Archive for the ‘Crested Tit’ Tag

Southern Spain – Lynx special: 5th-11th January 2020.   Leave a comment

Spain is my most visited country outside of the UK. Previously have made 14 trips there: two to Mallorca, three to the Canaries, two to the north and north-east and two to the south or south-east. In addition I’ve made five visits to Bilbao, return boat trips from Portsmouth, mainly for seawatching and cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay.

However I’d never been there in winter and although I had seen the ‘avian specials’ there were a few that I wanted better views of or ones I had only seen before they were split from other more widespread forms. But most importantly, there was a mammal that I really wanted to see, the endangered Iberian Lynx.

Although my other trips to Spain were arranged by myself, on this occasion we opted to go with BirdQuest. Some of my friends had tried to see the lynx, sometimes with success, sometimes without, but I knew the BirdQuest leader Pete Morris well and he has an excellent record of finding the target species, so joining him seemed the best plan. Margaret was keen to come as well, and we decided to add on a number of days on our own at the end to explore Madrid (which will be the subject of the next post).

Pete is also an excellent photographer and uses 1st class equipment. He provided a CD of photos to the clients, so with permission I’ve used many of them in this post as they are superior to mine. All his photos are marked ‘©PM/BQ’ ie ‘copyright Pete Morris/BirdQuest’. The remainder, unless marked otherwise are mine.

 

After meeting at Madrid airport we drove south, stopping at Castillo de Calatrava la Nueva, from where we had this great view and saw species like … ©PM/BQ

 

this rapidly disappearing Black-winged Kite … ©PM/BQ

 

… the common (and truly wild, unlike in the UK) Red-legged Partridge … ©PM/BQ

 

… the widespread Black Redstart (this one’s a female) … ©PM/BQ

 

… gorgeous Black Wheatears … ©PM/BQ

 

… Thekla’s Lark, which can be told from the similar Crested Lark by its preference for rocky habitat, different song and a shorter bill with a curved culmen. ©PM/BQ

 

The big surprise though was finding an Alpine Accentor which usually winters at higher altitudes. My first Alpine Accentor was an even bigger surprise, I was at Portland in April 1978 on one of my first ever visits when someone said ‘have you see the accentor?’. I had no idea what he was talking about but he directed me to a point on the the cliff edge where Dorset’s first Alpine Accentor was feeding – my first UK rarity and there was no body else watching it but me! ©PM/BQ

 

After dark we arrived at our rural hostel in the Sierra de Andújar, so it was the following day before we discovered what it looked like. ©PM/BQ

 

Our next couple of days were spent along the La Lancha road in the Sierra de Andújar.

 

There were plenty of Red Deer visible along with some Fallow Deer (of true wild origin here unlike in the UK) … ©PM/BQ

 

… and I was delighted to see some Mouflon, a species of wild sheep that was a lifer for me. ©PM/BQ

 

Of course many of the species we saw were familiar from home like Dartford Warbler (that breeds just up the road from my house), one of the few Sylvia warblers that doesn’t migrate south in winter.

 

Also present were Long-tailed Tits, here of the rather different race irbil. ©PM/BQ

 

Firecrests have become quite common in the south of the UK in recent years, no doubt as a result of global warming. We had fantastic views of several along the road. ©PM/BQ

 

Along with the closely related Goldcrest, Firecrests are the smallest European birds. ©PM/BQ

 

Overhead we saw good numbers of Common Ravens. ©PM/BQ

 

Of course there were Spanish specialities too. Mainland Spain (away from the Canaries and Balearics) has no endemic birds, but there are four that are endemic, or nearly so, to the Iberian Peninsula. The first is Iberian Grey Shrike.

 

Pete’s photo shows the pinkish tinge to the flanks well. Originally a race of Great Grey Shrike, the southern group of races (from Iberia and the Canaries across N Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia) were split off as ‘Southern Grey Shrike’, but this did not agree with DNA findings. More recently the Iberian form has been split as a ‘stand alone’ species and the other southern forms lumped back into Great Grey Shrike – although I doubt if this is the last word on the subject. See my posts on India and Mongolia for more. ©PM/BQ

 

The second Iberian endemic is Iberian Magpie. Birds very similar to this are found in Japan, eastern Russia and eastern China. It used to be thought that Portuguese navigators returned from the Far East with these birds which then escaped and established a population in Iberia. That idea was quashed with the discovery of 40,000 year old bones in a cave in southern Spain. DNA evidence has shown that the two populations diverged long enough ago to be considered separate species. ©PM/BQ

