Thursday, 19 January 2012

Aviemore and more

Day 2: The map reads: "Caper watch early AM, but can be a scrum, and 95% composed of muppets... " "Shaded area is Black Grouse lek site. First light essential. Amazing spectacle..." Whereas Stuart's words resonate in my ears: "Loch Vaa a sure thing for Slavonian Grebe..."*

Target birds for today: Osprey, Scottish/Parrot Crossbill, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Capercallie, Slavonian Grebe, and other stuff!

* I paraphrase here somewhat

Nice sentiments, but containing words that were to have very little meaning or bearing on any of my efforts during my short stay: "Early AM" and "First Light", top-trumped as they were by "only after a substantial breakfast". As in "only after a substantial breakfast did I managed to get out of the hotel", or "Only after a substantial breakfast did I realise that I should have tied my boots up before my substantial breakfast..."

After a substantial breakfast I started off towards Grantown along the Speyside Way, which became more of a rail-way due to a large golf course which obscured the river. The weather was undecided, lobbing hand fulls of drizzle and then a tease of sunshine and calm, only to forget what it had done and so start again.

Birds there were but very few and distant: Crossbills and other finches bounced between the pines. In the larger stands Redstart and Tree Pipit sang and always the Chaffinch and always the Coal Tits..

I took a slight detour from my route to have a gander at Loch Vaa, "Slav's a cert!". Got a Little Grebe, which try as might I might remained fixedly a Little Grebe. It turns out it might have been another Loch that Slav's were a cert on. No matter a great little Loch, enchanted! All was not lost as I managed to pick up a call that research and planning (an app) convinced me was of a Scottish Crossbill. It failed to show for a picture.

Less shy was the Red Squirrel I met up with further down the path. How many year's is it since I last saw one of you...

Not much happened for the rest of my walk to Loch Garten, and then not much happened there. Apparently the Osprey had just changed sitting duties and the relieved bird had buggered off to fish. So nothing to see there...

Rather than follow the road back towards Coylombridge I cut across country through the pines to Tulloch Moor. Nice, dry and easy at first which then became decidedly muddier and wet bordering on liquid before too long. I had no desire to walk miles with sodden socks and boots but rather than go back I deliberated long and hard between steps to avoid the inevitable.

Eventually I reached dry road just to south side of Tulloch Moor and close to its leks. I wandered down one path on to the moor to see if any straggling Black Grouse would give themselves up easily. I think the only bird I saw was a Whinchat.

Back on the road to Coylombridge the countryside became less wild and more agricultural, and the birds became more apparent. I heard a sound I was familiar with, but it just sounded wrong here. I looked for the source and after a while found not one but several Yellowhammer singing and calling from the hedgerows. Another bird I had not expected to find here, following a small group of Bullfinch in the woods behind Boat of Garten.

It got better. At Pityoulish a Small black bird sat in a cow field. I had thought crow, but for some reason I looked at it through my bins. F***k me! Black Grouse. The bird was obviously just as taken aback as I, but having got its wits together if hoofed it into the woods by the river.

Happiness and a spring in my step. Just round the corner 2 Raven peeling something quite dead of the road, and in Loch Pityoulish itself a group of Red-breasted Merganser, while a Sedge Warbler called from a clump of innocuous looking reeds. This is great, I felt anything could happen on the few miles remaining and Aviemore.

A Woodcock!

A roding Woodcock though

Day 3

Next day and I am up good an early taking on the challenge of the buffet breakfast again.  Oh no ate too much again.

Today I was following up one of Mr Fisher's other recommendations, not in the slightest dismayed by lack of success on his previous suggestion. Destination Loch Eanaich about 7-8 miles to the south. A stroll.  The promise of breeding Diver, and other exotica.

The first part of the hike took me back into Rothiemurchus and it's wonderful Caledonian forest. The weather wasn't too shabby either, sunny with a nice breeze and the occasional overcast bit just in case you got too hot.

Familiar songs of Willow Warbler, Great Tit and Blue Tit and the less familiar sounds of Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and the occasional Tree Pipit helped my mood as I slowly climbed.  Some Crossbill patiently waited for me to get the camera settings right, munching on pine seeds.  Still can't work out whether they were Parrott or Scottish, the pictures didn't come out that well!

