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

No comments:

Post a Comment