 

However I would query if Iberian Magpie is the best English name. Several of the clients thought that when Iberian Magpie was called they were referring to this bird above. Having heard something about Eurasian Magpie being split (that’s the Maghreb population not the Iberian one, although a different race these are decidedly the same species as the one we get in the UK) they thought this was the bird being discussed Wouldn’t it be better to call Iberian Magpie, Iberian Azure-winged Magpie and the other species Asian Azure-winged Magpie. OK, its a bit of a mouthful but the Iberian/Asian bit would be dropped for field use and there would be no confusion. ©PM/BQ

 

Picus viridis sharpei 033.jpg

The third Iberian endemic is Iberian Green Woodpecker. I have seen this species on all my visits to southern Spain but this is the first time I’ve seen it since it was split from our familiar European Green Woodpecker. Neither Pete or I got a decent photo of this bird so I’ve taken one from Wikipedia by Luis García

 

But the fourth endemic was the one I most wanted to see, Spanish Imperial Eagle. Back in 1984, before it was split from Eastern Imperial Eagle, I saw it twice – distantly in Monfragüe and close, but briefly though the trees in Doñana National Park. There is no doubt I’d seen the species but I wanted better views and that’s what we got, we could watch this individual for ages until … ©PM/BQ

 

… it took off and flew right over head. We saw this species several times over three days but it’s not clear just how many individuals we saw. ©PM/BQ

 

Also seen were a number of Eurasian Crag Martins … ©PM/BQ

 

… and as the weather warmed up so the vultures appeared. Up to 40 Eurasian Griffon Vultures put in an appearance (anyone whose read my account of our trip to India will know there has been a catastrophic decline in vulture numbers in Asia, but as yet Spain seems unaffected) … ©PM/BQ

 

… as well as a number of Cinereous Vultures.

 

Originally known as Black Vulture, this species isn’t as Pete’s photo shows, black but rather a greyish-brown. The name Black Vulture is also occupied by a quite unrelated, but mega-common New World species. There was a misguided attempt to change the name to ‘Monk Vulture’ but a change to Cinereous seems a good idea all round. ©PM/BQ

 

We’d had a great first day in La Lancha but no luck with lynx. So it was a cold, early start the next day.

 

As the sun came out there were great views over the wooded hills …

 

… as the early morning mist cleared.

 

Eventually we had a distant view of the Iberian Lynx. Although too far for decent photos we could a watch a pair for an extended period through the scope.

 

We also had good views of a closer pair wandering through the scrub but all the photos ended up being rear-end shots. The reason that the period from Christmas to early in January is the best to see the lynx is because the females are on-heat and the males follow them around wherever they go and as such they are (unlike other times of year) visible in daylight.

 

The group was pretty strung out along when Pete found a pair right by the road. Just about everyone got there in time before they skulked off into cover. From Wikipedia: The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) is a wild cat species endemic to the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In the 20th century, the Iberian Lynx population had declined because of overhunting and poaching, fragmentation of suitable habitats, as well as the decline in population of its main prey species, the European rabbit caused by myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Fortunately, with protection the lynx seems to be making a slow recovery. ©PM/BQ

 

We also visited the nearby Jándula Reservoir. On the rocky scree above the dam we saw some Iberian Ibex, my third new mammal of the trip.

 

Whilst we were eating our picnic lunch a Black Stork flew over, a most unexpected find in January when they are supposed to be in Africa. ©PM/BQ

 

Next to the dam there were a couple of tunnels, one for the road, the other it would appear, as an overflow conduit in case of flooding.

 

In the roof of the tunnel we could see a number of roosting bats inside crevices. This is a Daubenton’s Myotis. ©PM/BQ

 

On the fourth day of the trip we left early (well not that early, about 0700 as it didn’t get light until well after 0800) and headed north to the plains south of Cuidad Real. There was still a frost on the ground when we arrived and it was bitterly cold, but there was no sign of rain, on the plain or elsewhere. ©PM/BQ

 

This is the sort of habitat loved by bustards and sandgrouse, open fields without hedges and only the occasional tree visible.