Glorious views and the sound of crashing water of the stream below, I was full of the joys and breakfast still.  Above the treeline my mood changed.  Here the only sound was the wind in my ears and the rushing water.  No birds, bar the occasional Common Sandpiper, and Meadow Pipit.  It was getting quite bleak as was the weather, my gloom was not helped by cyclists rushing passed me towards Loch Eanaich.

My thoughts of going off the path and finding the remote breeding sites of diver were taking a back seat as I realised how far off my goal was seemingly.  The route was never ending, with the occasional  major water obstacle to overcome thrown in.  The last of which was a bent and rusty metal tray like object of around 10 foot in length which pretended to be a bridge.  This is where I get seriously wet, I thought.  I was wrong, that was further on where a side stream was not even considered worthy enough for a bridge.

As a former trained geologist I could appreciate the glacial effort and influence on the valley, but as a hot and sweaty walker with wet feet I was finding it slightly depressing.  The cyclist bombed back past me, day trippers apparently rushing to get their bikes back to the hire shop.

I was alone, and felt it. Partly that was good, but alone also meant being the only warm blooded creature alone.  No birds.  And the weather was now joining in the malaise, sleeting and the clouds gathered glowering lower.

I had reached the loch.  Job done.  Stuart had apparently climbed the apparently vertical sides and camped on the top.  I have had moments when I've questioned his sanity, this was one of them.

It had taken me about 2 hours to climb from the tree line, it was sure as shit not going to take me that time to get down.   Plugged into my i-phone it took me "Beggars Banquet" (The Rolling Stones, 1968) to get down again, my mood improving every metre down the path.

The sun was out again as I hit the forest trail and happily I could hear bird song.  Even more happily the bird song turned into something I had familiarised myself with over the last few days.  Crested Tit.  And there it was flitting through the pines and all too quickly gone.

I decided to go to Loch Morlich a few miles to the east and then back to base.  Morlich offered the possibility of diver and duck and maybe a wader or two...

A delightful walk but and maybe another couple of Cresty Ts, a Green Sandpiper and some loafing Goldeneye - always a surprise to find a bird you imagine from the arctic wastes nesting in Scotland. 

I achingly walked back home for another curry.

A Woodcock!

A roding Woodcock though

de ja vu

Day 4

My last day, and another impressively large breakfast.  Squeezing out through the door, today it was all or nothing.  Er by that I mean I had to carry all my kit and leave nothing, and... well that's it.  Still had a few things to find: Dotterel, Ptarmigan, Caper... The last one seemingly out of reach, the others well, a possibility.  It was off to Cairngorm.

I took a taxi as it would have taken me half the day to get there otherwise, but it also meant I would have the energy to climb from the cable car station to the summit.  For it is said "yay, only those idiots that climb from the base camp to summit, are allowed to wander freely once there..." or words to that effect.  OK it was a bit windy, no probs, probably only a thousand feet or two, simples.

It was slightly windier than I thought.  It was much steeper than I thought, and I am very much more unfit than I thought.  Winds of 60mph trying to push me sideways, weighed down with telescope, tripod and all my stuff, I was enjoying every minute of it.

As I got near the plateau, I found a cairn that I thought might be out of the wind and I could set up my scope and look for Ptarmigan and Dots.  Even this rock wind break wasn't up to the task. I scoured the plateaus, the slopes, a few white looking rocks that appeared to move, but were probably my eyes watering and the cold effecting my brain. The last bird I saw at the base camp was a Pied Wagtail, the only bird I saw at the top... a Pied Wagtail.  Probably the same one, taking the piss.

This was the highest I had been on land anywhere, pathetic.  I went down by the lift after an overpriced and bland helping of something. Disappointing is probably what I would say now, but not what I said then.

I decided to walk back slowly to Aviemore and catch the train in the evening. A leisurely walk, not expecting too much just enjoying my last day in this glorious place.

Loads more Crossbill, but none that I could get a look at properly.  Some lady Goosander in a fast flowing burn.  A Crested Tit nest in a perilously wobbly stump, and at the last the sight of a female Capercaillie, like a small transport plane cruising through the forest.  Yay!

Not a lot of species and fairly hard work, but ***k me absolutely brilliant. I coming back.

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