Showing posts from 2016
Waxwings galore

Those of you who follow the A9Birds' Facebook page will be well aware of my delights in the past few weeks as Waxwings finally started to arrive, and in good numbers.  These stunning looking birds, about the size of a Starling, can arrive each winter as bad weather and the need for new food sources drives them from their usual wintering grounds in northern Russia, Finland and Scandinavia.  The last two winters yielded very few of them here in northeast Scotland, but 2016 has remedied that by far

Having seen a passing dozen or so birds earlier in October, Mrs A9Birds and I were heading home from the shops when we caught sight of a group of birds atop some birches, on the edge of our nearest town of Forres.  A resident flock of Starlings can usually be seen there, and as we drew nearer the silhouettes of Mother Nature's closest offering to a New Romantic singer from the early 1980s was unmistakeable.  "Waxwings!" I announced, probably a little too loudly …
Fàilte gu Alba!

...that's Gaelic for welcome to Scotland, by the way.  In my last blog, I finished with a photo of the offered bounty of Rowan berries hanging off the trees...well, invaders from the north have arrived.  Mistle Thrush numbers soon became bolstered with Redwings and then Fieldfares in our local fields, whilst elsewhere small groups of Waxwings have turned up...all arriving from Scandinavia.

"Welcome to Scotland!" a local Chaffinch welcomes a Fieldfare
Other bird species have also arrived from the east, helped by some keen easterly winds in the last couple of weeks.  Species both mundane and exotic have appeared, and not just in our part of Scotland.  For example, yours truly has found a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Great Grey Shrike - neither are especially rare in the scheme of things, and very much expected on passage at this time of year.  In both cases, a wee bit of knowledge helped...important when finding any bird not pointed out to you by someone alread…
The Last Day of Summer

No - it's true, it really is...the autumn equinox is tomorrow!  So it's appropriate I make this blog entry today as I look back on the mixed fortunes of our birds that I've written about in recent months.  

Our lonely male Swallow roosted in our workshop the night of 15 September before heading off the next day, so we wish him well and hope he returns with a new female next Spring.  Our resident Great Spotted Woodpeckers have successfully raised two young, so it will be interesting to see how long they stay on territory for.  The only way we know there are two youngsters is thanks to feathering differences, as shown in the photos below:

Great Spotted Woodpecker chick 2016-1
Great Spotted Woodpecker chick 2016-2
Elsewhere around the patch, Red Kites have continued to be apparent so fingers crossed it won't be too long before we see their numbers grow even more.  Our nearest Kestrels failed to breed this year (possibly related to the vole population, wh…
Autumnal August

August is a 'funny' month in the Highlands, as the season (technically Summer) yields sights and sounds associated with other times of the year.  Some examples for you...

Sat at Findhorn Bay the other day, the numbers of waders were rapidly increasing (especially Curlew and Redshank, plus lesser numbers of Dunlin) as were Greylag Geese.  The latter breed on the moor not far south of home, and make the journey north around this time...though the last of the group usually make their move on 12 August when the grouse shooting season starts (wise birds).  One of the group of fishing Ospreys came right over my head, en route for his nest with a flounder in its talons.  While I sat scanning the waders for anything interesting, I became aware of a male Yellowhammer was singing its familiar "a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese" song on the farmland behind me, still hopeful for some summer love.

Male Osprey with a flounder for his family

Also still singing, ne…
Mixed fortunes

Mother Nature moves in many ways, reflected in recent weeks by the fortunes of the young birds and around our home.
Our Swallow pair, as mentioned in the last blog, produced three chicks.  However a couple of days after hatching, we saw almost three days of continuous rain - a real rarity in these parts, despite what most uninformed folk think about 'Scottish weather'.  The lack of flying insects in such weather, plus the parent birds themselves getting wet and returning to the nest, this chilling the chicks, all combined to mean the youngsters were shortlived.  A real shame, but it's only nature.
Ospreys - busy right now feeding their families
At the other end of the scale, in terms of size and fortune, are our local Osprey chicks.  The two nearest nests to us both have good sized chicks, and is testimony to the new parenting team on both.  The closest nest has a new female (who replaced the late Green 5B, known as 'Beatrice' to those that followed her …
Fun in the sun

Well we've had some great weather in recent weeks, with the birds making the most of the warm weather (such as letting brooding parents take short breaks from sitting on eggs) and of course the longer days.  

In our part of the world, we're now at the time of year where it doesn't get dark, remaining officially in nautical twilight at its darkest until the end of July, and not officially getting to 'night' dark until the second half of August.  It's one of the reasons why so many birds come up here to breed, with extended day length offering the biggest opportunity to feed as well as be aware of predators through most of the day.

Gadaggadaggadagga - one of our Swallows dogfights the local male Sparrowhawk

Our Swallows have built a brand new nest in our workshop, and it's been great to watch them toil away. One downside of improving their security this year (see last month's blog) is that we can't put a mirror up to see if any eggs have be…
Sun, snow and Spring

Well it's been a hectic few weeks since my last blog, and for those of you who've been able to share it with me (including my customers from Wales and Georgia, USA - two new flags on the customer board!), a big thank you.  Some folk (including our Welsh and American friends) enjoyed first-time sightings of Black Grouse, and whilst they were performing their magical lek displays.  One of the best things of my job as a guide is to show such a spectacle (and in a responsible manner), especially if you've never seen or heard it before.  Not that it ever gets old!

Black Grouse cocks on the lek - not a bad shot, even though I say so myself, as it was far away and dark!

It's been all about the birds, of course.  Strong northerly winds brought bands of snow, though an eventual shift to southerly winds finally brought in warblers and hirundines aplenty as they arrived after their long journeys from Africa.  Having said that, over 2,000 Pink-footed Geese have r…
They're back!
As I ended my last blog with a 'They're coming...' in reference to Ospreys, as I write this I'm just a few minutes past seeing my first Osprey of 2016..and it's sat atop the nest we can view from our garden.  This fills me with joy, but those who follow my A9Birds Facebook page (link below) will know that the long-resident female of said nest (colour ring Green 5B, and referred to as 'Beatrice' by those who followed her satellite-tracked movements, thanks to Roy Dennis' work these past eight years that the tag has been on her) perished in Spain a few weeks ago, having succumbed to malnourishment due to bad weather.  Last year, Green 5B arrived home to find two intruder Ospreys in situ and - without ceremony - kicked them out.  The identity of the bird now sat there tonight could be one of those, or Blue HU (Green 5B's mate) or another, but what it hoped is that Green 5B's passing will simply be another chapter's end and the …

In my last blog, I mentioned that signs were already appearing of what's probably Mother Nature's greatest season.  Since I wrote those words, more and more birds have been joining the chorus.  At home, most noticeable were Mistle Thrushes - perched on the pines and spruces around us, their short calls stand out against the voices of tits and finches.

Mr Mistle Thrush calls in the ladies
Whilst oot'n'aboot, however, it's been the unmistakable call of the Yellowhammer that's been a pleasure to the ear.  Described by many (and it's hard not to think any other way) as if singing the phrase "A little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeese!", the males - resplendent in their saffron plumage - perch atop anything they can as they too beckon in prospective partners.  A great sight and sound.

"Warm foccacia and a slice of brie!"  Oh no, hang on, that's not right is it...?
Kite flying

One other bird I often see on my travels, but hardly…