Friday 22 July 2016

Back to Loch Garten RSPB Reserve

Thursday 21st July Light SW warm, 20C sunny intervals

Off to Loch Garten RSPB reserve again from my deep in the forest camp site. It had been a wonderful, if unplanned rest, due to the violent thunderstorms the previous day, with books read and lots of sleep.
Tent is packed quickly and the road reached. No early morning capercallie on the way, just a pair of grey wagtails catching flies on the tarmac. The forest is extremely quiet, a serene silence and so beautiful.

Nimrod is in the kiosk at the reserve and comes out to give his friend a hug. He is eager to tell me his news, that he is in love with a Danish girl and that they will make a life together once he returns to his native Malta.
I had met a lovely couple from St Albans, Tricia and Duncan along the road and they arrive at the kiosk. As usual, it is great to.
meet a couple who bird together.
Nimrod introduces me to a residential volunteer, Donna and together she and I walk the path to the centre. Once more the osprey family are present, though the juveniles are without a fish today.
After a snack or two, Donna comes over to ask whether I would like to go in the forward osprey observation hide. Would I!? I had always wanted to see the inner sanctum of this iconic place.
Two hours inside with Donna and another res-vol', Jane is a pleasure and a privilege.
Donna is from Doncaster originally and used to live in Dudley. She had been to Worcester university where one of her lecturers was a friend of mine, Mike Wheeler. Small world. Donna is a keen birder and fascinating to listen to.
By now the afternoon is getting on and I decide to head off towards Carrbridge. On getting back to the bike I realise that one of the girls is missing, the small white rabbit June. Julia, the retail manager, gives me another rabbit to replace her, naming her Ginny. I determine though that June must be found. I have to retrace my tracks and find her. I can't leave her alone in the forest.
I find her along the small track very near to where I had pitched my tent. Phew! As if some sort of karma is deserved I pish a titmice flock nearby and two crested tits come very close. At last I manage to take a good photograph of one.

Once back on the bike it is a case of 'All aboard' and with everyone counted for with one new addition, we head off.

12.68 Miles 610 feet elevation up 682 elevation down

To The Abernethy Forest to See Some Famous Ospreys.

Tuesday 19th July Light SW Very warm, 26C and very sunny!

Off to Loch Garten RSPB reserve in the Abernethy Forest, the iconic osprey nest site. The sun is shining and the hills are free of cloud for the first time since arriving in the area. 
I know it must be warm and sunny as a song thrush is sunbathing just outside my youth hostel dormitory. The temperature is climbing and what little wind there is as I cycle is behind me. Hence I am in a fabulously good mood and singing all the way.
The ten or so miles to Loch Garten pass quickly enough and after stopping to photograph both a house that looks French and a very large boletus sp. fungus, I go out onto the small broadwalk that overlooks a small rush and horsetail filled pool. 
Four-spotted chasers, libellula quadrimaculata are chasing each other and a few damselflies include large red, emerald and northern, .
Three people from the US of A join me and we chat about American politics, Brexit and nature. John is from New York, his wife, Clare was from Chicago originally and her sister, Eleanor was from Boston. They were a delightful trio and a pleasure to be with.
From here it was a short cycle to the visitor's centre and after meeting Sarah in the entrance kiosk, 
another superb RSPB staff member, I went into centre to view the famous osprey nest. EJ, the resident female was on a tree by the camera pylon and her two offspring, Rowan and Willow, were on the nest devouring a large rainbow trout, brought in by EJ, the female. Odin, when he arrives only brings in a small fish.

Apart from the ospreys there are some close to the centre bird feeders that attract a good number of siskin and chaffinch, as well as a few greenfinch, some titmice and a juvenile great spotted woodpecker.
Outside for some strange lunch, brioches with jam, peanut butter and apple sauce; well it's all I have, I meet a fantastic family from Manchester. Mum and Dad, Helen and Jamie with their two sons Oscar and Max. They talk about birds and their holiday and are an inspiring group.
I had really want to see a RSPB staff member from last year, a man who really made his mark on me last year, a Maltese man named Nimrod. Unfortunately he is having a day off but I am told by Sarah that he will be in tomorrow.
With that in mind I head off into the magnificent Abernethy Forest to find a place to camp.

18.18 Miles 581 feet elevation up 970 elevation down

Monday 18 July 2016

Flock, Forest and Fungi.

Monday 18th July Light SW Cool and cloudy, early morning heavy rain

Another walk in the Cairngorm area with an aim to circumnavigate Loch Morlich and the hope of finding a capercaillie. Rain falls as I make my way along the Old loggers Pathway towards the south west end of the loch. There are plenty of fungi along the pathway but each specimen is damaged in some way; boleti with holes caused by slugs, amanita with damage caused by twigs and pine needles. Why should every photograph of these superb organisms? I start my collection of fungi in less than perfect condition. A new facebook group beckons . . . funny fungi.

