After travelling over night we spent a few hours trying, and failing, to sleep in the parked car. We were woken to the sound of drumming common snipe all around the wet fields and estuary. Along with the incessant cawing of the many local hooded crows. As dawn slowly broke to the calls of distant Tawny and Little owls in a far off coppice, we began to see the mist slowly lift off the shrouded mudflats and the true splendour of Balcivar, on Scotlands west coast, came into sight! Our aim for the first part of the day was to locate the long staying rarity that was Britains first snowy egret. In no time at all the unmistakable shape of an egret could be seen, but in the half light it was impossible to tell which sort, and just as the light was clearing enough to confidently identify the bird, it was off and flying from its pre-dawn roost and disappeared around behind the local houses. We eventually re-found the bird in a small rivulet where it proceeded to feed openly for some time, allowing us excellent views of this ghostly wonder. After spending a few hours in the area, and finding the single carrion crow amongst the hoodies, as well as more common estuarine birds, we decided to move on, along our journey and headed across country to the Findhorn valley.
Along the way we made a few stops at strategic sites, including Oban harbour where we located 27, full summer plumage, Black guillimot (these would be the first of many for the day) and even managed to hear the subtle call as some swam below us and the harbour wall. Also in the bay were 20 Eider, winter plumage Razorbill, and summer plumage Guillimot. Stopping at a road side loch, near Appin, we found with the many eiders, one second year Great northern diver, in a spring moult, and a stunning almost full summer plumage Slavonian grebe.
Eventually we arrived in the Findhorn valley, and began our search for golden eagle, this proved to be fruitless unfortunately. We were rewarded however with a high flying Merlin, skirting the top of the mountains, Grey wagtail and Buzzard, as well as a newly arrived male Ring ouzel (also hearing 2 others). Another summer migrant, this time in the form of Northern Wheatear, had made its annual trip to its breeding grounds, with Raven, Siskin and Great spotted woodpecker all also putting in appearances we were going well. Feeling we were out of luck with the eagles we headed to Nethy Bridge, where we located the over wintering Great grey shrike, all be it distantly (summer and winter migrants together is a great feeling). As the day drew to a close we headed to Tuloc moor where we added Red-legged partridge to the trip list, and then retired to our B&B; for the night.
Saw us chasing the Scottish specials, and we took an early morning (just as dawn broke) trip to loch Garten, where we had excellent views of a female Osprey silhouetted on her nest. Followed by the cream of the crop in the form of a leking male Cappercalli, very close but in long grass. The day was going well and improved with Black grouse on Tuloc moor and crested tits in the trees along the road from loch Garten.
The Great grey shrike was still showing distantly, in Nethy bridge, and a second female Osprey was seen flying over woodland by Rathie Murcus.
An excruciatingly long walk up the Cairngorms, provided some partial white Ptarmigan in flight and calling along the scree slopes, while others were found feeding amongst the rocks. It also provided our only views of Red grouse for the trip.
Our final expedition of this short trip was into the woods near Grantown golf course, where we found many signs of Cappercalli (in the form of droppings), but no actual birds. It was also somewhere for us to sit and have lunch. Not long after starting to eat (roughly half way through my first cheese sandwich) we were alerted to some activity above us, by a very loud, harsh Chip, we looked up and found the tree full of crossbills, and it was time to start deciding which species they were. We eventually managed to ascertain that it was a mixed flock of 5+ bull necked angry looking Parrot crossbills and a few slightly less stocky, but equally large billed Scottish crossbills, including one stunning male.
At the end of two long days in the field, we had achieved almost all our target species, managing all the Scottish specials, with the exception of Golden Eagle, and had amassed a trip total of 105 birds. A good trip all round.