Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Wrong Side of Scotland

We'd arranged a family holiday to Scotland some time ago. It was to be a re-union holiday with some old college friends with whom we'd been on a holiday trip to Scotland when the children had been very young. Given that there were four families negotiating over where to stay certain criteria such as how far we'd have to travel (one family was coming up from Southampton) seemed for some inexplicable reason to be more important than the quality of birding in the area and for this reason we ended up in a large and well-appointed house on the shores of Holy Loch near Dunoon on the Cowal peninsula in the south west corner of Scotland rather than over near Speyside where we should be from a birding perspective. Once this had been determined I was more or less resigned to a fairly birdless holiday experience and apparently I would just have to get on and enjoy the company of my family and friends.

The house overlooked the Holy Loch mussel beds which was actually quite a good local spot and on most mornings I'd take a quick look at what was about though it was always the same birds: loads of noisy oystercatchers, a few curlew, herring and common gulls, a few red-breasted mergansers and shelducks, a pair of teal and one wigeon. There was an arboretum next to the house in which several grey herons were nesting and the strange noises of the young could be heard from the garden.

Oystercatchers were everywhere along the shoreline

We'd go for lots of walks in the surrounding area which was mostly coniferous forests so there were always plenty of coal tits and siskins about and on one occasion a flock of half a dozen crossbills flew over us at the Benmore Botanical Gardens though sadly on this side of the country they were always going to be common crossbills.

Warblers were about everywhere, interestingly mostly willow warbler with some chiffchaffs and blackcaps. I'd read about how climate change was forcing willow warblers further north as they need cooler conditions than chiffchaffs and there certainly seemed to be no shortage of them up in this area. On one occasion I did hear a grasshopper warbler reeling away and cuckoos were also heard distantly in the hills on several occasions. I didn't spend a great deal of time scanning the lochs but on one occasion when I had a brief look on Loch Fyne I managed a couple of black guillemot and a winter plumage red-throated diver as well as a couple of distant porpoises.

There were plenty of eider around which make a lovely whoo-ing noise

I did manage a walk up onto the hills behind the house on one occasion. It was interesting to see how as one got out of the pine trees and up onto the moorland suddenly meadow pipits started appearing. I was hoping for a grouse or two up on top but was unsuccessful. However as we came back down we walked through some classic habitat with sparsely scattered trees and scrub and sure enough I soon heard and then spotted a tree pipit doing its thing. In fact I heard tree pipit on several occasions on this trip though this was the only actual sighting.

In this area there was a mixture of carrion and hooded crows
including all sorts of strange hybrid birds.
This bird seems to be a pure "hoody"

It's always interesting to go somewhere new and to see what birds you can find in the area but frankly it was somewhat disappointing to go all that way and yet not to be anywhere near any of the classic Scottish birds. My VLW was also unfortunately ill for most of the week which rather put a damper on things. For the record though I did very much enjoy the company of family and friends and it was great to catch up with my college friends after all this time. I'll just have to make sure that next time I'm on the right side of Scotland.

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