Rain stops for brief moments and birds are very few, just a group of coal tits come to the first pishing session.
A few common hawkers are hawking as I follow pathways deeper into the forest. Most of the forest seems to have been planted. I must check on this as the history of the area would be fascinating.
Off the path, I search an area of seemingly open and original forest. The trees are of all different ages and sporadically well spaced. The heather, moss and rush are up to my thighs and I almost put my hand into a wood ant nest. No capercaillie here.
For the next mile or so I look at all of the wood ants nests. Some are large, some small, some empty.

I arrive back at the loch side and take the dirt road north east.
It has been a very quiet walk with very few birds, just the occasional coal tit or willow warbler with a few swifts overflying the trees.
Then a long-tailed tit crosses the path in front of me. Then another. I start to pish. More birds are coming and going as a large titmice flock is passing, mostly high up in the trees. I pish harder and birds come close; willow warbler, siskin, goldcrest and a few long-tailed tits. Then a very close crested tit is on a branch. I click and the camera focuses on a leaf!

The flock passes. The chance for classic crested tit photograph is gone.
I walk on and pish a male redstart. It is definitely the way to see birds here in the forest.
Psssst. Pssst. Pssst......

Trout in the stream, flowers on a young Danish girl; Clara the youngest is wearing a beautiful yellow hawkweed headband made by her sister. Mum and Dad insist on a photograph. A family from Copenhagen. Great!
Back at the youth hostel again, an evening of The Matrix and Rolling Stones music. Perfect.

6.38 Miles 462 feet elevation up and down

Green Year list is now at 268, still twenty eight ahead of this time last year. 

Another Hill top Climb and Crested Tit to Find

Sunday 17th July Light SW Cool and cloudy

I want to find today's target bird, crested tit, not at a feeder conveniently set up at the RSPB Loch Garten reserve nearby but somewhere out in the immense Abernethy Forest. To that end I am up early at the youth hostel to enjoy a large breakfast before setting out to explore. The area I plan to walk is one I have never been around before and I am looking forward to new views and landscapes. I am particularly looking forward to finding a large variety of fungi. 

Yesterday's examples had been in superb condition and I expect a lot more today. Red squirrels are possible and hopefully I will hear the trilling call of a crested during the day.
In fact red squirrels prove to be easy. They run across the lawn at the hostel as I eat the substantial fare. Curious how they have white, bleached-out looking tails.
Now I don't know why but when I see a hill I have a hankering to climb it. So it is today. The path from the hostel goes up. It goes up beyond the tree line after going through fir plantations of row afetr row, same sized firs. No birds in here, a few meadow pipits are in areas where the trees have been removed. Scots pine skeletons punctuate the slopes.
Why am I going up here? The wind is strong at the top and light rain is falling. It's cold.

I want to see the other side of the hill. The trouble is when I arrive at the summit and shelter against the cone of stones, the cloud descends and I am in a whiteout.
Lunch. A small moth crawls in front of me.

The clouds lift and I descend down a steep heather-covered slope down to the forest again. It is so sad to see how much of the area is just regimented conifer blocks and how little is original pine forest.
Eventually reaching a sort of dirt road, I head back towards the hostel. Listening all the way I hear a crested tit in the high canopy of some of those cultivated pines and find it. Bird number 268. A photograph proves impossible amongst the branches.
I do however manage to get one of a spotted flycatcher in the same area. A few hundred yards later another crested tit is once again high in the canopy.

7.57 Miles 1502 feet elevation up and down

Green Year list is now at 268, twenty eight ahead of this time last year. Last year I had three birds on the island of Islay; rock dove, arctic tern and golden eagle.

Sunday 17 July 2016

Gonna Climb A Mountain

Saturday 16th July Fresh SW to 50 mile per hour at the summit Occasional showers of horizontal rain, very cold at the summit. 6C feeling minus 5C with wind chill.

The cycle towards the Cairngorm mountain range is lovely and a butterfly atop a grass stem gives me hope for a warm, sunny day. No mobile phone signal so no chance to check on a weather forecast I reach the superb Cairngorm Youth hostel. Here I have to wait for the postman.
Britannia Building Society had unknown to me had blocked my debit card. Yesterday I had tried to book a night at the hostel and my card had been declined. Knowing that I was a long way from being skint I phoned Britannia. “We've stopped your card. We thought that there was some fraud.” No text, no phone call, no email; Britannia had sent a new card to my parents' address back in late June. Great!
Mum and Dad found it amongst my post and sent it to the hostel, recorded delivery.
Now I had to wait.
Noon, postman arrives, I have my card and I am off on an unladen bike up the mountain. Actually most of the way is a push. Super strong cyclists pass me as I use the excuse of looking for a crested tit to push up the steep road.
Reaching the Ski Centre, renamed since last year for some reason, I hide the bike and set off up the valley's central pathway, which is somewhat sheltered from the wind. The higher I go the stronger the wind gets. 