 

Soon we located flocks of Little Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. ©PM/BQ

 

We followed the flocks down and tried to observe them on the ground. ©PM/BQ

 

The beautiful Little Bustards showed well in flight but were too elusive to photograph on the ground … ©PM/BQ

 

… however at least a few of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse posed for photos. ©PM/BQ

 

Even more elusive were the Great Bustards. These magnificent birds still occur in good numbers of the Spanish steppes. ©PM/BQ

 

An adult male Great Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, weighing in at up to 5.8kg. For the last 15 years or more a reintroduction program has being trying to produce a viable population of these magnificent birds on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire and in 2019 it was announced that they had succeeded in establishing a self-sustaining population of over 100 birds. I have been to Salisbury Plain a number of times to see them and the odd bird has reached Dorset in winter. Some birders are opposed to this reintroduction, something I don’t understand at all. Mankind was responsible for their destruction, the last Wiltshire bird was shot in 1832, and mankind should, if possible, be responsible for correcting past mistakes. ©PM/BQ

 

There are few more thrilling sites in European birding than seeing a Great Bustard in flight. ©PM/BQ

 

The following day we were back in the Sierra de Andújar where we saw more Iberian Lynx, including a very close female with cubs that were almost invisible in deep vegetation (I never did see the cubs) and explored some damp meadows where Hoopoes and Mistle Thrushes could be found.

 

In the late afternoon we explored the river around Encinarejo. ©PM/BQ

 

A few birds were seen around the river, such as this Common Kingfisher but I missed the flyover Goshawk … ©PM/BQ

 

However we did well for herps seeing a Horseshoe Whip Snake hiding in a rock crevice (I actually flushed it and saw it enter the crevice), this Vaucher’s Wall Lizard. ©PM/BQ …

 

… and this Stripeless Tree Frog (which seems to have a fairly obvious stripe down it’s side!) ©PM/BQ

 

We stayed by the river until sun set in the hope of seeing Tawny Owl, which we heard but didn’t see despite putting a lot of effort in. Views of the moon reflected in the water made it all worthwhile.

 

The following day we packed up and left Sierra de Andújar and headed for Laguna de Navaseca not that far from Cuidad Real. The commonest bird was Greylag Goose, not the feral ones that we see in Dorset but wild birds from central Europe here for the winter.

 

Half a dozen scruffy immature Greater Flamingos were also seen … ©PM/BQ

 

… along with a few Western Swamphens (once lumped in with Grey-headed Swamphen shown in my recent posts about India) … ©PM/BQ

 

… the ubiquitous Black-winged Stilt …

 

… and a few Black-necked Grebes. In the UK, although a few pairs breed we usually only see this species offshore where they occur regularly around Poole and Weymouth. ©PM/BQ

 

There were two ‘sort after’ ducks on the lagoon, a Ferruginous Duck which although visible never lifted its head up and several White-headed Ducks. ©PM/BQ

 

White-headed Ducks (WHD) has an interesting history. Although the eastern populations seemed secure, the Spanish population was under severe threat from hunting and by 1977 only 22 remained. Action by Spanish conservationists has seen their numbers rise to 2,500. Then a threat from the UK was realised. The related North American species Ruddy Duck had formed a feral population in England, originally from a few birds that escaped from Slimbridge and were now wintering in Spain and hybridising with WHD. It was clear that if nothing was done then the western population of WHDs would disappear into a hybrid swarm. Then feral Ruddy Ducks were found with WHDs in Turkey so even the eastern population was under threat. Under EU legislation the UK had no option but to cull our Ruddy Ducks. Yes, I miss seeing the delightful Ruddy Duck back home and regret they had to be killed, but prefer to see the bigger picture – that the global conservation of a threatened species (WHD) takes precedence over the enjoyment of a few UK birders who want to see a bird (Ruddy Duck) that is after all abundant in its native America. See here As an aside this brings up an interesting question, WHDs in the UK have always been considered escapes and indeed some of them are, I’ve posted images on this blog of one from St James Park, London that clearly falls into that category. Now when Ruddy Ducks were common there were a number of apparently wild WHDs discovered with them in England. The logical explanation isn’t that there was a mass break out of captive birds but the two species had paired up in Spain and the WHDs had migrated north with their Ruddy mates in spring. As soon as Ruddy Ducks were culled then WHD occurrences stopped. A strange co-incidence or should WHD be added to the British List as truly wild bird? ©PM/BQ

 

The margins of the lagoon yielded three top-class passerines – Bluethroat which Pete managed to photograph … ©PM/BQ

 

…plus Penduline Tit (photo by Martin Mecnarowski) …

 

… and Moustached Warbler – which neither of us did. (Photo by Marco Valentini)

 

Nearby we saw large flocks, possibly totalling over a thousand, of wintering Common Cranes. ©PM/BQ

 

A couple of Marsh Harriers may have spooked … ©PM/BQ

 

… as some of them soon took to the air.

