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

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