There is a smirk of snow in a cirque of rock and I head for that. Last year the slope to the left, north of this snow where I found over twenty ptarmigan, today's target bird, and I am confident of finding them, despite the extremely cold gale that is scouring the rocks.

I find ptarmigan pooh! They must be around here. I scramble up to the summit just as a particularly heavy rain shower hits. It soon passes and after a spot of lunch, taken crouching down behind some larger rocks, I sart the search for the birds in earnest.
A mountain hare dashes off at my approach. I see it three more times over the next two hours, or maybe I see three more, as I zig zag across the blasted granite rock landscape; first with the wind at my back before turning and facing the gale. My fingers are starting to feel painful with the cold, despite gloves and the rain stings my face.
The ptarmigan cafe is just a couple of hundred feet below me, teasing me with the promise of warmth, hot chocolate and cake. I need to find ptarmigan for real though and I am thinking that I may have to come back another day, or even in November, when one shows itself. I am so pleased I even shout, “we have one!” Ghostbuster style.

Just one but after a photograph for evidence I decide that one is enough and am soon tucking in to a delicious flapjack with a large mug of the dreamed of hot chocolate.
On leaving the warmth, I start the descent and what should be walking up the path? Six ptarmigan who have got more sense than me taking advantage of the shelter of the fencing along the path.

Siz wheatear and a single ring ouzel are seen to add to a very sparse day list. Meadow pipits have been the most frequently seen bird up here. A single each of both pied and grey wagtail and a single carrion crow, a fly over herring gull and a few titmice and a willow warbler make up the rest of the list. Not a lot but I can't complain when ptarmigan goes onto the Green year list, bird number 267.

Green Year list is now at 267, thirty ahead of this time last year! Brilliant. Surely the 300 is just a matter of time this year. I can imagine the moment when I see the 300th bird. Dream on Prezza.

Rain, Rain Go Away . .

Friday 15th July Fresh SW Heavy rain

My hope for an exploration of the reserve is dashed by the heavy rain that arrives mid morning. I do get to the hides that flank the centre. The views are atmospheric as drifts of falling rain pass in front of the hills and over the marshland. Roe deer are out there and occasionally a bird shows itself, redshank, lapwing and curlew.
The rain gets heavier and I spend the afternoon in the centre reading the noticeboards and the RSPB leaflets, especially the ones on climate change subjects.

In the evening, as the rain stops and the sun decides to show itself briefly, I cycle first to Insh Loch, seeing red deer quite close to on the way there, and watch ospreys coming to the island there. 

Bird number 266, not a bird I was worried about missing as there are a number of them in the Speyside area.
I then return to the west side if the Insh Marshes to try to listen for spotted crake, a very rare breeding bird here.
First I set the tent up near a layby that I had been told was near to where one could hear them.
Midnight. No sound at all, it is cold and cloudy and after walking along the B road for an hour or so with hands cupped to my ears to amplify whatever sounds there, I haven't heard any whip-like call. Sleep per chance to dream.

11.90 Miles 873 feet elevation up 737 feet elevation down

Spean Bridge to Insh Marshes . . Up and Over

Thursday 14th July Light WNW sunny intervals

Up early to explore this expansive woodland in the hope of finally getting wood warbler onto the list. At this time of year the wood is almost silent; just a blackcap gives a brief snatch of song.
I walk pathways, try sit and wait tactics but no luck after four hours or so. There have been a few birds, same ones as last night with willow warblers high in the canopy, treecreepers on the low trunks and titmice at all levels.

I set off for Insh Marshes with forty miles of road to negotiate. It is mostly uphill until a series of lochs, The first one has a dam at the west end yet the water level is fifty foot down on the highest possible level. It has been this way for a long time as the vegetation is lush all along the old lake valley.

After shopping in Newtonmore I am surprised to arrive at Kingussie. I thought I still had around ten miles still to go but here I am almost at Insh Marshes. Brilliant.

I cycle past the ruins of the Ruthven Barracks on top of it's glacial mound left after the last Ice Age; the mound that is not the ruins, and get to the visitor's centre. Now this fabulous wooden centre has a balcony on top with magnificent views over the whole valley. 

This really does have one of the best views of any RSPB reserve. I watch as a female roe doe cleans her young fawn. A couple arrive who I have met before this year, Vickie and Ryan from Blackpool. Great to have a catch up chat.

Downstairs and into the centre, the views from inside are equally good. A truly wonderful reserve. Tomorrow's exploration of it is going to be tremendous.

42.72 Miles 2111 feet elevation up 1699 feet elevation down

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