 

Later we visited an area where White Storks were already building their nests. I was of the understanding that wild populations (as opposed to some of the northern European reintroduction schemes) were totally migratory and the only birds to remain in Europe throughout the winter were birds too sick to make the long journey to tropical Africa. I was clearly wrong. ©PM/BQ

 

Having dipped on Eurasian Eagle Owl at the start of the trip we were keen to visit Pete’s back up site. There was no sign of it until it was almost dark and then it appeared on the top of the crags and gave great views in the fading light. ©PM/BQ

 

We were still enjoying the deep hoots of the Eagle Owl when the moon rose above the cliff. We then headed for our hotel in Daimiel, a short distance from Cuidad Real where we were two days earlier. You may wonder why the trip wasn’t arranged around four consecutive nights in the Sierra de Andújar. and two in the Cuidad Real area. The answer was simple, the main purpose of the tour was to see the lynx and if weather or other circumstances had prevented us from doing so earlier in the week then then the itinerary would have to flexible enough to accommodate an extented stay at La Lancha.

 

On the last morning of the trip we spent several hours driving to Pinares de Peguerinos, an area of mountainous forests north-west of Madrid.

 

Here we expanded our list with birds like Common Crossbill … ©PM/BQ

 

… and the lovely European Crested Tit. ©PM/BQ

 

This species has a strange distribution occurring in coniferous forests from Spain, through the Alps, the Balkans, and northern and eastern  Europe with an outpost in the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland. Thus to an English birder it seems strange to see them as far south as Spain. As you can see from the photo, the beautiful blue skies we had enjoyed all week remained until the last day. ©PM/BQ

 

But the bird we most wanted to see in these forests was Citril Finch. I saw this species in the mid 80s in the Austrian Alps but views were brief, then again in Andorra in 2006 but have never seen it as well as this. ©PM/BQ

 

Well all that remained was to drive back to Madrid airport. There Margaret and I said our goodbyes to the group and got a taxi to our hotel for the cultural part of the trip. The BirdQuest group at Pinares de Peguerinos, Far left co-leader Dave Farrow, Margaret is in the middle dressed in black and I’m on the far-right (my location, not my politics!). ©PM/BQ

 

But it would only be fair to end with the best sighting of the trip – the superb Iberian Lynx. ©PM/BQ

 

It had been an unusual trip, the first of the many BirdQuests I’ve done without a life-bird. But I had three new mammals including one that falls into ‘mega category’. In addition I had my best ever views of a number of Spanish specialities. We both thought it was a most enjoyable trip.

The next post will deal with our three-day extension; our visit to Madrid and Toledo.

 

Fife, Aberdeen and Speyside, Scotland: 18th-21st November 2018   Leave a comment

Previous posts have detailed our stops at Martin Mere in Lancashire and the Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian that we took on the way to visit Margaret’s brother Duncan in Aberdeen.

This post covers our time in Fife along the north coast of the Forth Estuary, our visit to Aberdeen and our stay in Aviemore in Speyside.

 

We left Roslin and skirted Edinburg on the ring road and crossed the Firth of Forth on the new Queensferry Crossing. Only opened this August at a cost of £1bn it is already (as of early December) undergoing closures for resurfacing. Of course it was Margaret who took this photo and not the driver.

 

The weather improved as we drove along the north shore of the Forth estuary. In the distance is the now uninhabited island of Inchkeith.

 

We skirted the large bay between Leven and Earlsferry on the lookout for flocks of seaduck.

 

A few Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Redshank were seen on the rocky shores ….

 

…. and we encountered a number of distant flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, Eider and Common Scoter. Velvet Scoter showed well and I was able to capture this passing flock. However we didn’t find seaducks in the numbers I encountered on a visit to the same area in April 2000, where a single flock contained 2000 Common Scoter and 500 Eiders.

 

We drove to Elie Ness lighthouse and looked back towards the pretty town of Elie.

 

We stopped in Anstruther ….

