As I type this, I'm sat on the Isle of Skye wondering what tomorrow will bring. Right now, the evening is bringing nothing but wind and rain but hey, that's Skye, and it's meant to clear through in the morning.
So why am I here? A golden opportunity - literally; a Golden Eagle opportunity to be precise. At this time of year, established pairs and those attempting courtship can be at their most active as they go through rituals to rekindle or forge new bonds for the breeding season that lies ahead.
Skydancing males, desperate to impress a female, can be seen above the glens as they try to time their pitch just right versus the outgoing (yet still periodically savage) winter weather and lengthening days. Too soon, the hen bird might not be interested. Too late, she might have spied the efforts of another cock bird and deemed him more suitable for her need. The need to create life.
So tomorrow, hoping we've maximised our chances with the maximum number of birds in the air immediately pre-breeding (whether that's displaying or nest building), myself and a friend are off for a hard yomp up to an area 'likely' to encounter adult Golden Eagles. Now remember it's nature, nothing is a given, many things determine a reason for any eagle to fly let alone fly towards you. So we'll see what happens but - for now and until any of those majestic birds come anywhere near us tomorrow - it's the wait, and all part of a birder's passion.
The Cuillins on Skye, taken on a previous trip (when you could see them!)
Morning has broken
Heading out to the car two days ago, a familiar bird song stood out from the half hearted dawn chorus we get at this time of the year. I listened a short while before my brain confirmed it - Song Thrush! Male Mistle Thrushes have been singing for a good 2-3 weeks near home, so it was good to hear another page of Spring turn over.
Down on the coast, many Razorbills are now sporting their breeding plumage and Black-headed Gulls are receiving their face masks once more. Where we are in the upper farmland of Moray, the first Oystercatchers and Lapwing have also moved in from the coast to prospect their breeding territories.
The wintering thrushes (Fieldfare and Redwing) are still around, though in varying numbers each day indicating some passage back north and east is probably occurring. The calls of 'clack clack' and 'seeeeeeep' respectively of each will soon be a sound left until Autumn returns.
Redwing - hanging in there, but not for long
The long way home
One special wintering bird along our Moray coastline - specifically the rocky parts thereof - is the Purple Sandpiper. These stocky wading birds come to the UK from Scandinavia, Greenland and arctic Canada - the birds we see are likely to be from the latter two.
Purple Sandpiper - a cracking wee bird. And none were disturbed taking this photo!
Numbers I've seen during winter 2016/17 are definitely less than the previous winter; as always many reasons can be at play. As a birdwatcher, you obviously focus (pun intended) on the here and now when viewing any species in front of you. It's important though to understand the circle of a bird's life, no matter how far it travels in the course of twelve months, but for the likes of a Purple Sandpiper undertaking a journey of thousands of miles from and back to its breeding territory, these winter months with us are crucial. If it fails to feed enough to sustain and then prepare it for the long journey back north, it could perish en route. If it feeds just enough to get back 'home', what condition is it in to be of suitable breeding stock?
So what I'm trying to say is the next time you visit a shoreline and see any wading birds feeding in the exposed mud and wet sand, give them a wide berth and let them feed. Every meal - every morsel - makes a difference, especially at this time of year before they head off to produce the next generation for you to see.
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, including fine canvas prints of some of our images which make ideal gifts. Also, 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.