Saturday, 27 June 2009

Killer on the loose

Wednesday was another steamy, hot day. It's a wicked world out there and there is a killer on every corner. Most birds are feeding young so it doesn't matter what size they are they will be out feeding on something else. No one minds that the small birds are taking insects but it gets a bit more fraught as you go up the food chain but you can't beat the drama! The Swallows and Martins are doing their best to keep the 'small fly' population down which is great but the Clegs are out now and they work like a giant midge. You can be standing around watching the wildlife and all of a sudden someone will give a yelp as one of these monsters sinks it's teeth in - it's funny till it's your turn! The Common Buzzards seem to have gone into hiding at the moment but you would expect to see more of them when they are feeding young. This bird is using the lazy option of balancing on a wire while waiting for a passing vole.I caught sight of a male Hen Harrier clearing the forestry and gaining height at a rapid rate. It soon dropped like a stone and made a food pass to a female then just soared back into the sky before dropping low to hunt again - a masterclass in riding the wind and thermals off the forestry. Two Golden Eagles gave a fine performance through the day but no hunting going on.
Thursday was another scorcher and a chance to do something different. We headed off in search of Hen Harrier but it soon turned into an insect fest. The dragonflys were out in force hunting down anything in their path - it's a ruthless killer but fantastic to watch. Too quick to photograph on the wing and we never got close enough to any feeding. A Butterfly that had seen better days turned out to a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. There were plenty of these on the wing but just look at it's eyes - they look like miniature footballs - cool!Next on the hit list was a group of Four-spotted Chasers chasing each other across a small pond. They were a bit more obliging as they landed in the sheltered spots to pose for photographs.Waterboatmen were ten a penny in the small pool and provided a bit of entertainment while waiting for the chasers.A couple of species of Damselfly were present at the same location with Blue-tailed and Large Red doing their thing. These Large Red Damselfly were busy depositing eggs.This Newt came from the depths of the pond while I was creeping round the back and provided a photographic opportunity.A Keeled Skimmer gave us the run around as it patrolled it's territory and even seen off a Gold-ringed Dragonfly. A brave move as the Dragonfly is twice the size!A change of location for the afternoon to get some flower photographs was a disaster for me. I just took one camera and no spare batteries. You can guess what happened. I managed to get a decent shot of St John's Wort.......before chasing this Common Blue butterfly around. I got a couple of shots from a distance and left the camera on as I stalked a bit closer. I got within good shooting range, lifted the camera to find it was switched off. I tried switching it on but the battery was dead!Friday was yet another scorcher but the wind was picking up. We had a slow start to the day but a dramatic view of a Merlin with a Meadow Pipit in it's talons being seen off by another two Mipits was superb. Lunchtime provided the biggest drama of all though. Two Golden Eagle were cruising around trying to stop us eating lunch - they succeeded, of course. One of the birds disappeared but the one that stayed was really on the hunt. It cruised over the top of us and decided we were a bit too big to tackle or it didn't fancy a sandwich!It decided to try it's luck on the hillside was difficult trying to keep track of the bird but all of a sudden it dropped down low and sank it's talons into the back of a deer calf!!!!! The calf was screaming in alarm and kicked at the Eagle managing to get out of it's grip as the mother approached. It's not the best photo but you can see the calf on the right, the Golden Eagle in the middle and the adult Red Deer on the left.There is no way you can top that kind of drama but what a sight to behold! Otters were next on the list and we weren't disappointed as we located the mother and cub at reasonably close quarters. Good news on the WT Eagle front too - the youngster has been satellite tagged so we will be able to follow the fortunes of this bird after fledging. A very strange sight on the way back was a 3 antlered Red Deer - two on it's head and one growing from it's backside! Seriously though, these are both Royals (12 points on the antlers) - fine looking beasts.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Friday was a real day of two halves. The morning was shrouded in cloud but the sun broke through by lunchtime. Cracking views of the female WT Eagle in flight started us off in style and then a fruitless Otter hunt. We were busy looking for a few waders when it was noted that there were a bunch of people staring intently, through optics, at the loch. A quick turn around and a race back round the loch and we had two Otters cavorting in front of us - a lucky break! The Common Seals have pups at the moment and it's nice to see the youngsters suckling and swimming around with the parents. You can hear them warning each other away from their young - it sounds like a full scale battle at times. The Ravens and GBB Gulls are hanging around for any tasty morsels left over from the birthing adults - it's a bit grisly but interesting to watch. The sun broke through to brighten everything up and the best sight of the day turned out to be this Golden-ringed Dragonfly. We watched this miniature helicopter catch a bee then it landed right in front of us to devour it.A Mistle Thrush decided that it looked really smart in the sunshine and that we should photograph it. They normally see you coming and give you the 'bum shot' but this was worth the wait.While watching a cracking male Stonechat a male Hen Harrier gave a superb performance and even came back for seconds. The only thing that puzzled me was it was flying upside down;-)Saturday was written off due to F1 qualifying and a need to catch up with paperwork. I did see the dodgy Greenshank again and tried photos but with the grotty weather and distance it was no better than the first efforts. The bird is looking better proportioned now and the bill is upturned.
