A day in the Cairngorms

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I recently returned to the UK for a friend’s wedding. More specifically Glenborrodale Castle, Argyle, Scotland. We arrived there on 26th April. I have to say the 3 days in the Castle were wonderful, the weather miraculously was fabulous, clear blue skies each day but a little chilly, hospitality and food amazing. The weather was actually a welcome change to the heat of Dubai ! This was a chance for me to do some Scottish birding, only my second time ever ! My wife and I had decided to extend our stay a couple of days after the wedding and so decided we would go up to Aviemore having targeted Slavonian Grebe, Capercaille and Ptarmigan. On our first day I managed to find the Grebe but nothing else, the weather had also taken a turn for the worse. Grey, wet and cold – I guess normal for the time of year ! Went to bed that evening not too confident that the weather or my luck would be any better the next day.

I woke hope at 4:30am only to see fog outside the window – however it was my last chance to find the Capercaille so decided to head out to the forest. I arrived around 5:15am, the fog was not as dense but it was eerily misty with not a sound coming from the trees. I set off on my hike hoping to hear the cackling ‘grak’ that is often heard during the lek season which starts early May. I had only walked for about 15 minutes when I heard the tell-tale noise. I looked around in the mist but could not see the bird until suddenly it flew from it’s perch in a tree to the ground a little further ahead. I got reasonable views for a couple of minutes until the bird wandered off deep into the forest, at which point I set off back to the car. My good fortune meant that I would get back in time for breakfast !!

Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus)

Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus)

By now, after a very hearty breakfast, the fog and mist had burnt off and the blue skies had returned. So next stop Slavonian Grebe. I returned to the small lake where I had found 4 birds the day before. I buried myself in the undergrowth and waited (hoped) for a bird to sail close to the shore, there had seemed a pattern to their movements. I was soon rewarded with one of the birds which did not seem to worried about my presence laid down in the damp thistles, little did he know how uncomfortable I was 🙂

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

So far so good, 2 out of 3 in the bag. Next stop lunch, I had been told of a place where you could have lunch and watch Red Squirrels. This appealed to my wife as well as myself, it was on the way to our next destination , the Funicular railway. Only what specimen unfortunately, but a welcome encounter.

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

By now the temperature had risen to a lovely 21c when we arrived at the foot of the funicular. My wife was to ascend on the railway and I was to hike up the mountain beyond the snow line in search of Ptarmigan. I set off with my 300mm slung over my shoulder. I quickly learned that pacing yourself was the key to reaching the summit ! Eventually I reached the snow line and this was when the walk got much more difficult. In places the snow was waist deep with no way to tell as I found out several times :-), the snow was also very wet !. Finally I had got to the top but had not seen any sign of Ptarmigan. Having rested and took in the amazing views I decided to walk down in a zig-zag fashion playing the call in the hope I would cover more ground. Needless to say the walk down was much easier on the heart but certainly not easier on the knees. About a third the way down and feeling a little despondant I suddenly heard a creaking sound to the right of me. Off in the distance I could see one bird standing on a rock. As I approached I could also see a female. Eventually having fallen into several drifts I managed to get close enough to the birds as they began to march up the mountain side – I certainly was not going to follow them !

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) – female

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) – male

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) – male

Finally I reached the bottom where my wife was waiting for me. I was exhausted from what seemed a very long and tiring day. The only thing left to do was to return back to our hotel where I gladly rested my aching body in the beer garden with a lovely pint of British Bitter beer ! Cheers !!

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Mike Barth

Mike Barth

Mike Barth, a photographer from Manchester England, was based in Dubai in the UAE from 2004 to 2016. He has travelled regularly to Africa and Asia and has had the pleasure of birding in some wonderful locations. A passionate bird photographer he now offers tours for small groups, maximum of 6, photographers and offers photographic tours to several locations such as Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana. Please visit his site at https://www.mikebarthphotography.com for information, there you can also purchase prints in various formats.

Mike Barth

Mike Barth

Mike Barth, a photographer from Manchester England, was based in Dubai in the UAE from 2004 to 2016. He has travelled regularly to Africa and Asia and has had the pleasure of birding in some wonderful locations. A passionate bird photographer he now offers tours for small groups, maximum of 6, photographers and offers photographic tours to several locations such as Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana. Please visit his site at https://www.mikebarthphotography.com for information, there you can also purchase prints in various formats.

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Edpriyam
Edpriyam

Not being a scientist or even a experienced birder my ideas are limited, but my appreciation is incredulous. What extraordinary birds and getting those photos of what you “captured” was just marvelous!! I just relished hearing about your travels as well as seeing what you found. Thank you very much for your thought and you visual treasures.