Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Caithness, a new adventure 6th-10th August 2015

I've had a fantastic time since I haven't been blogging and thought I'd catch up on a few things, this along with my well travelled, fellow naturalist Granny AKA "Mama"...

On the way up we enjoyed views of some great Scottish birds. Near Loch of the Lowes we received great views of an Osprey crossing the road, my best view ever, Red Grouse, Siskin and Yellowhammer followed. Later on we chanced across a flock of Lapwing, exactly 100 in total! It's a shame however this being classed as a highlight... We should have seen these post-breeding flocks regularly throughout the journey, but only one.

Once we got to the area of Caithness we entered the famous Forsinard Flows, which holds may of the special breeding wader records. Temminck's Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Pectoral Sandpiper possibly! With the more common yet still scarce waders such as Dunlin breeding in incredible densities. We went round the perimeter but were able to see the incredibly flat, pristine blanket bog for miles. We decided to have a break at a small loch and encountered two lovely birds.
Distant, but a Red-Throated Diver stretching its wings.

A wet yet beautiful male Reed Bunting withstanding 'typical' Scottish Weather, bad stereotype.
In the evening at Scrabster, a pair of Peregrines strutted their stuff above our heads, sadly silhouetted...

The following morning I woke up early in the morning (in excitement) to be presented by a wonderful sunrise...
Just to the left of this shot I carried down along the path, only to have two diminutive Waders sway their way towards the rocks. I was expecting them to be some Turnstones, however had a nice surprise! Bobbing, brown, blobs (great alliteration)! 2 Common Sandpipers, a juvenile aged by scaling on its back and an adult. 

It was clear that they were migrants, very shifty, only allowing distant photos like these ones. But to eliminate the possibility of Spotted Sandpiper I managed shots of their wing patterns.
Unfortuantely still distant. Spotted Sandpiper (their North American species pair) would have had a less distinct wingbar, not joining with the tail feathers. Redshank and Dunlin, however, were far more co-operative.

Later on we visited Dunnet Bay, sheltered by the most northerly point of mainland Britain, Dunnet Head. 7 Great Northern Divers were using this bay, some in stonking summer plumage.
On the outskirts of the bay were loads of tiny Calidrid type Waders. Distressingly disturbed rather frequently by dog walkers/tourists. Totally oblivious to birds that may have travelled thousands of miles just beforehand. This was certainly the case for a flock of Sanderling, interestingly not whizzing along the surf but roosting on some rocks, possibly trying to escape the constant disturbance. These birds had either come from Greenland or any other high arctic staging ground.
The next day we went the full distance by visiting Dunnet Head. The most interesting bird or should I say birds. Was one fluffball and a pair of Red-Throated Divers. That fluffball was inevitably the chick, thick with down feathers to prevent the cool loch from getting to it.
This is my first ever sighting of a chick. So as one would expect, I was rather excited! We then drove back (south)! To Dunnet Bay and were glad to see our third species of Tern residing with some Black-Headed Gulls on the surf. A Sandwich Tern, adding to the previous Arctic and Common Tern sightings. My pictures I am very pleased with, as you'll hopefully agree with...

Back at Thurso I sifted through a flock of Gulls, with my patience prevailing after picking out an Argentatus Herring Gull or Scandinavian Herring Gull. Named after its more northerly distribution. The darker mantle is of note and helps to distinguish it from our bog standard Argenteus type.
Right hand bird with Argenteus to the left for comparison. Just look at the mantle (back) shade, colder.
We went to St. John's loch the next day after picking up the shockwaves produced by the groundbreaking sightings produced at St. John's pool, coincidentally a Sandwich tern colony. The surrounding area was well searched by us. Whimbrel and Ruff was found! The Ruff was the first of (too) many, well you can't get enough of Ruff's can you!?
Whimbrel, note smaller size compared to Curlew, crown and for me darker wings with a sheen.

Ruff poking its head out of the tufts of grass! Male.
When leaving for our next adventure we encountered two Knot's. Supposedly just having come from the Orkney's fiddling around in the rocks.
Here you can see a summer plumaged individual
I have far better photos of Ruff and Knot to come, watch this space!