Scotland Jan 10th - 12th 2003

Day 1

The Birding day started at around 11 o'clock at Caelaverock Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve, where upon driving up the entrance road we were greeted by the sight of thousands of Barnacle geese feeding in the flooded fields to our left, I could sense the day was going to be good! As we exited the car the sound of excited Whooper swans filled the air and the carpark was alive with finches, on scanning through we noted Chaffinch, Greenfinch and House sparrow. We entered the reception full of anticipation to a friendly welcome from the young lady on duty and were informed of the whereabouts of most of the reserves birds.
Our first point of call was the hide at the visitor centre where we really started to rack up the bird count, as well as the thousands of Barnacle geese there was a small flock of about 10 pink footed geese, and the afore mentioned Whooper flock. Pintail, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard and Tufted duck filled the small expanse of unfrozen water and a few Golden plover and lapwing were the only waders to attempt to feed in this icy tundra. A glance at the bird feeders below (its a few flights up to the top of the tower) produced more finches and a few Reed buntings in amongst the 50+ yellow hammers, we realised that to really get a good look at the Barnacles we would need to move to the far end of the reserve path and to the second hide, along the way we heard the tiny peep of a Treecreeper and saw a few blue and great tits.
When we finally reached the top floor of this hide (another 3 flights) we were surprised to find the expanse of the reserve littered with flocks of Barnacles and Pink feet, and luckily the target bird of the trip, a stunning Ross's Goose feeding only meters from the path we had just walked (hidden from the geese fields by a small hill) we spent a few moments savouring the birds but new we had to move on if we were to get to the other sites on our itinerary for that day, so we made our farewells to the geese and departed the hide. We could not resist checking the finches as we left and were rewarded by some excellent views of 3 lesser redpolls, feeding on thistles.
Our next stop of the day was a brief pull in at a small loch, Auchenrochloch in search of two first winter drake Lesser Scaups, which had appeared this winter, lost on their migration from America. Again due to the frozen lake all the ducks were congregated in a small patch of water that, as yet had escaped winters clutches, this actually proved more of a hindrance than a help, as all the lakes birds were in a very small area. We eventually found our target bird/s but could only ever seem to find one bird at a time (although we are sure we saw two different birds as one was more advanced in plumage than the other) at this point we realised it was time to warm our frozen hands back up and returned to the car.
Our third stop of the day was at Loch Ken (we go from one extreme to the other with loch names) where we found a red-head Smew and on the bank a female Peregrine sat feeding on her latest kill, while navigating the roads around the loch, we were shocked to find a Red Kite circling low over the hills being mobbed by a Raven, a fantastic sight for anyone to witness.
Our next destination was Troon harbour but on the way we bumped into a flock of 20+ brambling near new Galloway, and had our first siting of Red Squirrel for our trip.
We eventually arrived at Troon near to Dusk and set about searching the thousands of gulls in the hope of white winged gulls, unfortunately we were out of luck, but were grateful to the Black guillimots that put in an appearance, as well as adding Shag, Knot, Dunlin and that ever elusive Purple sandpiper to the trip list.
We now had to face the arduous drive across country to Gran town and our habitation for the weekend the Lazy Duck hostel (a fantastic little place that cost 17 for 2 nights stay) We arrived at around 21:00 in total darkness and thick freezing fog to a small dwelling where our housemates for the weekend had already got a lovely warm fire going, and settled ourselves in for the night

Day 2

We awoke early at around 07:00, and were greeted by freezing temperatures of -10 and no nice fire to keep us warm!! when we eventually managed to drag ourselves out of bed we found ourselves in a snow covered wilderness, the trees and hills surrounding us were covered in the white stuff and looked picture postcard perfect. The day started very well and before we had even walked out the door we saw Red squirrel feeding just out side the window (these squirrels turned out to be very approachable, down to a few feet in some instances). Our target birds for the day were the major Scottish specials of Cappercalli, Crested tit and Scottish crossbill, The owner of the hostel informed us of a wood that had just been brought by the RSPB as it was a major site for Cappers, and was hardly used, we decided that this would be our first stop.
The day had started well, with plenty of Buzzards alighting the telegraph poles and siskins flitting around the trees, but when we finally arrived at Cragmoor wood we realised that a lot more walking was involved, we set out into the heart of the wood brimming with anticipation and alert for the quietest sounds. We soon found a large tit flock and began searching through, eventually hearing the chattering call of a crested tit, and found the bird high in the tree canopy, soon it became clear that this area was alive with the little gems and we had at least 5 of them move through with others calling around us, but we decided to push on and try to find our true quarry. Unfortunately the rest of the wood seemed very quiet and after about 2 hours of stomping around in snow, that at times was almost knee deep, we decided to give up and head off to another (hopefully more productive) site.
Our next stop was Grantown, and a site that is always good for Cappercalli and last April held both Scottish and Parrot crossbills. It seemed that we were going to be out of luck with the crossbills as we saw and heard only 1 and that at a distance. however Cappercallie on the other hand was a different story. as anyone who has chased them will know they like to sit in tree tops and scots pine isn't the easiest tree to search, but we persisted and while myself and one of my birding mates were messing around in the snow we flushed a male, I only wish I had looked up as i completely missed it. Later on after walking for about 45 mins I caught sight of a splendid male Cappercalie dropping out of a tree and finally we could get back to the relative warmth of the car.
Ptarmigan and the slopes at Cairngorm were our next site, and as usual the top carpark was filled by the skiers in the area (you don't half get some strange looks setting up a scope in a ski carpark). We were lucky enough to find a party of 41 Red grouse from the bottom carpark, as well as our first Hooded crow (and my first since it was split by the BOU) and added Snow bunting in the top carpark (well on the roof of the car parked next to us) the journey there was not wasted, unfortunately you could not see far enough up the mountain for any Ptarmigan.
With the day drawing rapidly to a close we made our way back to the hostel (via a supermarket in Avimore) and settled in there for a few drinks by the fire.

Day 3 Day three kicked off with a much more respectable temperature of 4 degrees, a Tawny owl hooting before breakfast and a fire that was still burning so we were able to make the early start we hoped for, Our day today would consist of the long 500+ mile journey home visiting a few sites along the way in hope of some added species.
Our first stop was to be Glen Shee, but the siting of a Dipper feeding off an iceflow in the river lead to our first stop and some great views of this small bird swimming in a very cold river.We eventually arrived at Glen shee after several more stops for close Red grouse and distant Red Deer, and began searching for Ptarmigan again, and again we had no luck, but we were compensated by superb views of Snow bunting feeding under a meter from the open car door, and some white mountain hares.
As we had a long way to go we spent as little time as possible at glen shee (driving sleet can be a pain) and pushed on to our next port of call.
When we arrived at Rudens point (not sure on the spelling) we started to survey the sea duck in the bay and were pleasantly surprised to find most of the scoter were Velvet, with most common scoter being more distant, as this was our first real look at sea water the numbers of new trip birds really began to build, adding, Eider, Long-tailed duck, Red-breasted merganser, red-throated diver and then the final topping on the cake, 2 adult male Surf scoter and one probable female. These are the closest I have got to Surf scoter as they were not the usual 2 miles out at sea.

Note: The lazy duck hostel has its own website that can give you all the details you need, click here.