Trip report - north Scotland

15th June 2011
Dates: 10th to 14th June 2011

Destination: north Scotland



Purpose of trip:

The purpose of my trip was my regular annual visit to the region to see bird and mammal species that are not found on a regular basis in Essex or East Anglia.

In addition, weather permitting, I hoped to be able to take some photos of northern landscapes.

Primary target areas:

The primary target areas for wildlife watching and/or landscape photography were:

Perthshire: Glen Quaich and Loch of the Lowes SWT reserve

Speyside: Loch Insh, Loch Garten, Loch Morlich, Uath Lochans

Inverness area: Findhorn valley, Loch Ruthven RSPB reserve, Moray Firth (Chanonry Point)

Caithness: Forsinard, Dunnet Bay, Dunnet Head

Sutherland and Wester Ross: north and west coast

Getting there and getting around:

I travelled up to Perth by East Coast trains on 9th June 2011 having obtained an extremely good value advance return ticket for £44. This was a very relaxing, much quicker and cheaper journey north than previous trips by car.

In Perth, I hired a car from the morning of 10th June 2011 to the morning of 14th June 2011 from Enterprise for just £47.95.

This is a summary of my itinerary and route:

10th June 2011: Perth – Loch of the Lowes – Loch Insh – Loch Morlich – Loch Garten – Uath Lochans – Dulnain Bridge – Loch Fleet

11th June 2011: Loch Fleet – Strath of Kildonan – Strath Halladale – north coast of Caithness and Sutherland (Dunnet Bay, Dunnet Head, Kyle of Tongue, Loch Eriboll, Durness, Balnakeil Bay) – west coast of Sutherland (Loch Laxford, Tarbet and Handa, Scourie, Kylesku, Drumbeg, Lochinver, Inverpolly) – west coast of Wester Ross (Achiltibuie, Coigach)

12th June 2011: west coast of Wester Ross (Achiltibuie, Coigach, Loch Lurgainn, Little Loch Broom, Gruinard Bay, Loch Ewe, Loch Maree, Glen Torridon, Loch Kishorn, Applecross) – Black Isle and Moray Firth – Loch Garten

13th June 2011: Anagach Woods, Grantown-on-Spey – Loch Garten – Findhorn valley – Loch Ruthven – Loch Insh – Glen Quaich – Perth

14th June 2011: Glenalmond – Perth

Weather:

Apart from thick fog in Strath of Kildonan and Strath Halladale during the early hours of 11th June 2011 and heavy rain during the morning of 13th June 2011, the weather was generally bright or sunny with warm temperatures.

My visit to Dunnet Head, a location which frequently experiences heavy rain, high winds and a raging Pentland Firth, was particularly noteworthy in that it was very sunny, there was no wind at all, the sea was completely calm and I was able to watch the Puffins and other seabirds without a fleece jacket or outer jacket as it was so warm.

Highlights:

During my short trip, I was able to record 113 bird species, 10 mammal species and 1 species of amphibian.

Trip list - north Scotland

With regard to the birds, I was able to add 16 species to my 2011 list plus 2 new species to my Scotland life list (Little Tern and Grasshopper Warbler).

There were 2 main highlights amongst so many notable sightings.

Firstly, although I have been fortunate to see many Otters at various locations around the coasts of north and west Scotland over the last 20 years or so, a sighting at Loch Garten on Speyside was just amazing.

I returned to Loch Garten on the evening of 12th June 2011 at around 10 p.m. Being so far north, it was still light and since it was so quiet with all the visitors having long left the RSPB’s Osprey centre, I decided to scan the loch on the off chance of seeing an Otter. Some years ago, I had seen an Otter at Loch Garten although the views were very distant through my telescope.

I scanned left to right a few times with my binoculars but there was no sign of any movement on the loch or shore other than a Common Sandpiper, a Wigeon family and a Mallard family.

As I put my binoculars down, I then immediately noticed an Otter standing in the shallow water by the loch shore probably only 20 feet or so away from my car! The Otter was totally unaware of my presence since I was in the car and I managed to watch it for a few minutes as it swam slowly past and emerged on to the loch shore before disappearing from view in to vegetation and trees. Whilst this was a wonderful experience, I was very disappointed at not having my camera to hand and set up to record it.

Secondly, I have also seen many Ospreys on my visits to northern Scotland but on 10th June 2011 I was able to watch for some time a pair around a nest on an island in Loch Insh plus a further 2 birds soaring high over the eastern end of the loch.

The following summarises the notable wildlife species seen on my trip, many of the birds being first records for 2011.

Loch of the Lowes: Osprey

Loch Insh: Osprey, Goldeneye, Common Sandpiper

Loch Morlich: Goldeneye, Red Squirrel

Loch Garten: Goldeneye, Wigeon, Crested Tit, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Redstart (heard only), Common Sandpiper, Red Squirrel, Otter, Roe Deer, Bank Vole

Loch Garten to Tulloch: Roe Deer, Red Squirrel

Nethy Bridge: Roe Deer

Grantown-on-Spey: Roe Deer, Red Squirrel

Dulnain Bridge: Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper

Loch Fleet: Common Seal, Common Sandpiper, Eider

Helmsdale to Melvich: Red Deer

Dunnet Bay: Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Little Tern, Arctic Tern, Guillemot, Razorbill

Dunnet Head: Great Skua, Gannet, Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Shag, Rock Dove, Raven, Rock Pipit

Loch Burifa near Dunnet Head: Red-throated Diver

Balnakeil Bay: Harbour Porpoise, Red-throated Diver, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Shag, Cormorant

Ben Stack/Loch Stack: Golden Eagle, Cuckoo, Common Sandpiper

Tarbet overlooking Handa: Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Guillemot, Fulmar, Common Sandpiper, Rock Dove, Raven,Twite (heard only)

Scourie Bay: Red-throated Diver

Scourie to Lower Badcall: Black-throated Diver

Polbain to Achiltibuie: Common Seal

Loch Vatachan near Achiltibuie: Grasshopper Warbler (heard reeling)

Loch Lurgainn: Red-throated Diver

Ullapool Braes: Tree Pipit

Little Loch Broom at Dundonnell: Greenshank

Glen Torridon: Grasshopper Warbler, Tree Pipit

Moray Firth at Chanonry Point: Bottle-nosed Dolphin

Findhorn valley: Red Deer, Brown Hare, Common Redstart

Farr road: Red Kite, Red Grouse, Raven

Loch Ruthven: Slavonian Grebe, Osprey, Common Toad

Glen Quaich: Black Grouse, Short-eared Owl, Brown Hare, Red Deer

Perth to Glenalmond: Roe Deer, Brown Hare

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