village.

Using the car as a hide we waited for a while at the suggested spot - then moved off slowly up the road keeping close eye on the woodland edge and fields between houses. It wasn't long before Ian spotted a large cat on the fenceline below, even from the driver's side looking down through I could see this was no ordinary moggy.

A very large and deep chested grey "tabby" looking cat with a big head and downward pointing tail the shape of a policeman's truncheon having five rings and a black blunt ending was prowling along the fenceline. I got no more views as somebody had to park the car safely - but Ian, Sam and Vicky having got out of the car followed it for the briefest of moments before it was lost to sight. A further half an hour's stake out did not produce any further views.

We cannot say it was a Scottish wildcat that we saw for certain - the integrity of the tabby lines across the back, the green eyes - we didn't get these features. At the Speyside Wildlife pine martin hide the following evening we described the beast and location to Alan the resident Scottish mammal expert. His conclusion without the additional supporting ID features was that it was safe to say that we had a "probable" Scottish wildcat - he even went as far to say we should use the phrase "we believe we had a Scottish wildcat" - he cautioned us against saying that "we did have" a Scottish wildcat. He did not tell us that we only had a moggy.

Dipping on otter (Lutra lutra) at Loch Na Garten and Loch Mallachie at the end of such an eventful and exhilarating day simply failed to dent our enthusiasm and joy.

Day 2 finally ended at 04:00 on 08/05/10 but our experiences of the local Aviemore nightlife will remain closed and irrelevant to this wildlife blog.

All photographs courtesy Ian Loyd

Speyside and the Cairngorms Day 2 - additional footage An Suithe walk

All photographs Peter Hogan except wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) courtesy Ian Loyd

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Speyside and the Cairngorms Day 1 - dancing slavs, dolphins and a dipper

Having picked up the hire car in Inverness - the first goal was to connect with slavonian grebe (Podiceps auritus) at Loch Ruthven an important UK breeding site for the birds. Two pairs were seen - one of which gave eye-watering views close to the hide. They or the second pair later overwhelmed us with a courtship display and "hearting" as we were heading back to the car. 

A single distant whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) gave added value.

Chanory point on the Black Isle provided an opportunity to watch bottle nose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) only meters from the shore where the rising tide was pushing the salmon (Salmo salar) against the undersea cliff walls.

At least 5 individual bottle nose dolphins were present including a very pale calf the locals have named "Breeze". A common seal (Phoca vitulina) was also in the area. 

Sea-birds included singles of both sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis) and gannet (Morus bossanus), two pair of distant eider (Somateria mollissima) and a black throated diver (Gavia artica).

A walk along the Spey riverbank in front of The Bridge Inn at Aviemore in the early evening, gave us our first sightings of osprey (Pandion haliaetus), dipper (Cinclus cinclus), common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) and goosander (Mergus merganser).

All pictures courtesy Ian Loyd

Monday, 3 May 2010

An afternoon's amphibian distraction

The small water feature in my next-door neighbour's garden is currently home to a solitary toad Bufo bufo

As it is quite a large specimen I suspect it is a ♀