SATURDAY 11 JANUARY
Allan Stewart, Paul Rowe, Jeff Bailey and I embarked upon a 540-mile epic journey to Inverness at 10.30pm on Friday night. Taking our time, keeping to an economical 56mph and having to divert the M6 at Junction 5 because of overnight roadworks, we eventually arrived in Badenoch & Strathspey at around 0800 hours, at the same time as a heavy snowstorm hit the A9.....
The first birds we set eyes upon were in the KINCRAIG AREA (NH 82 05) of SPEYSIDE - 2 Carrion Crow, 110 Jackdaw, Common Buzzard and 30 Greylag Geese, whilst a COMMON RAVEN near SLOCHD was my first of the year.
In the CROY AREA (INVERNESS DISTRICT) (NH 78 48), 30 Common Pheasant, 2 Collared Dove, 5 Common Blackbirds and a Dunnock were noted. Croy was a very short drive away and at 0930 hours, we finally arrived at our destination - LOCH FLEMINGTON in NAIRNSHIRE - NH 80 51. It was a very cold morning with a sharp air frost.
The reason we had driven so far overnight was to see this AMERICAN COOT - an exceptionally rare vagrant from North America and only the 5th British record. The bird was showing very well towards the east end of the loch - from the road that skirts the northern shore - and was feeding voraciously on weed, either dragged up from the shallow bottom or consumed from the emergent reedbed above the surface. It was in the vicinity of a couple of Moorhens, with only one other Coot encountered on the loch. There were about 25 other twitchers that had made the drive including Stef McElwee, Alan Brown and the Craig Family. We observed the bird for about 90 minutes, Paul and I obtaining a large selection of images (see below).
The loch also held a Little Grebe, 8 Cormorants, 5 Mute Swan, a pair of WHOOPER SWAN, Mallard, 2 Wigeon, 4 Tufted Duck, 13 Common Goldeneye, a drake Red-breasted Merganser and the single Coot, whilst 37 Pink-footed Geese flew NW. Rook, Chaffinch, Bullfinch (2) and Long-tailed Tit were also recorded.
On the north side of the A96, just as we joined it from Loch Flemington, a large flock of Pink-footed and Icelandic Greylag Geese were seen.
Further west, at ALTURLIE POINT (NH 71 49), the MORAY FIRTH held an OTTER, 4 ATLANTIC GREY SEALS and a wealth of seaduck, including at least 105 GREATER SCAUP, a female-type LESSER SCAUP, a female Tufted Duck, 53 Common Goldeneye, 27 Red-breasted Merganser and a whopping 230 LONG-TAILED DUCKS. There were also at least 25 Red-throated Divers and 3 SLAVONIAN GREBES whilst waders on the ebbing tide included 40 Curlew, 33 Oystercatcher, a few Common Redshank and 3 Dunlin, whilst large numbers of gulls were on the shoreline and a couple of Rock Pipits.
Some nice rafts of GREATER SCAUP
Most interesting were the myriad of corvids scavenging on the foreshore - predominantly Carrion Crows - but including some 20 intergrades or so and 2 bonafide HOODED CROWS.......
We spent a long time in the FINDHORN VALLEY searching for White-tailed Sea and Golden Eagles but drew a blank on both - raptors though did include Common Buzzard, Peregrine, MERLIN and Common Kestrel, whilst 35 Common Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge, 2 Siskin, Mistle Thrush and 5 Red Deer were seen.
At LOCH GARTEN RSPB in ABERNETHY FOREST, the feast of action at the feeding station included 33+ Coal Tits (many of which were so tame they could be hand fed), 6 Blue Tits and a nice pair of CRESTED TITS, whilst in NETHYBRIDGE, we saw DIPPER and CAPERCAILLIE.
LOCH PITYOULISH (NH 92 13) supported a single Cormorant and a flock of roosting gulls - 33 Lesser Black-backed and 25 Herring - but due to fading light and increasing winds, we failed in our quest to find either Red Grouse or Ptarmigan at Cairngorm. It was dark by 1600 hours.
At around 3 in the morning (SUNDAY 12 JANUARY), a TAWNY OWL flew across the A508 just north of NORTHAMPTON