Tuesday, 9 July 2013

. . . And Ah'll Tak the Low Road

Birdman and Dragonhunter's Highland Adventure Part II

Sunday July 7th

Stirred into action by the 5 'o' clock alarm we were groomed (quick rub with a wet-wipe), packed (everything thrown in the back of the landrover) and breakfasted (teacake and carton of orange) in record time, possibly because the midges were showing well in the early hours, mostly around my backside according to steve :O

We parked up at the Cairngorm Funnycolour Railway Station and ticked ring Ouzel then 3 x Hooded Crows grounded in the distance, helluva spot by Steve that one. I looked up at the mountain and wondered what I'd let myself in for, five minutes in and I was already blowing. More ring ouzels and a mountain hare, meadow pipits galore, one in particular led us up the lower slopes, bounding ahead of us and singing from any available perch (or mocking us).
The only other bird seen on the slopes was a wheatear, and as the climb got steeper and steeper I preferred just to look at the step ahead rather than be intimidated by looking up at our destination. But in the event, despite a climb of well over an hour and a half, we took it steady, made a few stops and reached the summit without a coronary between us.
I'd just climbed a mountain, usually at 7.30 on a Sunday morning I'd just be preparing to climb out of bed! The view was amazing, we were above the clouds, it felt damned good. :)

The Dragonhunter - Elated after reaching a new peak - literally

The Birdman and Tilly - not so elated - but then again this was his
fifth time up there.

Yip, that's snow - in July
Celebratory photos and a drink of water downed, then to business. We were looking for Dotterel (a lifer for me and a bird I've wanted to see for years) Ptarmigan (another lifer) and Snow Bunting (never seen a summer plumaged one before).
Moving across to the next peak Steve spotted a ptarmigan with chick quite close by. We moved round for a better view but kept our distance though they seemed unbothered by our presence. Gettin, my first bird lifer for many a moon.
Trekking around the plateau I spotted my number one target sticking out like a sore thumb on the horizon, again quite close by, a cracking male dotterel which turned out to have 3 chicks with it, Marvellous!

My first view of a dotterel - a lifer

And a better view - a belter of a bird

Snow bunt was proving harder to track down, even after we heard one singing it was proving tricky to pin it, til eventually the singer became airborne and zipped past me, vivid white and black, a glorious male, Superb!
Before long we had 3 flying past the other way and got cracking views of a perched up male, and another pair as we tracked back to begin our descent. Well happy with our mornings work :)

The descent was hard on the knees and ankles, but despite the feeling of having deep sea divers boots on we made it back to terra firma, Tilly had a well deserved splash in the stream and me and Steve a much needed coffee, though Steve proved the theory that blokes can't do two things at once as he spilt his down his shirt front while talking on the phone :)

Birds ticked, now it was time for the Dragonhunt. Targets today were White-faced Darter and Northern Emerald and we only had one site for each mapped out so it was fingers crossed they would show :0
First it was back to Loch Garten for the White-face (picking up common sandpiper on the way), and boy did they show! I spotted my first before we reached the small pond and it was fill your boots time as on the pond amid the mid-day heat and sun no less than SIX White-faced Darters were in a frenzy with a dozen or more four-spot chasers and umpteen large-red damsels.
These little beauties are probably top of my 'most wanted' list and the views were amazing, landing right by us on the boardwalk and one even landed on the trousers of another bloke there to see them.
The only downside (don't believe I'm about to say this) was the sun was TOO strong. Our photos were coming out mainly as just silhouettes but eventually I got enough decent ones to show.

Trip lifer number two - White-faced Darter
What a cracker!

And just to prove it does have a white face . . .

. . . here it is in close-up

And a female, red markings replaced by white

Fantastic dragon! Unbelievably good views, happy as a pig in the smelly stuff :)

So to our final target of the trip. Northern Emerald. Another lifer and just one chance to get it at Uath Lochans. On the way Steve said we should call in at another Osprey site and so glad he did. The nest was so much closer than at Loch Garten, and being on an island made viewing from the Loch shore a piece of pee. Five Ospreys on the nest was a record and they showed beautifully after just a few minutes.
But scanning a distant mountain ridge I got on two raptors. Buzzards I thought, one much further away than the other due to the size difference. But suddenly the smaller buzzard started mobbing the larger and I realised they weren't at different distances, one was actually about one and a half times the size of the other! They parted again and I made sure the smaller bird was a buzzard (which it was)before alerting Steve to the fact I had a Golden Eagle drifting in from over the mountains being mobbed by a Common Buzzard!
They both drifted out of sight pretty quickly but a few minutes later the eagle returned but further away, this time with three buzzards in attendance. Not a great view due to the distance but a fantastic trip tick.

We also picked up goldeneye and blackcap here taking the trip-list into the 60s, then we were on our way to Northen Emerald, which due to my shite navigating skills, baffling directions nicked from the internet and us rubber-necking a police incident at a vital junction, our journey took probably an hour longer than it should have :( so with time getting on it was going to be no more than a fleeting visit.

But the dragonhunting gods were with us today bigtime as we quickly ID'd a male Emerald hawking the trees at a point just along the shoreline. Amazing, but despite his typical restless flight making photos nigh on impossible, his metallic green sheen in the sunshine made cracking viewing. Then before long a female came along, settling twice not far in front of us on low branches giving me my one and only photographic opportunity to bag a Northern Emerald. :)

That's a male Northern Emerald - Honest!

Thankfully the female decided to hang around
Third dragon lifer of the weekend bagged! 
Steve has much better photos on his blog report but that's good enough for me, another dragon lifer in the bag.

That was that then, all that remained was the long journey home. A seawatching opportunity came just past Berwick. Time to stretch our legs and get the trip bird-list well in to the 70's, a couple of Manxies being the pick of the ticks.

What a weekend then, many thanks to Steve for driving, the laughs, the patience (with my navigating skills) and most of all the ticks, 3 lifer dragonflies, 2 lifer birds and summer plumaged snow bunts all absolutely outstanding.
A few of the best pics of other dragons seen on the trip :

Never seen so many 4-spot chasers

A more unusual angle

Nice shot of a large red

And an Emerald damsel
Another year first.

 And finally one more highlight as we spotted this just outside Edinburgh, upped our spirits no end in the latter stages of an exhausting weekend.

Hot Rod a la ZZ Top
complete with swinging clems!

And would I climb the Cairngorms again if the opportunity arose? Would I Feck !


  1. No probs, great weekend and look forward to norfolk dragon hunting weekend next year :0 if the wife lets you ;) lol. I have to thank you aswell, the extra eyes came in handy :) you managed to spot me a few year ticks, golden eagle-dotterel-manx shearwater :) and all my dragon lifers :) cheers and great read as always.

    1. Norfolk next year? I'll have to start gathering brownie points now :(

  2. Chuffed for you both.
    A fine account indeed.
    The White-faced Darters are very special. When you get your eye in and see their white faces while on the wing. Not brilliant views for us in Cumbria on Saturday as the big numbers of Four-spot Chasers would not let them alight around the water. I did however see 2 larvae battling like a pair of sharks in the pools. AMAZING ! If you get the chance pay the site in Cumbria a visit. Like you, the sun beat down on us non stop and it is a double edged sword as it makes piccy taking difficult.

    1. Cheers John, but at least you saw some. The pool at Loch Garten is amazing, small, accessible and divided by a boardwalk. The 4-spots prefer one side, the white-faces prefer the other so they hardly clash.