Average Birding

The last days in Scotland

We've got two days left in Scotland - let's see if we can distract ourselves from the impending return to work by filling those days with activity.

Pronoun guidance: AB1 makes poor footwear choices. This post covers the events of July 7-8th, 2018.

Loch Garten

It's a gentle start the next day - we eventually rock up at Loch Garten RSPB for around 10am. We're on a mission to find Crested Tit. This is the place to see them. We would also accept Crossbills in their place, or potentially Common Redstart.

We take Gordon's claims on the frequency of sightings (claims of car park ticks for both species) with a pinch of salt; this is going to be woodland birding - a lot of sound, a lot of flitting, not a lot of time to get a good look and a positive id.

We start with a trip up to the hide where the reserve's more famous residents are usually on view. Hilariously though, the usual Ospreys have made an absolute hash of breeding and have buggered off in a huff. We gain some very limited intel on our targets and lower our expectations.

We return to the car park to set out on the woodland walk. Usual suspects abound: Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Siskin (this is, we have determined, a usual suspect up here). We also pick up what we think is another Tree Pipit (whose shady photo is the thumbnail image for this post). We talk to two other roaming bands of birders who haven't had much joy. Our only hope is that they've been negligent - there's some evidence of this, as their lists lack the final three of what we've started to consider as par for the course.

We're also starting to be able to discern by sound whether something is of interest or not; we start to tune out the Siskins and the more standard Tit calls. We're almost at the zenith of the circuit when both AB2 and I are stopped in our tracks by a flock of three or four birds all emitting a call that is novel.

...and, once we get our bins on them, they look novel too. Those little quiffs are unmistakably the hallmark of Crested Tits. Without the sound and a good view through the bins, they could well have skipped by unnoticed, perhaps written off as Blue Tits; we feel pretty smug to have discovered them, a feeling that amplifies as we see no others on the remainder of the walk, and no other birders who have encountered them! The way back also has some excitement - a giant anthill, a possible Redstart (that escapes before we can convince ourselves) and a collection of Siskins hanging about in the canopy in an unsuccessful attempt to making us think they're Crossbills. They succeed only in giving me a sore neck from all the up-gazing.

AB1 listening out for Crested Tit.
AB1 listening out for Crested Tit.

We return to the car exuberant in our hard earned woodland birding tick. And also hungry, and a bit hot; the fine weather is persisting and the temperature, remarkably, is heading into the high twenties.

Tulloch Moor

We attempt an off-piste stop on the advice of Gordon and one of the RSPB wardens, at Tulloch Moor. This mostly just leads to aggravation - we don't really know where we're going, and it's borderline too hot to move around in direct sunlight. A switch to flipflops helps a bit to start with, and then proves to be instantaneously idiotic as soon as we enter the moorland, as my feet are scratched by several species of heather, gorse, and god knows what else. We (well, me) quickly tire of this plan and retreat to the car to shed a layer of clothing and apply snacks.

We think we've had enough of this area (compared to the rest of our trip, its altogether far too full of people), and decide an expedition considerably further South might be in order. We set out for the other side of the Cairngorm range, which, as the crow flies, might be twenty miles, but in a car is more like fifty.

Linn of Dee

Our original aim was to have another crack at Ptarmigan by taking the chairlift at Glenshee ski centre, but we miss the last one by a matter of minutes; after a few unproductive minutes of horizon staring, we decide to return the next day. Instead, we redirect to the Linn of Dee for a highly pleasant evening walk in the woods. It isn't particularly productive, but the light is fabulous, and the drive back delivers some very well lit Buzzards, and delightfully, a bonus Osprey.

We retire to a B&B in Kirkmichael (some room confusion, a very noisy party, not our favourite overnight stay) and try to avoid thinking about going home the next day.

The last chance for Rock Ptarmigan

From the top of the ski lift at Glenshee.
From the top of the ski lift at Glenshee.

The next day's progress is briefly postponed by a forgotten jumper. Once retrieved, we speed back to the chairlift for one final "there's no such thing as a bloody Rock Ptarmigan, is there?" session. This one, at least, requires little physical effort, thanks to the chair lift. The operators make positive noises ("oh yes, there've been two or three around recently") that unfortunately come to naught - all we see is a family of Red Grouse on the way up.

Glen Tanar

We've got time for one last stop, and we choose to take it at Glen Tanar. There's an off chance of picking up Crossbill or perhaps Redstart here. I'm not that hopeful for Crossbill (despite Gordon's "possible from the car park" exhortations), but a brief read of the Birdtrack map suggests Redstart could happen.

The car park could well work for Crossbills - if we had a bit more time we'd give the woodland paths some serious attention. We drop into the visitor centre to see if there is someone clueful inside. It is, unfortunately, deserted; we're on our own. A mixture of time and laziness pushes us to take path three up to the Knockie viewpoint.

After a brief unwalkable section of gravel, we're suddenly in a different type of area - the trees are mostly deciduous (providing some occasional much-looked for shade - it's still unbelievably sunny), there's forest nearby, but we're very much at the edge of it, and there's some open grassland nearby. The words "this has got Redstart written all over it" manage to escape my mouth before I have the sense to stop them. That's probably torn it.

Wait, no it hasn't, there's one sitting on that fencepost. Unmistakable. It bobs about a bit, before deciding we've got too close and darting off into some nearby trees. We disturb it again a little further along and it returns to its original post, taunting us, staying far enough away to prevent us from taking even the most terrible photos of it.

I spend most of the rest of the walk in a state of disbelief that it's possible to say something so hilariously definite and have it not blow up in your face. We just about manage to avoid treading on an Adder sunning itself on one of the gravel paths. Before we know it, we're back in the car and it's time to head back home, via Inverness and Luton.


A bumper haul of eighteen ticks from the trip brings us to 188. Even with my pessimism, 200 is starting to transition from 'possible' to 'likely'.