Sunday was another day of drizzle but some fabulous sightings. Never be put off by poor weather conditions as sometimes brings out the best of things. We viewed the WT Eagle youngster flapping it's wings before locating the female bird sitting in a conifer. We drove to a better viewing position and had a look through the scope. They are stunning birds at any time but to get close enough to the 'bird with the sunlit eye' and see why they call it that is awesome - shame about the photo though.We located the mother and cub Otters and watched them feeding while keeping an eye on the approaching weather. As the weather hit we left - very wise! A very obliging Snipe was sitting patiently on a post waiting for us to arrive. This bird was sporting two legs so must be a different one to the one legged bird I saw at the start of the month;-)We rattled in the sightings through the day scoring with an Adder despite the rain, a flyover Crossbill, Cuckoo, Reed Bunting, Whinchat and plenty of Mountain Hare at the end of the day.
Monday was so good you were lucky to see any land across the loch and the rain was just awful. I was going to take some photos but they would have been just grey! It wasn't too cold a day so I didn't bother with a coat - Geordie nutter comes to mind! We started the day with a female Hen Harrier in the pouring rain and superb views of the WT Eagle perched up. Two Snipe on the roadside posts kept spirits up until we reached the seal colony where we located two adult WT Eagle - result!! I couldn't see any tags on the birds but I presume one of them was the male from across the loch. The male bird isn't being seen very regular round the nest and I wonder if the chick is a female and she's bigger than him! Anyhoo, both the Eagles took off, one after the other and disappeared into the mist. We stopped a bit further down the road to look at some Orchids but a shout went up for Otters - a mother and cub on the shore sharing a fish. The rain was lashing down but we didn't care as they give us a good 20 minutes of entertainment. None of that 'watching from the hide' for us! It lashed down all through lunch so we were already bedraggled before we set of for the Adders - pointless you say? - we found two! A male Hen Harrier ghosted out of the mist in front of us and disappeared almost as quickly just as we were getting back in the vehicle - just fantastic stuff for a rainy day. As you can understand we were in good spirits through the day so we decided to stop at a local shop and get some real spirits too - shopping on a wildlife tour? I've heard it all now but it wasn't my idea! We thought we'd finished the day with another female Hen Harrier but a dog Otter at close quarters, a cracking Stag in velvet and yet another dog Otter asleep on the seaweed were all bonuses on the way home. It was still raining too!
The weatherman had said it was going to clear gradually through Tuesday - boy, was I glad to look outside this morning to discover this........Now it's going to be too hot for things to move around. It was too hot for me and I didn't want to move around! I was alerted by the Common Gulls screaming that something was amiss, I grabbed the bins just in time to see a female Hen Harrier lift from the ground and escape the angry mob of gulls - that was before I set off! Timing was impeccable for the WT Eagle as it launched itself from a tree and flew off over the trees never to be seen again. A Golden Eagle gave us the run around by flying about then landing below the ridge. Whoever had the scope at the time could see the bird but it was like a magic eye puzzle to a blind man for everyone else! It's all good fun though. We located the dog Otter with a fish that must have been as long as he was - it took a good half hour for him to consume it and then he fell off the rock and sank. Well we didn't see where he went anyway. While we watched the big breakfast we had a male Hen Harrier over the ridge and another Golden Eagle - you don't know where to look! Another dragons tale from lunch....we located this female GR Dragonfly depositing eggs in the stream. It was fascinating to watch this beast laying her eggs in the water but she was kidnapped, before she was finished, by a passing male who just came out of nowhere and grabbed her, taking her off in to the bracken to show her how the birds and the bees thing works!The foxgloves are stunning at the moment. It's amazing to see big swathes of these giants half way up a hillside looking like a big patch of heather. A soaring female Hen Harrier was a nice surprise. It cleared the ridge, showing well, but once it started to climb it really went up quick. Every time it swung into the wind it was a hot air balloon getting a blast from the burner - whoosh!
It was a bit of a quiet afternoon in some hellish heat so we headed for the beach to cool down a bit. We plugged away at the smaller stuff and managed to get something new every time we stopped - a Kestrel carrying prey looked like it was trying out some new landing gear in the shape of a Meadow Pipit. It was pulling at the head like a rip-cord but it wasn't working very well. Great views of a Cuckoo perched on the wires with the ever present Mipits by it's side. Another superb sight for the day was a Common Buzzard soaring around with a female Hen Harrier - what better comparison could you get?
Here's one for the Postie...........just as we thought we'd finished or we'll just have one more look here, just in case ( you've heard it all before, I know) No more words, just pictures.Mother with TWO cubs and yes, I shouldn't fiddle with the camera settings/zoom etc. in fact I should give up the cameras!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Great Explorers

