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, near home this time, is a male Blackcap with its beautiful, free-style song while our male Swallow sings from atop power wires, and even flying up and down inside our workshop in the hope of attracting another mate.  The previous Mrs Swallow must've been either predated, or moved on after they lost their brood during bad weather as mentioned on my previous blog.  Looking at my diary, they raised a second brood quite late in August last year so there's still hope if new girl turns up.

And for a real season mix-up, today (in light but steady rain) I came across a strange, dis-jointed bird sound emanating from a was vaguely familiar.  After a minute or so, I realised it was a juvenile male Chiffchaff, old enough to be finding its voice.  I've seen this most years, with the strange sound of "chiffchaffchiffchaffchiffchaffchiffchaff" echoing through the air around September time as young males practice their singing voices for the first time.  The bird today had some way to go before getting a recording contract, but it was interesting nonetheless to hear what may have been its first choir practice!

Fast movers

Sat on the banks of the River Spey for brief time (or 'wee whiley' if you live up here!) the other day, I watched groups of Swallows, Swifts plus House and Sand Martins making the most of the aerial bug feast.  All had young on the wing (screaming Swifts always make me smile), and for many some are already on their way back south to chase the sun to their wintering grounds.

Of late I'd set myself a wee photo challenge, namely to photograph Sand Martins up close and personal.  One of the local colonies was ideal in terms of numbers of birds, the location I planned to take photos from and also the fact that their second brood had all fledged - therefore I knew my actions as I neared the colony wouldn't disturb essential food runs.  Always respect the birds.

It took three visits to yield the real 'keeper' photographs.  On my first two visits, the light plus working the camera effectively was okay, but continual learning (as we all do) meant that a third and final visit was needed.  I knew it would be the final visit as the weather was set to turn the next day, and the Sand Martins had been noticeably dropping in number on each visit, indicating migration had started.

Sand Martin air-to-air photography

Techniques for wildlife photography can be as varied as the subjects themselves, but it's particularly rewarding when after having studied your subject and worked out the best conditions to show the birds at their best, it all comes together.  Despite the many complexities involved, one of the most difficult aspects is to capture a bird without a mouthful of food!

Thwarted Divers - again

Some of you will remember the failure last year of 'our' Black-throated Divers, when their single chick perished after ingesting a fishing hook.  Despite efforts of many, including placing information signs around their breeding loch, the pair have failed again this year with enquiries as to why ongoing (although we have our suspicions).

Black-throated Diver looking superb

For now, the pair remain together looking resplendent in their summer plumage but it seems such a shame that for the third year in a row no young will fly from their loch.  Let's hope that changes in 2017.

And finally...

...a big thank you to our chums at Andy and Sharon at the Dava School House (one of our affiliated guest houses - see our website for the full list of A9Birds' accommodation friends in Strathspey, Nairn and Moray) for hosting our series of birdwatching and photography talks over the last couple of months.  It was good to meet faces old and new, and special thank you to those who donated what amounted to a three figure sum for Roy Dennis' charity, the Highland Foundation for Wildlife.

Happy birding


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.


  1. Great blog Mike; it was a real pleasure hosting your summer talks (lovely to hear all the laughter and chatter in the School Room). Andy and I learnt a lot and managed to identify our first cuckoo. We must also thank you and Karen for the stunning owl spotting evening - short eared, long eared and lecking black grouse (oh and supper at the Wee Puffin) what more could you ask for on a gorgeous early summer evening


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