Proud Parents (terms and conditions apply)

Since our last blog in mid-May, the successes and failures of another breeding season have been playing out.  Immediately in and around our garden, broods of Siskins, House Sparrows, Great Tits, Greenfinches, Dunnocks and Robins have been all been apparent as you would expect.  

Swallows finally occupied the nesting area in our workshop in May, a month later than the 2016 pair, and although initial signs were good, we returned home from a week in Wester Ross at the start of June to find the male on his own.  A repeat of 2016 seemed to have taken place, with 24 hours of heavy rain having taken its toll though the pair hadn't even laid eggs this year.  As I write this, even the lone male now seems to have moved on or succumbed in some way - a great shame.  House Martins prospected the nest bowl we put up last year, but no one has yet taken up residence.

In other 'bad news', our local Hen Harrier pair have failed to breed this year also…
They're back!

As to whom - take your pick!  Since our last blog, which concluded with the arrival of our first Ospreys, their steady arrival was complemented with the likes of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Sedge Warblers, Sand Martins, Swallows, Swifts, Tree Pipits, Wheatears and Cuckoos.  Everywhere we look and listen, Spring has truly arrived - even despite the usual 'blip' of snow that came in the last week of April.

As I've recommended before, it's a good time to revise bird calls for species that you're not so familiar with in order to pick them out.  This is especially the case for the rarer species, with Wood Warbler (the high speed spinning coin in the tree canopy) and Grasshopper Warbler (reeling away like a winding reel on a fishing rod) being good examples of knowing what to listen for in order to close in on the bird...and hopefully see it!

The latter (nicknamed 'Gropper' by some birders) is particularly skulky.  I was somewhat surpr…
Eilean na h-Iolaire

That's Gaelic for 'Eagle Island'.  You may remember I wrote my last blog as I was sat in a guest house on the Isle of Skye, with great anticipation for what was to follow the next day in a quest to be in the presence of Golden Eagles.  A month on from then, my recollections are hopefully still sharp enough to record the moments and share with you.

First, the weather.  Skye has plenty of it.  As we were sat eating breakfast, the skylines were invisible and the rain was pouring.  My online weather radar showed the rain band clearing South Uist and, with the wind speed and direction, that meant not far away in time.  A glimmer of hope finally shone (literally) as we loaded the car, and went off to meet our guide who had 'worked the patch' to become familiar with the behaviours of an established pair of Golden Eagles. 

To get to where we needed to be - basically in their territory but nowhere near their eyrie locations - involved a wee bit of a climb. …
The wait...

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 …
Into 2017

Welcome to the first A9Birds blog of 2017 - I've purposefully left it until after 11 January for those still using the Julian calendar, and never quite got over losing 11 days back in the 18th Century!

With the Winter Solstice now a memory, already the days are starting to clearly lengthen and watching the behaviour of various birds shows that Spring is coming...even though, as I write this, the garden is under six inches of snow.  Crossbill males were already singing back in December on nice, sunny days however it's not unusual as these birds are notoriously early breeders in order to maximise their access to seed cones in the various trees offering such.

I'm not going to start the whole Crossbill species debate here, but I will say the song I've heard has been 'Scottish' to my ears!  The Coal Tits accompany on bagpipes, and Dunnocks on the squeeze box...okay, I'll stop there.

Mr Crossbill looking for his next cone to prise apart

Return of a friend?

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…