Tuesday was a seriously hot day - it looked good for everything but as you know the hot ones keep things quiet. We started down at Fidden with superb views of the Redshank with the youngsters wandering round too. The Stonechat and Whinchat that are nesting close to each other performed very well while a Golden Eagle gave brief views over the ridge. Spectacular views of Golden Eagle at lunch stopped us from eating for about 20 minutes - no complaints there! It was too hot for the Adders to lie out but we did get a Slow Worm. I managed to get onto a Peregrine outside the shop but it was too distant and against the land for anyone else to pick up. While we were watching the WT Eagles we picked up 2 Swifts and a cracking male Bullfinch and another 2 Golden Eagle. Biggest miss of the day were the Otters. We bumped into a few of the other tour operators who all said the same thing - it's too hot for them to be out. Small consolation were 2 Northern Wheatear fledglings. A great explorer getting his first views of the big, bad world. Tuesday started off with a bit of rain and cooler conditions but a stiff breeze that was creating white horses on the lochs. I took some snaps of Ragged Robin that was blowing in the wind but nothing that was worth keeping hence the rubbish cropped shot below. I'll get a better one soon! The cooler conditions encouraged the Snipe to get up and display. Watching these birds diving down with the tail feathers spread and hearing the 'drumming' effect is just fantastic! A female Hen Harrier performed reasonably well in poor conditions. It was a challenge to keep it in sight as it made it's way along the hillside in the rain but everyone got to see it eventually. The guests were not confident that we would see Adders on a cool day but we managed to get two - result! Another challenge for the day was trying to get onto a Red-throated Diver that was close to the shore but in very choppy conditions. Surprisingly difficult to see but stunning when you found it. The young WT Eagle is preparing for the great outdoors by waddling around the nest, exploring his small world. The chick is as big as the adults now and very impressive when it flaps it's wings but it's got to be careful. We watched as the youngster stood tall and nearly toppled over backwards - another lesson learned no doubt!
Yesterday was forecast to be wet all day so it was a treat to find a clear spot when we started. Two Mountain Hares gave good views running about in the fields. This Meadow Pipit is feeding young close to one of the stopping points and usually tries to move us on so we give the bird plenty of room and move on quickly.The windier conditions always gets the birds moving on the sea. Gannets are always out there and are spectacular to watch as they dive into the sea like great, white arrows. We located a couple of Fulmars passing by while looking out to sea - not a common sight for me. A female Hen Harrier was out hunting as we made our way back up the road from Uisken beach. Lunch was a challenging affair as we could see the rain approaching. A quick look for Adders before the rain started only produced a single Common Lizard but it was off before anyone else got to see it. We took shelter from the rain, had lunch and waited for the sun to come out. We went to look for the Lizard again and scored with the wee beastie sunning itself on the same rock it was on earlier.Two Adders were seen but again they were disturbed and off like a shot. We gave it a bit of time and approached the area quietly to see one of the Adders slithering through the grass before disappearing. Two Common Crossbill flying over, calling, chip chip chip as they went on their merry way. The dodgy looking Greenshank is still in attendance outside the shop but it was partially obscured. Three Otters were a real treat today. A mother with two cubs. The cubs are going in for the wrestling championship as they are constantly rolling about and chasing each other. Another grand day out though with more to come today!

Monday, 15 June 2009


I had some time off over the weekend!!! I got sent to Oban!!! I felt like a criminal being sent away - I didn't want to go but I'm sure you've guessed that! I did have a nice breakfast on the boat over to the big city and I did the tourist thing too. With two hours to kill for the next boat what else could I do. I'd arrived in Oban at 09:30 and I was back in the terminal for 10:30 reading the paper while I waited for the ferry back at 11:55. I took a photo of the LBB Gull that follows the ferry out of Oban....