 

…. had lunch in this cafe ….

 

…. and in spite of the bitter wind that had sprung up, went for a walk around the harbour.

 

This proved to very worthwhile with stonking views of a Grey Seal ….

 

…. and a few hundred (Common) Eider.

 

We had great close up views of the dapper males ….

 

…. the well camouflaged females (female Eiders of course pluck their breast feathers to line and insulate their nests, the original eiderdown) ….

 

…. and the variable and somewhat scruffy first-winter males.

 

We continued on to the easternmost point of Fife, Fife Ness. From here you could look northwards to Arbroath and Montrose or south to East Lothian. We continued northwards through St Andrews and Dundee but arrived at Aberdeen at rush hour on a Friday. In a set of extensive and very poorly signed road works to the south of the city we took the wrong turn and ended up in the city centre. Frustratingly it took an hour before we emerged and carried on to our destination.

 

Margaret’s brother Duncan and his wife Wendy moved from South Africa to the UK about 10 years ago, first to Edinburgh and then to Aberdeen. The climate must be a bit of a shock after living in Durban. We haven’t seen them since 2012 so it was good to meet up. This photo was taken in 2008 when their sons Darren and Sean were still living at home. L-R Darren, Margaret, Sean, Wendy, Duncan.

 

Early in the morning I popped down to Blackdog a coastal site to the north of Aberdeen and close to where Duncan and Wendy live. Offshore were many anchored ships from the oil industry. Whether they are moored up because of the downturn in the oil business or due to a lull in the need to supply the rigs is anyone’s guess. Blackdog is famous for its huge flocks of summering scoters and eiders, with several rare species often being present. I enjoyed this spectacle in 2012 but found out on this trip that this gathering doesn’t occur in the winter.

 

A little bit to the north of Blackdog lies the Trump Golf Course. The Scottish Government let his empire destroy a nationally valuable, wild and totally protected stretch of unspoilt coastal dunes when he promised a multi-million pound investment, thousands of jobs and a huge leisure complex. He has reneged on all of this except for the building of the course, which now operates at a loss. So now we have the destruction of a precious ecosystem, hardly any new jobs and just a bit of manicured grass.

 

We hoped to pick up one or two rare birds during our stay so having heard of a Snow Goose at Loch of Skeen a few miles east of Aberdeen, we headed out there one afternoon. It’s not that difficult to see Snow Geese in the UK but most are feral or direct escapes. Seeing one in the company of wild Barnacle or Pink-footed Geese or Whooper Swans greatly increases the chance that the bird has really come from Arctic Canada. We arrived at the lake before dark and carefully scanned the few hundred Pink-feet on the loch without sucess. As darkness fell thousands, well probably tens of thousands, of Pink-feet flew in a long skeins until the entire surface of the lake looked black. It was too dark to see when we left yet still you could hear them flying in. We never saw a white one though.

 

After a final morning with Duncan and Wendy we headed inland for Speyside. It was a lovely day, if rather cold and the sun lit up the autumn colours a treat. The route from Aberdeen to Aviemore is not straightforward but we negotiated the many changes of highway with ease ….

 

…. and arrived at the quaint village of Carrbridge just as it was getting dark (hence the lacklustre look of the photo). We continued onto Aviemore where we had booked an apartment (it was actually bigger than our house) for the next three nights.

 

The Aviemore/Cairngorms area (or Speyside as it sits on the banks of the river Spey) is one of the most outstanding areas for birding in the UK and one that all British birders should visit at some time. Most notable are the stands of ancient Caledonian forest, which has in places remained unchanged since the end of the Ice Age. Mature forest is made up of Scots Pine with birch and oak in places with an understory of juniper, rowan, blaeberry and heather.

 

Birdwise this area is famous for both Red and Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, three species of crossbill, Crested Tit, and in summer Dotterel. Other goodies (in season) include Snow Bunting, Long-eared Owl, Osprey, Golden Eagle, Dipper and a multitude of other more widespread birds. We first headed to the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten but the visitor centre is shut at this time of year. This lady was feeding birds in the car park and they were tame enough to feed from her hand. They were mainly Coal Tits but we did also see ….

