Average Birding

Glens and Grebes

GLENS! Yes, glens! Specifically, Glen Strathfarrar, which Gordon reckons is the underrated one.

Pronoun guidance: AB1 leaves the car in a poorly-chosen place. This post covers the events of July 6th, 2018.


It has the added bonus of having a token-based entry system, operated by a delightful (read: on the surface, polite, but boiling over with anger at being required to perform the duty assigned to her; what did we do wrong?) lady with a gate. We take token three, and head up into the valley, hopeful of finding Whinchat, Wood Warbler and possibly even a Crossbill.

We get a lot of Stonechat, doing their usual confiding perching on wires, tall bits of foliage, bushes, etc. We struggle a bit to know what to do; should we be birding from the car? Or making jaunts from the car up into the wooded areas around the sides? In the end we end up making lots of short stops, some with a bit of exploration attached. Plenty of interesting littlies distract us during these jaunts; we use our previous encounters across the two weeks to quickly identify the majority of them as Siskin; the others are the usual suspects.

More driving. Now, that was a Whinchat, wasn't it? Bigger, hint of a supercilium, although a bit worn. It's off to the right of the track. We bring the car to a halt to have a better look - lots of the Stonechats were in family groups; is our Whinchat going to lead us to the rest of the family?

It hops about between a few tall stalks; we quickly work out that it wants us no closer than 20m; surprisingly cautious for a chat. This is far enough (and the foliage thick enough) that it takes us a while to work out we're actually watching at least a pair of birds; and a little longer to pick out a juvenile. And even longer discussing whether there's a second. It isn't particularly clear, even with the scope. Not the greatest Whinchat we've ever seen, but we'll take it.

Post-Whinchat, we continue onwards. I've been promised hydroelectric artifacts at the end of the public part of the drive. Our only company is a pair of cyclists (who we trade places with repeatedly as we stop and start to look at things) and a small army of vehicles from the electricity company.

One wonders how many people are really required to be on site at this dam, and whether working in such a terrific location is a cushy option jealously guarded by those who have it. We don't see much, wildlife wise; a Buzzard and a couple of giant butterflies. The faster flowing areas of the stream at the base of the Glen refuses to give up a Dipper.

A very handsome buzzard it was too.
A very handsome buzzard it was too.

We reach the dam, and I park up. AB2 falls asleep (it's very warm, and the gentle drive has proven soporific). I launch off on a walk around the dam (lots of water jetting around at high pressure, Bond villain capable outbuildings; this is no time for sleeping!). It isn't clear whether public access is allowed beyond it, so I decide to do an experiment: if I walk up the road on the South side of the dam, will anyone shout at me?

Not immediately, it seems. Although amusingly, having set off and discovered the walk is not explicitly disallowed, I feel disinclined to continue much further - I'm not going to manage the circuit of the loch above the dam in the time we've got allotted here, so any step I take forward I'm going to have to retrace soon afterwards.

Instead, I set up camp on an exposed corner to give the loch and surroundings a good glaring at. Nothing of note. I wonder if "too hot for raptors" is a thing; the horizons have been barren!

Back to the car. AB2 is awake, and is not enjoying the precarious slope on which I parked. Oops. A bit of manoeuvring sets us up with a view of the dam's outflow, which makes the area cool enough for a spot of lunch.

Lunch brings a decision: one glen is enough. We don't know what we're doing, and we suspect the right thing to do is drive in early, go for a hike for several hours from a well-chosen point, and then head out again, a level of investment we're not ready for.

We return the token to the polite (but still awkward) lady at the gate, pause for a refreshing beverage and a pee in Cannich, elect not to revisit Corrimony RSPB (great cairn, but desperately needs a circular walk) and soon we're on the A82 back to Inverness.

Loch Ruthven

Is our next stop, for what should be a nailed on Slavonian Grebe. And, indeed, it is, albeit a rather more distant view than we had hoped for. And the plumage is a bit faded, as we're towards the tail end of breeding season.

Not our finest work.
Not our finest work.

Still, life tick, mustn't complain! The Loch doesn't provide a great deal more of interest (barring a nice Red-breasted Merganser family, approximately forty thousand Coot, and some sunbathers who are rather surprised to find themselves sharing a space with birders), so we make ourselves scarce.

With all the mallard cuteness with the bonus of being a far higher
     quality duck.
With all the mallard cuteness with the bonus of being a far higher quality duck.

Monads ahoy

Birders who know this area can probably have a reasonable guess at our next destination. The Monadliath mountains are to our East, and the small town of Farr (possibly a hamlet?) is only 5km away.

Yeah, it's Findhorn Valley (or Strathdearn, to give it its technically accurate name) time. Not before we traverse the road to it from Farr, though. Gordon has built up the terror of this route substantially. Can't be any worse than the wee mad road though, right?

All seems well until we spy a giant caterpillar truck heading towards us. Uh. Even in a passing place there's not going to be enough room for that thing to go past us. Surely the driver knows that? Why have they come this way? We plough on, confused, and mildly terrified. There is hope though - perhaps the truck is on some access route to the power line maintenance that seems to be happening off to the North of the road. A few more nervous seconds and we're confident that unless the truck decides to ram a couple of walls between it and us, we should be alright.

We enter the valley intact and triumphant. We ignore advice to stop and look for littlies - our Glen experience has taught us that we're just not patient enough. We drive as far as a public vehicle is allowed to and then park up. I suppress the desire to fill a backpack with snacks and head off up the valley on foot for a serious explore: What's at the end of this track?

We have the place to ourselves. That probably isn't a great omen, is it? Gordon tells us the Autumn is best. Oh well. This is better than our last visit - a cold, grey February day with intermittent rain versus a warm Summer day with wonderful early evening light.

A previous visit. Don't be fooled; it's freezing cold, and the rainbow tells you what happens next.
A previous visit. Don't be fooled; it's freezing cold, and the rainbow tells you what happens next.

The horizon is scanned, no, scoured for raptors. There are, at least, several Buzzards in the distance. These are checked for signs of being more interesting, but Buzzards is what they are.

There's a squeak from the top of the hill immediately in front of us (another win for Gordon - that's where he says you should look). I swing the scope round and find...nothing. The binoculars pick up a couple of sharp-winged raptors swooping around. These are Peregrine Falcons. We should probably have worked that out from the noise - it's the same as what we heard near Ben Hope. They continue to mill around near the top of that hill before skidding off to the left into nothingness.

We take turns keeping an eye on that same hill. Result: more Buzzards. One is briefly mobbed by a Kestrel (definitely a Kestrel, not a Merlin, sadly) which provides some brief entertainment. I find, strangely, that I don't mind the lack of new-for-the-year raptors.

This swallow posed beautifully on a nearby 'No Parking' sign.
This swallow posed beautifully on a nearby 'No Parking' sign.

We eventually start to get hungry. That seems as good a trigger as any to depart and attempt to find shelter for the evening. This proves rather more difficult than it has done elsewhere - it's Friday night, and, apparently, this area is popular as a weekend getaway. We eventually concede defeat and head for a hotel in Grantown-on-Spey. This turns out to be a total victory; it has a kettle (Pot Noodle #2 of the trip) and lays on a hearty breakfast. Hard to argue with for the price we paid!