One of the best things about living in the Scottish Highlands are the vistas, and winter especially so when mountains, hillsides and fields receive coverings of snow. Those beautifully crisp days with blue skies enhance those views even more, though in recent days the extremely cold temperatures in the stratosphere have aided in bringing nacreous, or 'polar stratospheric', clouds to our skies. In pastel rainbow shades, caught on the beams of the rising and setting sun, they are a joy to behold, as you can see below (and these aren't good examples!):
In my last blog I mentioned the advance of Little Auks into the Moray Firth, numbers of which continued to swell as the days of January ticked past. The severe weather in their wintering grounds off Scandinavia forced their movement, and if you look at a map you can see how much of a funnel the Firth is for seabirds. What became surprising, however, was how far west into the Firth these birds (and other auks species such as Common and Black Guillemots) came, with good numbers being seen from Inverness' Kessock Bridge.
This movement was of course in desperation, moving as all animals do in order to find food and so it was inevitable that many birds were weakened by their unplanned journey coupled with difficult sea conditions even in the relative calm of the Moray Firth. As recently as two days ago, Karen and I were finding dead Guillemots - one on the rain-soaked tarmac of a local harbour and another, somewhat incongruously, in the middle of a pine forest. Clearly the latter bird had been 'acquired', probably on the nearby beach by a fox or other predatory mammal, and taken into the woods as Guillemots tend not to feature on any woodland bird list!
Despite the plight of these and similar birds, great numbers still successfully gleaned shelter of our coasts. One pleasing image I achieved this past month was of this first winter Black Guillemot, feeding in a local harbour, with the scarlet hull of a trawler illuminating the water's surface:
Looking to Spring
Probably a bit optimistic, considering our last significant snowfall at home was at the end of April last year, but the lengthening of the days is already apparent and the recent odd days of mild weather (15 degrees Celsius at Lochindorb just ten days ago!) has triggered singing by male birds of several species, with Common Crossbill and Chaffinch heard at home. It does show that birding in our great part of the world, no matter what time of year, always holds something to see and hear and it's been great to already have customers from south of the border in the first month of the year. The birding isn't necessarily harder, just different, so why not come out with us to find out?
A9Birds is a birdwatching and wildlife photography company based in Moray, covering the local area including Strathspey, the Moray Firth and Inverness-shire. Please see our website for details of what we can offer you, and why not keep up to date with our sightings and photos on our Facebook page. All photos on this page are copyright Mike Crutch/A9Birds.