....and a photo of Duart castle (a first for me!)...

.....and the folly too.Saturday we went to Iona to do the tourist thing again. Far too late in the day for Corncrake photos but we did hear plenty. Here is the wee ferry that does all the hard work..The weather looks great on the photo but it was chucking it down when we arrived. A cuppa sorted out the time we had to wait for the rain to stop. The flowers were nice.......Corncrake?....nah just a Song Thrush.......Black Corncrake? Corncrake? Northern Wheatear...........and some nice views too.Sunday we did the birdwatching thing taking in WT Eagle, Golden Eagle, Arctic Tern, more Golden and WT Eagle and some flowers....Lesser Butterfly Orchid......and Bog Asphodel.Monday was back to work nicely refreshed and looking forward to a change in the weather. It was raining this morning but not windy - ideal midge weather and boy did they enjoy it, OUCH! It soon faired up and the sightings rattled in. Otter were high on the priority list today but they weren't happening to start with. We did see both the adult WT Eagles and also got to see the young one give a half-hearted flap - superb stuff. This Telegraph Eagle didn't want to be moved on so we all took photos of it...

Next stop was the Otters again and we struck lucky with two asleep on the seaweed but they were distant. We moved closer to them so we could see that it wasn't some old carpet I'd planted earlier. Otter coloured carpet is really expensive so I've stopped using it - I use Russian hats now;-)
We bagged a brief Golden Eagle before heading off for lunch via a Snipe on a post. This is starting to sound weird now - I must be tired or the drugs are kicking in! Another decent Goldie at lunch (yum) was appreciated by all but the best was yet to come. Hen Harriers are fabulous birds and none better than the male. We stopped off at a site where there are birds feeding chicks. It's a distant view of the food pass but it's worthwhile. We stood and waited until the crowd of us was virtually parted by the male bird screaming in from behind us before heading off on his hunting foray - fantastic! This was followed by a cracking view of a female bird in a different location then another male a couple of miles down the road. We saw this bird repeatedly attempt to snatch a bird from a bush - it failed but it was superb to watch. Yet another female bird gave us a fly by at our last stop of the day. This Red Deer had the last laugh though.....have some of this!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Now you see me, now you don't.

Sunday night was a bit rainy so I was off to watch the F1 at a mates house. Just as the race finished the sunset was looking pretty spectacular - out we went with cameras and captured this.Monday was another day of sunshine and some easy hits on the wildlife. We'd visited the WT Eagle nest and only saw the young bird. We headed off to look for the Otters and scored with the mother and cub at close quarters. While watching these I picked up the female WT Eagle sitting on the ridge. As we focused our attention on the Eagle she took flight and gave a good display of the 'flying barn door'. We bagged a pair of Golden Eagle sitting on the ridge and one of the birds in flight over us. The job was done really but we carried on with our sightings picking up a family party of Stonechat, 2 Adders, a Slow Worm, Whinchat and a Yellowhammer before picking up another WT Eagle. Superb views of a silent Cuckoo sitting on the wires and a collection of waders to finish the day off.
Tuesday was similar, weatherwise, to Monday but couldn't have been more different for sightings. Again we started with the WT Eagle - stunning views - and then it went pear shaped. We located an Otter on the near shore that was swimming away from us so everyone got a view. We attempted to get in front of the beast but it had disappeared probably into the holt. While trying to relocate it we found a Dipper sitting on the shore looking a bit lost!While scanning the shore outside the shop we located a strange looking Greenshank? sporting strong colouration, thin bill and extra long legs. Any comments on this bird are welcome as I've not seen anything like it before. The more I look at it the more it looks like a Greenshank though.We located two more Dippers, an adult with a youngster, in more suitable habitat of a mountain stream. Three Adders and a Slow Worm were keeping spirits high but we were struggling for Golden Eagle. Photos of flowers won't cover the disappointment but they look pretty.A great day out but we didn't connect with the Goldies despite the effort put in.
Wednesday was looking like we would catch a few showers. I had picked up from the ferry in Craignure making for a different day for me as I don't normally do the ferry pick-ups. We started slow with a few small birds, Buzzard etc. The clouds were gathering and we hit some light drizzle. We drove out the other side of this and immediately picked up 2 Golden Eagle on a ridge - superb. One bird dropped out of sight and didn't reappear so we decided to investigate. I picked the flying bird up in the distance and almost immediately lost it again - clever me! The second bird was still sitting on the ridge so we had another look. Just as we decide to move on I relocated the flying Eagle coming back towards us so it was pointed out. It didn't take too long to realise that one of the group was watching another bird. Two Golden Eagle in flight. I checked the ridge for the sitting bird, it was still there. Suddenly another 3 Golden Eagle cleared the ridge! What was going on? None yesterday and now they are bursting out of the scenery - I'm not complaining and neither was anyone else. We bagged two close Otters at lunchtime and a third was picked up not long after.We actually bagged another 5, yes 5, Golden Eagle through the afternoon - bizarre but that's wildlife for you!
Today was a different affair again. The weather is still holding and my head is getting burnt! We started off with Mountain Hare but it was a distant view of one trying to hide. We drove round the corner and found five of them having a little meeting. Four of them scarpered and left one behind who acted all innocent until he realised he was getting framed!The Hen Harrier are starting to show again with chicks on the go they are starting to hunt regularly. We picked a male bird circling round and then he dropped his legs to reveal the prey he was carrying. The female came into sight and the food pass was made then the birds went their separate ways - fantastic. The guests were desperate to see Otters and we came up trumps with the mother and cub settling down to have a nap before moving off to do some more fishing. The best was yet to come though. A visit to the WT Eagle gave us good views of the female circling above us before flying off over the trees. The male bird was at the nest feeding the youngster. You couldn't ask for anything more. A WT Eagle appeared in the sky quite close to and we suspected the female returning but this birds tail was all wrong. It was a young bird from 2007 sporting white tags. Would this set the male off? Not a chance, he was sticking with junior. Another bird appeared - WHAT? The second bird was white tagged too. They flew around together with one bird turning upside down to touch talons with the other a couple of times before soaring up into the blue sky. A stunning display and my camera was nowhere to be seen. It was caught on video by someone else who was there though. Maybe my chance will come. I'm off for the weekend and I'll probably end up chasing the wildlife with the camera but it'll probably rain!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