 

…. a few Crested Tits. These forests are the only place in the UK where this species can be found. I have made many excuses for not using my own photographs in the past but this time it was a good one, I’d left my camera behind in the apartment! So here is a photo of Crested Tit from highlandphotography.co.uk

 

It had rained all morning but suddenly the skies cleared, I glanced up from the car and saw this bizarre upside down rainbow directly above us. By the time I had got my pocket camera out the 3/4 full circle had shrunk to a crescent but it still looked remarkable. This phenomenon is known as a circumzenithal arc or an upper tangent arc (‘upper’ as it is above the sun) and is caused by light refraction through ice crystals.

 

It was perfectly still and nearby Loch Garten was like a mirror.

 

Summer visits have revealed lots of breeding Goldeneye on this lake but today it was birdless.

 

We also took a drive to the Cairngorm Mountains 13 miles south of Aviemore. The road goes straight to the ski centre car park and the funicular railway which takes you up to 3600ft asl.

 

You pass through beautiful areas of heathland studded with areas of natural Caledonian Forest and modern plantations.

 

Way in the distance to tops of the 4000ft (1200m) high Cairngorms peek through the clouds. Whilst not very high by the standards of the Alps, Rockies or Andes, at the latitude of Scotland the Cairngorm plateau is a true alpine-arctic wilderness home to many species of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the UK. The Cairngorm National Park is the largest wilderness area in the UK and the largest National Park.

 

By the time we reached the car park cloud had descended and we saw no point in going up the funicular railway to the Ptarmigan Restaurant. To prevent those unprepared for hiking in arctic conditions from wandering about the plateau and getting lost you are not allowed to leave the restaurant at the top and if you want to explore you need to walk up. I did hike to the neighbouring peak of Cain Lochan (left in the photo) in June 2012 and saw Ptarmigan (see below) and Dotterel but I have never seen breeding plumaged Snow Bunting in the UK.

 

In spite of the weather we saw other good birds during our stay, a flock of crossbills, most likely the endemic Scottish Crossbill, plus Dipper and genuinely wild Greylag Geese, but pride of place goes to this distant male Black Grouse seen on the climb up to the Cairngorm car park. It might have distant but it looked really good in the scope.

 

At least the Red Grouse (a endemic British subspecies of the Holarctic Willow Ptarmigan or Willow Grouse, which doesn’t change to white in winter) showed well. This is a female ….

 

…. and here a male.

 

As we returned to Aviemore we stopped at Loch Morlich where the mountains formed a perfect reflection on the water ….

 

I have camped by this lake a number of times in past; in the early 70s with two friends (I well remember having to walk back from Aviemore at dawn after a very memorable night on the town) and in the late 70s with Janet when we tried to go sailing and I realised far to late that I couldn’t remember what I learnt on sailing holidays ten or more years earlier!

 

All in all I’ve made about 18 trips to Scotland and most of them have brought me here. These days I just enjoy the magnificent scenery and wildlife and avoid adventure activities and all-night parties!

 

So that was it for Speyside and we drove from the rich autumn colours around Loch an Eilein ….

 

…. straight into winter. We had heard that heavy snow was on its way and it was time to leave anyway, so we planned an early departure and only met a small amount of snow on route. We drove south over the eastern Cairngorms and onto Braemar on Royal Deeside, favoured by the royal family since 1852.

 

We then climbed another pass at Glenshee in the hope of seeing the Ptarmigan that we missed on Cairngorm. I had seen Ptarmigan at Glenshee in April 2000 but had to climb quite a bit to see them. It was cold and windy and I didn’t fancy the climb so we scanned the slopes from the car park. Initial attempts drew a blank but after warming up in the cafe we had another go and found a flock of 11 white winter plumaged birds high above us. Yes, the six white blobs in the photo are Ptarmigan, its a dreadful photo but they were a considerable distance away and it was starting to snow.

 

Here’s a lot closer pic of a pair of Ptarmigan in grey and white summer plumage taken in Cairngorm in 2012. Remember they are ‘P’tarmigan, a bird with a silent P (like in ‘swimming pool’).

 

From Glenshee we headed south and then west via Loch Tay on the long drive to the west coast. We arrived at our hotel at Tarbert on the Kintyre Peninsula just before dark. On route we passed these falls and paused briefly for photos.

 

…. but I’ll conclude the post with another couple of views of Loch Morlich.

 

By leaving Speyside when we did we managed to avoid the worst of the snow but there was plenty more wintry weather waiting for us at our next destination, the west coast islands of Islay, Jura and Arran, which will be the subject of the next post.