How to make an entrance...

Thursday was a decent day with a cool breeze blowing but it was an eagle day too. We picked up some showy waders and a couple of Mountain Hare to start the day off. The Redshank are always the bravest of the bunch but the Common Snipe were out in force displaying.We set off on an eagle extravaganza next - you never know what you are going to get but this was a bit of a treat. Two Golden Eagle on one side of the road and one on the other with Whinchat and Sedge Warbler vying for attention too. The next stop produced another Golden Eagle plus good views of 2 Adders. We needed a rest after all that but we had to press on. A lone female Crossbill was quiet showy at the top of a tree just before we picked up another Golden Eagle! Strange how we hadn't picked up a WT Eagle with all the activity but they would get their turn too. We arrived at the nest site just in time to see the female take flight so we watched her soar around until she cleared the ridge and disappeared.
Friday was a bit of a different day as most of the guests had already been out with me earlier in the week. The weather was good but chilly in the wind. They decided that they wanted to run the show and have something different too. It started well with the WT Eagle and a bit of a search for Golden Eagle and Peregrine but they were not playing fair. We headed off in the opposite direction picking up an Otter very briefly before getting another one asleep on the seaweed. He gave a bit of a shuffle round but he wasn't going to wake up! Two Golden Eagles soaring around at some height were a bit frustrating. A cracking Red Deer stag, in velvet, at the roadside was worth a snap or two.The title for this blog entry is the lead in to the next part of the on. There were certain folk that wanted to spend a bit of time watching Golden Eagle so we went somewhere different. On arrival all was quiet so we wandered off to get a better viewpoint of the area. While scanning around I picked up a small flock of Lapwing that had got up in alarm so I got everyone focused in the right direction. Initial expectation was to see a Hen Harrier clear the rise but nothing prepared us for what really happened. The Lapwings wheeled around then a cloud of other birds appeared just before this monstrous bird cleared the rise and burst through the scattering birds - GOLDEN EAGLE!!! real close too! One lady was in tears it was that exciting. It gained height at a rapid rate being mobbed by a Raven before being joined by last years youngster. It was good to see the juvenile plumage bird as a comparison with the brilliant white patches on the wings and tail.
I called for a bit of peace and quiet in case someone had a heart attack and we headed for a beach - what a way to calm down though. Ease yourself into the scene below.....
There now, it doesn't get any better than that.
Yet another day of good weather today and it was a more of the same kind of day but with flowers. Eagles of both varieties were bagged early on and we spent some time looking at and smelling the flowers available. This Fragrant Orchid was just starting to flower and the smell was only just there - soon enough it will do 'like it says on the tin' as they say.